Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A climate of tyranny

For the past week, Extinction Rebellion has been peacefully protesting in London to demand action on climate change. The British government's response? Ban their protests:

Police have banned Extinction Rebellion protests from continuing anywhere in London, as they moved in almost without warning to clear protesters who remained at the movement’s camp in Trafalgar Square.

The Metropolitan police issued a revised section 14 order on Monday night that said “any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’ ... must now cease their protests within London (MPS and City of London Police Areas)” by 9pm.

Almost immediately, officers moved into Trafalgar Square and demanded that protesters remove their tents. Most XR activists staying at the site had already decamped to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, south of the river, and only a few dozen tents, along with gazebos and other infrastructure, remained on the square.

Which speaks volumes about the intentions of the British government. Face with people raising the alarm about the biggest crisis facing humanity, the establishment's response is to gag them. Not only do they not want to know - they don't want anyone else to be told. They'd rather UKanians all drowned rather than face the inconvenience of admitting the problem and taking credible action on it. Which is a prime example of why that political establishment needs to be voted out on their arses.

Still, it could be worse: at least they're not just murdering them - the British establishment's instinctive response to protest. But if you're in XR in London, I guess its time to take off your "XR" badge, put on a "school strike" one, and keep on doing exactly what you're doing.

More disappointment

When they were running for election, Labour promised to overhaul the Employment Relations Act and introduce fair pay agreements to set basic pay and conditions on an industry level, preventing bad employers from undercutting good ones. They followed this up by establishing a working group, which reported back in January this year supporting the idea. But since then, there's been nothing. And understandably, the union movement would like the government to keep its promises:

The leader of the Council of Trade Unions is calling on the Government to make progress on fair pay agreements.

CTU president Richard Wagstaff said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern needed to fulfil her election promise to workers and introduce the collective agreements.

The union released a framework on fair pay agreements ahead of the organisation's annual conference, being held today.

"The Labour Party have pledged their commitment to fair pay agreements, but action is needed to turn the concept into reality."

And they're running out of time. It takes between 6 months to a year (depending on submissions and filibustering) for a bill to become law after being introduced to Parliament, and there's an election in a year. If a bill for fair pay isn't introduced by the holidays, then it will be clear that its just not going to happen this term. And that will add another policy to the long list of under-delivery for this government of disappointment, and make it that much harder to encourage its voters to turn out for it.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Spain is not a democracy

Two years ago Catalans braved police batons and rubber bullets to vote overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum. Today, Spain jailed nine politicians who organised and supported that referendum process for a combined total of a hundred years for "sedition", after a trial that was little more than a judicial lynching. Protests against the verdicts are already breaking out across Catalonia, but Spain has invaded with 1500 riot police to "keep order". So we'll probably see more scenes of peaceful protesters being beaten, gassed and shot for daring to express the view that a democratic society should resolve questions democraticly.

Because that, fundamentally, is what this is about. While Catalans are divided on independence, there has always been overwhelming support for the idea that as a democratic society they should be allowed to vote on it. Spain has responded to that idea with violence and brutality. It has treated Catalonia like a colonial possession, whose people must be kept in line by force, rather than as citizens of a democratic state. It has not behaved like a democracy, but like the fascist dictatorship it supposedly ended 40 years ago.

That treatment has unsurprisingly strengthened the desire for independence, as people seek to leave the country which mistreats them. When this mess began, Spain could have allowed a vote, and probably won it, and that result would have been accepted for a decade or more. Now, there's really only one outcome: independence. The question is how long it takes, and many people Spain murders trying to stop it.

UK Conservatives hate democracy

With an unfair voting system, uneven electorates and an un-elected upper house, the UK's "democracy" is barely worthy of the name. But now the government wants to make it worse:

The government has been accused of suppressing voters’ rights with the potential disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of people after plans to introduce compulsory photo ID for voters were leaked.

Reports that the Queen’s speech contains proposals to make showing ID such as driving licences or passports at the ballot box a requirement have been met anger by campaigners who say the move is a threat to democratic participation.

Ministers were accused of using a “sledgehammer to crack a nut” as the numbers of personation fraud during elections was tiny, critics said. Instead, voters were far more worried about low turnout, questionable donations and foreign interference, it was claimed.

Over 3.5 million UKanians do not have any form of photo ID, and 11 million don't have passports or driver's licences. And naturally, these are concentrated among poorer and browner UKanians - those least likely to vote Tory. So its not just an attack on democracy, its very specifically a US-style attempt to stack the electoral deck for the benefit of the party in power.

