Thursday, July 31, 2014

Murray McCully's taxpayer-funded pissups

Today was the last day of Parliament before the election, so naturally the government used it as cover to dump the quarterly Ministerial expenses reports. The media picked up pretty quickly on Tim Groser's $300 dinner of foie gras, (endangered) Chilean Sea Bass, and a $95 bottle of Central Otago pinot noir, perhaps because it was on the first page. meanwhile, I've been wading through Murray McCully's receipts - all 197 pages of them. McCully's a serial offender, with a habit of putting vast quantities of booze on the taxpayer's tab. Sadly, he hasn't changed a bit. Right there at the beginning (on page 6) we have him billing us to drink Absolut Vodka in his lonely hotel room. And it all goes downhill from there...

Ministers have developed several tricks over the last few years to hide dubious expenditure. Last time, they simply "lost" detailed receipts for expensive dinners, perhaps because they knew what we'd think of what they showed. McCully has a new strategy: charging it all to his room. His hotel bills are full of large charges for Hotel restraunts, far more than normal. And we know he's not eating in them, because he frequently presents receipts for boozy delegation dinners on exactly the same day. He's also not dining with his staff, because they're billing their own meals separately.

In one case (p. 24), he racks up more than US$1,000 of "bar/restaurant" charges in a single night, with no explanation to the taxpayer of what its going on.

In another case (in Trinidad), he spends twice as much on booze as he does on his room, but calls it "accommodation expenses".

He's also started dumping his drinking bills on MFAT, as this receipt shows.

The meals that we do see show a large amount of expenditure on alcohol. In Singapore, he has some crab-burgers and $200 of booze, and calls it a delegation "dinner". At Millbrook Resort in Queenstown he catches a quick "lunch" with his PPS: $71 of food, and $172 of wine.

And remember, we're paying for this.

This isn't acceptable. No private business would let its staff drink on expenses like this, and we shouldn't either. If McCully wants a piss-up, he can pay for it out of his $268,500 salary.

(I should note that once again, other Ministers were overwhelmingly responsible in how they spent public money. With the exception of McCully, transparency appears to have significantly improved Ministerial behaviour).

The Māori Party and slave-fishing

In the early C19th, when William Wilberforce was camapigning to abolish slavery in Britain's colonial posessions, he met with strong opposition from the British establishment. Few of his opponents were bold enough to say that they actually approved of slavery. Instead, abolition would be "impractical". It would be bad for business and bad for the empire. The abuses which the abolitionists had highlighted were exaggerated and not widespread (there's a great example of this in the Earl of Belmore's speech on the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 here).

The Maori Party's contribution on the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, which abolishes slave-fishing in the New Zealand fishing industry, fits perfectly with this long tradition:

We know that the changes may mean that some iwi will no longer be able to operate. Big companies are better able to absorb the costs of changes, but those iwi and other operators who fish low-yield catch, cannot. There is a real risk that it will threaten their business, no matter how small they are. We believe that the Māori fisheries settlement must be durable. The Crown must act in good faith to ensure that we as Māori have a fair opportunity to catch up with our industry counterparts.


Iwi leaders told us, as they did also to the Ministers and anyone else who bothered to listen, that the alleged breaches of human rights issues—the widespread abuse that was being discussed—was never proven in an inquiry. It was their absolute belief that the legislation that evolved was an approach that was sort of like a sledgehammer to a peanut. They always knew that there could have been a far more effective approach to resolving issues than what was eventually developed.

In the end, they supported the bill. But its clear that they didn't want to, and wanted to keep slavery on charter vessels for a few more years for the profit of their big iwi backers. And that is simply an appalling position to take.

(Still, it could have been worse. When the UK abolished slavery, it compensated slave-owners for the deprivation of their "property" - compensation Britain's elite former slave-holders are still benefiting from today. At least we didn't see our Parliament approving a similar deal of compensating people we should be prosecuting for obeying the law they should have obeyed all along).

Fiji: The law means nothing II

Last month, we saw how Fiji's electoral law works in practice, when the supervisor of elections was instructed to register dictator Voreqe Bainimarama's "Fiji First" party despite the name being similar to that of the wound-up One Fiji - an act clearly contrary to the regime's Political Parties Decree. And now we're seeing the other half of that unlawful decision:

The Fiji regime leader's political party, FijiFirst, has objected to the registration of the proposed OneFiji party, saying it is likely to be confused with or mistaken for FijiFirst.

Fijilive reports a complaint to that effect has been lodged with the Elections Office by the party's general secretary Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who is also the elections minister.

So, they steal another party's name, then they object when that party tries to register. And because Sayed-Khaiyum is the supervisor of elections' boss, their "complaint" carries the force of an instruction.

This is how it works in Fiji: there's no rule of law, just the whim of the dictator and his cronies. And when that happens in an election, I think its safe to regard the entire process as a sham.


Why didn't Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully act sooner in the Malaysian diplomat case? Because he couldn't be arsed reading his email:

DAVID SHEARER (Labour - Mt Albert) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Did his office receive an email at approximately 5.00 pm (New Zealand time) on 22 May 2014 advising that the Malaysian Government had refused to waive diplomatic immunity in Muhammad Rizalman’s case; if so, when was that email opened?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Minister, my office has been advised that this answer may be longer than normal.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs): As the Minister has already said publicly, one staff member from his office was copied into an internal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade email on 22 May. The email reported that the diplomat had returned to Malaysia in light of a decision by Malaysian authorities to decline a request for a waiver of immunity. The staff member did not open the email when it was received, as she was travelling at the time with limited communications capacity and was not the usual contact point for such reports. The email was identified in June, when correspondence was reviewed in the office.

Coleman refused to answer a subsequent question about exactly when in June the email was opened, from which you can draw your own conclusions about how late it was.

Naturally, the "independent" inquiry into this won't be looking at the Minister or his slackness. Instead its a strapped chicken aimed firmly at MFAT officials, who will be blamed unfairly for their Minister's failure to do his job. But its crystal clear who is at fault here, and who the public should be holding to account.

The last day

Today is the last day of Parliament for the term. After spending the morning on non-controversial legislation - including apparently the anti-slave-fishing bill - the House will have its last Question Time and then an adjournment debate. And then they'll be off to campaign for the election.

The big triumph here? No last-minute urgency. No "wash-up". Extended hours and growing public dislike of urgency has put paid to that. Instead MPs have cooperated to ensure the vital but non-controversial stuff gets passed without abusing the Parliamentary process, or the public's trust. Hopefully it'll be a permanent change.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Wellington City Council has scrapped its "alternative giving" campaign. Good. As the article notes, the campaign was an expensive failure, with $40,000 spent to raise just $3,500 for the homeless. But despite that, its architects are still trying to pretend it was a success:

Despite the lack of tangible results, the council is defending the cost of the campaign, saying it helped raise "public awareness" about begging.

Councillor Paul Eagle, who chairs the community, sport and recreation committee, said the campaign had been stopped while the council assessed its impact - not because it hadn't worked. "If I thought it was a complete mess, I would tell you, but I don't."

The council would be briefed on its impact in the next few months, but Eagle believed it had helped to reduce begging. "I do think it is money well spent."

[Emphasis added]

Which nicely illustrates the real goal: to sweep away the poor, under the guise of "helping" them.


So, it turns out that the government blew $240,000 on hosting eleven oil company executives for a four-day junket during the 2011 rugby world cup. In Parliament today Energy Minister Simon Bridges admitted that $22,000 of that spending was on food and drink. That $500 per executive per day - more than ~45% of New Zealanders earn in a week.

