Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Malicious orcs

That's the only way to describe Auckland property developers John Lenihan and Jane Greensmith, who this morning had their henchmen attack and ringbark the 500 year old Titirangi kauri. But this wasn't just an act of spiteful environmental vandalism - it was also done deliberately to subvert a High Court judicial review scheduled to be heard this afternoon, to make it pointless by establishing facts on the ground. And that's something the court should take very seriously.

Something else they might want to consider: criminal nuisance charges against those responsible. Because taking a chainsaw to a tree when there's someone in it clearly endangers their life and safety regardless of whether the ultimate intention is to cut the tree down or not. And people need to be held criminally accountable for that.

Finally, I hope anybody thinking of doing business with these scumbags keeps in mind their established pattern of malice, deceit, and lawlessness. These are simply not people you can trust. They should be treated accordingly.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Denmark plans to rob refugees

The Syrian refugee crisis has brought out the best in some countries. Germany has opened its borders, Canada its hearts. Denmark, OTOH, is different: they plan to rob refugees at the border:

An MEP from Denmark’s centre-right ruling party has defected in protest at government plans to seize valuables from refugees to help fund their stay in the country.

Denmark has mainly been a transit country for refugees, and the minority Liberal government hopes to deter more from seeking asylum by taking valuables or cash worth more than 3,000 Danish crowns (£290) during border searches.


The immigration reform bill, which has yet to be approved by parliament, would give authorities “the power to search the clothing and luggage of asylum-seekers and other migrants without a permit to stay in Denmark with a view to finding assets which may cover expenses,” the immigration ministry said.

Denmark expects 20,000 asylum seekers this year, compared with almost 200,000 expected by Sweden. Many of the refugees passing through Denmark this year have been bound for its neighbour.

There's an obvious and unpleasant historical comparison here - but apparently that's the sort of country Denmark is now: one which robs the helpless for its own profit.

New Fisk

The joy of Canada delivered from Stephen Harper’s darkness to Justin Trudeau’s light
Meet the British physicist who ignored Taliban death threats to teach in the badlands of Pakistan

Friday, December 18, 2015

Plain packs win in Australia

Four years ago, the Australian government passed a plain tobacco packaging law, requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain, vomit-coloured cartons with no distinctive branding. The tobacco industry was outraged, and tried to challenge the law, first in the Australian courts, and then - after a sham restructuring in an effort to establish jurisdiction - under a free trade deal Australia had signed with Hong Kong. And now, they've lost, with the FTA arbitration tribunal rejecting the case on jurisdictional grounds:

The federal government has won its case against tobacco giant Philip Morris Asia challenging Australia's tobacco plain-packaging laws.

It means the former Gillard government's plain-packaging laws, introduced in 2011, will remain in place.

The tribunal in the arbitration, based in Singapore, has issued a unanimous decision agreeing with Australia's position that it has no jurisdiction to hear Philip Morris's claim.

So much for that. And hopefully the Australians will demand costs from the cancer-sellers for their efforts.

Meanwhile, plain packaging has been on hold in New Zealand pending the outcome of this case. Now it's been resolved, hopefully we'll see some rapid progress.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


That's apparently the High Court's ruling on the police raid on Nicky Hager:

The judge found that the search was illegal. He said that the Police had failed to disclose relevant information to the Judge who issued the warrant. As a result, he formally declared that the warrant was “fundamentally unlawful”. He also found that the search was therefore unlawful. Justice Clifford also expressed concerns about other aspects of the Police’s actions.

I'm waiting to read the full judgement, but this is good news. Meanwhile, I'm wondering if the police officers who lied to the judge to get that warrant will keep their jobs, or whether they will face prosecution under s175 of the Search and Surveillance Act. Sadly, I think we all know the answers to these questions. The police think the law only applies to other people, not themselves.

Climate change: How bad is NZ's climate fraud?

Earlier today I highlighted the New Zealand government's climate change policy of paying its Kyoto bill with dodgy (and now banned) "emissions reduction" units while banking AAU (which will then be used to pay for future targets). So how dodgy are the units we're using? We're literally claiming emissions reductions for burning coal.

As noted earlier, the credits we're turning over include 86.3 million tons of "reductions" from Ukraine - which is noted for being particularly dodgy. The raw data is here [XLS], and project details are in the Ukranian JI Registry. I've extracted this data for the top 20 projects NZ has purchased emissions "reductions" from here. Those projects account for 61.4 million tons of emissions - or roughly a year's worth. And eleven of them claim reductions for "spontaneous ignition of coal waste piles".

What does that mean? The Stockholm Environment Institute working paper referred to in that Guardian article has the details. It means:

extract[ing] coal from coal waste piles, leaving bare rock which does not ignite, and combust[ing] the extracted coal, mostly in power plants. Emission reductions are claimed for the avoidance of waste pile fires, while emissions from combustion of the extracted coal are not counted because it is assumed to substitute coal which would be otherwise obtained from coal mines. For the amount of coal that would otherwise be obtained from coal mines, projects also claim emissions reductions for avoiding upstream emissions from coal mining, including methane emissions associated with deep coal mining and CO2 emissions from electricity consumption by coal mines
The Institute's conclusion: "we rate additionality of this project type as not plausible and overcrediting likely to be significant".

New Zealand is claiming at least 31.2 million tons of "reductions" form this bullshit - half a year's emissions.

But it gets worse. The Stockholm Institute identifies four three types of projects as having "questionable or low environmental integrity": spontaneous ignition of coal waste piles, energy efficiency in industry and power production and distribution, and natural gas transportation and distribution. Eighteen of the twenty largest Ukranian projects New Zealand purchased "reductions" from (totalling 51.3 million tons) fall into these categories. One is a "no-tillage" agriculture project, which the Institute notes are deliberately misclassified in Ukraine to allow the credits to be fraudulently sold onto the EU market. And the final one, for "Implementation of Energy-Saving Light Sources in the Public, Corporate аnd Private Sectors of Ukraine", appears to have issued twice as many credits as its expected reductions. Basicly, we're paying our bill with bullshit and fraud.

Note that the government probably didn't buy these credits itself - they were likely turned over by participants in the ETS to pay for their emissions. But the government has chosen to use them to cover our Kyoto emissions, in order to be able to bank its AAU and claim it as a reduction later. And given that it has now banned these types of credit, it did so in full knowledge of how dubious they are. The effect this will have on our international reputation is left as an exercise for the reader.

Correction: Corrected references to "the" Ukraine in this and the following article, as its apparently insulting (like calling us "the colonies").

Climate change: A policy based on fraud

The government released a pile of climate change reports today on its Kyoto Protocol CP1 and CP2 (to which we are not a party) obligations. And they expose the naked fraud which lies at the heart of our climate change policy.

First up, Kyoto. Under the Kyoto Protocol, New Zealand had accepted a target of limiting its net average emissions over the to 2008 - 2012 period to gross 1990 levels. Which in practice meant a target of 309.5 million tons over five years. So how did we do? Our emissions kept increasing, and in fact increased by around 20%, but thanks to the net-gross scam, we were able to use forest reductions to cover that. So, we met our CP1 target, fairly, within the (broadly accepted) Kyoto rules. And according to those rules, the surplus can be "banked" against targets for later commitment periods.

But then the real scam begins. Because according to our CP1 "true-up" report, we paid for a huge chunk of our emissions with international units. Most of this is ERU's under Kyoto's Joint Implementation mechanism, and a staggering 86.3 million tons of that came from Ukraine - where huge amounts of credits were issued fraudulently and as part of an international criminal scam. But we're also using 16 million tons of Kyoto Certified Emissions Reductions issued under the Clean Development Mechanism. These are also hugely problematic - around 50% of CERs were issued for destruction of refrigerant gases - gases which had been produced solely so they could be destroyed for credit. Which is why such "credits" are no longer accepted, and cannot be used in Kyoto's second commitment period.

