Monday, February 28, 2005

Deporting our own?

Via BeNZylpiperazine: the government is planning to deport bunker-in-the-bush kidnap plotter John Burrett, and Paul Swain has "personally signed Burrett's deportation order". But according to the story, Burrett is a New Zealand Citizen. This has to be wrong - because if it were true, both Swain and Burrett's lawyer would have to be grossly ignorant of the very clear statement in the Immigration Act 1987 that

no New Zealand citizen... is liable under this Act to removal or deportation from New Zealand in any circumstances.

But then, that's not quite true. Only Burrett's lawyer (who turns out to be... John Burrett) needs to be ignorant. Swain could just be evil.

If Burrett is a citizen, then the government needs to be seriously hauled over the coals over this. Deporting your own citizens is the sort of thing done by shitty despotic regimes which practice imprisonment without trial - not by a supposedly leading light of human rights like New Zealand.

5% in 05

So, the unions are getting militant and pushing for a minimum 5% pay rise. It's about bloody time. Over the past few years, the economy has boomed while wages have remained stagnant. How stagnant? Over the past five years the economy has grown by 20%, but wages have only increased by half that. The difference is reflected in soaring corporate profits, and consequently higher corporate tax receipts. And while wages are keeping pace with inflation in the long-term, there has been no compensation for increased productivity. Instead, the fruits of all of us working harder and smarter have been taken as profit by capitalists. To get an idea of how much has been taken, in the early 90's, wages and salaries were 55% of gross national income. Now that proportion has been reduced to 50%. The difference - 5% of everything we produce - now goes to business-owners. It's time workers took that 5% back. And if it can't be done now, in a time when unemployment is at a twenty-year low and businesses are screaming out for workers, then when?

Hagiography and corned beef

The big news over the weekend has to have been the publication of Brash's biohagiography. Both the Sunday Herald and Sunday Star-Times had large reviews, and it didn't come across too well. As for Brash, he doesn't come across too well either - despite its rather thick attempts at canonisation, the book paints him as a fairly pathetic human being. Though in Brash's case, this is arguably an improvement - even a fairly pathetic human being is better than being a soulless android. And to be fair, we all have our moments of patheticness; but that doesn't stop us from snickering at those of other people. I expect satirists and those wanting to be cruel to Brash will have plenty of material to play with...

The corned-beef, though, I think is revealing. IMHO the struggle over the Treaty is primarily a generational thing (with Brash being the last gasp of the Dead White Males), and one of the biggest signs of generation change in New Zealand has been the change in our cuisine. And there's nothing more "British" (meaning crap) than corned-beef. By their food shall ye know them...

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A little bit more complicated than that

The New Zealand Herald has finally noticed the Wai262 claim for intellectual property rights over New Zealand's native flora and fauna. So has DPF - but while I'm inclined to agree with his dismissive attitude (intellectual property rights after all should require some novelty, rather than simply trying to privatise something extant in nature, because that is the very purpose of the beast), it's a little bit more complicated than that. In particular, if Maori commonly practised any sort of system whereby (say) the discoverer of a new plant or animal species (or a new use for one) enjoyed any sort of right to restrict future usages by others, then (legally speaking) those rights exist as a matter of common law under Tikanga Maori until extinguished by the Crown. I would expect, however, that the enactment of comprehensive intellectual property rights in this country would have legally extinguished any such system (and altered the rights enforceable), but this may have constituted a violation of the Treaty. (To those outraged by the proposition, I suggest they a) look at the precedents on territorial acquisition, property rights, and legal systems; and b) note the "if". I don't know enough about Tikanga Maori even to speculate whether that was the case, but I'm not quite ready to dismiss it out of hand...)

Secondly, this claim - and the entire "indigenous intellectual property" movement in general - is partly (mostly?) a reaction against appropriation by others. Some jurisdictions don't require much in the way of novelty to claim intellectual property, or don't examine claims very carefully (because they can be challenged through the courts), and so there is now an entire industry of "biopiracy": mining the common knowledge of indegenious peoples and then claiming property rights over it. The most egregious example of this was an attempt by a US company to patent Basmati rice - a variety which has been grown in Northern India for thousands of years - but it is also particularly common with folk remedies and medicinal plants. This is "property as theft" in its purest form - the biopirates are stealing from the commons, not to mention pillaging people's cultural heritage. And when some nations are claiming perpetual collective ownership rights over food varieties that constitute their cultural heritage (such as Champagne, Camembert, or Parma ham), the idea of a collective and perpetual ownership right over other things that can be claimed as part of your cultural heritage doesn't seem so strange. But the answer here is not to propagate perpetual ownership, but to reject it, and instead defend the commons against those who would appropriate it for themselves.

A crack in the wall

Egypt is opening the door to greater democracy, by allowing multiple candidates to stand for the Presidency. Previously, presidential elections were a Saddam-style up/down vote on a candidate chosen by Parliament (with "undesirable" candidates eliminate from the running - sometimes literally). The reform has been compared to "a crack in the wall" to relieve pressure for change, but I am hoping that its the crack that leads to the whole wall collapsing - and hopefuly, Egyptian authoritarianism will drown in the flood.

Ignorance and relevance

The Holden Republic looks at Don Brash's position on public servants and the Treaty and concludes it is the fault of constitutional ignorance. I'd be harsher and add words like "pandering to" and "bigotry" into that. The demand to expunge the Treaty from employment ads (and approval of the same) strikes me as being the same sort of small-minded bigotry seen in people who refuse to patronise supermarkets with bilingual announcements. It's a demand to be allowed to continue in your own little Pakeha world, completely blind to a vital part of the history of the country, or its influence on our constitutional structure. Whether Don Brash is one of these bigots, or simply pandering to them in a cynical exercise to get votes is left as an exercise for the reader.

Lewis' solution to this, a written constitution which spells out exactly "the nature of government and sovereignty in New Zealand" is a good one, except that it requires agreement on that nature. And some are so scared of any agreement which does not match their preconceptions that they are refusing even to take part in even the first stages of a process towards reaching one. Which I think lends more weight to the "small-minded bigotry" argument above...

Meanwhile, over at Blogging it Real, DC_Red questions the relevance of the Treaty - and indeed the constitution as a whole - to people's everyday jobs. And he's right - generally speaking, the Treaty or the seperation of powers or the Bill of Rights Act do not intrude into the everyday activities of a bean-counter, paper-pusher, or sysadmin. The story is obviously different for those in any sort of policy or advisory role (depending on the area they work in), and I'd argue (and DC_Red agrees) that it is important for anyone in public service to have some idea of how it all operates. He also suggests a better way of expressing the "Treaty requirement" in job ads:

Why not include something to the effect of "the successful candidate will have knowledge of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements, including the Treaty, and their applicability to the post" in public sector job advertisements?

I agree with this wholeheartedly, as it makes it quite clear why some knowledge of the Treaty is demanded. But somehow, I suspect Dr Brash in his zealousness to expunge any reference to the Treaty as anything other than a historical document would object even to that.

A particular view?

So, how great is the "commitment to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi" that Don Brash is complaining is expected of public servants anyway? Well, in my experience, all that is required is that an applicant for a (serious) public service position is a) aware that there was a Treaty; and b) has some idea of what it says. Bonus points are awarded for knowing that there are two different versions, and extra bonus points for knowing what those differences are. "A particular view"? Hardly - unless you believe that acknowledging brute historical fact is a partisan political conspiracy.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Indistinguishable from satire

People have often commented on the way reality is becoming indistinguishable from satire these days, with some of President Bush's pronouncements scanning as if they're from headlines in The Onion. And today, GoNZo Freakpower points out the similarities between Presidential security in reality, and in the Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons' viciously satirical graphic novel (comic, dammit, comic!) series Give Me Liberty. But that's not the only similarity; a significant plot in Give Me Liberty revolves around the President's brain being stolen. Another case of life imitating art?

Outright deceit

National seems to have hit upon a new tactic to use in election year: outright deceit. Concoct a completely fictious claim about some subject close to the public heart (like, say, the number of fire engines), wait for the denial, and then claim a backdown on the issue. So much for "honest Don". But then, he's already showed that he's perfectly willing to simply make shit up, Shipley style, when the facts do not suit his argument...

