Friday, July 03, 2020



No freedom of the press in Australia

Three years ago the ABC used leaked information to expose war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan. Since then the chief of Australia's special forces has admitted that his troops committed war crimes. But guess who the Australian government is prosecuting?

Police have referred allegations against an ABC journalist relating to the Afghan Files to prosecutors, the public broadcaster says.

ABC managing director David Anderson said it was a "disappointing and disturbing development" and the broadcaster was fully backing its reporter, Dan Oakes.

"The allegations concern Dan's reporting on the series of stories published by the ABC in 2017 known as the Afghan Files. They were also what prompted the AFP's extraordinary raid on the ABC's Ultimo headquarters last year," he said in a statement.

"This is a disappointing and disturbing development. The Afghan Files is factual and important reporting which exposed allegations about Australian soldiers committing war crimes in Afghanistan. Its accuracy has never been challenged."


This is outrageous. There is a clear public interest in exposing wrongdoing and breaches of international law by the Australian government, and that is exactly what the ABC did. And if that is a crime, then Australia is a naked tyranny.

Thursday, July 02, 2020



Steamrolling democracy again

After a sham select committee process which waste submitters' time, the government is planning to use urgency today to steamroll its Muldoonist RMA fast track bill through Parliament.

I've talked before about what's wrong with the Bill. As mentioned above, its pure Muldoonism, bypassing the participatory RMA process with a Ministerial rubber-stamp. This isn't just bad because it is undemocratic and authoriatarian and creates a nexus for corruption - it will also deprive the decision-making panels of the evidence they need to make good decisions. And we'll be stuck with the consequences of those poor decisions for decades to come.

Perhaps in an effort to mitigate this - or rather, give the impression that it is mitigating this - the Bill requires consenting panels to notify and invite comments from a select group of environmental NGOs. Effectively these groups are being statutorily appointed as proxies for the whole of New Zealand. But they will receive no resources to do the job they are being asked to do, have only ten working days to respond to any submission, and it is not clear whether they are legally allowed to tell anyone about it or crowdsource public comments so they can make high-quality submissions and present the evidence that the panels need to see. Its even worse when you consider the threshold the Minister, with their choice of listed projects, has set: 30-50 jobs. In terms of your project, that's basicly the size of your local supermarket. And its the government's apparent position that any project of that scale should go through the Minister - perhaps greasing the party's palm on the way - and then through the rubberstamp process. Which means that if the law works as apparently intended, these NGOs are going to be swamped. Even if there is extremely strong gatekeeping from the Minister, and it is only a handful of projects a month, they are not going to be able to effectively do the job the government is demanding of them (for free).

But then, maybe that's the point. The RMA is an adversarial system. And you break an adversarial system by massively outgunning and overworking one side. But the consequence of that is that a) the system doesn't work properly; and b) the results are not perceived as legitimate. What the government gains in speed from its rubberstamp may very well be lost to protests and occupations.

Drawn

A ballot for three Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Electoral (Integrity Repeal) Amendment Bill (David Carter)
  • Harmful Digital Communications (Unauthorised Posting of Intimate Visual Recording) Amendment Bill (Louisa wall)

Unit Titles (Strengthening Body Corporate Governance and Other Matters) Amendment Bill (Judith Collins)

Sadly none of these are likely to be voted on before the election. Which means we won't get to see whether Winston's consistent frustration of the Greens' agenda has caused them to rethink their support for his pet project just to get along with him. But hopefully after the election they'll feel free to rediscover their democratic principles, and to apologise for ever abandoning them in the first place.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020



Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. First on the Order Paper is the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Amendment Bill, a locla bill of no interest to anyone outside Auckland. Once that's out of the way there's the second reading of Darroch ball's Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill, which is typical NZ First "law and order" crap. The House should get through Nikki Kaye's Education (Strengthening Second Language Learning in Primary and Intermediate Schools) Amendment Bill, and if it moves quickly should make a start on Mark Patterson's New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Fair Residency) Amendment Bill (which is NZ First racist dogwhistling of the "foreigners are going to come here and steal your pension" variety). Which means there should be a ballot for one or two bills tomorrow.

Nash lied

When the government refused to put cameras on fishing boats to ensure fishers obeyed the law, Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash claimed that coalition partner NZ First (which has received large donations from the fishing industry) was not responsible for the decision. He has repeated that claim repeatedly since then. But he was lying to us:

Newshub has obtained an explosive audio recording of Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash talking about NZ First MPs Winston Peters and Shane Jones.

The recording was from February 2018, around the time the Government first delayed the rollout of cameras on nearly 1000 fishing boats - since then it's been delayed again until at least October next year.

In it, Nash points the finger of blame squarely at them for delaying plans to put cameras on commercial fishing boats to make sure they don't break the law.

[...]

"I've got to play the political game in a way that allows me to make these changes. Now, Winston Peters and Shane Jones have made it very clear they do not want cameras on boats," Nash can be heard saying in a recording.


Nash has deliberately and repeatedly lied to the public in order to shield his coalition partner's corruption. That is dishonest and despicable, and he should resign. But this also confirms everything we feared about NZ First and corruption, and shows why they can never be trusted in government.

Who's the security threat again?

RNZ has followed up last month's story about the SIS burgling the Czech embassy in 1986 to try and steal a code-book with a story about further SIS embassy burglaries, of the Indian High Commission and Iranian embassy. Like the burglary of the Czech embassy, both were a violation of the Vienna Convention, and of the Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act 1968 which implements it in New Zealand law. There's the usual questions about who the hell our spies are working for - at the time the US was definitely Not A Friend, while India I'd consider a friendly nation. So "our spies" were spying on our friends for a foreign power. Who's the security threat again?

But the more interesting bit is that the Prime Ministers at the time - Geoffrey Palmer and Jim Bolger - cannot recall ever being told about the burglaries, let alone signing a warrant for them:

Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand's prime minister between August 1989 and September 1990, said he had not heard of the raids on the Indian and Iranian embassies but should have been alerted by the SIS if they occurred when he was in charge of the agency.

"If it was at the time I was prime minister, I most certainly should have been."

Jim Bolger, prime minister from 1990 to 1997, said he could not recall ever signing any warrants to allow the SIS to break into foreign embassies.

He expressed surprise that there had been a raid on the Indian High Commission and asked why New Zealand would want to carry out a covert attack on that country.

"I have no recollection of that ever hitting my desk and if it did, I have to say, my memory is not gone yet, I'd be very surprised if I was ever advised of any such event. I have no recollection - and that's not just a brush-off."

If accurate, that puts the spies in a very dicey position. Because without a warrant, this was simply a crime. And because the government's retrospective legalisation of SIS crimes in the 90's applied only to those covered by an intelligence warrant, it is one for which the SIS officers involved - which means not just the burglars, but the support and planning staff, and those who purportedly "authorised" it, because they're all parties and co-conspirators - are still legally liable for. Burglary is punishable by ten years imprisonment, and that means it is a Category 3 offence and there is no time limit on bringing charges. If the SIS truly was an ethical organisation committed to democratic control and the rule of law, it would report these crimes to the Minister, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, and the Police, and cooperate so that charges could be brought against its (probably former) agents. Instead, they're probably trying to work out who is talking, and will try and have them prosecuted under John Key's anti-whistleblower law. Because at the end of the day, the spies seem to be all about protecting themselves from public scrutiny. Whereas it really looks like we need protection from them and their lawless behaviour.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020



National's whiteness problem

Todd Muller's first act on become party leader was to appoint an all-white front bench. This understandably raised eyebrows, so he is now apparently reconsidering caucus and list rankings. Which is obviously necessary, but there's still the underlying problem: National doesn't have a lot of Māori MP's. And the reason for that is that it has consciously chosen not to pursue the Māori vote. Thanks to Bill English's retreat into racism over the foreshore and seabed, National decided not to run in the Māori seats in the 2002 election. Don Brash doubled down on that decision, and because they're a conservative party opposed to change, National has stuck with it. And the result is that they haven't run in the Māori seats since 1999 - over twenty years ago. Officially, they pursue Māori voters on the general roll and for the party vote. But by not standing in these seats, the message they are shouting at the top of their lungs is "we are not interested in Māori votes and we are not interested in Māori".

