Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dear Parliament

(With the honourable exception of David Seymour and the four green MPs who voted against):

(Image stolen from Wikipedia)

While banning cyberbullying is a nice idea, your law goes too far, and almost all of you are too chickenshit to stand up and say it, even though you recognise the problem. So, fuck you. If you think this is a good idea, I look forward to the day when people start lodging complaints and private prosecutions about what you say to each other; maybe that will change your minds.

[While posted with the intent to cause serious emotional distress to thin-skinned MPs by hurting their iddy-widdy feelings, the law isn't in force yet, so this expression is still legal]

Achieving Better Public Services

Back in 2012, the National Government set itself some targets as part of its "Better Public Services" Programme. Among them was a goal to "reduce the recorded crime rate by 15 percent, the violent crime rate by 20 percent and the youth crime rate by 5 percent". Apparently they've been doing very well at this, with Police Minister Michael Woodhouse so pleased with progress that he has strengthened the targets to a 20% reduction in crime. Its a success story, a clear example of how targets drive performance.

Or maybe not. Because police statistics released by the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse show something interesting:

Police conducted 101,981 family violence investigations in 2014. In only 37 percent of investigations was an offence recorded. This is down from 47 percent in 2008.

Isn't that amazing? The government sets a target to reduce crime, and specifically violent crime, and suddenly police are recording fewer offences in its most common category? Which sounds awfully familiar:
"Juking the stats ... Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. I've been here before."

And concerns about stat-juking aside, there's another serious problem here: resolution rates have dropped by roughly 10%, or 20% for sexual offences against adults. So, the police are recording fewer crimes, and solving fewer of the ones they do record. Which suggests that there may be a problem with resourcing here...

But not like this

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back on the New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill, and recommended it be passed with minor amendments. While the public commentary is focusing on the referendum structure - which is quite sensible as a way to focus choice - something important has been missed. Every other democratic exercise conducted in this country, whether it be a general election, local body election, or referendum, is subject to spending limits and expense disclosure to prevent the rich from buying power. There is no such clause in the current bill. Looking at the Ministry of Justice advice on the issue, they hedged their bets and presented Ministers with a range of options rather than the usual single preferred option. That said, they did have something to say about the government's chosen option of only requiring a promoter statement:

This option is not recommended. On its own, a promoter statement requirement offers few benefits to justify the costs and burden of applying promoter statements to referendum advertising. Unless combined with a registration requirement, information about promoters’ key office holders may not be accessible.

They recommended at minimum that promoters spending above a certain threshold be registered, and recommended spending limits and expense declaration if a tighter approach was desired. The government ignored them, instead choosing a regulatory regime seemingly designed to allow wealthy interests to spend unlimited money in secret in an effort to buy the outcome. Which casts doubt on the entire referendum process and the legitimacy of the result.

I want the flag changed, but that is increasingly being followed by "but not like this". I'm not sure at what stage my disgust at this entire process is going to win over my dislike of a colonial relic, but its getting close.

A new low for Australian corruption

How corrupt is Australia? This corrupt:

Mafia figures donated tens of thousands of dollars to the discredited NSW Liberal Party fundraising vehicle, the Millennium Forum, as part of an ultimately successful campaign to allow a known criminal to stay in Australia.

A senior Millennium Forum figure, who is already under investigation by ICAC for allegedly funnelling illegal developer donations to the NSW Liberal Party, also helped criminal Frank Madafferi's lawyer meet then immigration minister Philip Ruddock on the visa issue.

A year-long Fairfax Media and Four Corners investigation has obtained confidential documents that outline the Millennium Forum's role as the receiver of the Mafia money, raising more questions about the integrity of the nation's political donations regime.

Documents also reveal that Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent hosted alleged Mafia boss Tony Madafferi, Frank's brother, for lunch in the parliamentary dining room and in his Parliament House office. Mr Broadbent also introduced Tony Madafferi and his associates to senior Liberal MPs including Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

Mr Broadbent, who has repeatedly refused to answer questions, helped organise, or attended, several fundraisers involving the alleged Mafia figure.

The Australian political system is rotten to the core, with multiple MPs jailed and perennial investigations of cash-for-access, cash-for-contracts, and cronyism. But taking money from organised crime seems to be a new low even for them.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Selling for the sake of selling

National wants to sell our state housing stock to Australians:

The Government is not ruling out selling a stake in the country's state housing portfolio to Australian interests.

Finance Minister Bill English said it was possible state houses could be sold to an Australian charity as the government looks to divest some of its housing stock to third parties.

Speaking on TV3s The Nation, English said Australians would be able to buy the State houses if they were registered as community housing providers.

A Gold Coast non profit charity, Horizon Housing, has expressed an interest after visiting New Zealand. It reportedly wants to buy 400 plus houses.

The Government has announced plans to sell a limited number of State houses to community housing providers to take on vulnerable tenants.

National's whole "selling state houses to charity" policy was always just shuffling the deckchairs in an effort to be seen to be doing something while really doing nothing, but this is even worse. At least with an NZ charity there'd be a commitment to helping New Zealanders, and any profits would be directed to that purpose. Selling to foreigners removes all that.

But then, the policy was never intended to actually solve anything. It was always selling for the sake of selling, to run down the state housing stock as part of National's gradual exit from fulfilling this core government obligation. And when this fails, they'll probably suggest something even crazier, like burning state houses down for the insurance or something.

New Fisk

Tunisia hotel attack: Backdrop to this slaughter is a history of violence against Muslims
Israeli disinformation sullies a rare moment of wartime compassion


While we were all celebrating the US Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, the IMF and Germany decided to pull the trigger on forcing Greece out of the Euro, revealing that those negotiations the Greek government had been engaging in and come close to betraying its own base on to find a compromise weren't for a permanent solution to Greece's debts, but just to kick the can down the road for six months, after which it'd be more knife to the throat "negotiations" for more austerity again. This wasn't what Syriza was elected to do, so they've gone to the people in a referendum. No-one knows which way that will go, but in the meantime Greece's slow-motion bank-run (driven by the uncertainty over negotiations, and one of the reasons for the Greek government's poor performance - you can't tax a cash economy) has gone hot, while the EU has tried to strangle Greece even further by capping the mechanism designed to prevent it.

So, basicly, the IMF and EU's efforts to be "tough" has driven the Greek economy even further into the ground, and provoked an effective referendum on default and Grexit. I'm assuming they don't want both of those things (since they involve bankers losing their money and politicians losing their pride), so heckuva job guys.

As for what happens next, faced with a concrete threat of departure and a decision in the hands of voters rather than politicians, the EU has finally offered debt relief. So maybe there'll be a better deal on the table by Sunday which the Greek government and people can accept. If not, and Greece is forced out of the Euro as punishment for debt, then I guess we'll know that it is bankers and not elected politicians who run the EU.

But either way, the fact that things have got to this point tells us that something is deeply wrong with Europe. The idea that you would crash a member country's economy with five years of crippling austerity is monstrous; to do it in an effort to repay debts which simply cannot be paid, and to keep doubling down on that mistake is just obscene. This should never have happened. People have died because of the IMF and EU's approach to Greece, and their negotiators should be held legally responsible for every one of those deaths.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

And that's that

Held: The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.

That's the ruling of the US Supreme Court today on marriage equality. Its a great moment for freedom and human rights, and one we should all celebrate. And yet the ruling was only 5-4. Somehow, four of the US's most eminent jurists (well, three and Scalia, who is an unquestionable hack) talked themselves into thinking that the constitution doesn't mean what it clearly says it does, or that there's a secret "except for gays" clause in it or something. What the fuck is wrong with these people, and how the hell do they end up on the bench, let alone the US's highest court?

