Friday, August 28, 2015


That's the only way to describe the UK government's welfare "reforms", given their effects:

More than 80 people a month are dying shortly after being declared “fit for work” according to new data, prompting campaigners to call for an overhaul of the government’s controversial welfare regime.

Statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions on Thursday show that 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 shortly after a work capability assessment (WCA) found they were able to work.

The administration of the WCA by officials has been widely criticised as crude and inaccurate by campaigners. There have been hundreds of thousands of appeals of fit-for-work decisions over the last few years, about four in 10 of which have succeeded.

While DWP is mongering doubt about the correlation, the Black Triangle Campaign has been tracking people who have died as a result of this policy. There's a list of the dead here. Those deaths can be laid squarely at the feet of the UK Cabinet, who should be tried as mass-murderers.

Meanwhile, it really makes you wonder how many have died here in New Zealand as a result of National's welfare "reforms"...

Places to go, people to be again

Yes, I'm buggering off again to go and pretend to be a succession of other people. This time I expect to be spaced, zombified, defrauded, murdered, classified, and villified.

Normal bloggage will resume on Monday.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

New Fisk

Why is Interpol doing the work of Arab despots?

Open Government: Doing it really wrong

Earlier in the week I blogged about the State Services Commission's response to an OIA request seeking information about their current consultation on the Open Government Partnership Midterm Self-Assessment Report. When faced with a clear request for advice on the consultation process, SSC played the "due particularity" game, asking "duh, which consultation" (they also refused a request for the report itself, which under OGP rules should have been released at the start of the consultation because that's what people are being consulted about). And now that I've jumped through their hoop and confirmed that when I asked about advice on the Midterm Self-Assessment Report, I really did mean the Midterm Self-Assessment Report, and not something else, they've come back with another delay: a two-month extension until October 27 due to the "large quantity of information" involved.

And if you believe that the SSC really got so much advice on their OGP consultation that they need two months to look through it all, I have a building on The Terrace to sell you. Instead, it looks like they're blatantly trying to bury information - not just until after the consultation period has ended and the report has been submitted, but until after the OGP Summit in Mexico (which just happens to be on October 27. What a coincidence!) You can draw some obvious conclusions about why they might want to be doing that, but regardless, its unacceptable. So I'm off to the Ombudsman with an urgent complaint. I guess we'll see whether I even get a number before SSC responds.

Meanwhile, people might like to think about the irony of SSC going to these lengths to bury information about open government - and what that says about New Zealand's commitment to the OGP.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Australia has effectively abolished its FOI watchdog

Last year the Australian government tried to gut the Freedom of Information Act by abolishing its enforcer, the Australian Information Commissioner. The move failed in the Senate, but that hasn't stopped the policy: instead of legally abolishing the position, they've simply defunded it. And now, they're refusing to appoint a replacement:

Attorney-General George Brandis​ refuses to say whether he will appoint a new freedom-of-information commissioner eight months on, amid plans to abolish his office.

Previous FOI commissioner James Popple resigned in January. The Attorney-General's department told a senate estimates committee this week that it had not started to select a replacement or set up a process to do so.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner was set up under the Freedom of Information Act in 2010, as an independent body to manage the public's access to information and provide advice to government. Three commissioners responsible for freedom of information, privacy and information were appointed to oversee it.

The office would not be drawn on when a new commissioner would be appointed, referring the committee to the department's response to the question.

So effectively they've abolished it, despite there being no Parliamentary majority to do so. Its dubious legally, and even more so constitutionally - but its so very, very Abbott, isn't it?

What trials does National want to keep secret?

Yesterday we learned that National's Health and Safety at Work Bill - the one which exempts some of our biggest killers from health and safety coverage while cracking down on dangerous worm farms and lavender growers - contained a clause allowing secret trials with secret "evidence". The bill has now finished its committee stage, so barring a re-commital (highly unlikely), those provisions will become law. So what sorts of cases might they be used in?

Firstly, while the law has a section allowing for the appointment of a "special advocate" for non-government defendants, the law really only applies to cases against the crown. However it applies to "any criminal or civil proceedings (including public law and judicial review proceedings)" under the Act. So not just to (unlikely) prosecutions by MBIE, but to private prosecutions and claims for compensation or to enforce duties. So, this is aimed squarely at those who seek to hold government bodies to account for their failures.

Secondly, while the law supposedly restricts "classified security information" to operational information or information supplied by other governments on a confidential basis (and which furthermore would be prejudicial to security, international relations, or the maintenance of the law if released), it also makes the designation unreviewable:

The court must keep confidential and must not disclose any information provided as classified security information, even if it considers that the information does not meet the criteria set out in clause 3(2) and (3), unless the head of the specified agency that holds the information consents to its release.
Which means that in practice, government defendants can apply it to anything they want, and it will be kept secret.

Thirdly, the law doesn't just apply to defence and intelligence agencies (who BTW are already in practice exempt for actual deployments anyway), but to the police or any government department named in Schedule 1 of the State Sector Act 1988. So, it applies to Corrections and Immigration, but also to the Ministry of Health, or even to Internal Affairs (who are the nominal employer of the Beehive's politicised "ministerial advisers").

Combined, this is a recipe for government agencies who kill people through clear and obvious failings to co-opt the Judiciary to cover up the details.

As for how it might be used, think of some notable health and safety cases or civil suits against government agencies in the past. Here's a few examples:
  • The Army doesn't train its drivers properly, resulting in three men dying when their truck plunges into a river. Information on the army's training (or lack thereof) would obviously be "prejudicial to security" and revealing it would expose NZDF methods, so any trial can be cloaked in secrecy.
  • The RNZAF tolerates "a dangerous and deadly culture of rule-breaking" and allows unqualified pilots to fly, leading to three unnecessary deaths in a helicopter crash. Similar logic applies, so the evidence of this can be declared secret, hampering any private prosecution.
  • The police shoot and kill an innocent bystander during a gunfight on the Auckland motorway. Police information about exactly what happened is of course operational and might expose police methods (and incompetence), which of course would "prejudice the maintenance of the law". So any court case for compensation would be hampered by secrecy and likely not get off the ground.
  • Corrections doesn't bother to segregate high- and low-risk prisoners during transport, resulting in a young man being murdered in the back of a van while being taken to court. Information on prisoner transport policies is of course operational, and its exposure could help prisoners escape, which is clearly prejudicial to the maintenance of the law, so it can be classified and kept secret, preventing any OSH prosecution.
None of these are a particular stretch on classification, and well within the respective agencies' mindsets as revealed by OIA requests. But in each case, this law would have shut down a major government health and safety scandal and prevented justice. And that is its purpose. It is rotten law, and we should not accept it.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, but it has an unusual schedule. Thanks to leave given two weeks ago, most of the day is likely to be spent on David Seymour's absurd Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Extended licensing hours during Rugby World Cup) Bill. Because obviously Parliament should use special procedures to pander to drunk rugby meatheads. There might be some time for Chris Bishop's Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill, and if the House moves quickly they may be able to make a start on Denis O'Rourke's New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Pro Rata Entitlement) Amendment Bill. Both of these latter two bills have been formally reported as violating the Bill of Rights Act, so it will be interesting to see if Parliament does its job as the supposed defender of our human rights, or rubberstamps abuse to scratch some political itch. Sadly, I'm expecting the latter.

Due to the sportsball bill is there is unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow.

We can no longer trust Bill English's OIA responses

Yesterday in Question Time, Winston Peters accused Finance Minister Bill English of outright lying in the response to an OIA request:

“On December 16, 2014 Mr English replied to a specific New Zealand First OIA request detailing the nature and month, that no documents existed between himself or his staff and Federated Farmers in March 2013.

