Friday, December 28, 2012

New Fisk

A word of advice about the Middle East – we’ve reached the ‘tipping point’ with cliches

Judith Collins' budget blowout

The Herald reports that the Police's Diplomatic Protection Squad overspent their budget by more than $1 million last year - 25% of its total. This is the second year in a row of significant overspending: in 2009 - 10, they overspent by $800,000. Normally I'd be taking this as strong evidence of lax financial control on the part of the police and demanding severed heads, except that as duty Minister Judith Collins points out, its demand-driven:

"I would point out too there was in fact a Rugby World Cup during that financial year, there were a tremendous amount of dignitaries coming and going from New Zealand and, frankly, I would expect that the police should be allowed to get on with their job," she said.

Of course, all of this extra demand should have been budgeted for. But it wasn't. The DPS budget for 2010 - 11, when it was expecting all that extra demand from the Unmentionable Sporting Event was the same as it was in 2009 - 10, when it wasn't: just a tad over $4 million. The blame then belongs to politicians, who failed to increase the budget to cope, despite knowing that there would be extra spending. The Police Minister at the time? Judith Collins, of course. No wonder she's not keen on scrutiny and bitching about "nitpicking" - otherwise the media might place the blame where it really belongs: on the penny-pinching miser who failed to provide the DPS with the resources they needed to do the job.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Not even Treasury believes in charter schools

Treasury took the opportunity of the Friday before the holidays to dump a pile of documents - including advice showing that they think the government's charter schools are a bad idea:

However [the documents] also show Treasury is not convinced the benefits of introducing the schools will outweigh the costs and risks.

The papers express scepticism that increasing competition between schools will improve the education system.

The documents show both the Treasury and Ministry of Education opposed the Government's plan to allow partnership schools to hire unregistered teachers.

Treasury told the Government that teacher registration is an indication of a minimum level of quality.

The full documents are here [PDF]. And they're pretty damning. For example:
The evidence suggests that schooling systems that use strongly competitive elements such as vouchers, avoiding school zoning and ‘charter’ schools do not produce systematically better outcomes. This is driven by the risks associated with proliferation of small schools, lack of information for parents and government to assess quality and cost-effectiveness and drive competitive pressures in the right areas, and the use of market power by schools in the selection of students (“cherry picking”).

They go on to add that existing competition
takes place in a context of parents having poor information on which to base their choice of school and empirical evidence that suggests the gains from competition are minimal or negative.

Instead of wasting money on having schools compete against one another to attract rich students (which is always going to be an easier way of improving average grades than merely improving quality), they suggest collecting "value-add" data showing the difference a school makes to its input cohort. This actually let us see what works and what doesn't. But the government seems to have ignored this in favour of turning kids into guinea pigs in some demented capitalist experiment.


I think this speaks for itself:

The Government has spent more than $1 million on consultants as part of the switch over to Novopay including $650,000 on testing of the payroll system; but ignored the results, Labour says.

Information obtained by the Labour Party shows the Ministry of Education spent $650,000 on "user acceptance testing," which showed nearly half of 731 trial-users felt they were ready for the system to go live.

Or, to put it another way, more than half thought it was not ready. Yet despite that, it was pushed forward. The results of that policy can be seen in teachers' pay packets today.

This is an unbelievable degree of muppetry from the Ministry of Education. But its what happens when you get political pressure to launch a project, whether it is ready or not. And while the Secretary of Education has rightly fallen on her sword for it, the person responsible for that pressure, the Minister, has not.


More evidence today that british torture in Iraq was widespread and systematic: they've paid out millions of pounds in compensation to hundreds of their victims:

The Ministry of Defence has paid out £14m in compensation and costs to hundreds of Iraqis who complained that they were illegally detained and tortured by British forces during the five-year occupation of the south-east of the country.

Hundreds more claims are in the pipeline as Iraqis become aware that they are able to bring proceedings against the UK authorities in the London courts.


Lawyers representing former prisoners of the British military say that more than 700 further individuals are likely to make claims next year.

Most of those compensated were male civilians who said they had been beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened before being interrogated by British servicemen and women who had detained them on suspicion of involvement in the violent insurgency against the occupation. Others said that they suffered sexual humiliation and were forced into stress positions for prolonged periods.

In other words, the same shit the Americans do. Which is what happens when you ally with them and your troops work closely with them: they get poisoned with America's love of torture and abusing the weak.

The MoD promises they will bring those responsible for torture to justice. But there have been no prosecutions. The military, like the establishment, protects its own. But the message that sends is clear: British soldiers can torture with impunity, and they will not be held to account. Which means that the UK will likely be facing exactly the same problem next time it goes to war.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A good question

At Easter this year, Oderings garden centres opened their doors in violation of the law - just as they have every year since 1970. As a result, they were today fined the maximum amount of $1,000 per store. But while doing so, the judge asked a good question:

When the case last called, Judge Gary Macaskill said the Government's labour service should take stronger legal steps to stop businesses from flagrantly flouting public holiday trading bans.

"I noted some time ago that if the Department of Labour was serious about nurseries and other similar business opening on these days, then they should go to the High Court and ask for an injunction to stop them from doing so. But they don't, and one wonders why," Judge Macaskill said.

So, why doesn't the Department of Labour - now MoBIE - do this? After all, it is their job to enforce the law, and the current system is clearly not working. An injunction would be easily obtainable, the costs are not going to be any higher than the current wasted prosecutions, and unlike those, it would actually be effective (in that garden centres which did open would be in contempt of court and open to some fairly strong penalties - including the jailing of their management).

Or is the real problem that the Department of Labour doesn't actually want to enforce the law effectively...?

An appalling decision

That's the only way to describe a judge's decision to jail a transgender woman in a male prison. While the nature of her crime makes a sentence of imprisonment appropriate, sending her to a male prison creates a significant risk of abuse. The judge's response to that risk was not to send her to a female prison, but to give her a 15% discount on her sentence as compensation for the abuse she will suffer.

Think about that for a moment: the judge has basically sentenced someone to be abused, possibly raped. And the best they can do is put a price on it: four and a half months of imprisonment.

This is simply wrong. The state is supposed to punish you with imprisonment. And it is legally required to protect prisoners from violence, and to treat them with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity as a person. This judge has failed on all of those counts. And all because they can't see past the gender someone was to the gender they are.

Overseas, trans prisoners get to serve their sentence in a prison appropriate for their gender. We need to do that here. And if our prison system cannot accommodate them, then it is simply unfit for purpose.

NZTA bullies

Last night, the Wellington City Council backed away from the controversial Basin Reserve Flyover, instead commissioning a study of other options. NZTA's response? Threaten to cut off funding for other projects:

Moves to renege on support for the Basin Flyover could see cash pulled from other capital transport projects, the New Zealand Transport Agency has told the Wellington City Council.

In a letter to the council, NZTA chief executive Geoff Dangerfield warned that a last-ditch move to withdraw support for the flyover could mean other projects, including work on the Public Transport Spine Study, could be scrapped.

"Council needs to be aware that its withdrawal of its support for the bridge proposal at this late stage may have significant implications for investment in Wellington's wider transport network and ultimately on the growth and prosperity of the city," the letter obtained by The Dominion Post said.

The message is clear: its NZTA's way or the highway. And Wellington's transport infrastructure will be held hostage to enforce that.

This makes a mockery of any pretence that NZTA funds projects on merit. Instead, they're funding them for political reasons to enforce obedience. I doubt that that sits well with their governing Act - the legal criteria for approving projects do not include "political bullying", for example. Neither does it sit well with basic democratic principles.

NZTA has overstepped the mark and needs to learn its place. Decisions on what Wellington's transport infrastructure should look like are properly the domain of its people's elected representatives - not unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats.

Big Brother is watching you

So, the police are apparently using third-world dictator style software to trawl social media:

Police insist a web-scanning tool which allows them to monitor people's movements is not a case of Big Brother watching.

