Monday, October 03, 2022

Why police ignored the Ombudsman

Back in June, the Ombudsman found that the police were unlawfully delaying OIA requests to notify Ministers under the "no surprises policy". The police said they had changed their process. But then they immediately changed it back, raising questions about whether they had lied to the Ombudsman. So how did that happen?

I used the OIA to ask, and their response is here. They explain their new policy, that it was first implemented on 14 July, and then say that it was reversed because

In the ordinary business of transitioning into the new portfolio, the Minister’s office staff outlined their normal processes for following the standard “no surprises” protocol, followed across the public sector and set as an expectation in paragraph 3.22 of the Cabinet Manual. This was first notified to Police on 18 July 2022, during a phone conversation between one of the Minister’s private secretaries and myself...
...which seems to minimise things a little. Because the documentary record shows that the reversal - which happened a month after Hipkins became police minister, so wasn't "the ordinary business of transition" by any stretch of the imagination - happened because it received immediate pushback from one of Chris Hipkins's ministerial advisers:
[PS] tells me [MA] is not happy with this approach. I've resent Case Note to [PS] so she can provide it to [MA].
While there were some meetings, ultimately, the view of the ministerial adviser - a politically-appointed party hack, not a public servant - prevailed over that of the Ombudsman. Because information is power, and ministers and their hacks don't want to surrender the slightest shred of it, no matter what the law says.

(That ministerial adviser's boss, Chris Hipkins, is also the Minister for the Public Service, and is supposed to be leading them on open government. Which makes this another example of his poor leadership on transparency...)

That response also attempts to minimise the scale of the problem, claiming that "approximately 98 percent of Police OIA responses are sent out without being sighted by the Minister or his office". The police have confirmed by email that they are using the OIA statistics they report to TKM/PSC as a baseline, which are deliberately inflated with huge numbers of routine non-OIA statutory requests in order to mask the woeful performance of PNHQ. The police also say that this only affects "high organisational impact" (HOI) requests. 32% of all requests made to PNHQ in 2021 were marked in this way, and the number has consistently increased year after year. The net result is that police arse-covering and ministerial control-freakery is resulting in widespread, unlawful delays to the OIA process.

So will the Ombudsman do anything about this? Sadly, he seems to have swallowed the "only 2%" spin hook, line, and sinker. I guess the lesson here is that if you juke your stats enough, you can get away with anything.

Shifting the window

TOP has always been a pretty progressive party - in 2017 they campaigned on a universal basic income and a (complicated) property tax (as well as arrogance and cat-hating). Their new leadership is now pushing a simpler version: switching taxes from income to land:

The Opportunities Party has hung out its shingle for the 2023 election announcing a policy of $6.35 billion in income tax cuts, paid for by a land tax on residential housing, and welfare debt write-offs.


Under the TOP plan, a tax-free threshold of $15,000 would be introduced, following by a big tax cuts for middle income earners who would only paid 20% tax in income earned between $15,001 and $80,000. A new 35% rate would apply for income earned between $80,001 to $180,000, while the current 39% tax rate on earning over $180,000, introduced by Labour in 2020 would remain.

So basicly a more progressive income tax system, with the decrease at the bottom paid for by a land tax (which will overwhelmingly be paid by those at the top). There's obviously a lot to like here, and the only downside is that its been designed to be revenue-neutral, when instead it could tax land more and use the additional revenue to pay for better public services (such as a health system where completely avoidable shit like this doesn't happen).

As for cancelling WINZ debt, it ought to be a no-brainer. It is odious debt, imposed primarily because benefits are inadequete and Housing New Zealand is shit, and with racism and misogyny to boot. Most of it will never be paid back. Continuing to pursue it is simply an exercise in cruelty. Labour - who campaigned on "kindness" - would rather pretend to be helpless than fulfil its campaign promises and do anything about it.

These are both very progressive policies, similar to those pushed by the Greens (the Greens want a wealth tax rather than a land tax, but either is good). While I'm not going to support TOP - Gareth Morgan and Sean Plunket have basicly poisoned it forever - its good to have other voices pushing the window leftward. And as we've seen with other areas of progressive Green policy, if you win over the public, then eventually the neoLiberal status quo parties will have to follow...