Public servants and the Treaty

Having failed to score on welfare, Don Brash has gone back to his old whipping boy, the Treaty, announcing that he will remove any requirement for public servants to be informed of its content or place in our constitutional structure:

Of course those public servants working to resolve Treaty settlements need to have some understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi, but there is surely no need whatsoever for other public servants, or for school teachers, or for nurses, or for Auditors-General, to subscribe to a particular view of what the Treaty implies.

The next National Government will make it clear that a knowledge of the Treaty and its supposed principles will not be a condition of employment for people working in the public sector. Instead, we will adopt a less exotic approach in relation to the recruitment of public servants; one where we seek auditors who can actually audit, managers who can manage and accountants who can count.

But what this "less exotic approach" entails is a public service which is ignorant of our constitutional structure.

Contrary to Dr Brash's insinuations, public servants are not expected to know about the Treaty as part of some giant conspiracy of political correctness - they are expected to know about it because they are expected to have at least a passing familiarity with the constitutional framework within which they operate, and the Treaty is a fundamental part of this framework. I very much doubt that Dr Brash would advocate that public servants be ignorant of the seperate roles of Cabinet, Parliament, the judiciary, and the public service, or of the Constitution or State Sector Acts (or any of the other pieces of legislation our constitution is scattered across). So why is he demanding that they be ignorant of the Treaty?

The answer is that Dr Brash does not believe that the Treaty has any constitutional significance. In other words, he subscribes to what JustLeft called "version 2" of our constitutional history - the version propagated by men such as Justice Prendergast and which held sway up until the 70's. But since then, opinion has shifted, and the Treaty is now seen as the moral foundation upon which our government rests. Brash's entire "Treaty policy" has been a desperate attempt to stuff that genie back into its bottle, so that Brash can return New Zealand to the idyllic paradise of the 50's, when the country was run by and for Dead White Males, we had "the best race relations in the world", and Maori were a little brown ministral show we trotted out for royal visits. But in this, Brash is fighting both generational and demographic change. The young have grown up with the Treaty, and are far more likely to see it as a vital part of our national identity and constitutional structure than the dead white males who support Brash. And Maori are far more numerous than they were in the 50's - and have the political power to match. Neither bodes well for Brash's Treaty-denying project...

Friday, February 25, 2005

And they thought it should be sold...

Ever since Auckland airport was spun off into a seperate corporation, right-wingers have been pushing for it to be sold. The stupidity of this is once again apparent with the airport's announcement of a capital return to shareholders. Two of the chief shareholders are Auckland and Manukau cities, and they stand to benefit to the tune of between 22.4 and 67.2 million dollars. If the councils had followed the right-wingers advice and sold their shares, those millions would be flowing into private pockets, rather than being used for the benefit of ratepayers - which is precisely the point of such privatisations. It's not about "the proper role of government", it's about who benefits - us, or the privatisers.

Sedition by Example V: Rua Kenana

(Being an ongoing series on those persecuted under the law of sedition)

A Herald story on the Waitangi Tribunal's last hearing into the Tuhoe claim caught my attention for its mention of the Tuhoe Prophet, Rua Kenana. The hearing was held at Maungapohatu, a site of immense significance to Tuhoe because of the clash that occured there on April 2nd, 1916 between Rua's followers and the New Zealand police. But while the Herald talks about the clash (but not its messy legal aftermath), it omits one interesting fact: Rua Kenana was prosecuted for sedition.

The charges stem from the attempted arrest for contempt of court. Two policemen attempted to arrest Rua at Te Waiiti; he refused to go with them on the grounds that he had already served time for the charge in question. One of the police officers, District Constable Andy Grant, reported the subsequent conversation as follows:

"The English are no good. You have no country and no King." he said "I have influenced 1400 men not to enlist" "Any money that I have I will give to the Germans, the English are no good, they have two laws one for the Maori and one for the Pakeha" At the same time he said "You have no right to this country" to Sergeant Cummings. "This country belongs to us the Maoris."

His compatriot, Sergeant Cummings, gave a more inflammatory version:

"You got no king now", "You got no land" and I said "Oh yes, we have got a King in England Rua" "Oh" he said "He no good he beat" "The Germans win" "When the German win, I'm going to be the King here" "I be the King of the pakeha and the Maori"

Two months later, with the police desperate to establish a conspiracy by Rua to justify the bloodshed that had occured at Maungapohatu, these rather odd words were turned into a charge of sedition. The jury acquitted him on this charge, which caused the judge to comment that the police's account of what was said at Te Waiiti was completely untenable. In other words, they had made it up.

(Other charges against Rua, stemming from the clash at Maungapohatu, were dismissed by the judge as the arrest warrant was unlawful, and therefore Rua was entitled to use force in self-defence. He was however found guilty of "morally" resisting arrest for refusing to go with Grant and Chapman - for which he was sentenced to 12 months hard labour to be followed by 18 months imprisonment in order to reform a member of a race "still in tutelage". This grossly disproportionate sentence so incensed the jury that they petioned Parliament for clemency)

As a final interesting note, one of the exhibits submitted as evidence of Rua's sedition was his flag, a Union Jack stiched with the words Kotahi te ture mo nga iwi e Rua Maungapohatu - "One law for both peoples". I guess its only seditious if Maori say it...

(Source: Mihaia: The Prophet Rua Kenana and His Community at Maungapohatu, by Judith Binney, Gillian Chaplin, and Craig Wallace)


A US soldier filmed shooting an unarmed, wounded and helpless Iraqi will not be charged because there is "not enough evidence".

This is unbelievable. He shot the guy live on camera. How much more fucking evidence do they need?

I think this shows exactly how "serious" the US is about prosecuting its own soldiers for committing abuses, up to and including murder.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Did he pay for all this?

Reading about President Bush's visit to Mainz, I'm struck by the level of security put on for him. Essentially, the German government locked down a city of 300,000 to accomodate the visit of one man:

The centre of the Rhineland city was turned into a fortified ghost town. More than 15,000 police staged one of the biggest postwar security operations. The forbade inhabitants from going on to their balconies, sealed off autobahns (motorways) and brought river traffic on the Rhine to a standstill. Frogmen searched the Rhine for explosives and 1300 manhold [sic] covers were welded shut.

Thousands of employees including staff at the city's nearby Opel car factory, stayed away from work for the day because the restrictions made it impossible for them to travel. Factories, businesses and schools were shut.

The obvious question is, "did he pay for any of this"? Did he compensate the citizens of Mainz for the havoc his visit caused, the earnings they lost, or turning their city into a police state for a day? And if not, why the fuck did they let him come?

Another obvious question is whether he demands the same of his own citizens when he visits them - and the answer to that one is "no". While the Secret Service does weld manhole covers shut and remove mailboxes in the vicinity of a presidential visit, they don't demand that people not look out their windows or watch from their balconies while he is in town. That would seem just a little too much in the land of the free. So why does he demand it of foreigners?

And a third one is "why are the Americans so paranoid"? They are not the only country to have lost leaders to assassination, and Bush is not the only world leader to have legitimate fears of assassination (either from terrorists or loonies). Yet he is the only one with this level of security. Cities aren't shut down for Blair, and neither Chirac nor Putin demand that people not stand on their balconies. Frankly, it all seems just a little over the top. Not to mention demanding. And given the cost and effect on people's lives, I think its a demand that other countries should no longer tolerate. If Bush does not feel safe going anywhere without a total shutdown and a thousand bodyguards, then perhaps he should simply stay at home.

Another seditious question

If the Queen excites disaffection against the monarchy by being a snob and implying that the mode of marriage used by many of her citizens is "beneath her dignity", is that sedition?

Matt McCarten and new parties

The papers yesterday morning had the news of the Matt McCarten - Maori Party divorce, but One News seems to have the inside story: it was over McCarten's desire to broaden the Maori Party into a general party for the poor (and engineer an overhang into the bargain, from the sound of it). And now that he's failed, he's looking at establishing a new party... again. Which I'm sure will endear him to his former friends in the Alliance no end...

As for the idea of a party of the left beyond Labour, I'd definitely like to see one succeed, but I'm dubious about its chances. What gets new parties established is dissatisfaction, with both present policies and the present alternatives. The Maori Party has been established as a sign of deep Maori dissatisfaction over the Foreshore and Seabed Act, but there's no similar groundswell of support for a new party to the left of Labour. And those who think that Labour hasn't been left enough have several credible alternatives to choose from. So you really have to ask "where will the support come from?"

