Friday, July 29, 2011

Rising to the challenge

This morning Adoption Action announced that it was challenging the Adoption Act before the Human Rights Review Tribunal. Now it looks like Labour is rising to the challenge, with a Member's Bill to force the Law Commission to review the law.

Its a good idea. Adoption is a complex issue which needs serious policy work to get right. The Law Commission is the best body to do that work. The government could of course just announce a review - but they've said clearly that its just not a priority for them. So its left to the Opposition, who can only do such things by clunky legislation.

(This does actually suggest that in an MMP environment we need a less clunky method of gaining such reviews. Something involving a motion of the House would be ideal; it still needs majority support, but doesn't have the hassle of passing a full law through all three stages just to get a government body to obey the legislature).

Obviously, the bill will not be heard, let alone passed, in this term of Parliament. But that's not really the point. Instead, its there as an invitation for the government to act - and a signal that if they won't, Labour will.

Why New Zealand agreed that disconnection violated international law

Back in April, the National government abused urgency to ram the final stages of a guilt by accusation copyright law - including the option of mandatory disconnection from the internet - through Parliament. Then, in June, it surprised us all by joining with other nations on the international stage to declare that such laws violated international law and basic human rights standards. Then, the next day, it denied it had approved any such declaration.

What was going on? The Creative Freedom Foundation attempted to get to the bottom of things using the Official Information Act, asking MFAT for documents and emails relating to the endorsement. MFAT naturally withheld most of the relevant data - it apparently being harmful to our international relations if the government is honest with its own citizens about what it is up to. But the document it did release shows that they were informed of the declaration by our permanent mission to the UN, who has given support in principle on the basis that

In line with your instructions this would appear consistent with our traditional backing of freedom of expression within the broad context of civil and political rights
Clearly, that wasn't overruled - and rightly so. But again, it leaves the government in an odd position of supporting "freedom of expression within the broad context of civil and political rights" abroad, but not at home. If it really supports those principles, then it needs to repeal this law. Otherwise, we're simply acting like hypocrites - a disaster for a small country pursuing a mana-based foreign policy like us.

Challenging the Adoption Act

Back in 2009, Acting Principal Family Court Judge Paul von Dadelszen argued that our adoption laws were outdated and in need of major reform. The government did nothing. The criticism was echoed last year by the High Court in its ruling that a stable de facto couple could adopt. The government still did nothing. So Adoption Action has decided to step in and do something where the government won't, by challenging the Adoption Act before the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Adoption Action has filed a claim with the Human Rights Review Tribunal complaining that the Adoption Act 1955 and other adoption laws and practice notes are inconsistent with the anti-discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act 1993 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in 15 different respects AND are inconsistent with fundamental rights and freedoms of the persons affected.

Adoption Action claims that adoption laws and practice notes discriminate against certain groups within society on the grounds of: Sex Marital status Religious or ethical belief Race or ethnic origin National origin Disability Age Sexual orientation.

Adoption Action is seeking a declaration under Part 1A Human Rights Act that various provisions of the Adoption Act and other adoption laws and practice notes are inconsistent with NZ’s anti-discrimination laws.

Discrimination is one of the few areas where we can challenge a law and have it declared inconsistent by the courts. Though this will not actually overturn the law; instead, it will force the Minister to report to Parliament on the inconsistency and what they intend to do about it. The government could of course say "nothing". But they'll have to do so explicitly and publicly, and wear the political cost of refusing to enforce basic human rights. What the challenge is really intended to do is get the government to make this a priority, rather than putting it off to appease dying moral conservatives and weirdo fundamentalists. And hopefully it will be successful.

Alright for some

As we've been reminded this week, times are tough for ordinary New Zealanders. No growth, 155,000 unemployed, record high inflation. Ordinary families are squeezed. Kids are going to school hungry. Foodbank use is at an all-time high.

And meanwhile, National's mates the ultra-rich are making out like fucking bandits:

The fortunes of the country's 150 richest people have grown by almost 20 per cent in one year but they are still calling for the easing of constrictions around wealth creation.

The National Business Review yesterday published its annual Rich List, showing that the combined wealth of New Zealand's richest has ballooned from $38.2 billion to $45.2 billion - the highest total ever.

(Emphasis added)

When National talked about "taking the hard edges off the recession", I don't think they were talking about us. Tax cuts for the rich, the removal of gift duty, employment relations "reform", deregulation, privatisation, all help the ultra-rich, while screwing the rest of us over, redistribute income upwards from us, to them. But then, that's the point. National works for these people, not for us - and their policies reflect that. Anyone voting for them is a turkey voting for christmas.

Meanwhile, its worth noting that that $7 billion increase in wealth - income by anyone's standards - was completely untaxed. Applying even Labour's piss-weak capital gains tax to it would have realised an extra $1 billion to help pay for Christchurch. Its time that wealth was taxed, and that these people paid their fair share.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The threshold and stability

Over on Kiwiblog, DPF attempts to defend MMP's undemocratic threshold. To his credit, he opposes Phil Goff's nakedly self-interested desire to remove the "electorate lifeboat" clause, and supports a lower 4% threshold, as recommended by the Royal Commission on the Electoral System. But he supports a threshold for stability, to prevent "an Israel type situation where miniscule extremist parties have massive say in who forms the Government".

This is at its heart the same reason given by the Royal Commission. In their report, they argued:

the Commission considers that the [4%] threshold is a justifiable and desirable means of preventing the proliferation of minor parties in the House. Such a proliferation could threaten the stability and effectiveness of government.
Which probably sounded good back in the safe, conformist, 2-party world of 1986, where we hadn't had a coalition government for over fifty years, and political difference and dispute was seen as threatening. But to modern eyes, it seems quaint - not to mention sniffily undemocratic. To point out the obvious, we currently have 8 parties represented in our Parliament, and in the past have had as many as 9. And it hasn't threatened the stability or effectiveness of government one bit (to the contrary, the present government is arguably too effective, as its constant abuse of urgency shows).

There are two reasons for this. The first is that our political culture doesn't support destabilising, winner-take-all, toys-out-of-the-cot tantrum politics. Winston Peters tried that in 1996, the electorate punished him for it in 1999, and our parties have learned their lesson: we expect them to get along, work together on the areas where they share common ground, and manage their differences like adults rather than trying to dictate to one another like children. And largely, they do. Our parties compromise with another. Areas of serious dispute are redlined in support agreements, and put aside for the term or punted to committee. Threats to withdraw confidence and supply and collapse the government unless they get their way are notably absent.

The second reason is mathematical: a "proliferation of minor parties" actually increases stability and effectiveness, by increasing the number of possible majority coalitions, thus reducing the bargaining power of any one party. We have a good example of this in the current Parliament: ACT can't "hold the government to ransom" and demand big policy concessions because National has an alternative majority with the Maori Party. Meanwhile, the Maori Party can't "hold the government to ransom" because the National has an alternative majority with ACT. The two parties effectively act as a check on each other's demands. It was a similar situation in the 2002 Parliament, with Labour able to gain a majority with any one of United Future, NZ First, or the Greens. Having an extra 3 or 4 kibble parties at the bottom end simply increases the balance; if one of them doesn't like your policy, then you go to another. You're only in trouble if they all don't like your policy, in which case its probably well-deserved (just as it would be if both ACT and the Maori Party opposed something of National's).

So, "stability" is an illusion. There's no reason to think that a more representative Parliament would be less stable, or a more representative government less effective, than at present. Meanwhile, this illusion costs us in democratic terms, by effectively disenfranchising (at the last election) 6.5% of the population. DPF would probably counter that those people and their views and votes aren't important. I disagree. A core principle of democracy is that everyone's vote should count equally. Under current arrangements, those cast for small parties don't. That is undemocratic, it is unfair, and it is wrong. While I disagree passionately with many of our small parties, they are just as deserving of democratic representation as I am. Those who would support their disenfranchisement need an exceptionally powerful reason to justify it. And its clear from the above that "stability" just doesn't cut it.