On the other hand, does it really matter what is in the government's programme? Its not as if they have a majority for anything any more. But on the gripping hand, it suggests the Tories are becoming increasingly anti-democratic, lusting to return to Jacob Rees-Mogg's C19th "utopia" when only the rich could vote and everyone else's voices were excluded. So they need to be thrown out of power so they remember who is really in charge: the people.

New Fisk

Trump and Erdogan have much in common – and the Kurds will be the tragic victims of their idiocy

What is wrong with our building industry?

Back in the 90's and early 2000's, the building industry was building leaky homes which should never have been granted consent. Now it turns out they've been building dodgy office blocks as well:

New imaging technology has revealed hundreds of major buildings nationwide have defective or missing concrete or reinforcing steel.

Concrete investigators say their scanning shows many buildings have not been constructed according to the plans.

They were "astounded" and "appalled", Jane Roach-Gray of Wellington company Concrete Structure Investigations said.


Critical structural parts were defective or missing in 1100 of the 1200 buildings they had scanned since 2016, Ms Roach-Gray said.

"The divide occurs between what's in the plans and what ends up in the structure," she said.

They can't name any of the buildings "for legal reasons" (meaning: fear of being sued if they told the truth about what's wrong with them), but the implication is clear: pretty much anything that has been built in the last 40 years has these problems. And some may be structurally unsound or outright unsafe as a result.

So how did this happen? One part is almost certainly the building industry's culture of lowballing contracts, which then encourages them to cut corners to turn a profit. But in theory, buildings are meant to be inspected, to ensure that that doesn't happen and that everything is built according to the plans. So there have obviously been some terrible failures there. Who's responsible for inspections? Those same territorial authorities who granted consents to leaky homes, and who are under relentless pressure from Boomers to Keep Rates Low. Except that skimping on this is a fool's strategy, because councils are legally liable for their failure to inspect, and in the case of leaky homes, that adds up to billions. They could now be on the hook for billions more.

Local bodies

Local body election results were released over the weekend, to joy or despair depending on where you live. In Auckland, Phil Goff trounced John Tamihere, who is muttering darkly about running for Parliament again (but which party would want him?) Wellington is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Weta Workshop, except Peter Jackson only bought the mayor rather than the councillors, who probably still will be reluctant to pay for his stupid vanity museum. Dunedin elected the country's first Green mayor. And in Canterbury, ECan voters got to vote for the first time in nine years, having had their democracy stolen by National - and promptly showed why National did it, by electing a council interested in cleaning up the rivers. So no doubt we'll see farmers agitating for a dictatorship again.

Meanwhile in Palmerston North the mayor easily retained his seat (damn), but our council now has two Greens, two Labour, and a few less Boomers. But turnout is still well below 2016, bucking the national trend; I'm wondering if it has something to do with voters being presented with a choice of politicians or a paedophile, and just throwing their hands up in disgust. Alternatively, maybe the postal system here is worse than elsewhere? Either way, from reports from other cities, it looks like having actual polling booths is a definite way to go to increase it in future.

Friday, October 11, 2019


The Ugandan government wants to murder gay people:

Uganda has announced plans to impose the death penalty on homosexuals.

The bill, colloquially known as “Kill the Gays” in Uganda, was nullified five years ago on a technicality, but the government said on Thursday it plans to resurrect it within weeks.

The government said the legislation would curb a rise in “unnatural sex” in the east African nation.

The death penalty is barbaric enough. Seeking to apply it to private acts between consent adults is utterly mind-boggling. That's simply not the proper domain of the state, let alone of state murder.

Last time Uganda's bigoted government tried to push this law through, the international community responded with sanctions. Hopefully we will do the same again.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The SIS unlawfully spied on Nicky Hager

Back in 2011, journalist Nicky Hager published Other People's Wars, an expose on NZDF's activities over the previous decade of the "war on terror". NZDF didn't like this, and especially didn't like the fact that it was based on leaks from their own. So, they had the SIS investigate him for "espionage" in an effort to uncover and punish his sources. In the process, the SIS acquired two months of his phone metadata (more on that later). Now, the Acting Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has ruled that it their suspicions were absurd and the entire operation unlawful:

The Acting Inspector General of Intelligence and Security has upheld a complaint by investigative journalist Nicky Hager against the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service for unlawfully attempting to uncover his journalistic sources.


The SIS sought to justify this use of its powers against Mr Hager by claiming that it was investigating espionage. However, the Acting IGIS found that the SIS had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that any espionage had occurred.

