Monday, July 31, 2017

Secret school funding and the OIA

National today has announced that it will be scrapping the school decile system and replacing it with a "confidential" funding system:

The government is scrapping the decile rating system for schools, replacing it with a confidential funding system.

Schools will be rated by a "Risk Index", which would estimate the number of their students at risk of underachievement.

That rating will stay private and be reviewed every year.

The aim here is to try and stop parents from judging schools based on whether they're rich or poor. But regardless of what you think of that aim, I think it is unachievable, for the simple reason that we have an Official Information Act. If every school has a risk index assigned, then that number will be easily obtainable under the OIA. If they try and avoid this by applying it to each student, then the average per-student figure, or the average per-student funding, which is a proxy for it, will likewise be obtainable. There is simply no legal way to keep any of this secret, unless National exempts this information from the scope of the OIA.

Information should not be kept secret simply because it causes political problems for the government. It especially should not be kept secret where there is significant public interest in ensuring that funding is allocated fairly and correctly. National's promise of a secret school funding system is both legally dubious, and does violence to our fundamental principles of government. And we should hold them accountable for it.

National's list

National released its party list yesterday. And as expected, it is full of dead white males:

2017 RankName2014 RankDifference
1Bill English2+1
2Paula Bennett9+7
3David Carter3-
4Steven Joyce5+1
5Gerry Brownlee4-1
6Simon Bridges18+12
7Amy Adams15+8
8Jonathan Coleman10+2
9Chris Finlayson8-1
10Michael Woodhouse20+10
11Anne Tolley12+1
12Nathan Guy16+4
13Nikki Kaye19+6
14Todd McClay23+9
15Nick Smith13-2
16Judith Collins6-10
17Maggie Barry40+23
18Paul Goldsmith30+12
19Louise Upston27+8
20Alfred Ngaro34+14
21Mark Mitchell42+21
22Nicky Wagner25+3
23Jacqui Dean36+13
24David Bennett37+13
25Tim Macindoe28+3
26Scott Simpson45+19
27Jami-Lee Ross29+2
28Barabara Kuriger58+30
29Matt Doocey56+27
30Brett Hudson39+9
31Melissa Lee31-
32Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi32-
33Jian Yang33-
34Parmjeet Parmar48+14
35Jonathan Young38+3
36Joanne Hayes47+11
37Ian McKelvie41+4
38Simon O'Connor43+5
39Andrew Bayly55+16
40Chris Bishop49+9
41Sarah Dowie57+16
42Nuk Korako50+13
43Todd Muller59+16
44Maureen Pugh52+8
45Shane Reti60+15
46Alastair Scott61+15
47Stuart Smith62+15
48Nicola Willis---
49Agnes Loheni---
50Paulo Garcia---
51Matt King---
52David Hiatt---
53Matthew Gregory---
54Adrienne Pierce---
55David Elliot---
56Katrina Bungard---
57Bala Berram---
58Carolyn O'Fallon---
59Euon Murrell---
60Simeon Brown---

8 penises in the top 10, and 20 in the top 30. This is not the list of a party dedicated to reducing discrimination and systematic inequality. But I guess they'd just say that Nick Smith is more talented than most of their female candidates.

The other obvious point is that end-of-term retirements mean that National's incumbents are all pretty safe, and on expected voter levels they'll be bringing in a healthy group of new MPs as well. Contrast this with Labour, whose MPs cling desperately to their salaries, with the result that they're always the same old faces, with no chance at bringing in new blood. And then they wonder why people don't vote for the same people who have failed them time and time again...

Are we going to let Australia beat us to a republic?

The republic debate is back on the agenda in Australia again, with Labor leader Bill Shorten promising a referendum if elected:

Bill Shorten says Labor will activate the process towards Australia becoming a republic if he wins the next election, and put a question to the voters by the end of his first term in office.

The Labor leader will use a speech to the Australian Republican Movement to lay out a concrete timetable for a referendum, and argue Australia should not wait for a change of monarch to activate the debate.

Shorten will pledge to make a member of a newly elected Labor ministry responsible for advancing the republican push post election, “and – by the end of our first term – we will put a simple, straightforward question to the people of Australia”.

“Do you support an Australian republic with an Australian head of state?”

