Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Fisk

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

The people win in Tonga

Last month Tongans went to the polls to elect a new Parliament. The Democratic Party did not do well, and I was expecting that once again the nobles (who have nine representatives in Parliament for 33 corrupt inbreds, versus 17 for the other 105,000 Tongans) would be able to buy a few independents and rely on their collaborators to retain their grip on power. I was, fortunately, wrong: yesterday 'Akilisi Pohiva was elected as Tonga's first elected commoner Prime Minister:

A veteran democracy campaigner who one of Tonga's kings once wanted hanged has today been elected the South Pacific kingdom's new prime minister.

Seventy-three-year-old 'Akilisi Pohiva defeated rival Samiu Vaipulu 15 votes to 11 to become the kingdom's first ever democratically elected commoner premier.

Hopefully this will see more democratic reforms, and ultimately the elimination of the noble seats. Their continued existence is a violation of "one person, one vote", and an affront to democracy. if Tonga's nobles want political power, they should run for election like anybody else.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A clear message to women

The Employment Relations Authority has sent a clear message to women: don't complain to them about sexual harassment in the workplace:

A young woman whose bottom was slapped in "fun" by her boss has now been ordered to pay her former employer $5000 in costs in the case.

In a decision last month, the Employment Relations Authority found Bruce Sanson, the owner of Hamilton's The Plant Place, did not sexually harass his former employee Ella Newman.

Ms Newman, 23, resigned the day after she alleged Mr Sanson slapped her behind in December 2013, and then alleged he had previously sexually harassed her during the two years she worked at his Hamilton garden centre.

Authority member Anna Fitzgibbon rejected those claims, calling Ms Newman an unreliable witness and questioning why she did not complain earlier.

The bottom slap was "inappropriate and should not be repeated" but took place during a joke, Ms Fitzgibbon found.

"Ms Newman was being cheeky about Mr Sanson's floppy hat and he slapped her on the bottom.

It was a one-off slap, which I accept was a 'fun slap'."

The authority has now ordered Ms Newman to pay her former employer a total of $5000 as a contribution to costs.

So, we have victim-blaming, minimisation, and punishment, all wrapped up in one toxic, sexist package. And we now have the concept of a "fun slap" in the workplace to boot. Which is an interesting way to describe assault.

Its one thing to reject a complaint as unfounded, and to say clearly that a witness is unreliable. But doing it like this and awarding costs can only be viewed as an attempt to deter similar cases in future - an explicit attempt to deny justice for discrimination and harassment. And that's not something any branch of our courts should be doing.

No-one expects the Chief Archivist!

Last month, John Key admitted in Parliament that he deleted all his text messages "in case his phone is lost". At the time, I suggested that this was a prima facie breach of the Public Records Act, and it appears I was right. After a complaint from the Greens, the Chief Archivist is on the case:

Dirty Politics has sparked another official probe - this time by the guardian of the country's public records.

Chief archivist Marilyn Little has agreed to a call from Green MP James Shaw to investigate Prime Minister John Key for deleting text messages.


In a letter, she confirms she will carry out a review of record-keeping practices for Key's texts between November 2008, when he first took office and November 2014.

"No-one expects the Chief Archivist to conduct an inquisition, but there is no reason why the Prime Minister should have had to delete messages from Cameron Slater unless he has something to hide," Shaw said today.

It will be difficult to prove that Key has destroyed public records (a criminal offence) because he's destroyed all the evidence (another criminal offence). But I expect the Archivist will lay down some guidelines which will prevent him from doing so in future - and I expect there'll be all manner of people ready to OIA his text messages just to ensure he's following the law.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A conspiracy against democracy

Jono Naylor's election to Parliament as a National list MP means Palmerston North will be facing a mayoral by-election in February. And on Friday, the Manawatu Standard [offline] reported that my local business community was actively conspiring to prevent it:

A Palmerston North businessman has asked mayoral candidates to withdraw from the race to clear the field for an unnamed person to become a caretaker mayor.


Former Manawatu Chamber of Commerce head [and wannabe National candidate - I/S] Paul O'Brien said a group of people he would not name, who had earlier approached him to stand for the mayoralty, were behind the plan. If the group's "high profile" candidate was the only nominee, there would be no need for voting or for a further by-election if a current councillor was elected as mayor.

O'Brien said the caretaker mayor would forgo the mayoral salary, and would stand aside at the next local government elections in 19 months' time.

As the Standard points out in its later editorial, this is an attack on our democracy, an attempt to stitch up the election for a candidate who won't even show their face. Fortunately, mayoral candidates are having none of it.

If O'Brien's secret candidate thinks their "caretaker" plan would be so good for Palmerston North, they should stand for election and seek the endorsement of voters. And the fact that they won't tells you everything you need to know.

[I see that nominations closed today, so hopefully we're done with such oligarchic maneuvres]

New Fisk

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

The perils of crony capitalism

Back in 2011, National, the party of wheeler-dealers, cut a nice little crony capitalist deal with their donors Sky City: Sky City would build a new convention centre in Auckland, and in exchange we'd relax gambling laws to allow them to suck more money out of the poor, and pick up the tab if the centre went over-budget. Doing the negotiation process, Treasury warned that this was a bad idea:

However, if Ministers wish to proceed with a contractual arrangement with SkyCity, Treasury considers that the difficulty of accurately assessing both the costs of the building and the revenue generated by the concessions will inevitably expose the Government to significant risks. These relate to both the information asymmetry between SkyCity and the Crown and costs to the Crown in respect of both negotiating the contract initially and then managing it over an extended period such as 25 years.
That warning has now come true:
Design improvements, a new five-star hotel and inflation have rocketed up the SkyCity convention centre's pricetag by as much as $130 million.

And while additional gambling concessions are off the table to meet any shortfall for the building, taxpayer funding is under discussion.

Sky City made a profit of $123 million last year, so its not as if they can't afford to cover the extra cost. But why would they, when the government has agreed to? Indeed, why bother to control costs at all, when any increase or overrun will be paid for by someone else? The incentives National wrote into the deal are terrible, and a perfect example of the perils of crony capitalism. As for how to deal with it, the answer is simple: walk away. If Sky City thinks an international convention centre is so profitable, they can fund it themselves. And if its not, they shouldn't expect us to subsidise their operations and their profits.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

John Key's war on P is a failure

Back in 2009, John Key launched a "war on P", in the form of his Methamphetamine Action Plan. An important part of the plan was regular progress reports, tracking the price, purity and availability of methamphetamine, so we could see if the police were in fact winning.

Today the latest report, for October 2014, was released. As usual, the government has tried to put a positive spin on it. But reading the actual report shows the ugly truth: five years on, there's been no change in those core metrics. Price, purity and availability are all where they were five years ago. Five years of intense policing has had absolutely no effect on anything, no effect on the problem. Which is pretty much the "war on drugs" in a nutshell: an endless, pointless waste of time and money which changes nothing.

I don't know what the answer to P is, but its very clear that this isn't working. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity; time for a new approach.

Time to cut out the middle-woman

Four days before the Scottish Independence Referendum, the UK's supposedly neutral monarch intervened, telling the Scots to "think very carefully about the future". While cloaked as a "private exchange", it has now emerged that the whole thing was scripted by Downing Street:

Senior figures in Whitehall and Downing Street became so fearful that the Scottish independence referendum could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom that the Queen was asked to make a rare public intervention in the final days of the campaign.