As for the bigots: you'll die, your hate and bigotry will die with you, and your kids will grow up in a different world, where the stuff you hate will be absolutely normal and unremarkable and people like you are regarded as sad fringe rednecks who live under rocks. And good riddance to you.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Much worse than I thought

As if the criminal provisions of the harmful Digital Communications Bill weren't already bad enough, it turns out they're even worse than I thought. How? Because they effectively ban serious TV journalism.

How? TechLiberty has already explained how they outlaw exposing politicians (or others e.g. serial fraudsters, criminals in hiding etc), and Tim Watkin has already pointed out what this means for journalism. The law only applies to "digital communications", which are defined as "any form of electronic communication", including "any text message, writing, photograph, picture, recording, or other matter that is communicated electronically". But here's the kicker: a consequential amendment to the Human Rights Act make it clear that the law considers radio and television to be "electronic communications", and hence "digital communications". Which means that when Paddy Gower exposes some politician's misdeeds on 3News, with the intent of informing the public so they can end his career, he could go to jail for it.

This law isn't just a threat to the internet - its a threat to our democracy. Our Parliament should not pass it.

[Hat tip: Graeme Edgeler and Thomas Beagle]

This law should not be passed

Yesterday Parliament began the third reading of the government's Harmful Digital Communications Bill. While well-intentioned as an attempt to prevent and punish serious cyber-bullying, the law is overbroad, vague, and criminalises speech which any reasonable person would wish to see protected. I would prefer that it did not pass, and was sent back to select committee for another go.

The core problem with the bill lies in the criminal provisions, which provide for a punishment of two year's imprisonment - below National's new jury trial threshold - for causing harm by posting [a] digital communication. The usual defences of truth and public interest do not apply. As TechLiberty has pointed out, this is so overbroad that it criminalises public interest political speech, such as exposing corruption or dodgy dealings by an MP. And as Tim Watkin pointed out yesterday, it applies not just to bloggers, but to journalists - leading to the ludicrous situation that a story would be perfectly legal if broadcast on TV or in a dead-tree newspaper, but punishable by imprisonment if posted on that media organisation's website. For the same content. To give a concrete example, Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men and Dirty Politics were unquestionably works of public interest journalism which should not be illegal in a free and democratic society. But if Hager had published them online rather than in hardcopy, he could be facing jail under this law. That's how bad it is.

While you'd hope that a judge would apply the BORA in such a case and interpret the law consistently with it so as not to outlaw public interest political speech, that's the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. People should not be charged for such speech. This law allows them to be, and therefore exerts a chilling effect. And that's why it needs to go.

In the committee stage of the bill, ACT and Labour voted for an amendment removing these odious provisions. They were voted down. I'm deeply disappointed that the Greens, who I normally regard as sound on freedom of expression, voted against. And I'd really like to see an explanation why they want to see journalists like Nicky Hager facing charges if they do their work online rather than in hardcopy.

(I should note that part 2 of the bill, which extends harassment law to the internet and makes various other changes, is absolutely unproblematic and should be passed. The problems are all in part 1).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Another unconstitutional intervention

Earlier this year, the queen unconstitutionally intervened in the Scottish independence referendum debate, telling Scottish voters to "think carefully about future". And now with the UK on the verge of another referendum, this time on EU membership, she's done it again, warning of the dangers of the UK leaving the EU:

The Queen has warned of the dangers of division in Europe at a state banquet in Berlin, urging Britons and Germans not to take the benefits of a peaceful continent for granted.

Her speech, weaving historical events with present crises, was replete with some subtle and other not so subtle hints that she believed Britain belonged in the European Union – her most public stance yet that she wished to avoid Britain voting to leave in a referendum.

“The United Kingdom has always been closely involved in its continent. Even when our main focus was elsewhere in the world, our people played a key part in Europe,” she told an audience of 700 dignitaries.

This is not acceptable. If it was her own view, then she violated the central rule of the Westminster system, that the monarch acts only on advice. If OTOH she was acting on advice (as she apparently was on Scotland) then she has violated the principle of political neutrality by effectively lending her status to the government of the day. And either way, it is unconstitutional. The monarch simply has no constitutional role in political debate - none whatsoever. If she thinks she does, then its time to end the charade.


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

  • Local Government Act 2002 (Greater Local Democracy) Amendment Bill (Stuart Nash)
  • Public Collections and Solicitations (Disclosure of Payment) Bill (Matt Doocey)
  • Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill (Chris Bishop)
  • New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Pro Rata Entitlement) Amendment Bill (Denis O’Rourke)
Its a fairly dull collection, with Staurt Nash's one being the most controversial (it reinstates automatic referenda for local government amalgamations - something National hates because democracy is apparently bad). Doocey is dull but worthy. O'Rourke attacks the citizenship rights of his fellow kiwis (and especially young people who spend time working overseas). I'm not sure what to think of Bishop's yet, but it'll likely go to select committee for a proper inquiry, which is good.

There were 73 bills in the ballot today, with Labour's David Parker and NZ First's Darroch Ball and Fletcher Tabuteau being the only opposition members to fail to submit one.

Climate change: Taking it to court

The Netherlands is one of the countries most at risk from climate change, but its government isn't doing enough to stop it. So a group of Dutch citizens went to court to get a tougher emissions-reduction target, and won:

A Dutch court has ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020, in a case environmentalists hope will set a precedent for other countries.

Campaigners brought the case on behalf of almost 900 Dutch citizens.

They argued the government had a legal obligation to protect its citizens from the dangers of climate change.

The case was a straight-out tort, made possible by the clear and obvious harm the plaintiffs would suffer if emissions continue: sea levels would rise and they would be under water. That's not going to be possible everywhere. OTOH, a case from people in low-lying regions, or areas affected by flooding or drought, might be an interesting option in New Zealand.

Australia's war on dissent

Tony Abbott has been trying to appear "tough on terrorism" by pushing to strip citizenship from suspected terrorists without judicial oversight. This has turned into a disaster, so he's pared it back to stripping it automaticly on conviction for a terrorism-related offence. Except even that seems to go far too far:

Gareth Smith, 72, is hardly the death cult killer the Abbott government has in mind when it vows to strip dual national terrorists of their Australian citizenship.

But on a literal reading of the government's citizenship legislation, introduced yesterday to Parliament, Mr Smith, who proudly acknowledges he's a "serial protester", could find himself in the crosshairs.


Mr Smith was convicted in 2000 of damaging Commonwealth property after he spray-painted, "Shame Australia!! Shame!" in hot pink across the front of Parliament House, Canberra, as part of a protest about East Timor.

Under the legislation, dual nationals who are convicted of certain offences would be automatically stripped of their citizenship. Those offences range from treachery, sabotage and mutiny all the way down to damaging or destroying Commonwealth property.

It also includes a broad range of speech-related offences such as urging violence or advocating terrorism.

In short: disagree with the government about its position on the "war on terror", and lose your citizenship. Unless you're white, of course - then the Immigration Minister can use their discretion to overturn it. Which makes it crystal clear that this is simply more political repression rather than any principled and proportionate policy.

Again, this is a counterproductive policy which will simply further alienate Australia's Muslims. But saying that is probably "terrorism".

This is what democracy looks like


[Photo stolen from @katieabradford]

The big news this morning: Greenpeace protesters have scaled Parliament to install solar panels and drop a banner highlighting the government's inaction on climate change. Its one of those moments where we're reminded of what sort of democracy we are. Had this happened at the US capitol, the entire place would be in lockdown and there would be guns everywhere. But because its New Zealand, its "yeah, nah, do you want some coffee?"

And that's as it should be. We live in a democracy. Our Parliament absolutely should be a place of protest. That's what its for.