In her report, the Acting IGIS wrote that, “NZSIS provided that assistance despite a lack of grounds for reasonable suspicion that any activity had occurred that was a matter of national "security'”. She also concluded that she had “been unable to find that the Service showed the kind of caution I consider proper, for an intelligence agency in a free and democratic society, about launching any investigation into a journalist's sources.”

The full report is here, and it is very interesting reading. Some highlights:
  • The ruling depending heavily on the definition of "security" in the old New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act 1969, which specifically referred to protection from "espionage". While the report does not include a timeline, presumably the complaint was in the system when the new Intelligence and Security Act 2017 was being drafted. Which explains why the government at the time was very keen not to define "national security": so the SIS could interpret it to mean whatever they wanted it to mean, and legitimise this behaviour. So once again, the spies have been allowed to rewrite the law to legalise their behaviour after being caught out.
  • The Inspector-General finds that, given its seriousness, imputing a motive of intending to prejudice the defence and security of New Zealand (a necessary requirement for espionage) requires some actual foundation, and neither SIS nor NZDF had anything of the sort. Along the way, they also pour scorn on the SIS's theory that any publication of classified information is communication with a foreign power and therefore criminal. That is simply not a construction supported by the law (so I guess we can expect the SIS to push for changes to that as well). Incidentally, that's the argument used by the SIS's foreign partners against publishing leaks, and its good to see that our oversight agencies think it is bullshit.
  • It is unclear from the report how the SIS acquired Hager's phone metadata. There are a number of options here: they could have acquired it using an intelligence warrant, or they could have acquired it simply by asking his phone company (Hager being a New Zealander and the government having denied mass-surveillance, presumably they didn't get it from the GCSB or their foreign "partners"). If they got it under warrant, then that warrant would have had to have been signed by the Minister - who at the time was none other than John Key, which given his role in Dirty Politics again raises the issue of government use of spies for persecution. OTOH, if his phone company provided it without any lawful authority to do so, then given the lack of any basis for the investigation, that seems like a violation of the Privacy Act, just as was committed by his bank when they provided information on request to the police. And hopefully he'll go after them as well, pour encourager les autres.
The Inspector-General has recommended that the SIS apologise. I'd go further: they invaded Hager's privacy, and should be paying damages. And I'd hope that the staff who approved this baseless and intrusive investigation will be facing employment consequences, assuming they're still around. We trust our spies with tremendous powers. We must hold them properly to account when they abuse them. Update: The complaint was not made until 2018, after the Intelligence and Security Act was law.

And they wonder why we think they're environmental vandals...

The Zero Carbon Bill is due back from select committee in two weeks, and will likely pass its final stages in November. So naturally, farmers are planning a hate-march against it. But they're not just demanding lower methane targets so they can keep on destroying the planet; they're also demanding that forestry be removed from the ETS to remove the incentive to draw down carbon by planting trees, plus an end to planned water quality targets and nitrate limits, which will directly reduce emissions.

Farmers call this "a fair go". What it actually is is a free ride, at the expense of urban New Zealand and the rest of the planet. That's our atmosphere they're polluting, our rivers they are poisoning. And they need to be made to stop or pay for the damage they are causing (which, if you believe them, amounts to the same thing).

Meanwhile, farmers are complaining about the public viewing them as environmental vandals. Well, if they don't want to be called that, maybe they should stop vandalising the environment, or loudly proclaiming their "right" to do so. Just a thought...

Climate Change: Paying the price in California

Last year, California burned. This year, to stop it happening again (or rather, to stop themselves from being found liable if it happens again), Pacific Gas and Electric is cutting power to half the state for a week:

Schools are closed. Traffic lights down. Tunnels dark. Businesses unopened. Hospitals running on generators.

Much of northern California is facing life without electricity or gas for as many as five to seven days, after the country’s largest utility company cut power to an unprecedented swath of the state as a preventive measure against wildfires.

The preventive power shutoffs by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) may affect up to 2.5m people by the end of the week. The first wave of shutoffs began on Wednesday to portions of 20 of the state’s 58 counties. PG&E is expected to shut off power to 10 more later in the day.

And that's the price of climate change: a huge chunk of one of the richest parts of the world where you can no longer get reliable electricity for fear of climate-change induced fires. And its a terrible price, because its not just a question of inconvenience - PG&E is basicly leaving anyone medically dependent on electricity to die (the expected cost of that presumably being lower than the expected cost of being found liable for another massive fire). And given the way the climate is going, this is likely to happen every year, until they find a way to stop their lines from causing fires (or until people adopt distributed generation to avoid disruption).

