Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Freedom of information and tikanga

Yesterday the Māori Affairs Committee reported back on the Hawke's Bay Regional Planning Committee Bill. The bill looks relatively uncontentious, establishing a joint Regional Planning Committee with Hawke's Bay iwi to decide on regional plans and policy statements under the RMA as part of a Treaty settlement process. But the new body would have an unusual status under local government legislation, including the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.

The relevant clause is section 14, which creates two special withholding grounds under LGOIMA:

Section 7(2) of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 must be read as if the following paragraphs were added:

"(k) avoid serious offence to tikanga of any iwi or hapū represented by a tāngata whenua appointer as defined in section 4 of the Hawke's Bay Regional Planning Committee Act 2014; or

"(l) avoid the disclosure of the location of wāhi tapu of significant interest to any iwi or hapū represented by a tāngata whenua appointer as defined in section 4 of the Hawke's Bay Regional Planning Committee Act 2014."

This isn't as bad as it looks. Section 7(2)(ba) of LGOIMA already allows information to be withheld on these grounds, but only in the case of applications for resource consents, water conservation orders, or heritage orders. The Law Commission in its 2012 review of the OIA noted that there was a real question over whether that withholding ground was too narrow, and recommended the creation of a working party to investigate. I'm not sure whether the government actually did that, but applying it to the slightly broader question of the consideration of RMA planning documents seems to protect the same interests and doesn't seem too harmful. And because it is non-conclusive, it can always be trumped by the public interest in any case. It may also prove to be a useful experiment to determine whether such a withholding ground is acceptable on a national level.

Feeding the watchdog?

The Officers of Parliament Committee reported back today on the annual appropriations for the Ombudsman, and have recommended a significant increase in funding. There's additional funding to help it cope with its duties under OPCAT and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and with administration and security, but there's also money for the OIA - notably $166,000 a year for providing proactive training and advice, and $340,000 a year for additional investigators. All up, they're getting a 15% increase. I guess the failures of the office were so blatant that event MPs could see it and recognise that something needed to be done. The question now is whether Ministers will approve it.

No freedom of speech in Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew is dead, but his legacy of oppression lives on:

A teenage boy who posted a video describing late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew as a “horrible person” has been arrested by Singapore police.

YouTube blogger Amos Yee uploaded the eight-minute video, called ‘Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead!’ on 27 March.

Police have confirmed that a 17-year-old male Singaporean has been arrested.

In the video, the teenager said: “Lee Kuan Yew was a horrible person, because everyone is scared.

“Everyone is afraid if they say something like that, they might get into trouble…which, give Lee Kuan Yew credit, that was primarily the impact of his legacy.

“But I’m not afraid.”

And for that, he's now facing up to two years in jail for criminal defamation, plus three years for (of course) sedition. Because apparently you can't have people publicly criticising even former leaders. That would be democratic.

Another day, another IGIS investigation

One of the most significant changes John Key made to the Government Communications Security Bureau Act in 2013 was to weaken the protection for kiwi's communications. Previously, the Act forbade the GCSB from doing anything to intercept the "communications" of a New Zealander. Key rewrote that clause so that it only protected New Zealanders' "private communications", and only from spying for foreign intelligence (thus giving the GCSB carte blanche to spy on us for "cybersecurity"). The addition of that one word changed the law from an ironclad protection to one with infinite wiggle room around public expectations of privacy. And because the GCSB is a secret agency which refuses to publish its legal advice, we have no idea whether they are exploiting that wiggle room in their internal legal advice to allow spying which Parliament never contemplated and never gave them permission for. But now, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has stepped in to investigate their interpretation of the law:

The country's spy watchdog is to investigate whether the Government Communications Security Bureau is using its interpretation of private communication to spy on New Zealanders.

It will form part of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's wider inquiry into complaints about the bureau following the release of documents by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden.


While Ms Gwyn would not respond to his specific complaint, she wrote to him saying her investigation would include looking at how the GCSB interpreted private communication and whether its collection of information raised questions about that interpretation.

While she's at it, she should look at forcing them to publish their internal legal interpretations of their powers. Because the current situation of the law effectively being secret undermines trust in the GCSB. But the big lesson from Snowden is that we cannot trust our spies; if they want to enjoy public confidence that they are behaving lawfully and in accordance with their legal mandate, they need to show us.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Reported Back

The Local Government and Environment Committee has reported back on National's Environmental Reporting Bill. There were two chief concerns around the bill. The first was secrecy, and the government's efforts to use the bill to hide environmental information from the public. Its largely good news here: the secrecy clause has been rewritten along lines suggested by the Ombudsman so that it only covers "untested information" pre-publication. The Ombudsman seems to think this is justified by statistical good practices, and that seems acceptable. But while the worst excesses have been removed, its telling that while the bill protects requests for information from the Ombudsman and Auditor-General, it does not protect requests from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Which says a lot about the level of trust between the current government and the environment's statutory protector, who will be legally forbidden from accessing up-to-date information about the thing they're supposed to be protecting.

The other chief area of contention was the power of government Ministers to choose the topics for reporting. We've received a powerful reminder today about why that is a bad idea - Statistics New Zealand's proposed environmental reporting topics whitewash away major environmental problems. Sadly, the government has refused to budge here. Which means that this bill is simply not worth passing. I support robust, independent reporting on our environment. I do not support a government whitewash with legislated secrecy.

This does not bode well

The Local Government and Environment Committee is due to report back today on National's Environmental Reporting Bill. One of the key themes of submissions on the bill was that no-one trusts the Minister to decide the topic of the reports. And with good reason. Because Statistics New Zealand announced their Ministerially-approved national environmental reporting topics today, and they're a complete disaster.

The list of topics is here. And you don't have to look very far to find some obvious gaps.

  • Emissions of key air pollutants will be tracked for home heating and transport, but not industry or farming;
  • Global greenhouse gas emissions are included, but not national ones. Meanwhile there's a strong focus on natural drivers of climatic variation such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation and on temperature, rainfall and sunshine-hours time-series.
  • Their definition of "extreme weather events" will focus not on the droughts, fires and floods highlighted by the IPCC, but on lightning strike density.
  • The impact of climate change will be measured by milk production, the economic performance of the agricultural sector, and by ski-field operating days. The health effects will be measured by melanoma statistics rather than heatstroke deaths.
So, rather than comprehensive statistics on climate change and what it is doing to our country, we're going to get a bunch of stats which ignore key drivers and impacts while heavily implying that its all the result of natural environmental processes (oh, and throws in some cheerleading for our biggest environmental polluter as well). And it just goes on and on. Statistics on the effects of irrigation takes on rivers have been deliberately excluded, as have been illnesses caused by dirty rivers. Pollution of the oceans will be tracked by tracking not discharges of oil or sewage to the marine environment, but "marine debris". But the value of oil, gas, and mineral extraction from the marine environment will be included. These aren't environmental statistics. They're economic ones, mislabelled, and deliberately designed to obscure rather than highlight our environmental problems. And just to make it clear who is responsible,
The Minister for the Environment and Minister of Statistics approved the final list of topics in September 2014.
Submitters on the Environmental Reporting Bill were entirely right to be concerned. And if this is what National means by "environmental reporting", we're better off without it.

Compare and contrast

In December last year, we learned that (now former) National MP was being investigated by police on unspecified assault charges. It's been suggested that the National Party knew about this well before the 2014 election, yet allowed him to stand and almost made him a Minister. The Prime Minister has only admitted knowing about it since "early December", but even then his actions are revealing: faced with an MP under a legal cloud, accused of serious crimes, he tried to keep the whole thing secret, and when the news inevitably leaked, he refused to demand that Sabin resign as chair of the Law and Order Committee (which would be reviewing the agency investigating him), saying he was "comfortable" with him remaining. It was only when Sabin resigned from Parliament that Key began to express doubts about his former MP. His strategy was to cover-up, then back his MP to the hilt regardless of what he was accused of, because his vote was vital to passing National's agenda.