The software, Signal, developed by Wellington company Intergen with police collaboration, means wall posts, photos, videos and status updates sent from major events are likely to be viewed by police.

While it scans only public posts (like, say, this one), that doesn't mean its not a problem. The internet is the new town square - and this is like the police putting an officer with a notebook behind everyone to note down what we're saying. No, nothing "Big Brother" about that at all.

And what do the police use this super new "crime-fighting" tool for? Murders? Rapes? burglaries? Yeah, right:
Police use Signal to search for hashtags and keywords, enabling them to monitor large groups. During the World Cup they used Signal to intercept a boy-racer convoy from Auckland to Hamilton that was to coincide with a match, and learnt quickly about a planned protest.
So, just to get this straight, police are trawling social media so they can interfere with people's freedom of movement and their freedom of speech (also, their freedom to party - monitoring private social events seems to be another key "benefit"). No, nothing to worry about there at all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Savita's law

Last month, Savita Halappanavar died a slow and painful death in an Irish hospital after doctors refused to perform an abortion. Now, the Irish government is introducing legislation confirming that abortion is legal to save the life of the mother:

In a move unthinkable even a few years ago, the Irish government is to introduce legislation permitting abortions in limited circumstances.

The decision follows pressure from the European court of human rights, which ruled that abortions should be allowed in the republic in cases where a woman's life was at risk.

The taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who represents one of the most traditional rural Catholic constituencies in Ireland, said the Fine Gael-Labour coalition would proceed with a mixture of "legislation with regulation".

The measures would be based on proposals from the so-called Expert Group. The reforms are expected to allow terminations where there is a medical risk to a woman's life or when she is thought to be in danger of killing herself. It is unclear whether the law will allow for terminations in cases of rape or sexual abuse.

Obviously, this isn't far enough: civilised countries have abortion on demand (sadly, New Zealand isn't one of them). But it is definitely progress, and should hopefully prevent a case like Savita Halappanavar's from happening ever again.

Lawless farmers

It looks like Canterbury's farmers are systematically ignoring the law on compulsory water meters:

More than 40 per cent of Canterbury's large water-consent holders have not installed compulsory meters, but the regional council is not issuing any fines just yet.

The Government required all consent-holders with water takes of 20 litres per second or more to have meters installed by November, but as of last week, Environment Canterbury said of the 5527 water takes, only 55 per cent (3040) had fully complied with the regulations.

ECan resource management director Kim Drummond said it would not issue abatement notices or fine anyone who had not met the requirements yet.

This is par for the course for ECan's "enforcement": environmental regulations are ignored on a massive scale, but only a tiny fraction of those doing so are prosecuted. So what's the incentive for obeying the law?

ECan needs to get tough with its lawless farmers. They've had two years to get their shit together on this issue, and there's simply no excuse for having not done so. Those in violation of the law need to be prosecuted and fined. Otherwise they will have no incentive to obey in future.

A sacrificial public servant

Education Secretary Lesley Longstone has resigned. Good riddance. Since being parachuted into the job last year, she's presided over the NovoPay fiasco, which has seen hundreds of teachers go unpaid, and led the Christchurch school closure mess. In addition, under her tenure the Ministry has been strongly criticised by the Ombudsman for its OIA handling processes. As the person in charge, it is right and proper that she carry the can for that.

...of course, the same applies to the Minister. These are her policies, and she is ultimately responsible to Parliament for her department. She should be resigning too. Instead, she's thrown her chief executive under the bus in the hop that this will carry the blame away. But if the problems continue next year, she will not be able to do the same to her acting chief executive.

(Meanwhile, I'm now wondering how much the next permanent Secretary of Education will want extra in salary and severance as compensation for the risk of being similarly sacrificed by Parata. Her refusal to accept blame for her own incompetence has just cost us a lot of money...)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


The Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update is out, and as expected it projects National making its self-imposed target of a surplus in 2015 - but only due to a last-minute tax increase. I'm not actually that concerned about the latter - its entirely appropriate that the people who use the roads pay for them, and treating National's boondoggle "Roads of National Significance" as an extra expense requiring additional taxation is certainly fairer than paying for them out of the general pool. At the same time, it also shows the drain that this boondoggle is putting on our society, and for what? The roads National is building have negative rates of return, that is, they cost more than they deliver in economic benefits. It would be better to simply cancel them.

Meanwhile, Treasury's long-term projections show unemployment over 5% until 2017, declining labour-force participation rates, and spiralling debt. When Labour was in government, they delivered us a positive net international investment position (that is, the government had more invested overseas than it owed). When National leaves office, we will be back to owing 75% of GDP overseas. If this is National's "brighter future", they can shove it.

Still, there is one positive thing in Treasury's projections: they've given up on their nonsensical projection of high wage-growth in a time of high unemployment. This has featured in the last two Budgets, and has allowed them to project higher tax revenues (and therefore a surplus). Now at least we have the truth.

The Ministry of Education gets a spanking

Back in October, Campbell Live had a disturbing piece on the Ministry of Education's secrecy around the Christchurch school closures. The Ministry had instructed the Christchurch City Council to lie and say it did not hold information in order to thwart requests. They had also asked requesters to withdraw their formal requests in order to facilitate a better response. The Ombudsman took an interest, and has now issued a report [PDF] that is highly critical of the Ministry and its OIA processes. On the first point, the Ombudsman found that the Ministry's instruction to Christchurch City Council was wrong and should not have been made. On the second, they found that the Ministry was wrong to make such a suggestion, and that if taken at face value it suggests that there is a problem in the Ministry's OIA handling process. They also point out that the OIA cannot be bypassed in this way:

It is not possible to bypass the OIA. Any request for information held by an agency falls under the OIA whether the Act is mentioned or not.

As a result, the Ombudsman will now be reviewing the Ministry's OIA processes, and those across the wider public sector. I understand this practice of asking requesters to withdraw requests in order to get them processed is fairly common (though it has never happened to me), and hopefully this investigation will put an end to it.

Finally, the Ombudsman also expresses concern around the Ministry's attempts to manage information around the school closure process generally, and the widely-held perception by those affected that they are not being told enough. As a result, they will be investigating the Ministry's handling of such consultations, with a particular eye to how much information should be released proactively to inform people. Unfortunately, it looks like that won't be happening until the current round of sham-consultation is done and the decisions have been made public.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Greens' IT policy

While the political establishment appears to be going to sleep in anticipation of the holidays, the Greens have been hard at work preparing an IT policy [PDF]. Which probably sounds odd to those who think of the Greens as being anti-technology luddites, but as they point out, the IT industry is comparatively clean; it doesn't use carbon (at least, not here), doesn't fill our rivers with shit, runs on renewable electricity, and employs five times more people (and makes seven times more of an economic contribution) than National's favoured mining sector. Boosting it is a way of growing our economy and raising our living standards which doesn't impact on the environment - which is a really good idea if you want to shift our economy to a more sustainable pathway.

As for the actual policy, they're suggesting taking a cornerstone stake in a second international fibre-optic link, to ensure both competition and redundancy in case of failure. This is priced at $100 million, but as they point out, that's just 0.8% of the amount National has wasted on its "Roads of National Significance". national would no doubt complain that investment should be left to the market, but the market has failed to provide this basic infrastructure, therefore its the government's job to step in - just as it did for electricity and railways in their day.

Secondly, they're pushing changes to government procurement, to push them towards local providers for IT services, and to use open standards and open source software where possible. Finally, they want to reverse Nationals' proposed change to the Patents Bill, and outlaw software patents.

These are all good ideas, and I'd like to see them implemented. And isn't it good to see a party which believes government can take an active role in economic development for a change, rather than just throwing up its hands and leaving everything to the market?

New Fisk

Finucane, Sami al-Saadi and Khaled el-Musri: will we once again just 'move on' from the murky conduct of MI6 and the CIA?