10/10: World Day Against the Death Penalty

Today, October 10, is the world day against the death penalty. Out of 195 UN member states, 84 still permit capital punishment. Today is the day we work to change that.

This year's theme is children. Having a parent sentenced to death or executed causes long-term trauma and stigmatization which amounts to a violation of their human rights. Thirty years ago, the world (except for the USA) agreed on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which enshrined the best interests of children as the primary consideration in all actions affecting them. Thirty years on, it is time to admit that the state murdering their parents can never be in the best interests of a child.

In the past year no countries formally abolished the death penalty, though the Gambia commuted all existing death sentences to life imprisonment following its ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. The US states of New Hampshire and Washington also formally abolished their death penalties. Progress may have slowed, but we are still headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Farmers support dirty rivers

The government is currently consulting on plans to improve freshwater quality. So naturally, farmers oppose it:

South Taranaki farmers are preparing to fight proposed national freshwater changes that some fear will bankrupt them.

The Government's proposed National Environment Standard on Freshwater Management, released in September, rated the Waingongoro River as one of the 10 worst in the country.


The plan would cost farmers thousands of dollars each year in compliance costs, as well as having to re-fence to enlarge areas around waterways already protected by riparian planting, and lower stock numbers.

They're complaining that complying with water standards would "take all our profit". But if they're only "profiting" by externalising their costs onto the environment, then they're not really profiting at all. Instead, they're making a loss when true costs are considered, and hiding it by stealing from other New Zealanders.

Meanwhile, farmers are complaining that the rest of New Zealand increasingly views them as environmental criminals. On that front, I think they have no-one to blame but themselves.

No-one cares about local government

Yesterday was the last day for (reliably) posting your vote away in local body elections. Turnouts are mostly much lower than the equivalent time last year (Palmerston North is down 2.3%), and so naturally people are pushing their online-voting snake oil again. Because the online census worked so well, lets do our local body elections the same way! Except of course online voting is still fundamentally insecure (see also: XKCD), and that hasn't changed. But companies - like electionz - would get to make money out of it, so they still keep pushing it.

Meanwhile, local body turnouts have been low for years - around 50% in 1989 - and while it has dropped since then, it was hardly stellar to begin with. Which suggests that while there's the overall trend of declining participation also seen in national elections, there's something else going on with local body which is nothing to do with the voting method. And there's an obvious answer: no-one cares. And its easy to see why: what local government does is mostly invisible. Add to that media coverage focused on Keeping Rates Low which automatically alienates anyone who doesn't own a house, "conflict of interest" rules which prevent councillors from actually representing their voters, and a parade of cookie-cutter dead white male candidates who alienate anyone who isn't like them, and it is easy to see why people just decide its not worth bothering with. These people have nothing to do with our lives, so we try and ignore them (until we can't). And I say all that as someone who does care, who thinks that local government decisions matter. But the institution doesn't make it easy to believe that.

(DHBs are even worse: a "local body" whose decisions are in practice entirely dictated by central government, and which seems to exist solely as a blame-sink for the Minister. Why vote for the monkey rather than the organ-grinder?)

People vote when they care. If we want people to vote, local government needs to be something people can care about. And that's going to require bigger changes than how we vote (though changing to universal STV, so non-Boomers can actually get represented, would be a start).

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

"Surplus" again

Another year, and the government has announced another enormous government "surplus". And just like last year, its nothing of the sort. When we have people homeless and sick and hungry, when we have schools and hospitals still falling down, when we have underpaid public servants and infrastucture unmaintained or unbuilt, its not a "surplus". Instead, its a crime, a theft from the public of the services and infrastructure the government should have provided with it. It's also a real reminder that every time the government cried "but we don't have the money" in the last year - to striking teachers, to those demanding beneficiaries be allowed to live in dignity, to those wanting their medical needs met - they were outright lying. They did have the money - and in fact they had billions and billions more, just sitting there, doing nothing useful whatsoever.

