Sunday, July 31, 2005

Kiwi Carnival #4

The fourth Kiwi Carnival, highlighting interesting posts in the kiwi blogosphere over the last two weeks, is up over at Not For Sale. Go and check it out...

Candidate Survey: Offsite response

Nigel Kearney of KiwiPundit has just been appointed ACT candidate for Rimutaka. His answers to the candidate survey were posted several months ago (before he learned whether he would be a candidate or not), and can be found here.

Participate in your democracy

One of the constant themes of this blog is encouraging people to participate in the democratic process, by lobbying politicians, submitting on legislation, and of course voting. But there's another way you can participate as well: by helping with the election itself. ElectionsNZ needs sixteen thousand people to man the booths and count the ballots on polling day. It pays - tax free, even - and its certainly a job you can feel good about doing. If you're interested, you can download an application pack here.

I've wanted to do this for some time, but I was too disorganised last time, and the absolute requirement for the appearance of neutrality would almost certainly preclude me from doing it now (it's not that I wouldn't be neutral, it's that given what I say here, people might think that I wasn't, which is enough). But I think it is something worth doing, and certainly something worth ecouraging.

Update: OK, so it's not tax-free, but its still worth doing.


A friend of mine who works in a shitty job reports that her boss is openly threatening to fire anyone who does not vote for National. This is of course illegal - it violates s 22 of the Human Rights Act 1993 (which outlaws discrimination in employment matters, political opinion being a prohibited ground of discrimination in s 21 (j)), not to mention s 218 of the Electoral Act 1993, which bars "undue influence", both physical and financial. And it is exactly why we have the secret ballot - to ensure that people can vote for the government of their choice without being subjected to retribution and victimisation by those with social or economic power over them.

Anyone subjected to such threats should contact the Chief Electoral Office on and lay a complaint. Threats and economic intimidation have no place in a democracy, and those who use them should be punished to the full extent of the law - no matter which party they are pushing for.


The US military is being evicted from Uzbekistan in retaliation for American criticism (however muted) of that country's brutal massacre of protestors in Andijan in May. Which kindof makes the question of whether the US should cooperate with such a regime a moot-point. Though I am wondering - will they still be flying suspected terrorists to Tashkent to be tortured, or will that little arrangement be ending as well?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

And another one...

And just after last night's announcement of the discovery of a small icy rock in the outer solar system, we have news of a much larger, icy rock. It's much larger, twice as far away, and in a highly inclined (44 degree!) orbit which suggests it has had a nasty close encounter with Neptune at some stage in the past. Far more worthy of the title of "tenth planet" than Sedna.


The Law and Order Committee is seeking submissions on the Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill. 20 copies, by Friday, 12 August 2005, to

Tracey Rayner
Law and Order Committee Secretariat
Parliament Buildings

A submission can be as simple as a letter saying "I support / oppose this bill" and stating your reasons why. There's a guide here if you need further help.

Note that this is also the deadline for the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill and the Evidence Bill, both of which are before the Justice and Electoral Committee. If you'd like to have a say on those, follow the links.

And they didn't even have to bomb anyone...

All four suspects in the failed London bombings of last week are now in custody, following arrests in London and one in Italy. It's a good example of the proper response to terrorism: one centered on law-enforcement rather than military force, and which aims at arresting, charging, trying and hopefully convicting and imprisoning terrorists, rather than invading small countries and bombing indiscriminately.

The police have a wide range of options when it comes to criminal charges - acts prepatory to terrorism, various charges relating to the misuse of explosives or attempting to set off a bomb, and of course attempted murder. If convicted, these people face jail for a very long time.

The Eleventh Planet

Astronomers have found another planet-sized object in the outer solar system:

It is one of the largest objects ever found in the outer Solar System and is almost certainly made of ice and rock.

It is at least 1,500km (930 miles) across and may be larger than Pluto, which is 2,274km (1,400 miles) across.

The uncertainty in estimates of its size is due to errors in its reflectivity.

A similar-sized body named Sedna was discovered last year, so this is the eleventh planet (for a generous definition of "planet - however, applying that term to Pluto is probably being generous...)

Candidate Survey: Twenty-Fifth Response

From Lois Griffiths, Green candidate for Ilam. Lois is 22nd on the Green party list.

If you could ensure the passage of one act on one issue in the next Parliament, what would it be?

For the government to call for a contested tender for ½ million solar water panels in 5 years.

Solar hot water panels are expensive because there is no 'critical mass' to bring down the price. But if companies knew there would be a large market in 5 years' time, they could plan ahead. This would also allow time to train tradesmen in their installation. The government would then buy the solar panels and put some on state houses and a few on government buildings. The government would sell the rest to the public at cost price. Also the government would provide loans so that people could pay for the solar panels out of their power savings. Such a step would help NZ meet its energy needs without damaging the environment.

What three other electoral candidates or sitting MPs do you think are most similar to you in their political views?

Jeanette Fitzsimons, Sue Bradford, Keith Locke

MMP is about coalitions: What sitting MP who is NOT in your party do you think is most similar to you in their political views?

Tim Barnett I suppose. Actually I don't know any others!

Do you support or oppose:

...raising the drinking age?

oppose Certainly I am concerned about the 'drinking culture' in NZ. The Green Party would stop the advertizing of alcohol on TV. One hears stories of underage youths getting alcohol which just means the present laws are not being enforced.

...legalising marijuana (or pharmaceuticals based on it) for medical use?

support, assuming it would be for serious medical conditions. I've heard of cases of people in extreme pain from advanced cancer, being able to find relief by using marijuana. In such cases, it's hard to imagine that doctors would object.

...decriminalising or legalising marijuana for recreational use?

I support the Green Party position

The policy is that someone over 18 caught with small amounts of marijuana in his/her possession, has to pay an instant fine but does not receive a criminal record.

...allowing same-sex couples to adopt children?

support This sems to cause no problems overseas.

...amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry?

again, support, as this seems to cause no problems overseas. (If you really want to know my opinions on moral issues, why not ask what I think about bombing , invading and occupying countries that are no threat to your own!)

...allowing voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide?

I don't really like yes/no questions as they assume one's mind is made up in advance and that one would not discuss things with colleagues and would not listen to what is said at Select Committees. Re voluntary euthanasia, I would like to hear from doctors, nurses, the relatives of the dying and the dying themselves. And a lot would depend on how the Bill was worded. It should be possible to have a 'death with dignity' bill that is drawn up with safeguards.

...state funding of integrated schools?

I see nothing wrong with the Green Party policy which is "Support schools that cater for special interest groups within society, as long as they do not require payment of fees, maintain high teaching standards and deliver the core curriculum. Support the 'alternative education programme' as an integral part of public education for students having difficulty in general educational setting"

I assume that the phrase 'payment of fees' allows some modest, but not exorbitant, payment.

...the retention of sedition as a crime in the Crimes Act?

I am not familiar with the Crimes act.

...the retention of blasphemous libel as a crime in the Crimes Act?

I don't know anything about this. It sounds quaint! My areas of interest are: foreign affairs, environment, conservation, climate change..

...further restrictions on hate speech?

Again, I don't know what you are referring to.

...the use of indefinite detention without trial for those subject to a security risk certificate?

no. And I am very concerned at the way civil liberties have been restricted recently in the US and UK.

...restoring the death penalty for serious crime?


...Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill?

I haven't looked into this.

...Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill?

I haven't looked into this.

...entrenching the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act as supreme law?

I haven't looked into this either.

...New Zealand's participation in the International Criminal Court?

I assume that NZ, priding itself as an internationally responsible country, recognizes the International Criminal Court so I assume there is no reason why it shouldn't participate if called upon to do so.

...lowering MMP's threshold from the present 5%?

I haven't considered this but it can be a difficult threshold for small parties to meet.


With the benefit of hindsight, how should the government have handled the Ahmed Zaoui case?

Mr Zaoui should not have been put in solitary confinement for such a long time. That is shocking cruelty. His whole case could have been handled more humanely and processed more swiftly. He is already contributing to the country through his writing and speaking engagements. As he has been declared to have legal status as a refugee, he should be allowed to stay in the country, with his family, as a free man. The government should stop being afraid of attacks from Winston Peters.