This is bad for National, leading directly to the diversity problems they have today. Seven fewer Māori candidates means seven fewer Māori on the party list means a caucus which doesn't look like New Zealand. But its also bad for our democracy. One of our two major parties is telling 15% of our population "we don't want your votes", and implicitly, "you don't and never will matter". And that is an appallingly racist message for a party which purports to be for all New Zealanders and which leads the government half the time to be sending. We voters can and should judge them on that.

So, if Muller actually wants to fix his party's whiteness problem, he has an obvious solution available. But that would require reversing 18 years of racist policy, not to mention potentially upset incumbent MPs over list placings. And to be honest, I just don't think they have it in them.

China is committing genocide in Xinjiang

China is sterilising Uighur women in Xinjiang in order to suppress their population:

Chinese authorities are carrying out forced sterilisations of women in an apparent campaign to curb the growth of ethnic minority populations in the western Xinjiang region, according to research published on Monday.

The report, based on a combination of official regional data, policy documents and interviews with ethnic minority women, has prompted an international group of lawmakers to call for a United Nations investigation into China’s policies in the region.


Genocide is defined in international law in both the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.


[Emphasis added]

China is not a party to the Rome Statute - it fears international law. But it is a party to the 1948 Convention, having assumed the signature of the former Republic of China. It - and members of its regime - are thus subject to international jurisdiction for this crime. And they need to be investigated and prosecuted for it.

Good riddance

One benefit of the pandemic: the 2021 APEC meeting will now be held online, rather than in New Zealand. As for why this is good news, the cost of hosting that summit would have been to turn New Zealand into a police state for the duration of the meeting. The APEC enabling act would have allowed the government to put the army on the streets as "police" with full arrest and search powers, let foreign security staff bring pistols and automatic weapons into New Zealand and use them, arbitrarily close buildings, roads and public places, require proof of identification ("papers, please") from anyone wanting to enter, jam WiFi and any other radio communications, and all with no right of challenge or appeal, and an explicit over-ride of the BORA. But now, none of that is necessary. The bill is still on the Order Paper waiting for its second reading, but hopefully now it can quietly be dumped.

As for the future, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if the price of hosting such meetings is this sort of erosion of human rights, that price is too high and we should not host them. Letting the PM hob-nob and big-note and get a silly shirt photo with foreign leaders is not worth sacrificing any of our human rights. If she wants to do that, she should do it in some foreign tyranny, not transform New Zealand into a tyranny to accommodate them.

An environmental crime

Meridian energy has been caught manipulating the electricity market for fun and profit:

Meridian Energy pushed up power prices by unnecessary spilling water from its south dams in December that could have been used for generation, the Electricity Authority has ruled in a preliminary decision.

The authority said the "undesirable trading situation" (UTS) could have resulted in other electricity retailers having to pay an extra $80 million for power on the wholesale market, though the final cost could not yet be determined.

"Meridian's activities led to more expensive generation running in the North Island at a time when there was excess fuel in the south," Electricity Authority chief executive James Stevenson-Wallace said.


...and that "more expensive generation" was gas and coal. Running the maths, an estimated 41 GWh of electricity means somewhere between 8 and 13 kilotonnes of extra carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere, in just one month. This isn't just a financial crime - its an environmental one as well.

New Zealand electricity companies have a logn history of pulling these sorts of scams. Back in 2011, it was Genesis doing it, and Meridian was the victim. They did it back in the 90's too. And the reason they do it is because in our electricity market, the marginal generator sets the price, so even if Genesis was providing the electricity, Meridian was benefiting from the higher prices. As for how to stop it, sticking sociopathic business managers in jail seems like a reasonable if short-term solution. In the long-term, we need market reform, or better yet, to eliminate the market entirely. A state-run electricity system with the primary goal of providing power rather than profit will simply not be incentivised to pull such scams. And we'll all be better off as a result.

Monday, June 29, 2020



Removing a hateful symbol

The US state of Mississippi has finally voted to remove the Confederate emblem from its state flag. Good. Its appalling that it was put there in the first place, but even more appalling that it took so long to remove it. Its basicly as if a German Länder still had the Nazi swastika on its flag. and that's just unacceptable.

But while we're talking about removing hateful symbols, its long past time New Zealand got rid of the union jack. Its the flag of the empire which built and profited from the slave trade, which colonised, exploited, and committed horrific crimes across half the world, which invented concentration camps to keep its uncoperative colonial subjects under control, and which is entirely unapologetic about any of that. We had a chance to get rid of that symbol in 2015, and (thanks to shit design choices by the government) we blew it. Its time we had another go.

The Greens' opening bid is transformational change

Over the weekend the Greens made their first election policy announcement, and promised transformational change: a more progressive tax system, with new rates applying to incomes of $100,000 and $150,000; a new wealth tax on net wealth over $1 million; and a guaranteed minimum income to eliminate poverty. Its bold, its progressive, it would make us a better, more equal society. So naturally, National is against it. As for Labour, the party that promised change at the last election, they don't want to talk about it - they're simply missing in action. Which is I guess what you'd expect from a bunch of people who own that many investment properties in Auckland.

A lot of people are quibbling the details of the wealth tax: is the $1 million threshold to low? Is the effective exemption of family homes by individualisation too complex? Will the rich find ways of giving themselves paper debt or paper partners to evade it? But these are implementation details. You can shift around thresholds and exemptions and this and that, but the core principle - that the rich should be paying tax on their hoarded wealth - is something we should all support (though really, its probably easier to implement the property part of it via a land tax, since its basicly impossible to evade). And it puts Labour in an unpleasant position: for all their left-wing talk, they're essentially a status quo party, who now oppose the more equal society they once stood for, or at least, oppose doing anything serious to get us there. But if they oppose this, they're essentially taking on their own base - and especially the young activists who provide the bulk of their electoral workforce. So hopefully, they'll be forced to respond. And while their response will no doubt be an insipid, watered-down half-measure (remember the "bright-line test"?), by accepting the principle, it will open the door to something better in future.

Friday, June 26, 2020



Climate Change: Repealed

One of the big problems with climate change policy is that the government has refused to let local authorities use our major piece of environmental regulation to reduce emissions. Since 2003, local bodies have been explicitly forbidden from considering the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions in their planning documents, and in consent decisions. But now, those restrictions have been repealed:

Coal mines and fossil fuel power plants could be a thing of the past in New Zealand after the Government passed a law which allows environmentally-damaging projects to be refused.

The amendment to the Resource Management Act closes a loophole which allowed consent for new builds without consideration for the environment.


Sadly, this part of the law won't come into effect until 2022, so there's far too much time for dirty polluting infrastructure to be consented and its emissions locked in before then. Also, the parallel provision in the EEZ Act is still in place, so we'll still have the ludicrous situation of the EPA being forbidden to consider climate change impacts when deciding whether to consent new gas wells. But hopefully that will now become a priority for repeal.