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Single benefits

What to make of the government's move to a single core benefit for all working-age beneficiaries? Frankly, it seems mostly to be administrative tinkering. A single benefit means one set of rules, making it that much easier for WINZ staff to calculate what people are entitled to. It should also make it that much easier for beneficiaries to know what they're entitled to as well - a major problem under the current system.

As for the focus on moving people into work, it depends primarily on how it is done. Fortunately things seem to be moving in the right direction here as well, with an emphasis on carrots, rather than sticks. The programme to get people off the sickness benefit by providing them with proper treatment is a good example of this; it makes people able to work, and adds to their general quality of life as well (though isn't this what the health system is for?). And the revival of an employment service focused on helping people find opportunities, with an acceptance that for some, "part-time or intermittent work is a realistic long-term option" is also a good sign - the latter especially, as it will hopefully mean an end to the vicious clawbacks and punitive sanctions which provide a perverse incentive against work.

No wonder they want to hide it

Since the beginning of the year, the Guardian has been engaged in a battle with the Blair government to win the release of British Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith's advice on the legality or otherwise of the Iraq war. The British government has of course been refusing to release it, on the grounds that legal professional privilege and longstanding tradition should trump the public's interest in knowing if their elected representatives are war criminals. And looking at the excerpts of an upcoming book published in the Guardian today, it's no wonder that they want to hide it. According to international lawyer Philippe Sands QC,

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, warned less than two weeks before the invasion of Iraq that military action could be ruled illegal.

The government was so concerned that it might be prosecuted it set up a team of lawyers to prepare for legal action in an international court.

And a parliamentary answer issued days before the war in the name of Lord Goldsmith - but presented by ministers as his official opinion before the crucial Commons vote - was drawn up in Downing Street, not in the attorney general's chambers.

The latter is the interesting part, as this answer was supposed to be a summary of Lord Goldsmith's advice, and asserted that the war was legal. But it was concocted by two of Blair's spindoctors, and then represented as the Attorney-General's opinion, to parliament, to the public, and to British soldiers, who rightly feared prosecution by the ICC for participating in an illegal war of aggression. Now it seems that everyone may simply have been lied to by a government desperate for cover for its decision to back Bush.

But then, is that really any surprise...?


The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Comittee Select Committee is seeking submissions on the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill (No 2). 20 copies, by Monday, 14th March 2005, to:

Peter Papadopoulos
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Secretariat
Parliament Buildings

This bill is a shocker, essentially allowing security and intelligence officials to criminalise behaviour after the fact. If you think that this is not the sort of thing which should be done in a democracy, then please let the committee know. If you don't know how to make a submission, the Office of the Clerk has a quick guide here. Alternatively, you can simply send the committee a letter. All you need is your name and address, whether you support or oppose the bill, whether you would like to make an oral submission before the committee, and (optionally) comment on specific clauses. I'd like to think that having some of the latter helps, but who knows what goes on in the minds of politicians?

The slow transformation of Britain

George Monbiot has a scary article in the Guardian detailing the latest stage in Britain's slow transformation into a police state. The government over there is in the middle of passing a "serious organised crime and police bill", and while much attention has focused on its clause barring racial incitement (obviously a tool of organised crime), another part seems to have passed almost entirely without comment:

Section 121 of the bill prohibits people from "pursuing a course of conduct which involves harassment of two or more persons" in order "to persuade any person ... not to do something that he is entitled or required to do, or to do something that he is not under any obligation to do". Harassment, the bill explains, can involve "conduct on at least one occasion", "in relation to two or more persons". In other words, you need only approach someone once to be considered to be harassing them, as long as you have also approached someone else in the same manner.

This effectively outlaws a whole swathe of political and commercial activity which is presently entirely legal. Monbiot focuses on its ability to be used against protestors handing out leaflets, but you will notice that the law is entirely blind as to content or context - so anyone handing out flyers for any purpose whatsoever (say, selling pizza - unless there's a legal obligation to buy it, of course) will be a criminal and liable for a fine and a jail term. As will anyone engaged in distributing junk mail, telemarketing, or canvassing for votes during an election.

In fact, as they are based precisely on attempting to persuade people to do things they are not obliged to do, this law will effectively outlaw the entire sales, marketing, and lobbying industries. Of course, the government assures people that the law will not be used against "legitimate protestors" - but it said exactly the same thing when passing the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act and the 2000 Terrorism Act, both of which have subsequently been used to suppress protests. But I think we can be fairly certain that the law will not be used against any of the examples I have given above. Instead, it will be used in a partial and inconsistent fashion, as yet another weapon of those with power against those without. And trying to persuade people that it should be applied consistently or not at all will technically be a crime.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Sedition by Example IV: C.O.B. Davis

(An ongoing series of speech deemed "seditious" and suppressed or sanctioned under our archaic sedition laws)

"Te Arawa mangai-nui", printed by Charles Oliver Bond Davis:

He whakaaturanga i nga he o te Arawa hei tirotiro ma nga iwi.

Kowai te iwi e korerotia kinotia nei?
Ko te Arawa mangai nui.
Heaha tona kino?
He tohe nona ki te whakatutu i te taha Maori.
Heaha te take i kaha ai ki te whakatutu i te taha Maori?
He pati moni, he pati kai.
Heaha tona he e kitea nei e nga iwi?
Ko tona pokanga ki te patu i nga iwi i Te Awaateatua.
Tena tetahi?
Ko te kohurutanga i a Te Aporotanga.
Tena tetahi?
Ko tena whakai ki te hopu huhuakore i te Ariki o Tauranga i a Hori Tupaea.
Meaha e mutu ai enei he?
Me whakahoki pai marire a Te Arawa ki toua tupunga mai, ki Hawaiki.

Akarana, Pepuere 16, 1865.

Or, in English:

A statement of the errors of the Arawa tribe, for the information of the people.

Who are the people that speak words of evil?
The big-mouthed Arawa.
Wherin does their evil lie?
They urge insistently violence and mischief among the Maori people.
For what reason do they persist in this mischief?
They are bribed with money; they are bribed with food.
What was their sin in the eyes of the tribes?
They made war upon and slew the people of the Awa-a-te-Atua.
What was another of their evil deeds?
The murder of Te Aporotanga.
And another?
They surrounded and unjustly seized the high chief of Tauranga, Hori Tupaea.
What can be done to end these evils?
The Arawa should be returned peacefully to the father-land whence they came, to Hawaiki.

Auckland, February 16, 1865.

Davis was presumed to be the author of the document and charged with seditious libel, on the grounds that it was intended to stir up other tribes against te Arawa (who were allies of the crown) and to "foster rebellion". During the trial it was revealed that the translation on which the prosecution was based was less than satisfactory. It was also revealed that Davis had not in fact written the document, but that its author was a high-ranking (and extremely loyal) chief who had written it after a discussion with Governor Grey himself. The jury took less than half an hour to find Davis not guilty. The actual authors of course were never charged; words deemed "seditious" when authored by a man considered to be "too close" to the natives were perfectly acceptable when their source was someone considered loyal and close to power.

(Sources: 'The trial of C. O. B. Davis for sedition', by Clem Earp, Historical Review 36, No 2 (Nov. 1988): 111--124. The English translation of the document is from The New Zealand Wars, vol 2, by James Cowan)

Today's horrible thought

Doctors successfully removed a second head from a 10-month old baby. The head was basically part of an underdeveloped conjoined twin, and was (according to one doctor) "capable of smiling and blinking - but not of independent life".

The horrifying thought is that there was someone in there, unable to move or talk, trapped in a dangling skull...

Patronage and the public sector

In my post below on Tariana Turia's attempts to defend the indefensible, I said that we should not allow managers to turn public institutions (such as Te Wananga o Aotearoa) into private fiefdoms to be run for their own benefit. This is a fundamental principle of public sector organisation. But it wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, the whole public service ran along the lines suggested by Ms Turia - Ministers decided who was hired, who was promoted, and how much they were paid. This led to widespread abuse, as Ministers used their ministries as tools of political patronage, providing "jobs for the boys" and sinecures, as well as promoting people on the basis of their political views or their connections without necessarily considering their ability to do the job. Attempts were made in both 1866 and 1887 to implement competititve entry by examination, but with Ministers retaining the power to make "temporary" appointments, the door to patronage was left wide open.

