Monday, September 30, 2013

Referendum time

The Keep Our Assets referendum will be held as a postal vote in November - December this year. Sadly, this means the government will sell Meridian Energy to its cronies before we can tell them not to, but it will likely mean that the government will get a clear warning on other privatisations. John Key has already said he will ignore it anyway (with all the sniffy disdain for the peasantry of a British inbred), but he'll be paying an electoral price if he does. And hopefully a strong showing against privatisation will see Labour announce solid policies to reverse it and impose a loss on the thieves.

Equality wins in New Jersey

The New Jersey State Superior Court has applied United States v. Windsor to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage:

A New Jersey judge ruled on Friday that the state must allow same-sex couples to marry, saying that not doing so deprives them of rights that were guaranteed by the United States Supreme Court in June.


“The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts,” Judge Mary C. Jacobson of State Superior Court in Mercer County wrote on Friday. “Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution.”

There will be an appeal, of course - but given the Supreme Court's ruling, its going to fail, and the bigots had better start getting used to it. The US Constitution guarantees equality under the law for all, and finally the courts are making it clear that it means what it says.

The full judgement is here [PDF].


Over the weekend, Greek authorities finally moved against Nazi-group Golden Dawn:

The leader of Greece's Golden Dawn party, widely viewed as Europe's most violent political force, appeared in court on Saturday night on charges of heading a criminal gang after police mounted an unprecedented crackdown on the neo-fascist party, arresting Nikos Michaloliakos and other key members of his organisation.

After a police operation in which anti-terrorism officers stormed the homes of Golden Dawn politicians across Athens, Michaloliakos and five of his MPs were seized. Fifteen other senior party activists, including a female police officer, were taken into custody accused of fomenting violence as members of a criminal organisation. Reading from a nine-page charge sheet, a public prosecutor accused the far-rightists of murder, extortion and money laundering.

But while its good to see, its also worth noting the hypocrisy here: Golden Dawn has been attacking people for years, beating, stabbing and robbing people. Their MPs have been involved in this from the beginning. And the police have looked the other way (when they're not joining in), and the government has tolerated it all this time. So what's changed?

New Fisk

Khaled Mahjoub: The man with President Assad's ear
A Syrian solution to civil conflict? The Free Syrian Army is holding talks with Assad's senior staff

Bad faith III

When we first learned that the GCSB had been illegally spying on New Zealand citizens, Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff told them to ask for their file. But it turns out she was only joking:

“The Privacy Commissioner has upheld the GCSB’s ‘neither confirm nor deny’ response to people seeking to find out if they are among the 88 who were subject to illegal surveillance by the GCSB. This illegal activity has now been sanctioned by the Privacy Commissioner who has refused to require that the GCSB come clean and advise people if they have had their rights violated, allowing the GCSB to use the exceptions in the Privacy Act to cover up the systematic illegalities by this rogue agency.”

“Earlier this year, Marie Shroff encouraged ordinary people to come to her with complaints about the agency. She has done nothing but waste our time. Their so-called ‘oversight’ and ‘accountability’ is nothing but a sick joke.”

The law ties the Commissioner's hands on this, as it provides an exemption for disclosing even the existence of information which could "prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand". But the Commissioner presumably knew that back in April when she first urged people to ask for their records. Telling people to ask for something she knows they can never receive is acting in bad faith, and (as we're now seeing) undermines the reputation and integrity of the Commissioner.

But there's a complicating factor anyway: while the GCSB has an exemption to disclosure, this is also information they should never have in the first place. The GCSB's purpose is to intercept communications. But their governing legislation forbids them from spying on New Zealanders. So the GCSB were basicly being asked whether they had broken New Zelaand law. For any government agency to respond to such a question with anything other than an unequivocal denial can only be regarded as an admission of guilt.

As for the next step, lawyer John Edwards has previously suggested a class action against the GCSB. I support this approach. Drag the fuckers into court, expose their wrongdoing into disinfecting sunlight, and watch them wriggle and squirm. The Minister won't do it, and the "Inspector-General" certainly won't, so a BORA case to get discovery, followed by private prosecution of those implicated in wrongdoing, is the only alternative.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Spin the wheel!

Wondering what crazed policy the National government will come up with next time it has trouble in the polls? Now you can generate your own!

[With thanks to Rowan Crawford]

A senile watchdog

The outgoing Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neazor, released his annual report to Parliament a couple of weeks ago. Despite this being an unclassified statutory report, it was not made available publicly on the web. Fortunately someone in Parliament provided me with a copy [PDF]. It makes interesting reading.

Most interesting is the tacit admission that the GCSB broke the law while working for the police:

The first group related to requests, principally by the Police, for assistance by the bureau. The question then was whether in my opinion the Bureau's determination that targets were not New Zealand persons (and therefore not protected against interception) was reasonable. In all but three of the cases I was of the view that the determination was reasonable. In the three cases only foreign sources of calls was sought and no content was sought.

Parsing that, in three cases the GCSB intercepted the communications of New Zealanders. This was, of course, illegal.

So why isn't the Inspector-General raising hell about this and initiating prosecutions? Because as he makes clear when discussing the cases of the 88, he doesn't think metadata is a "communication":
Some attention has been focused on whether under the Act the collection of metadata as described should be regarded as the interception of a communication. I am not satisfied from reading the whole Act that it should be.

To see why this is so wrong, you have only to read the Act's definitions:
communication includes signs, signals, impulses, writing, images, sounds, or data that a person or machine produces, sends, receives, processes, or holds in any medium


intercept includes hear, listen to, record, monitor, acquire, or receive a communication, or acquire its substance, meaning, or sense

When I dial a phone number, my phone sends a signal to the phone company's exchange, which then hopefully connects me with the other phone. Whether GCSB directly pulls that off the line, or are given it by the phone company in accordance with some secret deal, it is a "signal... [that a] machine produces" - a "communication" - which they are acquiring or receiving - "intercepting". When my cellphone rats me to the tower, that's also a "signal... [that a] machine produces". Ditto if I had a cellphone with GPS in it (I don't). Call durations are the time difference between two signals etc. And if the GCSB acquires any of this in any way, then they are "intercepting" a "communication".

The Inspector-general's report makes it crystal clear that he cannot interpret the legislation he is supposed to be overseeing - and as a result, abuses of the privacy and rights of new Zealanders (and the law of New Zealand) are going unpunished. I am extremely glad he has finally been put out to pasture.

A victory for workers' rights

Over the weekend we learned that KFC hates the disabled, having a policy of systematicly sacking their disabled workers. Now, thanks to Unite, that policy has been reversed and its victims offered their jobs back:

Unite Union has reached an agreement with Restaurant Brands over the dismissal of 17 workers at KFC with disabilities that includes offering them the chance to get their jobs back.

Over the past year and a half the company has been carrying out store “restructures” that involved demanding staff with disabilities meet an impossibly high bar of being able to do every job in the store to stay employed. The agreement with Unite Union provides for the establishment of a “limited duties role” that can be done by disabled workers once minimum health and safety training has been completed. These roles will be offered to all the dismissed staff even if they have received a settlement when the dismissal was challenged by Unite or their advocacy group.

There's an obvious lesson here: unions work. There's another: so does the threat of bad publicity. But there's also a clear problem: the laws intended to protect disabled workers from discrimination and dismissal clearly did not work in this case. Parliament needs to look at why, and tighten them.