The government will supposedly be developing a National Policy Statement on climate change to guide local authorities and their plans. They've been promising that since at least the mid-1990's and the Stratford Power Station decision, and again in 2003 when they passed the ban on considering climate change in the first place. But if they don't, then the courts will effectively do it for them.

No future for Marsden Point

RNZ reports that Refining NZ is considering shutting down Marsden Point and effectively turning itself into a fuel distribution service. The problem they're immediately trying to address is that running a refinery is expensive, and it is cheaper just to import processed fuel. But there's a longer-term problem too: climate change. And that problem means there is basicly no future for Marsden Point.

Its simple: if we are to avoid making the Earth uninhabitable, we need to radically decarbonise our economy. And that means running cars, boats and planes on something other than dirty oil. And no oil means no need for dirty great refineries to process it. Which means that if you're running a refinery, you want to look at ways of getting out of that, or face being a giant, valueless stranded asset. For Marsden Point, shutting down the dirty part, and shifting to distributing imported fuel, is a way to manage that risk. If they don't do it now, they'll be doing it in five or ten years time, and the earlier they do it, the lower the risk to them.

(Refining NZ is also finally entering the ETS, after a 20-year exemption, so that's probably helped drive this. But even if they weren't facing finally having to pay for the pollution they cause, an expectation of declining demand for their product should be enough to push this).

The good news: if they shut down the refinery, that's a few hundred thousand tons of carbon we're no longer emitting. Yes, those emissions will now be happening offshore, on someone else's books (probably in a more modern, cleaner refinery). But it means it will be much easier to reduce emissions in future, because we won't have this hulking facility committed to spewing out carbon to maintain minimum throughput.

As for Northland, its in the same situation as Tarankai or the West Coast: they built their economy on an industry with no future, so they need to find something else to do. There's obvious scope for the government to step in here and try and find an alternative - can Northland do wind, or solar, to help power the electric cars and factories of the future? But fundamentally, the world has changed on them, and all they can do is try and cope with it.

Thursday, June 25, 2020



More progress on secrecy

Last year, I highlighted a secrecy problem with the government's Infrastructure Funding and Financing Bill. The Bill would establish a new class of public entity, "special purpose vehicles", to hide debt from local government balance sheets fund infrastructure such as roads and sewers in "high-growth" councils. The SPVs would collect and spend public money and enjoy statutory powers, but as originally envisioned, would not have been subject to the Official Information Act or LGOIMA. Not due to any real analysis, but because the Department of Internal Affairs had never really thought about it.

Yesterday the Transport and Infrastructure Committee reported back on the bill, and in response to submissions, have decided to make it subject to the Ombudsmen Act (and therefore the OIA):

We believe it is important for levy payers to have transparency about an SPV’s use ofstatutory levy powers. As SPVs would be performing public functions and spending public money, we believe there should be a high level of scrutiny over their operations. We note that the Chief Ombudsman has also expressed his belief that SPVs should be subject to the OIA and the Ombudsmen Act.

We note that other private entities are subject to the OIA to the extent they perform public functions. Scrutiny of public functions should not be avoided because those functions are performed by a private firm.

We therefore recommend inserting a provision in Schedule 2 of the bill to make SPVs subject to the Ombudsmen Act in relation to their administration of, and compliance with, the levy order and this legislation. This amendment would automatically make SPVs subject to the OIA.


So we get not just transparency, but also a right of review by the Ombudsman for unreasonable behaviour. Which could come in handy.

Meanwhile, I'm still shocked that departments aren't bothering to analyse whether new agencies should be subject to the OIA regime. The Law Commission told us the criteria for inclusion back in their 2012 review. Departments should be more than capable of applying these guidelines, rather than leaving it to random members of the public to do so.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020



Erasing a stain on our democracy

National's prisoner-voting ban was a stain on our democracy. Passed in defiance of the Bill of Rights Act, with an absence of thought, it brought our parliament into disrepute. But now, that stain has been at least partially erased, with the passage of the Electoral (Registration of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill tonight. But the bullshit the ban symbolised isn't over:

The Green Party have won a last-minute change to the prisoner voting bill that may technically allow all prisoners to register to vote - with the help of the National Party.

But Justice Minister Andrew Little says this change to the bill will be corrected.

[...]

“We saw mindless politics from the National Party tonight. The Green Party SOP had two separate amendments. The one that extended the right to vote to all prisoners was voted down. The other one taking away the Electoral Commission’s power to remove disqualified voters from enrolling was inexplicably supported by the National Party. We will be correcting this in the House next week," Little said in a statement.


So it seems that Labour is just as keen on performative cruelty and human rights abuse as National. But if they want to "correct" it next week, they're going to need urgency, and they're going to find that difficult without Green votes. Unless they want to club together with the opposition to fuck over their confidence and supply partner - in which case the latter should simply tell them to rely on National to pass the rest of their legislative program for the term.

Meanwhile, in the long-term, this debacle has shown us that we can not trust Parliament to guard our human rights, as venal politicians will always abuse human rights to suck up to arseholes. But it has also shown us the solution: the courts seized the power to declare legislation inconsistent with the BORA, and effectively shamed them into this repeal. The government is currently trying to tame this power with a bullshit half-measures bill, which would channel that public shame into a parliamentary report - another fine example of Labour's status quo "reform". If you think that that's not enough, and you'd like a BORA with real teeth, then please submit on the bill here.

Have NZ cops been trained to be killers?

Over the past few weeks, there's been a lot of attention on the question of why American police are so violent, and so often murder people. There are a pile of reasons for this, including the racist roots of their entire policing system, but part of the answer seems to come down to a guy called Dave Grossman. The author of a book called On Killing, he now runs police training courses on "killology" and the "warrior cop", basicly encouraging police to be murderers and trigger-happy psychopaths. According to Grossman, the only good cop is a killer.

So far, so horrifyingly American. But there's an unpleasant local angle: according to his marketing material (example; there are plenty of others), Grossman has trained people in New Zealand:

Col. Grossman is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement trainers. He is the author of the Pulitzer-nominated book, On Killing. He has served as a trainer and keynote speaker for all major national and international law enforcement training organizations and has taught the representatives of literally thousands of federal and regional agencies in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

[Emphasis added]

Which raises the obvious question: has he trained police here? Has he been training New Zealand police officers to be psychopaths and murderers? I think the police - and other government agencies - owe us some answers here.

Overseeing the COVID-19 law

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 is currently being reviewed by a select committee, ahead of the first vote (in early August) on whether to extend it. The law includes clauses requiring orders to be approved by Parliament, and allowing them to be revoked at any time by the House. Today's Order Paper includes a sessional order establishing rules around that. Firstly, no motion to continue or revoke the Act will be allowed before the select committee has reported. Secondly, all new orders will be sent to the Regulations Review Committee, which must report back within 12 working (not sitting) days, and approval motions will not be permitted until the committee has reported back. Finally, disallowance motions moved by a member of the Regulations Review Committee will be given priority over other business.

All up, this looks like a good set of measures to ensure proper Parliamentary oversight of the law, and ensure the House can properly perform its functions.

Status quo "reform"

Last year, the government promised that it would strengthen whistleblower protections. Today, they finally released the bill. There's one major change: "[a] discloser is entitled to protection for a protected disclosure made to an appropriate authority at any time" - an "appropriate authority" being public sector heads, officers of Parliament, or various oversight bodies as listed in the schedule to the bill. But note who it specifically excludes: Ministers and MPs. Whistleblowers will only be able to go to the Minister where their organisation has failed to investigate. And if they just drag their feet or stage an internal coverup, you're on very shaky ground trying to do the right thing.