As usual, Lois's views are her own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Green Party.

Friday, July 29, 2005


Below is my submission on the New Zealand Day Bill:

  1. I oppose the New Zealand Day Bill for the following reasons:
  2. The Treaty of Waitangi is the moral foundation of our constitution and its signing marks the start of the New Zealand project. The name of the day on which we celebrate this event should reflect what it is we are celebrating.
  3. Many have complained that Waitangi Day is "all about guilt". I believe it is important to remember that we have not always lived up to the ideals of partnership and co-operation laid out in the Treaty, so that we do not make similar mistakes in the future. Waitangi Day should therefore be a day of both celebration and reflection.
  4. Changing the name of Waitangi Day to New Zealand Day is a gratuitous denigration of Maori and their place in New Zealand's history. The symbolism of the change is to write Maori out of New Zealand's past and to say that they don't matter. For the New Zealand government to take such action would simply be shameful.
  5. A motivation for the bill is to avoid protests at Waitangi Day celebrations. However, the needless insult to Maori from this bill simply invites further protest, which is likely to continue until the name is changed back.
  6. As a general comment, if the government wants to end protest at Waitangi Day, they should work harder to address the underlying grievances, and avoid creating new, rather than simply trying to sweep the entire thing under the carpet with a name change.
  7. I oppose s5 of the bill. Like ANZAC Day, Waitangi Day should be celebrated on the appropriate date. However, I do not oppose "mondayising" the holiday rather than the celebration, as is done for Christmas and New Years Day.
  8. I do not wish to make an oral submission to the Select Committee.

Lewis also has a submission up here, and its rather better than mine. However, he missed the best alternative for a new national day: declare a republic and celebrate its birth...

Interesting website

The Maxim Institute has launched a website aimed at informing the New Zealand public in the leadup to the election: NZVotes. While its only policy and guest comment at the moment, they are promising

an electorate section that will profile candidates in every electorate in the country. In their own words, candidates will outline their political background, their interests, and notably where they stand on six conscience issues likely to arise in the next term of parliament.

It seems I'm not the only person interested in candidates' views on these issues...

Utterly vile

There is simply no other way to describe Winston Peters' latest attempt at whipping up fear and hatred of immigrants for political gain. But rather than scapegoating asians, he's now moved on to demonising Muslims, accusing them of being "two faced" and liberal Muslims of acting as a front for fanatics. The latter is purely guilt by association, as can be seen if we run a parallel argument on a different religion. Are liberal Christians (and there are many) really acting as a front for Pope Tamaki? And are New Zealand's Catholics all working "hand in glove" with Opus Dei? These are utterly outrageous propositions, yet Winston has no problem running a similar line on Muslims, and tarring an entire religion with the brush of a few maniacs.

Winston's speech is nothing but religious bigotry, and it has absolutely no place in the liberal and tolerant New Zealand Peters purports to support. But then, Winston isn't really interested in that liberal and tolerant New Zealand; instead, he's interested in scaring the bejesus out of old people so they'll vote for him. And if this means inciting religious hatred and promoting religious discrimination, then that's just the price he's willing to have others pay to get him elected.

Yes, there will be extremists among New Zealand's Muslim community - but if we want to prevent those memes from spreading, then the last thing we should be doing is trying to ghettoise Muslims. Arguably, that's also one of the reasons extremism has spread in the UK - because of the widespread prejudice against Muslims. There's nothing like having your windows broken every week by the BNP or being racially abused on the streets to cause a community to withdraw into itself and to stop thinking of their neighbours as fellow citizens whose lives are valuable.

We are a better place than that, dammit. One of the things we are supposed to stand for is the idea that we can all live together. It seems to work quite well - but I suspect Winston would look at this woman and see another "direct threat" to the Christian faith (!) rather than a fellow kiwi.

But what really, really gets my goat is that while spewing this hatred, Winston is claiming to uphold our values of tolerance. And in the name of "protecting" freedom of religion, he is proposing turning potential immigrants away solely on the basis of their faith (and regardless in fact of the actual views they hold). This is precisely the religious intolerance that Winston says "has no place in New Zealand". But I guess he thinks that it only applies to old white people...

Update: Tze Ming Mok does her nut here.

Climate change bombshell

The US delivered a climate change bombshell last night, announcing a new climate change pact between the US, Australia, Japan, China, India and South Korea: the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. As should be clear from the title, though, the agreement is more about "clean development" than seriously addressing climate change. While it encourages the transfer of clean technologies such as wind farms and "clean coal" (which isn't), it sets no binding emissions reduction targets. This has led to a certain amount of entirely justified cynicism, with commenters dismissing it as a "coal pact" (four of the signatories are among the worlds biggest coal producers and consumers), and the Worldwide Fund for Nature saying

"A deal on climate change that doesn't limit pollution is the same as a peace plan that allows guns to be fired."

While I think this cynicism is entirely justified - the deal commits the parties to nothing they haven't already agreed to under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and is a transparent attempt to undermine Kyoto by setting up a rival system - if it actually results in better technology and a cleaner development path for the parties, then it is a Good Thing. Kyoto was always just a beginning, and any serious attempt to tackle emissions relies on bringing major developing nations on board. And the only just way of doing this is not by denying them a higher standard of living while Americans continue to overconsume, but by ensuring that they follow a cleaner path to development.

(Actually, the only just way of doing this is by deciding how much we can emit, dividing it per capita, and making the Americans buy from underdeveloped nations - but the rich nations will never sign up for that...)

One other observation: Bush has just completely shafted Tony Blair again. He spent the leadup to the G8 summit pushing hard for a deal on climate change, yet this deal caught Downing Street completely by surprise. You'd think that Bush would have told him that the agreement was in the works, but apparantly not. Yet more evidence that the US no longer wants friends and allies, only servants...

Incentives, behaviour, and empiricism

National is trying to inflate the estimated cost of Labour's interest-free student loans by assuming that everyone will borrow as much as they can. But while they're entirely right about the incentives the system will create, they're wrong about the effect. How do I know? Because we've done the experiment. Student loans have been interest-free while studying since 2000. National made exactly the same argument back then: that it provided an incentive for everyone to borrow as much as possible, and so student debt would skyrocket. It didn't happen. Why not? Because people aren't as economically rational as economists think we are.

Only a fool would choose an assumption derived from economists' laughably simplistic model of human behaviour over one based on empirical fact. But that is exactly what National has done - not once, but twice. I guess the reality must be too inconvenient for them...

Thursday, July 28, 2005


The release of Labour's interest-free student loan policy has clearly left the right gazumped, and they have been desperately flailing trying to find a way to counter it. So far this has manifested as an attack on the accuracy of Labour's calculator in an effort to argue that it overstates the benefits to borrowers. Nigel Kearney's efforts in this area are nothing but a strapped chicken - as is obvious from the blatantly stacked assumptions. 6% salary growth (the average is a mere 2.4% - less than inflation)? Twice the repayment rate under the present scheme (there will be some effect, but we should be comparing like with like)? Entirely arbitrary tax reductions? It's a perfect case of stacking the asusmptions to produce the desired result - do they teach this in right-wing school or something?

Meanwhile, DPF parrots Bill English's comparisons with other loan calculators - but as Just Left points out, this seems to be due to differing assumptions about salary growth, inflation rates, and whether the output is presented in real or nominal dollars. The latter is particularly important; with a long enough repayment time, the NPV of accumulated interest can shrink dramatically, even at a discount rate of only 2.8%.

But there's also two more general points I'd like to make. The first is that the right is being inconsistent in trying to claim that the loan writeoff will deliver less than graduates expect, while at the same time trying to wildly inflate the cost. They can't have it both ways, and they should make their mind up which claim they want to push. But more importantly, DPF's nitpicking over numbers is fairly irrelevant, because regardless of which calculator you use, a full interest writeoff is still worth more than a 33% rebate, particularly to those on incomes which do not meet their interest payments (of which there are far too many). No matter which way the right tries to spin it, student loan borrowers are still better off with Labour.

