Tuesday, December 24, 2013

National's New Zealand

National's New Zealand: wage-suppression through one-sided employment law. A jobless "recovery". Cuts to state housing and to welfare. 265,000 kids in poverty. An indecent society of haves and have-nots. I've talked about this all year, but what does it mean in practice? It means kids asking Santa for something as basic as a roof over their head for xmas:

Santa Claus says he is going home emotionally exhausted as poverty-stricken children ask not for toys but basic necessities this Christmas.

Robert Fisher, 74, who has been a Santa at Auckland's Westfield WestCity in Henderson for nine years, said at least half a dozen kids a day asked him for a house because their families were sleeping in cars.

"It's worse this year than what I can remember," he said.

Housing is a human right. And its the government's job to deliver it, not Santa Claus's. Our government is failing at the basic task - and the wider task of ensuring that everyone in our society has a decent standard of living.

As for what to do about it: yes, you can (and should) donate to your local food bank and other charities at xmas. But this is a political problem, and it has a political solution. Our government chooses, through its economic, welfare, housing and other policies, how much poverty it is willing to accept, and how far it will let people fall. It chooses, through welfare, health, education and child-support policies, whether all kids will get a good start in life, or whether their prospects will be blighted by their parents. The present government, a government of, by and for the rich, has chosen to tolerate, even exacerbate poverty, rather than impose on their wealthy supporters. We need to elect a government which will choose differently.

Justice for Chile

In September 1973 Chile's military overthrew its democratically elected government and imposed a 20-year junta. Later that month, a group of army officers toured the country by helicopter, murdering captured enemies of the new regime as they went. It became known as the "caravan of death", and at least 75 people were murdered. Today, 40 years after the event, those responsible were convicted of their crimes:

A judge in Chile has found eight former members of the military guilty of murdering political opponents during the rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet.

The accused were part of the Caravan of Death, a military operation thought to have killed almost 100 opponents of the 1973 military coup.

They were sentenced to between three and 15 years in jail for killing 14 people in the northern city of Antofagasta shortly after the coup.

And hopefully they'll be the first of many of the dictatorship's servants to face justice for their crimes. It has taken longer than it did in Argentina, and many of those responsible have already escaped through death, but it looks like there is finally going to be a reckoning in Chile, and justice for Pinochet's victims.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Two steps forward, one big step back

Some good and bad news on marriage equality and gay rights over the weekend. Firstly, courts have ruled in favour of marriage equality in both New Mexico and Utah - resulting in the usual floods of happy couples to registry offices. The Utah decision is particularly important, as it saw a federal judge strike down a bigot-clause in the state constitution which defined marriage in exclusively heterosexual terms. Thanks to Republican attempts to boost election turnout a few elections ago, lots of backward states have such clauses - and now every one of them could be in legal jeopardy. As a result the decision is bound to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. But if its upheld - and its hard to see how it can't be, unless "equal protection under the law" has an implicit "except for gays and other people rich white judges don't like!" - a lot of states are suddenly going to have to enter the 21st century.

And the bad news: Uganda passed its notorious anti-gay law, imposing penalties of life imprisonment for homosexuality and requiring people to report suspected homosexuals or face jail themselves. And we thought Russia was bad...

New Fisk

Syrian rebels have taken iconoclasm to new depths, with shrines, statues and even a tree destroyed – but to what end?
Do you get phone calls from nowhere?

Friday, December 20, 2013

John Key lied to our faces

So, it turns out that John Key lied to our faces when he said that no decision had been made on when his government would sell Air New Zealand:

John Key has played the public for fools, denying that any decision had been made on the timing of the Air New Zealand sale on the very day his Finance Minister signed it off, says Labour’s SOEs spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove.

“The sale of Air New Zealand shares was the worst kept secret in New Zealand on 14 November. That day John Key brazenly claimed no decision had been made on the timing. He was misleading the public.

“Not only had Bill English given the final sign off for the timing that day, new Treasury documents show Cabinet had previously agreed to just two preferred periods for sale, the first of which had already passed. That meant the only possible period remaining was 15 – 19 November. The next day.

“John Key even claimed he had seen no advice that the sell down could not happen between December and March, but he received two Cabinet papers telling him that timeframe was not possible.

The full documents are in that linked press release.

Back under labour, Ministers were forced to resign for misleading the public like this. Key promised us a "higher standard of government". Shouldn't he be forced to live up to that promise and follow suit?

Britain spies on lawyers

And while we're on the subject of torture and rendition: it seems the British government is eavesdropping on lawyers for a man they rendered to torture in Libya:

Lawyers acting for a prominent Libyan dissident who was tortured after he was seized in a joint British and US operation have said they believe their communications are being intercepted by GCHQ, the government's electronic eavesdropping agency.

They are seeking an urgent injunction from the investigatory powers tribunal, which hears complaints about the activities of the security and intelligence agencies. They lodged a complaint after revelations about GCHQ's mass surveillance programmes, leaked by Edward Snowden, were published in the Guardian.


The government's lawyers have declined to give written assurances that communications between Belhaj and his lawyers have not been intercepted.

Which is basically an admission of guilt. After all, it wouldn't exactly be hard for them to say "no, we're respecting the law, and the principle of legal privilege, and not spying on people who are suing us in an effort to advantage our case". The fact that they refuse to say that tells us all we need to know - and makes a mockery of any claim that Britain's victims will receive justice from British courts.

Official: UK collaborated in rendition and torture

Back in 2010 the UK government established an inquiry into its collusion in torture and rendition. Run by the Intelligence Services Commissioner and hearing evidence in secret, it had all the hallmarks of a whitewash - which is why human rights groups boycotted it and why I cheered when it was shut down to allow actual criminal investigation of two cases of rendition to Libya. But despite being shut down, it still had to report its findings - and the evidence of British wrongdoing was so overwhelming that it couldn't be ignored:

Former government ministers and intelligence chiefs face a series of disturbing questions over the UK's involvement in the abduction and torture of terrorism suspects after 9/11, an official inquiry has concluded.

In a damning report that swept aside years of denials, the Gibson inquiry concluded that the British government and its intelligence agencies had been involved in so-called rendition operations, in which detainees were kidnapped and flown around the globe, and had interrogated detainees whom they knew were being mistreated.

MI6 officers were informed that they were under no obligation to report breaches of the Geneva Convention; intelligence officers appear to have taken advantage of the abuse of detainees; and Jack Straw, as foreign secretary, had suggested that the law might be amended to allow suspects to be "rendered" to the UK.

There's more here specifically on the issue of collaborating in torture, and it looks very bad. At best its depraved indifference to an international crime; at worst its a tacit understanding (legally, a conspiracy) to outsource torture. People need to be prosecuted for this, and those who set the policies allowing it need to be held to account.

The British government had promised that any interim findings would be handed over to a properly independent judicial inquiry, and had repeated that promise for three years. But as usual, they lied - followup will now be done by the intelligence and security committee, all of whom are personally appointed by the Prime Minister. So, rather than accepting responsibility, prosecuting and/or firing those responsible for these crimes, and compensating their victims, the British establishment will do what it usually does: try to shuffle a very stinky corpse under a very bloodstained carpet and pretend nothing ever happened. And then they'll wonder why no-one believes a word they say, or why shit like this happens.

History repeats at TPK

Back in the 90's, a National government slashed public services to the bone, eroding core capability. But the same work needed to be done, and so departments were forced to hire expensive outside consultants (often the same people they'd just been forced to lay off) to provide the core services they could no longer do in-house, at a vastly inflated price.