But its not just a lie - it is also a mistake. The government runs these massive surpluses because they feel that as a nominally-left wing party, they need to "prove themselves" to business. But business will never be satisfied, no matter how "fiscally responsible" the government is: they never voted Labour, and never will. Meanwhile running a surplus lets the opposition run a narrative of the government stealing from "hard working" millionaires and promise to "give the money back" - something the government has made painless, because there's a pile of cash there, which frees the opposition from the political cost of having to be honest about its priorities and what it would cut. At least when you spend money, you get something for it. All piling it up like this does is waste it.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking of all the things this could have done. How much would it cost to restore benefits to pre-Richardson levels and let the sick and the unemployed live in dignity? How many state houses could be built with it? How many wind turbines and solar panels? How many trees? Except I know the answers to those questions: a couple of billion, ~15,000, ~7,500 MW, and ~7.5 billion (storing 6 billion tons of carbon when grown, or the next hundred years gross emissions). Those answers should make you very, very angry at the opportunities the government has squandered in the name of chasing the unachievable and pointless approval of the rich.

Labour chickens out again

When the government was elected, it promised to lead the way on electric vehicles, and specifically to make the government vehicle fleet emissions-free where-practicable by 2025.

They lied:

There are 15,473 vehicles in the government fleet and only 78 are electric. When the coalition Government came into power in late 2017, the agreement between Labour and New Zealand First stipulated that the entire fleet would be emissions-free by mid-2025, "where practicable".

Although it was repeated as recently as June, that goal has been quietly revised to a commitment that, after mid-2025, all new vehicles entering the fleet will be emissions-free.

But while backing away from the formal commitment, they're still trying to pretend they intend to meet it. But if that's the case, why back away at all? The only reason seems to be that they do not intend to meet it, or anything like it (and possibly not even National's promise for a third of the government fleet to be electric). As for the reason, none is given, but it is likely to be pure penny-pinching. New electric cars are expensive, and those arseholes in Treasury think its cheaper (for them) to just keep on ruining the planet instead. Meanwhile, when the government is trying to get the rest of us into electric cars, this sends a very bad message. If they're leading by example, then the example they're setting is that no change is necessary. And that's exactly the opposite of the message they need to be sending.

Rebelling in Wellington

Yesterday I went down to Wellington to participate in the Extinction Rebellion protest. Its part of the latest global wave of XR actions, with actions happening all over the world. Some of those protests are massively disruptive: in Canada, XR is blocking major bridges, stopping people from getting to work. In London, they're trying to shut down the centre of government. But New Zealand isn't either of those places, so the protest focused on MBIE, responsible for both energy policy and the promotion of fossil fuel extraction and use. It was a good-natured protest, which blocked off Stout Street (which is mostly empty anyway) and turned it into a street party, while blockading the entrances to MBIE and occasionally going for a little walk elsewhere. When MBIE decided to shut for the day, the protest turned its attention to ANZ - funders of major fossil fuel projects - and oil drilling company OMV, shutting down both. For a finale, they then blocked a major intersection. The only disturbing note was when some angry old white dude stormed into the middle of that, and tried to drag away one of the protesters sitting down in the middle of the road. They were rapidly taken away by police, but it was an unpleasant reminder of the denier demographic that is sadly still around. I had to bail shortly afterwards to catch my train home, so I missed the arrests, but it sounds like they had to work really hard to get the police to arrest them. As for those complaining about the "inconvenience" it all caused, firstly, the fate of the planet is a bit more important than your commute, and secondly, the people it is really inconvenient for are the people who got arrested.

Like the school strike, it was an uplifting experience. But it was definitely more confrontational in tactics. Was it effective? That depends on what you think the goals were. But I think its sent a warning to the government about what to expect if they don't do what is necessary on climate change. And hopefully they will listen and make further rebellion unnecessary.

Friday, October 04, 2019

The government needs to tell people about the OIA

The Ombudsman has been surveying people about their knowledge of the OIA and the right to information. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that widespread:

The Chief Ombudsman says too many New Zealanders were in the dark over their right to access official information.

Peter Boshier said an independent survey released yesterday on community attitudes towards freedom of information, showed that while most wanted access to official information, just over half were aware they could ask for it.


"Although 78 percent of people thought it was important to be able to access government information, only 60 percent actually knew that they had the right to do so, and that's very, very disappointing."

Mr Boshier said while it was still a majority, he believed it was a slim one for New Zealand.

"It suggests that a large section of our population don't know about this important democratic right.

"I think what this is telling us is that although we say, and proclaim that we are a country which is very accountable and very open, those who believe that is so, doesn't reflect we're anywhere near where we'd like to be."

