Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Look who's getting herpes

People in retirement homes. I blame the viagra...

Closing the gap

At the moment, Don Brash is worrying about how to close the gap in incomes and living standards between Australia and New Zealand. He shouldn't be - because John Howard is closing it for us. Two months ago, his government rammed through ECA-style industrial relations "reforms". And predictably, this has led to an unprecedented assault on worker's wages and conditions. Every contract signed since the law was enacted has stripped conditions from workers. 64% have cut annual leave provisions below the previous legal minimum, 63% penal rates, 54% shift allowances, and 40% public holidays. 16% of contracts have made cuts to all of these provisions. As the ACTU points out, this is exactly what the law was designed to do, and they are predicting that it will have exactly the same consequences as the ECA did in New Zealand, where some workers saw their take-home pay cut by up to 40%. At this rate, the gap will be closed in no time...

Polluter Pays

Rotorua farmers are objecting to having to pay extra in rates to cover the cost of cleaning up the region's lakes. But there's a simple principle at stake here: polluter pays. The farmers made the mess, though overstocking of cattle, excess use of fertilisers, and not caring where the runoff went ("dirty dairying" in other words). Therefore they should be the ones paying to clean it up. Giving them yet another free ride will simply encourage them to continue to engage in unsustainable, polluting practices which externalise their environmental costs onto everybody else.


The Magna Carta is one of the most important documents in legal history, and one of the foundations of "British liberty". Back in 1215 - practically the dark ages - it affirmed rights such as due process and freedom of travel, as well as the founding principle of the Westminister system of Parliamentary government: that there shall be no taxation without the consent of Parliament. From their anti-terrorism policies of control orders and arbitrary detention, it is clear that Tony Blair's government hates it. It's ironic, then, that respondents in a BBC poll on candidates for a new UK public holiday preferred celebrating its signing to any of the other options. And if Tony Blair succeeds in his most urgent policy task of gutting the (UK) Human Rights Act and removing or limiting those ancient liberties, then the irony will be inescapable...

Updated: - fixed date.

A policy of murder

In July, 1950, during the Korean War, US forces holding a bridge at No Gun Ri shot, shelled, and called in airstrikes on refugees attempting to flee advancing communist forces. In the process, several hundred innocent civilians were killed. When the massacre was revealed in 1999, a US Army inquiry found that the killings were an "unfortunate tragedy" due to panicky soldiers, rather than the result of a deliberate policy. But now evidence has come to light which undermines that conclusion. A US historian, Sahr Conway-Lanz, has discovered a letter from the US Ambassador to Seoul to the US State Department reporting on decisions made at a high level meeting of American officials the day before the killings began. One of those decisions was a deliberate policy to shoot refugees:

"If refugees do appear from north of US lines they will receive warning shots, and if they then persist in advancing they will be shot," wrote the ambassador, John J Muccio, in his message to the Assistant Secretary of State, Dean Rusk.

This is nothing less than a policy of deliberate, cold blooded murder. Unfortunately, I doubt that any of those responsible will still be alive to face prosecution for it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Zealand at risk?

Yesterday, Don Brash gave a speech in which he wrapped himself in the flag and proclaimed his loyalty to New Zealand. In response to which we should simply remember three words: "gone by lunchtime". But rather than laughing at that, I'd like to focus on one of the other key points in the speech - that of New Zealand being "at risk". According to Brash, this is due to the widening gap in incomes and living standards between New Zealand and Australia:

In 1999, after-tax incomes in Australia were 20% higher than those in New Zealand. Last year, the gap was 33%. On present trends, that gap could easily be 40% within three years.

And this isn't just about statistics: that gap has profound implications for the quality of education we can afford for our children, for the quality of our housing, for the quality of our roads, and for the quality of our healthcare. It's no doubt a major reason why mortality rates from breast cancer are 30% higher in New Zealand than in Australia.

As a result of that gap in living standards, we've seen a rapid rise in the net flow of Kiwis to Australia...

What's ironic is that National proposes to close this gap by pursuing policies which will actively reduce the living standards of New Zealanders. Their employment policy, for example, would limit union access to workplaces and the right to collectively organise, slash holidays and rights to take personal grievance cases, and introduce probationary employment. This will reduce conditions and keep wages low, with a consequent effect on the living standards of ordinary New Zealanders. Their "welfare policy" is actually a labour market policy, aimed at forcing people onto the labour market to reduce wage pressure - again, reducing the wages, conditions, and living standards of ordinary New Zealanders. And the monetary policies National remains committed to - and which Brash so ruthlessly enforced during his tenure as Governor of the Reserve Bank - are explicitly aimed at creating and maintaining a "reserve army of labour" in order to avoid "inflationary" wage increases.

More broadly, National remains committed to a "low wage, low skill" economy, in which employers simply hire another warm body rather than investing in capital or training. This is the same economic model which saw that gap open in the first place, and attempting to perpetuate it will not see the gap close (except accidentally, as a result of policy change in Australia - something which may happen due to John Howard's recent ECA-style "reforms").

On top of this, National's tax policy would directly reduce the funds available for that quality education, quality housing, and quality healthcare Brash claims to care so much about - again, directly reducing the living standards of ordinary New Zealanders who rely on those government-funded services.

In short, these are not policies for closing the gap with Australia - they are policies for widening it. Ordinary New Zealanders will be made worse off, so that income and wealth can be transferred from the many to the few - exactly as happened in the 90's. That's the real risk to New Zealand, and it comes from Don Brash.

Monday, May 29, 2006

More opposition to the 100 MP Bill

DPF has posted his draft submission on Barbara Stewart's Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill. It's far more thorough than mine, going into details on the size of our Parliament compared with various overseas jurisdictions, as well as the size of the talent pool for the executive and executive domination of the legislature (arguments originally made by the Royal Commission on the Electoral System in support of a larger House). If you're considering submitting on the bill (instructions here), it is well worth reading.

Update: Lewis's submission is here. He focuses on the referendum aspect rather than the effects on MMP or pros and cons of a larger House, but reaches the same conclusion: this bill is a crock.

Speaking of which, its painful having to be so polite in these things. I'd far prefer to be able to say "I reccommend that this bill be burned, then the ashes placed in Te Papa as a monument to stupidity", but I suspect the politicians wouldn't like it.

Paying their bills

In recent days, National has come under attack for leaving TVNZ and other broadcasters to foot the bill for their "accidental" overspending during the 2005 election. Somehow, National "accidently" forgot to include GST in its broadcasting spending limit, meaning that they spent $125,000 more than they were entitled to. Then they claimed that they could not actually pay the money to the broadcasters, because doing so would breach the Broadcasting Act. The result is that TVNZ and other broadcasters have been left out of pocket, while National has benefitted from free, illegal election advertising.

Now National is proposing to do something about it. Don Brash has introduced a Member's Bill, the Broadcasting (2005 Election Broadcasting Reimbursement) Amendment Bill, which would make a one-off law change to allow National to pay its bills, via the intermediary of the Electoral Commission. The bill would not retroactively legalise the overspending (it is too late to prosecute anyway), but would simply ensure that no-one was left out of pocket.

I'd far rather see Brash introduce a comprehensive bill to tighten spending restrictions, introduce greater transparency, extend time limits for prosecution and introduce strict liability for corporate entities for electoral offences - but that aside, this isn't a bad bill, and it will correct one of the injustices of the 2005 election spending debacle. Hopefully Brash will ask for leave to debate the bill the moment Parliament returns in June, and hopefully Parliament will give its consent and pass it quickly.

New Fisk

Modern Syria Through Saladin’s Eyes

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Restaurant Review: One Red Dog

It's been years since I've been to One Red Dog, and I remember it primarily for the shitty service. You would have to wait an hour for a table even when you had made a reservation, and would then be ignored by the staff for the rest of the night. Now, they've opened a second One Red Dog on Queen's Wharf. It's quieter and less crowded, particularly on a Sunday afternoon - but the grand tradition of shitty service continues. While the food is good, it's not that good; better to go to Hell instead.

