Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Open Government: How it happened, and bad faith

This morning, I asked how the decision to delay submission of New Zealand's Open Government partnership action plan happened, given that the Minister claimed not to have been briefed on the issue all year. Thanks to a newly arrived OIA response from SSC, now I know: SSC's executive leadership team made the decision itself. While the document suggests that "the Minister of State Services be briefed and her concurrence sought to this approach", the Minister's briefing lists indicates that no such briefing occurred.

Worse: that document was the only one SSC had produced on the Open Government Partnership since February. That's right: when you would have been expecting them to have been working on how to prepare the next action plan, they weren't. In fact, the only thing they had to say about the OGP in that period was apparently how they could avoid it.

Worse still: while the outcome sought by SSC was assembling a group to plan better engagement, they mean something rather different from the usual meaning of the term. You and I understand "engagement" to mean the government listening to us. SSC thinks it means the opposite:

To do this, the Government needs to be well-informed about the views of New Zealanders. Equally, New Zealanders need to be well-informed about the Government's views.

Because resources are finite, actions have to be prioritised commensurate with available resources. It is important that decisions about priorities are clearly communicated and understood. Where public funds are involved, ultimately such decisions are for the Government to make as the steward of those funds.

[Emphasis added]

So, that "better engagement" the government is delaying submission of the OGP action plan for? Its so they can tell anyone interested that its not a priority and that they don't care.

And finally, there's this:
I spent an hour this morning writing a submission on how SSC could better engage. I took SSC at their word that they were interested in hearing from people and wanted to do a better job than they did last time. What this tells me is that I wasted my time, that SSC has no intention of doing a proper job on the OGP, and that they are dealing with the public in bad faith. And in that case, the sooner we are thrown out of the OGP, the better.

New Zealand is a haven for corrupt money II

Another day, another story of a corrupt foreign politician using new Zealand to launder their money. This time, its Eduardo Cunha, former Speaker of the Brazilian Congress:

A controversial and disgraced prominent Brazilian politician accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes used a New Zealand company as part of a complex arrangement to hide his wealth in secret bank accounts.

Eduardo Cunha, the suspended speaker of Brazil's lower house of Congress, used a New Zealand trust company run by people featuring prominently in the Panama Papers and tax haven organiser Mossack Fonseca, to hide millions of dollars in bribes involving the state-run oil company Petrobras.

Mr Cunha was suspended for obstructing the official inquiry into the corruption scandal and his notoriety in Brazil is such that he's been likened to the fictional corrupt US politician Frank Underwood, featured in the television series House of Cards.

And National's friends have enriched themselves by taking a cut of his corruption.

But while National was defending corruption to the death in Parliament just a few weeks ago, now they've changed their tune, and are promising stronger anti-money laundering laws by next year. But its unclear if they have any intention to solve the core problem: secret foreign trusts which are effectively tax-free. Until we eliminate them, New Zealand will continue to be a haven for corrupt foreign money.

Open Government: How did that happen?

Back in April, the government announced a unilateral delay in meeting our obligations to the Open Government Partnership. It was a significant decision, and a risky one - being even a day late on their new timetable means a real risk of being thrown out of the OGP - so its the sort of thing you would expect to have been kicked upstairs to the Minister. So I was quite surprised to see yesterday that Paula Bennett had not been briefed on any OGP issues in April (or in January, February, or March).

There's a big caveat on those lists of briefings, of course:

Certain briefings and reports have been omitted from this response where there are matters under consideration, forthcoming decisions and announcements, or where an individual’s privacy would be compromised by the release of the briefing title.

But none of these circumstances apply. The decision to delay has been made, the issue is no longer under consideration, there's no announcements planned (SSC never announced the delay, except in a buried section of their own website), and there's certainly no issue of privacy. So, taking the Minister at her word, and assuming that she's not lying to Parliament for shits and giggles, she was not briefed. Which raises the obvious question: is the Minister totally out of the loop? How the hell are these decisions being made, if not by her?

I have an OIA due back this afternoon from SSC which might answer some of those questions. And if it shows briefings to the Minister which weren't on Bennett's lists, then I think someone else should be asking some very pointy questions, via the Privileges Committee.

"No surprises"

Radio New Zealand this morning informs us that tens of thousands of beneficiaries have been under (and in some cases over) paid tens of millions of dollars due to a "coding error". In a way, this isn't really surprising; WINZ are relentless fuckups, and this is just their ordinary, everyday incompetence made systematic. What is surprising is this bit:

The mistake was discovered in September 2014 and was fixed a few months later, though Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was informed only in March this year.
So WINZ uncovered payment errors totalling tens of millions of dollars, which create legal liability and potentially require urgent legislation to "fix" (by pretending they didn't happen, of course), and they don't tell their Minister for six eighteen months? So much for the "no surprises" policy. I'd expect Tolley to be asking some pretty pointy questions of her Chief Executive over this - and perhaps demanding their resignation.

Correction: So, its even worse than I thought. How can a chief executive not tell their Minister about a spending problem totally tens of millions of dollars for eighteen months? Isn't that head-on-a-spike time?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Australia indefinitely detains a kiwi for its own convenience

We all know about Australia's abuse of kiwis awaiting deportation. But it turns out they're also abusing deportation law to indefinitely detain a kiwi essentially for their own convenience. And as a result, he may die in prison:

A man wanting to be deported to New Zealand fears he will instead die of a heart attack, blocked from leaving Australia because he's a witness in a murder trial.

The detainee who is in his 60s, said the Immigration Department was asking him to make a will, while it kept him locked up.


He signed up 11 months ago to be deported, after spending five months at the Villawood detention centre in Sydney, saying he was jailed for seven months before that for assault.

That was last June, the same month he appeared as a witness in a murder trial in northern New South Wales.

He had shared a house with the murder victim and the accused, and found the body.

But the trial in the New South Wales Supreme Court has been put on hold. RNZ News has approached the NSW Department of Public Prosecutions seeking more information.

Its highly unusual to detain a witness. But the fact that he's awaiting deportation means Australia can. But in the process, by keeping him locked in a prison with inadequate medical care, they've effectively given him a death sentence.

And once again, Key's government is silent. Shouldn't it be sticking up for kiwis in Australia's gulags? Or are they so craven they won't even speak out against an obvious abuse of process which may result in the effective murder of a New Zealand citizen?

MBIE on Wicked Campers

Nobody likes Wicked Campers. They're sexist, misogynistic dickheads whose business model is offending people. But while their camper van slogans are offensive, with a few specific exceptions they aren't actually illegal. Which makes government efforts to crack down on them concerning.

So what does the Ministry of Tourism think? Their associate Minister, Paula Bennett, had asked them for advice on how to "address the issue of vehicles displaying imagery or slogans that are deemed to be offensive". That advice consisted of a couple of briefings, which you can read here. MBIE canvasses a number of options, including use of land transport legislation, and a new law modelled on the UK's Public Order Act aimed at outlawing "insulting" speech (so it would be a crime to call Paula Bennett an authoritarian censor, for example). Interestingly, all the expected advice on consistency with the BORA is withheld under s9(2)(h), suggesting that it is not good. A later briefing discusses the police's complaints to the Classification Office, which has since seen several specified vans classified as "objectionabe" (and presumably, repainted). But the real smoking gun is this:

Note that word "encouraging". Private sector moves against Wicked are fine, part of the push and shove of democracy. But MBIE appears to be talking about encouraging and coordinating such moves. And that is highly problematic. To point out the obvious: the BORA doesn't just apply to legislation, but to every act done by the government. Including the act of talking to HPANZ and tourism providers and encouraging them to take action against Wicked. Insofar as that action is an attempt to suppress lawful speech, the government's action to encourage and coordinate seems to be a prima facie violation of the BORA's affirmation of freedom of expression.