And that could be coming sooner than we think. Australia currently has a hung Parliament, and the government has a majority of one. But they've also just had several Senators resign over unexpected dual citizenship. The same clause which has forced them from office also applies to MP's, and there's an awful lot of them who might be dual citizens. It takes only a single such resignation, and Australia will be back to the polls.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, our politicians all say a republic is "inevitable", while doing nothing to bring it about. But if they piss about, we're going to be beaten to it by Australia. Do we really want to let that happen?

New Fisk

On the Syrian frontline, the battle against Isis is reaching its crescendo

What reason is there to vote for Labour?

Seven weeks to the election, and Labour's vote has once again collapsed to historic lows. Andrew "I might quit" Little is blaming the Greens, and he's right - because the Greens have actually been campaigning, trying to win people's votes. Meanwhile, Labour has been patiently waiting for "their turn", expecting that after nine years people will just be bored of a National government and switch to something else.

And that just isn't good enough. Parties need to give us a reason to vote for them. What reason has Labour given? They're not National? Pretty obviously, that's not going to convince anyone who currently supports the government to change their mind. Neither is their "fresh approach" of the status quo with different managers. If you want that, why vote for the imitator rather than the real thing? And if you're pitching on being better managers, you actually need to be better. Labour's pervasive incompetence and consistent fuck ups isn't going to win over even the tiny fraction of voters for whom "better management" is a primary consideration.

Fundamentally, Labour are trying to convince people to vote for change. So they need to actually offer some. And not the pallid, triangulated, tinkering around the edges they've offered so far, but something real. The Greens do. Winston does too, in a different way (change back to the way things were in the 1950's). And people who want change are voting for them. The only change Labour offers is who gets the jobs and who gets the perks, which cronies feed at the trough. And that doesn't inspire anyone. Its no wonder that they're losing.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The police actively covered up for the GCSB

When the police issued their report on their investigation into the GCSB's illegal spying on Kim Dotcom, they argued that they could not prosecute because the criminal spies had not known they were breaking the law. That legal test has already been shown to be bullshit, but now we also know that it is false, because the GCSB continued spying for a month after they knew it was illegal. Now it turns out that the police who "investigated" them knew this:

The judgment stated: "The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has admitted unlawfully intercepting private communications of Kim and Mona Dotcom (the Dotcoms) and Bram van der Kolk during the period from 16 December 2011 to 22 March 2012."

There had been speculation the judge had simply got the date wrong but a police statement that detectives were aware of the dates during the 2012/2013 investigation has put an end to that.


A spokesman for police said: "We've checked the file and can confirm that the dates you've highlighted were known to the Operation Grey team. They were considered as part of the investigation and decision-making about the outcome."

And yet despite the police knowing that the GCSB knew that the spying was illegal, they concluded that they didn't. Which makes the entire "investigation" look like a shabby cover-up for criminal activity by the government. It also raises serious doubts about the IPCA report on the "investigation", and about whether the police were honest with the IPCA (or whether the IPCA was complicit).

As for what to do: the police have shown that they can not be trusted on this. If we want power to be held to account in this country, there is only one option: a private prosecution of the GCSB staff involved.

Climate change: Doing nothing

That's Herald columnist Brian Fallow's assessment of Paula Bennett's response to the ETS review:

Into the fog of uncertainty shrouding the future of the Emissions Trading Scheme, Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett has blown the gentlest of puffs.

Most of the long-awaited outcomes announced on Wednesday, flowing from the Government's review of the ETS, are decisions in principle, bereft of numbers and with vague timeframes about when essential implementation details will be forthcoming.

No changes to the demand side of the carbon market are proposed.

That means the majority of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions will continue to be exempt from a carbon price - in particular, the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from pastoral farming (nearly half the national total). That entrenches the de facto subsidy to farmers that gets capitalised into land prices, so that someone selling a farm gets a higher tax-free capital gain while the buyer gets a larger mortgage.

Fallow points out that under National's policy settings, 93% of our "carbon budget" for the 2020s - which we are expected to exceed by 37% - are already accounted for by free pollution credits and the agriculture subsidy. Which means there is simply no hope of meeting it. National's "plan" seems to be to hope to rejoin international carbon markets (from which we are banned due to refusing a binding Kyoto CP2 target), then buying fraudulent foreign credit again. But hope isn't a plan, especially when its hope of merely achieving technical compliance. If we want to actually deal with this problem, we need to actually reduce emissions. And that means adopting serious policies, rather than the current bullshit. It will mean making polluters, including the sacred dairy industry, pay the full cost of their pollution. Those industries will squeal and whine and lobby about that, and threaten to leave (to where? Everywhere is now covered by Paris), or to shut down (good). The government will need to resist such whining. Because it is now either them or us, and those industries need to clean their act up if we are to survive. And a government which sides with the polluters who are destroying the planet is betraying the people it is meant to serve.

