Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Kim Dotcom's extradition hearing is currently underway, and it appears to have hit a hurdle: the government can't find key documentation:

The Crown has been unable to produce the original notices asking for Kim Dotcom and his co-accused to be extradited to the United States.


North Shore district court services manager Fiona Parkes - a witness for the Crown - today produced several documents she said appeared to be copies of the extradition requests.

Mr Dotcom's lawyer Ron Mansfield pointed out the documents were not date-stamped and asked Ms Parkes if she knew whether any originals existed.

She said she did not.

Yesterday a Justice Ministry employee was unable to confirm if the former Justice Minister, Judith Collins, had seen the provisional arrest warrants and the supporting evidence before the 2012 raid on Mr Dotcom's mansion went ahead.

Under the Extradition Act, the Justice Minister is meant to be given a copy of the warrants and supporting evidence, as part of a briefing.

This matters. A key question in extradition hearings is whether the supporting documents have been produced to the court. The fact that they can't do that (and apparently failed to follow due process in briefing the Minister, creating instant grounds for judicial review) makes them look like a bunch of muppets. And when it comes to matters of law enforcement and people's freedom (and millions of dollars in damages if they fuck up), you'd think they'd take a little more care...

Breaching the right to a fair trial in the UK

Back in April the British government introduced a Criminal Courts Charge to "make criminals pay". The charge is structured to encourage defendants to plead guilty. And now one of the government's own researchers has pointed out the obvious: it violates the right to a fair trial:

Mike Hough, a professor of criminal policy at Birkbeck School of Law, said in an interview with The Independent that controversial new court fees deny defendants the right to a fair trial because they encourage the innocent to plead guilty. Professor Hough established the Home Office’s British Crime Survey and recently did research for the Ministry of Justice.


The charge is applied to anyone found guilty and is not means-tested or adjusted according to the seriousness of the crime. In magistrates’ courts it is fixed at £150 if someone pleads guilty at the start, but can rise to £1,000 if they are later found guilty.

Professor Hough said: “I do think it’s a very unfair and very unpleasant bit of legislation that imposes very large costs on people without giving judges and magistrates any discretion to waive the charge where defendants clearly can’t afford them.

“It strikes me that these mandatory charges are in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. How can you have the right to a fair trial if you can only have one if you can pay for it? Article six gives people the right to a fair trial. I can’t see that you can have the right to a fair trial if you have to pay £1,200 to the court for it if you lose. It provides an added incentive to plead guilty even when you are innocent.”

Judges seem to agree. 50 of them have resigned rather than enforce the charge, while others are granting discharges without conviction to avoid imposing a manifestly unjust and disproportionate penalty. I wonder how long it will take the pig-head British government to get the message?

Another dirty deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is one of the world's worst human rights abusers. They executed over a hundred people so far this year, and this week will be beheading a man then publicly crucifying his body as a punishment for protesting against them. So naturally, the British government thought they'd be perfect for the UN Human Rights Council:

Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council (UNHRC), according to leaked diplomatic cables.


The Saudi foreign ministry files, passed to Wikileaks in June, refer to talks with British diplomats ahead of the November 2013 vote in New York. The documents have now been been translated by the organisation UN Watch – a Geneva-based non-governmental human rights organisation that scrutinises the world body – and newspaper the Australian.

The classified exchanges, the paper said, suggest that the UK initiated the secret negotiations by asking Saudi Arabia for its support. Both countries were eventually elected to the UNHRC, which has 47 member states.

This is absolutely morally bankrupt. But isn't it so very British?

The GCSB's PR campaign

The GCSB have had a bad time recently, with leaks exposing their mass-surveillance of the Pacific, spying on our friends, and spying to advance the private career interests of a National MP. So they've launched a bit of a PR campaign. Part of this was GCSB Director Una Jagose giving a speech at the Technology and Privacy Forum yesterday, in which she talked up what a great job the GCSB was doing in protecting the government from cyber-attacks:

A powerful cyber-attack has targeted certain officials in a government department in a possible effort to access sensitive information.

Another major IT firm received help from the Government Communications Security Communications Bureau (GCSB) after it was discovered their computer network had been compromised for some time.

The incidents have all occurred this year, and were revealed today in a rare public speech by GCSB acting director Una Jagose, who moved to reassure the public that data used in cyber security programmes was properly handled.

And judging by the recent revelations about their operation against Greece, half of them were probably done by our "friends" the NSA.

Stopping this is the uncontroversial part of the GCSB's job. And if protecting government departments and providing IT security help to private sector organisations who asked for it was all they did, there'd be no problem with them. But while they talk about "cyber-security" (IT being more glamorous if you call it "cyber", as Gibson and Sterling discovered), their real business is spying. And on that, Jagose just spouts the usual "trust us" bullshit and demands not to publish leaks. And while she highlights the "robustness" of the GCSB's internal checks and balances (you know, the ones which show that they have no idea if they are obeying the law), the key problem is that they're all internal, part of the spy-world. Captive "oversight" isn't. Secret "checks and balances" aren't. Handpicked "watchdogs" won't. And the real questions - such as "do we really want to be doing this" and "are we the sort of country which spies on our friends to toady up to the USA" - simply aren't asked.

We need to ask those questions, just as we asked the question of "do we want to be complicit in the crime of nuclear weapons" in the 70's and 80's. Mass surveillance is the nuclear weapons of the teens, and a violation of human rights on a massive scale. And it is time New Zealand took a stand against it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Extrajudicial punishment from the UK

The UK's latest tactic in its war on terror? Asset freezes and travel bans:

Four British citizens fighting with Islamic State militants in Syria are to be subject to UN sanctions in the first such move in a decade, Downing Street has said.

The UK government took the drastic step of asking for some of its own nationals to face UN travel bans and asset freezes, amid increasing alarm about the hundreds of Britons being tempted to travel to Iraq and Syria.


The individuals are deemed to be associated with “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of”, “recruiting for” and “otherwise supporting acts or activities of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”.

Deemed, of course, by the executive, without reference to any court, let alone a conviction by a jury. In other words, its simply extrajudicial punishment, in violation of the fundamentals of human rights and the rule of law. But that now seems to be par for the course from the UK's tyranny.

A victory for the environment

A couple of years ago National was trying to dig up our national parks. Now they're palnning to declare a massive marine sanctuary over the entire Kermadec Islands EEZ:

A vast stretch of New Zealand's exclusive economic zone is being turned into an ocean sanctuary in a landmark deal to preserve one of the most pristine and unique environments on earth.

Prime Minister John Key announced the deal in New York Tuesday NZT, and said it would encompass 620,000 km2 in the seas north-east of New Zealand in the Kermadec region.

"The Kermadec Ocean sanctuary will be one of the world's largest and most significant fully-protected areas, preserving important habitats for seabirds, whales and dolphins, endangered marine turtles and thousands of species of fish and other marine life," Key said.

The sanctuary will cover 15 per cent of New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, an area twice the size of our landmass and 50 times the size of our largest national park in Fiordland.

Of course, it still requires legislation, and a lot will depend on the exact form of that legislation (not to mention them actually getting around to passing it). But its still a sign of how much National has been forced to shift on the environment. They know the public values our natural heritage, so they have to at least pretend to care about it; the 2010-era Brownlee attitude of bulldozing it all simply isn't tenable in New Zealand.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Australia doesn't want the UN looking at its gulags

Australia's Pacific gulags on Nauru and Manus Island are horrific places, where detainees are assaulted, raped and abused. They're so horrific that the Australian government doesn't want the UN looking at them:

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants says a lack of cooperation from the Australian government has forced him to postpone an official fact-finding mission

Francois Crépeau was scheduled to visit Australia for two weeks to gather first-hand information about the situation of asylum seekers detained in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru, on the invite of the Australian government.

