Thursday, May 31, 2007

Something to be proud of

New Zealand is the second most peaceful contry in the world, according to Vision of Humanity's inaugural Global Peace Index. We were pipped for the top spot by Norway, due to our higher crime rate. By contrast, Australia came in 25th place, the UK 49th, and the US 96th, just one place ahead of its next victim, Iran. The bottom country was (of course) Iraq, followed by Sudan and Israel.

The big trend visible immediately from the map is that Europe is (for once in its history) overwhelmingly peaceful. Which I think shows both the lesson learned from the first and second world wars, and the value of the EU as an institution in preventing future conflicts amongst its members.

The imperial mother ship

Early in the Occupation, Ken MacLeod propagated a quote from David Ramsay Steele, about the bases being built for US soldiers in Kosovo:

These brave soldiers will be maintained in self-contained biospheres, like giant lizards from another star, which given the moral status of their behavior, they might as well be.

It's something that sprang to mind when reading Tom Engelhardt's Salon piece about the US's new "embassy" in Baghdad. While officially a diplomatic facility, it is in reality a small city, larger than the Vatican, complete with swimming pools, tennis courts, cinemas, restaurants, schools, a mall - and of course surface to air missiles, "blast-resistant housing", and bomb shelters in case the natives get restless. The food - "including a full range of Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors" - is all shipped in from Kuwait, the construction is done by a Kuwaiti company using slave "guest worker" labour, and of course once complete Iraqis will not be allowed in, except to perform ritual obesiance to their new American overlords. Engelhardt goes on to say

whatever its specific functions, it might best be described as the imperial Mother Ship dropping into Baghdad.

Fortunately it will also have rooftop helicopter pads for when the inevitable happens.

Prayer and Parliament

Margaret Wilson is asking MPs to consider scrapping Parliament's daily prayer. The issue has cropped up before, and as I pointed out last time, we are a secular country, not a Christian one. While individual MPs can have whatever religious beliefs they like, having our legislature officially pray to the Christian god before commencing its business smacks of state religion and violates the principle of a religiously neutral state. And the same would apply to an official observance of any other religion. It is long past time it was done away with, and religion put firmly where it belongs: between individuals and their consciences.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Protest against Murder Energy

Trade unionists and community activists from South Auckland will be protesting tomorrow at Mercury Energy's callous murder of one of their customers:

When: Thursday, 31 may, 16:00
Where: Mercury Energy, 602 Great South Road, Green Lane.

Hopefully they'll target the disconnection contractor as well.

Human rights in the Philippines

I was planning to do a post on this topic, but I just can't. Go and read this, and this, and this, and this, and then try telling me that Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo - who has been blamed by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions for abandoning the peace process with her country's rebel groups and letting loose the military to kill with impunity - is someone we should be welcoming, someone who should be shaking our Prime Minister's hand.

The news that Dennis Maga, a Filipino trade unionist who has been speaking in New Zealand to highlight human rights abuses in his country, may face arrest and assassination if he returns home, is just icing on the cake. While not a crime, advocating for human rights in the Philippines now carries a death penalty.

While I think the New Zealand government's offer of human rights assistance is a positive step, it ignores the Philippines government's role in perpetrating these abuses and suppressing its critics. that is something which deserves condemntation and isolation, not praise.

Update: The Philippines government has now given the New Zealand government an assurance that Maga will not be arrested. We should make sure we hold them to it.

Our anti-democratic business community

The Herald has run its annual "mood of the boardroom" survey (business leaders being considered more important than the rest of us, so that special interest must be taken of their views), and revealed something interesting: our business leaders hate MMP:

A survey of the leaders showed nearly eight out of 10 large-company chief executives believed MMP stopped governments from implementing policies necessary for the country's success.


The Mood of the Boardroom survey showed that fewer than one in five CEOs thought MMP helped the country. Seventy-seven per cent wanted a referendum on MMP versus first past the post. A similar proportion would welcome MMP being put to the vote against other forms of proportional representation.

So, just to make this clear, the vast majority of New Zealand's business leadership believes that the defining metric by which the success of a constitutional system should be judged is whether it allows a small clique of ideologues to impose their demented vision on everybody else for the benefit of the rich - and they would rather live in an elective dictatorship than a democracy. "Anti-democratic and authoritarian" describes these views perfectly.

And OTOH, is it really any surprise, given that it was the same group (and indeed, many of the same people) who funded the anti-MMP campaign back in 1992? They realised then that democracy worked against their interests (which is one of the reasons people were so keen on it), and I'm sure they're gnashing their teeth at the "lost opportunity" of Don Brash being defeated by oponents who used the dirty trick of assembling majority support behind them.

Fortunately, after flirting with repeal under Brash (who favoured Supplementary Member for purely selfish reasons - he could never win an electorate), it seems that National has finally accepted that they will not be able to roll back democracy for the benefit of their rich mates. Bill English has declared that MMP is here to stay and that National will not hold a referendum to replace it. We should hold them to that position.

This should not happen in New Zealand

An Auckland woman has died after her electricity company - Mercury Energy, for the curious - cut off power to her Oxygen machine. While Libertarians and other propertarian absolutists will shrug their shoulders and say "she should have paid her bill", I think the vast majority of us would agree that there are moral limits to the market, and that capitalism does not extend to the heartless killing of the ill simply because they can't afford to pay their bills. Poverty and illness should not be a death sentence - or, in this case, an invitation to murder.

I use that word, and I mean it. Mercury Energy has, through its subcontractor, murdered one of its customers. Section 157 of the Crimes Act creates a duty to avoid dangerous omissions to life. Section 164 makes it clear that accelerating the death of someone already ill is killing them. And section 160 (2) (b) makes it a culpable homicide. As for murder vs manslaughter, the person disconnecting the power was told that the victim relied on it for life support, and they did it anyway. That makes it intentional - murder (in the US they would call it "depraved indifference").

Unfortunately, that only gets the subcontractor, and Mercury will likely be able to use them as a way to avoid blame (that is after all one of the reasons to contract services out - to diffuse responsibility for failure, to give you people to point fingers at. Just look at the government and DHBs). But we should be asking some very pointy questions of Mercury as well. For example, whether they knew the power was used for life support (they ask when you get connected, but obviously may not have been told if it was due to a change in circumstances). Or whether they set a clear policy for their subcontractors of not disconnecting the power when someone says they need it for health reasons. Or whether they set perverse incentives, such as paying only for disconnections. They may not be able to be prosecuted, but depending on their answers they may share a large amount of culpability. And they should be held responsible for it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Charging for OIA requests

Over the past three years I've done slightly over a hundred Official Information Act requests. As a result, I've learned all sorts of things about the process, but one important thing I've learned is that despite the legal power to levy charges for processing requests, government departments almost never do. Of those hundred-plus requests, I think I've only been asked to pay three times, and I've only had to actually send a cheque once (for a fairly substantial request, which required people to delve into physical archives of 1990's cabinet papers. Possibly they had to buy a clockwork emergency mouse for the purpose). The core public service may sometimes be slack and obstructive, and may sometimes be a little free with the deletions and refusals, but at least they accept that the public have a right to know, and generally work to help us exercise it rather than errecting barriers.

The story is different with local government. I've made far fewer requests under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, but in around half of them the first response has been an aggressive demand for payment, which is always in excess of the charging guidelines set by the Ministry of Justice and contrary to the Ombudsmen's guideline [PDF] that agencies should work out what they will release, then how much (and whether) they will charge for it.

I'm not sure whether this is because local government staff are not properly trained in handling requests (how many people use the LGOI&M Act anyway?), or whether it is because the culture of openness in central government hasn't percolated down to them yet.

Who else is spying?

