Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Against returning to Iraq

Last week the US announced a new bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Its hard to see how bombing will do any good (except for US defence contractors), and easy to see how it will cause blowback. To point out the obvious, mistakes are inevitable and accidents happen. Throw in toxic American attitudes to civilian casualties (they don't matter, unless they're Americans), and we're likely to have numerous atrocities which will serve as recruiting flags for terrorism - the very problem they're supposedly trying to stop. But if the only tool you have is jets with GPS-guided bombs, every problem looks like a wedding party...

Naturally, the british eagerly signed up as sidekicks in this counterproductive exercise, as did the Australians. So naturally, John Key "can't rule out" New Zealand getting involved:

New Zealand's elite Special Air Service (SAS) personnel are not yet on standby for deployment to combat Islamic State militants in Iraq or Syria, Prime Minister John Key says, but he won't rule out sending them if asked "as a last resort".

The US State Department has named New Zealand as one of more than 60 countries in the coalition supporting its efforts to counter Isis (Islamic State) but Mr Key yesterday said he hadn't yet received any requests for assistance.

However, he said that was probably partly because his Government hadn't yet been sworn in following this month's elections.

Asked whether he would send military personnel if requested, Mr Key said: "I can't rule out that there won't be because what you can see around the world is countries being asked to give support."

While I'd like to take his lack of enthusiasm at face value, we need to remember that this is a Prime Minister who sent kiwi soldiers to die in Afghanistan solely to suck up to the US. So, next week we'll probably be seeing kiwi soldiers getting on planes - because the National Party always puts America ahead of New Zealand.

It would be a mistake. This isn't our war, and there is no good to be done there. Meanwhile, joining in doesn't just mean the possibility of more dead soldiers; it also means becoming a terrorist target and potentially radicalising domestic opponents of our participation as well, as has happened across the Tasman. Key may think he can spy and oppress his way out of that, but that will impose significant costs to our democracy.

Rather than involving ourselves in another pointless American war, we should stay out of it. The contribution of a humane democracy should be aid to the victims, not soldiers to make more of them.

Key admits exiling people without trial

Back in February, we learned that John Key had responded to the "threat" of people travelling to Syria to participate in its civil war by cancelling their passports. This was done without any sort of due process or review, let alone trial, and it looked extremely dodgy from a legal standpoint. But it raised a bigger question: was it being done to prevent people from returning to New Zealand? The answer, it seems, is "yes":

Mr Key said New Zealand was aware both of New Zealanders looking to leave this country to fight for groups like Isis, and of some who were already doing so but who may want to return despite having their passports revoked.

So, to put that in plain English, John Key is using feudal powers to revoke passports to exile people without charge or trial. Which seems to be a fairly clear violation of the BORA's affirmation of freedom of movement, as well as of article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its contrary to both New Zealand and international law. But without the ability to return to New Zealand, in practice it cannot be challenged in court.

Shouldn't the media be asking questions about this?

The "Pacific solution" devolves into rape and child abuse

Australia's "Pacific solution" of imprisoning refugees in remote gulags in an effort to pschologically torture them into going home has turned into a catalogue of horrors: neglect, beatings and rapes, torture, and murder. And now they've got a new one: systematic sexual abuse:

Asylum seekers have made allegations of sexual abuse of women and children and threats of rape by guards working in the detention centre on Nauru.

One female detainee has detailed her claims to Fairfax Media and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, including threats that she would be raped if her refugee status was recognised and she was released into the Nauruan community.


The asylum seeker, who asked not to be identified, said guards in the detention centre were saying to female asylum seekers: "If you want to take a shower for more than two minutes, you have to show your body." She also said two guards told her: "When you get out of here, we have a plan for you. We are going to find you and f--- you."

Another asylum seeker alleged an Australian guard said he wanted to have sex with children on the island and forced two underage asylum seekers to perform sexual acts in front on him.

"He tried to have sex with them," she said. "He then made the children have sex with each other."

The Australian government is to blame for this. They dehumanised these people, imprisoned them in an environment where the guards have total power, and made it very clear that there would be no oversight. Which is pretty much a guaranteed recipe for abuse. And we should hold them, as well as the individual guards, accountable for what they've done.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A model for unaccountability

National signed its confidence and supply agreement with ACT today. The headline news is that David Seymour get more patronage from National, in the form of being appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Minister of Education and Parliamentary Under Secretary to the Minister for Regulatory Reform. For those who don't know, a Parliamentary Under Secretary (or PUS) is a rarely-used holdover from our Westminster roots. PUSes exercise specific delegated authority from Ministers, but are not members of the executive. They cannot be asked questions at Question Time (but can answer for an absent Minister), so their official conduct is not subject to Parliamentary oversight. And they're not subject to the Official Information Act. Case Note W44374 (no permalink, but you can look it up here) notes:

An Under-Secretary's appointment is not part of a Minister's appointment. The position of Parliamentary Under-Secretary is a distinct appointment made pursuant to s 8 of the Constitution Act 1986 by warrant of the Governor-General.

The post of Parliamentary Under-Secretary is not listed in Part II of the First Schedule to the Ombudsmen Act 1975 or in the First Schedule to the Official Information Act 1982. Neither is information held by an Under-Secretary deemed to be information "held" by the relevant Minister for the purpose of the Official Information Act.

In the circumstances, information held by an Under-Secretary is not "official information" for the purposes of the Official Information Act.

In other words, its a model for total unaccountability. Which raises serious questions about what the National government is trying to hide.

Its also highlighted a loophole in our OIA regime which needs to be plugged. Anyone want to bring a member's bill?

Pissing on the OIA

So, not only do our police juke the stats; they also deliberately flout the OIA to cover up evidence of their crime:

A damning internal police document has emerged that appears to show senior officers discussed not releasing embarrassing details about the "ghost crimes" controversy in which 700 burglaries vanished from official crime statistics.

The document, released under urgency to the Herald on Sunday after an anonymous tip-off, reaches to the top of the police force and has led to calls for an independent inquiry into the recoding controversy. It has also sparked division among top officers in the Counties Manukau district.


The memo, known within police as a job sheet, states John Tims had been advised by then-deputy commissioner Bush and assistant commissioner Allan Boreham not to respond to the request. Brady wrote: "(Tims) had been advised to let the request sit and when and if (3rd Degree) followed up with a request the matter would be addressed then.

"The direction to me was to not respond to the Official Information Act request and file the file as it is."

The police officers who gave that order - including Commissioner Mike Bush - claim it was all a (hugely convenient) misunderstanding. But from the requester's story, it is clear that the police delayed the request and systematically lied about it. Which simply isn't acceptable. Those responsible need to lose their jobs. Those charged with upholding the law cannot be allowed to flout it in this way.

But employment sanctions aren't enough. In Canada, its a crime punishable by two years imprisonment to destroy, falsify, or conceal information to undermine an AIA request, or to order or advise anyone to do the same. We should do the same here. At the least, it would provide those given unlawful orders like Tims with secure ground in refusing them.

New Fisk

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis, so why don’t we do it and save some lives?

May the best candidate win

Over the weekend, David Cunliffe bowed to the inevitable and resigned to seek a new mandate from his party. Good. After such an election loss, its appropriate that a party leader accepts responsibility. At the same time, they may still have something to offer, and its appropriate that the membership gets to decide. That's how we do things at a national level (through the interface of Parliamentary elections), and its how parties should do it too.

The fact that this has been greeted with near-universal horror by our political media tells us a great deal about their sniffy distrust of democracy. They would much rather have seen a deal stitched up behind closed doors and imposed on the Labour membership, without their input or consent. Which really makes you wonder if they'd prefer to see the makeup of Parliament decided in the same way...?