What the Speaker should be saying is "this is no threat to the Order of the House. Protest is part of our democracy. They'll come down when they're ready". Instead, he's describing it as an "attack", and I fully expect that at 2pm when the House sits some National MP will bombasticly demand that they be dragged before Parliament's Star Chamber for a breach of privilege. Which would itself breach privilege by bringing the House into disrepute.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Today's sheepgate revelations

The government's "defence" of Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe has been to blame Labour, alleging that it promised to resume live sheep exports with Saudi Arabia and then changed its mind. But today in Question Time, it turns out that the opposite is true: it was Murray McCully who raised Saudi expectations. The transcripts aren't online yet, but you can watch the details here; McCully admits that he had met with Brownrigg and Al Khalaf's business partner George Assaf to discuss the resumption of the live sheep trade, and that he promised to "look seriously at resolving the live trade impasse". The government then turned around and renewed the export prohibition order - so you can see why they were upset.

More interestingly, it appears that former National Party President Michelle Boag has her dirty pawprints all over this, was involved in the negotiations, and may have suggested the bribe. So it looks like this goes beyond just McCully.

A 111 app is a police backdoor

Today in Question Time the Minister of Communications proudly talked about her plans for a new 111 Smartphone app. The point of this app would be to allow people making 111 calls on smartphones to be located by GPS. But while I agree that's beneficial, given the way that apps invade privacy and are exploited, it seems like a backdoor for police.

The press release says it will only provide location information when a 111 call is made. But we have no guarantee that that will be true. Meanwhile, any information it gathers can be accessed by police either under existing information-sharing arrangements with the 111 service, or via a production order - the latter of which requires no evidence of serious crime, and which is used for spying on drunk drivers and journalists who offend the Prime Minister.

And of course if you have to give it permission to use your phones microphone - a requirement if it is to be used to make 111 calls - then it effectively turns your phone into a mobile police bug. And because you ticked the "I agree" box, they'll argue that you consented.

(And even if none of this functionality is in the initial release, remote update means it could be added at any time...)

Only a complete fool would agree to install such an app. When it is eventually released, I would not recommend using it. If you need to call 111, just dial it rather than consenting to a total invasion of your privacy.

A blind bit of difference

[T]he removal of the $1,000 kick-start contribution will not make a blind bit of difference to the number of people who join KiwiSaver

That's what John Key said when questioned about his decision to can the kickstart payment in this year's Budget. But it turns out he was wrong: KiwiSaver enrolments have dropped 50% in the last month:

But ANZ, which has a 26 per cent share of the KiwiSaver market, said that in the month since the measure had been announced, enrolments had dropped by "more than 50 per cent".

The bank declined to give further details. However, IRD figures have showed that the net increase in people in the KiwiSaver scheme nationwide was running at about 15,000 a month, meaning the change could have put off thousands of people.

ANZ Wealth managing director John Body said the removal of kick-start had hit confidence in the retirement savings scheme.

Which makes sense: the kickstart payment was the big incentive to join KiwiSaver, and without it it is far less attractive. And ignoring that was just stupidity.

Budget advice is due to be proactively released next month, so it will be interesting to see if Key and English knew and ignored it, or if Treasury ignored reality because they wanted to make cuts.

Spying on their allies again

First the NSA was caught spying on Germany. This time, its France:

The French president, François Hollande, has called an emergency meeting of his country’s defence council for Wednesday morning after revelations that American agents spied on three successive French presidents between 2006 and 2012. According to WikiLeaks documents published late on Tuesday, even the French leaders’ mobile phone conversations were listened to and recorded.

The leaked US documents, marked “top secret”, were based on phone taps and filed in an NSA document labelled “Espionnage Elysée” (Elysée Spy), according to the newspaper Libération and investigative news website Mediapart. The US was listening to the conversations of centre-right president Jacques Chirac, his successor Nicolas Sarkozy, and the current French leader, Socialist François Hollande, elected in 2012.

The recorded conversations, which were handled by the summary services unit at the NSA, were said to reveal few state secrets but show clear evidence of the extent of American spying on countries considered allies. WikiLeaks documents suggest that other US spy targets included French cabinet ministers and the French ambassador to the United States.

“The documents contain the ‘selectors’ from the target list, detailing the cell phone numbers of numerous officials in the Elysée up to and including the direct cell phone of the president,” a report of the taps published in the French media revealed.

The NSA justifies its existence by saying it spies on the US's enemies. Instead, it seems to spend most of its time spying on their allies, gathering information which isn't about defence, but advancing economic interests and global prestige. In the process it sours those relationships and makes it clear that it is the US which is everyone's enemy. Americans might want to consider whether that sort of spying is really in their interests.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and with the government's filibuster broken, its first readings all the way. First up is Damien O'Connor's Underground Coal Mining Safety Bill, which aims to bring our mine safety regime up to the level of Australia. I expect the government to vote against. Next there's Iain Lees-Galloway's Electoral (Adjustment of Thresholds) Amendment Bill, which will implement the main recommendations of the Electoral Commission's review of MMP. I expect the government to vote against that one too, and I'm not sure there's a majority to advance it (which I'm not exactly heartbroken about, because those recommendations would actually decrease the proportionality of our Parliament). After that its Winston Peters' SuperGold Health Check Bill (more pork for old people) and Alfred Ngaro's Local Government (Auckland Council) Amendment Bill (No 3) (which is a minor tidy-up which should be a government bill). If the House moves quickly, it might make a start on Meka Whaitiri's Environmental Protection Authority (Protection of Environment) Amendment Bill.

There is likely to be a ballot for three or four bills tomorrow, and with no Member's Bills in the select committee pipeline, we're likely to see that every member's day cycle until at least October. And the only way the government can stop the flow of opposition bills to the House is for some of them to start passing. maybe that filibuster wasn't such a good idea after all?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A self-inflicted threat

Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe was predicated on the threat of legal action. According to the Cabinet paper authorising the deal,

Saudi partners would have preferred to enter discussion on the basis of seeking compensation for commercial loss as a result of government decisions (and indicated that they had received legal advice suggesting they pursue a claim for between $20-30 million)

It nows turns out that that "legal advice" came from the New Zealand government:
James Shaw: Did any of his Ministers suggest to Mr Al Khalaf and his associates that they sue the Government of New Zealand?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I cannot speak for the other Ministers—I have never asked that question—but I know I certainly did not and I would be surprised if they did.

James Shaw: Why then did Brownrigg Agriculture in a letter dated November 2011 to Murray McCully say that Mr Al Kalaf will be looking “to seek commercial redress, as indeed suggested by your Government as a last resort option for him .”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot answer that question because I was not privy to those conversations...

So we have the government paying money to a Saudi businessman to forstall a lawsuit suggested by the New Zealand government. The question is, did McCully suggest it as a way of opening Cabinet's pockets, or did someone just say "so sue us!" in response to Al Khalaf's outrageous claims?

You're not allowed to call bullshit on the war on terror

Meanwhile, over the Tasman, the government is threatening to shut down their state broadcaster's leading current affairs programme, Q and A, after it allowed a man acquitted of terrorism charges to call bulshit on the government's tactics in the "war on terror":

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the ABC made a "grave error of judgment" by allowing former terrorism suspect Zaky Mallah to appear on its panel show Q&A.

And Prime Minister Tony Abbott has gone further in the government's criticism of the ABC program, telling the Coalition party room that Q&A was a "lefty lynch mob" and that the government would look to do something about it.


Asking a question as an audience member on Q&A on Monday night, Mr Mallah complained that under new counter-terror laws the federal government is proposing, he could have had his citizenship stripped.

Queensland Liberal and panel member Steve Ciobo was unapologetic, saying he believed the only reason Mr Mallah was acquitted of terrorism was that the terrorist offences "weren't retrospective in application", and that he would be glad to see Mr Mallah sent out of the country.