Compare this with the situation in Queensland. Over there, State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk discovered over the weekend that one of her MPs had deceived both her and the electorate by failing to disclose a past criminal history. She leads a government with a majority of a single vote, so losing this MP would lead to it falling. But rather than doing what Key did and relying on coverup, stonewalling and shamelessness, she instead immediately ejected him from her party and advised him to resign from Parliament:

The Palaszczuk Government is in crisis after the Premier was forced to sack one of her MPs for failing to disclose his criminal history to the party - bringing her two-month old minority administration to the brink.

Ms Palaszczuk ordered the state executive to expel Cook MP Billy Gordon from the party on Sunday after discovering he had been "dishonest" with her.

She also advised Mr Gordon to resign from parliament, which would leave Labor in danger of falling one seat short of a parliamentary majority - Labor won 44 seats, including Cook, while the LNP claimed victory in 42. Independent MP Peter Wellington committed his support to Labor, giving Ms Palaszczuk the majority in the 89-seat parliament she needed to lead.

But if the LNP win any potential by-election and secure the support of the two Katter MPs, the balance of power could tip back to the previous government.

This is what integrity looks like. And comparing these two situations, its clear that John Key has none.

New Fisk

The battle for the Middle East's future begins in Yemen as Saudi Arabia jumps into the abyss


That's the only way to describe National's defeat in Northland over the weekend. You have to go back 30 years to 1985 to find another by-election where a government's candidate was defeated - and then it was a narrow victory. Winston's victory is a comfortable one. Turning a safe National seat into a safe (if Labour doesn't stand) opposition one is something I haven't seen before, and a testament to Steven Joyce's campaigning skills.

As for what it means, Peter Dunne and the Maori Party just became the effective checks on government policy they were in the last Parliamentary term. In concrete terms, that means that National's plans to oust local decision-making from the RMA and have Ministers micromanage everything (coincidentally turning them into a nexus for corruption and patronage - sorry, campaign donations) is dead again, because those two parties won't vote for it. And I think the same can be said for their plans to grant the SIS and GCSB wider powers after their strapped chicken "review" this year: the Maori Party won't vote for spies who spy on them, and they've burned Peter Dunne once already on this issue and he won't be fooled again. Which means they'll need to rely on Labour or NZ First for votes, both of whom are likewise suspicious / see some votes in refusing to give the government a blank cheque. They're still going to be able to pass a lot, but just six months into the term their policy agenda is in tatters. And meanwhile, the opposition will be able to pass legislation over their heads if it unites. There are three examples in the past month where they found issues they could all agree on: feeding the kids, paid parental leave, and warm and healthy homes. I expect we'll see bills for all of those reintroduced to the ballot the moment Standing Orders allow.

And meanwhile, someone should be asking Dunne and Flavell what they think of National's "mixed model" for Canterbury. Because that will require legislation, which means one or other of them has to support it. If they don't, Canterbury gets its democracy back by default in 2016 when the current law expires.

National is not going to cope well with this. They're the party of arrogant entitled people used to getting their own way. And now they're not going to. I expect much pouting and foot stomping. And I'll enjoy every minute of it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Contributing to the international relations of New Zealand

On Monday, we learned that the GCSB had supported Tim Grosers campaign to become director of the WTO by spying on internet traffic about him and his rivals, including Brazil's Roberto Carvalho de Azevdo. Today, Brazil demanded an explanation:

Brazil has demanded an explanation from New Zealand after reports New Zealand's foreign intelligence agency the GCSB spied on its campaign to get Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevedo elected as Secretary General of the World Trade Organisation in 2013 - successfully.

Brazil media have reported that New Zealand's ambassador in Sao Paulo, Caroline Bilkey, was summoned by the Secretary General of Brazil's foreign ministry (MRE), Sergio Danese, to explain.

A statement issued by the ministry was translated to say Brazil's Government was surprised at the news and is determined to have the facts clarified in consideration of the friendship that has always existed between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully confirmed in statement that "MFAT officials in Brazil have discussed the matters raised in media reporting with their counterparts."

So, GCSB spying has damaged our relationship with Brazil. Just another way the GCSB "contributes" to the international relations of New Zealand...

Secret "justice" can't be trusted

Last year we learned that Britain was surrendering in the "war on terror", giving up open justice and the rule of law to terrorists by holding a secret trial. Yesterday, that secret trial resulted in an acquittal on its most serious charge of "preparation of acts of terrorism" (the defendant had already been convicted of a lesser charge of possession of a bomb-making manual). So did the jury get it right? Was the prosecution justified at all? Unfortunately, we'll never know, because all the evidence is secret:

As a consequence, members of the public have no idea what lay at the heart of the prosecution of Incedal; nor the evidence that resulted in the jury clearing him of plotting terrorist attacks.

The media is not allowed to explain why a man who was found guilty of possessing a bomb-making manual was not convicted of preparing acts of terrorism. Incedal claimed to have a “reasonable excuse” for carrying the document around with him. What was that excuse? By law, and on pain of prosecution, that small group of journalists who know the answer cannot disclose it.

Nor, currently, can the public be told why all these matters are being concealed from them, or by whom.

And those journalists allowed to attend the semi-closed parts of the case - who had their notebooks confiscated (and no doubt read) by police every evening - can not even consult a lawyer to organise a legal challenge of the secrecy, unless they do so in a closed room with all phones turned off or unplugged, on pain of being jailed for contempt of court. So, in a significant terrorism case, we'll know only what the government chooses to tell us - which will of course be nothing but self-serving propaganda.

As for the verdict, because we can't see it or assess the evidence it simply can't be trusted. Fortunately its resulted in an acquittal, sparing the UK from the nightmare of convicting someone on secret evidence. But the way in which the trial was conducted has permanently tainted its findings, and the entire British justice system. Despotisms hold secret trials. Democracies don't. Which camp the UK falls into now is left as an exercise for the reader.

Meanwhile, its worth remembering: National wants to introduce this poison into our justice system. We shouldn't let them.

That for your royal prerogative!

Ten years ago, Guardian journalist Rob Evans submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Charles Windsor's infamous "black spider memos", the secret letters he writes to Ministers lobbying them on everything from architecture to education policy. In 2012, after a protracted legal battle, the Information Tribunal ruled that the letters must be disclosed. The government's response was to impose a Ministerial veto to protect Windsor's "political neutrality". But today, the UK Supreme Court overturned that veto:

The UK supreme court has cleared the way for the publication of secret letters written by Prince Charles to British government ministers, declaring that an attempt by the state to keep them concealed was unlawful.

The verdict – the culmination of a 10-year legal fight by the Guardian – is a significant blow for the government, which has been battling to protect Charles from scrutiny over his “particularly frank” interventions on public policy.


Delivering the verdict, Neuberger said: “The supreme court dismisses the attorney general’s appeal. The effect is that the decision of the upper tribunal, that the advocacy correspondence is disclosable under the Freedom of Information Act and, in the case of environmental material, the environmental information regulations 2003, stands.”

He said it was not reasonable for Grieve to issue the veto “simply because, on the same facts and admittedly reasonably, he takes a different view from that adopted by a court of record after a full public oral hearing”.

He added: “There is no clear or specific suggestion anywhere in the [Freedom of Information Act] that it is intended that [a veto] should enable a member of the executive to over-ride a judicial decision.”

In other words, the rule of law trumps the monarchy (or, as an earlier judge put it, "the proposition that the executive obey the law as a matter of grace and not as a matter of necessity [is] a proposition which would reverse the result of the Civil War").