The government should not be in the business of suppressing lawful speech, no matter how unpopular it is. Paula Bennett's efforts in this area are begging for a lawsuit. And we may all end up paying the price for that.

New Zealand is a haven for corrupt money

That's the obvious conclusion of this morning's Panama Papers story, showing that former Kazakhstan Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin appears to be using a New Zealand trust to secretly control his looted assets. Kazhegeldin was convicted of corruption after he left office, and he failed to convince even his criminal lawyers, Mossack-Fonseca, that his money was honestly acquired, so there's a strong case that the assets controlled through his New Zealand trust are proceeds of crime. Which invites the question: why doesn't the New Zealand government seize them under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009? Or are asset forfeiture laws only for the little guy, not for corrupt former politicians?

New Fisk

President Erdogan knows that visa-free travel for Turkey could solve his 'Kurdish problem'

A gross conflict of interest

Stung by revelations that it was systematically refusing to prosecute fishers, MPI has awarded a contract to monitor the fishing industry to... the fishing industry:

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has awarded a contract for electronic monitoring on fishing boats to Trident Systems.

The firm's general partner is a company that is 42 per cent owned by a subsidiary of Sanford. The remaining shareholders are other fishing and seafood companies.

"The Government has awarded the contract to monitor fishing companies to an entity owned and controlled by the very same fishing companies," Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman said.

"We've got a serious problem with badly behaved fishing companies, and what do MPI do? They award the contract to monitor fishing boats to an entity owned and controlled by the fishing companies themselves."

Its a perverse kind of self-regulation, then, where we pay criminal fishers to keep an eye on themselves. Which in practice means that they'll keep on illegally dumping fish and lying about how much they caught, while taking our money to tell us everything is OK. Only a totally captured regulatory body like MPI could think that this was a good idea. To the rest of us, the conflict of interest is so apparent that any body owned by fishing companies should have been ruled out from the outset.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nauru repeals capital punishment

Australia's puppet gulag government in Nauru has repealed a host of antiquated laws - including the death penalty:

The Nauru government on Friday announced that the island's Parliament this month passed a number of laws to bring the nation up to international human rights standards.

A new act replaces a former criminal code that dated back to 1899 and was based on old Queensland laws.


Sentences such as the death penalty, imprisonment with hard labour and solitary confinement have been removed, and penalties for sexual offences, including those relating to children, have been increased.

Also repealed: laws against homosexuality and attempted suicide, and the law permitting marital rape. However, both abortion and "criminal defamation" remain illegal.

This leaves only Papua New Guinea and Tonga with the death penalty still on the books in the South Pacific. Neither has executed anyone for decades, and hopefully we'll soon be able to convince them repeal this barbaric punishment.

New Fisk

The US is dropping calls for Assad to go because the Syrian regime is a better bet than Isis

More policy incoherence

The government is paying homeless people $5,000 to move out of Auckland to the regions where they will have better access to state housing. Meanwhile, in Palmerston North, they're demolishing state houses:

Three empty double state housing units are fenced off and awaiting demolition at Awapuni's Raleigh St.

The demolition would happen at the same time as New Zealand was experiencing a housing crisis, with families living in sheds, garages, in cars, and crashing on the sofas and floors of friends and relatives, [Manawatu Tenants' Union advocate Kevin] Reilly said.


The tenants' advocate sees three to four families a week looking for affordable, decent accommodation. He tells of a woman, and her daughter, escaping an eight-year relationship of family violence, forced to sleep on a friend's couch. There's a 20-something man and his two young sons who spent several nights sleeping rough somewhere behind St Patrick's Cathedral.

He knows of a couple of families crammed into small two-room $400-a-week motel units on Pioneer Highway, and suffering from 'cabin fever'.

"These are people with serious living needs, and the thing that's really wrong with these [Raleigh St] houses coming down is that they've been neglected."

They're not being demolished in order to build new ones - Housing New Zealand is selling the land, trying to permanently shrink the number of state houses here. While we have people without homes here and Paula Bennett is offering money so we have more. Again, its incoherent policy from a government which has no idea what it is doing, and is just layering "make it up as they go along responses" on top of one another.

A government that doesn't know what it is doing

On Friday, in response to the homeless crisis in Auckland, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett announced that WINZ would pay people up to $5,000 to leave Auckland and move to the regions. Meanwhile, in the Budget, they're paying people to do the opposite:

The Government will pay beneficiaries $3000 to move to cities such as Auckland for work - but the Budget doesn't mention Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett's plan to pay social housing tenants $5000 to move out of Auckland.


In the absence of other new spending, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley trumpeted $26 million over four years to maintain targeted case management for 120,000 beneficiaries and fund the "3K to Work" scheme. This is a $3000 grant originally just for beneficiaries moving to work in Christchurch, but extended last December to cover all beneficiaries in intensive case management moving to any new location to take up work.

So, they'll pay you to move to Auckland to find work, but then when you can't find a house, they'll pay you to leave. Throw in WINZ's long-standing prohibition on beneficiaries moving to the regions for cheaper accomodation, and its clear that we have incoherent policy from a government that doesn't know what it is doing.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

No money for housing, more money for spies

New Zealand currently has a housing crisis, with people being forced to live in cars and garages in Auckland due to a bubble and insufficient state housing. So is the government doing anything about it in today's budget? There's the $41 million of emergency housing spending over four years, and an inflation adjustment to income related rents subsidies (because rents are skyrocketing while incomes are stagnating). In other words, business as usual, rather than a credible response to the crisis.

Meanwhile, they're shovelling money at the spies, with an extra $178 million over four years. GCSB gets an extra ~$15 million a year and SIS between $18 and $35 million extra a year to hire more staff to deal with the "threat" of "foreign fighters" and invade our privacy even further. But really, what's more of a threat to New Zealand? Homelessness? Or imaginary "terrorists".

This speaks volumes about National's priorities. No money for the real needs of real kiwis, but buckets of it for spies.

Something fishy in Christchurch

A tweet by Phil Lyth alerted me to a series of Parliamentary written questions from Labour's Megan Woods about Otakaro Ltd, the company the government established to manage the Christchurch rebuild. It seems Otakaro has just changed its constitution, removing a requirement that its board keep "full and accurate minutes are kept of all proceedings", and replacing it with:

The Board must ensure that minutes are kept of proceedings at meetings of the Board and that a record is kept of all written resolutions of Directors.

Which is clearly a much lower requirement, allowing discussions to happen un-minuted and information to be hidden. Interestingly, they also modified the standard clause that such minutes are prima facie evidence of proceedings to add "unless they are shown to be inaccurate" - effectively allowing them to repudiate their own decisions.

(You can get all of this from its page at the Companies Office)

As for the reason, its pretty obvious: the Christchurch rebuild is a politically hot topic, and board minutes will be OIA'ed to keep an eye on it. By making them less complete, they deny information to the public about what is planned. The second change also seems to be a deliberate effort to protect against lawsuits, by creating an ability for Board members to perjure themselves. Its a perfect example of how freedom of information (and government accountability) depends on the keeping of accurate public records, and how that is attacked to undermine accountability.