New Fisk

The Syrian army were standing up to Isis long before the Americans ever fired a missile

A systematic assault on democracy

That's the only way to describe the revelation that British undercover police infiltrated and spied on over a thousand political groups:

Undercover police officers who adopted fake identities in deployments lasting several years spied on more than 1,000 political groups, a judge-led public inquiry has said.

It is the first time that the number of political groups infiltrated by the undercover spies over more than four decades has been made public. The list of groups that were infiltrated has not been published by the inquiry. However, it is known to include environmental, anti-racist and animal rights groups, leftwing parties and the far right.


May ordered the inquiry following revelations that the spies had gathered information about grieving relatives such as the parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, deceived women into forming long-term relationships and stolen the identities of dead children.

Exactly who was spied on is still secret, but we already know that the vast majority of these groups were engaged in peaceful democratic protest, not criminal activity (though in some cases police spies attempted to encourage crime in order to discredit protests). Its a gross abuse of police power, and a clear attempt by the establishment to stifle democracy. But isn't that so very, very British?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Secrecy vs accountability

While we're on the subject, there's something else in the Ombudsman's report on Simon Bridges' bullying of Kiwirail which is worth discussing: Bridges (or his staff's) views on the "need" to withhold failed budget bids. The Ombudsman quotes these in full, because they're quite an eye-opener:

Noting that the project was highly likely to form a bid for Budget 18, the Minister’s Office formed the view that if the Business Case was released, then it would open the project up to undue influence and public debate which would more likely than not prejudice the path the Budget bid takes.

As the Budget process is a contestable process, negotiations should be allowed to occur unimpeded without any action that could influence the weighting of one bid over another.

This applies to both the future negotiations to be had at a departmental level in the initial stages of the Budget process, and in the subsequent negotiations between Ministers once a bid has progressed to this level.

A bid will be more objective at both stages of the negotiation process if it is on an even footing with other bids (i.e. that haven’t been publically debated). Public and media scrutiny could directly or indirectly influence the weighting of bids and decision making during the contestable budget process. This is the same principle that the Ministry of Transport advised the Office it applies when considering whether to release failed Budget bids under the Official Information Act.

Or, to put that in plain english: policy proposals must remain secret to prevent the public from telling us what they want.

Its an arrogant, undemocratic attitude, which primarily serves to protect those in power from accountability for their decisions. And in this case, there's a lot to be accountable for. The Spinoff has obtained an unredacted version of the Third Main business case, and it shows it to be the best of ten options considered. The option that National chose to fund - more freight by road - was the worst. If Bridges had succeeded in keeping this secret, then we would not know that he had chosen the worst possible option for freight in Auckland. I can understand why he would be interested in that. But we shouldn't be. While Ministers and sniffy public service technocrats may hate the idea, we live in a democracy, and that means making decisions in the public view. If they don't like that, they can fuck off to a country which better suits their preferred style of governance - like North Korea.

National vs the OIA: The verdict

Last month Transport Minister Simon Bridges was caught trying to bully KiwiRail into unlawfully refusing information. Today, the Ombudsman released their report into the incident - made under the Ombudsmen Act, not the OIA - and it is damning. The report examines Kiwirail's administrative process, rather than the lawfulness of the OIA decisions, and while it concludes that Kiwirail was entitled to consult the Minister's office about the request, it is also clear that they failed to critically evaluate his concerns (and so effectively allowed the Minister to make the decision for them). Then, when their conduct was made public, they made a hasty, rushed decision which was not robust. The Ombudsman is also clear that the Minister's initial concerns - that the document was a draft, was misleading, and should be withheld to protect future budget bids - were not valid reasons for withholding under the OIA, and that Kiwirail made the right decision in initially rejecting them.

As for how to fix this, the Ombudsman has recommended that Kiwirail should review its OIA process and adopt a formal protocol for OIA interactions with the Minister. Meanwhile, it looks like the "budget bid" bullshit defence is going to make its way into the FAQ on common OIA misconceptions.