Why we need death with dignity

Because everybody dies.

That's always been true. But death now is a bit different from what it was a thousand or even a hundred years ago. We no longer die in childhood, or in childbirth. We no longer die of epidemic disease, starvation, squalor and poverty. Very few of us die in accidents - only 1,257 of 29,204 deaths in 2009. Deaths due to crime are insignificant, and war even more so. If you are reading this you can expect to live to a ripe old age. And if you don't pop your clogs quickly due to heart attack or stroke, then you can expect to die slowly in a hospital bed, probably of cancer.

This is a Good Thing, and something we should thank generations of doctors, scientists, sanitation engineers and policymakers for. But the flipside is that an increasing proportion of us are dying long and lingering deaths. Thanks to the miracle of modern medicineTM that isn't necessarily painful - but pain management is imperfect and there are no drugs for dignity. It is distressingly common for this process to result in people wanting to die early, while they still have some control and dignity left to them. Not so common that you can expect it to happen to you (for a start, see heart disease and stroke), but common enough that it will probably happen to someone you know, possibly to someone you actually care about.

At the moment, people solve this themselves, and we call it murder or suicide depending on the exact method and who is involved. It means people being prosecuted for helping their loved ones in their last moments, and it means people choosing a slow and painful death by starvation to avoid imposing on their friends. You don't need to have seen this first-hand to recognise the cruelty and absurdity of it. We have people who want to die, and perverse rules which will not let them.

And that's why we need a death with dignity law: so that people aren't prosecuted for an act of kindness. So that people aren't forced to choose a lingering means of ending their lives. So that people unlucky enough to die in this way have a choice about the matter, rather than being cruelly forced by law to suffer.

New kiwi blog

The Left Estate

Chickening out

Maryan Street has withdrawn her voluntary euthanasia bill to avoid it being a "distraction" in election year:

A bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia has been withdrawn amid fears it would become a political football during election year.

Labour MP Maryan Street withdrew her End of Life Choice Bill before today's member's bill ballot.

Street said there would probably be only two more days this year in which member's bills would be considered by the House.

"Anything that is drawn, including the ones drawn today, will be debated in election year, and I don't want my bill debated in election year," she said.

So, they've learned precisely nothing from the marriage equality campaign. Leadership? Inspiration? You won't get that from the Labour Party. No, its pallid political management all the way. But again, if Labour won't lead, why should anyone care about them?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The rot goes deeper

So, it turns out the rot of the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme goes deeper. First, we have MPI apparently being gagged as well:

“MPI advised it had ‘similar concerns’ and intended to lodge a submission. Those concerns included the adequacy of the phosphorous management, lack of definition of industry best practice, the use of a nutrient management system called OVERSEER and concerns about the economics of the dam.

“However, these concerns were considerably watered down in MPI’s final submission and the Ministry did a 180 degree turn on the economic impacts. The draft said the dam would be negative, the final submission said it would be positive. Why the change?

And today in Question Time we learn that GNS Science was contracted by the Hawkes' Bay Regional Council to report on groundwater for the scheme, but that they too were gagged after they concluded that information provided by HBRC was seriously flawed and could not be relied upon. Together, it paints a picture of a government hell-bent on irrigating to benefit its farmer-cronies, and willing to stomp all over normal procedure to ensure that their pet project goes ahead.

Which invites the question: can the EPA be trusted to fairly assess the project? Or will they too be politically directed to ensure the desired outcome? Which also shows us the real problem: once Ministers start interfering in processes like this, the outcomes can simply no longer be trusted. If the scheme is approved, it will be tainted by the suggestion of political pressure. And that's not good for anyone.

Against integrating Brethren schools

The Exclusive Brethren (of Hollow Men fame) want to integrate their private school system to scam more money. Unlike other integrated schools, this will not lead to taxpayers funding religious education - Brethren schools are entirely secular, because they don't trust anyone to properly espouse their beliefs. But as this 2010 article on the schools makes clear, they deliver a substandard education. Brethren schools do not deliver an education aimed at broadening the horizons of their students or encouraging them to achieve to the fullest extent of their capabilities. Hell, they do not even deliver an education in the narrower sense of giving students the baseline skills they need to operate in the modern world. The brethren regard that world - our world - as being inherently corrupt, so they deliberately stunt and cripple the minds of their students so that they will not be able to look beyond the narrow bounds of the Brethren's C19th worldview.

We would not fund a school whose idea of "education" was to crush their students' limbs to prevent them from using them. And we should not fund one which does the same to their minds. If the Brethren want to cripple their children in this way, then they can do it without taxpayer assistance.

Why are we investing in tax havens?

Tax havens are a global evil which aid money laundering and rob governments of revenue needed to pay for public services. So why is the New Zealand Superannuation Fund investing our money through them?

Parliamentary questions lodged by the Green Party have revealed that our publicly funded New Zealand Superannuation Fund has $1.6 billion (or seven percent) of its funds invested through investment vehicles located in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, British Virgin Islands, and Mauritius.

“We should not be profiting or supporting an international system of tax avoidance through tax havens. It’s simply unethical and hurts regular tax payers, who have to pay more tax when large multinationals use tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax,” said Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman.

Naturally, Bill English is comfortable with this. The man who saw nothing wrong with defrauding the taxpayer to pay for his house sees nothing wrong with the NZSF defrauding other taxpayers for profit. But if we want to stop multinationals cheating on their taxes, we need to do the same too. Anything else is hypocritical. The NZSF should not be investing through tax havens,and it should not be investing in companies that use them to dodge taxes. We should only be investing in companies that obey the law and pay their fair share. Anything else is hypocritical and wrong.

New Fisk

In sacred Maaloula, where they speak the language of Christ, war leads neighbours into betrayal


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

Neither of these bills is likely to receive a first-reading before the election, so the political landscape is likely to look very different (and hopefully far more favourable) when they finally come before the House.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Last year we had the horrifying sight of a Judge sentencing a transgender woman to imprisonment in a male prison. The Judge admitted that this would result in abuse, possibly even rape; as "compensation", he reduced her sentence by four and a half months.

The Judge's hands were tied by backwards prison regulations which do not recognise transgender prisoners. But now those regulations are being changed:

Secondly, in line with international practice, a more flexible system is being introduced for transgender prisoners.

If the sex on their birth certificate has been changed, these prisoners will be managed in accordance with their legal sex. Transgender prisoners whose sex on their birth certificate has not been changed can apply to be moved into a prison with their identified gender, excluding those serving or facing charges for serious sexual offending. The Chief Executive will consider these applications on a case by case basis.

“Corrections has taken on board concerns about the safety of transgender prisoners, and a request from the Ombudsman to reconsider its policy,” says Mrs Tolley.

“By adopting a more flexible approach around the placement of transgender prisoners, we can address risks of victimisation and assault, while taking into account the welfare of all prisoners.”

This is a good move, and a recognition of the basic right of all people, even prisoners, to be free from abuse and violence.

Now we can clean up our river

When Horizons, the local regional council, passed a regional plan imposing nutrient limits, farmers went ballistic. Requiring them to manage how much shit and fertiliser they poured into the local rivers would bankrupt them, and cause the End Of Farming As We Know It (which is the point). But the plan was approved by the Environment Court, and has just been upheld on appeal:

Federated Farmers and Horticulture New Zealand have failed in their bid to stop Horizons Regional Council's One Plan becoming law.