Britain’s most senior civil servant and the Queen’s private secretary crafted a carefully worded intervention by the monarch, as No 10 experienced what one senior official described as “meltdown” in the closing stages of the campaign after polls showed growing support for a yes vote.

The discussions between Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, and Sir Christopher Geidt for the palace, led the Queen to issue an appeal to the people of Scotland four days before the referendum in September to “think very carefully” before casting their vote.

She spoke out after senior Whitehall figures, who were apprised of David Cameron’s concerns that the yes camp was developing an ominous momentum in the final period of the campaign, suggested to the palace that an intervention by the Queen would be helpful.

So, rather than being politically neutral, the monarch was acting secretly as a mouthpiece for the government of the day, lending her status to their political cause. It is a gross violation of political neutrality, and it suggests that its time to cut out the middle-woman to prevent her from being used in such an abusive fashion in future.

The courts and the Public Records Act

Nicky Hager won an important victory in his case against the police yesterday, forcing discovery of the police's internal working documents about the decision to apply for and execute a search warrant against him. While some of the documents will be provided confidentially to counsel, the police's argument that their decisions were unreviewable wasn't accepted. The fact that they wanted to hide these documents, which will show how much consideration they gave to the issue of journalistic privilege, and whether they met the tests set by the court in previous cases on raiding the media, tells us that they probably have something very stinky to hide here. Which will now hopefully be exposed.

Meanwhile, buried in the judgement is a small grenade: the courts appear to be violating the Public Records Act.

[43] Mr Hager sought disclosure from the Manukau District Court of a copy of the file he anticipated would have been maintained by the Court in relation to the application for, and issue of, the search warrant. He also sought a document setting out Judge Malosi’s reasons for issuing the search warrant.

[44] Both requests are misconceived. Requests made to any person who is authorised as an issuing officer for the purposes of warrants under the SSA are not treated as proceedings by the Registry of any courts to which they might be delivered.

[45] Similarly, the response on behalf of the District Court is that there is no document in existence which records the Judge’s reasons for issuing the search warrant. That is entirely consistent with standard practice in which an issuing officer requested to consider an application for a warrant simply grants or declines the application. There is accordingly no discoverable document of that category either.

Section 17 of the Public Records Act requires every "public office" - including the courts - to
create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice

Not recording reasons for a decision, and indeed not keeping any file on it at all, appears to violate this obligation (not to mention making it difficult for higher courts to judicially review the granting of warrants). The Chief Archivist should probably be looking at this...

The full judgement is here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

No justice in the UK

Four years ago, G4S guards killed Jimmy Mubenga by restraining him inappropriately during a deportation - effectively asphyixiating him. But today, a British jury refused to convict them:

Three private security guards who restrained the Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga have been cleared of manslaughter by a jury at the Old Bailey.

The 46-year-old died after being restrained by the G4S guards on a British Airways flight on 12 October 2010. Terrence Hughes, 53, Colin Kaler, 52 and Stuart Tribelnig, 39, were accused of manslaughter by forcing Mubenga’s head down and restricting his breathing as the flight prepared to take off at Heathrow airport. The jury cleared them of the charges on Tuesday after a six-week trial.

The court had heard how fellow passengers said they heard Mubenga cry out: “I can’t breathe” as he was pinned down in his seat, despite already being handcuffed from behind with his seatbelt on.

The guards said in court that they had not heard him say he could not breathe and had not pushed his head down and forward towards his knees in a position known to risk asphyxia. They said they had been restraining him to stop him hurting himself or other passengers on the plane.

This is bullshit. Those guards were grossly negligent and used unreasonable force - a fact backed by the inquest into Mubenga's death, which found the killing unlawful. There was also suppressed evidence showing a string of racist "jokes" by the killers, which suggests they may have been less than willing to show Mubenga the duty of care he was entitled to. But hey, he was only a deportee, right?

There is no justice in the UK. Those who want it will have to make their own. Suing these racist killers and the company which hired them into the ground in a civil case would be a good start.

John Key wants arbitrary detention

That's the only conclusion that can be drawn from his comments today about the need to lower the threshold for detention:

Prime Minister John Key said the Sydney siege gunman highlighted the conundrum for authorities over protecting citizens against potential terrorism and over-stepping their powers.

He indicated the threshold for detaining people considered to be a security risk could be a credible area for review.


[T]he fact that someone was on a watch list did not mean they could be detained.

"I suspect they were on lists of people that could present a threat," Mr Key said. "But the threshold the authorities have to meet before they can detain someone is very high and for very good reason.

"That is the conundrum that the authorities face between over-using or over-exercising their power but on the other side is the declared desire the public will have to be protected."

Asked if the threshold for detention could be the subject of a comprehensive review beginning next year, he said: "That may be one credible area that they look at."

Currently the state can only detain you on conviction, while awaiting trial if there is good cause to suspect you will reoffend or fail to appear, if you are caught breaching the peace or committing a crime punishable by imprisonment, or if there is good cause to believe you have done the same (note that in law, an attempt or conspiracy is the same as commission of the offence, so they're covered for stuff planned but not actually done yet). That's the "threshold for detention": good cause. Lowering that by definition means arresting and detaining people where there is no good cause to believe they have committed (or are credibly planning) an offence. And that seems to be the very definition of the arbitrary detention prohibited by the Bill of Rights Act.

As for what this means: our spies are turning into a secret police, and our Prime Minister into a dictator. We need to de-elect both before it is too late.

The OIA Review

Yesterday, the Ombudsman announced that they had begun their review of OIA compliance. They'll be looking closely at 12 central government agencies, and surveying 63 more, as well as all 27 Ministerial offices. They'll also be soliciting submissions from the OIA users, including journalists, political parties, and members of the public.

The full details, including the list of target agencies, are here. The target list is interesting: Customs and ACC are presumably included because they're examples of poor practice, Justice and SSC because they're generally pretty good. I'm a bit surprised by the absence of EQC and CERA from the list, but possibly the Ombudsman thinks they have a good grasp of their OIA processes after the recent inquiries there (OTOH, that's apparently not the case with Ministry of Education, who have also been the subject of a recent inquiry which found severe problems with their OIA process).

Surveyed agencies are basically being asked for all their policies and procedures, written and unwritten, for handling OIA requests and complaints. They specifically highlight Ministerial consultation requirements in the unwritten section. Ministers are being asked a similar set of questions. Currently the Ombudsman simply seems to be asking politely, rather than exercising their powers under s19(1) Ombudsman's Act, but that should be enough. There is the potential for Ministers and Ministerial staff to try and lie about their procedures (I do not believe an NZ public servant would ever lie to the Ombudsman, but politicians and their pet hacks are a different story), which highlights the utterly derisory penalties for doing so. So that's one obvious think which needs to immediately change (but why would Ministers, who are the obvious targets of such a measure, prioritise it on the legislative schedule?)

As for the result, hopefully we'll see some solid guidance issued by the Ombudsman on the operation of the "no surprises" principle limiting Ministerial micromanagement which is currently corrupting the OIA process. Hopefully we'll also see some heads on spikes at Customs for their abuse of the Act.

