Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Make my day

Oh dear. Tumeke has noticed that the anti-MMP Vote For Change campaign's latest online advertising blitz (which of course relies on whipping up hatred of politicians) appears to be in contempt of Parliament. The reason? The videos use footage of MPs from the ParliamentTV feed, whose terms and conditions forbid using footage for

political advertising or election campaigning (except with the permission of all members shown) satire, ridicule or denigration, commercial sponsorship or commercial advertising.
These terms and conditions aren't just a contractual matter between Parliament and broadcasters; they're part of the Standing Orders. Violating them is a contempt.

But before anyone laughs too loudly, you might want to consider whether these rules are appropriate in a democracy. I don't think they are. What goes on in Parliament is not the private affair of MPs, which we are permitted to watch by grace and favour, but public business, to which access is a fundamental right. Prohibiting its use in political advertisements forbids us from hoisting MPs by their own petards, showing their own misbehaviour and stupidity. As for the ban on "satire, ridicule or denigration", I'm sorry, but that goes with the territory; if MPs don't want to be satirised, ridiculed and denigrated, then they shouldn't be MPs. Instead, of course, they have abused their power to forbid criticism of themselves - and that is something we should not tolerate.

The good news is that we have a Bill of Rights Act in this country, which affirms a right to freedom of expression. Parliament is bound by that Act, both in its lawmaking, and its administrative decisions. Since they are not set in statute, any part of these terms and conditions which is odious to the BORA (or merely unreasonable) can be overturned by the courts. And that, I think, is exactly what will happen if any MP feels like progressing this complaint.

So go on, make my day. I'd love to see Parliament castrated. And I'd savour it all the more if it was brought about by their own arrogance.

Our illegitimate Governor-General

Jerry Mateparae was sworn in today as our 20th Governor-General. While official New Zealand is celebrating, I think its worth highlighting the elephant in the room: that our Governor-General, our defacto head of state, has no democratic legitimacy.

Mateparae was not elected, either by us, or by our elected representatives. Instead, he was selected by one man, the Prime Minister, shoulder-tapped like a business crony being gifted a board position. Constitutionally, his powers derive not from us, the people, but from a foreign monarch, a woman whose sole claim to power is who her parents were.

This is not how democracies are supposed to operate. Power, and legitimacy, are supposed to come from below, not from "above". In a democracy, there is no "above".

I'm sure Mateparae will do a fine job, just as his predecessor did. I'm sure he will exercise the responsibilities of his office with care and discretion, and maintain our constitutional conventions. But that cannot paper over the democratic void beneath him.

We need to do something about this, and soon. Fortunately, its easy to fix. Its perfectly possible to shift to an elected - and therefore legitimate - Governor-General within our current constitutional framework. And the sooner we do it, the better.


The news yesterday that the cost of the Christchurch earthquake had doubled, pushing the deficit to a record $18 billion ought to be sobering. Whoever is in power after November 26 is going to have some tough choices to make. And we deserve to know what those choices will be, before the election.

As the Dim-Post pointed out yesterday, the options are basically tax-increases or more austerity (or a ratings downgrade, leading to the same). National's previous policy was austerity, using the earthquake as an excuse to pursue their nakedly ideological programme of shrinking the state. But they've gone about as far as they can go with that; any further and their spin that they're just cutting fat and that actual service delivery will not be affected will be unsustainable. Its hard to claim you're "protecting the frontline" when people are seeing their schoolteachers go on strike, their local hospital is being closed down, and you can't find a police officer because their numbers have been cut. And that's without even considering the macroeconomic effects of austerity prolonging the recession. If National stays true to form, the result, for all of us, will be very, very unpleasant. Sadly, that's probably not going to stop them.

The alternative, of course, is tax increases - either a special-purpose earthquake levy, or a rise in general taxation. Its the best-solution, one which avoids austerity-induced recessions, and which spreads the burden according to ability to pay rather than whether you live in an electorate which voted for the government or not (because lets be honest: the government is not going to cut services to its own voters if it can help it). Even uber-right winger Fran O'Sullivan can see that; the question is whether the government can.

Meanwhile, this is a clear opportunity for Labour to seize the agenda (and maybe some votes) by presenting a solution. The question is whether they will - or whether they'll sit back and leave it to the government again.

New Fisk

Algeria sends the West a message by taking in Gaddafi's brood

Labour will repeal disconnection

Last month, at NetHui in Auckland, Labour's Clare Curran promised that Labour would repeal the hated "skynet" law if they became government. Today, they've gone one better, promising to repeal it within 90 days of taking office, and review the entire Copyright Act to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. The message is clear: "Vote Labour to kill Skynet".

This is great news, and it shows that Labour is listening and recognises that the law as it stands is unjust. But there's more - they also recognise that internet access is a vital part of modern society, and a human right:

Internet access is not just a utility or essential service but also enables the provision of social and family connections across distances and time zones, education and work opportunities. Therefore all New Zealanders should have the ability to access the Internet and Labour will work to ensure they do.

Labour affirms that the fundamental human right to impart and receive information and opinion necessarily includes the ability to access the Internet in order to give practical effect to the right in today’s world.

(Emphasis added)

In the modern world, disconnecting people from the internet effectively prevents them from speaking. Its the technological equivalent of cutting out our tongues. No society should impose such barbaric, disproportionate and unjust punishments. We don't do the equivalent for stealing bread anymore; why should we do it to protect the interests of rich foreigners clinging to an outdated business model?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting involved


I'm a big fan of people participating in the political process, and in past elections I've encouraged people to volunteer to help out whichever party they agree with most. Last time I also stuck my time where my mouth is, and helped out with the "vote with both eyes open" campaign here in Palmerston North. This year, after considering my options, I've decided to help out with the Campaign For MMP. So I spent an hour tonight manning their desk at the CTU election forum, signing up supporters and handing out flyers and badges. It was a good experience, and with that crowd, almost everyone was knowledgeable and positive about the referendum. And at the end of it all, the orange man gave me jelly beans.

If you'd like to help out with the Campaign for MMP, you can get involved here.

The Suffrage Eve Debate

New Zealand celebrates Suffrage Day later in the month, and for the second election running, The Hand Mirror is organising a Suffrage Eve Debate:

When: 19:00, Thursday 22nd September 2011
Where: Lecture Theatre LibB10, University Library, University of Auckland
Who: Female candidates from our major political parties. Confirmed speakers include Catherine Delahunty for the Greens, Carol Beaumont for Labour, Dr Jackie Blue for National, and Dr Judy McGregor as chair.

For those who use FaceSpy, there's an event page here.

Some "strategy"

Today the government released its National Energy Strategy [PDF]. I harshly criticised the draft version when they were released and leaked for replacing Labour's goal of shifting us to a sustainable, low-emissions energy-future with a dream of finding oil, and for failing to provide any concrete measures for achieving its goals. The final version is, if anything, worse.

While the government has switched the ordering of the goals, so that it no longer puts finding oil first and the environment last, it has also put a much greater emphasis on its quest for oil, with an extended preface about how important oil is, and the simultaneous release of a report on how much money the government could make out of it. The government is spinning this as pushing for "diversity", but its nothing of the sort. Because we lack export facilities, any gas discovered will be used domestically - meaning that the push for exploration and exploitation directly undermines the stated goal of 90% renewable electricity generation by 2025. So instead of a strategy for a greener future, we have a strategy for a dirtier one, with millions of dollars in subsidies spent to undermine sustainability.