But, in a statement, he said the new Border Force Act, which sanctions detention centre workers who disclose information about detention centres with up to two years in prison, would impact his visit as "it serves to discourage people from fully disclosing information relevant to my mandate".

Apparently they won't facilitate access to the gulags, and they won't guarantee that people who talk to him about them won't be prosecuted for it. Which makes it crystal clear that they are afraid of what he might learn and what he might say.

This isn't the behaviour we expect from a modern democracy which respects human rights. But I think its clear now that Australia can no longer be described in that way. We should structure our diplomacy and foreign policy accordingly.

Britain's dirty spies pervert the course of justice

How corrupt are Britain's spies? Not only did they participate in the US torture of a British citizen; they also ensured he was kept in Guantanamo so he couldn't give evidence against them:

The post 9/11 world was just a few days old when Shaker Aamer was first imprisoned. Captured by Afghan bounty hunters while attempting to flee from Kabul with his pregnant wife and their three children, he was sold on twice, and found himself in US hands.


The interrogators that MI6 and MI5 had sent to Bagram were warned that they must not take part in the torture that was being inflicted on the inmates; all received written instructions that “we cannot be party to such ill treatment nor can we be seen to condone it”. In practice, this meant that they would remove themselves from the room before the abuses began.

After being transferred to Guantánamo, Aamer gave a statement to his lawyers in which he alleged that, despite these instructions, British intelligence officers were present while he was being severely beaten at Bagram. As a consequence of this – and because of the UK’s wider involvement in his unlawful detention and mistreatment – he is expected to embark upon legal proceedings against the British government once he returns to the UK.

Furthermore, Scotland Yard detectives investigating the British government’s involvement in rendition after 9/11 are understood to have taken a statement from him at Guantánamo.

Members of his legal team suspect that the UK’s intelligence agencies have been so alarmed by the prospect of such allegations being aired on his return to the UK that they may have fed false information about Aamer to the US authorities in order to impede that release.

So we can add "perversion of the course of justice" to their list of crimes then.

Clearly, MI6 were hoping Aamer would die in Guantanamo. But he hasn't. Instead, he's finally going to be released, after being held for 13 years without trial. And hopefully this will mean that MI6 will be both sued and prosecuted, and be held accountable for their actions.

Challenging TPP secrecy

There's a significant court case happening today: a judicial review of the Minister of Trade's refusal to release information about the TPP under the Official Information Act. OIA cases are rare - I can't remember the last one, though I'm aware of a couple from the 80's - so its a bit of a landmark which will help clarify the meaning of the Act. Unfortunately I don't think there's much chance of a successful outcome. The Minister's refusal rests largely on the OIA's conclusive reasons for withholding official information, notably prejudice to international relations and to receving information from other governments. And these are areas where the judiciary has traditionally defered to the executive. Its not openly nonsensical that release of TPP documents will prejudice these interests, so I expect the court will uphold the refusal. In other areas - the ones most likely to be successful - the Ombudsman has not yet formed a view, so there's nothing to review.

More interesting is the fact that this refusal was not based on the merits of each document, but on a sample of them and the Minister's assumptions about what might be in them. While administratively convenient, that goes against the purpose and merits-based assessment regime of the OIA, and is something the Minister deserves to be spanked for.

What this case will expose is how out of step the OIA is on these issues. There is huge public interest in disclosure, yet the law will allow all material to be shrouded in secrecy (based in part on the government agreeing with other governments effectively to contract out of it - something which seems ultra vires). Governments, it seems, are united in the view that the negotiations they conduct on "our" behalf are not for the eyes of us dirty peasants, and that we should just shut up and accept whatever they decide. But this isn't the middle ages, and they're not kings; we live in democracies now, and such secret agreements simply have no democratic legitimacy. And if the OIA won't give us the transparency we now expect, we need to amend it, or replace those sections. And we should start with an Open Diplomacy Act, to ensure that any information our government provides other governments in negotiations is also shared with us.

New Fisk

What’s Putin up to in Syria? I would wager he’s after something big – retaking Palmyra

No homage from Catalonia

The Spanish region of Catalonia went to the polls yesterday, and gave a clear majority to parties promising unilateral secession. As a result, things are likely to get "interesting" over there.

How they got there is also interesting, and basicly boils down to utter mismanagement by the Spanish central government (whose governing party, the People's Party, is still full of Francoists). Think of Catalonia as a Spanish Scotland, with its own history, language, culture, and national identity. All those things were viciously suppressed under Franco's dictatorship, creating a history of persecution and a resentment of rule by Madrid. When Franco died, the region got some legally guaranteed autonomy and its own regional constitution and parliament, but as time went on, it wasn't enough. But when in 2006 they tried to get more autonomy through a revised regional constitution, that too was stomped on by the central government. Since then, the appetite for independence has been growing, and even people who want to remain part of Spain think that its a decision for Catalonia and support a referendum. Spain has rejected that option too, so instead the Catalonians have had an election, with parties offering a clear promise of independence, with or without Spanish approval. As in Scotland, Spain ran on fear, threatening that an independent Catalonia would be denied entry to the EU and that Barcelona would be kicked out of the Spanish football league. And as in Scotland, it has just made things worse. And the result is that pro-independence parties have a clear majority in parliament with 49.5% of the vote.

Its not entirely straightforward: those pro-independence parties are from different sides of the political spectrum and will need to hammer out a coalition deal. But assuming they manage that, they'll ask for independence or a referendum, Spain will refuse, claiming its illegal (and unlike the UK, refuse to make it legal), so they'll announce an intention to secede unilaterally. And what happens after that is anyone's guess. But as with Scotland, the idea of a central government denying a region that wants to leave the chance to decide, or worse, using military force to retain a region with a clearly-expressed desire for independence, is simply untenable for a modern democracy. And hopefully the Spanish government will realise that before it is too late.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Australia's war on dissent

Since Tony Abbott became Prime Minister of Australia there's been a progressive move (driven by the Liberals' coal-industry supporters) towards labelling environmentalism as terrorism. but now its hit a new low, with the inclusion of "alternative music", "left-wing activism" and environmental protest in the government's new "Radicalisation Awareness Kit" aimed at warning teachers about potential terrorists:

The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Terrorism Michael Keenan launched the Radicalisation Awareness Kit in the form of a 32-page booklet on Monday.

Through a series of examples and fictitious case studies, the booklet aims to illustrate the circumstances which can lead young people to become radicalised.

But one surprising example cites the power of the alternative music scene and environmental activism in the radicalisation process.

The case study in the 'Violent Extremism' section tells the story of a girl called 'Karen' who becomes involved in the "alternative music scene, student politics and left-wing activism" when she leaves home.

'Karen' ends up sabotaging logging machinery and being arrested "on numerous occasions" while becoming "totally cut off from her family".

"It sounds like something that's been dreamt up in the cigar room of the Institute of Public Affairs. There's no resemblance to the way that people in Australia feel about their environment and the need to stand up to protect it.

The message is clear: lefties, greenies, and those who don't like INXS are UnAustralian terrorists. Its a perfect example of how Abbott has hijacked the (bullshit) war on terror to turn it into a war on his domestic political opponents. But now that Australia has a new Prime Minister, hopefully this bullshit will stop.

One way of fixing it

Back in April the British government introduced a Criminal Courts Charge to "make criminals pay". The structure of the charge - £150 if you plead guilty, and £1000 if you are convicted after a "not guilty" plea - created an obvious incentive for poor people to pleased guilty to offences they haven't committed. But the scale of it also creates obvious miscarriages of justice: for a lot of minor offending, the charge will outweigh any appropriate penalty, effectively leading to institutionalised disproportionate punishment. But now UK judges have a solution to that problem: they simply discharge people without conviction:

Magistrates across Britain are letting guilty petty criminals off with no punishment in order to protect them from controversial new court fees, The Independent has learnt.