Stuff this morning had more results from their poll, reporting that National's lead is built on trust in its handling of the economy:

National's yawning lead in the polls is built on an even larger gap in confidence on handling the economy, new polling shows.

The Fairfax Media-Research International poll shows 49 per cent of voters think National has the best plan to fix the economy, well ahead of Labour on 17 per cent.

I'm absolutely boggled by this. To point out the obvious, we have a stagnant economy, 155,000 unemployed, and record high inflation. And the reason we have these things is because National's "response" to the recession was initially to do nothing, in the belief that the market would sort itself out, and then to try and cut our way out of trouble (with the expected result - an austerity-driven recession, just like 1992). By any empirical measure, they are failures at managing the economy - because they are ideologically opposed to the very idea.

And yet, somehow the fact of National's dismal non-performance can't penetrate the dogma that they're businessmen, so therefore they know what they're doing. Quite apart from the fact that most NZ businessmen don't know what they're doing - you have only to look at the dismal performance of NZ businesses to see that - this is simply false. The economy is not a company. Anyone trying to manage it as if it was (e.g. by "tightening our belts" in a recession) is going to drive it into the ground. Which is exactly what is happening now.

These are not people I want running the New Zealand economy. They have no plan to boost growth, no plan to create jobs, no plan even to ease the effects of the disaster they're overseeing, except to hang on and hope - while of course using it as an excuse to flog state assets, our common property, to their rich mates. They are economic incompetents, and they do not deserve our faith or our support.

Calling the right's bluff

The idea that "western civilisation" is facing an "existential threat" from Islam has been a growing meme on the right, spread by warmongering US NeoCons and the racist European far-right, and is popular down in the sewer in New Zealand. But as Lew on KiwiPolitico points out, the actions of the Norwegian terrorist has called their bluff on this. They're desperate to avoid being ideologically linked to him, but if they want to do that, they need to either abandon the idea that Islam is an existential threat, or explain why that threat does not justify violence:

They’ve been squawking about the existential threat posed by “others”, much as Breivik has, but he has gone one better and actually done something about it. And so they must pick a side: either “Muslims” (or “Māori”, “socialists”, “teacher unions” or the “cultural elite” or whoever “Western civilisation” is at war with this week) actually are the existential threat the wingnuts claim they are, or they are not. If the former case is true, by their own logic the wingnuts would not only be justified in taking up arms in defence of their civilisation, they would be practically required to do so, as Breivik did. If the existential threat is real, they must hail Breivik as a hero. If they don’t, we can assume there is no existential threat, and that they’ve merely been spouting melodramatic masturbatory fantasy this whole time.
As an intellectual position, this is clearly correct. You can't hold the position that Islam is an existential threat while decrying the consequences of that belief, and you can't decry the consequences while holding that position - not if you want to be consistent anyway. At the same time, I'm not sure its such a good idea to double dog dare (with a side order of "you haven't got the balls for it") people to praise Breivik, or emulate him and start killing people. Because while most (hell, almost all) won't - it being both a repulsive position to take, and one which flies in the face of the democratic ideals these people purport to want to defend - there's a danger, however slight, that some wingnut will go "you're right" and follow through. Consistency is great, but as sins go, I'll take inconsistency over murder any day.

Will the police investigate Blair's war crimes?

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair touches down in Auckland today on his speaking tour. Meanwhile, Global Peace and Justice Auckland has laid a complaint with the New Zealand police, asking that they detain Blair for war crimes. The crimes in question - grave breaches of the Geneva Convention including the indiscriminate use of force against civilians - are clearly illegal under New Zealand law. So will the police investigate? Sadly, I'm not holding my breath. In incidents like this in the past, they have shown that they are more interested in protecting the powerful than enforcing the law. And I expect them to do exactly the same for Tony Blair. But the cost of this is to undermine respect for the law, encourage the view that it is simply a tool of the powerful against the powerless. As someone who thinks the law should be more than this, that it is there to protect all of us, not just those the rapists-in-blue deem worthy of protection, I find this highly disappointing.

Meanwhile, protestors have already gathered at the venue for Blair's speech, and while I expect him to be hustled in a back door (so as to protect his delicate sensibilities from public opinion), it will at least remind his sociopathic audience (including blogger DPF, who'da thunk it?) of the sort of man they're paying to hear. And the article makes it clear that there's at least one person there going after the bounty for a peaceful citizen's arrest of Blair. I wish them luck.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wellington region moves to STV

Greater Wellington Regional Council has decided to move to STV from 2013. Good. STV is a much fairer voting system than the bloc-vote usually used in local body elections (which is in effect a "winner take all" for a narrow plurality). Meanwhile, I'm just hoping Palmerston North City Council, which is considering a similar move, will make the right decision and adopt a fair voting system.

How blatant does it have to get?

The US has a long and dirty history of voter suppression, with Republicans in particular trying to win elections not by encouraging people to vote for them, but by systematically disenfranchising those who won't. Now in Wisconsin it seems to have reached a new low. First, the state passed a "moter voter" law, requiring people to present a driver's licence to vote. Now,it is shutting down DMVs in Democrat-leaning areas, while boosting funding to those in Republican leaning ones - meaning that people unlikely to vote for the present administration can't get the vital ID, while those who will, can.

If this happened in, say, Uzbekistan, we'd call it exactly what it is: an attempt to tilt electoral outcomes by the government of the day. And we'd declare that elections run under such a system were not "free and fair" and did not meet international standards. But because this is happening in the US, "the home of democracy", then everyone looks the other way.

Unfair nomination rules. Widespread gerrymandering. Blatant and widespread voter suppression. I think its time we admitted that the US isn't really a democracy. Instead, its a plutocracy, trying to gain legitimacy from an increasingly thin democratic facade.


Isn't it funny how National only seems to care about child abuse in an election year? And isn't it funny how Paula Bennett keeps insisting it is a "Maori problem", despite the evidence to the contrary? You'd almost think that it was an election-year Othering exercise, designed to whip up hatred of the "underclass" among decent, right-voting New Zealanders. Just like Jenny Shipley's pre-election "Code of Social Responsibility"...

It doesn't help that the policy proposals suggested are so vacuous and transparently vote-grubbing. National is not interested in reducing the poverty and economic and social stress which leads to child abuse. They're not interested in making the lot of New Zealand kids better. Instead, they're interested in "cracking down", in an effort to win the "tough on crime" vote. And their policies reflect that. Mandatory reporting? All that does is deter people from seeking help while producing masses of false positives (which CYFS will of course be unresourced to deal with). Greater information sharing? Ditto. Prioritisation of resources towards families with young children? Quite apart from being unjustifiably discriminatory, this simply moves problems elsewhere (while of course preserving the rich's tax cuts). These are the sorts of policy prescriptions you suggest when you don't have any answers, only a desire to divide and blame. Which is Paula Bennett to a "t", isn't it?

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the timing is just a coincidence. Maybe Bennett, having sat on her hands for three years, has suddenly decided - just in time for the election - that she cares about child abuse. And maybe she's stupid enough to think these policies will work, and to have ignored all advice from her department to the contrary. In which case she's merely stunningly incompetent. Either way, I think its clear that this is not a policy area we can trust her to be in charge of.

Matt McCarten: Tax cheat

If you're a left-wing union organiser, who opposes corporate tax cuts and favours higher taxes on the rich, you'd be consistent and pay your fair share, right? Wrong:

Inland Revenue is chasing unionist Matt McCarten's Unite Support Services Ltd. for $150,750 in unpaid taxes after the department forced the company into liquidation last month.