And then there's the Energy Efficiency and Conservation part of the document. The previous version [PDF] had been weak, and had not listed specific programs to achieve its goals. The new version is even weaker, having replaced almost all numerical (and thus quantifiable and accountable) goals with vague, fuzzy statements. For example the previous version called for 29 PetaJoules of savings in transport energy, and a 4% improvement in vehicle fleet efficiency. The new one simply says that

The efficiency of light vehicles entering the fleet has further improved from 2010 levels.
And its the same all the way through. The previous version called for 21PJ of energy savings and a 14% improvement in industrial and commercial energy intensity; now the government just wants "an improvement". A 10% reduction in energy use / staff member in the public sector has been similarly reduced to a desire for improvement. Only one numerical goal has been retained, for energy generation from biomass. That goal has been halved.

This isn't a "strategy". Instead, its an abdication of responsibility. The lack of targets is a commitment to doing nothing, to business as usual. While that does produce slight improvements in energy efficiency, the government - and New Zealand - should be demanding more.

New Fisk

Prosecuting war crimes? Be sure to read the small print

Excuses, excuses

Phil Goff's excuse for his latest round of poor polling? "People aren't focused on the issues". But before Labour hacks engage in another round of "blame the voters", I think we should ask: whose fault is that?

To point out the obvious, getting people to care about "the issues" so that they are energised and mobilised to vote is a core task of a political party. If people aren't focused on Labour's chosen issues, then that tells us that the Labour Party is doing a piss-poor job. Either they've chosen their issues badly, or they're communicating them poorly (and in particular, worse than the government). But either way, it is not the voters who are at fault, but the party. And blaming the voters for the party's failure just adds to the perception that Labour is arrogant.

As for what they can do about it, I think the answer is pretty clear: Labour needs to own its own shit. Stop making excuses, accept responsibility for failure, and lift their game. And if they don't, and a bunch of them are out of work come November 27, then they have no-one to blame but themselves.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Fisk

History repeats itself, with mistakes of Iraq rehearsed afresh

Places to go, people to be

Nothing more today, or tomorrow. I'm off to Auckland to (variously) be subjected to psychological experiments, defend a town from barbarians and/or Imperial tax collectors, attend a Galactic Senate meeting, do weird Victorian science, and tread the jeweled thrones of the world beneath my sandalled feet.

Normal service will resume Tuesday.

Twitter didn't cause the UK riots

When the UK was wracked by rioting earlier in the month, British Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to blame social media and threatened to shut it down to maintain public order. It was a telling authoritarian knee-jerk, more reminiscent of a Middle Eastern despotism than a western democracy. And now it turns out that it was misplaced. A study by the Guardian of tweeting during the riots has shown little evidence that it was used to organise disorder:

The Guardian has compiled a unique database of more than 2.5m tweets containing keywords, phrases and hashtags linked to England's riots.

Preliminary analysis of this Twitter activity in 12 riot locations shows the majority of surging social media traffic occurs after the first verified reports of incidents in an area, which could suggest that Twitter was used far more by those seeking to follow fast-moving events than to incite trouble – although it is not possible to say it played no role.

The tweets also reflect a shift in social media use during the week. Most reports place the initial disturbances in Tottenham between 8pm and 9pm on Saturday night. The number of tweets referencing the area surged in the wake of these first troubles: up from 15 between 7pm and 8pm to 15,000 between 10pm and 11pm.

Later in the week Twitter may even have helped spread warnings about trouble. On the following Tuesday Greater Manchester police gave a press conference at 2pm warning of potential issues later that day. This was mirrored by tweets mentioning the city jumping to over 1,000 an hour before trouble began, peaking at around 12,000 an hour after disturbances had started.

However, Twitter was used to organise one thing: cleanup. A massive 8% of all tweets in the database related to cleaning up the mess afterwards. Cameron's authoritarian instincts to stop the people from talking to one another during a crisis lest they plot against the government would have prevented that.

The Guardian has some data visualisation here.

An incentive

Shane Jones has said he will "reconsider [his] options" if he fails to win the Tamaki-Makaurau seat this election. Apparently, this is intended to be a threat. Instead, I'd call it an incentive.

A welcome apology

The other day, Labour's Clare Curran stuck her foot in her mouth, complaining about "white anting" by the Greens. It was an unpleasant sight, which drew criticism from across the left, both for the ugly sense of entitlement it displayed, and because it did damage to her party that it could really have done without.

To her credit, Curran has now apologised:

Another is that it’s important to acknowledge mistakes. I made one this week. For that I apologise. It was never my intention to argue entitlement to a share of the votes.

I have to earn votes. Whether it be personally or for the Party. And I’ll be judged, along with everyone else standing on November 26.

This is good to see. Its phenomenally easy to make a dick of yourself on the internet. Its harder to admit that you've done so. Especially when you're a politician, and the media sees such admissions as a weakness rather than a strength. But I'd rather have politicians who admit when they've screwed up, rather than ones who arrogantly insist they are infallible.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A beat up

Stuff reports that the government may make online racism and Holocaust denial as part of its crackdown on money-laundering. This would of course be a gross infringement on our freedom of expression, which protects even vile and intellectually dishonest views. But before anyone gets too upset, it might pay to read the fine print:

Justice Minister Simon Power and Police Minister Judith Collins yesterday announced a three-year plan to crack down on international organised crime. One proposal involves the Government signing the Council of Europe Cyber Crime Convention, also known as the Budapest Convention.

A protocol of the convention requires nations to make "the dissemination of racist and xenophobic material through computer systems" a crime. It also makes denial or justification of the Holocaust and other verified genocides illegal.

(Links added)

While the government wants to sign the Convention (which seems to be a good idea), there's no suggestion either in the story or its source material that they want to sign the Protocol. Which makes the entire story a beat-up. A more accurate headline would be "No plans to ban online racism". But I guess that just wouldn't sell newspapers.

Protecting the oceans

After ten years in development, the government has finally introduced legislation to regulate environmental activities in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone. The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill establishes a regulatory regime similar to that of the RMA, overseen by the Environmental Protection Authority, and covering activities such as offshore drilling, seabed mining, and laying submarine cables. However, there's some important differences. Where the RMA puts the focus squarely on the environment, the EEZ bill includes among its core principles

the economic well-being of New Zealand
Which is pretty much a blank cheque for anything. In addition, people exercising powers under the Act must also consider "the nature and effect of other marine management regimes" - meaning that our environment gets to be held hostage by the international lowest common denominator. So, rather than being about environmental protection, this bill is about greenwashing exploitation.

(And, while we're at it, its worth remembering that the Environmental "Protection" Authority isn't actually supposed to protect the environment. This bill is simply more of the same).

The good news is that the bill will go to Select Committee, so there's some chance of improving it. If they don't, well, we've already seen that people are willing to step in toprotect the oceans where the government won't. If National wants to prevent that sort of action, it needs to present a law which people can trust. At present, I’m not sure that this one is good enough.


One of the right's favourite talking points is that higher taxes are pointless because they will simply result in more evasion. In New Zealand, this argument focused on Labour's introduction of a 39% top rate, and the difference between that and the trust and company tax rates.

The right were right in one sense: greedy sociopaths did try and avoid taxes by structuring their affairs in various cunning ways to minimise their income while still enjoying its benefits. But they were wrong where it mattered: in thinking that these structures would work. The Supreme Court has just ruled decisively that they don't. If you incorporate, set your salary at an artificially low level, transfer profits to a family trust, then loan them back to yourself interest free, then its tax avoidance and the IRD can ignore it and stick you for the tax you should be paying (oh, and penalties and interest on everything you dodged).

The problem with greedy sociopaths avoiding high taxation is not a failure of policy, but a failure of enforcement. And that is a failure easily fixed by any government which wants to fix it.