So, that's a win for transparency - and it shows the value in kicking up a stink about dodgy decisions. Its also highlighted a fruitful avenue for requests: metarequests for communications with Ministerial offices about requests. There's probably all sorts of dirt hidden in those, and if Ministers don't want it publicly exposed, they'll have to ensure they respect the proper boundaries and don't try and bully agencies in future.

Climate change: Getting there from here

New Zealand climate change policy is ineffective. The targets are crap, and the policies are disconnected from them anyway. Insofar as the government takes a long view and sets long-term goals, its with the aim of dumping the problem on future governments, rather than acting to achieve them. But a new report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment proposes that we change that, by adopting the framework of the UK's Climate Change Act.

In the UK, the government has climate change targets set in law. It is required to set five yearly carbon budgets well in advance in order to meet those targets, and state the policies and measures it will use to make sure those budgets are met. And they have an independent and well-resourced Climate Change Commission to report on those budgets and policies and keep them honest.

The PCE, like Generation Zero, suggests that we adopt a similar framework here. It would be a good idea. The PCE also expresses hope that such a framework will have cross-party support. Sadly, I think that's foolish. Out of government, National opposed any measures to reduce emissions. In government, they've had to pretend to care, but in practice have done everything they could to protect polluters. While there's been some promising signs, there's no real evidence that they see this as a serious problem, let alone one worth upsetting their farmer-cronies over. As a government, they won't act; if there is a change of government, I fully expect them to go back to their old Denier ways and oppose any action whatsoever. Action on climate change is going to be politically contested. It will require changing the government, and it will require defending any new framework against the efforts of National to reverse and undermine it. While I'd like it to be different, for National's MP's to understand the problem and support real action, I'm not going to fool myself that that's going to happen. So if we want to save the world, we need to bury them.

More beneficiaries should stand for Parliament

Yesterday the media was in full outrage mode, after the revelation that Green co-leader Metiria Turei campaigned for (other) political parties while on a benefit in the early 1990's. The subtext was clear: dirty poor people shouldn't be involved in politics, shouldn't enjoy political rights. The same old shit the rich have been pushing since time immemorial to protect their power.

But I think there's a different message we should take from it: more beneficiaries should stand for Parliament.

Look around Parliament, and what do you see? A pack of rich pricks. Lawyers, bankers, farmers, property developers, apparatchiks. People who have never struggled a day in their lives. Is it any wonder that they're so focused on tax cuts for themselves and their ilk? Is it any wonder that they let a housing crisis grow and fester because they and their mates saw their paper wealth increase thanks to the "boom"? And is it any wonder that their policies on poverty and inequality display the cruelty and viciousness of ignorance?

In addition to under-representing women and young people, "our" Parliament fails to properly represent those on low or even middle incomes. And the cost of that is policies which exclusively serve the rich, while fucking over everybody else. More beneficiaries standing might help correct that. OTOH, WINZ would probably regard it as an excuse to cut their benefit...

New Fisk

As Syria's army – with Russia's help – advances through the desert, Isis propaganda comes across the radio waves

Dirty dairying may poison Christchurch

Love your Christchurch drinking water? Bad news: the farmers may be poisoning it:

Authorities have privately discussed the possibility that aquifers supplying Christchurch's pure drinking water may become contaminated with nitrates from intensive agriculture.

The concerns have emerged from recent scientific work by Environment Canterbury (ECan), which shows deep groundwater from the Waimakariri district could be flowing towards Christchurch.

It is the first time ECan's modelling has showed that is a possibility.

It is understood the information has not been publicised due to ongoing scientific uncertainty, along with the risk of it becoming politicised due to the upcoming election, said one source familiar with the situation.

And we can't have that, can we? We can't get people getting upset and angry and voting for a government which will stop a pack of rapacious, greedy polluters from poisoning their children!

There's no evidence the aquifers have been contaminated yet. But there's a long-term risk that they might be, with serious health risks for infants as a result. A prudent government would address that risk. National, with its support for dairy expansion and irrigation, seems hellbent on increasing it. The conclusion is clear: if you want safe drinking water in Christchurch, you need to vote for a change of government.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

National wants to sell the national grid

Back in 2013, after a hugely unpopular plan to part-privatise electricity gentailers, National promised that there would be no more asset sales. Of course, they were lying:

NZ First says a leaked January 2017 presentation to Transpower by Swiss Investment Bankers UBS reveals the National Government intends to privatise the National Grid.