A leadership election will allow the best candidate to emerge, and provide them with a mandate from the party. And that's a Good Thing. The only way it could turn out badly is if the losers refuse to accept the choice of the membership and work to undermine and backstab the winners (as the Labour caucus did with Cunliffe, and as he did to Shearer). But that's a problem with Labour's toxic internal culture of backbiting and self-aggrandisement, not with elections.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The panopticon advances in Australia

While we've been having an election, the Australian government has been turning itself into a panopticon:

Australian spies will soon have the power to monitor the entire Australian internet with just one warrant, and journalists and whistleblowers will face up to 10 years' jail for disclosing classified information.

The government's first tranche of tougher anti-terrorism bills, which will beef up the powers of the domestic spy agency ASIO, passed the Senate by 44 votes to 12 on Thursday night with bipartisan support from Labor.

The bill, the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014, will now be sent to the House of Representatives, where passage is all but guaranteed on Tuesday at the earliest.

Anyone - including journalists, whistleblowers and bloggers - who "recklessly" discloses "information ... [that] relates to a special intelligence operation" faces up to 10 years' jail.

Any operation can be declared "special" by an authorised ASIO officer

This also gives ASIO immunity for criminal and civil liability in certain circumstances.

Which means that all those legal limits on spying in practice mean nothing, because any authorised ASIO officer can declare their operation immune from the law. Australians, do you feel safer now?

Naturally, this is all being driven by the current terrorism scare. But Australia doesn't have terrorists because of a lack of surveillance, it has terrorists because it chooses to radicalise its population with racism, oppression, and participation in unjust American wars. If Australia treated Muslims as citizens rather than terrorists, they wouldn't have a pool of people ready to be radicalised. And if they weren't so eager to jump on board every time the US wanted to bomb some kids in the Middle East, young Australian Muslims wouldn't view their own government as a co-conspirator in the murder of civilians.

This isn't rocket science. We've seen oppression and atrocity serve as recruitment tools again and again and again over the last decade. And still our governments don't learn, preferring to destroy our freedom rather than saving it.

(And once again, I'm very glad of our more tolerant society and our reluctance to participate in US wars, otherwise we'd have this problem here. Though I'm sure National will do its best to mess that up too...)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dirty politics continues as usual

Two of the central allegations of Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics were that the National Party was using a "two track" strategy of using "independent" bloggers such as Cameron Slater and David Farrar to deniably smear its opponents and intimidate its critics while keeping John Key's hands clean, and that it exercised a two tier system of access to official information, whereby it was withheld from critics but provided freely to its friends (including those deniable attack bloggers) to scoop or discredit the former.

We had a great example of the former before the election. Anne Tolley released an anti-gang strategy, but the numbers in it were deeply dubious. When sociologist Jarrod Gilbert pointed this out, he was repeatedly smeared by Farrar in an effort to silence him.

And now we have an example of the second. Because it turned out the Minister's figures were wrong. And news of this was leaked to Farrar early, so he could premptively apologise and forestall criticism.

In other words, despite a book detailing National's dirty tactics, they're still using them. And they'll keep doing it until voters start punishing them for it.

(Someone is looking into this, but no doubt they'll be told that the Minister was wearign her "MP" hat, even though she was providing official information which she does not legally hold or have access to in that role).

New Fisk

Syria air strikes: America’s attacks on Isis may help Bashar al-Assad keep his regime alive

Paula Bennett's microfinance scheme violated procurement rules

Back in August, in an effort to appear caring before the election, Paula Bennett announced a pilot microfinance scheme to drive loan-sharks out of business. BNZ would put up $10 million of capital, which would be loaned out by the government's providers, Good Shepherd New Zealand and the Salvation Army, interest-free. Its a great idea, and one which deserves to succeed. But there's a problem: documents released under the Official Information Act show that government procurement rules were not followed.

As the documents make clear, the government chose its partner bank through direct negotiations. That's not really a problem - no government money was being spent, and the scheme requires a bank to put up capital essentially out of goodwill. The problem is with the NGO partners, where Good Shepherd and the Salvation Army have been chosen seemingly out of the blue, without any discernible process. The most the documents say is that Good Shepherd is "BNZ's preferred NGO partner". But the government had already decided to give them a grant of $120,000 to fund establishment costs for the scheme, and is proposing followup funding of $872,500 over the next three years to fund its management (most of which will be explicitly subcontracted to the Salvation Army).

The Government Rules of Sourcing require a public tender process for any services contract costing more than $100,000. Those rules appear to have been ignored.

There may be a good reason for this (though its difficult to see one under the opt-out rules). But MSD refuses to release communications with its outside providers because its just too much work. Which invites the question: what are they hiding?

We have procurement rules to ensure that government contracting is accountable, non-discriminatory, and delivers value-for-money. In this case, we can't guarantee that. The Minister needs to explain why she ignored the rules here, and what the public benefit was from doing so. Otherwise, it simply looks like she and her department are simply delivering pork to favoured suppliers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Will Key act on child poverty?

While the left lost the election, it looks like we've won another battle in the war of ideas, with John Key being forced to at least pretend he wants to do something about child poverty:

Prime Minister John Key has asked his officials for fresh ideas on tackling child poverty.

On his first day back at Parliament since being re-elected on Saturday, Key said he had ordered Treasury and Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet officials to start presenting new ideas.


Key said it needed to be done without narrowing the gap between the incomes of those on benefits and those working, to ensure people were still encouraged into work.

Breakfasts in schools, free doctors’ visits for young children and tax credits for low and middle income families were examples of policies that could be used to tackle the problem, as could programmes such as Whanau Ora.

These aren't new ideas; they're ideas recommended by the Children's Commissioner, and to which the government went "yeah, nah". If they're revisiting that rejection, that's great, and I look forward to seeing some action. OTOH, Key could just be spinning the wheels, trying to give the illusion of action while in fact doing nothing, as they've done with so much else. Which is why we need to keep up the pressure. Child poverty is an obscenity in a rich society like ours, and its entirely a matter of government choice. We need to make them choose to solve it, rather than ignore it.

Criminalising the homeless

How are the dealing with the homeless in Christchurch? By making it effectively illegal for them to go to homeless shelters or food charities:

Up to 10 homeless people were arrested over the weekend for being unlawfully in an abandoned building and were issued with non-association orders by the Christchurch District Court.

The homeless people say they know they're breaking the law but when bad weather hits, there's no where else to go.

Every Tuesday lunchtime and Thursday night the city's homeless gather to receive food, blankets and clothing from charities and volunteer groups.

But those issued with non-association orders, say it makes these gatherings hard because they are at risk of breaching the order and being arrested.

Police say the non-association order is to stop people committing crimes with the same group.

But it won't - because these "crimes" are driven out of necessity, in order to survive. People need food, and they need a place to sleep in cold weather. Are the police seriously suggesting that we throw people in jail for that? Quite apart from being fundamentally immoral, its also hugely expensive, and it serves no purpose. Its just an exercise in pointless cruelty.

Solid Energy, Pike River, and John Key

Last night Campbell Live had a real scoop: documents released under the OIA showing that, contrary to Solid Energy's claims, the Pike River Mine had been safe to re-enter for over a year. While Solid Energy, the mine's new owners, are the obvious targets for some hard questions, there's another one: the Prime Minister. Key gave the families of Pike River victims an "absolute reassurance" that their loved ones bodies would be recovered. Since then he's been prevaricating. And he's said that the issue is safety. The obvious question then is this: did Solid Energy lie to the Prime Minister (and their shareholding Minister), or has Key been lying to the public?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ACT are rorters

ACT, the party "standing on your own two feet" and opposing rorts is to be offered a Ministerial role explicitly to give it more resources for party business:

The Prime Minister was today is talking up the possibility of making the [ACT's David Seymour] Associate Education Minister.