Prince Charles: Tax cheat

In the UK, people have been getting increasingly annoyed about tax cheating by multinational companies such as Starbucks, Apple, and Facebook. Now it turns out that the rot comes straight from the top:

HM Revenue & Customs has been asked to investigate alleged tax avoidance by Prince Charles's £700m hereditary estate.

The duchy of Cornwall last year provided Charles with an income of £18m and HMRC's anti-avoidance group is now being asked to examine its non-payment of corporation tax following a potentially significant court ruling on its legal status.

The issue has been raised by an accountant investigating the tax affairs of the duchy – an agricultural, commercial and residential landowner.

He has analysed the impact of a judicial ruling handed down last year. Anti-monarchy campaigners claim it shows the duchy is running "a well-entrenched tax avoidance scheme".

So, Britain's future head of state cheats on his taxes - in the process depriving "his" people of their schools, roads, and public libraries. Its a terrible example for him to set - but a perfect illustration of the moral void at the heart of Britain's elite.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Catalonia will vote on independence

Last month, Catalonian voters went to the polls in regional elections, handing a clear victory to secessionist parties. Now, the two major secessionist parties - Convergence and Union and the Republican Left of Catalonia - have reached a deal to form a minority government, with an independence referendum by 2014 as a key part of the platform.

Spain's central government bitterly opposes this, and it is apparently illegal. But its also simply infeasible for a modern democracy to attempt to retain by force a national minority who wishes to leave. But with Franco's heirs in charge at a national level, that's exactly what the Spanish government is likely to do. Things are likely to get "interesting" in Spain, and not in a good way.

Minister of injustice II

So, the Bain reports are out, prompting another round of "did he - didn't he", complete with bloody socks, glasses, and debates over the average airspeed of a laden Dunedin paperboy. I have no opinion on any of that - crime news bores me shitless, and the research required to have an informed opinion on the case simply isn't worth the effort. What I do have an opinion on is the Minister's behaviour, and IMHO its pretty fucking shocking.

The reason the government went to an outside judge in the first place to assess David Bain's compensation claim is because we needed a fresh, independent look at the case. Everyone in New Zealand - lawyers included - either has an opinion on it, or like me finds it such a turnoff that they'd rather gouge their own eyes out than trawl through it. In the case of lawyers its also a problem because of the incestuous nature of our legal community - everyone knows everyone else, and it would be difficult to find someone of sufficient expertise who wasn't associated somehow with one party or another. So the only credible reviewer would be an outsider, someone with legal expertise who wasn't tainted by the New Zealand debate about the case.

Justice Binnie gave us that independent, outside review. And the Minister rejected it and ordered a secret, one-sided hatchet-job because she disagreed with the conclusions and/or thought that accepting them might harm her political image with the politically valuable sadist bloc. Whatever you think of the Bain case, that's not justice. Instead, its a rejection of some of justice's basic principles: neutrality, independence, and hearing both sides of a dispute.

Given our constitutional structure, the involvement of politicians in ultimately deciding compensation for miscarriages of justice is unavoidable. But I expect them to adhere to basic principles of justice in doing so. Collins hasn't. And that is simply disgraceful.

Compensation for rendition

Two big pieces of news around extraordinary rendition today. Firstly, the European Court of Human Rights has ordered Macedonia to pay 60,000 euro in compensation to Khaled el-Masri for their role in his kidnap and rendition. El-Masri was a German tourist whose name was similar to that of a suspected terrorist. On that basis alone he was kidnapped and unlawfully detained by Macedonian security forces, before being bundled onto a US jet and flown to a black site in Afghanistan, where he was tortured. When the US realised its mistake, they dumped him by a roadside in Albania, with no way of getting home. Its the first time the ECHR has held a European country legally responsible for its role in a rendition, and it sets a precedent for them to do the same for countries like Sweden, Italy and the UK, who rendered people, and Poland, which hosted a CIA torture centre.

Secondly, the UK has settled with Sami al-Saadi, the Libyan dissident they rendered back into the clutches of the Gaddafi regime. Al-Saadi and his family were abducted from Hong Kong and flown back to Libya. His family were released after two months, but al-Saadi was tortured for six years. The UK has paid out £2.2 million for this, probably to avoid the threat of discovery, which could result in the release of classified information (such as, oh, the name of the government Minister who authorised the operation, and the names of those who planned it, allowing them to be held politically and criminally liable). While there's still a criminal investigation, I have no faith in the British police's ability to properly investigate those in power. The establishment protects its own, even if they have to spend millions of pounds of public money to do so.

While compensation is owned to the victims, real justice will only come from criminal prosecutions of those responsible. Sadly, that's unlikely to happen - power is hardly going to hold itself to account. Which means that we'll see a repeat of this crime. Only when Ministers and officials know in no uncertain terms that it is criminal, that they will be identified and punished, that they will go to jail and their friends and families will know that they are the sorts of vicious sociopaths who actively collude in torture, will this stop.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

So much for "don't be evil"

Google's CEO is proud of the company's tax-cheating:

The head of the internet giant Google has defiantly defended his company’s tax avoidance strategy claiming he was “proud” of the steps it had taken to cut its tax bill which were just “capitalism”.

In an interview in New York Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman, confirmed the company had no intention of paying more to the UK exchequer. Documents filed last month show that Google generated around £2.5 billion in UK sales last year but paid just £6m in corporation tax.


“I am very proud of the structure that we set up. We did it based on the incentives that the governments offered us to operate,” he said.

The Silicon Valley boss went on to suggest that Google would not turn down the opportunity to draw on the big savings allowed under the law in the countries it operates in: “It’s called capitalism. We are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this.”

So much for "don't be evil". Google is now just another sociopathic multinational, a parasite, stealing from the rest of us by refusing to pay its fair share of the public services it benefits from (and boosting inequality while doing so by funnelling the benefits of that social theft into the pockets of a tiny clique of the ultra-wealthy). Its time they were forced to pay their fair share.

No deterrent

Back in February and may, when Ports of Auckland workers were locked out in retaliation for objecting to reductions in their job security and working conditions, the port employed local scabs to keep operating. It was a clear violation of the law, and they've just been fined $40,000 for it.

Firstly, of course, that's $40,000 the ratepayers of Auckland won't be getting as dividends, $40,000 wasted by Ports of Auckland's incompetent management against the interests of their shareholders. It shoudl be coming directly out of their pay-packets (instead, I expect they'll all get fat bonuses). But secondly, its clearly not high enough compared to the revenue gained from keeping the port open. If we really want to deter hiring scabs, then the Employment Relations Authority needs to be able to hand out fines large enough to outweigh the economic benefits of doing so. Until we do, the law will send a clear message to bad employers that they should employ scab labour, and treat the resulting fines simply as a cost of doing business.


Last month, the government finally passed legislation restoring the outdated title of "Queen's Council" to the legal profession. The first person it rewards with this title? Their own Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson.

While Finlayson is a long-standing lawyer, its more than a little unseemly. In the status-conscious world of the law, this title is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Putting your Ministers first in line to receive such a gift makes it look like you are abusing your public office to reward your mates - and that such appointments are going to be made on cronyism, not merit.

"The Government actually doesn't care about Kim Dotcom"

Last month, when challenged about the handling of the Kim Dotcom fiasco, Prime Minister John Key said that "the Government actually doesn't care about Kim Dotcom". Obviously. They "didn't care" so much that the case was discussed at the top-levels of our national-security heirarchy:

The police organised crime squad that carried out the Kim Dotcom raid has given briefings to a high-powered group charged with protecting New Zealand's "national security".

The briefings to the subcommittee of the group known as "O-Desk" have the potential to draw John Key's closest intelligence advisers into the ongoing court inquiry into the raid.


Since then, the Herald has discovered [OFCANZ] has given three briefings to the subcommittee, which is focused on NZ's response to organised crime.