Heckuva job, National

New Zealand currently has an appalling youth unemployment rate: according to the latest Household Labour Force Survey, 65,700 people aged between 15 and 24 are unemployed - 17.4% of the total. Faced with a problem of this scale, you'd expect the government to be doing something about it. But their response is absolutely underwhelming. To help out the 65,700 unemployed young people, they're funding an extra 326 places in employment schemes. That's less than one place for every twenty people who needs one. Meanwhile, they've slashed training and capped tertiary places, meaning that young people have little option other than the dole.

Heckuva job, National. Great to see you're solving with our problems rather than ignoring them.

Labour has won the policy argument

Last night, TV3 reported the results of its poll, showing that kiwis - including National voters - overwhelmingly preferred Labour's policy of a capital gains tax to National's threatened asset sales. There are two conclusions we can draw from this. Firstly, Labour has won the policy argument, offered an alternative, and convinced people of it (at least to the level of the lesser of two evils). Unfortunately, they haven't convinced people to actually vote for them because of it, but at least they're getting one thing right.

(Why the disconnect? Labour people will no doubt be tempted to fall back on their usual excuses of voter ignorance and media bias - "the peasants are too stupid to know what's good for them, and its all a conspiracy by Duncan Garner and Guyon Espiner" - but the truth is simply that there's more to politics than policy. People vote for governments for all sorts of reasons, including things like trust, likeability, and competence. If people don't like and don't trust you, or see you as a bunch of arrogant incompetent muppets, then the best policy in the world isn't going to help)

Secondly, things are likely to turn toxic for National the moment they try to actually sell anything. John Key is going to have a hell of a sales job if he wants a third term. Unfortunately, by then the damage will already have been done.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The police are officially careless with guns

Two years ago, the Police shot and killed an innocent bystander, Halatau Naitoko, while pursuing an armed offender. Today, the Coroner has released his findings into the death. While he has found that the death was accidental, he has harshly criticised the police for their lack of care and concern for public safety when using firearms:

[Coroner Gordon] Matenga said he was greatly concerned about the fact the officers had missed their intended target with four shots "from a reasonably close range of between 7 and 9 metres".

Combined with the failure of one officer, "to appreciate what was within the line of fire indicates to me a need for further training and an acknowledgement by AOS that experience matters".


Matenga also criticised one officer - part of the chasing group of officers, for stopping and exiting his vehicle when the chase came to an end, drawing his weapon and firing it in the direction of a fleeing McDonald.

"This was a gross infraction of the Police Instructions on Firearms, appears to have been incredibly dangerous and is a matter I will refer to the IPCA [Independent Police Conduct Authority] to deal with," he said.

Matenga is recommending changes in procedure and better training to prevent this sort of accident from happening again. Meanwhile, since Naitoko's death, firearms have become more available to police - which means more guns in less experienced hands, exactly what the Coroner is warning against.

Fiji: "Innocent until proven guilty" is now a crime

The Fijian regime is currently trying to suppress Fiji's Methodist church, cancelling its annual conference for the third year in a row and detaining its senior members. Their reason? Basically its because the church is led by people the regime doesn't like, who it regards as opponents. But there's also < AHREF="">this rather scary statement from regime thug Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga:

Tikoitoga said the two Methodist leaders had been charged earlier with breaching emergency laws and as such they should have stepped down from their positions and not attended the now cancelled conference.

''They refused to accept that explanation. They maintained that a person is innocent until proven guilty,'' the Fijilive website reported him saying.

So, believing in the presumption of innocence, one of the fundamentals of justice, is now a crime according to the Fijian regime.

New Fisk

How long before the dominoes fall?

Guthrie and Morgan on tax and UBI

Susan Guthrie and Gareth Morgan have an interesting piece in the Herald today about "the rot at centre of modern economics": selfishness and a monomaniacal focus on (measurable) paid work. The former has led to debates around taxation being purely around cuts, with no recognition of why we pay tax or of the need for redistribution. The latter doesn't just mean that the economic picture is incomplete; it also has led to the active devaluation of some people as citizens:

Worshipping unfalteringly at the altar of paid work exhibits a tunnel view of how value is created in society. Who is going to claim that raising a child is worth less than packing shelves at a supermarket? The market certainly does.

To acknowledge the value of unpaid work and admit that by far the majority of people are in either paid or voluntary work, each making a contribution to society - that very few indeed can be accused of being a dead weight on others - means overcoming a prejudice that the unwilling should be forced into paid work.


That our consumer society has become so mesmerised by materialism that the common belief is that everyone should be in paid work is testimony to the corrosion of what we value and our obsession with material gain, no matter how trivial. We have, sadly, lost the plot.

This is part of Guthrie and Morgan's advocacy for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a simple, equal payment made to every adult, sufficient for a basic standard of living. This would completely replace the welfare and superannuation systems, while recognising unpaid work and giving us more freedom and control over our lives. It would require big changes to our tax system (but not the flat tax Guthrie and Morgan inconsistently advocate for; we can still retain progressivity), but its certainly affordable - and moreso if we tax wealth as well as surplus income.

The question is simply one of what sort of society we want to be: one which values all its citizens, or only those who work for money; one which enables people's freedom, or binds them in economic chains; one which provides for all, or one which doesn't. I favour the former, and so I support a UBI.

The "neutral" monarchy

According to its advocates, one of the advantages of the monarchy is that it is "politically neutral", and stays out of politics. That claim was blown out of the water a few years ago, when it was revealed that Prince Charles was lobbying Ministers on everything from architecture to education policy. And its just been demolished again with the revelation that (having been caught once) Charles is now laundering his policy views through his charities, which are lobbying on his behalf.

Oh, but it gets better. He's also been engaged in some personal lobbying, writing to the Mayor of London about planning issues. However, that information is being kept secret because releasing it would "undermine his political neutrality". Which is basically an admission that Charles is behaving in a politically partisan manner. All secrecy does is protect his hypocrisy, enabling him to deny it in public, while continuing to lobby in private.

So, if the monarchy isn't neutral, what’s the argument against having an elected head of state again?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The ugly face of Labour

After last night's shocking poll results and the threat of losing her comfy MP's salary, Clare Curran is revealing Labour's ugly face, complaining about "white-anting of Labour from both the right and the left" and specifically from the Greens:

And on another note, re white-anting; the attempts by the Greens to encroach on Labour territory is also happening in Australia.
When Curran talks about "territory", she's talking about people's votes. And the underlying idea is that some votes just naturally "belong" to Labour. Which is simply bullshit. Labour needs to get this through its thick skull: there is no Divine Right in a democracy. Votes do not "belong" to parties - they have to earn them. And if Labour can't, if other parties are doing a better job of appealing to their traditional constituencies and is undermining their voter base, they have no-one to blame but themselves.

Protest against the Skynet law this weekend

The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill comes into force next week, imposing a guilt by accusation regime for filesharing. There is widespread outrage about the law, and people will be protesting against it on Saturday in all the major centres:

(Those are FaceSpy links, sorry - they don't seem to have other forms of organisation).

Please turn up and show your opposition to the law.

Legalise love

Seven years ago, Parliament passed the Civil Union Act 2004, allowing same-sex couples marriage in all but name. It was a fantastic advance for gay rights in New Zealand. At the same time, its not enough. "Marriage in all but name" isn't equality - its separate but equal, which isn't. The denial of full marriage is a denial of equality, an act of stigmatisation. It says "sure, you can have the legal rights, but not the name and the status". In addition, it also means that same-sex couples can't adopt.

Now we have a public campaign to change that: Legalise Love. They'll be advocating for change, and marching on Parliament in October. Please show them your support, and help us achieve proper equality in New Zealand.