But Kyoto CP1 Assigned Amount Units can. And by paying for our CP1 obligation with these dubious and possibly fraudulent credits, New Zealand has assured that it has a huge surplus of AAU. 123.75 million tons worth, or about two years worth of emissions. And predictably, we're using this banked credit to "pay" to "meet" our self-imposed CP2 target:
New Zealand’s projected gross emissions and units acquired over 2013 to 2020 period* (as of 14 December 2015)

Or, to put it simply: we bought fraudulent credit in CP1, we laundered it into AAU, and we're effectively using it to pay to meet our CP2 reductions. And then we'll no doubt try and carry over that surplus (plus any other fraud we can launder) to pretend to meet the (self-imposed, not legally binding) 11% by 2030 target we offered at Paris. And meanwhile, our emissions will just keep on rising.

And this is why other countries no longer support international carbon trading: because its an outright scam. And the fact that New Zealand's climate change policy is based on it speaks volumes about both our honesty and our commitment to real change.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

John Key is still losing his "war on P"

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.

So how are they doing? Badly, just as they always have. Six years after launching it, the price, purity, and availability of methamphetamine are unchanged. In other words, Key's much-vaunted "war" has achieved absolutely nothing.

This is supposed to be an empirically-based policy. The empirical results show that it is a failure. Will Key accept this? Or will he just keep throwing good money after bad, wasting more police time and effort in the hope that the results will be different this time? Sadly, I expect it will be the latter - which is the very definition of insanity.

New Fisk

Why is Indonesia not in the Saudi-led Sunni coalition against terror?

Bullshit victim-blaming

Yesterday, the Children's Commissioner revealed that more children than ever before were living in poverty. John Key's response to this massive failure of government policy? Victim-blaming:

Prime Minister John Key says drug dependency is a major contributor to poverty in New Zealand, as a damning new report claims that one in three Kiwi children are living in hardship.


In an interview with Newstalk ZB's Leighton Smith this morning, Mr Key said a range of factors contributed to poverty but he singled out drug abuse as a concern.

He said drug dependency locked people out of the labour market and kept them in poverty.

Subtext: child poverty isn't the government's fault, but the fault of drug-addicted parents. Exactly the sort of thing Key's right-wing, victim-blaming base want to hear. Except its utter bullshit, and obviously so.

First, the hard stats: back in 2013, Key's government started drug-testing beneficiaries (and making them pay for it). So, how many drug addicts did this programme uncover? Sweet fuck-all. In the first year of the programme, they tested almost 30,000 people - with just 47 positive results (another 74 people refused testing, which National regards as an admission of guilt rather than a proactive attitude towards personal privacy). So, that's a positive rate of 0.16% (or, at most, 0.4%). And this is supposed to explain a third of all kiwi kids living in poverty.

Or, we can look at the trend over time. In 1984, child poverty was 15%. Today, its 29%. John Key's explanation for this is "drug addiction". So where are the addicts? After all, an extra 14% kiwi kids living in poverty due to drug addiction should mean roughly an extra 14% kiwi parents (give or take) as addicts. That's roughly one in seven - a huge number/ So, where are they? They should be clogging our courts, our streets, and (according to John Key, who thinks "drug addiction = joblessness"), our dole queues. But they're not. And in fact, illicit drug offences have dropped over the past 20 years, from 24,417 in 1994 to 16,543 today (1984 figures are not available).

In short, Key's position is just bullshit victim-blaming. But if he didn't blame his victims, he'd have to accept responsibility for this crisis, and then do something about it. And that's the absolute last thing National and John Key want to do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Absurdity in Thailand

How absurd is Thailand's lese majeste law? A man could be jailed under it for insulting the king's dog:

A Thai factory worker could go to prison for a "sarcastic" post on social media in which he disparaged the king's dog, Tongdaeng.

The worker, Thanakorn Siripaiboon, faces years in prison for his crimes, which include sedition and insulting the king.

As the New York Times reports, Siripaiboon's lawyer, Anon Numpa, said the precise insult towards the dog was not specified in the military court where he was charged.

The idea of punishing people for criticising those in power is deeply undemocratic. Punishing people for snarking about their pets is simply absurd. Rather like monarchy itself, really.

National fails on child poverty

For the past year, National has been talking about a recovery, even a "rock star economy". Things are doing so well John Key gave himself a $13,500 pay-rise as a christmas present. Meanwhile, more children than ever before are living in poverty:

Nearly one-third of all New Zealand children are living in poverty and more than half of those kids will never escape it.

The latest Child Poverty Monitor report, released by Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, laid out a grim reality for more than 300,000 children.

It draws on a number of different measures by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to paint a single picture of child poverty in New Zealand.

While the number of children living in the most severe hardship has decreased slightly, a total of 29 per cent of children lived with income poverty, compared to 24 per cent at the last measure.

Children were also far more likely to be living in poverty than pensioners, of which 13 per cent lived on incomes that were less than 60 per cent of the current median income. That worked out to be around $30,600 or less.

Particularly worrying, about 14 per cent of children were living without basic essentials like fresh fruit and vegetables, a warm house and decent clothing. But it was difficult to interpret trends, because some of the measures had changed in the past year.

The government's response? Try and obfuscate the issue by talking about their "range of measures" and pretending that its all about "benefit-dependent households". But its not. These kids aren't just the children of beneficiaries, but the children of ordinary working New Zealanders, who have seen their wages and conditions stagnate or even go backwards under National's repressive employment laws. They live in poverty not because of some failure on the part of their parents, but because National's economy delivers for the few, not the many. And ultimately, they suffer because National chooses to do nothing about this. As Tolley's response shows, reducing child poverty simply is not a priority for this government.

It should be - because child poverty costs us a huge amount of money. It leads to unemployment, crime, health, and lower economic potential, imposing long-term costs on the welfare, education, health, and justice system budgets. Reducing it is an investment, not a cost. But like their friends in the business community, National is not interested in investing in New Zealand. They'd rather run it into the ground instead.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Climate change: Still doing nothing

Over the weekend, 200 countries agreed a new climate deal in Paris. Despite the rhetoric of "the end of the fossil fuel era" and "the worlds greatest diplomatic success", its just the usual bullshit of promises no-one intends to keep sweetened with money no-one intends to give. Tellingly, it doesn't include any binding emissions reduction targets, making the entire thing purest hot air. Its aspiration, not action - and its a bit fucking late for that.

As for our government, its clearly got the message. In the face of an empty agreement, it has no plans to change its policies:

Mr Key told Morning Report New Zealand's significant steps on emission reduction would not involve cutting back on the mining of oil, gas and coal.

"Not in terms of the production side of the house, if you like ... I can't exactly tell you off the top of my head how many barrels of oil we produce a day but it would be what Saudi Arabia, Iraq and those other countries, Iran, produce in a nano-second. It's just not large."


[Climate Change Minister Tim] Groser said no change in goverment policy was needed in the short term, but in the long run, New Zealand would have to do more to meet the agreement. Part of that would be finding technical solutions to agricultural emissions.

...which they intend to do by doing... nothing! In other words, we're going to respond to this "historic" agreement by just keeping on shitting in out atmosphere. Which is what happens when there are no binding targets.