Now that Solid Energy has been told in no uncertain terms that spying on and inflitrating protest groups is unacceptable, people have begun asking the natural question: who else is doing it? Other SOEs have problems with environmental groups and may have sunk to similar anti-democratic tactics. Greenpeace is already expressing concerns about Mighty River Power, and the Greens are casting the net wider to include TransPower and Genesis, as well as CRIs AgResearch and Crop & Food (both of which have had problems with anti-GE protestors in the past). Like Russel Norman, I think its clear that we need some blanket guidance from the government barring such practices. And if they don't, I think the select committees will be asking some pointy questions about who has been hiring spies during the annual financial reporting process.

Homophobia in Eastern Europe

Homosexuality is legal in Russia. So, supposedly, is public protest. But if you try and hold a gay pride march, they call in the riot police, who stand back and watch while you are beaten by Neo-Nazi skinheads, then arrest you.

Meanwhile, in Poland, the government will be holding a formal inquiry into whether the teletubbies promote homosexuality. You can't make this stuff up.

Both of these countries are members of the Council of Europe and parties to the European Convention on Human Rights. But apparently, these countries feel that they can ignore its protections of privacy, freedom of expression and equality under the law, at least when it comes to gays.

Australian "generosity"

Over the past few years, the Australian government has significantly increased its aid spending after Prime Minister John Howard pledged to work towards the millennium development goals. Normally, this would be welcome; however, there's a dark secret in Australia's aid program. According to a report by the NGO AidWatch [PDF], up to a third of Australia's "foreign aid", almost A$1 billion per year, either flows straight back to other government departments or is spent on promoting Australia's security and commercial interests rather than on poverty alleviation. And almost half of that - A$470 million - goes on debt relief, most of it on "forgiving" debts owed by Iraq which had already been written off and paid out by insurers.

Some of the spending the Australian government is calling "aid":

  • $29.4 million on bribing the government of Nauru to host the "Pacific solution" prison for refugees;
  • $21 million for "offshore management of unauthorised arrivals" - in other words, to run the prison;
  • $112.8 million to support refugees in Australia, something that other countries do not count as aid;
  • $112 million for the Australian Federal Police serving as part of the RAMSI mission in the Solomons, whose primary aim is ensuring Australian security;
  • $61 million on governance in the Solomon Islands, most of which is paid to Australian consultants. By contrast, education in the Solomons receives only A$2 million (I guess they don't need to learn to read over there);
  • $20 million in unspecified defence spending counted as aid;
  • $150 million on scholarships for foreign students, money that would be arguably better spent as direct aid to foreign educational institutions rather than a hidden subsidy to Australian ones;
  • Most egregiously, $27,758 for legal advice over the Cole inquiry into corrupt dealings by the Australian Wheat Board under the Un oil-for-food programme.

(Actually, there's something even more egregious: In 2001, they spent $2.08 million on the interception of the SIEV 4 by the HMAS Adelaide - an incident known as the "children overboard affair" - then called it refugee aid despite the fact that the none of the asylum seekers involved were granted refugee status or even allowed to set foot on Australian soil).

And naturally, what they do spend overseas is "tied", meaning that much of it must be spent through Australian companies. So they're also running it as a giant kickback and corporate welfare scheme for Australian businesses (perhaps Howard has been learning a few tricks from Dick Cheney here).

These are deeply dishonest practices, many of them actively harmful to the real goals of aid: poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Unfortunately, the Australian government doesn't seem to care. Instead, it's more important to make their stats look good.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Explosion

Over the weekend, Police Minister Annette King floated the idea of introducing UK-style Anti-Social Behaviour Orders in New Zealand "as a way to overcome Bill of Rights problems with banning individuals and gang patches in public". For those who don't know, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are court orders, obtainable by a wide range of bodies against people who acted "in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household", and barring people from being in certain places or doing certain things. They are issued on a civil standard of proof, according to standards of evidence which would shame the average lynchmob - gossip and hearsay are admissible, as is anonymous "evidence" (pedophobia being so strong in the UK that the victims of teenage chavs swearing and sneering are considered to need more protection than the victims of rapists). There is no limit on what can be required by an order (some have effectively sentenced people to exile by forbidding them to reside in their own homes), and the penalty for violating one is up to five years imprisonment.

The basic objection to such a system is obvious: it seeks to punish people without the procedural safeguards of a criminal trial. Those subjected to an ASBO do not benefit from such niceties as the presumption of innocence, the need for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to counsel or the right to challenge their accusers. The entire system is conceived as an end-run around those protections. This is bad enough when used against those accused of petty crime such as vandalism, shoplifting, offensive behaviour and harassment (all of which could be prosecuted under existing law if the British police actually wanted to do their jobs). It is worse when it is used to punish behaviour which is not actually an offence at all. Unfortunately, that is what Annette King is proposing - her chosen targets are boy racers who drive loud cars, gang members who wear patches in public, and convicted criminals who live in Rotorua. None of this is a crime - but if King has her way, people will be facing punishment and possibly jail time for it.

Unlike King, I think that if the state wants to punish certain behaviour, it should pass a law criminalising it, rather than letting the police make up the law as they go along. And unlike King, I take the Bill of Rights Act seriously. If the BORA says that you can't punish people just for wearing a gang patch, or retroactively punish them again for a crime they have already served their sentence for, then that to my mind is a good reason not to do such things, rather than a flaw which must be circumvented with a tawdry legal fiction.

Papers, please

The above is a phrase traditionally associated with totalitarian regimes. But if Tony Blair and John Reid have their way, it will soon be coming to Britain:

John Reid, the home secretary, who is also quitting next month, intends to extend Northern Ireland’s draconian police powers to interrogate individuals about who they are, where they have been and where they are going.

Under the new laws, police will not need to suspect that a crime has taken place and can use the power to gain information about “matters relevant” to terror investigations.

If suspects fail to stop or refuse to answer questions, they could be charged with a criminal offence and fined up to £5,000. Police already have the power to stop and search people but they have no right to ask for their identity and movements.

The police haven't asked for these powers, and have even said that they will be counterproductive and undermine relations with the Muslim community (in the same way that the harassment of young black men under the old "sus" laws alienated them and eventually led to riots by people sick of being treated like criminals all the time). Instead, it seems to be driven by two things: the outgoing Prime Minister's desire to be "tough on terror", and the desire of Northern Ireland police to retain their draconian powers in peacetime by dragging everyone down to their level.

Contrary to Tony Blair's opinion, this is unacceptable in a free society. Civil liberties and the ability of ordinary people to live their lives without constant harassment from those in authority are what we are supposedly fighting the war on terror to protect. Sacrificing them will be destroying freedom in order to "save" it.

Absolutely unacceptable

That is the only way to describe Solid Energy's actions in hiring a private investigation firm to plant spies in the Save Happy Valley campaign. It's also the only way to describe Solid Energy CEO Don Elder's reaction of "so what?" and his claim that his company's actions have been "legal, ethical and moral". The last two are simply laughable; as for the first, s4 (1) (c) of the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 requires Solid Energy to be

an organisation that exhibits a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates.

Socially responsible businesses do not spy on the community they serve. Neither do they attempt to undermine the democratic right of citizens to protest and criticise their actions. I would expect SOE's, as publicly owned bodies, to show special regard for this. Unfortunately, it seems that in the case of Solid Energy, its managers have forgotten who they are managing it for. It's time they were reminded. Heads should roll over this, starting with that of Dr Elder. And if the board of directors is unwilling to do it, then the Minister of State-Owned Enterprises should get directors who are.

Against "provocation"

LGBT group AllOurRights has begun a campaign to repeal the "homosexual panic" defence in the Crimes Act. Section 169 of the Crimes Act allows a murder charge to be reduced to manslaughter if the victim "provoked" the killer. This clause has a long and dirty history of being used to excuse hate crimes against gays, from the murder of Charles Aberhart by a gang of youths in Christchurch in 1964 to the more recent killings of David McNee and Colin Hart. The net effect is to deny gays the full protection of the law, and to effectively licence their murder.