Back in February, police officers in Christchurch arrested Arie Smith, who has Asperger's syndrome, for "looting" two lightbulbs from a damaged building. Smith was beaten, jailed, and has since been subjected to a vindictive prosecution, despite repeated and strong hints from the judge that he be discharged without conviction. Media critics of the police's behaviour have themselves been subjected to investigation, in an effort to stifle scrutiny and criticism.

Now, all charges against Smith have been dropped. It’s a good outcome, but it raises the question of why things were allowed to go so far. The police need to explain their disgraceful behaviour over this case (which has included subjecting Smith and his partner to a non-association order, effectively breaking up their family by state force). And the government needs to apologise for it.

Last days of Gaddafi?

Over the weekend, the Libyan civil war - which had been stalemated for months - suddenly sprang to life, with a rebel assault on Tripoli. This morning, it looks like that assault has been successful, with rebel forces just 3km from the city centre. Two of Gaddafi's sons have been captured, and his bodyguard has reportedly surrendered. So, we may be looking at the last days of the Gaddafi regime.

I don't think anyone is going to be shedding nay tears over that. But the question now is what happens next? If the rebels are successful, they'll face the task of building a new, democratic Libya from the ground up - a difficult task, made more difficult by having a country full of guns and people who have seen that you can use them to gain power. There's a risk, inherent in all violent revolutions, of a prolonged civil war, or the replacement of one dictator with another.

The international community needs to help here. We've supported the rebels in war; now we need to support them in peace as well, to help them build a free and democratic Libya.

New Fisk

How long does it take before justice is irrelevant?

Cleaning up our rivers

Yesterday, the Greens launched their plan to clean up our lakes and rivers. Water quality has been declining for years thanks to irrigation, industrial pollution and dirty dairying, with the result that more than half of our rivers are now unsafe for swimming. Its a pressing environmental problem that the government needs to do something about.

To fix this, the Greens are proposing a three-pronged approach. The first is tougher water standards, with limits on irrigation takes and restrictions on farming intensity. This is pretty obviously where things are moving, and even the government's National Policy Statement on freshwater management [PDF] requires the former, though its standards are weak and implementation time too long. The Greens are promising real regulation, rather than the half-hearted efforts we are seeing from National.

Second, there's a resource charge for commercial water use such as irrigation. This is a no-brainer. Water is a public resource. Of course businesses should pay when they use it. Plus of course there's the obvious efficiencies that result when you stick a price on something. This is expected to raise between $370 and $570 million a year, though its unclear whether the money goes to central or local government. There are good arguments for both, and a funding split seems like a good idea.

Finally, the Greens are pushing for more active cleanup, funded by part of that resource charge, with local body sewage schemes (desperately needed in small communities) and funding for farmers to fence and plant rivers and streams. Again, this is funded on a small scale at present, and the Greens are suggesting a massive expansion to get it done quicker.

Overall, its a good policy. Naturally, Federated Farmers hate the idea, but I don't think that's going to do the Greens any harm at all.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Blood on their hands

Another kiwi soldier has reportedly died in Afghanistan. This is the cost of the National Party's pro-US foreign policy, its desire to suck up to America: dead kiwis. I hope they're happy now.

The government will attempt to shroud this in patriotic bullshit, but lets be clear: this man is dead because John Key wanted to suck up to America. Because he wanted a pre-election photo-op with Obama, and the headline of an FTA (excluding dairy, and at the cost of gutting Pharmac and inflicting US-style copyright law on us) with the US. And he wouldn't be dead if we had a government which minded its own business and pursued an independent (rather than US-suckup) foreign policy.

National has blood on its hands. And they need to pay for it, before they kill again.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Taking their time

When National ran for office in 2008, it promised [PDF] to

Introduce a new Environmental Reporting Act requiring independent five-yearly State of the Environment Reports as a new function of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.
Of course, no such Act has been introduced. Instead, National has spent its time gutting the RMA, trying to dig up our national parks, and sacking half of the Ministry for the Environment to create a new "Environmental Protection Authority" whose name is an exercise in false advertising. But there's an election coming up, and they have to pretend to care, so after doing nothing for three years the issue of environmental reporting is back on the agenda. The discussion document [PDF] proposes giving the job to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, and creating a power to regulate to ensure local authorities produce consistent data. These are both good ideas, as is environmental reporting itself; the question is whether National will care enough to actually implement them, or whether they'll still be pushing it in three years' time.

Taking them at their word

Ever since the Greens and the Human Rights Commission started making noise about the pervasive discrimination of the gender pay gap, the government has been on the back foot, trying to find a way to doing nothing about an obvious problem. Their current line is that they don't need to do anything, because employees suspecting gender discrimination can simply ask for a labour inspector to investigate the issue on their behalf (and therefore any discrimination is the fault of women, for not acting to enforce their rights).

So, the Greens have decided to take them at their word, partnering with the CTU to launch a petition [PDF] to have workplaces investigated. If you suspect pay discrimination in your workplace (and 65% of women do), then print it out, sign it, and send it in (ticking the "I request any investigation be confidential" box as appropriate). If the Minister is to be believed, this will result in the problem being investigated and resolved. If OTOH the Department of Labour consistently refuses to investigate (because they're just not funded to), then it will prove that the law is not working and that the government needs to do something more.

I wonder what the result will be? Clearly, there's only one way to find out...

This'll be funny

So, National is apparently planning to "focus on its track record" on the economy during the election campaign. This'll be funny - because by any assessment, that record is absolutely dismal. Economic stagnation, record high inflation, 155,000 people out of work - this is not a record any government should be proud of. And it doesn't help that they're now reduced to denying basic unemployment statistics in an effort to pretend there is good news.

Which is why we're suddenly hearing about welfare, child abuse, and refugees: National knows they can't really run on being competent economic managers (because they're clearly not), so instead they're going to run on social division, whipping up hate and fear and pitting New Zealander against New Zealander in an effort to grub enough votes to stay in power. It's ugly, ugly politics. But its so very, very National.

New Fisk

It's his fast-disappearing billions that will worry Assad, not words from Washington

Thursday, August 18, 2011


On Tuesday I posted about the case of Anna Hazare, and Indian anti-corruption activist who was arrested (along with 1300 of his followers) for attempting to stage a public hunger strike against corruption. The government clearly hoped that this would shut down his protest. Instead, it has turned it into a movement, with anti-corruption protests breaking out across India. Last night they attempted to wiggle out of their mistake by releasing Hazare, but he refused to leave jail until permission was granted for his protest. And now, the government has been forced to back down on that too.

Its a wonderful example of how people can change things if they stand up to the government. And hopefully, with the momentum that has already been built up, India will get a real anti-corruption law, rather than the put-off the government was planning.

Compare and contrast

Student jailed for six months for looting a case of water in London, The Journal, 11 August 2011:

A student HAS been jailed for six months today for stealing a case of water from Lidl during a looting spree in Brixton in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The Telegraph reports that Nicolas Robinson had no previous criminal record, and had taken the water as he walked home from his girlfriend’s house. He threw the water away when he was confronted by police, and was arrested and charged.

In handing down the sentence the judge said that he was taking 23-year-old Robinson’s previous good character and early guilty plea into consideration, but also said that the student wilfully contributed towards “the atmosphere of both chaos and sheer lawlessness”.

MPs' expenses: Jeremy Hunt to repay £9,500, The Telegraph, 10 December 2009:
Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, is to repay more than £9,500 in second home expenses after a sleaze watchdog found him in breach of Commons rules.