David Cameron, who has already changed the law once to prevent any further disclosure of unconstitutional monarchical lobbying, is threatening to change it again. But its the last day of parliament before the election and the Tories are too busy infighting (over, I should note, a Speaker who took their role seriously rather than simply being a pawn of the executive), and they have to get the agreement of not one but two houses. So its unlikely that he'll be able to carry through with his threat. So, we can either expect to see the "black spider memos" released, revealing the true extent of Charles Windsor's lobbying pre-2006 - or we will see him jailed for contempt of court.

The full judgement is here. Paragraphs 51 - 59 is where the action is, and are a strong lesson on the rule of law.

[Title stolen from Terry Pratchett]

Thursday, March 26, 2015

If IGIS permits this, they will permit anything

Three weeks ago we learned that the GCSB was conducting "full-take" surveillance of our Pacific friends and allies - including the private communications of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who go there for business or on holiday. The surveillance, and particularly the passing on of raw intercept data to the US before it had been screened for New Zealand communications, appeared to be contrary to the purposes of the GCSB Act and contrary to the law. it immediately resulted in multiple complaints to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security from New Zealanders who believed that their communications may have been intercepted, as well as from the Green party on policy grounds. Now, the Inspector-General has decided to take up the case, and launched a full investigation of the Pacific spying programme:

“I will be addressing the specific complaints that I have received, in accordance with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1996. But there is also a clear need to provide as much factual information to the complainants, and to the wider public, as is possible.”

“For that reason, I have decided not only to investigate the complaints but also to bring forward and expand the relevant parts of my ongoing programme of review and audit of GCSB procedures and compliance systems. That review programme operates at a systemic level and doesn’t, of course, scrutinise or second-guess every day-to-day aspect of the GCSB’s operations: what it does allow for, as in this instance, is a focussed review of a particular area of GCSB or New Zealand Security Intelligence Service practice.”

“I have today notified the Acting Director of the GCSB of my inquiry and of my intention in this inquiry to provide as much information to the public on my findings as I can, withholding only that information that cannot be disclosed without endangering national security. The Director has assured me of the Bureau’s full co-operation.”

And now, we will get to see whether the GCSB Act is worth the paper its written on. Because if it permits this, it permits anything, and we will need to burn down our entire intelligence organisation and start again from scratch.

National sells us out

Wikileaks has leaked the latest draft of the investment chapter of the US-backed TPPA, revealing that National has sold us out and is signing us up to an investor-state dispute clause which would allow foreign corporations to sue New Zealand for compensation if they are denied resource consent or are forbidden to do anything by New Zealand law:

‘As anticipated, the deal gives foreign investors from the TPPA countries special rights, and the power to sue the government in private offshore tribunals for massive damages if new laws, or even court decisions, significantly affected their bottom line’.

‘Prime Minister John Key once described the idea of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) as “far-fetched”.’

‘After he was briefed about the TPPA he changed tack, promising there would be effective safeguards. But the leaked text shows very little has not been agreed. That means the New Zealand government has accepted virtually everything the US has proposed with absolutely no effective safeguards.’

And just to give an example of what's at stake:
‘Just last week, as protestors rallied against an extension of the port into the Auckland harbour, an investment tribunal upheld a case against Canada because an environment review panel refused to grant a US firm a permit for a quarry and marine terminal, saying it violated community values and there was inadequate consultation. The investor wants $300 million compensation. The local council is likely to be made to pay the bill.’

So, if National signs this, the RMA will effectively no longer apply to foreign corporations (but will still apply in full to New Zealand ones). Which seems to be the very opposite of the "level playing field" they say its about.

British police spied on MPs

Protestors. Innocent people. Their victims. Human rights activists. The list of people the British police spied on without justification in their efforts to suppress democracy is pretty extensive. But it gets worse: they've been spying on elected MPs as well:

Police conducted spying operations on a string of Labour politicians during the 1990s, covertly monitoring them even after they had been elected to the House of Commons, a whistleblower has revealed.

Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer, said he read secret files on 10 MPs during his 11 years working for the Metropolitan police’s special branch. They include Labour’s current deputy leader, Harriet Harman, the former cabinet minister Peter Hain and the former home secretary Jack Straw.

Francis said he personally collected information on three MPs – Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and the late Bernie Grant – while he was deployed undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups. He also named Ken Livingstone, the late Tony Benn, Joan Ruddock and Dennis Skinner as having been subjected to special branch intelligence-gathering. The files on all 10 were held by Scotland Yard.

The whistleblower said special branch files were often “very extensive” and typically described the subject’s political beliefs, personal background such as parents, school and finances, and demonstrations they attended. Some contained “some personal and private matters”, Francis added.

None of the British police's spying has been justifiable. All of it threatens democracy. And yet, this is so much worse, raising questions of just what they hoped to achieve by this spying. gathering dirt to curry favour with the government of the day? Or as leverage to use against MPs for their own purposes? Either way, its horrifying. And those responsible for it need to be held to account.

Meanwhile, if the British police are looking for threats to the UK's democracy, maybe they should start by looking in the mirror.

Key will abandon kiwis to die

Speaking in Japan, John Key has reaffirmed his policy of leaving kiwis to die if they are taken hostage by ISIS:

[Key] said he and Mr Abe taalked about recent terror attacks on Japanese citizens and the broader threat of Islamic State.

He said New Zealand, along with Japan and other countries, has a firm policy of not paying ransom for hostages, as that effectively puts a bounty on the head of every New Zealand citizen.

And he said New Zealand was not willing to contribute to what was a money-making exercise for Islamic State.

So, again: Key's policy if a kiwi is ever taken hostage is not to do everything possible to save their lives, but instead to abandon them to die in pursuit of an abstract principle of not dealing with "terrorists". That's how much John Key cares about our lives. I guess he's hoping it never happens, because he'll be absolutely crucified if it does, and he does nothing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cop-cams work

Last year, then-Justice Minister Judith Collins suggested that the NZ police be equipped with body-cameras. The evidence at the time supporting the use of body-cameras was strong, but now it is even stronger:

Since police officers began wearing body cameras in January 2014, the city of San Diego, California, has seen a massive change in the relationship between cops and residents — for the better.

According to a March 18 report from the Police Department for the City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, from when the body cams first went into use through January 2015, complaints had fallen by 40.5% and the use of "personal body" force by officers was down 46.5%. The use of pepper spray dropped 30.5%, reports the Los Angeles Times.

"Body-worn camera technology is a win-win for both the officer and the community," Deputy Chief David Ramirez said in the report, which also noted that 600 officers currently use the cameras. The city plans to equip 1,000 officers with cameras by the end of 2015.

Basicly, the knowledge that they are being watched improves police behaviour, reducing both use of force and complaints. And that's a good thing. So, why haven't we done this yet?

ANZ are still tax cheats

ANZ is cheating on its taxes again:

Five years after paying $413.7 million to settle a huge tax avoidance claim, ANZ bank is under fire for a $1 billion deal that appears to "double dip" on trans-Tasman tax benefits.

The criticism follows the Australian bank's issue this month of A$970 million ($995 million) of hybrid securities to finance its New Zealand operations. Veteran businessman and tax campaigner Tony Gibbs described the issue as "very smelly".

While the income on the notes counted as interest in New Zealand, generating a tax deduction for the New Zealand bank, it was treated as dividend across the Tasman, allowing Australian investors to access tax credits.

"It sounds to me like double dipping," he said.


IRD commissioner Robert Russell said the 2009 deal confirmed its long-held view that the transactions were tax avoidance.

So, the obvious question: will the IRD prosecute? And given that they are clearly repeat offenders, will we see ANZ's executives perp-walked in handcuffs as they deserve?

An unwarranted invasion of privacy

The Herald's David Fisher reports that the police are regularly accessing people's private and personal information without any form of warrant or oversight:

Broad swathes of people's personal data are being sought regularly by police from airlines, banks, electricity companies, internet providers and phone companies without search warrants by officers citing clauses in the Privacy Act.