The stopgap solution II

The other day I commented on Winston Peters' plan to solve our Kyoto problems by planting more trees. It's a stopgap solution, in that you only get a one-off hit to your carbon balance, but it is a way of buying time to allow for technological change and serious emissions reduction. The downside is that in order to keep the credit, the land-use change must be permanant - the trees must never be cut down (or at least, logged sustainably, rather than clearfelled). If it is not, the credit is zeroed out, and you are no better off than before.

One thing I wasn't sure of was whether Winston's numbers added up - so I did some digging. Winston is proposing planting an extra ten million trees a year for the next ten years. Plantation forest is normally planted at a density of 2000 trees per hectare and later thinned, so Winston's proposal works out to planting an extra 5000 hectares per year. The data on sinks in the Climate Change Office's estimated first commitment period carbon balance suggests that an increase of 10,000 hectares per year of forest planting will result in an extra 3.4 Megatonnes CO2-equivalent being sequestered (assuming radiata pine; the models on this seem to be a little sketchy). So Winston's proposal would save us 1.7 Mt CO2-equivalent over the first commitment period.

That same report projects a first commitment period shortfall of 36.2 Mt CO2-equivalent, so Winston is only solving around 5% of the problem. Still, it does show us what we need to do. If we increased plantings by 50,000 hectares per year (to a total of 60,000), our shortfall would halve. This would equate (until the end of the first commitment period) with a 33% increase in the size of our plantation forests, or an 8.6% increase in New Zealand's total forest cover: a fairly significant change.

Unfortunately, its not economic to do this simply for the carbon: the cost of planting and maintaining a forest is on the order of a couple of thousand dollars a hectare, while the saving in carbon credits from that hectare would be worth less than $650 (at the current estimated carbon price of $15 / ton; it's less if you use Treasury's estimate of $6 / ton). OTOH, this provides a powerful incentive for the government to get involved in commercial sustainable forestry again; they'd get the usual financial return plus any saving on carbon taxes into the bargain. It also suggests that financial incentives aimed at raising the commercial planting rate (currently at around 10 - 15,000 hectates per year, down from its more normal 40,000) would be worthwhile. One way of doing this would be a carbon subsidy, paid at a relatively high rate to forest owners who commit to sustainable forestry, and a far lower one (based on the expected value for the time bought by that one-off hit) to other operators. And on the gripping hand, if carbon prices rise from their current $41 / ton, planting solely for the carbon looks like a distinctly viable proposition, and one the government should pursue.

Industry training

Labour has announced its third "pledge card" policy for the election: a significant increase in apprenticeships and industry training. Modern Apprenticeships would be increased to 14,000 from the current 9,000, while funding for structured industry training (carried out by autonomous Industry Training Organisations) would also be boosted. In many ways this is just "more of the same", rather than a new policy, but it also highlights Labour's chosen themes. Education and training is the key to opportunity, and Labour is promising to provide more of it. Likewise, education and training are vital to improving the county's productivity (the sticking point in our economic growth), and Labour is working to boost that as well. And its a contrast with National, who support opportunity only for those who already have it, and whose employment policy will discourage any real productivity gains.

This isn't as exciting as the tertiary policy, but its a good, solid, progressive move. I wonder what the other four pledges will be?

Passed and failed

As everyone knows by now, Sue Bradford's anti-smacking bill passed its first hurdle, being voted to select committee 65 - 54. I was expecting a straight party-line vote between the progressive faction of Labour, Progressives and Greens vs the regressive faction of everybody else, but in fact there were a couple of surprises. Firstly, the Maori Party supported the bill (contrary to expectation), and secondly, New Zealand First MPs Brian Donnelly and Peter Brown voted for it as well. It's nice to see that they're not all bad (or at least, not all the time).

There will be a real fight in committee over this bill, over whether to better define "reasonable force", to pass it as is, or to dump it completely. If you have a strong opinion, it might pay to start thinking about turning it into a submission.

Meanwhile, the other controversial bill of the day, Ken Shirley's New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control (Nuclear Propulsion Reform) Amendment Bill (which would have allowed nuclear powered ships into our harbours) was voted down, with every party but ACT opposing it. Now that really does bring a smile to my face...

Jaafari to America: get out

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has called for a speedy withdrawal of US forces from his country:

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said at a joint news conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the time has arrived to plan a coordinated transition from American to Iraqi military control throughout the country.

Asked how soon a U.S. withdrawal should happen, he said no exact timetable had been set. "But we confirm and we desire speed in that regard," he said, speaking through a translator. "And this fast pace has two aspects."

First, there must be a quickening of the pace of U.S. training of Iraqi security forces, and second there must be closely coordinated planning between the U.S.-led military coalition and the emerging Iraq government on a security transition, he said.

"We do not want to be surprised by a withdrawal that is not in connection with our Iraqi timing," he said.

It's good to see the Iraqis asserting control over what happens in their own country, and its also good to see them asserting that any withdrawal must follow their timetable, not America's. There's a real danger that an American pullout will be driven by domestic political concerns (like the 2006 midterms), rather than the needs of the Iraqi people. And given the claimed premise of the invasion, the latter should be paramount.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

New billboard

Stolen from Span, the latest billboard which is doing the rounds at the moment:


Update: Changed hat-tip; as per Jordan's comment, it seems that Span is the original source of infection...

Time up for the Marriage bill

It looks like Larry Baldock's Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill will not be voted on this Parliamentary term. But it has probably served its purpose anyway in whipping up the bigot vote in the runup to the election. Though I'm not sure if it will garner enough support to return Baldock to Parliament, especially when he has to compete for that vote with Destiny NZ.

Meanwhile, we now have another reason to hate Taito Philip Field: he asked for permission to cross the floor and vote for the bill. Again, if you live in Mangere, and are in the liberal part of the left, I suggest voting for Clem Simich instead.

The consequences of climate change

Anyone wondering why we should reduce emissions in an attempt to avert the worst effects of cimate change should look at what it will do to Australia:

Australia could be up to two degrees Celsius warmer by 2030 and face more bushfires, heatwaves and storms despite global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, a climate change report showed yesterday.

Australia is also at risk of stronger cyclones, fewer frosts, changing ocean currents and a more pronounced cycle of prolonged drought and heavy rains, found the government-commissioned report by The Allen Consulting Group.

(Emphasis added)

Australia is already suffering its worst drought in decades, which has severely affected economic growth and threatens to cause a serious water crisis in Sydney - and the long-term prognisis is that it is only going to get worse. The same could happen in New Zealand. And people still think we should do nothing...?


National seems to have been caught out completely by Labour's student loans policy, and so is flailing around calling it "desperate", "irresponsible", and (best of all) "an election bribe on an unprecedented scale".

It costs $100 million, rising to $300 million in later years. If that's an "unprecedented bribe", what should we call promising billions and billions in tax cuts to the rich?

As policies go, this is actually quite a modest one cost-wise (and the "cost" is forgone income rather than actual spending in any case). But it affects a huge number of people - 460,000 borrowers, their partners, parents, and children - all of whom have a stake in reducing the crippling burden of debt. Now, people might actually be able to repay those loans, rather than carrying them with them for the rest of their lives, and they might be able to buy houses, save for retirement, have kids, and generally a future. It's a fine example of what "socialist" policies can do and how government can help (even if it is only by undoing the mistakes of the past).

New kiwi blog

Prog Blog - an unofficial Progressive Party blog which still seems to be carrying a few grudges over the Alliance breakup...

Candidate Survey: Twenty-Fourth Response

From Kelvyn Alp, Manurewa candidate for the New Zealand Direct Democracy Party:

If you could ensure the passage of one act on one issue in the next Parliament, what would it be?

It would be Binding Citizens Initiated Referendum.

Reason: It is easy for a few politicians to be compromised by vested interests when contemplating major legislative changes, however, it is very difficult to compromise a nation in the same manner; therefore any major legislative changes made would naturally reflect the combined will of the people. What three other electoral candidates or sitting MPs do you think are most similar to you in their political views?

All Direct Democracy candidates are of similar political views as I; this is the very reason we have combined to present a real alternative and not just another off-shoot of another Party.

MMP is about coalitions: What sitting MP who is NOT in your party do you think is most similar to you in their political views?