As the Ombudsman says, this is about confidence in our public sector. We deserve to be able to trust our government. Hopefully the ombudsman will rein in Ministers so we can do so again.

New Fisk

Peshawar school attack: Massacre of the innocents born of ambivalence towards Taliban

This will go down well

Back in September, Mexican police arrested a group of 43 student teachers who had been travelling to Iguala for a protest against the local government. They handed them over to a local drug gang, who murdered them. Since the massacre, there have been protests across Mexico at the government's inaction and apparent collusion, which saw the Presidential Palace set on fire. Those protests are going to get worse. Because it turns out that the government - which has denied responsibility and pretended ineffectiveness - knew about the whole thing:

Mexican federal authorities had real-time information of an attack on a group of student teachers by corrupt local police, but did nothing to stop the disappearance and probable massacre of 43 people, according to new evidence published by the news magazine Proceso.

Based on leaked government documents, the new allegations are likely to further fuel public anger at the government of the president, Enrique Peña Nieto, which has insisted that federal authorities share no responsibility for the students’ disappearance.


According to the Proceso account, the C4 [Federal police spies - I/S] informed the head of the federal police unit stationed in Iguala when the students arrived at the city’s bus station at 9.22pm. About 20 minutes later, the C4 reported that gunfire had broken out, Proceso reported – the opening volleys of what turned into several hours of violence.

Anabel Hernández, one of the report’s authors, told MCS Noticias radio station: “When we see that the federal government and the state government were following the students since they left the college in Ayotzinapa, it becomes very difficult to think that everything else that happened was an accident.”

A government which colludes in the murder of its own citizens does not deserve to stand. Those involved need to be arrested and prosecuted for conspiracy to murder. Those who let them do it need to be forced from office. And Mexico should burn until that happens.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


The Human Rights Commission released its Annual report of activities under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) [PDF] today. This is a serious document, a core part of our monitoring regime to ensure that people aren't being tortured or subject to cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment in our detention facilities. And while they generally aren't, the gaps it exposes are horrifying:

  • The NZDF was criticised by the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture for the poor quality of its base holding cells (basically, a locked room with no toilet). Oddly, the Inspector of Service Penal Establishments - who is supposed to be monitoring those cells - thinks their job is to make excuses for NZDF rather than force them to clean their act up.
  • The Children's Commissioner is tasked with monitoring CYFS detention facilities, but is not funded to do so. They have extensive recommendations on the management of those facilities, aimed at shifting the culture towards de-escalating conflict and focusing on the needs of children. Reading between the lines, the current management culture significantly increases the risk of ill-treatment of children in secure CYFS facilities.
  • Corrections rejects 20% of all recommendations from the Ombudsman around prisoner care. Given that these are recommendations aimed at preventing torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, that's simply scary.
  • Corrections is still detaining people in inhumane conditions in their segregation facilities.
  • Waikeria Prison's youth unit is filthy and substandard, with no effort made to educate or rehabilitate prisoners.
  • At Auckland Women’s Prison, male Corrections staff can perv at prisoners while they are showering using cameras. Corrections has rejected all recommendations to change this.
  • There are still mental health prisoners being restrained and subjected to solitary confinement unjustifiably.
  • There are still huge gaps in our monitoring of detention facilities - namely aged care facilities, dementia homes, and boarding schools. There is evidence of ill-treatment occurring in all of these.
So, while we're not torturing anyone, this isn't exactly a clean bill of health. And what's worse is that many of these problems, particularly around the privacy and dignity of prisoners, have been ongoing for years. We need to clean our act up, and fast.

No surplus

Its official: we won't have a budget surplus this year. But Bill English is still delusional:

The Government believes an OBEGAL surplus is achievable this financial year, despite Treasury’s latest forecast today predicting a $572 million deficit (0.2 per cent of GDP) for the year to 30 June 2015, Finance Minister Bill English says.

“These forecasts emphasise the unusual conditions the New Zealand economy is experiencing,” Mr English says. “Treasury is predicting solid growth, growing employment and low interest rates, which help New Zealanders to get ahead. But at the same time, falling dairy prices and low inflation are restricting growth in the nominal economy and government revenue.

“This is making it more challenging for the Government to achieve surplus in 2014/15. However we remain on track to reduce debt to 20 per cent of GDP by 2020.

“Although this latest Treasury forecast predicts a small deficit for the current year, we believe the strong underlying economy and responsible fiscal management can deliver a surplus when the final government accounts are published next October,” Mr English says.

I guess that's why National are suddenly ripping $200 million out of DHBs: because achieving their arbitrary political target is more important to them than people getting the healthcare they need. And they'll slash and burn whatever they have to to do it. But given a choice between proper healthcare and delaying meeting that arbitrary target by a year, the latter seems to be an absolute no brainer. The purpose of government is not to deliver accounting surpluses, but to provide people with the services they need. Thinking otherwise is simply insanity.

Australia bullies its own Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission has been a consistent critic of the Australian government's war on refugees, speaking out for refugee rights, trying to visit the victims of Australia's gulags, and holding an inquiry into children in immigration detention. And now they're paying the price: a 30% budget cut:

A rights advocacy group in Australia says it seems the government there is cutting funding to the Human Rights Commission because of the body's inquiries into its treatment of asylum seekers.

Human Rights Law Centre Executive Director Hugh de Kretser says funding for the Commission has been slashed by around 30% over the next three years.

The cuts follow the Commission's inquiry into children in immigration detention.

The message is clear: "independent" agencies which criticise the government will have their budgets slashed. They're a bully-state, intolerant of criticism.

Meanwhile, its worth remembering that John Key has made similar threats to our own Human Rights Commission over their opposition to this spy bills. So far he hasn't followed through on them. But the HRC's funding expires in June next year, which provides him with a perfect opportunity.

Sydney, spies, and the police

That didn't take long: the Sydney hostage crisis was barely over and National party politicians were smearing themselves in the blood of the dead to "justify" their unjustified terror-law:

The MP who chaired the anti-terrorist legislation rushed through Parliament last week, Mark Mitchell, says the bill was "100 per cent" justified.

And he said he had had messages yesterday thanking him for the bill in light of the Sydney hostage crisis.

"It becomes a lot more real for people when it's three hours across the ditch."

(More similar blather from the PM here).

Because obviously, revoking someone's passport and restricting their freedom of movement for an extra two years without trial or any judicial oversight would have prevented this. As for the suggestion that additional surveillance powers might have, the hostage-taker was well-known to the police, who would easily be able to obtain warrants if they had had any inkling of what he was planning. This wasn't a lack of powers, but the fact that such attacks are pretty much unpreventable (or rather, the means of limiting them - massively better mental health care and massively reduced access to guns - are so long-term and mundane that they don't appeal to politicians). Sadly, those facts are no barrier to our power-hungry spy-servants in Parliament.

Meanwhile, the Sydney attack again made it clear who is primarily responsible for dealing with such matters: the police. And that would have been true even if the plan had been detected in advance. Which raises the question: why do we need spies, with special spy powers, when it is the police who keep us safe? Doesn't that simply create problems of pathological secrecy and failures of interagency communication which increase the chances of such an attack succeeding?