The system reached its lowest point under the Liberal government of "King Dick" Seddon. The best illustration of this is a traditional tale, recounted by Geoffrey Palmer in a speech:

a friend of Seddon’s [came] from the West Coast to Wellington and asked Seddon for a job. Seddon sent him to the head of the Census and Statistics Department with an instruction to officials that he should be given some employment. The Department took him on as a messenger, but found he could not read. He was therefore dismissed. Seddon asked for an explanation. The chief executive said: "I cannot employ this man. He is unable to read." Seddon’s reply was "Learn him!"

These sorts of excesses led inevitably to reform - a public service with appointment on merit, and employment decisions removed permenantly from the hands of ministers. And under those rules, the system works fairly well. Sure, managers still naturally rise to their level of incompetance, but at least they're not promoted beyond it simply as a political favour.

From reading the history of Te Wananga on its website, it seems it was originally a private training establishment which morphed into a public entity. Unfortunately, its internal culture does not seem to have caught up with its new status; it seems still to be stuck in the mindset of the small private organisation it was in the 80's. And it's rather telling that the same man, Dr Rongo Wetere, has been in charge for Te Wananga's entire twenty-plus year history. If he is unable to adapt his management methods to Te Wananga's new role as a large, public sector organisation, then he should go.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Resources II

Following the discussion in my earlier post, Kietsie has built a searchable database of conscience votes. It's available here, and can be searched by party, bill, or vote (for, against, abstention, or not present).


The Spanish public has overwhelmingly voted "si" to the EU Constitution in a public referendum. While turnout was low - only 42% - it's still not a bad start for the next stage of European unification. Hopefully the other countries which have scheduled referenda will get this sort of result.

The problem is what happens if they don't. In order to come into effect, the EU COnstitution must be ratified by all 25 member states. And actually, I don't think that's likely. Every country has parties opposed to greater European integration, or nationalist sticking points which stand in the way of ratification - and one of them is almost certain to win some time. What happens then?

The short answer is "nothing" - the process stalls, and Europe continues as it is. But this is unlikely to satisfy the unifiers, and they are likely to seek a way forward for those who want to travel it. The problem is what that way forward would look like, as the natural institutions of governance for a unified Europe - the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers - are already used for governing the not-quite unified Europe, and can't really serve a dual role. Either they'd need to start throwing people out, set up parallel institutions, or find some way of splitting the institutions so that a subset can make decisions which apply only to the unifiers (but then how do they deal with contradictory decisions?)

Ultimately, it's going to come down to numbers. If only one or two nations reject further unification, then they may very well find things going forward without them. If there's a wider rejection, then the whole European project may very well stall for good.

Defending the indefensible

Tariana Turia steps up to defend Te Wananga o Aotearoa's indefensible practice of giving out jobs and contracts to the director's relatives. According to Turia, it's not nepotism, but "whanaungatanga" [kinship], and done because the relatives can be trusted to do the job. But while this is perfectly acceptable in private business, it is not acceptable in a government funded organisation - firstly, because there are rules on how contracts and tenders are let, which require that they be given to the best bidder (rather than the one who is a relative), and secondly because we expect public institutions to give jobs to people on merit, not blood-ties or cronyism. The latter in particular is the basis of our professional and neutral public service, and is a fundamental principle of public service organisations all around the world.

What Turia is really defending is the "right" of publicly appointed managers to turn a public organisation into a private fiefdom, and run it for their own benefit. And that is something we should not tolerate. This is not to discount the good that Te Wananga has done - boosting the rates of Maori tertiary training has been of immense benefit - but I don't see any reason why that good must come at the cost of nepotism and cronyism.

Wasted votes and threshold distortions

Big News has a post on the "wasted vote". We all know - or we all should know - that under MMP, the number of seats a party wins in Parliament is determined by its proportion of the party vote. But it's a little bit more complicated than that, because if we simply applied the above rule, we would always have a Parliament of less than 120 seats, due to the distorting effects of the 5% threshold. In order to have a fixed-size Parliament, we therefore assign each party seats based on the proportion of the party vote of all parties eligible for seats. This isn't so much a reallocation of the wasted vote (as Dave mischaracterises it), but a way of ignoring it. Those votes are effectively not even counted in the final result.

(The exact number of seats is actually determined by the Sainte-Laguƫ formula, but this is really about who benefits from rounding)

If we are concerned about the "wasted vote", then there is an obvious way to solve it: elminate the threshold (or rather, reduce it 0.8%, the amount required to gain a single MP). While some parties will still fail to make this lower barrier, there will be far fewer wasted votes (only 20,023 based on last election's results), and therefore far fewer people disenfranchised. And in a democracy, that can only be a Good Thing.

New kiwi blog

Undead From Unzud: Thoughts From The Colonies. But contrary to his allegations, I don't delete comments. Blogger does mark comments deleted by the blog-owner differently from those deleted by the author, so I can only assume that (as he said) "this interwebtechnology thingy is beyond [gazzadelsud's] limited skills to comprehend"

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Widespread and routine

The ACLU has released another treasure trove of documents as part of its investigation into torture and abuse of detainees by US forces. The documents - mostly reports from the US Army's Criminal Investigation Division - show torture and abuse are widespread and routine across US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one case, a prisoner

claimed that Americans in civilian clothing beat him in the head and stomach, dislocated his arms, "stepped on [his] nose until it [broke]," stuck an unloaded pistol in his mouth and fired the trigger, choked him with a rope and beat his leg with a baseball bat. Medical reports corroborated the detainee’s account, stating that the detainee had a broken nose, fractured leg, and scars on his stomach. In addition, soldiers confirmed that Task Force 20 interrogators wearing civilian clothing had interrogated the detainee. However, after initially reporting the abuse, the detainee said that he was forced by an American soldier to sign a statement denouncing the claims or else be kept in detention indefinitely. He agreed.

An investigator who reviewed the signed statement concluded that "[t]his statement, alone, is a prima facie indication of threats." However, despite the medical report and testimony from other soldiers, the criminal file was ultimately closed on the grounds that the investigation had "failed to prove or disprove" the offenses.

That phrase - "failed to prove or disprove" - or variations on it crop up again and again in the ACLU's documents. Investigations into allegations that Iraqis were taken in the middle of the night and beaten in the back of a Humvee, into Iraqis who suffered permanant nerve damage as a result of beatings while handcuffed, and into indiscriminate assaults by Special Forces on villagers in Afghanistan which were witnessed by "senior Psyops officers" were all terminated due to "insufficient evidence", despite medical reports and witness statements. Even in cases where the abusers had been videotaped beating and kicking detainees, they were not prosecuted or punished in any way. Given this, you really have to question the commitment of the US army to enforcing its own rules against the abuse of prisoners...

And that's not the half of it. In another incident revealed by the Associated Press, a "ghost" detainee was tortured to death by being suspended by his wrists with his arms behind his back (a variation on strapado known as "Palestinian hanging") and beaten. According to one witness,

the prisoner's arms were stretched behind him in a way he had never before seen. Frost told investigators he was surprised al-Jamadi's arms "didn't pop out of their sockets," according to a summary of his interview.

Frost and other guards had been summoned to reposition al-Jamadi, who an interrogator said was not cooperating. As the guards released the shackles and lowered al-Jamadi, blood gushed from his mouth "as if a faucet had been turned on," according to the interview summary.

The military pathologist who ruled the case a homicide found several broken ribs and concluded al-Jamadi died from pressure to the chest and difficulty breathing.

Two navy officers are currently facing charges over the murder - the other eight navy SEALs who initially kicked him and beat him with rifle butts having recived "nonjudicial punishment" - meaning "sweet fuck all" - for their actions. Meanwhile, the CIA interrogators who actually killed him have not been charged, and are nowhere to be found. It seems that serious torture is just business as usual as far as they are concerned.

New Fisk

Grass always covers graves, but the seas reveal the secrets of human folly


A while ago I toyed with the idea of making a searchable database of Parliamentary votes (and particularly conscience votes) so we could track MP's voting records. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time, but I see that NORML is including the information in its MPs database. While they're really interested in MP's opinions on marijuana decriminalisation, their positions on the lowering of the drinking age, prostitution reform, the death with dignity and civil unions bills are all included.

This will be quite useful when assessing electorate candidates, but at the same time I have to ask why Parliament isn't doing this itself? Surely making the voting records of our representatives easily accessable and searchable is precisely the sort of thing the office of the Clerk should be doing?