But there's a problem: while its a company, Otakaro is also very clearly, as an agency of both central and local government, a "public office", and subject to the Public Records Act requirement to create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs. And to the extent that this amendment signals an intent not to do so, I think the Chief Archivist might want to take a look at it...

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see whether Gerry Brownlee ordered or was informed of this. Because if he did, we have an outright conspiracy against transparency from a senior government Minister.


A ballot for a member's bill was held today, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Our Work Our Future Bill (Andrew Little)

The bill is a simple one which would require MBIE to amend government procurement rules to favour bids which would create jobs in New Zealand. A no-brainer, but National will no doubt vote it down.

There were 82 bills in the ballot today, which is a new record.

Pettiness and transparency

Last night saw the second reading of Adrian Rurawhe's Official Information (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Amendment Bill. Following the select committee phase and a very convincing report by the Ministry of Justice refuting National's constitutional claims, it seemed like the bill would pass unanimously. But things are never that simple:

NZ First has added a new party policy to its list - voting the opposite to ACT leader David Seymour.

In a weird twist of events on Wednesday night NZ First pulled its initial support for the Official Information Act (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Amendment Bill purely because Seymour had decided to vote for it.

Yes, really. And so increased transparency is undermined for the sake of a petty political feud. MP's are once again earning their toxic reputation here.

Meanwhile, while Seymour will be voting for the bill, its clear from his speech last night that he does not accept its underlying premise that the government should be transparent and accountable, and is promising to move wrecking amendments at the committee stage in an effort to apply the OIA to private bodies for which there is no argument for transparency, such as the press gallery or the Leader of the Opposition. Which shows you what he really thinks of the OIA and its principles. Worse, it is clear from their speeches that National's backbenchers don't accept it either. So there's a real chance that they will combine to wreck the bill and prevent it from passing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Paula Bennett's housing deja vu

After a week of bad media coverage about homelessness in Auckland, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett was today forced to act, announcing that she would pay homeless Aucklanders $5,000 to move to the regions (where they'd conveniently be out of sight of the media and out of mind of the public). This is being pitched as a response to the current crisis. But it seems awfully familiar. Because she announced practically the same policy back in January:

Aucklanders languishing on the state house waiting list are likely to be offered financial incentives to move to regions that have a surplus of homes, the Herald can reveal.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett confirmed last night that the Government wants prospective tenants to consider moving to regions where dozens of state houses are vacant - and in some cases could be offered thousands of dollars in taxpayer sweeteners.

Pacific Island tenants could be prime candidates for such a move, she thought.

The only difference is that now she's offering more money. But its the same policy, driven by the same imperative: not to actually solve the problem - that would require building more state houses, something National does not want to do - but to create the appearance of action and allow the government to say that it is "doing something". Meanwhile, National is selling or even demolishing its state houses in the regions, meaning that there will be nowhere for people to move to. But it doesn't care about the reality, any more than it cares about the homeless. Its just a PR problem to them, rather than an open wound in our society.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and one with some real business. First, there's the second reading of Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave and Work Contact Hours) Amendment Bill, which will hopefully either pass, force action from National in the budget, or force a constitutional crisis allowing us to do away with the unconstitutional financial veto. Second, there's the second reading of Adrian Rurawhe's Official Information (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Amendment Bill, which also looks likely to pass (even David Seymour will vote for it, despite calling transparency over the executive "silly"). Finally, the House should make a solid start on Phil Twyford's Overseas Investment (Protection of New Zealand Homebuyers) Amendment Bill. If they're really quick, they'll finish that and make a start on Marama Fox's Oaths and Declarations (Endorsing the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi) Amendment Bill.

If everything goes as expected, there should be a ballot for one bill tomorrow morning.

Forcing transparency on Ministerial transport

One of the perks of being a government Minister is the Ministerial limo - a chauffeur-driven car you can take anywhere. These vehicles are publicly funded and used for public business, so we should be able to see who uses them and what for, right? But not according to the Department of Internal Affairs, who have spent three years unsuccessfully trying to keep the public in the dark about what our cars are used for:

The Government has lost a three-year fight to keep details of ministers' use of Crown limousines secret.

The Ombudsman has ordered the information be released and, barring a Cabinet-ordered veto, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is set to release details of thousands of trips by John Key and his ministerial colleagues in the fleet of taxpayer-funded luxury BMWs.

The recommendations of Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, a former judge, are likely to mean details of future use will also have to be released. The information will be presented in the coming weeks without precise locations, for privacy and security reasons.

The case note hasn't made its way online yet, but according to the news article DIA had argued that the information was confidential, and even that the abuse of Ministerial limos for private business meant their travel details weren't "official information" at all. Fortunately the new Ombudsman was having none of it: these are public vehicles used for public purposes and so the information should be public. And as he points out, their abuse for non-public purposes strengthens the case for disclosure (just as it did for Ministerial expenses).

And as with Ministerial expenses, the release will force future proactive release, which in turn will act as a strong curb on Ministerial abuse. These cars are for public business, and Ministers will be forced to make sure that they are seen to be used that way. If Ministers want to nip down to the shops, or spend a night on the town, they can drive themselves, rather than forcing the public to pay for it.

We shouldn't just forgive, but pay back odious debt

Over 9,000 people have signed Action Station's petition calling on the government to forgive odious emergency housing debt. The government's response? Nope:

Wiping the debt of people who have been staying in motels for emergency accommodation would not be fair to others in the system, the Social Development Minister says.


The government was a place of last resort, and would keep supporting them, but she said that would not mean wiping existing debt.

"Well it might be a help to these people in particular, but what about the people who have worked really hard and paid their debt off in the past, and how much debt do you forgive, and when do you start?"

The "logic" here beggars belief. This is a "debt" which should never have been charged. But because they've fucked people over in the past, they have to keep fucking people over forever, because to stop fucking people over would be unfair to their past victims. Or to put it another way, you can never correct a wrong.

I'm not buying it. This is "debt" which should never have been charged. Its continuing existence is an outrage. The government should forgive it all immediately. And if they're worried that any of their victims might have repaid some or all of this odious debt, the solution is to pay them back, not use that as an excuse to avoid doing the right thing.

But I forget. That WINZ debt? That's National's "surplus", built on the backs of the poor.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An abuse of the Speaker's chair

Last week NewsHub revealed leaked MPI reports which showed that MPI had been turning a blind eye to widespread criminal behaviour in the fishing industry. Today was the first day of Parliament since those revelations, and given their seriousness, it was unsurprising that someone took the opportunity to ask for an urgent debate on the matter. Speaker David Carter turned them down flat.

Which is interesting, because the Minister responsible during some of those investigations (and who oversaw the pattern of non-prosecution which has become rampant) was none other than... David Carter. So, he used the Speaker's chair to shut down Parliamentary inquiry into his incompetence while a Minister.

This is an outright abuse of the Speaker's chair for personal political gain, and we should not tolerate it. Speaker Carter must resign.

Open Government: Unilateral

Back in April, State Services Minister Paula Bennett announced in an answer to a Parlaimentary written question that we were consulting the Open Government Secretariat about an extension to the deadline for submitting our action plan:

While New Zealand's second Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan is due to be submitted to the OGP by 30 June 2016, New Zealand intends to consult the OGP Secretariat on this timing to ensure that we can engage meaningfully in the development of the Action Plan.