And other than that, its basicly a re-enactment of existing law, with updated language. There's no criminalisation of retaliation against whistleblowers - that remains a strictly civil affair, to be dealt with by the victim at their own expense. And there's no protection of disclosures to the media to ensure a full and proper investigation (permitted in some Australian states). Instead, disclosures to media are explicitly labelled as "bad faith". The law will do nothing to protect whistleblowers in the sort of case which supposedly inspired it.

If this is "reform", its the "reform" from people who think that everything is working as it should, that nothing much needs to change, and that whistleblowers are the problem rather than a solution. As for Chris Hipkins' goal of ensuring that employees feel safe to report cases of serious misconduct - explicitly seen as a failure of the current law - it will change nothing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020



Farmers are poisoning Canterbury

Last year we learned that relatively low levels of nitrates in drinking water were linked to increased incidence of colorectal cancer. New Zealand has a lot of nitrates, thanks to all those cows pissing everywhere. So how bad is the problem here? Bad:

2020 data obtained by Forest & Bird through the Official Information Act shows multiple Canterbury councils have reported nitrate-nitrogen levels this year well above 0.88 mg/l, with Selwyn, Ashburton, Timaru, and Waitaki presenting especially concerning levels.

The supply for the Rangitata Huts reached a recent maximum of 11.43 mg/l in June last year, having since dropped back to 8.85 mg/l in April.

Ashburton’s Tinwald treatment plants recorded a nitrate-nitrogen level of 7.01 mg/l, well above the increased risk levels for colorectal, colon, and rectal cancer, and above the Ministry of Health level of 5.65 mg/l that prompts ongoing monitoring of the supply. Numerous other supplies across the wider Ashburton district recorded similar levels.

Forest & Bird says the results are a wakeup call for the government, which last month decided not to put a Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen limit of 1.0 mg/l (similar to nitrate-nitrogen) in the new freshwater reforms, ignoring the advice of its Science and Technical Advisory Group, as well as submissions from the New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine (that called for a level “considerably lower than 1 mg/L of DIN”), and the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.


The dairy industry is slowly poisoning people in those towns. And by refusing to regulate them properly, the government is effectively colluding in it. And at some stage, we need to decide what is more important: people's lives, or farmers' profits.

Getting what they paid for again

It looks like the fishing industry is still getting what they pay for:

The Government has again bowed to fishing industry pressure and refused to extend a marine reserve around Campbell Island, a subantarctic sanctuary recognised for its value in conserving and maintaining unique creatures.

Campbell Island/Motu Ihupuku is uninhabited and is New Zealand's southern-most island. It is accepted as one of the most pristine places on earth and an important breeding ground for seabirds and marine mammals.

The move has exposed a split between the Green Party and its Government partner Labour over protection of the oceans.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage says she backed enlarging the sanctuary. But she was overruled by Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash, who sided with industrial fishing interests.


There's no actual fishing down there, but the fishing industry opposes sanctuaries for ideological reasons: they hate the idea that there might be anywhere they are not allowed to pillage. They're not interested in sustainable management, they're not "stewards" ensuring a viable future for their industry, they're purely about environmental destruction. As for how to stop it, a first step is to vote out the politicians they've bought, and elect ones they can't buy.

Monday, June 22, 2020



One country at a time

Something I missed in the lockdown chaos: Chad has abolished the death penalty:

The European Union has hailed Chad for abolishing the death penalty for terrorism crimes nearly five years since its last execution.

In a statement on Saturday, the EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Virginie Battu-Henriksson, said the move by Chad should be emulated by other countries that still allow death penalties.

“With this law, Chad has become the 22nd African state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes,” said Battu-Henriksson.


80% of African nations are already abolitionist in law or in practice, and hopefully we'll see more countries following suit.

Climate Change: Undermining their own policy

The most effective way New Zealand has of fighting climate change and preventing the earth from becoming uninhabitable in the short term is planting trees to soak up carbon. And, thanks to the carbon price being hard up against the cap for a few years, this has finally been happening. But now, the government is threatening to stop it:

The much criticised conversion of farm land into forestry could be checked by the government if it goes too far, politicians have been told.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, who is also Minister for Rural Communities, yesterday told Parliament's Primary Production Select Committee that land conversions might have to be reviewed if they reach 40,000 hectares a year.

The conversion of farmland into forestry has been repeatedly accused of undermining thriving rural communities and replacing them with a green desert.


Which is typical for how climate change policy works in this country: when something looks like being effective, someone whines and the government backs off and stops it. Which is why we have 25 years of failed policy and why we expect to completely miss our targets. Which is great for established interests who want to keep profiting from wrecking the planet, but very bad for everyone else.

We can't afford to do this anymore. We are at 100 seconds to midnight. It was over 30 Celsius in Siberia last week. Parts of Antactica are turning green. Australia burned down last summer, and it'll probably do it again this year. We actually need to act. And if its a choice between futureless rural communities and the planet, I'm voting for the planet.

Thursday, June 18, 2020



Drawn

A ballot for two Member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • District Court (Protection of Judgment Debtors with Disabilities) Amendment Bill (Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki)
  • Local Government (Customer Focus) Amendment Bill (Jacqui Dean)

These are both pretty boring bills, which make tweaks rather than big, contentious changes. I don't expect any of them to receive a first reading until after the election.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020



Climate Change: The final squeals of a dying industry

The Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading Reform) Amendment Bill, which finally make the ETS sortof function, over a decade after it was first established. Farmers are naturally unhappy, claiming that the law will see polluters buying farms to plant trees, effectively driving them off the land. To which the only response should be "good" - because we are already better off without those farms.

I did the maths on this last year, when farmers were squealing about rural communities being killed off by tree planting. Their example then was forestry conversions in Tararua, which would lead to the loss of 47,500 sheep, 20,500 cattle, and ~$1.7 million from the local economy. But at $25 / ton, the carbon cost of the avoided emissions from those animals was already catching up with that economic value. And carbon prices are now at $30/ton, making the value of avoided emissions $1.65 million. Last week, they were over $32, and forward units were over $35. So we're basicly in a situation now where the economic benefit of those farms is less than the climate damage they do. Farmers are protected from that reality because they are effectively subsidised by not being included in the ETS. But we are better off as a society if those farms on marginal land shut down. And that's without considering the value of any carbon stored in trees.

Obviously, some farms will be more efficient. But for those that aren't, the best thing that can happen is for the market to take its course. And the sooner it does, the better.

Submit!

The Privileges Committee has called for submissions on the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill. The bill recognises that the courts can declare legislation to be inconsistent with the BORA, and requires the Attorney-General to report such declarations to Parliament. While there's no requirement in law for the government to respond in any way, the committee will apparently also be considering changes to the House's standing orders which may include such a requirement.

This is basicly the absolute minimum that the government could do, and its scandalous that it has taken them so long to drag them to even this point. But its better than nothing. And apparently that's all we can expect from this "transformational" government: "better than nothing".

If you're interested in submitting on the bill, you can do so here.

Some progress on secrecy clauses

Over the past year I've noticed a rise in the number of secrecy clauses in legislation: specific clauses requiring that certain information be kept confidential, effectively forbidding its release under the OIA. The most shocking bit is that these are usually applied to information collected from other government agencies, and driven by public sector dysfunction and internal distrust, but a desire to protect "commercially sensitive" information (which is already protected by the OIA) is also a driver. I've investigated these clauses usig the OIA, and submitted on a few bills to argue against them. And in some cases, the message seems to be getting through.