"When they have more staffing and resources as a result of a junior ministerial role it is easier from both their perspective and ours - otherwise we'd have an MP pretty much on his own with an EA (executive assistant) and it's very difficult to manage that overall party-to-party relationship."

So, very clearly, this is supposed to benefit ACT as a party. But while its ironic, contrary to my first impression its not illegal. While ministerial funding can only be used for "ministerial business", this includes:
hav[ing] a political role in maintaining government stability, which requires maintaining close working relationships with all other parties as issues arise.

Interestingly, this clause appears to have been added in 2009, to reflect a wider definition of Ministerial roles in the Cabinet Manual. Which was made in 2008 (compare earlier version) by the incoming National government, precisely so they could channel state resources to support their coalition partners.

If ACT stood by its principles, they would reject this, and demand reform of the Cabinet Manual to stop this backdoor state funding. But we know they won't.

The problem with Labour

And as night follows day, post-election we have another toxic round of Labour bloodletting. Obviously there needs to be accountability in the wake of an electoral thrashing, and a leadership vote is part of that. But there are good ways of handling that process, and bad ways of handling that process. Labour's MP's seem incapable of handling it with dignity and maturity, and instead seem intent on presenting themselves as a gaggle of ill-disciplined, self-serving careerists.

Which is a neat excuse to point you at this post from Danyl about what's wrong with Labour, in which he presents a "heirarchy of political needs":


Labour does great on the top two rungs. It does terribly on the bottom two. And as long as they continue to look like a barely competant fratricidal gaggle of rivals and enemies, who can't get along with themselves let alone their potential coalition partners, people will not vote for them.

Fixing this is a problem for Labour people, not me. But if they want to be in government in future, they need to sort their shit out and change the toxic internal culture which makes this sort of autocannibalism such a regular feature of their media narrative.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Saturday's result was a shock for the left. And for some, it was apparently so shocking that it can only have been the result of fraud. So they're petitioning the head of the Electoral Commission for a recount.

Naturally, they present no evidence - just their feeling that "something doesn't seem right", and that the result "makes no sense". Scarily, over 7,600 people agree with them.

This is utterly deranged. Any fraud would have to be widespread, across multiple polling places and districts. There would be evidence. And the thousands of party activists who volunteered to scrutinise the poll and the count would be speaking up about it. As would the electoral commission staff, returning officers and poll workers. Democracy goes deep in New Zealand, and people of all parties would be affronted by attempts to undermine it. Its just not the New Zealand way.

But the dumbest thing: every New Zealand election already receives a full recount (during which special votes are counted and the rolls are scrutinised to detect dual voting and failed personation). Only after that do the results become official. And after that, there's a whole judicial recount process if anyone has any concerns.

Still, there's a small mercy: at least they're not petitioning the Governor-General in the misguided belief that they have any constitutional role on this...

The threshold has to go

Another election, and once again we've been reminded of the unfairness the two major parties built into MMP in an effort to stack it for themselves and prevent competition. ACT got 14,510 votes and one seat in Parliament, while the Conservatives got 86,616 votes - almost six times as many - and none. While I do not like the Conservatives, that is not fair and it is not right.

This is not about the "electorate lifeboat" (which this election benefited the Maori Party and no-one else). It is about the threshold. It is an anti-democratic measure whose sole effect is to limit political competition and silence small parties unless they are lucky enough to win an electorate seat (or, in the case of ACT and United Future, be patronised by a larger one). We've seen that small parties can function effectively in Parliament as a voice for their voters, and we've seen that this doesn't affect the stability of the government one bit (to the contrary - a plurality of options means the government has an easier time passing legislation). And the counterfactual cases show that there is nothing to be afraid of here (though of course people would vote differently in such cases, just as they voted differently when their votes counted under MMP). There is simply no reasonable argument for maintaining such an anti-democratic measure in a democracy. The threshold has to go!

New Fisk

John Kerry’s rhetoric on Isis insults our intelligence and conceals the reality of the situation in Syria

MMP, electorates, and misaligned incentives

Amongst the post-election entrail reading, I've seen a couple of people suggest that one of the reasons labour lost was due to a lack of tactical voting by Greens. If only Green supporters had held their nose and voted tactically in Auckland Central, Christchurch Central, Ohariu, and other close electorate races, the left would be better off.

These people do not understand MMP.

In MMP, there is one vote that matters: your party vote. Unless you live in Epsom, Ohariu, Te Tai Tokerau or Waiariki (electorates where strong candidates from minor parties could have brought in more MPs), your electorate vote is irrelevant to the outcome. All it does is select who your local representative is. But because the overall distribution of seats in Parliament is set by the party vote, it doesn't change the final numbers unless there's an overhang.

And to use some specific examples: Green voters voting tactically for Jacinda Ardern in Auckland Central or Clayton Cosgrove in Waimakariri wouldn't have changed anything. These MPs would simply have become electorate MPs rather than list ones. Green voters voting tactically for Labour candidates in Ohariu or Christchurch Central would simply have traded Virginia Anderson or Tony Milne for Andrew Little or Sue Moroney (the last two people elected on Labour's list). In Ohariu, it would also have got rid of Peter Dunne, but as he's not bringing any extra MPs in, that's really just a question of how much you dislike him.

Basically, under MMP, unless you live in one of a handful of seats, electorates don't matter to the outcome, so you might as well vote for whichever candidate you like best.

What electorates do matter for is the prestige, survival and political careers of individual electorate candidates. And in the case of Labour, with a mix of electorate and list MPs and a strong FPP heritage, this causes misaligned incentives. The party wants party votes, but candidates - and especially candidates who have a low list ranking, or who have refused to go on the list - want your candidate vote. And so Labour had the joy of seeing a bunch of its electorate candidates put themselves first and run electorate-only campaigns, while letting the party vote wither. Their "success" in holding or taking electorates made no difference to the outcome, but did cost their party new blood (and the ability to get it through mid-term retirements) through the list. In some cases, it would have been better for the party if those candidates had lost, because while their list replacements are mediocre, they could at least have been forced out to make way for the new blood the party desperately needs.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A trifecta of electoral suck

This week has been a trifecta of electoral suck. First, Fiji voted for dictatorship. Then Scotland voted to remain subjugated to Westminster. And finally, New Zealand voted for a third-term majority National government.

The last boggles me. Not the fact of National's victory - that was expected, despite my hopes. But the fact that their vote went up, and delivered them an absolute majority on election night. The public appears to have endorsed National's dirty politics. And that's horrifying.

With a third term and an absolute majority (or, if they loose a seat on the specials, a de facto one from their ACT poodle), I doubt National will feel constrained by the moderation it has been forced to practice thus far. We've seen privatisation and assaults on the education system, the RMA and worker's rights. We can expect more. And we can expect the cuts to social support and working for families National has always wanted to make. Its not going to be pleasant to be poor or even middle class in New Zealand for the next three years. But it'll be great to be a millionaire banker like the Prime Minister. We won't get action on climate change. We won't get action on inequality and child poverty. We won't get measures to deflate the housing bubble and allow kiwis to own their own homes again. But the rich will get a tax cut in 2017, funded by increased misery for the poor. Because at the end of the day, that's what National stands for.

I don't expect Labour to provide credible opposition to this. They've had an influx of right-wing cuckoo electorate MPs to add to the usual suspects, and so they'll spend the next three years engaged in the same division and backbiting they've wasted the last three on. Instead, the heavy lifting will be left - again - to the Greens. They underperformed as well this election, but at least have held their own against the landslide. So they'll spend another three years winning the argument and reshaping the policy landscape in their image. Its not change, but it lays the foundations for the future. And hopefully, one day, we'll get to see those policies in action.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining: a majority National government means that I get three more years of easy bloggage. I'd rather I didn't though.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Scotland went to the polls in a referendum on independence yesterday, and while the last results are still coming in, appear to have voted "no". Its not the result I wanted, but the people have spoken.