Still on the Order Paper

A while ago I blogged about the oldest bill in Parliament, John Carter's Kerikeri National Trust Bill. This was first introduced in September 1995, and after passing its first reading, has hung around in select committee ever since. On Friday, the Local Government and Environment committee was supposed to report back on the bill and send it back to the House. But according to the Bills before Select Committees page, it has now been extended for another year.

I don't have anything in particular against this bill, but after eleven years, you'd think the committee would have reached a conclusion. The fact that they keep putting it off and putting it off and putting it off suggests strongly that it's not going anywhere - in which case it would be better if they admitted it and puled the plug rather than continuing to have it hang around like a bad smell.

Indonesian Quake

The red Cross is now accepting donations to aid those made homeless by last night's Indonesian earthquake. If you'd like to help them out, call 0900 33 200 to make an instant $20 donation, or you can give online here.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Drinking their own urine

As some of you may know, Australia has a water problem. A shift in long-term climate patterns has meant that they don't get enough rain, resulting in widespread drought and water shortages. Various Australian cities (including Perth and Sydney) are looking at the prospect of running out of water and having to install desalination plants within only a couple of years. Meanwhile, in other parts of Australia, things are even more desperate: the town of Goulburn, NSW, is looking at recycling its own effluent for drinking water - that's right, they're down to drinking their own urine over there.

Iraq's My Lai

On November 19th, 2005, a group of US marines in Haditha, Iraq, were hit by a roadside bomb, killing one of them. In the aftermath, 24 Iraqi civilians were killed. The marines initially claimed that 15 of the Iraqis had died in the initial bomb attack, and 8 more were killed during the resulting gunfight with "insurgents". That didn't stack up, and after Time interviewed witnesses to the killings, the US military launched an investigation. Now, the New York Times reports that that investigation has concluded that US marines engaged in "extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians". Rather than the civilians dying in the bomb blast, they were murdered during a systematic sweep by a small group of marines, with some being murdered inside their own homes. It was in other words a series of revenge killings for the death of their buddy - the story of the invasion of Iraq in microcosm.

Murder charges are apparently likely, but if past performance is anything to go by, the US military will punish deliberate and systematic murder with a wet bus ticket. In recent cases, US military juries have, by handing out insultingly low sentences, effectively endorsed torture and murder (at least if its done to Iraqis). And going further back, Lt William Calley, the only man convicted for the My Lai massacre, served only three years of his life sentence. The US military seems to be constitutionally incapable of holding its own to account, and I don't really expect this to be any different. Of course, I live in hope...

"A horror weapon"

Via NZBC, it seems the US aren't the only people who have been using white phosphorus in Iraq: the insurgents have been using it too. Except when they use it, the US media describes it as a "horror weapon". I guess it just becomes more horrible when the victims are Americans rather than Iraqi children...

Needless to say, I do not think anyone should be using white phosphorus on anyone, combatant or not. It is a completely indiscriminate weapon which causes terrible injuries [GRAPHIC; do not click "successiva" too often if you want to keep your lunch]. This is as vile as mustard gas, and it should be treated exactly the same way: its use outlawed, stocks destroyed, and those who use it punished as mass-murdering criminals.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Maybe this time

The High Court has finally removed some suppression orders, allowing the media to report what everybody who wanted to know already knew: that former policemen Clint Rickards, Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton are to face trial for the rape of another woman. There were good reasons why this couldn't be brought up at the original trial, and for keeping it out of the media during the trial itself - every case must be judged on its own merits, not on what else the defendants may be accused of - but in retrospect there was no justification for suppressing it afterwards. It's not as if the jury in the next trial won't know who the accused are, or what else they are alleged to have done. All suppression did was undermine public faith in the outcome.

The next trial will be difficult; the intense media coverage surrounding the first one could be argued to have tainted the jury pool and make it difficult for the accused to get a fair trial. The jury will simply have to grit their teeth, and do their best to ensure that they are deciding on the basis of the evidence before them, rather than previous allegations. And if the evidence is strong enough, maybe they'll be found guilty this time...

The effects of global warming

Want to know what global warming and rising sea-levels will do to your neighbourhood? Alex Tringle has a rough-and-ready overlay for Google Maps which shows you. Note that the IPCC predicts that sea level will rise only 0.09 to 0.88 metres in the next century; the real worry is those "large-scale, high-impact, non-linear and potentially abrupt changes", like the disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet - something which is looking scarily more likely the more we learn. If that happens, then downtown Wellington will be under water, and you'll be able to go swimming in Cathedral Square.

As I said, this is a rough-and-ready overlay, which ignores all sorts of details. Alex's caveats are here.

[Hat tip: Crooked Timber]

A Tui

What we need is a full-size one of these, right in the heart of his electorate.

Transmission II

Rodney's slack attendance at Parliament was on Close Up last night, and this morning is on both Stuff (Hide under fire for sashaying from Parliament) and the Herald (Hide defends dance defection) websites. Both point out that Rodney has been in the House for only three of the last ten sitting days - and usually for only for Question Time, at that. Worse, last night he (and therefore ACT) missed the biggest vote of the year: the annual Budget confidence vote. His excuse? That the government would have won anyway. Despite this, he still claims that he has "put Epsom first", and that his constituents have never had a better or more hard-working MP.

Yeah, right.

While it is true that other MPs are also frequently absent from the House, none of them matter nearly so much. Rodney is ACT's sole representative at the moment (Heather Roy being off learning to play with guns), and the only person capable of casting its votes. When he's not there, ACT as a party vanishes from the political scene. You'd expect him to take this responsibility seriously - but instead he's off dancing.

Meanwhile, Rodney has a press release today trumpeting his Local Government (Rating Cap) Amendment Bill. Strangely though he doesn't mention that he's deliberately had the bill deferred for the last month, so he has time to tango.

America under the Taleban

One of the big changes in New Zealand society over the last few decades has been the decline of marriage. Back in the 70's, people generally got married at a (far too) young age, popped out a few sprogs, and proceeded to live together in matrimonial bliss (something proved by the sudden spike in divorces when the law was liberalised in the early 80's). Now, we don't. Oh, we still get together, maybe have kids, and live together happily ever after (or not, as the case may be) - but fewer and fewer people are bothering to fill out the paperwork. And apart from a few regressive dinosaurs and religious fanatics, we're generally fine with that. It makes no difference whether people are married or not; what matters is whether people are happy.

In America, it's a different story. Oh, they have the same rise in de facto couples that we do - but they're unhappy about it. So unhappy, that some regressives are even attempting to ban de facto couples with children from their towns in an effort to "protect values". Sometimes it really does seem as if they're ruled by the Taleban over there...

Thursday, May 25, 2006


The Justice and Electoral Committee has (finally) called for submissions on the Electoral (Reduction in number of members of Parliament) Amendment Bill. Two copies, by Friday, 14 July 2006, to

Michele Reardon
Justice and Electoral Committee Secretariat
Parliament Buildings

Or you can email

Making a submission is as easy as writing a letter saying "I support/oppose this bill" and giving reasons. The Office of the Clerk has a helpful guide here, and my draft submission on this bill (which I'll be reworking over the next few days) is here. Opponents of the bill may also want to pay attention to my post summarising the Royal Commission on the Electoral System's arguments on the size of Parliament here.

Update: Fixed URL and corrected number of copies. You only need to send two now rather than twenty.