A High Court appeal of the Environment Court approval of the plan, which will set nitrogen leaching limits on farms, has been lost.

Justice Stephen Kos turned down all but one of the farmer bodies' points of law, allowing one minor change to wording in a clause about erosion.

Horizons chairman Bruce Gordon welcomed the decision and said it had gone "pretty much as we expected".

And now that's dealt with, we can finally start cleaning up our river. And the precedent set here will hopefully encourage other Regional Councils to enact similar measures to protect water quality - which is what Federated Farmers is really afraid of.

New Fisk

Syrian immorality tales: Two men in the conflict who didn’t deserve their fate

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, but a boring but worthy one. First up is a local bill aimed at correcting a 160-year-old injustice. Following that there's the Committee Stage of of Jacqui Dean's Conservation (Natural Heritage Protection) Bill, which should also have wide agreement. If that goes quickly, then the House may make further progress on Cam Calder's Summary Offences (Possession of Hand-held Lasers) Amendment Bill. There won't be a ballot unless the House goes extra-fast and makes a start on Le'aufa'amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor Sentencing (Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill.

Meanwhile, it looks like the Local Government and Environment Committee has kicked the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill for another six months, to March 2014. This bill has now been before the Committee for three years, and while they've had to consider some changes due to the Auckland Supercity, they've had more than enough time to do so. Time to let it loose and vote it down.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Who to vote for in Palmerston North

Its local body election time, which means I have to work out who to vote for. Fortunately, this time it looks like there are candidates who actually deserve support.

First, some background. Last election, we had wards and the undemocratic block-vote, pretty much the worst voting system in the world. Last year, the council decided to switch to STV, a far more representative system. Unfortunately a bunch of them also decided it was time to do away with wards and move to at-large election - a system which would increase the decision-space to unmanageable levels, favour incumbents, and lead to "representation" which all lived on the same block of Victoria Avenue. They changed their minds, but the Local Government Commission imposed it on us on appeal. So, every councillor who supported that switch originally is on my shitlist, and goes unranked by default.

Which makes the Mayoral vote something of a no-brainer. The incumbent, Jono Naylor, is a crook who used trusts to launder his donations in 2007, only revealing that fact after he'd paid off his major backer with a zoning change. The fact that he was also the prime mover behind at-large election is just icing on the cake - this prick will not get my vote. His major competitor, Lew Findlay, initially supported at-large election, but changed his mind, so can be forgiven. But the third option, Duncan McCann, opposed it, and is pushing for the city to stop pumping its shit into the Manawatu River, so I think he's getting the top ranking. I'll skip the also-rans, except to note that Ross Barber is currently before the courts for the fourth time on a charge of child-beating. Sadly, I can't anti-vote for people.

For council, the preference against at-large election supporters narrows the choice a lot. Fortunately there's plenty remaining. Phil Etheridge, Lorna Johnson, Duncan McCann, and Chris Teo-Sherrell are all good environmental candidates. Dion Martin is a union organiser. Elizabeth Paine look like they might be worth a low ranking. Of the remaining incumbents, Jan Barnett, Billy Meehan, Annette Nixon and Tangi Utikere voted the right way on wards. As usual, I'm consciously avoiding anyone who promises to keep rates down (because that means cuts to council services). I will also leave former National candidate Leonie Hapeta unranked.

DHB is a waste of time because those elected don't control their budget, and have to work for central government, not for us. As usual I'll rank about five or six people (usually doctors) and screw the rest.

Finally, there's the real battle: Horizons. This is all about the river, and as with last election, we have a pile of clean-water candidates. Unfortunately they also still use the block-vote, so I'll onyl get to pick four of them. Greg Carlyon is their former regulatory manager, who resigned over council foot-dragging over cleaning up the river, and he'll definitely be one of my picks. Richard Forgie, Rachel Keedwell and Wiremu Te Awe Awe are all other clean-water candidates, while Glenis Mobberley and Dave Stewart also look to have strong environmental credentials. Joseph Poff and Chris Tocker are farmers; do not vote for them under any circumstances.

Meanwhile, while I'm making this choice about who best will clean up my river, the people of Canterbury are still denied theirs. And that is simply wrong.

Update (01/10/13): Further information and links to Environment manawatu and Generation Zero's assessment of candidates here.

What a coincidence!

Last month, internet entrepreneur Seeby Woodhouse spoke out against the government's Spy Bill. And suddenly, this happens:

One of the most amazing revelations that came out of last nights TICS Bill public meeting in Wellington was Seeby Woodhouse telling the audience that since he spoke out against the Government’s GCSB legislation he was stopped entering America and questioned about his business and shockingly he was pulled aside and questioned by NZ officials when re-entering NZ.
(Emphasis added)

And he's not alone - apparently it's happened to at least one other anti-spy bill campaigner as well.

Once might be coincidence. Twice is suspicious. But three times is enemy action. The obvious conclusion is that the spies are targeting those who democraticly speak out against them, and putting them on anti-terror watchlists. And Cthulhu only knows what level of surveillance they'll now be subjected to. Our spies appear to be dangerously out of control and to have utter contempt for democratic values. Time to defund them and shut them down.


Sweden is a country with a well-deserved reputation for tolerance. So its horrifying to find out that their police have been keeping an illegal database of Roma:

Swedish police have established a database of Roma, the force said on Monday, confirming a newspaper report that a government minister condemned as "unethical, unacceptable and illegal".

Daily Dagens Nyheter said the file was in the form of a genealogical tree covering 4,029 Roma, many of who had no criminal record and more than 1,000 are children.

Gathering directories based on ethnicity is illegal in Sweden, part of privacy rights that have for decades been enshrined in Swedish law. Police said they were seeking prosecutors' advice on the handling of the issue.

In case anyone is unaware, the Roma are victims of widespread persecution, including attempted genocide. Against that backdrop, its as if they were keeping a database of Jews.

There's been strong political condemnation, but as yet no resignations. As the Pirate Party points out, "Ministers of Justice have resigned for considerably less in the past". But beyond that, there needs to be prosecutions, and a thorough investigation of what else the police and government are illegally databasing.

New Fisk

"I had five sons, now I have four": Syria's senior cleric pardons the rebels who killed his son

Greece wakes up

The Greek government finally seems to be realising that Nazi party Golden Dawn is a real threat to their democracy:

The Greek authorities have launched an inquiry into allegations that members of the country's armed forces have helped to train hit squads formed by the far-right Golden Dawn party.


The inquiry came amid revelations that Golden Dawn, which has seen its popularity soar on the back of debt-stricken Greece's worst crisis in modern times, has not only set up a military wing but is actively training its members in the art of combat.

"In Golden Dawn we have an entire military structure with at least 3,000 people ready for everything," one member was quoted as saying by the Sunday Vima newspaper. Pictures of recruits in camouflage and balaclavas conducting night exercises in clandestine camps were published in another leading daily on Monday. The paper, Ethnos, claimed the men, some of who were armed with knives and wooden clubs, were being trained by members of Greece's elite special forces who sympathise with the ultra-nationalist party.

In other words, they're preparing for a coup. With the active collusion of some of the military.

I don't for a moment think that this is what Germany wanted. But nevertheless, its what they've got. Their mindless, punitive infliction of austerity on Greece has brought their nightmares back to life. And all of Europe may have to deal with the consequences.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A signal to the Greens?