Retribution I: Taito Phillip Field

In my post on strategic voting, I suggested that Labour voters "express our displeasure for errant Labour MPs... by voting for other candidates, assuming better alternatives can be found". I was not expecting to be making recommendations for a couple of months yet - not until I'd actually assessed whether there were any better alternatives. But there's one electorate competition so clear cut that I can make a recommendation now: Mangere.

Mangere's current representative is Taito Phillip Field, who holds the seat with a majority of 15,375 - the second-largest in the country. His recently-selected opponent is Clem Simich (currently MP for Tamaki). Field voted against the Civil Union Bill, against prostitution reform, and against lowering the drinking age. Simich voted "yes" to every one. This makes the choice of who to vote for a no-brainer IMHO. Sure, Simich is from National, but at least he's not a bigot (unlike Field and most other National MPs). And backing him with only the electorate vote will not affect the overall outcome one jot, because that is determined by the party vote.

Given the size of Field's majority, I don't realistically expect him to be de-elected. But it would be nice to see that majority shrink, and for the Labour party to get the message and select a better candidate next time.

Tension in United Future

The Independent this week reports tension in United Future, as MPs grapple with the simple mathematical truth that with eight MPs and the party polling at only 2 or 3%, most of them are going to miss out. This has caused a certain amount of competition for the top three spots on the party list, which is also unveiling all the other tensions in the party. Such as the struggle to find a place for the now-affiliated Outdoor Recreation party, who polled 1.28% last election and therefore justifiably want some list placement payoff for delivering an MP's worth of voters. Or the tension over whether United Future is or is not a religious party; Dunne wants to be a broader, centrist and above-all mainstream party, while the fundamentalists and evangelicals who parasitised his party want a more Christian flavour.

It will be interesting to watch these tensions play out over the next few months. If we're lucky, we'll see some of the fundamentalists go off in a sulk, so that Dunne has another chance to build the sensible, mainstream, centre party that he wants, rather than simply being a vehicle for bigots and moralising loons.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


Searching library catalogues can be quite interesting; you never know what you'll find:

Title: The sedition trial of Bishop Liston / by Michael Brian Laws.
Main Author: Laws, Michael, 1957-


Publisher: Dunedin : University of Otago, 1980.
Description: 106 leaves ; 31 cm.
Notes: Thesis (Postgraduate Diploma) - University of Otago, Dunedin, 1980. Bibliography: 1. 104-106.

Yes, it is that Michael Laws.

New kiwi blog

Poster Child of Mediocrity

Strategic voting

In case you didn't know, there's an election coming up in the UK. And despite Tony Blair's best efforts - two official whitewashes and a non-apology in the House - the British public are refusing to "draw a line" under the Iraq war. Some are still so incensed that they have established a website, Backing Blair, urging people to do what they can under the UK's archaic simple plurality (first-past-the-post) electoral system to vote him out of office:

On election day, we want you to vote strategically. Ruthlessly. In 'safe' Labour seats and marginal seats we want you to vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Labour candidate.

Except this isn't strategic voting - it's mindless voting. Surely if you are trying to register a protest vote against the war in Iraq, a candidate's views on that war should be a consideration? Nick Barlow makes this point perfectly, using the example of a Labour MP who has consistently opposed both the war and the Blair government's overreaction to it:

And you think voting him out of the House of Commons will send a message to Tony Blair? I don’t know who his Tory opponent is, or what he or she may believe in, but what if you’re voting for someone like IDS who, in Matt’s words, would not only jump in a lake if asked to by George Bush, but would first drain it and then jump in head-first just to show much more committed he was than Blair?

Like Nick, I think the strategy expressed by John Harris in so now who do we vote for? (excerpt here)is far more effective: vote Labour where the candidate opposed the war or where the Conservatives have a serious chance of getting in - and not-Labour (and preferably one of the anti-war parties) everywhere else. The British Labour party needs to be punished for betraying its roots and supporting the unsupportable, and the best short-term strategy is to vote for the alternatives. The best long-term strategy, of course, is real electoral reform towards a proportional system - but that's not seriously on the UK radar at the moment.

A similar argument can be made about our own Labour government, of course. While their record on social, economic, and labour-market policy is good, on immigration and law and order (and human rights in general), it leaves much to be desired. But the answer to this is not to throw Labour out of office - the "alternative" is worse in every case - but to ensure that they pursue policies more in line with our preferences. Fortunately, MMP gives us a much easier time of this.

After the next election, Labour will almost certainly need the assistance of other parties to form a government. We must leave them in no doubt about our preference for forming a coalition on the left rather than in the centre (unless of course there is no other option). But more importantly, we must ensure that their left-wing partners have sufficient clout in internal negotiations to drag policy in the right direction. And the way to do this is to vote for the coalition partner rather than Labour. Both the Greens and Progressives have committed to backing Labour to form a government, so voting for them does not damage the left. But it will help shift the policy balance, both through internal coalition consultation and by making it clear to Labour that trying to outflank National on the right will be punished.

The electorate vote is another matter entirely. It's vitally important for small parties of course, but for the larger ones it is simply a way of selectively reordering the list. This leaves us free to express our displeasure for errant Labour MPs (such as Phil Goff for his hostile attitude towards human rights, David Benson-Pope for his outburst over Zaoui, or the traitors who voted against the Civil Union Bill) by voting for other candidates, assuming better alternatives can be found. It also leaves us free to vote for the most liberal credible candidate, so as to improve our chances on conscience votes. Neither of these will affect the overall outcome (that is ultimately decided by the party vote), but they may result in a Parliament which is more in line with our preferences.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Fitting right in

Bush has nominated John Negroponte to be the US's first Director of National Intelligence. For those who don't know, Negroponte is currently the US's "ambassador" (proconsul) to Iraq. But more importantly, his history should rule him out of any such position. From 1981 to 85, Negroponte served as ambassador to Honduras, where he oversaw the training and operations of the US-backed death squads who kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of Honduran leftists (not to mention the odd American nun). He also helped run America's illegal secret war against Nicaragua, part of which involved funelling arms to the Contras in violation of US law and UN sanctions (those with unfashionably long memories may remember this as the Iran-Contra scandal). In all of this, Negroponte showed his disdain for a fundamental principle of democratic government: civilian oversight and control of the military and intelligence services. To appoint someone with these attitudes to head America's intelligence services is simply begging for the same abuses to occur again.

But is this really surprising? In an administration which has appointed torture-excuser Alberto Gonzales as Attorney-General, which runs a system of rendition and torture by proxy, and which has speculated about using death squads in Iraq, Negroponte fits right in...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Well, that worked II

More evidence of the "success" of the US's tough approach towards Iran: Iran and Syria have formed a mutual defence-pact against the perceived threat from the US and Israel. Which adds immeasurably to the security and stability of the Middle East...</SARCASM>

Setting the goal

Helen Clark wants us to be more like Sweden. It's an excellent goal, and finally provides a decent vision to back up Labour's electoral machine. Fully-funded universal healh and education, a welfare state that allows everyone to live a decent life and participate in society, a social infrastructure that provides people with real, practical (rather than merely formal) freedom, regardless of the circumstances of their birth or the vagaries of fortune - this is the goal Labour should have enunciated long ago. It will cost, of course, but I think it is a cost New Zealanders are willing to bear. People have repeatedly said they are willing to pay more to get decent health and education; what rankles so much now is that due to means testing, an increasing number of people are paying to insure others while not receiving any benefit themselves. If we want them to buy in to universal care, then that has to change.

But actually, I'd go further than Sweden. Rather than simply rebuilding the welfare state, we should replace it and implement a universal basic income system. This would pay an equal amount (ideally enough to live on) to every adult New Zealander, freeing us from (some of) the basic struggle to eat and giving us greater freedom to control our own lives. It would mean economic change, and some (shitty) industries would almost certainly be wiped out, while employers would have to get used to workers demanding greater flexibility - but it would be well worth it.

Thanks, America!

Further on the line of fundamentally counterproductive strategies, one of the pretexts given by the Bush Administration for its invasion and occupation of Iraq was to reduce the threat of international terrorism. In their fantasyland, all evils were one, and so Saddam was obviously in bed with Al Qaeda.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have worked out too well. Today, CIA director Porter Goss said that the conflict had become a "cause for extremists". Worse, Iraq has become one giant terrorist training camp:

"Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism," he said.

"They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks."

So, rather than making us safer, the US has endangered us all. And rather than reducing either the number of terrorists or their ability to conduct attacks, the US has ensured that we have more and better trained terrorists with a new reason to strike against us. Thanks, America!