But its not just about gays: the most common users of s169 are misognyists. A 2001 report from the Law Commission into Criminal Defences with Particular Reference to Battered Defendants [PDF] noted that

While victims of domestic violence may find the defence of provocation beyond their reach, perpetrators of domestic violence have successfully called on it for protection... [S]ection 169 has been used to reduce the culpability of men who have killed their wives because they reported a severe beating to the police after promising under threat not to do so, or were found in a compromising situation with another man, or had taunted the husband with sexual or other inadequacies.

This led the Law Commission to recommend that the defence be repealed, and instead replaced with sentencing discretion for murder.

So, its not just a "homosexual panic" defence; it's also a defence of "the bitch was asking for it". That we permit such "defences" in 21st century New Zealand is simply shameful. This law has to go.

If you'd like to see it repealed, then you can email Mark Burton, the Minister of Justice, here.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fiji: going after the lawyers

Last month, Fiji's military regime purportedly dissolved the Great Council of Chiefs after that body rejected the regime's choice for Vice President. In response, several of the suspended chiefs are seeking a judicial review of their "suspension". This threatens to embarass the regime, and so the military have responded the only way they know how: by taking the lawyers in for "questioning". On Friday, lawyer Kitione Vuataki was detained at his office and taken to the barracks by uniformed soldiers. He has since been released (unharmed, for once), but in the meantime the army have also detained his fellow lawyer Ratu Savenaca Komaisavai. The aim is clearly to intimidate the lawyers in an effort to derail the case.

Meanwhile, despite claiming last week to no longer be concerned with pro-democracy blogs and to have given up attempts to block them, the military is now approaching ISPs in an effort to silence its critics by technical means:

Internet Service Providers in Fiji are now looking at the possibility of blocking anti-military websites from being accessed in Fiji.

Connect Fiji Chief Executive Sharon Smith Johns has confirmed that all ISP companies have been approached by the RFMF to see if these sites can be successfully blocked.

Hopefully they'll have as little luck at it as FINTEL.

Closing Guantanamo

Talk Left reports that Senator Tom Harkin has introduced a bill to close Guantanamo:

Under this legislation, prisoners currently being held at Guantanamo Bay would be transferred to the United States Detention Base at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a state-of-the-art, maximum security facility. The bill would require the Administration to resolve the legal status of at least 385 prisoners currently held at Guantanamo Bay by either charging them with a crime or an offense under the Military Commissions Act, returning them to the custody of their home country, or, where necessary, returning them to a country where they do not face torture.

"It is time to close Guantanamo Bay. It is time to charge the terrorists who have been caught. Secretary of Defense Gates knows it. Secretary of State Rice knows it. This bill does it." Harkin said.

The bill (S. 1469) has since been referred to the Armed Services Committee. And it's not the only one: earlier in the month, Democrats introduced matching bills into the House and Senate requiring Guantanamo to be closed within a year, as well as amending the 2008 defence appropriations bill (the same one they betrayed the voters on by continuing to fund the war in Iraq) to require the Secretary of Defence to draw up plans for the base's closure. These measures may not succeed, but they're a start, and a welcome sign that the United States is perhaps beginning to return to sanity.

New Fisk

My grandfather and the 'Cutty Sark'

Fantasy and reality

The fantasy: Blair: US may back carbon deal

The US may be willing to back an agreement at next month's G8 summit on cutting carbon dioxide emissions, Tony Blair has said on BBC TV.

The reality: U.S. Rejects German Plan to Cut Carbon Emissions

The United States has rejected Germany's bid to get the Group of Eight to agree to tough cuts in climate warming carbon emissions, according to a draft of the communique to be presented to next month's meeting.


``We have tried to 'tread lightly' but there is only so far we can go given our fundamental opposition to the German position,'' the U.S. said in red ink comments at the start of a copy of the draft communique seen by Reuters on Friday.

``The treatment of climate change runs counter to our overall position and crosses multiple 'red lines' in terms of what we simply cannot agree to.''

Poor Tony - all that work invading Iraq and he has nothing to show for it other than the threat of war-crimes charges.

Meanwhile, it's becoming clear that if the world wants to move fast on this, we'll have to do it without the US. Their position will almost certainly change after the 2008 presidential election - even the Republican candidates seem to have recognised that Al Gore has won the argument with the US electorate - but I'm not sure we can afford to wait that long.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Asset forfeiture: 137,000 reasons why its unnecessary

An investigation into methamphetamine dealing in Porirua has resulted in the police seizing $137,000 cash and $160,000 of drugs (160g of P - an absolute shitload of the stuff). This was done with existing powers, without needing to stack the deck by lowering the standards of evidence or reversing the burden of proof. All the police had to do was a bit of work for a change.

So, why do we need the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill again? So the police can engage in lazy policing rather than doing their fucking jobs properly?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Climate change: why we can't leave forestry to the market

MAF has just released the latest version of its National Exotic Forest Description [PDF], giving a snapshot of New Zealand's forestry industry as it stood at 1 April 2006. And the picture it paints is not pretty: total forest cover declined for the third year in a row, new planting rates for the ninth year, and a record 12,900 hectares of harvested forest was not replanted. National has been quick to blame this on the government's climate change policies, but the blunt fact is that forest owners are doing this because it is profitable - because log prices are low (though apparently beginning to improve), while prices for dairy land are high. And they will continue to do it for as long as that is the case.

This is what the free market gives us: net deforestation, and new "forests" planted in scrub which are absolutely useless from a Kyoto perspective.

This is disastrous. Kyoto's rules around forests are complex, but given New Zealand's emissions situation the net effect is that every tree cut down must be offset with emissions reductions elsewhere or carbon credits purchased on the international market. The cost of this - almost $200 million for last year at Treasury's (lowball) estimated carbon prices - will be borne by the taxpayer. Meanwhile, forest owners get to laugh all the way to the bank.

They shouldn't be allowed to. Instead, they should be paying the full cost of their activities, rather than being allowed to dump them on society. The taxpayer should not be subsidising the profits of private businesses in this way.

As for ways of doing it, the government is currently proposing a deforestation permit trading system, which would cap deforestation at 27,000 hectares over 5 years and force forest owners to pay each other for the right to cut down trees. And if the National Party actually cared about the problem, rather than seeing it simply as another stick to beat the government with or an excuse to funnel public money into the private pockets of their donors and cronies, they'd vote for it.

Who's next?

Yesterday saw some amusing snark from Peter Dunne over Gordon Copeland's leap of faith, with Dunne reminding people that Copeland - a self-proclaimed "man of integrity" - had supported the United Future caucus' position that list (but not electorate) MPs should resign on leaving their party. I don't for a moment think that Copeland would apply the same rules to himself that he would seek to impose on others - but what if he did? Who would be the next United Future MP if he resigned?

Here's the first 10 places on United Future's 2005 party list:

  1. Peter Dunne
  2. Judy Turner
  3. Gordon Copeland
  4. Marc Alexander
  5. Larry Baldock
  6. Murray Smith
  7. Paul Check
  8. Janet Tuck
  9. Bernie Ogilvy
  10. Paul Adams

Of these, Alexander famously left the party citing "religious differences". Murray Smith is currently serving as party vice-president - or at least was the last time UF's website was updated. He's also a fundy originally from Future New Zealand, so may not be sticking around. Baldock has already left. Paul Check was the leader of Outdoor Recreation New Zealand and likewise departed after the election. No-one knew who janet Tuck was during the election campaign, and we know even less about her now. Which may leave "Dr" Bernie Ogilvy as the last man standing. Though given that he was also a fundamentalist whackjob, there may not be much hope there either...