Fast forward twenty years. Another National government, more public service cuts - and the same pattern of departments paying more to get consultants to do the things they used to do themselves. Today's example is Te Puni Kokiri, whose latest financial review reveals it spending over $9.5 million on consultants and contractors, while its staff are 15% below minimum levels. And those contractors aren't just doing work normally outsourced to the private sector, like trawling through people's hotel bills or conducting witch-trials in search of leakers - they're doing administration and policy advice, both core departmental functions. They're even providing "strategic leadership" - a service we already pay TPK's CEO around $400,000 to provide.

Its a perfect example of how public service cuts and arbitrary staffing caps don't save money, but instead shift spending into private pockets. Which is probably why National loves them so much.

(The full list of TPK's external contracts is here. "Tax advice" and Matthew Hooten FFS?)

A liar and a hypocrite

So, it turns out that Cameron Brewer, who yesterday supported a motion of no confidence in Len Brown for failing to disclose gifts received as mayor, failed to disclose a corporate-funded junket to Australia:

Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer, who has been baying for Mayor Len Brown's blood for not declaring gifts, has admitted not declaring a four-day junket to the Gold Coast.

Mr Brewer yesterday admitted taking free air tickets and accommodation paid for by MediaWorks, which runs TV3.

The right-wing councillor said he made a declaration of interests in 2011, but not in 2012, which would cover the period he went to Queensland.

[In fact, he didn't make a declaration for 2011, because the interest register didn't exist then. So he's a liar as well as a hypocrite]

By his own standards, shouldn't Brewer be being investigated, humiliated, and formally censured, while being made to pay for the costs of the investigation? Or are the rules different for right-wingers?

And again: interest registers exist for good reason: so we can make sure that our politicians are clean. Brewer's refusal to fill one out is a failure to perform the basic functions of the job, and the natural conclusion is that he has something to hide.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The HRC destroys its mana

Six years ago, black-clad police stormtroopers blockaded and searched the village of Ruatoki as part of Operation 8. The raid, and the investigation that led to it, was a massive human rights violation - both of the ordinary people of Ruatoki, who were detained, photographed and searched illegally, and of some of the suspects, who later won court cases against intrusive and illegal surveillance. The Independent Police Conduct Authority later found that the police's treatment of civilians was "unlawful, unjustified and unreasonable".

But people didn't just complain to the IPCA - they also complained to the Human Rights Commission. As the pre-eminent human rights body in New Zealand, you'd expect the HRC to have something to say about the abuse of anti-terror legislation, unlawful searches and the terrorisation of a community by police. But they didn't. Now, after having stayed silent for six years, they've finally released their "analysis" of the raids. Given the timing - the week before xmas, when the holiday silly season has started, you'd think they were embarrassed about its contents. And you'd be right. Because what we have here isn't an "analysis" - that would require that it drew conclusions. It doesn't. Instead we've got a statement of the law (as it stood in 2007) around terrorism, roadblocks and searches, with no effort made to apply it to the facts.

Partly this seems to be because they simply outsourced much of their work to the IPCA. But in other areas, not addressed by the IPCA report, its because they simply couldn't be bothered. One of the core complaints was that the police would never have treated a Pakeha community the way they treated Ruatoki. So was the police's behaviour discriminatory or not? The Human Rights Commission refuses to say. They talk about the law around discrimination, but not whether it applies in this case. Ditto on whether the rights of children were violated. As for the highly contentious issue of the use of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 to gain interception warrants against political activists when terrorism charges were later dropped (engaging the rights to freedom of expression and association as well as against unreasonable search and seizure), the Commission remains silent. The most they will say is that

the nebulous terminology in the terrorism suppression Act increases the possibility that it could be misused.

No shit, Sherlock. But as a human rights body, shouldn't you be having a bit more to say about that? I mean, its only our political freedoms on the line here.

Overall, this report is an embarrassment to the Commission which has eroded its mana and its credibility. And the message is clear: we can't look to them to defend the human rights of individuals against the state, even in egregious cases like Operation 8.

Good news on spying?

The White House's review of the NSA is recommending that they stop mass-surveillance:

The National Security Agency should be banned from attempting to undermine the security of the internet and stripped of its power to collect telephone records in bulk, a White House review panel recommended on Wednesday.

In a 300-page report prepared for President Obama, the panel made 46 recommendations, including that the authority for spying on foreign leaders should be granted at a higher level than at present.

Though far less sweeping than campaigners have urged, and yet to be ratified by Obama, the report by his Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology comes as the White House faces growing pressure over its so-called “bulk collection” programs from US courts and business interests.

Though its worth noting that when they say "stripped of its power to collect telephone records in bulk", what they actually mean is "phone companies should do it for them and give them access on demand". There are changes around judicial oversight and reasonable cause around that, but its still not the change we're looking for. The only way we'll get that is if we vote out the spies: elect politicians who will cut their budgets, strip them of powers, and shut them down. But with the NSA holding blackmail on everybody in their databases, that could be difficult.

EQC: A massive government failure

The Ombudsman and privacy Commissioner today released a joint report into OIA / Privacy Act request handling at EQC. In the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, EQC was deluged with claims. Then, as it buckled under the load, it was deluged with requests on those claims by people who wanted to know why they weren't being handled, or weren't handled to their satisfaction.

These requests were quite reasonable. More importantly, they were legal. And EQC failed to fulfil its statutory obligations in handling them. When it got to the stage of telling requesters that it would - illegally - take 6 to 7 months to process a simple OIA request, the Ombudsman and Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioners stepped in. Their report is not pretty reading.

What's clear is how much EQC brought this problem on themselves. They were secretive and uncommunicative, fobbed people off with bullshit, and refused to give people even basic information about their claims or decisions affecting them. Then, when there was an accidental privacy breach, they locked everything down like paranoids, making it even harder for people to access their information. Its no wonder then that people turned to using formal OIA requests in an effort to obtain it. The Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner cannot understand why some information was not simply proactively provided as a matter of course - and they're right. Its another example of how proactive release can save you vast amounts of hassle later (a message which seems to be gradually getting through).

What's also clear is that EQC brought into the unfortunately common public servant mantra that processing OIA requests "isn't core business". The Ombudsman rightly calls bullshit on this:

Access to information is not just a “nice to have” that gives way to more important priorities in disaster recovery. It is a basic right that enables individuals to engage effectively with government agencies, and to have a proper say in decisions that profoundly affect their lives.

This isn't a question of democratic oversight and political gotchas - its about people finding out what the hell is going on with their claims and whether their house is ever going to be fixed. If EQC doesn't regard that as "core business", then you have to wonder what the hell is.

As for how to fix it, its telling that EQC's response to the Ombudsman's specific (but informal) recommendations on less risk-averse processing is "it can't be done". Instead they're making other changes, shifting to proactive release, and reviewing the amount of information that can be released by call-centre staff. Hopefully that'll be enough.

But there needs to be political accountability as well. EQC essentially abandoned one of its core functions for its own bureaucratic convenience. The Chief Executive and the Minister need to be held accountable for that.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guantanamo means the terrorists won

Since 2002, the US has detained suspected terrorists without charge or trial at its gulag in Guantanamo Bay. Now, the prison's first commander has said what we all knew: that the US's descent to arbitrary imprisonment means that the terrorists won:

The man who opened up the Guantanamo Bay Prison now says he wants to see the facility closed.

U.S. Major General Michael Lehnert (retired), first commander of the Guantanamo Bay Prison, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that terrorists were “successful” in changing America.

“The objective of terrorism is to change the nature of their adversary,” he said. “And I would opine that they've been successful. They've changed the way we've acted, they've caused us to walk away from the Constitution, and they've caused us to act as if we were afraid.”