Bridges is defending this grotesque extravagance as a successful "investment". Lets unpack that: in order for it to be considered successful, it would have had to have persuaded those oil executives to invest here. Isn't there a name for that?

Australia's corruption cover-up

Wikileaks strikes again:

A sweeping gagging order issued in Australia to block reporting of any bribery allegations involving several international political leaders in the region has been exposed by WikiLeaks.

The prohibition emerged from a criminal case in the Australian courts and applies throughout the country. It was issued by the criminal division of the supreme court of Victoria in Melbourne "to prevent damage to Australia's international relations that may be caused by the publication of material that may damage the reputations of specified individuals who are not the subject of charges in these proceedings".

The Australia-wide gagging order is a superinjunction, which means it also contains a clause insisting that the terms of the order itself should remain secret. It was issued on 19 June and states: "Subject to further order, there be no disclosure, by publication or otherwise, of any information (whether in electronic or paper form) derived from or prepared for the purposes of these proceedings including the terms of these orders."

The suppressed order is here. Wikileaks' commentary is here. Basically, the government has ordered the cover-up of their biggest corruption case - one apparently involving the bribery of leading figures in Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia - as a matter of "national security". Because that's what that phrase means now: the global elite covering up for each other's crimes.

Superinjunctions are an affront to open justice. They're used by the privileged to stop us peasants from sniggering at them and by governments to cover up their crimes. Fortunately, the internet gives us a free market in legal jurisdiction, making such instruments worthless. And we should use it to publish every such self-suppressing injunction until judges get the message and stop issuing them.

A bottom-up plan for inequality

Labour released its "work and wages" policy today. The headlines? Abolishing the 90-day law and increasing the minimum wage by $2 to $16.25 an hour by April 2015. Those are fairly obvious ways of delivering to their core constituency, but there's more: imposing a "good employer" requirement on all government contracts, and running a commission of inquiry into industrial relations, which will (eventually) mean a rewrite of the Employment Relations Act.

Overall, this looks to be a significant move to tackle inequality and the low-wage economy. Traditionally, we've done this by supplementing low incomes with government transfers, but that breaks down when wages are so low that you need schemes like working for families to keep the middle classes afloat. Increasing wages, both directly through the minimum wage, and indirectly through the ratchet effect and better employment law, achieves the same effect from the bottom up. It costs the government a lot less, but the downside it its potentially more unstable - people recognise immediately if a government is cutting their working for families payments (which is why National has been very careful about doing so and is instead just eroding them through inflation), but they're not so quick to notice when it effectively cuts their wages by strengthening the power of employers.

And on the gripping hand: all these policies did last time Labour was in government was stop the rise of inequality. If we want to see it actually drop, we need stronger measures, such as sharply more progressive tax rates. Labour is not committed to those measures. What they're offering is a more tolerable business as usual, not change.


End-of-Year process positive for Novopay, Steven Joyce, 17 January 2014:

Minister Responsible for Novopay Steven Joyce says a 100 per cent completion rate for schools involved in the End-of-Year process and an accompanying low error rate are tributes to the hard work done by school administrators and Novopay staff and contractors.

School payroll improving again, Steven Joyce, 26 March 2014:
“Pay Period 26 was back below the 0.5 per cent acceptable steady state error rate as defined by the Novopay technical review. Transactions volumes also dropped from around 30,000 in the previous pay period to 23,000. It shows the system is settling down again after the high volumes and high error rate of the last three pay periods connected to the Start of Year process,” Mr Joyce says.

School pay continues improvement, Steven Joyce, 23 April 2014:
The latest Novopay complaints reports confirm the system is settling back into a more consistent and steady state after the busy start-of-year period.


“The performance of the school payroll in Pay Periods 1 and 2 were back well within the 0.5 per cent acceptable steady state error rate as defined by the Novopay technical review and compares favourably with the same pay periods last year,” Mr Joyce says.

Update on school pay performance, Steven Joyce, 20 May 2014:
The latest Novopay complaints reports show the school payroll system is maintaining a steady performance.

Pay Period performance steady, Steven Joyce, 25 July 2014:
Latest figures show the school payroll system maintained a steady performance for each of the last four pay periods.


“All four pay periods were well within the 0.5 per cent acceptable steady state error rate as defined by the Novopay technical review, which is pleasing,” Mr Joyce says.

Government-owned company to take over school payroll, Steven Joyce, 30 July 2014:
New Zealand's school payroll service will come under Government management in October of this year.

After lengthy negotiations, the Ministry of Education and the existing school payroll provider, Talent2, have settled both on the amounts payable by Talent2 towards the costs of remediating the Novopay service and a new operating model for the school payroll system.

The new model involves a new government-owned company taking over the operation of the payroll service, and Talent2 licensing the core Alesco software to that company.

So, after a year of relentlessly up-beat press releases about "improvement" and "progress", suddenly we're looking at a government takeover (and one which involves continuing to pay Talent2 $9 million a year for software which clearly does not perform to specification). So, were they lying to us all along? Or is it just that some Cabinet Minister's relative didn't get paid? Either way, how can we trust anything the government says about its performance?

This ought to be a warning against outsourcing: it doesn't work, and we end up paying to clean up the mess. Sadly, the government is unlikely to view it that way.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The OIA and the Statutes Amendment Bill

Back in February the government introduced a Statutes Amendment Bill to make numerous "technical, short, and non-controversial" amendments to legislation. The bill included several amendments to the OIA and LGOIMA which I thought fell into that category. The bill was reported back today, and those amendments have been tweaked. But it turns out there was controversy there: in the Ombudsman's submission, they note that Judith Collins hadn't bothered to consult them about any of it:

We note with concern that we were not consulted on the proposed amendments to the Official Information Act in this Bill.
Because why would you bother to consult the agency primarily responsible for interpreting and enforcing the OIA about changes to that legislation?

The Ombudsman highlighted several problems with the amendments around legal professional privilege (which, while I don't like the strength of the existing withholding ground, I have to agree with; legal privilege is about advice as well as actual court proceedings). They've also suggested tweaks to the clauses about replacement requests. And the committee, being smarter than Judith Collins, has adopted all of those changes.

Meanwhile, while finding that submission, I also came across one from Science New Zealand, who attempted to abuse the Statutes Amendment Bill process to make major and highly controversial changes to limit access to the OIA. Fortunately the committee were having none of it. So who is Science New Zealand? They're a lobby group for CRIs, structured as an incorporated society. Which conveniently means I can't OIA them to monitor their anti-OIA agenda, because such bodies are not covered (if they were a company, they'd be a multi-parent subsidiary Crown Entity; if the owners were local bodies of CCOs they'd be a CCO. Their structure is highly convenient to say the least). We've had such unaccountable pseudo-government lobby groups before, and they were brought under the Act by the threat of a member's bill; clearly the same needs to be done here.

How to make farmers clean up their act

Order them to stop milking until they've fixed their effluent problems:

A Thames farming company has been hit with a $47,000 fine and ordered to stop milking until it fixed the overflowing effluent system at its Kopu farm.

The order came from Judge Jeff Smith in sentencing Tuitahi Farms Limited in a decision released from the Auckland District Court last week.

The company was convicted on four environmental offences under the Resource Management Act and fined $47,250 for offending, which the judge said had "long term and insidious" effects.

Tuitahi Farms has since upgraded its effluent system and has resumed milking.

Which tells us that this is an effective tactic for enforcing compliance. Of course, there's still the wider problem that monitoring is weak (and the council which caught this farm has recently suspended their aerial monitoring programme) and prosecutions rare - but if they notice you're polluting and decide to take it to court, there's at least an effective ambulance at the bottom of that cliff.