Stunning many ABC viewers, Mr Mallah then said that sort of comment was why young Muslims would feel justified in travelling to banned areas of Syria and Iraq and taking up arms with Islamic State.

"The Liberals have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL because of ministers like him," he said.

But Mallah is absolutely right. Why are Australian Muslims turning to groups like ISIS? Because their own government is engaged in a campaign of repression against them. Spying, prosecutions, repressive laws, and public rhetoric from politicians all make it clear that the Australian government regards them as "the enemy". Which encourages them to fight back. As democratic political dissent by Muslims is treat as terrorism, ISIS becomes the only game in town to express that dissatisfaction.

(Its the same story in the UK, and to a lesser extent in Canada. And John Key seems to want it to happen here as well)

In the "war on terror", our governments are creating their own enemy, justifying ever-increasing powers and ever-rising budgets for the security state. But calling bullshit on that cycle? That's "supporting terrorism" and has to be banned. The stupidity is breathtaking. And it would be funny, except for the fact that our rights are being eroded by this crap.

Sadly, because politicians and spies conflate such stupidity with strength, it looks likely to get much worse before it gets better.

Flavell should resign

State television delivers a vital public service (especially given the reluctance of commercial TV to provide serious journalism anymore). But it needs to be protected from the desire of Ministers to dictate content and turn "their" channel into a propaganda outlet for the government. Both the Television New Zealand Act 2003 and the Māori Television Service (Te Aratuku Whakaata Irirangi Māori) Act 2003 include clauses forbidding Ministers and their staff from interfering with content decisions. Sadly, that doesn't seem to have stopped Te Ururoa Flavell:

Calls are coming for the Maori Development Minister to have responsibility for Maori TV taken off him, as it emerges he met with the television chief executive less than two hours before a contentious debate was canned.

Te Ururoa Flavell met with Maori Television chief executive Paora Maxwell before the Native Affairs show cancelled a debate on Whanau Ora, a health initiative centring on family support within the community.

That followed emails from Flavell's office saying the inclusion of NZ First would prevent the issue being discussed in depth, and then that no politicians should be involved.

While its deniable, those emails make it very clear that the Minister would be very unhappy if the programme happened on anything other than his terms. Any public servant sensitive to their career prospects and departmental budget would read them that way. And while there's no smoking gun - nothing saying "cancel this now", and no meeting minutes - it seems very clear that that is exactly what happened. There need to be heads on spikes for this - not just the Minister and his staffer who violated the law, but also Māori Television's Chief Executive, who seems to have been a party to it.

What is the Prime Minister trying to hide?

Last month, I highlighted a very dubious OIA response from the Prime Minister's office regarding his contacts with journalist Rachel Glucina, who had just outed and smeared the victim of his pony-tail pulling. Following that post, I sent an OIA request of my own, seeking to learn:

whether the Prime Minister or his office holds information on contacts with Rachel Glucina about the pony-tail pulling incident;

whether the Prime Minister or his office holds information on contacts with Rachel Glucina about the pony-tail pulling victim

Last night I received the response: more of the same stonewalling. According to the Prime Minister's office, "the position I have outlined in responding to a request on the FYI website regarding the releasing of any details of communications from the Prime Minister or the media team to Rachel Glucina still stands". The request was refused under section 9(2)(a) and 9(2)(ba)(i). The problem? They can't actually do that. The request was very specifically a request for information concerning existence of certain information. And as section 10 of the OIA makes clear, the grounds for refusal are extremely limited. Neither of the cited grounds is a legal reason for refusal under section 10. Naturally, I've complained to the Ombudsman, so maybe I'll have a response in three years. But I'm left wondering: what is the Prime Minister trying to hide? Would it kill him to say "yes" to either of those questions? And if he's so ashamed of his contact with Rachel Glucina that he is blatantly ignoring the law to avoid admitting it, maybe he shouldn't have contacted her in the first place?

Britain spies on human rights NGOs

Last night, the UK's Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that GCHQ had violate the law in a case brought by a consortium of human rights NGOs. "GCHQ's surveillance of two human rights groups ruled illegal by tribunal " screamed the headlines - but the devil is in the details:

The UK government monitoring agency retained emails for longer than it should have and violated its own internal procedures, according to a judgment by the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT). But it ruled that the initial interception was lawful in both cases.

The IPT upheld complaints by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the South African non-profit Legal Resources Centre that their communications had been illegally retained and examined. The tribunal made “no determination” on claims brought other NGOs – including Amnesty International, Liberty and Privacy International – implying that either their emails and phone calls were not intercepted or that they were intercepted but by legal means.

So in Britain it is perfectly legal for the government to spy on human rights groups, provided they follow correct procedure about data retention. When the Soviets did that, the UK condemned it. But modern Britain is becoming indistinguishable from the totalitarian states it once purported to oppose, with pervasive surveillance and intelligence operations aimed at those seeking change to policy by democratic means. If UKanians want to keep their democracy, they need to vote out their spies.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Since coming to power in 2008, the National government has sold more than a thousand state houses and tightened access to the remainder considerably. The net result? People not getting the assistance they need:

Families in urgent need of a state house are waiting twice as long compared to 18 months ago, Labour says.

The new figures also show an applicant waited 1,055 days to get into a house - although officials say that came after the person rejected a property because it had birds nesting in a nearby tree.

Labour's Social Development spokeswoman Carmel Sepuloni said the information released highlighted the struggles of people who often had nowhere else to go.

"The average wait time for those in urgent need of a state house was 55 days in September 2013. New documents released under the OIA show that number had blown out to 129 days by March 2015. That's disgraceful.

She's right: it is disgraceful. The purpose of Housing New Zealand is to make sure everyone has a roof over their heads. And under National, they are failing. And its not just a problem for Housing New Zealand and its Minister, because this failure imposes costs on all of us. Kids without a home are less likely to go to school (or switch schools often, and risk falling through the cracks). People without a home are more likely to end up in hospital. What Bill English saves by penny-pinching on state housing, we pay for in higher health, education and welfare costs. It would be interesting to see if they've ever bothered to quantify those externalities, and if not, why not.

False positives

Part of the government's vote-grabbing crackdown on immigration has been a programme of allowing employers to look up employees' immigration status, to ensure they only hire people who are entitled to work in New Zealand (backed of course by criminal penalties if they don't). Which sounds fine, until you realise the downside: false positives:

After 47 years of living in New Zealand, a Whangarei man only recently learned he is not a citizen when his employer terminated his contract due to his "immigration status".

Graeme Watson - who went to school here, got married, obtained driving and gun licences, became a registered counsellor and worked in Government-provided health services - said he might joke about being a "nobody", a stateless person in his own country, but "it's a bloody nightmare".

He arrived on a Scottish parent's passport in the late 1960s and, as he had never left New Zealand, never applied for a passport.

Two months ago Mr Watson lost his job because of his "immigration status" , after being employed with a private mental health provider for only five weeks. He was paid for only two of those weeks; the nationwide company telling him his outstanding wages were frozen because he may have worked "illegally", he said. Before then he had worked for more than four years with Northland District Health Board.

Watson is deemed to be a New Zealand Permanent Resident under section 44 of the Immigration Act 1987. He didn't have to do anything to claim this status; he meets the criteria so he has it. He could get it formally recognised on application of he wanted, but he doesn't have to. He is unquestionably entitled to live and work in New Zealand. Immigration NZ gave false information about that entitlement to his employer, costing him his job. I cannot think of a clearer case of someone deserving compensation for an immigration fuckup.