Sadly, he's silent on American torture, but the same applies. In a real sense, Al Qaeda has destroyed everything decent about America - with the full and eager cooperation of successive American governments.

As for Guantanamo, 160 prisoners are still there, 82 of them still imprisoned despite being cleared for release. Some of them have been there for over ten years without trial. They need to be either charged or released. And Guantanamo delenda est - Guantanamo must be destroyed.

A responsible mayor for Auckland?

The big political news today is the continuing fallout from Len Brown's non-disclosure of gifts, with the Herald calling for his resignation - ironically not because he corruptly failed to disclose valuable gifts, but because if he does not,

Auckland councillors will not only formally censure Mr Brown but begin a process designed to clip the wings of the mayoral office. If that happens, the Super City may no longer have a leader with the independent authority to drive things forward.

So according the the mouthpiece of big business, Auckland's mayor must go lest its mayoralty become more democratic. And then they wonder why we think they're all authoritarians...

Meanwhile, the right-wing faction of the Auckland Council are going for a formal no-confidence motion. Legally, this has no effect - the mayor is elected, not appointed, and is not dependent on the continuing confidence of the council to hold office. But symbolically, its huge. And if reinforced by a commitment from those supporting it to block every mayoral initiative, then Brown's position becomes absolutely untenable. While legally it would have no effect, practically it would mean he had to resign (the same applies to the various other options, such as oversight committees etc being proposed: if the Council backs them with a credible threat to block everything unless accepted, then the mayor's formal powers become subject to the Council).

If this seems like a familiar story, its because it is: it's exactly how we got responsible government, AKA Ministers responsible to the elected Parliament (and hence us) rather than the unelected monarch. The dependence of Prime Ministers on Parliament to legislate and vote suppy for their policies gave the latter leverage to ultimately control their appointment (hence, the constitutional convention that the monarch appoints the person with the confidence of the House as Prime Minister - because otherwise, she gets one who can't do anything, and possibly we cut off her sock budget as well). It played out in the UK, it is currently playing out in the EU (where the elected European Parliament is asserting control over the unelected Commission) and in Tonga, and now its happening in Auckland. And the result may be our first "responsible mayor".

But if Auckland's mayor is going to be responsible to the council, and forced to resign if the council refuses them a majority, it inevitably invites the question: why elect them separately? We're not there yet, but all it will take is a mayor and council of opposite political persuasions, and then the real fun will begin.

Positive side-effects from the living wage

Last week, Wellington City Council adopted a living wage for its staff. One of the criticisms of the move was that it only applied to direct employees of the council, and that contractors and CCO employees would miss out. But it looks like the Council is going to solve that problem too - by returning services in-house:

The Wellington City Council has today voted not to continue contracting out its parking services and instead to directly employ the workers.

“The council’s decision to take parking services in-house and directly employ this part of their workforce is a good decision for the existing workforce and the city,” said Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) National Secretary, John Ryall today.

The parking services workers are members of the SFWU.

“It is our understanding that the existing workforce will be able to move to these jobs,” said John Ryall. “This is great news for our members and their families, as they will also move to the living wage, along with the rest of the Council’s directly employed workforce.”

This is a good move. Contracting out has been one of the major drivers of poverty wages, as parasite contractors lowball each other and then make workers pay for their bidding strategy (while of course collecting fat fees themselves for their "work" as middlemen). And the nature of contracting strips the workers of leverage for industrial action - they can strike, but their legal employer can credibly say that they have money to give because of the lowball bid price, while their real employer can switch contractors to avoid the effects of a strike. So its good to see Wellington City Council beginning to reverse that entire toxic system, and accept responsibility for those who work for it.

New Fisk

British prisoner Dr Abbas Khan found dead in Syrian jail days before he was due to be handed over to MP George Galloway
The sad and puzzling story of Abbas Khan, the British doctor found dead in Syrian jail

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A jobless "recovery"

The annual Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update has been released, and the business pages are full of talk of an "economic xmas present" and a "roaring economy" (to which we can probably add Brian Gaynor's weekend column promising that next year would be "an economic cracker"). But amid all the starry-eyed praise of high projected economic growth, something important is being ignored: jobs.

The HYEFU projects annual average unemployment to remain over 5% until 2018. In other words, they're projecting a jobless recovery, with all that implies for wage rates. So who will be getting the benefit of that massive projected growth? Not ordinary kiwis, who will be left insecure and with depressed wages for the forseeable future. Instead, that growth is going to go to the same people it always does under National: the 1% who fund them and dictate their policies. They will get richer, and we will continue to suffer.

No wonder the business pages are cheering.

What happens if anything goes wrong?

Currently Texan oil cowboys Anadarko are drilling for oil off the Raglan coast. If something goes wrong, we get oil on beaches from Kaipara to New Plymouth. So who pays for the cleanup and consequent economic damage? Not Anadarko, if their past practice is anything to go by:

Shares of Anadarko Petroleum plummeted Friday after a judge ruled that the oil company owes litigants billions due to a fraudulent reorganization designed to avoid environmental liability.


The case stems from a series of corporate restructurings at Kerr McGee Corp. in the early 2000s prior to it being acquired by Anadarko in 2006 for $18 billion.

Kerr McGee, once a leading chemicals firm, is accused of leaving waste sites around the United States, contaminated with uranium contamination, thorium and other toxins that pollute land and water.

Gropper concluded that the restructuring constituted a "fraudulent conveyance" that offloaded more than $1 billion in environmental liabilities to another entity, Tronox Worldwide.

And if Anadarko blows a well in New Zealand waters, we can expect these corporate sociopaths to pull exactly the same stunt here - all in the name of protecting "shareholder value", of course. Which is why we should be demanding not just stronger safety practices, but also upfront liability bonds and insurance: so these scum can't ruin our environment, then laugh all the way to the bank.

Who are Customs really working for?

We already know that Customs is abusing its powers and conducting border searches - including of digital devices - in order to help the police (where "help" equals "evade the restrictions placed on them by the Search and Surveillance Act 2012" - something which should be unlawful). But there's someone else Customs is trying to suck up to and gathering information on behalf of: the FBI:

Just weeks after it opened, Mr Davis wrote to Immigration NZ's intelligence unit, which also holds highly personal information, telling staff there of the FBI's interest in the internet tycoon Kim Dotcom.

In an email released under the Official Information Act, Mr Davis told an Immigration NZ intelligence officer that Customs' Washington liaison was after information about Dotcom.

He said "the FBI would be interested in anything we have on Kim Dotcom so any information we can proactively feed to them on him will buy you many brownie points".

Immigration NZ staff passed around the request, with one person advising they seek legal advice before passing any information to the FBI. A spokesman said no information was passed on but refused to say if that was because legal advice advised against doing so.

At the time of the request, no New Zealand agency had formally been engaged under legal assistance laws with the US. Dotcom's status at the time was the same as any other public citizen.

I'm not aware of any law which says a government agency can spy on us without reason and turn our information over to a foreign power for "brownie points", and Customs is refusing to talk about it. But apart from legality, it also raises questions about who these parts of Customs are really working for: us, or the Americans? And on that, I think they owe us an answer. We pay their salaries, after all...

Mass surveillance is unconstitutional

A US federal judge has told us what we all knew the moment we learned of it: that the NSA's mass surveillance is unconstitutional:

A federal judge in Washington ruled on Monday that the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records by the National Security Agency is likely to violate the US constitution, in the most significant legal setback for the agency since the publication of surveillance disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Judge Richard Leon declared that the mass collection of metadata probably violates the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and was "almost Orwellian" in its scope. In a judgment replete with literary swipes against the NSA, he said James Madison, the architect of the US constitution, would be "aghast" at the scope of the agency’s collection of Americans' communications data.