Senior lawyers and the Privacy Commissioner have told the Herald of concerns over the practice which sees the companies voluntarily give the information to police.

Instead of seeking a legal order, police have asked companies to hand over the information to assist with the "maintenance of the law", threatened them with prosecution if they tell the person about whom they are interested and accept data with no record keeping to show how often requests are made.

The request from police carries no legal force at all yet is regularly complied with.

How does this happen? Because of the public's respect for the police, or at least for the job they do. But its a blatant end-run around the law. We have a right in this country against unreasonable search and seizure. And with no warrants, we have no way of determining whether such police "requests" (backed by their uniform, and an implied threat of arrest for non-cooperation) are in any way reasonable.

The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 gives police an easy way of accessing personal information held by third parties, in the form of a production order. But even then the oversight is insufficient, because the police don't keep records of how many production orders they obtain. But what we do know about production orders is that they are being used for dubious and petty purposes, including spying on journalists who embarass the Prime Minister. Clearly, more oversight is required. And if they're that lax in exercising their legal powers, I shudder to think how bad they are in exercising informal ones.

The good news is that the Privacy Commissioner is looking into it, and considering becoming a central register for such requests. Hopefully they'll also be providing advice to agencies on their duties in regards to such requests, when they can accept them, and when they should demand a production order, so agencies can have some confidence about protecting their customer's privacy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Via The Standard, it seems that National has once again been careless in its choice of candidate for Northland:

National’s Mark Osborne is refusing to comment on his role as general manager of the controversial $15 million Te Ahu centre, which is now the subject of a governance and funding review by the Far North District Council.


NBR ONLINE has been attempting to contact Mr Osborne since March 10 to discuss the centre but he has not replied to phone messages. Mr Osborne has passed on all enquiries to National’s spin doctor Clark Hennessy, who won’t allow the National candidate be interviewed before the by-election.

The centre lost $185,000 in 2013, and another $523,000 in 2014. That's a lot of money for local government, and the people of Northland deserve some answers about what happened to it. Those answers are obviously relevant to Osborne's ability to be an effective MP, and its incumbent on him to give them before people vote.

British intolerance

The British government is planning to draw up a blacklist of "extremists" who should be banned from holding public service positions:

The Home Office is drawing up a blacklist of extremist individuals and organisations with whom the government and public sector should not engage, Theresa May has revealed.

The list of legal but unacceptable organisations is being compiled by a new Home Office “extremism analysis unit”, which is also to develop a counter-entryism strategy to tackle Islamist radicalisation and ensure there is no repeat of the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham schools across the public sector.

What's an "extremist"? Someone who espouses "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs". Which would seem to cover both the Conservative and UKIP parties, not to mention the authors of this proposal. After all, what they're proposing to do is discriminate against people on the basis of their peaceful religious and political views. Which seems distinctly at odds with those "fundamental British values" they purport to adhere to.

But I forget. Only Muslims are "extremists". The term just doesn't apply to white people.

Fortunately its difficult to see how such unjustified political and religious discrimination could survive a legla challenge. If the UK courts don't defend English liberty, then the ECHR certainly will. Unfortunately, that probably won't be enough to stop Britain's lawless government from instituting such legal Islamophobia.

Another thermal generator shuts down

Mighty River Power will be shutting down its Southdown gas-fired power plant at the end of the year:

Mighty River Power will shut down its gas-fired Southdown power station in Auckland at the end of the year and sell the plant on the international market.

The company said the 140MW Southdown station in Auckland had played "a very small role" in MRP's portfolio in past two years, representing just 5 per cent of its generation, and meeting less than 1 per cent of New Zealand's total electricity demand.

It means the company will generate from its renewable hydro stations in the Waikato and geothermal plants around Taupo.

This will mean Mighty River will join Meridian and Trustpower as being all-renewable electricity companies. But it also points towards the limited future of thermal generation in New Zealand: it can simply no longer compete with the renewable alternatives. Which suggests that when Contact Energy's Stratford and Otahuhu B stations - both of which are a similar age to Southdown - reach the end of their lives, they'll be similarly dumped.

But its not something we want to leave to chance, especially with a target of 90% renewable electricity by 2025 to meet. Labour enacted a ten year moratorium on new thermal electricity generation, which National immediately repealed. But it was a good idea, which will push the market towards sustainable solutions at a crucial time when it will be considering replacing old plants. While we're obviously not going to see any progress on this under the current government, hopefully we'll see a thermal ban as a central plank of the next government's energy policy.

All about the sales

When National announced plans to privatise state houses, they tried to reassure us. The houses would only be sold to charities, they said. And they would have to be used as social housing, rather than simply demolished or flicked on.

Not any more:

The Government is set to loosen a requirement that former state houses be kept as low-income rentals for those most in need.

The move comes amid calls for it to sweeten the deal for potential buyers of up to 8000 Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) homes.

It is also talking up the likely role of property developers, as one of the countries biggest social agencies walks away from plans to bulk-buy former state houses.

They're also planning to spend $1.5 billion doing up these houses before they sell them at a loss:
Finance Minister Bill English has confirmed the Government will need to spend $1.5 billion upgrading state houses as they are sold to social housing providers.

But he said the money would not be spent in one year.

Mr English conceded many state houses were not up to standard and had not been properly maintained.

He said the cost of deferred maintenance had risen to $1.5 billion and that the matter had been raised during discussions with social agencies considering buying state houses.

So, a policy of "these houses are not fit for purpose so we will sell them cheap to other providers" has become a policy of "these houses are not fit for purpose, so we will fix them, then sell them cheap to speculators who will demolish them or flick them on". Which makes you wonder why they're bothering with the second bit. If they're going to fix the houses, why not keep them?

But this policy was never about better provision. Instead, it has always been about selling state houses, even if they have to pay to give them away. Its about pillaging the state for the benefit of their donors and cronies, and abandoning the government's obligation to provide social housing. And they seem intent on pushing on with it, even if it costs them billions.

As predicted

When the government passed the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2014 last year, it promised us that the provisions removing employees meal breaks would be used only in workplaces where there was no other alternative and that ordinary kiwi workers wouldn't be affected. They lied. Now, the legislation is being used by major retail chains in an effort to steal employees meal breaks:

Staff at fashion chain Cotton On are facing the possibility of working without tea and meal breaks after a last minute claim in collective agreement negotiations.

It follows the introduction in October last year of a law that took away the legal right to a tea break. The Employment Relations Amendment Bill also weakened collective bargaining.

Labour spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway told Newstalk ZB the bill was being used against its proposed purpose.

"This was sold to us as something that was going to be important for small businesses and for workplaces where the work flows are unpredictable."

Cotton On workers had a predictable work-flow as part of large corporation, Mr Lees-Galloway said, and the company was trying to "pare back" its employees' work conditions.

This was totally predictable, as is the response: strikes. Because if there's one thing kiwi workers will fight for, its the right to have lunch.

Meanwhile, I'd suggest not buying from Cotton On, or from any other business which attempts to use this law. If the government won't constrain employers behaviour properly, then we will have to, through boycotts and bad PR.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Small target strategy

In theory, elections allow the public to choose among (or, in proportional representation systems, the mix of) competing policy platforms. But not if Andrew Little has his way. In an interview with the New Statesman, he is clear that he will not allow the public to see Labour's policies in 2017:

Last year, one of Labour’s problems was drowning the electorate in policy detail. “What I’m determined is that for the 2017 election, we won’t do what we did last time, which was have 120-odd policies,” Little says. Instead the party will offer a pledge card highlighting five or six main policies, much like Tony Blair’s Labour Party in 1997.