But the Tory MP will escape further punishment after MPs accepted an earlier apology over allowing his agent to stay rent-free in the taxpayer-subsidised home.

The Committee on Standards and Privileges said that while public money had not been diverted to the benefit of the Conservative Party there had been a personal benefit to the agent.

So, steal £3.50, go to jail. Steal £10,000, and you just have to pay it back (oh, and you keep your cushy Cabinet job). The hypocrisy of "justice" in the UK is plain for all to see. And then they wonder why people riot...

[Hat-tip: @d_incurable]

The sin of cheapness

So, the government has bowed to the inevitable, and announced that it is doubling the number of mine inspectors, from two to four. Good. This isn't all of what is required, but its a start, which will hopefully prevent something like Pike River from ever happening again.

Meanwhile, the announcement has exposed the extraordinary cheapness which cost those men their lives. The new High Hazards Unit will cost a mere $1.5 million a year for eight inspectors (four for mines, four for petroleum). $1.5 million a year. And for the sake of saving that $1.5 million a year, we had an inadequate inspection system which allowed the deaths of 29 people.

This is the sin of cheapness, with fatal consequences. And we need to ask: where else is the government committing it, being cheap, cutting costs to keep taxes on the rich low, at the risk of people's lives? Efficient government is one thing, but one lesson we should be taking away from this accident is that it has been allowed to go far too far - and people have died as a result.

The secret bill

Parliament has just begun debating the secret bill, the Policing (Storage of Youth Identifying Particulars) Amendment Bill. The bill is a patch-up, designed to correct an inadvertent error in the 2008 Policing Act which has made it unlawful for police to retain identifying particulars (fingerprints and photos) of children and young people who have been through the youth justice system and subjected to a penalty less than conviction (e.g. family group conferences and restitution). It fixes the law, and retrospectively validates the current practice (which is what you do in such cases).

As a patch up, I can see why this bill justifies all-stages urgency. The error wasn't a policy decision by Parliament, and significantly changed the status quo. What I can't see is any justification for secrecy. What harm would have been done by announcing the title of the bill? People might have sued the police? But according to the debate, the government has known about this problem since October last year, and the law is retrospective in any case. Instead, the secrecy just seems to be an example of National's pathological control-freakery and authoritarianism. Their psychological problems should not be allowed to damage our democracy like this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Climate change: Overallocated

Over on Hot Topic, Simon Johnson analyses the data from the government's Report on the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme. And he has made a disturbing discovery: the scheme is massively overallocated:

In the six months from 1 July to 31 December 2010, 12.8 million NZUs were gifted to participants by “free allocation”; 9.4 million NZUs were transferred to foresters for forest carbon sequestration and 8.3 million units were surrendered to the Government (Surrender means to obtain units equivalent to a participant’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to transfer the units to the Government’s account at the NZ Emission Units Register).
Ignore the forestry side of the equation, since its a long-term allocation. The big problem here is that polluters were given 12.8 million units last year, but only had to surrender 8.3 million. In other words, they were given 4.5 million units more than they actually needed. The value of those units is approximately $100 million, which is going straight onto polluters' bottom lines.

Not only does this fundamentally break the scheme, it also shows that the government's pollution subsidies are broken. Polluters are supposed to get 60% to 90% of their actual emissions. Instead, they seem to be getting 150%. In other words, we're not just letting them pollute for free - we're effectively paying them to do it.

Why is this happening? I don't think its fraud by polluters; their annual emissions and free allocations are based off the same sets of figures. Instead, it seems that the government's allocative baselines for eligible industrial activities are far too high. Which is what happens when the figures are effectively decided by industry lobbyists working through a cooperative (I would say "patsy") Minister. And the net result is not only windfall profits for polluters, but an ETS which actively incentivises higher emissions.

No wonder people think the ETS is a fraud: it is. It doesn't help the environment. Instead, it pays polluters to pollute. It can be fixed, but the longer this is allowed to continue, the more discredited the scheme will become. And then we'll be back to square one, having the same arguments and trying to work up a new policy.

Another crony

Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman has appointed former Radio Network executive Ross McRobie to the board of New Zealand On Air. As Tumeke points out, McRobie is a crony of Steven Joyce's, a colleague of his when Joyce ran The Radio Network. Another example of how this government's appointments are based on cronyism and the old-boy network rather than merit.

an OIA has been sent, and we'll see whether this appointment conformed with the guidelines - and whether he's being paid extra because he's one of National's mates.

Correction: Joyce ran RadioWorks, and The Radio Network was his competition. Teach me to rely on Tumeke's facts. Still, the OIA request may offer some interesting insights into the appointment.

More on secret legislation

Last night I pointed out that the government's anticipated pre-election urgency included an unpleasant surprise: an unspecified, secret government bill, to be passed through all stages. All-stages urgency is normally used for urgent patch-up bills (for example, the Duties of Statutory Officers (Census and Other Remedial Provisions) Bill, which shifts the census cycle in response to the Christchurch earthquake), but such bills have never been kept secret until the present government. When Labour needed to pass such a bill (and all governments do), they took urgency for it, openly and publicly.

Last night I had a rather heated discussion about this over Twitter with Labour's Trevor Mallard. Surprisingly, he defended the secrecy, on the basis that it was required to prevent people from exploiting whatever loophole the law is designed to patch. My problem with this is that it is essentially security through obscurity (which isn't), at the cost of the transparency on which our democracy - and parliament's legitimacy - depends. But its also fundamentally misguided. After all, if the legislation is important enough that even its name must be kept secret to avoid people exploiting the loophole it is designed to fix, it is important enough to be passed immediately. Every argument for secrecy is an argument for speed, for putting that item of business first in the package of bills urgency is granted for.

By doing things in secret, the government (and Mallard) are privileging the convenience of politicians over transparency and good lawmaking. They are undermining our democracy, and failing to do their jobs properly. And that is something we should not tolerate from them.


Meridian Energy's Mill Creek Wind Farm has been granted resource consent by the Environment Court. The project was originally consented back in 2009, but was appealed by local residents. And the appeal was at least partly successful, with an additional three turbines being removed due to their impact on local residents.

The message is clear: windfarm developers will have to work with (or around) local residents, and avoid siting turbines too close to people's homes. If they do that, though, and work within noise limits, then there should be no problems receiving consent.

[Hat-tip: Hot-topic]

A failure of political competence

Back in July, Labour were referred to the police for distributing election advertisements without the required promoter statement. And now they've done it again - twice:

On 15 August 2011, the Electoral Commission referred the following matters to Police:
  • Charles Chauvel MP, Ohariu Census,
  • ACT Party newspaper advertisements in Sunday Star Times and NZ Herald
  • Labour Party ‘Prices are Rising Faster than Wages’ flyer.
It is the Electoral Commission’s view that the publication of each of these items constitutes a breach of sections 204F and 204H of the Electoral Act 1993 because the items are election advertisements that do not contain a valid promoter statement and were not authorised in writing by the party secretary.
This isn't rocket science. The requirement for a promoter statement has been a core part of our electoral law since 1977, and something every party should be complying with out of habit. Failing to do so is a basic failure of political competence. After all, if you can't publish a fucking ad properly, how do you expect us to believe you can run the country?

Sadly, I don't think Labour will acknowledge that failure and commit to fixing it. Based on their past performance, we'll be treated to more arrogant whining instead.

Labour and ACT deserve to be taken to the cleaners over this. There's no excuse for violating this law, and the integrity of our democracy depends on its enforcement. But the police's past performance on electoral crime doesn't give much reason for confidence either.