And of course it raises the question of how many other people are in this situation: kiwis who have lived and worked here all their lives, but who Immigration NZ will have sacked (and deported) if they ever came to its attention because some bureaucrat is ignorant of the law or ticked the wrong box.

And it raises the wider consequences of this database (and being a "database society"): errors happen. In the case of errors with immigration or citizenship status, they can have significant effects. Those effects are magnified the wider the information is shared. If Immigration cannot guarantee 100% error-free data, it should not be providing it. It is that simple.

New Fisk

Could the European Union end up going the way of Arab unity?
Did Berlin really think it was a good idea to arrest an Al Jazeera journalist on behalf of Egypt?

More horror from Australia's Pacific gulag

More horror from Australia's Pacific gulag: guards filming themselves having sex with refugees:

Charlotte Wilson was, until February this year, a Save the Children case manager at the Nauru Regional Processing Centre. In her explosive submission to the Senate inquiry, which is investigating allegations of abuse at the facility, she claims to have been told it was "acknowledged in management meetings between service providers" that acts of "solicitation" were occurring in the community between female refugees and Australian security officers employed by Wilson Security.

"It was also established that these acts had been filmed and circulated around Wilson staff," she said, of the rumours that began to circulate in January. She added: "I was also told that because prostitution is legal on Nauru that no action was being taken against the staff members involved."

In her submission, which hasn't yet been made public but has been obtained by Fairfax Media, Ms Wilson alleges she witnessed a security guard tell a group of single Somali women that if they run away, they would get "raped by the local boys".

In March, a review into sexual abuse at Nauru found evidence of rape, sexual assault of minors and guards exchanging cannabis for sexual favours from female detainees.

Treating it simply as prostitution ignores the very real power imbalance between guards and refugees, and the real control the former exert over the latter's lives. But its typical of a government which has set up a horrorshow and doesn't want to take any responsibility for the results.

Meanwhile, the immigration department also told doctors that it didn't want to hear about the mental harm caused by detention - presumably to prevent a documentary record of it, or because they'd have to act on the information of they were informed of it (just like torture). So, the government's basic duty of care is now being compromised out of a political demand from Ministers for secrecy and cruelty.

Torture. Sexual exploitation. A denial of human rights. At what stage do we declare Australia's refugee policy to be a crime against humanity?

Friday, June 19, 2015

No ambition on open government

When the government released its initial Open Government Partnership Action Plan last year, I criticised it for displaying no real commitment to open government and transparency. Now the SSC has very quietly published the relevant Cabinet papers on its website - and they show that originally the government wanted to do even less. The initial Cabinet paper (ERD(13)25: 'Agreement to Join Open Government Partnership') proposed simply using the government's existing "Better Public Services" programme (which sees the government set targets for certain policies and publish performance information) as its action plan. But as they later recognised, this wasn't enough:

Cabinet previously agreed that New Zealand’s Action Plan would focus on the Better Public Services Results programme and targets [CAB Min (13) 31/3]. I consider that a focus solely on the BPS Results programme will not adequately address OGP requirements to meet at least two OGP “grand challenges” and OGP principles, or requirements to include new initiatives, and work more closely with civil society.
Stakeholders were critical of focusing an Action Plan on the BPS Results programme. For these reasons, I recommend that the Action Plan include the initiatives outlined in the table below. Together, they create a package of initiatives that not only support and complement one another, but also support the Government’s State Sector Reform Programme and New Zealand’s OGP commitments.

Which is why we got a hodge-podge of other existing initiatives. But even then they note:
There is also a risk that including the BPS Results programme in the Action Plan could receive criticism, as stakeholders considered that a focus on this programme would not adequately take account of the OGP principles and objectives. To address these risks, the Action Plan notes that it is a living document that will be refined, modified and updated over time. It includes the TINZ National
Integrity System report and Kia Tūtahi relationship Accord which broaden the focus of the Action Plan. It will also adopt a formalised process for working with stakeholders including establishing a stakeholder-led advisory group. This approach would also align with the spirit and intent of BPS Results, which seeks to partner with a range of different stakeholders overtime, to deliver better public services.

In other words, they have to fudge it. And its worth noting that that Stakeholder Advisory Group still hasn't been appointed; I guess they couldn't find any former National MPs who wanted to serve on it.

As for what happens next, there's a calendar: the government is supposed to publish a "self-assessment" of how well it has done in meeting its action plan by September 30 this year, and that will be reviewed by the OGP's Independent Reporting Mechanism. And early next year they're supposed to start working with civil society on creating their second national action plan, which is due by June 30 2016. Hopefully it will be far more ambitious than the first one.

Self-serving redactions

When Labour released the sheep files on Wednesday, John Key desperately tried to continue his Muldoonist smear by claiming information showing he was right had had to be redacted. But according to NewstalkZB's Barry Soper, he lied:

But yours truly has been able to lift the blacked out bits and have a squizz beneath them. Having read the naughty bits, it begged the question, why they were blacked out at all, given the papers told us little more than the axing of the live sheep trade didn't go down well in Riyadh and that it could affect the outcome of the free trade agreement with the region? Now that was hardly a reason for keeping it from our prying eyes.

There was no mention of the threat from the Saudi businessman that he was thinking of taking legal action. Certainly he wasn't happy the live sheep trade had been stopped, given that he'd invested a lot of money in it and the papers do show the Saudis may have been led to believe the trade could be resumed.

Now you can see why the Tories weren't interested in releasing the papers, they didn't fit their spin!

And this is why you should never trust government redactions, or anything they say about a redacted document (or secret information in general): because when they think they can't be caught out, politicians simply lie.

Update: And more from Radio New Zealand:
Radio New Zealand has seen the uncensored Cabinet documents and there is no mention of threatened legal action by Al-Khalaf, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed, and nothing about a deal.

The papers make clear the then Labour Government knew the Saudi agriculture minister was extremely unimpressed with the continuing ban on live sheep exports, and that it could affect the chances of a free trade deal with the Gulf States.

The papers say there is a low chance of a complaint to the World Trade Organisation.

So our Prime Minister imposes his own cloak of secrecy, then lies about what's behind it. Which means we should take everything else he says about secret material with a grain of salt as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

National on laws

From Question Time today, Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Michael Woodhouse on whether tougher health and safety laws will reduce injuries:

But laws alone will not prevent the types of deaths and injuries the member describes, any more than road rules prevent death and injury on the road. What will improve our health and safety record is changes in behaviour and attitude, and that is what I am promoting.

So, how do you change behaviour? According to Woodhouse, certainly not with laws! They do nothing. Which makes you wonder why National spends so much time seeking parliamentary representation to influence them...

But oddly, this attitude only seems to apply to health and safety laws. National is very clear that tougher penalties for crime influence behaviour by reducing crime. They think higher taxes and the existence of planning laws such as the RMA influence economic behaviour. They think laws against people smuggling influence that too (in fact, here's Michael Woodhouse, just ten minutes later, saying so). But if the behaviour you seek to influence is that of employers, and the desired influence is an improvement, apparently laws are ineffective.

So, either National are hypocrites, or they believe that all New Zealand employers (and especially Peter talley, who they gave a knighthood to) are incorrigible criminals who will refuse to obey the laws of the land even if we start putting them in jail. Which is it, I wonder?

Avoiding freedom of information in the UK

You're a dodgy British politician who wants to keep your secrets secret from the dirty peasants of the public. But you've just passed a law which says you have to tell them stuff if they ask. How do you resolve this problem? Simple: delete everything:

Emails sent from Downing Street are automatically deleted within three months, it has emerged, with former officials describing the system as “dysfunctional”.

Transparency campaigners have claimed the system is in place to avoid information being released to the public through freedom of information requests.

A former permanent secretary revealed that the automated deletion system was set up just weeks before Tony Blair’s Freedom of Information Act came into effect in January 2005.