McCarten's vehicle, which supplied administrative support services to the youth-orientated union Unite Inc., was put into liquidation by a High Court order last month after the tax department pursued it for "failure to provide for taxation," according to the first liquidator's report.

"Failure to provide for taxation" is a polite way of saying "couldn't be arsed paying". Which makes McCarten a hypocrite on a grand scale. As Commissioner of Inland Revenue Robert Russell so eloquently said this morning,
[p]eople who are non-compliant are basically stealing from their neighbours.
McCarten should stop doing that, and start paying his fair share. Otherwise, he's no different to the rich pricks he rails against.

Something to go to in Auckland

Professor Raymond Miller will be giving a public lecture at Massey Albany next week on "Should we vote to retain MMP?":

Is MMP (Mixed Member Proportional representation) worth keeping? This presentation will weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of MMP and what can be done to improve it. We will also look at alternative systems being offered in this year's referendum, particularly the Supplementary Member system favoured by some of MMP's most vocal critics. What would be the likely outcome of any change for the make-up of future parliaments and governments?
When: 18:00 - 19:30, Wednesday 3 August
Where: Sir Neil Waters Lecture Theatres, SNW200, Massey Albany

They have limited seating and catering, so you need to RSVP to

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


The Commerce Committee has called for submissions on the Regulatory Standards Bill. Two copies, by Thursday, 18 August 2011, to:

Committee Secretariat
Parliament Buildings
Or you can submit online from the link above.

The bill would be a fundamental change in our constitution, which would elevate property rights over human rights and effectively freeze regulation and lawmaking (including taxation, the minimum wage and worker's rights, workplace safety regulation, environmental regulation, food and product safety standards, building codes and transport regulations) by requiring the government to compensate the rich for any change. It speaks volumes that even Treasury thinks it is a crock of shit (not to mention the worst option of those on the table). If you don't want ACT inflicting their insane brand of Libertarianism on us, then speak up, and tell the Committee that you object.

If you've never written a submission, then the Office of the Clerk has a handy guide, here.

Child poverty: The core problem

Yesterday, I commented that child poverty in New Zealand was primarily a problem of income adequacy, largely as a result of Ruth Richardson's 1991 benefit cuts, which reduced benefits to sub-starvation levels. The Child Poverty Action Group's report, Hunger for learning. Nutritional Barriers to children's education [PDF], has a graphic depiction of this problem:


This is just the DPB, but its a similar story across all core benefits. And while Labour did a little to help, through Working For Families' tax credits, its clear that they didn't undo the damage Richardson caused. While it will undoubtedly help, government funding for school breakfasts is just a sticking plaster on this problem, addressing just a tiny aspect of it. In the long term, we need to solve the big problem too.

In support of the "electorate lifeboat"

With ACT cutting a deal in Epsom, and Peter Dunne cutting one in Ohariu, MMP's "electorate lifeboat", which sees parties gain list seats in parliament if they gain a single electorate, has come in for a fair amount of flack. And today, Labour leader Phil Goff has reminded us all that he opposes it, and that he wishes MMP to have a strict 5% threshold, with no exception for electorates. I think this is exactly the wrong position to take. Why? Because the "electorate lifeboat" improves proportionality.

Proportionality, remember, was the entire point of MMP. We wanted parties to be represented in direct proportion to the votes cast. The 5% threshold undermines this, but the "electorate lifeboat" provides a way around it. Without it, the Parliaments of 1999, 2002, 2005, and 2008 would have been less proportional, and less representative, thanks to the exclusion of (respectively) of NZFirst, the Progressives, United Future and ACT. That would have been bad for our democracy.

Sometimes the lifeboat gives perverse results, as in 2008 when ACT gained 5 MPs while NZ First gained none despite receiving more party votes (4.07% vs 3.65%). This is obviously unfair. But you don't remove unfairness by increasing it. The appropriate response to this situation is to give parties in NZ First's situation representation, not deny it to both.

Goff's - and Labour's - position is not founded on democratic principles. Instead, it is driven by naked self-interest - most obviously, by a desire to remove ACT from the political equation, but more generally by a lack of concern for the democratic rights of the supporters of small parties. Their position can be summarised as supporting proportionality for big parties, but not for small ones. And that is neither democratic, nor fair.

A partial solution

How do we reduce child poverty? The core problem is income adequacy, so if we want to resolve this we need to increase benefits, and to a lesser extent wages, so that they are enough to provide for basic needs. But there are other things we can do too to reduce its effects. Today, the Child Poverty Action Group has propose done obvious solution: a government funded school-breakfasts program for all children in decile 1-2 schools:

The simplest and most straightforward response is to make sure breakfast is avialable for any child in a Decile 1 or 2 school who needs it, and is available on a universal basis so as not to stigmatise any child," Mr Johnson says. "It is false economy to spend large sums on remedial education and other band aids to poor student achievement when the basics are being ignored."

CPAG is suggesting that a bare bones schools breakfast programme operating in decile one and two schools would cost between $7 million and $14 million and perhaps as much as $20 million if it was extended to decile 3 schools and included most of the support for food and staffing costs.

This is really a bandaid solution, addressing the symptoms but not the real problem - but it will do a lot of good. And even $20 million is not a lot of money. To point out the obvious, this is only 0.5% of the cost of National's tax cuts for the rich. So, the question for the government, and all our political parties, is this: which do you value more: the life-chances of the next generation of kiwis, or the uber-rich getting to take another international holiday? I'd love to hear the answer to that one...

Utter denial

What was that I was saying about "pig-headed arrogance"? Over on Red Alert, Labour MP Damien O'Connor, commenting on Labour being referred to police for violating electoral advertising rules, asks:

I thought we lived in a free democracy. Since when did a sign become illegal when expressing an opinion or encouraging people to act? Does this ban all signs at marches that may in any way be linked to a movement or political party. The EC needs to pull their heads in. This is not the 1930s in Europe.
In response to the first bit: it's not illegal. What's illegal is publishing an electoral advertisement without a promoter statement. And that's been illegal since 1977, and has been re-enacted in every update of electoral legislation since (including the Electoral Act 1993, and the Electoral Finance Act).

This isn't a new law; it has been an uncontentious part of our political landscape for decades. Even the much-reviled Exclusive Brethren obeyed it in their smear ads (which is why they were uncovered). What's new is the insistence of one of our major parties that it does not apply to them. And I do not think that that is acceptable.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Heckuva job, Gerry

New Zealand is currently in the grip of a winter storm, which has seen Christchurch blanketed in snow. So its a great day to learn that Gerry Brownlee, dictator of Christchurch, delayed the installation of emergency heating in the city for two months - leaving residents to freeze in their earthquake-damaged homes.

Heckuva job you're doing down there, Gerry. Heckuva job...

Time to do something about child poverty

The Herald reports that more than 40,000 primary school children - almost 10% of the total - are going to school hungry every morning:

School principals say the number of pupils turning up for breakfast is increasing daily, despite the collapse of one of the two main breakfast programmes, a Red Cross scheme which ended this month after Countdown supermarkets withdrew their sponsorship.

A Herald investigation has found that at least 185 of New Zealand's 256 primary and intermediate schools in the poorest 10th of the nation (decile 1) give their children breakfast or other food during the day, on top of the Government's fruit in schools scheme.


This means the total number of children being fed each week is almost certainly more than 40,000 - nearly a fifth of the 229,400 children in decile 1 to 4 schools.

As tempting as it is to blame National for this, this has been a problem for years [PDF]. Benefits were cut to sub-starvation levels in 1991 to provide an "incentive", and have never been restored. While Working For Families helped the working poor, it deliberately excluded those on benefits, again to provide an "incentive" for work. The resulting underclass was largely ignored by Labour when they were in office - they were invisible, and nobody wanted to talk about poverty in the good times. But now there's a recession, exacerbated by National's "hands-off" approach to economic mismanagement, and the problem is now too big to ignore.