National's roads are pure pork

Last month the government announced it would be spending $212 million on regional roads. Every single one of the priority projects (and eight of nine lower priority projects) is in a National-held electorate, which suggested immediately that this was pre-election pork-barrelling. But now thanks to Rob Salmond and the OIA, that suspicion has been confirmed:

But local MP Bill English – who has no Ministerial responsibility for transport – requested and received two NZTA briefings in 10 days about [the Kawarau Falls Bridge]. And, lo and behold, the project has received the blessing of the normally tight-as-a-drum Minister of Finance, Bill English. It is now at the head of the queue.

English has made sure that, despite its low efficiency and low benefit cost ratio, taxpayers will spend up to $25 million on his Kawerau Falls Bridge anyway. Who wants to take bets on the name of the new bridge?

Similar Ministerial interference is likely elsewhere, too. Nick Smith in Nelson has long been an advocate of the Nelson Southern Link, despite the Environment Court rubbishing it in 2004 and NZTA panning in 2014 (Cost: Up to $50 million. Benefit cost ratio “0 to 2,” page 32.).2 And Anne Tolley in Gisborne is getting the now infamous “let's replace the Motu bridge we’ve only just fixed” project (Benefit cost ratio "0 to 2", page 32), which even the Gisborne council and local truck drivers think isn't a good idea.

They're also spinning the benefit-cost ratios; the Kawarau Falls Bridge (BCR 1.1) is classified as "1 to 3", which is just a little misleading. And if they're doing that to something which barely breaks even, the ones classified as "0 to 2" are probably all below 0.5.

These roads are basically pure pork. They are assessed as costing more money to build than they will ever produce in benefits, even using NZTA's infamously overoptimistic assessments. But they've been approved because National MPs and Ministers want to be seen as delivering something for their electorates before the election. So much for assessing needs based on merits.

New Fisk

It's not just radicalised Islamists - what about foreign fighters who flock to the other side?

How we should deal with rorting MPs

Prosecute them for theft:

Former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper tried three times to have criminal charges thrown out of court following claims he misused his travel entitlements during several trips to some of the Canberra region's most prestigious wineries.

But three days spent wining and dining in 2010 caught up with Slipper in the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday when he was found to have been dishonest in using almost $1000 in Cabcharge vouchers to pay for hire car travel to the wineries.

Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker found Slipper had acted dishonestly, and that he had knowingly caused a risk of loss to the Commonwealth.

Instead, we do the opposite: when Claudette Hauiti rorted her parliamentary expenses by sticking private travel and a holiday to Australia on her charge card, Parliamentary Services covered it up for her. We still don't know how much she stole, only that she was such a persistent offender that they took her card off her. And the message that sends is that MPs are above the law and not accountable to the public.

Monday, July 28, 2014

No deal

Its official: National won't be cutting an electorate deal with the Conservatives this election. I guess they figured out that a Colin Craig - Winston Peters deathmatch in East Coast Bays might not go their way - or that snuggling up to the fundies might drive people away from National.

As for Craig, he now gets to stand or fall on his own merits. Which on current polling means fall. Meanwhile, parties which get fewer votes will enjoy representation. While I don't like the Conservatives or what they stand for, that's unfair and undemocratic. We need to get rid of the threshhold so that our electoral outcomes won't be distorted like this.

Earning that reputation XIV

Another year, and the Remuneration Commission proposes another increase in MP's expenses. But the MPs don't think its enough:

A review of expenses by the Remuneration Authority, which sets MPs' pay, is proposing the amount they are allowed to claim for hotel rooms while in Auckland and Christchurch on business be increased from $180 to $210. Outside of those cities it would rise from $160 to $190 a night.

MPs say the hike isn't enough because it now doesn't include breakfast, internet access or parking. But party whips wanted to keep their views under wraps, refusing to release a submission to the authority or confirm details.

Asked questions about the submission, National Party senior whip Louise Upston said permission would need to be sought from all parties and the authority before she would comment.

Its not the fact that they want a bigger increase that bugs me: MPs should be funded for the actual, reasonable and necessary expenses for them to do their jobs properly. This may include a higher allowance for motels (and the proposed increase in family air travel seems entirely reasonable; MPs shouldn't have to sacrifice their families to serve the public). No, what annoys me is the conspiracy of silence around it. The setting of MP's expenses should be done publicly and transparently. Instead, party whips appear to have reached an explicit deal among themselves to try and keep the public in the dark, and to lobby in secret. And then they wonder why the public thinks they're all thieving scum? Once again, they have no-one to blame but themselves...

More bullying from Nick Smith

This morning Radio New Zealand reported on Nick Smith's crude attempt to bully Fish & Game into silence on water quality:

Dr Smith met the Fish and Game Council in Wellington on 18 July, and four people who attended told Radio New Zealand News he gave councillors a dressing down for their stance on trying to protect water quality in lakes and rivers.

Association of Freshwater Anglers president David Haynes, who was at the meeting, said Dr Smith was bullying the Fish and Game councillors in a clear attempt to stop it carrying out its statutory role to advocate for water quality.


But Fish and Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said Dr Smith was hostile towards his organisation at the meeting.

The minister implied he would restructure the organisation if it did not tone down its stance on water quality, and Mr Haynes had given an accurate account of what happened at the meeting, Mr Johnson told Nine to Noon.

"He said that he's worried that Fish and Game is losing its way, that Fish and Game struggles with being a Government statutory body and instead is being a rabid NGO," he said.

Smith's response? Threaten to sue for defamation in a further effort to bully those who have blown the whistle into silence. He's also released meeting notes taken by one of his officials, which show that he indeed questioned their role and was "keen to introduce an F + G Amendment Act". Whoops. As for the threat of defamation, its empty: he's a politician, and so virtually impossible to defame in a political context. But he's probably hoping no-one realises that.

I think this shows the sensitivity of the government around water quality. They know their dairy agenda has consequences for our rivers which kiwis are deeply uncomfortable with. But they're hoping to bully their way through to further enrich their farmer-cronies. The only way of stopping it is to vote them out, and vote in a government which will properly protect our waterways from the rapacious, polluting dairy industry.

New Fisk

Eight hundred dead Palestinians. But Israel has impunity
One of the oldest Christian communities in the lands of Christ has been destroyed as the Sunni Caliphate spreads

The male party

Another election, and another National party list packed with men. This time though its getting some attention:

National released its party list yesterday and if it gets 60 MPs into Parliament after the election, just 16 - 27 per cent - will be women.

In its full party list of 75, 21 are women. It currently has 15 women in Parliament - about a quarter of its caucus. That is in contrast to Labour; 43 per cent of its caucus are women.

Mr Goodfellow said there were a number of women in the pipeline who were likely to be future candidates.

"We are working really hard in the party to ensure we have a good representation of women, but National do have a very democratic process for selecting candidates and there are a lot of factors for the list ranking committee to take into account, including the merits of the candidates and gender and cultural diversity."

National's electorate candidates are selected by party members in local electorates rather than National headquarters. Of the 42 electorates it holds, 12 have women candidates. Of the 10 electorates in which the current MP is resigning, only two selected women candidates to replace them.

There's a name for this: institutional sexism. And National's response to it - to shrug its shoulders and say "what can you do?" - reflects its lack of commitment to tackling it in wider public life. There are solutions: all-woman electorate shortlists are a common one overseas, as are requirements for gender balance in the list. And its not as if there's a shortage of talented women to take those spots. But National is the party of the old boy's network, dedicated to preserving existing privilege. An equal list might mean that people like Lindsay Tisch and Tim Macindoe had to make way for people who were better than them, despite their possession of a penis. And that's against everything National stands for.