Maurice Frankel, director of the UK Campaign for Freedom of Information, said the timing “very strongly indicates that it was not a coincidence”.

Its difficult to see this as anything other than a deliberate conspiracy to evade transparency. And in New Zealand, it would be illegal unless authorised by the Chief Archivist, thanks to the Public Records Act.

But its not just anti-democratic, its also stupid - because email is now used as an external memory. Need to know who you met on a particular day? Check your email. Need to know what was said? Check your email. But when that email automatically disappears after three months, then that goes out the window. The result is a government which doesn't know what it did or what its doing. Which may perhaps explain why the standard of governance in the UK is so poor: because its central office deliberately blinds and lobotomises itself out of a hatred of the public.

Time to ban exports for breeding too

When New Zealand originally banned the export of live animals for slaughter, it was driven by animal welfare considerations (and concerns about how rich European and North American customers would respond to them). The trade was cruel, and what happened to the animals at the other end was even crueller. But the trade in animals for breeding was allowed to continue, despite it using the same cruel ships, on the basis that it wasn't as bad.

Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe blows that out of the water. Yes, they airfreighted 900 pregnant sheep to Saudi Arabia, so the trip was nowhere near as stressful. And then when they got them to the other end, the lambs died:

High numbers of New Zealand bred lambs on a controversial demonstration farm in the Saudi Arabian desert have died soon after birth.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, which is running the operation, said it was not responsible for animal welfare at the farm, which is intended to showcase New Zealand agriculture.

The Government flew 900 pregnant sheep to the Saudi farm late last year as part of an $11 million deal with the farm's owner, Hamood al-Ali al-Khalaf, whose anger over the cancellation of live sheep exports was preventing a free trade deal with the Gulf states.

By December, the lambs were being born and promptly began to die. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise could not confirm exactly how many had died but described it as "high losses".

According to One News' Heather du Plessis-Allan, the fatality rate was 75%, with some lambs dying of starvation. That's about fifteen times higher than the death rates in New Zealand, and its an animal welfare nightmare. But NZTE seems to be trying to wash their hands of it because
the welfare and treatment of the lambs at the demonstration farm were matters for the Saudi farmer Mr Al-Khalaf

Bullshit. NZTE exported them, and they are morally responsible. And what they're responsible for here is an animal welfare disaster.

Quite apart from showing what a crazy idea McCully's sheep bribe was, this also casts doubt on the entire breeding export industry. And we can't let New Zealand exporters continue to ignore it. We simply cannot permit animals to be exported into conditions where they will suffer more than they do on a New Zealand farm. And if farmers aren't willing to guarantee that, we cannot let them export at all.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

No due process, no Cabinet process either

Meanwhile, over in Australia Tony Abbott wants to strip citizenship from alleged terrorists and exile them without judicial process. How did he get this past his Cabinet? By not showing them the legal advice which said it was unconstitutional:

Cabinet Ministers have not been shown the Solicitor General's advice on the government's plan to strip citizenship from dual nationals suspected of being terrorists.

Sky News understands that the Solicitor General's advice has been seen by the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and Immigration Minister, but has not been seen or considered by other Cabinet ministers.

The revelations mean that Cabinet discussions and ultimately the decision to support the proposal were made without considering formal advice from the Solicitor General.

Three senior government sources confirm that the rest of cabinet still has not seen the advice.

It was revealed last week the Solicitor General declared the plans in their current form as 'unconstitutional' - because they hand the power to declare someone a terrorist to a minister without due legal process.

They've already admitted that the decisions they plan to make under this role would not withstand judicial scrutiny, which means that they will effectively be arbitrary punishments handed down by the Minister. And that's simply not something modern democracies should do. But Australia, with its gulags, secrecy, and increasing intolerance of dissent is fast ceasing to be one.

The sheep files

Two weeks ago, John Key tried to blame Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe on Labour, claiming in Question Time that:

The second point I would make is that these issues are issues that have actually been dealt with by successive Governments. I would take this opportunity to encourage the member to speak to Annette King and Phil Goff about the warnings that they received on these issues when they were in Government and about the actions that they were looking to take. He might be amazingly surprised to hear the answers.

He then repeatedly blocked release of the Cabinet papers he thought would be so damaging. But today Labour unilaterally released them (though with purported OIA redactions). And despite McCullay's rather desperate attempts to claim otherwise, they show nothing of the sort. What they do show is:
  • Following the 2003 ban, the Labour government attempted to negotiate an agreement with Saudi Arabia to address animal welfare issues around live exports, similar to that negotiated by Australia.
  • In August 2006, MAF was directed to review its policies on live exports. This meant that the agreement with Saudi Arabia could not be finalised, as it would be effectively revoked if a ban was put in place, "prompt[ing] questions about New Zealand's good faith as a negotiator and trading partner".
  • The review recommended a ban on live exports for slaughter for animal welfare considerations and to protect New Zealand's international reputation (and exports to much bigger markets in Europe and North America). MFAT was quite cold-blooded about this: they did the maths and concluded that live sheep slaughter exports were worth only ~$5 million a year, a tiny fraction of the sheep meat export market ($2.4 billion), and much less than the potential cost of a consumer boycott in key markets. (The lesson here: if you want to change NZ government policy, run a smear campaign attacking agricultural exports in Europe. Climate change campaigners take note!)
  • There were "international legal and policy risks" around this. All detail is (unfortunately) redacted, but its pretty obvious: it could be challenged via the WTO, and the Saudis might be upset that the NZ government had changed its mind. There's no suggestion of a specific legal risk from affronted Saudi businessmen with investments in New Zealand, and certainly no suggestion of paying them millions of dollars to go away.

In short, John Key constructed a crude Muldoonist smear, and got caught. It's quite illustrative of what sort of a politician he is - one that we should not trust to lead our country.

Taking the piss

When I first read about New Zealand Forests Ltd export of swamp Kauri logs as "Maori carvings", it was clear that they were taking the piss. These weren't real carvings, but just an attempt to disguide a raw log as a "finished product" so as to avoid the prohibition on the export of indigenous timber. The photograph published by the Herald today - essentially a raw log with some paint on it - simply added to that conclusion. But now we have a slam dunk: The logs are openly for sale on Alibaba.com - not as "Maori carvings", but as New Zealand Ancient Kauri Logs.


The seller? New Zealand Forests Limited. Which also sells "swamp kauri logs, timber and slabs with carbon dating certificate from University of Waikaito, New Zealand". Oddly, though, they don't appear to sell "Maori carvings" at all (screenshot).

As noted above, New Zealand law prohibits the export of unfinished indigenous timber (so, actual tables OK, but raw logs and slabs aren't). Offering these products for international sale suggests that they are breaking the law.

(Thanks to @snarky_mk for the tip)

Another crony appointment

And while we're talking about crony appointments, National has just made another, appointing former MP Eric Roy to the board of Landcorp. Time to lodge another OIA request...