The Herald is pushing private charity as a solution - you can sponsor a child in South Auckland, like its the third world! While that will help in the short term, the idea is obscene. This is not a third-world country. We have a government, which isn't exactly broke - and it should be solving this. It's not just a question of being a decent country, one where no-one starves; there are solid, pragmatic reasons for eliminating child poverty which even the most heartless right-winger should accept. To point out the obvious, these kids are the next generation of New Zealanders. They are the citizens, workers, and taxpayers of tomorrow. But starving kids don't learn well, meaning they'll earn less - and contribute less - than they would if they were well-fed. If you're obsessed with economic statistics, then eliminating child poverty is a long-term way of improving them.

The current government will of course plead poverty, and try and divert the issue by heaping blame on the victims. But this isn't a question of the government not having the money; it is one of priorities. The government can choose to eliminate child poverty - or it can choose to continue National's tax cuts to the rich. And with an election coming up, I think its time our parties explained what their priorities are in this area.

Freedom comes to New York

Last month, the state of New York legalised same-sex marriage. Today, they began processing marriage licences. Zombies did not erupt from the earth to eat the brains of the living, the moon did not turn to blood, and the sky did not fall. Instead, people got happily married:

Hundreds of gay couples have wed in New York after it became the sixth and most populous state in the US to recognise same-sex unions as legal.

Newly-weds brandished their marriage certificates as ceremonies were held from Manhattan to Niagara Falls.

And again, I'm left wondering: how long until we get to see this in New Zealand? Or are we going to remain in the grip of a bigoted minority forever?

New Fisk

Heard the one about the child and the blood money?

Immigration service supports domestic abuse

The New Zealand Immigration Service has a nasty record of cruelty and misogyny. They deport women for being pregnant. They try to deport Kiwis. And now they're trying to deport a woman for being a victim of domestic violence:

A woman who has lived in New Zealand for four years and left her abusive husband has been denied residency because of his convictions for crimes against her.


Timmons and her ex-husband, a plumber, and their two children arrived from London in 2007. He was granted a work permit and, in September 2008, lodged a residence application for the entire family under the skilled migrant category. Immigration New Zealand approved it in principle in February 2009.

The couple needed to send in their passports and a $1050 fee but Timmons left her husband before the process was completed. As a result, she and the children were illegal immigrants, and she was told she had to leave the country.

This seems to be a conscious policy of Immigration (here's another similar case from earlier this year), and its result is to enable domestic abusers and give them even greater power over their victims. To point out the obvious, abused women will be less likely to flee their abusers if it means being deported. But Immigration clearly doesn't care about that. Domestic violence isn't their problem, and its not on their KPIs.

This would seem to be a clear case where there are compassionate grounds for granting residency. But compassion is a virtue that Immigration and its associated tribunals are singularly lacking in. All they care about is kicking people out of the country, and they don't care about the damage they do to our society in the process.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ghana moves to arrest all gays

Yes, really

Ghana’s Western Region Minister, Paul Evans Aidoo MP has ordered the immediate arrest of all homosexuals in the country’s west.

Aidooo has tasked Ghana’s Bureau of National Investigations and security forces to round up the country’s gay population and has called on landlords and tenants to inform on people they suspect of being homosexuals.

“All efforts are being made to get rid of these people in the society,” he said.

Its unclear at this stage whether there have in fact been any arrests, or whether it is just a government Minister using his position to spew homophobia. But its a horrifying prospect. Contrary to the Minister, its not actually against the law in Ghana to be gay. It is against the law to engage in "unnatural carnal knowledge" (which is defined in exclusively male terms; lesbians are fine), but that's pretty obviously not the same thing.

Sadly, Ghana's constitution and legal system do not protect against this sort of systematic oppression. Neither does international law. Even if he started rounding up gays, putting them in camps, and murdering them, he'd still be fine, because current international law protects only "national, ethnical, racial or religious" groups (Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide) or "political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, [and] gender" groups (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court). Sexual orientation is not a protected characteristic, and persecuting or even murdering people because of it is not yet illegal in international law. This is something that we have to change.

Another sensible deal

National will back Peter Dunne in Ohariu, and campaign only for the party vote. Again, its a sensible deal. Dunne looked set to lose his seat this time round to Charles Chauvel, and while he probably won't bring anyone else with him (unlike Banks in Epsom), he provides National with something else it needs: the illusion of moderation. After all, a government backed by that nice, "centrist" Peter Dunne (who supports asset sales and radical tax cuts) can't be a bunch of radical market fundamentalists, can it?

FFS Labour

Less than two weeks after being referred to police for distributing election advertisements without the required promoter statement, Labour is distributing election advertisements without the required promoter statement. Again, the ads are funded by Parliamentary services. But it is clear from the images [1, 2] that they are election advertisements, which can reasonably be regarded as encouraging people to vote Labour.

Labour is out of intellectual charity on this. One incident could have been regarded as a mistake. But a second one, after the error had been drawn to their attention and they have had plenty of time to correct it? Sorry, but I think we now have to regard this as a deliberate policy of flouting electoral law.

Why is Labour doing this? As I noted in response to the first incident, it is likely an attempt to avoid headlines reminding people of its past abuse of Parliamentary funds for electoral purposes. But the Electoral Commission has informed them that that position is incorrect; their continued reliance on it is just another example of the pig-headed arrogance of the party which caused the public to turn away from them in 2008.

This isn't fucking rocket science. The law requiring promoter statements isn't new, and neither is the definition of "election advertisement". In fact, it's essentially Labour's own definition, from the much-maligned Electoral Finance Act, in tidier language and with a few more carve-outs, but it goes back well before that. The general rule is that if in doubt, you should stick a promoter statement on it. In this case, there's no doubt. And Labour's refusal to obey the law invites only one response: prosecution.

More on Treasury's corruption

Yesterday we learned that the New Zealand Debt Management Office, a branch of Treasury, had been behaving like bankers, accepting lavish gifts and hospitality (dinners at expensive corporate estates, sporting and arts tickets) from the people they were meant to be representing us against. Today, we learn that State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie is fine with that. He shouldn't be. The strong prohibition against accepting gifts in the public service, which extends down to barring public servants from receiving fly-bys, airpoints, and fuel vouchers on official purchases (yes, really), exists to protect us from corruption, and the perception of corruption; it ensures that our public service is seen to be behaving with integrity (something our public servants take seriously and are rightly proud of). NZDMO and Treasury are flagrantly violating those rules, and behaving in a way which causes ordinary kiwis to doubt their integrity. And that is not acceptable. But I guess that its just another case of one rule for Treasury, and another for the proles - as usual.

The good news is that Treasury is now going to engage in proactive disclosure of its gift register. Which will hopefully make those staff who don't want to be accused of corruption at regular intervals more circumspect about accepting gifts. But fear of sunlight isn't enough; Treasury clearly needs to tighten up its internal guidelines, and make it clear that its staff should not be accepting these gifts. It does not matter that the banks have an institutional culture of corruption, bribery, and abuse of their shareholder's money; our public servants are not bankers, and they should not behave like them. Instead, they should behave with integrity. Sadly, it looks like Treasury and DMO don't.

Why am I not surprised?

Tevita Mara says he has not been contacted by the police in relation to torture allegations against him. I guess we shouldn't have expected anything different; past incidents show that the New Zealand police do not take New Zealand law on torture and crimes against humanity seriously, treating it as a distraction from "real crime". But the net result is to put us in breach of our international obligations to investigate and punish such crimes, and instead give an appearance of officially condoning them.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Climate change: China acts

Something I'd missed: China is launching a pilot emissions trading scheme next year, scaling up to a nationwide one in 2015. They've already set themselves a stiff energy intensity target of a 40-45% reduction in intensity by 2020 (in other words, almost doubling the efficiency of the Chinese economy), and an ETS will help achieve this. Though as always with emissions trading, it will all come down to the size of the cap, and the robustness of monitoring. Still, it is a positive step, and one which allows much stronger steps to be taken in the future.