Thursday, September 29, 2022

(Some) justice for "three strikes"

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled on National's (now-repealed) unjust "three strikes" law, and ruled that the sentences it required were so disproportionate as to "shock the conscience" and violate the Bill of Rights Act ban on disproportionately severe treatment or punishment. Today, they've the High Court has ruled that the victim of that injustice - a mentally impaired man who spent almost five years in prison - should never have been charged at all. They've awarded him $450,000 in damages, which will help, but the injustice still remains. Why? Because despite ruling that he should never have been charged, the conviction and resulting sentence still stand. Pretty obviously, if he should never have been charged, then he should also never have been convicted or sentenced. But that would involve the courts accepting responsibility for their part in this abuse, which they seem reluctant to do. The press summary notes that "in an unrelated case, the Supreme Court has held that judicial acts (such as sentencing) cannot found a claim under the NZBORA", and this seems like a completely self-serving decision explicitly at odds with the clear wording of s3(a), which states that the BORA applies to acts of "the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of the Government of New Zealand" [emphasis added]. But I guess that's another example of how the legal profession is all about making words mean things that they don't, or not mean things that they do.

This case raises more questions. The job of "crown prosecutor" is weirdly contracted out to private law firms, so the obvious question is whether that contractor - who has manifestly failed to do their job properly - will be rehired, or whether the contract will be terminated. The other question is whether they will be paying for it, or whether the taxpayer will be carrying the can for their failure. Because the latter seems utterly unacceptable.

Finally, a ruling that prosecutorial decisions are bound by the BORA ought to result in some change, which will be welcome. But the decision also has obvious application to mutual assistance and extradition cases where someone may be subject to disproportionately severe treatment or punishment. And hopefully that will act as a deterrent to legal cooperation with cruel foreign regimes like the USA or China.

Correction: This was a High Court decision, not a Supreme Court one.

More Labour secrecy

Today the government introduced its Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill to the House. And as has become sadly common for this government, it includes another secrecy clause. To help Immigration do their job and ensure migrant workers ar ebeing paid, there's a power enabling them to obtain employment documents like wage and time records from employers. And then there's a clause forbidding them from disclosing that information to anyone, which implicitly over-rides the OIA.

You may be wondering what the problem is here - after all, this information is private and commercially sensitive and there's a clear government interest in being able to continue to obtain it. Sure. But those interests are already protected by the OIA - they are literally the first three other withholding grounds. The OIA doesn't make it absolutely secret - withholding is subject to the public-interest override. But given the type of information involved, the circumstances where that would come into play are basicly where there has been some massive fraud or fuckup, basicly where people have lied and holding them accountable trumps any interest in privacy. And even then, I expect it would have to go to the Ombudsman, or to the courts. What Labour's secrecy clause tells us is that they do not trust those institutions to make the right decisions about this information. It's just control-freakery, which makes the executive unaccountable to the agencies which are meant to oversee it.

Public Sector Minister Chris Hipkins is on-record as being concerned about secrecy clauses and wanting safeguards against them so they're not used willy-nilly. Clearly that hasn't happened here. Whether he was lying, or just useless, is left as an exercise for the reader.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

If we can't trust the Ombudsman, who can we trust?

This post has been updated; please see the information at the bottom of the post.

Today the Ombudsman released Ready or Not, a followup to their 2015 report Not a Game of Hide and Seek. And the first revelation in it? That the Ombudsman lied to me.