“We have evidence National is lining Transpower up for privatisation in 2018 if given half a chance,” says New Zealand First Leader and Member of Parliament for Northland, Rt Hon Winston Peters

“A leaked UBS presentation to Transpower scopes the market, investor appetite and even suggests how stakeholder concerns could be managed. UBS has form with Transpower, having arranged for Transpower a Cayman’s Island based financing deal which only ended in recent years.


“An ‘asset sales’ slush fund is proposed for the $2bn plus that this could net and UBS say it could happen “As early as August 2017” but “likely in 2018 and beyond”.

The national grid is vital infrastructure. If it fails, the lights literally go out. And given that past privatisations have inevitably resulted in strip-mining the asset, underinvesting in maintenance and running things into the ground - that looks to be a likely outcome of any transpower sale. And that's something we just can't permit.

Steven Joyce's response when confronted with these papers in Parliament today was to plead ignorance. So we're expected to believe that this was an unsolicited privatisation plan, or that Transpower had been making plans to sell itself without Ministerial approval. But with National crony Tony Ryall chairing the board, that seems highly unlikely. Instead, it seems that National have been secretly planning to sell us out again, but don't dare put it to the people in the election for fear of the reaction. It's typical behaviour from them, and precisely why they can never be trusted in government.

New Fisk

Syrians aren't just rebuilding an ancient mosque in Aleppo - they are rebuilding their community

Climate change: Fiddling while the planet burns

Two years ago, the government announced a review of its failed emissions trading system. Today, it announced the results of that review. Unfortunately, the result is essentially to do nothing.

Oh, they're looking at auctioning units, so the government can manage supply. Except that the primary source of supply into the ETS - free allocations to polluters - will remain unchanged until 2020. So they're committing to industrial polluters facing no incentive to reduce pollution for the next three years. Worse, these free allocations aren't on a downward path - they're linked to production. So if polluters pollute more, they get more credits. Which is why the carbon budget shows them growing to eat our entire non-agricultural allocation by 2030 (see fig 2).

(Agriculture was of course off the table. It may be our biggest source of carbon pollution, as well as destroying our lakes and streams, but it is a literal sacred cow, and nothing can be allowed to interfere with National's farmer-cronies' "right" to profit by destroying the environment).

They're also looking at some sort of long-term budgeting mechanism, so they can align credit supply with targets (currently its not, with obvious results). This is good, but it should have been done years ago - and the current leisurely pace at sorting it out looks like fiddlign while the planet burns.

Oh, and they're also looking at restricting use of international credits to offset domestic emissions, assuming we're ever allowed to buy any. Looking at the Cabinet paper, regaining access to international carbon markets so polluters can cover their pollution with cheap fraudulent foreign credit is the key priority. Because otherwise, people might actually have to reduce emissions.

If this is sounding repetitive, you're right: it is. Because the government's response to an obviously broken ETS is not to fix it, but to look at fixing it, with a report-back date (sure to be delayed) of mid 2018. Meanwhile, while they crawl along at this glacial pace, polluters keep polluting, and the planet keeps getting warmer. And every day we delay is one day less we have to reduce emissions and makes the inevitable adjustments that much harder. We've already spent over twenty years on this policy - the ETS was first proposed in 1995, and its framework was agreed in 1999 - wasted literally decades waiting for the market to save us. But we're out of time. The market won't work, so we need to regulate instead.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's day, the second to last of the Parliamentary term. And now that we've finally had some interesting bills drawn - death with dignity and medicinal cannabis - the Order Paper is clogged with boring ones.

First up are the committee stages of Chris Bishop's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Interim Restriction Order Classification) Amendment Bill and Sarah Dowie's Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill, both of which are non-controversial. Then there's the second readings of Andrew Little's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2) and Ruth Dyson's Rates Rebate (Retirement Village Residents) Amendment Bill. In the unlikely event that those don't take up all of the House's time, then they may be able to make further progress on Parmjeet Parmar's Newborn Enrolment with General Practice Bill.

There won't be a ballot tomorrow, and the interesting stuff is still well down the Order Paper, and it is unlikely that either bill will get a first reading this term.