MMP was never meant to be about the focus of coalitions, the point of MMP was for everyone’s views to be represented before any legislative changes were made, however this has been hijacked by main parties fragmenting and then coming back together after the election.

The person most similar to the Direct Democracy Party political view would likely be Winston Peters.

Do you support or oppose:

...raising the drinking age?

I personally oppose raising the drinking age and believe that if the politicians had of listened to the people before doing what they wanted regardless; we would not have the problem we now face.

The problem is not in the age limit of 18, it is the lack of education of those 18+ year olds in self-discipline combined with the fact that there are serious consequences for adverse results when drinking.

However, such a major social issue should be decided by binding referenda as after all is it not society that suffers any ill-effects.

...legalising marijuana (or pharmaceuticals based on it) for medical use?

Yes, where medical use has been scientifically determined to be of medical benefit to the user.

...decriminalising or legalising marijuana for recreational use?

A clear line must be drawn between beneficial medicinal/remedial use and that of recreational use. I feel there must be open and thorough research undertaken to provide all of the evidence in which to determine the appropriate course of action.

All evidence and facts on which to make an informed decision should be presented to the public via binding referenda; after all it is the people that must ultimately live with the outcome of any decision made.

...allowing same-sex couples to adopt children?

The role of the State is to ultimately protect and serve the people, not to control and dictate; therefore as the happiness of all those concerned is the primary focus, there is no viable reason with the appropriate safeguards in place, why same-sex couples would be prevented from adopting children.

...amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry?

Again the role of the State is to ultimately protect and serve the people, not to control and dictate; therefore as the happiness of all those concerned is the primary focus, there is no viable reason (outside of society’s current moral boundaries) why same-sex couples should not have the right to a happy and fulfilled life.

Of course my own opinion dictates that until society can deal with the reality of what it will bring, I am personally against it.

...allowing voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide?

Yes; where there is no hope for a quality of life for the patient, and assisted suicide by a qualified Doctor would end any longstanding suffering, then I am in favour of such a practice.

There would have to be checks and balances in place to ensure that such is the will of the patient, or would be, should they be able to communicate such.

...state funding of integrated schools?

Yes, however this would be better answered by creating a publicly funded education system that is the best possible, its time to fix the problems in this area so there would not be a need for private schools, unless said private schools were dealing in specific areas of education not covered by the public school system.

...the retention of sedition as a crime in the Crimes Act?

No, such an Act has only ever served to hinder many truths being told and should be abolished.

...the retention of blasphemous libel as a crime in the Crimes Act?

No, the origins of the Act itself is limited to Christians and said to be a common law offence. The ancillary powers to seize any material in violations of it are what the Acts confers.

Ones indoctrination to an interpretation of faith can not hold others in abeyance of it and therefore the Freedom of expression in all areas of our lives is paramount.

...further restrictions on hate speech?

No, unless such speech is specifically designed to knowingly insight a violation against any person or property. Free speech shall always be maintained.

...the use of indefinite detention without trial for those subject to a security risk certificate?

No, there is no transparency in this at all; too often it is justified by so-called evidence that can not be disclosed due to the laughable ‘National Security’ diatribe.

Unless there is factual evidence that a suspect is in fact a danger to this Country, they should be no detention. If there is suspicion, then let a Jury decide based on all of the facts and evidence presentable.

...restoring the death penalty for serious crime?

Yes, I would lean toward the re-introduction of the death penalty for proven cases against vicious rapes, serious child abuse and premeditated murder primarily. - The problem we have is simple, what if we get it wrong just once?

This would have to be beyond ALL doubt.

...Georgina Beyer's Human Rights (Gender Identity) Amendment Bill?

The right to choose is paramount. Every man Woman or Child has rights should be held inviolate.

...Gordon Copeland's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Private Property Rights) Amendment Bill?

Property rights are a common-law right; however Government and have usurped this from us yet tell us they are protected - yeah right, tell the people whose houses are bulldoze for some ‘works act’ that they are protected; the action proves beyond doubt that they are not.

Legislation can not be made to transgress these rights if they were protected, yet we have land access issues, so where are those rights again?

...entrenching the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act as supreme law?

No, this Country needs an all encompassing ‘Constitution of New Zealand’ that enshrines and protects the rights and freedoms of all people and limits the Governments power to interfere; and such should be decided by the people that would ultimately have to live under it.

...New Zealand's participation in the International Criminal Court?

No, the International Court is a joke that relies on the integrity of governments; therefore it will never accomplish its intended purposes. As with many other similar organisations, only those that feel they will benefit from its use will ever appropriately participate.

...lowering MMP's threshold from the present 5%?

Although we must work with what we have, my personal opinion (and vision) would be to rid this Country of party politics for good, have say 80 electorates only and each person voted in must work for the betterment of the electorate. Those elected can decide who takes on what portfolio responsibilities, but the people would elect the Prime Minister and the Deputy from those people.

We dare to dream.

With the benefit of hindsight, how should the government have handled the Ahmed Zaoui case?

The Government should have either proven the case against him immediately, or if he was deemed undesirable for entry into New Zealand, put him on the next plane out of the Country. - The common law was once again violated in this instance and is becoming an all too familiar an occurrence.

As usual, Kelvyn's opinions are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Direct Democracy Party.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Via Frogblog: Parliament has just passed its motion on Zimbabwe:

That this House, noting with grave concern the oppression by the Government of Zimbabwe of its own people and its gross violation of human rights, calls upon New Zealand Cricket to abandon the proposed Black Caps tour to Zimbabwe, and urges the International Cricket Council to exclude Zimbabwe from international tours while gross human rights abuses continue in that country.

This is good, but they need to go further. If the Black Caps continue their tour, Parliament should pass a second motion disowning them. If they can not or will not take legislative action, then they can at least make it absolutely clear that the New Zealand public opposes the tour and contact with the Mugabe regime, and that the Black Caps do not represent us in this.

Labour's tertiary policy

Labour has released its tertiary policy. The headline component is scrapping student loan interest for borrowers who stay in New Zealand, but there's also a significant widening of allowance eligibility rules and a commitment to keeping fees low. It's a progressive step, and far more generous than National's policy (which promised only to make interest payments tax-deductible, while doing nothing about allowances and allowing fees to skyrocket). On the other hand, while it will be very good indeed for future borrowers, it does nothing to assist past graduates. An entire generation of tertiary students have been fucked over by no allowances, high fees, and crippling interest payments, and they will be carrying the can for those policies for the rest of their lives. It would be nice if the government started paying attention to this problem and began to address the significant intergenerational equity concerns, rather than simply ignoring it.

I'd also take issue with Labour's costing. The interest-free policy is costed at $100 million intially, rising to $300 million, but this is an opportunity cost, not a real cost. The money won't be spent, rather it will not be made. Obviously existing projections which assume that the government will be receiving interest from students will need to be corrected, but it should not generally be thought of as a "cost" unless the government is actually borrowing the money itself and simply passing it on to students. And if they're doing that, they're simply being stupid...

Update: If you want to know how much you save in interest, Labour has a quick calculator here.

New kiwi blog

Chris Ford, the Alliance candidate for Dunedin South.

Smacking and marriage

Tomorrow is a Member's Day at Parliament, and both Sue Bradford's Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill and Larry Baldock's Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill are likely to be up for the vote. The first would remove the defence of "parental discipline" from the crimes act, allowing parents to be prosecuted for assaulting their children; the second would not only define marriage in exclusively heterosexual terms, but also license active discrimination by government against the unmarried and hitched, so that it can dictate preferred social arrangements rather than simply setting a level playing field and letting people make up their own minds how they want to live. Fortunately, it looks like it will be voted down; while the usual regressive forces of National, NZ First, United Future and the Maori Party have lined up behind it, Labour, the Progressives and the Greens will be voting against, and they have the numbers to kill it. The same grouping has also indicated that they will support the anti-smacking bill to Select Committee, so that the issues can get a thorough airing.

The timing on this couldn't be better for United Future; this vote will allow them to again accuse the government of "social engineering" and whip up their support base ahead of the election. Which was I suspect the point of Baldock's bill all along...