They are increasingly resorting to a little-known sentencing option called an absolute discharge which registers guilt but hands out no punishment – effectively letting the criminal off.


Magistrates have no discretion over how much someone has to pay in court charges if they are punished for their crime. But if they grant an absolute discharge then no punishment is given and poorer defendants are protected from paying over the odds for minor offences.

So you have perverse outcomes on both ends: the innocent are forced to plead guilty from fear, while the guilty avoid even having a conviction registered because to do so would result in disproportionate punishment. But I guess that's what happens when the government institutionalises injustice in order to appear "tough on crime".

Climate change: China acts

After trialing one back in 2011, China will introduce an emissions trading scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

President Xi Jinping of China will make a landmark commitment on Friday to start a national program in 2017 that will limit and put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, Obama administration officials said on Thursday.

The move to create a so-called cap-and-trade system would be a substantial step by the world’s largest polluter to reduce emissions from major industries, including steel, cement, paper and electric power.

Hopefully they'll do a better job of it than we did. Not having free credits for pollution would help immensely.

Corporate sociopathy watch

On Monday, Fonterra announced another round of job cuts, bringing layoffs to 750 for the year. Yesterday, their annual financial figures showed us why: profits were up, but revenue was down 15%, suggesting next year will be worse. So naturally, today we learn that their boss has given himself an 18% pay rise:

Fonterra's chief executive received a pay rise of up to $770,000 last year, despite struggling milk prices and hundreds of his staff losing their jobs.

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings' salary for the year to July 31 was between $4.93 million and $4.94 million, it was revealed in the company's annual result on Thursday.

That's up to 18 per cent more then what he was paid in the year to July 31, 2014, pushing his hourly take home wage up to $1595.

New Zealand's adult minimum wage is $14.75.

It would take someone on minimum wage more than two weeks work to earn what Spierings makes in an hour.

Or 26 years to earn his pay rise.

Sack lots of people. Make less money. Watch your shareholder / suppliers go to the wall due to low prices. Clearly that's the sort of performance which demands a boatload of cash.

Executive pay is simply pillage, utterly divorced from company performance and ordinary human experience. As for the solution, its simple: tax the fuck out it. That sort of money has no reasonable purpose other than as a status symbol, a way of marking score against other sociopathic predators. And there's no reason for our society to support such games.

Mixed messages

$10.5m funding boost for maths & science in schools, NZ Government, 27 November, 2013:

The Government is providing $10.5 million in additional funding for schools to raise student achievement in maths and science, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce and Education Minister Hekia Parata announced today.

“Boosting the skills and achievement of our young people in maths and science are essential for their future careers and for New Zealand’s economic growth and prosperity,” Mr Joyce says.

“The reality is New Zealand needs more people with fundamental skills in science, technology, engineering and maths, or STEM subjects, and that is a strong focus of this Government.”

$199m boost for tertiary education and research, NZ Government, 15 May 2014:
$83.3 million operating funding of the increase will be provided for lifting tuition subsidies in science provision (8.5 per cent increase), agriculture (8.5 per cent), and selected health sciences (pharmacy 16.4 per cent and physiotherapy 12.4 per cent).

“Budget 2014 continues our focus on increasing funding for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects,” Mr Joyce says.


“Investing in science-based skills is crucial for innovation, productivity and growth in the New Zealand economy which is a key focus of our Business Growth Agenda.”

NZ's competitive edge needs outlined, Otago Daily Times, 19 Dec 2014:
More young people choosing agri-science careers and more scientists prepared to work with farmers are needed to maintain New Zealand's competitive edge, Ballance Agri-Nutrients science extension officer Jeff Morton says.

Mr Morton, of Napier, was invited to give the Levy Oration at the New Zealand Grasslands Association's (NZGA) annual conference in Alexandra last month.

''Often it is the farmer who comes through with an idea and the scientist who tests it, [and together] they make a pretty potent brew,'' Mr Morton said.

AgResearch confirms 20% of staff to go, Radio New Zealand, 24 September 2015:
AgResearch has confirmed it will axe nearly 20 percent of its staff during the next year.

The Crown research institute has confirmed it plans to axe 33 scientists and 50 technicians, as part of a restructuring to cope with a $5 million cut in funding.

However, it will add 18 new scientist roles and nine technicians in growth areas, for a net loss of 56 jobs.

So, the government spends tens of millions of dollars a year to try and encourage young people to pursue careers in science, while repeated CRI mass layoffs make it clear that there's no such thing. If you follow the government's signals and pursue that science degree (which in science means a PhD), you'll find that there's probably no job at the end of it, or that you're terminated mid-career and forced to move overseas or become a taxi driver (or spreadsheet jockey if you're lucky). And then they wonder why people are still choosing arts degrees...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Red Peak and poutiness

The Red Peak bill passed this morning, and the design is now officially on the ballot paper to be considered as a possible flag. And apparently, Labour is very pouty about this. The Herald reports "simmering anger" with the Greens at the deal, Gordon Campbell is upset that they have "rescued Prime Minister John Key from his personal flag fiasco", and a commenter on the Dim-Post (which is what got me onto this topic) is annoyed at the Greens for "lending false legitimacy to Key’s strapped chicken referendum process and screwing your coalition partner" (I'd delve into The Standard's comments, but I simply don't have time for that shit today).

For the record, I think the process is a farce, and adding an extra option to the ballot paper at the last minute just makes it more so, but that doesn't change any of the below. Because what's important here isn't what I think, but what the Greens think. And the Greens have consistently supported the flag process from the beginning (while trying to improve it, as is their way).

That's obviously not Labour's position. Big deal. They're different parties, so they disagree. And if Labour were adults, they'd accept that and move on to talking about how they can work together on the huge areas of political ground where they do agree. The fact that they can't, and that they're still demanding absolute subservience from their potential partners, is exactly why they're unfit to be in government. Because if you can't handle your party relationships in opposition, you're sure as shit not going to be able to do it when in office.

A premediated fraud

There's a major corporate scandal erupting in Europe at the moment of Volkswagen's use of specialised "defeat" software to fiddle its environmental tests. Basicly, they programmed their cars - because cars are computers nowdays - to detect when they were being subjected to an emissions test and lower engine emissions accordingly. The software wasn't in action in normal use, so the emissions and fuel efficiency numbers reported for these vehicles were grossly misleading.

The discovery has already led to a mass product recall in the US and the prospect of a US$18 billion fine, the collapse of Volkswagen's share price, and the resignation of its Chief Executive. And with European regulators looking into whether the same software was used to fiddle tests in Europe, and the software potentially installed on 11 million vehicles worldwide, it will get worse. And it damn well should. This is a fraud by Volkswagen on its customers and on the public to evade regulations and lie to them about the product they're buying. It cost lives - the air pollution they were fiddling kills 5,800 people a year in the UK alone, and people undoubtedly died because of the extra emissions their toxic cars were spewing. And it is unquestionably pre-meditated and signed off at a very high level; software doesn't just get written and installed without that. The company, and the shareholders who profited from this fraud, need to be held to account for that. And that means massive fines, to bankruptcy if necessary, and prosecutions for everybody responsible, from the executives who made the decision to the code-monkeys who wrote what was clearly illegal code.