The subcommittee is one of a few that feed into Odesc - the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination.

It is a collection of spy agency, diplomatic, government, military and police leaders tasked to "act on the Prime Minister's behalf to exercise policy oversight of the New Zealand intelligence community".

ODESC is also responsible for overseeing the GCSB, so the reason for their recent interest is obvious. As for the rest, you really have to wonder why spies are taking interest in a copyright case, unless its seen as a way of further toadying to the Americans.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Climate change: Ambitious for New Zealand?

Over on his blog, Gareth Morgan attacks the government's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol as duplicitious and deceitful. In the process, he clearly expresses the real problem:

It is evident that National does not subscribe to the view that New Zealand can meaningfully change its economic structure, we are predominantly a primary producer and that is what underlies our status of being the 5th highest emitter of greenhouse gasses per capita in the OECD (11th in the world). We simply cannot change that and are finding the economic cost of even reversing the upward trend in our per capita greenhouse emissions too big an ask. We don’t have any other strings to our growth bow other than sponsoring emission-intensive industries so for us it’s either economic growth or capping emissions – you cannot have both. This is National’s position. It needs to be explicit on this and have the courage of its convictions to say so.

This is National's vision of our future: a cow shitting in a river, forever. And everything else must be sacrificed to maintain it. Our local environment, the global environment, our international reputation, even our democracy - all must make way for the mighty cow.

Its a blinkered view of our economy, one which totally denies any possibility of innovation or change. "Ambitious for New Zealand"? Hardly.

As Morgan points out, the public aren't being asked whether this is the sort of economy we want. Its time we were. But that's the last question that National - a party whose principle purpose is to protect existing economic interests - wants to ask: because given a choice, the New Zealand public might say "no".

Reported back

The Transport and Industrial Relations Committee has reported back on David Clark's Holidays (Full Recognition of Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day) Amendment Bill, with the National majority recommending it not be passed. The reason? Unfortunately, they don't actually give one, speaking only of vague "negative effects" outweighing positive ones. But we all know why: because the business community which National so obediently serves are arseholes who oppose any extension of public holidays. Just look at how they reacted to the extension of annual leave...

The bill will now go back before the House, where its fate will be in the hands of Peter Dunne. Will he vote for it or not? The whole country will be watching - and ready to hold him accountable at the ballot box if he doesn't.

The end of an era

Back in 2002, the then-government introduced the Marine Reserves Bill. The bill would have replaced the outdated Marine Reserves Act 1971, introducing a more modern statutory management regime, allowing concessions, and bringing it into line with our international commitments. Unfortunately, the government changed its mind almost immediately after the bill was introduced; it was sent to the Local Government and Environment Committee, and has languished there ever since as the oldest bill before the House.

Today, the committee finally reported back on the bill (and the associated Marine Reserves (Consultation With Stakeholders) Amendment Bill) - revealing in the process that the government had decided to withdraw it. Apparently there will now be new marine reserves legislation "next year". With, no doubt, a giant loophole in it to allow National's cronies to mine in them...

With the marine Reserves Bill's demise, the Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill (introduced 2006) becomes the oldest bill in the House. I wonder if it will spend as long in limbo?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The water decision

So, the High Court has rejected the Maori Council's case against the privatisation of Mighty River Power. Reading the judgement [PDF], the judge has basically decided that the government's decisions in this matter are unreviewable. While he's right on the decision to commence the Act - that's clearly the will of Parliament - I'm not so sure about the rest. As for his conclusions that the government's "consultation" was anything other than a sham, and that Parliament can grant post-sale redress by effectively legislating away Mighty River Power's value (fine in theory, impossible in practice), they are simply laughable and deserving of a Tui billboard.

I expect the case to be appealed, and to go all the way to the Supreme Court. We'll see how it goes there. Meanwhile, the referendum campaign rolls on, and the petition is likely to be presented in another few months. And if the government ignores that, then they can expect to pay a heavy price at the ballot box for their arrogance.

Not a good idea

The government has announced the results of its latest oil exploration permit offers - including two blocks for Anadarko in the Pegasus Basin. For those with short memories, Anadarko owned 25% of the Deepwater Horizon platform, which exploded and polluted the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. And now they'll be drilling in 2,700m deep water off New Zealand.

This company, doing this sort of drilling, doesn't exactly fill me with confidence - especially given the lax regulatory environment. And any spill will likely end up in Kaikoura - damaging one of our premier tourist industries.

And then there's the other problem: they're drilling a chemical weapons dump. According to NZ Petroleum and Minerals, block 54861 used to be known as 12PEG2 - which is right where New Zealand dumped its mustard gas at the end of World War II.

No, not a good idea at all. And hopefully it'll suffer the same fate as Petrobras' exploration off East Cape.

Italy's dictatorship falls

A year ago, in an act of cowardice, Italy's elected politicians abrogated their responsibilities and allowed the appointment of an unelected, "technocratic" (i.e. NeoLiberal) government to manage their country through its economic crisis. That government then proceeded to fuck over the Italian people, imposing NeoLiberal austerity for the benefit of the rich and bankers. The good news is that this dictatorship has finally come to an end, with Prime Minister Mario Monti announcing that he would resign after a major party withdrew its confidence. The bad news is that all of this is happening because Silvio Berlusconi wants a fourth term - and another few years of immunity from prosecution.

Still, Berlusconi is better than the alternative. If he wins, he will at least be elected and accountable to the people. Monti was neither - he was a dictator with no mandate and no legitimacy. If he wants to keep pushing his austerity, then he should stand for election and see how popular it is. Otherwise, Italy is well rid of him.

Taranaki's dirty council

This is appalling: the Tarankai Regional Council still lets dairy farmers discharge their cowshit directly to waterways:

A leading freshwater scientist has expressed surprise that Taranaki farmers are still discharging treated effluent into waterways.

The New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society president Waikato University Professor David Hamilton said many other regional councils prosecute anyone who discharges into waterways.

"I'd have thought that the enormous efforts that have gone into protecting waterways through riparian planting would have been complemented by land-based effluent applications to try and reduce the impact from those oxidation ponds."

Half of the region's farmers, about 900, discharge treated effluent into streams and waterways.

As part of the review of its freshwater plan the Taranaki Regional Council is looking at requiring farmers to discharge on to land unless given permission by the council in certain weather conditions.

By comparison, the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council apparently has only two such discharge permits, and every month or so I read a story about someone being fined for taking insufficient care with their shit and letting it overflow.

This is not how a modern council should be taking care of its environment. But as Rachel Stewart points out, the council and councillors are deeply conflicted on the subject. Its chair, David MacLeod, is on Fonterra's board of directors, and the council has invested substantially in Fonterra bonds, giving them a direct financial interest in pollution.

This simply isn't good enough. Regional Councils have a statutory duty under the Resource Management Act to sustainably manage their waterways. Taranaki Regional Council isn't doing this. It needs to clean its act up, and remove those conflicts of interest, so that people can have confidence in it as an environmental regulator.

National doesn't care about child poverty

For the past nine months, an Expert Advisory Group led by the Children's Commisisoner has been working on evidence-based solutions to child poverty. Today, they released their report [PDF], recommending a child poverty reduction strategy so that the government can be held accountable, as well as concrete policies such as passing on child-support payments (starting at a low rate of $10 per week), a food-in-schools programme, a warrant of fitness for rental housing, and changes to service delivery. In the longer term they want to see a universal child benefit, an increase in the number of state houses, and a review of benefit rates.

The government's response? They're not interested:

Russell Wills' final report into child poverty has thrown the ball back to the Government, recommending 78 changes, including enshrining child welfare in law.

However, the Government has already poured cold water on the report, rejecting one big-ticket recommendation and emphasising tight finances.

I guess things look very different for Bennett now she's on a $250,000 a year Ministerial salary rather than on the DPB.