Kiwi Carnival Reminder

Submissions for the fourth Kiwi Carnival (hosted at Not For Sale) are due by the end of the week. So if you've posted anything you're particularly proud of and want others to see, email the URL, post title, and summary to

Thinktank: election coverage

With the election date finally announced, its time for another No Right Turn Thinktank. How should I be covering the election? What sorts of things do you want to see on here over the next seven weeks?

I have a few ideas: a final push on the candidate survey (though I suspect we've seen all the responses we're going to get), a series of posts on "interesting" electorates with recommendations on who to vote for, and maybe some candidate interviews (though I am not a journalist and so that would be new and dangerous territory for me). Is there anything else I can add on top of what I'm doing at the moment? Suggestions in the comments, please...

(The first No Right Turn Thinktank was devoted to liberal issues; the second to constitutional arrangements).

Grassroots Worm

So, we have an election. An election means leaders debates, and leaders debates means the triennial controversy over "the worm". TV channels love it as a nifty little gimmock which gives their talking heads something to discuss afterwards, while politicians hate it as allowing them to be "unfairly" judged by the public (which is what elections are all about). The argument will go round and round, but there'll be one group left out of it entirely: us. You know, the voters who actually get to decide this thing. We disagree as well, of course, but the fact remains that some voters like the worm. And there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to have one - without affecting those who don't want to have a bar of it.

All the worm is is a plot of the average of a hundred or so dials, which the audiance wiggles between "low" and "high" depending on whether they like what is being said. It would be trivial to replicate the user end of this with a Java applet which tracks the mouse position from a central point. The applet could send its data to a server, which could combine the various inputs and present it as a running chart. In other words, people could tune in to a website during the debates (or interviews, for that matter) and register their opinion (in a crude "approval / disapproval" sense) while seeing that of others. And in true net fashion, those who don't like the worm don't have to see it.

My Java skills are somewhat limited, and I lack the server or resources to do this properly. I'm not even sure if I like the worm myself. But if someone else does, or simply enjoys making politicians uncomfortable, then feel free to take this idea and run with it.

Bearing fruit

One of Labour's most significant - and most invisible - policy changes has been a rollback of the 90's health policies of targetting in favour of a return to universal service. The focus has been on primary health, on the basis that detection and prevention of problems by GPs stops people showing up at A&E needing serious treatment (or worse, not, and dying), and the vehicle has been Primary Health Organisations (PHOs), groups of local GPs. The rollback has been gradual, first offering free doctor's visits to children, then pensioners, then subsidies to various cohorts of adults - and now, it finally seems to be bearing fruit. Hospitals in South Auckland have recorded a significant and sustained drop in admissions, which is being at least partly attributed to better primary healthcare.

National, meanwhile, wants to axe the entire scheme and go back to targetting...

No wonder they don't want people to see

Today, the US Army was supposed to finally release the remaining 87 photographs and 4 videos from Abu Ghraib - but instead, they've refused to obey the federal court order requiring them to. Why? A piece in Editor and Publisher connects the dots, using quotes from those who had seen the material. Here's some of them:

"[the acts] can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman" - Donald Rumsfeld

"The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here. We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience." - Senator Lindsey Graham

"The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. The worst about all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking..." - Seymour Hersh

No wonder they don't want people to see it...

Monday, July 25, 2005


Senator John McCain, who was beaten, tortured, and kept in a tiger cage as a POW during the Vietnam War, has drafted amendments to the upcoming defence appropriations bill which would ensure that the US upheld both its own constitution and its international commitments under the Geneva Conventions and Convention Against Torture. The amendments would prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone held by the US military anywhere in the world, require that all detainees were registered with the Red Cross, and forbid the use of interrogation techniques not authorised in the appropriate Army field manual. The White House's response to this? Threaten to veto, of course. They simply have no shame whatsoever, do they?

We have a date

September 17th, just as everyone knew all along. And perhaps now, National will quit posturing and show us their sums...

Failed policies

National looks set to try and revive the failed policies of the 1990's with a vengeance, with Judith Collins announcing that a National government would reintroduce work-for-the-dole. There's no question that this policy was a failure: a report by WINZ's Centre for Operational Research and Evaluation found that beneficiaries were in fact no better off on work-for-dole schemes than on a benefit, and worse, that the employment outcomes of those in makework schemes were noticably poorer than those not participating. It attributed this to the programmes having a "locking in" effect - rather than helping people to find work, they were instead trapping them in poverty and dependence. And National wants to return to this?

But quite apart from questions of effectiveness, there is also a wider question about the point of pursuing punitive welfare and employment policies aimed at forcing people off benefits and into work when monetary policy is working at cross-purposes to this. It's a long story, but the short version is that our monetary policy commits us to a certain level of unemployment in order to keep inflation down. When Brash was in charge of the Reserve Bank, that level was around 7% - and he would hike interest rates to throw people out of work whenever unemployment looked to be getting "too low" and wages (and hence inflation) threatened to rise. Bollard operates under a broader inflation target, and hence we can have lower unemployment - though we have still had worrying pronouncements about the labour shortage and wage claims needing to be stomped with higher interest rates.

That's a very brief rundown; Brian Easton has more here. Its unclear whether the Reserve Bank is actually pursuing an unemployment target (though Brash certainly seemed to be), but at the very least some arbitrary level of unemployment is a side-effect of our low inflation policies. Which means that all welfare policy can ultimately do is adjust the "churn" rate between the workforce and the dole queue; anything more - say, National's underlying goal of making sure that everyone who can work has a job - is frustrated by monetary policy.

Against this policy background, punitive welfare policies aimed at punishing the unemployed so as to provide an incentive for them to work are simply needlessly, mindlessly cruel. It is the equivalent of picking someone at random and then punishing them simply for being picked - unjust, immoral, and ultimately pointless.

As a society, we have chosen to have a certain level of unemployment in exchange for low inflation. Therefore, as a society, we have an obligation to care for those whose lives and prospects we are sacrificing. Policywise, this means trying to ensure that unemployment is not too great a burden and easy to escape from (or at least, not a trap). This suggests both decent benefit levels, and policies centered around umproving "churn": training, education, active job finding, and an array of grants, loans, housing and transport assistance to help people move or travel to work. Unfortunately, National's policies are moving in precisely the opposite direction to what is required.

Another cartoon

A reader sent me this last week, and now seems as good a time as any to post it:


Not quite as good as the last one, but amusing nonetheless.

The stopgap solution

Winston Peters has revealed his party's plan to reduce greenhouse emissions and thereby avoid having to buy carbon credits on the international market: plant more trees. It's a stopgap measure which won't solve the ultimate problem, but at least he's trying. Unlike, say, the parties who are sticking their fingers in their ears like children and saying "lalalalalala"...

Will it work? Sure - temporarily. Forests absorb carbon dioxide, so putting more land under forest will gain us more credits with which to offset emissions. The problem comes in twenty years time; in order to keep the credits, the land-use change must be permanant - so we can't cut them down (or rather, we can't cut them down without replanting). Forest sinks are therefore only a stopgap measure - but they are a useful one, and an essential part of the policy mix. In the long term, we need to work towards emissions reduction through more efficient energy use and better technology, but trees are going to be required to cover the gap until then.

I also have no idea of whether Winston's numbers add up, or whether he has pulled them out of his arse in order to sound impressive (they're suspiciously large and round). But I was planning to look at the efficicacy and cost of further forest sinks anyway, and this just gives me an excuse.

Supporting tolerance

Four hundred people gathered in support of tolerance in Auckland yesterday. It's not a bad turnout, given that we don't seem to lend ourselves to public protest very often, and it asserted a very positive message: that we want a New Zealand where everyone can belong and participate, regardless of their faith. Those who vandalised the Mosques or who seek to blame all Muslims for the actions of their co-religionists don't want this sort of New Zealand; it's good to see that there are people willing to stand up and say that they do.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

It's the little things...

A couple of months ago, people were horrified by Labour MP John Tamihere's callous neglect of his pet cats, when he abandoned them during a move. But now it seems National also has a cat-beater faction. The "off the record" column in today's Sunday Star-Times recounts the following story:

National MP Brian Connell, asked in an interview whether he was "a cat or a dog person", responded with a surprising rant about how he hated cats so much that he once threw one across a room and into a fireplace. Noticing the startled looks this anecdote produced, he added that the fire was not lit.