So was there any consultation? Of course not. I asked the OGP under its information disclosure policy for all communications with the New Zealand government on this issue. I received their response today, and there were no "consultations". The first OGP heard of New Zealand's intention to ignore its obligations was when SSC told them we were (the attached letter is here). No advice was sought beforehand on whether this complied with OGP rules. Instead, SSC decided unilaterally that they didn't apply to us. In response, OGP apparently directed New Zealand to the OGP's "rules regarding delays", which highlight that missing a deadline by more than four months could result in a referral to the Criteria and Standards subcommittee and possible ejection from the OGP.

The obvious question: was Bennett lying, or did SSC simply not do what she said they'd do? Either way, she owes us some answers.

We are all socialists now

A mass government house-building programme is a favourite policy of the left for solving the Auckland housing crisis. Use cheap government capital, build affordable, energy-efficient homes, mass produce them to get efficiencies of scale, and get people back into owning their own home (violently popping the bubble and crashing house prices is an optional bonus). But things are so bad that even the right supports it now:

The option of large scale government-built housing should be put back on the table, a business lobbyist says.

Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said the government's current plans were not working.

Mr Campbell said Aucklanders with homes and good jobs were doing better than ever but others were missing out badly, unable to afford the region's high house prices.

"Clearly at the bottom end there needs to be something done. We have had 50 to 60 years (of doing it) and suddenly we've decided there isn't a need, and one wonders. Whatever is happening now is not working."

It gets better: the same article quotes the managing director of Mainfreight as wanting to get more freight off roads (and his trucks) and onto rail. It seems even the government's supporters are socialists now.

More odious debt

The media over the last few days has been full of stories about WINZ and odious debt. But the worst one is this:

A woman with eight children living in emergency housing is facing a debt to Work and Income of $100,000, which she will never repay, a support group says.


Auckland Action Against Poverty said the mother and her eight children were evicted by Housing New Zealand months ago after it found the house was contaminated by methamphetamine.

The organisation's coordinator, Alastair Russell, said it was not clear if the woman caused the contamination.

He said the family had been living in emergency accommodation costing more than $1200 a week and she had already borrowed $60,000 from Work and Income to pay for it.

"Housing New Zealand have banned her for 12 months from seeking their assistance so she'll clock up this debt for another six months and then go back to Housing New Zealand seeking assistance with a debt probably in excess of $100,000."

$100,000. Down here, that's enough to buy a serious chunk of a house. There's no credible possibility of this debt ever being repaid, but WINZ is under a statutory duty to gouge it out of her for the rest of her life. And to impose this because another government department basicly believes in witchcraft (and needs to churn state houses to create vacancies for homeless mothers with children living temporarily in motels) is simply crazy. Not to mention immoral. This "debt" is the result of government failure, a government agency refusing to do its job properly. And as such it should be voided.

Except it can't be. There's no easy mechanism for debts to WINZ to be forgiven. The law contemplates regulations permitting this, but none have ever been issued. And so the debts rack up: beneficiaries "owed" WINZ $627 million last year, half of which was for "recoverable grants", AKA "benefits being too low" (the other half was for overpayments, AKA WINZ fucking up. hardly any of it was for fraud). There are Parliamentary questions in at the moment to quantify how much of this is due to emergency housing assistance, but given that this is an area where debts can really rack up, I expect we're looking at well over $100 million here - assuming WINZ even knows to that level of detail. Which is a pretty big chunk of National's "surplus".

But this odious debt needs to go. And if this government won't forgive it, we need a government that will.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Accountability for Iraq?

Six years after it was established, the Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's involvement in the Iraq war is finally about to report back. And from the sound of it, its going to pin the blame squarely where it belongs: on Tony Blair:

The long-awaited Chilcot report into the Iraq war is reportedly set to savage Tony Blair and other former government officials in an “absolutely brutal” verdict on the failings of the occupation.

The former Prime Minister “won’t be let off the hook” over claims he offered military assistance to the former American President George W Bush, a year before the invasion of Iraq, a source told the Sunday Times.


The source added that the harshest criticism will be reserved for the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. “It will be absolutely brutal for [Mr] Straw,” they told the Sunday Times. “The build-up to war is very crucial. It will damage the reputations of a number of people, Richard Dearlove as well as Tony Blair and others.

But being officially blamed by a public inquiry is one thing, accountability is another. And the latter won't happen until Blair and his co-conspirators are where they belong: in the dock in The Hague and on trial for war crimes and the crime of aggression.

Climate change: The latest inventory

The annual inventory report [PDF] of our greenhouse gas emissions was released on Friday. The headline data: emissions are still increasing:

There's been another "recalculation" in the last 12 months, making year-to-year comparisons difficult. Naurally, this seems to have shifted everything lower: while the difference between 2014 and 2013's estimated emissions from the two reports is only ~150,000 tons, this years report says that there has in fact bene an 800,000 ton increase in emissions in the last year. Meanwhile, they report net 1990 emissions as being two million tons lower than they did last year - suggesting some serious fiddling going around with forestry numbers. And even then, our net emissions still appear to have increased by two million tons.

And keeping the comparisons within the same data set, it is clear that emissions are not dropping, and that National's emissions control policy has failed. That's hardly surprising, given that they subsidise pollution, but when we've committed to decreasing emissions, its the wrong way to go. But its been clear for a while that the only way National is going to meet its targets is by outright fraud.

Australia lets kiwi detainees literally rot

What are our "closest friends" Australia doing to kiwis awaiting deportation? Letting them literally rot away in prison due to substandard medical care:

A New Zealander held at an Australian immigration detention centre will find out today if his leg has to be amputated, he says.

The Type-2 diabetic blames substandard medical care in the Sydney lock-up of Villawood for his plight.

A human rights lawyer is calling on the New Zealand government to step in.

How did he get this way? He was denied basic medical care for months, turning a trivial injury into a life-threatening one. And now he may lose his leg due to Australia's policy of wilful neglect towards those in its gulags.

Worse, the New Zealand government just sat idly by and let this happen. Despite John Key's assurances that the government is taking a close interest, our people in Australia don't get consular assistance or even communications. They're just abandoned. Wouldn't it be nice to have a government which stood up to Australia, rather than crawling to them?

National should give us our $13,000 back

We all know that National works for the rich and screw over ordinary New Zealanders to funnel wealth upwards into the pockets of its rich mates. But how bad have they been? $13,000 bad:

Yesterday, Mr Little said that since National came into power in 2008, 37 per cent of economic growth had gone into the pay packets of workers compared to 50 per cent under the former Labour government. The share that had gone into company profits and returns from property investment had increased.

He said that was a symptom of a government catering to the wealthy few rather than working families, who would be $50 a week better off if their share of economic growth had not been eroded. "All up, the average family has missed out on more than $13,000 under this government."

This is what 90 day trial periods, the erosion of union rights, corporate tax cuts and huge environmental subsidies to farmers and other polluters mean in practice: the rich get more. And they get more by taking it from us. National enables the rapacious few to rob from the many.

We need a government that will put this right - and not just by restoring a just distribution of any economic growth, but also by making up the lost ground and restoring wages and benefits to where they would have been. And we won't get that from National.

Friday, May 20, 2016


Yesterday, the Greens proposed making a start on a long-term solution to the housing crisis by returning Housing NZ's dividend so they could build 450 state houses a year. Bill English's response? To defend the dividend - money the government gives Housing NZ and then takes back - as "a discipline on Housing New Zealand".