In the leadup to the poll, the British establishment promised that a "no" vote would result in more devolution to Scotland, and independence in all but name. Now they need to deliver on that promise. Sadly, I have no faith in the establishment to do the right thing here. The Tories are already backing away from it, and seem to want to use the referendum as an excuse to cut Scotland's funding and punish them for trying to leave. Which just means they'll find themselves facing another referendum in six or ten year's time - and this time people won't believe their promises.

Meanwhile, its worth reflecting on the positive here: on current results the referendum had the highest turnout of any vote in the UK since records began, just pipping the 1950 general election's record of 83.9%. Even if that drops, its a triumph for democracy and grassroots campaigning. It turns out that if you give people something worth voting for, they will. Hopefully, the UK's political parties will learn something from this too, rather than continuing to offer three different shades of the same NeoLiberal shit sandwich.


Today is Suffrage Day, the 121st anniversary of the day women won the right to vote in New Zealand. Its rightfully a day on which we celebrate our democratic heritage (and it should be a public holiday, dammit).

Its also the last day of the 2014 general election campaign.

Whatever the result, the campaign has already been a tremendous success for democracy, with over 550,000 advance votes recorded. Add in today, and we're looking at anywhere from 700 to 800 thousand - over 20% of the entire electorate. Its a tremendous level of engagement, and it shows the value of the New Zealand way of making voting easy.

In previous elections, I've pushed people to party vote left. It doesn't matter which of Labour, the Greens, or Internet-Mana you vote for, because any of them will support a change in government and a dramatic shift in policy. As for myself, I'll be voting Green again. I seriously considered Internet-Mana, because I want to see the internet freedom agenda (and Laila Harre's left-wing take on it) represented in Parliament. But in the end, I like the Green lineup better than theirs. I'll give my electorate vote to Iain Lees-Galloway, because I like him both as an electorate and Labour MP (and Jono Naylor is corrupt and dishonest). Your mileage may vary, of course. But no matter what your political opinions, vote. Your voice may be one in 3.4 million, but it still matters. As Kate Sheppard said,

Do not think your single vote does not matter much. The rain that refreshes the parched ground is made up of single drops

Keep that in mind on election day.

Because of the "no campaigning on the day" rule, I won't be blogging or tweeting on election day. I'll be tweeting after 19:00, and I'll probably post something on Sunday once the results sink in a bit.

Ending "scientific" whaling

Last night at a meeting in Slovenia, the International Whaling Commission closed the "scientific" whaling loophole, voting by a clear majority to enforce the International Court of Justice's ruling and require that such whaling actually be done for science. Future scientific whaling programs will have to be approved by the IWC's scientific committee to ensure that non-lethal methods are considered and that any killing of whales is done for valid scientific purposes rather than to fill Japanese freezers.

Its great news, but there's a problem: Japan has already declared that it will defy the ruling (and the ICJ):

But Japanese diplomats at the summit in Slovenia said that they would not be bound by the resolution because they took a different interpretation of the ICJ ruling, and would proceed with the new round of research whaling in the Southern Ocean that they had already declared.

“We are disappointed with their announcement,” Gerard Van Bohemen, the leader of the New Zealand delegation told the Guardian. “We thought it important that there was a strong statement agreed about the interpretation and application of the court’s decision but in the end it wasn’t possible to reach consensus on that.”

So, next year we're going to have a renegade nation murdering whales in the Southern Ocean in defiance of international law.

Shouldn't we do something about that?

Our democracy is at stake

Another day, another story about the National government's corrupt abuse of the OIA - this time from Customs:

A former high-ranking Customs lawyer says he resigned from his job after allegedly being told to bury information that could embarrass the Government.

Curtis Gregorash said he was told by senior Customs executives to refuse Official Information Act and Privacy Act requests, which he believed was at the direction of former Customs Minister Maurice Williamson.


"The direction came down (from the minister) through the CEO (Carolyn Tremain) and group manager (of legal services) Peter Taylor to me saying 'you don't release anything - I don't care what the OIA says, I'd rather fight it in the courts'."

Mr Gregorash said it was as if ministers were prepared to say: "F*** the OIA, I'd rather fight it through the Ombudsman because it takes three years."

Mr Gregorash said the alleged instruction came during a briefing from Mr Taylor to the legal team in which he referred to Ms Tremain and meeting with Mr Williamson.

"I resigned over it. I couldn't stare my staff in the face and say this is actually serious conduct that's being presented to you in a lawful way."

As the Ombudsman points out, our democracy is at stake here. The OIA is a vital tool for scrutinising politicians and holding them to account. But it, and its oversight mechanism, work on trust. As a requester, I have to trust that officials will apply the law and not ignore it. And the Ombudsman herself trusts officials to giver her the full information when someone complains, and to work in good faith with her in negotiating complaints. The idea that an entire department has been instructed by its Minister to just ignore the law strikes at the heart of that, and undermines the entire system. And what it shows is that a) we need a more robust OIA system, where agencies can be compelled to surrender information; and b) we desperately, desperately need to clean our democratic house.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland decides

The polls open in Scotland's independence referendum in a little over two hours. The British establishment has pulled out all the stops in an effort to terrorise and bully the Scots into staying part of the UK, even threatening that they wouldn't be able to watch Dr Who anymore (because people outside the UK apparently can't, and Hadrian's Wall stops TV broadcasts as well as invading Picts). Meanwhile, the "yes" campaign has run a positive campaign focused on appealing to people's hopes and aspirations. As a result, the Scots are hugely engaged in this decision, 97% of them are enrolled, and turnout is expected to be huge. Strangely, if you give people something worth voting for, rather than a choice of three "different" packs of corrupt NeoLiberals, they vote. Who'd have thunk it?

The result at this stage is too close to call - the polls have a narrow lead for "no", but its statistically insignificant, and with the turnout, its anyone's game. But no matter which way Scotland votes, the UK is going to be different tomorrow. The British establishment has united to offer Scotland further devolution, and this has put it on the agenda for other regions of the UK as well. Its also produced a nasty backlash from English imperialists, who want to punish the Scots if they vote "no" (no, I don't understand the logic either). The UK can't avoid discussing its constitution now, and that struggle will be fascinating to watch (but posisbly not pleasant for those experiencing it). And if Scotland votes "yes", a new country will be born, and a despised Tory Prime Minister will probably fall...

Right to the top

Thanks to the Ombudsman, we now know the identity of the staff member in the Prime Minister's office who was briefed by the SIS over its release of classified material to Cameron Slater: (former) Deputy Chief of Staff Phil De Joux.

Its unclear at this stage whether de Joux himself asked for the briefing or whether someone higher up did - but either way it suggests that dirty politics went right to the top of the Key government, and was almost certainly known about by Key himself. To point out the obvious, a deputy chief of staff doesn't receive a briefing on the release of classified material and not tell the Prime Minister. Which makes the next question what did Key know and when did he know it?

A hole in our democratic protections

There's been a couple of stories in the media over the last few days about voting by the intellectually disabled, focusing on the risk of abuse. The right, as always, are using this as an argument to limit the franchise by imposing a competency test (at which point we should keep in mind that many of them are quite open in their belief that anyone who doesn't vote for ACT is literally insane and cannot be trusted to vote "properly"). Meanwhile, they've missed the bigger problem:

In Hamilton, Bupa Rossendale and Dementia Care Hospital manager Adriana Ciolpan said their 90 residents were deemed incompetent by medical professionals and could not vote.