Friday, July 25, 2014



The Greens revealed their campaign billboards today: images of environmental destruction and the slogan "Love New Zealand". I'm not sure it works. I get that they want to confront people with what they're against - but shouldn't they make it clearer? With, perhaps, a question mark? Or maybe a different slogan suggesting that this is what a vote for them will stop?

OTOH, I'm not a marketing guru, so what would I know.

Inside the US "no-fly" list

The Intercept has leaked and analysed the guidelines the US government uses to place people on its "no-fly" list. Its a long and detailed article (the Guardian has a shorter summary here) and it shows just how arbitrary and baseless the list is.

The basic standard of evidence by which the US denies its citizens the right to travel is "reasonable suspicion" of connection to "terrorism" (which is defined broadly to include property damage and pressuring governments). What's "reasonable suspicion"? Anything they damn well like. Tweets, gait analysis ("he was walking like a terrorist!"), going on Hajj, getting married outside the US, travelling for "no reason" (meaning: acting like a citizen of a free country and not telling the government what you're doing every day of your life), being related to someone they classify as a "terrorist", being a potential informant for the FBI, refusing to be an informant for the FBI. And even that low threshold can be bypassed if they feel like it. As they say, "concrete facts are not necessary". And the result is predictable: they added 468,749 people to the list last year, up from 227,932 in 2009. So there are probably millions of people affected. And there's no formal process for removing the innocent...

The US apparently shares this list with 22 other governments. New Zealand is almost certainly one of them. I'm not aware yet of any kiwi being forbidden to fly by unaccountable US officials, but its probably only a matter of time.

Justice for rendition

After the US launched its war on terror, Poland played host to a CIA "black site". Prisoners were kidnapped by the US, rendered to Poland, and tortured there. Now, the ECHR has found the Polish government guilty of unlawful detention and torture for their collaboration in these crimes:

Poland became the first EU country held to account for its involvement in the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme on Thursday when the European court of human rights found it guilty of the unlawful detention and torture of two men at a secret prison in the north of the country after 9/11.

In two damning judgments, the court also ruled that the Polish government had failed to conduct a proper investigation into the episode, and ordered it to pay €100,000 (£79,000) compensation to each of the men, who are currently held at Guantánamo Bay. The rulings are the first in a series of cases being brought against European states, with Lithuania and Romania also facing accusations that they allowed the CIA to open secret prisons on their territory.


The two unanimous rulings found that the rendition programme was completely illegal, as its rationale had been "specifically to remove those persons from any legal protection against torture and enforced disappearance and to strip them of any safeguards afforded by both the US constitution and international law".

The court at Strasbourg said it was inconceivable that the rendition aircraft could have landed in Poland, and that the CIA could have operated the prison on Polish territory, without the Polish authorities being aware. "It is also inconceivable that activities of that character and scale, possibly vital for the country's military and political interests, could have been undertaken on Polish territory without Poland's knowledge and without the necessary authorisation being given at the appropriate level of the state authorities."

A finding of government guilt and collaboration is great, but its not enough. The officials responsible for that collaboration must now face trial for conspiracy to torture - as must the torturers themselves.

Coleman lied about Dotcom

Last week, in response to the revelation that the SIS had initially recommended that Kim Dotcom not be granted residency due to an FBI investigation, then-Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman denied all knowledge. He hadn't been told, he said. He "had absolutely no knowledge of any pending FBI-NZ Police investigation".

He lied:

Government minister Jonathan Coleman knew the FBI was interested in Kim Dotcom before his officials granted the tycoon residency - a revelation which has led to accusations he misled the public.

The accusation comes after Immigration NZ released a statement making it clear they told Dr Coleman about the FBI the day before the criticial residency decision was made.


[Intelligence Manager Theo] Kuper didn't give the classified briefing to the Immigration NZ officer making the decision but told him of FBI interest in Dotcom because of his Megaupload ownership, the spokesman said.

"This information formed the briefing to the head of Immigration New Zealand, Nigel Bickle, and in turn Mr Bickle's briefing to the then Minister of Immigration, Jonathan Coleman, on 28 October 2010 to tell him under the no surprises policy that residence had been approved in principle."

Back in 2004, then Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel was sacked for misleading the public in this way. John Key promised us "a higher standard of government"; Coleman should therefore suffer the same fate.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

There's a name for this...

The latest atrocity in the Australian government's war on refugees: covering up the rate of self-harm and attempted suicide:

Harrowing eyewitness accounts from the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission and a team of medical experts say there is a mental health crisis on Christmas Island, confirming multiple suicide attempts and self-harm incidents.

Fairfax Media has obtained a document that describes injuries sustained by at least 11 women on July 7 who used various methods to harm themselves including attempted asphyxiation and poisoning after being told by immigration officials that they would not be settled in Australia.

The document describes how one woman put a bag over her head three times, drank half a bottle of detergent and used a broken mirror to cut herself.

Professor Gillian Triggs, who arrived on the island last week as part of the commission's national inquiry into children in immigration, said there were 13 mothers on suicide watch and their conditions were deteriorating rapidly.

This is what happens when you deprive people of hope. But the Australian government views it as bad PR, so they cover it up. They also don't bother providing proper medical or psychiatric care, so the problem just gets worse and worse and worse.

There's a name for the deliberate infliction of severe mental pain and suffering on someone by public officials: its called torture. And if Australia continues with this policy, those officials may see themselves prosecuted in international courts.

UK police spied on their critics

First, it was the family of Stephen Lawrence. Now we learn that the UK police spied on other people seeking justice from them as well:

Undercover police gathered intelligence on grieving families who were battling the Metropolitan police for justice, including the relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes, Cherry Groce and Ricky Reel.

Police have approached the three families, inviting them to discuss their findings. The meeting with Reel's relatives has already taken place and they were told they had been subject to "inappropriate" surveillance.

Scotland Yard claimed that the families were not the target of the operations but information on them was gathered and wrongly retained as part of the covert infiltration of political groups.

Because there's nothing more "political" than wanting to know why the police killed your son, or why they didn't investigate his murder.

As with the Lawrence spying, this was not about preventing crime, or protecting the public, but about preventing criticism and protecting the jobs and reputations of police officers. This is not what police are for. And those who think it is should be prosecuted for misfeasance in public office.

Another botched execution in the US

Another US execution has gone horribly wrong:

The controversy engulfing the death penalty in the United States escalated on Wednesday when the state of Arizona took almost two hours to kill a prisoner using an experimental concoction of drugs whose provenance it had insisted on keeping secret.

Joseph Wood took an hour and 58 minutes to die after he was injected with a relatively untested combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone. For more than an hour, he was seen to be “gasping and snorting”, according to an emergency motion to halt the execution, filed by his lawyers.


One eyewitness, Michael Kiefer of Arizona Republic, counted the prisoner gasping 660 times. Another witness, reporter Troy Hayden, told the same paper that it had been "very disturbing to watch ... like a fish on shore gulping for air."

This is pretty clearly cruel and unusual punishment, and hence unconstitutional. The question now is whether the US judiciary can admit that, or whether America's addiction to judicial murder will outweigh the facts and the law.

A serial offender

So it wasn't just a holiday in Oz Claudette Hauiti tried to stick us with:

Outgoing National MP Claudette Hauiti admits using her parliamentary charge card to buy petrol for her personal car in a further breach of the rules on card use.

But she says she doesn't know how much in total she had to refund because she repaid small amounts repeatedly over the year in which she had spent outside the rules.

Ms Hauiti announced this week she would step down from Parliament, days after revelations she used the charge card for personal spending, including a $200 fee related to flights to Australia.