No freedom of protest in India

Anna Hazare is an Indian anti-corruption activist. He had planned an indefinite public hunger strike to protest the Indian government's failure to deal with corruption. So, the government arrested him. Then, just to prove their point, they arrested 1300 of his followers.

The pretext is of course "public order". Apparently the Indian authorities believe that a peaceful sit-down protest is the same as a riot, which must be suppressed. But the natural conclusion is that they don't like what Hazare is saying and want to shut him up, that they are dirty and have something to hide.

The good news is that freedom of expression (including the right to protest) is affirmed in the Indian Constitution. Now we'll get to see if that document actually means anything, or if it will be ignore dby those in power to protect their own corrupt interests.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


As expected, the House has gone into urgency to pass assorted bills through their final stages. I was going to say that this was uncontroversial, part of the usual practice of the House in the leadup to an election. But of course this is National. So in addition to a pile of bills going through their final stages, we also have urgency for "the introduction and passing of a Government bill". Yes, the House is legislating in secret again.

This is fundamentally undemocratic. And it undermines the requirement to specify what business urgency is required for, effectively turning the urgency motion into a blank cheque. We won't know what this bill is until it hits the House. By which time, its too late.

Democratic governments do not operate like this. Labour certainly didn't - I can't remember a single occurrence in their nine years in office when they asked for urgency for a bill which they refused to even name. But such secrecy has become standard practice under National. It is undemocratic, and it is wrong.

OIA performance stats: A slight improvement

At the beginning of the month I commented on preliminary results from my annual OIA performance survey, which has seen Ministerial performance jump significantly since last year. I'm still waiting on a few Ministers (new Ministers had to be sent a two-stage request, and I failed to notice that Tariana Turia refuses to answer her Ministerial email), but here's another improvement. Last year, Gerry Brownlee was the worst Minister, answering only 39.7% of requests within the statutory 20-day limit. This year, he's boosted that to 54.8%. Still utterly unacceptable, but a few more years, and he'll get there. Sadly, this improvement in timeliness has come at the cost of a substantial increase in mean (but not median) response time - meaning that when things are late, they're even later. So, he still has a lot to work on.

The good news is that he is working on it. His response included this comment:

Over the course of the past 12 months, I recognise that there have been some instances where responses to requests for information under the Official Information Act have not met the deadlines required by the Act. I would comment that the past year has been extraordinary, particularly with the Canterbury earthquakes and the tragedy at Pike River, which I know you are aware of having dealt with people from my office during this time.

Notwithstanding this, dealing with requests for information under the Official Information Act is a matter that I take seriously and I have instructed my office to instigate a thorough review of the systems and processes used to manage and track requests made under the Official Information Act.

I'm hoping that review results in a significant improvement in performance. There are ministerial offices with very heavy OIA loads which manage a perfect or near-perfect response rate. Brownlee can do the same if he sets his mind to it and instructs his staff accordingly.

The problem with austerity

Writing in the Herald, economist and former UK MP Bryan Gould highlights the fundamental problem with our economy at the moment: too much austerity:

Governments [in financial trouble] can choose to focus on cutting spending, or they can try to increase revenue. These further economic shocks show that, in focusing exclusively on cutting spending, they have made the wrong choice.

The problem is that the level of debt is a function of the level of economic activity; the higher the level of economic activity, the more buoyant the government's tax revenue.

A government that has trouble balancing its books in a recession, and seeks to deal with that issue exclusively by cutting its spending, necessarily reduces the level of economic activity and - by depressing its tax revenue - makes the debt problem more difficult to resolve.

And this is exactly what's happening here. National's response to the recession wasn't stimulus - that was all spin - but cuts. And now, having cancelled programmes and laid off thousands of highly-paid public servants (meaning less money in the economy), they're wondering why they don't have any money. What makes it worse is that National did exactly the same thing in the early 90's last time they were in government - deepened a recession with harsh austerity - but they seem not to have learned from their mistake. Or they don't think it was a mistake at all. After all, the wealthy did pretty well out of it, just as they're doing well now...

Time for a campaign against tax cheats

The Herald reports that former Fair Go presenter Kevin Milne is calling for a public campaign against tax cheats:

He is pushing for a campaign to end "cash only", unrecorded payments - which let tradesmen dodge taxes.

He said in the latest Woman's Weekly that every job that skirted taxes cost everyone else in extra taxes to make up for it.

"I've struck this quite often myself - [the tradesman says] if you want to just pay cash you can take 15 per cent off, and it's very obvious what's going on there, and we just live with it," Milne told the Herald yesterday.

"It's a very difficult matter to get on top of because people see it as almost their right - not only tradespeople but people who buy products."

But everyone else was losing out, he said.

And he's right. That money you save by aiding and abetting a tradeperson's tax fraud? That's money that would normally go to schools, hospitals, and public services. You might as well be going down there and smashing some windows yourself.

So, I support this campaign: people should pay what they owe, and not commit tax fraud. But there's one obvious problem with it, in that it appears to only focus on the little guy. Whereas as we've seen, the real tax fraud is being done by large companies: the Aussie banks and Google. Its time we cracked down on these cheats too, and made them pay what they owe to support the society they do business in. And if they refuse, we should refuse to do business with them.


The latest absurdity from the British panopticon surveillance society? Arresting someone for planning a water fight:

A man will appear before magistrates next month for allegedly trying to organise a mass water fight via his mobile phone.

The prime minister said last week that the government would investigate whether social networking platforms should be shut down if they helped to "plot" crime in the wake of the riots.

The 20-year-old from Colchester was arrested on Friday after Essex police discovered the alleged plans circulating on the BlackBerry Messenger service and Facebook.

The unnamed man has been charged with "encouraging or assisting in the commission of an offence" under the 2007 Serious Crime Act, police said.

I'm wondering what the offence supposedly being encouraged here is. Having fun, perhaps? Being young in a public place? Or are the British police really trying to argue that any large gathering of people is a criminal conspiracy? If so, I'd like them to do something about those 650 people meeting in Westminster...

Monday, August 15, 2011

This will be interesting

I've complained before about Parliament opening its sessions with an explicitly Christian prayer, dedicating itself to serve explicitly religious goals in its business. Its a historical relic, a legacy of the time when there was no freedom of religion, and sadly parliament is not alone: many of our local bodies do the same. But now, in Whanganui, someone is challenging the practice before the Human Rights Commission:

The council has been at loggerheads on the issue since a meeting in April, when mayor Annette Main suggested that references to God be removed from the prayer used to open each meeting, as a way of respecting all faiths.

The informal remark sparked a furore about whether praying was an appropriate item of business on the council agenda. But before the council could formally vote on the issue, it became the subject of a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, which stepped in to mediate, freezing any public discussion on the issue.

Councillor Clive Solomon broke his media silence and confirmed to The Dominion Post yesterday that it was he who laid the complaint with the commission, as a way of getting a neutral voice on the issue through mediation.

He could not comment on what was said at mediation, other than to say it failed to find a solution. He has now asked the Office of Human Rights Proceedings – an independent director attached to the commission – to consider taking his case to the [Human Rights Review] tribunal.

Note that this isn't an issue of councillors' freedom of religion, though they will try to paint it that way. Religious councillors are free to believe what they want and publicly manifest that belief. The problem here is that they are hijacking a state body as a vehicle for that religion - and in the process sending a very clear message to those who do not share their beliefs that this is not their government and that they do not belong.

(Religious people who wish to deny this may consider how they would feel if every session of Parliament opened with a black mass or the Muslim profession of faith).