This morning's Dominion-Post has a story by Colin Espiner titled Hide sidesteps flak on absence from job. It's a nice example of how material can be transmitted from blogs to traditional media - though alas without any mention of the former. And its a curious absence, given that said "flak" has come exclusively from the blogosphere; apart from the odd snide comment or bad pun when Rodney asks a question, MPs haven't commented on his absences. And the reason for that is that they can't; Standing Order 400 (n) declares that

reflecting on the character or conduct of the House or of a member in the member's capacity as a member of the House

may be a contempt of Parliament. While it is unlikely to be enforced on the media (though Parliament does jealously guard its "right" to do so), it certainly would be if an MP were to point out Rodney's systematic absences in the House and ask how well he is serving his constituents. Which means that if we want our MPs to do even the minimum of their job and turn up for work, we have to apply the pressure ourselves.

Carnival of the Liberals

The latest Carnival of the Liberals is up at Lucky White Girl.

A Lazy Minister

Hot on the heels of the MP who won't do his job comes the Minister who won't do theirs. Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia didn't bother seeking new funding for his department during pre-Budget negotiations. As a result, existing spending has been reallocated. The Maori party is livid, and rightly calling for Horomia's resignation, asking

If the Minister - and the Ministry - of Maori Affairs, have nothing at all that they think they can offer Maoridom, then why on earth do they exist?

And they've got a point. Parekura has the resources of the government at his disposal. And he's there to work out how to apply them to solve problems affecting Maori. If he can't think of a single way of doing this, then maybe its time for him to move on and make way for someone who can?

The irony is that it's not just the Maori Party calling for Parekura's resignation - it's National as well. That's right, the party which opposes "race-based" funding and which believes the only purpose of the Ministry of Maori Affairs is to wind itself up, and which more broadly is attacking government spending levels, is upset that a Minister didn't ask for more money. I thought that would be exactly the sort of "fiscal discipline" they'd be trying to encourage?

Another message from Rodney

A followup to the previous memo, commenting on Rodney's delay of the first reading of his Local Government (Rating Cap) Amendment Bill, presumably because he has other priorities:


(Click for a bigger (220 KB) version)

For those wondering what "ZAP members shouting at the crowd in their underpants" means, see here.

Back to Timor?

The East Timorese government has requested international assistance in restoring order after the recent riots in Dili. New Zealand was among the countries they specifically requested assistance from. So, I guess we'll be going back then...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Another Abu Ghraib trial

Sgt Santos Cardona, the dog handler pictured above, went on trial yesterday on charges of assault, dereliction of duty, maltreatment of detainees, conspiracy to maltreat detainees and lying to investigators for using his dog to terrorise and attack detainees. If convicted, he could face up to 16 years in jail - but if the sentence handed out to his partner, Sgt Michael Smith, is anything to go by, he will walk away with a slap on the wrist, the US military jury having effectively endorsed torture (again). Still, I live in hope that justice will actually prevail.

A lawyer from Human Rights First, Hina Shamsi, is monitoring the trial and blogging about it here.

The Brethren: New Zealand's third largest politcal party?

Yesterday, Tevor Mallard tabled papers in Parliament showing that the Exclusive Brethren had budgetted more than $1.2 million to boost National during the election campaign. Comparing this with party election expense returns, that's more than the Greens, more than NZ First, more than ACT (who even in a very bad year, spent almost a million dollars for their paltry 1.5% of the vote) - in fact, more than any party bar National and Labour. From this, you'd think they were New Zealand's third-largest political party - but instead its just seven very rich, very conservative men trying to buy the New Zealand they want. Who, looking at that article, lied to the public about how much they were spending to get it (I guess their wierd little cult doesn't bar lying. Or maybe its OK in the name of helping god to ordain the right government. Who knows?)

Now, under electoral rules, they're perfectly entitled to run their own campaign provided they say who they are and don't explicitly tell people who to vote for (though its worth noting that they couldn't even do the former properly - more lies for the cause, I guess). At the same time, I think its perfectly fair to point out just our dubious and freaky National's friends are, and just how far they're willing to go to buy victory. To paraphrase the campaign for MMP back in 1996, if you're looking for a reason to oppose National, just look at who supports them.

Aussies don't want tax cuts

This is simply hilarious: the Australian government gives away billions in tax cuts - and the Australian public says they don't want it. Instead, they'd rather have better services, particularly in health.

Meanwhile, over here people seem to want to have their cake and eat it too. National continually bang the drum about tax cuts - and about a perceived lack of health services. Unfortunately, they can't have both. If we want to reduce waiting lists and ensure that people get the healthcare they need, then we have to pay for it - and this necessarily means taxation. While National likes to pretend that significant gains can be made by cutting "health bureaucrats", this is as much a fantasy as it is in education. The total appropriated for Vote:Health [PDF] in Budget 2005 was $9,681 million. Of this, a mere $150.198 million (1.55%) went on the bureaucrats at the Ministry (for things like policy advice, performance monitoring, public health and running information services), and (according to the article linked above) $513.7 million (5.31%) on District Health Board managers and administrators (meaning the people who make sure the doctors and nurses get paid, arrange appointments, manage workloads, run the hospitals, and do all the other bullshit that, while it isn't actually cutting people open or making them better, is still important to enabling that to happen). Interestingly, while the latter figure has increased in nominal terms, it has decreased significantly in percentage terms; in 2000/2001 DHB management and administration made up 6.01% of the health budget ($379.4 million out of a $6,309 million total spend). This is hardly a sign of enormous inefficiencies and money waiting to be saved. The only way National can get significant "greater efficiencies" out of the health sector is by either cutting services, or paying frontline staff less - the very things which fucked up our health system in the first place.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In the ballot XI

Another batch of Member's Bills currently in the ballot. Previous batches are indexed here:

Resource Management (Overdue Consents) Amendment Bill (Colin King): This would amend the RMA to require local and regional authorities to meet the time-lines laid out in the Act, and provide an incentive by specifying that a late consent is a free consent (that is, that the local authority forfeits any charges). Provision is made to ensure that necessary delays in the process - for example, requests for further information - restart the clock. The aim here is to reduce time delays and costs to applicants, and I expect it will do the former. As for the latter, local authorities are empowered to recover "reasonable costs" of applications and such, and to the extent that they have to hire extra staff to meet their deadlines, they may simply increase fees. Arguably, though, that's what they should have been doing in the first place, rather than having a hidden subsidy in applicant's wasted time.

Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill (Sue Bradford): This would amend the Corrections Act 2004 to allow children under the age of two years to be accommodated in prison along with their mothers. Currently the Corrections Regulations 2005 allows babies under six months to be accommodated in this way, and the bill duplicates these provisions while extending the time limit. The justification is to allow breastfeeding and avoid CYFS placements - CYFS apparently being so bad that even prison is better than a foster home. However, its also worth noting that other countries permit far longer periods of parenting in prison than we do - in Australia it varies from one to six years, Canada allows four, and even Japan allows one. It's worth voting this bill to Select Committee simply so they can have a thorough look at the issues involved.

Human Rights (One Law for All) Amendment Bill (Rodney Hide): According to the explanatory note, this is aimed at eliminating "race-based" government programmes. It purports to do this by amending s21A of the Human Rights Act 1993 (which says that only certain parts of the Act apply to the government) to include pretty much every specified form of discrimination - access to places, vehicles and facilities, provision of goods and services, land, housing and accommodation, and education - but only in regards to discrimination on the basis of race, colour, or ethnic origin (Rodney not caring about discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, marital status, or any of the other grounds prohibited in s21).

There are two problems with this. The first is that it is unnecessary; s19 of the BORA bars government discrimination on any of the grounds specified in the HRA, and Part 1A of the Act reinforces this by specifying that such discrimination is a breach of the Act. The second is that such an amendment still would not outlaw the programmes Rodney is targetting, as s73 of the Act (backed by s19 (2) of the BORA) provides a blanket exemption for "measures to ensure equality". If Rodney really wants to ensure the stunted, purely formal "equality" of "one law for all", then he needs to repeal both of these provisions as well.

As usual, I'll have more bills as they trickle in.