Again: if people in an employment situation repeatedly violated their expenses rules in this manner, despite being warned, they'd be fired and/or prosecuted. Shouldn't the same apply to MPs? But because they're effectively employing the people who are supposed to watch over them, there's not a hope. So instead we get a full-on coverup, where we're not even allowed to know how much she stole.

This is also a stellar example of why Parliamentary Services needs to be subject to the OIA: so there is transparency and public accountability in these sorts of cases. The public have made it crystal clear that we have no tolerance for thieving, rorting MPs. Every day MPs refuse to take that message to heart and legislate accordingly is a day when they earn their reputation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More stat-juking

There were more allegations in Parliament today that the government is juking the stats, with Andrew Little pointing at a report from the Taranaki Daily News that a Crown prosecutor had claimed:

"There was one occasion in 2012 when it was brought to my attention by another senior Crown prosecutor that a police prosecuting sergeant was telling a uniformed police officer in writing he should not have laid lower level drug charges as well as the class A and B charges my office were dealing with, because of the need to reduce crime by a certain percentage."
But its not just crime statistics. Its also education:
Parents can have little confidence in the Government’s National Standards after an Auckland school was told to manipulate its data so it added up, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins.

“Valley School in Pukekohe was advised in an email from the Ministry of Education to arbitrarily adjust student results from ‘below standard’ to ‘above standard’ to make their data add up.

“How can National Standards provide an accurate basis for measuring student achievement when the Ministry of Education is unilaterally scaling assessment results to produce the outcome it wants

This culture of stat-juking seems to be becoming pervasive. But its what happens when the people who collect the stats get sent a clear message from the top that the stats will improve or they will lose their jobs. But the result is that the stats become meaningless, which in turn means we have no idea at all about the effectiveness of policy, or the state of the world. The politicians love this, because the truth becomes whatever they say it is; they can say "crime is dropping", "educational achievement is rising", "our country is a better place", and there's no way to contradict them. But those of us who have to live in the unchanged reality which is not reflected by their false statistics shouldn't be so happy - because denying problems means denying any possibility of a solution. And when that problem is burglaries, domestic violence, or poor educational achievement, its not something we can afford to ignore for the rhetorical comfort of lying politicians.

Prison hulks

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain pioneered a new type of atrocity: the prison hulk. Faced with a shortage of jail space, they turned to imprisoning convicts on former warships. The prisoners were subjected to appalling conditions in an overcrowded environment deprived of natural light. Most of those sentenced to transportation to Australia spent time on a prison hulk before being exiled.

Sadly, it seems the present Australian government has decided to ape its former colonial masters:

Family members among 157 asylum seekers being detained on the high seas in separate rooms on a customs vessel are allowed out for meals and ''approximately three hours'' of daylight a day, according to a document lodged with the High Court on Tuesday.


A document filed by the government reveals the national security committee of cabinet decided on July 1, two days after the boat was intercepted, that those on board ''should be taken to a place other than Australia''.

The document says the asylum seekers are permitted ''approximately three hours' outside during the day in natural light for meals'', but says it would be unsafe to give them unrestricted movement.

These prisoners are now in limbo. Detained illegally on the high seas after an act of piracy by the Australian government, Australia will not accept them, and India (their port of origin) does not want them back. Meanwhile, the Australian government believes that Australian law does not apply to them, and that they have no right even to procedural fairness. Which tells us how badly Australia needs a Bill of Rights...

Challenging Britain's panopticon

Last week, the British establishment rammed through new "emergency" surveillance and data retention laws, with the collusion of all three major parties. Now those laws are being challenged in the courts:

Two leading Westminster civil liberties campaigners, David Davis and Tom Watson, are to mount a high court legal challenge to the government's new "emergency" surveillance law, which was rushed through parliament last week.

The application for a judicial review of the new legislation, which was passed with support from the three main parties, is to be mounted by the human rights organisation Liberty on behalf of the two backbench MPs.


Liberty is to argue on behalf of Davis and Watson that the new legislation is incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which includes the right to respect for private and family life, and article 7 of the European charter of fundamental rights – respect for private and family life and protection of personal data.

The Drip Act requires internet and phone companies to collect their customers' personal communication data, tracking their phone and internet use, and store it for 12 months to give access to the police, security services and up to 600 public bodies on request.

Liberty argues that such communications data can provide a very intimate picture of a person's life by detailing who they have been in contact with, by what means, for how long, and from where.

They're on solid ground here. The EU Data Retention Directive, which DRIP replaces, was declared invalid for precisely this reason. Mass-surveillance without particularised suspicion is standing breach of the ECHR. Which is one of the reasons why the Tories want to leave it: because it is doing its job in protecting the rights of the UK's citizens against its authoritarian, spying government.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the last of the Parliamentary term. But thanks to government filibustering over the past few months, instead of seeing the third reading of Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months' Paid Leave) Amendment Bill, the excitement has been stripped from it. Instead, we'll have 90 minutes of valedictories from failed politicians, to be followed by the third reading of a bill about laser pointers.

The next member's day won't be until after Parliament is recalled, and the political landscape will have changed. The exact arrangement is in the hands of the voters, but I'm hoping that the next government won't have such easy majority options, so that member's days become meaningful again and Parliament gets to act as an independent branch of government rather than a rubberstamp for the executive.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Manufacturing dissent

So, it turns out that almost all US "domestic terrorists" are created and directly incited by the US government:

Nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the "direct involvement" of government agents or informants, a new report says.

Some of the controversial "sting" operations "were proposed or led by informants", bordering on entrapment by law enforcement. Yet the courtroom obstacles to proving entrapment are significant, one of the reasons the stings persist.

The lengthy report, released on Monday by Human Rights Watch, raises questions about the US criminal justice system's ability to respect civil rights and due process in post-9/11 terrorism cases. It portrays a system that features not just the sting operations but secret evidence, anonymous juries, extensive pretrial detentions and convictions significantly removed from actual plots.

"In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act," the report alleges.

And these manufactured "terrorists" are then used to justify more powers and greater budgets for enforcement agencies. Its a vicious circle, which alienates target communities, while keeping the public in a constant state of fear. And it really makes you wonder who the real enemy is...


The Basin Reserve has been saved:

Controversial plans to build a flyover next to the Basin Reserve in Wellington have been killed off by a board of inquiry.

In a stunning move today, four commissioners declined resource consent for the New Zealand Transport Agency’s proposed $90 million project.

It means the agency’s plans to build a 265-metre elevated highway 20 metres north of the historic cricket ground are now all but dead in the water.

Good. And now possibly Wellington can get on with designing a city for people, not cars.

Not serious

That's John Key's assessment of his government's failure in the Tania Billingsley case:

"I don't make apologies unless there's a serious reason for me to do that."

Except apparently it is serious enough to justify an independent inquiry (though one which won't inquire into Murray McCully's role), and so serious that Key's MFAT scapegoat must resign. Which is more than a small contradiction. Its therefore hard to see it as anything other than a calculated insult towards Billingsley, who refused to collude in the government's silence.

But it's also another example of how Key's government isn't serious about sexual violence. Sure, they'll push "tough on crime" headline-generating policies like eliminating the right to silence, but the reality is that they'll let attempted rapists flee the country, shut down rape crisis centres, and gratuitously insult victims who dare to speak out. Which tells us exactly how "serious" they are.

More Australian torture

Successive Australian governments have systematically dehumanised and demonised asylum seekers as part of their war on refugees, and the results have been predictable: torture, murder, and ill-treatment. And now they're torturing refugees to cover up their crimes:

Two asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island say they were forced to retract their eyewitness accounts of violence at the centre in February after being beaten and threatened by Australian officials at the centre.