It will be interesting to see what happens next. The case itself is a slam-dunk: official prayer is prima facie discriminatory, and there's no possible argument that it could be considered a justified limitation (to do so it would have to serve an important public purpose. What's the public purpose of praising the great bearded sky fairy?). But if the Tribunal rules against Whanganui, they'll also effectively be ruling against Parliament, which is going to raise some serious hackles, both religious and constitutional.

New Fisk

The immortality of a great, if flawed, historian

A new low

When the Syrian people rose up to demand their dictator leave, the Syrian regime reacted ferociously, with beatings and tear gas, then shooting them in the streets, then tanks. But now they've reached a new low. faced with protestors in the port city of Latakia , they got the navy to shell them. Artillery against placards. What next? Cluster bombs? Mustard gas?

What we are seeing in Syria is pretty clearly a systematic attack against the civilian population. Murder, torture, imprisonment and persecution as part of that attack make it a crime against humanity under international law. Its time the Syrian regime was indicted by the International Criminal Court, then extradited to face justice.

I need a new word

I've been using the word "paedophobia" - fear of children - to describe National's policies. Though I suppose technically its "ephebiphobia" - fear of teenagers. But these policies are going beyond phobos, fear, and into misos, hate.

So, Ancient Greek speakers and classics majors, how do I combine misos and ephebos? What's the children and young person's equivalent of "misogyny"? Misepheby? Misopaedy?

Pandering to the paedophobes

So, National has released its core election policy. No, not fixing the economy. No, not getting people into jobs. No, not even more tax cuts for John Key and his rich mates. Instead, they've decided to pander to the paedophobes by cracking down on teenage welfare recipients.

In the minds of National's sherry-drenched paedophobic older voting demographic, these people are young, shiftless, and fecklessly spend all their money on booze and drugs, while popping out kids to get more. Oh, and they probably drive a big car with a loud engine at night too, and don't show "proper respect" to their elders by giving up their seats on the bus, and stand around on street corners in groups wearing hoodies. Clearly, they are in need of a stern stick-shaking and a loud and clear message to get off someone's lawn.

Meanwhile, in reality, things are rather different. Those targeted are those on the Independent Youth Benefit. You get this benefit by being 16 or 17 years old and unable to live with your parents - which means they must either be dead, or physically or sexually abusive. In addition you must not be able to rely on anyone for support - meaning that you have no-one in the world to look out for you. In other words, National is going to be putting the boot into orphans and sexual abuse victims. Classy.

Obviously, these are desirable circumstances to be in, which is why the number of people on this benefit has been declining for years.

And the "solution"? They used up "stick 'em all in the army" last election (and it didn't work), so instead they're going for rather unpleasant paternalism, with bonus stigmatisation and humiliation. Apparently, having the government spend your money for you will teach you the value of budgeting. And apparently having to spend the pittance remaining after automatic deductions via a special card, while being sneered in the supermarket and having your privatised social worker going through the receipts and questioning how much toilet paper you're using will teach you to spend carefully. Instead, I think it will teach people the arbitrariness and cruelty of power, and provide a valuable grounding in basic money-laundering techniques.

Oh, and if you try and escape this by getting a (non-existent) job? Youth rates. That'll teach 'em. Which leaves crime as the only way of getting out from under this abuse. If you're a good kid in awful circumstances, that is a terrible incentive to set.

And for what? This doesn't target a pressing social problem. We're not facing an explosion of IYB recipients, and I'm not seeing a lot of evidence that National's prejudices on their spending is true. Instead, this is being pushed solely to prop up National's support in an election year, by stigmatising and demonising and humiliating an already powerless group (who, as a bonus, can't even fucking vote). Its the ultimate triumph of spin over substance. And for the kids who will be victimised by this? Sorry, guys, National has an election to win.

Its cruel, its vicious, its divisive, and its based on myths rather than evidence. But its so very, very National, isn't it?

Friday, August 12, 2011

And more cronyism

Charles Finny works for Saunders Unsworth, the National Party's pet lobbyists. He was in the news a couple of months ago after it was discovered that his mate Murray McCully had given him $54,000 for an untendered research contract. And now, thanks to Steven Joyce, he's been appointed chair of Education New Zealand.

Again, I'll be scrutinising this appointment to see if it followed the proper process. But from here, it looks like yet another crony appointment, National using public money to help out its mates.

Annette King supports same-sex marriage

My post earlier about David Parker's opposition to same-sex marriage (or, charitably, just not giving enough of a shit about state bigotry to condemn it) and subsequent discussion on Twitter has borne some fruit, with Annette King saying clearly that she supports it:

it's a conscience decision, not a party vote. For what it's worth I support.
Its good to know that at least someone in Labour has the courage to stand up for the party's values. The question is why others don't. Are they chickenshits - or bigots?

Something to go to in Auckland

The Sustainability Society is presenting a lecture by Professor David Hood on how human activities and our current business paradigms, and personal lifestyles are impacting on the planet:

When: 17:30 - 18:30, Monday 22 August
Where: Lecture Room 3.402, Faculty of Engineering, University of Auckland

More information here [PDF].

David Parker opposes same-sex marriage

Labour's David Parker participated in a public "vote chat" at Otago University. Naturally, I took the opportunity to ask him what he thought of same-sex marriage. His response, according to the moderators:

Gay marriage is a peripheral issue can't prioritise everything at once. Civil Unions deliver legal rights required
Or, in English, "shut up and wait your turn".

Nice to know that the man being touted as Labour's future leader won't even stick his neck out to say "I will support it if it comes up". Epsom voters may wish to adjust their votes accordingly.

Killing 20 hours free

20 hours free ECE, introduced by the previous Labour government, is one of the great levellers. It ensures a fair start for everyone regardless of wealth, boosts workforce participation by making working affordable for parents, and is a long-term investment in the next generation. Now National looks to set to end it. Oh, they'll retain the 20 hours; they just won't be free anymore:

[Key] initially said the Government's position was that it would be maintaining the 20 free hours policy. But under further questioning he changed his stance saying he was committed to keeping the same subsidies for 20 hours' early childhood education but was not committed to keeping the fee controls for the scheme.

Ms Moroney said the implication was that the Government planned to allow centres to start charging extra fees for 20 hours which basically meant the end to the scheme.

"The only reason you would do that is if you are going to drop the subsidy."

Without the fee cap, 20 hours free goes from being a universal scheme which benefits everyone to a middle-class subsidy which excludes the very people who need it most. And by reducing access, the benefits of the scheme - that fair start for everyone, the access to the workplace, and the long-term boost to education, health and social outcomes - will be reduced. It will be bad for children, bad for families, and bad for New Zealand.

SO why is National doing this? One reason is that it will be good for private ECE providers, who will be able to access a subsidy while still charging fees. But I think the bigger problem is National's entire attitude to ECE. They see it as babysitting rather than education, and a cost rather than an investment. Those attitudes, that narrow, short-term currency-trader approach, are going to condemn another generation of kiwi kids - and the country as a whole - to poor social outcomes for years to come.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A bad idea

Parliament unanimously passed the Electoral (Administration) Amendment Bill (No 2) today, making some minor but necessary changes to our electoral administration. During the debate, Labour MP Chris Hipkins argued that we should be looking at introducing electronic voting. On Twitter, he asks for people's thoughts on the issue.

I have just one: is he fucking mad?

The evidence from overseas is overwhelming: electronic voting can't be trusted. The machines are black boxes. The software is proprietary. They may be run by people with partisan interests. And they're hackable (not just in theory - in practice). There's no way for the count to be audited, and no way to tell if the votes entered by voters are actually being recorded, or just sent to the bit bucket.