The first case is the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission Bill, which is currently waiting for its third reading. As drafted, this had a secrecy clause with the usual ambigious "required by law" language. Past Ombudsman's rulings have suggested that this might not be enough to allow disclosure, as the generalised duty of confidentiality would prevail. The good news is that the Ministry of Health didn't intend the section to override the OIA, and the Ombudsman suggested phrasing which explicitly recognises the right of access under the OIA (so, its basicly a "don't randomly share this stuff" clause). Hopefully this will become the standard in future.

The second is the new Forests (Regulation of Log Traders and Forestry Advisers) Amendment Bill, which is currently waiting for its second reading. In this case, the new Forestry Authority would have statutory information-gathering powers, which led to concerns from some submitters about commercially sensitive information. But rather than impose a secrecy clause, the committee instead included a clause saying the OIA applied as usual:

See section 9 of the Official Information Act 1982 for reasons for the Forestry Authority to withhold any official information it holds (including where making the information available would disclose a trade secret or be likely unreasonably to prejudice a person’s commercial position).

Looking at the summary of submissions, the driver here was MPI recognising that commercially sensitive information is already protected by the OIA. Unfortunately, other agencies seem to lack this basic understanding of the law. But when they suggest a traditional secrecy clause in future, we will now have a good example to point to.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020



Equality wins in the US

The US Supreme Court has ruled that existing anti-discrimination law covers sexual orientation and identity:

The top court in the US has ruled that employers who fire workers for being gay or transgender are breaking the country's civil rights laws.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court said federal law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, should be understood to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The ruling is a major win for LGBT workers and their allies.


This is despite Trump trying to stack the court with Conservatives - it appears that even they can read a statute, and understand that firing someone for being gay or trans necessarily involves consideration of sex, and punishing them for behaviour that they would not question if they had been of a different sex. A lot of people on the American right are probably wondering what the point of court-stacking is if these people turn out to have limits to their hackery (not everyone is as limitless as Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas). Because for them, its not actually about the law, but the "social order" they think it upholds: an order which has people like them at the top, and everyone else subject to their whim. Hopefully this case will be another rock on their grave.

Labour chickenshits out on gun control

In the wake of the Christchurch Mosque shootings, Labour moved urgently on gun control. Semi-automatic firearms were banned immediately. But their second tranche of legislation, designed to establish a more permanent framework, got bogged down by NZ First. And now it looks like Labour has chickened out, and will let them gut it, in an effort to get it passed before the election:

Plans to set up a gun register could be delayed for up to three years as the Government aims to establish an independent entity to take over firearms licensing and administration from the police.

The move is part of a suite of changes to the Arms Legislation Bill, which saw the Labour Party give in to most of NZ First’s demands.

However, the Bill may not pass before the election, with NZ First MP Ron Mark saying the party was still "disappointed” with the outcome, which did not make exemptions for sporting shooters.


They're also moving to let farmers keep illegal semi-automatic weapons for "pest control", rather than limiting them to a tight group of restricted users. Which basicly means weapons like the ones used to murder people in Christchurch will be in the hands of every farmer in the country, so they can shoot "rabbits".

But this backdown wasn't necessary. Gun control is a hugely popular issue in urban New Zealand. Labour could have simply publicly blamed NZ First for the delay, then campaigned on passing the law without their amendments. Instead, they chose to chicken out, and grovel to a coalition partner who is actively sabotaging a core part of their agenda, when they had no real need to. Its as if having your backbone - or values - surgically removed is a requirement for party membership or something.

Shit like this is why, outside of crises, Labour has been a government of disappointment. And its why their promises mean nothing - whatever they offer, they'll just back down the moment someone disagrees with them. Voters can not and should not trust such cowards.

The police fail again

Ever since he killed 51 people in Christchurch, people have been asking how the hell the Christch mosque shooter managed to get a firearms licence. And now we know the answer: the police just didn't bother checking properly:

The March 15 terrorist was wrongly granted a firearms licence due to a string of police failures, sources have told Stuff.

The terrorist, who pleaded guilty to New Zealand's worst mass shooting in March, was not properly inspected by police vetting staff when he applied for a firearms licence in 2017.

Stuff has been told that, among other errors, police failed to interview a family member as required, instead relying on two men who met the terrorist through an internet chatroom.

The error was overlooked when police granted him the firearms licence, allowing the Australian citizen to stockpile the semi-automatic guns later used to murder 51 people.

This wasn't just a single failure - multiple police officers fucked this up. As for why, its hard to escape the conclusion that they just didn't think it was important - and certainly less important than, say, harassing activists for their political views, or kicking in people's doors over cannabis. But ensuring that those who hold firearms licences is a core preventative measure, a key way of ensuring public safety. It speaks volumes that the police took their eye of that ball, and it really makes you wonder what else they're not paying attention to while they chase protesters and harmless drug users.

Ending the DHB scam?

The government has announced the results of its review of the health system, and it looks like a thorough shake-up:

The Government is backing a proposal for the biggest reforms to healthcare in a generation, which includes culling the number of District Health Boards around the country and dropping elections for their members.

Two years in the making, a review team of experts - led by health economist and former Helen Clark confidant Heather Simpson - has proposed a complete overhaul of the health system.

Among the review’s main recommendations are:
  • A new health authority, Health NZ, to take control of the health system.
  • A reduction in the number of district health boards, from 20 to between 8 and 12, in the next five years.
  • Ending elections for DHB members and making them all Government-appointed.
  • A Māori health authority to sit alongside Health NZ and the Ministry of Health.
Good. Because the current system - where DHBs are elected but have no power or independence - is just a scam designed to prevent accountability. When people complain about health funding, the Minister - who makes all the decisions and decides what gets funded where - gets to point the finger at the DHB and say "their fault", while the DHB can do the same right back. The result of this mutual blame-shift is left as an exercise for your next visit to your local hospital. A return to appointed membership will make it clear that they are servants and functionaries and that the real decisions are made by the Minister who appoints them - and that that Minister is the one who should be held accountable for failures of resourcing. So I expect the way this will go is that the government will adopt all the plans - greater centralisation, fewer DHBs - but keep the pointless elections, because Ministers love having a permanent blame sink.

Monday, June 15, 2020



Steamrolling democracy

The government will be introducing its bill to gut the RMA this week. The bill will replace the current RMA process with a Muldoonist one for selected, projects, removing public submission rights and effectively gagging us and preventing us from speaking up for our interests or presenting evidence to inform the decision. It will also remove appeal rights, meaning that when a bad decision is inevitably made, there will be no legal way of correcting it. And by setting up the Minister as a gatekeeper to this fast-track process, it makes them a nexus for lobbying and corruption.

As for the process, the bill will be introduced to Parliament this week, sent to select committee, and reported back by June 29th - meaning a select committee process of just two weeks. Such a short submissions period means that a) people won't have time to frame a proper submission; and b) committee members won't have time to read or engage with it. The result is to turn the select committee process into a democratic fraud, a box-ticking exercise designed purely to give a semblance of "consultation" to a pre-determined decision. And as with other examples, I do not think people should waste their time on it, except to register their opposition. And again, its appalling that the Greens are supporting this - both the bill and the process. What a pack of fucking footstools.

As for the projects they will be legislatively fast-tracking, at lest they're not all roads. But each and every one of them deserves a full consenting process, so that the community's views can be heard and a good decision made. Our democracy is more important than their economic growth.