Last year, I'd grown curious about what problems had been identified in Not a Game of Hide and Seek, and whether they were problems I was still seeing in agencies handling of requests. Unfortunately, unlike subsequent practice reports, the Ombudsman hadn't published these ones. So I asked for them. While the Ombudsman is not covered by the OIA, they have said that they wish to be, and will abide by its spirit, so there was reason to think that they would either release the reports, be spurred to publish them, or give me a reason why not. Instead, they explicitly denied that they existed:

In order to prevent any confusion, it should first be said that there are no individual reports for the twelve agencies you listed in your email. These agencies were investigated between December 2014 and November 2015 as part of the Not a game of hide and seek report. Therefore, there are no ‘subsequent practice reports’ available that relate to the Not a game of hide and seek report because they do not exist.
[Emphasis added]

So I was pretty shocked today to read this in the "Background" section of today's report:

As it was not practicable to examine in detail the practices of all government agencies subject to the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, 12 government agencies were selected to investigate as being representative of central government agencies... The 12 agencies ultimately were provided with individual reports, and although these reports were not published, the agencies were provided with action points which, if implemented, would lead to improvements in OIA practice.
[Emphasis added]

I find it impossible to reconcile or explain these two statements. If the Ombudsman didn't want to waive investigative secrecy and release these reports, or felt that there was some other good reason to refuse, or had just decided that actually they didn't want to abide by the OIA on this occasion, they could have just said so. Instead, it appears that they lied to me (alternatively, they suffered from an unconscionable record-keeping failure which calls their basic competence into question). The Ombudsman rightly takes a very dim view of agencies who mislead requesters like this. So you can imagine how I feel about being misled by them. And it is Not A Good Look for an agency tasked with policing the integrity of government decision-making. After all, if we can't trust the Ombudsman, who can we trust?

Update (29 September 2022): I have now received a response from the Ombudsman. The key part:

I have now had an opportunity to review what has occurred. I can confirm that the advice you received last year simply was not correct. I apologise unreservedly for this error, which appears to have been the result of a process error.


In sum, I deeply regret that my staff provided you with incorrect information last year and trust that the above helps clarify the position. I have also reinforced to my staff that enquiries of this type ought to be referred to the staff within my office who hold the relevant information and are thus in the best position to help prepare a response to them, to help avoid mistakes of this nature in future.

They will not be releasing the original reports, and that's fine - they've given a good reason to withhold, and as they note they're not subject to the OIA anyway. And hopefully they won't be misleading people in the future.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The SFO and the right to silence

Newsroom today has an article asking Is the SFO too powerful for its own good?. The article is about the NZ First Foundation fraud trial, and much of it is about the allegation that Labour politicians were charged and questioned solely to protect the SFO from expected government moves to disestablish the agency. But the first part of the article talks about the SFO's compulsory examination regime, in which there is no privilege against self-incrimination, no right to silence (refusing to answer is a criminal offence punishable by up to a year in prison), and a secrecy clause preventing anyone questioned from talking about it.

As Newsroom notes, this is a pre-BORA law, and clearly inconsistent with it. Section 23(4)(b) affirms the right to silence of those arrested or detained, while s25(d) affirms the right of someone charged not to be compelled to be a witness or to confess guilt. But refusing to attend for questioning is a criminal offence, so those questioned are effectively detained, and where the powers are used against a suspect (rather than a third party like an accountant) then they are clearly used to compel people to give evidence against themselves. Which raises the obvious question: isn't it time we reviewed this law and replaced it with a BORA-consistent regime?

Interestingly, we kindof already have. A decade ago, when the government was first thinking of disestablishing the SFO and moving serious fraud investigation back into the police, the Search and Surveillance Act introduced a new system of "examination orders". But it has never been used - the police have never applied for or been granted such an order in a decade, preferring instead to pass cases where it might use such powers on to the (still-extant) SFO. But a consultation document for a 2016 review of the law provides a useful overview. The examination order regime had a clear focus on being used against third-parties and witnesses, to provide legal protection for those otherwise bound to confidentiality. It is questionable whether it can even be used against suspects. While there is no right to silence - something Parliament was deeply uncomfortable about and added safeguards as a result - the right against self-incrimination is not overturned. The regime is far from perfect - while compulsion may be required to overcome professional obligations, there seems to be other ways to do that without generally violating the right to silence, and an explicit statement that they cannot be used against suspects is required - but it would still be a marked improvement on the SFO's existing regime. It would also bring the SFO into compliance with the Search and Surveillance Act and all its caselaw about its relationship with the BORA. And that would seem to be a Good Thing.

