Friday, August 31, 2012

Something to go to in Wellington

Former salient editor Max Rashbrooke has organised a forum on inequality in Wellington next month. Speakers include Stephanie McIntyre, on how inequality affects people's lives; Philippa Howden-Chapman on the links between inequality and poor health; and Colin James on "how to think differently about inequalities and their place in society and the economy".

When: 18:30 - 20:00, Thursday 13 September
Where: Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, Wellington

There will apparently be a further forum in October on what we can do about inequality.

Turning justice on its head

Two weeks ago, South African police massacred 34 striking workers at the Marikana mine. In a just country, those police would be put on trial, and if the evidence was sufficient, convicted and punished. instead, the South African state is prosecuting the surviving miners for murder using an Apartheid-era law:

Workers arrested at South Africa's Marikana mine have been charged in court with the murder of 34 of their colleagues shot by police.

The 270 workers would be tried under the "common purpose" doctrine because they were in the crowd which confronted police on 16 August, an official said.

Police opened fire, killing 34 miners and sparking a national outcry.

This turns justice on its head. The police are the killers here. Prosecuting their victims is as evil as Saudi Arabia's practice of prosecuting rape victims for "adultery".

But what it makes clear is that the "new" South Africa is pretty much the same as the old one. Black people are still kept in poverty, and murdered when they try to change that. The only difference is that a few of them now get to hold the whip that keeps the rest in line.

Rich man's justice

What sort of sentence do you get if you run someone over in a fit of road-rage, causing serious and lasting injury? Community service, if you're a banker. But even better, you get the judge weighing in on your side, minimising your offending, and haranguing the media for taking an interest in the case:

A district court judge has flayed the prosecution and the media as he gave prominent financier Guy Hallwright a non-custodial sentence after seriously wounding a man he ran down in a road rage incident.


Judge Neave told the court that Hallwright was one of society's contributors who had suffered humiliation because of the Crimes Act charge.

He criticised the crown saying the charge, which a jury found proven, should have been laid under the weaker Land Transport Act.

Hallwright had suffered severe humiliation "well in excess of that required by the gravity of the offence", the judge said.


The judge condemned media for their "unhealthy degree of glee of the misfortunate of someone who might be in a more fortunate position....

"Indeed I have wondered at some length whether or not if this had been an encounter between two teenage boys on the backstreets of Manukau whether we would be here today."

To which the answer is "of course they would". But its highly unlikely that they'd have a judge so obviously taking their side - and undermining the New Zealand justice system in the process.

Sadly, my quick googling has been unable to find a similar case for an easy comparison. But there is one coming up: a Wellington man who deliberately ran over his girlfriend (causing far lesser injuries) will be sentenced in October. It will be interesting to see whether he gets a similar sentence - and whether the judge heaps similar praise upon him for his offending.

New Fisk

Minister for information who wants to go straight

Equality on the march in Tasmania

Tasmania's lower house has passed a marriage equality bill, becoming the first chamber of any Australian legislature to do so:

The bill, co-sponsored by Labor Premier Lara Giddings and Greens leader Nick McKim, passed by 13 votes to 11.

Labor MPs had a free vote on the bill. All but one, Michael Polley, voted with Green MPs in support of the bill.

The house's 10 Liberal members were bound by the party's position to vote against the bill. Advertisement

The bill will still need to pass the upper house, and its passage is by no means certain. Still, they've won the first battle - and in a state widely considered to be Australia's most backward as well (Tasmania decriminalised homosexuality in 1997, just 15 years ago). If marriage equality can win there, it can win anywhere.

(Despite this, the ALP remains resolutely opposed to marriage equality at the federal level. Which gives Australian voters a choice between one party of racist bigots, or the coalition. And they wonder why they're bleeding support to the Greens...)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kept it 18

Parliament has just voted 68 - 53 to keep the alcohol purchase age at 18. We won! Still, 53 votes for pedophobia is far too high, and I think a few MPs will need to be reminded of who waves their signs, delivers their flyers, and mans their phones. After all, why should young volunteers campaign for someone who doesn't support their rights?

Keep it 18

This afternoon, Parliament will have an unusual three-way vote on the drinking age, choosing between 18, 20, or a split purchasing age via a run-off system. I was going to post on why I think the drinking age should stay at 18, but it turns out that I already did back in 2010. My core arguments haven't changed, so I'll simply repeat what I said then:

I oppose this change, and any attempt to increase the drinking age, for a simple reason: it is discriminatory. While the default age of majority in New Zealand is still technically 20, the Human Rights Act outlaws discrimination on the basis of age, and for the past twenty years (since ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defined childhood and therefore adulthood) we have operated a de facto policy that adulthood begins at 18. Where specific age limits have been put in place, they have been set at 18 or younger; it is very hard to find a law enacted in the last twenty years which sets an age limit at a higher age.

(I can find one obvious one: the Gambling Act 2003, which bars under-20s from entering casinos, though ironically they can still buy lotto tickets and scratch cards and play pokies. The BORA report on that is not available, so I have no idea if the matter was even considered, but I'm not sure such an age limit would pass muster today).

In our society, 18 year-olds are adults. They pay taxes. They get paid full wages (discriminatory youth rates were repealed some years ago). They can get married or civilised, serve on juries, vote. They can even sell their bodies for sex. The remaining age limits - forbidding 18 year-olds from driving trains or holding office in a building society - are legacy code, which is gradually being expunged.

Advocates of a split age or a higher drinking age argue that there is strong evidence that alcohol causes significant social harm. I agree, it does. But policies to combat that harm must be non-discriminatory. A harm-reduction policy which discriminates against 18 year-olds is as morally untenable as one which discriminates against women or Maori. And that applies no matter how strong the evidence is. No amount of evidence can outweigh the fundamental right to be free of discrimination, and if society would benefit from infringing that right, then society can go burn. These people are adults, full citizens, and they must be treated as such. If 50 year-olds can drink, then 18 year-olds must also be allowed to. Anything else is just bigoted pedophobia.

Yes, that's right, its bigotry. Age discrimination is every bit as pernicious as discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation or religion, and those advocating it are in the same boat as the racists, sexists and bigots. And if people don't like that comparison, then perhaps they should be a little less bigoted in their behaviour.

Earning his $140,000 a year?

Last night, Labour's Raymond Huo was the only MP not to vote on the historic Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. So why didn't he? The Herald has an answer:

Labour MP Raymond Huo, who had earlier said he was leaning towards supporting the bill, did not cast a vote because he felt the Chinese community was overwhelmingly opposed to it.

Mr Huo said he would review his decision at the select committee stage.

So, his constituency was overwhelmingly opposed, so he didn't vote. He didn't represent them, and he didn't represent his conscience and Labour values, which were presumably telling him to vote the other way. Instead, he just sat there and twiddled his thumbs on the most important issue to come before our Parliament this term.

Aren't you glad we're paying him $140,000 a year?

New Fisk

Inside Daraya - how a failed prisoner swap turned into a massacre


A ballot for four member's bills was held today and the following bills were drawn:

  • Oaths and Declarations (Upholding the Treaty of Waitangi) Amendment Bill (Te Ururoa Flavell)
  • Local Government (Public Libraries) Amendment Bill (Darien Fenton)
  • Land Transport (Admissibility of Evidential Breath Tests) Amendment Bill (Scott Simpson)
  • Care of Children Law Reform Bill (Jacinda Ardern)

All but Ardern's bill have been previously covered in "In the Ballot".

Again, this was a massive ballot, with 68 bills in total. The full list is on Red Alert, here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The vote

Thanks to DPF, we have tally sheets. Not shown: proxies from John Banks and Peter Dunne in favour (just noted by leave of the House), raising the total to 80 - 40. Labour's Raymond Huo was the only member not to vote (chickenshit!)