As for cost, as the report emphasises, child poverty costs us between $6 and $8 billion a year. Spending money on reducing it is a saving, not a cost. But Bennett is too short-sighted to see that (or rather, the costs are borne by others, so they are Not Her Problem).

The Expert Advisory Group has made a strong case that we can do better. They've looked at the evidence on what works overseas, and what doesn't, and tailored their recommendations to suit. If National wants to ignore them, then it sends a clear message that they don't really care about child poverty, and aren't interested in doing anything substantive to combat it. And that simply isn't morally acceptable. The onus is now on us as voters to turf this rotten, child-hating government out of office, and replace them with someone who will act.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The American "justice" system in action

The Guardian has a piece on Damon Thibodeaux, the 300th American freed from death row as a result of DNA evidence. Thibodeaux was sentenced to death in 1997 for a murder he could not possibly have committed, on the basis of a "confession" bullied out of him by police. The "confession" was known to be false within hours of it being given - key details were wrong, and Thibodeaux had a watertight alibi. But the police prosecuted him anyway. The "trial" is a perfect example of everything wrong with the US justice system.

Being poor, Thibodeaux could not afford his own lawyer and was assigned a public defence attorney by the courts. His attorney happened to be a former detective who had retrained as a lawyer, and this was his first murder case. At the time of the trial he was, unbeknown to Thibodeaux, applying for a transfer to the same district attorney's office that was prosecuting his client.

"I was willing to overlook the fact that he was an ex-detective," Thibodeaux says now. "But if I had known my lawyer was filing to be transferred to the DA's office I would have asked to have him removed from my case."

The trial lasted just three days. Over the course of it the prosecution tried to explain away the lack of any evidence of sexual intercourse or rape on Crystal's body by speculating that "semen-destroying maggots" had been at work.

Thibodeaux's lawyer, for his part, did not even refer to the confession. "You will read the entire trial transcript and he never utters the word 'confession', as though if he didn't mention it, it would go away," Kaplan says.

The jury was out for just 45 minutes before they delivered a guilty verdict. The next day the same jury sentenced Thibodeaux to death for murder and aggravated rape, even though no rape – indeed no sexual contact of any sort – had taken place.

Essentially he was convicted and sentenced to death because he was poor and could not afford a proper defence, and the state-provided one was simply not up to the task. But even when other lawyers got involved and did their job properly, the deck was so stacked against him that it still took 12 years for the state to accept his innocence.

The article quotes a defence lawyer as estimating that between 2% and 4% of death row inmates are innocent. Even if you believe the death penalty is morally acceptable (and I don't), that sort of error rate shouldn't be. But it raises a wider question about the US justice system: if they're finding this sort of error rate in death penalty cases, where presumably people are paying attention (even if only after the fact), what's the error rate in more ordinary cases, which face far less scrutiny? How many innocent people are in American jails, serving time and being brutalised for crimes they did not commit?

Reported back

The Local Government and Environment Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill, and as with the recent Local Government Bill, been unable to make a recommendation. It is highly unusual for this to happen; even when the opposition have the numbers to block a bill, there's an acknowledgement by select committees that their job is to improve legislation, not impede it. A bill has to be really bad before they will use their power like this.

OTOH, this bill is really bad, stripping Cantabrians of their democratic rights and extending the Canterbury dictatorship for another three years. And why? Because given a democratic choice, Canterbury's voters might vote the "wrong" way and prevent National's farmer-cronies from stealing their water.

The fact that National is pushing this bill speaks volumes about what sort of party they are at the moment. And an opposition who wasn't wasting their time conducting witch-hunts against their own supporters would make mincemeat of them for it.

New Fisk

A monument to evil that can teach the modern world
Bashar al-Assad, Syria, and the truth about chemical weapons

National's New Zealand

The latest from National's New Zealand: employers now think its OK to sack people for belonging to a union:

A member of Actors Equity has been sacked as a Wellington tour guide for reportedly making a derogatory comment about the filming of The Hobbit movies.

But Todd Rippon said he made no such comment and that his prominent role within the union was behind his dismissal.

He said a staff member from Absolutely Positively Wellington Tourism claimed he said something derogatory about the movie while escorting a group of international journalists for the premiere of the first Hobbit movie.

Mr Rippon said that when he confronted his employer, Rover Tours Ltd, he was told he could not work for the company while a member of Actors' Equity.

Radio NZ has audio of that conversation here, and it is made crystal clear that belonging to Actor's Equity is the real problem, and that the employer believes that he can just sack people for union membership.

Section 110 of the Employment Relations Act bars employers exercising duress against employees over union activity, including forcing them to resign. But apparently employers think that no longer applies under a National government. Hopefully this shitty little tourism company will receive an expensive reminder that the law still applies, and that they are not feudal overlords yet.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Climate change: Too conservative

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an intergovernmental scientific body established to provide the best science on climate change. Its reports tell us how bad the problem is and what we need to do to solve it, and inform both national policy and international negotiations. But there's a problem: those reports are systematically too conservative:

Across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world's most authoritative voice on climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent, say a growing number of studies on the topic.

This conservative bias, say some scientists, could have significant political implications, as reports from the group – the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – influence policy and planning decisions worldwide, from national governments down to local town councils.


A comparison of past IPCC predictions against 22 years of weather data and the latest climate science find that the IPCC has consistently underplayed the intensity of global warming in each of its four major reports released since 1990.

A comparison of the projections vs reality is here. And the reason for it is simple: the IPCC operates by consensus, and includes representatives of denier-nations such as the US and Saudi Arabia in its deliberations. They downplay as much as possible, tilting the consensus away from reality - and in the process stripping out the urgent need for action. OTOH, the fear that this is having an effect on policy is overstated, for the simple reason that governments are already doing far less than the IPCC's underestimate. Still, it is a problem, and one the IPCC needs to solve if it is to effectively fulfil its mandate.

Police perjury

The police have been caught lying again in the Kim Dotcom case. First, they lied about the GCSB's involvement. Now, evidence they have given on whether the raid was viewed live by the FBI has been labelled inconsistent by the judge:

An affidavit from the senior officer in charge of the Kim Dotcom raid contradicts earlier evidence that he gave to the court, a judge has found.

Detective Inspector Grant Wormald already faces questions about testimony that he gave in which he said no other agency had spied on the internet entrepreneur.


Justice Winkelmann noted that an affidavit given by Mr Wormald, from the elite Organised & Financial Crime Agency, said "there was no live coverage of the operations going on at the Dotcom mansion".

But she said this contradicted earlier evidence he had given at a hearing. It was a "critical issue" whether there was live footage of events unfolding at the Dotcom mansion, she said.

One example of inconsistent evidence could be considered a mistake. Now its a pattern, and not a good one. Not only does it threaten this case, but also raises questions about whether they have lied in other cases as well.

There's also the question of what sanctions Wormald will face for lying to the court. It is not something the police can permit to go unpunished - at least, not if they want to retain any credibility with the courts and public. Perjury is a serious criminal offence, and not one our police can be allowed to tolerate. If Wormald has perjured himself before the court (as indeed he appears to have done), then he needs to be prosecuted for it and sacked.

Gagging the membership

You're a major political party. Thanks to domination by a bunch of talentless hacks, your leader is second-rate and your front-bench are muppets. But members keep pointing this out and objecting to it, embarrassing you and raising the spectre of said hacks ending up jobless after the next candidate selection. So what should you do?

If you're the New Zealand Labour Party, apparently the preferred solution is to gag the membership:

Word is that a senior Labour MP (who will go unnamed) has been lobbying National Council to put rules in place for party members who participate in the blogosphere. It appears they don’t like the idea that members might voice their concerns about the way their party is run. I can only assume that there would have to be some kind of a process whereby members who broke these rules would face a loss of membership or some other form of censure.