Tariana Turia's crony appointment

Last month, the government appointed former Maori Party leader Tariana Turia - already the recipient of a crony knighthood - to the board of the Families Commission. This looked like a straight-out retirement package for a loyal footstool, so I sent in the usual OIA request seeking information about the appointment process. It revealed some interesting points:

  • There were 35 applicants for the positions. Nine people were nominated by "your Cabinet/Caucus colleagues" (i.e. the National party), seven by the Maori Party, three from the Ministry for Women and one from the Superu board itself. 15 were self-nominated, i.e. responded to the Ministry's advertising campaign. Unfortunately, there's no information on who nominated Turia (or the other successful candidates), but the odds are that her was a political nomination rather than a genuine application for the job.
  • Superu was very clear about what sorts of candidates it wanted: people with experience in governance, social science research, and "issues facing Pasifika and other ethnic groups". They were consistent about this until the Minister had decided that Turia would be shortlisted and interviewed - after which they suddenly looking for "practical knowledge and understanding of family diversity, in particular reference to Maori" (they also downgraded the statistics criteria from "technical knowledge" to "application of"). There is no explanation for or advice on the change - it just appears out of nowhere. Its almost as if they changed the criteria to suit their preferred candidate...
  • Just to make sure of it, they decided that Turia - a former politician who has been institutionalised in Parliament for the past 18 years - met the statistical requirement too as she
    understood the value and need for research and evidence to support robust social policy and she provided examples that highlight her understanding of the contribution of research and evidence makes to public policy.
    Which, while useful, is a long way from the original requirement for a stats wonk.
  • Having met the changed appointment criteria, Turia was duly appointed. She's being paid $565 a meeting, the same as the other board members.
So, not a slam-dunk, but it certainly looks like they strapped the chicken to ensure the appointment of their preferred crony candidate. And again, while Turia might be OK at this job, the method of her appointment does her no credit whatsoever.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

South Africa pisses on the rule of law

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir is a wanted war criminal, the subject of two ICC arrest warrants for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Over the weekend, he attended a summit of African leaders in Johannesburg. The South African government granted him immunity. Human rights activists went to court seeking an order for his arrest, and won an injunction forbidding him from leaving the country. Today, the South African government ignored that and allowed him to depart:

The Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, has flown home, leaving South Africa in defiance of a court order that he must remain to face an international arrest warrant.


As Bashir’s plane took off from Waterkloof military airfield outside Pretoria, the local high court was hearing arguments over an application that would have forced the South African government to arrest him.

A South African judge criticised the government for allowing Bashir to leave. “The conduct of the respondents to the extent that they have failed to take steps to arrest and detain the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is inconsistent with the constitution of the Republic of South Africa,” Dunstan Mlambo said.

The high court ruled after Bashir’s departure that he should have been detained.

So, we have a government defying its own courts to protect a war criminal. There's a name for people who do that: accessories. And they should be tried for it.

This is not a success

WINZ is handing out fewer special needs grants:

A $20 million drop in food grants made to struggling families is because of hurdles introduced by the Government, community groups say.

The Social Development Ministry said the fall was because fewer people were applying for them.

Figures released under the Official Information Act show special needs grants for food have gone from $56.5 million (548,802 grants) in the 2009 - 2010 year to $36.6 million (351,691) grants in the 2013 - 2014 year.

But community groups said people now had to show they had taken reasonable steps to manage their money after receiving two payments in any 12 month period, and that was discouraging those in need from applying.

There's a simple way to see who's right here: has need dropped? The best proxy is probably foodbank parcels, but that's not something the government keeps statistics on. But there is some data: in 2010-11, the Auckland City Mission handed out 9,000 food parcels. According to their front page, that tally is currently over 11,000. So no, need hasn't dropped - and if anything, has grown. And thanks to National's cost-cutting WINZ is failing to respond to that need.

The purpose of our welfare system is to make sure that nobody in New Zealand goes homeless or starves, and that everyone can enjoy a dignified life regardless of the vicissitudes of fortune. National has basicly given up on that goal. But if government isn't going to do this, then we really have to ask what the fuck its for, and why we're paying a pack of wankers in Wellington fat salaries to ignore the country's problems.

New Fisk

America siding with 'terrorists' like al-Nusra? It's not a conspiracy theory

National's New Zealand

Some contents to correlate. First, rough sleeping - not just homeless and living in a garage, but so homeless you're sleeping in a public park - has doubled in Auckland in the past year:

Record numbers of people are sleeping rough or in cars this winter as Auckland's desperate housing shortage makes life harder than ever for those at the bottom of the city's frantic housing market.


The latest street count last October found that the numbers sleeping rough within 3km of the Sky Tower more than doubled from 68 in the 2013 count to 147. Although most were men, more women were sleeping rough, up from seven in 2012 to 31. Thirteen more women engaged with the mission's homeless outreach workers for the first time in the three months to April, compared with 25 new men and three transgender people.

And meanwhile, Auckland's property investing class are leaving homes to stand empty:
Prices are rising so fast that speculators are buying homes and refusing to rent them out, instead looking to sell them for huge profits without the hassle of finding tenants in the interim.

One Mount Albert villa has been empty for years, much to the disgust of neighbour Chris Haturini.

"I just think it's appalling that this could be a home where someone else could be benefitting from it and living in it," she told ONE News, highlighting the fact there is clear evidence of squatting at the property.

Labour's Housing spokesman Phil Twyford says there could be thousands of houses in Auckland being left empty.

The census showed 22,000 empty homes in Auckland. Some of those will have been empty because of churn - they were in the gap between people moving out and people moving in. But the problem of deliberately untenanted houses is clearly significant enough to be noticeable. And for that to happen when there's a housing crisis and growing homelessness is simply obscene.

As for the solution, I'm not going to condemn any homeless person who finds one of these ghost houses and simply moves in. But then I don't think its a crime for the hungry to steal bread either. Actual human need trumps abstract property rights any day of the week. But in order to stop this from happening, we need a policy solution, rather than just relying on desperate people ignoring the law. And on that front, the answer is simple: tax the shit out of them. Unoccupied houses impose costs on wider society. It is only fair that those costs be paid by those responsible for them: property owners who refuse to rent out their surplus homes. Homes are for people to live in, not some financial instrument for reaping secure, tax-free capital gains.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Another clusterfuck

Last month, National announced it would be giving "unused" government land in Auckland to developers to build houses in an effort to deflate the housing bubble. There were a lot of problems with that idea, both with the Public Works Act and with Treaty Settlement legislation. And now it looks like its going to court:

Ngati Whatua and Waikato-Tainui have decided to go to court to challenge the Government's interpretation of "right of first refusal" in light of Budget moves to free up surplus land in Auckland for private housing developments.

But in a bid to avoid souring their relationship with the Government, the tribes are inviting the Crown to join them in seeking clarification of the law.

The tribes have asked the law firm Russell McVeagh to seek an urgent meeting with the Solicitor-General Mike Heron to discuss the possibility of a joint approach to the courts.

So, the major policy platform of Budget 2015 just turned into a total clusterfuck.

As for how it will go, I think its hard to imagine the courts letting the government shit all over a Treaty settlement like this. But either way, Nick Smith's houses aren't happening anytime soon, and he will need to look for another solution.

800 years of freedom

Today is June 15. 800 years ago today, the Magna Carta was signed. Much of its detail was decidedly medieval - stuff about fish weirs, and feudal duties, and whether wards could be given in marriage (that is, sold or used as political bargaining chips). But one clause stands out:

No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.

That clause (naturally, repealed in the UK) is still on the books in New Zealand today. Its a bit tattered, with the passage of asset forfeiture and refugee detention and the abolition of jury trials for most crimes, but its still there as a reminder that the government must act within the law. 800 years on, we should be strengthening these provisions, not repealing them.

As for the UK, the British government appears to want to celebrate 800 years of freedom by repealing their major legislative guarantee of it, the Human Rights Act. Which tells you just how far from Magna Carta they've strayed. 800 years ago, a group of barons claimed freedom from an over-mighty King at swordpoint; now its time for the people of the UK to save it from their over-mighty Parliament.

Climate disclosure

Over the weekend, Green co-leader James Shaw announced a new Legislation (Climate Impact Disclosure Statement) Amendment Bill, which would require the Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment to assess government legislation for its impact on climate change and emissions, in much the same way as the Attorney-General is required to assess legislation for consistency with the Bill of Rights Act. John Key immediately hit back that its a silly idea, because not every bill relates to climate change. Well, no - but the fact that most assessments will (like most BORA assessments) be a simple box-ticking exercise, "no adverse impacts reported" isn't a reason not to do it.