Volkswagen's board is claiming "I know Nufink", but even if you believe that, there's clearly been a lapse of oversight that equates to gross negligence. The law of war includes the concept of command responsibility - basicly, officers who ought to have known about abuses can't get off the hook by claiming to be muppets, but are responsible for the actions of the soldiers under their command. And with so many corporate scandals "overseen" by boards who claim to be ignorant (while pocketing huge bonuses for the profits of fraud), it seems about time to extend that principle to corporate governance.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A desperate farce

Our farcical flag referendum looks set to get even more farcical, with Parliament looking to sit under all-stages urgency to add "Red Peak" to the ballot paper. And its pretty easy to see why: Key's process and crony-stacked "independent" flag consideration panel has produced designs pretty much no-one wants. Faced with almost certain failure, Key is gambling in the hope of being able to force change, and go down in history as "the guy who changed the flag" (a distinctly unambitious goal IMHO).

Its obviously a win for those who like the "Red Peak" design (and it has grown on me a bit, though I am still in thrall to the Hypnoflag), it raises an obvious question: why wasn't it on the ballot to begin with? And given the way it has inspired debate and captured (some) public imagination, in exactly the way that Key's preferred silver fern designs haven't, why was his abortion of a process unable to do the same?

The answer, I think, is that people knew the outcome was fixed, so they refused to engage and legitimise. And the blame for that can be placed firmly on the government. They had a chance to do it right, but instead they deliberately fucked it up. And now they're scrambling to fix that mistake, and making their process look even more farcical by doing so.

Something to go to in Auckland

Rod Oram will be delivering the annual Bruce Jesson lecture this year, on the topic of '"Follow the money" – the future of business journalism':

The feeble state of business journalism in New Zealand and around the world is but a subset of journalism’s general decline. To try to survive financially, many media organisations are increasingly blurring the distinction between journalism and advertising, devaluing both in the process. Yet, there has never been a more important time for business journalism.

Profound change is sweeping through business and economics and the societies they help shape. Journalists should be trying to explain what’s happening – the good and the ill – for the benefit of participants and public alike.

When: 18:00, Wednesday 14 October.
Where: Maidment Theatre, University of Auckland, 8 Alfred Street.

How to make a political party popular

Who'd have thunk it? If a political party elects someone who represents its values as leader, people actually join it:

More people have joined the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader than the total membership of the Liberal Democrats, party figures suggest.

The latest numbers released by Labour show that 62,000 people have joined it in the week since Saturday 12 September.

This compares to 61,456 people who are members of the Liberal Democrats, according to figures last released in June.

The number is also significantly more than the 47,000 people who are members of Ukip, whose membership also grew dramatically during the previous parliament. It could also soon surpass the 67,000 membership of the Green Party.

Corbyn's election looks set to reverse the twenty year decline in UK Labour membership numbers. Its unclear whether they're new members of former members rejoining, but either way, (re)engaging that many people with a party is a pretty big success.

Of course, the real reason here is that Corbyn's values - equality, peace, disarmament - are popular values, and that UK Labour under Blair and his successors had lost track of them. But that's what happens when you allow your party to be colonised by the establishment: it turns into their vehicle, and people walk away from it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

This'll end well

Back in the 90's, the then-National government deregulated the building industry, effectively allowing builders to self-regulate. And in the 2000's, we paid the price, in the form of the leaky homes crisis. That single policy mistake is estimated to have cost New Zealand over ten billion dollars (and maybe over twenty billion).

So naturally, National wants to repeat it:

The door is ajar for letting builders sign off on the quality of their own work.

The proposal is among recommendations released today by the Government's rules reduction taskforce, which was set up to look at the rules and regulations causing frustration for taxpayers.

The taskforce said self-certification should be encouraged for builders who meet set levels of qualification.

If we need an example of how National is ideologically-crazed and has learned nothing from the past, I can't think of a better one. Unfortunately it'll be the people of New Zealand paying for their mistakes - again.

Capitalism at its most sociopathic

Capitalism loves a captive market. And there's no market more captive than people who will die unless they get a product. Unfortunately, a sociopathic hedge-fund manager has figured this out buying the rights to an essential medicine and hiking the price by 5,000 percent:

A hedge fund trader is at the centre of mounting controversy after the pharmaceutical company he bought raised overnight the cost of a life-saving treatment for people with Aids and weakened immune systems from $13.50 per pill to $750.

The 5,000 per cent increase was enacted last month for Daraprim, known generically as pyrimethamine, by Turing Pharmaceuticals of New York, a start-up firm, shortly after it bought the rights to the drug. The firm is headed by Martin Shkreli.

Daraprim fights toxoplasmosis, the second most common food-borne disease, which can easily infect people whose immune systems have been weakened by AIDS, chemotherapy or pregnancy, according to the Centres for Disease Control. About 60 million people in the United States may carry the toxoplasma parasite.

Its also used as an anti-malaria drug, and as a result is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines. And while this is the most obscene price increase, its not the first: just a few years ago it was a dollar a tablet. But then a succession of pharmaceutical companies bought the rights, increasing the price each time to cover the cost. To these scum, people's health is just a commodity to make them money.

Fortunately there's a solution: the drug has been approved since 1953. Which means it should be long out of patent. And at that sort of price, there ought to be plenty of financial incentive to make a generic version available to put the rent-seeking scum out of business.

Another vanity project

Before he's even finished wasting $26 million of our money on failing to foist a new flag on us, John Key has a new vanity project: spending $100 million of our money on pandas:

Taxpayer money will be put up to help bring giant pandas to Wellington if a deal can be worked out, Prime Minister John Key says.

Wellington City Council is to look at a business case for bringing the animals from China to Wellington Zoo, but one councillor who is opposed believes the project could cost up to $100 million.

Mr Key said he believed the cost would be less than that, but would still be considerable. If the council came up with a proposal the Government would likely commit funds to help out.

Pandas are cute. But worth $100 million of public money, at a time when kids are dying in state houses due to insufficient maintenance and other public services are slowly being choked to death by systematic underfunding? No. But it speaks volumes about Key's priorities and his values: pandas good, poor kids worthless.

It also says a lot about just how unambitious for New Zealand Key is. As a third-term Prime Minister he's looking for a legacy, and what's he got? He's achieved nothing on foreign policy, and gone backwards on domestic. His main "achievements" of his time as Prime Minister are seven years of recession and six percent unemployment. Some Prime Ministers want to leave the country better than they found it; some actually achieve it. Michael Joseph Savage gave us the welfare state, David Lange showed us our place in the world, Geoffrey Palmer gave us our constitution. And John Key wants to be the man who brought us pandas. Its not aiming very high, is it?

Monday, September 21, 2015

The quislings win in Greece

Greece went to the polls yesterday in the second round of elections this year, and re-elected the government which betrayed them just two months ago. Its a surprising result, but I guess even a quisling SYRIZA is considered better than a corrupt quisling New Democracy.

Golden Dawn did well, as expected, but the real winner was the "none of the above" party: turnout dropped by 7 percentage points, to 56.6%. Those who refused to vote (because there was nothing to vote for) outnumbered those who voted for the top four parties combined. As for SYRIZA's "mandate", its about 20% of the voterbase. Combined with a wafer-thin coalition, we'll probably see a government collapse sooner rather than later.

So much for the PM's vanity project

A poll by 3News shows that now people have seen the options, they overwhelmingly oppose changing the flag:

A new poll shows the four flags shortlisted for a referendum on a flag change have so far failed to win the public over - only 25 per cent of voters want a change.

The 3 News Reid Research poll shows just 25 per cent of people want to change the flag after seeing the four shortlisted options while almost 70 per cent say no. Six per cent did not know.