Maliki to Blair: get out

Tony Blair went to Baghdad yesterday to greet the new Iraqi Prime Minister - and was surprised when they told him they expected US and British forces to hand over control of 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces by the end of the year:

The announcement was news to Mr Blair and his team. Mr Maliki said there was an agreement with the British: but British officials said there was no agreement. And he said the withdrawals would be in June: officials say it will be July.

Mr Blair was more vague than the Iraqi prime minister. He insisted that there was no timetable and that the handover to Iraqi forces would depend on the prevailing conditions.

Despite the disagreements on details, one thing is clear: the new Iraqi government wants the "coalition of the willing" gone, and as quickly as possible.

This is good news. Not just because the troops will be leaving (they've been a magnet for violence since shortly after their arrival) - but because it is being led by the Iraqis rather than their occupiers. They're taking charge of their country in the most significant way possible: by saying that it is theirs, and they will police it themselves. Removing the taint of foreign backing should also add significantly to the perceived legitimacy of the new government.

This is also what Bush has been hoping for - a chance to withdraw troops before the November Mid-terms - but I don't think that should stop us from celebrating this moment.

The Rodney Hide Memo

Yesterday's post on Rodney's chronic absenteeism from Parliament resulted in a reader sending me the following:


(Click for a bigger (220 KB) version)

I'm sure the voters of Epsom will share Rodney's joy.

Pacific Theocracy

Samoa has banned the movie The Da Vinci Code on the basis that it might confuse and weaken the faith of Christians. The article makes a lot of noise about how Samoans will simply end up watching the movie on pirated DVDs - but in the process it misses the more important point: that this is a fundamental violation of the right to freedom of expression, and one done on a religious basis to boot. It is the action of a theocratic government, not a democratic one.

Here's a thought: rather than seeking to silence The Da Vinci Code, Samoa's bishops and religious leaders could spend some time explaining why it is wrong. I'm sure that would be illuminating to everyone - and certainly far more illuminating than a blank cinema screen.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Pretty vile

The battle of the billboards has started again, and the below is Jordan Carter's response to National's latest lot:

While I like a good fake National billboard as much as the next person, this one is pretty vile. I know Brash likes to make much of the fact that his partner is from Singapore - but I really don't think that that is the sort of thing he should be attacked over. And quite apart from the privacy issues, I thought we on the left (and Labour still counted itself among us last time I checked) were in favour of multiculturalism? Implying that being married to a Singaporean is in some way bad smacks of exactly the sort of petty racism we are supposed to be opposed to.

Oj, svijetla majska zoro

Montenegro has voted for independence from Serbia.

Electoral reform

DPF wraps up his series on the police's ineffectual investigation into Labour's overspending at the last election with some recommendations to ensure that this never happens again. Among them a dramatic increase in the maximum penalties for corrupt and illegal practices (which are currently simply laughable), amending the Electoral Act to allow parties to be held corporately liable, rather than the blame having to be pinned on any specific individual, and extending the time limit to allow a real investigation rather than the joke we saw. Oh, and removing the police from the process, and instead putting prosecution decisions in the hands of a revamped Electoral Office. These are all sound recommendations, and I would very much like to see them enacted. While the ideal would be to see broader reform to introduce greater transparency into electoral funding and entrench MMP (and the Maori seats while we're at it, simply on the basis that such things shouldn't be subject to random change without properly consulting the public), each of these vital reforms can be implemented in isolation, and in the absence of a public outcry screaming for serious electoral reform, it may be easier to do so.

So, who's going to bring the Member's Bill then...?

More on the Electoral Integrity Bill

This morning's Herald reports that the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill lacks support, and quotes Peter Dunne as saying that he is

unlikely to support it going any further unless it was limited to list MPs only.

We can but hope. The worry is that Labour will agree to those amendments, as it apparently is concerned about defections in response to its plan to purge the dead wood. Which suggests that those who look likely to be victims of th ebill should rebel now, while they have the chance, rather than meekly submit to party tyranny. After all, what are Labour going to do to anyone who violates the party rules by voting against the caucus on this? Kick them out and risk losing their vote on confidence and supply?

New Fisk

You're talking nonsense, Mr Ambassador

Where's Rodney?

People were justifiably outraged in the 1996 Parliamentary term, when Alliance MP Alamein Kopu notoriously abandoned her party mid-term, gave her proxy to the minority national government, and was never seen around parliament again (despite continuing to collect her MP's salary). Now, it seems to be happening again - and the culprit this time is the perkbuster himself, Rodney Hide.

Going through Hansard, it appears that Rodney has only been present in the chamber for two of the seven sitting days so far available on the web - and on one of them, he was only present for Question Time. Heather Roy is of course off training for the Territorials, with the Speaker's permission. But Rodney has no such excuse. And his absence causes some problems for ACT - because as a small party with only two members, when he's not there, they can't vote. As a result, ACT has failed to vote on at least seven pieces of legislation, including the Criminal Procedure Bill (which would allow majority verdicts from juries, and allow them to be dispensed with altogether in some cases) and the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Paid Parental Leave for Self-Employed Persons) Amendment Bill (which I'd have thought would have been of some interest to ACT's business-backers). Going back further, while there wasn't much Parliamentary business in April, ACT did manage to entirely miss the Appropriation (2004/05 Financial Review) Bill - which as a matter of confidence, you'd have thought they'd consider to be important.

In addition to not voting, so far as I can see, Rodney hasn't taken a speaking call on legislation so far this month. He's participated in Question Time (to the extent allowed by ACT's diminished allocation of questions and supplementaries), but he has failed to exercise his entitlement to speak on legislation. So much for "mak[ing] sure [Epsom's] views are heard in Parliament"...

And all of this is so he can "raise his profile" by participating in a TV game-show...

But the most ironic point of all (given Rodney's proclivity for "perk-busting") is that we're paying him for this. As far as I am aware, Rodney continues to collect his Parliamentary salary, in spite of the fact that he says nothing and hardly ever votes. If that's not a perk that deserves busting, I don't know what is.

Rejecting party tyranny

Under cover of the Budget, the Justice and Electoral Select Committee have reported back [PDF] on the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill. And their recommendation is quite clear: that the bill be dumped. The majority of the committee were convinced by the arguments of those who submitted against the bill (nine out of fifteen submissions; three of the rest being opposed to its application to electorate MPs) that it was unnecessary and would lead to the tyranny of parties over their MPs. They further added

There is simply no evidence to support a view that the passage of the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act 2001 improved public confidence in the institution of Parliament. Effective remedies for untrustworthy conduct by Members of Parliament are already in the hands of voters quite apart from such legislation. In the MMP era, the voters have shown very little patience with MPs and political parties which have failed to keep faith with their electors. By far the most effective remedy for such behaviour lies with the voters.

I'm glad to see our elected representatives have such confidence in us. But snarky comments aside, I agree entirely with this conclusion. Party splits are a natural part of the political process, and I would rather leave it to voters than interested party leaders to decide who left who and who has really betrayed the ideals and the people they were elected to represent.

Unfortunately, this may not mean the bill dies. The report represents the views of the National and Green members of the committee, while the Labour members entered their own minority report. As they were bound to - after all, their confidence and supply agreement with NZ First [PDF] commits them to "support the re-introduction of the Electoral Integrity Act". This will likely require them to vote for it at the second reading as well, despite any qualms they may have, and with NZ First also supporting it (its their peculiar obsession, after all), and with the Greens, Maori Party, National and (ironically) ACT firmly against, it seems that it will come down to the three votes of United Future. And that is by no means guaranteed. Peter Dunne voted against the original Electoral Integrity Act in 2001, on the grounds that electorate MPs should not be shackled in this manner. He repeated those concerns in his first reading speech (scroll down) on the present bill, but voted it to committee anyway for further consideration. Now the committee has turned it down, hopefully he will vote against it again, and see this undemocratic legislation rejected permanently.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Save Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi

Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi is an 18 year old Iranian girl currently facing execution. Her crime? Defending herself from being pack-raped. In the process, she stabbed one of her attackers in the chest, killing them.