Translation: to Bill English, an abstract financial disciplinary tool is more important than housing an additional 450 homeless families every year. Its a stark reminder of National's priorities, and how they don't care about people.

Cronyism in action

So, the government has just announced that they will be establishing more charter schools - because clearly one failure resulting in a private company running off with millions of dollars of government funding isn't enough. They've also announced a new "independent" entity to support them, run by ACT crony Jenny Gibbs and Maori Party crony Tariana Turia. So, pork all round for the support parties then.

Entirely coincidentally, the Maori Party announced their opposition to Labour's bill to abolish charter schools. Which looks simply corrupt, as if they're just protecting one of their own. Its a perfect example of how National's crony politics has eaten away at our democracy and trust in politics. If they weren't appointing cronies, the Maori Party's support could be taken as principled. But because their people personally profit from this policy, their support for it can only be regarded as corrupt.

Raiding the opposition in Australia

A country is having an election. The opposition has been effective in exposing government incompetence, so the government has responded with force, conducting midnight raids of its offices and the homes of its officials.

Russia? Zimbabwe? Malaysia? No - it's happening just across the Tasman in Australia:

The Australian Federal Police have raided Labor Party offices in Melbourne over the alleged leak of documents from the National Broadband Network.

In an explosive development in the middle of a federal election campaign, officers searched the Treasury Place office of former communications minister Stephen Conroy.

Shortly after 11pm, up to ten plain-clothes officers raided a Brunswick house believed to be the home of a Labor staffer.

Two staffers for Labor's communications spokesman Jason Clare, one of whom is a former staffer to Senator Conroy, are believed to be targeted by the raids. One of the staffers is a key operative in Labor Party campaign headquarters.

With all this effort, you'd expect the documents in question to be vital to "national security" or something. But no. They merely "revealed that the NBN roll-out was slower and more expensive under the Coalition than under Labor", personally embarrassing the Prime Minister who had been responsible for it under Tony Abbott. In New Zealand, we consider that to be part of our democracy and the business of holding an elected government to account. But in Australia, accountability is for oppositions, not governments, and holding the government to account is apparently a criminal offence.

This is not behaviour fitting for a modern, democratic state. Australia needs to repeal its authoritarian anti-leaking laws, and let the media and the opposition do their jobs. Instead, by criminalising disclosure, they merely protect incompetence and corruption.

New Fisk

Or rather, old Fisk - the Independent seems to be publishing some "best ofs".

Hardly a breath of wind: the silence that emphasises a city’s fate
‘Murdered by the Syrians’
The destruction of morality
The Syrians had no chance...

National wants Customs to be able to read your email

Thinking of travelling overseas ever? The National Party wants Customs to be able to force you to divulge passwords to all your electronic devices at the border, so they can paw through your files and read your email. Or just download it all. And National has already passed legislation allowing them to give that information to spy agencies for "sharing".

Supposedly Customs will only exercise this power on suspicion of criminal activity. But they'll be writing the rules themselves, and have expressed a strong desire or suspicionless searches, so that "threshold" will be deliberately easy to meet. And there is no question that it will be abused: Customs has been caught in the past abusing its border search and seizure powers for political bullying of cyberactivists, to get "brownie points" with the FBI, and to help police circumvent legal checks and balances on their search powers. And in practice, what they mostly examine digital devices for at present is to search for TV - the possession of which isn't a criminal offence. National would give these searches legal sanction, and allow Customs to force passwords to be divulged on pain of prosecution - and all so they can be local bully boys for Hollywood.

We should sya no to this expansion of powers. If Customs want access to digital devices to perform intrusive, wide-ranging searches, they should do what the police do: get a warrant.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A convenient "mistake"

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture is supposed to be a full accounting of the CIA's illegal torture and rendition during the war on terror. Only part of it has been released, but from what we've seen, the classified parts contain evidence of serious criminal behaviour by CIA officers. But conveniently, the CIA has managed to "mistakenly" delete one of the few copies:

The CIA inspector general’s office has said it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a comprehensive Senate torture report, despite lawyers for the Justice Department assuring a federal judge that copies of the documents were being preserved.

The erasure of the document by the spy agency’s internal watchdog was deemed an “inadvertent” foul-up by the inspector general, according to Yahoo News.

One intelligence community source told Yahoo News, which first reported the development, that last summer CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document.

What a convenient mistake! And if similar "mistakes" happen to the other copies - all of which are held by the CIA - then all their torturers will be off the hook, because the evidence against them would have been destroyed. Now who would have an interest in that happening, I wonder?

Despite their protests, this should be treated as a deliberate destruction of evidence by the CIA. And those responsible should be prosecuted for it.

Making a start

What's the solution to new Zealand's homelessness crisis? The central problem is that thanks to National's selling down the stock, there are no longer enough state houses to cope with demand. The long-term solution clearly has to be building more. Today, the Greens recommended a simple solution to make a start on that: letting Housing New Zealand keep its dividend:

Housing New Zealand should build hundreds of new state homes for Kiwis living in cars and garages with hundreds of millions it currently pays to the Government, the Green Party says.

The party has unveiled its Homes Not Cars policy at an event in Auckland, saying it would allow Housing NZ to keep the dividend it currently has to pay to the Government - while also refunding its tax.


The Greens say their policy would free up $207 million for the "emergency building" of around 450 new state houses.

The idea of government agencies paying "dividends" to the government, effectively handing back part of their budget rather than spending it on services, is something which has never made sense. ending it for this vital agency would allow it to focus on its core job of building houses, rather than making money go round in circles. And while 450 homes a year isn't a lot, its at least a start - which is more than National is doing.

A criminal industry

The fishing industry is 80% criminal. That's the natural conclusion you get from reading the Operation Achilles preliminary investigation report (leaked to NewsHub), which found widespread dumping of fish at sea:

The operation was part of a trial of CCTV cameras onboard the boats, and it found four of the five vessels equipped with the technology "openly discarded substantial quantities of quota fish" without reporting it.

What is of particular concern, though, is that the report states that between 20 percent and 100 percent of some quota fish were being discarded every time the net was pulled up.

As noted previously, this is serious criminal behaviour. And yet astoundingly, despite having clear evidence, MPI refused to prosecute, supposedly after legal advice saying that it could not be used in court. I'm currently seeking a copy of that advice or a summary of reasons under the OIA, but the report suggests an extremely disturbing practice:
As I understand it the Ministry has previously ignored offending (dumping) that has been observed and recorded by Ministry of Fishery Observers because an assurance had been given to the vessels concerned that all such offending that was seen would be disregarded and no prosecution action taken. It is understood that this agreement was reached as a condition in order to allow the Observers on board the vessel in the first instance.

Which is just fucking unbelieveable. As Susie Ferguson asked this morning, what is the point of observers if MPI can't act on their observations? It appears that MP is utterly captured by the fishing industry and unwilling to enforce the law. In which case, why are we paying them $73 million a year to do so? maybe we should sack them all and hire people actually willing to do the job?

The report raises serious questions about the legality of this practice. But more importantly its just stupid policy which allows fishers to get away with environmental murder. Accepting observers on a vessel should be a requirement of holding quota. It is that simple. And refusal or intimidation should result in the quota being revoked. Ditto cameras. As for the concern that fishers would interfere with cameras or obstruct footage, a severe strict liability offence seems to be a justifiable solution. Because its clear that trusting the fishing industry to obey the law and honestly report catches when they have strong financial incentives not to and an entrenched and pervasive culture of lawbreaking is a mug's game. Instead, we need mechanisms to enforce honesty, starting with prosecutions. They're criminals, and they should be treated as such.