But there's another, positive, consequence: no binding targets means no credible possibility of carbon trading. Which means that if the government wants to meet their 11% by 2030 target, they're actually going to have to reduce domestic emissions. Sadly, I expect that what will happen is that they'll simply refuse to meet it - or rather, refuse to enact policy and leave it as a problem for their successors, then denounce them when they try and do anything. Which of course is why we're in this mess in the first place.

Monarchical fiction again

Sigh. People hate the TPPA, and as with other controversial political topics - banning child beating, the 90 day law, and retrospectively approving Parliamentary spending - they're demanding the Governor-General do something about it, via a petition asking him to "command" the government hold a referendum.

These people are fools. In our constitutional system, the Governor-General "commands" nothing. They act only and always on the advice of elected Ministers, even to the extent of signing their own execution warrant if told to do so. They're a rubberstamp, nothing more, and the idea that they are (or should be) anything more than that is pure monarchical fiction.

But they're fools in another way too. Because if your whole argument is that the TPP lacks any democratic mandate (one I agree with), then surely the answer to that cannot be to appeal to an official who lacks one himself. Because fundamentally, the Governor-General is illegitimate. They are appointed, not elected. And that means they have no more right to make decisions in our name than Canterbury's unelected dictators.

If you want to defeat the TPPA democratically, then the answer is to vote out the government which signed it, and vote in a government which will withdraw from it. If no political party will offer that choice, then you need to argue and lobby and vote the fuckers out until one will. But appealing to the representative of a vestigial hereditary dictatorship is neither constitutional nor democratic.

New Fisk

Is there really any difference between a terrorist and an ordinary criminal?


So, John Key's vanity flag referendum has had the expected result, with National Fern pipping Labour Fern for first place in the preliminary count. Meh. It was always an uninspiring choice, and the addition of Red Peak - a flag which emerged from the grassroots and showed us what the process could have been like - at the last minute didn't change that. So now we have an uninspiring design stolen from a weetbix packet versus a colonial relic. And to be honest, I hate either option. So I gues snow its a question of what I hate more: Britain, or John Key?

I want the flag to change, but not like this, and not to John Key's stupid fern. So I'm with Simon Pound: vote for the current flag, then have another go at it in five years - and next time, do it properly.

Friday, December 11, 2015

This isn't helping

Speaking of ham-fisted anti-terror measures increasing radicalisation, Radio New Zealand has the appalling story of a kiwi Muslim questioned at the airport after visiting her family in Iraq. There seems to have been no justification for this questioning, and its primary effect is to reinforce the perception that Muslims aren't real kiwis and are enemies of the state who will not be left to live their lives in peace. Which is not exactly going to encourage a positive perception of the state which bullies them in this way, or encourage them to volunteer information which may result in others being similarly bullied.

Countering terrorism ultimately depends on community cooperation. And you don't get that by victimising and bullying an entire community. Instead, that just makes things worse. We have only to look at the UK or Australia for the consequences.

Making the problem worse

From the UK, a warning that ham-fisted anti-terror policing is radicalising Muslims:

UK authorities are radicalising young Muslims by tackling the terror threat in the wrong way, a former Home Office counter terrorism advisor has claimed.

Jahan Mahmood, who resigned from his government job over disagreements on counter-terrorism strategy, claims authorities are misrepresenting the severity of the threat facing the UK.

Mr Mahmood said far too many people were being arrested, with the majority never charged or convicted.


He claimed this led only to further radicalisation of already ostracised individuals, arrested on “very flimsy” evidence only to be released.

Apparently only 39 percent of those arrested in the UK under anti-terrorism legislation are ever charged. Which suggests a huge level of over-policing. And the experience of these unjustified arrests for the victims and their families and their communities is not exactly going to be a glowing recommendation of the British state. Instead, it makes it clear to them that the state regards them as an enemy and that they will not be permitted to peacefully get on with their lives like any other citizen. And that last bit - the basic denial of human dignity - is a chief driver of radicalisation and terrorism. Its hard to escape the conclusion that if the UK didn't look so hard for "terrorists", and didn't go around kicking in people's doors in the middle of the night because someone was seen wearing a hijab, they'd have a lot less of them.

The cost of austerity: Northland's forests

Back in October, Forest & Bird released drone footage of Northland's forests, showing them dead and dying due to rampant pests. The Department of Conservation should obviously be doing something about this, to prevent total ecological collapse. But they won't, because of budget cuts:

Six weeks after a Forest & Bird video revealed Northland native forests dying of neglect, the Department of Conservation (DoC) has admitted it has no plan or budget to save them and no intention of asking the government for more funding.

DoC manager for Northland Sue Reid made that clear this week to a meeting of the Northland Regional Council's environment committee.


"We have to show what we will achieve within our current budget, and it is not sustainable to just go cap-in-hand to the government for more money."

So, DoC is going to stand by in the face of a pressing ecological crisis because their Minister has cut their natural heritage management budget by $6 million and they're too chickenshit to ask for it back so they can do their job properly. It really makes you wonder what the point of them is. Meanwhile, National's austerity looks like it is going to cause permanent damage to Northland's forests.

...but I guess that just means more Swamp Kauri for Judith Collins' partner to export to China, right?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The vandals are back

Back in March, a pair of environmental vandals in Auckland tried to have a stand of 500 year old kauri cut down. People rallied to protect the trees, and after days of protest and a treetop occupation, they were saved, with the landowners agreeing not to cut them.

But they lied. Today, the chainsaws were back again - as are the protesters. The good news is that the contractors hired to do the deed have walked off the job after being made aware of the issue; they care about their reputation. And it would be a brave tree-cutting firm who took it on now. But now that the vandals have gone back on their word once, any future promise they make simply cannot be trusted. The natural suspicion will be that they are simply saying whatever it takes to get the protesters to go away, so they can murder these trees when no-one is watching.

Ultimately, the only thing that will protect these trees from the chainsaw is robust planning protection from the Auckland Council. While the National Party, which supports environmental vandalism, has tried to make this difficult, it is still possible. And the Auckland Council should get a bloody move on in doing it.

Spy propaganda and our national museum

Last month I highlighted the New Zealand Intelligence Community's Draft NZIC Communications Strategy 2014-2017, which included (among other things) a plan for a "museum exhibition" to "help deliver our key messages". While the proposed venue was redacted, there was only one real place where such an exhibition would be held: Te Papa. So I sent them an OIA request asking whether they'd been in negotiations about an exhibition with the NZIC or any of our component agencies, and if so, all communications relating to it and their vision for the exhibition. I got the response yesterday, and the answer, of course, is "yes". But the good news is that the plans have been shelved:

Te Papa had some engagement with the New Zealand Intelligence Community regarding their collections including possible collaboration with Te Papa for an exhibition. In March 2014 a brief 'Idea Summary' document was drafted and agreement to proceed to a proposal stage was approved.

Due to changes in Te Papa's long-term exhibition planning in July 2014, ideas for an exhibition With the NZ Intelligence Community did not proceed beyond this stage. No exhibition proposal document was developed, nor was further negotiation about an exhibition with the NZ Intelligence Community undertaken.

Te Papa doesn't currently have any plans for an exhibition on the New Zealand intelligence community.

Why is it good news that the plans have been shelved? Because as the communications strategy made clear, the aim was essentially for a propaganda exhibition designed to boost the reputation of the spies and increase their social licence. And according to the Idea Summary, it was to be "potentially paid for" and even possibly co-curated by GCSB - and with explicitly political timing:
Suggested timing: after the general election (September 2014) - follow Border Patrol (synergy of issues) - coincide/or be aligned to timing of Simon Denny's [mass-surveillance-themed - I/S] Venice Biennale installation (mid-2015) - before Denny's 2016 showing at Te Papa? DPMC would like the exhibition to be in the first half of 2015, if possible (before they embark on an internal evaluation process, we understand).