The police are out of control

On Friday, RNZ carried a story about the police use of Auror, a private surveillance network. Police use it to track people and vehicles using ANPR, washing their hands of any legal restrictions or privacy obligations because the actual surveillance is being done by a private company. That's bad enough, but it gets worse: in at least one high-profile case, when police couldn't meet even Auror's lax standards to obtain information, they simply created false crime reports in order to get it:

Police falsely reported cars as stolen to gain access to powerful databases that record number plates when hunting for the women whose travel sparked the Northland Covid-19 lockdown last October.

Detectives identified the cars associated with the women then listed the vehicles as stolen which opened access to Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems operated by two private-sector companies with a massive network of CCTV cameras.


A spokesperson for Police National Headquarters said it was not known whether officers had falsely reported cars as stolen on other occasions so as to access the powerful network of cameras.

The government says they are "concerned", and so they ought to be. Because this smacks of a deep culture in the police of ignoring legal safeguards and telling whatever lies are required to get their man (or woman). We saw that culture on display when they falsely told Martyn Bradbury's bank that he had committed computer fraud in order to access his bank records. Most infamously, we saw it during the stitch-up of Arthur Allen Thomas, when the police simply planted evidence to secure a conviction. And like that latter example, this case was a serious crime. That fake police report was a false document. Merely making it with the intention that it be acted upon as genuine is forgery, punishable by up to three years imprisonment. Actually using it and causing someone to act upon it as if it were genuine is using forged documents, punishable by ten years imprisonment (other offences might also apply if the surveillance data obtained is viewed as a "property, privilege, service [or] benefit"). This is serious criminal behaviour, which is completely unacceptable from the police. But I expect the police will simply refuse to prosecute their own, even if the IPCA recommends it, and corruptly abuse their power to prevent one of the gang from being held to account.

As for Auror, using it to search for someone using ANPR is fairly clearly a "search" in the current legal understanding of the term (in that it clearly interferes with the reasonable expectation of privacy). And its worth noting that the GCSB requires an individualised warrant to search NSA databases for information about New Zealanders. The same rule should apply to police to search systems like Auror. And if that fucks Auror's business model, well, that's too bad. Circumventing warrant requirements should not be allowed to be sold as a service, and is not the sort of "disruption" and "disintermediation" that our society should tolerate.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Who to vote for in Palmerston North (2022)

My local body voting papers arrived earlier in the week, so its time for the usual post in which I try and work out who I'm voting for. Essential tools for this have been Vote Climate, which looks at climate and public transport policy;, which gives a more general overview, and FACT's roundup of media coverage of misinformation-linked candidates, which is an effective veto list (because I am not voting for rioters who want to spread disease and "make New Zealand ungovernable"). Policy-wise, I'm interested in climate change, public transport, and housing, and very uninterested in asset-stripping and under-investing in infrastructure (typically described as "keeping rates low") or in shit on the streets (so being opposed to Three Waters is a no-no). On top of that, I want a council which looks like Aotearoa, rather than a bunch of dead white males, so my general preference is to vote for women over men, young people over old ones, and anyone rather than a 65-year-old pakeha male called "John". Where does that leave me? Read on...


Not much choice here this time. I don't especially like the incumbent, and refused to preference him last time, but there are only four candidates. One of whom of which is a diagnosed delusional psychotic and convicted child-beater, and another of whom is an anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist who participated in the parliament riot. Which leaves Hussein Kikihounga-Ngot as the default anti-incumbent candidate. Unfortunately, he rates terribly on climate change, and his Herald interview makes it clear that he opposes three waters. Smith meanwhile identifies climate as the top priority. Shit, I'm going to have to vote for him, and grit my teeth to give Ngot a second preference because at least he's not actually insane. If only the Greens would run someone for mayor again, so I could feel enthusiastic about a candidate...