Prisoner compensation: underlying axioms

Today's Herald coverage of the select committee hearings into the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill provides a perfect example of the underlying axioms of those who oppose compensating abused prisoners. Speaking before the committee, Ida Hawkins, the mother of murdered 15-year old Colleen Burrows, opposed compensating her daughter's murderer for the systematic abuse he suffered at the hands of prison guards because:

He murdered my daughter ... because my daughter refused to have sex with him. He ran her over and booted her and kicked her all over her body

To which my response is that that is precisely why he is in jail - and furthermore, that his conviction does not give others the right to do the same to him, or deprive him of the protection of the law generally against crimes committed against him.

As Tony Ellis said later on, there are not two classes of victims. Prisoners can also be victims of crime, committed by other prisoners, guards, or the state. And those crimes are equally deserving of punishment.

What those opposing prisoner compensation are saying is that we should establish a class of persons - convicted criminals - against which crimes can be committed with impunity. That people with criminal convictions should be allowed to be beaten, raped, abused, and subjected to psychological torture, without having any protection from the law. There are words for these sorts of underclasses denied legal sanctuary. "Helots" is one. "Niggers" is another. Is that really what New Zealand stands for?

If we wish to have any moral basis for punishing criminals, then we must ensure that the protection and sanction of the law applies to everyone. Otherwise what we have is not a system of law, but the depradations of an organised gang.

Correction: That is of course Colleen, not Coral, Burrows. Thanks to davidr for pointing this out.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"Possibly seditious"

Somehow I'm not particularly surprised to see that the Monarchist League thinks that debating the future of the monarchy is "possibly seditious". Monarchs throughout the ages have always relied upon sheer force to prevent people from asking the obvious questions - "why you?" and "what gives you the right?" - and our local cult of royalty is simply following this tradition.

It does however provide another proof of the dubiousness of the idea of sedition, and another reason to repeal this archaic law.

(Hat tip: Holden Republic)

New Fisk

The killing of 'Mr Lebanon': Rafik Hariri assassinated in Beirut bomb blast
Israeli spies, Syrian obsession and a peace that had to break

Now we are two

Today, No Right Turn turns two. It's been a big year - 61,109 unique visitors, and 1295 posts totalling 247,471 words. By comparison, in 2002 - 2003 I wrote less than half that; we're going beyond the short novel or overlong PhD thesis into serious wordage here.

In the past year I've tried to move towards longer posts, with more research and deeper analysis. I've also been syndicating the best of them through Scoop. This year I'll be continuing that trend. I've also been submitting on legislation and lobbying politicians and encouraging others to do the same, and I may experiment with using the blog as a tool in this area, for example by developing a submission online and getting people to sign up for it. And of course I'll be covering the election, producing a candidate survey, and recommending electorate votes accordingly (assuming anybody answers it).

That's a lot of work, and time constraints over the last few months have meant that I haven't been able to do all that I've wanted, but it looks as if I'll be getting my life back soon, so I'll be able to have another year of happy bloggage.

Cars and cows: reviewing Kyoto

With the Kyoto Protocol coming into force today, I thought I'd review the treaty and the policies implemented in response.

Firstly, the treaty itself. Under the Kyoto Protocol, New Zealand has committed to reduce its net emissions of certain greenhouse gases to 1990 levels over the period 2008 - 20012 (the first commitment period, or CP1). We must do this either by actual reductions in emissions, or by offsetting emissions with "carbon credits". The latter can be gained either by planting trees, which lock up carbon and act as "sinks"; by purchase from countries who are emitting less than they are entitled to; or by creating sinks or reducing emissions in Annex 2 (poor) countries (the "clean development mechanism").

Currently, our carbon emissions are about 20% over 1990 levels, with most of the growth coming from transport and farming. However, there's also been a lot of trees planted since 1990 - some by fools who believed that this would give them a right to carbon credits - and these more than offset the growth. Even with recent trends towards cutting things down rather than planting, New Zealand is still expected to be a net seller of carbon credits between 2008 and 2012, and to gain a small amount of revenue from this.

Policywise, then, the New Zealand government could afford to do nothing - except that this would go against the spirit of the agreement, and probably leave us in a very bad position if further emissions reductions are agreed for post-2012. So it has attempted to encourage emissions reduction - not by an outright ban, but through market incentives. A small number of projects, chiefly in the energy sector, are rewarded with carbon credits if they result in lower emissions than would occur under "business as usual". So far, this has rewarded energy efficiency measures, geothermal projects, microhydro, and most of New Zealand's windfarms. In addition, the government has also negotiated agreements with major industries to curb emissions growth.

However, the above is essentially tinkering around the edges. As Pete Hodgson pointed out in Parliament today, the energy sector is responsible for only 8 - 9 percent of our greenhouse emissions. Our main sources are actually transport and agriculture - "cars and cows". And in these areas they have done very little. The government has exempted farmers from any responsibility for their emissions (in other words, the farmers get their free ride - again), and is instead betting on changes in farming practices, fertiliser use, or animal feed to reduce emissions in this area (which is already bearing some fruit). In the transport sector, the government plans to impose a "carbon tax" - a charge on fossil fuel emissions - which should provide some incentive for change. However, it has not taken the simple, obvious step of setting minimum fuel-efficiency standards on new and imported vehicles, or even of requiring such information be made available to consumers (though it is considering the latter). Such policies would be worthy in their own right, and no more difficult to implement than vehicle safety standards, yet they do not yet seem to have been seriously considered. But if we want to actually reduce our emissions, then that has to change.

Will the protocol work? That depends on how you measure success. No credible climate scientist believes that the currently agreed reductions in emissions are anywhere near enough. However, it is a start. It will help get governments moving in the right direction, and help build trust for the next round of cuts. But more importantly, if backed by the right policies, it will help push the market in the right direction. We already have the core of a low-emission technological package which is compatible with modern western lifestyles - wind and solar power, smaller and more efficient cars, fuel-cell or hybrid engines, high efficiency gas turbines rather than low-efficiency coal, even nuclear power - all we have to do is make the switch. Kyoto will effectively create a market for these technologies (as it has already done for wind in New Zealand and Europe), and help push them towards ubiquity. And in the long run, that can only be a Good Thing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

New Fisk

The irresistible romance of a steam train scarred with the bullet holes of battle

How stupid do they think we are?

It's the usual story: a detainee is released from Guantanamo and alleges torture, while the government strenuously denies it. In this case, the detainee is Australian Mamdouh Habib, who claims that he was beaten, electrocuted, drugged, sexually assaulted, and on one occasion, "smeared with the menstrual blood of a prostitute". And the government is Habib's own, who rather than being concerned about the treatment one of their citizens were subjected to, are denying that any torture took place, or that if it did, then it was conducted by heathen Egyptians (which was precisely why Habib was turned over to them). But what's interesting about all of this is that there is solid documentary evidence for at least one of Habib's claims: the draft of an upcoming book by a translator who worked at the camp recounts how US interrogators used sexual tactics to "break" prisoners, including this rather interesting bit:

According to Sergeant Saar, a Muslim linguist then told the woman interrogator that she could break the prisoner’s faith by making him believe that she had smeared menstrual blood on him and cutting the water off to his cell so that he could not wash. The translator’s manuscript gives explicit details of the way in which the suspect was interrogated.

Some devout Muslim men will not touch women other than their wives, particularly if they are menstruating. The theme has come up repeatedly in the US media since September 11. It was widely reported that Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker, left written instructions no woman should attend his funeral or visit his grave.

According to the draft, the idea was to make the detainee feel unclean and "unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength".

You really have to wonder how stupid the Australian government thinks people are, denying something when the very people that did it are admitting it in a book...

In the pipeline

I've been rather busy over the past few days, but I've been thinking about some posts. Among them:

  • Something on wages, drawing together several articles published in the last few weeks;
  • A detailed dissection of the large pile of documents on prisoner compensation that arrived in the mail today;
  • A response to Lewis on the Treaty and the constitution;
  • More sedition by example - I've pulled together quite a list of cases to hunt up and publicise.

Hopefully some of this stuff will be appearing over the next week or so.


While many have decried the spread of speed cameras and highway patrols as revenue gathering, it seems to be working. The police are issuing fewer tickets - not because they're not looking hard enough for speeding drivers (they clearly are), but because fewer people are speeding. And the effect can be seen in the annual road-toll - down 65 between 2003 and 2004.