The Labour list

Labour released its party list today, and it goes all the way to 84 - enough candidates for 70% of the vote (or a lot of mid-term replacements). There are a couple of high profile demotions, though the list spots are still more than winnable, so that's really just stabbing those MPs in their vanity. There's also a lot of people being downranked in the midlist, a decision forced by Labour's Māori MP's suddenly deciding they have competition again. but the lowest-ranked incumbent is at spot 49, so it looks like they're in no danger unless Labour's polling collapses to less than 40%. Meanwhile, one name is conspicuous by its absence: Ōhāriu MP and former Police Association spokesperson Greg O'Connor. I'm not sure if this is because he has chosen to go electorate only, because he is planning a shock retirement-announcement, or whether the Labour Party realised that in the current climate, sticking an advocate of an armed police force on the list was toxic. But whatever, his absence is welcome. And if he is competing in Ōhāriu, I hope the voters throw him out on his arse so his toxic voice for violence is gone forever.

I've done the usual table showing who's up and who's down, though I stopped at 60, because what a) nobody knows who those people are; and b) no-one wins 50% of the vote anyway.

2020 RankName2017 RankDifference
1Jacinda Ardern1--
2Kelvin Davis2--
3Grant Robertson4+1
4Phil Twyford5+1
5Megan Woods6+1
6Chris Hipkins7+1
7Andrew Little3-4
8Carmel Sepuloni8--
9David Parker9+1
10Nanaia Mahuta----
11Trevor Mallard33+22
12Stuart Nash11-1
13Iain Lees-Galloway14-1
14Jenny Salesa19+5
15Damien O'Connor18+3
16Kris Faafoi20+4
17David Clark9-8
18Ayesha Verrall----
19Peeni Henare----
20Willie Jackson22+2
21Aupito William Sio16-5
22Poto Williams25+3
23Vanushi Walters----
24Michael Wood27+3
25Adrian Rurawhe----
26Raymond Huo13-13
27Kiri Allan21-6
28Kieran McAnulty38+10
29Louisa Wall26-3
30Meka Whaitiri----
31Rino Tirikatene----
32Camilla Belich----
33Priyanca Radhakrishnan12-21
34Jan Tinetti15-19
35Deborah Russell30-5
36Marja Lubeck32-4
37Angie Warren-Clark39+2
38Willow-Jean Prime17-21
39Tamati Coffey35-4
40Naisi Chen50+10
41Jo Luxton29-12
42Jamie Strange36-6
43Liz Craig31-12
44Ibrahim Omer----
45Duncan Webb43-2
46Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki37-9
47Ginny Andersen28-19
48Rachel Brooking----
49Paul Eagle34-15
50Helen White40-10
51Barbara Edmonds----
52Angela Roberts----
53Shanan Halbert51-2
54Neru Leavasa----
55Tracey McLellan----
56Lemauga Lydia Sosene44-12
57Steph Lewis----
58Dan Rosewarne----
59Rachel Boyack48-11
60Arena Williams----

Friday, June 12, 2020



Even NZ First gets it

NZ First is a party normally associated with racist "law and order" dogwhistling. But even they think our police are over-armed:

New Zealand First is calling for an independent review into the arming of frontline police officers with military-grade assault rifles.

Semi-automatics are routinely stored in a lock box in patrol cars.

The party says scrapping the Police Armed Response Teams was the right move, but examining police use of guns shouldn't stop there.

Now is the time to also rethink the firearms that officers have access to, their training to use them, and when they used, MP Ron Mark says

"In light of global events, and the fact that we have just confiscated all the semi-automatics across New Zealand, let's have a rethink. We strongly believe police are inappropriately armed against a reduced threat of a disarmed public."


On the one hand, this is welcome. On the other, if Mark really thinks that, then the answer isn't an inquiry, but legislation to restrict ordinary use of firearms to designated specialist units and place safeguards and oversight around their use. Because the level of force police are allowed to use and how is absolutely a political question, and one our politicians can and should be held responsible for.

Gone by lunchtime

Earlier in the week, inspired by events in the UK and USA, New Zealand finally started talking about our toxic legacy of racist, colonial monuments. And that conversation has already paid off, with Hamilton City Council removing a statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton. They were told it would be taken down by local iwi this weekend, and so it is literally gone by lunchtime.

Who was Hamilton? A murderer and a thief. He commanded a British ship during the Second Opium War - when Britain used military force to keep China addicted to drugs - and then died at the Battle of Gate Pā in Tauranga, when the colonial government tried to expand its campaign of land theft from the Waikato to the Bay of Plenty. Why would any modern New Zealander want to celebrate and glorify someone like that?

Now it has been taken down, the statue can be put in a museum, with an appropriate historical context. Alternatively, it could just be returned to the local racists who funded it.

Thursday, June 11, 2020



We should not celebrate racists, thieves and slavers

Following the removal of a number of racist monuments overseas by Black Lives matter protesters, the Māori Party has called for a review of similar monuments and symbols in New Zealand:

Māori Party Co-leader and Te Tai Hauāuru candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer is calling on the Government to establish an inquiry that is focused on identifying and getting rid of racist monuments, statues and names from our colonial era.

[...]

“We still honour some of the most racist and oppressive figures from our colonial history with monuments, statues and place names in towns and cities across the country.

“I am calling on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government to work alongside hapū and iwi Māori and other communities of colour in Aotearoa to undertake a comprehensive inquiry into colonial monuments and statues, place names, and street names.

As for why, all over the country Māori have to walk down streets named after people who literally murdered their ancestors. We have place names and public monuments celebrating land thieves, slave-owners, and torturers. The town I live in, Palmerston North, is named after the fucker who started the opium wars and who evicted and starved his tenants to death during the Great Hunger.

Place names and monuments are not about history. They are about what we glorify and celebrate. And who we (or rather, our ancestors) have chosen to glorify and celebrate as a society is sick and wrong. We can, we should, change that. As for how, given the scale of the problem, a national inquiry seems more than justified. The alternative is to leave it to people to chip away locally. And in the case of monuments, that will probably be literal.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020



Armed Response Teams were racist

How racist were the Police's "Armed Response Teams"? Half of all the people they arrested or used force against were Māori:

Māori made up more than 50 percent of arrests and uses of force by members of the now-scrapped Armed Response Teams (ARTs), police data shows.

During the six-month trial, the armed teams went to more than 200 mental health and suicide threat incidents, more than a dozen cannabis offences, and even checked how 17 businesses were adhering to pandemic rules.

[...]

Of the 1651 offence or weapon incidents where a person's ethnicity was known, 51 percent were Māori, 36 percent Pākehā, 10 percent Pacific, less than 3 percent Asian and less than 1 percent Middle Eastern, Latin American or African.

There were 49 uses of force towards people; of which 53 percent were used against Māori people, 41 percent against Pākehā, and 4 percent against Pasifika.


16.5% of the population are Māori, so that's a pretty big disparity.

But its not just racism which is the problem, but also the sheer inappropriateness of using armed police for the jobs they were doing. Not just the traffic stops which were the majority of their duties - in addition to the mental health incidents and suicide threats mentioned above, they also turned up, with guns, to 746 family harm incidents. And then there's this:
One suicidal man was pepper sprayed. Others who were suicidal or in mental distress had Tasers presented towards them.

I'm appalled that people with health problems are threatened with chemical or electric torture. It smacks of C19th barbarism.

