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.


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.