In New Zealand - or any other civilised country - this would be considerd "self-defence". In Iran, its considered murder. Ironically, if she'd submitted to the rape, she'd still be facing punishment - though not the death penalty - for pre-marital sex. And this somehow is considered "justice".

The Save Nazanin website has a number of suggestions of things you can do to stop this, including signing an online petition and writing to the Iranian government. For New Zealanders, there are also two things you can do locally. The first is to write to the Iranian Resident in Wellington, Kambiz Sheikh Hassani, protesting Nazanin's sentence and asking that she be pardoned. The address is:

His Excellency Mr Kambiz Sheikh Hassani
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
PO Box 10 249
Phone: (04) 386 2976
Fax: (04) 386 3065

The second is to write our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, or the man who really pulls the foreign policy strings, Phil Goff, asking them to lobby the Iranian government on Nazanin's behalf. As DPF points out, international pressure has saved people from execution in the past. We just have to hope that it is successful in this case.

[Hat tip: DPF]

Out with the dead wood?

The Sunday Star-Times reports that Labour is planning to purge its dead-wood by the end of the year, with up to three MPs being pushed towards retirement. Good. One of the problems with MMP is that there seems to be less turnover in MPs, with the result that the government's lineup is looking a little long in the tooth (of the 50 Labour MPs, only 11 have entered Parliament since the 1999 election). One of the opportunities of MMP is that list MPs can retire mid-term and be replaced by the next person on the list - allowing a party to renew itself without needing an electoral bloodbath. If Labour is to successfully fight for a fourth term in office, it needs to avail itself of this opportunity, and bring in some new blood.

The difficult bit, of course, is persuading the incumbents to leave. And this is where things get difficult, because it means political appointments to dipomatic postings and Crown Entity boards. This smacks of an American-style "spoils system" (where parties use power to capture the "spoils of office"), and its not something I like to see in New Zealand.

Same-sex adoption on the agenda?

The Greens' Metiria Turei is calling for the Adoption Act to be changed to allow adoption by same-sex couples.

So bring a Member's Bill on the subject already. The Greens are already running out of bills to put in the ballot (the Green ballot mojo has its disadvantages sometimes), and this would give them another issue to campaign on. In addition, it has a high likelihood of passing. As I pointed out last year, same-sex adoption is the progressive issue with the best chance of passing this term. As a basic issue of equality, only the most retrograde of Labour MPs would oppose it, and it would have universal support from the Greens. According to the profiles at NZVotes, two National MPs (including John Key) were willing to publicly back such a bill - and this did not include answers from National's traditional liberals such as Pansy Wong, Clem Simich, and Katherine Rich. Add in Brian Donnelly (who really seems out of place among the dinosaurs of the NZ First caucus), and it sems there would be a majority there, without having to consider the unreliable ACT vote, or the position of National's new (and therefore unknown) MPs.

The only worry is that United Future would threaten to bring down the government if they backed such a bill - but I don't think that forcing them to make such a statement publicly would hurt in the slightest. They'd immediately be tarred as a party of fundamentalist bigots intent on imposing (their peculiar version of) "God's Law" on the rest of us - and such parties have never really done well electorally in New Zealand.

The current situation is blatantly discriminatory, and for no good reason. Gays make as good parents as straights, and that should be the only question in adoption decisions. The sooner the Adoption Act is amended, the better.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

UN to US: "stop torture"

Earlier in the month, the US went before the UN Committee Against Torture to give its regular report under the Convention Against Torture. The Committee asked a number of pointed questions regarding US activities in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the "black sites", as well as on the status of investigations for torture and the practice of extraordinary rendition. Today, they released their concluding observations [PDF] - and it seems they weren't happy with the answers. They found various US positions - that the Convention did not apply in times of war, that they would neither confirm nor deny the existence of secret prisons, that disappearance did not constitute torture - to be "regrettable" (which is diplomatic code for "bullshit"). Then there's the recommendations, which include (in no particular order):

The state party should rescind any interrogation technique, including methods involving sexual humiliation, "water boarding", "short shackling" and using dogs to induce fear, that constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in all places of detention under its de facto effective control, in order to comply with its obligations under the convention...

The state party should take immediate measures to eradicate all forms of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by its military or civilian personnel, in any territory under its jurisdiction, and should promptly and thoroughly investigate such acts and prosecute all those responsible for such acts, and ensure they are appropriately punished, in accordance with the seriousness of the crime...

The state party should apply the non-refoulement guarantee to all detainees in its custody, [and] cease the rendition of suspects, in particular by its intelligence agencies, to states where they face a real risk of torture...

The state party should ensure that no one is detained in any secret detention facility under its de facto effective control. Detaining persons in such conditions constitutes, per se, a violation of the Convention...

The State party should promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigate any responsibility of senior military and civilian officials authorizing, acquiescing or consenting, in any way, to acts of torture committed by their subordinates

Or, in short: stop torture, stop rendition, stop disappearing people into secret prisons, and stick Donald Rumsfeld, Ricardo Sanchez, Alberto Gonzalez and John Yoo in jail where they belong. Oh, and while they're at it, they should shut down Guantanamo as well.

These are strong words for a UN Committee, but entirely justified. The US's treatment of detainees is unconscionable, its lax attitude to prosecutions and sentences for those who can be shown to have violated US law on torture and even murder utterly hypocritical. Now they've been called on it by the UN's highest body on torture, and told they are in clear violation of one of the fundamental UN human rights instruments. It will be interesting to see what their response will be...

Support the Organ Donation Bill

Jackie Blue's Human Tissue (Organ Donation) Amendment Bill is currently before a select committee. One of the bill's authors, Andy Tookey of the Campaign for an Effective Organ Donor System, has set up an online petition where you can show your support. You can sign it here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

No justice for rendition

In 2004, Khaled el-Masri travelled to Macedonia for a holiday. While there, he was kidnapped, rendered, and tortured by the CIA because he had "a suspicious name". After five months of interrogation in Afghanistan by US agents, he was dumped in Albania without a passport, and left to fend for himself. So, he did what anyone would do in that situation: he sued, alleging that he had suffered "prolonged arbitrary detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment". Now, a US judge has thrown the case out - but not because it is meritless or unsupported by the evidence. Instead, the case has been dismissed because allowing it to be brought might endanger "national security". So, the US can kidnap you, detain you, torture you, and then deny you any justice under their legal system for doing so, despite it being clearly illegal. And they wonder why people become terrorists...

Free speech gives you Herpes

Chaff has done it again. Last year, they did a fantastic cover of Don Brash with Moko. This week, for their annual satire issue, they've gone for taking the piss out of the world's greatest mass-murderer (and the man who dragged China kicking and screaming into the twentieth century, over a pile of 40 million corpses), Mao Zedong:

This has upset local Chinese students, who held a protest at Massey yesterday. And their protest is almost as funny as the cover:

UCOL student Xing Tang said Chaff staff are ignorant of Chinese culture.

"Chairman Mao is like Jesus to us," he said on the verge of tears.

But he's like Jesus to Chaff as well - a target for shameless mocking and satire.

But the funniest bit is that by protesting, they're exercising the very free speech rights which Mao sought to suppress with imprisonment, re-education camps, self-criticism sessions, torture and murder. Don't they know that free speech gives you herpes?

More on the budget and ODA

Scoop's Sludge report tells it like it is on the government's miserly allocation for foreign aid in the budget:

Budget 2006 includes $21million annually for Overseas Development Aid. This takes NZ's ODA contribution as a percentage of GDP from 0.27% to 0.28%. At this rate of gain the stated aim of 0.7% of GDP will be achieved in 2048.