And its pretty obvious why: the new designs are a bit meh, while the process is very obviously a strapped chicken designed to give Key the outcome he wants. And faced with that, people are simply saying "nope". And yet, Key is still confident. That's probably the usual political bullshit - politicians are Not Allowed to be honest about losing or making a mistake - but its worth pointing out: his strapped chicken referendum law has no spending limit and no expenses reporting. So, he may simply try and buy the outcome he wants in the second referendum.

A third-world attitude to democracy

Over the weekend, Burkina Faso's Regiment of Presidential Security - basicly, a praetorian guard - overthrew the country's transitional government and re-established a junta after the government recommended that it be disbanded. And in the UK, a serving general is threatening the same thing for the same reason:

A senior serving general has reportedly warned that a Jeremy Corbyn government could face "a mutiny" from the Army if it tried to downgrade them.

The unnamed general said members of the armed forces would begin directly and publicly challenging the labour leader if he tried to scrap Trident, pull out of Nato or announce “any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces.”

He told the Sunday Times: “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.

“There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”

[Emphasis added]

This is an outright coup-threat. So what's the British government doing about it? Sweet fuck-all:
However, a Ministry of Defence spokesman ruled out a leak inquiry on the grounds that it would be almost impossible to identify the culprit. Despite cutbacks, there are still around 100 serving generals in the army.

So, a serving general threatens a coup, and the MoD says "meh". Pretty easy to see whose side they're on. The British military clearly needs a purge to remove those with such third-world attitudes to democracy.

New Fisk

In Canada, Harper's Conservatives seem to have forgotten a cherished tradition about refugees

I don't care

There's a lot for me not to care about this morning: the unmentionable sporting event. Whatever is on Scout. But the best thing not to care about is tax-cheat Michael Ashcroft's allegation that David Cameron fucked a dead pig as part of an initiation rite at Oxford. Once we've all stopped laughing and gotten the obvious jokes out of our systems, it doesn't appear to have been illegal (current UK law prohibits sex with a live animal or dead person; the one in force at the time merely bans "buggery" with an animal, which I expect had to be live), and I don't think it ought to be. There's no "dignity of human remains" / hurt feelings of relatives, let alone an animal welfare issue. What a man does with a ham in the privacy of his own home (or Oxford society HQ) is really no business of mine. To amend the usual line, everyone involved was a consenting adult or dead, so I don't care.

There are two interesting things about it however. Firstly, there are apparently photos. Think about that for a moment: you have an exclusive Oxford society which attracts the sort of people who might one day go on to become Prime Minister (or Supreme Court judges, or heads of MI6), gets them to engage in humiliating initiation rituals which would destroy their reputation if ever released, and takes photos. If that isn't a setup for future blackmail I don't know what is. Secondly, there's the reason we have this story: because David Cameron didn't give Ashcroft a "significant job" after winning power. And in retaliation, Ashcroft is going to destroy him. Which tells us rather a lot about the British establishment, and the toxic toffs who comprise it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Something to go to in Auckland

Refugees are Welcome Here (NZ) is holding a rally in Auckland tomorrow to demand an increase in the refugee quota:

When: 14:00, Saturday 18 September 2015
Where: Aotea Square, Auckland

Calling bullshit on state Islamophobia

Back in October last year, the British government announced plans to restrict the freedom of speech of Muslims, banning "extremists" - meaning those engaged in "active opposition to fundamental British values" but who 9and this is important) do not advocate violence - from posting to the internet, appearing on TV, or speaking in public. But yesterday the UK's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws called bullshit on the whole idea:

David Cameron’s counter-extremism bill, which will ban non-violent extremists, risks provoking a backlash in Britain’s Muslim communities and playing into the hands of terrorist recruiters, a government watchdog has warned.

David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws, said the legislation to counter extremist ideology also risks legitimising state scrutiny of – and citizens informing on – the political activities of large numbers of law-abiding people.


“If the wrong decisions are taken, the new law risks provoking a backlash in affected communities, hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile, and playing into the hands of those who, by peddling a grievance agenda, seek to drive people further towards extremism and terrorism.”

And he's right. The clear message of this law is that if Muslims want the simple dignity of being left alone, they have to overthrow the state. And that is a very dangerous and counterproductive message to send.

But beyond that, you really have to wonder if a Britain which exercises pervasive political censorship to protect "fundamental British values" (like, oh, freedom of speech. Or thought. Or religion) is worth protecting. And to be honest, I don't think it is. The British state is an ever-harsher tyranny. Let it burn.

SkyCity rips us off again

Remember Steven Joyce's cosy SkyCity crony deal? In addition to giving them huge changes in gambling laws in exchange for building an ever-shrinking convention centre, Joyce also forced TVNZ to sell them some prime Auckland land at a bargain basement price to build it on. Except, it turns out they're not building the convention centre on it, they're building a hotel. And now, they're planning to sell it:

The Auckland City Council has this morning announced that consent has been granted to SkyCity for the building of a convention centre. SkyCity have said today that they are looking at options for future running and ownership of the hotel which will be built on the former TVNZ site they were sold after they said they needed it for the convention centre.

[Emphasis added]

We've been scammed, people. The whole thing turns out to be a dodgy privatisation - property development deal. The question is whether Steven Joyce knew about it and sold us out, or whether he's utterly incompetent. But either way, he shouldn't be a Minister, and Parliament should be legislating to reclaim our land from these thieves.

Open Government: SSC changes its mind on transparency and participation

Back in August, the government finally appointed the Open Government Partnership Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG). The SAG is supposed to assist with developing, implementing, and evaluating our commitments under the OGP by "providing constructive advice, communicating openly and engaging with the New Zealand public". As part of this, SSC promised in its terms of reference that the group would be open and transparent:

The Terms of Reference, agenda, minutes and all papers of the Stakeholder Advisory Group (and any working groups) will be published on the State Services Commission’s website.

The agenda and papers for Stakeholder Advisory Group meetings will be published five working days in advance of each meeting of the Group, to enable public participation. The draft minutes of Stakeholder Advisory Group meetings will be circulated to Group members no later than five working days after the meeting, and published on the SSC website two weeks after the meeting.

The suggestion was of an open and participatory policy development process.

The reality turns out to be a little different. Nothing has been published on the website, and the SSC has refused to release the promised material under the OIA. Why? Because they've changed their mind on transparency and participation:
The purpose for the original planned approach to distribution of papers (i.e. that agendas and papers for Group meetings will be made available 5 days before the meeting) was to enable the Group to have the benefit of public feedback in its discussions. However, once we established the Group and moved to undertaking meetings in practice, we quickly identified that making all papers available prior to the meeting and minutes immediately afterwards will be both administratively difficult, and also could constrain the ability of some officials to discuss matters with the Group in a free and frank manner, for example, to present material had not yet been to Ministers or which is in early development.

In other words, participation and transparency go out the window in favour of the usual secrecy. And the vehicle which is supposed to enable public feedback and the co-creation of policy with civil society will instead be co-opted to serve the interests of the Wellington policy machine. And then they wonder why people think there's no fucking point engaging with this farce...

(There's also an odd mindset on display from SSC: releasing everything is "administratively difficult". Setting up a complicated review and decision-making process before release isn't. This isn't about difficulty; its about control-freakery).

From an OIA point of view, the decision is dubious: I'm not sure you can withhold release under s18(d) when you haven't yet decided what is to be made public and when. And you certainly can't withhold everything on the basis that "the bulk" of it will (probably, maybe, sometime) be made public. I'm currently seeking clarification on these points before deciding whether to escalate this to the Ombudsman.

But once again, its a terrible look: the government's policy on open government is anything but.

More tyranny in Britain

Not content with being able to murder UK citizens without trial for non-death-penalty offences, MI5 now wants to spy on everyone's internet traffic (no doubt, to enable them to murder more):

The head of MI5, Andrew Parker, has called for more up-to-date surveillance powers and said tech companies had an ethical responsibility to provide more help in monitoring the communications of suspected terrorists and paedophiles.