They include the room-mate of the murdered Reza Barati, who has identified a number of staff at the centre as involved in the killing.


The two asylum seekers allege they were subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” over a number of days last week before they say they agreed to retract their police statements.

They say they were taken to an area of the camp they had not seen before and fed bread and water for three days, sleeping on the muddy ground.

“We were crying and asking what is our fault?” one said in a Facebook post. “They said: 'Because you always object to all of our rules'."

They claim they were cable-tied to chairs and beaten about the body to avoid noticeable bruises and threatened with rape and murder if they did not retract their statements.

This is what happens if you have dehumanisation, secrecy, and a government-encouraged air of impunity. It's a natural consequence of everything Australia has done with its gulags. And now its made them a torture state like the US. I hope Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott are proud of themselves.

Good riddance

Last week we learned that National MP Claudette Hauiti had been stealing from the taxpayer by rorting her expenses. Today, she decided to quit:

National list MP Claudette Hauiti has decided to withdraw from the election and politics altogether.

She has already been selected as National's candidate in the Kelston electorate, which is thought to be a safe Labour seat.

She told National MPs at their caucus meeting this morning.

Good riddance to a thief. If only more rorters would follow her example.

Monday, July 21, 2014


The Standing Orders Committee has reported back on the triennial Review of Standing Orders. The big news: they think the trial of broadcasting select committee hearings ahs gone well, and want it made standard practice. It's a welcome boost to the transparency of the House. There's also a mild improvement around BORA reporting, in that reports of inconsistency from the Attorney-General will automatically be referred to select committee, so there will be some sort of formal response from the House.

As for the rest, its not good news. Picking a few topics:

  • Question Time will not be held automatically when urgency is called, because "the holding of question time is a significant element of negotiations about the expected progress of business under urgency". So, the government holds the ability to hold it to account hostage in order to let it ram through laws without proper scrutiny.
  • The Attorney-General won't be required to report on amendments to bills which are inconsistent with the BORA, despite a recognition that the absence of such reporting causes problems in Parliament's relationship with the courts because it could have "implications" for the collective responsibility of Ministers (meaning: it looks bad when a Minister is forced to say that their colleagues are pissing on our human rights).
  • MPs think a specialist human rights committee would be some sort of ghetto.
  • The crown financial veto will not be eliminated, because the committee thinks the executive shouldn't have to enact policies "foist upon it" by the legislature. Like, say, all the legislation passed by previous governments.
  • The committee sees no benefit to electing the Speaker by secret ballot.
  • Parliament will keep praying (and telling all non-theists that they are not really citizens) at the start of every day, but the next Speaker should consult the next Parliament about the wording of their entreaties to imaginary beings. The sustainability of this position in a country which is no longer christian is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • The Clerk of the House's innovative ideas for e-petitions and greater public involvement will not be adopted.
In short, "our" Parliament has once again rejected keeping pace with our society and our democracy. I know they're a conservative institution, but this is beyond conservative and into the positively sclerotic. Once again, MPs have earned their reputation. And they have no-one to blame for it but themselves.

This'll be interesting

Speaking of Internet-Mana, not only is Kim Dotcom promising a pre-election bombshell, but he's getting Glenn Greenwald along to help:

Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom says he has enlisted heavy-hitting US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who blew open secrets about mass spying by the US Government, to help embarrass Prime Minister John Key immediately before the election.

Mr Greenwald will travel to New Zealand for an event at the Auckland Town Hall on September 15, when Dotcom says he will release information that is highly damaging for Mr Key and National.

The general election is five days later.

This is guaranteed to put some international attention on whatever is revealed. Hopefully it'll be big enough to justify it. Meanwhile, there's the obvious question: while John Key get his spies to deny Greenwald entry to New Zealand as a "threat or risk to security"? Five days before an election, it would be absolutely toxic, a confirmation of authoritarianism. But OTOH, this is the SIS we're talking about, whose stupidity knows no bounds...

Either way, it'll be interesting, and good to see the government squirm.

A circus of self-mutilation

The political weekend: the Greens announce serious, sensible, and popular policy, Internet-Mana packs out another public meeting, and Labour's self-mutilation continues:

However, Labour MPS are disgusted by Cunliffe's skiing holiday just two months before the election and will question his work ethic at a caucus meeting on Tuesday, a senior party insider said.

Labour is trailing National by 30 percentage points, polling just 24.9 per cent in the latest Stuff-Ipsos poll.

"A lot of MPs are really f..... off about it," the insider said.

"They are all working hard up and down the country, and f...... Cunliffe is on holiday. Guys like [Phil] Goff and [Annette] King and [David] Shearer, these guys really want it badly and they are working like their lives depend on it. And I think they are a little incredulous about what the guy is doing."

Yes, faced with an election they're trying to convince us they need to win or National will privatise your kidneys and sell your children to a charter school, Labour's "senior insiders" are sabotaging their own campaign and focusing on positioning themselves for the post-loss leadership struggle. Why would anyone vote for such a clown-show? More importantly, why would anyone volunteer for them? They're clearly not worth the time and effort.

Meanwhile, Labour hacks are talking about the need for everyone on the left to work "hard, seamlessly, together, and well" (meaning "STFU and stop criticising Labour"). But its clear which party isn't pulling its weight here. The Greens are on track to equal or better their 2011 performance. Internet-Mana is doing so well even John Armstrong has to notice. If the left loses this election, it will be because of Labour.

New Fisk

Why do television producers think a grey blob over a dead person’s face shows respect?

Fiji: Impunity for torture

In 2012, a group of prisoners escaped from Naboro prison in Fiji. When they were recaptured, they were savagely beaten by police, and one subsequently had a leg amputated. The entire thing was captured on video, and several of the perpetrators have already been identified (naturally, one is an international rugby player). So it should have been easy for the Fijian police to prosecute and bring these torturers to justice.

Instead, they've closed the case. Nine minutes of graphic torture, several identified torturers, and no-one will be held accountable.

Amnesty International is right: this is impunity, backed explicitly by the military regime. There is no law in Fiji, only the whim of a brutal dictator.

Speaking of that dictator, apparently he wants to visit New Zealand. Our government should tell him to fuck off, and that dictators are persona non grata. The only reason we should let him into New Zealand is so he can be arrested and tried for the crimes carried out by his regime.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Australia's new authoritarianism

Australia has had a run of bad luck in having its dirty deeds uncovered, first with Wikileaks, then the Snowden revelations that they've been spying on their own citizens (and offering to share the data with the Americans), on Indonesia, and for the rich. Plus of course the whole East Timor spying scandal. These revelations have caused international embarrassment and ruined relations with their closest neighbours.

But now the Australian government has a solution: jail any journalist who reports on their crimes:

Australian journalists could face prosecution and jail for reporting Snowden-style revelations about certain spy operations, in an “outrageous” expansion of the government’s national security powers, leading criminal lawyers have warned.

A bill presented to parliament on Wednesday by the attorney general, George Brandis, would expand the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio), including creation of a new offence punishable by five years in jail for “any person” who disclosed information relating to “special intelligence operations”.

The person would be liable for a 10-year term if the disclosure would “endanger the health or safety of any person or prejudice the effective conduct of a special intelligence operation”.

Special intelligence operations are a new type of operation in which intelligence officers receive immunity from liability or prosecution where they may need to engage in conduct that would be otherwise unlawful.

(That latter definition BTW seems to give the government carte blanche to disregard its own laws on wiretapping and spying. They can just redefine it as a "special intelligence operation" and the spies are suddenly in a lawless zone where they can spy, steal, and even murder with impunity).