“We gave the Minister every opportunity because we made a slightly different request for the same documents detailing the nature and month. On August 17 2015 Mr English replied, again saying that no such documents existed.

“However, this was not true.

“On March, 26, 2013 Mr English wrote to Federated Farmers saying there were no plans to establish a foreign land ownership registry. This is attached and came in response to a letter on 13 February 2013 from the then President, Bruce Wills, to establish a register of foreign ownership.

Peters calls this an abuse of the OIA process, and that's a possibility (and one which would be a criminal offence in the UK and Canada, but not in NZ). But there's also an alternative explanation: English and his office could be such utter muppets that they either don't keep records of official correspondence (in violation of the Public Records Act) or can't find those records when asked repeatedly to look for them. But whatever the explanation, the clear upshot is that we can simply no longer trust OIA responses from Bill English to be complete and accurate. And that is just unacceptable.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

National introduces secret trials by stealth

Its no secret that New Zealand's spies want British-style secret courts, with secret "evidence" that the public - and defendants - aren't allowed to see. The Law Commission is currently conducting a review on the issue, and just a few months ago released an issues paper on it. But before the submissions have even been analysed, the government has jumped the gun and inserted secret trials into our health and safety law:

The New Zealand Law Society has expressed its significant concerns at the last-minute addition to the Health and Safety Reform Bill of provisions for a closed material procedure for court proceedings where national security is involved.

The Law Society has written to the Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety, saying the provisions should not have been inserted at this late stage of the legislative process.

The provisions will allow a person to be tried and convicted of a criminal offence without seeing all the information relied on by the Crown and without the right to be present (or to have their representative present) during all the proceedings. This is inconsistent with the fundamental right to a fair trial, the Law Society says.

“We recommend removal of the provisions from the Bill, to await the outcome of an inquiry the Law Commission is carrying out on National Security Information in Proceedings,” Law Society President Chris Moore says.

Because this was done at the committee stage, the amendments were not subjected to a BORA analysis, which it would almost certainly fail.

Meanwhile, I think this tells us everything we need to know about the value of the Law Commission's review. Like the "independent" intelligence review, the spies have already decided the outcome, and the government will execute it for them. The review process is simply a rubber-stamp designed to lend legitimacy to the illegitimate. Its another example of the danger our intelligence agencies pose to our democracy, and why they must be abolished.

Climate change: Absolute madness

The government has recently set itself a patheticly unambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 11% on 1990 levels by 2030. Meanwhile, they're handing out tens of millions of dollars a year to big polluters as a direct subsidy for their emissions:

But in New Zealand, the Government provides a 50 percent subsidy to emitting companies that might otherwise leave New Zealand and set up shop in a country with no emissions controls at all.

Figures just released show the value of those state payments to big corporations.

They show the largest emitter, New Zealand Steel, received 1,073,489 credits: almost $7.3m at the current market price of $6.80.

Also getting lots of Government-paid credits was the Methanex plant in Taranaki, which makes methanol for export from natural gas, which picked up 777,432 credits, worth almost $5.3m.

Another big name is the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, which received 755,987 credits from the Crown, or just over $5m at current rates.

Fourth on the list is Fletcher Concrete and Infrastructure, which received 322,430 credits, which would value at over $2m.

Other big recipients were Pan Pac Forests, Norske Skog, Carter Holt Harvey, Holcim Cement, Balance Agri-nutrients and McDonald's Lime.

Yes, the government is spending tens of millions of dollars a year paying these companies to destroy the world. It is absolute madness. If we want our emissions to actually decrease, ending this subsidy for pollution would be a good start.

(Of course, this is nothing compared to the hundreds of millions they effectively pay the dairy industry by excluding it completely from the ETS. That madness needs to stop too.)

The core problem with UK democracy

Writing in the Guardian, Carole Cadwalladr puts her finger on the central problem with the UK's democracy: everyone went to Oxbridge:

There’s an invisible link that unites Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham. That connects them to Ed Miliband and Ed Balls and Tony Blair. To David Cameron and George Osborne and Nick Clegg. To 12 members of the current cabinet. And 12 members of the current shadow cabinet.

In fact, it’s not invisible at all. It’s right there on their parliamentary bios and their Wikipedia pages and yet the word that links all three is so ubiquitous, so commonplace, that in weeks of campaigning it has barely merited a single mention or raised a single eyebrow. All three are Oxbridge graduates.


But the Oxbridge connection is more invidious than this and if it hasn’t been considered worthy of comment during the leadership contest, it’s in part because in Britain most people who do the commenting also went there. Oxbridge doesn’t just dominate the Palace of Westminster but an entire political class. From the politicians and the special advisers to the political editors, pundits and thinktankees, there’s a homogeneity of experience, of thinking, of networks, of power and of influence that has led to an in-crowd that doesn’t even recognise it’s an in-crowd. There’s arguably more that unites our political elite than divides them. The last election was a battle between one Oxford PPE graduate (Cameron) and another Oxford PPE graduate (Miliband).

Which reduces elections to a meaningless competition between different members of a homogenous elite who share the same worldview.

And no, its not about merit. The UK's elite - descendants of feudal barons and slavers and colonial plunderers - send their kids to segregated private schools, which vastly increase the odds of them getting into those top universities. 7% of UK kids go to private (or "public" as they call it) schools - but they get roughly 40% of the places at Oxbridge. That's not because the rich are smarter, but because they seize and hoard opportunity, while locking out everybody else. Its the very opposite of the meritocracy they pretend to be.

And that homogenous mindset is inculcated from a very early age, as George Monbiot's piece (about trying to track down the book which opened his eyes as a child) makes clear:
One of the functions of private boarding schools is to insulate their pupils from the world, ensuring that they remain embedded within the culture and interests of their caste. They sustain a political milieu so consistent that there is little chance of escaping from it. The children inducted into this system absorb the dominant mores without becoming aware that there might be an alternative.

Were these schools to do otherwise, I expect that the parents would ask for their money back: I doubt that anyone sends their children to such places in the hope that they will emerge fluent in the tenets of socialism. We should not be surprised to discover that the products of this system sometimes seem to be crassly insensitive to the lives and the needs of other people; it is not difficult to emerge from such schools with the conviction that other classes (and the other gender) are an alien species. Until the moment at which I read the book whose name I don’t know, there were no countervailing influences in my life.

Almost a third of MPs - and 48% of Conservative MPs - were shaped by such institutions. Its no wonder they all seem the same. And its no wonder that faced with a "choice" between competing Oxbridge graduates offering the same austerity, people want something different, someone who is actually like them.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Making Easter trading someone else's problem

The Easter Sunday trading ban is an absurd law, a relic of past Christian oppression. Every couple of years some National backbencher notices this, and puts up a bill to repeal it. These bills invariably fail because they fail to sufficiently protect workers from being forced to work on a long weekend, while being opposed by National's bigot rump. And the obvious solution - make Easter Sunday a public holiday - is opposed by the sorts of people who oppose the trading ban as a) religious and b) "anti-business" (because people forced to work would be entitled to time and a half plus a day in lieu).

But now National has a new solution: wash their hands of the issue and make it someone else's problem:

The Government is to enable local communities, through councils, to decide whether retailers can open on Easter Sunday, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse announced today.

“The current rules around shop trading over the Easter period are complex and relatively arbitrary. The law allows certain shops selling specific items to remain open, while others must close their doors.

“The proposed law change will enable communities to choose whether or not to allow trading. It will mean regions, especially tourist areas, can respond where there is strong demand for Easter Sunday trading,” Mr Woodhouse says.