Public safety is a matter for the police. We don't need spies potentially endangering us by treating criminal suspects as an intelligence source. We should disband the SIS, and leave the job of keeping us safe to the people who actually know how to do it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Fisk

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing

A pure power grab

When the government proposed extending the duration of passport revocations in its recent urgent spy bill, several people raised the obvious question: what was the justification? Why was it necessary? Had the government ever had trouble using the courts to extend a revocation?

Thanks to an FYI requester, we now know the answer: no, because they never tried:

No application to a Judge of the High Court has been made for an order to extend a cancellation of a New Zealand passport on the grounds of national security using the provisions of section 8A(3) of the Passports Act 1992.

So, there was no "problem" to be solved by the bill (though if the courts were rejecting extensions, it wouldn't be a problem with the courts, but that Ministers were revoking passports without justification). Instead, it was a pure power grab. The bill's shoddy Regulatory Impact Statement said that it was just too much hassle for them to prepare documents for the courts after a year. Even if we accept that at face value (difficult given that they also say that they would be preparing repeated documentation and ongoing risk analysis for the Minister in the case of any extended travel ban), the administrative convenience of officials is simply not a good reason for interfering with fundamental human rights.

Naturally, Peter Dunne buried this admission until after the bill had passed. But he voted for this legislation knowing that there was no case for it. People should judge him at the ballot box for that.

Friday, December 12, 2014

No freedom of speech in Myanmar

A kiwi has been detained in Myanmar for "insulting religion":

A New Zealand bar manager has been detained in Burma for using an image of the Buddha wearing headphones in a promotion.

Police said the promotion was an insult to the Buddhist religion.


The maximum penalty for attempting to insult, destroy or damage any religion is two years in jail, with another two-year penalty for those who attempt to insult religion through the written word.

If headphones are an "insult", you really have to wonder what they'd do to someone who denied their religion. And it really shows how such laws are a tool for religious control - a denial of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Fisk

It is our indignation, not that of the Arab world, that torturers fear. We are the bad guys too

Australia's absurd secrecy

In New Zealand, Ministerial expenses are proactively released and a matter of public record. Anyone can see where our Ministers have been, where they stayed, and (in many cases) what they had for dinner. Its considered a basic matter of accountability for their use of public money.

in Australia, its a different story. Over there, they think such basic information is a matter of national security:

The Abbott government is refusing to release documents detailing the cost and purpose of overseas travel by Coalition ministers, claiming they could "cause damage to Australia's international relations" if made public.

The government-wide clampdown comes after embarrassing details of Education Minister Christopher Pyne's lavish trip to London and Rome with his wife were revealed by Fairfax Media in September.

In a letter, the government leader in the Senate, Eric Abetz, refused a request to table correspondence between Prime Minister Tony Abbott's office and ministers concerning approval of international travel by members of the executive.

The blanket refusal has been made despite freedom of information officers in the Education Department seeing no impediment to the release of expense details of Mr Pyne's $30,000 trip to London and Rome in April.

This is a new low even for Australia: the Gillard government routinely released such information. But the Coalition favours secrecy so as to prevent stories about Ministers dining in expensive restraunts on the public credit card. And so miraculously, their political problem becomes a "national security" issue (stopping Ministers from abusing public money in this way appears not to have occurred to them).

In New Zealand, our government couldn't get away with that. They'd be laughed out of town, and the Ombudsman would tell them to obey the law and release. Australia lacks such checks and balances, which means that all they have are leaks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The CIA are rapists

Among the horrors emerging from the Senate report into CIA torture: the CIA likes to anally rape its prisoners under the guise of "feeding" them:

CIA operatives subjected at least five detainees to what they called “rectal rehydration and feeding”, a medical practice applied with extreme rarity and known more colloquially as a nutrient enema, according to a Senate intelligence committee report released Tuesday.

The CIA forced the nutrient enemas on two detainees who attempted hunger strikes, a third who “partially refus[ed] liquids”, a fourth “without a determination of medical need”, and a fifth whose case details are not divulged.

Agency operatives had explicitly considered other methods of force-feeding, the report shows, but opted to subject detainees to rectal infusions at least in part because its officers considered them “a means of behavior control”. One medical officer wrote that “[w]hile IV infusion is safe and effective, we were impressed with the ancillary effectiveness of rectal of ending the water refusal.”


In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a detainee who has confessed to being the architect of 9/11, the CIA’s chief interrogator ordered rectal feeding “without a determination of medical need”.


CIA records showed at least one detainee, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, suffered from an anal fissure, chronic hemorrhoids and symptomatic rectal prolapse after a rectal infusion. The Senate report also found that CIA leadership was notified of allegations that rectal exams were conducted with “excessive force”.

[Emphasis added]

This isn't about medicine - its violating people to enforce your power over them. And that's a crime, whether you're working for the government or not. Again, where are the prosecutions?

Fuck America

DOJ not expected to initiate charges against CIA officers over torture report, CBS News, 9 December 2014:

After a review of the Senate Intelligence Committee's full report, the Justice Department is not expected to initiate any criminal charges against any CIA officers who participated in or authorized the Retention, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program.

This means the Justice Department is standing by its earlier decision not to pursue criminal charges. Its investigators also reviewed the Committee's full report and did not find any new information that they had not previously considered in reaching their determination.

Ex-CIA Operative Says Prison Was Punishment for Whistleblowing on Torture, ABC News, 9 December 2014:
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou is the only CIA employee connected to its interrogation program to go to prison. But he was prosecuted for providing information to reporters, not for anything connected to waterboarding or other actions that today’s Senate Intelligence Committee report calls “torture.”

No other person connected to the program has been charged with a crime, after the Justice Department said their actions had been approved legally or that there was not sufficient admissible evidence in a couple cases of potential wrongdoing, even in light of the death of two detainees in the early 2000s.

So, according to the US government, the only crime around their use of torture was in telling us about it. I think that's clear evidence that they have no intention of holding those responsible to justice. Which means its time for the UN to do it.

Sedition and terrorism

Yesterday, in the debate over the Key / Kitteridge Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill, Winston Peters proposed an appalling "solution" to what to do about suspected terrorists: resurrecting sedition:

New Zealand First Leader Rt Hon Winston Peters put forward an amendment to the Countering Terrorism Fighters Bill in Parliament today, seeking to re-enact sedition laws repealed in 2007 with the support of all parties except New Zealand First.

“In 2007, we asked Parliament if we as a country would feel safer having repealed sedition laws? Judging by the Countering Terrorism Fighters Bill and ‘tough’ new security laws Mr Key so clearly wants, the answer is a flat no,” Mr Peters said.

“What home-grown terrorists wish to engage in was defined by the then sedition laws.

Only because those laws were so broad as to criminalise any expression of dissent against the government. But while they'd capture those who advocate killing people because of their religion (something which is also covered by conspiracy law, insofar as the advocacy constitutes direct incitement), it also captured people who wrote pamphlets about the confiscation of Maori land, or obnoxious emails. Not to mention a host of other people whose only "crime" was disagreeing with the policies of the government of the day or failing to display sufficient loyalty.

Which also neatly highlights the core problem of our new anti-terror laws: in the past, the state has systematically abused its powers and used broad laws as a tool of political persecution. Our anti-terror laws are open to the same abuse. And with the intellectual heirs of those anti-socialist, anti-pacifist, anti-Maori panty-sniffers alive and well in our security agencies, such abuse seems like a given. With the kicker that because surveillance and passport cancellations happen in secret, we won't have a public record of it.