"Medically, they are not deemed able to vote. They are all under power of attorney," Ciolpan said.

"We follow legal requirements.

"We can't make them vote. We cannot accept voting papers for them because we don't want someone else to abuse them. They have been deemed incompetent and that's a legal document," she said.

"All the letters we receive, we send them back saying they're incompetent and can't vote. It should be the same everywhere," Ciolpan said. "But if they are not deemed incompetent by a doctor, we cannot stop them from voting."

Andrew Geddis thinks this is OK because those affected lack the requisite intention to vote. Which may or may not be true depending on the particular individual. But there's also the fact that electoral enrolment is compulsory and failing to do so is a crime. And by doing this, this hospital is making criminals of its residents.

And this exposes a bigger problem. I looked in vain for a clause in the Electoral Act which made preventing someone from registering to vote a crime, and could not find one. And this is a huge hole in our democratic protections. We rightly protect the right to vote with the secret ballot and protection from intimidation; we do this because in the past the rich have threatened to punish the poor for voting against them, or for voting at all. But they don't need to do any of that if they can just stop you from registering as an elector. Clearly, we need to protect the right to register in the same way.

Fiji: Voting for dictatorship

Fijians went to the polls yesterday in the first democratic elections in eight years. And with slightly more than half the ballots counted, it looks like they've given dictator Voreqe Bainimarama a clear majority. There's been no allegations of fraud, so it looks like the result is the clear will of the Fijian people.

I'm appalled. I thought Fijians were better than that. Bainimarama seized power at gunpoint, silenced the media, and used intimidation, beatings and torture to retain power. And Fijians voted for him? I guess you get the government you deserve...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Climate change: Saving the world might not cost anything

One of the core assumptions of the climate policy debate has been that stopping climate change will cost us. It might not be very much - a few percent less economic growth over twenty years - but the assumption has been that the economic effect will be negative. Now, a new report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate suggests that that might not be true:

A global commission will announce its finding on Tuesday that an ambitious series of measures to limit emissions would cost $4 trillion or so over the next 15 years, an increase of roughly 5 percent over the amount that would likely be spent anyway on new power plants, transit systems and other infrastructure.

When the secondary benefits of greener policies — like lower fuel costs, fewer premature deaths from air pollution and reduced medical bills — are taken into account, the changes might wind up saving money, according to the findings of the group, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

There's some stuff in the article about the difficulty of estimating benefits and the supposed impossibility of assigning monetary value to lives saved. But governments do this all the time. In New Zealand, we work out whether it is worth fixing an accident blackspot by comparing the cost to the value of lives saved (which apocryphally we value at a million dollars each). We assess home insulation schemes by the value of lives saved, hospitalisations prevented, and sick-days avoided. And we do the same with air quality standards. You can quibble the precise numbers, but such cost-benefit analyses are widely accepted, and they're not exactly rocket science.

The bigger problem is that while benefits may outweigh costs globally, they may not locally. Greenhouse gases are overwhelmingly emitted by the rich world, but the resulting environmental damage will be largely inflicted on the poor. Which means that those lives saved simply may not be on the balance sheets of polluter nations. And that's the real problem right there.

Key admits the GCSB has broken the law

When on Monday Edward Snowden alleged that New Zealand data was held in the NSA's XKEYSCORE database, and that the GCSB had access to it, Key refused to comment. Now he's come clean and admitted that Snowden "may well be right". But its all OK because (according to Key) the information wasn't gathered by GCSB. Except then he says that it is:

"However, what I can say in terms of those kinds of Five Eyes databases... yes New Zealand will contribute some information but not mass, wholesale surveillance as people might say."
Parsing this, John Key is clearly saying that the GCSB is collecting (some) information on New Zealanders for intelligence purposes. The problem? That's absolutely illegal. While Key inserted a nice little loophole allowing metadata spying for cybersecurity purposes, his spy law still explicitly bans the GCSB from spying on New Zealanders for intelligence purposes. Which raises the obvious question: are the GCSB breaking the law by spying on kiwis for intelligence purposes, or are they breaking the law by spying for cybersecurity then using the information for intelligence purposes anyway? I think we deserve some answers on this.

Also note: if the GCSB has access to XKEYSCORE, and XKEYSCORE has information on New Zealanders, then arguably they've intercepted it even if that information has been collected by another agency, as they have "acquired" it. And if they actually look at it, there's no "arguable" about it. Acquiring or receiving a communication, or acquiring its "substance, meaning, or sense" (meaning a summary or translation) is legally intercepting it, and if done without a lawful warrant (and again, no warrant on a New Zealander for intelligence purposes is lawful) is a crime. So, GCSB staff trained in XKEYSCORE: congratulations, you're all criminals.

Taking a stand against dirty politics

A month ago, Nicky Hager published Dirty Politics, and set this election on fire. Today, over 2,100 people took a stand against the dirty politics he revealed, through a crowdfunded full-page ad in the Herald


(Image stolen from @DirtyPoliticsNZ)

Collectively, we're calling for a royal commission into dirty politics, the restoration of democracy in Canterbury, freedom of speech for academics and community leaders, better public broadcasting, and better freedom of information laws. Hopefully, the next government will listen.

New Fisk

Islamic State: Assad lures Obama into his web

Fiji votes

Fijians are heading to the polls today in the first elections since the 2006 coup. Good - Fiji deserves an elected government, not an unelected dictator. But the dictator is fighting hard to stop it. There's the weird ballot paper seemingly designed to frustrate voters, the disqualification of opposition candidates, and a pre-election media blackout which in practice applies only to the opposition. And of course, there's the ultimate threat: if voters don't rubberstamp the dictator, he'll just launch another coup.

The polls close at six, but full results could take up to a week. But hopefully we'll have an indication well before then of whether Fiji has voted to rid itself of its dictator, or entrench him.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Advance voting again

Another day, more incredible advance voting statistics:


287,735 of us have already voted. And with four days to go, I think we can safely assume that it will reach 650,000. Which on current enrolment figures, means almost 20% of the potential electorate will have voted in advance.

Historically, advance votes have tended to swing right. But with twice as many as before, its anyone's guess. Its also anyone's guess how much of this represents increased turnout versus people getting it done early. But I'd guess that we're probably going to see a slight bump in turnout, perhaps as much as 5%. Which should be good news no matter who you support.

A solid policy

While National is teasing people with promises of tax cuts maybe sometime, the Greens have introduced another small but solid policy: a maternity box. Based on the Finnish maternity box (which reduced their infant mortality and is one of the reasons it is among the lowest in the world), its basically a start kit for new parents. If Finland is anything to go by, its likely to have a dramatic effect on newborn health, and all for a mere $15 million.

It also shows how cheap it can be to solve some of our pressing social problems. Baby boxes and food in schools don't cost the earth (on the government spending scale these are trivial policies, just above pocket change) but they can have a dramatic effect. National's refusal to implement them is purely a matter of choice and priorities, not cost. And when the cost is so low, and the evil they address so great, you really have to wonder how twisted and selfish our government's priorities are...

The Chewbacca defence

People may remember this old South Park classic. Faced with a case he cannot win, a lawyer attempts to distract the jury by introducing irrelevant material and claiming it's a defence.

That's pretty much what John Key has done over allegations that the GCSB spied on New Zealanders. Confronted with documentary evidence of a GCSB program called SPEARGUN to tap the Southern Cross Cable and spy on all our international internet traffic, Key declassified and released documents relating to a completely different GCSB spying program. SPEARGUN is about tapping cables. Key's CORTEX is about using off-the-shelf software to protect select government departments and key businesses from malware. There's no relation between the two. Like the wookie says, "it does not make sense".