In the first live media interview ever given by a senior British intelligence official, Parker defended the British surveillance system and backed the government’s plans for new surveillance powers.


The investigatory powers legislation is expected to include powers to require internet and phone companies to collect and store for 12 months the browsing histories of customers along with detailed records of voice calls, messaging and text services.

It would require the companies, including those based abroad such as Google and Facebook, to give the police and security services access to this bulk data.

And of course they want to ban encryption too, because the people cannot be allowed to have private conversations amongst one another, lest they conspire.

Again, when you can't have a private conversation without the secret police listening in, when everything you do is watched, when the government reserves the right to kill you on secret "evidence" and without trial, you live in a tyranny. UKanians need to either vote out their tyrannical government and its tyrannical spies, or flee to safer shores.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Incompetence or fraud?

Ten days ago the serious Fraud Office announced that it was investigating Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre over a potential $8.6 million fraud. The training centre falsely enrolled tutors as students and delivered fewer courses than it was funded for in order to get more funding. Yesterday, it emerged in the House that National MP Barbara Kuriger was on the board while that fraud was committed:

Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger has been called out for her "ignorance" of the funding rorts at Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre while she was on its board.

The centre is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office after an independent investigation found it had delivered fewer courses than it was funded for and enrolled tutors in courses they themselves were teaching, Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) chief executive Tim Fowler confirmed in early September.

Taratahi has agreed to repay the government a total of $8.6m.

The improper enrolments occurred between 2009 and 2014. Kuriger was on the board at Taratahi from 2012 to 2014.

Which raises the obvious question: did Kuriger and the rest of the board know about this, or were they so utterly incompetent that they had a huge and ongoing failure of oversight amounting to millions of dollars a year? Kuriger owes us some answers on this - but either way, it seriously calls into question whether she is fit to be in Parliament.

Losing their way?

Yesterday the house debated Denis O’Rourke's New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Pro Rata Entitlement) Amendment Bill. The bill would basicly shut the door on NZ super, paying out only a fraction of it to migrants (and kiwis) who have not lived in New Zealand for the whole period between age 20 and age 65 (those over 65 - NZ First's core voter base - would of course be unaffected, regardless of how much time they spend holidaying in Australia). The bill is part of NZ First's wider political project to denigrate migrants and make them legally second-class citizens (as opposed to their elderly, insular, suspicious, stay-at-home voters); its also a great example of the old trying to pull the ladder up after them and deny everyone else the benefits they had. And it was found to breach the Bill of Rights Act, violating both the right to be free of discrimination on the basis of nationality and age, but also the freedom of movement of New Zealand citizens.

So far, so NZ First. But what's surprising is that the Greens voted for this. And I'm simply appalled by that. This bill and the bigotry and division it promotes are lightyears from Green values around human rights, and contrary to the Greens' expressed immigration and human rights policies, which call for all migrants to be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect and for the elimination of prejudice.

While there's a need to find ways to work with other parties, this is not an area of common ground, and these are not values the Greens should compromise on to "get along". As long as NZ First persists in putting up bigot legislation, the Greens should vote against it.

(I'd make the same argument of Labour, except that to be honest, I don't care about them. They've got no values, and we all know it.)


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

  • Social Security (Pathway to Work) Amendment Bill (Carmel Sepuloni)
  • Climate Change (Divestment from Fossil Fuels) Bill (Russel Norman)
  • Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Amendment Bill (Clare Curran)
Sepuloni's bill raises benefit income-test thresholds for the first time in decades, allowing beneficiaries to work part time for more than five hours a week. Norman's bill requires public funds, such as the Cullen Fund, EQC and ACC, to divest from fossil fuels. Curran's one sounds good from the title, but all it does is add a technical advisory board to advise the Minister on decisions - which is a perfect example of Labour's position on the spy state: not to end it, but to promise that it will be managed better.

National threatens a constitutional crisis over parental leave

Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave and Work Contact Hours) Amendment Bill finally got its 9second) first reading yesterday, and passed with the support of the Maori Party and Peter Dunne. The government's response? Immediately threaten to provoke a constitutional crisis:

The Government has confirmed it will use its power of financial veto to stop a bill extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks after it failed to stop the bill passing its first hurdle in Parliament.

Labour MP Sue Moroney's paid parental leave bill passed by one vote on Wednesday to allegations of Government dirty tricks designed to thwart it.

National opposed the bill on cost grounds but can only stop it now by wielding its power of financial veto, or by persuading the Maori Party or United Future leader Peter Dunne to change their vote.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill English confirmed after the vote that if the bill got through to its third and final reading the Government would be required to use its power of financial veto as the policy had not been budgeted for.

In English: faced with a majority of Parliament supporting a policy, National plans to veto it like a king. Except our democracy doesn't work like that any more. While the veto is still in Standing Orders, it is legacy code, a relic of the pre-MMP era. It simply no longer fits with our modern, democratic constitution. And if the government uses it to try and enforce its will over that of the democraticly elected Parliament, it will immediately call into question the legitimacy of both bodies (the government because it will clearly not have the support of the House, and the House because its power is being defied and what fucking good is it then?)

In our democracy, Parliament is supreme. The government should respect that. And if it is concerned about losing the vote over paid parental leave, it should make it a matter of confidence, and stand or fall on the result. The fact that they won't do this, and instead leap to autocratic kingly powers as their first resort, tells us everything we need to know about their attitude to democracy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Great WINZ ripoff

You're a beneficiary. Because they're muppets, WINZ overpays you a day's benefit when you start. When they notice, you're forced to repay the money (which is fair enough) - and tagged as a "fraudster" for good measure.

But what if the shoe is on the other foot? What if WINZ systematically underpays you, and everyone else, for years? Simple: they get the government to change the law:

Beneficiaries have been underpaid for the past 18 years - and the Government is now seeking to change the law to avoid paying for the mistake.

Certain beneficiaries have been underpaid by a total of one day each since 1998, beneficiary advocate Kay Brereton said.

An amendment to legislation currently before Parliament would mean such underpayments would be wiped.

The unfairness of this ought to be obvious to all. WINZ owes these people money, and it should pay them. So what's the government's excuse for this theft?
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said the law change simply reflected what was happening on the ground.

"We're talking a day, so it's not a huge amount of money," Ms Tolley told Radio New Zealand.

Which probably sounds eminently sensible to a Minister on a $272,000 a year salary. But when you're on a benefit, a day of income - even if its only $20 or $30 - can make a huge difference. But we can hardly expect a pack of wankers on over a quarter of a million a year each to understand that.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and if there's no filibuster, we're likely to see paid parental leave: round 2. Unfortunately, there's plenty of filibustering potential. First up is a debate on the Privileges Committee's report on the use of social media to report on parliamentary proceedings. Its an unlimited debate, so there's plenty of scope for National to delay proceedings. After that there's a local bill, then Denis O'Rourke's human-rights infringing New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Pro Rata Entitlement) Amendment Bill. But even so, if they get the Privileges Committee report done by dinner time, they should at least make a start on paid parental leave, and if they hurry, they might even get to vote on it. And if they move very fast, they might be able to make a start on Phil Goff's Education (Charter Schools Curriculum) Amendment Bill.

There should be a ballot for two bills tomorrow. As usual, I'm looking forward to what gets put up.

A complete waste of money

National's Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Register) Bill passed its first reading last night and has been sent to committee. The committee should reject it entirely - because its clear from reading the bill's Regulatory Impact Statement that it is a complete waste of money.