An honest endorsement

MMP requires coalitions. But because some high-profile political journalists hate that idea, they've traditionally been reluctant to endorse the parties they would like to work with, instead signalling via a "cup of tea" in a cafe or something. But not Bill English: he is for once being upfront about it:

Prime Minister Bill English has today confirmed National's intention to work with United Future and the Act Party in September's election - encouraging his party's supporters to vote for David Seymour and Peter Dunne.

"We are encouraging National supporters to give their electorate vote to Act candidate, David Seymour, in Epsom, and United Future candidate, Peter Dunne, in Ohariu - and their party vote to National.

"To be clear, we want to increase our party votes in those electorates and that's what our National Party candidates will be working hard to do."

Its a good, honest endorsement, and I applaud him for it. Parties should tell us who they want to work with, and there's nothing wrong with saying "a vote for them is a vote for us in government". And if people don't like that, they can always cast their vote accordingly.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New Fisk

Secret Russian-Kurdish-Syrian military cooperation is happening in Syria’s eastern desert

Data gaps and social murder

Today in Question Time we saw a perfect example of how government dodges accountability: by deliberate ignorance. Asked how many beneficiaries were homeless, the Minister for Social Development made it clear that she didn't know, and asked that it be set down as a written question. Not that that would likely result in any answers, because it is highly unlikely that WINZ collects this data (and in fact, the requirement for a contact address in order to receive a benefit means that they can simply pretend that all beneficiaries have homes - and violently cut off anyone who contradicts the official story).

It gets worse. Because the next question was how many beneficiaries have committed suicide in the past ten years. On this, the Minister was clear that WINZ had never collected such data. Which seems to be one hell of a gap. Because surely if beneficiaries are killing themselves, that's the sort of thing we should know, and which should result in questions being asked about whether WINZ's policy of cruelty towards the poor is a contributing factor. But those are not questions the government or WINZ wants asked, so the data is never collected. And laws against reporting on suicides prevent advocacy groups from collecting it themselves (in the style of the UK's Calum's list).

The UK is a useful example. Because over there, statistics were collected. When eventually made public (DWP naturally tried to keep them secret), they revealed that the government knew that their policies were killing people. But they kept imposing them anyway, because the British establishment has a depraved indifference towards the lives of everyone outside their public schoolboy clique.

We know that WINZ has killed at least once. The question is how many other times they have driven people to suicide, and what their policy of cruelty costs us in unnecessary mental health problems. We need to know these things, so we can properly judge these policies. The government's refusal to collect this data is simply an attempt to dodge accountability.

As for how we should hole them accountable: if a policy is expected to result in death, and death occurs, that is nothing less than murder. And those who design, implement and approve that policy are all co-conspirators who should go to jail for it.

Update: WINZ doesn't track suicides, but Ministry of Health has some data, which Graeme Edgeler was able to OIA in less than 24 hours:

This is from the mortality database, recording occupations entered on death certificates for deaths by suicide. That won't necessarily map to being in receipt of a WINZ benefit, but its a start.

Monday, July 24, 2017

WINZ staff have a target for throwing people off benefits

Something we knew all along, but until now could never prove: WINZ staff have a target for throwing people off benefits:

Work and Income (WINZ) staff are "more than happy" to break the law to get people off benefits so they can reach monthly targets, it has been claimed.

Beneficiary advocate Jeremy Roundill says a WINZ employee in Manurewa told him the target for each case manager was 12 clients off the benefit a month.

The beneficiaries often don't fight back because "when you're a beneficiary and WINZ provides you with your lifeline, you're likely to capitulate to the orders of your case manager, as they're the one who puts food on your table".

WINZ documents released under the Official Information Act require employees to make "an appropriate individual contribution, as agreed with their manager, to the number of clients supported off-benefit and into employment".

WINZ declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a statement while there are targets - which differ by regions - employees have no financial incentives to reach them and are not sanctioned if they don't.

And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Auckland to sell you. In reality, if this target is not met, questions will be raised at performance reviews, and pressure will be applied to make sure that it is met. And the net result will inevitably be people thrown off benefits unlawfully so that the case manager keeps their job.

(Note that the "into employment" part of that target is there for show. WINZ isn't interested in getting people jobs, and they don't care what happens when they throw people off benefits. All they care about is reducing benefit numbers to meet to the arbitrary reduction targets set by Ministers).