But Key doesn't need it to make sense. Instead, he just wants to create the impression that he's presented a defence, relying on people's respect for his office and belief that the Prime Minister of New Zealand wouldn't blatantly lie to people's faces to do the rest. He's used this tactic before, successfully. Hopefully, with so much on the line, it will fail this time.

Arrest the NSA

Last night's "Moment of Truth" produced only one big revelation: according to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, the NSA have two bases in New Zealand: one in Auckland and in the north.

Lets be clear: if the NSA are intercepting communications or accessing computer systems from New Zealand, they are breaking New Zealand law. They need to be arrested and prosecuted. If convicted, they need to be jailed, deported, and their equipment and buildings seized as instruments of crime.

We should not allow foreign spies to break the law here. Its that simple. Stopping them is supposed to be the GCSB and SIS's job. If they permit it, or turn a blind eye, we can only conclude that they don't work for us anymore and that they need to be shut down.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The other option for the left

While everyone was rightly paying attention to the Key / Dotcom / GCSB revelations today, Winston Peters made a modest proposal: another Labour-NZ First coalition:

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said today that voters should consider a Labour-New Zealand First as a potential alternative Government, not Labour and Greens, in what is the most definitive statement from him yet on post-election options.

That suggests that would keep the Green Party away from the cabinet table in any Labour-Led Government as he did in 2005.

I would prefer to see a Labour-Green government, and it would be very disappointing to see the Greens shut out again. But even Labour-NZ First would be better than what we have at present. If the numbers work, I can't see the Greens as having any real choice over supporting such a government over confidence and supply. And given the policy convergence on the left (which includes NZ First), I think they'd be happy with the broad general direction of such a government, even though many of the specific policies would not go far enough. Provided they get some redlines thwarting Winston on immigration in exchange for confidence and supply, they could then negotiate policy MOUs in areas of interest - or just sit on the crossbenches and subject every proposal to a Green veto to maximise concessions.

The GCSB is tapping all our traffic

This morning, John Key categorically denied that the GCSB had tapped the Southern Cross Cable.

But according to an article by Gleen Greenwald just published in The Intercept, he lied about that too:

Top secret documents provided by the whistleblower demonstrate that the GCSB, with ongoing NSA cooperation, implemented Phase I of the mass surveillance program code-named “Speargun” at some point in 2012 or early 2013. “Speargun” involved the covert installation of “cable access” equipment, which appears to refer to surveillance of the country’s main undersea cable link, the Southern Cross cable. This cable carries the vast majority of internet traffic between New Zealand and the rest of the world, and mass collection from it would mark the greatest expansion of GCSB spying activities in decades.

Upon completion of the first stage, Speargun moved to Phase II, under which “metadata probes” were to be inserted into those cables. The NSA documents note that the first such metadata probe was scheduled for “mid-2013.” Surveillance probes of this sort are commonly used by NSA and their partners to tap into huge flows of information from communication cables in real time, enabling them to extract the dates, times, senders, and recipients of emails, phone calls, and the like. The technique is almost by definition a form of mass surveillance; metadata is relatively useless for intelligence purposes without a massive amount of similar data to analyze it against and trace connections through.


the documents indicate that Speargun was not just an idea that stalled at the discussion stage. It was a system GCSB actively worked to implement. One top secret 2012 NSA document states: “Project Speargun underway.” Another top secret NSA document discussing the activities of its surveillance partners reports, under the heading “New Zealand,” that “Partner cable access program achieves Phase I.”

Critically, the NSA documents note in more than one place that completion of Speargun was impeded by one obstacle: The need to enact a new spying law that would allow the GCSB, for the first time, to spy on its own citizens as well as legal residents of the country. As one NSA planning document put it, completion of Speargun was “awaiting new GCSB Act expected July 2013.”

Key has of course said that his spy law did not legalise metadata spying. But he lied about that too; it was the whole purpose of the law.

But this is no longer about the Prime Minister's honesty - it is about our freedom. Our own spies have conspired to tap all our international phone and internet traffic. And they've had a law passed to make it all legal, while getting the Prime Minister to systematically lie to the public about what it entailed. The presence of the GCSB is no longer compatible with our democracy. We must vote their pawns out and shut them down.

The left returns in Sweden

Swedes went to the polls yesterday to elect a new Parliament - and returned the left to power after eight years of right-wing government. The reason? The right's assault on social democracy was a betrayal of Swedish values:

Many Swedes are worried that reforms under Reinfeldt have gone too far, weakening healthcare, allowing business to profit from schools at the expense of results and dividing a nation that has prided itself on equality into haves and have-nots.

Voters have been shocked by scandals over privately-run state welfare – including one case where carers at an elderly home were reportedly weighing diapers to save money – and bankruptcies of privately run schools.

"We need to re-find our values, those that say we take care of each other, that it is not all about the rich getting it better," said Sofia Bolinder, playing with her young daughter in a playground after voting in the suburb of Skarpnack in southern Stockholm. Bolinder, in her 30s, said she voted for a party "on the left".

But its not going to be easy. Sweden has a pariah party - the racist, anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats - which no-one will deal with. And as they won 13% of the vote, minority government is inevitable. Normally that would be easy, due to Nordic consensus seeking, but the outgoing government is playing hardball. So coalition negotiations are going to be difficult...

Key lied about knowing Dotcom

Back in 2012, John Key told us he had never heard of Kim Dotcom until the day before the infamous raid.

He lied about that too:

The email being relied on by Dotcom is dated October 27, 2010 and is purported to be from Warner Brothers chairman and chief executive Kevin Tsujihara to a senior executive at the Motion Picture Association of America - the lobby group for the Hollywood studios.


The claimed email reads: "We had a really good meeting with the Prime Minister. He's a fan and we're getting what we came for. Your groundwork in New Zealand is paying off. I see strong support for our anti-piracy effort.

"John Key told me in private that they are granting Dotcom residency despite pushback from officials about his criminal past. His AG will do everything in his power to assist us with our case. VIP treatment and then a one-way ticket to Virginia.

"This is a game changer. The DOJ is against the Hong Kong option. No confidence in the Chinese. Great job."

I guess when the PM said this morning that there were "no records", he didn't stop to think that other people might have kept some, however informal.

But while it matters to Dotcom, its small news compared to the GCSB revelations. What it does tell us though is that Key is a liar, and a systematic one at that. He has consistently been deceitful with us on this issue. And if he's lied about this, what else has he lied about?

Do the people of New Zealand really want a proven liar as Prime Minister?

New Fisk

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies might have reminded the Arabs of Sadat

Key lies to us again

When Gleen Greenwald spoke on Saturday morning and accused the GCSB of engaging in mass-surveillance, John Key was absolutely unequivocal: it didn't happen. His spies had apparently looked into a mass surveillance program, but it had never been implemented.

Now he's telling us that part of it was implemented:

Mr Key has said the GCSB was working on a business study for a form of "mass cyber protection" following cyber attacks on several large New Zealand companies. Mr Key had told them it was too broad a net. However, this morning he indicated it had gone ahead on a limited capacity.

"I said I think it's too broad .. so in the end I said let's set it at a much more narrow level."

And tomorrow he'll no doubt be telling us that OK, he gave them everything they wanted, but its not "mass surveillance".

He was also quite unequivocal this morning that "we don't use our partners to circumvent the law" (another claim he has made repeatedly). Greenwald apparently has documents that show they do. What will it be then? "we only circumvent the law a little bit?"