So, in short: the government and its spy agencies proposed spending public money to pay our national museum to host an exhibition to explicitly counter a pro-privacy / anti-surveillance exhibition, in an effort to shift public opinion in favour of their agencies, in the run-up to a statutory review of their organisation and powers. Which is something highly dubious in a democracy. Fortunately, its been cancelled. But we clearly need to keep an eye on the spies, and how much of our money they're spending trying to shape our opinion of them.

Getting married is not terrorism

Radio New Zealand reports breathlessly that none of the SIS's supposed "Jihadi brides" has had their passport cancelled - meaning they could be "free to return to New Zealand". Well, of course they haven't, and of course they are. Cancelling a passport requires that a person be a danger to the security of New Zealand (or another country) because they intend to engage in "a terrorist act within the meaning of section 5 of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002". To point out the obvious, getting married is not terrorism.

As for the "problem" of "returning to New Zealand", every New Zealand citizen has the right to enter New Zealand at any time, and the government is required to facilitate this by issuing emergency travel documents even to people whose passports they have cancelled for "terrorism". More generally, the idea that we can or should effectively exile New Zealanders from their own country is abhorrent, and Radio New Zealand should be ashamed of themselves for propagating it.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A new target for asset forfeiture

So far, the targets of asset forfeiture have mostly been involved in drug dealing. But now police have discovered a lucrative new target: businesses who exploit migrants:

Police have frozen $34 million of assets linked to a well known Auckland-based restaurant chain - believed to be the most valuable cache of property targeted in a single case.


The police said on Monday that officers from its Northern Asset Recovery Unit had launched civil action against several companies associated with the operation of restaurants, which it did not name but said they were "well known" and based in Auckland.

It followed a joint investigation between Immigration NZ, the labour inspectorate, Inland Revenue and police.

While police won't name the target, if its the obvious one, then there have been convictions on a host of charges under the Minimum Wage Act, Holidays Act, and Immigration Act. But asset forfeiture wasn't imposed at sentencing (because if it was, the court would have had to treat it as a criminal punishment and reduce the sentence accordingly). Instead, they seem to be targeting them post-sentencing, and for far more than the few offences they were actually convicted of. The latter isn't necessarily untoward - there is such a thing as "representative charges" - but it runs the danger of people being punished for more than they are actually guilty of. And all enabled by a reverse burden of proof, reducing the burden on the police to actually prove their case.

While I'm glad to see asset forfeiture for once used against corporate criminals, the process is still fundamentally flawed. It allows people to be punished and robbed by the state essentially on suspicion, under Ahmed Zaoui standards of evidence. And with a heavy focus on settlements, the entire process gives the impression of a government shakedown rather than justice. The good news is that a $34 million business is a different kind of beast from your usual drug dealer, and can likely afford proper lawyers to contest this. Which may mean we see the BORA challenges this law has been crying out for.

While I want to see corporate criminals punished, it must be just and proportionate. This law is neither. And it needs to be repealed before it corrupts our justice system entirely.

Good riddance to Serco

Serco's contract to run Mt Eden Prison will not be extended. Good. Pretty obviously, their management of the prison was a shambles, relying on understaffing it to boost profits while juking the stats to hide the effects, and they well deserve to be thrown out for it. While I'd prefer to see the contract terminated immediately, this is probably the easiest way to do it without an enormous lawsuit. But it poses two obvious questions: who takes over Mt Eden, and what about Wiri, which Serco also runs?

In both cases, the answer should be "Corrections". The problems at Mt Eden were not problems with Serco, but fundamental to private provision; replacing Serco with another private provider (such as the equally dubious G4S) will simply result in the same problems all over again. And while we haven't heard about them cropping up at Wiri yet, its only a matter of time. Unfortunately, National are such muppets that they gave Serco a 25 year contract on Wiri, meaning it will be far harder to get them out. We'll probably have to wait for multiple people to die on Serco's watch as a result of their incompetence and skimping in order to terminate - a price we will no doubt pay eventually, but still far too high. It would be better not to contract out prisons to private providers who put prisoner's lives in jeopardy in the first place.

The usual crony process

Back in November, National made another round of crony appointments, appointing former backbencher Tau Henare to the board of Housing New Zealand, and former Energy Minister Phil Heatley to the board of EECA. I sent away the usual OIA requests seeking information on the process, and both reveal the appointments to be the usual crony hatchet job.

Henare's appointment documents are here. They reveal that Henare was nominated by English and was the only candidate interviewed. It is claimed that this was due to the unavailability of the other candidates to take up the position, but (possibly due to over-vigorous redactions) there is nothing in the released material to suggest that this is the case (and base don past appointment documents, it would be mentioned). Either way: Ministerial nominee gets position, no real questions asked.

Heatley's appointment is even worse. Bridges was advised that there were two vacancies, and a legal requirement that he publicly advertise the positions - he couldn't just reappoint the incumbents. But despite receiving 85 expressions of interest, that is exactly what he did, without bothering to conduct any interviews. And then, to add the icing on the cake, he appointed his mate Phil Heatley as an additional member, just because he could. It is clear from the briefing that he had already made his mind up about Heatley's appointment before the process began:

Following the briefing of 20 August 2015 [0562 15-16], you agreed to a process for replacing or reappointing these members. You also indicated you wanted to appoint an additional member, Hon Phil Heatley, increasing the board size to seven members.
So, those advertisements and the time and public money spent placing them and reviewing 85 applicants? All wasted. As was the time and effort of anyone who applied. In fact, its clear from this that unless you are a National crony, there is simply no point in applying for a position under this government, as the outcomes of these recruitment processes have already been pre-determined.

As a final note, both releases contain vigorous redactions of material as "out of scope". Thanks to Nick Smith, we know that such redactions cannot be trusted not to be misleading or to cover in-scope material, and as a result the redacted documents have been requested. Just another example of how Ministerial control-freakery makes more work for everyone.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The obvious question

The Intelligence and Security Committee met today to discuss the SIS's annual review, which led to the revelation that Kiwis were heading overseas to marry members of ISIS:

Young New Zealand women are heading to Iraq and Syria with fears they are joining the droves of Jihadi brides.

Security Intelligence Security director Rebecca Kitteridge revealed on Tuesday the numbers were on the rise and it was a big concern.

Why? To ask the obvious question, how are these women a threat to the security of New Zealand?

Because that's what the SIS exists for: to inform us of threats to our security. Which in law means:
(a) the protection of New Zealand from acts of espionage, sabotage, and subversion, whether or not they are directed from or intended to be committed within New Zealand:
(b) the identification of foreign capabilities, intentions, or activities within or relating to New Zealand that impact on New Zealand's international well-being or economic well-being:
(c) the protection of New Zealand from activities within or relating to New Zealand that—
(i) are influenced by any foreign organisation or any foreign person; and
(ii) are clandestine or deceptive, or threaten the safety of any person; and
(iii) impact adversely on New Zealand's international well-being or economic well-being:
(d) the prevention of any terrorist act and of any activity relating to the carrying out or facilitating of any terrorist act

It is difficult to see how kiwis leaving the country to get married is covered by any of that. Insofar as these women are not themselves engaged in terrorist activities, then it seems to be no business of the SIS who they marry.