Its not really surprising. While "documents released under the Official Information Act" is a common phrase in our political reporting, not everyone follows politics. Meanwhile, its not like the government goes to great lengths to tell people about their rights - its not like there's a long-running advertising campaign about the OIA, or agency websites are plastered with the message "want to know something? Ask us!" While they're not quite putting up a "beware of the leopard" sign, agencies aren't exactly keen on creating work for themselves by encouraging requests. But that's something they should be doing, as part of their basic function. Because freedom of information isn't just about MPs - its about your local school, your hospital, your city council; its not just about whether politicans are getting advice about climate change, but about decisions to exclude students, fund certain operations, or enforce noise-control bylaws in your street. And those are things which affect and interest a hell of a lot more people than just us politics wonks.

Climate Change: Join the rebellion

In the wake of last Friday's climate strike, Peter McKenzie had an article in The Spinoff about protest strategies. The school strike movement is "polite" and cooperates with those in power because that's its kaupapa - its led by schoolkids who understandably don't want to risk arrest. But there's more than one way to protest, and as the climate crisis bites, then continued government inaction is likely to push people towards more confrontational styles of protest. The UK got a taste of that earlier in the year, when Extinction Rebellion shut down a chunk of central London just by sitting down and refusing to get up. The shutdown went on for ten days, despite over a thousand arrests (last night the same group sprayed 1800 litres of fake blood over the UK treasury). And on Monday, the same impolite protest tactics are coming to Wellington:

Monday morning commuters could face delays, with climate change activists set to "disrupt Wellington" with protest action in the central city from 7am.

Police, Wellington City Council and NZTA are gearing up in anticipation of the protest, which is part of what has been called a "global rebellion", with Wellington the first of more than 60 cities worldwide targeted for climate activist disruption.


Extinction Rebellion Wellington spokesperson Dr Sea Rotmann said the New Zealand branch would disrupt Wellington traffic with a street party and expected arrests.

Participants were expected to meet at Midland Park on Lambton Quay at 7am, before moving to "undisclosed locations".

And if you think this is going to be inconvenient, well, climate change is going to be pretty bloody inconvenient too.

If you care about the climate crisis, and want the government to act, join in. You don't need to volunteer to be arrested. I'm hoping to be there, and maybe I'll even have figured out how to live-tweet it by then.

New Fisk

In Beirut, I can no longer get American dollars out of the ATM. This is what it tells me about Lebanon’s economy

About time

New Zealand likes to think of itself as not a racist country (despite being founded on the racist dispossession and subjugation of Maori). But for years, we've had a racist refugee policy, which basicly excludes refugees from Africa and the Middle East unless they already have relatives here. Now, the government is finally getting rid of it:

A refugee policy that's been labelled as racist by migrant advocates is being scrapped by the government.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has announced as part of the government's three-year refugee policy that it will get rid of the requirement for Middle Eastern and African refugees to have relatives already residing here.

The announcement has come just months before the refugee quota will jump from 1000 to 1500 for 2020.

Africa and Middle East regions will have their allocation increased from 14 percent to 15 percent.

Good. Because the sole aim of the policy seemed to be to limit the number of brown faces old white racists like Don Brash saw on the street. And that is not a legitimate aim of policy at all.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Turning their back on justice

The Justice Committee has reported back on the Criminal Cases Review Commission Bill. The Bill would establish an independent, quasi-judicial body to investigate and review potential miscarriages of justice, and refer them back to the Court of appeal if required. It would be a vital backstop to our judiciary, help free innocent people from jail, and ensure police and judges did a better job and were more careful in their judgements.

But according to the select committee report, the National Party - who pushed this idea for years last time they were in opposition - opposes it. Why? Basicly because "convicted criminals" - that is, innocent men and women who have been wrongly accused of crime and punished, sometimes for decades - might get off - that is, be rightfully set free and compensated. Instead, they'd prefer tweaks to the existing system, so that judges (who have been exceptionally good at ignoring their own failings) can continue to ignore them.

Given the high profile miscarriages of justice we've seen - Teina Pora, David Bain, and of course Arthur Allan Thomas - it ought to be clear to everyone that a Criminal Cases Review Commission is a desperately needed reform. By opposing it, National is sending a clear message: that they do not care about justice, and that they are happy for the innocent to rot in jail in order to pander to the arsehole vote. And that is just another example of how they are fundamentally vile human beings, and unfit to govern this country.

$47 billion

How much will NeoLiberal irregulation of the building sector and subsequent leaky homes crisis cost us? $47 billion, according to a new book:

The total cost to fix all of New Zealand's leaky homes would be $47 billion, probably.