Forgive this odious debt

Earlier this week, John Key airily told the homeless to "talk to Work and Income". But it turns out that if you go to WINZ, they can't actually help, and the best they can do for people in a crisis is arrange to put them up in a motel for a week. But this isn't free assistance, no - WINZ treats it as a loan, and gouges it back out of its victims:

Homeless people are finding themselves thousands of dollars in debt to Work and Income (Winz) for money loaned to them to stay in motels.

Winz will loan people money to rent out a motel room as emergency housing, when there is nowhere else to put them.

People then have to repay the debt, and many say that is just not possible.


Diane moved in to a motel with her children, aged eight and three, on Friday. Winz was paying for it until next Monday.

The stay was costing $1600, which she said was all Winz would loan her. She has to pay it back at $16 a week.

$16 a week may not sound like much, but when you've got nothing, its the difference between eating and not eating.

So, basicly, WINZ fails to do its job of providing people in extreme need with a state house, then makes its victims pay for that failure. And at a top rate too, far more than you'd pay if you just booked a motel online. But because its not on their budget, and someone else eventually pays, WINZ has no incentive to ensure that its victims are getting value for money.

Action Station currently has a petition calling on Social Development Minister to forgive this odious debt. You can sign it here. And you should - because people shouldn't have to pay for WINZ's failure. Their job is to ensure that people in desperate need have a roof over their heads. And if they can't do that, and they have to resort to motels, they should pay the price.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Security detention is arbitrary and illegal

Over a decade ago, the New Zealand government imprisoned Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian refugee, for two years without charge or trial, on the basis of a spurious and secret "security assessment" which the SIS later withdrew. Today, the UN UN human rights committee ruled that an identical scheme of detention in Australia is arbitrary violates international law:

Australia’s indefinite detention of refugees on secret security grounds is arbitrary and illegal, the UN has ruled, in the latest of 51 cases – the most of any country – before the human rights committee.

The government should offer compensation to those it incarcerated without charge for up to six years, the UN’s human rights committee said in its latest rebuke, which could harm Australia’s ambitions to secure a seat on the powerful UN human rights council.


The latest adjudication by the UN human rights committee relates to five refugees – one Iranian, three Sri Lankan Tamils and one Afghan Hazara – who were illegally detained between 2009 and 2015 because the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation had made an “adverse security assessment” against each of them.

They were recognised as refugees by Australia – “for whom return to their countries of origin was unsafe” the committee said – but were refused visas on security grounds.

But they were not allowed to know why they had been deemed security risks, nor were they permitted to see any of the evidence against them, or contest it. As a result, they were held in detention indefinitely, without facing charge or trial, or without any [recourse?] to the courts.

ASIO has since withdrawn its secret "security assessments" of the men, as it has with almost everybody it has detained in this manner. However, an unknown number - estimated at between six and ten, but the government won't even say how many - remain illegally in indefinite arbitrary detention on the basis of secret "evidence" they are legally forbidden to contest. Just another example of how Australia is the sort of country we shouldn't be friends with.

As for Zaoui, the New Zealand government never compensated him, and the Ministers who approved his detention (some of whom are still in Parliament, though in opposition) never apologised for his treatment. Maybe they should do something about that sometime?

Back to the middle ages in Samoa

Before the wars of religion and seven and a half million dead made them recognise the value of religious tolerance, European states persecuted those who followed a different religion from their ruler. Today, Samoa seems intent on going back there, with the Prime Minister considering constitutional changes to reflect christianity while the powerful council of churches is calling for an outright ban on Islam:

Samoa's council of churches has welcomed the prime minister's call to review the religious freedom provisions of the constitution.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi recently said the country's supreme law may be changed to recognise Christian principles and teachings, not just in the preamble.

However the Secretary General of the Samoa Council of Churches, Reverend Ma'auga Motu, said he would go a step further and ban the religion of Islam.

He said even though most Samoans are Christian, Islam poses a future threat to the country.

The supposed justification for this is concerns about "Islamic extremists". I can think of no better way to radicalise people and turn them to extremism and violence than to ban their religion. On the flip side, if you want people to live in peace, you leave them in peace. Interfering in people's private choices rather than ignoring them is the cause of discord.

New Fisk

Justin Trudeau is a champion for women – but he can’t protect his wife from the anger of Conservative Canada

Shouldn't the government be doing something about this?

That escalated quickly. On Monday Prime Minister John Key airily dismissed concerns about people being forced to live in cars and garages with a suggestion that people should "talk to Work and Income", with the implication that they would solve it. Two days later, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett is forced to admit that WINZ is not resourced to solve the problem and that they don't have enough state houses:

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett says there's no guarantee that homeless families would get a roof over their heads after contacting Work and Income.

Her comments come after Prime Minister John Key said Kiwis living out of cars and garages should contact the welfare agency where they would receive support.

Bennett said Work and Income would try their best to help, but it depended on what support was available.

"Look, I can't guarantee that," she said on RNZ.

"What I would say though is that we would do everything that we could do help them and it would depend on the kind of circumstances that they're in, whats available and the assistance that we could give."

Social housing was at 97 per cent occupancy, said the Minister.

Oh, and that $41 million for "emergency housing" the government announced earlier in the month? Turns out that that's funding existing places rather than new ones. Yes, its the old strategy of re-announcing existing resources as a substitute for action, creating perceptions rather than fixing reality. Which again shows how much National cares about this.

But remember, they have $3 billion for tax cuts for the rich. That's four times what the government spends on subsidising state housing. It has the resources to fix this problem if it wanted to. The problem is that National doesn't want to.

But kiwis care more than National does. We don't like seeing people forced to live in cars. We think every kiwi should have a roof over their heads. And we think the government should make that happen when the market inevitably fails. If National won't, its time for a government which will.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Homes or tax cuts?

This week has really exposed the government's priorities. Its becoming clear that while they talk big about "infrastructure' - by which they mean roads and dams, publicly funded items which benefit their donors and cronies in the trucking and farming industries - National has massively underinvested in social infrastructure, in particular in state houses. They've sold down the stock when they should be building more, and made them increasingly harder to obtain. And rather than committing to fix this mistake, John Key is talking about tax cuts for the rich again:

Prime Minister John Key has hinted at a $3 billion package of tax cuts as part of National's next election campaign.

Key said tax cuts were something the party had looked at and would do their best on.


When asked how much was needed for meaningful tax cut, Key responded: "$3billion I reckon."

He wouldn't reveal the budget surplus forecast for next year, but it was nowhere near enough for that.

Floating this idea when there are people living in cars and unable to get state assistance is simply vile. But its a perfect example of National's priorities of giving to the greedy, not the needy.

An illusory "solution"

Yesterday, John Key waved away Auckland's homelessness problem by saying that people should "talk to Work and Income". But does it actually do any good? This morning on Morning Report, Guyon Espiner quizzed a spokesperson from WINZ about what they could actually do. And after much poking, what he got was "We will find them a place if one is available".

Note the "if" there. Further questioning made it clear that there were not places available, and that the best WINZ could do in cases of extreme need was pay for a motel, for a week. After which, they throw you back on the street again. That's what the Prime Minister calls a "solution" to homelessness. In the real world, its no solution at all - just a hugely expensive way to shuffle people around.