David Cunliffe announced his new shadow cabinet lineup today. While everyone else is focusing on the trivia of court politics - who's up, who's down, what it means for the leadership etc - I think there's a more important question to be asked: what does it mean for Labour's future coalition prospects? In order to govern, Labour is going to need the support of the Greens - and on recent polling, they'd be making up somewhere between a quarter to a third of the Cabinet. And here I think there is something interesting: the health, conservation and transport portfolios have all been given to MPs who are low-ranked or likely to be retiring at the next election.

This is significant, because those portfolios (in addition to the obvious environment / climate change grouping) are ones the Greens are likely to be keenly interested in in any future coalition government. And Cunliffe has just effectively freed them up for them. I think that's a pretty clear signal about Cabinet expectations...

KFC hates the disabled

KFC is systematicly sacking its disabled employees. This isn't just a case of a rogue manager, but official company policy:

Details of the way a fast food giant is axing disabled workers can be revealed today.

The Herald on Sunday has obtained documents outlining how KFC demands staff be capable of all duties to an "All Star" level. The company also confirms it is disestablishing "limited duties roles".

MPs, the Unite Union and disability support groups say this deliberately targets disabled workers.

A restructure proposal given to one sacked disabled employee states there will be "no one specifically doing limited duties". The document states the company must meet food and health safety obligations.

This is utterly vile. It is also almost certainly illegal. Disability is a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Human Rights Act, and employers are forbidden to discriminate on that basis. While they have an exemption for health and safety, that does not apply if the risks can be reduced by "reasonable measures". Having disabled employees work only on particular duties is such a reasonable measure, and the refusal to provide it is unreasonable. I expect the Human Rights Commission is going to show no mercy over this.

And neither should you. This company has demonstrated by its policies that they hate the disabled. Until those policies are changed and their victims rehired with a full public apology, decent people simply shouldn't shop there.

New Fisk

The humanitarian headache of bringing home Syria’s bodies
Gas missiles 'were not sold to Syria'
Into the Minotaur’s cave of diplomacy: how Russia became Syria’s deterrent

Germany votes

Germans went to the polls today in federal elections, and appear to have handed Chancellor Angela Merkel a third term. But appearances can be deceiving; the result is a little bit more complicated than that.

The most important result is not the CDU/CSU's, but that of their usual coalition partner, the Free Democrats. They failed to make the 5% threshold, so they're out. Meanwhile, a new anti-European party, Alternative for Germany, also fell just short. Which combined with the usual minor-party threshold effects, means the CDU/CSU are hovering close to an absolute majority.

But "close" isn't victory. And with no coalition partner, anything less is a loss. The current projections (including overhang seats) have the CDU/CSU falling between 2 and 5 seats short of a majority. Which means that it is almost certainly Grand Coalition time again, which in turn means another massacre for the Social Democrats in 2017. And all because they still refuse to work with The Left...

Friday, September 20, 2013

More lies from Smith

Yesterday in Question Time Nick Smith continued to pretend that he had not forced DoC to shitcan its submission on the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme. He even went so far as to claim that he had no idea that the submission even existe duntil this week. But it was just more lies:

Another leaked document shows Conservation Minister Nick Smith is playing fast and loose with the facts, the Green Party said today.

The document leaked today is the briefing note from the 29th of July meeting when Dr Smith was briefed by Deputy Director-General Doris Johnston on the department’s submission. It clearly shows:
  • The Minister was briefed that the Department of Conservation (DOC) was going to make a submission;
  • The Minister was told that the submission would focus around water quality and nutrient limits and targets; and
  • The Minister was told that the submission was going to be “in the name of the Director-General”, not Nick Smith.
The full briefing note is here. So, Smith is briefed, he then tells the Director-General that he is "concerned" about the submission, and within 48 hours it is pulled and replaced with an empty submission which takes no position on whether the project should go ahead. And DoC made this decision itself, in accordance with its "standard processes"? Yeah, right. The evidence is clear: Smith interfered with his department to prevent it from carrying out one of its statutory functions. He should be sacked.

New Fisk

The death toll in Syria continues to rise - whoever is doing the counting

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Weimar Greece

Greeks protest against Golden Dawn attack on Communists, Guardian, 13 September 2013:

Thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens on Friday to protest against a violent attack on Communist party members by black-shirted supporters of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party which left nine people in hospital with serious injuries.

In what was described as a murderous attack – and the most serious violence since the extremist group was elected to the country's parliament last year – about 50 men wielding crowbars and bats set upon leftists as they distributed posters in a working-class district of the capital late on Thursday.

In a statement KKE, the Communist party of Greece, said: "The way in which they acted and the weapons employed … are evidence of the murderous nature of the attack. Among the Golden Dawners, some of whom had covered their faces or wore helmets or [party] shirts, were their leaders, well-known fascists and thugs."

Greek anti-fascist rapper murdered by ‘neo-Nazi’ Golden Dawn supporter, Independent, 18 September 2013:
Greek police raided the Athens offices of the Golden Dawn party after Pavlos Fyssas, a left-wing rapper otherwise known as MC Killah P, was killed by a 45-year-old man claiming his allegiance to the far-right group.

34-year-old Pavlos Fysass died in hospital having suffered at least two stab wounds to the heart and ribs, police officials said.

Local reports say Fysass had been watching a game of football at a café in the Athens suburb of Keratsini when he was surrounded by a group of 30 men in Golden Dawn shirts and military style trousers.

The 45-year-old man arrested in conjunction with Fysass’s death has admitted to the murder and also stated his support for Golden Dawn, police say.

Greece moves to ban far-right Golden Dawn party, Guardian, 18 September 2013:
The Greek government has hinted that it will seek to ban Golden Dawn after the far-right party was linked to the murder of a leading leftwing musician in Athens.

As violence erupted on the streets and demonstrators protested after the fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas, a prominent anti-fascist, the public order minister, Nikos Dendias, cancelled a trip abroad saying the government would table emergency legislation that would seek to outlaw the group.

Amid renewed political tensions between the extreme left and right, the new law would re-evaluate what constituted a criminal gang, he said.

"Neither the state will tolerate, nor society accept, acts and practices that undermine the legal system," the minister told reporters, adding that the attack showed "in the clearest way the [party's] intentions".

This is where German austerity has driven Greece: actual Nazis beating and murdering people in the streets, while the police stand by (when they're not joining in). Its a familiar story. Hopefully it will have a different ending.

New Fisk

In Syria's capital, Assad's troops may be winning this war - untouched by Obama's threats

Suffrage Day

Today, September 19, is Suffrage Day. 120 years ago, in 1893, women won the right to vote in New Zealand. But while we've had female Prime Ministers, female Supreme Court judges, and female Governers-General, women are still a long way from being politically equal. Thanks to discriminatory selection processes, only a third of our MPs and a quarter of our cabinet are women. As for how female politicians are viewed, I think yesterday's repulsive Evans cartoon speaks for itself.

This political under-representation has consequences: it means that Parliament and the government do not take the rights of women seriously. Which is why we have rape crisis centres being systematically defunded, why paid parental leave and childcare are not priorities, and why they're threatening to intervene to stomp on any efforts to win equal pay.

If we want the promise of Suffrage Day to be realised, we need an equal Parliament - which means ending the practice of political parties making sexist selection decisions. The Greens are there already, and Labour was making some promising steps. The problem here is National. They need to stop dragging their feet (and their knuckles) and drag themselves into the 21st century.