Fiji: terrified

Nine To Noon has a regular slot with journalist Michael Field in which he gives his take on the news from the Pacific. In this morning's interview, he discussed the situation in Fiji (starts at 5:35). And what he said was frightening:

I know of two people this week who have been hauled up to the barracks. They don't want their affiliations known, their employers don't want their affiliations known, because they are terrified. But one of them who rang me later and pleaded with me not to do any story about it said that as that person sat in the barracks they received a phone call and the soldiers were told to apply light torture to this person. There were instructions coming. "Light torture" in this case involved apparently pulling the persons ears severely and slapping them. It's publicly known that a politician the other day was beaten up. People are absolutely terrified...

(Original emphasis)

One of his worries is that the immediate response is "please don't tell anybody" - something which plays into the hands of the military and allows them to get away with further abuses. Meanwhile, the New Zealand government has taken its eye of the ball and is now staying quiet about the increasing level of human rights abuses. It shouldn't be doing this. Instead, it should be speaking up to condemn them, and working to mobilise our neighbours in condemning it as well.

A state of emergency?

Since 2001, the British government has introduced a series of increasingly draconian anti-terrorism laws, introducing new crimes and search powers, allowing suspected terrorists to be subjected to detention without trial or control orders amounting to such, or to be deported to countries (such as Algeria and Syria) where they face a substantial risk of torture. Some of the most odious provisions have been overturned by the courts as gross violations of both UK law and its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Now the Home Secretary, the reliably authoritarian John Reid, has gotten sick of having to comply with the rule of law, and is threatening to declare a state of emergency, allowing him to derogate from the ECHR and so punish suspected terrorists without trial.

Quite apart from being wrong, this would be an unprecedented move. In case people need reminding, the UK suffered through a thirty-year campaign of terrorism from the IRA, which saw regular bombings in major cities (including attacks which gutted the hearts of Manchester and the London Docklands) as well as attacks on MI5, the military, the BBC and the Prime Minister and Cabinet, without any need of derogation. Law - as opposed to lawlessness - was considered a sufficient response. If that didn't qualify, it's very difficult to see how the current "war on terror" can.

Finally, the Home Secretary's desire to undermine human rights and the rule of law should leave people in now doubt: To paraphrase Lord Hoffman, the real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from John Reid.

The Guantanamo Flotilla

Amnesty International has an online petition running at the moment urging the US government to close its Caribbean gulag at Guantanamo Bay. But its not just an ordinary petition - it takes the form of an "online flotilla", in which you design your little Wii-person, stick them on a boat (or surfboard, or sea-serpent), and send them off in a virtual protest fleet to Guantanamo.

You can sign up here. If you'd like to do something else, there's a list here.

New Fisk

Innocent victims caught up in a war of endless revenge

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fiji: the hunt is still on

The Fijian military claims it is tailing three people suspected of running blogs critical of the regime. So much for their claim on Tuesday that they had given up the hunt. As expected, they simply lied, and are quitehappy to continue to arrest and beat people for exercising their fundamental right to criticise the government.

Meanwhile, in another scary development, hyde.n.ceek reports that New Zealand lawyer Janet Mason was attacked in her home on Tuesday or Wednesday night by masked thugs. Mason was accused by the military of providing legal advice to the Great Council of Chiefs which resulted in their rejecting the military's candidate for Vice President. Interestingly, the only thing taken was her laptop. Looks just a little supicious, neh?

The Chagosians win again

A couple of years ago I watched the John Pilger documentary Stealing a Nation, which recounted the story of the ethnic clensing of the island of Diego Garcia and its surrounding archipelago to make way for a US air force base. The islands' inhabitants - the Chagosians - were forcibly deported and dumped in a slum in Mauritius, where they have lived in poverty ever since. It's one of the nastier examples of an imperial abuse of power, and the Chagossians have been fighting it ever since. In 2000, they won a landmark case in the UK High Court declaring their expulsion illegal and ordering the government to allow their return. While initially supportive, the government responded in 2004 with a pair of Orders in Council declaring that nobody was a resident of the British Indian Ocean Territory and that no-one was allowed to enter or live there unless specifically authorised to do so - effectively retrospectively disposessing the Chagosians by royal fiat. The Chagosians challenged those orders, and last year won a second time, with the High Court declaring the Orders "irrational", "unlawful", and "repugnant". The government appealed, arguing that the sovereign power of the Queen was unreviewable (an argument I'd have thought was decisively answered in 1649). Today, the Chagosians won again, with the Court of Appeal upholding the High Court judgement and finding that the Orders were an abuse of power which

negate[d] one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings, the freedom to return to one's homeland, however poor and barren the conditions of life, and contingent though return may be on the property rights of others.

In passing, they also delivered a stunning indictement on the British government for governing the British Indian Ocean Territory not in the interests of its people, but in its own interests and those of the United States.

It will be interesting to see what the British government does next: whether they will bow to US pressure and push this to the Law Lords, or whether they will accept the judgement of three courts that their actions were abusive and lawless, and allow the Chagosians to return.

Carnival of the Liberals

The 39th Carnival of the Liberals is now up at A Blog Around The Clock.

Do not pass Go, do not collect $200

Police are seeking leave from the High Court to charge Taito Phillip Field with 14 counts of bribery as a Member of Parliament. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison, and would have to resign his seat.

So, will he show a shred of decency and resign now, or will he cling to his Parliamentary benefits right up until they day they lock him up?

New Fisk

The road to Jerusalem (via Lebanon)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Could the person using the alias "Kaiser G. Bella" who sent me the email apparently about climate change resend it? It sadly ended up in my spam folder, and was irreversibly deleted by Yahoo.

Dumping Iraq

The Bush Administration is reportedly planning to dump Iraq on the international community as a way of getting the issue off the US political agenda before the 2008 presidenial elections. What this means in practical terms is finding some suckers to provide a peacekeeping force, allowing US troops to be withdrawn, while dumping responsibility for reconstruction (you know, the thing the US promised but didn't do, while stealing all the funds for Halliburton) on the UN.

After the way the US treated the international community and the United Nations in the lead-up to the invasion, the gall is simply astounding. Having told the rest of the world that he does not care what they think, George Bush now expects them to bail him out of his stinking quagmire and send their children to die so that American may live (oh, and help his party, the gang that enabled all this, to win an election)? Fuck that!

Iraq is America's mess, and America can clean it up. And if they're unwilling to do it, then they can hardly expect anybody else to do it for them.

A man's world

I don't often blog about crime stories, but this one really disgusts me. TV star Craig Busch was today convicted of assault over an incident in which he came home to find his partner in bed with another couple:

In the ensuing struggle, which saw Busch attempt to pull his partner from the bed, the victim suffered a number of injuries that have resulted in ongoing medical treatment and which have left her unable to work.

The injuries included swelling and bruising to her torso and fractures to the lumbar and rib fractures.

A second charge of assault was laid after Busch, the following morning, attempted to manhandle the victim into her car and drive her off the property.

His penalty? Nothing. Despite Busch being a repeat offender - he had been convicted of assaulting another woman in 1991 - and despite him causing serious injury and robbing the victim of her livelihood, the judge thought the assault was a "human and inevitable" reaction to the circumstances - in other words, that "the bitch deserved it" (though an eminent judge would never be so crass as to state his misogyny so honestly). He thus imposed no penalty, saying that the convictions were punishment enough.

It really is a man's world...

And it's law

Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill was assented on Monday. It will now come into force on June 21st.

Splitting the Christian vote

Destiny New Zealand has announced that it will contest the next election, setting up a direct struggle for the Christian vote between them, Future New Zealand, and Taito Phillip Field's new vehicle. From a tactical point of view, this is good news, as it will suck votes off National and reduce their chances of being able to form a government. But from a democratic point of view, it again points out the unfairness of the undemocratic 5% threshold. Both of these parties are likely to gain a similar level of votes to parties currently or historically represented in Parliament (the Progressives, Peter Dunne's original United Party, possibly the Maori Party or even United Future if Future NZ campaigns well) - and yet they will be excluded and their voters effectively disenfranchised in order to protect the power of larger groups.