So, what will the US's next excuse for doing nothing be?

Papua New Guinea and the death penalty

Back in March, Amnesty International was praising the Pacific for leading the world towards abolition of the death penalty, highlighting the fact that the region had not carried out any executions or imposed any death sentences for a decade. Sadly, it hasn't lasted. Papua New Guinea, one of the four countries to retain the death penalty on its books, has just sentenced five men to death for murder.

The good news is that the sentence may not in fact be carried out; PNG reintroduced the death penalty in 1991, but has not actually executed anyone since then due to an absence of regulations surrounding executions. But its still a blemish on the region's human rights record, and one we should be working to eradicate. And given our long record as an advocate of human rights and an opponent of the death penalty, New Zealand should be leading that charge. While we cannot interfere in a judicial decision, we should be working to encourage the PNG government (and those of Nauru, Tonga and Fiji) to repeal capital punishment, so we can make the Pacific truly death-penalty free.

A bad sign

Egypt's interim regime is refusing to allow international monitors to observe their elections. International monitors are a vital means of ensuring that an election is free and fair. The only reason you ban them is because you intend to run an election which does not meet those standards, to give a veneer of democratic legitimacy to a government established by fraud.

I don't think that this is what the people in Tahrir Square fought for.

The tea party comes to New Zealand

New Zealand now has its own Tea Party, pushing the same brand of less tax, less government, climate-change denial and racism seen in the US. The problem for them is that this niche is already well-populated, most notably by ACT, but also by other minnow parties such as Libertarianz and the Sovereignty Party. Meaning that even if they do manage to scrape up the 500 members required for registration, they're unlikely to get anywhere.

[Hat-tip: DPF]

Behaving like bankers

Last month, when we learned that Westpac, the government's bankers, was routinely bribing government Ministers with lavish hospitality, I highlighted the extraordinarily strict conditions which applied to public servants in this area. Senior public servants are simply not allowed to accept corporate hospitality, precisely because it creates a perception of corruption and conflict of interest. Some of the rules:

  • Gifts should be declined unless they are of nominal value, are consistent with guidelines applying to the State Services generally, or their acceptance is covered by departmental or other relevant policies.
  • The timing and frequency of gifts are relevant. Even a small gift or benefit may be of concern, if offered repeatedly.
  • The commercial influence, actual or perceived, that a gift or benefit may represent is important. For example, where a supplier has won a contract for the provision of goods and services to a department, personal discounts must not be accepted from the supplier as they could be seen as a reward for letting the contract and an inducement to maintain the commercial relationship.
  • Hospitality offered to chief executives may provide opportunities to develop relationships, but a chief executive's presence at such occasions is potentially open to criticism. The context must be taken into account: for instance, how relevant is the event or function to the department's role; will the department's interests genuinely be advanced by having a senior-level presence; should the department or the individual chief executive be meeting the costs to attend?
And of course the code of conduct for the State Services requires all public servants to be trustworthy and "decline gifts or benefits that place us under any obligation or perceived influence".

It seems that the New Zealand Debt-Management Office - a subsidiary of the Treasury which manages our overseas debt - has been ignoring those rules:

Treasury last night released to Fairfax, for the first time, its register of gifts, benefits and hospitality.

The register revealed staff at the Debt Management Office have taken hundreds of freebies from banks like Barclays, Westpac, BNZ and ANZ.

In a typical example, portfolio managers for the Debt Management Office Matthew Collin and Briar Ferguson received tickets to the Toast Martinborough event from ANZ.

Other freebies included tickets to the Rugby Sevens, rugby league, golf games, and concert tickets.

Both Ferguson and the head of the Debt Management Office Phil Combes accepted tickets to a pantomime from the BNZ on December 9 last year.

This is a gross violation of public service ethics and of the Code of Conduct, which calls the integrity of the DMO into question. Our public servants are not supposed to behave like bankers. It is absolutely unacceptable. There need to be heads on spikes over this.

But the rot isn't limited to DMO. There's a clear lack of oversight, both from Treasury and SSC, and their responsible Ministers, to allow this corruption to become so widespread. And they all need to be held accountable for it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A sensible deal

The other big news of the day is that ACT has reportedly struck a deal with National to not run in marginal seats, effectively boosting National's chances of winning them. This is likely to produce the same outrage as National's deal with ACT in Epsom, but it shouldn't. It's a perfectly sensible arrangement if you want to eliminate certain MPs, and I'm surprised Labour and the Greens don't pursue such arrangements (e.g. in Ohariu). And unless the seat in question is the electorate lifeboat for a small party, it will not affect the outcome. Under MMP, it is the party vote that is important, and electorates are mostly irrelevant. Except in the case of a small party, where they can be crucial to obtaining representation in Parliament, all they do is shuffle the party list, by elevating some MPs ahead of others. So, in most cases, all that's at stake with such arrangements is wounded pride. That may matter to the petty egotists of our political class, but I don't see why the rest of us should care. The overall election result will be determined by the party votes cast, not these sorts of deals.

At the same time, these arrangements do have a cost. There's the obvious one of minor party loyalists feeling "betrayed" at not having an electorate candidate to waste their vote on. But more importantly, strong electorate candidates give visibility, and hence boost the party vote. And when the allocation of the last few seats can come down to a question of a few hundred votes, that could make a difference.

With "friends" like these, who needs enemies?

Back in 2004, Israel was caught spying in New Zealand, trying to obtain false passports for use in covert operations. Now it looks like they've been at it again, attempting to commit identity theft and possibly gaining access to police national computer system. With "friends" like these, do we really need enemies?

But the interesting thing is the source of the story: a leak from the SIS. This is unprecedented (and possibly illegal), and it raises obvious questions of motive. Did the SIS leak because their Minister, John Key, was unwilling to act on the case for fear of prejudicing NZ - Israeli relations? Or are they merely suffering from reduced staff loyalty after restructuring? Either way, there will no doubt now be a witch-hunt going on inside the SIS to try and find the leaker.

Meanwhile, Key is trying to stay silent, claiming that discussing the case is "not in the national interest". Bullshit. If a supposedly friendly country is spying on us, or abusing our hospitality to gain cover for their agents, then we deserve to know, so we can adjust our international relations accordingly.

Update: Key says that the SIS investigated, but found no evidence of espionage. So, why were they telling a newspaper something different then?

Mara the torturer?

Renegade Fijian Colonel Tevita Mara arrived in Auckland last night on a trip to whip up support for democracy in Fiji. Unfortunately, his past as a member of the regime has caught up with him: the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji has filed a complaint of torture against him, and the police are now investigating. New Zealand is a party to the Convention Against Torture, and therefore has an obligation to properly investigate any complaint. The fact that the alleged acts of torture occurred in Fiji is not a problem; as a civilised country (and in accordance with CAT), we claim extraterritorial jurisdiction over such crimes. If convicted, Mara could face up to 14 years imprisonment.

I have not been able to obtain a copy of the CDF's complaint, but it must be properly investigated, and if there is a case against Mara then he must be brought to justice. We cannot look the other way on torture, no matter what "side" someone claims to be on.

Maybe Brownlee should have asked?

When Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee appointed his former boss Jenny Shipley to the CERA advisory board and paid her triple the normal rate, he claimed that it was because she and her fellow board members would not work for less. But John Hansen, the board's chair, has shown Brownlee to be a liar:

The number of days they will be required to work is unclear, however Sir John Hansen told ONE News this afternoon that so far he had worked "hours" rather than days and had not put in an invoice.