Electronic voting means putting elections, a vital part of our democratic infrastructure, in the hands of unaccountable, private entities, with poor security and no transparency. We'll basically be relying on their goodwill that they won't fix elections. Oh, and blind faith that they won't leave a yawning security flaw allowing someone else to. As someone who takes democracy seriously, I don't think that's a very good idea.

Paper ballots may be slow. They may be archaic. They may not create business opportunities for private enterprise to sell voting machines to government at inflated prices. But they can be trusted. Any fool can count them, and to make them disappear you have to steal a physical object, not just surreptitiously insert a line of code. And I'll take that over the bright new shiny thing any day of the week.

Something to go to in Wellington

The Bill of Rights Act turns 21 later this month, and Victoria University's Centre for Public Law is celebrating with a series of public lectures:

If you have an interest in BORA issues, or wish to inform yourself in the leadup to the government's constitutional review (which will address an entrenched BORA), then its probably worth heading along.

Rich man's justice

The government, the police, and the courts keep telling us that domestic violence is unacceptable. Unless, apparently, you're rich:

A Te Papa manager has escaped conviction for a "degrading" assault on his pregnant former partner after claiming it would hamper his international travel for the museum.

Noel James Osborne, 47, is a collections manager of Maori artefacts. In a video on Te Papa's website in which he presents the museum's collection of taiaha, he says he is a carver.

Women's Refuge chief executive Heather Henare said Osborne's discharge without conviction reeked of double standards. "Effectively what this says is it is OK if you happen to be in a privileged position."

Pretty much. If Osborne had been poor, he would almost certainly have been convicted. Refusing to do so in a serious case like this effectively denies the crime. There is a place for discharge without conviction, but I don't think this is it.

Compare and contrast

Last month, we learned that the New Zealand Debt Management Office has been behaving like bankers, accepting hundreds of lavish gifts from the banks they were meant to be representing us against. Today we have a counterpoint, from the Reserve bank of New Zealand:

When it comes to lavish corporate freebies and gifts, the Reserve Bank has set the standard for austerity in the wider state sector.

Bank staff accepted only 19 gifts or instances of hospitality during the past 2 1/2 years, records show, in contrast to hundreds accepted by Treasury staff.


The bank has a policy requiring staff to register and surrender to the bank gifts worth more than $100.

However, golf clubs and golf bags worth more than $100, won at a Westpac event, were kept by staff members but the value above $100 was given to the Christchurch earthquake fund.

Corporate hospitality is rare at the bank, although human resources head Tanya Harris and her partner were guests of Telecom at the World of Wearable Arts show and at the Rugby Sevens. The Reserve Bank's policy states that meals, social functions and entertainment can be accepted "so long as it is modest, infrequent, does not imply an obligation and is unlikely to be misconstrued".

This is how public servants are supposed to behave: with professionalism and integrity, for the benefit of the public rather than themselves. The contrast with the greedy, corrupt, self-interested staff at NZDMO and Treasury couldn't be any clearer.

Daily cronyism

The government has appointed former Wellington Mayor and national Party crony Kerry Prendergast to head the Tourism Board. Prendergast already has one crony appointment from her mates in the Beehive, as head of the EPA. Now she's got another. It's shameless, but par for the course for National.

An OIA request seeking information on whether the appointment process conformed to the SSC's Board Appointment and Induction Guidelines has already been dispatched. It will be interesting to see whether they've jumped through all the hoops - and whether they've decided to pay her extra simply because she's one of them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Drowning government in the bathtub

Cutting government expenditure is an article of faith on the right. Government is seen as inherently evil, wasteful, or simply "socialist" (i.e. benefiting someone other than the ultra-rich), and so they want to shrink or even eliminate it. The classic statement of this is US right-winger Grover Norquist's desire to "reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub".

In the US, right wingers have tried to achieve this with Taxpayer Bill of Rights legislation, which cap taxes and spending and require a referendum for any increase beyond inflation and population growth (which is normally less than the increase in GDP). In the state it has been implemented in - Colorado - it led to the degradation of public services, particularly the education system. And now, thanks to ACT, we're going to see such legislation here, in the form of the Spending Cap (People's Veto) Bill. The bill targets spending, not revenue, but it would have the same effect, preventing government from investing in public services when times are good, and imposing even harsher austerity when times are bad. Of course, the government could always get out of the cap for a year through a referendum - but because that referendum must happen in the same year, and will take between six to eight months to organise, in practice it will never happen. Instead, the first government to find the limits troublesome will repeal them (unless, of course, ACT is providing them with confidence and supply). Its a problem so obvious that even Treasury recognises it. In the bill's Regulatory Impact Statement [PDF] - which starts off reading like ACT party advocacy for the policy, rather than a serious policy assessment - they conclude:

The Treasury does not support imposing constraints on the ability of the government to set fiscal strategy via hard parameters in legislation. A legislated spending rule, which a government did not wish to be bound by, could lead to efforts to circumvent the rule – potentially favouring certain types of decisions (e.g. tax expenditures or regulatory changes) and raising the risk of unintended or perverse outcomes.

To be effective, the fiscal framework needs to be reasonably stable over time. This criterion would not be met if a legislated spending rule was likely to be overturned, shortly after its introduction, because it lacked widespread and enduring political support.

So, all Labour have to do to kill this is to say "we will repeal it immediately on taking office". And the quicker they do it, the better. We're not Americans, and we don't need this sort of radical Libertarian wackiness aimed at destroying our public services.

MMP saves the right to trial by jury

It looks like the government no longer has the numbers to pass the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill in its present form. Good. The bill would undermine the right to silence and the presumption of innocence, and abolish the right to a jury trial in almost all cases. These are fundamentals of our justice system, vital to ensuring that trials are fair and the innocent are not wrongly punished. And now, thanks to ACT and the Maori Party's second thoughts, it looks like they might be preserved.

Its worth highlighting that this would not have happened under an unfair electoral system or a majority government. It is the second thoughts of National's coalition partners, forced on them by MMP, which has caused this change. So, in a real sense, MMP has saved the right to a fair trial in New Zealand.

Fine for who?

So, Bill English says the economy is "fine". But fine for who? With 6.5% unemployment, rampant inflation, and stagnant wages, ordinary kiwis are looking at a future of insecurity and falling living standards, with more on the way thanks to National's threatened employment relations "reforms". No sane person would describe that as "fine".

So who was English talking about then? The obvious answer is his mates, the rich. They've been making out like bandits off our misery, with their wealth increasing by 20% in a single year. For them, things are very fine indeed.

Its just another example of how ordinary kiwis are invisible to this government, of how our situation, our pain doesn't count. They're not interested in making us better off. All they care about is their mates at the top.

National to run on social division II

And while we're on the subject, another example of National's election strategy of running on social division, othering people at the bottom and whipping up hate for votes: their plans to introduce new asylum-seeker laws:

The Government is considering whether new laws are needed to discourage asylum seekers from arriving on New Zealand shores.

Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman yesterday said the Government was looking at all options to combat illegal immigration, including legislation.

The subtext: "refugees are evil, and National is going to do something about them". Again, pick a group, other them, demonise them, and promise decent white volk that you will keep them safe from this dreadful menace. Its simply whipping up hate and fear for votes. And its a great distraction for your lack of an economic plan.

Meanwhile, the facts about refugees - that (thanks to checks barring them from ever getting on a plane) we do not receive many claimants, that only a third are successful, and that those we accept go on to become valuable members of New Zealand society are overlooked. As is the fact that we have obligations under international law to accept refugees and process claims fairly. Or indeed the fact that our anti-people-smuggling law is already far tougher than that proposed in Australia. But hey, there's hate to whip up, and votes to win. National wouldn't want mere things like facts to get in the way of that, would they?