City Council

The opposite problem from mayor - 33 candidates chasing 13 positions, which is almost too much choice. Fortunately its easy to winnow the field. And I have clear choices at the top of the ballot - two Green and two Labour candidates who endorse each other for top preferences (because they understand STV). My real question there is whether there's anyone I want to put between those groups, either a a strong candidate or a "fuck you" to a party which has betrayed us, and who I put after them. At the other end of the ballot, Sam Walmsley, James Candish, and Dion Jensen are all VFF anti-vaxers, as is Mel Butler (check her Facebook page) and Murray Wellington (check his blurb), so they're all off the list. Nathan Wilson and Bruno Petrenas are climate-change deniers (or were in 2019). Les Fugle is a property developer who ignores resource consent requirements and whose solution to his legal battles with the council is to try and get elected to it (so: inherently conflicted). Jacinta Fraser and William Wood are both in the real estate industry, so are also inherently conflicted (and Wood has other flaws). Zakk Rokkanno promises to Do His Own Research on everything, and thinks that "cancel culture" is the biggest issue facing Palmerston North (which is a screaming red flag if ever I saw one). And once I've eliminated the overlapping "Keep Rates Low" and "anti-three waters" groups, as well as the stealth-Nats, religious fundamentalists from freaky anti-vaxx churches, and former soldiers (which seems to correlate with some scary stuff), I'm left with a very short list: the Green and Labour candidates, Rachel Bowen, Manjit Chawla, Atif Rahim (who is pro-three wasters), and Rhia Taonui. If I feel a need to pad, I might give a pity preference to Orphee Mickalad, who is good other than his opposition to three waters, and to Patrick Handcock, who is good but a former police officer and ACAB.


Again not much choice here: five candidates for four positions. In previous years I've voted for Wiremu Te Awe Awe and Fiona Gordon as good environmental candidates, and I'll do so again. I've been reluctant to support Rachel Keedwell despite her environmental credentials because she was once an anti-fluoride campaigner, but regional councils no longer have any say over that, and she's been very clearly pro-vaccination, so I think I can vote for her. New candidate Bal Ghimire seems pretty inspiring. Former corrupt PN mayor and National MP Jono Naylor does not. Horizons still uses the archaic and unfair bloc vote system, and Naylor will be the one not getting my tick.

With the elimination of DHB's I don't need to waste time on that this year. I guess there's some benefit to centralisation after all.

Voting closes at noon on 8 October. They're using DX mail this year rather than NZ Post, so make sure you get the right box, or use the drop boxes at the council or mobile library. There's a map of drop-off points on the council website to help you find the nearest one.

Still striking for a future

In 2017, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said that climate change was "my generation's nuclear-free moment" and promised action. In 2019 and 2021 school students walked out of classrooms to demand she deliver. And today, they walked out again, because she still hasn't.

The strikes are smaller today, because the movement has lost momentum due to covid. But everyone should be supporting them. The students' basic demand for a liveable future isn't just about their future, but ours as well. We're already experiencing the leading edge of the burning apocalyptic hellscape our elders have left us, and if you're under 80 you can expect to experience it getting worse and worse and worse. On top of the drumbeat of cyclones, droughts and floods, We've already seen megafires in Australia and the US, and megafloods in Pakistan. we haven't yet had out first city-scale wet-bulb event, but we all know its only a matter of time. Unless we stop it. Unless we make our governments stop it, with policy to quickly eliminate fossil fuels, decarbonise the economy, and remediate the damage that has already been done.

This demand for a liveable future is both just and achievable. We have the technology and the knowledge to get there. What stands in our way is a handful of billionaires, who would rather burn the earth than let things change. Our job is to make our governments work for us and not them. Protest is part of that. And if the government refuses to listen, and continues to support the destructive status quo, we should vote them out on their arses and get another one which will.

Fuck the economy

Stuff reports that bank economists are saying that 50,000 people need to be thrown out of work to control inflation:

The current labour market was “very, very tight”, [ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner] said, and bringing down inflation required “some spare capacity” in the labour market.

It was a hard thing for the Reserve Bank to talk about, she said.