Except that if the problem is arbitrariness, this doesn't solve it at all, merely makes it the responsibility of councils rather than central government. It is simply political sleight of hand, to make it seem like they have done something when they have not. And of councils really do make their own decisions, then we will still have the current patchwork where shops in some places can trade while others can not. Meanwhile, the equally arbitrary and absurd prohibitions against trading on other Christian holidays (and on Anzac Day), and on alcohol sales and TV advertising, will remain. Which means that while you may be able to shop, you won't be able to buy a coffee if your favourite cafe has a liquor licence.

As for their supposed "protection" of workers who want their long weekend, given their other changes to employment law (not to mention the existence of 90-day "trial periods"), these are simply toothless. All in all, it looks like a bad political fix.

Supposedly this won't be a conscience vote for National. I'd love to know how they got that past their bigot rump, and what ructions it might cause.


The Nauruan Court of Appeal has acquitted two men who had been convicted of rioting:

The convictions of two asylum seekers jailed over riots at the Nauru immigration detention centre were overturned after the Nauruan Court of Appeal identified serious flaws in the investigation and original trial.

In a scathing judgement, the court said the magistrate in the original trial failed to take into account serious flaws in the identification of the two men and also made "very prejudicial" comments that appeared to suggest there was an onus on the two men to disprove their guilt.

The court also said it was concerned Wilson Security appeared to have carried out the investigation that led to the men being charged, rather than the correct authority - the Nauruan Police Force (NPF).

Sadly, given past behaviour by the Nauruan regime, they'll probably respond by dissolving the court and exiling the judges. Again.

As for the victims, they'd already served months in jail. Will the Nauruan regime pay compensation for wrongful imprisonment?

The police and cop-cams

There's been a lot of good news over police body-cameras this year, suggesting that they are effective tools for collecting evidence while reducing both violence by and complaints against police. So why aren't they being used in New Zealand? Someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask. The response was generally unhelpful, refusing to provide information because it was "publicly available" or given to them "in confidence" by foreign police services (while refusing to provide a list of withheld material allowing the requester to find it themselves or challenge the decision). But it did produce three files: a briefing note from 2008 proposing a trial of "Body worn video surveillance", a Police Executive meeting report from September 2013 considering a new trial proposal, and an "Initial Concept Paper" from December 2014 assessing their technological options. Key information:

  • Police interest in bodycams is being driven by the need to replace tasercams. Apparently the tasercam relies on its power-source, but this is flakey, meaning that "as... Tasers age, the battery condition deteriorates which can corrupt the camera footage and affect its operational & evidential credibility". The police recognise that there is absolutely no going back on tasercams (if only they had gun-cams too!), so they're looking at using body or head-mounted cameras as a replacement.
  • Incidentally, police tasercam footage is all held in an offshore cloud service, That's... interesting (it poses huge privacy implications around sensitive material), but it has also produced technological lock-in, meaning a sole-source procurement (and the police getting rorted as a result).
  • The limited trials they've done so far appear to have been successful, and attitudes from police are positive: "those few staff that have already trialled a body worn camera system endorse the use of body worn cameras 100%". That's very good to see. Unfortunately, all the management feedback on the idea has been redacted, without any reason given.
  • They appear to be moving towards a trial deployment in Auckland sometime this year.

So once again a positive story, though it once again highlights just how awful the police are at responding to OIA requests.

New Fisk

Isis blinds journalists with its barbarity, but we must continue to report

Open Government: Still doing it wrong

Earlier in the month, the government announced that it was beginning public consultation on its Open Government Partnership Midterm Self-Assessment Report. When the consultation was announced, I immediately sent in an OIA request seeking all advice on it as well as information on whether they had begun drafting the report they were supposed to be "consulting" on. I got the response back on Friday, and its clear they don't want to talk about it, because they're playing the "due particularity" game. I guess that opening my request with information about the MSR consultation before asking for all advice on it wasn't "particular" enough for them; either that, or they're being deliberately obtuse in an effort to delay an embarrassing response. Which it is is left as an exercise for the reader.

But I did learn one thing. That report they're "consulting" on? They've written it already. But they won't provide a copy, even though the OGP's rules state that they are supposed to. I guess they've decided that the public don't actually need to see the thing they're supposedly being consulted about.

Transparency International is right: this is an insulting mockery of a consultation process. That's business as usual for this government, but the good news is that it gets independently monitored, so in this case it will result in international criticism and a big "failed" stamp. Which will do our reputation for transparency and openness wonders...

Friday, August 21, 2015

Exposing dirty politics

Back in April it was revealed that Prime Minister John Key had systematically and repeatedly assaulted and sexually harassed a cafe waitress (while his police bodyguards stood around and did nothing). Shortly afterwards, dirty politics operative and sewer-columnist Rachel Glucina ran a smear-job on the victim. When he was asked under the OIA whether he had had any communications with her about it, Key refused to respond. That refusal was one of the worst I've ever seen, and so naturally enough the requester took it to the Ombudsman. On Wednesday we learned that the Ombudsman was investigating the refusal. Key response to this has been to stand by his stonewalling [audio], citing a "long-standing view" and a "convention" that his interactions with the media shouldn't be released. The problem? None of that is in the law. The OIA specifies a number of conclusive and non-conclusive reasons for withholding official information - and the Prime Minister having a "long-standing view" that he should be above the law isn't one of them. And the grounds he does cite - "privacy" (his own) and "confidentiality" (offered for his own convenience) - are simply not applicable. If the system works as it should, Key should be forced to reveal whatever information he holds (subject to legitimate redactions for privacy - things like names and phone numbers, not whether he or his minions talked to a journalist).

As for the supposed consequences, I'm perfectly comfortable with them. As I noted earlier, if Key is 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. And if the threat of exposure deters him from making such contacts in future, then that would a victory for the OIA.

[Disclosure: I'm a party to this complaint, having complained about the refusal of my request for information regarding the existence of information]

"Low risk"

How "low risk" is farming? So "low risk" that the Minister was specifically warned how dangerous it was when considering health and safety legislation last year:

The Workplace Relations Minister was warned last year that agriculture was one of the worst performing in relation to health and safety - but has still decided to exclude most of that sector from rules facing high risk sectors.

Michael Woodhouse has been under fire this week for signing off on rules that will see worm farms and mini golf operators included in the new rules, but not sheep, dairy or cattle farmers.

Official documents show when he became minister last year he was warned that agriculture accounted for more workplace deaths in 2013 than the forestry, construction and manufacturing sectors combined.

This is an industry which reliably kills twenty people a year - half of them in quad-bike accidents. But because they donate overwhelmingly to the National Party, they get to be exempt from regulation which would help stop that. Again, this is a deliberate decision in full knowledge of the consequences, of people dying. And when people die because of it, it will be Michael Woodhouse's depraved indifference which kills them.

Another rotten state house

Radio New Zealand today is highlighting the plight of Te Ao Marama Wensor, whose stat ehouse is so rotten that it is literally killing her son:

It was two years ago when the same son was rushed to hospital after fainting and having a seizure.

Initially diagnosed with the flu, it later turned out the child has two holes in each lung, and an enlarged heart valve which pumps too much blood to his brain, causing clots.

He has had at least three strokes and is not allowed to run in case the valve ruptures, and he has a heart attack.

Ms Wensor said specialists have since told her that toxic bacteria from mould in their house was what had caused his lung problems, and contributes to the size of the heart valve.

She remains composed throughout the interview, but her voice wobbles as she says she worries she will wake up one morning, to find that her son has died in the night.