An injunction has been issued, but suspended to allow the NSA to appeal. That battle is going to go all the way to the Supreme Court, who will hopefully uphold the right of US citizens not to have their phones tracked and tapped without probable cause. And if they don't, then the US constitution will be a dead letter - which is a pretty frightening prospect.

As for Snowden, he's been instrumental in exposing this major constitutional violation by the government. Instead of threatening to prosecute him, they should be giving him a medal.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dirtier and dirtier

So, it turns out that a pile of Auckland Mayor Len Brown's free hotel rooms were provided by SkyCity. Coincidentally, Brown also decided to reverse his longstanding opposition to pokies in order to support their pokie-ridden convention centre. I'm not suggesting that there was ever anything so crass as a transaction. But those freebies may have brought some goodwill - which is precisely why we demand politicians declare them. Brown's refusal to do so creates doubt, and that's not something we can tolerate. Our politicians don't just have to be clean - they must be seen to be so. Unfortunately, brown now looks the opposite.

It gets worse: Brown has also said that he won't take money from SkyCity. But he'll take their hotel-rooms, and he conveniently launders most of his electoral donations through a trust, so we can never tell if he's been honest with us, or if someone has bought his support. Fortunately he won't be able to do that anymore, but clearly that law change enforcing basic political hygiene came a little too late.

The referendum

The results of the Keep Our Assets referendum were announced over the weekend (well, Friday evening, but that's the weekend as far as I'm concerned), showing that 895,322 out of 1,332,340 voters voted against asset sales. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed - I'd been hoping for a higher turnout and a more resounding "no" vote. At the same time, its still a clear message against asset sales in the face of a deliberate strategy of turnout suppression from the government.

As for the consequences, the government is of course promising to ignore it and sell Genesis on a flooded market for a shit price out of pure anti-democratic spite. But looking at the results by electorate, that might not be a great idea, particularly in seats like Invercargill, Nelson and Whanganui which have National MPs but stronger than usual opinion against privatisation. And there will be a lot of people outraged at the government ignoring a clear policy referendum even if they agree with the policy. National will be polling, and possibly trying to find a way out of Key's moronic, spiteful threat.

As for Labour, they've had a bump in the polls and are making noises about buying everything back. This will probably be by Air New Zealand-style opportunism (perhaps leveraging the effects of their energy policy) rather than by my preferred policy of legislating for nationalisation at an explicit loss to the thieves, but its still encouraging. More importantly, it will provide a solid mandate for a future policy of erecting constitutional barriers to privatisation (though this is very much bolting the gate after the horse has been butchered in its pen).

The bigger question is where to now for referenda. This was a referendum where we did everything right - a clear question, with a clear policy outcome, not tainted by motherhood and apple pie - and the government still ignored it. Clearly, our politicians need to be reminded who is boss in this country. I can think of an easy intermediate step to doing so - requiring governments to formally respond to referenda in the House and publish an immediate update when an election is called - but passing it into the law requires the consent of politicians. Who are hardly likely to want to create a rod for their own back.

New Fisk

As we move towards the Great War’s centenary, it’s time to recognise the reality of its horror

Grossly unethical

Back when I was petitioning for the Keep Our Assets referendum, I discouraged people signing it from filling out the email address and phone number boxes because I did not trust the Labour Party (and specifically the Labour Party) not to abuse this information by using it for purposes other than the one it was collected for ("To keep up to date with the campaign").

I am not glad to have that suspicion confirmed.

To point out the obvious: this is a screaming violation of Privacy Principle 10, and possibly Privacy Principle 11 if you take the collecting agency as Roy Reid, the formal petitioner, rather than the parties who provided the footsoldiers. And it is grossly unethical. Quite apart from that, its also stupid, burning both potential supporters and their activist base (who may not be too keen on having their hard work perverted to violate people's privacy).

As for what to do about it, firstly people have a right of access to information held about them by agencies - so if you gave the petition campaign your email address, you can always check with Labour to see if it has somehow migrated its way into their fundraising and supporter's databases. And if the information is used, then I recommend lodging a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner. You should also publicise that complaint over social media (or, if you feel like it, by emailing a press release to Scoop - but social media is probably enough, because people like me will retweet it if we see it, and journalists will pick up an easy story like this). Political parties are (sensibly) afraid of bad publicity, and this is the best stick we have to enforce ethical behaviour on them. Sadly, it looks like we may have to use it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Who's scaremongering now?

When Greenpeace released oil spill modelling showing that a blowout in the well that Texan oil cowboys Anadarko were drilling off the Raglan coast would spew 10,000 barrels a day into the oceans and have a 50% chance of smothering our beaches in oil, John Key called it "scaremongering". Today, his government used the cover of the Len Brown report to dump Anadarko's 1700 page discharge management plan. And its spill modellign is even more catastrophic than Greenpeace's:

According to information just released, Anadarko’s modelling assumed a spill rate of 12,000 barrels of oil every day for one well location and 18,000 barrels at another. Greenpeace’s own spill modelling report, released in October, which was called “scare-mongering” by prime minister John Key, assumed a more conservative 10,000 barrels per day.

Anadarko’s oil spill data estimates a spill would reach New Zealand shores in 66.05% of cases in autumn and 51.82% in summer.

And remember, Anadarko expects to deal with this with 4 pairs of nitrile gloves and a shovel.

This is insanity. Crossing your fingers and hoping that nothing goes wrong is not a policy. Oil companies should not be allowed to drill unless they have a means of capping a blowout immediately on hand, and have lodged a bond to cover all cleanup expenses and collateral economic damage. And if that means they don't drill here, tough. Our environment is not for sale.

As for Key, accusing people of "scaremongering" when you know very well they not is dishonest bullying. Sadly, that's pretty much all we can expect from our Prime Minister nowdays.


So, the report on Len Brown's affair with a council staffer is out, revealing that he received free hotel rooms and upgrades worth nearly $40,000 which he did not declare as gifts.

I don't care who Len Brown fucks, and I don't really want to know. But I do care that he maintains basic standards of integrity in public office, and that means declaring all significant gifts. Particularly when those gifts come from organisations in a position to receive favours from him or the Council. Brown has failed in that basic task. He must resign.

Climate change: The latest National Comunication

The government released its Sixth National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change today detailing our efforts to reduce emissions and combat climate change. Or rather "efforts", because from reading it, its clear that we are doing sweet fuck all.

The 6th National Communication resembles all the previous ones, reciting the same list of policies. They even include the East Coast Forestry Project, a feature of national communications for the past twenty years, and which has only planted 40,000 hectares out of its planned 200,000 (and that target has now been lowered - I guess they're finally admitting twenty years of failure). Most of the "policies" boil down to "we're spending money on research to avoid actually doing anything", but there are a couple of mind-bogglers: they include both the "Roads of National Significance" and the "Business Growth Agenda" mining programme as climate change measures. They are - but not positive ones.

Then there's the obvious gaping fiddle: projected forestry emissions assume a "midpoint" scenario with a carbon price of $12 per ton. Energy modelling assumes $5 per ton. Actual carbon prices are negligible, meaning we are currently in the "high" scenario and back to significant land-use change from carbon-absorbing trees to methane-emitting cows. This makes a difference of 2 millions tons to current emissions, and 6 million tons to our 2020 scenario.

And then there's the appalling news that 70% of the increase in emissions since the previous National Communication - about a million tons - is due to Methanex restarting methanol production. Allowing that to happen is looking like a really dumb idea; subsidising it like an even worse one.