And this is the problem in a nutshell: Secrecy lets our leaders lie to us. It lets spies get away with breaking the law (88 cases revealed as a result of Dotcom, plus whatever we learn tonight), and no-one can be held accountable for it. And when there's a hint of transparency around wrongdoing, we get selective declassification to protect the Prime Minister's reputation (something which raises some very pointy questions).

That's just wrong. When government agents break the law, they should be punished just like any other person. And the Ministers and officials who are supposed to make sure they don't need to lose their jobs. Secrecy and spies are a barrier to that. And that's why we need to end both.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"National security" or "National's security"?

So, John Key has decided to double down on Glenn Greenwald's revelations about GCSB spying, promising to declassify and release documents showing that a proposed panopticon was discussed but never implemented:

Mr Key has admitted for the first time that yes, New Zealand spies did look into what he calls a "mass protection" option that he concedes could have been seen as "mass surveillance" or "wholesale spying", but that, and this is the important bit, he says it never actually went ahead.

Mr Key has revealed that after two major cyber-attacks on New Zealand companies, in late 2011 and early 2012, the GCSB stared to look at options with the help of partner agencies like the NSA.

But Mr Key says this idea never got past the business case stage because he deemed it too invasive.

This was before the Snowden leaks, and Mr Key says the fact he said no is why he has been able to be so resolute that there was no mass spying on Kiwis.

Mr Key believes that Snowden and Mr Greenwald have presentation slides, documents and wiring diagrams relating to the mass protection/surveillance option, but says they are missing the crucial fact that it never went ahead.

Mr Key has promised to declassify and release top-secret documents proving this, either tomorrow or the next day, getting in ahead of Dotcom and Mr Greenwald.

Firstly, I welcome this release. The more we know about what our spies are doing in our name, the better. And if they planned a panopticon, we need to know, so we can sack everyone responsible and never let them work in a public service role ever again.

At the same time, it should make all of us uncomfortable for what it reveals. As the SIS's Security in the Government Sector manual makes clear, information is supposed to be classified only for valid reasons of national security. Looking at similar NSA documents, the information Key wants to release is likely classified SECRET or TOP SECRET. That means its release would cause "serious" or "exceptionally grave" damage to security or intelligence operations (see p. 55 - 58). You and I may not agree with those operations, or their idea of "national security", but Key and the GCSB supposedly do - and those concerns don't disappear simply because the PM decides it would be politically useful to release. Unless of course in their eyes, "national security" means "National's security".

Its worth remembering that Key and his office are already under investigation by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security for politically-motivated declassification decisions. I think this proves the case. It also shows that our "national security" apparatus is politicised and rotten to the core. Time to shut it down.

Finally, consider this: what makes public servants pay attention to the classification system and its security theatre? Because they believe that its actually about "national security". The Prime Minister has just shown that its not, and is treating it like a joke. There's now no reason for anyone in the GCSB, NZDF, SIS or MFAT not to do the same. My PGP key and email address is in the sidebar, and I'll publish anything classified you send me. Let the leaks begin!

John Key lied to us about spying

Last year, in the wake of the Snowden revelations, John Key promised that he and GCSB chief executive Ian Fletcher would both resign if there had been NSA-style mass surveillance in New Zealand.

We may have to take him up on that promise.

The Nation this morning interviewed journalist Glenn Greenwald [video], who is here for Kim Dotcom's "moment of truth" on Monday. Greenwald has been working for the past few months on the New Zealand documents from the Snowden leak. While he's saving the real revelations for Monday night, he did make one thing clear: these documents show that Key was not telling the truth when he assured us that the GCSB was not conducting mass-surveillance in New Zealand. In other words, the GCSB has been spying on us.

But this isn't just a political scandal. If true, its a crime on a massive scale - because up until 26 September 2013, there was an absolutely unequivocal legal ban on any interception by the GCSB of New Zealanders. And yes, that includes metadata. If the GCSB has been engaged in anything like what the NSA has been doing, the entire organisation should go to jail (either for directly intercepting or disclosing communications, or as a party or co-conspirator in the above). And so should any politician who signed off on it.

(As for post September 2013, if Key wants to admit that he legalised previously unlawful behaviour, a) that's not what he told us at the time; and b) that just cements the case against him and his spies).

Sadly, we know how this will work: the Prime Minister will spin, deny and call it a "left-wing smear campaign", the Inspector-General of Intelligence and security will bring out the whitewash, and the police will refuse to prosecute even the clearest case of criminal wrongdoing by the powerful. Which means we will have to take matters into our own hands. If Greenwald backs up his claims with hard evidence on Monday, we will need to launch a private prosecution of the GCSB director and Prime Minister. Anyone want to make the arrest?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Protecting privatisation

Privatisation has a problem: democracy. Contracts written by one government can be cancelled by the next. This is obviously bad for the profits of government cronies. But in the UK, they've hit upon a solution: poison pill "penalty payments" for cancellation:

Taxpayers will face a £300m-£400m penalty if controversial probation privatisation contracts are cancelled after next May's general election under an "unprecedented" clause that guarantees bidders their expected profits over the 10-year life of the contract.

Labour is already committed to unpicking the justice ministry contracts to outsource probation services but will not now be able to do so without incurring the multimillion pound bill because of "poison pill" clauses written in by Chris Grayling's department.

The Ministry of Justice say they are only following Treasury guidance by including the clause, which raises the prospect that similar clauses are being included in other politically controversial contracts across Whitehall that are to be signed before next May's general election.

This is an obscene attempt to undermine the democratic process, and it exposes these contracts for what they are: a means to hand out money to government cronies. But fortunately there's a solution to them: legislation. The question is whether UK Labour has the spine to do that, or whether it will continue to collaborate in the privatisation agenda. And sadly, I think we all know what the answer will be...

Ending student fees is possible and affordable

Internet-Mana launched their free tertiary education policy today, promising exactly what it says on the label: an end to fees, universal student allowances, and eventual debt writeoffs. Its a clear point of difference with the other left parties. The Greens want to work towards all of the above, but make no specific commitments. Labour, full of former student politicians and reliant on students for its election volunteers, doesn't give a shit (of course they don't. It was Phil Goff who introduced fees and loans and means-tested student allowances in the first place).

So how much would this cost? Not that much:

Fee-free study would cost $568 million, and the implementation of a universal student allowance would cost $570m.

(Debt relief could cost a lot more, but it all depends on the book-value of debt that will never be repaid)

Which is less than National wants to give away in tax cuts, and less than Labour gave away in 2008. It won't break the bank to do it; the question, as always, is one of priorities. I can understand putting it behind child poverty (because that really is the moral challenge of our time), but behind forking money over to the rich? I would rather have a fully funded public education (and health, and welfare) system than give a single cent to them.

New Fisk

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Lets do the time warp again

A week out from the election, and we're back in 2011, with political journalists (whose mindset is still stuck in FPP's two opposing tribes) boggling over the Greens statement that they are "highly unlikely" to work with National, and (purely on the basis that they won't rule it out) suggesting that the Greens must therefore be planning to give confidence and supply to the current National government.

As Russel Norman makes clear in that interview, the Greens' position is set by their membership, which reconfirmed their 2011 position. You can read it here. And to save myself the effort of writing another post, I'm simply going to quote what I said about it last time:

Being a party of policy rather than tribalism, they're not willing to rule [support for National] out entirely. But being a party of policy, any assessment is going to be based on the merits, and the degree of compatibility between National and Green positions. And any honest assessment would show that the two parties are deeply incompatible.