So, rather than being a vibrant, democratic organisation, Labour's ruling clique wants it to be a party of silent obedience, where the membership shows up, does what they're told, and helps said clique get re-elected with no input or voice. The proper role of a party member is to be a happy little drone, raising money and stuffing letterboxes in the service of their MP, without once questioning their "betters". Quite why anyone would join or continue to participate in such an undemocratic organisation is unclear, but I doubt the advocates of this measure are really thinking about that. Instead, its all about protecting themselves and their careers, and bugger the damage it does in the long-term.

Again, its a sign of the weakness of Labour's leadership that they are contemplating such authoritarian measures. Only leaders who can't stand on their merits need to suppress dissent. But its also a perfect example of why people don't join political parties today: because really, who wants to be treated like a peasant?

Unethical investing again

Back in 2007, then-Listener journalist Matt Nippert did a major expose on the New Zealand Superannuation Fund's unethical investment practices. Contrary to government policy, a major government fund was investing hundreds of millions of dollars in tobacco companies, casinos, arms dealers, uranium mines, and oil. Some of the companies we had invested in had been blacklisted for propping up Sudan's genocidal government. Others made nuclear weapons. Some of these investments were almost certainly illegal, and as a result the fund changed its investment practices and divested itself of these stocks. But five years on, they're at it again, using trusts and investment vehicles to launder the holdings. And they're investing in cluster-bomb manufacturers - something which is clearly illegal and exposes the fund and its directors to substantial criminal penalties.

(And according to the Greens' supporting material, the National Provident Fund is even more unethical, investing directly in these companies. The Auditor-General is very clear that the Cluster Munitions Prohibition Act 2009 makes this criminal, so someone ought to be going to jail for it).

This isn't good enough. We expect our government to invest our money responsibly and lawfully, in companies which make the world a better place rather than a worse one. Instead, they're propping up the purveyors of cancer and murder, securing our future with blood money.

Daily cronyism

The government has just announced a pile of new SOE board appointments, including appointing Robin Gunston to the board of Airways Corporation. Who?

Robin Gunston is an engineer, currently National Director of Prison Fellowship New Zealand, and previously Head of Safety at the New Zealand Refining Company Ltd.

Unmentioned: he's also the President of United Future NZ, one of National's coalition partners. I guess United Future want to share in the spoils of government too...

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Climate change: The rich cheat again

Back in 2009, at the Copenhagen climate change conference, rich nations agreed to contribue US$30 billion of new and additional funding to establish a Green Climate Fund to fund mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Three years on, have they met their promises? Of course not:

Wealthy countries have not only failed to provide cash to help poor people adapt to climate change, but much of what they have agreed to give so far has come out of existing aid budgets or in the form of loans that will need to be repaid, new research by two international agencies shows.

The EU and nine countries including the US, Canada and Australia agreed at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 to make a downpayment of $30bn (£18.7bn) by the end of this year on the eventual $100bn that must be raised by 2020.

But separate analysis by Oxfam and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), shows only $23.6bn, or 78%, has been committed and much of that is not "new and additional" to existing aid, as was agreed.

"Just 43% has been given as grants; most of it was in loans that developing countries have to repay at varying levels of interest. In addition only 21% of funds have been earmarked to support adaptation programmes to help communities protect themselves from the effects of climate change," said Oxfam in its The climate fiscal cliff report (pdf).

In a separate report, IIED argues rich countries have collectively failed to meet their pledges. The funds, it says, are not transparent; only Japan and Norway have contributed their fair share of money; very little has gone to help countries adapt; funds are not being channelled through the UN as agreed; pledges made have been not been delivered to the poor; and the most vulnerable have not been helped first.

New Zealand is part of this problem. As the government admitted in the House today, our US$70 million contribution is neither new nor additional, but is instead coming out of the existing aid budget. Those solar power stations we're funding in Tokelau and Tonga? We're cutting other programmes to fund them.

This is not acceptable. Our governments are lying to other countries, and they are lying to us. We need to hold them accountable for those lies. Otherwise, they'll just keep on doing it.

Something to be proud of

New Zealand has been ranked the least corrupt nation in Transparency International's global corruption perceptions index for the seventh year in a row. Its good news - but also a reminder that we need to keep working to maintain that status. In recent years, we've had an MP prosecuted and convicted for taking bribes, we've reduced transparency around political donations, we've got a bipartisan culture of cronyism in appointments to government boards, and the current government seems to be extending that to contracts and policies as well. In other words, we're heading in the wrong direction. We need to reverse that, and force our politicians to clean their act up - or we may find ourselves falling down the rankings to end up beside Australia, or worse, the US.

A warning shot

Earlier in the year, the government announced plans to close schools across Christchurch, in what seems to be a crude attempt to use the earthquake there as an excuse to create a market for its substandard charter schools. The plans have attracted widespread opposition from the public, not helped by the Ministry of Education's contemptuous attitude towards the "consultation" process (which isn't). And now, Christchurch teachers have voted overwhelmingly to strike in response to the proposals.

The strike would apparently be illegal, thanks to the NeoLiberal paradigm which still infects our employment legislation, and the Ministry of Education could gain an injunction preventing it. That didn't matter to the teachers - which should be taken as a serious danger signal by the Ministry. If people are angry enough to vote for an "illegal" strike, they're angry enough to tell the courts to go fuck themselves and evade injunctions by, say, all getting "sick" (something impossible to prove false, and just as effective and disruptive as a strike). And they'll have the full backing on the community in doing so. The Ministry needs to back off, suspend its closure plan, and start again from scratch with real consultation. Sadly, I suspect that's the last thing on National's mind.

New Fisk

Syria's elite used to believe the bureaucracy would continue even after the fall of Bashar al-Assad. After Makdissi’s defection, that has changed


A ballot for two Member's bills was held today and the following bills were drawn:

  • Sentencing (Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill (Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor)
  • Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill (Tracey Martin)
The first is more law and order crap. The second closes a loophole in entitlements which sees orphans and unsupported children eligible for less assistance than those in foster care. Extended sitting hours meant Labour wasn't able to post the usual list on Red Alert, but it will appear here this afternoon.

[Hat-tip: @LamiaImam]

Update: And the formal results are up here. 71 bills, which is enormous.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Ad-hoc and inadequate

Back in October, we learned that Bill English knew about the GCSB's involvement in the Kim Dotcom case, having signed a Ministerial certificate suppressing the details in the courts. Questions naturally arose why English - who had signed the certificate while the Prime Minister was overseas - did not brief John Key about it when he returned from his travel. Now, thanks to an OIA lodged through FYI, the public OIA request site, we know: because the Prime Minister's office has no formal "handover" procedure when the Prime Minister travels. In response to a request for

a copy of the standard checklist (which may not be referred to as a checklist) used to ensure an effective and comprehensive hand over between the Prime Minister and an Acting Prime Minister, and vice versa, when the Prime Minister is about to go overseas, and when the Prime Minister returns from overseas.

I am after the standing items on this list which are always discussed, even if it is to report that there is nothing to discuss.

The Prime Minister's office admitted that it "does not hold any information falling within the scope of your request". There is no standard checklist, or standard procedure. Instead, such handovers - which happen several times a year - are handled on an ad-hoc basis. The Prime Minister's office says that "significant matters that arise would be discussed on a case-by-case basis" - but pretty obviously in this case they weren't. The Deputy Prime Minister failed to brief the Prime Minister on an unprecedented event - and apparently his department didn't brief him either.

This is unbelievable. A core part of our government is basically acting like total muppets, with no proper procedure to ensure continuity or consistency of government decisions. Quite apart from being a total failure of governance, it really makes you wonder what else has fallen through the cracks like this.

More cronyism

National continues its habit of appointing cronies to government sinecures, with the appointment of SkyTV lobbyist Tony O’Brien to the board of Antarctica New Zealand. Even the Herald's John Drinnan thinks it looks dodgy:

The unusual appointment of the legendary (and still very active) political lobbyist to the foreign affairs role has raised eyebrows - even among his Nats colleagues who see no obvious expertise, unlike businessman Rob Fyfe and scientist Carolyn Burns, who were also picked.