Damien O'Connor, Ross Robertson, and Su'a William Sio were the only Labour (and indeed, the only non-NZ First or National) members to vote against. Now, I know Labour people like to talk of a "broad church", but (to use that metaphor) churches tend to require adherence to a certain set of core principles. Labour claims that equality and non-discrimination are core principles of the party. Its time they proved it by de-funding, de-selecting and evicting these bigots. And if they don't, people can draw their own conclusions about where the New Zealand Labour Party really stands on equality...

78 - 40

The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill has just passed, 78 - 40. So, we've won the first battle; time to celebrate! At the same time, its only the first battle. There's a long way to go before this becomes law, and the bigots will likely get exceedingly unpleasant over it.

I'll be posting tally lists when I receive them; please take the time to email some of those who voted "yes" to thank them for supporting equality and justice. And then, we can all start thinking about our submissions...

Member's day

Today is a Member's day - and the most exciting in some time. The big business is of course the marriage equality bill (which you can show your support for at noon today in Civic Square). But there's other business to get through as well.

First up is the Hutt City Council (Graffiti Removal) Bill, which should whizz through - unless of course the bigots are planning a filibuster. Then its Todd Mclay's nasty little gang-patch bill, before getting onto something with substance: Clayton Cosgrove's asset-sales referendum bill. In the current context, this will be contentious, but thanks to Peter Dunne National will have the numbers to defeat it. After that its Catherine Delahunty's bill on emergency discharge permits, which National will likewise vote down in order to protect polluters. Barring a filibuster, the marriage equality debate should start around 21:00, with a vote around 22:00. The bill has the numbers (even John Banks is supporting it), so the next battle will be at select committee.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Criticism is not vexatious

The Taranaki Daily News reports an appalling decision by the taranaki Regional Council to cease processing OIA requests from three men, apparently because the responses had been used to "unfairly" criticise the council:

Three environmental campaigners have been told by the Taranaki Regional Council their "deliberately mischievous and plainly vexatious" questions will no longer be answered.

TRC chief executive Basil Chamberlain has told Ngaere landowners Sarah Roberts and David Morrison and South Taranaki District councillor Michael Self, any queries received from them will now be simply acknowledged and filed.


In the letter Mr Chamberlain said the three had "consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented information associated with hydraulic fracturing in Taranaki."

Their actions had been so numerous and consistent that "they cannot be considered as either innocently naive or simply incompetent. Rather your actions are deliberately mischievous and plainly vexatious."

They may very well be. But that does not make their requests vexatious. That requires that a request "be such that no reasonable person could properly treat it as bona fide (that is, having been made in good faith)" and that the requester be "patently abusing the rights granted by the legislation for access to information, rather than exercising those rights in good faith". Merely using the information for ill-conceived criticism does not meet that test. The Taranaki Regional Council is clearly breaking the law here, and the Ombudsman needs to remind them politely of their legal duties.

Reported back

The Transport and Industrial Relations Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Immigration Amendment Bill, and recommended that it be passed with only technical changes. This is a disaster for New Zealand. The bill violates both the Refugee Convention and the ICCPR, by essentially allowing people to be detained for long periods simply because Immigration officials are lazy. Passing it will destroy our international human rights reputation, and make us a pariah-state like Australia. Which, for a country with a mana-based foreign policy, which relies on leading by example to persuade other countries to improve their behaviour, is pretty much fatal.

A choice on child poverty

The Children's Commisisoner's Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty has released its Issues and Options paper [PDF] today. The big news is that they have come down firmly on the side of groups like CPAG in arguing for a universal child benefit to replace the present discriminatory system of tax credits and Working For Families payments. They're also recommending a standardised poverty measurement (so that Ministers cannot wriggle and play definition games around how much poverty there is), a warrant of fitness for rental homes, and better investment in ECE and out-of-school care to make it easier for people to work their way out of poverty. Overall, it looks like a pretty good policy package.

Of course, some of it won't come cheap. But as the report points out, child poverty imposes long-term costs. Investing in reducing it will reduce those costs, leading to long-term savings in unemployment, crime, health, and economic potential.

But even more importantly than that, the report makes it crystal clear that child poverty is not a given, that we are not helpless, that we can do something about it. And this makes it essentially a choice of government. Our government, by not taking the sorts of measures recommended in this report, has chosen to have 270,000 kids in poverty. We need to hold them accountable for that choice, and make them choose differently.

New Fisk

The Syrian army would like to appear squeaky clean. It isn't
The bloody truth about Syria's uncivil war
Syria's newspapers trumpet an army victory but the sound of shellfire tells the true story
Aleppo's poor get caught in the crossfire of Syria's civil war
'Rebel army? They're a gang of foreigners'

A waste of money

A couple of weeks ago we learned that Paula Bennett's plan to drug-test beneficiaries was not based on evidence and would cost more money than it saved. Despite this, she's pressing on with it regardless, announcing that beneficiaries will face sanctions if they are unable to pass pre-employment drug tests.

This is of course a giant fucking waste of money. But National doesn't care about that. Responsible economic management? It all goes out the window when there are votes to be grubbed by exercising power over the poor.

There's also a strong element of hypocrisy here. To point out the obvious, Bennett wasn't required to pass a drug test before becoming an MP, or before becoming a Cabinet Minister - and she would be outraged if she was asked for one. But if she wants to impose them on others, she and her Cabinet colleagues should lead by example. If MPs want people to piss in a cup for them, surely they should do it for us. Anything else would be pure hypocrisy.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Marriage equality has a majority

I go away for a long weekend, and come back to read that the marriage equality bill now has the 61 votes it needs to pass its first reading. While its only the first reading, and some of these MPs may change their mind later, its an important step and at least makes change possible.

If you'd like to show your support for the bill, there will be a rally in Civic Square in Wellington at noon on Wednesday [FaceSpy]. I'll be there; lets show the bigots that kiwis support equality.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today, or Monday - I'm off to Auckland to attend Chimera, New Zealand's largest larping convention.

Normal bloggage will resume Tuesday.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

National boosts inequality

The latest MSD Household Incomes in New Zealand: Trends in Indicators of Inequality and Hardship report is out, and its bad news. The highlights:

  • Average household incomes have risen, but the median has fallen. Which means the rich are getting richer again, while everyone else is going backwards.
  • This is shown on decile average incomes, which show that the top 20% of New Zealanders have got richer in the last year, the next 10% have stayed pretty much where they were, and everyone else has gone sharply backwards. Guess which group National's policy favours?
  • Inequality has skyrocketed to record levels, with the biggest rise since Roger Douglas. This is unsurprising, as National's hefty tax cuts for the rich kicked in last year.
  • The poorest new Zealanders are on benefits, and have had their incomes protected during the financial crisis. Its the working poor who have seen income drops and whose living standards have declined under National.
  • On an income measure, poverty rates have stayed roughly the same thanks to the benefit system. On an NMI measure (basically asking people whether they can afford things beyond the bare necessities e.g. a phone, internet, birthday presents, new clothes etc), poverty rates have risen among young people and over-65s.
This is National's economy: the rich get richer, and everyone else gets screwed.

An outstanding natural landscape

Last year, the Environment Court overturned part of the Mackenzie District Council's District Plan, and declared the MacKenzie Country to be an outstanding natural landscape. The decision would limit development, and in particular irrigation, so Federated Farmers appealed it to the High Court. But now, that appeal has been dropped:

The decision has major implications for the basin. Mackenzie District planning manager Nathan Hole said although new development in the basin could still occur, "it does mean that land use should not degrade or affect the integrity of the landscape.

"The detail of how this is achieved is still being worked through with the Environment Court, but essentially the council's district plan will have objectives and policies, and rules [to assist this]."


Resource Management law lecturer Ceri Warnock, of Otago University, said declaring an area an "outstanding natural landscape" was the most protective category outside of conservation land.

"Any developers would have to show that their activity does not hinder the preservation of the landscape's qualities. For example, it is unlikely that irrigator pivots would be allowed," she said.