Obvious snarks about the wisdom of reminding everyone that labour once stole public money aside, this is a deeply dishonest tactic. Its one thing to highlight your party's central policies, the ones that are a key part of your platform. Its quite another to offer nothing else. It raises the spectre of a hidden agenda, of policies the party doesn't want to share with the public. And because pretty obviously the Labour Party will have Ideas (and maybe even written policy - because it is the party which makes policy, not the caucus) on all those other areas, then the natural question will be why Little is trying to keep those policies secret. And if there's any surprises in those policies, then they will be that much more damaging for the attempted secrecy.

But in addition to questions about honesty, there's the simple fact that it won't work. Why? Because a blank space is an open invitation for the government and the media to fill it in. This isn't even necessarily hostile; a natural part of the process now under MMP is the media investigating the possible policy mix by asking potential coalition partners about each other's policies. And when Labour is asked whether it agrees with unpopular-minor-party-policy-X, it will be very difficult to credibly say "no" without something to point to with an alternative. And that uncertainty about what the party actually stands for and what it will agree to to gain power is unlikely to be a vote winner.

Honesty is the best policy. A party can be judged on its own policies, or it can be judged on other people's. Little's strategy pretty much guarantees the latter. Its not just wrong, its a mistake.

(Meanwhile, I'm also wondering if this is the latest bout in the struggle between the caucus and the rank-and-file, an attempt to take back the policy control seized by the party membership by tricking them into surrendering it as an electoral tactic, effectively giving the caucus a blank canvas. If so, the party membership may want to tell Little who is boss).

What are the odds?

For a long time everyone has known that Britain's honours system is corrupt. If you donate enough money to a major political party, when they're in government they will reward you by giving you the right to call yourself by a silly name, wear a silly costume, and sit in an unelected upper house full of other people who have also bought their way in. And now its been proven: there is a statistically significant link between donations and peerages:

The academics examined the 303 Lords nominations between 2005 and the third quarter of 2014 and all donations since 2001. They isolated what they term the “usual suspects”: prominent people who would be expected to be in line for an honour, such as former parliamentarians, senior party staff, ex-council leaders, reserved public sector posts, “people’s peers” nominated by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, and those selected as part of Gordon Brown’s “government of all talents” agenda.

That left 92 “others”, who donated between them 97.9% (£33.83m) of all the donations coming from nominees to the Lords. Donations from the individuals’ companies, spouses or children were included. In the case of union leaders, the donations were generally from their unions rather than themselves.

Among those, 27 donated 95% of the £33.83m. The academics write: “Clearly, those peers nominated outside the ‘usual suspects’ are far more likely to be big donors.” The 27 came from a larger pool of 779 big donors who stood out on electoral commission records.

The academics ran the calculation of how probable it would be that from a random sample of 779 people from a pool of available nominees – defined as the 383,000-strong reported membership of the three main political parties – 27 or more would be nominated to the Lords between 2005 and 14.

In what they hope will be the opening shot in a debate about the state of British democracy, the academics – Dr Andrew Mell of Corpus Christi College, Oxford; Simon Radford, of the University of Southern California; and historian Dr Seth Alexander Thévoz – conclude the probability of such an outcome is “approximately equivalent to entering the National Lottery and winning the jackpot five times in a row”. They say that this is wholly in keeping with the argument that lifetime appointments to Britain’s upper house are in effect being sold.

They also found that individuals drawn from the “others” donated an average of a further £220,000 among Conservatives, £333,000 among Liberal Democrats and £464,000 among Labour nominees. If peerages are in effect being sold, the academics argue, “these could be thought of as the ‘average price’ per party.”

This is corruption, pure and simple. And all the major parties are in on it. Westminster needs a cleanout. And abolishing the House of Lords and ridding the UK of these corrupt parasites should be the start of it.

The full paper, Is There a Market for Peerages? Can Donations Buy You a British Peerage? A Study in the Link Between Party Political Funding and Peerage Nominations, 2005-14, is here.

The wheels come off

For the past four months, National has been pushing its big "solution" to the housing crisis: shuffling the deckachairs by selling state houses at a loss to the community sector. It won't result in any more houses being built, and so it won't actually address the problem - but it will let National say it is Doing Something without doing anything which might devalue their own extensive housing portfolios.

But now the wheels have come off the policy, because the Salvation Army - the charitable agency the government was looking to to buy all those state houses - has said that they don't want a bar of it:

The Salvation Army has decided against buying state homes off the Government, a blow the Labour Party says is "hugely embarrassing".

The decision came after a study to test its capacity to become a major social housing landlord.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed earlier plans to go through the transfer in January. The plan is to transfer more of the responsibility for housing low-income and vulnerable tenants by selling a portion of housing stock to community providers such as churches, iwi and non-government organisations.

But Major Campbell Roberts, of the Salvation Army, says the church organisation does not believe "the lives of tenants would be sufficiently improved by such a transfer".

Nor did it have the "expertise, infrastructure and resources to successfully manage any social housing transfer of size", he said.

This should mean the end of the policy, because if the Salvation Army, one of the biggest charities in the country, doesn't think it can manage these houses, then nobody else can. Sure, a few iwi and smaller charities might be able to handle ten houses here, ten houses there. But the government wants to dump thousands. Its just not going to work.

But this policy was never about working - it was simply about dumping state housing and reducing the capacity of the state. So instead of admitting defeat, Bill English is instead talking about mass-privatisation to property developers and the private sector. You know, the same people who have caused our current housing crisis by refusing to cater to the bottom end of the market. So, instead of seeing merely a shuffling of deckchairs, with social housing moved to other providers because National just doesn't think the government should be in the business of ensuring every kiwi has a roof over their heads, we'll instead see these houses given to speculators, given a quick lick of paint and a new kitchen before being flicked on at enormous profits in the overheated Auckland property market, or simply demolished to make way for more palazzos for the rich. Because that's what National thinks housing policy is about: feeding speculation and providing houses for pricks like them, not for ordinary kiwis in desperate need.

New Fisk

If Stephen Harper is serious about criminalising 'barbaric cultural practices', then he should arrest himself for even suggesting it

Spying for personal advantage

When anyone questions the GCSB's powers or budget, we're told its to protect us and keep us safe from (US-inspired) terrorists. But in reality, the GCSB has been spying to try and get a National MP a better job:

A top secret document reveals New Zealand's surveillance agency spied on candidates vying to be the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a job sought by National Government minister Tim Groser.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) programmed an internet surveillance system so it would intercept emails about the candidates from Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, Kenya, Ghana, Jordan and Costa Rica in the period leading up to the May 2013 appointment.

Mr Groser missed the selection.

This is not spying for "national security". It does not advance our "international relations" or "economic well-being" (quite the opposite; spying on friendly nations actively harms these goals). Instead, it was done purely to advance the personal career interests of a government Minister. That's simply corrupt, and cloaking it under "national security" raises some very disturbing questions about both oversight and what else they're doing for the same purpose.

[See also: Dim-Post]

Friday, March 20, 2015

Unravelling Britain's dirty colonial deals

In 1968, Britain ethnicly cleansed the Chagos Archipelago to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia. Since then, the Chagossians have been fighting through the courts for the return of their homeland. In 2009, in an effort to forestall future lawsuits, Britain declared the entire archipelago a Marine Protected Area, from whcih people (other than US military personnel) were banned. But now, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has ruled that that was illegal:

Britain acted illegally in the way it has exercised territorial control over the Chagos Islands, a UN tribunal has ruled, raising questions over the UK’s claim to sovereignty and offering hope of return to hundreds of evicted islanders.

In a withering judgment, the UK is accused of creating a marine protected area (MPA) to suit its electoral timetable, snubbing the rights of its former colony Mauritius and cosying up to the United States, which has a key military base – allegedly used for the rendition of terrorist suspects – on the largest island, Diego Garcia.