As with their raid on East Timor's lawyers, this is the action of a guilty government, one with a lot to hide which sees its own citizens as the enemy. This law cannot be allowed to pass.

Meanwhile, Chris Finlayson has recently been at the Five Eyes Attorney-Generals meeting, so how long will it be before we see such Orwellian legislation here?

Docs or its bullshit

Over the weekend we learned that police had been juking the stats, recoding burglaries as "incidents" to make themselves and their Minister look good. But its all fine now, supposedly - the police claim they've instituted a series of spot audits to ensure it can never happen again.

Except when they're asked for information about these supposed safeguards and whether they've uncovered any problems, they suddenly can't find anything...

A refusal by the police to release any details of their response to wrongly coded burglaries in South Auckland is being called a "snow-job".

A police investigation found that about 500 burglaries were wrongly reclassified as other offences or incidents between 2009 and 2012 in Counties Manukau.

Police and the acting Police Minister Judith Collins have said it was an isolated incident, and spot audits nationwide have been put in place to ensure the integrity of crime statistics.

There was no information to suggest it had happened elsewhere, police said.

But police have refused to reveal any details of the spot audits, and District Commander Superintendent John Tims could not answer when they started, or whether they had uncovered any irregularities.

Apparently its all very complex and would take too long to collate. Which sounds like poor excuses. At the least, you'd expect them to be able to point to the order for spot checks to be implemented, even if they don't have the results yet. The only reason they wouldn't be able to do that is if there is no policy and they're making it up to make themselves look good (sorry, "preserve public confidence in the police", because clumsy lies totally do that).

The police have totally forfeited our trust. If they want us to believe them, on this or any other issue, they need to front up with proof. Documents, or its bullshit!

New Fisk

Israel-Gaza conflict: Medical charity likens work to ‘patching up torture victims in an open-air prison’

An OIA horror story

DPF has an OIA horror story:

Andy Tookey filed an OIA with the Auckland District Health Board for a copy of a slide presentation by the Organ Donor Service to a taxpayer funded official meeting.

They refused the request on the grounds of privacy, even though no names were requested.

Tookey went to the Ombudsman who said it must be released.

They then declined on the basis it would be made public in six months time.

Again the Ombudsman indicated he would rule against them.

So what did the Organ Donor Service do?

They deleted the information.

(The information requested was a powerpoint presentation of the results of an ICU death audit. Which raises the question of what they were trying to hide...)

As the Ombudsman notes, this is a clear violation of the Public Records Act's requirement to create and retain proper records. Deleting the information is a criminal offence. Unfortunately the penalty - a $10,000 fine - is so derisory as to be no deterrent against public agencies. If the bureaucrats responsible were able to be held personally liable, perhaps it would be a different story.

The idea that an agency would simply defy the Ombudsman like this is also deeply troubling. They're a mana-based office, which hardly ever needs to pull out the big stick of formal recommendations. If departments are going to simply ignore their less formal findings, then they are clearly going to have to move to more formal mechanisms.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Climate change: Madness

The Australian government has finally repealed its carbon tax, leaving Australia with no policy at all to combat climate change. And the worst bit? The carbon tax was working:

Australia cut carbon dioxide emissions from its electricity sector by as much as 17 million tonnes because of the carbon price and would have curbed more had industry expected the price to be permanent, according to an Australian National University study.


The ANU report, which used official market data to the end of June, found the drop in power demand attributed to the carbon price was between 2.5 and 4.2 terawatt-hours per year, or about 1.3 to 2.3 per cent of the National Electricity Market serving about 80 per cent of Australia’s population.

Emissions-intensive brown and black coal-fired power generators cut output, with about 4 gigawatts of capacity taken offline. The emissions intensity of NEM supply dropped between 16 and 28 kilograms of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of supply, underscoring the role of carbon pricing rather than slumping demand in curbing pollution, the paper said.

However, investors’ doubts that the carbon tax would last – fostered in part by then opposition leader Tony Abbott’s “blood oath” to repeal it if the Coalition took office - meant high-emissions generators were mothballed rather than permanently closed.

Which means that with the tax gone, they'll be back to cranking out pollution, at least until solar kills them off. And meanwhile, Australia will continue to dry up and burn down, and Tony Abbott will blame it on the phase of the moon, or solar flares, or an invisible sky fairy, rather than accepting that he is making a worse future for Australians.

One state at a time

A US judge has ruled california's death penalty is unconstitutional:

A federal judge ruled California's death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday, writing that lengthy and unpredictable delays have resulted in an arbitrary and unfair capital punishment system.

The decision by US district court Judge Cormac Carney represents a legal victory for those who want to abolish the death penalty in California and follows a similar ruling that has suspended executions in the state for years.


"Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State," Carney wrote.

He continued, writing that "arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed."

No doubt there'll be an appeal - but in the meantime, California is officially death-penalty free.

Police just don't learn

Meanwhile, in case you're not angry enough over the IPCA's whitewash over GCSB spying, there's this: police in Stratford responded to a late-night assault complaint by raiding a local marae full of sleeping kids:

Maori elders have filed a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority over the way in which two Stratford officers entered the Stratford marae around 2am on Saturday and woke 25 children sleeping there.

The police were looking for a suspect after a 61-year-old man was assaulted earlier in the same part of Stratford. The suspect was not found.

The children, aged from 4 to 17, were shaken and upset at the aggressive, rude treatment they received from the two officers, Whakaahurangi marae spokeswoman Lovey Read said.


"These kids were made to get up out of bed at 2.30am. They were lined up in the wharenui in their pyjamas and made to show their hands to the police to see if they had blood on their hands, so to speak, then some were photographed."

Because naturally, if someone's been assaulted, you search the local marae...

But its not just about police racism. In a series of posts over Twitter, lawyer Graeme Edgeler struggled to work out how it could be more illegal:
1. It's a personal search conducted without warrant, for an offence not serious enough to conduct a personal search without warrant. (2)

2. It's a consent search, conducted in circumstances where a consent search cannot be conducted. (3)

3. Consent to consent searches cannot be obtained from people under 14 (unless it's consent to search a car they're driving alone) (4)

4. Photographs were taken of suspects(?) in circumstances where photographs cannot be taken. (5)

5. Entry was effected without consent, in circumstances where warrantless entry powers are unavailable. (6)

6. (not enough information, but I'm going to guess this is true) Children/young people were questioned without following correct procedures.

I'll stop now, but I'm not 100% sure that, given a little more background, I couldn't write a statement of facts for aggravated burglary.

And indeed he could: " Unlawfully entry, while carrying a weapon, with the intention of committing an assault on a child. Aggravated Burglary".

But we know how this will go: the elders will complain to the IPCA, the IPCA will sit on it for two years, then they'll issue a whitewash excusing the police. Or possibly they'll criticise the police, who will refuse to accept the IPCA's findings and do nothing. Either way, victims will have been given the false hope of justice, while in practice being denied it. The sole effect of the system is to whitewash and excuse police wrongdoing, while denying people the opportunity to pursue more effective remedies (such as private prosecution or a BORA case).

Our police are rotten, and the system to oversee them is rotten. People should have no faith in either.

National hates dolphins II

Last month, we learned that National had allowed oil exploration in the marine mammal sanctuary which protects maui's dolphin. But it gets worse: it turns out that they've also opened a third of that sanctuary to seabed mining:

The Government has issued mineral mining permits in one third of the endangered Maui’s dolphin sanctuary, the Green Party has revealed today.

This follows revelations that permits have also been issued for oil exploration in the sanctuary.