There's still some legal issues to resolve, but it looks like the Mackenzie will stay brown.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Australia's Mexico

When the US signed NAFTA in the 90's, US businesses began using Mexico as a threat. Workers were told to accept cuts in wages and conditions, or see their jobs go south of the border. Now, the same threats are being used by Australian employers about New Zealand:

Food-sector unions say Australian employers are using the threat of cheaper labour costs in New Zealand as a bargaining weapon when negotiating with their workers.

James Ritchie of the International Union of Food Workers says it has been told companies in Australia are using the threat of relocating their operations as a bargaining weapon with workers.

Mr Ritchie says this has motivated unions here to work more closely with their counterparts in Australia. He says they will share information and alert each other when a company begins to investigate moving.

Hooray! We're Australia's Mexico. Isn't National's low-wage, low-skill economic model great?

(I should add that Mexico has since improved its level of development markedly, and has been overtaken by other countries as the relocation-threat-of-choice).

They expect us to believe this shit?

On July 28, Chavis Carter, an American man, was arrested in Jonesboro, Ark. He was search, twice, his hands were handcuffed behind his back, and he was placed in the back seat of a police car. He was then "found" slumped over in the car with a gunshot wound to his head. The cause of death? "Suicide", according to the Jonesboro police:

Carter was sitting in the backseat of a Jonesboro police cruiser on July 28 when he put the barrel of a handgun against his right temple and pulled the trigger "despite being handcuffed," the report said, according to The Associated Press.

"At the time of discharge, the muzzle of the gun was placed against the right temporal scalp," the report said.

Riiiight. And if you believe that, I have a white house in Washington to sell you.

The police pretty obviously murdered a man here. They arrested him, handcuffed him, then shot him in the head. Having murdered him, they have destroyed evidence - dashboard-cam footage mysteriously does not show the killing, but shows before and after - and are engaged in a coverup (including a rather laughable show and tell where police officers try and demonstrate how a man with his hands cuffed behind his back could shoot himself in the head). Their excuses are simply an insult to our intelligence.

New Fisk

'No power can bring down the Syrian regime'

The perils of deregulation II

Last month, we learned that the global super-rich have hidden 21 trillion US dollars from the eyes of the taxman in tax-havens around the world. Which in turn means the theft of between US$400 billion and US$1 trillion a year in taxes. Some of the culprits in this money-laundering regime are well-known: Switzerland, Monaco, the Bahamas and the Channel Islands. But thanks to our deregulation in the 80's and 90's, New Zealand is also part of this problem:

Similar observations have led Chalkie to another kind of Kiwi entity capable of being exploited by the unscrupulous. It's called a New Zealand foreign trust.

There are several key features of a foreign trust, one of them being that it pays no tax on overseas income. On its own that's a useful attribute, but when combined with another it becomes turbocharged, because foreign trusts don't have to tell anyone what they own, how much money they make, or who benefits from anything they pay out.


However, it may already be apparent that if, say, you had a lot of money and if, say, you wanted to hide it from certain tax authorities, a New Zealand foreign trust could be just the ticket.

So, we have a financial regime that deliberately allows wealthy foreigners to evade taxes in their home countries. This is, to put it bluntly, anti-social, an attack on the global community. So much for being a "good global citizen". We should be busting these trusts, requiring disclosure, and in turn passing the information on to the relevant tax authorities. We already do it for Australia, and we should be doing it for the rest of the world too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Numbers out of his arse

Remember when the opposition challenged the government on its plans to bribe the rich with taxpayers' money via an asset sales "bonus scheme"? And remember when John Key slapped then down by saying:

If the entire float earned $5 billion and 20 per cent of investors were 'mum and dads' the total cost would be $60m based on an Australian model, he said.

"$60m for the entire programme. So it's $60m, not a billion, three, or whatever ridiculous numbers are in the paper this morning all those numbers are wrong."

(Emphasis added)

It turns out that he was pulling those numbers out of his arse. An OIA request through FYI, the public OIA site, has revealed that the Prime Minister "was not provided with any specific advice" on the costs of his bonus scheme (it also claims that he didn't say what he's on the record as saying - the sort of transparent nonsense you get when you leave spindoctors to write your responses). So, faced with media questions, he made numbers up to defend his case.

And we're supposed to take National seriously as economic managers? Sorry, but I'd prefer someone honest, who bothered to ask for advice before making a decision.

Democracy, Parliament, and war

Sending soldiers to die is one of the biggest decisions a government could make. You'd expect, therefore, that there would be Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions - especially when they have led to tragedy. But you'd be wrong. There no requirement for government to gain Parliamentary approval for the deployment of troops overseas (though Labour has a member's Bill for that), and there's no guarantee of post-deployment scrutiny either. There was an unpleasant example of that today after Question Time, when Speaker Lockwood Smith refused permission for an urgent debate on the deaths of kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan - not because it failed to meet the requirements of Standing orders, but because "the House has more appropriate ways of recognising such events, and today has already done so". In other words, the mawkish exercise in hypocrisy Parliament opened with today - desperately reciting the old lie in the hope that this waste of life would therefore be rendered meaningful - is used as an excuse to shut down real scrutiny and debate.

This isn't good enough. We deserve better. The soldiers John Key has sent to die deserve better. Democracy means holding the government to account for its actions. That may be inconvenient for accountability-phobic politicians, and painful for the rest of us, but it has to be done, and it is Parliament's duty to do it. By refusing permission for this debate, Lockwood Smith has done us all a disservice.

The perils of deregulation

In the 80's and 90's, New Zealand underwent a revolution. We deregulated our economy and shredded "red tape", opening up the country to foreign capital and reducing barriers to establishing a company. As a result, we became one of the easiest places in the world to do business. But there is a dark side to this as well: we've become a favoured destination for international money launderers:

A report prepared for Commerce Minister Craig Foss says $1.5 billion is being laundered through New Zealand every year.

And the Reserve Bank said it had identified 1000 entities 'potentially involved in frauds in overseas jurisdictions'.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report, obtained by the Sunday Star-Times under the Official Information Act, said those who "wish to conduct unlawful activities are increasingly seeking to incorporate companies in New Zealand".

It said New Zealand's lax company registration procedures and non-compliance with international money-laundering agreements were causing a problem that had made the country "a domicile of choice" for international criminals wanting to launder money, and traffic arms and drugs.

We're already beginning to face international consequences for this: the EU has removed us from its "white list" of trusted banking jurisdictions. And unless the government does something about it, we'll probably face more. Unfortunately, their proposed response - the Companies and Limited Partnerships Bill - doesn't go far enough to close these loopholes, and even the government's advice admits this. The problem is that what international capital wants - lax regulation and no oversight - is also exactly what international crime wants. And stopping one is going to mean offending the other. And sadly, given National's subservience to international capital, they're unlikely to do what is required to clean up our financial sector and drive out the money launderers.

Getting out of Afghanistan

So, its now official, New Zealand troops will be leaving Afghanistan in April 2013:

He also gave more details around the Government's likely decision to pull out the Provincial Reconstruction Team in April rather than nearer the end of 2013 saying it was dependent on Japan's project to upgrade the Bamiyan airport runway.

"If they start in May it renders the airport unusable by our PRT for at least about six months."

The other option was to take everyone out by road to Kabul "and that is unacceptable to me because that is just too dangerous."

While that's sooner than originally expected, its still far too late. At best, we're making no difference in Afghanistan. Less charitably, we're fighting an unjust war, one in defence of corruption and theocracy and misogyny. Either way, our soldiers shouldn't be dying for it, and we shouldn't be there.

Exactly how long it takes for an orderly withdrawal is a military question, but its hard to imagine it taking more than three or four months. We could have our troops home by christmas. All it requires is for the government to give the order. And if they don't, and more people die as a result, we'll all know whose fault it will be: John Key's.

New Fisk

'They snipe at us then run and hide in sewers'

Some "plan"

The government's plan for boosting business R&D and innovation in the economy? Asking nicely. Some "plan". If they're not doing it now, what makes National think they'll do it in the future? Personal esteem for the Prime Minister?