But despite repeated requests from health professionals to move the family, Housing New Zealand hasn't done anything. For two years. They say its because another home isn't available, but again, two years - they could have built one in that time. And its very hard to escape the conclusion that they simply do not give a shit, that it does not matter to them if their tenants live or die.

To say that this isn't good enough is an understatement. Homes shouldn't kill - and state-provided ones above all should be better than private sector ratholes. But National isn't interested in funding House NZ to ensure that all its home are warm and safe. They would rather spend the money on tax cuts for their rich mates, rather than ensuring that people don't die. And again, the name "murderers" seems applicable; this is a deliberate decision which shows a callous disregard for the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. And our politicians need to be held accountable for it.

Nothing to vote for in Greece

Last month, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sold out his own voters to the Germans and accepted even harsher austerity to repay the odious debt of previous corrupt governments. And now, the task done, he's called elections. The goal is presumably to gain post-facto approval of his sellout, while heading off a backbench rebellion by his own party. But now that SYRIZA has joined PASOK and New Democracy in the quisling camp, that doesn't leave Greeks who want a government who works for them, rather than Germany, much to vote for. The primary alternative are Golden Dawn, who are actual Nazis. Which isn't much of a choice. Election turnout has dropped by almost 7.5% since the crisis began, from 70.9% in 2009 to 63.6% in January (up from a low of 62.5% in June 2012, because there was something to vote for). And with nothing to vote for, and no real choice to make, it is likely to drop again.

That will likely suit the Germans very well, but with over a third of Greeks abstaining from their elections, the legitimacy of the system is in question. And when successive governments have so profoundly betrayed voters, you really have to wonder how long people will tolerate it.

Dangerous bullshit

That's the only way to describe National's attempt to distort health and safety laws to pander to their cronies:

The Government's health and safety reforms have taken a farcical turn, with mini-golf and worm farms included in the high-risk categories but not cattle or sheep farms.

Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse released a draft list of industries deemed high-risk and which would require health and safety representatives at workplaces.

The high-risk category covers "other livestock farming", so cat breeding, rabbit breeding, worm farming and alpaca farming are all designated high risk, as are arrowroot, bamboo, flax seed, ginger and lavender growing.

However, beef and dairy farming are absent from that list.

Farming, which is almost entirely sheep, beef, and dairy, has killed 108 people over the last five years, including 12 so far this year. But apparently that's not a high-enough body count for National. So farms where people die get exempted from the law, while others are covered. Its such naked cronyism towards their donors and supporters that not even National can pretend to have a principled reason for it.

A "health and safety law" which fails to protect people in some of our most dangerous workplaces is not worthy of the name. Like the IPCA, its a scam, an exercise in political dishonesty designed to create the illusion of safety while providing no such thing. But the consequence of that dishonesty is that people will die needlessly. And the people who vote for that? They're nothing less than murderers, who should be held to account.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Open government: "Insulting"

That's how Transparency International is describing National's "consultation" on its Open Government Partnership Midterm Self-Assessment Report:

Transparency International, the non-government body that promotes high ethical standards and openness by governments, described the 24 day consultation period as "insulting".

"If anything, [it] undermines the principle of open government," Transparency's New Zealand chairwoman, Suzanne Snively said.

Presumably Transparency's local patron, National Party grandee, former deputy prime minister and one-time Commonwealth secretary-general, Sir Don McKinnon, is happy to be associated with such uncharacteristic bluntness from an organisation that prides itself on a restrained and analytical approach.

Like the public consultation on the country's climate change targets, this is a consultation you have when you're really just going through the motions.

It doesn't square with the OGP 's requirement of member countries that they "consult the population with adequate forewarning" about the proposed national action plan and undertake "awareness raising activities to enhance public participation in the consultation".

But its worse than that, because we're breaking the OGP's rules with our shit consultation. So its entirely likely that the government's half-hearted involvement in the OGP will result in us getting a negative international reputation for doing so. Unfortunately, the deep state will likely try and blame this on transparency, rather than their lack of commitment to it.

The IPCA is a lie

On 29 December 2014, police arrested an alleged burglar in Mangere East. In the course of the arrest, one of the arresting officers violently and brutally stomped on the suspect's head. His fellow officers though that this was unjustified, and reported him. And today, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has formally found that it was an unjustified and excessive use of force. But don't get your hopes up - because while the IPCA thinks that this cop used force unlawfully, they don't think that that means they should be prosecuted:

Although there are variations in the descriptions of how Officer E acted, it involved, at a minimum, the violent application of force on at least two occasions, to gain compliance, which was not justified in the circumstances.

This conclusion has been reached on the civil standard of the ‘balance of probabilities’. This standard sets a lower threshold for proof than that required for criminal liability, the threshold for which requires evidence sufficient to demonstrate guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Therefore, the Authority’s finding does not necessarily mean that the threshold for criminal prosecution has been met in this case.

Which is just bullshit. To point out the obvious, the standard for prosecution is not the same as the standard for conviction. If the police had reached the conclusion on the balance of probabilities that you or I had violently applied force unlawfully, we would almost certainly be prosecuted. The police must hold their own to the same standard. Failing to do so simply makes it clear that they're nothing but a gang with different colours.

As for the IPCA, this is more evidence that they're just a PR exercise, there to excuse police misconduct rather than eliminate it. They are a scam to create consent, not just unable, but unwilling to promote higher standards. And that being the case, there is simply no reason for the organisation to exist. Give me a real IPCA, or give me nothing - but don't expect me to pay any attention to a lie.

Pillaging New Zealand

A couple of months ago we learned that miners were destroying Northland's wetlands to dig up kauri for export, possibly in violation of the law. So how big is this kauri rush? According to MPI, it has grown by 2500 percent in just five years:

The true extent of swamp kauri being sent overseas has been revealed - with exports jumping by more than 2500 per cent in five years.


In 2009, 173 cubic metres of swamp kauri was legally exported. That increased to 1150 cubic metres in 2013, before sky-rocketing to 4356 cubic metres last year.

About 800 cubic metres have been sent offshore so far this year.

One company, Silver Fern Resource Trading, sent 1810 cubic metres last year - all to China.

So, our wetlands are being devastated so rich Chinese businessmen can have a fancy table. Of course, its illegal - the Forests Act 1949 prohibits the export of unfinished timber, and the "carvings" and slabs they are exporting don't really qualify (seriously, just look at the photos in that article. Do you really think that that "carving" is for real, or is it just there to allow a raw log to be exported and re-milled into something else?) These vandals are simply pillaging New Zealand - and MPI needs to enforce the law and stop them, rather than turning a blind eye.

Stitching up refugees

Australia's refugee gulag has seen guards rape, murder, and torture those under their care. As if that wasn't enough, they've also started stitching them up for prosecution:

An Australian-paid guard at Nauru is accused of falsely claiming an asylum seeker violently assaulted him then perjuring himself in court, before confessing to the lie in a secret recording made by a colleague.

Fairfax Media has obtained a copy of the alleged confession, in which the Wilson Security guard boasts about the incident and jokes about taking a "dive" – the sporting term for falling to the ground and faking an injury. The guard said he wanted the asylum seeker convicted so he would never be settled in Australia.

The asylum seeker is believed to be a young Iranian man. It is understood he spent one month in jail for the alleged assault and tried to kill himself at least three times after being falsely accused – once almost successfully hanging himself.

Wilson Security says there was not enough evidence to make a finding against the guard, despite the company's own investigators apparently recording his confession.