This is unfair and undemocratic. The basis of democracy is the idea that everyone has an equal say in government, that everyone has an equal right to be represented, that everyone's vote counts equally. The 5% threshold means that that is not true. It's time we got rid of it.

New Fisk

A front-row seat for this Lebanese tragedy

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


From this month's Harper's Index:

Percentage of Pakistanis and Indonesians who say that attacks on civilians are sometimes justified to defend Islam: 8
Percentage of Americans who say that attacks on civilians are sometimes justified: 24

So which ones are the terrorists again?

Fiji: a victory for freedom of speech?

The Fiji Times reports that the military is calling off its hunt for Fiji's Freedom Bloggers and abandoning its efforts to block their sites. However, it's not a complete victory:

Colonel Pita Driti said they are no longer bothered or concerned by the blogs and have decided to ignore it.

However, he did say that if bloggers were eventually found they would be taken to the camp to be questioned.

Note that, to Driti, "questioning" means assault. That in itself is reason enough for the bloggers not to let down their guard.

We'll have to wait and see whether this public backdown is matched in practice, or whether the regime is simply going to continue hunting down its critics in secret. But given the thuggery and intolerance of criticism shown so far, I suspect the latter.

Climate change: teaming up with California?

The Herald yesterday reported that New Zealand has been invited to join the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, an alliance of five six Western US states plus British Columbia to establish an emissions trading market. The arrangement is similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative operating in New England and the Northeast US. But while I'd like to see any New Zealand emissions trading plan integrated with international markets, there is one problem: the WRCAI's market isn't expected to go live until 2012. Wheras if we are to begin meeting our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, we need something working by the end of the year.

(And on that front, David Parker's comment that a decision on emissions trading is due in "three to four months" is not a good sign. That's going to be cutting it very fine indeed if we want to have a partial market running for the beginning of Kyoto's first Commitment Period on January 1)

This doesn't mean we won't eventually end up in the same market, though. Emissions trading systems depend crucially on two things: a unit of emissions (which seems to be being standardised on tons of CO2-equivalent), and a system for measuring emissions and certifying reductions. It's a good idea, if we can, to work towards compatibility with other markets on these issues, and the sort of progressive implementation we are planning should help here. Eventualy, I'd expect us to end up with a local market, and a bunch of agreements to recognise credits from other markets as well. Which should allow New Zealand emitters both to pursue the mythical low-cost emissions reductions overseas, or to act as them for other, larger jurisdictions.

Fiji: the thuggery continues

Another day, another act of thuggery by Fiji's military regime. This time the victim is SDL politician Ted Young, who on Friday suggested that new trade deals should only be made by a democratically elected government. In retaliation, he was "arrested" by soldiers, taken to a military camp, and punched repeatedly by a "very senior" officer before being told to shut up. According to Stuff, a journalist was also detained and assaulted. And people still think this is a "modernising coup"?

New Fisk

Scores dead as Lebanese army battles Islamists in bloodiest day since civil war

Monday, May 21, 2007

New Labour's latest betrayal

The UK has a problem: too many people who need housing assistance, and not enough state or council houses to provide for them all. Now Industry Minister Margaret Hodge has a solution: state racism:

We prioritise the needs of an individual migrant family over the entitlement others feel they have. So a recently arrived family with four or five children living in a damp and overcrowded, privately rented flat with the children suffering from asthma will usually get priority over a family with less housing need who have lived in the area for three generations and are stuck at home with the grandparents.

We should look at policies where the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family overrides the legitimate need demonstrated by the new migrants.

But it will all be done "fairly", of course, in a way that neatly disguises the fact that they will essentially be discounting need based on the colour of the applicant's skin:

We should also look at drawing up different rules based on, for instance, length of residence, citizenship or national insurance contributions which carry more weight in a transparent points system used to decide who is entitled to access social housing.

This sort of "Britain for the British" policy is something I would expect from the BNP, not a Labour Party which is supposedly committed to equality. But it sems that a decade of pandering to the most hateful elements of British society on immigration and asylum issues has both normalised racism, and left precious little difference between the two.

Helping the rich?

DPF has a typically disingenuous exercise in which he compares the effects of Kiwi Saver to National's proposed 2005 tax cuts, and concludes that Kiwi Saver helps the rich:

For someone on $100,000 there is not much difference. National's tax cuts would give you $4,770 and Kiwi Saver $5,040.

But go to a Marketing Manager on around $130,000. Under National they get $4,770 and Labour gives them $6,240. That is around $1,500 more.

Of course, this glosses over a very important point: most of the benefit in Kiwi Saver comes not from the taxpayer, but from matching employer contributions which naturally rise with income. Rather than being a tax cut, it is instead a redistributive policy, aimed at channeling money from employers to workers. As for the government's contribution, the $20 / week cap on matching contributions makes it clear that they are firmly aiming their assistance at the 50% of New Zealanders who earn less than $25,000 a year.

DPF does raise an interesting question though - how do the benefits compare? Here's a quick graph, whipped up from the spreadsheet Anita did on National's tax cuts back in 2005. Unlike DPF, who consistently shows no interest in the 80% of New Zealanders who earn less than $50,000 a year, and instead focuses his "who benefits" exercises on the 3.5% who earn more than $100,000 a year (otherwise known as "ACT's base"), I've shown the range of incomes from $15,000 to $150,000:

Kiwi Saver consistently delivers more to people than National's programme of tax cuts would have, and (thanks to government contributions) substantially more to those on lower incomes. And it does all of this without causing inflation, or compromising the government's ability to fund public services such as health, education, and social welfare.

New Zealand Bloggers Offer Support For Freedom Of Speech In Fiji

New Zealand bloggers from across the political spectrum are offering material support for Fijian blogs in the face of violence and censorship by the country's military regime. They are also calling on the New Zealand government to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the regime's acts of violence and censorship against this nonviolent, grassroots blogging movement.

The Fijian military regime has declared anonymous pro-democracy bloggers to be a "threat to national security", and have attempted to block Fijian access to common hosting sites such as Suspected blogger, Ulaiasi Taoi, was recently subjected to beatings, verbal abuse, and humiliation during a 24-hour questioning, according to The Fiji Times and Fijian news sites. The military regime now claims to have identified 20 more people responsible for pro-democracy blogs who will also be threatened with "questioning".

In support of the right to freedom of expression, a group of New Zealand bloggers are now offering access to their own websites for Fijian residents. The group is composed of prominent New Zealand bloggers from across the political spectrum, including writers of Just Left, Kiwiblog, No Right Turn, NZBC, Public Address, and Spanblather. They have agreed to publish guest articles by Fijian bloggers, and where possible will provide hosting on their servers for Fijian blogs.

The group are also calling upon other members of the New Zealand online community with an interest of freedom of speech (such as Scoop,, and Stuff) to make a similar offer of material support for Fijian bloggers.

Blogs are one of the few news sources outside of the control of the military regime in Fiji, representing a vital channel of uncensored information for both Fijians and the international community.

Any Fijian bloggers wishing to make use of this offer should make contact through one of the above-listed websites.

Scoop has subsequently offered to help as well. Meanwhile, we're not the only group - according to this morning's Fiji Times, internet free-speech network Global Voices have also offered their support:

"We're really trying to do two things about the Fijian bloggers right now," Mr Zuckerman said.

"One, we're trying to call attention to their situation, we're promoting it on our site. The second thing we're trying to do is network them with activist bloggers in other parts of the world who have dealt with the same problem, of a government trying to control free speech online."

So, how else can we help?

Update: This has attracted some coverage in the Fiji Times; it will be interesting to see if there is any response from the government.