As for the overall effect of these "policies":

Total gross emissions (excluding forestry) ‘with measures’ are projected to be 77,218.3 Gg CO2-e in 2020, 1 per cent lower (437.1 Gg CO2-e) than projected emissions ‘without measures’. Total net emissions, including forestry ‘with measures’ are projected to be 75,017.7 Gg CO2-e in 2020, 12 per cent lower (9,810.0 Gg CO2-e) than projected emissions ‘without measures’.

Quite apart from those forestry numbers being purest bullshit, compare that to the government's targets: an unconditional 5% reduction on 1990 emissions (56,658 Gg CO2-e) or a 10 - 20 percent reduction if conditions are met (53,676 - 47,712 Gg). Pretty obviously, we will fail to meet them. And because we have been locked out of international carbon markets, we will not be able to pretend otherwise.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Former Labour local body candidate Daljit Singh has been convicted of electoral fraud:

A Labour Party candidate in the first Super City elections has been found guilty of two counts of using forged documents but has been acquitted on the remaining 18 electoral fraud allegations he faced.

Daljit Singh has been on trial in the High Court at Auckland on 20 charges of using forged documents to increase his chances of winning a seat on his local board.

The jury of 11 returned their verdicts this afternoon after deliberating for nearly five days.

Six other men - Gurinder Atwal, Davinder Singh, Mandeep Singh, Virender Singh, Paramjit Singh and Malkeet Singh - also stood trial for electoral fraud, but on fewer counts.

Good. The integrity of our electoral system is important, and its good to know that Singh will be held to account for attempting to subvert it.

An open and shut case

There's an interesting court case on te reo language rights happening today:

A Waitangi Tribunal claimant is taking the tribunal to court for stopping her lawyer asking questions in te reo of English-speaking witnesses.

The lawyer for Te Rohe Potae claimant Liane Green said it was an irony that a judge in what was probably the only judicial forum in New Zealand where te reo was regularly spoken should have ruled that lawyer Alex Hope could not use te reo Maori to cross-examine English-speaking witnesses.

Lawyer Karen Feint told Justice Alan MacKenzie in the High Court in Wellington today that the ruling Judge David Ambler made at a hearing in Te Kuiti a year ago and backed up in a written judgment in February had undermined the mana of te reo and demeaned it as a language, giving it a lower status than English. Judge Ambler's ruling had been wrong, she said.

This is an open and shut case. Section 4 of the Māori Language Act 1987 gives an absolute right to use te reo in legal proceedings, regardless of ability to speak English, and regardless of convenience. This right explicitly includes the Waitangi Tribunal. While the presiding officer can require notification so they can arrange translators, they explicitly cannot deny anyone the right to speak due to a failure to notify. Judge Ambler's decision appears to be contrary to all of this, and I am looking forward to it being overturned.

Equality loses in Australia

Australia's High Court has overturned the ACT's marriage equality law:

The judges found the ACT laws could not operate alongside federal laws as only the federal parliament had the power under the constitution to legislate on same sex marriage.

They said the Marriage Act does not allow or recognise marriages between same sex couples.

The court held the ACT Act provided for marriage equality for same sex couples.

Not, as the territory argued, for a form of legally recognised relationship which was different from marriage.

The finding means ACT Act cannot operate concurrently with the federal Act.

"Because the ACT Act does not validly provide for the formation of same sex marriages, its provisions about the rights of parties to such marriages and the dissolution of such marriages cannot have separate operation and are also of no effect," the statement said.

"The Court held that the whole of the ACT Act is of no effect."

So, all those happy couples who got married yesterday have just had their marriages declared invalid.

But while bigotry and hate have won today, this isn't over. The majority of Australians support marriage equality. And they're going to keep pushing for it until their bigoted federal politicians catch up with the modern world.

A $510,000 waste of money

The Rebstock witch-hunt into leaks from MFAT has finally reported back, and found... nothing:

An investigation into who leaked information about restructuring plans at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has failed to positively identify who was responsible.

A public version of a report to State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie from Paula Rebstock said the investigation was "unable to find definitive evidence of who was responsible for the unauthorised disclosure of the Cabinet Papers''.

However Ms Rebstock reported "a strong suspicion" that the leak of the Cabinet Papers was made a temporary staff member working within Mr Rennie's own department.

For $510,000 I'd expect something more than "a strong suspicion" and smears. If this is what the government considers "value for money", we should be demanding our money back.

The full report is here.

Another abusive digital search

My Twitter feed this morning has been full of tweets by, about, and in support of Sam Blackman, whose digital devices were seized at the border by Customs. No reasons were given for the seizure. Which would seem to be the very definition of an unreasonable search and seizure.

In the absence of reasons from Customs, all we have is suspicion. And on that front, its worth noting that Blackman had recently attended the Stop Bugging Us conference in the UK, and thinks that might have raised a red flag. If so, then Customs seems to be using border searches to persecute and surveill the political opponents (and those who might be opponents, such as academics and journalists) of state spies. Which doesn't really seem to be related to the enforcement of Customs controls at the border, and thus is an unlawful exercise of state power.

Unfortunately, unless Blackman has a few thousand dollars to throw away on a BORA case for unreasonable search and surveillance, we'll never know. Though there is one avenue. The Ombudsman has jurisdiction over Customs, and can investigate actions for unreasonableness. Anyone whose devices are searched at the border by Customs should immediately file a complaint with the Ombudsman's Office. At the least, you'll force Customs to disclose a reason, which can then be examined - and that's the first step to ending these searches.

National's New Zealand

Back in the Dark Ages, if a rich person murdered someone, they could just buy their way out of trouble by paying weregild. We ended the practice when we realised that crimes weren't just against victims, but also society, and that everyone should be equal before the law regardless of wealth of social status.

Sadly, the practice seems to be alive and well in National's New Zealand:

Twelve charges laid against former Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall in relation to the 2010 disaster at the mine have been dropped.

In a shock development in the Christchurch District Court this morning, the Crown said that after an extensive review it was "not appropriate to continue with the prosecution against Mr Whittall''.

Mr Whittall has proposed that a voluntary payment be made on behalf of the directors and officers of Pike River Coal Ltd (in receivership) at the time of the explosions to the families of the 29 men who died and the two survivors.

It means $110,000 will be given to each of the families and survivors - totalling $3.41m.

This is what government of, by and for the rich gets us: rich pricks buying their way out of serious criminal charges. As for justice and the rule of law, clearly they're just for little people.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A living wage for Wellington

Wellington City Council has just agreed a living wage policy for its staff. Good. Local authorities are legally required to be good employers, and this should include paying their staff enough to actually live on. There's been a series of OIA requests through FYI to various local authorities requesting living wage information, and the results are pretty dismal - payment of substandard wages seems to be widespread. But with Auckland and Wellington moving in the right direction, it will hopefully force the others to end this exploitative practice - and push the labour market in the right direction as well.

Has Groser sold us out?

Last night the TPP negotiations in Singapore broke up without reaching a conclusion. But they did apparently reach agreement on some things, notably intellectual property:

Washington Trade Daily has reported that ministers from all TPPA countries, except one developing country, have dropped their objections to the US-based intellectual property chapter, with some modifications.

That means Australia, New Zealand and Canada have agreed to a ‘very high standards’ text with unspecified transition clauses for developing countries.

In other words, our government has backed down to US demands of copyright maximalism. So how much have we given away? Will we lose Pharmac or be required to impose US DMCA-style restrictions? Has Groser sold us out? Unfortunately, he refuses to tell us. And as a result, we're left here in the dark, expected to endorse a deal Groser has made in our name without knowing any of the details, and conveniently unable to hold him to account for his negotiations until after the face.