Wilson Security didn't bother to tell the Australian government, and its not even clear if they informed the Nauruan authorities - though the victim was acquitted. But you really have to wonder just how toxic an organisation they are when their staff think its appropriate to do this - and how often it has happened and not been detected.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

New Fisk

Syria civil war: Civilians in Damascus pay the price for those in the provinces in conflict's balance of horror

It begins

When Parliament passed the Harmful Digital Communications Act, people (including me) warned that it would be abused to stifle political speech. And it has, with NZ First MP Tracey Martin accusing a political blogger (who supported a rival NZ First MP) of violating the Act:

NZ First MP Tracey Martin has claimed Curwen Rolinson is in breach of the Harmful Digital Communications Act, passed in July. In a blog post, Rolinson, former leader of the NZ First youth wing, accused Martin of undermining party MP Andrew Williams.

Speaking at the University of Otago last week, Martin suggested that Rolinson was in breach of the law as a result of a blog post written on 6 July, four days after the Act was officially made into law.

“I’ve been working on the Harmful Digital Communications bill and what Curwen [Rolinson] did, what Whaleoil [blogger Cameron Slater] does, that’s harmful digital communications,” said Martin.

The "breach"? Rolinson accused Martin of spreading rumours about NZ First MP Andrew Williams, who was competing with her for the position of deputy leader. In other words, a typical internal party spat. If this is what Martin thinks the law covers, then we should all be very afraid.

[Hat-tip: Offsetting Behaviour]

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A united front against their members

Its been clear from the beginning that the UK Labour party's right wing is deeply uncomfortable with democracy. And now that Jeremy Corbyn has been denounced by Tony Blair, making him almost certain to win, they are plotting to cancel the leadership election:

Labour leadership hopeful Yvette Cooper has admitted that there have been behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings to persuade candidates to bow out of the race to prevent veteran leftwing MP Jeremy Corbyn from winning.

Against a backdrop of increasingly desperate interventions from senior party figures appealing for those registered to vote to back anyone but Corbyn, ballot papers are expected to start arriving through the letterboxes on Monday of the 450,000 people who have registered to take part – many in the wake of Corbyn’s breakthrough in the polls.

The Daily Telegraph reported on Sunday night that former Labour cabinet minister Peter Mandelson attempted a “secret plot” to convince Corbyn’s three rival candidates – Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall – to pull out to annul the contest.

“I’ve not discussed this with Peter Mandelson,” said Cooper on Monday. “I gather there was some view that maybe the whole process should be stopped because so many people were joining at the last minute. I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s a good thing that people are joining the party.”

Cancelling elections because the "wrong" candidate is about to win is African dictatorship stuff. The fact that New Labour is actively trying to engineer it speaks volumes about their attitude to democracy, and their beliefs about who their party really belongs to.

New Fisk

Isis is using 'dreamology' to justify its nightmarish vision for the world

Australia waterboards refugees

Australia's treatment of refugees in its offshore gulags has already been found to amount to torture by the UN, and there have been occasional reports of specific incidents of torture as well. And now there's another one, with a former gulag worker telling the Senate inquiry into offshore detention that refugees are being waterboarded in the gulag:

A former security guard for Wilson Security on the island made the allegation in a submission to the Senate inquiry into circumstances and conditions at the Australian-run offshore detention centre.

The anonymous guard said he would give evidence to the committee about torture taking place on Nauru, including “waterboarding asylum seekers throughout the facility” though no further detail is given.

The Australians also have a nasty little technique they call "zipping": tying someone to a metal bed, then throwing it in the air - presumably to create injuries consistent with a fall rather than being beaten and drowned.

The Australian government has denied these claims. But they've denied everything bad that happens in the gulag, and their denials have consistently been proven to be false. They are not interested in running a humane detention facility; in fact, inhumanity is the point - the camps are designed to make refugees suffer so they "choose" to go home rather than continue to be tortured. Given what we know, escalation into waterboarding isn't beyond possibility. And if it has happened, those responsible - which includes the policymakers who established an environment of torture and a culture of impunity - need to be held to account. And if Australia won't do it, we should.

Exiting thermal

I got back from Auckland to the news that the Otahuhu B gas-fired power station would be shutting down at the end of September and would be replaced with renewables. Its quite a shocking decision - the plant was expected to last 25 years, not 15, and to be replaced by another gas-fired generator. But with Southdown and Huntly also closing down and Genesis cancelling its plans to build at Rodney, it looks like we're seeing a large-scale exit from thermal generation in New Zealand. How large? In the last 6 months, three of the five largest thermal power-plants have announced they are closing permanently, and the only two major thermal projects in the pipeline have been cancelled. Which will leave just two major thermal power stations: Stratford and Huntly 5. And Stratford is older than Otahuhu B and expected to reach the end of its life in 2024 or so...

This shift isn't due to any government policy - National has been trying to subsidise these polluters for as long as they can - but simply because wind and geothermal are now cheaper. Which makes you wonder where we'd be if we'd had a functioning ETS from the start, rather than one gutted and stuffed with subsidies and hot air...

The other interesting thing is that the shutdowns seem to be following the path of the "Tiwai exit" scenario in MBIE's Electricity Demand and Generation scenarios. So while a deal has been cut to keep Tiwai open, clearly the electricity industry doesn't think it will last and are planning accordingly.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today, as I'm off to Chimera, New Zealand's biggst larp convention. Over the weekend I expect to be (in no particular order) murdered, mutilated, hunted, turned into a piece of furniture, and destroyed with the entire universe. And I'll have fun while doing so.

Normal bloggage should resume Tuesday.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


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

  • Affordable Healthcare Bill (Barbara Stewart)
  • Keep Kiwibank Bill (Clayton Cosgrove)
  • Electricity Industry (Small-Scale Renewable Distributed Generation) Amendment Bill (Gareth Hughes)

The latter is the first Green member's bill drawn in almost three years. The days of the "Green ballot mojo" appear to be long over.

Help end TPP secrecy

The government's strategy on the Trans Pacific Partnership is to keep everything secret, even documents they've provided to other parties. The result is that the public are kept in the dark and locked out of the decision-making process about significant policy changes, some of which could have serious effects on human lives. The government has even refused to release documents under the OIA, sweeping everything under the carpet of "international relations".

But last week, a group of seven NGOs - Consumer NZ, Ngati Kahungunu, the Tertiary Education Union, Oxfam, Greenpeace, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation - joined Jane Kelsey in challenging that secrecy in court by seeking a judicial review of the Ombudsman's decision that withholding documents was proper. Its a good move, and one which will set precedent for future use of the OIA (in particular around the government's ability to purportedly contract out of the law by promising its negotiating partners to keep its own material secret). But judicial review is expensive, and they'll need help paying for it. If you'd like to chip in, there's a GiveALittle campaign here.

Is the GCSB obeying the law? They don't know

Section 23 of the GCSB Act imposes an obligation on them to destroy irrelevant records obtained by interception as soon as practicable. So if for example they are spying on someone under a warrant and intercept them looking at a food website for a lasagna recipe, that's irrelevant to security and has to be destroyed. So are they obeying this part of the law? I used the OIA to ask them, and the answer is that they just don't know

GCSB destroys irrelevant communications, and copies and records of these under s 23 of the GCSB Act in different ways depending on the system that collected them. Records of such destruction are not kept for all systems.

Where GCSB's systems hold specific records of destruction, GCSB can confirm records of seven instances of disposal between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2015.

I'm assuming that those instances cover the disposal of multiple records, but even so, with over sixty interception warrants and access authorisations issued last year, plus Cthulhu-knows how many warrantless interceptions under s16, it seems... low. I'd suggest that the current spy review look at this, except we all know that its a rubber-stamp which is likely to respond by removing the requirement to destroy irrelevant records, rather than making the spies obey the law. Because that's how spying works in this country: they piss on the law, and face no consequences for doing so.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

New Fisk

Syrians fear Army Colonel murdered during traffic altercation in Latakia will not get justice as suspect is son of President Assad's first cousin

Member's Day

Today is a member's day, and now the second-reading logjam is done we're finally getting some progress. First up is a private bill, then its straight on to David Parker's Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill. This hinges on the vote of Peter Dunne, and it'll be interesting to see if he votes for fair employment laws or not.