This is just another example of National's hands off, leave it to the market doctrine of economic "management". And our current low rate of R&D investment is a perfect example of how it fails.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Good news on Wellington Rape Crisis

Wellington Rape Crisis has announced that they have met their funding target and will return to full-time operation:

Wellington Rape Crisis (WRC) has today announced that it will be able to open its doors again on a Friday after just one week of operating limited services. Last week Wellington Rape Crisis was forced to cut its services by 20 percent by closing its doors on Fridays, due to funding shortages.

Wellington Rape Crisis Agency Manager Natalie Gousmett says “We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the community support for our organisation. In the last week we have raised $55,000 from donations from the community, which will enable us to regain full capacity immediately, after only one week operating on limited services”.

“A big part of this fundraising success has been the dollar-for-dollar pledge by Hell Pizza for donations to our Fundy site but we have also received donations from over 550 individuals. It really shows that the community values and supports the work we do with survivors of rape and sexual abuse and their support people. WRC staff, Governance and volunteers want to say a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone that has supported us”, says Gousmett.

Its great that so many people stepped up to help when it was needed. At the same time, we need to remember that this crisis was caused primarily by government underfunding, and hold those responsible for that decision to account.

Water rights and compensation

The Waitangi Tribunal will deliver its interim report on water rights this week, most likely on Friday (when, dammit, I won't be around to post about it). As I've said before, I think Māori have a cast-iron case. They used the rivers in 1840, establishing at the minimum usufructory rights, if not outright ownership (depending on what Māori custom said at the time). Unless extinguished, those rights persist under the doctrine of aboriginal title, in the same way that your ownership of your house survives a change of government, or the Louisiana legal system survived purchase by the US. If extinguished - which is almost certainly the case in some areas given the large amount of legislation dealing with water use over the years, and the government's past belief that English common law trumps Māori custom (it doesn't) - then that is a breach of Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi, which guaranteed Māori tino rangtiratanga over their lands, villages, and other treasures. And if the Treaty has been breached, redress is due.

The question then isn't whether the Waitangi Tribunal will find that Māori have water rights - its pretty obvious that there are or were. The question is how it recommends the government recognise and/or compensate for loss of those rights. Eddie Durie had some thoughts on that on Q and A on the weekend:

Durie said long established rights need to be recognised before wealthy shareholders start to lobby against Maori interests.

He also said where a claim can be recognised, Maori should be compensated if commercial interests profit from the water.

"Where it is feasible to recognise a continuing situation (of ownership), a royalty should be looked at," he said.

In cases where it is "too late" to say whether Maori have a substantial interest, Durie said a compensatory fund should be established to help maintain those communities which had relied on the water in the past.

"I think if you have an asset like a spring which is discreet and set aside for a group, then if someone else is going to use it, they should pay for that use."

These are all sensible ideas. If you own something, its entirely right that you be compensated for its loss or use. And that doesn't change if your skin happens to be brown rather than white. of course, its inconvenient for those who profit (or plan to profit) from free use of stolen assets. But I see no reason to let our policy be driven by the self-interest of thieves.

What charter schools really mean

Giving taxpayers' money to Christian quacks to teach creationism:

Plans for a school to teach creationism as well as evolution have raised doubts over how the Ministry of Education will ensure children are properly educated under the Government's charter schools framework.

The Manukau Charitable Christian Trust is one of a number of faith-based groups planning to be, as the Government now calls them, a partnership school.

It plans to team up with Manukau Christian School and teach the In God's World philosophy, marked against the Cambridge curriculum.

The philosophy, used at other Christian schools, encourages every subject to be taught so students discover how God made the world, and upholds and governs it.

Science and culture modules are taught to equip students to recognise what the In God's World document calls the wonder of God's creation, and that God is the God of history.

This isn't education - its indoctrination. And thanks to National, we'll be paying for it.

New Fisk

UN leaves Syria to its bloody fate
A deserted city, a deserting UN, and a storm about to break

Thanks, John Key

Another three dead kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan. That's ten so far. Thanks, John Key - I hope that photo-op with Obama at the White House was worth all those lives.

As I said last time: this war is not worth it. We should not be there. Time to come home.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Calling bullshit on the politics of division II

So, not only does it turn out that Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's push to drug-test beneficiaries isn't informed by employer complaints - it will also cost twice as much as it is expected to save:

A Ministry of Health document obtained by Radio New Zealand heavily criticises a plan by Government to drug test beneficiaries.

The memo indicates the plan to cut benefits for job seekers who fail drugs tests could cost up to $14 million per year - double what the Government is setting out to save.

It also says the move could have a dubious effect on people's health and overall welfare.

As usual, Bennett ignored this advice. As a Minister, that's her call - but it doesn't exactly look like she's engaged in rational, evidence-based policy-making, does it?

The Law Commission and transparency

Two weeks ago, the Law Commission released their Review of the Official Information Act [PDF]. Ever since, people have been pressing them to follow normal practice and publicise the submissions. The Commission initially refused, then threatened to charge, and then after people started requesting the information from individual agencies, backed down and promised to release them on its website. They've now done so - as a single, 106MB PDF file: the least accessible possible format.

I think that speaks volumes about the Commission's attitude to transparency and open government.

New Fisk

Syria's conflict has crossed the border, and the ghost of Lebanon's civil war returns

Labour betrays kiwi kids

Last election, the Labour party did a good thing. After years of denying that its discriminatory Working For Families "in-work" payment denied assistance to those who needed it most, they listened to the evidence, and agreed to (slowly) universalise it in order to eliminate child poverty. Now, less than a year later, a Green bill to implement that promise has been drawn from the ballot. And Labour is saying they will only back it to first reading, and (implicitly) that they intend to abandon the policy they ran on last election.

This is why you can't trust Labour. They've got no backbone - and no consistency. Today's promises will be forgotten tomorrow. Principles-driven, evidence-based policy? You won't get that from them, unless the "principle" is keeping the apparat in perks.

Child Poverty is an indictment on our society. It undermines core Kiwi values - that everyone deserves a decent start in life, regardless of who their parents are - and imposes long-term costs on our future. A decent centre-left party would make its elimination a centre of their platform - and if the public disagreed, they'd have the argument and win it (because the evidence about this is absolutely overwhelming, and the values it challenges are widely shared). Instead, Labour is again saying that they are happy for this shame to continue. They think its a Bad Thing - especially when Paula Bennett doesn't care - but when push comes to shove, they're not willing to do anything about it. Its a blatantly hypocritical stance, and one that doesn't make them any friends, either with their own supporters or with others.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No accountability for information thuggery

back in 2009, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett committed an appalling act of information thuggery by accessing MSD records and releasing information on two solo parents who had dared to criticise government policy. She was rightfully taken to the Privacy Commissioner, which found that she had indeed violated these people's privacy, and her case was referred to the Office of Human Rights Proceedings for prosecution.

Yesterday, Bennett settled the case, apparently in exchange for an apology - which turned out not to be an apology at all, but an exercise in bluster and self-justification by the Minister, combined with threats to further abuse the privacy of those whose information is held in trust by the New Zealand government. When asked today if Bennett would keep her job, Gerry Brownlee (acting on behalf of the Prime Minister) basically said "yes".

This isn't good enough. We have a Minister here who has broken the law and pissed on privacy, in order to silence dissent and for political gain - and then acted in bad faith to get it to go away. In the process, she has undermined trust in government, and public participation in our democracy. She needs to be held accountable for that. Our government should not tolerate the presence of a lying bully like Bennett. If they continue to do so, it will simply be another sign of their moral bankruptcy.

Will the government support transparency?

Labour's bill on port company transparency has been drawn from the ballot. The question now is "will the government support it"?

This isn't just an abstract issue. These are public companies, managing our money. In every other case, we recognise that this means that we have the right to see what they are doing, even when they are a business, to ensure accountability for public funds. But not in the case of port companies. And there seems to be no good reason for it. even agency submitters to the Law Commission's review of the OIA - who were not exactly supportive of transparency - recognised that.