The ruling effectively throws into doubt the UK’s assertion of absolute ownership, restricts the Americans’ ability to expand their facility without Mauritian compliance and boosts the chances of exiled Chagossians being able to return to their homeland.

A dissenting opinion from two of the five judges on the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague is even more scathing, stating that “British and American defence interests were put above Mauritius’s rights” both in 1965 when the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was established and in 2010 when the marine zone, which involves a ban on fishing, was set up.

This effectively unravels Britain's dirty colonial deal. They can't do anything to the Chagos without properly consulting Mauritius first, and they can't do anything contrary to the undertakings they gave. The ruling is binding in international law, though what that means in practice given the power disparity between the two parties is anyone's guess. But its still a victory for law over colonialism, and over Britain.

There's a summary of the judgement here.

Lets hold Customs to their word

Two weeks ago, we learned that Customs wanted to poke through all your data whenever you entered the country - and jail you if you refused to cooperate. The public outcry at that clearly had some effect, because when they appeared in front of a select committee this week, they'd changed their tune:

Customs boss Carolyn Tremain has told MPs the department would only request travellers hand over passwords to their electronic devices if it had a reason to be suspicious about what was on them.


Although the proposed power would let Customs request passwords from any traveller or do random checks on electronic devices, Tremain told a parliamentary select committee that was not its intention.

Instead, the department would only use the power if it was acting on "some intelligence or observation of abnormal behaviour", she said.

Excellent. But since officials can and do lie, let's hold Customs to their word on this, and require them to show that suspicion to a judge and get a warrant, just like every other agency who wants to perv through our data.

Expanding the window

The Herald this morning was full of panic over whether ACT's David Seymour would stay true to his party's ideals and vote in support of Tracey Martin's bill to overturn National's crony convention centre deal. As it turns out, Seymour has now admitted that he's just a National Party footstool and that he'll vote as instructed by Steven Joyce, which is a useful thing to have demonstrated. But with member's bills passing the bill often isn't the point anyway. What the bill does is put National's corporate cronyism on the political agenda. It reminds people that they actually have a choice about whether to accept corruption. And it reminds everyone that, while politicians say they can do nothing because "a deal's a deal", in fact they can overturn it at will. The question, as always, is whether they want to.

Its the same with NZ First's Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill, which by outlawing future investor-state dispute provisions, would effectively sink our participation in the TPPA as it currently stands. The National-Labour "club" are united in their backing for free trade, and unconcerned at our laws being subject to a foreign veto to protect corporate profits (oh yes, Labour pretends concern - but at the end of the day, they'll vote for free trade just as they always have). The public are more uneasy. And what this bill does is remind everyone that despite the hand-wringing and denials of power from politicians, they can do something about it, and we have a choice on this.

What both bills do effectively is expand the Overton window. At the moment the idea that democratic governments can break corrupt, shitty deals after the fact, or refuse to sign up for them in the first place, is unthinkable to "serious" policymakers. Now its not, and they're going to have to think about it, because Parliament will think about it. Meanwhile, forcing parties to take a public stand on this in the House will let the public hold them accountable for their positions. And that in turn allows the democratic feedback process to function, forcing parties to take account of the public's views. No wonder the Herald hates the idea!

New Fisk

Tunisia shooting: When Isis attacks a museum to destroy the ‘culture of its disbelievers’, what treasure of the Western world is now safe?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

And everyone keps their jobs...

Today's Roastbusters report was absolutely damning. And it was particularly damning of two specific police officers - labelled "Officer E" and "Officer C" - who were found to have failed to meet the basic standards required for a police investigation and failed to supervise staff effectively.

Naturally, these muppets have kept their jobs:

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said three of the five officers criticised within the report had been moved to other policing roles outside the child abuse and adult sexual assault teams, but would remain in the force.

"This is a performance issue and it will be dealt with as such."

He could not comment on their new roles.

This is not good enough. The failures of these two officers have allowed rapists to go free and denied their victims justice. They should be out on their arse. And the fact that they are not, even after a failure of this magnitude, speaks volumes about the priorities of the police.

The RoastBusters report

I've spent the last hour reading the Independent Police Conduct Authority's report into the initial "RoastBusters" investigation [PDF]. Its depressing reading, and it makes me very angry. It exposes a pattern of poor investigation by police and a repeated failure to connect cases, culminating in an absolutely perverse decision not to pursue charges of sexual conduct with young person under 16 because they thought the law could only be used against "consenting parties". As the IPCA points out, this is absolutely perverse:

it is perverse to conclude that a prosecution for sexual violation cannot be brought because there is insufficient evidence to prove lack of consent beyond reasonable doubt, but then to reject a prosecution under section 134 on the basis that it would imply the existence of consent. The reality is that a prosecution under section 134 says nothing about the presence or absence of consent, because it is simply irrelevant to the facts that need to be proved.
And now, thanks to these poor investigative practices, the police can't prosecute anyone, because none of the victims will talk to them.

There's more failings. "At-risk sexual behaviour, alcohol abuse, and parental supervision" is apparently considered grounds for a CYFS referral in girls, but not boys. That's a toxic mindset right there. Two of the officers - Officers C and E - appear to have been absolutely crap at their jobs, and are specifically identified as failing to meet the police's investigative standards. Police PR is absolutely silent on what has been done about these officers, and in particular, whether they have been sacked - there's not even the usual bullshit about more training. But what's most disturbing is that these are all issues we've seen before, in the Police-rape cases. And despite a commission of inquiry recommending changes, and despite the police saying they have made them, nothing appears to have changed.

And through all of this, there's an obvious question: if the police were so crap at investigating these cases, are they also crap at others? How many other rapists are going free because police just can't be arsed doing their jobs properly? The IPCA specifically addresses this, calling it the failing of individual officers in an individual district, and saying that "the Authority has not found any evidence of ongoing and widespread poor practice nationally". Of course they didn't - because they didn't look. Instead, they leant their mana (such as it is) to protect the reputation of a police force which has manifestly failed to do their job. Because at the end of the day, that's the IPCA's job. Not to investigate, not to hold the police to account, but to protect them and the system they are part of. And as long as that is the case, things will never change.


A ballot for three Members bills was held today and the following bills were drawn:

So, Parliament will get to vote on National's crony-casino deal and on TPPA investor-state dispute clauses. The TPPA really is at stake in the Northland by-election.

There were 68 bills in the ballot today. While the opposition are generally using their opportunity to advance legislation and highlight issues, only the Greens have a full slate; Labour has 5 MPs without a bill, and NZ First 4. ACT and the Maori Party have nothing.

National kicks disabled kids

Back in the 90's, the Bolger-Shipley National government had a simple method of cutting welfare spending: don't tell people what they're entitled to. Now, they're doing it again, and the victims are some of our most vulnerable children:

More than 11,000 disabled children have lost access to a welfare benefit that is supposed to support them, as officials try to rein in previously-ballooning costs.

A Child Poverty Action Group report on disabled children, being launched in Auckland today, says children supported by the child disability allowance almost trebled from 17,600 in 1998 to 45,800 in 2009, but were then cut back to just 34,500 last June.

The cut has been achieved both by tightening criteria and by simply not publicising the allowance.

The government is saving $20 million a year from this stealth cut, which will no doubt make Bill English happy. But that "saving" comes at the cost of disabled kids not getting the support they need - which simply means higher costs elsewhere and later.

Every child in New Zealand should get a good start in life, regardless of whether their parents are rich or poor, regardless of whether they have a disability. And its the government's job to make that happen. Instead, National is kicking disabled kids when they're down. And that is simply vile. But isn't it so very, very National?