A squalid act of self-interest

Last week, we saw the Speaker of the House express her support for bringing Parliament under the Official Information Act. Meanwhile, in the UK, things seem to be moving in the opposite direction. In a squalid act of self-interest, British MPs have just voted to exempt themselves from that country's Freedom of Information Act. The ostensible reason is to prevent personal information about constituents from being subject to FOIA requests. The real reason is because MP's see no reason why they should be accountable to the public for their travel expenses and other allowances. Or, in the case of the bill's author, David Maclean, for buying himself a quad-bike on the public tab. Interestingly, despite passing the FOIA in 2000 and an official stance supporting open government, the bill has the tacit support of the government, and of Blair and Brown. I guess they think open government shouldn't extend to holding them accountable...

The bill will now go to the Lords, who will give it a much less friendly reception. Peers are expected to try and kill the bill, and if they can't, to amend it so they are still subject to the FOIA in an effort to shame the Commons into dropping it. Hopefully it will work.

(More information can be found at Open Secrets and the UK Freedom of Information Blog)

Another knee-jerk response

A man died in Tauranga on Saturday after being run down by a boy racer. The driver responsible has been arrested and charged with manslaughter, but that's not good enough for the local mayor. Instead, he's proposing a bylaw to ban cars from large portions of the city after dark.

There are obvious practical problems: what about the cleaners, the night-shift workers, people who work late? Or simply those for whom the shortest path from A to B passes through a banned area? But more important than that is the violence done to the right of freedom of movement affirmed in s18 of the Bill of Rights Act. We need no permits for internal travel in New Zealand. We take it for granted that on public streets we can go where we choose, when we choose, and not have to justify ourselves to anyone. And if we choose to drive the streets at night, provided we keep within the speed limit and are not obviously drunk, it is no business whatsoever of the state. But if this bylaw passes, this will no longer be true, at least in Tauranga - and another valuable part of our freedom will have been sacrificed simply so some shitty little local body politician can be seen to be "doing something" about the headline d'jour.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

New kiwi blog

Left Hand Palm - from a self-described bored leftist in Palmerston North.

Dealing with gangs

The last two weeks have seen an outpouring of anger over the death of a toddler in a gang-related drive-by shooting. This anger has in turn led to the usual knee-jerk solutions, with calls to cut gang members off from the social welfare system, and to kick them out of state houses (which ironicly would have resulted in said toddler starving to death in a carboard box rather than being shot. But that clearly wouldn't trouble the minds of those screaming for vengeance nearly so much). There have even been calls for gangs to be "banned" - something the Prime Minister at least realises is a lot harder and less useful than it sounds, but we are talking about knee-jerk solutions. But one solution which is never mentioned is for the police to use the powers they have.

To point out the obvious, murder is a crime in New Zealand. So is drug dealing. And so are assault, burglary, posession of unlicensed firearms, intimidation - pretty much everything gangs do as part of their business. This may be a novel idea, but I think the police should actually try and prosecute them for it. This would of course require the police to do actual police work rather than watching bestiality flicks and exploiting and raping vulnerable women - but that is after all what we pay them for. If they lack the necessary resources, they should be provided. But if they're not up to the job, then maybe we should get some people who are.

As for powers, it is worth pointing out that s98A of the Crimes Act criminalises "participation in organised criminal group" - meaning a group with the objective of "obtaining material benefits from the commission of offences that are punishable by imprisonment for a term of 4 years or more" or of "serious violent offences" (which again covers gangs' core business). Those convicted can be imprisoned for up to five years. I oppose this law as essentially "guilt by association" - but its existence makes it difficult to claim that the police don't already have draconian enough powers.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

New Fisk

Blair's lies and linguistic manipulations

Leading the global effort?

Anonymous spokesperson for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, G8 climate change talks, May 14, 2007:

"There is consensus that the Earth is warming, and we are working with our G8 partners as well as developing nations to identify the promising new technologies that will help the whole world address the long term challenges of climate change.

"The US continues to lead the global effort on climate change."

Harlan Watson, US chief climate change negotiator, on being asked about caps on US emissions or participation in a global emissions trading system, Bonn summit, May 19, 2007:

"That's not our agenda... We don't believe targets and timetables are important, or a global cap and trade system. It's important not to jeopardise economic growth."

So much for "leading the global effort".

Meanwhile, poor Tony Blair. Having made himself a war criminal and put himself at risk of spending the rest of his life in a cell in The Hague for the sake of Britain's "special relationship" with the US, he was hoping for a payoff in the form of a US move towards supporting a post-Kyoto treaty to provide him with a legacy. Instead, the Bush administration has just given him the finger. So much for quid pro quo as well...


Congratulations to Public Address, who last night picked up a Qantas Media Award in the "best blog" category.

Friday, May 18, 2007

What's good in the budget

Having criticised the Budget yesterday for failing to deliver to the poorest New Zealanders (you know, people who actually need the help - unlike the wealthy foreign beneficiaries of the business tax cuts), I think I should point out that there are things I am pleased about. The first, obviously, is the increase in foreign aid. I've blogged about this already, here, but its still worth mentioning again. The government is finally moving towards meeting its commitments, and hopefully the massive show of support for making poverty history will encourage them to move further in the future

Secondly, there's the changes to KiwiSaver. When this was first announced back in 2005, I called it "a solid, social democratic programme", and yesterday's changes make it even more so. The matching of contributions by the government will encourage people to participate while being aimed squarely at the poor (the maximum level is reached at $12.50 an hour - only slightly higher than where the government wants the minimum wage to be in a year - so wealthier New Zealanders don't benefit disproportionately), while the requirement for employer contributions is a solid redistributive measure. Sure, it will have some effect on wage bargaining, but it shouldn't be a large one - particularly as some of it will be offset by tax credits (and in any case, 4% over four years isn't much of a "wage rise").

Finally, there's the new regional fuel tax. Quite apart from making it clear that Aucklanders can pay for their own bloody roads (and giving them the tool to do it), to the extent that raising the price of petrol will discourage vehicle use and encourage vehicle efficiency it will also have an important secondary benefit in fighting climate change. The opposition (and more importantly, the government's support parties) haven't twigged yet, but we've just effectively gotten ourselves a carbon tax, by stealth, at up to triple the rate of the original proposal (the 2002 carbon tax of $15/ton was expected to add 3c/litre to the cost of petrol. This can go up to 10c/litre, or around $50/ton). Add in the cap on roading spending (and therefore push to spend on public transport), and we have some level of direct revenue recycling as well. Sure, it's quick and dirty, and doesn't make the link explicit, but it will work - and that's what's important.

Fiji: a war on freedom of speech

Fiji's military regime has detained and allegedly beaten another suspected blogger, and the military now seems to regard itself as involved in a "war" against its critics. Meanwhile, today's Fiji Times editorial says it all with their comment that "a government comfortable with its behaviour would have been seen the criticism as a nuisance to be ignored". But its been clear for a while that the regime isn't comfortable with its behaviour - or rather, that it knows that there are an awful lot of Fijians who aren't. Their solution - detention and beatings - seems likely to exacerbate that problem rather than solve it.

Fiji: Blocking out democracy

Fiji's international telecommunications gateway FINTEL has confirmed that it is advising the government on how to block access to pro-democracy blogs. Their first effort on Monday apparently blocked Google, and was ended after five minutes after complaints from ISPs that the internet was unusable. Now they seem to be working on more sophisticated blocking. The regime has however succeeded in having Google temporarily take down and gut the Resist Frank's Coup blog - but it has simply moved to typepad. Meanwhile there is now a blog dedicated to outing the soldiers responsible for the two murders conducted so far by the military. Here's hoping that one doesn't need any more posts...

A group of New Zealand bloggers are getting together to offer guest posting and hosting to Fiji's Freedom bloggers in an effort to evade any blocks. In the meantime Fijians wanting to exercise their freedom to read whatever they want are advised to download the Torpark secure browser.

Hell freezes over

The Kerikeri National Trust Bill has been reported back from Select Committee. The bill was sent to committee in the dark days of 1995, and has languished there ever since. According to the report [PDF], while there was support for the bill's intention, it was fatally flawed and has now been supplanted by a regional plan for the area. The committee therefore unanimously recommended that it not proceed. The bill will now go back to the House, where hopefully it will be voluntarily withdrawn by John Carter.