There are a number of words with which to describe someone who would do this, but I think "sadistic arsehole" about sums it up. And if you live in Rakaia, and you love your cat, I'd advise not voting for the prick.

Paying attention to bigots

The Sunday Star-Times has a story today about an email from a Christchurch Muslim leader objecting to Chris Carter's visit to a Mosque last week because he is a "raging homosexual". Frankly, I'm not sure why this is news. We know there are bigots in the Muslim community, just as there are bigots in the Christian community. And I think we should give them all the attention they deserve: namely, none whatsoever.

Summary execution II

For those who haven't already heard it, the man seemingly summarily executed in London on Friday was not connected with the bombings. So the police have killed an innocent man, in circumstances which they still refuse to fully explain.

As I said earlier, this stinks to high heaven. It stunk when the victim was believed to be a suspected terrorist, and it stinks even more now. While the police are allowed to use deadly force in order to protect their own lives and those of the public, they haven't offered any sort of explanation which even comes close to explaining why it was necessary in this case. They haven't, for example, alleged that he was holding anything which looked like a triggering mechanism for a bomb (which would justify the shooting IMHO), only that he "refused to obey police instructions". That does not justify 5 bullets in the head, no matter which way you look at it.

Fortunately, the UK has an Independent Police Complaints Commission which is investigating this, so maybe we'll see something other than the usual whitewash...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Dancing with the Green Fairy

The other night, John Campbell segued from Degas to Dope by talking about Absinthe - the wormwood-based liqueur which was the staple of bohemians at the fin de siecle. This reminded me of the bottle of 85% Hapsburg I had in my stockpile - and so tonight, I will be dancing with the Green Fairy.

There are lots of different ways to drink Absinthe. The standard method is to slowly dilute the absinthe with ice water by dripping it through a sugar cube on a slotted spoon (the water dilutes the alcohol and brings some of the infusion out of solution, the sugar makes it drinkable). I've also tried it the other way, where you drip the absinthe through the sugar, then set the latter on fire - but I'm informed that that is the method of barbarians (though it does look impressive). Either way, the ritual of preparing it is part of the fun, especially when done by candlelight for extra atmosphere.

I'm not at all sure about Absinthe's legenday powers of inspiration. The first time I tried it, it was indeed inspiring: I wrote half a Vampire game before I went to sleep; unfortunately, it didn't really work out and so I never finished it. Other times, it hasn't had any such effect, and it may vary by brand. Still, tonight I am hoping to get some inspiration for Delta Green - which seems mildly appropriate. Not that I'm making any promises, though...

New Kiwi blog

Stanley Climbfall - a Christian ACT supporter.

New Fisk

The dangerous dichotomy between some Muslims and the society around them

Reporting on a crime

The UN has issued its report on Zimbabwe's clearances, saying that "the scale of suffering is immense" and that they had been carried out in "an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering". And it calls for the prosecution of all those who "orchestrated this catastrophe and those who may have caused criminal negligence leading to alleged deaths" - laying the groundwork for Mugabe and key members of his government to be put before the ICC.

And the Black Caps still want to go...?

Summary execution

Last night's shooting of a suspected terrorist in an underground station in London was nothing more than a summary execution. According to eyewitnesses, police chased a man onto a train in Stockwell station in South London. Then, according to one eyewitness,

"they pushed him to the floor, bundled on top of him and unloaded five shots into him,"

Other witnesses report that the victim was wearing a "bomb belt with wires coming out". But while it is one thing to shoot a suicide bomber when he poses a clear threat to others, it is quite another to do it while your mates are holding him down. It may have been justified, but it looks initially like a summary execution, outright murder, for which the officers involved should be prosecuted. At the very least, the police owe people an explanation of why they felt it was necessary - and so far their explanation that "the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions" simply doesn't cut it.

Friday, July 22, 2005


The McGillicuddies are back! Our local happy loons have nominated a sacrifice candidate to stand for Parliament - though they're a little unclear as to which electorate. They're also suggesting encasing the Beehive in paper mache to prevent its effluent from polluting Wellington harbour.

(Oh, how I've missed the McGillicuddies. It just hasn't been the same without them...)

Also in the "loon" category, though of a more masochistic variety, Christian Heritage have actually found someone willing to stand for them as a candidate. But what will their slogan be? "Think of the kids"?

Putting our money where our mouth is

Jordan mentioned yesterday that a recent survey showed that people were willing to pay higher taxes for education and health. Stuff has a short report on it here, and Massey News has a summary, but to get the real data, you have to go to the source:

Respondents were presented with a range of possible items of government expenditure and asked to choose between "Increasing government spending in each particular area even though this would mean paying higher taxes for this extra spending" or "Cutting government spending in each area and thereby reducing taxes"...

The majority of respondents considered that the government should increase to some degree or greatly increase spending on the health services (87%); the education system (87%); pensions (66%); protecting the environment (61%); job training and assistance for the unemployed (65%); and spending on assistance for people on lower incomes (53%).

They were also asked some more specific questions:

Three-quarters of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement "I would agree to an increase in my taxes if the extra money were used to provide a higher standard of living for the old".

The majority of respondents (82%) strongly agreed or agreed with the statement "I would agree to an increase in my taxes if the extra money were used to provide better health services".

Lest anyone suggest that people agree to spending increases regardless, there was far lower support for increased spending on defence, culture, sport, and Maori language, or for specific tax increases for state housing or the repayment of student loan debt. People are quite discriminating on what they feel their money should be going towards.

What does this tell us? Mostly, it backs up the last release from this research group in saying that health and education matter to Kiwis, but it also says more: it says that we are willing to put our money where our mouth is, and are willing to suffer a tax hike in order to advance those values. That's something our political parties should take note of.

A drop in the bucket

National has launched its bid for the student vote by promising to make the interest on student loans tax-deductible. This is welcome, for a couple of obvious reasons: it brings a bit of consistency to the tax system, by putting borrowing to build knowledge on the same basis as borrowing for other forms of capital (such as tools); and it will do something, no matter how small, to reduce the student debt burden. At the same time, let's be clear: this is a drop in the bucket. Total student debt is now almost $8 billion and rising. National's promise is expected to cost $70 million a year - less than 1% of this. It also does absolutely nothing to deal with the causes of student debt: high fees and limited access to allowances. If National was serious about addressing the student debt problem, then it needs to look at those areas, and not just tinker around the edges.

All that aside, the real reason this is welcome is because it will put pressure on the government to improve on National's offer. They have reasons for doing so in any case; writing last week, Chris Trotter argued that Labour needs some new policies to inspire people, and which address the wants of the middle-class voters it is currently losing to National. Those voters are concerned about their children, and concerned that debt and lack of access to allowances will burden them (and more selfishly, mean they are a burden to their parents) for the rest of their lives. Significant moves to ease student debt, both by reducing the need to borrow and reducing the balance owed, would be a good way of addressing those concerns.

London Again

Three trains, one bus, plus something going on at University College hospital. So far it doesn't seem as serious as July 7th - only one injured, and BBC is suggesting that the blasts were caused by detonators rather than high explosives, but there's also a police chief calling it a "very serious incident".

At the risk of making another stupid comment, this may be an attempt to spread terror on the cheap rather than cause serious damage. Or it could be something worse. No-one seems to know yet...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

New Fisk

The Museum of Palestine: Keys to the past

Digesting the Social Report

The Social Report 2005 has been released. I've spent the last hour or so digesting it, and like the Ministry of Social Development, I think that the statistics generally show an improvement. The 20% drop in child poverty in the last three years is particularly impressive, and that front is only going to improve as the full Working For Families package kicks in.

So, why is the media coverage generally negative? I'm not sure - but one thing I am sure of is that anyone complaining about "lower voter turnout and less women MPs" wasn't reading very carefully. The statistics in question date from 2001 and 2002, and were reported last year - and presumably in the 2003 as well. But at least they're not complaining about ten-year old literacy statistics as Judith Collins was last year...