Whatever you want to call that, it isn't democratic. We need full transparency on foreign policy, so we can see what we are trading away, and hold negotiators accountable for the deals they are making in our name. And if Groser feels he can't work like that, he should resign in favour of someone who respects the sovereignty of the New Zealand people.

Anadarko are parasites

At the moment, Texan oil cowboys Anadarko are engaged in a risky drilling operation off Raglan in a desperate gamble to find oil. If something goes wrong, there will be oil on every beach from Kaipara to New Plymouth - but Anadarko haven't been required to post a bond or carry insurance for the potential costs of cleanup. And to add insult to injury, it turns out that - thanks to Labour - they're not even paying taxes either. And now National wants to extend this tax-free status for another five years.

This is simply a subsidy for fossil fuel production - something the government claims to oppose. And it is simply wrong. Companies that do business in New Zealand should pay tax here. And that goes double for companies that expect the Navy and Police to mount multi-million dollar operations to suppress freedom of speech on their behalf.

Anadarko and other oil companies are simply parasites. They expect the protection of the New Zealand state while paying nothing to support it. Meanwhile, they ruin our environment, so that profits can be siphoned off overseas. Rather than giving them a tax break, we should be forcibly evicting them from our country.

Winning the argument on paid parental leave?

Labour's Sue Moroney currently has a bill before Select Committee to extend paid parental leave to six months. The bill has a majority in the House, and will pass unless the government uses its unconstitutional financial veto. But now, it has been delayed so that National can reconsider its position:

Labour believes the Government may be preparing to back down over paid parental leave after it asked to delay a bill extending the scheme to six months.

Labour MP Sue Moroney said she had agreed to delay reporting back her member's bill so National had time to consider its position on the bill.

The move followed talks between Labour finance spokesman David Parker and Finance Minister Bill English, the Labour MP said.

If National is backing down and allowing the bill to pass, its good news. We have one of the weakest paid parental leave provisions in the developed world (tellingly, only the sexist US and Australia are worse than us), and its a policy with clear benefits to children and wider society. Investing in children early on has clear benefits later, and more than pays for itself. So rather than being a "can we afford it?" policy, its "can we afford not to". And if National has finally seen that and will allow the bill to pass, then good.

OTOH, National may not be interested in the merits of the policy so much as an opportunity to rob Labour of one of their cheapest, easiest and most popular election pledges. But if we can get them to do the right thing for venal reasons, then I'm not going to mind.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

East Timor should prosecute

East Timor claims to have identified the Australian spies who bugged their Cabinet office:

East Timor's government believes it has identified the members of a team of four Australian spies who allegedly bugged its government offices, describing it as "very disturbing" that they apparently used the cover of an aid program.

The revelations came as intelligence and development experts expressed their deep misgivings that aid was apparently used as the pretext for installing and then removing the eavesdropping equipment, saying it jeopardised important aid projects and potentially put Australian aid workers at risk around the world.

"We think we have identified the team of people who came in to do the bugging. We have their names," said Alfredo Pires, East Timor's Natural Resources Minister. "They are males, along with a possible lady spy."

East Timor would keep the names secure, he said. But he noted that at least one of them was still working overseas under the same name and may be at risk "if the names get out over the internet".

Bugging is usually illegal, and these people have presumably committed a crime. If they have, then East Timor should file charges and seek to extradite them from whereever they are hiding. And if that means that they can't work as spies for Australia anymore, then tough shit. Spies are criminals, and these ones need to be held to account.


The Justice and Electoral Committee has called for submissions on the Harmful Digital Communications Bill. You can submit by filling out the form at the link above.

The bill implements the recommendations of the Law Commission on "harmful digital communications" - everything from cyberbullying to this. It is deeply problematic. I've called it a resurrection of criminal libel (but only online, of course); Vikram Kumar has pointed out that the "safe harbour" provisions are a recipe for widespread censorship (as we've seen with the US DMCA). While there's a need to protect young people from online bullying, this goes too far and needs significant amendment. Please submit in support of such amendments.

Not a Christian country

The 2013 Census data tables are out - which leads to my five (now seven, due to an earthquake) yearly post on religious demographics. The headline data:


[Data from table 28 here. For consistency with past practice, "object to state" has been excluded when calculating percentages]

That's right: Christians are no longer a majority in this country. In absolute number terms its even more stark - they've dropped by almost 200,000 in the last seven years, with traditional denominations such as Anglicans and Presbyterians seeing drops of 18% as their aging members die off. And we've seen that change in our society. 27 years ago, when Parliament decriminalised homosexuality, New Zealand was more than 74% Christian (1991 census figure), and MPs faced a sustained campaign of hate. By 2005, when they passed Civil Unions, it was down to fringe nutters like Destiny Church, and their "Nuremberg March" met with widespread condemnation. And this year, when they passed marriage equality, opposition was muted and it passed by a wide margin. And on that level alone, the decline of Christianity has made us a better country.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Metadata matters

Unconcerned that the NSA is tracking your movements via your cellphone and passing the info on to GCSB? Think that metadata doesn't matter? The American Civil Liberties Union has a lovely demonstration of how much they can learn from this, and how it can be used to reveal your friends, lovers, political activities, and even whether you might be driving drunk.

Metadata matters. It exposes intimate details of our personal lives that the government has no business knowing without probable cause. If we value our privacy, we need to shut down the spies, before it is too late.

An indecent society

Back in October, we learned that the Children's Commissioner had been forced to go begging to charity to fund ongoing monitoring of child poverty, after the government had refused to do so. The result was Child Poverty Monitor, a collaboration between the Children's Commissioner, the University of Otago, and the J R McKenzie Trust. Now they've released their first monitoring report [PDF] - and it paints a bleak picture:

More children living in crammed homes are ending up in hospital, as a new report shows one in four children remain mired in poverty.

A new rigorous measure of child poverty released today shows that about one in six Kiwi children are going without basic necessities. This could mean not having a bed, delaying a doctor's visit or missing out on meals.

It also shows hospital admissions for children with medical conditions linked to poverty are rising. Tens of thousands of children are admitted every year for respiratory and infectious diseases associated with living in damp, overcrowded homes.

Using international standard measures, 25% of our children are living in poverty. And its not due to "feckless, lazy parents" - its due to jobs that don't pay enough to live on, persistent unemployment, and insufficient benefit levels.

This is simply indecent, and what's worse is that it is entirely a matter of political choice. Our government could fix this, our government should fix this - not just for moral reasons, but for pragmatic ones: child poverty costs a fortune, now and into the future. But the current government chooses not to. And when confronted with the problem, they giggle at it. I guess sick and starving kids must seem funny if you "earn" $250,000 a year.

This is an indecent government creating an indecent society. They have to go.

Australia is a surveillance state: don't let it happen here

Way back in June, we got the first pre-Snowden glimpse of the extent of the US surveillance state, with the admission that the NSA was recording every phone call for later use. It turns out they're not alone: Australia has an identical system, which copies and stores all phone and internet traffic for later mining:

Australia's leading telecommunications company, Telstra, has installed highly advanced surveillance systems to "vacuum" the telephone calls, texts, social media messages and internet metadata of millions of Australians so that information can be filtered and given to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The Australian government's electronic espionage agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, is using the same technology to harvest data flows carried by undersea fibre-optic cables in and out of Australia.