The estimate comes from a new book,
Rottenomics written by journalist Peter Dyer, and dwarfs earlier estimates for fixing the legacy of the era in which the country forgot how to build weathertight homes.

Dyer couldn't be sure his estimate, which included the cost of both past and future leaky home fixes, wasn't out by a few billion.

"It's a conservative estimate," said Dyer. "But it's 20 per cent of GDP. It's just staggering."

Keep this in mind next time National or any other party talks about "deregulation" and "cutting red tape". Those regulations are there for a reason - for example, to stop people building houses that leak and are unfit for purpose. And while the deregulators focus only on "compliance costs" - the cost of doing things right - the cost of letting them do things wrong can be absolutely staggering. Like so much else in the NeoLiberal agenda, "deregulation" is about short-term profit for a few, while dumping long-term costs on the rest of society. And that is something we should neither accept, not tolerate.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

National wants to deregulate banks

The Reserve Bank is currently planning tighter banking regulation, requiring banks to hold enough local capital to survive a 1-in-200 year financial crisis in order to protect consumers. The big Aussies banks, those foreign leeches who suck $5 billion in profit out of our economy every year, don't like that, because it means they might have to suck a little less for a little bit. And so suddenly, coincidentally, their pawns in the National Party are no longer fans of independent banking regulation:

National Party Finance Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith wants to shake-up banking, by ripping a scab that hasn't been touched for 30 years.

Goldsmith has called into question the independence of the Reserve Bank, responsible for setting interest rates and regulating banking.

He thinks the Government should have a say in how much risk banks are allowed to take, weighing up the cost to consumers of having a faster, looser and cheaper banking system with the need for stability.

You know, the same way they "weighed up the cost" of having faster, looser and cheaper building standards, faster, looser and cheaper regulation of finance companies, or faster, looser and cheaper mine safety. Which tells you how much of a terrible idea this is. It was just over a decade ago that banks crashed the global economy by (in part) not having sufficient capital reserves to cover their gambles. National may have forgotten that. But I doubt voters have.

A criminal gang in blue

Its the usual story: a police officer beats a handcuffed suspect so hard they break one of their own fingers. The IPCA investigates and concludes that the use of force was unlawful. And the police refuse to do anything about it:

A man punched repeatedly in the face by a police officer while three others restrained him is considering legal action.

The police watchdog found a constable punched the man "at least six or seven times in the face while holding a torch in his hand" during the arrest at Red Beach, north Auckland, in late 2018.

When the punching happened, the 35-year-old was restrained on the ground by three officers in a headlock and unable to defend himself, according to Judge Colin Doherty of the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA).

The man was left with a concussion, a broken nose and ongoing physical, cognitive and psychological effects, Doherty said in his finding.

But police disagreed with the IPCA's finding, after their own investigation found the use of force was justified, and no further action will be taken against the officer involved.

Given the injuries, this seems to be at least injuring with intent, a serious crime. But the police are refusing to prosecute because it was committed by one of their own. And that is simply corrupt, the actions and mindset of a criminal gang, not a law-abiding police force.

As for the solution, again, if the police refuse to do the job they're paid for, we should give it to someone else. And specifically, we should give the IPCA an independent power to prosecute, because the police will clearly not hold their own to account. In the interim, we can only hope that the victim's private prosecution succeeds.

How to deal with the climate change roadblock

Last Friday saw the largest protest in a generation, as 170,000 people joined the school strike and marched to demand real action on climate change. The demands of the school strike were simple and clear: declare a climate emergency, set a climate target of net-zero by 2040, impose a total ban on fossil fuel exploration and extraction, invest in building a renewable economy, and support the Pacific. And with the Zero Carbon Bill due back from select committee in two weeks, the message on that is equally clear: it needs to be stronger (in particular, its target needs to be for 2040, not 2050).

You'd hope that the largest protest in a generation (and the implicit electoral threat it contains) would focus the government's mind and lead to action. But this is a coalition government, and we've long been told that its most regressive party, NZ First, is a roadblock to further action. They've come a huge way from where they were in the past, when they were basicly climate change deniers. But they're inherently defenders of the unsustainable status quo, whose first response to the suggestion of eliminating or limiting the unsustainable industries who are killing us is to wail about jobs and growth, rather than recognise that there's no status quo in a climate breakdown ("conservative" being a political synonym for "short-sighted and selfish"). Throw in the fact that the school strikers aren't really their demographic, and they may not feel the electoral threat as much, and so resist making those necessary changes. If that happens, how should the government deal with it?