He said when he was asked to be on the panel he didn't ask what the remuneration was as he believed the job was "an important public service".

(Emphasis added)

On the one hand, we shouldn't exploit people's sense of public duty to get them to do this sort of work; people should be paid properly for what they do. But that's what the standard fees framework does, and its not as if $360 - $655 (or $270 - $415 for ordinary members) is chump change. And it invites an obvious question: why exactly did Brownlee think the appointees wouldn't work for "mere" government rates? Did a self-important someone demand more money? Sadly, no documentary evidence on this has been released, and none was mentioned in Brownlee's cover letter [PDF]. Which leads to two possible conclusions: either Brownlee unlawfully withheld material from me, or he lied to Tony Ryall and to Cabinet about the amount of money people were expecting. Neither is a particularly pleasant thought.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More on same-sex marriage

Over on Public Address, Emma Hart comments on the Research NZ poll on same-sex marriage:

So given that in fact voters favour same-sex marriage by nearly two to one, why is this considered such an untouchably dangerous issue for any political party? It is, after all, what "we" want. (Yes, I know, on polling, "we" have wanted some pretty fucking insane things, but nobody's been arguing against, say, being "tough on crime" because it would be a vote-loser.)


I also think it's really important to let our politicians know that the 60% vote too. Given we outnumber them nearly two to one, why can't we get heard over the morally-conservative opposition? Why aren't we saying, very loudly and publicly, you know what? Yous were wrong about Homosexual Law Reform. Yous were wrong about Civil Unions. The sky didn't fall. In fact, nothing bad happened at all. You're also wrong about same-sex marriage. Our current marriage law is unjust, it's unfair, it's discrimatory and it needs to change.

She suggests emailing electorate candidates informing them of the poll and asking them whether they'd be willing to put up a bill, and if they would vote in favour if such a bill was drawn. I think this is a good idea. It raises awareness among candidates of what the 60% think, and may convince one of them to commit to action. It gives us more information about candidates, allowing us to vote accordingly. And it lets us "do the numbers" more accurately, and judge whether a bill has a good chance of passing next term. So, if you're wondering who to contact in your electorate, Wikipedia has a list here.

Justice for drone strikes?

Since 2004, the US has waged a secret war in Pakistan, targeting the Taliban and Al Qaeda using drones. The attacks have killed at least 2,500 people, almost all of them civilians. Now, the people responsible - former CIA lawyer John Rizzo, who approved the strikes, as well as the civilian operators who pilot the drones and launch the missiles - may face arrest and extradition to Pakistan for the murders they have committed:

The attempt to seek an international arrest warrant for Rizzo is being led by the British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith of the campaign group Reprieve, and lawyers in Pakistan. The lawyers are also building cases against other individuals, including drone operators interviewed or photographed during organised press facilities.

A first information report, the first step in seeking a prosecution of Rizzo in Pakistan, will be formally lodged early next week at a police station in the capital, Islamabad, on behalf of relatives of two people killed in drone strikes in 2009. The report will also allege Rizzo should be charged with conspiracy to murder a large number of Pakistani citizens.

Now retired, Rizzo, 63, is being pursued after admitting in an interview with the magazine Newsweek that since 2004 he had approved one drone attack order a month on targets in Pakistan, even though the US is not at war with the country.

The latter is significant. The absence of a formal state of war strips Rizzo and his drone operators of any protection they could claim under the laws of war. The killings are simply murders, and they are simply terrorists. Or, as the US would put it, "unlawful combatants" - though in the event that they ever face trial, it will be before a civilian court, with full appeal rights, rather than a US kangaroo tribunal.

The US, of course, will never extradite. But with international warrants out for their arrest, none of these terrorists will ever be able to travel internationally again, and the pressure will go on the US to stop harbouring them. Its not justice, but its a small step on the way.

Penny-pinching costs lives

Back in 1998, the then-National government disbanded the mine inspectorate group and shifted its functions to the Department of Labour. The number of mine inspectors was reduced from seven to two, saving $1 million. In light of what has happened at Pike River, and what is emerging from the Royal Commission hearings, that is now looking like a foolish decision. That penny-pinching desire to cull public service positions (especially public service positions which annoy employers) seems to have cost lives.

Meanwhile, Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson is also looking like she's made some foolish decisions. In October 2009, the Department of Labour recommended tightening mine safety, by requiring them to document health and safety systems and hazard management plans, introduce check inspectors, and impose greater employee participation in mine safety. Wilkinson refused. And now, rather than accepting responsibility for her failure, she's trying to spin it, trying to equivocate over a different briefing paper and other recommendations she accepted. Nice try, but it won't wash. When given a choice between believing a public servant under oath, or a spinning Minister, its really no contest, is it?

SAS undermines democracy - again

Last year, in a significant attack on our democracy, the SAS deployment to Afghanistan was extended after pressure from the soldiers themselves. Now, in anticipation of a decision to bring them home in March, they're doing it again:

The latest intervention by SAS commandos during a rebel attack in Afghanistan will elevate the elite force's pull-out in March higher on John Key's Washington agenda this week.

But the Prime Minister has revealed the SAS wants its mission extended yet again.


Mr Key is being careful with his words, saying it is his "expectation" they will come home then. But that leaves the door open to another extension, and yesterday the PM said a final decision had yet to be made.

And he told the Herald: "There's already pressure coming on from the SAS themselves to want to stay longer."

It sounds like we need to not only bring the SAS home, but disband them as well, because they've become a significant threat to our democracy. It is not the proper place of soldiers to decide which wars they fight or how long for. That decision belongs to elected politicians. The day we let soldiers decide whether we wage war is the day we become a military dictatorship.

I have no doubt the SAS are enthusiastic about their job. But if they want to run around, kill people, and blow shit up, maybe they should play some computer games, rather than expecting us to blow tens of millions on their entertainment.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Privatisation undermines transparency

The National government is planning to part-privatise our state-owned electricity companies and Solid Energy after the election. This is a regressive measure, which will see de facto ownership of these companies move offshore, allowing rapacious foreign owners to abuse their oligopoly position to extort windfall profits - just as they did with Telecom. But it won't just be money and control we'll lose - we'll also lose oversight. Despite the government planning to retain a 51% silent share as a PR measure, these companies will be removed from the coverage of the Official Information Act. So, while we'll own them in theory, we won't be allowed to know what they're doing.

This is going in exactly the wrong direction. We need more transparency, not less. And if the government or a local body directly owns a significant part of a company (for example, Air New Zealand), then it should be fully subject to the OIA regime.

Can we come home now?

NATO has handed back responsibility for security in Bamiyan province to Afghanistan. New Zealand currently has a 140-person Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan. Does this mean they can come home now?

Last chance to see

Atlantis is undocking from the ISS tomorrow, and coming home on Wednesday, ending the final mission of the space shuttle programme. So, its the last chance to see. Fortunately, it will be passing over New Zealand this evening, at around quarter past seven. The exact time and orientation will depend on where you are:

Palmerston North-1.419:18:3710NW19:20:0925
Christchurch (good luck)-1.019:19:0410NW19:20:0917

If you're somewhere else, you'll need to go somewhere like Heavens Above and plug in your ICBM address so it can calculate it. Alternatively, you could just go outside at around 19:15, and look for the really bright moving star in the north-west. It will be very obvious, and you won't be able to miss it.

Unless, of course, its cloudy.

Life under National

A stagnant economy. 155,000 unemployed. The highest inflation for 20 years.

And these people claim to be good economic managers? Bullshit. Their "management" is to cross their fingers and hope that the market will sort itself out. As for the people thrown out of work, and the ordinary families struggling to cope with rising costs, well, they're just collateral damage to their religion of economic purity.