Looking at history, the message is clear: we can't trust the spies, and we can't trust the state. Given more power over our lives to either is like giving automatic weapons and methamphetamine to a psychopathic killer. Better not to take that risk.

Climate change: Sociopathic wankers

While the government is sticking its head in the sand on climate change and hoping desperately for another international failure, the chickens are coming home to roost. The risk was highlighted in the Ministry of the Environment's Briefing to the Incoming Minister which showed a yawning gap between our emissions and our targets:


Treasury censored the costs of that gap from their projections, but according to figures obtained by the Sustainability Council, it is somewhere between $3 and $52 billion over the next decade: up to $34,000 per household. That's the sort of cost governments freak out over, at least if its healthcare for the old or social services for the poor. But when confronted with this in Parliament yesterday, the response of the government was to laugh at it:

Dr Russel Norman: Has he seen this graph from the Ministry for the Environment, his own Government graph, in which the blue line is going up because the blue line—

Hon Members: Yay!

Because its blue, and going up - the ideal solution for a business party. What the lines signify doesn't matter to their shallow thinking. But as Norman pointed out, "It is our greenhouse emissions, you idiots" - and its not a good thing. Which left Bill English denying the projections produced by his own ministry just a couple of months ago rather than accept that they provided a strong case for action to avoid future costs.

(The video of this is worse; you can watch the whole appalling spectacle on In The House)

But while the government laughs and denies, this is a serious cost we will be facing, and a responsible government would be doing something about it. Like, for example, acting to reduce our emissions or increase our sinks so we can reduce it. instead, they're going to leave it as a problem for future governments, when it will be much harder to solve. What a bunch of sociopathic wankers.

Time for prosecutions

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has finally released the redacted summary of its investigation into CIA torture, and its about as awful as you'd expect:

Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.'s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.'s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”

The report also suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The committee obtained a photograph of a waterboard surrounded by buckets of water at the prison in Afghanistan commonly known as the Salt Pit — a facility where the C.I.A. had claimed that waterboarding was never used. One clandestine officer described the prison as a “dungeon,” and another said that some prisoners there “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

And the CIA repeatedly lied to Congress and the White House about all of these things.

In typical American fashion, the debate is about whether that torture was "effective" or not. That misses the point. It was wrong, and it was illegal. And now its (even more) part of the public record, everyone involved in the programme, from the politicians who authorised it, through the CIA officials who planned and organised it, down to the pilots who shipped prisoners from one black prison to another and the lowly mooks who drowned, beat, froze and violated suspects need to be dragged into court, prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and if convicted, jailed for long jail terms - just as the US did to Nazi torturers after WWII. But this being America, where "accountability" is for little people and the powerful enjoy impunity no matter what they do, that won't happen. Instead, the best we can hope for is that some low-ranking official will be tried for lying to Congress, they'll be pardoned by the President to "bring closure", and the rest of them will get away scot free and go right back to torturing people. And then they'll wonder again why the rest of the world hates them...

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The final insult

When the government rammed the Key / Kitteridge Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill through its first reading and gave it an abbreviated select committee process, I engaged with it. I worked my arse off to produce a submission within their insane 30 hour deadline, and produced a submission guide encouraging others to do the same. I needn't have bothered. Because according to Kennedy Graham, who is speaking in the House at the moment on the committee process, we all wasted our time - thanks to the government's insane deadline, the committee simply didn't have time to read the submissions unless people were appearing to speak before them. We all wasted our time engaging with it.

That's a great advertisement for the democratic process. The message is clear: if you want to change the government's mind on an urgent bill, you shouldn't bother submitting on it. Instead, you should blow something up or kill someone. And that's not a good message to be sending in a democracy.

We should be very, very worried

Parliament has just gone into urgency to pass the Key / Kitteridge Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. In his second reading speech, Spy Minister Chris Finlayson attempted to address the concerns about the application of the bill to those who travel overseas to e.g. join the Kurdish Peshmerga in defending the Kurds from ISIS. His response to these concerns? Basically to say that these people are terrorists.

We should be very, very worried at this. Why? Because clearly, in law, they're not. The new law applies only to those travelling to commit a "terrorist act". What's a "terrorist act"? The definition in the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 is phrased awkwardly, but its basically killing people or blowing shit up to either "induce terror in a civilian population" or "unduly" compel a government or international organisation. There's an avoidance of doubt clause to ensure that it doesn't apply to regular military action (and another one for protests and strikes).

Its difficult to see how that definition applies to the Kurdish defence forces. And if Finlayson thinks it does, it raises serious questions about both his ability to be spy minister (and Attorney-General), and about whether the spies he supposedly oversees are targeting the wrong people. And that's something which threatens all of us.

Speaks for itself

From their strategic communications plan, the New Zealand intelligence community's view of who their stakeholders are:


Yes, the public - the people they ultimately work for and supposedly protect - are near the bottom of the list, below even "international partners" (their foreign bosses). Still, at least we appear on that list; the similar one in their NZIC Communications Strategy 2014-2017 [same file, p. 13] doesn't even list us at all.

I think this speaks for itself about who "our" spies think they work for, and whose views they care about.

[Thanks to David Fisher and the Herald for extracting these documents]

Climate change: Appalling

Climate change ministers are gathering in Lima for the 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference to engage in more pointless negotiations while the planet burns. Meanwhile, New Zealand has dropped to 43rd place in the annual Climate Change Performance Index:

New Zealand has received a poor rating for its efforts on climate change, ranked 43rd overall in the Climate Change Performance Index 2015 – an annual assessment of the world's largest CO2 emitters released this morning at the UN climate conference in Lima, Peru.

New Zealand has fallen two places from last year's assessment, placing just ahead of the US and China.

The CCPI uses standardised criteria to evaluate and compare the climate protection performance of 58 countries that are, together, responsible for more than 90 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions. It is published by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe.

New Zealand performs worst in the 'climate policy' category, where it receives a 'very poor' grade. It is ranked 53rd for national policy with a score of 18.35 out of 100.

Which is simply appalling. And, for a country which sells itself internationally as "100% pure", downright dangerous. But John Key no doubt has other experts who can provide him with a different ranking.

Still, it could be worse: we could be Australia. But by dragging their feet, Key and Groser are taking us there.

The Index is available here, and New Zealand's scorecard is here.

Against extradition to China

So, the Chinese regime wants New Zealand to extradite "corrupt" former Chinese officials. Its a bad idea. Why? For the same reasons that we shouldn't extradite alleged murderers there: China has the death penalty. They use torture. Their justice system is questionable and subject to political direction. Their prisons and "re-education camps" are appalling. Extradition to China exposes an accused person to all of these dangers, and cannot possibly be found to be compatible with our Bill of Rights Act.

So what about promises that people we extradite will be well-treated, given fair trials, and not tortured or murdered? John Key thinks they will provide a sufficient assurance, but the problem is that the Chinese have promised to fix these things in the past and nothing has changed. Their assurances are worthless.