The Greens support clean rivers. National wants farmers to dirty them for greater profits. The Greens want action on climate change. National is still a party of deniers, who wants to subsidise polluters. The Greens want an end to offshore drilling. National's plans for economic growth are predicated on it. The Greens want to reduce inequality. National wants to increase it. Unless National changes its position on most of these issues, then there is no hope of the Greens putting National into government. And if people think that the Green leadership will be seduced by the baubles of office, remember that its the wider membership who will have the final say on any arrangement. I think its "highly unlikely" that they would support any arrangement which saw the Greens providing confidence and supply to the current National Party. But if they do, well, they'll get what they vote for. Coalition with a friendly party with a high degree of policy compatibility is fraught enough. Coalition with a party fundamentally opposed to your values seems to be a slow and unpleasant form of suicide.

The other point I'd make is that being a party based on policy means always being open to the possibility of cooperation, even if you recognise that in practice, its never going to happen.

What is interesting in that interview is Norman's wriggling over the question of their relationship with Labour. Espiner (in horse-race mode as usual) interprets this in terms of coalition preferences, and so misses the real picture. In the long term, the Greens want to throw off their "junior partner" status and be recognised as the leading party on the left (rather than just being it in practice). This means eating Labour's vote and supplanting them as the largest party. Labour's failure to gain any traction during this campaign is an opportunity to advance that project, and present themselves as an effective, growing, principled party in contrast to a bunch of stagnant tired has-beens. That's pretty obvious, but there's a world of difference between recognising it, and telling Labour MPs openly on the radio "we're coming for your jobs".

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In case anyone had forgotten

The moment of truth is nearly here:


A clear difference on child poverty

Last night's 3 News leader's debate finally gave us a clear difference between the leaders. On the subject of child poverty, David Cunliffe was absolutely clear:

I have to say that I was pretty shocked to see those schools that have the empty desks on your show where children like mine and yours went to school with no lunches. And I was just as shocked to see the empty fridges. And at the end of the day that's what this is about. We've got a hundred thousand children in New Zealand that are growing up in working families, working families, who just don't earn enough to feed them. And then we've got another 160,000 children growing up on benefits, or sole-parent households, who haven't got a chance. And so we just simply must help this. And I want to say this: if I'm elected Prime Minister, this will be my personal number one priority. This is why I am in politics. I will not stand by and see kids hungry when they go to school. It is not good enough. We are better than that!

I'm going to come back on this program, each and every year as Prime Minister, and I am going to give you hard data on exactly how many children our programmes, like Best Start, $60 a week per child, have lifted out above the poverty line. It will be my top priority. I say that solemnly.

Its even more powerful when you watch it [from 3:05]. Yes, Labour helped create this problem. But I don't think we can doubt that Cunliffe recognises it as a moral challenge which we have to solve. Compare that to Key. He dodges. He minimises. He blames the victims. The short version of his response is that "of course" we have to do something, but its not really as bad as you think, and it only affects poor people anyway, so we don't actually need to do any more than we are at present. Its just not a priority for him, and certainly less of one than seeing his rich mates get a tax cut in three year's time.

And that's our choice right there: between a man who recognises child poverty as a moral challenge we must rise to, and one who views it as a PR problem to be minimised and dodged.

Remember that when you vote. If you vote for Key, you're voting for a monster who doesn't care that children are starving.

The Greens on energy

The Greens released their energy policy today. Some of the details we already knew: an ambitious move to home solar aimed at mirroring Australia's success. Some of it is small stuff aimed at laying the groundwork for future technology shifts, such as their electric car policy. But what I'm interested in is the core of it: a promise to move to 100% renewable electricity by 2030. As I've pointed out in relation to National's 90% by 2025 target, this is a big ask - and we're not going to get there without some serious policy (and no, leaving it to the market is not a policy). So how do the Greens propose to do it?

Sadly, the details are rather thin. The press release promises it will be achieved by an updated Energy Strategy and "a suite of complementary measures". The detailed policy document isn't much better, adding in their proposed $25/ton carbon tax and green investment bank. Both of which are good policies, but I'm not sure they're enough.

The Ministry of Energy has detailed modelling on this. Their reference scenario - which includes a carbon price of $25/ton, the same as the Greens are proposing - forecasts only 81% renewables in 2030. Even with a $100/ton carbon price, it only gets to 85%. The core problem isn't that we don't build wind and geothermal; MBIE expects both to double. Instead, the core problem is that we keep using coal and gas, and keep building new plants, even with a carbon price (and even with a high carbon price).

The core policy challenge here is the need to shut down old plants and shift new investment decisively to renewables. The Greens have some good ideas here, but they need to go further.

The left should not support prison slave labour

Yesterday, the government announced that all prisons would become "working prisons", with their inmates forced to work for 40 hours a week for no pay, and denied parole if they don't. Bu what's appalling is that Labour and the Greens immediately lined up to say "me too" to this piece of "tough on crime" bullshit.

As I've pointed out before, there is a name for people kept in cages and forced to work for nothing at the point of a baton. They're called "slaves". Quite apart from the inherent wrongness of that (it is rightly a crime in all civilised nations, including New Zealand), it drives free workers to the dole queues, violates international law and puts exports at risk. And no left party should be supporting that.

What should they support? Education. Training. Proper work at decent wages with full employment rights. Corrections' release to work programme is a great example of how things should be done: it treats prisoners fairly, aids rehabilitation and re-integration into the community, and doesn't undermine non-slave businesses. But what the government is proposing is pure exploitation for the profit of some of our biggest companies. Labour and the Greens should not support it.

Correction: The Greens do not support prison slave labour. Good to know. I apologise for believing the Herald's report of their position.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Putting the Five Eyes in the spotlight

Privacy International has taken the UK to court in an effort to force disclosure of the Five Eyes spy agreement:

The secret "Five Eyes" treaty that authorises intelligence sharing between the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand should be published, according to an appeal lodged on Tuesday at the European court of human rights.

The application by Privacy International (PI), which campaigns on issues of surveillance, to the Strasbourg court is the latest in a series of legal challenges following the revelations of the US whistleblower Edward Snowden aimed at forcing the government to disclose details of its surveillance policies.

The civil liberties group alleges that the UK is violating the right to access information by "refusing to disclose the documents that have an enormous impact on human rights in the UK and abroad".

As their application to the ECHR makes clear, what's really going on here is an attempt to parley the article 10 right to receive information into a right to access it. There's some support in recent ECHR caselaw for this, including a right of access against spy agencies. That's not to say that they'll win, but the case is definitely worth watching.

Why are we letting the Saudis disappear people from New Zealand?

Khalid Muidh Alzahrani is a Saudi refugee. He came to New Zealand five years ago to study, converted to Christianity while here, and was granted refugee status on the basis that he would be persecuted if he returned to Saudi Arabia.

In July, after receiving a series of threats, he was kidnapped from his home in Christchurch and flown back to Saudi Arabia.

He's not the only one:

In May last year, a young Saudi Christian who had arrived in Auckland two months earlier and claimed asylum was snatched off the street by three men just three days before his refugee interview and was flown back to Saudi Arabia, where it is believed he spent time in prison and was tortured. His lawyer, Roger Chambers, said the man had managed to secretly make contact with his friends in Auckland.

"He has had a dreadful time in Saudi Arabia," Chambers said. "[He was told] more than once if he did not renounce his Christianity that he could expect to be beheaded."

Two of his kidnappers were travelling on Saudi diplomatic passports.

Supposedly, we have a state agency responsible for protecting us from this sort of thing. The SIS's functions include protecting New Zealand from foreign activities which "are clandestine or deceptive, or threaten the safety of any person". Kidnapping people and rendering them for torture certainly qualifies. So where were they? Probably too busy sniffing for communists and handing out special OIAs to the sewer.

This should not be happening in New Zealand. It should not be happening anywhere. And if the Saudi embassy is being used as a base from which to plan and execute the kidnapping and rendition of people from new Zealand, it should be closed down and its staff ejected. It's that simple.