A McCully friend said the two men like each other, with a friendship dating back to the days when McCully was a leading light in the Parliamentary Rugby Club and Sky TV organised its overseas jaunts.

And the Government was not shy either in appointing Saunders & Unsworth political lobbyist Barrie Saunders to the board of TVNZ, and former lobbyist Richard Griffin as chairman of Radio New Zealand.

According to a parliamentary source McCully told colleagues he picked O'Brien for the Antarctic board because Sky ran the National Geographic and Discovery channels and he believed that might help promote filming. TV sources doubt that link exists.

No expertise, but personal links with the Minister - sounds like pure cronyism. The usual OIA request has been filed, and we'll hopefully learn in January whether there is in fact any real justification for this appointment and whether the Minister can run a proper appointments process. Assuming of course McCully deigns to comply with the law.

Why stop at half-measures?

So, the announcement of a possible royal heir has finally pushed the British government to end a thousand years of sexism (and ~350 years of religious bigotry) in their royal succession. Its a slight improvement, but at the same time, it changes nothing: their "modern and equal" head of state will still be neither. No-one unelected can be considered modern, and no-one who inherits a position can be considered equal. Instead, it will still be the same old absurd anachronism, a last vestige of feudalism which should be swept away with the rest of that odious system.

As for New Zealand, this will apparently necessitate a law change to our local version of the Act of Settlement 1700. But if we're going to go to that much effort, then we might as well go the whole way and abolish the monarchy completely. Why should we continue to accept rule by unelected foreign inbreds, who neither represent or are representative of us? And why should we continue to maintain a constitutional arrangement so deeply incompatible with modern New Zealand values? We shouldn't; instead we should do away with the whole rotten institution, and elect ourselves a figurehead president to host the garden parties and sign the paperwork, in place of the current appointed one.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the last one of the year. There are a couple of local bills first up, but they will probably be dealt with quickly, and then its on to the fun - starting with the last of Metiria Turei's Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 (Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill. This would expand the evidence-less asset seizure regime of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to cover money frittered away or laundered through casinos - effectively fighting injustice with injustice. That's not a good idea, but fortunately National's venality and cronyism has them on the side of good for once in opposing it. Next is Rino Tirikatene's Employment Relations (Protection of Young Workers) Amendment Bill, which while worthy - who could object to under-16s having proper employment law protection? - will probably be summarily voted down by the government. Finally the House will probably make a start on Kennedy Graham's Climate Change (New Zealand Superannuation Fund) Bill, which would force the Cullen Fund to be both ethical and practical by considering climate change in its investment decisions. Sadly, National is neither ethical nor practical on this issue, and are likely to vote to have our superannuation fund destroy the future it is supposedly set up to secure.

There should be a ballot for two bills tomorrow, and its again looking to be a record for the number of bills entered. Its good to see MPs of all parties working hard on this and putting up alternatives to the government's legislative programme.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Climate change: Yet another fossil

Another day, another "fossil of the day" award for New Zealand at Doha:

The First Place Fossil goes to New Zealand because the NZ Environment Minister thinks NZ is ‘ahead of the curve’ in not signing up to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. CAN knows the opposite is true. What the Minister fails to realize is that by refusing to sign up to the only international legally binding deal to reduce carbon pollution, New Zealand will become more and more irrelevant in shaping a post-2020 regime. The second commitment period is critical to maintaining the legal architecture and strengthening the rules of the future regime, post-2020. It would have cost NZ zero to put in its weak pledge into a QELRO, but it stubbornly refused. All this shows is that NZ is becoming more and more like the ‘old’ Australia - cutting off its nose to spite its face. New Zealand is abandoning its national interest for what? Look out Canada, you’ve got competition.

This brings our fossil tally to five so far. Its almost as if National is keeping score by offending our overseas markets and the international community.

As for Groser thinking we're "ahead of the curve", we're not. Yes, in the long-run, major developing-world emitters need to be brought into a carbon control regime. But following the US in refusing to do anything until they are is not the way to go about that. Developed countries, including New Zealand, made this problem, and we have a responsibility to act first in fixing it. Participating in a second Kyoto commitment period vs continuing negotiations to bring in China and India is also not an either/or question; as the EU shows, we can do both, and we will gain more respect, credibility, and leverage by doing so than by aligning ourselves with the "do nothing" faction.

Minister of injustice

When someone is wrongfully convicted, justice demands that they be compensated. While the New Zealand government refuses to recognise this in law, it does so in practice with a formal system for making "ex gratia" payments to victims of miscarriages of justice. The case is assessed on its merits, and a level of compensation fixed on the basis of the length of imprisonment, loss of livelihood and future earnings, and the degree of police malfeasance which led to the conviction. While IMHO the bar is set too high - the government requires victims to be actually innocent (as assessed on a balance of probabilities), whereas significant harm is still caused if the crown imprisons someone having failed to properly prove their case - there is at least some system for this.

Or at least, there was. Justice Minister Judith Collins has just thrown it out the window in the David Bain case:

The Justice Minister has concerns about the report she received three months ago dealing with David Bain's compensation claim.

Retired Canadian Supreme Court judge Ian Binnie came to New Zealand in July to assess Mr Bain's claim for compensation after his wrongful imprisonment, and Mrs Collins received his report in early September.

Cabinet will ultimately decide whether to pay Mr Bain.

Judith Collins was supposed to release her decision about the claim before Christmas, but Prime Minister John Key told Newstalk ZB this morning that is now unlikely.

"I think it's a recommendation she doesn't agree with, or at least has concerns about."

So, the system now is that you get compensation, unless the Justice Minister decides that it might harm her "tough on crime" image, in which case you are shit out of luck. Its as appalling as it is arbitrary. But its Judith Collins to a "t", isn't it?

(I have no opinion on the actual merits of the Bain case, but he was found not guilty at his retrial, therefore his imprisonment was wrongful, end-of-story. And if Judith Collins can't accept that, it suggests that she has serious problems with our entire system of justice).

A victory for the environment

Brazilian oil company Petrobras has abandoned plans for deep-sea drilling off East Cape and turned in its exploration permits. Good. The drilling was risky, and exposed us to a catastrophic environmental disaster we would have no way of cleaning up. We saw how much damage the Rena did, both to our environment and the local economy - and that was a small oil spill. An offshore blowout would have been devastating.

Fortunately, we are no longer exposed to that risk. Which gives us some time to plug the gaping hole in our regulations. Currently, there's no requirement that deep-sea oil wells be fitted with blowout protectors, and no requirement for environmental insurance to cover the cost (both environmental and economic) of a catastrophic spill before a well is drilled. These two problems need to be fixed. If you can't plug it, you shouldn't drill it. And if you're not willing to pay to clean up your mess and compensate those affected, you shouldn't risk making one. The costs of drilling should be paid by the oil industry, not by the rest of society.

New Fisk

Both Arab and Jew lived in the original Palestine. Why, Moshe Dayan asks, can't they do so again?
A historic triumph: Palestine is recognised as a state by the UN and democracies in Europe - though not by America. Will David Cameron stand with them?

An abuse of privacy

Geneva Finance is a finance company. You know the sort - car loans, "debt consolidation", basically legal loan sharks. Its a shitty business, and when loans go bad, companies like Geneva use shitty tactics to try and recover the money - harassing debtors at work, trying to wheedle information out of government departments and so forth (the Privacy Commissioner's collection of case notes is very enlightening about the sort of tactics this industry uses). But Geneva has gone beyond that: they used FYI, the public OIA request site, to lodge an OIA request with Housing New Zealand for a client's new address. This isn't just a matter of publicly shaming them with a record which will hang around in Google forever - they also thoughtfully included their full name, previous address, and date of birth, exposing them to identity theft.