What the bill really boils down to is a claim that we're not doing this very well. And you only have to look at the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's (a statutorily independent watchdog) submissions on various pieces of legislation to see that that's the case. Like the BORA, the is also predicated on the idea that Parliament should know what its doing before it does something stupid. And again, its hard to disagree with that, or view it as a challenge to Parliamentary sovereignty. So I guess the question for John Key is "why don't you want MPs to know about climate change impacts before they vote on them?" His answer to that should be pretty illuminating.

But like the BORA, the real value of the bill will be behind the scenes. The BORA reporting process means checking against human rights is built into the policy process, so that stupid mistakes get caught early. And when we're looking at the biggest environmental challenge humanity has ever faced, we probably want Ministries whose work is relevant to that challenge - energy, transport, primary industries and the environment - to be doing that too, and keeping it in mind.

My only criticism of the bill is that the Chief Executive of MfE isn't the right person to be doing this reporting, because they're obviously subject to Ministerial pressure. The need to maintain a good working relationship with their Minister means they face an incentive to misreport. Instead, the job should be given to an independent body, such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. That's the only way we can have any confidence in these reports.

New Fisk

Syrian civil war: Damascus clings to normal life amid the chaos of conflict
Syrian civil war: Can Assad's regime survive the onslaught from Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra?

This does not bode well

How can you lose money selling houses in a property bubble? If you're Housing New Zealand, apparently:

Hundreds of state houses were sold substantially below Government Valuation, promoting warnings that local values could be dragged down.

Figures compiled by Labour showed that 443 state houses were sold in 2014, at an average of 13.3 per cent below the Government Valuation.

Labour claims Housing NZ has "lost" at least $13 million on the sales, with the total proceeds from sales where valuations were available raising $71.8m, compared to the $84.9m the houses were valued at.

In the regions, they're selling at 20 - 30 percent below GV. And then there's this:
Five state houses sold in 2014 raised more than $1m, including a $1.36m sale of a property in Devonport, about 5 per cent less than the property's GV.

That's right: they're selling a million-dollar property in a desirable Auckland suburb during a property bubble, when GVs are dust, and they still make less than GV. I do not understand how this is possible; rank incompetence doesn't even begin to describe it. But whatever the explanation, with the government planning to sell thousands of state houses worth billions of dollars, it does not bode well.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Another British whitewash

The purpose of police watchdogs is to preserve public confidence int he police by investigating and punishing police wrongdoing. Except, of course, in the UK:

The Independent Police Complaints Commission will not mount a formal investigation into allegations of criminal wrongdoing by police even though it has found evidence to suggest that police officers assaulted miners at the mass picket of the Orgreave coking plant during the 1984-85 miners’ strike, then perverted the course of justice and committed perjury in the failed prosecutions which followed.

Senior officers at South Yorkshire police, which commanded the Orgreave operation and conducted the prosecutions, privately acknowledged that many officers did overreact at Orgreave, and that there was evidence that they committed perjury, but did not want that misconduct made public.

In a report to be published on Friday, the IPCC says that the force’s withholding of evidence about improper treatment of miners and perjury by officers, and its failure to investigate it, “raises doubts about the ethical standards of senior officers at South Yorkshire police at that time” and suggests they were complicit. However, after two and a half years’ research into evidence relating to the bitter Orgreave confrontation and prosecutions which followed, the IPCC has decided not to investigate further.

Sarah Green, the IPCC’s deputy chair, said that while she recognised “the seriousness of the allegations and their continuing effect on public confidence [in the police] in the affected communities”, too much time has passed for the allegations of assault and misconduct to be pursued.

People faced criminal charges as a result of this misconduct and perjury, and while all the trials collapsed, they deserve to be exonerated, no matter how much time has passed. Likewise, the police officers responsible, some of whom could still be serving, need to be identified and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But instead, the UK IPCC would rather just whitewash the whole thing. And then they wonder why people think their police are crooks...

Bribing people smugglers

Earlier in the month, after a bad poll, John Key tried to scare us with news that a boat full of refugees was heading for New Zealand. The boat was apparently intercepted by Australia and returned to Indonesia. And now we know why: because the Australian government paid its crew to turn back:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has not denied Australia paid people smugglers to turn around an asylum seeker boat.

The Prime Minister also refused to offer a view about whether such a method would be unacceptable and would not commit to an investigation.

Fairfax Media this week revealed passengers and an Indonesian police chief have claimed border protection officials paid people smugglers to return asylum seekers interecepted north of Australia en route to New Zealand.

Indonesia is now investigating claims that crew members of a boat were paid $5000 each to turn around.

The Indonesia government is not happy about this, and with good reason: quite apart from Australia dumping its problems on its poorer neighbour, it also establishes another lucrative business model for people smugglers.

Meanwhile, it might be worth asking Key how much he knew about this, and whether New Zealand contributed to the payments. After all, bribery seems to be its means of doing business at the moment...

New Fisk

Syrian civil war: The ancient Islamic teachings treasured by rebels fighting Assad – discovered in a bombed-out cafe in the ghost city of Homs

An environmental vandal

Australia has been facing fires and floods from climate change. Meanwhile, its Prime Minister is bragging how how he has stopped government action to fight it:

To the dismay of the multi-billion-dollar clean-energy sector, and to the mortification of many Australians, Mr Abbott bragged that he had halted the spread of wind farms by slashing the amount of energy to be generated by renewable sources by 2020.

Explaining a compromise which he reached with opposition parties in the Senate last month to cut the target by 20 per cent, he told a right-wing radio host, Alan Jones: “What we did recently in the Senate was to reduce… the number of these things [wind farms] we are going to get in the future.”

He added: “I frankly would have liked to have reduced the number a lot more. But we got the best deal we could, and if we hadn’t had a deal, we would have been stuck with even more of these things… I’ve been up close to these wind farms, there’s no doubt that not only are they visually awful but they make a lot of noise.”

But then, what do we expect from a guy who thinks coal is "good for humanity"? He's simply an environmental vandal. If he were an ordinary citizen, he'd just be a moron, the sort of person you'd laugh at for his backward views. But when he's running a country, its downright dangerous.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


A couple of days ago I received the final information from my latest OIA request about Cabinet conflicts of interest, covering arrangements from 1 October 2014 to 31 march 2015. You can read it here. The good news? The information on permanent arrangements is a lot more detailed about both conflicts and the arrangements in place to manage them. There's still some vagueness, especially around pecuniary interests, and this is a little puzzling, since the relevant details should all also be declared in Parliament's Register of Pecuniary Interests (and significant public interest if they haven't been, since that's a contempt of Parliament).

There's also information on ad-hoc and temporary arrangements. Sadly, this is less detailed - no dates, no details on the exact nature of the conflict. And that gives rise to speculation. For example, what pecuniary interests does Paula Bennett have? A superannuation scheme and a bunch of Auckland houses. Tim Groser? Ditto. Paul Goldsmith? The same. Michael Woodhouse? Also the same. The government has recently announced a de facto capital gains tax on property speculators, and changes to kiwisaver, and these should have been in the Cabinet pipeline in the relevant period, so its no stretch to conclude that these Ministers declared a conflict on one or other of these policies. The problem? According to Parliament's Register of Pecuniary Interests, lots of other Ministers also have kiwisaver schemes and inflated Auckland property. Shouldn't they hae declared conflicts too? And if they didn't, what does that say about Cabinet's processes for identifying and managing such conflicts?

I think more answers are needed here. Sadly, DPMC doesn't seem to want to give them.