After that its Stuart Nash's Local Government Act 2002 (Greater Local Democracy) Amendment Bill, which would restore the requirement that local body amalgamations be approved by a referendum in every affected area. Then there's Matt Doocey's Public Collections and Solicitations (Disclosure of Payment) Bill, which should be non-controversial and whizz through. Finally the House will make a start on Chris Bishop's BORA-infringing Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill.

There should be a ballot for three bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Freedom of the press wins in Germany

Two weeks ago we learned that the German government was investigating news website on treason charges for publising stories exposing government surveillance plans. But now it has been made public, the chief prosecutor has been fired and the investigation has been terminated:

On Monday the federal prosecutor’s office said it was closing the case because it believed the leaked documents on which the website’s reports were based were not a “state secret”, and that other conditions for treason charges had not been met.

The inquiry, which was opened after a criminal complaint filed by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, also targeted the unidentified source of the leaked documents. Monday’s statement said investigating the source would now be a matter for lower-ranking local prosecutors.

Beckedahl suggested the decision to drop the inquiry was not enough. “We want to know precisely whether we were subject to surveillance measures during the almost three-month investigation,” he said. Beckedahl said he hoped the case would motivate authorities to improve protection for whistleblowers in Germany.

Good. But its not enough. Apart from the questions of surveillance, the BfV needs to be held responsible for laying the complaint as well. Germany's spies need to learn that journalism and holding them to account is not treason.

Is the health minister in the dark on the TPP?

The Trans Pacific Partnership is a major international trade deal currently under engotiation by the government. It is expected to significantly increase the prices of pharmaceuticals in New Zealand while limiting Pharmac's ability to negotiate with drug companies - changes which will result in people dying. In other words, it will have a significant impact on the health portfolio. So you'd expect the Minister of Health, Jonathan Coleman, to be talking to the Minister for Trade about it to find out what those impacts will be, right?

Wrong. According to a request lodged through FYI, the public OIA request system, Coleman has not had any correspondence with the Minister of Trade about the TPP in the last year.

There are really two possibilities here. The first is that Coleman is utterly derelict in his duty (or rather, Groser is derelict in his, as he has a constitutional duty to consult his Cabinet colleagues on significant decisions affecting their portfolios). The second is that Coleman is being a dick with the OIA, and interpreting "correspondence" narrowly. But neither is really acceptable, and both are signs of a dysfunctional government.

New Fisk

David Cameron is failing to PR himself in the Middle East. Maybe he should start looking closer to home

Return of the bill of the living dead III

Over ten years ago, Parliament decriminalised prostitution. It was a bold step forward, which ensured that prostitutes could work safely and were protected by the law, rather than existing in a legal twilight zone where they could be abused with impunity by pimps and police. But the Christians weren't happy, and tried to re-criminalise prostitution (with far more draconian penalties) via a local bill. That failed. So they tried again. After four years in front of a select committee, which roundly rejected their "evidence" that the "harm" of street prostitution could only be managed by banning it, that failed too. The only party in support of it? New Zealand First.

But being voted down twice hasn't deterred them, so they're back for another go. This time they are at least being honest about their intentions - rather than being framed as a local measure to allow a council to deal with an environmental nuisance, they're outright trying to ban street prostitution entirely. Doing so will of course force street workers back into that legal twilight zone and expose them to abuse - but NZ First doesn't seem to care about that, any more than they did in 2003, 2006, or 2015. Prostitution wasn't allowed 50 years ago when their supporters were young, so it shouldn't be allowed now. And if women are the casualties, well, NZ First has never cared about them anyway.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Open government: We're doing it wrong

Earlier in the week the government finally announced the appointment of the Stakeholder Advisory Group required under the Open Government Partnership, with not a former National MP in sight! It also announced that it was beginning public consultation on its Midterm Self-Assessment Report, which is due at the end of September. But there's a hitch: they're doing it wrong.

What OGP members are supposed to do is consult on their draft reports. Its right there in the OGP's procedures manual [p. 39]:

All countries are required to have at least a two-week public comment period on draft self-assessment reports before finalizing, for public input on implementation performance into account.

And here's an example of how the UK did it.

Instead, National is consulting at the beginning of the process, asking vague questions about its unambitious "goals". Which means that unless they hold another round of consultation before the report is submitted (highly unlikely given the timeframe), New Zealand will fail its first assessment under the OGP.

Heckuva job, guys. Glad to know you're on the case.

And on the positive side: it will be good to have the government called on its bullshit. Because right from the beginning, its been clear that they've had no real commitment to the OGP. They dithered over joining, ignored consultation requirements in developing their action plan, then chose completely unambitious goals which were basicly stuff they were doing anyway. They're not interested in open government, and they're certainly not interested in greater transparency. And having a formal declaration of that from an international body might be the only way to get some change.

Another reason to like Corbyn

Another reason to like Jeremy Corbyn: in addition to wanting to put Tony Blair behind bars for war crimes, he wants to scrap Trident:

Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn will use the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima to set out his plan for nuclear disarmament in the UK.

Speaking at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament commemorative event in London on Thursday, Corbyn will say that if he were prime minster he would not replace the Trident nuclear weapons system and would transition away from nuclear weapons entirely.


“As a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Britain should therefore give a lead in discharging its obligations by not seeking a replacement for Trident, as we are committed to accelerate concrete progress towards nuclear disarmament.

“Senior military figures have described our existing nuclear weapons as ‘militarily useless’ and our possession of them encourages other countries to seek a similar arsenal while undermining the efforts being made to advance the cause of international nuclear disarmament.”

Good. The UK's nuclear arsenal is a dangerous waste of money, and the sooner it is rid of it the better. Like the rest of the military, its just a hugely expensive relic of empire. Which means the British establishment will probably stop at nothing to defend it.

Dodgy as hell

How dodgy was Murray McCully's Saudi sheep bribe? So dodgy that he instructed the Saudis to avoid any mention of "compensation" in their invoices as that would involve lawyers [evade trialwall with incognito window]:

Foreign Minister Murray McCully wanted to set up his deal over the Saudi Arabian farm so lawyers and bureaucrats would not be involved.

He did not want the payments to the Al Khalaf Group called “compensation” for the losses they suffered as a result of New Zealand’s ban on the export of live sheep for slaughter.

And his aides were busy instructing the Al Khalaf Group what wording to use on their invoices even before the Cabinet had approved the project.


The report quoted Mr Assaf as saying that if the Government also proceeded with the MoU “the issue of compensation would therefore be less costly.”

It goes on: “The Minister noted that he would not want any financial contributions to be treated as compensation as this would involve a plethora of lawyers and bureaucrats. Rather he would prefer an investment in a partnership.”

McCully told the Saudis to invoice him before Cabinet had approved the expenditure, and told Cabinet the spending would be "for services set out under our contract". In other words, he cut a deal without consulting his Cabinet colleagues, then repeatedly deceived them about the purpose of millions of dollars of spending.

In a functional democracy, McCully would have been forced to resign for this. But under National, he'll probably get a knighthood. A "higher standard of government"? I think not.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Another appointment from nowhere

Back in June it was reported that former National MP Eric Roy had been appointed to the board of Landcorp. This seemed like another case of cronyism, so I submitted the usual OIA for documents on the appointments process. I got the documents back yesterday, and they're interesting for what they don't show.