For those who are wondering, the title of "oldest bill before the House" will now pass to the Conservation (Protection of Trout as a Non-commercial Species) Amendment Bill, which has been waiting for its second reading since 1998.

Another NeoCon crony out

Paul Wolfowitz has quit as President of the World Bank. I guess he finally got the message that it was either that or be fired for violating the bank's rules in awarding a pay rise to his partner.

Brown anointed

Gordon Brown will be elected unopposed as leader of the UK Labour Party, after his only rival failed to secure enough nominations. And yet Tony Blair will still remain Prime Minister for another six weeks to allow time for a leadership election which will now not be happening.

The Independent is right on this: Blair should go now. The delay is nothing more than a self-indulgent ego-trip - as witnessed by today's mutual arse-licking session with George Bush in which they praised each other for their role in murderering 655,000 Iraqis and bringing that country to the brink of collapse (though in a rare show of political awareness, Bush admitted that he "could be" responsible for Blair's exit. Y'think?)

Government should not be a vehicle for the ego of one man. Blair should resign immediately and allow his country to move on. And then, maybe, he can face the justice he so richly deserves.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Budget Day

In case anyone had missed it, today is Budget Day. In the Herald, the Child Poverty Action Group's Susan St John presents an alternative budget, in which she advocates a capital gains tax on housing (with a large exemption for people's homes), shifting tax brackets to compensate for inflation since 2000, greater funding for low decile schools and improved access to medical care for children, eliminating the discriminatory "in-work" payment from Working For Families in favour of a universal boost to the Family Tax Credit, and a significant boost to benefit-clawback income thresholds. It's the sort of Budget a progressive, left-wing, social democratic party like Labour should be delivering - but we're not getting it. Instead, we're getting business tax cuts, which will benefit only the rich, foreign owners of our economy.

Labour's departure from its roots and its capture by the rich couldn't be any clearer.

(Actually, I expect to be moderately pleased by much of the Budget. Boosting KiwiSaver and foreign aid and electrifying the Auckland rail network are all good policies. But there's a widening gap between what we elect Labour governments to do - you know, helping the poor - and what they deliver. While Labour would no doubt blame this on its coalition partners, its worth noting that some of the above policies (for example better access to health care and the inflation indexing of tax brackets) are explicitly advocated by those parties. With the exception of the capital gains tax, I can't actually see either of them objecting to such a package).

Says it all

The Herald: MP resigns over smacking bill, then misses vote.

John Armstrong is also fairly disparaging on Copeland's behaviour or the chances of his revivied Christian vehicle, saying that he was early for his own execution and on a one-way path to political oblivion.

Perhaps he'll surprise us. Perhaps there is a large theocrat vote lurking under the surface out there, waiting to bound out of their churches and carry Copeland over the 5% threshhold so he can implement God's Plan for New Zealand. But I doubt it.

Salmond takes the reins

SNP leader Alex Salmond has been elected First Minister in Scotland. He will lead a minority SNP - Green coalition, though is likely to have support on most issues from the Lib Dems. Unfortunately, this won't include independence - the Lib Dem's chief point of difference is support for the Union - but the government benches are a bully pulpit, and Salmond should be able to use them effectively to push for his cause (primarily by picking fights with Westminister, which will at least be entertaining).

This is Tony Blair's domestic legacy: losing on the left on Labour's safest ground. And if Brown continues down the same path as Blair, he is unlikely to do any better.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Easter trading defeated

57 votes in favour, 64 votes against. I'm sure there'll be another bill (though under Standing Orders it will have to wait a year), and maybe they'll convince more people next time if they address the holidays issue.

Correction: Standing Orders only bar substantially bills within the same calendar year - so there could be a new Easter trading bill in the ballot in January.

113 - 78

Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act has passed its third reading, 113 - 78.

Despite, resigning from United Future in protest at the bill, Gordon Copeland didn't vote voted two hours late.

The end of Section 59

Today is a Member's Day, and Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill is up for its third reading. Following last fortnight's stunning "compromise" (which was actually a complete surrender to Bradford's position), the bill is expected to pass by a huge margin, 116 - 5, with only ACT, Taito Phillip Field, and United Future's two hardline Christian MPs voting against. For those who want to listen in, debate will start sometime between 16:30 and 17:00, and depending on how many speakers there are, we could conceivably have a vote in in time for the six o'clock news (and if not, it'll be at eight, half an hour after the dinner break).

Meanwhile, Steve Chadwick's Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal (Easter Trading) Amendment Bill will also almost certainly come up for a vote. This passed its first reading by a wide margin, 80 - 38 - but so did Jacqui Dean's bill, which lost its Second Reading two weeks ago. A lot of MPs changed their mind between the first and second readings, but its unclear whether it was becuase they had come out in opposition to Easter trading, or because they opposed the form proposed in Dean's bill (for example, the lack of protection for workers). I don't want to risk guessing whether it will pass or fail (entrail readers may wish to start comparing votes in the Conscience Votes Database and see if they can draw a conclusion), but if it passes, I hope the government will move swiftly to ensure that Easter Sunday is listed as a public holiday to ensure it is on a par with other holidays.

Bump & update: It looks like the vote may just squeeze in before the news.

A long time coming

The Speaker has announced that Parliament will be trialling simultaneous interpretation in the House. This has been a long time coming. It's been twenty years since te reo was acknowledged as an official language; and eight years since the House took the first fumbling steps towards regularising its use by providing an interpreter (previously members had to provide their own translations). For a country which supposedly takes pride in Maori culture and treats Maori as full and equal citizens, that's far too long.

Simultaneous translation will finally allow te reo to be used to its fullest in parliamentary debates, without speaker's having to sacrifice half their time to translation (one of the biggest problems with the current system). It will also be a powerful statement of the status of the Maori language in New Zealand - and through them, of Maori. Given the token cost - $132,000 a year, pocket change to the government - you wonder why they didn't do it years ago.

Toys overboard!

Gordon Copeland is throwing a sulk over the impending passage of Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill and is quitting United Future to form his own party with former MP (and fellow Christian extremist) Larry Baldock. While this obviously affects the government's majority in the House, the abstention of the Greens assures them of confidence and supply (59 votes out of 115), and this will be tested in the next few days following the Budget debate. However the loss of Copeland's vote spells even more problems for the government's legislative program. On the positive side, it means they are going to have to rely on the Greens and Maori Party more often to get legislation passed - which will give them greater power to demand concessions and stall bad bills such as the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill.

The bigger picture in all of this is the breakup of United Future. This was originally a conglomeration of Peter Dunne's United New Zealand (a centrist, liberal party) and Future New Zealand (the rump of the 1996 Christian Democrats), which subsequently turned into a takeover. Now the Christians are walking, hopefully Dunne will be able to return to his centrist, secular roots. Though given past polling, he'll almost certainly be doing it all by himself again. As for the "new" Future New Zealand vehicle, it'll likely follow in the footsteps of other such groupings and quietly disappear thanks to the undemocratic threshhold.

Finally, there's a lesson in this for our politicians: you can't trust Christian parties to deliver the votes they have promised - they will flake and betray you. Hopefully this will introduce a note of caution into any future negotiations with such groupings.

A New Zealand innocence project

The Innocence Project is a US organisation dedicated to exonerating those wrongfully convicted by the US criminal justice system. They do good work - 200 people have been freed from prison after being conclusively proven innocent by DNA testing, many of them from death row. Given the number of wrongful convictions we've seen in the New Zealand justice system, I've been wondering why we don't have such an organisation here. Now, thanks to a group of researchers at Victoria and otago universities, we do.


Below is my submission on the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill. It's a bit of a monster - my longest submission yet - but it represents two years of research and blogging. Hopefully it won't be a wasted effort.