That drop alone should give some pause for thought. If 65 more people a year were being murdered, there would be an outcry from the opposition and demands for a greater focus of police resources on solving the problem. Yet that is effectively what has happened with the road toll, and ACT's Ken Shirley calls it "a disgrace".

It isn't a disgrace. Simply in terms of reducing deaths, injuries and property damage, the emphasis on reducing speeding is worthwhile. And given that they're the people doing much of the killing, having speeding motorists pay for it only seems fair.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Sedition by Example III: Bishop Liston

(Being an ongoing series of seditious utterances which have resulted in prosecution under our archaic sedition laws)

Bishop James Liston, to a St Patrick's Day gathering, Auckland Town Hall, 17th March, 1922:

My parents were driven from the land in which they were born and in which they would have been content to live. Why were they driven out? Because their foreign masters did not want Irish men and women peopling their own land, but wanted to use it as a cattle ranch for snobs of the Empire.

So my father and my little Irish mother, and thousands of others, had to go. They came to this country with the memory kept sacred of their privations and wrongs. They have left to us the sacred traditions of their sorrow.

I am a native of New Zealand and I love my country very well. In every land the children of Ireland this day are gathered by some common and holy impulse to rejoice that at long last they have won some measure of freedom and to hope for a complete deliverance from the house of bondage. I do not say for one moment that Ireland has got all she asked for, and all that her sons died for, but she has got the first instalment of her freedom, and is determined to have the whole of it. I say that because the omnipotent hand of God made Ireland a nation, and while grass grows and water flows there will be men in Ireland and women too to fight, and even die, that God's desires may be realised...

The bulk of Liston's speech dealt with the role of the Irish in world history, and contrasted Ireland's current problems over the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State with those of the wider British Empire. But he thought that those problems were not insurmountable, and would eventually come to a happy ending - thanks in no small part to those like de Valera who were suspicious of British intentions and would "see that the rulers are not duped by England". But the sting was in the tail:

We must not forget the martyrs who died in the fighting in 1916, that glorious Easter. I have here a list of 155 men who during and since 1916 have died for Ireland. 16 were executed by shooting in 1916, 52 were killed while fighting during the Easter week in 1916, 7 died on hunger strike - including Terence MacSwiney the Lord Mayor of Cork - 8 were executed by hanging, 12 by shooting, and 57, including three priests, were murdered by foreign troops.

We cannot forget these men and women but in order that our dream about Ireland can come true, and while we cannot forget, we can forgive.

This caused an uproar in the New Zealand press, and Liston was swiftly charged with sedition for inciting disaffection against His Majesty and promoting hostility between different classes of subjects. He was tried before the Supreme Court in Auckland, but acquitted by an all-Protestant jury, who could not find him guilty for recounting what was, essentially, historical fact.

(Source: Bishop in the Dock: The Sedition Trial of James Liston, Rory Sweetman, Auckland University Press, 1997.)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Well, that worked

North Korea has announced it has "manufactured nukes for self-defence". I think that about shows the effectiveness of the US's tough, all stick, no carrot, demand-total-surrender-before-negotiations-begin approach.

Unfortunately for the world, the US has adopted the same approach towards Iran, refusing to join the EU in negotiations with Iran unless the latter gives up the very thing those negotiations are supposed to be about. And without a major change in policy, I don't really expect the result there to be any different.

Friday, February 11, 2005

National: the party of bigotry

In a piece in his weekly newsletter, Murray McCully exposes National's true colours as the party of bigotry by accusing the government of "officially endors[ing]" homosexuality in its "no rubba, no hubba hubba" ads. How? By showing a gay couple in some ads, getting up to exactly what the straight couple get up to in the rest.

McCully seems to find this offensive - not to mention threatening, judging by the number of times he mentions his heterosexuality in such a short piece. And his preferences are quite clear: gays shouldn't be seen on TV, and should get back in the closet with women and Maori, where they belong. It's the sort of attitude you'd expect to see from the bigots in United Future and NZFirst, not from the chief political strategist of a supposedly mainstream party like National, which aspires to represent all New Zealanders. But then, it's clear from their overwhelming opposition to the Civil Union Bill where the majority of National MP's stand - and it isn't on the side of tolerance and diversity.

As for the ad itself, it's not an endorsement - it's a depiction of reality. Gays exist, and (Shock! Horror!) have sex. And that's something that Murray McCully and his ilk are simply going to have to get used to.

(Thanks to Just Left for pointing this out)


Blogger has changed its comment posting system, so that you can now actually see what other people have written when composing your reply. Unfortunately, in the process they've fouled up the Recent Comments hack, so I've had to remove it. It'll be back if and when somebody writes an updated version...


According to the Manawatu SubStandard, the Police have dropped charges of "dishonouring the flag" against Tame Iti. Given last year's judgement on flag-burning, they were almost guaranteed to lose, and its good to see them acknowledge the fact. Charges of recklessly discharging a firearm have also been dropped, presumably on the basis that an outcry from right-wing politicians is insufficient for a conviction. Instead, the Police are focusing on the charges where they may actually have a case: unlawful possession of a firearm, and possession without a license. Which again, is fair enough. In this country, we demand that people who want to own guns jump through a few hoops first (primarily to do with not being a dick and not wanting to use them on other people); if Iti hasn't bothered, then he deserves to be charged and convicted.

Investment NZ and transparency

I'm appalled that Industry New Zealand is threatening to recommend closing down if they are forced by Parliament to name the international investors they have been wining and dining over the last few years. Who's in charge here? Parliament, or the bureaucrats they appoint?

More importantly, this is a matter of open government and accountability. Parliament and the people have an absolute right to know what public money is being spent on. And the names of those who have visited under the visiting investor scheme are absolutely vital to judging its success. Without them, we have absolutely no idea whether the money is well-spent or not.

The Select Committee should firmly remind Investment NZ who they work for, and that there must be transparency where public money is concerned. And if Investment NZ executives are unwiling to comply, then it is time they started looking for new jobs.

Trying to kill the Treaty

Winston Peter's Treaty Principles Deletion Bill, which would remove all references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi from legislation, has been drawn from the ballot and will be put before the House. Predictably, National has announced its enthusiastic support, but they simply don't have the votes to push it through, and I fully expect the Bill to fall at its first reading. Which IMHO is a damn good thing. As I've explained before, "Treaty clauses" referring to the principles are the only thing that gives the bargain underlying the Treaty of Waitangi legal force. If they are removed, then effectively so is the Treaty.

The Dead White Males who support Peters and Brash - the ones who look back nostalgicly to the 50's, when New Zealand society resembled the present National caucus, with Maori and women seated firmly at the back of the room and ignored - probably see that as a wonderful thing. The rest of us - those who realise that Maori are not just going to shut up or go away - ought to be horrified.


As a non-monarchist, I don't actually give a rat's arse about announced wedding of Charles and Camilla, but there was one part of the BBC story that was simply too good to pass up:

If he became king, Charles would be the supreme governor of the Church of England and some Anglicans remain opposed to the remarriage of divorcees.

Which is rather ironic, given the origins of the Church of England...

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ex post facto criminalisation III

The Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill (No 2) passed its first reading today, and has been referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee. This is another bill I'll have to submit on, because while the primary object (tidying up the rules regarding renewing the designation of terrorist groups) is uncontentious, part of it criminalises "the intentional financing of non-designated terrorist organisations". As I've argued here and here, this is extremely vague, to the extent that people will have no possible way of knowing whether they are violating the law or not.

Countries where the laws are secret and decisions as to what is and isn't criminal are made by anonymous security officials are rightly known as despotisms - yet that is what our government is proposing to do in the name of fighting terrorism. It's not something we should tolerate. If we want New Zealand to remain a free and democratic society, then we must take a stand for legal transparency, and oppose this part of the bill.

American Generosity

President Bush is seeking an additional US$600 million in aid for countries hit by the boxing-day tsunami, to bring the total to US$950 million. While a substantial amount, this will still leave the US in the bottom half of both the per-capita and by GDP aid tables. Still, Bush deserves a lot of credit for this. Now we just have to see if Congress will deliver...


Bush's US$81 billion supplemental budget appropriation for Iraq is to include a US$400 million "solidarity initiative" to "support nations that have deployed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan". A bribe, in other words.