FYI takes privacy seriously, and they removed the request very promptly. But someone sent me a (privacy-sanitised) screenshot:


The Privacy Commissioner is pretty clear that even inadvertently shaming someone is unacceptable behaviour by a debt-collection agency, and that case-law goes back decades. But this is well beyond that. Publicly labelling someone on an open website as a bad debtor is a wanton release of personal information. Including a date of birth in such a release is so far beyond irresponsible that it can only be seen as actively malicious. It breaks every rule in the privacy rulebook. But pretty obviously Geneva Finance doesn't give a shit about that. And they won't, until they start getting expensive reminders of the law which make such tactics deeply unprofitable.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Auckland to play dress-ups and hit things.

Normal bloggage will resume Tuesday.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Taking on our local tax cheats

Overseas, governments and media are asking increasingly annoyed questions about tax cheating by multinational companies such as Starbucks, Apple, and Facebook. Now Labour joined the campaign, and has taken up the cry locally:

Facebook New Zealand paid just $14,500 tax - give or take a few dollars - last year, making a mockery of Peter Dunne’s refusal to consider closing tax loopholes for multinationals, says Labour’s Revenue spokesperson David Clark.

“The New Zealand arm of the world’s most used online search tool, Facebook, paid only $14,497 in tax last year.

“In 2010 its tax bill was a mere $5,238. For a company that has 2.2 million users in New Zealand and makes billions worldwide, that’s barely believable.

“It appears Facebook is using the ‘double Irish’ tax technique. That’s where it uses Irish Facebook, which pays just 12.5% tax, to determine revenue and expenses. This ensures the company can put most of its revenue through countries with low-tax systems.

“Peter Dunne calls that ‘legitimate tax avoidance’. I call it a rort.

Clark is right - it is a rort. And it is not one we should accept. Across the Tasman, the Australian government is planning to close the loophole which allows these companies to export these profits tax-free. But Peter Dunne has no plans for us to follow suit, and his past public statements suggest he supports tax evasion.

Tax cheats steal from us all. Every dollar they save in tax from these tricks is a dollar we have to pay, borrow, or cut - a dollar we don't get to spend on schools, hospitals and state houses. The government should make these companies pay their fair share. And if the present government refuses to do so, because they are on the side of the tax cheats, we should elect one that will.

Whose side are we on?

Palestine goes to the UN today in an effort to gain recognition as a "non-member observer state" - a step up from its current status, and one which will grant it greater rights under international law (including, potentially, the right to take Israel to the ICC for its war crimes). The move will of course increase pressure on Israel to end its unlawful occupation of the West Bank, and so it is likely to be hotly contested by Israel's proxies, including the US. But it will pass by a wide margin, as those proxies are outnumbered and the US can't (ab)use its veto.

So where does our government stand? Sadly, they won't tell us, and deny even having made a decision. The suspicion is that they will take their lead from the UK and abstain, but that's just a cop-out. This is a serious matter of justice and international law. As a supposed supporter of both, the only credible position we can take is to recognise Palestine. Failing to do so will be inconsistent with our values and undermine our standing in the world, as well as our mana-based foreign policy. But then, National has been doing a lot of that recently...

New Fisk

Did Israel murder Yasser Arafat with Polonium-210? Some questions about his death won't go away

A rotten civil service

The UK is about to publish its energy bill, widely expected to contain whopping subsidies for nuclear energy. It will be a deeply unpopular move - nuclear power is about as popular as cancer, and subsidising it even worse - so the government will have to work hard to convince the public that this really is the best policy and not, for example, the result of some corrupt jack-up to support an uneconomic industry. But that's exactly what it appears to be:

Senior civil servants responsible for ensuring the building of the UK's new fleet of nuclear power stations have been extensively wined and dined by nuclear industry lobbyists, documents released under freedom of information reveal.

A hospitality register (.zip) released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) show that the three most senior officials at the Office for Nuclear Development (OND) have received hospitality from nuclear industry representatives on dozens of occasions since the office's formation in September 2009. Many of the meetings have taken place at some of London's most luxurious restaurants, hotels and private members' clubs.


Asked why so many of the meetings take place at such luxurious venues, the Decc spokesman said: "Industry meetings are hosted at our offices as well as at external events. The choice of location for external events is a matter for the hosting organisations." He added that such meetings are considered to be "informal" and that, as a result, minutes of conversations are not kept by the department. Ministers are not routinely informed of the meetings, he said, as all hospitality is recorded in accordance with Cabinet Office policy.

Yes, its just a coincidence that all of those meetings involved expensive dinners in luxurious surroundings rather than, say, coffee at someone's office. I guess the technical details of policy just flow so much better over lobster and champagne than they do over a desk. And its not as if the Minister needs to be told that their key policy staff are being bribed in this way - if he wants to know, he can just look it up in the register! (which is of course hidden in a locked filing cabinet in the dark basement of a disused building with a "beware of the leopard" sign on the door).

But this is just modern Britain: Parliament is rotten, and its no wonder that the civil servants are too.

But apart from being odious in and of itself, this sort of corruption undermines belief in government, and undermines the policies purchased by it. Pretty obviously, it is going to be a lot more difficult for Ministers to sell this policy, with the stench hanging around it, than if it hadn't been so obviously produced by corrupt lobbying. If the UK was democratic, that would be a strong practical reason to outlaw such practices. But with an unfair voting system which limits the ability of the public to hold governments accountable, Ministers have no real incentive to do anything.

Climate change: Another fossil

Its day three of the climate talks in Doha, and new Zealand has picked up its second "fossil of the day" award over our pathetic climate change policy:

The Second Place Fossil of the Day goes to New Zealand, again, because not only did Wellington deliberately decide not to put its target into the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, but today proposed that access to the CDM should be open to all and should not depend on whether a country is signing up to a second commitment period. To make it clear, New Zealand pointed out that otherwise the Adaptation Fund will not have enough money to keep functioning. Come on Kiwis, forget about the hobbits and think about your neighbors! You have to be serious… if you want to feast on carbon markets you have to work up your targets first!

I'm wondering if collecting these awards is some new target National has set for itself: get as many fossils as possible to prove their anti-environment cred to their anti-environment rump. But they're bad for our international reputation, and for a country which runs a mana-based foreign policy relying on the goodwill and esteem of other nations, disastrous.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Penny-pinching costs lives

Today's other appalling news: a leaked Defence Force report blames the 2010 Anzac Day helicopter crash on penny-pinching:

Three airmen killed in an Anzac Day helicopter crash were on a one-hour flight in pre-dawn darkness partly because it was considered too expensive to accommodate them in a hotel the previous night, says a leaked report.

The doomed flight on the morning of April 25, 2010, would not have taken place if the crew had flown to Wellington, for dawn services, the day before.

Instead, the air force Iroquois helicopter, one of three flying in formation, took off from Manawatu early on Anzac Day, with the crew using night vision goggles - something for which they were later found to have been inadequately trained.

The helicopter crashed at 5.49am, 36 minutes into the flight, killing three men and seriously injuring another.

The air force's internal accident analysis report says: "The need to minimise accommodation costs incurred by 3 Squadron due to pressure on the accommodation budget was recognised and contributed to the ... decision (not to fly the day before)."

The Defence Force uses the Amora Hotel in Wellington, which last night had rooms available for $149 each.

Twelve helicopter crew, two per room - NZDF killed three people and crippled another to save a mere $900. Great job there guys. So at that rate, we could get the NZDF brass to kill their entire command for less than a thousandth of their budget.

But it gets worse. Inadequate equipment, untrained crew, no instruction manuals. And the problems were systematic across the entire RNZAF, to the extent that it was unable to "adequately and reliably ensure safe and effective military air operations". And then there's this:
The report found knowledge of problems went to the top of the command chain.

The Chief of Air Force at the time of the accident, Air Vice-Marshal Graham Lintott, was last year promoted to be New Zealand's defence attache in Washington.

So much for accountability.