It is not appropriate for police to be responding to these calls with guns, tasers, pepper-spray and rubber bullets. Instead, we need specialist mental health teams to deal with them. As for how to pay for them, given that police are already doing it, we should take the money straight out of their budget. Defund the police, and fund something better.

Why we need cameras on fishing boats

Via Newsroom, the argument for why we need cameras on fishing boats in one graph:
CamerasOnBoats

It is pretty obvious what is going on here: a pervasively criminal industry under-reporting to avoid having to clean up its act. Rather than coddle them and drag their feet with endless delays, the government should enforce the law and police them properly.

Our tone-deaf police

Yesterday, the Police announced that Armed Response Teams would not be part of policing in New Zealand. This morning, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster was on RNZ talking about the "trial". And the first thing he talked about was giving police more weapons:

Coster: The example that we've seen through the course of the ART trial was sponge rounds. They're a less-lethal option that allow incapacitation of someone from a safe distance, and that can avoid the need to actually use a firearm.

Espiner: So like a rubber bullet type of thing?

Coster: Its a sponge round. If you can imagine a 40mm sponge projectile that can wind people or incapacitate them sufficiently to get close and arrest them without needing to use a firearm.


What he's talking about is this. The NZ police bought 850 of them back in 2013 for the armed offenders squad. They're used primarily by oppressive regimes - Israel, Hong Kong, the US - for "crowd control": to suppress protests. They're being used in the US right this minute against Black Lives Matter protesters and the journalists covering them. As for what they do, while Coster talks of "wind[ing] and incapacitat[ing]", in reality these weapons break bones, blind, and kill. A quick google will show you distressing pictures of what they do to people and turn up news reports of kids being killed by them. For the police to be talking about deploying them now, when this is on all our feeds, shows how completely tone-deaf they are on the issue of militarisation. We don't want them to have these weapons. We don't want that sort of policing - the American, beat people and shoot them style - in our country. We can see, right now, what it means and where it goes. And the police just are not getting the message.

The police's enthusiasm for more and more weapons with which to hurt us and their refusal to listen to the public shows that they need to be bought under control. Parliament needs to legislate immediately to do so.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020



Undemocratic and unconstitutional

Years ago we learned that the SIS spied on Green MP Keith Locke, both before and after he was elected to Parliament. Now it turns out that he wasn't alone:

A senior Labour politician was spied on by the SIS while an MP in the 1980s and 1990s - even though for part of that time he had an oversight role of the intelligence agency as chair of the justice select committee.

Richard Northey, a Labour MP between 1984 and 1990 and again between 1993 and 1996, said it was "outrageous" that the SIS had kept a file on him while he was a sitting MP with a democratic mandate.

[...]

After a request from RNZ, the SIS declassified documents held by Archives New Zealand, including letters sent and received by Northey while he was chair of the justice select committee overseeing the SIS Amendment Bill in 1989.

The documents included correspondence between Northey and then-prime minister David Lange, then-deputy prime minister Geoffrey Palmer and also advice Northey received from the commissioner of security warrants.


[Note: The position of Commissioner of Security Warrants was not established until 1999. So I'm wondering if this was correspondence with the Commissioner of Security Appeals - the forerunner of the modern Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. If so, it would be even more troubling for the SIS to have their hands on that advice]

The "justification" for the surveillance was Northey's campaigning for racial equality and nuclear disarmament - something which seems contrary to the political neutrality clause the SIS was subject to at the time. But as noted above, he wasn't just an MP, but the chair of the committee responsible for overseeing them, and for considering SIS-related legislation. Browsing the Hansard (pages 94 - 105) on the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Bill 1987 (which would have moved the power to issue warrants from the Prime Minister to the Chief Justice; it was sent to select committee and apparently died there), it appears that this was the first time that the SIS had been subjected to any form of Parliamentary oversight. It is bad enough that they were spying on people for their political views, who pursued change peacefully and democraticly. That is grossly undemocratic. But spying on one of the people who was supposed to be keeping an eye on them is downright unconstitutional, a direct attack on our system of democracy. And it really does make you wonder who they thought they were working for back then.

Officially, that sort of thing doesn't happen any more. The SIS officially recognises that it is not appropriate to spy on sitting MPs except in exceptional circumstances, and has a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the Speaker on the subject. Whether that actually means anything in practice is something we probably won't know for another 30 years. But give the change in policy, the least the SIS can do is apologise, to Northey and the people of New Zealand, for their past misdeeds. Until they do, we're perfectly entitled to believe that they haven't really changed a bit.

A victory for public safety

The Police have today announced that "Armed Response Teams" - gangs of heavily-armed police cruising Māori-Pacifica neighbourhoods in juiced-up gun-trucks looking for people to shoot - will not be part of policing in New Zealand. Good riddance. Their "trial" was a bad joke, and really just an excuse to intimidate the public with gun-toting cops (who mostly did traffic stops). But the change in Commissioner has led to a change in policy, with Andrew Coster recognising that policing in New Zealand happens by consent, and waving guns around erodes that consent.

But while this is good news, the fact that this "trial" was even run was appalling, as is the fact that the politicians meant to be supervising the police let them pass it off as an "operational matter". There needs to be accountability for that. And the police still have pistols and assault rifles in every car, with few limits on their use. That needs to change. As for how, Parliament can and should legislate to restrict the ordinary use of firearms to designated specialist units, and implement safeguards and oversight of their use by other officers, including Ministerial signoff and Parliamentary veto for any temporary general arming of the sort we had in the aftermath (rather than immediate response to) the Christchurch Mosque attack (thanks to Graeme Edgeler for the details beyond the first bit of this). And they should implement better oversight of "non-lethal" weapons such as tasers and pepper-spray, to require regular pro-active publication of information on how they are used, and mandatory use-of-force reviews of officers who use them (or any other form of force) too often, with an eye to sacking or desking officers who cannot be trusted. Because as we're seeing from the regular IPCA reports, police are increasingly abusing force. As they are incapable of holding one another to account, Parliament needs to.

Monday, June 08, 2020



The SIS's illegal burglary

RNZ has a story today about the SIS burgling the Czech embassy in 1986 to try and steal a code-book, in violation of the Vienna convention. At the Prime Minister's press conference this afternoon, she was asked if they had broken the law, and wibbled about it. But I think its a good question. Answering it requires delving into the history of SIS intelligence warrant provisions.

When the SIS was put on a legal footing in 1969, its governing legislation included no warrant provisions whatsoever. If they were bugging embassies and conducting black-bag jobs against people Muldoon didn't like, it was all illegal, done on an "above the law" basis. In 1977, probably in response to some scandal, this was finally bought under control by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Act 1977, which gave them a formal warrant provision. This let them, with Ministerial approval, intercept or seize "any communication not otherwise lawfully obtainable by the person making the interception or seizure". This situation prevailed until 1999, when (in response to the Court of Appeal ruling that the SIS had exceeded its powers in burgling the home of GATT Watchdog activist Aziz Choudry) Parliament legislated to allow the SIS to seize documents or things under warrant, to give them formal powers of entry to execute warrants, and to say that the latter - but not the former - applied retrospectively (because, as we all know, when the spies are caught breaking the law, their actions are declared legal, rather than them being held accountable).

What does this mean for the embassy burglary? Well, the break-in - the illegal entry - was illegal at the time, but retrospectively legalised in 1999. But if they actually took any document or thing (rather than a "communication", which from context is something transitory like a phone call, or else is a letter; a code book probably doesn't count), then they committed a crime, and that crime was not retrospectively legalised in 1999. And the people who took it or conspired to do so - and what is a planned operation, if not a conspiracy in law - can be prosecuted for theft (not burglary, because the trespass was retrospectively legal), and jailed for up to 7 years. And, if the rule of law means anything, they should be.