I think the answer is clear. If climate change really is "my generation's nuclear free moment", then the Prime Minister should call a snap election to seek a mandate and remove the roadblock to action.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

A disturbing decision

Yesterday the High Court released its decision in Moncrief-Spittle v Regional Facilities Auckland Limited, on the (alleged) decision by the Auckland Council and Mayor Phil Goff to deny use of a public venue to a pair of visiting nazi grifters. Based on the information available back then, I said that I found the decision disturbing: freedom of speech is the foundation for any democratic change, and the idea that a council or council-controlled organisation could deny it because they didn't like what was being said was chilling (to point out the obvious, while everyone hates nazis, its not just nazis such powers could be used against).

The good news is that the court found that Goff and the Council had nothing to do with the decision. Instead, it was made independently by Regional Facilities Auckland on health and safety grounds, with no element of external direction. That raises other issues around heckler's vetoes and the real and serious duties of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and their interplay with the BORA, and I was hoping that they would be addressed. They weren't. Instead, the court found that the decision was unreviewable, because Regional Facilities Auckland - a Council Controlled Organisation, established for the benefit of the people of Auckland and subject to the LGOIMA - was not "public", but acting in a purely private and commercial capacity.

Andrew Geddis has pointed out the irony here, because the decision was basicly made on the basis of National's supercity "reforms", which privileged "efficient" (privatised) public services over public control. But while enjoying that irony, I agree with Dean Knight that a finding that a CCO has no public duties and its decisions are unreviewable is disturbing to say the least. To point out the obvious, judicial review is a keystone of public accountability, but the effect of this decision is apparently to make a large (and growing) chunk of what was previously public business "private" and unaccountable. There's another irony here, in that NeoLiberalism was supposed to improve accountability; the ruling of this court is that is has done the opposite. And that's rather more important than a pair of visiting nazis.

(As for the actual issue at stake, I'd welcome an appeal and a decision on the merits. Knight thinks it would have gone against the nazis, and if so, that would be useful in clarifying what the limits of free expression are).

Not acceptable

That's the only possible response to Forestry Minister Shane Jones' comments at a forestry awards ceremony that he expected their votes in exchange for the funding he was giving them. He's been called to account for that by the prime Minister, but his response has been to double down and promise revenge:

Outspoken NZ First MP and Cabinet Minister Shane Jones has vowed he will have his revenge on those he says attempted to make him "quiver in the corner by running to the media".

He said that as soon as the election campaign starts next year, and his Cabinet responsibilities are loosened, he will be going after his political rivals in the forestry sector.

"Now that they have started this spat, this utu [revenge] is best served cold and I would say, in about nine months' time," he told the Herald.

So effectively after claiming publicly that he is directing public resources to gain political support, he is now threatening to direct them to retaliate against his political enemies. Neither is acceptable. And a man who thinks that it is should have no place in any government in New Zealand. Jones should be fired before he corrodes standards of ministerial behaviour any further.

New Fisk

A year on from Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, and Saudi Arabia is lurching towards hysterical chaos

Climate Change: Undermining themselves

The government is promising tough action against climate change via the Zero Carbon Bill and a strengthened ETS. Meanwhile, the Overseas investment Office is granting foreign coal companies permission to expand coal mining:

Coal Action Network Aotearoa has slammed a decision by the Overseas Investment Office to allow Bathurst Coal to buy Canterbury farmland to mine coal for dairy factories.


Bathurst, majority owned by Singaporeans, already owns a coal mine at neighbouring Coalgate. The Overseas Investment Office (OIO) has granted it permission to buy 31.5 hectares of grazing land for $680,000, two kilometres away from its existing mine.

The ASX-listed company intends to install mining infrastructure on the land and eventually hopes to mine the land should resource consent be granted. This will extend the life of the mine from 2022 to 2035.

If the mine is expanded, then the coal will be dug up and burned in coal-powered dairy factories, directly increasing emissions (and delaying the point at which Fonterra has to clean up its act). Its a perfect example of the government working at cross-purposes with itself: one part trying to decrease emissions, while another is thoughtlessly (or, in MBIE's case, deliberately) trying to increase them. And its a perfect example of why s5ZK of the Zero Carbon Bill, which allows agencies to consider climate change targets in their decisions, needs to be amended so that they must. Otherwise government policy to reduce emissions is simply going to be undermined by its own agencies. And its also a prime example of why we need to kill coal, with an exploration, mining and resource consent ban to cut of emissions at their source.