Until China eliminates the death penalty and torture, and has a truly independent and robust justice system, we can not and should not extradite anyone to them. And the same applies to everywhere else.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Reported back

The Local Government and Environment Committee has finally - after four years - reported back on the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill and recommended that it not be passed. Good. The bill was an effort by South Auckland moral conservatives to recriminalise prostitution piecemeal, one council at a time. Its was both contrary to the expressed will of Parliament and a dangerous balkanisation of New Zealand law - not to mention simply stupid social policy. The select committee has grasped this, and instead recommended that the Auckland Council regulate street prostitutes as street traders and reduce its impacts by installing public toilets and better lighting. Which is a sensible solution, but unlikely to satisfy those moral conservatives who want to turn the clock back to the days when prostitutes were effectively outside the law.

The bill is likely to be voted down next member's day, in early February. And good riddance to it. Unfortunately its already come back from the dead once, and Auckland might simply keep wasting Parliament's time on this issue.

New Fisk

Isn’t it important to realise who our enemies really are?

Britain in a nutshell

Britain's years of austerity are biting hard, with benefit cuts sending turning food banks into a growth industry. And then there's the House of Lords:

It has emerged that a proposal to save taxpayers some money by making peers and MPs share a catering department has been rejected “because the Lords feared that the quality of champagne would not be as good if they chose a joint service”.

Austerity, it seems, is only for the peasants. Meanwhile their unelected "betters" slurp champagne and quibble over its quality.

I can't think of a better reason why the Lords need to go. Time to erase this relic of feudalism, and make a start on erasing privilege.

Friday, December 05, 2014

More entrapment in the UK

Three years ago, we learned that the British police had engaged in extensive infiltration and undercover spying on peaceful protest groups. Since then convictions have been overturned, and we've learned that police may have organised one of the UK's worst riots. Now it seems they've also been encouraging people to commit crime, so they can arrest them and tar the protest movement:

An undercover police officer has been accused of encouraging and helping an animal rights campaigner to commit illegal acts which led to his being jailed for four years, according to legal documents.

The campaigner, Geoff Sheppard, has lodged an appeal to overturn his convictions for possessing a shotgun and components for an incendiary device, alleging, in effect, that he was a victim of an agent provocateur.

Sheppard said the undercover officer, whose covert role is revealed by the Guardian this Thursday, actively encouraged him to buy the shotgun and offered him money to purchase it. He claims that as part of a “determined, cynical, and targeted effort” against him, the undercover spy asked him for instructions on making an incendiary device, and tested it.

I guess they couldn't find any real violent activists, so they had to create some to justify the operation.

This is a clear case of entrapment, and if Sheppard is guilty, then the undercover officer should also have been jailed for conspiracy. It remains to be seen whether the British justice system can recognise that, and take a stand against cops who directly solicit crime, or whether it will collude with them in turning people into criminals.

A funny definition of charity

Like many local authorities, Palmerston North City Council remits rates for sporting and community groups on the grounds that they provide a valuable service to the public. What does that mean in practice? Golf greens for the rich are rates-free, while houses for pensioners are not:

Palmerston North golf clubs are getting rates breaks that pensioners renting Lutheran Homes Trust units cannot access.

City councillors were so bewildered by the revelation at a community development committee meeting this week that they put off making decisions on whether to continue granting remissions at all.

Trust board chairman Buster Kells said neither the trust nor the tenants who had lived in its 33 units in Matipo St in the past 35 years had been able to get rates relief, despite requests for change.

He said the trust was a charity, providing a community service.

But in the current year, it faced rates of $34,383, taking 27 per cent of the rental income it received.

If its elderly tenants owned their own homes, almost all would be able to apply for rates rebates, but the trust could not.

This beggars belief. Providing houses for pensioners is pretty much the definition of "charity", and of definite community benefit. Meanwhile, these golf clubs charge $400 to $1000 a year for membership. While statutorily non-profit, its highly questionable whether an exclusive social club for the wealthy is really deserving of this sort of public subsidy.

New Fisk

Al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned by Egypt to ‘teach Qatar a lesson’ for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood

The NSA pwns Vodafone

Overnight, The Intercept spilled the beans on AURORAGOLD, the NSA's programme to hack the world's cellphone providers. They spy on cellphone operators to gain knowledge of network architecture and vulnerabilities, and deliberately introduce vulnerabilities into new technology (something which exposes us to hacking not just by them, but by everybody else as well). The article included a classified map (from here, p. 24), which showed their degree of penetration. The interesting bit? New Zealand was on it:


That "43%" is the level of network coverage - basically, what proportion of the total NZ cellphone market they've compromised. The data dates from 2012. So who had about 43% network coverage in 2012? Vodafone:

The Commerce Commission Telecommunications Monitoring Report 2012 showed that our market share by connections was 42% as at 30 June 2012.

And the NSA - our "allies" - pwns them. We're basically the target of a programme of cyberwarfare by the United States, our supposed "allies".

Which raises an obvious question: why isn't the GCSB protecting us from this? It is, after all, their job. They should be helping to secure Vodafone's network, not collaborating with the foreign hackers who want to exploit it.

That map also reveals an interesting fact: the NSA has compromised cellphone networks within all of its Five Eyes partners except Canada - and we are the most compromised of all. Which raises another question: if membership of Five Eyes doesn't protect us from this, why are we a member?

No consideration of corporate manslaughter

In the aftermath of the Pike River disaster there were calls for New Zealand to introduce a corporate manslaughter offence to allow grossly negligent corporations (and their directors and managers) to be held liable when they killed. The government's response to these calls was to say "we'll consider it". And when John Key announced that he was abandoning the bodies in the mine, he again hid behind that, saying that more advice had been sought.

So how seriously did National consider corporate manslaughter? A recent request on FYI, the public OIA requests website, gives us the answer: not seriously at all. In three years, they produced just eight documents: seven file notes and a short briefing. The actual advice in all those documents has been censored as "confidential" under s9(2)(f)(iv), but this is not the paper trail of a government considering policy change (that would involve more briefings, draft Cabinet papers, escalating to a Cabinet decision). Most tellingly, there's nothing since September 2013. The upshot: officials took a brief look at it, considered some international examples, and the government decided not to do anything. And why would they? After all, negligent corporations are their donors and cronies - hardly people they want to throw in jail.

Incidentally, those redactions of "confidential" advice? They're unlawful. As the Ombudsman's guidelines make clear, the clause protects the ability of the government to "consider" (undisturbed by the noisy peasantry, who will be presented with a fait accompli) advice. Once advice is no longer being considered, once a decision has been made, it no longer applies. In this case a decision has clearly been made not to proceed. And that means there is no longer a case for the government to hide it from us.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

A modern Treaty breach

Back in 2011 the Rena ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef and spewed oil all over the beaches of Mt Maunganui. But the government didn't push hard for compensation, and once the initial cleanup was done, it didn't push hard for the wreck to be removed and the reef restored to its pristine state. Instead, it stuck its hand out for a $10 million bribe for allowing the Rena's foreign owners to leave their toxic waste on the reef. Now, the Waitangi Tribunal has ruled that that action breached the Treaty:

The Crown entered into a Wreck Removal Deed as part of its October 2012 settlement with the Rena owners, which obliged the Crown to consider, in good faith, supporting an application by the owners for resource consent to leave the wreck on the reef.

Today's Tribunal decision found the obligations in the deed placed the Rena owners in a special position in the resource consent process in a way that could significantly affect Maori interests in Otaiti.