(Up until recently, WINZ would also charge you for that motel stay. So, it wasn't really "help", just a way of lumping people with further debt. You can understand why people would reject that "solution". This morning they suggested they weren't charging anymore. It will be interesting to see how long that policy lasts in practice...)

Espiner also linked homelessness explicitly to National's benefit cuts and the practice of forcing people to reapply for benefits frequently. This policy is explicitly predicated on a hope that beneficiaries won't, or will fail to meet some petty bureaucratic deadline, allowing them to be cut off and money saved. But you can easily see how the homeless are exceptionally vulnerable to this and driven further into poverty. Clearly, the government feels that the further impoverishment of those on the absolute bottom of the heap is an acceptable price to pay for cost savings. I don't think the rest of New Zealand is quite so comfortable with it however.

The full audio of the interview is here.

Depraved indifference in the UK

Since 2010, Britain's Tory government has viciously cut benefits, subjecting the disabled to privatised "Work Capability Assessments" and then cutting off their support. So far, this policy has resulted in an estimated 590 suicides, and the actual figure could be much more. Now, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we know that Ministers were repeatedly warned of this death toll:

A series of secret internal inquiries into the deaths of people claiming social security reveal that ministers were repeatedly warned of shortcomings in the treatment of vulnerable claimants facing potentially traumatic cuts to their benefits entitlements.

The conclusions are contained in 49 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) inquiry reports finally released to campaigners on Friday after a two-year Freedom of Information (FOI) battle. Some 40 of the reports followed a suicide. In 10 cases, the claimant had had their benefits sanctioned.

Although the heavily redacted reports do not draw a direct link between the death of a claimant and problems caused by their dealings with the benefits system, they highlight widespread flaws in the handling by DWP officials of claims by people with mental illness or learning difficulty.

The reports, called “peer reviews,” appear to challenge blanket claims by ministers that there is no connection between government welfare reform policies and the deaths of vulnerable claimants.

But despite these repeated warnings and recommendations for change, government Ministers have not changed their murderous policies. At best, its depraved indifference: they simply don't care if beneficiaries are forced into suicide. But as the warnings stack up, and Ministers continue to knowingly pursue policies they have been repeatedly told are killing people, it stops being indifference and becomes pre-meditated murder.

Monday, May 16, 2016

"Talk to Work and Income"

The Salvation Army reports that we have a huge problem of homeless Aucklanders forced to live in cars, shipping containers and garages due to spiraling rents. Our $50 million Prime Minister's response? "Talk to Work and Income":

This morning, Mr Key told Radio New Zealand that families living out of cars should visit Work and Income. It was not acceptable that people lived in such situations, and "that's not the New Zealand that we want".

Immediate solutions might not be perfect, he said, but it would be very surprising if such a family was left in such a "dire" condition.

"People often don't understand what's available to them. My experience with Work and Income is they do their very best to support people in those situations, especially when children are involved."

To which anyone who has ever dealt with WINZ at any point in their lives will let out a bitter laugh. Because if there's one thing WINZ doesn't do, its tell people what they're entitled to, because that costs money. And successive National Ministers have made it very clear that they do not want WINZ spending money if they can avoid it, even when it is absolutely guaranteed by statute.

Its an old, dirty trick, which got started during National's original war on the poor in the 90's as a cost-saving measure. While it improved once Labour sacked Christine Rankin, it has been back with a vengeance under National. So much so that when beneficiary advocates organise to ensure that people do get support and assistance to claim all of their entitlements, the queues start at 6:30 in the morning.

But even beyond that: social housing in New Zealand has been cut so far that you can live in a van for a year (and counting) waiting to get one. So even knowing your entitlements isn't help. The problem is with the government, not people in need.

But rich people like John Key don't see any of this. WINZ is there to help people. So if people aren't getting help, it must be because they are stupid and ignorant - their own fault basicly - not because the system they oversee has responded to their demands for cost savings and crackdowns on (largely imaginary) "fraud" essentially by refusing to perform its mandate.

"Protecting national security"

Britain's GCHQ spies on everything we do on the internet. Officially, it does this to protect national security. In practice, they're "protecting" us from Harry Potter books being leaked:

Britain’s spy agency GCHQ intervened to prevent the sixth instalment of the Harry Potter book series being leaked on the internet, it has emerged.

Nigel Newton, the founder of Bloomsbury Publishing, was contacted by GCHQ – better known for locating terrorists – a decade ago to relay fears that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince may have been leaked on the internet before its official publication date.

In an Australian radio interview last week, Mr Newton said: “We fortunately had many allies… GCHQ rang me up and said, ‘We’ve detected an early copy of this book on the internet.’ I got them to read a page to our editor and she said, ‘No, that’s a fake’.”

And this is supposed to justify the mass invasion of privacy and the total surveillance of everything we do: protecting book industry profits. Fuck that. GCHQ and its allies should be shut down.


The New Zealand fishing industry likes to talk about our "world-leading" "sustainable" fish quota management system. But like out other "world-leading" tradeable quota scheme, the ETS, its not all its cracked up to be:

Half of the fish caught in New Zealand waters do not show up in official records because they are dumped at sea or not declared, an explosive new study claims.

The study recommends that the quota management system undergo "robust critical review".

The total catch between 1950 and 2010 was 38.1 million tonnes, the study says, compared with a reported catch of 14 million tonnes.

The main reasons for this difference were unreported commercial catch and fish which were discarded because they were too small, uneconomic, or because the fisher had no quota.

Or, to put it another way: fishers lie. And they lie so often and so systematically that the QMS, which depends on them honestly reporting catches, is basicly worthless. But far worse than the (expected) dishonesty of fishers is the reaction of MPI to evidence of this: cover it up:
The paper quotes an MPI investigation in 2013, which said: "The sight of large, perfectly good fish being systematically discarded in such large quantities could have a huge negative effect, as it could easily stir up an emotive backlash from not only the New Zealand public, but from international quarters as well."

It added: "This combined with the fact that we have known about these dumpings/discarding issues for many years, and would appear to have done little to combat it, would be very difficult to explain and be unpleasant at best."

MPI are supposed to enforce the law. But rather than treating over-fishing as a serious criminal matter - something they'd do if it was a few Maori guys stealing paua - they turn a blind eye and treat it as a PR problem to be managed by cover-up. The fundamental problem here isn't just lying fishers, but an "enforcement agency" utterly captured and compromised by them.

Greenpeace is calling for an independent inquiry into this, but we need more than that. Starting with an immediate suspension of quota to compensate for misreporting, prosecutions of overfishers, and a purge of MPI to ensure that they work for us and not the industry they are supposed to be policing. Until the government does this, its "world leading" system will be just like the ETS: a bad joke covering environmental destruction.

New Fisk

The EU refugee rescue mission is a triumph of humanitarianism – not that you’ll hear about it

Europe has a troublingly short memory over Serbia’s Aleksander Vucic
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Open Government: More muppetry

Back in March, the New Zealand government was officially sent a formal warning by the Open Government Partnership about our late submission of our midterm self-assessment report. But according to Louise Upston, the Minister it was addressed to, she never received it:

I am interested to see the communication you have referenced relating to New Zealand's mid-term self-assessment report. http://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/OGP_NZ_Letter_SAR_03212016.pdf
I never received this, nor did I receive any communication from either the OGP Secretariat nor New Zealand OGP officials alerting me to it.