This is an anomaly that needs to be fixed. National needs to decide whether they stand on the side of transparency, or of secrecy, unaccountability, and ultimately poor management of publicly-owned entities.

Donate to Wellington Rape Crisis

Wellington Rape Crisis provides a vital service supporting victims of rape and sexual abuse and their families. But earlier this week they announced that due to funding cuts they would have to shut down for one day a week. Its an appalling situation, and a sign of the public squalor National's cuts are causing. And in the absence of the government stepping up to do its fucking job, we have to instead.

Details on how to donate to Wellington Rape Crisis are here. You can donate by credit card through their fundy page, by internet banking, or by an old-fashioned cheque in the mail. But however you do it, please give generously.


A ballot for three member's bills was held today and the following bills were drawn:

  • Local Government (Council-Controlled Organisations) Amendment Bill (Darien Fenton)
  • Reserve Bank of New Zealand (Amending Primary Function of Bank) Amendment Bill (Winston Peters)
  • Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill (Catherine Delahunty)

The first of these bills has been covered here (and in the related series of posts on ports and transparency). The others have been covered in "In the ballot".

This was the biggest ballot ever, with 67 bills. Both Labour and the Greens had full slates, effectively making their own luck. And that has showed in the last few ballots. There were 12 new bills, but analysis will have to wait until they are up on the Parliamentary website.

The full list is on Red Alert, here.

British hypocrisy

Last year, when a mob of Iranian students stormed the UK embassy in Tehran, the British government expressed its outrage. Diplomatic premises were inviolable, they said, and Syria had to be punished for failing to protect them.

Today, they're threatening to storm the Ecuadorian embassy in London to arrest Julian Assange.

You don't have to approve of Assange or his weak case for asylum to see this as deeply hypocritical. The UK can not have it both ways. Either diplomatic premises are inviolable and sovereign, or they are not. And if the UK chooses the latter, then it won't have a leg to stand on when people do the same to their embassies in future.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A harmful digital communication

A much-shorter response to the Law Commission's briefing on Harmful Digital Communications:

(Image stolen from Wikipedia)

This is an example of what the Law Commission wants to ban: flipping people (in this case them) off online. The sheer insanity of that position ought to be apparent to all.

The Law Commission are poopy-heads

If I call someone a poopy-head on the internet, should I go to jail? "Yes", according to the Law Commission's new briefing on Harmful Digital Communications [PDF]. In addition to proposing some sensible measures, such as tweakign the Harassment, Human Rights, Privacy and Crimes Acts to make it clear that they apply to online communications, and requiring schools to have anti-bullying policies (which ought to be a total no-brainer), they are also recommending (to use TechLiberty's words):

The creation of a new criminal offence that targets digital communications which are "grossly offensive or of an indence, obscene or menacing character and which cause harm". Harm is said to include physical fear, humiliation, mental and emotional distress.
So, humiliating or causing distress to someone online will be a criminal offence with a penalty of up to three months' imprisonment. Causing distress. Well, Colin Craig distresses me, with his bigotry. So does Judith Colins and her knee-jerk authoritarianism. And indeed, the Law Commission, with this idiocy. But I don't for a moment think any of them should end up in jail for it.

Its not a criminal offence to cause people mere humiliation or distress offline. We shouldn't let a bunch of scared old men turn it into a crime online. We have a Harassment Act already, which covers the legitimate restrictions on free speech in this area. There seems to be no good reason to go beyond it. The UK has such a law, and its already leading to horror stories; let's not make the same mistake here.

(I'll leave their other marvellous idea - the creation of a censorship tribunal to enable speedy takedowns of such humiliating and distressing material - for another day)

Calling bullshit on the politics of division

Back in July, Bill English raised the prospect of drug-testing beneficiaries, saying

"In my electorate, a lot of the jobs available to younger people are in forestry and in the meat-processing industry. And I'm told by those employers they often can't employ our own locally unemployed young people because they can't pass a drug test."
It turns out that he lied:
Following a OIA request, CTU has received information from the Ministry of Social Development today that the government has received no advice, briefings, papers or reports in the last twelve months about complaints from employers about beneficiaries failing drug tests and is unable to locate the much vaunted complaints from employers about beneficiaries failing drug tests.
So basically we have a Minister smearing beneficiaries without any evidence in order to whip up socio-economic prejudice (and redneck votes). Its disgusting behaviour. But its so very, very National, isn't it?


Csanad Szegedi is a Hungarian politician. He was a founder of the fascist paramilitary Hungarian Guard, and in 2009 was elected to the European Parliament as a representative of the anti-Semitic Jobbik party. Except there's one problem: it turns out that Szegedi is Jewish:

Following weeks of Internet rumours, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother's side were Jews - making him one too under Jewish law, even though he doesn't practice the faith.

His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labor camps.

Since then, the 30-year-old has become a pariah in Jobbik and his political career is on the brink of collapse. He declined to be interviewed for this story.


Under pressure, Szegedi resigned last month from all party positions and gave up his Jobbik membership.

That wasn't good enough for the party: Last week it asked him to give up his seat in the European Parliament as well. Jobbik says its issue is the suspected bribery, not his Jewish roots.

It's beautifully ironic that a leading anti-Semite would turn out to be Jewish – about as beautiful as finding out that a US Republican bigot is in fact gay. But its also deeply illuminating about Jobbik. When a party forces someone to resign from leadership positions (and wants to force them to resign from the European Parliament) for being Jewish, then those public denials of anti-Semitism ring kindof hollow.

Big Tobacco loses in Australia

When Australia introduced a plain packaging law, Big Tobacco was outraged, and threatened to challenge it on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional taking of their property. Well, they did - and today they lost, with the Australian high Court ruling that the law was constitutional:

The federal government has secured a big win over big tobacco with the High Court ruling Labor’s world-first plain packaging laws are constitutionally valid.

The decision is expected to have significant influence globally with both the United Kingdom and New Zealand considering plain packaging.

Health experts have hailed the decision as a major victory for global health.

The full decision will be released later, and will no doubt be subject to appeal as Big Tobacco fights for its "right" to keep its customers ignorant of the nature of their product - but its still an important victory. And hopefully it will strengthen our own government's resolve on this issue.

Member's Day

Today is Member's Day. First up there's some local business to get through - the second reading of the Hutt City Council (Graffiti Removal) Bill - and then we get on to the real business. Today's big bill is Russel Norman's Overseas Investment (Restriction on Foreign Ownership of Land) Amendment Bill, and its first up. After that we've got Chris Auchinvole's Habeas Corpus Amendment Bill, which shouldn't be controversial as it implements an old Law Commission recommendation, and then Annette King's Local Government (Salary Moderation) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly, they might make a start on Todd McClay's Prohibition of Gang Insignia in Government Premises Bill. Which will likely mean a ballot for two bills tomorrow.

Marriage equality is steadily moving up the Order Paper, and barring urgency looks likely to receive its first reading on Suffrage Day. Which is rather apt.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Something to go to in Palmerston North

The 26 for babies campaign is organising a meeting of Manawatu women to discuss Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months' Paid Leave) Amendment Bill:

When: Monday 27th August 4.00pm – 6.00pm
Where: PSA House, King Street, Palmerston North

The decision to restrict this to women is odd, and makes it seem as if paid parental leave is just a "women's issue" or that only women ought to be interested in it. Neither is true. Its a matter of basic equality, which affects every parent or would-be parent - and that's something we should all be interested in.

Update: I've since had a meeting from one of the organisers saying that everyone is welcome. FaceSpy event is here.

Another failure of private prisons

Last month, we learned that Serco was still failing to meet performance targets for its Mt Eden Corrections Facility. One of those targets is around the number of wrongful detentions and releases, where Serco wrongfully imprisoned 4 people in Q2 and 3 2012, and wrongfully released 5. Sadly, Corrections doesn't publish statistics on its own rate of wrongful release or imprisonment, but someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask for some. And the result shows that yet again, Serco is performing worse than government-run prisons in this crucial area.