Roy's name doesn't appear anywhere in the list of nominations. He doesn't appear on the shortlist. He appears not to have been interviewed. Instead, the first time his name appears in the process is on April 2, a week before an appointment paper is due to go to Cabinet, when a Treasury senior advisor asks one of Todd McClay's staff for Roy's phone number. Around that time they also appear to have spoken to the chair of the Landcorp Board about him. A week later, on April 9, his name is before Cabinet for appointment. And hey presto, he's on the board and being paid $36,000 a year of your money.

In short: when other nominees fell through, McClay appears to have simply shoulder-tapped an old caucus mate for a well-paid sinecure. Its pure cronyism.

The caveat to this is that McClay has been, shall we say, "enthusiastic" with the redactions, deleting vast amounts of material as "not relevant" or on privacy grounds. Its possible that details of Roy's nomination, interview, and shortlisting are among this. They shouldn't be, but its possible. But if that's the case, and everything really is above board but McClay has redacted it, he really has no-one to blame but himself.

Policy failure: ECE

In 2010, the government cut both teaching standards and fuding for early childhood education. The result? Half of ECE centres are failing to educate children:

The government is under fire for pushing "bums on seats" in the early childhood sector while ignoring concerns about quality.

Teachers' union NZEI and the Green Party say a report released by the Education Review Office showing almost half of early childhood services are not doing enough to help under-threes learn reinforces there are huge problems with quality in the sector.


The report focused on communication and exploration - two key parts of New Zealand's early childhood curriculum, which services are obligated to implement to get a licence.

The curriculum aims to support good "learning dispositions" which set children up for better outcomes - research shows good early childhood education can support better employment, income, criminal justice and health later in life. The study found 46 per cent of services did not provide a curriculum that helped children become competent and confident communicators and explorers - 30 per cent were classified as having "limited responsiveness", while 16 per cent were "not responsive".

The fundamental problem here is that the government views the ECE sector as babysitters rather than educators, and so doesn't see the value of qualified, registered teachers. And the above is what you get with that approach: substandard education, which feeds into our primary schools and the rest of our education system.

The real tragedy here is that ECE is one of the best investments a government can make. If you want people to succeed in life, you start at the beginning, with high-quality ECE. The government's refusal to fund a high-quality, universal ECE system simply shows how shortsighted they are; rather than investing in our future, they'd rather give tax cuts to the 1%.

"Independent" reports aren't

How do privatised prison providers get such glowing reports? The same way tobacco companies get "scientific evidence" that smoking doesn't cause cancer: bribery:

A former prisons chief who wrote a glowing “independent” report about a controversial youth offender unit run by G4S had previously been paid thousands of pounds as a consultant for the private security firm, the Guardian has learned.

Sir Martin Narey, former director general of the prison service, published a report in July on Rainsbrook secure training centre in which he wrote that “very challenging children” were treated “overwhelmingly well”. He concluded: “My test in visiting places of custody for over 30 years is to reflect about how I’d feel if my son or daughter were incarcerated there. In Rainsbrook’s case, I would consider him or she to be safe and to be generally well treated.”

Narey’s verdict was delivered months after a joint report by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the chief inspector of prisons in May into the centre condemned it for a series of failings . It pointed to the dismissal of six members of staff after a series of incidents of gross misconduct, staff who were on drugs on duty, and others who had behaved “extremely inappropriately” with young people, causing distress and humiliation.

Ofsted inspectors, who visited Rainsbrook in February, also revealed that a child who suffered a fracture, possibly as a result of being restrained, did not receive treatment for 15 hours because senior staff overruled clear clinical advice that he needed treatment.

Its the same tactic: the false "independence", the money under the table. But the fact that they have to pay consultants to say nice things about them doesn't make those things true - and in fact suggests the opposite.

Climate change: Time for farmers to pull their weight

For the past decade or more, farmers have been saying that they can't do anything about climate change. It's too hard, too expensive, there are no solutions which would let them reduce their emissions.


Research co-authored by Matthew Deighton, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal last week, found a new stock feed additive, NOP, cuts the methane produced by cows by almost a third.

It interferes with an enzyme in the methane-producing micro-organisms in the cow's stomach. "It's a very, very small amount – as little as one gram – in the daily feed of a cow. So that means it really has the opportunity to get on to farms, as we don't have to drastically change the diet of the animals."

Even more excitingly, the addition of NOP allowed the cows to put on extra weight, which was good news for farmers, Deighton said.

There still needs to be further work done, particularly on residues, but they're expecting it to be on the market within five years. At which stage its time to call the farmers on their bullshit, and make them use it. Everyone else is doing their bit to reduce emissions; its time our largest polluters pulled their weight as well.

The end of coal in NZ

Huntly is closing down its coal-fired generators permanently:

Genesis Energy announced its last two coal-burning electricity generators at Huntly Power Station will be permanently withdrawn from the market by December 2018, signalling the end of large scale coal-fired generation in New Zealand.

The decision is being hailed as another step towards having 90 per cent of New Zealand's electricity supply generated by renewables by 2025.

Chief executive Albert Brantley said the company has been on track to retire the four coal/gas fired Rankine units since 2009.

What's better is that its been driven out by "lower cost renewable generation, principally wind and geothermal". In other words, there's just no space in the market for coal any longer. Which means we're unlikely to see any new coal-fired stations constructed.

This is backed up by MBIE's Electricity Demand and Generation scenarios, released in May. Their cost of generation assumptions show that coal has been pushed completely out of the market, and that they do not expect any new coal-fired generation to be built, ever (and they're probably still over-estimating the cost of wind). Coal simply has new future in New Zealand any more.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

"I agree with Jeremy"

Another reason why Jeremy Corbyn should lead the UK Labour Party: he thinks Tony Blair should be charged with war crimes:

Tony Blair could be made to stand trial for war crimes, according to the current Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn.

The veteran left winger said the former prime minister was reaching the point when he was going to have to deal with the consequences of his actions with the coming Chilcot inquiry report.

“I think it was an illegal war,” he said in an interview with BBC2's Newsnight adding that former UN secretary general had confirmed that. “Therefore he (Blair) has to explain that,” Corbyn said.

“We went into a war that was catastrophic, that was illegal, that cost us a lot of money, that lost a lot of lives,” he added. “The consequences are still played out with migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, refugees all over the region,” he said.

Pressed on whether Mr Blair should be charged with war crimes, he said: “If he's committed a war crime, yes. Everyone who's committed a war crime should be.”

That ought to go down well with Labour's base.

Meanwhile, panicked by the thought that left-wing people might want to reconnect with the party that abandoned them and vote for a leader who espouses their values, the Labour heirarchy is desperately scrutinising new memberships to cull out potential Corbyn supporters. Which just shows how establishment they've become - democratic in name, but not in substance...

Canterbury's dictatorship fails

When John Key replaced the elected Environment Canterbury with unelected dictators, it was supposedly because it wasn't making enough progress on cleaning up Canterbury's rivers. Five years of dictatorship later, they've actually gone backwards:

The Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) has failed to meet its own deadline for cleaning up the region's rivers - and has, in fact, gone backwards.

In the five years since the Government replaced elected councillors with commissioners for their lack of progress in meeting targets, more rivers have become unsafe for swimming.

In 2010, the new council set itself a target of ensuring 80 percent of rivers in the region were safe for swimming. At the time, 74 percent of rivers fell into this category.

Today, the council announced that only 67 percent of rivers were safe to swim in.