Which invites the obvious question of whether any Minister was given or briefed on this formal warning. We know that Bennett wasn't formally briefed on it in March - something you'd expect to happen for something this serious. Has she been told yet? Do any of them have any clue about how much of a disaster this is turning into?

Meanwhile, Upston also says that her office didn't retain any briefings or material relating to her attendance at the OGP summit. Which invites the question: did she receive any? Or was the entire thing just treated as an excuse for a junket?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Better work stories

If you or I assaulted someone, causing severe bruising and pain, we would be convicted and sentenced, regardless of "provocation". Its different if you're a cop:

A policeman repeatedly punched a youth who spat at him, even as the teenager cowered with his head between his legs.

Constable Marcus John Dominey has escaped a conviction for his actions, which a judge called a display of "testosterone".

However, he has lost his name suppression – and might still lose his job.

The judge made a lot of noise about how as a police officer, Dominey "was in a privileged position, but he was expected to behave with sensitivity and restraint". But based on his sentencing decision, he clearly didn't mean it. Instead, this officer has been effectively granted a free pass. And then we wonder why police keep doing it...

Open Government: Meanwhile, in the UK...

The New Zealand government is currently pissing about on the development of its next Open Government Partnership national action plan, delaying submission so it can consult on how to consult (yes, really). Meanwhile, the UK used the London Anti Corruption summit to release theirs, over a month before the deadline. How did they manage this? Firstly, they started public consultations in July last year, when our government was still failing to publish its midterm self-assessment, and hadn't even begun to think about action plan development. Which I guess you can do it you have more than one person working on it...

The full action plan is here. The first commitment? Expanding beneficial ownership reporting - a centrepiece of their previous action plan - to include foreign companies which buy or own property in the UK. Meaning no more corrupt Russian oligarchs buying mansions in London through Cayman Islands front companies...

But there's more in there as well. An anti-corruption strategy. Implementing the Open Contracting Partnership's Open Contracting Data Standard, allowing civil society to easily monitor government business. Improving proactive disclosure and updating their Freedom of Information Act Code of Practice. There's a lot of open data bullshit, of course - governments love this because its a cheap way to claim transparency without changing anything substantive - but there are also some solid, useful commitments which will produce real change.

Interestingly, there's also a commitment to a "rolling action plan", with co-created commitments to be added at least twice over the action plan cycle. From the UK, with its proven record on co-creation, this looks credible. If New Zealand were to make the same promise, it would simply be laughable.

And that's the real shocker: because the approaches of NZ and the UK to the OGP are the complete opposite of what we expect. New Zealand is supposed to be a leader on transparency, yet our OGP involvement has been characterised by secrecy and timidity. Meanwhile, the secretive, authoritarian UK is leading. Heckuva job the government is doing there...

Climate change: The dairy slump

Farmers are whining about the dairy slump driving them to the wall. But there's a positive side: it means 200,000 fewer cows:

The number of dairy cattle in New Zealand has fallen for the first time in about a decade, according to the 2015 Agricultural Production Survey.

Statistics New Zealand says the number of dairy cattle fell to 6.5 million in 2015, which was the first decline after nine years of consecutive increases.


The national dairy herd hit a record high of 6.7 million in 2014.

That means cleaner waterways - but it also means lower greenhouse gas emissions. How much? By my back-of-the-envelope calculations (derived from the numbers in chapter 5 of the 2013 Greenhouse Gas Inventory), every cow emits 2.39 tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions every year. Two hundred thousand fewer cows means roughly 475,000 tons of avoided emissions. Or about 0.6 percent of our total. And that's pretty substantial for a single year.

But now that the toxic, polluting herd is declining, the challenge needs to shift to keeping it down. Local authorities are already experimenting with intensity limits to protect rivers, and we need to go further. Time to cap the number of cows.

New Fisk

Europe’s Catholic leaders are undoing the good work of Pope Francis over the migrant crisis

NZ on corruption: "We'll think about it"

Overnight, David Cameron held his anti-corruption summit in London. While it has been called underwhelming, the summit was a useful start, with several countries committing to expose, punish and drive out corruption. The core of these commitments was to expose corruption through the use of beneficial ownership registration of companies and corporate property owners - something which will clearly be effective, given the reaction of the global super-corrupt. New Zealand's response to this? "We'll think about it". Rather than committing to public beneficial ownership registers, we have only committed to "exploring" the idea. And rather than committing to the automatic sharing of such information with partner countries, we commit only to bilateral arrangements (which means, in practice, none at all).

Contrary to the government's PR, this is not "strengthen[ing]" our commitment to combat bribery. Instead, its doing as little as possible. Faced with a huge global problem, one which demands an international response, National's response is to do nothing. Where have we seen that before?

Combined with the government's performance in the House this week, I don't think there's any question: National is on the side of the corrupt and the tax cheats, apparently so that a tiny clique of lawyers can make a few dollars enabling and facilitating them (something else we were supposed to ban and didn't). And that won't change as long as they're in power. If we want a clean government which acts against this global scourge, we need a change of government.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

No consensus on easter trading

The Commerce Committee has reported back on the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill (which would dump the problem of easter trading on local authorities), and been unable to reach a decision. National members supported the bill, with some amendments. Labour and the Greens opposed it. And NZ First were just confused about it, like they are about the rest of the modern world. The net result is that the bill will be back before the House, but without the usual amendments and improvements the select committee process provides.

This is really a reflection of the lack of social consensus outside Parliament on the issue. The easter trading ban is silly and archaic, a relic of christian oppression. But getting rid of it would replace the past, no-longer extant religious oppression with the very real, here and now oppression of your boss. And the latter is now so pervasive and extreme, that retaining an archaic trading ban put in place by a dying religion most kiwis no longer even pay lip service to looks like the better choice to many. And it doesn't help that no politician seems willing to support the blindingly obvious protective measure of a public holiday (because progressives don't want religions dictating our holidays, while capitalists don't want holidays at all)

National's bill isn't a "solution" to any of this. Instead of finding a consensus, it would simply wash their hands of the problem - while making it a perpetually active shitfight in every local authority across the country. So we won't just have a stupid law, inconsistently applied - we'll have a patchwork of such laws, their application subject to change without notice. And it will make religion, which isn't generally a political issue, an electoral issue in local body politics. This isn't a recipe for social harmony - but it would let National declare victory and go home, which is all that seems to matter to them now. Unfortunately, with National whipping their vote, it looks like this will pass.

Climate change: The end of coal?

Good news: big coal is going bankrupt:

More than half the assets in the global coal industry are now held by companies that are either in bankruptcy proceedings or don't earn enough money to pay their interest bills , according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In the U.S., only three of 12 large coal miners traded on public markets escape that ignominious club, separate data show. The largest of those, Consol Energy, is morphing into a natural-gas producer.


Coal ``has undergone a long-term structural decline, with little prospect for near-term recovery,'' Moody's analysts led by Anna Zubets-Anderson wrote in a note last week. Of the four major U.S. coal regions, only the Illinois basin has good long-term prospects, they said. Central Appalachia will ``cease to be a major coal producing region,'' while the Northern Appalachian and Powder River basins will decline too because of competition from gas.

There are multiple reasons for this, one of which is low oil prices, which in turn lower gas prices. But cheap renewable energy is part of it, as are climate change regulations and loss of social licence. The upshot is that a lot of coal mines have become stranded assets, effectively worthless. As we've seen in New Zealand. Which means that coals days as a polluter are numbered...