New Zealand will be joining the Open Government Partnership:

At the request of the UK, New Zealand will formally express its intention to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP) later this year.

The UK is the current lead co‑chair of the OGP – a grouping of 58 countries and nine civil society organisations committed to transparent and open government, combatting corruption, and harnessing new technologies.

“The OGP’s goals are consistent with New Zealand values and with our goals for international economic and social development, and I was pleased the UK invited us to join,” Mr Key says.

But while this is good news, the way it has been done and announced is symptomatic of the entire process. When the OGP was launched, New Zealand missed the meeting because Foreign Minister Murray McCully was "busy" - likely watching a rugby game. In the intervening period, the government has not regarded it as a priority. And it speaks volumes that we've only joined this organisation (which is "consistent with New Zealand values and with our goals") on a specific request from the UK. I guess National doesn't really care about those values of transparency and openness until someone it wants to toady to asks them about them.

Still, we'll be in. Which means we might see further progress towards transparency and proactive openness in the future.

Smith lied to Parliament

Yesterday in Question Time Conservation Minister Nick Smith was repeatedly asked whether he had given any indication to DoC about its submission on the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme. Eventually, after repeated evasions, he denied it. Naturally, he was lying:

A leaked email from the deputy director of conservation says Dr Smith had some concerns about the draft DoC submission to the Board of inquiry into the Hawke's Bay dam and wanted to see it.


The email leaked to Radio New Zealand was circulated to senior Department of Conservation staff, including the director general, and says Dr Smith wanted to see DoC's submission before it was lodged with the Board of Inquiry.

Contrary to Smith, that's a pretty strong "indication". In Ministerese, "some concerns", and "I want to see it" means "burn this thing and shred all copies". So, Smith interfered in the process, and lied to Parliament about it. That's unacceptable, and he should resign as a Minister.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rewarding failure

Last year Novopay royally fucked up the education payroll, leaving some teachers unpaid for months. So naturally National is giving them more money

The Government is pushing an extra $6 million into ensuring there are no new glitches with the Novopay system when the calender year ticks over to 2014.

Minister for Novopay Steven Joyce said the transition between years was always tricky.


"To ensure a much better result this year, ministers have agreed to put in an additional $5 million towards fixing outstanding technical issues plus $1 million for comprehensive end of year/start of year system training for Novopay support staff and school payroll administrators.

So basicly we're paying them again to do stuff they should have got right the first time. This, apparently, is the "discipline of the free market".

Bullshit. Its rewarding failure. If you or I fucked up that badly, people wouldn't be there with another briefcase of cash. We'd be fired. And the same should happen to Novopay. Either they do the job they're paid to do, to the standards we expect, or we get someone else to do it. It's that simple.


Last month Parliament's Social Services Committee agreed to hold an inquiry into the funding of specialist sexual violence social services. The inquiry was sparked by the systematic de-funding of such services by the government, leading to restricted hours and closures. Which means, in English, that people who have been raped can't get counselling, and families fleeing abuse can't find refuge.

The committee has now called for submissions. You can use the handy form on that page to send in your thoughts, or you can post two copies to:

Social Services Committee Secretariat
Parliament Buildings

Submissions are due by Thursday, 10 October 2013.

If you need a reason to submit in support of this vital social service, Coley Tangerina has a long list of them here. The Greens also have a submission guide here.

Not a good idea

So, Judith Collins has negotiated a deal with the US which will give them access to all our fingerprint and DNA records:

New Zealand police will provide United States authorities with legal access to New Zealand's fingerprint database under an information-sharing agreement to combat crime and terrorism.

The US, similarly, will provide New Zealand access to its fingerprint database under specified conditions.

The agreement will also allow each country legal access to the other's DNA database, at a future stage.

It will also allow for automated access to the other's fingerprint and DNA databases in the future but the expectation is that New Zealand authorities will have to send individual requests to the US for data matching.

So, in short, we're going to give the US surveillance state the automatic right to spy on some of our most sensitive data. Given the US's fundamental lack of privacy protections and its governments habit of breaking agreements whenever it is convenient for them, I don't think that's a good idea. At the least, we should be refusing to ratify this until we see significant change in the US away from public surveillance and significant progress towards protecting privacy.

Christchurch's champagne Mayor

The Herald reports that Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has been charging champagne to his council credit card:

The Christchurch City Council is under more fire - this time over details about Mayor Bob Parker's overseas travel spending.

The Star can reveal today that Mr Parker charged $219.25 on his ratepayer funded city council credit card for five servings of Moet et Chandon Brut champagne and a ham and cheese sandwich at the Hyatt Seoul while he was in Korea on council business last year.

The spending on the card was in breach of what he can use his city council credit card, or P (purchasing) card as it is known, for.

That's bad enough, and a sound reason why Parker should not be in politics. If you can't trust him not to abuse his office in little ways, you certainly can't trust him on the big things. But there's more to this story: the Christchurch City Council refused to provide the receipts - despite them being official information routinely provided (and indeed, proactively released) by other public bodies. In the end, they had to be gained via a leak. Its hard to escape the conclusion that they were withheld for political reasons in violation of the law.

This isn't good enough. Public bodies need to obey the law on official information. And if doing so makes someone look bad, well, that's why we're requesting it: because we cannot trust anyone to police themselves in secret.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Back in 2010, the National government passed Paul Quinn's Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Act. It was a petty, vicious bill which aimed to grub "tough on crime" votes by denying anyone in prison the right to vote. Except it didn't. As Graeme Edgeler points out, it in fact granted some of our worst criminals the right to vote, while denying it to burglars and petty thieves.


I don't support the bill, and regard it as a stain on our human rights record and a strong argument for Parliament's unfitness to be the ultimate judge of our human rights. The fact that it is fundamentally broken simply makes it worse. It should be repealed.

What the hell is going on with the SIS and IGSI?

Today in Question Time Winston Peters continued his excavation of the SIS's 2012 raids on the Fijian Democracy Movement - and in the process uncovered serious problems within either the SIS or their patsy Inspector-General. According to Peters (and he tabled the documentation to prove it), one of the targets of the raids, former Fijian Cabinet Minister Rajesh Singh, complained to the Ombudsman about his treatment. In accordance with section 17C of the Ombudsman's Act, the Ombudsman forwarded the complaint on to the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence back in July. The problem? Key stood up in the House today and told us all that no complaint had been received.

There are two possible explanations for this. One is that the Inspector-General has ignored or mislaid a complaint passed on by the Ombudsman's Office. The other is that the SIS muppets lied to their Minister in an effort to make the problem go away. Neither is a very comforting explanation, suggesting either that the intelligence "oversight" system is fundamentally broken, or that the SIS is unwilling to accept its jurisdiction (or that of their Minister to oversee them). We have here a potentially very serious breach of human rights - an illegal detention without any statutory authority. And that deserves a proper investigation, not the usual SIS/IGSI whitewash.

More censorship at DoC

The Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme is a plan by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council to build a dam to provide greater irrigation for dairy farmers. The plan would ruin the Tukituki River, filling it with cowshit and toxic algae, so in accordance with its statutory duty under the Conservation Act, DoC wrote a detailed submission opposing it. But the Minister censored them:

A draft Department of Conservation submission on the Ruataniwha Dam water storage project says the Hawke's Bay Regional Council proposal is a risky and untested approach to water management which could kill the rivers involved.