National votes for hungry kids in sick homes

Over the past few years we've had a growing awareness of the problem of child poverty and kids turning up to school hungry. The media - and Campbell Live in particular - have exposed the extent of the problem and what it means for the education and life chances of those kids. And throughout all this, National has steadfastly stuck its fingers in its ears, going "la la la, not listening, not my problem". Sure, they've taken some PR measures based on grace and favour, but they think the problem is one of poor parenting, not poverty, which will be "solved" by ignoring it. They see absolutely no role for the state to step in to ensure these kids get a fair start in life.

And yesterday, they did it again, voting down not one, but two member's bills aimed at feeding the kids. A pack of entitled wankers, each of them receiving $150,000 a year or more, who have probably never gone hungry a day in their life, voted for kids to starve.

But that's not all. They also voted down a bill to ensure that all rental homes were warm and healthy, so that those kids didn't go to school sick. This would have significantly reduced health costs and improved the quality of life of people in rental housing. But it would have been bad for landlords, so National voted it down.

At this stage we should remember that, like most of the 1%, National MPs own a disproportionate number of rental homes, with some of them being veritable slumlords. So, they were basicly voting to protect their own pocket from the costs of being a decent landlord. Some might call that "corrupt"...

This is what National stands for now: hungry kids in sick homes. The poor kneecapped from the start while their kids get sent to private schools. New Zealand is meant to be better than this. But it won't be as long as we have a National government.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

No democracy for Canterbury

In 2010 National dissolved Canterbury's elected regional council and replaced it with handpicked dictators because Cantabrians voted to protect the environment rather than suck the rivers dry for the benefit of farmers. Today, after five long years of dictatorship and environmental pillage, they released their plan for restoring democracy in canterbury. Except that's not what they're doing. Instead, cantabrians will receive a "guided democracy" stacked with government appointees to ensure that they don't make the "wrong" decisions:

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith and Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston have today announced the Government’s proposal for a mixed-model governance structure for Environment Canterbury (ECan).

“We are proposing a mixed governance model for Environment Canterbury with seven members elected across Canterbury at the local elections in October 2016 and six appointed by Government. This proposal enables a majority of elected representatives while ensuring continued momentum on the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and earthquake recovery work,” Dr Smith says.

“We believe the mixed governance model is right for Environment Canterbury at this time. It has provided a successful model for district health boards. It enables a local democratic say while also ensuring stability and the specialist skills to deal with the very challenging issues, including water and earthquake recovery,” Ms Upston says.

"Stability" being National-speak for ensuring that farmers get free water and a licence to pollute, and Cantabrians don't decide to protect their environment again.

This is bullshit. ECan doesn't need "specialist skills" - that's what local body staff are for. What it needs above all is democratic legitimacy. And that can only come through the direct election of all ECan members. Anything less is simply more dictatorship. And Cantabrians should not stand for it.


Today's lesson: you can apparently win an Israeli election by blatant racism and, Sparta-like, promising eternal war on the Palestinian helots. Which is a depressing statement on the racism and warmongering of Israeli voters.

Meanwhile, in the UK, their Labour party says that they do not want to represent people on benefits:

"We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we're not, the party to represent those who are out of work," she said.

"Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people."

Firstly and most obviously, those people on benefits that Labour doesn't want to represent are "working people". They're working people who are sick. They're working people who are old. They're working people who have lost their jobs thanks to Tory austerity and the destruction of regional economies. And in a capitalist economy, the provision of a social safety net is a vital protection for working people, insurance against the vicissitudes of fortune.

But secondly, "people on benefits" make up ~5 million of ~46 million eligible voters. When a major political party turns its back on such a significant part of the electorate, when it says "we will not represent you or your interests" (and it supports a stacked political system which does not permit anyone else to do so), then it is very bad for democracy. In Israel, "mainstream" political parties refuse to represent Arab citizens. In the UK, they refuse to represent the poor and needy. But at least in Israel they have MMP so Arabs can represent themselves.

Blasphemy isn't just a crime in Myanmar

A court in Myanmar has jailed a kiwi for two and a half years for "blasphemy":

A Wellington man sentenced to two and a half years of hard labour in Myanmar faces a very tough life shackled to other prisoners, according to a fellow Kiwi who has witnessed the work gangs.

Philip Blackwood learned his grim fate on Tuesday in a Yangon court after he and two Burmese colleagues were found guilty of offending Buddhism by posting an online advertisement of a psychedelic Buddha wearing headphones to promote their VGastro bar.

Yes, jailed for a Buddha wearing headphones. That's how backwards they are in Myanmar.

But lest anyone think that we're better, its still a crime in New Zealand to insult Christians (and specifically, Anglicans). The best way to show our disapproval for Myanmar's backwardness is to repeal our own. There's a bill to do so here; does any MP want to take it up?

Our government should represent us, not the NSA

The Herald reports that New Zealanders reject mass surveillance:

Kiwis have rejected government surveillance of their own communications - and that of people in other countries, according to new survey.

An Amnesty International survey of about 1000 people shows 63 per cent of Kiwis surveyed are opposed to the government monitoring and storing their own internet and mobile phone use.

Just 22 per cent supported mass surveillance practices - either in New Zealand or against other countries.

According to the survey results, 53 per cent of Kiwis rejected the use of powerful electronic surveillance technologies being used against other countries - a practice alleged to be conducted by New Zealand's Government Communications Surveillance Bureau.

75% of us also oppose US mass surveillance, with only 13% supporting it.

Our government is supposed to represent us and reflect our views. It doesn't. Instead, they support and represent the views of the NSA, a foreign spy agency. And there are some very ugly words for that.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day - and the final death for the Harawira / Turei "feed the kids" bill. Yes, National has $69 million for bridges that Northland doesn't want - but nothing to feed its kids who go to its schools hungry. I guess they just don't vote or donate to the National Party. Its a telling statement of National's priorities, and how little it cares about anyone who isn't rich and white...

In addition to feeding the kids, the House will also vote on the second reading of Tracey Martin's Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill, and then a pile of first readings: Clare Curran's Electronic Data Safety Bill, David Shearer's Education (Food in Schools) Amendment Bill and Phil Twyford's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill. They'll probably even be able to make a start on Damien O'Connor's Underground Coal Mining Safety Bill - meaning a ballot for up to four bills tomorrow morning. Finally, some member's bill excitement!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Send the NZDF to Vanuatu, not Iraq

Today in Parliament, Prime Minister John Key was forced to answer questions about his plans to send the NZDF to Iraq to train that country's war-criminal army. Meanwhile, the NZ media were reporting from Vanuatu about the absolute devastation there and the need for international assistance. Which raises the obvious question: why are we sending the NZDF to Iraq rather than Vanuatu?

While the NZDF likes to pretend otherwise, disaster relief is what they really exist for. Its the mission they've trained for, the mission they're good at. And unlike Iraq, it would actually help people, actually do some good, and make friends rather than enemies.

If we can spend money to kill people, we can spend it to help people as well. Rather than spending $65 million to send kiwi troops to die in Iraq, we should spend it on helping our neighbours in the Pacific.

Who is lying here?

New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions have been growing. Yes, they dropped in 2007 due to the recession, but since then they have continued to grow, from 41.27 MTCO2-e in 2008 to 49.45 MT now - an increase on 20%.

Today in Question Time, Green co-leader Dr Russel Norman asked the Prime Minister about that record of emissions growth. His answer? "His facts are incorrect" and to claim that the numbers were "misinformation".

The problem? Those numbers come from the inventory the government provides to the UNFCCC. So, the Prime Minister is basically claiming that the numbers of his own Ministry for the Environment are false. And if he's right, MfE has been lying to the UNFCCC and is in breach of its international obligations.

So who is lying here? The Prime Minister, or the internationally-scrutinised Ministry for the Environment? I think we all know the answer here. But it highlights yet again the Prime Minister's reflexive response of claiming that politically inconvenient facts are false and to accuse people of lying when they cite his own government's numbers at him. This is not the tactic of an honest man; instead it is the tactic of a deeply dishonest one.