But I forget: the SIS has always been a pack of panty-sniffing perverts with an interest in people's sex lives. And while the targets may have changed, the mindset hasn't. But that mindset seems to have no place in law. If the SIS is spying on "jihadi brides", then it needs to stop

A game of hide and seek

Today, the Chief Ombudsman released her review of the OIA, Not a game of hide and seek. Its a long read, but here's some initial impressions:

  • The Ombudsman finds that Ministers are sending "mixed messages" about openness and transparency. The Prime Minister is directly to blame here, but the Ombudsman spends some time backing away from her comments criticising him. She did however recommend the PM, Ministers, Chief Executives issue clear and direct statements of their commitment to the OIA and expectations of compliance. While I look forward to that, I'll believe it when I see it.
  • As with every other review of the OIA, this one has found a clear need for leadership within the public sector to champion the Act and provide guidance on it. You'd think this would be the job of the State Services Commissioner, the guardian of our public service. But they don't want a bar of it, saying that "it is neither practical nor desirable for the Commission itself to assume responsibility" and "the State Services Commission is currently not resourced to carry out such a role nor has it been a high priority for us to provide this service to the system". They also opposed the Ombudsman's efforts to survey their staff about OIA practices, and prevented the survey from being publicised on the SSC's intranet. This, BTW, is the agency responsible for managing our participation in the Open Government Partnership - and this attitude perhaps explains why they're so crap at it.
  • The Ombudsman thinks MPs shouldn't be exempt from being charged from OIA requests. This is pitched as a matter of equality under the law, and to prevent them from huge, time-consuming requests - but also as away of enabling those requests to be answered rather than refused for "substantial collation and research". But its a non-starter. There are good reasons, both rational and practical, for not charging MPs. Obviously, a well-informed opposition means a well-informed House, and facilitating their access to information contributes to our democracy. And on the practical front, can you imagine what would happen if an agency "decided" (was ordered by their Minister) to start charging for opposition requests? There'd be questions to the Minister in the House, adverse media stories, and possibly a complaint to the Privileges Committee for impeding the House in its duties. And of course they'd seek the information in other ways - either by written questions to the Minister (which the agency has to answer anyway, and in less time), or simply by summoning the chief executive before select committees to provide the answers they seek. In short, a lot of shit (which would naturally flow downhill), for no reduction in workload. So I'd put that in the "not going to happen" box.
  • The Ombudsman spends 4 pages criticising the media - which she has no jurisdiction over and who are well beyond the terms of reference of this review - for being mean about the departments they request official information on. Which reinforces the comments she made last week which destroyed her reputation.
There's some useful recommendations in here about record-keeping, the need for standardised protocols governing interactiosn with Ministers' offices, and the need for public commitment to transparency. It would be nice if something came of them. But with a Prime Minister who publicly admits to gaming the OIA and an SSC who wants nothing to do with it, I don't expect much. Things will only change when we get political change, to a government which values transparency. And that is at least two years away.

Lying Aussies

Remember when John Key assured us that kiwis being detained in Australian gulags could safely return "home" to New Zealand and pursue their appeals against deportation from here? Turns out he was wrong - the Australians lied to his face:

New Zealand has asked for an urgent "please explain" after evidence that Australia could have breached crucial assurances it made about sending detainees across the Tasman.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has come out strongly this morning after an Australian lawyer released evidence that apparently undermines assurances personally given to Prime Minister John Key by his counterpart Malcolm Turnbull.

"That form on the face of it certainly raises some concerns, and we have gone back to them and said they need to explain, because we expect them to stand by the assurances they have made to us, and to New Zealanders," Ms Adams said.

And Labour leader Andrew Little says if the Australians have misled New Zealand, "that is a pretty nasty, conniving thing to go and do".

But its about the level the Australia-New Zealand relationship is at: we expect them to deal honestly with us, and they cheat and lie. And unfortunately, I expect there'll be nothing that can be done about it - regardless of what the politicians say, signing this onerous form (which also involves agreeing to pay the hyper-inflated costs of your own persecution) will be regarded by bureaucrats as conclusive evidence that the victims have waived their rights. So they'll meet their deportation targets, and these kiwis will have their lives ruined.

Still, it does show how useless Key's "relationship-based" foreign policy is. Being "mates" with Turnbull isn't worth shit, any more than playing golf with Obama is. All it gets is photo opportunities for the PM. Which is great for him, but absolutely worthless to the rest of us.

Monday, December 07, 2015

The Dom Post on the Ombudsman

The Dominion Post doesn't hold back in its editorial on the departing Ombudsman:

The Ombudsman is the guardian of the citizen's right to know. Politicians and bureaucrats by their nature don't want to share information, because information is power. The Official Information Act forces them to share and makes the Ombudsman a kind of tribune of the people.

What a shame, then, that retiring Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem is leaving office amid a cloud of justified controversy. Her recent remarks make her look less like a champion of freedom than a friend of the powerful.

It is truly extraordinary to hear her scolding journalists as "rottweilers on heat" and warning them not to annoy "innately conservative" officials who might then become "gun-shy". These statements are what you would expect from a bad-tempered bureaucrat, not an ombudsman.

It is not for the Chief Obudsman to tell anyone to be polite and humble when asking for information. It is most certainly not for her to suggest that officials can obstruct information – because that is all that being "gun-shy" can mean here – when they are irritated.

The Official Information Act requires the government to provide information unless there is good reason not to. The reasons for refusal are laid out in statute. The law must determine when the gate is open and when it is shut, not the manners of the applicant or the mood of the gatekeeper.

Wakem's comments were outrageous and called her fitness for office into question. as the Dom Post argues, if she'd made them at the beginning of her career, they'd be grounds for demanding her resignation. Instead, she's making them as she leaves - and in the process, called every decision she has ever made into question. And as a result, she's not going to be missed when she's gone.

New Fisk

The needless interrogation of a Belgian academic is exactly what Isis wants from us
Saudi Arabia’s unity summit will only highlight Arab disunity

Towards a UBI in Finland

Finland is planning to introduce a Universal basic Income:

The Finnish government is currently drawing up plans to introduce a national basic income. A final proposal won’t be presented until November 2016, but if all goes to schedule, Finland will scrap all existing benefits and instead hand out €800 ($870) per month—to everyone.

It sounds far-fetched, but it’s looking likely that Finland will carry through with the idea. Whereas several Dutch cities will introduce basic income next year and Switzerland is holding a referendum on the subject, there is strongest political and public support for the idea in Finland.

A poll commissioned by the government agency planning the proposal, the Finnish Social Insurance Institution or KELA, showed that 69% support (link in Finnish) a basic income plan. Prime minister Juha Sipilä is in favor of the idea and he’s backed by most of the major political parties. “For me, a basic income means simplifying the social security system,” he says.

Its a good idea. The evidence we have so far suggests that a UBI means a healthier, more educated and more economically productive community, simply because people can afford to take time off to invest in education or childcare, or when they get sick. And from a left point of view, removing the employers' boot from our neck results in better workplaces and a massive boost in practical human freedom. There are implementation questions, of course - the big one being high-needs beneficiaries who would be made worse off by a change - but Finland moving to such a system will help us work out what the good answers are.

Friday, December 04, 2015

A victory for justice in the UK

Back in April, the British government introduced a "criminal courts charge". Designed to "make criminals pay" for the cost of their trials, what it actually did was pervert the course of justice, creating an incentive for the innocent to plead guilty while violating the right to a fair trial. The charge was so unjust that some judges resigned rather than impose it, while others were discharging people without conviction to protect them from the effective excessive penalty of paying it. The good news is that it is now going to be abolished:

A “tax on justice” that made defendants pay towards the cost of their trials is to be abolished by the Government after a three-month campaign spearheaded by The Independent.