Setting aside the fact that the bill unjustifiably violates fundamental human rights (and that's according to the Attorney-General, the government's own lawyer), we should start by asking "does it work"? And on that front, the RIS starts off by saying "we just can't tell":

There are some constraints on the analysis in this Regulatory Impact Statement. In particular, there is limited research evidence from other jurisdictions about the effectiveness of sex offender registers and the best practice for long term monitoring of high risk sex offenders in the community after theirsentences end. This has meant that an estimate of the value of the anticipated benefits has not been possible.
Despite this, they do give us their best estimate:
There is insufficient information to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of this proposal. We estimate that, over ten years, approximately 4 to 34 sex offences leading to conviction might be prevented through the operation of the proposed Register.
4 to 34 offences over ten years - 0r 0.4 to 3.4 offences per year. Its hard to translate this into victims saved, because they don't provide stats on it - but their problem scale (505 offenders convicted of 1819 offences per year) gives us an idea of what it means in terms of offender numbers: this law will prevent the offences of between one and ten offenders over ten years. Or, in annual terms, 0.1 to 1 offender a year (of five hundred - so, a decrease in the offending rate of between 0.02 and 0.2 percent). In other words, the margin of error of sweet fuck-all. And how much will we be paying for this massive reduction in crime?
The 10 year costs for this proposal are $146.054 million comprising the capital and operating costs of setting up and running the Register as well as the operating costs associated with managing those on the Register. This cost includes staff time.
So, the government is proposing to spend $14.6 million a year to prevent between 0.4 and 3.4 criminal offences (or, to prevent the actions of at most, a single offender). These are unquestionably serious offences, with a huge impact on people's lives. But even so, it is extremely difficult to believe that this represents value for money, or that they could not come up with other interventions which would achieve better results (and be less invasive of our human rights) more cheaply. But I guess that when the Minister wants a "tough on crime" headline, all the usual questions (such as "is this a good idea" or "would we do better by setting fire to wheelbarrows full of money in the street") go out the window.

Update: It gets worse. That $146 million in costs? Doesn't include $85 million in costs to be absorbed by agencies. So, they're really spending $231 million over ten years to prevent, at best, one offender a year.

But I guess this is what happens if you spend public money on headlines rather than policy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hawkes Bay to National: "No"

Back in 2012, National passed the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Act 2012, which (among other things) made it significantly easier to foist amalgamation on local bodies. Reorganisation proposals could be made by tiny pressure groups, and no longer had to be approved by voters. Instead, voters would only get to have a say if 10% of the affected voters in an area signed a petition calling for a referendum - and even then, small regions could be outvoted by bigger ones and forced to amalgamate against their will.

Almost immediately, a pressure group tried to force an amalgamation of councils in the Hawkes Bay. But because their proposal included tiny slices of other areas, it was easy to get a referendum on it. And given a choice, voters responded with a resounding "no".

Local Government Minister Paula Bennett is trying to pretend that she supports local democracy over this (cough ECan cough), but its hard to see it as anything other than a rejection of her government's "reforms". And her official policy is still to push amalgamations; if she really supported local communities controlling their own destiny, she'd repeal the unfair 2012 law.

An Orwellian charge

There was a protest in Wellington over the TPPA, in which a group of protesters supposedly attempted to enter MFAT and gain a copy of the TPPA text, then occupied part of Lambton Quay. According to Stuff, they are being arrested. But the charge is an odd choice:

Dozens of protesters were arrested and dragged off a Wellington street as anti-TPPA protesters clashed with police.

It came as a group of about 50 protesters spent Tuesday trying to force their way into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade headquarters on Lambton Quay in a bid to sieze TPPA documents.

At the scene Inspector Terry Van Dillen said the arrested protesters, who blocked off the harbour side lane of Lambton Quay, would likely be charged with trespass.

Which just seems Orwellian. Trespass is for private property, not public spaces. By definition it requires a violation of the rights of occupancy and ownership. It would be appropriate if anyone actually got into the building and then refused to leave (as opposed to e.g. filing a verbal OIA request with the reception staff and then leaving). But for sitting in a street? What next? Charging people with trespass for walking along the footpath without police permission?

The proper charge here is probably disorderly behaviour. But the problem for the police here is Brooker, which held that the interpretation of what is "disorderly" must be tempered by the BORA's affirmation of the right of freedom of expression, and this includes an appreciation of the right to protest (something which we have to respect in a free and democratic society even when it leads to some disruption). Clearly the police are trying to circumvent the Supreme Court's ruling by stretching a charge, and relying on their victims not to challenge it. But I hope that they do lodge a challenge, because the idea that public space is private property which some authoritarian in a blue uniform can eject you from because he doesn't like what you're saying is one that we should all resist and rebel against.

A failure of oversight

The theory behind contracting out services is that it will result in better performance. Ministers have said this countless times in the House, stating that the ability to penalise (and ultimately, terminate) contractors for failure will give us better public services.

Of course, this relies on those penalties actually being applied:

New information shows that the Department of Corrections let SERCO off the hook for fines that were issued for basic failures in its management of the Mt Eden Correctional Facility, the Green Party said today.

Documents from the Department of Corrections show that SERCO was issued with $100,000 in fines for breaching its contract, with regards to safety razors. The Minister, in Parliament today, admitted more fines had been issued to SERCO and then withdrawn.

“The Minister needs to tell the public why Corrections decided to fine SERCO for the breach of contract and then withdrew the fines,” said Green Party Corrections spokesperson David Clendon.

“The contract was breached, documents show the breach was upheld and yet, SERCO suffered no penalties. And today, the Minister admitted, seven more penalties were withdrawn.

And its pretty easy to see why: penalising a contractor means admitting that a failure has occurred - which runs counter to the "better performance" narrative Ministers want, so is suppressed. But what this means is that the primary justification for contracting out is nullified, and instead we simply end up paying a premium price for cover-ups and failure.

New Fisk

David Cameron's flying visit to Lebanon was nothing more than an exercise in being seen

Earning that reputation again

Last year, following a complaint by the thin-skinned Gerry Brownlee about MPs saying nasty things about him on Twitter, the Privileges Committee was asked to investigate the use of social media to report on parliamentary proceedings. Today, they reported back. The good news? MPs won't be banned from tweeting from the chamber, though they will be reminded that tweets are not privileged and banned from photographing one another without permission. The Orwellian prohibition on using Parliamentary footage for satire will also be removed. The bad news? The ban on people outside the House from reflecting on the character or conduct of MPs or accusing the Speaker of bias will remain. The justification?

The rule that it is a potential contempt to make a serious allegation against the Speaker that reflects on his or her impartiality derives from the longstanding practice and tradition of the House of Commons. The rule serves to protect the reputation of the office of Speaker and the institution of Parliament.

Yes, we should keep it because its tradition. Like slavery, public execution, or corporal punishment once was. And it protects the powerful from the peasants! Yes, that's an excellent reason to do something.

Lets be clear: this is an undemocratic rule whose sole purpose is to stifle criticism of the powerful and deter us from criticising them. Its a sedition law to protect MPs (and Peter Dunne has explicitly used it as such). But like the now-repealed sedition law, if its required, then the protection is undeserved.

As for who they're targeting, it speaks volumes that the new guidance on "use of social media by the Parliamentary Press Gallery" ends with a warning that:
Any public reflections that members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery make on the character or conduct of a member (including the presiding officers) may amount to a contempt.

This is of course the job of the media. And our MPs don't want them to do it properly. And then they wonder why the public holds them in contempt? Once again, they're earning their reputation.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Open Government: Ways forward

Today I went to the Open Government Partnership engagement seminar, being held by Independent Reporting Mechanism's Steven Price as a way of testing how civil society felt about the government's action plan. The overall mood was one of dissatisfaction, especially with the (required) consultation process. I think its fair to say that the various civil society groups represented felt that the consultation process was a waste of their time, and the outcomes predetermined. It is the biggest and most obvious thing the government needs to do better when developing their next Action Plan next year.