New Fisk

Now the Arab Spring becomes an Arab Summer

Exclusive: Jenny Shipley's crony appointment

Back in April, the government passed the Canterbury Enabling Act v2, granting Gerry Brownlee dictatorial power over Canterbury for the next five years. In response to criticism of this sort of arrangement from the previous version of the law, the government promised an "independent" (but toothless) statutory board to "oversee" Brownlee's arbitrary lawmaking power. Then, to show how seriously they took this independent oversight, they appointed former National Party Prime Minister Jenny Shipley to it.

I was curious about how this appointment was made, so I asked about it, requesting all advice and communications about the appointment process using the Official Information Act. The resulting documents - a paper to the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee [PDF] and several letters - are quite revealing. They show that

  • Brownlee had decided who he would appoint before the law had even been introduced to Parliament;
  • The appointment process does not seem to have followed SSC guidelines [PDF]. It does not seem to have been advertised, even in the broad sense used by SSC; no long or short-list of candidates was drawn up [PDF]; no interviews appear to have been conducted to confirm the suitability of the candidates. It appears as if Brownlee pulled these names out of his arse, and then imposed them on us. The people of Canterbury, of course, were not consulted.
  • To add insult to injury, having appointed these people with no proper process, Brownlee then decided to pay them at triple the normal rate [PDF], on the basis that "it will not be possible to secure their services under the current fees range". No effort appears to have been made to find candidates who would do the work within the government's budget. This was agreed to by State Services Minister Tony Ryall [PDF].

This is an appalling process, made worse by the fact that one of the appointees was a former National Party Prime Minister. From these documents, it looks like Gerry Brownlee invented a job, shoulder-tapped Shipley to fill it, then decided to pay her $1,000 a day as a reward. It's a perfect example of National's "jobs for the boys" approach, of their cronyism in action.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kiwis support same-sex marriage

How do kiwis feel about same-sex marriage? There's been a notable absence of polling on the issue, but this month ResearchNZ asked about it in their regular monthly poll of social attitudes. The question was

In your view, should same sex couples also be allowed to marry?
According to the results [offline, but will be up here later], 60% of respondents were in favour and 34% opposed, with 4% don't knows and 2% saying unprompted that they saw no difference between marriage and a civil union. Support was higher amongst women (66%) than men (51%), and significantly higher amongst young people, with 79% of those in the 18 - 34 age bracket in support (vs "only" 61% of 35 - 54 years olds, and 44% among older people). There were no significant differences by ethnicity, income, or region. The poll had 500 respondents and a margin of error at the median of 4.6%.

I think that's pretty conclusive, though it would be nice to have it confirmed by future polling. Legal bigotry in this country is dead, demographically speaking; it is dying naturally of old age as we speak. Now all we need is an MP willing to put up a bill to put down the walking corpse.

More on oaths and affirmations

Hone Harawira's ejection from the House yesterday for trying to swear allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi before taking his formal affirmation of office has naturally sparked debate about our present oaths and their relevance to modern New Zealand. The Maori Party has announced it will try and change the affirmation to include the Treaty of Waitangi, which seems to be a good idea. After all, its our founding document, and something our government is supposed to uphold in all its actions. Reminding MPs, judges, the Governor-General and other officials of that duty when they take office would be a Good Thing, as well as a strong statement of what sort of country we are.

Meanwhile, others are asking why we even have such oaths in this day and age. Its a good question. Originally, oaths of office were part of feudalism - the king gives you a job, and you swear to obey him. They have since evolved into being more about the ceremony, and less about the personal allegiance, especially in countries where the law and the people have overthrown the monarch. But there's not really any point to them. What makes an MP an MP is not that they have spoken the magic words, but that they have been elected. Everything else is just bullshit, a relic.

That said, there's not actually any harm in reminding MPs and other office holders of the responsibilities of the job when they assume it. But this being a democracy, those responsibilities are always going to be (and should be) contested. Which is why I like Andrew Geddis' proposal of a "DIY affirmation":

that must contain certain commitments - allegiance to New Zealand and its laws, or whatever - as well as any additional commitments an MP may wish to include therein
We already do this for marriage - all you have to say is "I AB, take you CD, to be my legal wife or husband" or words to similar effect. Why not do it for MPs as well? Let them make up their own affirmations, and we can judge them on their vision for New Zealand.

A referendum on the foreshore?

The Coastal Coalition - Muriel Newman's collection of cranks rejected by ACT - has launched a petition for a referendum on the foreshore. Unlike previous citizen's initiated referendum campaigns - for example, that in favour of child beating - the question isn't loaded. Instead, its a straight

Should the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 be replaced by legislation that restores Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed?
They now have a year to get the signatures of 10% of eligible voters, roughly 350,000. If they get them, then we're looking at a postal referendum on the issue sometime in 2013 (which the government will then ignore in order to avoid further breaching the Treaty of Waitangi).

The Gazette notice is here.

The airport is that way

Labour's proposal to reintroduce a top tax rate and tax capital gains has upset the (self-proclaimed) Mighty Atlases, who are (of course) threatening to flee the country:

Lawyer Casey Plunket, whose personal tax rate would increase from 33 to 39 cents in the dollar under Labour as someone who earns more than $150,000 a year, says it would lead to more high earners heading overseas.


"Such a tax rate would make it more attractive for people to work in Australia," said Mr Plunket, who works for Chapman Tripp. "Most of them will still be paying tax in Australia at higher rates but they will be earning much higher incomes.

"We need every advantage we can over Australia to keep our higher-earning and more-productive people in the country."

But as the Dim-Post points out, what these people are really saying is that they would rather leave the country than pay a single extra cent in tax to rebuild Christchurch. And I'm with him: the airport is that way. Fuck off, and take your toxic ideology of selfishness with you. By your own ideology, someone else will simply step up to fill your economic niche. Its not as if we're short of lawyers and accountants, after all.

Fiji: A bad sign

Some bad news from Fiji: earlier in the week, the Lau Provincial Council elected Adi Ateca Ganilau as its chair. Ganilau is the sister of Ratu Tevita Mara, who fled Fiji for Tonga back in May. The choice was not popular with the regime, so they threatened the council to force her resignation.

The regime has promised elections in 2014. But if this is how they respond to the election of people they don't like, then I think the chances of those elections being free and fair are not good.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A question

Isn't this

I, Hone Pani Tamati Waka Nene Harawira, swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, that I will be honest and forthright in my efforts to advance the rights of the people of Tai Tokerau, that I will do my utmost to help all Maori people become full empowered citizens of this land and that I will do whatever I can to reduce inequalities in this country, so that all may one day be proud to call Aotearoa home.
better and more reflective of modern New Zealand than this?
I, Hone Pani Tamati Waka Nene Harawira swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
That's the point Hone Harawira was trying to make today. He was silenced, by an abuse of the Parliamentary process, by an old white man who disagrees.

That man, Lockwood Smith, is stifling dissent, strangling our future and trying to suppress any debate over who we are and what it means to be a kiwi in modern New Zealand. And that is undemocratic and not befitting his role as Speaker of the House.

Owning our future

Labour officially announced their tax policy today: a capital gains tax (with big exceptions, including the family home), a new top rate applying to those earning over $150,000, no GST on fresh fruit and vegetables, and a $5,000 tax-free bracket. Peter Dunne, who earns $209,100 as a Minister outside Cabinet, and who owns an investment property in Taupo, calls it a "desperate, ignorant attack on [his?] achievement". Meanwhile, 90% of us will be better off. 98% of us will pay less personal income tax, and the vast majority of us will never encounter these new taxes at all.

The numbers stack up. This is not a spendthrift plan to just keep on borrowing. Instead, its a cautious, sensible, fiscally conservative plan to balance the government's books by closing a serious tax loophole. And we don't have to sell anything to do it.

Labour is now presenting a clear alternative to the government's policies: either we can sell the family silver and see the profits go offshore, while trying to cut our way out of recession - or we can pay off our debts and support our government services by making the wealthy pay their fair share. Put like that, its really a no-brainer.