The draft submission obtained by Radio New Zealand News was written for the Board of Inquiry into the dam, but was not submitted. Instead, DoC submitted a brief "neutral" document which does not raise concerns about what could happen to water quality and the dangers for at-risk fish species in the Tukituki and Waipawa Rivers and tributaries.

And there's no doubt it was the Minister - Nick Smith basicly admits his guilt here:
Smith said he simply told the department "they needed to be careful" when making submissions in his name on an issue where he was the final decision-maker.

"The board of inquiry is there to make decisions about plan changes in respect of Ruataniwha, and the board of inquiry, after it's considered its submissions, it makes a recommendation about a plan-change decision that ultimately I make," he said.

"Now for me then to be making submissions to that board of inquiry strongly advocating one point of view or other ... is one that the department needs to be careful of."

Of course the Department doesn't make submissions in the name of the Minister - it makes them in accordance with its statutory functions, which include advocating for conservation and preserving freshwater fisheries. Nick Smith stopped them from doing that. It is a gross interference in the functions of a department. But with National, its "anything goes" if it benefits farmers.

A fire sale

Earlier this month the opposition suceeded in forcing a referendum on the government's asset-sales programme. The government's response? A fire sale:

Meridian Energy is to list on the share market on October 29 - earlier than previously signalled.

Finance minister Bill English and state-owned energy minister Tony Ryall have today announced the timeline for the float in which the Government hopes to raise around $2.3 billion for selling up to 49 per cent of state-owned power company.


Prime Minister John Key said the Genesis Energy partial float was likely to occur first half of next year, and work was already underway towards that.

The Government and officials were also currently working to decide the best way to sell down the Government's stake in Air NZ, but that was likely to be a much shorter process than that for the power companies given it was already listed.

He would not rule out selling Air NZ shares before Christmas this year.

So basicly they're trying to sell it all before they have to hold a referendum, making the people's voice irrelevant. It's a giant "fuck you" to the New Zealand people. And it is unlikely to go down well.

But that doesn't matter to National. All they are interested in is stealing these assets for their rich mates and redirecting that monopoly dividend stream away from schools, public transport and hospitals and into the private pockets of the mega-rich. And they don't care if they have to trample on our democracy to do it.

Of course, there is a solution: announce that if the referendum fails (that is, if the public opposes asset sales), then stolen assets will be restored to public ownership, at a loss to the thieves. This is fiscally neutral, even profitable if the share price has fallen in the interim, as it has with Mighty River Power. And if a credible threat is made, it should deter any interest in buying stolen assets.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Serco = sexual assault

Serco, the private security contractor which runs Mt Eden prison here in New Zealand, has a bad record. Violence, brutality, deaths in custody, corruption, and fraud. And now they get to add a new horror to that list: sexual assaults:

A former detainee at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre has alleged that women held there have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances and abuse by security guards and other officials.

Testimony seen by the Observer and now with police, "Tanja", a 23-year-old Roma woman released from Yarl's Wood last March, describes having had sexual contact with three male guards. Tanja – not her real name – said attempts were made to deport her within days of her informing Yarl's Wood's management of the incidents. She also claims one security guard had inappropriate relations with at least four women.


Yarl's Wood is run by Serco under contract from the Home Office. Earlier this year the company paid an undisclosed sum to a 29-year-old asylum seeker from Pakistan who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a nurse at Yarl's Wood, although the company did not admit liability. But the shocking detail of the latest allegations is likely to trigger a full-blown inquiry into the running of the centre.

Tanja said: "A lot of officers were taking advantage of the girls that were detained. They would promise favours or offer to make life easier, saying they would have more chance of winning their case or staying in the country." In a formal witness statement she has sent to Bedfordshire police, she states that one Serco official she was involved with sexually told her: "Don't worry, there is no way they can deport you."

She also claimed the sexual contact was not all consensual. Referring to one occasion, she stated: "I said I was scared and I did not want to ... There were two occasions when I was made to do 'blow jobs' when I did not want to. [The guard] was well aware that I did not want to."

(Emphasis added).

Given the power dynamic of a prison, there is a high risk of such abuses. Which is why you're supposed to have vigorous oversight of prison staff, as well as secure complaint mechanisms and external independent oversight to make sure that those running the prison can't cover things up. All of those mechanisms seem to have failed here. But it is Serco who has failed in the first instance here, by failing to properly supervise its staff and protect those in their care from their depredations. The question now is whether the UK government will let them get away with it.

Meanwhile, it raises an obvious question: do we really think that this company, which permits such crimes to occur, is fit to run a prison in New Zealand? I think not.

WCC: Placing lives at risk to protect landlords

115 people were killed when the CTV building collapsed during the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake. The building was later found to have a deficient design and should never have been approved. 158 buildings around the country are thought to share this design flaw, 65 of them in Wellington. And now the Wellington City Council is refusing to release a list of them, on the basis that

would be likely unreasonably to prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied or who is the subject of the information

Think about that for a moment. These buildings are so flawed they should never have been approved. They are murder in concrete. And the WCC thinks it is "unreasonable" for the people who live and work in them to be made aware of this. I can't think of a better example of privileging wealth over human life.

This is a clear misapplication of the law. It is not unreasonable to warn people of a risk to public safety. Further, there is clearly a substantial public interest in release, which does not appear to have been considered by WCC. The requester should appeal WCC's response to the Ombudsman.

[Hat-tip: FYI]

New Fisk

There is something deeply cynical about this chemical weapons ‘timetable’

The Syria deal

Just a few weeks ago, it looked like the US - having learned nothing from Iraq, Afghanistan, or its other military adventures - was going to begin a punitive bombing campaign in Syria. Now, thanks to an off-the-cuff remark by John Kerry and some efforts by the Russians, it looks like they won't:

The US-Russia deal on Syria's chemical weapons is a "victory" that averts war, a Syrian minister says.

The framework document says Syria must provide full details of its stockpile within a week - with the chemical arsenal eliminated by mid-2014.

If Syria fails to comply, the deal could be enforced by a UN resolution with the use of force as a last resort.

So Syria surrenders its chemical weapons, and the US doesn't bomb its children. I fail to see a down-side here. No, its not going to stop the regime's murder of its own citizens, but that was never on the table anyway. What was on the table was a random US bombing campaign, with certain civilian casualties and strong risks of regional escalation. Now that has been averted - for now.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Another David

So, David Cunliffe has been elected Labour Party leader on the first round. As expected, he won the vote outright in the wider party, but did not carry the caucus. I expect journalists will have a field day over this "disunity", but as Tim Barnett pointed out when announcing the results, its a preferential vote, and giving your first preference to one candidate doesn't mean you necessarily oppose the other.

As for how he'll work out, well, he'll be better than Shearer, though that's setting the bar awfully low. More importantly, he seems to have a vision for what Labour should do in power, which is more than can be said for his predecessors. The key failure of Labour's last two leaders (and even Clark to some degree) was a reluctance to articulate such a vision and a preference for empty managerialism (to be fair, Goff tried in 2011, but given his past support for NeoLiberalism and general managerial style, it just came across as fake). But that doesn't get the voters out, let alone get them to care. If his campaign rhetoric was honest, Cunliffe at least will present an alternative, and give voters a decent choice.