I'm sure that will go down well in those countries which deployed troops against the overwhelming opposition of their citizens.

Letting Corrections off the hook

The Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill has run into trouble in its first days in select committee, attracting criticism from government MP's Russell Fairbrother and Lianne Dalziel. No doubt the whips will be swiftly deployed to restore order and prevent any further embarassments, but in the meantime it's an interesting sign of the tensions within Labour over the bill. Many Labour MPS are no doubt wondering why their party, which is supposedly supportive of human rights, is passing a piece of legislation like this.

Criticisms of the bill have focused on the way it tramples human rights, but another problem, as pointed out by Fairbrother, is that the bill creates a lottery. Only victims who abusers are themselves abused will receive any compensation. Except that that's not quite true, as one of the purposes of the bill is to prevent payments to prisoners and discourage them from seeking compensation in the first place - making it a lottery with no winners.

This tension in the bill comes from it muddling the issue of compensating prisoners for unlawful treatment by the crown with compensating their victims for pain and suffering. But as Just Left points out, these are things which should be kept seperate;

This is not about the victims of the original crime. It is about what happens when someone is abused in custody and the Courts find that they were abused. If people are concerned about victims' rights, then they should focus on compensation at the time of the sentencing, not try and link the two unrelated issues together.

If we want to end compensation payouts to prisoners, then the best way of doing so is to ensure it doesn't need to be paid in the first place. And the best way to do that is for the Department of Corrections to actually hold its staff accountable when they abuse prisoners or develop and implement unlawful and inhumane policies. The present bill does not do that. Instead, by discouraging claims, it effectively lets Corrections off the hook, and allows the abuse of prisoners to continue.

More on outsourcing torture

The New Yorker has an in-depth piece on America's outsourcing of torture. It tells the story of how what was originally a limited scheme for capturing terrorists already convicted in foreign courts and returning them to face a shitty despotism's version of justice turned into a wholesale outsourcing of torture for the sole purpose of evading US law on the matter. It covers a lot of familiar ground - Maher Arar, the Swedish rendition, the torture plane, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and "waterboarding" - but it also adds something new: the opinions of US officials intimitely familiar with the scheme.

One of those people is Michael Scheuer, a "former C.I.A. counter-terrorism expert who helped establish the practice of rendition". He describes the origin of the extraordinary rendition scheme in the mid-90's and the deal originally struck with Egypt to provide terrorists who had been convicted in absentia in their security courts in exchange for their being questioned (using Egyptian methods, of course) before their execution. It was a vile deal, the two countries doing each other's dirty work, but according to Scheur was at least backed by some form of judicial process, however flawed, which generally protected innocent people from rendition. Unfortunately, as the case of Maher Arar shows, that no longer seems to be true.

Another of the new Yorker's sources is Dan Coleman, a former FBI agent responsible for convicting the bombers of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He is utterly scathing of rendition and of the interrogation procedures used by the US at Guantanamo, pointing out that while it produces confessions, they are of questionable value:

"Have any of these guys ever tried to talk to someone who’s been deprived of his clothes?" he asked. "He’s going to be ashamed, and humiliated, and cold. He’ll tell you anything you want to hear to get his clothes back. There’s no value in it."

Instead, Coleman prefers to treat terrorism suspects like human beings with rights - not just because its the right thing to do, but also because it works:

many of the suspects he had interrogated expected to be tortured, and were stunned to learn that they had rights under the American system. Due process made detainees more compliant, not less, Coleman said. He had also found that a defendant’s right to legal counsel was beneficial not only to suspects but also to law-enforcement officers. Defense lawyers frequently persuaded detainees to coƶperate with prosecutors, in exchange for plea agreements. "The lawyers show these guys there’s a way out," Coleman said. "It’s human nature. People don’t cooperate with you unless they have some reason to." He added, "Brutalization doesn’t work. We know that. Besides, you lose your soul."

Something else you lose - and something which both Coleman and Scheur value highly - is any ability to prosecute terrorists in a court of law. No court in a civilised country will accept evidence extracted by torture, and prosecutions have already collapsed because of this (or because of the US's fear of allegations of torture). In Germany, Mounir Motassadeq, the only person to be convicted for involvement in the September 11th attacks, was given a retrial because the evidence against him was too weak. that retrial is now collapsing because of the refusal of US authorities to make high-value terrorist captives available to give evidence. The same is happening in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui in the US; the government wants to convict (and murder) him on the word of these captives, but refuses to allow them to be cross-examined because it might "disrupt the interrogation process" (and lead to questions about how the information was extracted). And other countries, such as the UK, have not been able to charge their citizens released from Guantanamo because of the taint of torture.

Quite apart from the inability to prosecute, there is also the fact that torturing people is grossly counterproductive in the war against terrorism. The British learned this in Northern Ireland, where their use of internment and brutal interrogation methods simply turned the population against them and increased the flow of recruits to the IRA. The US's use of torture is almost certainly doing the same thing. And in a war of ideas whose success ultimately depends on convincing poor Muslims to eschew terrorism, that is not something the US can afford to do.

New Fisk

There will be no Middle East peace without justice

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

111 calls and public sector funding models

The Dominion-Post this morning had an interesting article (sadly not online) providing context to the current debate about police on traffic duty failing to respond to 111 calls. But rather than being about a focus on revenue gathering, as some would have it, the reason is rather more complicated: it's all to do with how the Police force are funded.

The 1984 Revolution and the passage of the State Sector and Public Finance Acts led to a new model of funding for government agencies in New Zealand. Where previously they'd been funded on "inputs" - how many people etc they needed - they were now funded on "outputs": what they were expected to achieve. This list of outputs is laid out in each agency's annual report and statement of intent, along with an amount allocated for each activity. The lists are very specific, and lay out exactly what services the government is "purchasing" from its agency, along with expected performance standards and how much each "purchase" will cost. So for example the Ministry of Health is funded for so many hip operations at such and such a cost each year, with an expectation that 99% (or whatever) of them will be successful (interestingly, the number funded is consistently below demand, which is why we have waiting lists... but I digress).

In the case of the police, a look at their 2004/2005 Statement of Intent shows that they are funded for a number of output classes, including "policy advice and ministerial servicing" (including answering OIA requests and providing answers to Parliamentary questions), "general crime prevention", "investigations", and the Road Safety Programme. The latter covers

the delivery of key strategic services such as highway patrol, speed and traffic camera operations, restraint device control, drink or drugged driver control operations, commercial vehicle investigation activity, and visible road safety enforcement

and is funded to the tune of $208 million plus GST. Among the services "purchased" are 350 - 400,000 infringement notices (speeding tickets) issued (up 50,000 on last year), 800 - 900,000 roadside breath tests, and attending 350 - 410 fatal accidents (interestingly, despite the oft-touted goal of "getting the road toll down", this is up 20 on last year). One measure of performance is an annual survey about how we the public judge the likelihood of being caught if we speed or drive drunk.

The problem is that departmental chief executives have extremely limited authority to transfer funding from one output class to another, meaning that the money is effectively "ring-fenced" and cannot be used for anything else. Hence the insistence by police managers that police on traffic duty ignore 111 calls unless it is a life-threatening situation: because the money or time cannot legally be used for another purpose.

While it may be tempting to allow police mangers more freedom to juggle competing priorities (and that seems to be the Police Association's position), that creates an accountability problem. How could we hold police managers to account if they decided to (say) ignore traffic enforcement completely in favour of other activities? If we give managers total authority and rely on Ministers to hold them to account, it simply means that managers will try and second-guess the Minister. One of the key ideas of the public sector reforms was to recognise this problem, and things like purchase agreements and output funding are intended to fix it by putting accountability where it belongs: on the Minister.

So, the only way this will change is to pressure the government. They decide the spending priorities, and they are accountable for them. But rather than getting them to reduce the focus on traffic enforcement in favour of other areas, we should be pushing for an across-the-board increase in police funding. The police have suffered starvation just like every other government department, and are expected to do too much with too little. The current debate over 111 calls is just a symptom of that problem.

Good news and pessimism

The announcement of a truce in Palestine and an end to the intifada is good news - it is always good when the killing stops - but at the same time I can't help but ask whether this will lead to real progress towards a genuine Palestinian state, cohabiting with Israel and with real control over its own affairs, or simply allow Israeli domination and oppression to continue.

With Sharon still in charge, it's difficult to see this leading to real change. Still, I can always be pleasantly surprised...