(Emphasis added)

In 2000, the government signed up to the UN Millenium Development Goals, which included a commitment to raising aid to the international benchmark of 0.7% of GDP by 2015. According to a report from NZAid, this goal was reaffirmed by Cabinet in August 2003. With this pathetic increase, we're reneging on that promise to the world's poor. We're even reneging on our own somewhat pathetic target of increasing aid to 0.35% of GDP by 2010. Instead, we're going to be just another nation which talks a fine talk on global development - but does not pull its weight.

Once upon a time, Labour used to be better than this. In the 70's, under Norman Kirk, they boosted foreign aid to its highest level ever - 0.52% of GDP. Since then, the story has been one of steady decline [PDF]. Is it too much to expect that Labour remembers its roots, adopts an internationalist outlook, and actually keeps its promises?

A Nepali Magna Carta

First the revolution, now the constitution: Nepal's newly reinstated parliament has unanimously approved constitutional changes which will strip the king of his powers and reduce him to a ceremonial figure. The Nepalese army will be placed under the control of Parliament, the royal council will be scrapped, and the royal family will be forced to pay tax. It's being described as a Nepalese Magna Carta, and its certainly as groundbreaking as far as they're concerned. And this is only the beginning; the next step is a Constituent Assembly to consider wider constitutional questions, such as a republic.

Nepal's political parties (and even the Maoists) are absolutely united on this. What's unclear is whether the king will accept it. He'd be wise to - otherwise he's likely to find himself monarch only in name, and his "kingdom" limited to whatever hotel he ends up living in in exile.

More details at United We Blog: For a Democratic Nepal.

Not pissing about

Italy's new Prime Minister Romano Prodi certainly isn't pissing about. He gave his first speech to the Senate today - and immediately announced his government's intention to withdraw from Iraq. There is no date as yet - he noted that an exact timetable would have to be worked out with the Iraqis and the Americans - but given the speed with which he's moved on the issue, you can expect it to be soon.

I guess democracy beats the "coalition of the willing" once again...

Iraq's war of all against all

Via the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, This Space For Rent summarises the news from Iraq, and concludes that life is indeed (in the words of Hobbes) "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short"...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Empiricism versus ideology

When Labour introduced its interest-free student loan policy during the election, the right derided the idea, saying that it would lead to higher borrowing and cost a fortune. Their reason for this was ideological: they see people as rational utility maximisers who would leap at the chance of free money, and indulge in all sorts of complicated financial schemes (chiefly revolving around arbitrage) to benefit from it. The reality turns out to be rather different. In today's budget speech, Michael Cullen noted that student loan uptake had been less than forecast, and this had allowed them to revise their estimate of loan costs downwards, to the tune of $600 million.

So, National's ideological approach to loans has now been empirically disproven - not once, but twice. If they had a shred of intellectual honesty, they'd be revising those theories or allowing them to die in their place. But this being National, we'll probably instead see a press release deriding students for their "stupidity" in failing to conform to National's ideology...

[Hat tip: Just Left]

Expectations and reaction

What was I expecting from the budget? Not much - this being a boring year where the money had already been spent - but perhaps a modest increase in official development assistance, and maybe some action on carbon payments to forest owners or tighter regulation of vehicle imports as part of the rework of climate change policy. What I got was no real increase in ODA (it will move from 0.27% of GDP to 0.28%. Big deal), and $100 million in contingency funding for biofuels and climate change policy. The latter sounds good (though I'm still scrabbling for details on how it is to be spent), but the former is very disappointing. The UN benchmark for foreign aid is 0.7% of GDP. Not only is the government not even coming close - its not even coming close to its own self-determined (and incredibly lax) benchmark of 0.35%. So much for keeping their promises.

I expected the government to spend on roads - but I didn't expect quite so much. The extra money can only be described as a major investment, though unfortunately its almost all going on roads rather than giving Auckland the rail network it deserves. There's an interesting graph in the Treasury documents which is quite revealing about the trends in spending in this area over the past decade:

So, National funded roads at about 0.8% of GDP during the 90's, whereas Labour has already seen it rise to 1.0% of GDP, and is planning to increase it to 1.3%. In nominal terms, the increase is even more impressive. And yet, National continues to bang the drum about roading and imply that Labour has not spent enough. I think their past performance in this area gives the lie to their argument and shows which party really invests in rather than running down our infrastructure.

For those still banging on about surpluses without tax cuts, Cullen had some interesting titbits in his preamble about where that money came from. $2.5 billion of it was due to windfall returns from Crown Financial Institutions - the Cullen Fund, EQC and the Government Superannuation Fund. They're part of the crown, and so their profits naturally go on the government books and improve its net financial position - but it can't (or rather, shouldn't) be spent on anything other than the purpose it was invested for. Once, the National Party understood this - but now they seem to be in the same camp as people who react to an unrealised increase in the value of their super scheme (and one which could disappear, to boot) by splurging on a sports car. There's only one word to describe such people: fools. And I'm very glad they're not running the country at the moment.

A return

Tony Milne is back at I See Red, with a pair of posts on Brian Connell's backwards view on the New Zealand Sign Language Bill, and of course on the budget. Welcome back, Tony...


The usual ballot for Member's Bills was held today, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal (Easter Trading) Amendment Bill (Steve Chadwick)

This is an interesting result, given that Jacqui Dean's rivial bill has just been sent to committee - but I've been told that it won't fall foul of Standing Order 265. One bill proposes an exemption from the law for a particular area (it is pork for Wanaka), while the other proposes a procedure by which local communities can decide for themselves. I'm not sure what provisions there are for a select committee to consider bills in parallel, but I'd hope that they do it in this case.

There were only 29 bills in the ballot today, and only one new one: Sue Bradford's Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill. As usual the Greens and ACT used all their slots, Labour made no effort, and National again failed to reach its leader's stated aim of having every MP put a bill forward.


If anyone is wondering why the police are likely to have a difficult time coming up with the recruits to boost overall numbers by a thousand, they have only to look here. It's no wonder people don't want to work in an organisation which seems so dominated by neanderthals.

Taking blogging seriously

Via DPF, I learn that the government is now treating bloggers as journalists and accrediting them for the budget lockup. This is good news. Most of us are a long, long way from doing anything remotely resembling journalism, but some occasionally make a serious effort, and I think it should be encouraged. Taking bloggers seriously and giving them media access encourages bloggers to take it seriously and gives the blogosphere the option of being something other than a sewer.

Unfortunately, DPF had a meeting - but Jordan Carter has taken advantage of the opportunity, and will be posting on the budget once he is released.

Budget Day

It's Budget Day, and despite the pressure from the rich and the business community, they won't be getting tax cuts. Instead, the government's reported $9 billion surplus will be spent on schools, hospitals, roads, and the Cullen fund - invested for the benefit of all New Zealanders rather than just the few.

With a slowing economy and rising inflation, tax cuts would be madness now anyway, running the risk of pushing up interest rates while leaving the government severely out of pocket. They're already running cash deficits; the "surplus" is primarily due to investment being greater than depreciation, rather than a pot of cash lying around waiting to be spent. But the right has backed itself into an ideological corner of having to call for tax cuts no matter what, regardless of need, utility, or even whether they're actually able to pay for them. And so they trot out the same misleading arguments that the government is taking more off people (it isn't) and that we are being "overtaxed". But we're not, either by international standards, or by the only one that matters: whether taxation revenue is sufficient to meet the spending demands made by the electorate. And if anything, the latter suggests that we are being undertaxed...