Meanwhile, Andrew Little is refusing to say whether he authorises embassy burglaries. He also says that the spies operate within the law, including international law which has been incorporated into domestic law. If the latter is true, then he needs to look at s5 of the Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act 1968, which incorporates Articles 1, 22 to 24, and 27 to 40 of the Vienna Convention into NZ law. This includes provisions such as "the premises of the mission shall be inviolable" and "the archives and documents of the mission shall be inviolable", and "the official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable". Then he needs to look at s54 of the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 (and its long series of predecessors), which specifically establishes a lower standard of scrutiny for intelligence warrants which target only foreign citizens, and ask why we should believe him when the law itself calls him a liar. If he wants to be taken seriously, he should legislate a specific exemption, just so there is no confusion. If he doesn't want to do that, then he should be more careful about which lies he lets the SIS put in his mouth.

We did it!

New Zealand now has zero active cases of Covid-19. None. After 75 days, and 22 deaths, the epidemic is over... for now. But its still wildly out of control in the rest of the world. Which is why those people demanding that we re-open the border to countries which still have the disease - invariably so they or their friends can make money - need to be told to fuck off. We're currently in a little bubble of normality. But it takes only one case to get through undetected, one person to break quarantine, and we're back where we started. Except next time, it will be harder, because people are tired of the restrictions and will be less willing to comply. Its obviously better to not end up in that situation, which means keeping the border closed, and only opening it to countries which have eradicated the virus and which have similarly strong border restrictions to keep it out.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering: will the epidemic notice - an important policy instrument which gives the government all sorts of special powers - be revoked, or allowed allowed to expire on its current date of June 24? There are big policy implications from this - the entire order system under the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act depends on it, as do various special powers under the Health Act, plus things like visa extensions for people trapped here by the border closure - so it might take a little time to work through. But its a question the government should be prepared to front up and answer.

On political capital

Over the weekend, Green co-leader James Shaw gave an interview where he expressed disappointment that Labour hadn't spent more political capital than they had. Stuff's Andrea Vance has followed that up with an opinion piece asking "what good is popularity if you fail to do anything with it?" arguing that Labour basicly wasted its honeymoon. I'd go stronger than that. Because if you can remember back to before (gestures vaguely) all this happened, Labour's re-election was looking uncertain. Unless something big changed, they were on track to be a one-term government. And they were headed in that direction precisely because they had repeatedly refused to spend their political capital, repeatedly refused to provide any real policy payoff that would remind their voters that they were worth voting for. They had become a government of disappointment, who had left their supports disillusioned.

We've since been reminded that government matters, that who is in charge matters, and Ardern's stellar response in a crisis has left her and her government one of the most popular in New Zealand history. It seems almost certain they will be re-elected in September, probably in a landslide. Which invites the question: will Ardern actually do anything with that popularity this time? Or will she waste it - again - and simply collect a fat salary for presiding over an unjust and unequal status quo? And if its going to be the latter, why should anyone vote for her?

Friday, June 05, 2020



Its not an experiment if you don't collect data

When the New Zealand Police started using Armed Response Teams - gangs of heavily-armed police cruising Māori-Pacifica neighbourhoods in juiced-up gun-trucks - they told us it was a "trial". But it turns out that those armed police - who were mainly doing traffic stops and bail checks, rather than the "high-risk incidents" we were told they'd be handling - weren't even bothering to collect data on their callouts:

Police in the Armed Response Teams failed to record their callouts properly on almost every occasion during the trial's first two months.

The six-month experiment ended in April. The trial involved a group of officers in three regions - Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury - equipped with guns on their hips at all times.

Officers were expected to record and submit data on every single call-out. In the first two months, data from five out of every six callouts was missing.

Police did not provide the total rate of responses for the remainder of the trial when asked by RNZ. Instead a spokesperson said the evaluation of the trial would "only be one of the factors taken into consideration as part of our decision making".


Which is just heaping bullshit on bullshit. It's not an experiment if you don't collect the data. But we already knew that this "trial" was a lie from start to finish. Its primary purpose was to accustom the public to a US-style, permanently-armed, militarised police-force. And what's happening in the US at the moment ought to be a warning against ever going down that path.

Meanwhile, the Police Minister is still pretending that the question of whether police are armed is an operational decision for police, rather than a political one for politicians. Bullshit. To point out the obvious: politicians pass the laws which set the parameters for police use of force. They make the financial decisions around what sorts of weapons police can buy and how many. And they make the decisions about how they can deploy them. The decision to "trial" Armed Response Teams was signed off by the Minister, and he announced it on the beehive website - hardly an "operational" decision then. Which means that if we want to keep having an unarmed, rather than a US-style militarised police force, then we need to vote for politicians who will insist on it and refuse to fund militarisation. Rather than chickenshits who will sign off on whatever the police say they want. Sadly, at the moment, we have the latter. But we will have a chance to fix that in September.

The pandemic law, deadlines, and the election

One of the safeguards built into the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 was automatic expiry. The law must be renewed by Parliament every 90 days, or it is automatically repealed. Orders made under the law are automatically revoked unless confirmed by Parliament within 10 sitting days, or 60 calendar days, whichever is shorter. So what does this look like in practice?

The first order - the Alert level 2 Order - made under the law was issued on 14 May. If not confirmed, it will lapse automatically on 13 July. The 10 sitting day limit is harder to calculate, because there has been urgency, but if there is no further urgency it will need to be confirmed by 24 June. Of course, by that stage the government will have made a decision on Level 1, and it is likely that it will have been revoked anyway and that a whole new Order will be in place. If that Order come into force by 15 June, then it will need to be confirmed by 21 July, assuming no urgency. As for the law itself, its first 90-day period expires on August 11, which is after Parliament is expected to be dissolved for the election. So obviously, they'll do it beforehand - say in the last week, by August 5. Which would then set a deadline of confirmation by November 3. Which could lead to a tight timeline, since Parliament usually doesn't sit for 4-6 weeks after an election (the previous Parliament first sat on October 20, 2014, the current one on November 7, 2017, both following mid-September elections), and then wastes its first week on ceremony. There's a serious risk that if government formation is at the long end of the range (AKA if Winston is involved), then the law will expire before it can be renewed.

And then there's another problem: if the law is confirmed as quickly as possible after the election, then it runs the risk of expiring over the holiday period, as the House traditionally doesn't return until after Waitangi Day.

Parliament can solve this problem - the House can, when confirming the law, set an alternative period (say, 120 days) for renewal under s3(2)(b). But it looks like they're going to need to do it at least once, and maybe twice. The alternative is to confirm again just before the House rises for the holidays (which would give them until March. And I think that would be far more in the spirit of keeping these powers under regular and strong scrutiny than giving themselves extra time for a second time.

Thursday, June 04, 2020



Still getting what they paid for

Last year, in the face of public pressure to better regulate New Zealand's pervasively criminal fishing industry, the government finally anounced a bullshit trial scheme for cameras on boats. The trial would apply only to a limited number of boats fishing in Māui's dolphin habitat. But all fishing boats would eventually be required to have cameras, from 1 July this year.

The government has just quietly delayed that, until 1 October 2021 - a 15 month extension. There's no press release, and no explanation, so they were clearly hoping no-one would notice. And in the absence of any proper explanation, the only one we have is the history of large donations from the fishing industry to a key government Minister. I guess his donors are still getting what they paid for.