The Crown signed the deed without having sufficient knowledge of Maori interests in the reef and without having consulted affected Maori, despite it having been "both practical and important" for the Crown to have done so.

The Tribunal found the Crown's conduct breached the Treaty principle of partnership and mutual benefit.

Its unclear what the government should do to remedy this, but an apology to the affected iwi and an acknowledgement of wrongdoing would be a good start.


Yesterday and today in Parliament, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee swore that no decisions had been made on any troop deployment to Iraq. Meanwhile, the NZDF has already begun training to send a company there:

Up to 150 infantry troops are in pre-deployment training for Iraq, despite government assurances no decision has been made, NZ First MP Ron Mark says.

Mark, NZ First's defence spokesman and a former army major, said troops had known as early as last month they were entering pre-deployment training for Iraq, yet Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee denied any decision had been made.

Mark said the Government had been "economic with the truth".

"They've not been open with the public and they're not answering questions with complete honesty," he said.

Mark said sources had told him 150 people had been earmarked for deployment and told they should prepare for deployment between the end of February and the beginning of March.

Phase 1 of the training started on Monday and would continue until December 18.

The NZDF has said they're doing this without any instruction from the Minister. So what do we believe? That the Minister is lying to us? Or that the army has gone rogue and is preparing to get its war on without approval from Cabinet or Parliament? And if the latter, is that really how the military should operate in a free and democratic society?

National's big achievement

We're no longer the least corrupt nation in the world:

New Zealand has fallen from its top spot as the world's least corrupt country being pushed out by Scandinavian nation Denmark.

In the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index released today New Zealand was ranked the second least corrupt out of 174 countries.

The index which compiled by Transparency International, ranks countries based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be.

Our actual score hasn't dropped (yet); instead we've been overtaken by Denmark because we haven't kept up with international efforts to combat corruption. But as Bryce Edwards points out, the survey data all predates July 2014 and the pre-election corruption scandals (including Dirty Politics). So, we may be in for an actual drop next year, rather than just being overtaken.

But regardless of the reason, no longer being "the least corrupt nation in the world" is a blow to our national identity, and one National should be held accountable for.

Ministerial expenses in Australia

In New Zealand, Minister's expenses are open information, released every three months. The knowledge that their spending has to be justifiable to the public has (with a few exceptions) improved Ministerial behaviour; Ministers don't spend public money on big dinners or porn because they know that if they do, they'll be on the front page of the Dominion-Post.

Meanwhile, over the Tasman its a different story:

Defence Minister David Johnston's office is in chaos, with two staff members shown the door as the Defence Department launched an investigation into a damaging leak of the minister's expense receipts.

The departure of the two staff members came on the morning that leaked receipts revealing restaurant bills racked up by Senator Johnston and his chief-of-staff Sean Costello were published in the media.


Senator Johnston's spokesman said the Defence Department was investigating the leak of the restaurant receipts, which showed that Senator Johnston and Mr Costello spent thousands of dollars last month on restaurant bills entertaining defence industry heads and foreign dignitaries.

The receipts were leaked to News Ltd in what appears to have been an effort to damage Senator Johnston and Mr Costello.

They reveal, among other things, the purchase of bottles of wine costing $190 each and meals totalling up to $300 a head.

So, Ministers rort the system, use public money for private extravagance, and sack people for blowing the whistle on their greed. No wonder Australia has gone down in the corruption rankings...

Wellington's people should vote on its supercity

So, the Local Government Commission has recommended that the Greater Wellington region get the supercity treatment, with One Mayor To Rule Them All from Rongotai to the Wairarapa. Colour me unsurprised. National's local government "reforms" were designed to enable such forced mergers, by removing the old provision that they had to be approved by voters. And that, right there, is my reason for opposing this. Amalgamation in the Wellington region may be a good idea - but that's a question for the people who will have to live under it, not for a clique of unaccountable bureaucrats and a gaggle of local body politicians thirsting to be SuperMayor (with a supersalary to match). And its a question for each existing local authority city or district whether they want in or out. National's strapped chicken rules don't provide for that (instead, voters in one area can force amalgamation on their neighbours), and until that changes, the only democratic position is to oppose all forced amalgamations.

The good news is that it will be easy to get a vote:

A small section of Tararua District that is currently within the regional council boundary which transfer to the Manawatu-Wanganui region.

There are 11 properties in that area, so all it will take to force a referendum is a handful of people. But then there's the prospect of the people of the Hutt and Wairarapa being outvoted by the people of Wellington and Porirua. But if the latter want to amalgamate, they should, and leave others out of it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Saving freedom of information in Australia

Earlier this year the Australian government decided to do away with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OIAC) - their equivalent of the Ombudsman for freedom of information appeals - as a cost-saving measure. Rather than being heard by a specialist agency, freedom of information appeals would instead by heard by an administrative tribunal, at a cost of nearly $1000 per complaint. But the government has now been forced to withdraw the bill from the Senate, after it failed to gain the support of Senate crossbenchers.

This is great news, but there's a problem: the OIAC had already prepared to be shut down, and as a result most of its staff have already left. So Australia keeps its watchdog, but the government's attempt to kill it have left it blind and toothless. Which will no doubt please Tony Abbott - his government is the least open in living memory and has been welching on its international open government commitments. A blind and toothless watchdog suits Abbott just fine.

New Fisk

Capture of Isis leader's wife is another murky tale from the pit of marital scandals

Councils and CCTV

Over the past decades, local authorities have put up hundreds, possibly thousands, of CCTV cameras as part of traffic management and community safety programmes. What gets watched and who has access to the footage varies by council. The result? City council cameras staring into people's homes and bedrooms, with the footage available to any plod who wants it:

The privacy commissioner is to question all councils on how they collect and store CCTV footage, after it was discovered that cameras in Lower Hutt had been able to film inside private homes for years.

Live and recorded footage from Hutt City Council's 29 cameras near the city centre could be viewed by anyone in the Lower Hutt police station, without a secure log-on. About half a dozen of the cameras could be swivelled remotely towards houses.

An audit by Security Risk Management, commissioned by the council, found: "There was an absence of privacy masking, enabling some street surveillance cameras to undertake surveillance inside private homes."

The surveillance risked flouting five principles of the Privacy Act and the Bill of Rights, according to the report.

The council says that no breach occurred, because there's no evidence. But where people's privacy is concerned, that's not good enough, and so they've been forced to install privacy masking, access limits, and warning signs in areas under surveillance. More importantly, the Privacy Commissioner is also investigating every local authority in New Zealand, to see whether they being used in accordance with the Privacy Act. Hopefully it won't turn up any more disasters like this.

Time to close failed charter schools

Last year, the government approved five charter schools to open in 2014. A year on, how are they doing? Badly. One of them, Vanguard Military School, has seen its roll drop by 25%, while another, Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru, has seen a larger drop as well as serious problems with poor teaching quality, management infighting, and drug use. So, that's a 40% failure rate, after just one year.

When John Key introduced charter schools, he promised that

"If those partnership schools don't succeed the Government will be just as quick to close them down as we have been to establish them."

Its time for him to make good on that promise, and close down these failed schools. We shouldn't be paying for failure, and we definitely shouldn't be paying massively more than we pay for state schools just to subsidise the profits and extravagant salaries of charter school operators.