The flip side of this of course is that the government has to actually deliver on those spending demands. And bluntly, we do not elect Labour governments to order that people be dumped off waiting lists and then blame DHBs or tell people to get private cover. While the past few years have done wonders for primary care and done a little to stem the haemorrhage of medical staff to higher paying jobs overseas, there's still the fundamental problem of resourcing. And the dirty secret behind hospital waiting lists is that they exist entirely because of deliberate central government underfunding. Every year the government "purchases" medical services from the DHBs: so many heart transplants, so many hip ops, so much for mental health etc - and the DHB administers how this money is spent. The waiting list is the difference between the amount the government purchases, and public demand (or rather, need - and I defy anyone to say that people with dodgy hips do not need them replaced, or people with kidney stones do not need them removed). Fixing this problem will require substantial long-term spending commitments and a lot of hard work, and this isn't the year for it (the money for this year's budget having already been promised for other things, like extra police, interest-free student loans, and Working For Families)- but if the government really wants to have an "investment budget", perhaps they should start seriously investing in our health system, rather than allowing the decay which began under National to continue.


Jeanette Fitzsimons' Dog Control (Cancellation of Microchipping Requirements) Amendment Bill was defeated in Parliament last night, losing 60 - 61. I'm not at all displeased by this. Microchipping is a basic means of identifying an animal, like a tag which is harder to lose or remove, and this isn't just something needed by dangerous dogs. The bill would have let all dogs off, which is better on equity grounds than excluding only the dogs of stroppy farmers who believe they're above the law - but I'd rather see them all chipped. Meanwhile, the whole debate is begining to smell increasingly of displacement behaviour, done simply to fill the policy deadlock. No-one can pass substantive policy, so instead they argue over dogs. Its a bit above the petty politics of parking accidents and tennis balls, but not by much.

Meanwhile, Jacqui Dean's Easter Sunday Shop Trading Amendment Bill was sent to committee on a conscience vote. Hopefully while its there it will be amended to be more like Steve Chadwick's version. While I'm quite happy with the law as it stands, if it is going to be changed, I'd prefer to see it either repealed wholesale or for geographic exemptions to be decided by local communities. Dean's bill OTOH is just special pleading for people in Wanaka.

I have no information on Eric Roy's Marine Reserves (Consultation with Stakeholders) Amendment Bill, but I expect it to have been sent to committee unless MPs are feeling particularly vindictive (and that doesn't really seem to be the mood ATM, at least with Member's Bills).

There will be a ballot today for one more bill; I'll post information on it as it comes to hand.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Italy gets a new Prime Minister

It's official: the reign of Silvio Berlusconi is finally over. Romano Prodi met with new Italian President Giorgio Napolitano today and was formally given the mandate to govern. A new Cabinet will probably be sworn in tomorrow, and the government will (all going well) be ratified with a confidence vote next week.

Slivo, don't let the door hit you on the way out...

Maori Party Member's Bills

Hone Harawira's Tokerau Times has some information on the Maori Party's plans for Member's Bills. Tariana Turia has reportedly finished drafting and consulting on a bill to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act and allow the courts to test the evidence on Maori claims, and it should be going in the ballot soon. Pita Sharples has meanwhile been working on a bill to entrench the Maori seats and give them the same protection as the general ones - this would be as simple as adding s45 (relating to Maori Representation) and the definition of "Maori electoral population" in s3(1) to the entrenchment clause in s268. Harawira himself is planning a bill to ban the production and sale of tobacco (which I think is really a bridge too far). The delay seems to be due to an extensive consultation process with the party's membership - something I don't think any other party bothers to do - but hopefully we'll see at least the first of these in the ballot soon.

Fiji elections

Votes are being counted in the Fijian elections, and it doesn't look good for the Fijian Labour Party. Looking at the results pages, 61 of 71 seats have been declared so far, with 32 going to the ruling SDL, 25 to the FLP, 2 to the United Peoples Party and 2 to independent candidates. The seats still to declare are large and urban (FWIW), but the electoral maths is such that an SDL government looks likely - and Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has already claimed victory.

The usual worry in a Fijian election is that if the Labour party wins, there will be a coup. This time, there's also the worry of trouble if the SDL wins, due to the simmering tensions between the Prime Minister and military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama. The Fijian people can't seem to win either way, and it would be so much easier if they could vote without fear that a bunch of thugs in guns (in or out of uniform) would seek to veto their choice.

Plugged II

When the news broke that a commercially- and budget-sensitive Cabinet paper had been leaked to Telecom, I think everybody was expecting political or corporate skulduggery was to blame. It turns out to be nothing of the sort. Rather than warring Ministers or Telecom having a mole within the public service, it was just an ordinary public servant being a dick. And while precautions can be taken, there's ultimately not a lot that can be done about such a situation, except to fire the individual responsible after the fact.

Despite this, Gerry Brownlee is still trying to make out that it is somehow All The Prime Minister's Fault. But its very difficult to see how. She's not responsible for staffing decisions, not responsible for police background checks (which in any case turned up nothing unusual), not responsible for the psychological profiling of staff (ditto), and ultimately, not responsible for their personal moments of misguided stupidity. The leak was not the result of incompetence or systemic failure in her department; rather, it was the fault of one man betraying the immense trust placed in him in a misguided attempt to help out a mate. In such a situation, what matters is how the Prime Minister responds - and I don't see anything there which might call her competence into question.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The price of inaction

While browsing around on the Climate Change Office website for the previous post, I discovered that they had - with very little fanfare - issued a pre-budget release on the Kyoto liability, or how much we need to budget to pay for the cost of our excess emissions. This has been calculated by Treasury at 64 MTCO2-equivalent, or NZ$582 million.

There are two points to make here. Firstly, we should be very clear that this is the price of doing nothing - both in the past, and in the future. Looking back, while successive governments have made varying levels of noise about climate change, and even proposed quite reasonable policies to reduce our emissions, there has been very little concrete action. Instead, government seems to have consistently hedged its bets in the hope that Kyoto would collapse and the whole thing would go away. That projected $582 million is the price of this sustained inaction and dithering. Looking forward, we only have to pay that $582 million if our emissions grow as expected. If we reduce them - if for example we use the narrowing time window to emplace some policies to encourage forest plantings and reduce transport emissions - we hopfully won't have to pay that much. Except for my second point, which is that the estimate is almost certainly too low. Treasury's estimated price for carbon - US$6 (NZ$9) per ton - bears about as much resemblence to reality as its estimated price for oil. Carbon is already trading at 12 Euro (NZ$24) on the European market, and was in the range of 25 Euro a week ago, before the market learned that EU countries had systematically set their emissions caps too high. Which suggests two things: firstly, that we should be pursuing domestic emissions reductions to minimise our exposure to a volatile international market - and secondly, that if Treasury knows of a source of carbon credits for US$6/ton, it should start buying now, because the price is only going to go up.

Not consulted

Currently, the government is revising its climate change policies. As part of this process, they've been consulting with stakeholders in an effort to both inform them and solicit their views on proposed changes to policy. However, there's a glaring absence from this consultation process: environmental groups and climate change NGOs.

According to papers released under the Official Information Act, the government held a series of one-on-one consultation meetings in early February, followed by a "stakeholder engagement day" on February 16th. Of the eleven one-on-one meetings, one was with an environmental group, the Climate Defence Network. The other ten were with major emitters (Holcim, New Zealand Refining, Fonterra) and electricity generators. The stakeholder engagement day was even worse, with a guest-list made up exclusively of corporate and industry lobby representatives, and no environmental representation at all. With consultation like this, its no wonder that climate change policy is veering towards representing the interests of the business community, rather than wider society... but I guess the rest of us simply aren't "stakeholders", despite the fact that we'll be the ones living with and paying for the effects of the government's policies.

In the ballot X

Another batch of Member's Bills currently in the ballot. Previous batches are indexed here:

Human Rights (Women in Armed Forces) Amendment Bill (Lynne Pillay): This would repeal s33 of the Human Rights Act, which allows the military to discriminate on the basis of sex in deciding who does and does not get a combat role. The clause isn't used any more - the New Zealand military finally having been dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century - but the fact that it is still on the books is offensive, and it deserves to go.