According to Corrections, between August 2011 and February 2012 they wrongfully detained six prisoners, and wrongfully released five, giving rates of 0.05% and 0.04% respectively. Serco's results over that same period (Q2 YTD on the table here [PDF]) were one and two prisoners. Dividing that by MECF's capacity of 966 prisoners gives minimum wrongful detention and release rates of 0.1% and 0.2% respectively - two to five times Corrections' results. And Serco has got worse at this since they started, with 3 wrongful detentions and 3 wrongful releases in the next assessment period.

The upshot: Serco are significantly worse than the government at something as basic and fundamental as keeping people in jail for the proper length of time. And we're paying them a premium for this?

Undermining my local democracy

One of the things people hate about DHB elections is that the decision-space is too large. You have seven positions, elected at-large, across a wide area, so typically between 15 and 20 candidates to assess. Throw in STV (which means you have to rank them), and its no wonder people throw up their hands in despair.

So naturally, my local city council wants to introduce exactly this system for council elections:

Palmerston North is on the cusp of abolishing wards, forcing candidates for council to seek votes from throughout the city.

City councillors voted 11-4 to adopt city-wide voting at the planning and policy committee meeting yesterday.

The attack on wards was led by Mayor Jono Naylor, who said they were "a bit of a nonsense" in a city the size of Palmerston North.

"People want to be able to vote for people who will act in the best interests of the city, rather than someone who lives in some generalised vicinity."

Of course, what that "best interests of the city" rhetoric means in practice is a narrow clique of rich pricks who all live on the same street (in this case, Victoria Ave) and represent only themselves. Its a recipe for giving power to the rich and incumbents, while disenfranchising everyone else. And it speaks volumes that so many of my local council are in favour of that. Still, now at least I know who not to vote for in 2013

The good news is that the last time the PNCC tried to pull this scam, in 2007, it was rejected by the Local Government Commission [PDF]. The underlying reasons for that rejection - socio-economic disparity, divergent interests, and a manageable decision-space - haven't gone away. Which means that this scheme is likely to suffer the same fate.

Australia returns to racism

One of the great crimes of the Howard government in Australia was the "Pacific solution": the rendering of refugees to desolate places like Nauru and PNG, where they could be kept out of sight and out of mind of racist Australian voters (and, more importantly, away from Australian courts and their scrutiny of both detention conditions and the processing of claims). One of the great achievements of Kevin Rudd in his time as Prime Minister was to end it. But now, Julia Gillard has signalled a return to that failed, unlawful policy:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has phoned the President of Nauru and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea to formally request re-opening twin asylum-seeker processing centres on both the Pacific island nations.

Ms Gillard phoned Nauru's president Sprent Dabwido around 9.30am and followed up shortly with a call to PNG’s new prime minister Peter ONeill to request to reinstate the Manus Island facility last used under the Howard Government’s Pacific Solution.

According to Nauruan government spokesman Rod Henshaw, Mr Dabwido told Ms Gillard Nauru would be happy to assist Australia.

Its nice to know where the ALP really stands on this: on the side of racists and against international law. And then they wonder why their vote is being eaten by the Greens...

Meanwhile, I'm now worrying when we're going to have a "me too" from John Key. He's shown a willingness to engage in Howard-style politics and refugee-bashing as a distraction from his unpopular economic policies; will he do the same again now that asset sales are coming to a crunch?

MMP review: The venality of politicians

The Electoral Commission has spoken on MMP, and while I think they've made a mistake, fortunately its not the last word. First, there's another round of submissions before a final report is handed over to the government. And then the real fun will begin as Parliament considers whatever changes the government puts forward. Our politicians are a venal, self-interested lot - last time remember they imposed a 5% threshold essentially to limit political competition - and they're already demonstrating that again with ACT and United Future coming out strongly against any effort to remove the one-seat rule (which is the basis for their deals with the government; without the hope of extra MPs, there's no reason for anyone to cut a deal with these one-seat wonders). Which puts National in an interesting position, effectively wedged between the Electoral Commission and its own coalition partners. And the mere fact that Labour is backing the Electoral Commission's recommendations (out of its own venal desire to eliminate ACT and United Future) puts National under more pressure to disagree and make changes.

The most likely change is that National will do everything but eliminate the one-seat rule. Which ironically means that the result of all this venality and selfishness will be a slightly better system than that proposed by the Electoral Commission. Of course, its still not good enough - I want to see that threshold lowered, and eventually eliminated, so that there can be maximum representation (within the arbitrary limit of the size of Parliament) and proper political competition - but that's a long game, which we probably won't win until enough of the authoritarian FPP generations are dead and buried.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Time to end the Weitzel clause

In the dark days of 1921, the Massey government prosecuted a teaching student named Hatty Weitzel for sedition for distributing communist literature. because of the support shown for Weitzel by her fellow students, they subsequently passed a law to prevent "disloyal" teachers from corrupting young minds by requiring them to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. This law is still in force today, as s162 of the Education Act 1964.

But how is this law enforced? Someone used FYI, the public OIA request website, to ask. And the answer seems to be that it isn't. Here's what the Ministry of Education had to say:

Any enforcement of this requirement is up to individual school boards of trustees as the employers of teachers. Neither the Ministry of Education nor the New Zealand Teachers Council maintain oversight of such affirmations, or enforce or monitor them.
So, do schools enforce it? Auckland Grammar doesn't, and I suspect if you asked other schools you'd find they don't bother either. And the reason is pretty clear, as the Ministry of Education notes
In 1921, the main arguments behind introducing the requirement for teachers to swear allegiance to the Crown centred on their role in shaping the minds of children as future citizens [sic] of the British Empire. This is now no longer a key consideration for our society.
and yet, the law is still on the books, and could be used at any time to dismiss any teacher a school board didn't like. Which means it has to go. Repeal was apparently part of the oaths Modernisation Bill in 2006, but that was dropped by the National government in 2010. Time for a Member's Bill?

An admission

Back in 2002, in the wake of 9/11, Parliament passed the Terrorism Suppression Act. The Act brought us into line with international law on terrorist financing and bombing, but it also went further than that, and at the time there was widespread concern that it would impact on democratic rights. These concerns were strengthened by amendments in 2007 which criminalised ex post facto unknowing interactions with entities the government (or the US government) later decided that it didn't like.

And then of course there was the Urewera mess, where the police abused the law to get surveillance powers which they then overstepped...

The upshot is that in the cold light of day, the law looks a little extreme. And to her credit, Labour's Annette King (who was Minister of Police and Justice at the time the later amendments passed) has admitted it:

Suppression of terrorism Act was passed in the crazy days after 9/11.Its time to review and change.
Hopefully this means that a future Labour government will review the Act and restore civil liberties.

MMP review: One good point

While the Electoral Commission's MMP review blew it in terms of improving our democracy, there is at least one good point: they've taken a great, steaming dump over Labour's desire to increase the number of electorates. The Commission looked at the balance between electorate and list seats, and based on past election results identifies a ratio of 76 electorates to 44 list seats as the point at which the system breaks down:

At the 2002 General Election the Labour Party’s successes in the electorate contests might have caused there to be too few list seats to maintain proportionality if there had been 76 electorate and 44 list seats. The same problem might have arisen at that election for the National Party’s result if there had been 83 electorate seats.

The specific combination of electorate results and party votes received by all parties in 2002 were, arguably, exceptional. However, were the 2002 results so unusual that, were they to be repeated in a Parliament of 76 electorate seats and 44 list seats, the public would regard any problems for proportionality as a one-off aberration and, therefore, acceptable? Or would the public regard the inability of the electoral system to maintain proportionality in the case of a main party with significant nationwide support, albeit with unusual results, as a failure of the system? We suspect the latter. For this reason, we suggest it would be prudent to identify 76 electorate seats as the point at which the risk of there being too few list seats to maintain proportionality becomes unacceptable.