The UK is going to the polls in May, and the Guardian is trumpeting that the public's "lack of financial literacy" is "a threat to democracy":

With a pre-election budget only a couple of days away, full of terms like deficit and GDP, Manchester University students have provided a useful reminder of how little voters understand of the economic terminology economists, politicians and the media throw around.

According to a poll of more than 1,500 adults, around 60% failed offer the correct definition of GDP when given five choices. A quarter said they did not know.

The survey, which was devised by the Post-Crash Economics society at Manchester University and pollsters YouGov, also found that almost half of respondents were unable to pick the right definition for the government’s budget deficit from a multiple choice question.


Zach Ward-Perkins, a researcher on the project, said ignorance among voters and especially lower socio-economic groups, means “democratic debate stagnates into discussions between small elite groups over small differences behind the backs of an increasingly disillusioned and unrepresented public.” He added: “This status quo is a grave threat to our democracy.”

But this is arse backwards. The threat to democracy here isn't "ignorant" peasants voting on matters they do not understand, but out-of-touch elites only talking about things voters don't care about. Because when it comes down to it, voters don't care about GDP or quantitative easing - they care about whether they have a job and a roof over their heads, whether their local school and hospital is falling down, whether government benefits will be enough to survive on if they get sacked or sick, and whether the government is going to spy on them if they speak out about it. Yes, economic policy is a means to achieving those ends, but that's all it is: a means. The way it dominates elite conversation, you'd get the impression that they think that it is an end in itself. And if that's the case, the UK public should vote them out, and get representatives who will actually address their concerns, rather than alien monsters who only talk to each other and regard the public as a grubby impediment to their greed.


The Justice and Electoral Committee has called for submissions on the New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill. Submissions can be made online at the link above, and are due by Thursday, 23 April 2015. If you're not sure how to make a submission, there's guidance in English and Maori here.

If you're wondering what to mention, I'd start with the lack of spending limits on advertisers. These are present in every other piece of electoral law, and clearly contemplated, but appear to have been removed. They need to be in force to ensure a level playing field and prevent anyone from attempting to buy the result.

Poor political choices

Last week, National's Simon Bridges introduced an SOP to the Statutes Amendment Bill to boost the value of former MP's travel rort. As the person who introduced the amendment, you'd expect him to be fronting it. But over the weekend he refused comment, and instead the primary voice in favour of giving Roger Douglas an 80% increase in his travel rort was Labour's Annette King (who coincidentally also stands to benefit from the rort when she eventually leaves Parliament). This pattern continued in the media and over Twitter, and even now that the amendment has been pulled, it is still Labour making the noise about it - to the extent that this morning we had Labour leader Andrew Little defending it on Morning Report.

Why are they doing this? This issue is toxic with the public. Its especially toxic with Labour's supporters, most of whom can only dream of flying to London, let alone flying business class every year (or, alternatively, a fortnightly trip to Sydney). It simply increases the perception that Labour is out of touch, and that instead of representing ordinary people, its MPs primarily represent themselves - a moneyed elite of political apparatchiks, members of the 1% who exist in a different world from voters. And even if they think that this is "doing the right thing", rather than protecting the value of Goff, Dyson, King, Mallard and O'Connor's retirement packages, there's a difference between supporting it and throwing yourselves on a live political grenade like Labour has been doing.

This is why Labour keeps losing: because they keep making poor political choices. They have to be dragged kicking and screaming to issues which turn out to be winners for them, while standing up for the worst cause in Parliament, MP's perks. It is a question of political judgement. And among Labour's senior leadership team, there just doesn't seem to be any.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sometimes you win

I'm glad to hear that the government has seen sense on this; I guess John Key didn't want to spend his whole post-Cabinet press conference explaining why Roger Douglas "deserved" a pay rise. Meanwhile if any MP wants to repeal the whole unjustifiable rort, there's a bill here for it.

How does this protect New Zealanders?

Over the weekend, we learned that the GCSB had been spying on the Solomon Islands, including on a prominent anti-corruption campaigner. The GCSB responded to this by saying that they exist "to protect New Zealand and New Zealanders". Which invites the obvious question: how does this protect New Zealand? How does spying on the government of a friendly nation protect New Zealand? How does spying on their efforts to find truth and reconciliation for their past protect New Zealanders? And most particularly, how does spying on those who campaign to expose corruption in the Solomon Islands government and ensure that it does not steal from its people protect us?

The answer is that it doesn't. None of this spying is justified. And if this is the GCSB's mission, we are better off without it.

New Fisk

The superpowers are battling to be the biggest hypocrite

Cui bono?

Who benefits from the unjustifiable travel rort for former MPs? In addition to retired MPs first elected before 1999, a number of current MPs stand to benefit when they retire. These are:

The 90% club

  • Peter Dunne (1984)
  • Ruth Dyson (1993)
  • Bill English (1990)
  • Phil Goff (1981)
  • Annette King (1984)
  • Murray McCully (1987)
  • Trevor Mallard (1984)
  • Damien O'Connor (1993)
  • Winston Peters (1978)
  • Nick Smith (1990)
  • Maurice Williamson (1987)
The 75% club
  • Gerry Brownlee (1996)
  • David Carter (1994)
  • Nanaia Mahuta (1996)
  • Ron Mark (1996)
As Graeme Edgeler points out, there's no justification for this:
The vast majority of former members of Parliament who now benefit from this entitlement never suffered the “loss” that justified it. It was never a condition of their terms of employment, and was not factored into salary determinations in the way that MP’s direct travel entitlements were.

They've now had 16 years to get used to the idea that this rort wasn't sticking around (and for 13 of those years they effectively got to enjoy it as sitting MPs). That's more than enough. Its time for it to go.

Not a drafting error

National's stealth plan to give Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson a bigger retirement package hit the headlines over the weekend and finally forced the government to explain themselves. According to Simon Bridges its a "correction" to fix a "drafting error". But as Graeme Edgeler points out, its not: the change was made by a select committee and confirmed multiple times by the House. That's not a "drafting error" - its a policy decision. Senior MPs who expect to benefit from the rort may not like it, but misrepresenting it is simply dishonest (and another example of them earning their reputation as thieves and liars). And regardless, a Statutes Amendment Bill is not a proper way of dealing with it. If the government thinks that Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson (oh, and Bill English, Phil Goff, Peter Dunne, Winston Peters, and a host of other senior MPs) deserve a pay rise, they should put up a proper bill, not try and do it by the backdoor.

Meanwhile, Annette King - also, "coincidentally", a senior MP who will benefit from the rort if she ever retires - thinks that the change is to save money:

Because of the mistake the maximum rebate had most recently been pegged to another airlines' fare, Ms King said.

"They benchmarked it to China Air or something, which was dearer than Air New Zealand, actually. If it had been benchmarked to Air New Zealand the allowance would have been cheaper."

Except that they're legally required to choose the lowest cost option, and if Air New Zealand was cheaper, they should have chosen it. So, either Parliamentary Services is breaking the law, or King is lying. And given that one of these parties has a direct financial interest here, I think its pretty clear which explanation is more credible.

Hopefully we'll see this amendment objected to and effectively voted down. But before then, hopefully we'll see the government and senior members front up and explain why they think this is necessary. And when they do, I hope that other MPs will call them out on their self-interest and nest-feathering. While there are Rulings on how supposedly MPs don't have a financial interest in their own pay (as it "attaches to the office, not the individual"), I think the public will view them in the same light as the fiction that all Members are "honourable": pure self-serving hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants a Member's Bill to repeal this unjustified perk, I'm happy to draft one. Its simply a matter of deleting four clauses and a schedule from the Members of Parliament (Remuneration and Services) Act 2013.