Member's day

Today is a Member's day, the last one for the year. After some Questions to Members about a couple of bills, the House will consider Sue Moroney's doomed Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months' Paid Leave) Amendment Bill, followed by the second readings of Pita Paraone's Sentencing (Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill and Kennedy Graham's Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill, both of which are also expected to fail. We're still at least two member's days away from a ballot, so we're not going to see anything new on the Order Paper until February or so.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

This'll work well

Buoyed by his fantastic success in New Zealand, Kim Dotcom wants to launch the Internet party in the United States:

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom says he will be "Hillary's worst nightmare" as he revealed plans for a US version of the Internet Party.

Dotcom, who is fighting extradition to the US where he is wanted on piracy charges took to Twitter today to announce the new political movement.

"The Internet Party is coming to the United States in 2015. Stay tuned for our celebrity founders from the music, film and Internet industry," Dotcom posted.

This is a mad idea. It is extremely difficult to break into politics with a new party. What made the Internet Party potentially viable in New Zealand was MMP, and an alliance with Mana supposedly guaranteeing it a seat (whoops). The US has neither of those advantages. Instead, it has an extremely regressive form of FPP, with gerrymandered districts and restrictive ballot-access laws designed to keep politics firmly in the grasp of the current oligarchy. On the plus side, he's free to throw millions of dollars at candidates in an effort to buy a result, but while he's rich by New Zealand standards, Dotcom is a minnow in the US funding pool. US donors blew US$3.7 billion buying influence in this year's midterms; Dotcom's paltry millions are a drop in the bucket.

Reported back

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has reported back on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. As expected, it has a few tweaks - a shorter sunset clause, a reduction of the time for "urgent" warrantless surveillance from 48 to 24 hours - but only one major change: the new surveillance powers will be restricted for use in terrorism cases. Which means we'll no doubt see the SIS defining redefining people as "potential terrorists" in order to stick cameras in their bedroom to gather "intelligence".

But this isn't a victory. The government will still be able to ban people from travel for ten days on no evidence whatsoever and revoke passports for up to three years with no judicial oversight. And the SIS and police will still be able to use Customs' warrantless border search powers to make an end-run around the provisions of the Search and Surveillance Act.

And Labour - our "left-wing" party - is backing all this. They don't deserve your vote, and neither does any other party which supports this bill.

Just the beginning

The Key/Kitteridge Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill isn't even law yet, and the SIS are already planning their next power grab:

The Prime Minister has signalled the Government will look to introduce much tougher security laws after a review next year.

John Key said the Countering Terrorist Fighters Bill, due to be reported back to Parliament today, was just the beginning.

He said a full review of security settings would consider broader changes to intelligence-gathering and counter-terrorism.

Mr Key said it would potentially look much further than the current legislation before Parliament.

You got that? 4824-hour warrantless surveillance and the spies being able to stick cameras in people's bedrooms to gather "intelligence" are "just the beginning".

This is why it is so important for Labour to oppose the bill: to make clear public disquiet and strip Key of his self-proclaimed "moral mandate" for more spying. Instead, they're collaborating in it. And this is why they're useless as an opposition, and will be more useless as a government.

I will not vote for a party which supports spying. Neither should you.

Monday, December 01, 2014

A new ANZAC force?

John Key is apparently planning a new ANZAC force for Iraq:

New Zealand and Australia are in talks around forming a joint force to serve in Iraq against Isis (Islamic State) a century after the first Anzac force was created, Australian media are reporting.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph this morning said it had confirmed that Australian defence figures had been in discussions with New Zealand officials around the joint force.

Prime Minister John Key had also been in private discussions with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to explore the possibility of joint Anzac taskforce consisting of several hundred troops, the Daily Telegraph reported.

It is estimated that a further 400 Australian specialist soldiers could be sent, along with an as-yet-unknown number of New Zealand troops.

So once again we're going to join Australia to go off and fight an unwinnable battle for our foreign imperial masters. All we need are some foreign generals to lead us to disaster, and the parallel will be complete.

This isn't our fight, and there is no good to be done there. New Zealand should stay out of Iraq.

Equality comes to Finland

Finland has legalised same-sex marriage, becoming the 12th European state to do so:

The Finnish parliament has narrowly approved a citizen’s initiative to legalise same-sex marriage.

Gay couples in Finland have been able to enter into registered partnerships since 2002, but until now the country was the only in the Nordic region not to allow same-sex marriage. Finland is now the 12th European state to do so.

In the vote, 105 members of parliament supported the legal amendment while 92 opposed it.

The measure will end the distinction in Finland between same-sex unions and heterosexual marriages and give such couples equal rights to adopt children and share a surname.

Northern and western Europe are now firmly pro-equality. Which means the battle will now move to central Europe - Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, former Soviet Europe is firmly bigoted, with Texan-style constitutional provisions to enforce inequality. It is going to be a long struggle to get them to recognise this fundamental human right.

A fatal flaw in the SIS's argument

What's the argument for the SIS's new video surveillance and urgent warrantless search powers? They won't say, but from the comments of the committee, its clear that they've been told in their secret briefing that the powers are to stop terrorism. One of the National MPs (I think it was committee chair Mark Mitchell?) was explicit, asking a submitter about the prospect of a Woolwich-style attack, "a New Zealand serviceman walking along the street, being cut up with meat-cleavers and machetes" (paraphrased). Clearly, they expect the new powers to be used to directly prevent such attacks, with the SIS using urgent warrants and video surveillance to gather the required evidence to prevent it.

But there's a problem: legally, the SIS cannot act to prevent such an attack. The SIS's core function (as laid out in its governing Act) is "obtain, correlate, and evaluate intelligence relevant to security". However, that Act also says that

It is not a function of the Security Intelligence Service to enforce measures for security.

What's "enforc[ing] measures for security"? An IGIS report from earlier this year gives an example. The SIS had delivered a "warning" to a man they (incorrectly) believed was conspiring to assassinate a foreign head of government. The Inspector-General found that this contravened the Act and ordered the SIS to cease the practice until they had received advice from Crown Law on its legality.

And this makes sense. The SIS are not the police. They are there to gather intelligence, while the police are there to protect public safety and prosecute criminals. "Measures to enforce security" - disruping terrorist attacks, arresting spies - fall into the latter category, not the former.

So what should the SIS do if they gain intelligence suggesting a terrorist attack in New Zealand? Turn it over to the police. Section 4H of the SIS Act allows them to provide the police with information on "serious crime" (anything punishable by two years imprisonment, so burglaries and minor assaults apparently qualify), and the police have urgent search powers of their own they can then use. The police can gain all the information the SIS would hope to gain, except with legal oversight and full admissibility in court, allowing would-be terrorists to be prosecuted.

In short: the SIS does not need these powers, and cannot use them for the purpose they're selling them as being useful for. And if they have actually told the committee that they're for stopping terror attacks (rather than, say, gaining blackmail on people they wish to turn into informants), then they've lied to the Committee and need to be prosecuted for breaching Parliamentary Privilege.

(Yes, I have sent in a supplementary submission about this; I didn't realise it until halfway through the hearings)

New Fisk

Do you know the difference between a Holocaust and a holocaust? The Armenians do