And that said: looking back, Labour leaders have inevitably disappointed me, even with my low expectations of them. People who looked like a safe pair of hands weren't (and Shearer was even worse). Cunliffe probably will probably disappoint me too. But as always, I'd love to be proved wrong.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Is the GCSB spying for Israel?

Yesterday's NSALeak: the NSA provides its raw signals intelligence - including information on US citizens - to Israel:

The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.

The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process "minimization", but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.

But this isn't just about the US. Right there on the first page of the memorandum is this clause:
ISNU also recognizes that NSA has agreements with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom that require it to protect information associated with U.K. persons, Australian persons, Canadian persons and New Zealand persons using procedures and safeguards similar to those applied for U.S. persons. For this reason, in all uses of raw material provided by NSA, ISNU agrees to apply the procedures outlined in this agreement to persons of these countries.

[My emphasis]

So from this, we know know that the NSA has an agreement with GCSB to share raw data, and that the NSA thinks that GCSB provides it with intelligence on New Zealand citizens (in violation of New Zealand law). Further, that that information is provided - unfiltered - to the Israelis. In other words, the GCSB is spying for Israel (and possibly illegally spying on kiwis for Israel)

Given Israel's international reputation, its behaviour in New Zealand, and its treatment of the Palestinians, I think a lot of New Zealanders would be deeply uncomfortable with that. Our government certainly hasn't asked us whether we want an intelligence alliance with a torturing, nuclear-armed pariah state, and I think that if they did, the answer would be "no".

But it gets worse. The Israeli-NSA agreement includes a (non-binding) clause requiring Israel to "[d]estroy upon recognition any communication contained in raw SIGINT provided by NSA that is either to or from an official of the U.S. Government". Which is basically an admission that the NSA spies upon its own government. Does the GCSB-NSA agreement have a similar clause? If so, what should we conclude from that?


Shane Jones favours forcibly relocating unemployed people to Christchurch to work on the rebuild [Audio; money quote at ~4m 40s].

I think someone needs to tell him that we're not in Stalinist Russia, and that our government cannot treat people as disposable labour units to be moved around on a whim.

[Hat-tip: Dim-Post]

National rewards dictatorship

Last week, the Fijian regime illegally promulgated an illegitimate constitution, which granted them total indemnity for their crimes (including torture and murder). People peacefully protesting against this were summarily arrested, and the regime has basicly told those demanding democracy and justice to shut up. The New Zealand government's response to this? Reward the dictatorship by lifting sanctions:

The Government has further eased the sanctions imposed on Fiji as a result of its 2006 coup, as diplomatic relations between the two countries continue to thaw.


The Government has also reinstated 10 post-graduate scholarships for Fijian students, which were suspended in 2006, and formally revoked the sporting sanctions.

"While it has been our practice to provide exemptions from this ban in virtually every case, we judge that the time is now right to formally revoke the ban."

Individual bans will still apply to regime members and the military.

McCully said the Government had over recent months also eased travel sanctions, leaving them in place for key regime and military members, but easing the process around family members of less senior figures.

We should not be doing this. Fiji is still a dictatorship. There is no freedom of expression. And while elections have been promised, the regime has broken such promises before. The sanctions should remain in place until democracy is actually restored - that is, until genuine free and fair elections are held, and their result is respected by the military. Even then, we should make it clear: coupmongers should never be welcome in New Zealand.

Time to shut down Skynet

Back in 2011, the government passed the "Skynet" law, creating a three-strikes regime for online copyright infringement. The idea was that this would reduce piracy. The problem? It doesn't:

New research from Monash University has found "three strikes" or graduated response laws introduced to reduce internet-borne copyright infringement are by and large ineffective and do not steer users towards legitimate sources of content.

Written by Rebecca Giblin at Monash University's Faculty of Law, the research paper found no connection between graduated response regimes and reduced piracy.

"There is no evidence demonstrating a causal connection between graduated response and reduced infringement. If 'effectiveness” means reducing infringement, then it is not effective,' Giblin concluded.

The study specifically looked at New Zealand, and found that pirates had simply shifted technology, using VPNs, offshore seedboxes and cyberlockers to access the same material. While there was some decrease in estimated overall piracy, there had also been an increase in legal and cheap means to access material (so a reduction in the market failure causing it), meaning it was difficult to credit that decrease to the law.

So, we have an ineffective law, which leads to significant injustice. Such a law should not be on our books. I agree with the Greens: the Skynet law should be repealed.

Maryatt's golden handshake

So, Christchurch City Council CEO Tony Maryatt is gone, with a $500,000 golden handshake. But while I expect everyone is glad to see the back of him, the latter is simply repulsive. This is a man who spectacularly failed to do the job he was paid for, with significant consequences for the people of Christchurch. He should be paying them.

So what's the excuse? The earthquake, naturally:

The report was of the view that in normal times a chief executive would have been expected to be aware of the issues relating to accreditation, but found that Marryatt was not aware of this situation until shortly before he informed the council.

The report stated: "The Chief Executive has been very focused on pursuing specific Council objectives, including the signature projects and cost sharing agreement with Government. Christchurch City Council is not in a business as usual situation."

Which is a cop-out. It was his job to pay attention,. That's why he was paid the big bucks. If he couldn't cope with micromanaging everything, then it was also his job to hire people he could delegate those tasks to. This whole "too much pressure" excuse is an artefact of Maryatt's toxic, controlling management style. The council has betrayed the people of Christchurch by letting him get away with this rort. They should have sacked him for cause, and let him sue.

Meanwhile, the lesson for the next council is clear: don't overpay your CEO. Especially since they're now no longer expected to do the job they're paid for.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The cost of GCSB spying

How much will the GCSB's spying cost us? $6 million, in Kim Dotcom's case alone:

Taxpayers face a $6 million bill in damages over the unlawful raid and illegal spying on Kim Dotcom and others.

Legal papers filed with the High Court allege an "excessively aggressive and invasive approach" by police during a raid on Dotcom's mansion 18 months ago.

They also accuse Deputy Prime Minister Bill English of acting unlawfully in trying to cover up the spying by the GCSB before the raid.

The statement of claim, filed with the High Court at Auckland, seeks compensation for the actions of police and the GCSB over the lead-up to and execution of the raid last year.

But while it will be taxpayers footing the bill, it is senior staff at the police and GCSB who are responsible. And it should be coming straight out of their salaries.

A licence to pollute

While their latest plans to gut the RMA appear to have been halted, National's orcs have plenty of other tricks up their sleeves to allow polluters to degrade our environment. Their latest? Setting minimum freshwater standards so low as to be meaningless:

Proposed national water quality standards are weak and will allow for further degradation of New Zealand's rivers and streams even to levels seen downstream of raw sewage outlets, the Green Party and water scientists have warned.

The ministry is working on a "National Objectives Framework" that sets maximum levels for key pollutants, slime and harmful bacteria in waterways.

But a draft version leaked to the Weekend Herald was criticised by Massey University's Russel Death as having "extremely weak" limits on key measures, particularly those for nitrates in rivers and streams.


The maximum nitrate concentration proposed in the document is 6.9mg a litre of water, which Dr Death said would result in "out of control" algae growth.

To put that in context, you don't get such levels in New Zealand, and you'd only get them downstream of an untreated sewage pipe. So National's "standard" isn't any standard at all. Instead its just a licence to pollute.