On current projections, we will reach that point sometime after 2026, so its not an immediate cause for concern. But Parliament is going to have to deal with it one way or another in the next decade or so. Reducing the number of electorates to restore balance to the system is one solution, but would require a supermajority or referendum as it requires changing an entrenched provision. Alternatively, we could preserve balance by automatically add a list seat every time we add an electorate (which would require the Chamber to be remodelled by about 2040 or so). But either way, Labour's nasty little proposal is a dead duck. And OTOH, the proposed removal of overhangs should remove Labour's reason for pushing it, so it should cease to be an issue.

New Fisk

Syria welcomed them – now it has spat them out
In the end, all Israel and her Western allies want to do is to break Iran – via Syria

MMP review: They blew it

The Electoral Commission has released its initial proposal paper on its review of MMP. The short version is that they recommend abolishing the one-seat rule, with a slight reduction in the threshold to compensate. At best, this is likely to work out to be roughly as representative as we are at the moment. But in some cases (e.g. 2002) it gives us a much less representative Parliament than we have at present. Given an opportunity to improve our electoral system and give us a more representative democracy, the Electoral Commission blew it.

The Commission makes a good case on the distorting effects of the one-seat rule. But they fail to give enough weight to its role as a safeguard against our high threshold. Meanwhile, when talking about the threshold itself, they basically have this to say:

In conclusion, therefore, the Commission’s sense is that 5% is too high and that 3% is the lowest end of an acceptable range. We suggest 4% is preferable. It reflects the Royal Commission’s original recommendation. It would compensate for abolition of the one electorate seat threshold. It is in line with comparable democracies such as Norway and Sweden. And it is in line with public opinion and the weight of submissions received by the Commission.
Interestingly, more submitters favoured a lower threshold than favoured 4% (and as many favoured actual or effective abolition as favoured the second most popular category of 1 - 2.5%). Meanwhile, the actual evidence from NZ of the effectiveness of smaller parties, or their effects on government stability, does not seem to have been considered. I guess they decided that Graeme Edgeler's proposal of considering the pros and cons of the whole range was too much work, so instead we have the usual snobby, anti-democratic nostrums about the need to keep small parties out in the cold. Translating the Electoral Commission's view into the real world, they think the Maori Party are ineffective representatives and that Jim Anderton was extremist, and that both should be denied a place in Parliament if they hadn't had the good luck to win electorate seats. You don't have to approve of either of those examples to recognise that this conclusion is a bit dubious.

The good news is that we've got another chance to convince them. The proposals paper is open for submissions until 7 September. You can have your say here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Time to repeal "sedition for judges"

Sedition was an archaic crime, which basically allowed governments to prosecute and persecute simply for criticising them. Many civilised countries (including New Zealand) have abolished it. But even where it has been abolished, its ugly twin "scandalising the court" - which allows judges to prosecute and persecute simply for criticising them - survives. But now the UK is reviewing that archaic law, with an eye to repealing it:

The ancient offence of scandalising the court is to be reviewed to see if it is still necessary.

The offence is a form of contempt of court, but has not been successfully prosecuted since 1931.

It is committed by publishing anything that ridicules the judiciary to the extent that it is likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

As with sedition, this legal protection is either unnecessary or undeserved. Either the administration of justice is so obviously fair, impartial, and competent that it can survive such ridicule, in which case it does not need such protection - or it is not, in which case it does not deserve it. It speaks volumes that the only place this law is actively being used at the moment is Fiji, where the military regime is attempting to force people to pretend its kangaroo courts are still "independent".

The only justice systems protected by this law are unjust ones. The only judges it protects are the corrupt and incompetent. It should be struck from the books - in New Zealand as well as the UK.

An interesting opinion

Part of the Ombudsman's website makeover is putting more opinions on-line, as recommended by the Law Commission. And there's an interesting one there dating from June, about access to police taser-cam footage [PDF]. Every taser contains a camera, which is automatically activated when the weapon is used to provide a record. So what happens when a journalist requests footage of a controversial incident in which a taser was used? The police refuse on privacy grounds, of course, even though the requester had obtained the consent of the taser victims.

Digging deeper, the police were concerned about whether the consent forms were real or forgeries (this seems to be about as credible as their sudden concern about the eligibility of FYI requesters who make controversial requests - i.e. driven by a desire for secrecy rather than a real concern with the law). But they also though that the footage should be withheld to protect privacy for the victims' own good, even when the victims had said otherwise. And then there's this bit;

Further, Police officers involved in the incident with Mr [A] advised that they did not want the information to be made available to TVNZ
...which is hardly surprising, given that it shows (or rather, doesn't, because they "accidentally" covered the camera) them tasering a mentally-ill man.

But it gets better. The Police, it turns out, have some rather unusual and utterly self-serving interpretations of the law:

From the Police submissions in this case, and the previous case, it is clear that Police concerns about release of taser camera footage extend beyond the issue of privacy of the individuals captured in the footage. Police have expressed the view that release of such footage will inevitably lead to adverse publicity thereby undermining public trust and confidence in the Police. In this regard, Police argued that section 6(c) would be a reason to refuse a request regardless of whether court proceedings were in train.
So, in the police's view, adverse publicity stemming from the public learning of their actions is a threat to the maintenance of the law. I guess "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" only applies to peasants, not to them.

The good news is that the Ombudsman told the police where to go on all of the above. Police do not, as a general rule, have privacy interests when performing their public functions, especially when those functions are being recorded specifically to provide accountability (there are some cases where they do have privacy interests in such recordings, but none apply here). Informed consent from subjects effectively waives their privacy interest, though the Ombudsman is interested in making sure that those subjects know what they are getting into (they did, and imposed conditions on the journalist over use of the footage, which is perfectly appropriate). And of course, the danger of adverse publicity is not a reason to withhold anything.

So, a victory for transparency - and not just for the request. Publishing this opinion has helped expose the police's attitude to the law - which is the first step to changing that attitude.

A good move

We've just helped Tokelau become the world's first solar-powered nation, with the commissioning of the first stage of the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project. Good. If we're to get out of the technological hole we've dug ourselves and avoid dangerous levels of climate change, we need completely change our energy infrastructure. Tokelau is tiny compared to the scale of the problem - but switching them over will both show the world what can be done, and hopefully encourage other states to do likewise.

Why is the GCSB working for the copyright mafia?

The Kim Dotcom case continues to give us unsettling revelations: not only that our police are cowboy gunbunnies, but that they had the assistance of an unnamed government agency in planning the raid:

The involvement of a secret Government organisation before the raid on Kim Dotcom's mansion emerged during cross-examination of a police witness in the High Court at Auckland yesterday.

The witness, Detective Inspector Grant Wormald, refused to name the organisation when questioned about a meeting police attended before the raid.

Dotcom's lawyer, Paul Davison, QC, asked him if an unidentified group of people at the meeting were from the Security Intelligence Service.

Mr Wormald replied that they were not. But asked where they were from, he declined to say, "because of the nature of the organisation".

"They work for the Government."

There's really only one candidate for this: the Government Communications Security Bureau. And it raises the question of why the hell they were involved at all. Yes, the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 allows them to perform their functions (e.g. intercepting foreign communications, cracking codes) "in support of the prevention or detection of serious crime" - but you'd expect that to mean things such as murder, not mere copyright infringement. In fact, it seems that the protection of the GCSB Act is overstated, as "serious crime" means "anything in the Crimes Act". So the GCSB can assist in preventing or detecting such "serious" crimes as bigamy, blasphemous libel, being disguised, or just plain, ordinary burglary. Which seems just a little bit like overkill.

Spies should not be involved in criminal law enforcement in any way whatsoever. Like the military, their mindset is simply wrong for it. Its time we amended the law to ensure that powers are separate, and police and spies do not try and do each other's jobs.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Who cares about Labour?

The media and blogosphere today is full of talk about Labour, in the wake of S'ua William Sio's coming out as a bigot, David Shearer's coming out as a beneficary-basher, and Trevor Mallard's coming out as a moron. Meanwhile, I'm wondering why anyone cares.