“It’s a difficult thing for them to talk about. To beat inflation, they require some people to lose their jobs. That’s a comms challenge right there,” she said.

Unemployment had not been this low since the 1980s, [head of private wealth at Craigs Investment Partners Mark] Lister said.

“You’ve got to cause some pain. You’ve got to create some unemployment,” he said.

The right's Big Lie has always been that what is good for the economy is good for everyone, and what is bad for it is bad for everyone. But if you've lived through the 80's, or the 90's, or the GFC, or Covid, you know that that simply isn't true. What's "good for the economy" only ever means what is good for the rich. Meanwhile, it tends to be very, very bad for everyone else. But if the price of protecting the value of the rich's hoarded wealth and stopping it from evaporating is to throw 50,000 people out of work and 50,000 families on the breadline, then I say "fuck the economy". Let it burn. We shouldn't pay to protect their privilege. And the politicians elected by our votes shouldn't try and make us (not if they want to keep their jobs).

And while we're at it, do you know what's deflationary, but doesn't throw 50,000 people out of work or cause a recession? Taxing rich people. Wealth taxes. Highly progressive income taxes. A windfall tax on excessive bank profits. But for some reason, we won't see economists pushing for those solutions. Which simply underlines how much of the profession are simply ideological mercenaries for the rich, who exist solely to wage class warfare against everyone else.

Labour: From disappointment to deceit

In the 1980's and 1990's, Aotearoa faced a succession of governments who brazenly lied to the public, promising one thing to get elected, then doing something completely different in office. As revenge, we inflicted MMP on politicians, to saddle them with coalition partners and deprive them of the absolute majorities which enabled this deceitful behaviour. And the politicians seemed to learn their lesson, avoiding such blatant public betrayals for a generation. But 25 years on, it seems the current government has forgotten that lesson. The combination of a previously-unheard of majority government with a legacy FPP party with a legacy FPP institutional culture has returned to the old ways of lying and deceit.

What lies? "My generation's nuclear-free moment". "The most open and transparent government ever". "No mines on conservation land". Change. These are all promises the government made, things it campaigned on, which the public therefore expected it to deliver. And instead of what was promised, we've got foot-dragging, pretended helplessness and more gas permits; more secrecy, more mines, and the status quo. Single-majority government has stripped them of any excuse for this failure - now they can no longer blame a hostile coalition partner, it is clear that Labour's failure to deliver is not due to practical inability, but to its own unwillingness. They've moved from being a government of disappointment to a government of active deceit.

(Oh, but they want a four-year term, so they can not do the things they've promised, but for longer!)

Which is why my reaction to Peter Dunne's Newsroom column arguing that Labour must make a bold, unpredictable move if it wants to win the next election was a bitter "they could try keeping their promises". And why I just laughed at Ardern's claim that she would make New Zealand's position clear if Russian diplomats confronted her at the UN. Unless she actually punches a Russian diplomat in the face or throws a purple dildo at them on the floor of the General Assembly, this is just another meaningless pleasant lie to be forgotten the moment the news cycle shifts. This government no longer means anything it says, and after years of disappointment and betrayal, we can no longer place any faith in anything it promises. Its the political equivalent of cash upfront now: either they deliver instantly, or its bullshit.

As for what can be done about it, one part of a solution is no more majority governments, because they enable this behaviour. But beyond that, Labour badly needs an electoral lesson. We need to take their majority off them, and saddle them with a coalition partner who will force them to actually do what they say they will do. Which, in the case of the promises they have broken, means the Greens and/or Te Pati Māori. And the best thing about this solution is that Labour will absolutely hate it.

Update: And when I posted this, I hadn't even seen Labour's latest: an explicit refusal to do something they promised to do. Why should we believe they are anything other than arrogant, self-entitled liars now?

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Hoist by his own petard

In 2017, in response to being criticised by anonymous bloggers, then-Samoan Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi restored the archaic colonial offence of criminal libel to Samoa's statute book, ramming it through parliament in under an hour. Now, he's being prosecuted under his own law [paywalled]:

Police have perused a file on a defamation complaint against the Opposition Leader and forwarded it to the Attorney General’s Office for review, as it has recommended the veteran politician be charged.