In a significant climbdown, the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, has ripped up the policy of his predecessor, Chris Grayling, and announced that the criminal courts charge will be scrapped across England and Wales by Christmas.

The fee had been condemned by magistrates, lawyers, civil rights groups and even the Conservative-dominated Commons Justice Select Committee.

The U-turn follows a campaign by The Independent that exposed how defendants were being encouraged to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit to avoid a fee that they could not afford to pay.

Good. But the obvious question now is whether those who have had paid this unjust charge will have it refunded - and whether those who plead guilty under threat of it can challenge their convictions.

This has to stop

Another case of police brutality has been caught on camera, this time in Porirua, where police kicked and punched a helpless person in the back of a police car. But don't worry - because the police say its all a trick of the camera or something:

Responding to the footage, Acting District Commander Paul Basham said in a statement that police were aware of the incident and the footage.

"However, as is often the case with brief video clips of this nature, it does not necessarily provide a full picture of what occurred prior to the event being filmed, which may include a subject's violent and or aggressive behaviour towards police staff or other members of the public.

"I can reassure the community that the incident will be reviewed, and the relevant facts made available in due course," Basham said.

Of course, now that he's publicly declared what the facts are, the "review" is hardly going to contradict him. Nothing to see here, move along.

This casual use of violence by police has to stop. As for how to do it, mandatory bodycams with immediate suspension for "faults" are a good way to start, coupled with a much harsher policy towards police suspected of abusing the public. I want the police to feel that we are watching over their shoulder every time they interact with us, and that they will be fired without a pension if they abuse the powers we give them. And if this causes some police to quit the force, good - because the sort of people who believe police can only operate if given virtual impunity to beat, abuse and even rape the public are not fit and proper enforcers of our laws, and should have no place in our police force.

Nothing to see here?

Another problem for (departing) Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem's "nothing to see here, move along" narrative about the politicisation of the OIA: Government departments reportedly tried to stop public servants from contributing to the review:

The Public Service Association has accused some government agencies of obstructing the Ombudsman's Office investigation into the Official Information Act.

It said the lack of support for the inquiry was another example of political pressure on the public service.

PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk said the Ombudsman's Office asked it to distribute its questionnaire to its members but the union encountered some difficulties.

"We had some push back from agencies suggesting that our members and that those workplaces shouldn't be filling out that survey and giving information to the Office of the Ombudsman."

In other words, agencies felt they had something to hide, and took active steps to cover it up. And sadly, it seems to have worked. Nothing to see here? Yeah, right.


How bad are Australia's refugee gulags? So bad that 600 of the 900 people detained on Manus Island (where refugees have been beaten, raped, tortured and murdered by Australia's hired goons) have signed an open letter to the Australian government asking to be killed:

A disturbing letter, signed by 600 of the 900 Manus Island detainees, has asked Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton to kill them.

The letter, published by human rights lawyer Julian Burnside on his website on Monday, describes the hopelessness Manus Island detainees feel about their situation and outlines possible avenues of mass killing for the Australian government.

The letter was photographed by Vice Magazine and verified by a journalist who contacted its author, known as ‘Mahmud’.

They ask to be drowned by the Australian Navy, gassed, or given a lethal injection as they believe there is no other way to end their suffering. But of course, Australia is "civilised"; it will psychologically torture people so they want to die, but it won't actually kill them. That would be cruel, you see.

There is a name for people who drive people to this level of despair: monsters. And that label can be rightly applied to the entire Australian government. Every death in these gulags is their responsibility - and they should be prosecuted for them.

Another bribe

Back in May, we learned that Murray McCully had given a Saudi billionaire $6 million plus regulatory concessions in a naked effort to bribe him into removing his objections to a free trade agreement. It was a corrupt deal, an outright bribe, which pissed all over our good reputation as a nation which doesn't do that sort of thing. But rather than cleaning up its act, and forswearing future bribes, the government is planning to give him another $2.5 million:

The government is about to spend more than $2.5 million of taxpayers' money building an abattoir for a disaffected Saudi businessman.

The kit-set abattoir is part of the Government's $12m attempt to appease him.

It has already given the influential businessman, Hamood Al-Ali Al-Khalaf, $4m and has flown 900 pregnant sheep to his farm - nearly all the lambs subsequently died.

Mr Al-Khalaf has opposed New Zealand getting a free trade deal in the region.

And he'll no doubt keep opposing it as long as the government keeps paying him millions of dollars a year not to - because that's the incentive they're setting. But its also simply corrupt, and something New Zealand shouldn't be doing. And if Saudi Arabia is so corrupt that a billionaire can dictate their foreign policy and demands baksheesh to do so, they're probably not the sort of country we want a free trade agreement with anyway.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The UK votes for bombing

The UK Parliament has formally voted to bomb Syria:

Britain will join the coalition of nations conducting airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria after MPs in the House of Commons voted to authorise the UK’s participation.

MPs voted 397 to 223 in favour of sending RAF Tornados into the skies over Syria, after an all-day debate in parliament. An estimated 67 Labour MPs backed the government, in defiance of the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Its a mistake, which will only make things worse, while inviting retaliation on the UK. But the UK establishment has made its bed - and now their people get to lie in it (and, in the event of an attack, be left to die by the people who are supposed to protect them. Its the Establishment in a nutshell, isn't it?)

As for UK Labour, their membership now has a clear target list. And hopefully the warmongers can be de-selected before they endanger anyone else.


A ballot for three member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Customs and Excise (Prohibition of Imports Made by Slave Labour) Amendment Bill (Peeni Henare)
  • Public Works (Prohibition of Compulsory Acquisition of Māori Land) Amendment Bill (Catherine Delahunty)
  • Consumer Guarantees (Removal of Unrelated Party Lender Responsibility) Amendment Bill (Shane Reti)
  • Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for RNZRSA Clubs from Special Licencing Requirements for Anzac Day) Amendment Bill (Paul Foster-Bell)
The Customs and Excise (Prohibition of Imports Made by Slave Labour) Amendment Bill has been before the House before, in 2009. On that occasion, it was voted down by National and Act, with Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party and United Future voting in favour. NZ First wasn't in Parliament at the time, but if they support it this time, the bill will pass. The full list of bills in the ballot today can be seen here.

The blind watchdog

Yesterday, the Ombudsman, the guardian of the OIA, told a select committee that she had found no political interference with OIA requests. And that very day, we have this:

Housing New Zealand has confirmed Nick Smith’s office had a hand in covering up embarrassing information exposing National MPs rorting taxpayer-funding to campaign, Labour’s State Services spokesperson Kris Faafoi says.

“Housing New Zealand has confirmed the Minister’s office blanked out sections of an Official Information Act response which exposed National List MP Parmjeet Parmar using taxpayer money to ‘raise local profile’ in the event of a by-election in Mount Roskill.

“Text, which was redacted in three places in the released documents, was accidently left in, in another section.

Note that the request was to Housing New Zealand, so Nick Smith was dictating to them how they should respond (and that they should lie by mislabelling material as "out of scope") - something the Chief Ombudsman says never happens and which Chief Executives (whose continued employment, salary and bonuses depend on a good relationship with their Minister) would resist.

I guess we should all be glad that she's retiring in a week - because she's just shown herself to be an embarrassment to her office and fundamentally useless at doing her job.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

A police vendetta

Faced with public criticism of their abusive search of journalist Heather du Plessis-Allan's home for exposing police muppetry, the police are doubling down, accusing her of a serious crime and saying she could go to prison. Yes and no. Pretty obviously, firearms offences are serious and punishable by jail. At the same time, if the police think that it is in the public interest to prosecute, that a jury would convict, or that a judge would impose a sentence of imprisonment for a non-violent offender engaged in public interest journalism, they are simply batshit insane. Instead, this whole thing looks like a police vendetta against a journalist who exposed their failings - and the more the police pursue it, the more it undermines respect for both them and the rule of law.