Seriously. Its been clear for quite some time that Labour has given up, and that it is not interested in offering a real alternative policy direction from the government. They've taken the perfect opportunity presented by the financial crisis, and squandered it. Now all they are offering is a different management team, pursuing the same old policies as National: cuts, shrinking the state, and beneficiary-bashing. It is simply sickening. And as we've seen in the UK, it's also a losing strategy. People won't turn out to vote for a "choice" between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They'll simply give up on politics instead, rather than grant legitimacy to people who do not represent them.

Why would anyone support such a party? Why would anyone get up in the morning to volunteer to knock on doors or leaflet for them? Quite apart from being utterly uninspiring, there's also the blunt fact that any good work you do will be undermined within a week by the clowns in caucus sniping at one another. Party activism is a two-way street - and the Labour caucus is not keeping up its end of the bargain.

Basically, Labour is so far gone, and so uninterested in reforming itself, that I have stopped caring. There are a lot of good people in the party, but institutionally it is a waste of political space. Fortunately, we have MMP, and so we have alternatives (and, if the Electoral Commission recommends lowering the undemocratic threshold, we will hopefully have more). But its still a tragedy for the overall left in NZ that its major party has sunk to such a state.

Happiness is mandatory

We've all heard how the Olympics have turned London into a police state, with soldiers on the streets, SAM batteries on rooftops and people arrested simply for riding bicycles. But its now taken a turn into the Kafkaesque, with a man arrested for not "visibly enjoying the event":

Mark Worsfold, 54, a former soldier and martial arts instructor, was arrested on 28 July for a breach of the peace shortly before the cyclists arrived in Redhouse Park, Leatherhead, where he had sat down on a wall to watch the race. Officers from Surrey police restrained and handcuffed him and took him to Reigate police station, saying his behaviour had "caused concern".


Worsfold, whose experience was first reported by Private Eye, claims police questioned him about his demeanour and why he had not been seen to be visibly enjoying the event. Worsfold, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2010, suffers from muscle rigidity that affects his face. He was released after two hours without charge or caution.

"It could have been done better. I was arrested for not smiling. I have Parkinson's," he said

So there you have it. Failure to visibly enjoy the Olympics is a crime. Happiness is mandatory. The Computer would be proud.

The abortion decision

The Supreme Court has released its decision in Right to Life New Zealand Inc v The Abortion Supervisory Committee [PDF], and on the face of it, upheld the status quo. The Abortion Supervisory Committee can not inquire into or second-guess the clinical decisions of doctors to determine if they are consistent with legislation, even in anonymised, randomised cases. So, that's a victory for the (fairly rotten) status quo and a defeat for the anti-abortion nutcases. But its not all good news; the Court also ruled that the ASC can and should be inquiring into the general decision-making processes by which individual clinicians reach their decisions - which, given Right To Life's litigiousness, is going to invite more litigation as they target specific certifying consultants then try and force an ASC inquisition, then challenge any decision that everything is OK. Which is not going to encourage people to stay on as certifying consultants - but then, that's the point: RTL can't change the law, so they've turned to trying to intimidate and bully those who implement it.

The only way to prevent this is if Parliament steps up and passes an abortion law fit for the 21st century, rather than a 70's relic aimed at shaming and stigmatising women. But given the cowardice of our politicians, the odds of that look very slim indeed.

57,000 out of work under National

The Household Labour Force Survey is out, and unemployment has increased again, from 6.7% to 6.8%. All up, there are now 162,000 people out of work - 57,000 more than when National took office.

So much for their "economic recovery". Instead, what we're seeing is prolonged stagnation. And National is doing nothing to help, instead leaving it all to the market. Which means people suffer - suffering increased by National's desire to punish the unemployed for its own failure of economic management.

Its been clear for a while, but this should confirm it: National has no economic plan. They are not working as a government. Time for someone who will.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The expected response

Back in June, the NZEI gave schools blatantly unlawful advice to refuse OIA requests for National Standards results. This has now drawn the expected response: a reminder to schools from the Ombudsman of their legal duties:

Dame Beverley said the advice NZEI had offered "conflicted" with that provided by the New Zealand School Trustees Association.

"In my view boards of trustees are entitled to rely on the advice conveyed by the NZSTA. However, boards that rely on the advice conveyed by the NZEI risk an adverse finding being made against them by an Ombudsman under the [law]," she said.

Schools that had acted, or were considering acting, "in accordance with the NZEI advice" should reconsider, she said.

Those that continued to refuse or extend release of information would face an investigation, which "may find that a board has acted unreasonably or contrary to the law".

The question now is whether the schools will accept this reminder. The problem is that there's no real penalties for ignoring a recommendation from the Ombudsman; the system relies essentially on shame to do its job. But that may not be enough to motivate school boards to obey the law.

Twitter and the OIA

The Ombudsman's website has had a makeover - and one of the new features is a guide on Official information requests made by twitter and facebook [PDF]. This tells us what we already knew: a request can be made in any form, including by tweet. If an agency has designated an official account, then they must accept OIA requests made to it, and they are of due particularity and from an eligible requester, then they must be responded to according to the law. The agency may want to seek a physical or email address to actually deliver the information, but they have to respond.

There's also helpful advice to requesters, particularly about the danger of such requests being overlooked. And there's a note which is of relevance to FYI users:

Note that different considerations can come into play when releasing information to the world at large, as opposed to releasing information to a particular requester. For instance, privacy concerns in the former context may be heightened. Therefore, quite apart from any practical considerations, there may be other legitimate reasons why an agency would prefer to make information directly available to a particular requester, rather than post it online for all the world to see.
Since the purpose of FYI is precisely to post responses online for the world to see, this effectively means a stronger privacy ground for such requests. But I don't think FYI will have a problem with that at all.

Cowboy gunbunnies

Kim Dotcom is back in court today, as the government appeals against the High Court overturning their search warrants. In the process, we've learned some rather unpleasant facts about the New Zealand Police: that they are cowboy gunbunnies who will go in with guns without any evidence to justify it:

Mr Davison led the special tactics group [STG] sergeant, whose name was suppressed, through a check-box threat assessment which led to the assault team being used in the raid.

The "yes" box was ticked next to questions about whether Dotcom was armed, had a history of violence, was showing current signs of violence and had issued threats to kill.

Mr Davison said the police documents also claimed officers faced the threat of injury or death if the specialist squad was not used.

But under questioning, the sergeant was unable to point to any information supporting the claim police officers were in danger during the raid.

Using guns in a raid is dangerous, and a serious threat to human life. It requires a strong justification. In this case, there wasn't one; it basically seems to have been done because the police wanted to play with their toys and impress the FBI that they were taking alleged piracy "seriously". And that is just not good enough. The police should take their job seriously, not dick around like this, waste tens of thousands of dollars and unnecessarily endanger civilian lives on a fucking whim.

Dump Su'a William Sio

Labour's Su'a William Sio wants the party to dump Louisa wall's marriage equality bill in order to pander to supposedly bigoted South Auckland voters. I have a better idea: Labour should dump Su'a William Sio instead.

There are two reasons for this. The first, obviously, is principle. Labour calls itself a progressive party. It should therefore actually be progressive, and not play host to bigots like Sio who want to deny fundamental equality and keep some people as second-class citizens. Labour would rightly eject any MP who was openly racist and called for e.g. Pacific Peoples to "go home". It needs to recognise that those who would deny equality on the grounds of sexual orientation, and actively promote discrimination on those grounds, are no different from those who would do so on the basis of skin colour, and throw them out.

The second reason is empirical. Those Pacific voters Sio is so afraid of? They're actually more in favour of marriage equality than Pakeha are [PDF]. So Sio should be dumped purely on the grounds of general political incompetence. Not to mention tarring a valuable electoral group as bigots - I'm sure progressive South Aucklanders will be absolutely thrilled with that.