[Image stolen from The Age, linked above]

So, they take it all, mine the metadata for relationship mapping, and access the content whenever they feel like it (because a warrant is no safeguard against spies with a rubber-stamp Minister). And Australia's interception capability law is what allows it all to happen. Under the guise of making ISPS and phone companies "interception capable", they've actually installed a Stasi-style panopticon, right there in a western democracy.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government has just updated our own interception capability law, and amended the GCSB Act to allow them to spy on New Zealanders (and remove any control on the interception of metadata). The purpose of those two law changes is now obvious: the GCSB wants to build a panopticon to keep our digital lives under constant surveillance.

As for how to stop them, the solution is political. Labour is making comforting noises about inquiries and amendments to the GCSB Act and TICS, but that's no longer enough. We need a concrete assurance that the law will be changed to forbid GCSB or any government agency from building such a system - and that if one already exists, that it will be shut down and the hardware publicly destroyed. Our freedom is at stake here, and our politicians need to either defend it, or get out of the way for someone who will.

New Fisk

An obsessive’s documenting of Israeli war crimes in Lebanon can show us how the West lost respect for international law

National's New Zealand

The latest from National's New Zealand: a family forced to live in a tent in a public park because of Housing NZ cuts:

Welfare groups are helping a Christchurch mother and her three children move into a tent in a public park because they cannot find the family a home.

From today, Maori wardens will stand guard 24 hours a day to provide Nellie Hunt and her children some security at their tent in Waltham Park.


The single mother has been on the Housing New Zealand waiting list for months. She has applied and been rejected by dozens of rental homes and three different social agencies have combed the city for accommodation without success.

Her parents "haven't got much" and cannot take her in. Every camping ground she has contacted is full and with a teenage daughter, she is not eligible for a women's shelter.

Hunt, 35, and her children, Mahara, 16, Rawini, 11, and Manawa, 9, are now homeless.

The best option social workers could find was to pitch a tent in Waltham Park, and roster Maori wardens for protection.

This should not be happening in New Zealand. Making sure everyone has a roof over their head is one of the core duties of our government. It's what HousingNZ is for. But National has gutted it, restricting it to emergency cases. But if this isn't an emergency, then what the hell is?

Meanwhile, its worth noting: Gerry Brownlee, the Minister for "earthquake recovery" and Tsar of Christchurch, owns four properties in the city. If any of them are untenanted, Hunt should just move in there. Alternatively, I'm sure Brownlee has a backyard at his expensive Fendalton home; pitching her tent there might ensure that her case is dealt with swiftly and efficiently, as it should have been in the first place.

Friday, December 06, 2013

A public health emergency in the UK

How bad is the recession over in the UK? This bad:

The shocking impact of recession and austerity on England’s poorest people has come to light again in figures showing the number of malnutrition cases treated at NHS hospitals has nearly doubled since the economic downturn.

Primary and secondary diagnoses of malnutrition – caused by lack of food or very poor diet – rose from 3,161 in 2008/09 to 5,499 last year, according to figures released by the health minister Norman Lamb.

While the data does not include information on the circumstances of each diagnosis, the rise coincides with a dramatic increase in the cost of living, and a spike in demand for charity food hand-outs.

Public health experts are now calling this "a public health emergency", and they're right. What's worse is that its one which has been exacerbated by the government, through cuts to benefits and housing. But hey, its only the poor. And the government has much better things to pay for, like aircraft carriers and Trident.

This is simply fundamentally indecent. There's no other way to describe it.

And for the curious: according to NZ health statistics, there were only 65 diagnoses of malnutrition in

Climate change: More windfall profits

Earlier this year, in retaliation for our refusal to participate in a post-Kyoto climate change deal, we were locked out of international carbon markets. And now the government has finally been forced to recognise this, banning the use of foreign credit from the ETS from 2015:

Mr Bridges also announced a complementary decision around the use of existing Kyoto units in the ETS after May 2015.

The decision allows participants to continue to use Kyoto Protocol first commitment period Certified Emission Reduction units (CERs), Emission Reduction Units (ERUs), and Removal Units (RMUs) to account for surrender obligations up until 31 May 2015, after which these units will no longer be eligible for surrender. From then they will need to surrender New Zealand Units (NZUs) to meet their obligations.

Participants holding New Zealand Assigned Amount Units (NZ AAUs) will be able to use them to account for surrender obligations and will automatically have them carried over for surrender beyond 31 May 2015.

So, the ETS will be domestic-only, as it should have been. But spot the scam: those holding current NZ AAU get to keep it and use it in the future. So, you can collect your government pollution subsidy, pay for your emissions with cheap foreign hot air at 20 cents a ton, then collect windfall profits post-2015 when that AAU increases in value. And National's polluter-cronies will be laughing all the way to the bank...

And then they wonder why people think the ETS is just a scam.

If we want to fix this, we need to end carryover and cancel old credits. We also need to bring the scheme back into balance, by eliminating pollution subsidies. Carbon markets only work when there is a shortage of permits. At present, we don't have a market; we have a bad joke.

Asset sales make us all worse off

What was the cost of selling Meridian Energy? Over half a billion dollars:

The latest Crown financial statements show that National’s failed asset sales have carved a path of destruction through the government books, Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman said today.

The Financial Statements show that the sale of Meridian for below its book value wiped $378 million off the Crown’s net worth. This stands in stark contrast to the Government’s assumption that it would sell the assets for $700 million more than they were valued at on the government accounts. Additionally, the Financial Statements show that the ‘buy now, pay later’ scheme for Meridian has cost $33 million and ‘direct sales costs’ were $21 million. That is additional to more than $9 million spent by Meridian and Treasury in preparation for the sale.

“National’s failed sale of Meridian cost the taxpayer around $450 million. It’s time for National to drop its failed asset sales policy and apologise to the public,” said Dr Norman.

Imagine if Labour had botched a government contract and wasted half a billion dollars in the process - the right would be incandescent with rage. But when National does it, they think its "better economic management". Bullshit. It has made people worse off, not better. And National needs to be held to account for that.

More illegal spying

The latest from Kim Dotcom: the FBI were apparently spying on his phone calls in New Zealand:

Kim Dotcom has asked a judge to order the United States to come clean on spying after a phone call glitch prompted fears he was victim to a surveillance system used by the FBI.

The Stingray could have spied on Dotcom, the Auckland District Court heard yesterday.

The system works as a fake cellphone tower, searching out a specific signal then hijacking call data connecting to or leaving the target phone.

Judge Nevin Dawson was told the use of Stingray would explain a bizarre call phenomenon that occurred during Dotcom's discussions with lawyer William Akel.

Dotcom heard his own voice playing back over his cellphone while talking to Mr Akel, the court heard.

This would of course be illegal if done without a warrant. And the police have already said that they didn't have one - their summary of their investigation into the GCSB [PDF] states that "No interception warrant had been sought by OFCANZ, as there was no evidential foundation to legally obtain a warrant". And if there wasn't the evidential foundation to get one before the raid, there sure as hell wasn't one afterwards.

And yet, someone appears to be tapping Kim Dotcom's phone. That person is committing a crime. The police need to investigate and prosecute whoever is responsible.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Transparency on Cabinet conflicts of interest

Back in 2010, I tried to get some information out of the Cabinet Office about Cabinet conflicts of interest. They refused, I appealed to the Ombudsman, and last year they were forced to release some information. In the ruling recommending release, the Ombudsman also recommended regular proactive disclosure of information on conflicts on interest. And now, almost a year later, the Cabinet Office has finally obeyed, releasing information for the past year [PDF]. However, as it notes, this is not a complete disclosure:

The table only includes new arrangements put in place in the period 1 October 2012 to 30 September 2013, and is not a full summary of all transfers of responsibility and arrangements not to receive papers that have been made or are currently in place.