There have been 254 Maui’s sightings within the areas where the mineral mining permits have been granted.

Maui's Dolphin is our most endangered species, and the rarest dolphin in the world. There are only 55 of them left. But rather than protecting them, National seems hellbent on driving them to extinction.

Above the law

The IPCA has finally released its report into the police's refusal to investigate the GCSB's illegal spying, and unsurprisingly foud that there's nothing to see here, move along. The reason? Basically, because the Solicitor-General and Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence are government stooges who don't want to rock the boat illiterates who can't read a statute book. The police's bullshit view that when the Crimes Act says its a crime to intentionally intercept a private communication by means of an interception device, "intent" means not just "intent to intercept" (as you might think), but also "intent to break the law" - that is, that ignorance is an excuse for officials, but not for peasants - came directly from the Solicitor-General, so they were entitled to rely on it. Which is fair enough, but I think what it tells us is that we should be looking for a new Solicitor-General, because Michael Heron is clearly not up to the task.

Likewise, their refusal to investigate another 56 unlawful interceptions was "reasonable" because it was based on the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence's view that metadata spying was "arguably legal" (if you ignore the then-clear prohibition against domestic interceptions, the definitions of "communication" and "intercept", and all parliamentary intent). Given this view, the police could not conclude that the interceptions were "unequivocally unlawful" - a far higher standard than they ever apply to any of us - and "criminal prosecution of individuals in an attempt to clarify an inherently uncertain law would have been unjustified" (something which again they have no trouble doing when the target is a peasant, not a government agency).

All in all, its the expected whitewash, which once again shows how the police apply different standards of justice to us than they do for themselves and their mates. This practice has been effectively endorsed by the IPCA, so they're now useless and we might as well disband them (or just rename them the "Official Police Coverup Authority" just so no-one is under any illusions about the business they're in).

The upshot: the spies are above the law. If we want justice for this, we need to change the government. We need a full, independent inquiry from people not tainted by associations with the establishment and deep state. And we need to defund and disestablish the GCSB. None of that will happen under National.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The UK strengthens its panopticon

Back in April, the European Court of Justice overturned the EU Data Retention Directive, a European law pushed through by the British government to require telecommunications companies and ISPs to store telecommunications metadata just in case police ever wanted it. The ECJ naturally found that blanket storage without particular suspicion was an invasion of privacy and declared the directive invalid.

The British government ignored the ruling and instructed phone companies and ISPs to keep retaining data. Then a coalition of privacy NGOs threatened to take them to court over it. As a result, they're now ramming through emergency legislation, which almost certainly violates EU law, to ensure they can keep doing it. But its not just about preserving the (illegal) status quo - they're also snatching new surveillance powers and asserting that non-UK companies must obey UK spy-warrants at the same time.

This rushed attack on privacy is being supported by all three major parties. In other words, the entire UK establishment supports total metadata surveillance of all citizens, 24/7, with no need for suspicion, "just in case". In case of what? One of the reasons they give for this is that it will help them catch paedophiles. Which is a bit rich, coming from an institution which has covered up for them for decades.

If all this seems eerily familiar, its because its exactly what happened here: the courts found the spies had behaved illegally, and hey, presto! there's emergency legislation, rammed through under urgency, granting them a pile of new powers. The world over, politicians support spies. And if we want to get rid of the spies, we need to vote out the scum who legislate for them.

Two policies

Today, the Greens announced a billion dollar innovation policy, with tax credits and increased R&D spending, and incentives to study computer science or hard sciences at university. Its part of a sustained critique about what's wrong with the New Zealand economy, and the policy prescriptions are backed by some unexpected sources. No matter what you think of it, its clear that its a hefty policy and a serious attempt to solve some of our problems.

Meanwhile, Labour was announcing that would ban cosmetics tested on animals...

Its a welcome policy - but its like they're not even fighting on the same battlefield. Its that paucity of vision thing again: the Greens want to fundamentally change our economy and our society to make them more sustainable, both environmentally and socially. Labour wants things pretty much the same as they are now, only with less pointless cruelty to animal. An improvement, sure, but unless you're one of the animals concerned, one so mild, minor and unexciting that its barely worth voting for.

As we saw last week when they talked about education, Labour does well when it talks about big policy. If it wants to reconnect with the "missing million", it needs to do that more often, and promise people something different, not just more of the same with Trevor Mallard getting a ministerial salary.

Dunne and the GCSB

Peter Dunne isn't happy with the GCSB:

In a speech in Wellington last night, the United Future leader accused the Government Communications Security Bureau's director Ian Fletcher of trying to make Government decisions.

Mr Dunne said the first pillar Mr Fletcher laid out recently - that the agency should be "effective at defending the Government's own critical information against sophisticated cyber espionage, and against disruption from any source" - was a reasonable assumption.

But he had problems with Mr Fletcher's comments that the GCSB should be "conducting sophisticated intelligence activities against any legitimate target, no matter how hard", and that it should also be "a potent and effective contributor to military capability".

"With respect, I say to the director those are not his calls to make," Mr Dunne said.


The GCSB's credibility had been damaged by last year's disclosure that it may have spied illegally on 88 New Zealanders and it was up to the Government to decide what is a "legitimate target" and how the agency may contribute to military capability, Mr Dunne said.

"And as they are Government decisions, they should be formally conveyed by the minister to at least the intelligence and security committee and arguably the whole parliament, and then the GCSB required to report upon them," he said.

Dunne is completely right about the proper separation of powers: the GCSB is supposed to work for us, and that means it should follow priorities set by statute and their Minister. However, arguably they are: sections 8A - 8C of the GCSB Act define the functions of the Bureau as Information assurance and cybersecurity, (foreign) Intelligence gathering and analysis, and Co-operation with other entities to facilitate their functions (including the Defence Force). Peter Dunne voted for that legislation - indeed, his vote was the one that allowed it to be passed. If, like me, he thinks that the GCSB shouldn't have any role beyond securng the government's computers, then perhaps he shouldn't have voted for it?

And cheap-shots aside: I look forward to Dunne supporting legislation to gut the GCSB and eliminate its intelligence and defence support functions. Those functions have no place in a democratic society, and the sooner we cut the spies down to size, the safer we'll all be.

Earning that reputation XIII

In the real world, employees who make dubious expenses claims are disciplined or sacked. But in Parliament, Parliamentary services covers it up for you:

Claudette Hauiti has surrendered her parliamentary charge card after using it to pay for a Christmas trip to Australia.

The trip and other unauthorised spending on the card - known as a purchasing or p-card - led to the list MP returning it to Parliamentary Service in March.

Prime Minister John Key said in 2010 that the Government had "led the charge" on transparency of MPs' spending.

But Parliamentary Service has refused to detail the mis-spending on Hauiti's card or supply a total.

It also took more than a week for the National party to return calls.

(Naturally, Hauiti went throught he usual phases of lying, then claiming it was all too complicated, then blaming her underlings, within the space of four paragraphs. I think we can conclude from that where the real problem lies).

This is a prime example of why we need more transparency around MP's expenses. As we've seen with Ministers, people who are watched pay attention to their spending, and ensure that it can be justified. We don't see MPs putting their porn and pissups on the taxpayer's tab anymore, because they know that if they do, it will be on the front page of the Herald in three months time. Systems matter.

MPs complain that the public see them as greedy, grasping pricks. Their continued and ongoing refusal to do anything about this is why. Its perfectly within their power to impose a solution, both institutionally, and privately (in that they can practice transparency over their own spending, to force other MPs to follow their example). But somehow, they never do. This ongoing failure is something we can and should and do hold them collectively responsible for.