This does highlight one of the flaws in the report though - too many of the indicators are only updated intermittantly. If this sort of social reporting is to become an effective means of measuring the government's performance, we need better and more regular data.

One other point I should make, since I'm sure the opposition will be trying to make hay out of it, regards income inequality. The income inequality statistics in the Social Report were updated this year, following publication of the Department of Statistics' triennialHousehold Economic Survey, and showed a slight rise in inequality. However, the measure used - the ratio of incomes at the 80th percentile to those at the 20th - is fairly crude, and what's interesting is that the more usual (but less intuitively understandable) measure, the Gini coefficient, dropped slightly, from 33.9 in 2001 to 33.5 in 2004 - signifying a slight movement towards a more even distribution. What seems to be happening is that incomes at the top of the scale are continuing to rise, while those at the bottom of the scale (benefits) are effectively frozen. At the same time, there's been some redistribution towards the middle. Again, the latter will improve when the full Working For Families package kicks in, to the extent that "middle class" incomes will be effectively equalised by assistance to those at the lower end. This will probably do even more to lower the Gini coefficient, but if we are to seriously tackle inequality between rich and poor, more work needs to be done on raising those at the very bottom. This means either getting people off benefits into well-paid (rather than just any) work (and in practice this probably means helping people off the sickness benefit through better health care), or raising benefit levels. And given the high proportion of beneficaries who report restricted living standards on the Economic Living Standard Index measure, this is well worth doing.

Sporting tours and human rights

The chief reason given by the government for its refusal to support the Zimbabwe Sporting Sanctions Bill (which would impose sporting sanctions on Zimbabwe and thus give the Black Caps an out from their contract with the ICC) is that such action would violate the human rights of New Zealanders. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 affirms the right of freedom of movement - including the right of everyone, regardless of citizenship, to leave New Zealand. The Greens have responded with a legal opinion from one of New Zealand's top law firms, arguing that the bill does not violate those rights.

I've finally got round to reading the opinion, and I agree. The argument really boils down to two questions: whether the right of freedom of movement applies to legal persons such as companies and sports teams, and (if it does) whether the restrictions proposed in the bill is a "reasonable limit" as allowed under s. 5. Their response is "no" and "yes" respectively. While it has never been tested in court, it is generally held that the right to leave New Zealand is the sort of right only applicable to individuals, not to legal entities. People have freedom of movement; companies don't, and the bill only limits the latter. But even if this is wrong, and companies do (somehow) enjoy freedom of movement, they argue that it falls well within the "reasonable limits" clause. Travel bans can be a legitimate means of applying pressure to states which refuse to uphold human rights, and in this case the restriction is very narrow; "it is only travel for certain limited, but high-profile, sporting purposes that is prohibited". No individual is prevented from travelling to Zimbabwe, or even from playing cricket there.

If people still have concerns, then the bill can easily be modifed. One obvious amendment would be to remove all references to "travel" entirely, and redefine "Sporting tours of Zimbabwe" to mean the playing of sport in Zimbabwe by any New Zealand national sporting team. Again, this would not criminalise behaviour by individuals, or prevent a "cavaliers"-style "independent" tour, but instead would make it clear that this is about whether a national team should be "doing business" with Mugabe - something the government has every right to prevent.

Augmenting Hansard

A reader has pointed me at their Firefox greasemonkey script to augment Hansard. Basically, it sits on top of Firefox and adds photos and links to the "plain" official Hansard. Unfortunately, I don't use Firefox (yet - I will when my new computer finally comes together), but someone else out there might be interested.

War crimes and command responsibility

On 14th September 2003, British soldiers of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment raided a hotel in Basra and detained eight men after weapons were found. The men were hooded and handcuffed and taken to a former Mukhabarat torture centre once used by the notorious "Chemical Ali". There, they were subjected to sustained abuse and beating. One man, Kifah Taha, was beaten so badly he suffered renal failure and had to be hospitalised. Another, Baha Mousa, died.

Now seven British soldiers are facing charges in connection with the incident. One faces a charge of manslaughter in connection with the death. He and two others also face charges of inhumanely treating prisoners - a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. A fourth man faces assault charges. Most interestingly, their commanders all the way up the chain of command face charges of negligence for failing to properly oversee their men. As noted before, the British believe in command responsibility...

The charges against Col Jorge Mendonca, who initiated an investigation into Mousa's death, have reportedly angered the regiment. But command responsibility does not just apply to commanders who know of crimes and look the other way - it applies to commanders who should have known and who failed "to take the necessary and reasonable steps to insure compliance with the law of war". Col Mendonca is charged with negligence not because he condoned or abbetted the crimes, but because he did not know what was going on in his own command, and failed to impress upon his men the requirement that they act in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and British military law at all times. His behaviour since discovering the crimes may have been exemplary, but it is only proper that the question of his former negligence be tested in a court.

Coming clean

After dissembling, equivocating, and evading, Don Brash has finally come clean and admitted that he would have sent troops to Iraq - regardless of whether there was a UN resolution backing action or not. It's nice that he's finally seen fit to be honest with us, rather than trying to hide his actual policy behind a wall of bullshit. But wouldn't a man of conviction and principle played it straight from the beginning, rather than trying to shamelessly hide views he knew were unpalatable to the public?

This also raises another concern: Don Brash has been outright deceitful about his foreign policy. Can we really believe him then on economic issues? In the past, Brash has presented himself as a market fundamentalist, praising New Zealand's "remarkable reforms" while arguing that they did not go far enough. In particular, he has advocated the removal of all forms of employment protection, including the minimum wage, minimum holiday entitlements, and the employment court; lamented the continued existence of the welfare state (or any sort of safety net insulating people from market forces); and argued for further privatisation and sale of state assets. He has also praised Roger Douglas's "Blitzkrieg" method of ramming policy change through in the shortest possible time, in order to avoid and limit public opposition. In other words, he belongs to the branch of fundamentalist neo-liberalism which sees democracy as a threat to their vision of "good government", and which believes that they, rather than we, are better placed to determine what we actually want.

Since becoming leader of the Opposition, Brash has publicly taken a more moderate line. But given his deceit on foreign policy and duplicity on the nuclear issue, I think we have good reason to be suspicious. Has Brash really resiled from his past extremism, or is he again trying to hide unpalatable views from the public so he can lie his way into office and then impose them on us - exactly as National did in the 90's?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"Compromise" is not a dirty word

So, what do I think of Nandor Tanczos' proposal to replace criminal convictions for cannabis posession with instant fines? It's unquestionably a backdown from full legalisation - but its also unquestionably an improvement all the same. At the moment, thousands of New Zealanders have their lives blighted every year by criminal convictions for something which should not be a crime, and which nobody under the age of 50 truly gives a rat's arse about anymore. This bill will end that. And it looks achievable; far more MPs will be comfortable voting for this, as they can cover their arse with their older constitudents and say truthfully that they haven't voted for legalisation and that the law still "sends a message" (even if people will continue to ignore it).

People like Not PC may oppose the bill for reasons of ideological purity, but I think that is a mistake. Instead, I think we should support the bill as a progressive step, celebrate if it passes, and then turn right around and keep on fighting. "Compromise" is not a dirty word if it leads to progress, but we do not have to accept only the progress we are offered.

Dodging the topic II

Another one on Don's attempts to dodge the hard questions on his foreign policy stance:


Dodging the topic

A reader sent me this to share:


For a "man of conviction", Don seems awfully reticient about his views when he knows they will offend someone. And until he's straight with us, we have every right to suspect that it is us (rather than his business backers) he is afraid of offending.

The fight for the soul of America begins

Bush has nominated conservative appeals court judge John Roberts to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the US Supreme Court. Roberts is 50 - meaning he will affect the course of US law for the next 25 to 30 years - and while he has only limited experience as a judge, has generally taken a hard conservative line. TalkLeft has the dirt on his decisions if you're interested.