Protest and Parliament

Some people have objected to my last two posts about Lockwood Smith's refusal to swear Hone Harawira in as an MP today. According to them, Smith was simply enforcing the law, and it is unfair to portray him as a white supremacist for doing so.

To put it politely, fuck them.

To point out the obvious, not everyone accepts our current constitutional provisions. Some people, such as Harawira, want a greater role for Maori and the Treaty. Others (including myself) are republicans, and do not see why we should swear allegiance to a foreign monarch. We are entitled to hold those views, and express them in public, and those rights do not suddenly end if someone is elected to Parliament. In fact, an MP elected with such views would be failing their voters if they did not use the opportunity presented by being sworn in to make a symbolic statement of dissent.

As previously noted, our Parliament has long had an accepted practice for dealing with this. MPs make their statement, then they do it again "properly". This respects the diversity of MP's views, while ensuring that the law is complied with. But suddenly, out of the blue, Smith has changed that practice, and is now requiring that MPs be sworn in in the legal form from the outset. No symbolic dissent is permissible. While cloaked in petty legalism, at its heart this is about cultural supremacy, and in particular the supremacy of Smith's dead white male monarchist culture over the new New Zealand culture which has been growing here for the last 40 years.

To claim that it is somehow "disrespecting Parliament" to symbolically refuse to take the affirmation in its proper form (and then do it) is an exact reversal of the truth. It is disrespecting Parliament, disrespecting our democracy, to forbid it. And it is disrespecting the people of New Zealand to try and erase our differences and enforce a monolithic culture upon those who represent us.

These are real disagreements, and they are to be solved by argument, the way we do things in a democracy. Symbolic protests such as Harawira's are part of that process. They highlight the absurdity of the current situation, and hopefully provoke us to think about why "our" representatives are promising to obey an old lady 19,000km away rather than the people who elected them. Or why our public oaths of office and our constitution still do not reflect our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi. Outlawing such protests, and seeking to erase them, will not make those questions go away. All it does is bring our Parliament, and its Speaker, into disrepute.

Lockwood Smith's new ceremonial robes



Hone Harawira was meant to be sworn in as an MP today, following his victory in the Te Tai Tokerau byelection. Instead, he was prevented from doing so by the Speaker, and ejected from the House. As a result, the people of Te Tai Tokerau have been deprived of their representation.

This is simply bullshit. There has long been an accepted practice around this: MPs get to make their statement (swearing allegiance to the Treaty, or to the people of New Zealand, or whatever), then they jump through the legal hoop and redo their affirmation in the proper form. If you review the footage of MPs being sworn in after the last three elections you'll see a fair number of MPs doing this. Contrary to the Speaker's assertion, that is not "breaking the law". The affirmation is given. And what matters is that it is given, not what is said beforehand.

Lockwood Smith has behaved like an arse in this matter. He deserved the disorder that ensued. Our Parliament does not deserve this sort of white supremacist bullshit from its Speaker; he should apologise and swear Harawira in immediately.

Reported back

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back [PDF; large] on the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill. In addition to modernising parts of the criminal process, the bill mounts a serious attack on the rights of the accused, abolishing the right to a jury trial in most cases, while forcing defendants to admit elements of the case against them (undermining both the tight to silence and the presumption of innocence) in the name of "efficiency". These "reforms" are fundamentally unjust, and attack core safeguards in our justice system. The select committee had a chance to amend them based on the evidence of submitters. So, did they?

Yeah, right. Oh, they've done some minor tweaking of the requirement to disclose matters in dispute, but the core problem remains: requiring defendants to notify which elements are in dispute effectively forces them to admit those which are not, while reducing the burden of the crown to prove every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. It undermines both the right to silence and the presumption of innocence, while allowing shoddy practice by prosecutors and potentially unsafe convictions. As for juries, those highly controversial changes - which will require amending the Bill of Rights Act, a core constitutional law, for only the second time in its history - did not even warrant a mention. And MPs wonder why the public has little faith in the select committee process. It's because a majority government can turn it into this sort of farce.

To their credit, Labour issued a minority report objecting to these changes. But unless they put their money where their mouth is, and promise repeal, then that's just so much hot air. Parties should be judged by their actions, not their words, and a party which allows such injustice to stand is not worthy of our support.

As for the Greens, given their opposition to the bill at first reading - the only party who did so - I would have expected a minority report from them as well, or a joint report with Labour. Instead, they're silent. Has their position on the bill changed? Or were they just slack?

Update: I've heard from Kennedy Graham, the Green member on the committee; they still oppose the bill, but he was distracted by one of his other portfolios. Oh, the joys of small parties...

Protest against Tony Blair

War criminal Tony Blair is visiting New Zealand later this month on a speaking tour (our business class apparently being sociopathic enough to pay big money to listen to a war criminal - though maybe they just want his tips on lying). Global Peace And Justice Auckland are organising a welcoming committee:

When: 11:00 am, Thursday 28th July
Where: Eden Park (Walters Road Entrance), Auckland

And remember, the current bounty for a peaceful citizen's arrest of Blair is £2,400. I wonder if anyone will take a crack at it?

Sick burn

Former WINZ boss Christine Rankin has declared that she will not stand for the ACT Party:

"I have never been an Act supporter and I am not standing for Act, and after the shenanigans of last week, I don't know who would be," Ms Rankin said.

She was referring to the advertisement published at the weekend that was headlined: "Fed up with pandering to Maori radicals?"

"I don't think inciting racial discord - probably a mild way of describing it - is something that most people want," Ms Rankin said.

Ouch. When Christine Rankin thinks you're divisive, then you really have problems.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I wonder why?

So, Don Brash has tried and failed to attract Maori to stand under the ACT banner. I wonder why? Could it possibly have anything to do with this, maybe?

National's "step-change" II

Last election, National campaigned on the promise of a "step-change" in the economy. In fact, they've given us the longest, deepest recession since last time they were in power:

As for the reasons, they're the same: as in 1990, National has responded to a crisis with austerity, which has (as usual) made things worse. And so the pain drags on, with no end in sight.

A new top rate?

The Dominion-Post reports on Labour's worst-kept secret: its plans to reintroduce a top tax-rate. Phil Goff had hinted at this in his speech to the Labour Party Congress back in May, and hopefully tomorrow we'll see some details. But if its the expected 39% on income over $120,000 a year, it would raise just over $400 million a year - a nice contribution by the rich to paying for the crisis they created, as well as a check on rising inequality.

Prosecute Bush!

That's the conclusion of Human Rights Watch's investigation into torture and war crimes by the Bush administration:

Overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration obliges President Barack Obama to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Obama administration has failed to meet US obligations under the Convention against Torture to investigate acts of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, Human Rights Watch said.

The 107-page report, "Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees," presents substantial information warranting criminal investigations of Bush and senior administration officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet, for ordering practices such as "waterboarding," the use of secret CIA prisons, and the transfer of detainees to countries where they were tortured.

"There are solid grounds to investigate Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tenet for authorizing torture and war crimes," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "President Obama has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime. His decision to end abusive interrogation practices will remain easily reversible unless the legal prohibition against torture is clearly reestablished."

Of course, nothing will happen. US politicians consider themselves to be above the law, and will happily cover for each other to ensure that they remain so. And Obama, despite his fine rhetoric of "change", is part of this corrupt, cosy culture of unaccountability. In the eyes of US politicians, laws are for peasants, not Presidents.

...which means it will instead come down to the international community. Every civilised country in the world (including New Zealand) has universal jurisdiction for torture. And there will be strong pressure for them to exercise it whenever one of these criminals steps outside the US. The only way that pressure will disappear is if the US lives up to its values, and holds its torturers legally accountable in a court of law.