Police Commissioner Auapaau Logoitino Filipo said the investigation has been completed and referred to the Attorney General’s Office for review, when contacted by the Samoa Observer on Wednesday.

He confirmed that there are recommendations to press charges but it is subject to a review by the Attorney General’s Office.

But enjoyment at seeing a failed tyrant hoist by his own petard aside, this is bullshit. Defamation should not be a criminal offence. And that's even clearer when you look at what Tuila'epa is accused of:
Tuilaepa had accused Olo of ignoring Government policy and Treasury Instructions on the purchase of Government official vehicles when making purchases in Australia.

He claimed the Minister could have bought the vehicle locally at a discount price.

"Politician criticises other politician and accuses them of lying" is not something that should ever be any business of police. Samoa's new government should repeal Tuila'epa's law.


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

  • Oranga Tamariki (Repeal of Section 7AA) Amendment Bill (Karen Chhour)
  • Employment Relations (Restraint of Trade) Amendment Bill (Helen White)
  • Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Cellar Door Tasting) Amendment Bill (Stuart Smith)

So its ACT racism (s7AA is a treaty clause), a nice little minor improvement in worker's rights, and a regulatory subsidy for wineries. Hopefully something more interesting will be drawn next time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

One country at a time

Equatorial Guinea has abolished the death penalty:

Equatorial Guinea has abolished the death penalty, according to a new criminal code signed by veteran President Teodoro Obiang, adding to a growing list of African countries seeking to extinguish a vestige of colonial rule.

The West African oil-producing country of 1.4 million people is no stranger to political violence. Campaign groups have accused the government of torture, arbitrary detentions and sham trials during Obiang's 43 years in power.

Yet the world's longest-serving president appears willing to move with other African countries that have ended the practice. The last execution took place eight years ago, according to Amnesty International.

The new penal law, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, is dated Aug. 17 but was officially published over the weekend. It will come into force in 90 days, the document said.

Equatorial Guinea is the third country this year to fully abolish the death penalty. And hopefully Zambia won't be far behind.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. First up are two committee stages: Rachel Boyack's Plain Language Bill and Steph Lewis' Biosecurity (Information for Incoming Passengers) Amendment Bill. Once they're out of the way, the House will move on to the first readings of Damien Smith's Overseas Investment (Exempt Investment from OECD Countries) Amendment Bill, Golriz Ghahraman's Electoral (Strengthening Democracy) Amendment Bill, and Jacqui Dean's Increased Penalties for Breach of Biosecurity Bill. If the House moves quickly it might make a start on Duncan Webb's Companies (Directors Duties) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for two bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

This seems like a process we can have confidence in

Yesterday, National leader Christopher Luxon announced that the National caucus had voted to readmit MP Sam Uffindell - who had got together with his mates to beat a fellow student with bed-legs in the middle of the night in a cruel and pre-meditated attack while at school - after an "independent" investigation. Today, it turns out that the MPs weren't actually allowed to read the investigation report or even an executive summary:

National MPs met to discuss Sam Uffindell’s future with their caucus, but they were not given the report – or even its executive summary – discussing his conduct and allegations of bullying.

Nevertheless, the embattled MP’s caucus colleagues defended Uffindell on Tuesday and said they had faith he was “reformed”.

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said Maria Dew’s report had “vindicated” Uffindell, but he said he hadn’t seen her report or its executive summary.

National is also refusing to release the terms of reference which guided the investigation.

Obviously this is a process we can all have confidence in: there's a report that supposedly says he's cleared, but no-one is allowed to see it, or even see the terms of reference to ensure the chicken wasn't strapped. Such secret "evidence" is simply laughable, and Luxon and the National Party are insulting the public by expecting us to just take their word for it. If they expect us to believe this was a truly independent investigation which explored all relevant issues, they need to show us the evidence.

But beyond the laughable process, this also says something rather disturbing about how much trust Luxon and National's senior leadership have in their own caucus - namely, none at all. And if they don't trust their MPs to read a report, how can they expect us to trust them to run the country?