What's scary is that this is just the first nominee. Chief Justice Rehnquist is also expected to retire soon (he has thyroid cancer), meaning that Bush will get to make two Supreme Court picks. His decisions will determine the course of America for a generation. If he picks extremist conservatives, we may see a hard turn towards a theocracy, with decisions on access to abortion and the seperation of church and state being rolled back. We may also see the US effectively legalise arbitrary detention, or even torture, if Bush's nominees favour the administration line. The confirmation hearings will literally be a battle for the soul of America - and its a battle we should all be very, very worried about. For all its flaws, America has generally been a beacon of freedom to the world. I'd like to see that continue, rather than see it fall.


If you're reading this from a university, and wondering where all the staff are, they're on strike today. If you don't like this, then maybe you should contact your VC and ask them to give their staff a pay rise.

A toast to freedom

45 years ago, a group of Portugese students toasted freedom in a cafe and were arrested. Newspaper reports of their detention inspired Englishman Peter Benenson to form a worldwide movement to oppose torture, arbitrary detention, unfair trials, extrajudicial execution, "disappearances" and the death penalty. That movement was Amnesty International.

In a couple of weeks, the New Zealand branch of Amnesty International will celebrate its 40th birthday with "freedom week" - and they'd like you to join them in toasting freedom on Monday, August 1st. They'd also like you to remember that while we enjoy the simple freedom to say what we like, others do not. If you'd like to do something about that, you can help them out, by writing a letter or signing an online petition protesting abuses in Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Nepal or Afghanistan. Or you can join or donate: call 0900 48626 to donate $20, text the word "free" to 883, or donate online.

Amnesty are good people, and they've made a real difference to tens of thousands of political prisoners around the world. If you approve of that, then now would be a good time to show your appreciation.

Fatwas and the war of ideas

Over 500 British Muslim scholars have issued a fatwa condemning terrorism and the targetting of civilians.

For the confused among you, this is not a death sentance. A fatwa is simply a religious ruling - in this case, one that declares that violence and the destruction of innocent lives are fundamentally incompatible with Islam, and therefore "vehemently prohibited". I have not been able to find the full text, but the limited excerpts on BBC are pretty good:

Gul Mohammad, secretary general of the BMF, quoted the Koran saying: "Whoever kills a human being ... then it is as though he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a human life it is as though he had saved all mankind."

He went on: "Islam's position is clear and unequivocal: murder of one soul is the murder of the whole of humanity; he who shows no respect for human life is an enemy of humanity.

"We pray for the defeat of extremism and terrorism in the world.

"We pray for the peace, security and harmony to triumph in multicultural Great Britain."

This is unquestionably a good Thing. The war on terror is not fundamentally a military conflict, but a war of ideas - and in the long term we will win it not by killing and killing and killing until there are no more terrorists (because such tactics create terrorists), but by "draining the swamp", convincing the terrorists' supporters, funders, and potential recruits that blowing people up is neither acceptable nor necessary to get what they want.

Justice and freedom are two key tools to convincing people of the latter. Winning the debate in the Muslim community about the moral acceptability of indiscriminate murder is vital for the former. Unfortunately, the UK seems to be moving to prevent this debate entirely, with the government promising to outlaw "indirect incitement to terrorist activity", and imprison or deport anyone "glorifying" terrorism (for example, by calling suicide bombers "martyrs"), praising terrorist acts, or "attacking the values of the West". Quite apart from being a gross attack on freedom of speech, this is simply bad tactics; extremism feeds on exactly this sort of persecution, and it is difficult to convincingly win a debate when one side is thrown in jail for advocating their position.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Justice for torture

Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, a former Afghan warlord, has been convicted on charges of conspiring to take hostages and conspiracy to torture in a British court. Zardad was a mujahadeen leader who spent years fighting against the Russians. After the Russian withdrawl, during the civil war against the Taleban, he controlled one of the roads into Kabul. He and his men behaved like vicious bandits, terrorising the civilian population and robbing, killing, imprisoning and torturing travellers.

The charges were brought under laws implementing the UN Convention Against Torture. While the Convention only demands criminalising torture in a party's jurisdiction and allowing extradition, the UK seems to have gone the whole way and claimed extra-territorial jurisdiction, allowing it to prosecute for offences anywhere in the world. Witnesses gave evidence by video from the British embassy in Kabul. It is believed to be the first trial of its kind anywhere in the world, but it sets another excellent precedent: torturers who flee to the west will be found and punished, no matter where they committed their crimes.

Hopefully, there's a few torturers right now who are feeling a little bit nervous...

The advertising campaign Labour should be running

Just Left has a series of pictures from the advertising campaign Labour should be running, attacking National on its foreign-run foreign policy and its duplicitous stance on the anti-nuclear issue. They have apparantly been appearing all over Auckland and Wellington - in which case good on whoever is doing it. They are far more effective than flying babies or cartoon chainsaws, and make it crystal clear what the difference between the parties is.

Why are these ads effective? Because they are true. And they are helped by National's continued attempts to hide it. This week's Listener has a Gordon Campbell piece in which Don Brash falls all over himself trying to avoid answering basic foreign policy questions:

The war on terrorism - and not the Cold War - is now the abiding concern of our former ANZUS allies. Would Brash, if elected, have any objection to us playing a military role in Iraq - especially given the recent news that Australia will now be playing a larger military role in southern Iraq to enable British troops to be redeployed to Afghanistan? "I don't have the information to make sensible comment on that,", he says.

So, if Brash ever received a call from Whitehall, Canberra and Washington to participate militarily in Iraq, would he consider it positively? "To answer that sensibly, you need to know a lot more about New Zealand's military capacity and related issues than I've certainly got in Opposition..."

But he wouldn't rule out a military role in future? "I don't think I've got enough information to answer that."...

Meanwhile, Scoop has a nice collection of National's former statements on Iraq, promising support and to do anything or go anywhere the White House tells us. "Not enough information"? Yeah, right.

But while I like the Iraq ads, I have to admit that my favourite is this one:

Again, it makes it clear exactly what is at stake - though possibly its just my perverse appreciation for mushroom clouds...

Fixed election dates

The unseemly game-playing over the date of the election seems to be having an effect, with the Herald this morning calling for the date to be fixed by law. As I've said before, I think this is a good idea. The current system invites abuse by the government of the day, with elections being timed in an effort to maximise government support. This is not something we should tolerate in a democracy.

The one problem with this idea is that it makes it difficult to resolve a mid-term breakdown of government. But as the Herald points out, this can be resolved; Germany requires a "constructive vote of no confidence", meaning that in order for a government to fall, a replacement must be available. Alternatively, in the event that no alternative government is available, Germany allows an early election to be called only with the support of the upper house; in New Zealand, with our single-chamber system, we could simply require a supermajority.

The Herald suggests a referendum on the subject, and I agree. This is not a change Parliament will make for itself - our major parties will not give up their privilege - and therefore we must make it for them.

Correction: I was wrong about Germany and the upper house above; see Wikipedia for the proper details. Governments can vote themselves out of office and thereby force an election, but ther's effectively a waiting period in which other parties have a good chance to form a government. Such a system would be easy to adopt here, provided we ensure that the government puts confidence motions to the House on a regular schedule.

Hiding behind process

The government seems to be slowly buckling under the pressure over the Black Caps' tour of Zimbabwe. In the face of overwhelming public opposition and repeated calls from public figures and major newspapers for government action to get New Zealand Cricket off the hook, they are slowly retreating to their fallback position. Initially, they had ruled out any legislation to ban the tour as a violation of New Zealanders' human rights. The public didn't buy that, and so over the past few days, they have shifted to saying that it would be wrong to legislate under urgency. But as Frogblog points out, urgency is intended to be used in situations that are, well, urgent - and this is a perfect example. The team leaves next month, and Parliament will have only three sitting days in which to act. If there is to be a legislative solution (as most New Zealanders want), then urgency is required. But rather than bite that bullet, the government is trying to stall and hide behind process, run out the clock so they can say "sorry, its too late to do anything now".

We shouldn't let them get away with it. The government has shown in the past that it is willing to use urgency for far less important things than this (Harry's Law, anyone?), so it seems more than a little disingenuous of them to now be appealing to the sanctity of the Parliamentary process. They can act, and the only question is whether they are going to. And if they don't want to, they should have the guts to come out and say so, rather than trying to hide behind a procedural smokescreen.