  1. I support a conviction-based forfeiture regime of the sort implemented by the Proceeds of Crime Act 1991. Seizing the proceeds and instruments of crime from those proved beyond a reasonable doubt to have engaged in serious criminal activity seems entirely justifiable. But I oppose the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill for the following reasons:
  2. The bill deliberately breaks down the barriers between civil and criminal penalties, and constitutes an attempt to punish suspected criminals without the Crown having to face the burden of a criminal trial or prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
  3. The regime proposed – a lower standard of evidence and a reverse onus of proof – violates the minimum standards of criminal procedure affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and in various international human rights instruments to which New Zealand is a party. This leads to a substantial risk of injustice, which will see innocent people lose their life savings based on nothing more than the suspicion of police that they are criminals.
  4. The bill would also result in the imposition of lesser criminal penalties on the rich than the poor - a basic violation of the right to equality under the law.
  5. Finally, I oppose the suggestion by some that revenue from assets seized under the bill flow directly to the police. Overseas this has led to police corruption and significant abuses of power, including torture and murder.

    Criminal punishment

  6. The regime proposed by the bill is clearly aimed at punishing suspected criminals without the burden of a criminal trial or proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  7. The claim that this is not a criminal punishment, but a civil one is a legal fiction. Statements from politicians make it very clear that the asset forfeiture regime is intended to punish criminals, particularly gangs. Ministry of Justice briefing papers from the policy development process refer to it explicitly as a means of “penalising criminal conduct”. And the bill itself recognises that it is a criminal penalty, by requiring judges to take forfeited assets into consideration in sentencing decisions. Such a balancing process would not be required if this was purely a civil proceeding with nothing to do with criminal law.
  8. More generally, the loss of assets is a penalty, and is used as such by the criminal justice system (e.g. fines). This penalty will be applied on the basis of suspected serious criminal behaviour, and the coercive power of the state will be used to impose it. Those refusing to cooperate with the regime will face criminal sanction. Those subject to the regime will be left in no doubt about what is going on: an attempt to punish criminal behaviour.
  9. This attempt to impose criminal penalties without the safeguards and evidentiary burden of criminal law is counter to the deepest values of our justice system, and violates the minimum standards of criminal procedure affirmed in s25 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  10. Penalties for criminal behaviour should only be imposed if the Crown can overcome the basic safeguards of a fair trial: innocent until proven guilty, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If the crown can not convict someone under these rules, then it has no business punishing them.

    Ahmed Zaoui standards of evidence

  11. The proposed standards of evidence in the bill – asset restraint on “reasonable grounds to believe”, forfeiture on “the balance of probabilities”, and a reverse burden of proof – undermine basic procedural safeguards and will lead to a significant risk of injustice. These are the sorts of rules applied to Ahmed Zaoui, and have no place in the justice system of a civilised country which supposedly respects human rights.
  12. As noted above, the use of a civil standard of proof (the “balance of probabilities”) is entirely unsuitable to a criminal punishment. For the state to punish for criminal behaviour, it should be required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
  13. The requirement for those whose assets are subject to a restraining order to prove they were lawfully acquired essentially amounts to a demand that they prove themselves innocent of any crime – a violation of the fundamental principle that people are innocent until proven guilty affirmed in s25 (c) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
  14. The ability to restrain assets on nothing more than “reasonable grounds to believe” that they are the proceeds of crime, combined with the automatic forfeiture of assets if restraint is not challenged raises the spectre of those who can not afford it (e.g. being ineligible for legal aid while also too poor to afford a lawyer – a not uncommon situation) losing substantial sums of money based on nothing more than the suspicions of police.
  15. Procedural safeguards and criminal standards of evidence are no doubt inconvenient to the Crown, but they serve a vital purpose: preventing miscarriages of justice. Undermining those safeguards and weakening those standards will significantly increase the risk of injustices occurring. This fact is explicitly recognised by the Ministry of Justice in its policy development documents:
    If a civil standard is applied (whether under the “more likely than not” test or the Briginshaw test), this inevitably allows for the possibility that a substantial number of mistakes will be made; those mistakes are neither identified nor publicised precisely because the application of a lower standard justifies the decision.

    (Ministry of Justice, briefing paper on “Proceeds of Crime”, 16 April 2004, p. 4).

  16. This higher risk of injustice will see innocent people at some stage lose their homes and livelihoods, and possibly even their lives – people commit suicide over less. We have already had a disturbing number of innocent people convicted of crimes in New Zealand due to police fixating on them and building a case around the suspect rather than the evidence (Arthur Allen Thomas and David Dougherty spring to mind). Lower standards of evidence and a reversed burden of proof will make it even easier.
  17. The ability to pursue seizure proceedings independently of or in parallel with criminal proceedings violates the s26 (2) BORA bar on double jeopardy. As argued above, this is a criminal punishment; double jeopardy should apply. As it stands, the crown could even begin seizure proceedings against someone acquitted of a crime after their trial – making a mockery of the entire criminal process.

    Unequal sentences

  18. If the arguments of the government that asset seizure is not a criminal punishment are accepted, then the changes to the Sentencing Act 2002 requiring sentencing judges to take asset forfeitures into account will see richer criminals effectively buying their way out of jail by surrendering assets.
  19. This fear is borne out by the US experience. In Reefer Madness, Eric Schlosser reports that in some cases, a defendant's willingness to hand over assets is more important in determining their sentence than their degree of actual guilt; in one case, “a major cocaine dealer with a fleet of Learjets” served less than four years in jail - despite being caught with twenty tons of cocaine (p. 61).
  20. This dependence of sentencing upon wealth violates the basic principle of equality under the law affirmed in Article 14 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    Revenue should not go to the police

  21. Finally, it has been suggested that the bill be amended to allow seized assets or the resulting revenue from their sale to flow directly to the police. I oppose such an amendment.
  22. Such an amendment would create a dangerous incentive for police to pursue cases aimed primarily at asset seizures rather than criminal convictions in order to meet budgetary targets. It could also lead to police corruption.
  23. Again, this has been the US experience. Two examples from Schlosser’s Reefer Madness (p. 62).
    In California, thirty-one state and federal agents raided Donald P. Scott's 200-acre ranch on the pretext that marijuana was growing there. Scott was inadvertently killed by a deputy sheriff. No evidence of marijuana cultivation was discovered, and a subsequent investigation by the Ventura County's District Attorney's Office found that the drug agents had been motivated partly by a desire to seize the $5 million ranch. They had obtained an appraisal of the property weeks before the raid.

    In New Jersey, Nicholas L. Bissell, Jr., a local prosecutor known as the Forfeiture King, helped an associate buy land seized in a marijuana case for a small fraction of its market value.

  24. The potential for this sort of corrupt behaviour and seizure-driven case should rule out any return to the police of revenue.
  25. If such a return of revenue is considered desirable, it is vitally important that individual police officers not be able to benefit from seizures, either directly or through the payment of performance bonuses. This would create direct financial incentives to frame people, or for criminal behaviour. Again, this is borne out by the US experience. In 2004 in Tennessee, Lester Eugene Siler was tortured by a group of police officers in an effort to get him to sign a consent-to-search form which would in turn have allowed them to seize his assets. He was beaten, waterboarded, and suffered electric shocks to his genitals (William Norman Grigg "Because They Can: The Logic of the Torture State"; see also Siler's Wikipedia entry). Clearly, the ability to directly benefit had created incentives for the officers involved. We should avoid creating such incentives for the New Zealand police.
  26. For these reasons, I ask that the Select Committee recommend that the bill not proceed.
  27. I do not wish to make an oral submission to the Select Committee

Fiji: the waiting

Fiji's military regime claims to have identified 20 people responsible for pro-democracy blogs, and are threatening to "question" them. Judging from their previous actions, this means detaining and beating them - or worse.

Intelligentsiya is taking it pretty well - but its not good news at all. We just have to hope they have the wrong people (not that that's really good either) - or no-one at all.