And who will do that pollution? The main sources of nitrates are fertiliser and dairy farm runoff. The standards will be set low, and our rivers poisoned, for the sake of the Almighty Cow.

We can't let this happen. Clean rivers are the birthright of all New Zealanders. We must throw this filthy, polluting government out.

Why is CERA promoting John Key?

A politically neutral public service is one of the basics of our constitution. The public service is not a tool for the promotion of the government of the day, but a tool to provide professional advice to them and their successors. We take this so seriously that advertising campaigns promoting policy are seen as dubious, and the idea of a government department openly endorsing a particular party or politician is utterly beyond the pale. So why the hell is CERA using its social media feeds to pimp John Key and the National Party?


And this isn't the only time. Their Twitter and Facebook pages are full of it. You'd almost get the impression that they were working towards Key's re-election, rather than for the people of Christchurch...

While I expect public agencies to promote relevant statements by their Minister, they should do so in a neutral fashion. And they should not be posting or disseminating politically branded material under government imprimatur.

MMP saves the Environment

National hates the Resource Management Act. Since being elected in 2008, they've been on a crusade against it, passing five bills "reforming" the law - an average of one a year. And at every stage they have reduced public input, weakened environmental protection, and moved decision-making further away from local communities and into the hands of a distant "Environmental Protection Authority" answerable to the Minister and developers, not voters.

Their latest "reforms" - finalised by Environment Minister Amy Adams at the National party conference last month - would continue this trend, making development a "matter of national importance" and allowing Ministers to micromanage local plans to advantage crony developers, removing democracy and providing a blank cheque for mining, drilling, and urban sprawl. But that's too far for National's coalition partners, who have pulled the plug:

United Future and the Maori Party have teamed up to block the Government's major reforms of the Resource Management Act.

The two parties said this morning they could not support the latest changes to the Act and had written to Environment Minister Amy Adams with their concerns.

Government needed either United Future or the Maori Party's support to get the legislation over the line.

This is great news for the environment - and bad news for National. It shows that their coalition partners are getting thoroughly sick of their new, radical turn, and will no longer support it. Which does not bode well for them in 2014, either electorally or in subsequent coalition talks.

Now, if only Dunne and Turia will show the same opposition to National's plans to remove our right to oppose offshore drilling...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Spying for big oil

Today's NSALeak: the NSA has been spying on Brazilian oil company Petrobras:

The US National Security Agency has been accused of spying on Brazil's biggest oil company, Petrobras, following the release of more files from US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The latest disclosures, which aired on Brazil's Fantástico news program, have led to accusations that the NSA is conducting intelligence-gathering operations that go beyond its core mission of national security – often cited as the key distinction between the agency and its counterparts in China and Russia.

The revelations are likely to further strain ties between the US and Brazil ahead of a planned state dinner for president Dilma Rousseff at the White House in October. Bileteral relations have already been muddled by the earlier release of NSA files showing the US agency intercepted Brazilian communications and spied on Rousseff and her aides.

I guess its just more evidence that to the US, "national security" means the interests of Big Oil.

Telling us what we already knew

And while everyone is focusing on the NSA's mass-invasion of privacy, the ACLU has uncovered solid proof of what we all knew: the US uses border searches to harass and monitor their domestic political opponents:

The case of David Miranda got a lot of attention around the world after UK authorities were accused of abusing an anti-terrorism law to evade the normal constitutional restrains on police power and question someone because of their political associations. Well, a very similar abuse of power appears to have happened here in the United States.

Today we are releasing new government documents that provide rare insight into how the government uses its powers at the border to search and seize Americans’ electronic devices. The documents, obtained by our client David House as a result of his lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, demonstrate how the government is abusing its border search authority to evade constitutional restrictions on its surveillance powers. (You can see the documents here.)

House got his data back, and forced the US government to destroy all copies (and if you believe they did, I have a white building in Washington to sell you). But as the ACLU points out, US border security searches almost 5,000 digital devices a year, and we have no idea how many of these searches are really for the purposes of customs enforcement, and how many are for political or intelligence purposes.

It also raises the question: is NZ Customs doing this as well? Thanks to research by Thomas Beagle of TechLiberty, we know that they search laptops and other digital media on some pretty shaky legal authority. What's unclear is how often they do this, why, and whether the resulting data is shared with other government agencies (who may be, as in the US, requesting the searches in order to evade the need for a warrant).

Transparency defeats cronyism

Last week, Labour exposed an apparent case of cronyism at Maori Television, highlighting the deficient process being used to appoint a new CEO, and the (coincidental, I'm sure) close links between the favoured candidate and board member (and National Party crony) Georgina te Heuheu. Today, Maori Television has backed down and announced that it will not be making an appointment after all.

And that's how you defeat cronyism: by exposing it to public scrutiny before an appointment is made, and so shaming decision-makers into acting justly. Governments can only appoint their cronies because the entire process is shrouded in secrecy, allowing the "irregularities" (the complete ignoring of process, the insertion of new candidates at the last minute by Cabinet committee, the Minister selecting the shortlist herself) to go unnoticed and unpunished. If the entire process was open, they simply wouldn't be able to get away with it.

Norway shifts right

Norwegians went to the polls yesterday in national elections, and thrown out its left-wing government. The Conservatives will now try and put together a right-wing coalition, but there's a sticking point: their path to power requires the support of the anti-immigration Progress Party, the party of mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik. Even before Breivik's crime, Progress was considered beyond the political pale, and excluded from government; in its wake, it is likely to be considered even more tainted. While Conservative leader Erna Solberg could bring them into Cabinet, that is likely to cause problems with the smaller coalition parties, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, who regard Progress as toxic. If Noway is lucky, they'll get a right-wing minority government, supported by Progress on confidence and supply, as they did in 2001. If not, things could get interestingly unstable.

(Norway provides a counterexample to the pluralitarian rhetoric put about here by National. Norway's Labour Party has always been the largest party in their Parliament, but it hasn't always been in government, because the latter depends on holding a majority of seats, not on merely being the biggest loser).

Something to go to in Wellington


[Hat-tip: The Daily Blog]

Monday, September 09, 2013

Hope for Labour

David Cunliffe is currently leading the polls to be Labour's next leader. And he's promising a bit of a shakeup:

At the Wellington meeting of the leadership campaign on Saturday, attended by about 600 party members, Mr Cunliffe said the union support would be rewarded with "radical" employment law changes.

This would include industry-standard employment agreements, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour within 100 days of forming a government, giving the "living wage" of $18 an hour to core public servants, "and rolling out [the living wage] as we can afford to after that".

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament, would be repealed "by lunchtime", Mr Cunliffe said.

"That's bedrock David Cunliffe social democratic Labour policy. That is going to happen."

He promised party faithful a visible change in tack from the current government. "The Labour Party I lead will be a true red Labour Party, not a pale blue one."

Its good to hear, especially in the context of his previous "you bet" on whether he would raise taxes on the rich. Labour's biggest problem is that in recent years it hasn't offered anything different, instead continuing the same NeoLiberal policies which have immiserated us with a few cosmetic tweaks around the edges. And as a result, their core supporters have simply stopped voting, or switched to the Greens. A Labour party which actually offered change might reverse that trend.

Meanwhile, I expect we'll see another sniffy Herald editorial about the "dangers" of offering us peasants real choices about policy direction any day now.