Older arrangements from 2009 - 2010 are available here [PDF], and I currently have an OIA in to fill in the gap.

The information will be released annually. Hopefully that will be enough to allow proper monitoring by the media.

(Meanwhile, for a "proactive" release, this wasn't very proactive. It was released on dump day (under cover of the John Banks and red zone court decisions / Rena inquiries / PISA report), there appears to have been no press release, and I only found it because I knew that it was coming and bothered to look for it. You'd almost think the Cabinet Office didn't really want anyone to notice...)

Climate change: What NZ should do

The Greens' Kennedy Graham has a pair of posts looking at the climate change policies pursued by Denmark and Sweden. Both countries have pursued strong regulation-based policies right from the start, and as a result they have significantly reduced their emissions. By contrast, New Zealand sat on its hands for 18 years, before passing a largely ineffective market-based policy in 2008, which was then immediately gutted by the incoming National government. The result is that our emissions have risen by 20% since 1990, and look set to rise even higher.

So, assuming that a future government actually wants to fix this problem (alternatively: will be denied confidence and supply by the Greens unless it promises serious policy), what should it do? We could do a lot worse than following the Scandinavian examples Graham cites.

Electricity isn't really a problem for us - while the 90's saw the construction of gas power plants, we've begun a shift to wind and geothermal without needing the subsidy mechanisms employed overseas. Restoring the thermal ban would help cement that trend and prevent wind farms from being monstered by pollution-subsidised gas or coal, but we shouldn't need to do much else. Our wind resource is good enough to stand on its own two feet if pollution subsidies are removed, and there's a huge backlog of consented wind protects waiting to be built.

Our real growth areas of emissions in the past 20 years have been transport and agriculture - cars and cows. Transport emissions have increased by over 5 million tons since 1990, agricultural emissions by 3.5 million tons. The former has been driven by an increase in car and truck use, but that has now plateaued - we hit peak car in 2005, and peak truck a few years later. So policy doesn't need to be aimed at getting people to drive less, so much as getting them to drive more efficiently. And on that front there seems to be a host of policies we can steal from Sweden and Denmark which help: a carbon tax on fuel (technically done by the ETS, but compromised by pollution subsidies), mandatory emissions standards on new cars, taxes on inefficient vehicles / rebates for efficient ones, and an obligation to sell biofuels should do the trick. These are long-term policies, not a magic wand which will work overnight, but they should gradually reduce transport emissions.

Agriculture is more difficult, but even there we could go a long way simply by taxing the crap out of nitrogen-based fertilisers (which led to nitrous oxide emissions, as well as polluting waterways). We will also need regulatory solutions around stock densities. In the longer term, it has become clear that our environment cannot stand so many cows shitting and pissing into our rivers and water-table. Which means that we need to reduce overall numbers. If dairy farmers want to retain their incomes, they will need to increase the efficiency of their herds, or invest to create higher-value products rather than just exporting raw milk powder. Or find something else to farm that doesn't trash the environment and poison their neighbours.

Denmark and Sweden managed these sorts of changes without any appreciable economic damage. We can to. We just need to decide to do it. Hopefully we'll be able to after the next election.

Prosecuting Cunliffe

David Cunliffe's election-day tweet has been referred to police. Good. Its a clear (though minor) breach of the law, and the Electoral Commission has to uphold the rules. Unfortunately, judging by their past performance, the police won't - they have no interest in electoral crimes, and even less in prosecuting politicians who could one day decide their budget and powers. So naturally, Graham McCready is stepping up and offering to bring a private prosecution.

I have two comments on this. Firstly, that its a sad state of affairs that this is necessary. We ought to be able to have faith that our police will protect the integrity of our electoral system, but we can't. And that suggests that the police are in serious need of reform, and that we should shift prosecution power for electoral offences to a body which can be trusted, such as the Electoral Commission. Secondly, if McCready brings a case, Cunliffe should plead guilty. He's already admitted posting the statement, and its intent to influence voters is clear. The offence carries a fine of up to $20,000, but its hard to see the maximum being enforced for a minor breach which was immediately corrected, reported and admitted. And it is not severe enough to require resignation from Parliament. Political honesty and the integrity of our electoral system would be served by Cunliffe admitting it, paying the fine, and moving on.

A convenient coincidence

The first legal case against the US "no-fly" list, Ibrahim v. DHS, started in San Francisco this week. A crucial witness in the trial is Rainan Mustafa Kamal, Dr Ibrahim's daughter, who was expected to testify about how she and her mother were refused boarding permission in 2005. But there's a problem: she's in Malaysia. And oddly, she was unable to travel to the US to testify because she was on the "no-fly" list. A convenient "coincidence", neh?

This is what the secret exercise of unaccountable power inevitably leads to. And its precisely why we should never permit the government to hold such power over us.

[Hat-tip: Cory Doctorow]


A ballot for a member's bill was held today and the following bill was drawn:

There were 75 bills in the ballot today, another record. No new son what's new yet, but the full list will be up shortly here.

The NSA knows where you are

The latest NSALeak: the NSA is tracking everyone's cellphone, all the time:

The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.

The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.

The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.


In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among individuals using them.

By "hidden relationship" they mean "being in the same building" or "being on the same bus" as a person of interest - which makes you a "co-traveller". In Pakistan, that's probably enough for a US drone to kill a bunch of children in your village.

There's information on the technical details here. Naturally, it relies on the cooperation of phone companies, whose data-sharing with each other enables the NSA to spy on everyone just by compromising a few providers. I expect some national legislatures (e.g. the European Parliament) will be asking their telecoms companies very pointy questions about that in the near future, and what can be done to protect privacy while also enabling global roaming.

And again, there's the obvious question: does the GCSB do this here? Or do they merely enjoy access to data gained by the NSA through the compromise of the international telecommunications network? Either way, its an unprecedented level of spying, and one our government should be protecting us from, not enabling in secret.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The actions of a guilty government

Back in 2004, Australia allegedly bugged the leaders of East Timor, getting ASIS agents to infiltrate their offices disguised as aid workers in order to listen in on their negotiating position over oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea. The case is currently before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and it looks pretty convincing - thanks to the willingness of an ASIS whistleblower to testify as to his government's dirty deeds. But today, in a clear effort to disrupt the case, the Australian government raided the Canberra office of East Timor's lawyer, and detained its star witness:

ASIO officers have allegedly detained a man and raided the office of a lawyer who claims that Australian spies bugged the cabinet room of East Timor's government during tense negotiations over rich Greater Sunrise oil and gas deposits.

The lawyer, Bernard Collaery, is representing the East Timorese government, which has declared the treaty governing Greater Sunrise invalid and is seeking arbitration in The Hague this week.

East Timor, also known as Timor Leste, will tender evidence of the eavesdropping as part of its case. Mr Collaery, who just arrived in The Hague, told Fairfax the raids were a ''disgrace''. ''How dare they?'' Mr Collaery said. ''These tactics are designed to intimidate the witness and others from coming forward. It's designed to cover up an illegal operation in 2004 by ASIS [the Australian Secret Intelligence Service].''

The whistleblower's passport has also reportedly been seized, in a clear effort to prevent him from giving evidence.

Australia's spy Minister, George Brandis, says that the raids have nothing to do with the case and are instead about "national security". Bullshit. These are the actions of a guilty government, trying to silence its opponents and prevent justice from being served. Witness intimidation and the wholesale violation of attorney-client privilege is the sort of thing you expect to see in Putin's Russia, not in a supposedly democratic country like Australia.