Unfortunately we didn't get round to talking about what to me was the most interesting topic: what should be in that Action Plan. What specific, measurable, achievable and additional commitments could New Zealand make in the open government area? Here's a few thoughts:

  • First and foremost, reform of the Official Information Act. The Law Commission reviewed the Act back in 2012, and the government has basicly shown no interest in their recommendations. Meanwhile the Ombudsman is currently doing their own review of OIA practices. Together these reviews should give us a clear picture of what needs to change in both the Act and how it is implemented, and the government should make it a priority. (I don't agree with all of the Law Commission's recommendations, and they were remarkably unambitious, but there's stuff there which can be done)
  • A commitment to proactive publication of Cabinet documents. Ministries often put Cabinet papers and minutes online when a decision is announced, and this is great, but Cabinet itself is a black hole at the heart of government. And its very hard to see why we can't see the topics of Cabinet discussion after they've happened, or why the titles of papers can't be released (there may be some cases where they can justifiably be withheld, but at present its all secret). The big barrier here is the culture of secrecy within the Cabinet Office, which is opposed to any transparency at all in this area.
  • Electronic Public Records along the line of the Norwegian OEP. Basicly, a searchable database of government documents, allowing people to locate documents then submit an OIA request to view them. Specific commitments could include an initial trial, followed by gradual expansion throughout the public sector.
  • An open diplomacy law, requiring at the least the government to tell us what it tells other governments in treaty negotiations (the culture of secrecy around the TPP was mentioned several times at the seminar as an example of anti-open-government actions)
  • Implement the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which requires governments and businesses to publish information on money-flows from the mining industries. Sadly the government's interest in this so far is whether they can use it as an engagement scam to co-opt and silence environmentalists.
  • Implement the Open Contracting partnership, which requires transparency around the awarding and performance of government contracts.
Of course, any of these actions would require real ambition and a commitment to transparency from the government. But that's what the Open Government Partnership is meant to be all about. And if National isn't willing to show that commitment, you have to ask why they signed up in the first place.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A tyrannical response

Last night, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the UK Labour Party with 60% of the vote. British Prime Minister David Cameron's response? Call him a "threat to security":

This language isn't accidental. British Chancellor George Osborne was using two weeks ago as well. What does it mean? Well, we saw last week what the British government does to those it considers "threats to security": murders them without trial via drone-strike. But less directly, its a standing invitation to Britain's spies to spy on and conduct dirty tricks against the opposition and its leader.

There's a name for countries where the government conflates political opposition with threats to security: they're called "tyrannies". And the UK, with its mass-surveillance, extrajudicial executions, and intolerance of political dissent, is now looking awfully like one. UKanians need to take their country back, before it is too late.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A ruling the government cannot ignore

While National has generally been a "do nothing" government, one thing it has been acting urgently on is Treaty settlements. While their desire to right the wrongs of the past is admirable, their haste to do has caused some problems. And the Waitangi Tribunal has just called them out on a huge one: the dodgy "mandate" for the Ngapuhi settlement:

The Crown's hopes of settlement for Ngapuhi have been dealt a further moral blow after a Waitangi Tribunal report recommended putting negotiations on hold until more hapu were on board.

The Waitangi Tribunal report into the mandate given to Tuhoronuku to negotiate on behalf of all Ngapuhi did not recommend the mandate process begin anew. It said the Crown had not acted in bad faith in dealing with hapu before deciding to recognise Tuhoronuku. However, the Crown had failed to ensure hapu were adequately represented and criticised it for pushing ahead with negotiations before ensuring there was wide hapu participation.

In a letter to Treaty minister Chris Finlayson, it recommended the Crown halt its negotiations "to give Ngapuhi breathing space to work through the issues identified." It said Ngapuhi hapu should be given a new chance to confirm whether they wished to be represented by Tuhoronuku.

The Waitangi Tribunal said while it was supportive of a united approach by Ngapuhi, that had to be a matter of choice for Ngapuhi hapu. The Crown should also include a condition that the mandate would continue only if a clear majority of hapu were involved.

This is a ruling the government cannot ignore. If it wants settlements to stick, it has to ensure that iwi and hapu, those they are supposedly settling with, are happy with the process. Instead, in an effort to rush things and announce a big settlement, they've chosen to negotiate with a body which doesn't actually represent the people it purports to represent, and which bases its claimed mandate in some cases on the support of a single member of a hapu which has explicitly chosen not to participate. The parallel with how past government undermined collective land ownership should be obvious.

By choosing to negotiate with Tuhoronuku, the government is in grave danger of repeating the injustices of the past. It should put those negotiations on hold until the mandate is clear, and/or allow hapu to pursue their claims individually. Otherwise, they are simply creating problems for the future.

Sad but glad

Russel Norman will be leaving Parliament and the Greens to take up a position as head of Greenpeace NZ. We all knew something like this was coming, ever since he resigned as co-leader, but its still sad to see him go. OTOH, he's done his bit, changed New Zealand for the better even from opposition, and decided to move on to contribute in another way. And that's something we should celebrate, not be disappointed by. And the contrast with Labour, whose incumbents hang on grimly because they've got nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, couldn't be clearer.

Another thing we should celebrate is his replacement, Marama Davidson. I was disappointed to see her miss out on Parliament on election night, and glad to see her enter as a mid-term replacement. And there's clearly no shortage of talent in the Green party.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Just say no to electronic voting

The government is currently trying to push online voting on us in an effort to save money, using local authorities (and more importantly, their voters) as guinea pigs. Fortunately, Christchurch isn't buying it:

Fears of voter fraud and security breaches have led the Christchurch City Council to ditch plans to participate in an online voting trial.

The council had provisionally registered its interest in being part of an online voting trial the Government is proposing to run at next year's local body elections, but councillors on Thursday decided they wanted no part of it.

Their decision followed a deputation from a group of IT experts who told them the security risks with online voting were too high and could open the election up to fraud.

Those IT experts are right. The risks with online and electronic voting are well-known and have been frequently demonstrated. And quite apart from problems around the integrity and secrecy of the ballot, they also introduce a host of new problems. Those IT experts suggested DDOS attacks on the election servers, but they also expose voters to phishing and other online scams, whether in an effort to capture personal information, capture voting credentials for electoral fraud, or simply to get them to cast their ballots to dev/null (the latter being an obvious extension of existing US voter suppression tactics). And the mere possibility of these scams may lead to real online voting information being treated as spam (in the way that sane people treat any email purporting to be from a bank, phone company, electricity company, or pretty much anything as a phising fraud to be deleted). This isn't good for our voting system, and its not good for our democracy.

Now, if only we could get Palmerston North to reverse its decision to be part of the trial. OTOH, voters can always vote with their feet, and if its legal, I'll be encouraging them to do so and vote on paper rather than risking their democracy on the internet.

Why we need a capital gains tax

In case you needed another reason to support a capital gains tax: the median Auckland house "earns" $345 a day:

Auckland house prices were up $125,950 on last year - or $345 a day - according to sales data out from the Real Estate Institute.

The city's median sale price rose from $614,050 last August to $740,000 last month and prices were up $5000 since July.

To put that in context, if the median Auckland house were a person, it would earn more than 97% of New Zealanders. And its owners get that tax-free.

The idea that someone in the top 3% would pay no taxes is one that would be rejected by anyone outside of the ACT Party. But its the situation now. And we should not tolerate it. This obscene, unearned rent should be taxed, and the money spent on social housing.