Liquor Advertising (Television and Radio) Bill (Nandor Tanczos): This is an old bill, originally presented to the House in 2002 as a response to calls to raise the drinking age. Rather than combating increased youth drinking by targeting the drinkers, it would instead impose a total ban on broadcast alcohol advertising (meaning TV and radio). The bill is closely modelled on s22 of the Smoke-Free Environments Act 1990, and exempts material produced overseas unless specifically produced for the New Zealand market or to advertise alcohol. It would not affect billboards, or printed advertisements.

Dog Control (Cancellation of Microchipping Requirements) Amendment Bill (Jeanette Fitzsimons): This bill is currently before the House, and (all going well) will be voted on tomorrow. It would amend the Dog Control Act 1996 to remove the recently inserted requirement for all dogs to be microchipped. Instead, only dogs classified as "menacing or dangerous" would be required to be chipped, and such dogs would be required to be chipped before release if impounded. As I've said before, chipping isn't about controlling dangerous dogs - it's just a basic way of identifying an animal, one that cannot be lost and is far more difficult to remove or change; limiting it to dangerous dogs defeats much of the purpose. Unfortunately, the government hasn't really tried to sell it as such, preferring instead to ride the moral outrage whipped up by dog attacks.

As usual, I'll have more bills as they trickle in.

Strictly targeted

Earlier in the week, President Bush responded to reports that his administration was collecting and mining traffic data on every phone call made in the United States by saying that the programme "strictly target[s] al Qaeda and its known affiliates". Meanwhile, ABC news has had a warning from its sources:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

So much for strict targeting. And if they're doing this to the media, anyone want to speculate on how long it will be before we learnt hat they're doing it to Democrats as well...?

The human cost of climate change

One of the bitter ironies of climate change is that while it is rich countries which have historically emitted all the carbon, and which today emit vastly more per capita, it is poor countries which will bear the brunt of the resulting changes in global climate. The 2001 Synthesis Report noted that climate change

is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries

Famine, drought, decreased water quality and a higher incidence of disease are all expected to take their toll, and primarily on the countries which can least afford it. But so far, no-one has really tried to put a number on the human cost. Now, NGO Christian Aid has - and the number is staggering. According to their report, The climate of poverty: facts fears and hope [PDF], climate change is expected to kill 182 million people by 2100 - and that's just in Sub-Saharan Africa, and just from disease, without even considering how many will starve. if that's not enough to make stopping climate change a moral imperitive for any person with any sort of conscience, then I don't really know what is.

Monday, May 15, 2006

For freedom of conscience

Today, May 15th, is International Conscientious Objectors' Day. On this day we remember the thousands of people around the world who have suffered and even died for the right to refuse to kill on behalf of the state. I don't think the New Zealand government has killed anyone for refusing to wear its uniform - but we've come damn close. In World War One, for example, we sent fourteen conscientious objectors to France, where they were beaten, starved, and ultimately tortured in an effort to break their will. This is how one of them, Archibald Baxter, described his treatment:

He took me over to the poles, which were willow stumps, six to eight inches in diameter and twice the height of a man, and placed me against one of them. It was inclined forward out of perpendicular. Almost always afterwards he picked the same one for me. I stood with my back to it and he tied me to it by the ankles, knees and wrists. He was an expert at the job, and he knew how to pull and strain at the ropes till they cut into the flesh and completely stopped the circulation. When I was taken off my hands were always black with congested blood. My hands were taken round behind the pole, tied together and pulled well up it, straining and cramping the muscles and forcing them into an unnatural position. Most knots will slacken a little after a time. His never did. The slope of the post brought me into a hanging position, causing a large part of my weight to come on my arms, and I could get no proper grip with my feet on the ground, as it was worn away round the pole and my toes were consequently much lower than my heels. I was strained so tightly up against the post that I was unable to move body or limbs a fraction of an inch. Earlier in the war, men undergoing this form of punishment were tied with their arms outstretched. Hence the name of crucifixion. Later, they were more often tied to a single upright, probably to avoid the likeness to a cross. But the name stuck.

A few minutes after the sergeant had left me, I began to think of the length of my sentence and it rose up before me like a mountain. The pain grew steadily worse until by the end of half-an-hour it seemed absolutely unendurable. Between my set teeth I said: ‘Oh God, this is too much. I can't bear it.’ But I could not allow myself the relief of groaning as I did not want to give the guards the satisfaction of hearing me. The mental effect was almost as frightful as the physical. I felt I was going mad. That I should be stuck up on a pole suffering this frightful torture, a human scarecrow for men to stare at and wonder at, seemed part of some impossible nightmare that could not continue. At the very worst strength came to me and I knew I would not surrender. The battle was won, and though the suffering increased rather than decreased as the days wore on, I never had to fight it again.

(Archibald Baxter, We Will Not Cease, Chapter 6).

Despite this, Baxter didn't give in. Neither did his friend Mark Briggs, despite being beaten, starved, crucified, and dragged across wire-clad boards until the skin and flesh was flayed from his back.

Baxter's is an extreme case; most conscientious objectors were simply imprisoned. All told, we jailed 273 COs in World War One, plus a further 700-odd in World War Two, plus numerous other people for sedition and subversion for daring to voice their objections to war. All were prisoners of conscience, and all should be remembered. The UK apparently has a monument to its conscientious objectors; isn't it about time we had one of our own?

A public service

DPF has begun a major series of posts delving into the records of the police investigation into Labour's overspending last election and their baffling decision not to lay charges, despite finding a prima facie case. I've said so before, but just to repeat myself, I think that decision was wrong. Given the nature of the offence, a prima facie case is a conclusive one, and while there would have been a lot of legal argument over exactly what did and did not count as election spending, Labour should have been forced to make that argument, rather than being given a free pass. Unfortunately, the police don't seem to regard electoral offences as "real" crimes (unlike burglaries or pot-smoking), and (according to Fran O'Sullivan) thought that a prosecution would undermine the integrity of the election. But protecting the integrity of elections is exactly why we have such laws in the first place, and refusing to use them in such a clear-cut case undermines that integrity far more than prosecution would have.

Unfortunately, given the six month time-limit on prosecutions, it is too late to legally do anything about it now. But what can be done is to put the information before the public, so that we can a) pressure the politicians into reforming the law and ensuring that this never happens again; and b) punish Labour at the ballot box for its corruption if we so choose. DPF is doing all of us a service by doing this.

Marriage and citizenship

Last year, the government passed the Identity (Citizenship and Travel Documents) Bill, which made draconian changes to our citizenship and passport laws to make it more difficult for long-term residents to gain New Zealand citizenship, strip the automatic right of citizenship by birth from children of non-resident parents, and allow the government to seize any New Zealander's passport and prevent them from travelling on national security grounds (just imagine what Jenny Shipley would have done with that power). However, it also made other changes, notably removing the traditional shortcut to citizenship through marriage, on the basis that this was discriminatory.

Today, while researching the previous post, I came across the Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, Article 3 of which states:

Each Contracting State agrees that the alien wife of one of its nationals may, at her request, acquire the nationality of her husband through specially privileged naturalization procedures; the grant of such nationality may be subject to such limitations as may be imposed in the interests of national security or public policy.

We ratified this convention on the 17th of December, 1958. And while its a bit archaic in talking only of marriage and only of women, we now appear to be in breach of it. I wonder if the government or the select committee which examined the bill even noticed?

As for the general issue, yes, the marriage shortcut was prima facie inconsistent with s21 (1) (b) of the Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the grounds of marital status. But rather than being removed, it should have been broadened to include civil union and de facto partners (at least, those who met the same two-year threshold used elsewhere in New Zealand law) - the reason being that shacking up with a Kiwi does seem to be a valid signifier of commitment to New Zealand, and hence a valid reason for drawing a distinction. But as with their laughable decision on student allowances, the government chose to use human rights law to narrow existing rights rather than broaden them...