Challenging Ministerial unaccountability

Last month, I highlighted how the Ombudsman has undermined Ministerial accountability to Parliament. The core problem is a 2002 Ombudsman's ruling, which basicly says that Minister's draft answers to oral questions will almost never be released under the OIA - effectively allowing them to lie with impunity. At the end of that post, I noted that I would be filing some OIA requests in an effort to challenge that ruling.

The first such request was to the Ministry of Justice, for draft answers to this question. Its particularly interesting, because while the Associate Minister professes ignorance of statistics about Christmas Island detainees in the House, the Minister he was answering on behalf of clearly was not ignorant, having briefed the New Zealand Herald about them that very morning. Which invites the obvious question: was the Associate Minister poorly briefed, or was he lying? And in both cases, there is clearly a significant public interest in that fact being revealed. The chief purpose of the Act is "to promote the accountability of Ministers of the Crown and official", thereby promoting good government. Exposing incompetent departments or deceitful Ministers is precisely what the Act is for.

At the least, this suggests that the Ministry of Justice got the public interest calculation wrong. But there's also the broader question of the 2002 ruling and the presumption against release. Insofar as it reduces Ministerial accountability, it seems contrary to the purposes of the Act. And from watching Question Time, there's no doubt that the behaviour it enables does exactly that.

The ruling is predicate don the assumption that

If draft answers were released, it was considered that Ministers would be less likely to seek the advice of their departments in the future, which would diminish the quality of information provided to the House.

But this is simply laughable. Are we really expected to believe that Ministers would deliberately make themselves look like fools before the House (and a live TV / internet audience) by avoiding being briefed on basic information? And given that the quality of information provided to the House is already being eroded by this very ruling, is the hypothetical evil of such childish Ministerial behaviour really greater than the one we see almost every day? I don't think so.

I've lodged a complaint to the Ombudsman making these points. I expect it to be a long investigation, so I'm not expecting a response any time soon. But I'll keep you updated on any progress.

Wasting our time

For the past year, the Chief Ombudsman Beverely Wakem has been reviewing the operation of the Official Information Act. However, from her comments to a select committee today, its clear that she has been wasting our time. Wakem said that her review (which will be released next week, when she fortunately retires) found no "inappropriate" political interference with requests. Which might be true. However, she then went on to criticise requesters, and particularly the media:

She said some requests under the OIA were too broad and in some cases were impossible for a short-staffed agency to meet.


Wakem told the committee she had observed chief executives get "gun shy" about requests, particularly from media.

She later told reporters: "If you are going for a quick sound bite and a 'gotcha' headline it does make people (gun shy) who are innately conservative anyway, and worrying about the context in which they might release something, and how it is understood."

As a former chief executive and as Ombudsman she had seen examples of reporters running up against deadlines and wanting to be first and that "imposes a break on the relationship" that was unfortunate and sometimes unavoidable.


She said chief executives might take an objective view of whether information should be released "if the approach to them was not like a rottweiler on heat. Frankly it's the relationship you establish with the chief executive."

And this person is supposed to be the guardian of transparency and accountability. Instead, she seems to view her role as making excuses for power.

To point out the obvious, responding to OIA requests is a statutory duty. And it is the duty of Ministers to ensure that their agencies have sufficient resources to meet that duty. If agencies are "short-staffed", then they should be given resources to cope, rather than this being used as an excuse for illegal behaviour. As for the idea that Chief Executives' responses will depend on their relationship with the journalists concerned, it is as revolting as it is unlawful. We are supposed to be a country of laws, not men - and it is the Ombudsman's job to uphold that. To have these views expressed by the Ombudsman calls her ability to do her job into question, and suggests that her entire review is simply a whitewash for power.

New Fisk

Is David Cameron planning to include al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra in his group of '70,000 moderates?'

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day - and it looks to be a busy one. Lots of bills have been delayed, so MPs look likely to almost empty the Order Paper of Member's Bills.

First up is Winston Peters' Affordable Healthcare Bill. The bill is an explicitly racist measure designed to make new immigrants second-class citizens by depriving them of healthcare (leaving more for Winston's greedy grey constituency). It will fail, but the real question is whether Labour will vote for it to snuggle up to Winston. Second is David Cunliffe's Education (Restoration of Democracy to University Councils) Amendment Bill; does what it says on the label, so National will vote it down. Third is another interesting one: Jian Yang's Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill. This has attracted a section 7 BORA report because it is overbroad - it labels all robbers as child sex offenders. National will vote for it anyway; the question is whether the select committee will fix it in the ways recommended by the Attorney-General. Fourth up is David Shearer's Electricity Transparency Bill, a basic consumer-protection measure designed to let us see which power companies are ripping us off; expect National to vote that one down too. There's another consumer protection bill after that as well - Mojo Mathers' Commerce (Supermarket Adjudicator and Code of Conduct) Amendment Bill, aimed at improving competition by preventing Countdown-style abuse of suppliers. Sadly, I don't expect National to support that either. Finally, the House should make a start on Marama Fox's Oaths and Declarations (Endorsing the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi) Amendment Bill, but it won't get a vote today.

With only one Member's Bill left on the Order Paper at the end of the night, there should be a ballot for three bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Another show trial

Another day, another show trial for an opposition MP for calling the Speaker on his bias. This time, the target is Ruth Dyson, who in various tweets supposedly called the Speaker "incompetent, biased, doesn't like the job, lazy, sexist, doesn't give a toss". Sadly, truth isn't a defence in National's kangaroo court. Meanwhile, in doing this, National's Deputy Speaker made it clear he thought Dyson was guilty, effectively pre-determining the outcome. But natural justice doesn't apply to National's kangaroo court either. Instead, there'll be a show trial, followed by conviction on a whipped vote and a forced, insincere apology. Its an abuse of power reminiscent of the days of absolute monarchy. But that appears to be how National wants to run the country.

National's Deputy Speaker also complained that the opposition's allegations of bias had damaged the public's opinion of parliament. Bullshit. You know what damages the public's opinion of Parliament/ Show trials. And if National wants to stop the House being perceived as lower than dogshit, a place we wouldn't piss on if it was on fire, it should start by stopping them.

Again, if the Speaker feels his reputation has been impugned by these comments, he should sue for defamation. The fact that he is instead demanding a show trial before his own kangaroo court tells us everything we need to know about the merits. He is biased (and incompetent, and lazy etc). He is National's Speaker, not Parliament's.

Climate change: Research is not a substitute for action

World leaders are assembled in Paris at the moment to pretend to do something (while actually doing nothing) about climate change. And in keeping with this, John Key has announced that rather than reducing emissions, he is once again attempting to delay action by funding research instead:

Prime Minister John Key has committed $20 million to find a fix for farmers to reduce emissions from agriculture.

Key is in Paris at the UN Climate Change Conference and acknowledged that half of New Zealand's emissions are from agriculture "where there are not yet cost effective ways of reducing emissions".

The $20m over four years is in addition to the initial $45m investment that will go specifically to the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.

$20 million over four years is about $5 million a year. Not bad - but at the same time it misses the point. Because funding research in and of itself does not reduce emissions. In order for that to happen, any solution the scientists discover must be widely adopted by farmers. And National has explicitly ensured that there will be no incentive for that to happen, by once again excluding agriculture from the ETS.