So much for "making the trains run on time". But given that the dictatorship's primary policy has been to give more water to farmers, allowing more irrigation and more pollution, its hardly surprising. A regional authority wanting to clean up rivers would be restricting irrigation, not promoting it.

Meanwhile, we have an illegitimate regional dictatorship destroying Canterbury's environment for the enrichment of the few. Its time it went. Its time for elections.

The sheepgate files

The government dumped the documents on Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe last night, and its revealed the deal was dodgy from start to finish. Firstly, that "legal advice" the government had which showed that they were exposed to a claim of up to $30 million in damages for refusing to allow live sheep exports? It turns out that it came from the Saudis, not from the government's lawyers. In other words, it was "legal advice", but a try-on. Secondly, the Auditor-General had significant doubts about the legality of the scheme (which is going to be interesting if they now investigate it). As for Treasury, they opposed it from the beginning because it was "not within scope of existing appropriations", violated Cabinet spending guidelines and because it was "not clear from the paper what the $10 million committed is being used to purchase". And when things went wrong and the sheep died, John Key was instructed to lie about it.

So, just to make that clear, Murray McCully spent $10 million outside of his appropriation and possibly unlawfully purchasing fuck knows what from a dodgy Saudi billionaire. It looks like a bribe, it smells like a bribe. When are we sacking him?

43,000 unemployed under National

The latest Household Labour Force Survey was released today, showing that despite Treasury projections of a fall, unemployment had risen for the second quarter in a row. There are now 148,000 people unemployed, 43,000 more than when National took office.

So much for the "recovery" - unemployment bottomed out at 5.5% in September last year, and is now going back up, so it doesn't look like we'll be seeing kiwis back in jobs anytime soon. Instead, unemployment seems to be structurally a full 2% higher under National than under Labour. Which is 40,000 more people out of work, their families scraping to get by on a pittance. As for National's "something special", we blinked and missed it. Unless you're a rich MP owning multiple houses in Auckland, of course, in which case you're rolling in it while the peasants starve...

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Pointless waste

Today's example of the pointless waste of the "war on drugs": a woman jailed for two years for growing her own cannabis:

A leading figure in Kaikohe's arts and business communities has been jailed for two years after being found guilty of possession of cannabis for supply.

Kelly van Gaalen was sentenced in the Kaikohe District Court on Thursday following a jury trial last month. Friends and family in the public gallery, including her three children, wept and called out as the distraught 38-year-old was led away.

Van Gaalen was a member of the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board as well as the chair of the Kaikohe Community Arts Council and promotions manager for the Kaikohe Business Association. She has resigned from her positions. A community board by-election will be held in October.

It costs nearly $100,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Can anyone really say that that's money well spent in this case? Can anyone really say that jailing this woman will make us safer, or improve our society? Imprisoning recreational drug users who harm no-one but themselves is simply pointless and wasteful, and the sooner we stop doing it the sooner the police can refocus their resource son real crime.

Why was this a private prosecution?

The CTU has won a private prosecution against an unsafe employer:

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has won a private prosecution against a Tokoroa forestry company over the death of a worker, after the government safety regulator declined to prosecute.

In 2013, loader driver Charles Finlay was crushed to death by a log while working in the dark.

WorkSafe investigated but said it could not find enough evidence of wrongdoing to prosecute the 45-year-old's employer, M & A Cross Ltd.

But now M & A Cross Ltd has pleaded guilty in the Rotorua District Court to breaches under the Health and Safety Act.

Its great that the CTU have won this case, but at the same time, they should never have had to bring it in the first place. We have a government agency, WorkSafe, which has the specific job of prosecuting dangerous employers. But whether by underfunding or industry capture, they did nothing - a clear failure of the system. And if they won't prosecute a case where someone died, you really have to wonder how many other cases they're refusing to prosecute, and whether their refusal to enforce the law properly is making our workplaces more dangerous.

Something to go to in Wellington

Jane Kelsey will be speaking about her new book, The FIRE Economy, in Wellington tomorrow night:

The FIRE economy – finance, insurance and real estate – is now the world’s principal source of wealth creation. Its rise has transformed our political, economic and social landscapes. From rising inequality and ballooning household debt to a global financial crisis and fiscal austerity, instability has accompanied this new orthodoxy. Yet it has proven remarkably resilient, even resurgent, in New Zealand and abroad.

The continuing narrative of neoliberalism in New Zealand reveals financial crises to be inherent to the very structure of the FIRE economy. How we respond to New Zealand’s future crises, however, means questioning what responses the failing neoliberal orthodoxy will actually permit. In detailing the barriers the FIRE economy presents to change in New Zealand, Kelsey points towards socially progressive, post-neoliberal futures.

All welcome. If you would llike to attend, please register here. If you know of anyone else who may be interested, please pass this invitation on to them.

when: 17:30, Wednesday 5 August
Where: Lecture Theatre 1, Old Government Buildings, Stout Street, Wellington

Climate change: The US acts

The US is finally acting on greenhouse gas emissions, with new rules under the Clean Air Act requiring states to reduce emissions from power plants by 32% by 2030:

The final rules propose a 32% cut in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030 on 2005 levels, up from the initial proposal of 30%. However states will only have to comply by 2022 rather than 2020 as originally proposed, and will be able submit their plans on meeting the targets by 2018 instead of 2017.

CO2 emissions from power plants fell 15% between 2005 and 2013, meaning the country is halfway to the target.

Monday’s version of the rules also gives an explicit boost to wind and solar power, angering the natural gas industry which will still be a large beneficiary of the switch from coal to gas-fired power plants, which produce much lower emissions.

Which is good, but is also verging on being too little, too late, with a new study showing that we now need net emissions to go negative (either through carbon capture and storage, or extensive reforestation) if we want to limit ourselves to two degrees of global temperature rise. Meanwhile, US republican polluters are naturally planning to sue to try and overturn the law so they can keep on profiting by destroying the global climate. Hopefully they'll lose, but they'll probably delay implementation and snatch a few more years of profits, which is all these sociopaths care about. And then they'll complain that no-one will ensure their beachfront condo against floods or hurricane damage...

Monday, August 03, 2015

Two ideas for open diplomacy legislation

Last week, I called for a democratic foreign policy. With the collapse of TPPA negotiations over the weekend, we've got some time to think about this and about what needs to change. Here's a couple of ideas.

Firstly, we need an Open Diplomacy Act. The essence? That any information which our government provides to other parties in international treaty negotiations, or which they provide to us, must be immediately proactively published. Why? So we can see what the government is doing, obviously. Like the OIA, this will enable participation in decision-making and promote accountability of Ministers and officials. But it will also help put our foreign policy on a more democratic footing, by providing us with the information which would enable us to meaningfully consent to the decisions made (as opposed to today, where being mushroomed means that these decisions cannot be said to have any form of consent or legitimacy).

Note that this applies to material which the negotiating parties have already made public to each other, so it doesn't undermine the government's ability to keep its bottom lines secret in negotiations (unless they tell the other parties, in which case they're no longer secret). What it does prevent is them lying to us about what they're doing, or selling us a pig in a poke then presenting us with a fait accompli.

Secondly, we need some way of providing public consent to highly controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses, which allow corporations to sue us if we legislate to protect public health or the environment. A recent member's bill from NZ First would have banned them outright; I'm happy enough to permit their approval by referendum (which means the government actually has to convince us of their merits). The decision belongs to the people because it effectively limits the scope of government - and that's a decision for us, not them. As a bonus, this would sidestep the prohibition in Standing Orders forbidding votes on the same issue in the same year, so such a bill could be introduced immediately.

The question is whether the politicians will move on this, or whether they're happy with the current situation of secret deals and no meaningful consent.