Climate Change: James Shaw pretends to be helpless

RNZ this morning reports that Climate Change Minister James Shaw is open to another look at climate change rules to ensure that the Zero Carbon Act and its statutory target can actually be legally enforced:

"If the temperature threshold is the point of the entire legislation, then surely it should be part of the actual decision."

If court action revealed that climate change legislation was not protecting citizens effectively then it was worth reconsidering it, Shaw said.

Changes were not being actively investigated, and they were waiting on judgements to land.

The law in question is s5ZN of the Climate Change Response Act, which allows (but does not require) decision-makers to consider climate change targets in decisions. But it might not actually need to change, because s5ZO allows the "responsible Minister" - presumably the Minister for Climate Change - to issue guidance to departments on when and how to do that, including what to take into account. I was curious about whether the Minister had issued such guidance, or whether there was any under development, so I filed an OIA request with the Minister. The answer? Of course not:
I have not issued guidance under s5ZO of the Climate Change Response Act 2002 (CCRA) to date in my capacity as Minister of Climate Change.
If the Minister actually wants the law to be effective, maybe he should? And if he doesn't, then all his hand-wringing just smells like more insincere pretend helplessness...

Friday, September 16, 2022

Hungary is no longer a democracy

Since his election in 2010, Viktor Orbán has shifted Hungary sharply away from democracy and the rule of law, changing the constitution to stack the electoral system and the courts against his opponents, while dismantling the independent media. And now, the European Parliament has recognised the truth: that one of its members is no longer a democracy:

Hungary can no longer be considered a full democracy, the European parliament has said in a powerful symbolic vote against Viktor Orbán’s government.

In a resolution backed by 81% of MEPs present to vote, the parliament stated that Hungary had become a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”, citing a breakdown in democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law.

While the vote has no practical effect, it heightens pressure on EU authorities in Brussels not to disburse billions in EU cash to Hungary that is being withheld over concerns about corruption.

Democracy is supposed to be a foundation of the EU, and its appalling that Hungary has been allowed to diverge this far from European principles before the Parliament has stepped in. And along with Poland, it shows that the EU needs effective mechanisms to sanction its own members to ensure their conformity with European law.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Shouldn't we make them pay for it?

Yesterday a new report from Environment Southland found widespread environmental contamination at the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter. Both the soil and groundwater has been contaminated with fluoride and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and the stormwater drains are full of heavy metals. Worse, this is just what we know - the data is incomplete, and they don't really know whether it has contaminated the harbour. Today, Environment Southland put a cost on the cleanup: a staggering $1 billion. Which leads to the obvious questions: shouldn't we make the company responsible for this mess pay to clean it up, as we've done for the oil industry? And if they don't want to, why should we let them operate in Aotearoa at all?

Sweden falls to the Nazis

Swedes went to the polls over the weekend, and after a tight count, appear to have elected a Nazi-coalition government. The right-bloc has a three-seat majority, and the neo-Nazi Sweden Democrats are the largest party within that bloc. And to gain power of course the "moderate" centre-right parties are willing to snuggle up with them to form a government. Oh, they won't have them in Cabinet - that would be going too far (for the moment) - but they're willing to rely on their support, and pay whatever policy price is required to get it. Which means Sweden is going to become a lot more racist, to keep the rich rich.

How racist? Well, the SD campaigned on a "repatriation express", basicly advocating the ethnic cleansing of "non-European" immigrants to make Sweden white again. That's what the Moderates, Liberals, and Christian Democrats have signed up for. Not that the Social Democrats are blameless here - because when confronted with such explicit racism, they followed the path of other spineless centre-left parties (e.g. UK Labour) and tried to compete with it. Which is obviously a losing proposition - the Nazis will always be more racist, and trying to pander to them alienates your non-racist supporters.

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way - there are other coalition combinations possible which exclude the Nazis (though none without the Social Democrats). But that would require the centre-right to share power and moderate their policies leftwards rather than rightwards. And I guess they'd rather just be racist.