New Zealand is also apparently contributing $200 million in aid for victims - again, as a substitute for actually cutting emissions. But as the Climate Network points out, this is much lower than the amount new Zealand spends on subsidising fossil fuels - subsidies Key has increased since taking office (while demanding other countries eliminate theirs). Its a remarkable piece of hypocrisy to cloak inaction - and that's why we're Fossil of the Day.

Our rotten police

Yesterday, Giovanni Tiso posted an excellent piece about the police raid on Nicky Hager's home, which highlighted its ordinaryness. Intruding into innocent people's homes and upturning their lives is just how the police do business. It's raid first, and refuse to answer questions later.

That article has become horribly relevant this morning, with the news that the police are raiding the home of another journalist - this time 3News' Heather du Plessis-Allan. Like Hager, du Plessis-Allan is "guilty" of nothing more than doing her job as a journalist. But like Hager, that job embarrassed those in power - this time the police themselves, who had to explain (and close) a major failure in their oversight of gun laws which allowed unlicensed people to buy firearms. And in light of that, its difficult to see today's raid - supposedly to gain handwriting samples - as anything other than revenge and intimidation. If they actually wanted handwriting samples, they could have got them at du Plessis-Allan's office. But they might have encountered lawyers (and cameras) there, and it wouldn't be intimidating enough. So, they raid her home and go through her private life and underwear drawer instead. The message is clear: in New Zealand, journalists who do their jobs get their homes raided. Our rotten police will only tolerate a compliant, unquestioning media.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A victory for academic freedom

Last week we learned that the police had "blacklisted" a leading crime researcher from accessing police data under a "research contract" which lets them rewrite findings or veto publication at will. Today the police backed down and apologised to Dr Gilbert for blacklisting him. More importantly, they'll be revising that oodious (and quite possibly illegal) research contract;

As a result, Police is amending guidelines around vetting of researchers, including high-level oversight and more detailed case-by-case consideration on vetting checks on researchers which are negative.

Police will also be updating the research agreement, including removing any language that may be interpreted as restricting the independence of academic research.

Good. And now maybe they can focus on fighting criminals rather than massaging their public image.

New Fisk

David Cameron, there aren't 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria - and whoever heard of a moderate with a Kalashnikov, anyway?

The same mistake, over and over again

Things seem to be coming to a crunch in the UK Labour Party. David Cameron wants to bomb Syria (and despite having a majority to do it himself, wants the opposition to be complicit in it so they can't criticise him later when it all goes to shit). And despite his case being the same sort of mendacious bullshit used by Blair to justify his war crime in Iraq, despite it being highly likely to make things worse rather than better, despite it being just another repetition of the same mistake, UK Labour MPs are falling all over themselves to support it - while being outraged at the thought that their party membership might hold them accountable for it come candidate selection time.

Which I guess exposes the fundamental problem with UK Labour: they think of themselves as part of the Establishment. And being part of the Establishment means supporting military adventures, no matter how stupid and unjustified and disastrous and wrong. While of course being insulated from any form of popular accountability.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Journalism is not "espionage"

Back in June, Turkish journalists revealed that the Turkish intelligence services were arming Islamist rebels in Syria. And now they're being prosecuted for "espionage":

Two prominent Turkish journalists have been charged with espionage after alleging that Turkey's secret services sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria.

Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily, and Erdem Gul, the paper's Ankara bureau chief, face life imprisonment if found guilty.


The journalists, who deny the allegations against them, reported that trucks belonging to the Turkish intelligence agency MIT were used to carry weapons to Islamist opposition groups in Syria.

Video footage published alongside their report purported to show Turkish police officers intercepting the trucks and discovering crates containing weapons and ammunition.

So, telling voters what "their" government is doing is officially a crime in Turkey. I guess they're not going to be joining the EU any time soon after all.


Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning a mass-execution of "terrorists":

Saudi authorities appear set in the next few days to carry out a series of beheadings across the country of more than 50 men convicted of terrorism offences. Among those facing execution are three young men who were juveniles when they were arrested.

The publication earlier this week of an article in the newspaper Okaz, which has close links to the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, has convinced families of the accused and concerned human-rights organisations that the executions are imminent.

Sources have said that the plan is to behead the men in several cities across the kingdom, most likely after Friday prayers.

Note that Saudi Arabia defines atheism, questioning islam, and peaceful protest as "terrorism". So they're not just planning to murder people, but to murder them for "crimes" which shouldn't be crimes at all. But apparently some Saudi prince needs to look "strong", and the way you look "strong" is by lining people up in a public square and having your minions hack their heads off. It is simply monstrous.

This is a country which our government is pursuing a free trade agreement with (and bribing people with sheep in order to get it). We shouldn't be. Instead, we should explicitly link trade and human rights, and refuse the former until Saudi Arabia meets basic human rights standards.

Against a common border with Australia

This morning in an editorial the Herald proposes that we resolve our problems with Australia by means of a "common border":

Its proposed solution to that problem was a common border, which appears to mean migrants would face the same criteria for entry to both countries. Those applying under the skills category would need to persuade the (joint) immigration agency they had skills that were in short supply in both countries. That would give New Zealanders priority for filling skill shortages in Australia, and vice versa.
This is an Australian obsession, born of their idea that the trans-Tasman travel arrangement makes New Zealand "a backdoor to Australia". Because obviously, the only reason anyone would want to come here is to gain access to our corrupt, militaristic, racist neighbour. But while the Herald phrases it in terms of rules for skilled migrants, its more far reaching than that. Firstly, it would mean effectively ending immigration from the Pacific, except under limited and exploitative "seasonal guest worker" schemes. Australia's concern is that we have always "let in" far too many brown people, not understanding our connections with the Pacific, the fact that many of them are New Zealand citizens as of right, or indeed that Maori were here first and that there was no genocide here (unlike Australia). A common border effectively means adopting Australia's de facto white Australia policy.

Secondly, of course, it means adopting their refugee policy, under which no-one is effectively allowed to claim (let alone receive) asylum. It means ignoring our obligations under the Refugee Convention, not to mention human rights and the rule of law, and sticking refugees in offshore gulags and torturing them until they "decide" to go "home". In other words, it means actively joining in on a crime against humanity.

I don't think either of these proposals is consistent with New Zealand values or acceptable to New Zealanders. As with the idea of Australian statehood, our answer to a common border should be "no thanks".

More government abuse of the OIA

The Herald has a story this morning about Callaghan Innovation's R&D grants scheme, and a recent report which found the grant rules "ambiguous" and "contradict[ed] the purpose". But buried in there is another case of government abuse of the OIA:

The report by Deloitte emerged out of a dispute between government agency Callaghan Innovation and media firm Trends Publishing that has resulted in High Court challenges and a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation.


Trends director of special planning Andrew Johnson said Deloitte had been engaged by Callaghan to look into his company at the end of last year, but the funding agency had refused to release an unredacted version of the report.

Johnson provided the Herald with copies of emails where Callaghan staff said in February the section criticising the growth grants scheme was excluded from release under the Official Information Act as it was claimed it related only to "administrative matters between Deloitte and Callaghan Innovation".

However, in subsequent court action an unredacted version of the report was released independently by Deloitte.

This is far more serious than Nick Smith playing the "out of scope" game to cover up National abusing public money to pimp its own MPs - here, a department explicitly lied to a requester about what they were covering up and why. Its simply an outright, flagrant abuse, and we should not tolerate it. But as long as the Ombudsman is too underfunded to investigate, then agencies don't fear being caught, and so will keep pissing on the law.