WINZ should be there to assist people, to ensure they receive the help they are legally entitled to. Instead, it actively denies people that help, as part of the government's war on the poor. This isn't a new problem - remember Christine Rankin? - but it needs to end. Only a complete cultural change will do that. And as shown by the police with their rape culture, that requires more than just a change of top-level management. Instead it will require the removal of almost all long-term WINZ staff.


Since National introduced charter schools into New Zealand, Labour has been crystal clear in its opposition, promising repeatedly to abolish and close them. But now it turns out that they didn't really mean it after all:

Labour plans to make changes to special character schools, which will throw a lifeline to the charter schools they promise to shut down.


On Monday, responding to Davis' pledge to resign over them, Hipkins said "tweaks" would be made so there weren't any "unnecessary barriers" for new special character schools.

That could include allowing schools to have more than one special character, which would make it easier for some Maori and Pacifica-targeted schools, he said.


Under the special character changes Hipkins said it was "quite possible" the charter schools operating in Davis' electorate would meet the criteria to transition.

Those years of opposition? Gone. All that tub-thumping? Meaningless noise. But given its professed opposition, this sudden reversal simply makes Labour look like two-faced liars. And if they'll reverse themselves on something they pushed as a rock solid core policy for years, we really have to ask what other, similarly "core" policies they're willing to throw overboard to pander to Andrew Little's pet picks.

Shooting the messenger

There is abundant evidence that the British military committed war crimes in Iraq: torture, abuse, the murder of civilians, all of which are crimes under UK and UK military law. But rather than properly investigating those crimes, the Ministry of Defence instead appears to have attempted to have lawyers representing their victims disbarred:

The government has been accused of undermining the rule of law by putting pressure on an independent regulator in its action against a legal firm pursuing claims of human rights abuses involving British troops in Iraq.

The former deputy leader of the Labour party, Harriet Harman, has called for the release of any emails that would reveal whether the ministries of justice and defence attempted to influence the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to act against Leigh Day. The human rights firm has been involved in many high-profile cases against British soldiers and has referred a number of them to the controversial Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), now being wound up.

Earlier this year, the firm, two of its senior partners, Martyn Day and Sapna Malik, and a junior lawyer, were cleared by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal of any wrongdoing over claims they had made against British troops. The MoD said it was disappointed with the verdict which, if it had gone the other way, could have been fatal for the firm.


The tribunal hearing the case against Leigh Day was told that 276 pieces of correspondence were exchanged between the MoD and the SRA. In several, defence ministers urged civil servants to contact the SRA to seek updates on the firms’ prosecutions.

Which seems to be straight-out evidence of an attempt to interfere in the judicial process. It's as if they were emailing a judge during a court case. Which is grossly improper, if not an attempt to pervert the course of justice. But this is the British establishment, which clearly will stop at nothing to defend the reputation of their Glorious Military.

While Leigh Day was not disbarred, another law firm representing victims of British war crimes was. The MoD's pressure immediately calls that decision into question, and makes it look like a political verdict. And it destroys any pretense that the UK's war crimes investigations were anything other than another attempt at a shabby cover-up. But if the UK won't investigate its war criminals, I guess they'll just have to go to The Hague instead.

Must read

Today's must-read (though its from last week): Peter Newport's piece in The Spinoff on The Ministry of Transport fraud case: Why the rot goes deeper than Joanne Harrison. Based on information from more MoT whistleblowers, it makes a convincing case that, contrary to government excuses, Harrison was not some fraudulent mastermind who deceived everyone. Instead, her fraud was clumsy, easily detectable - and was detected multiple times. And that it was the failure of then chief executive (and for the time being, Auditor-General) Martin Matthews to actually act on these warnings that was the problem.

That's bad, and it puts Matthews in a very bad light. But the thing that really gets me is this:

Martin Matthews was assistant auditor general for eight years from 1990. One of his core responsibilities was fraud prevention. His boss for much of that time was Jeff Chapman. Chapman holds the dubious distinction of being New Zealand’s highest ranking civil servant to be convicted and jailed for fraud. As auditor general and head of ACC, according to evidence at his trial in 1997, Chapman lived the high life: first-class travel, fine wine and food, trips on Concorde and helicopter rides from the French Riviera to Monte Carlo. He was found guilty of defrauding ACC of $20,000 and the Audit Office of $34,549.

According to our source, Matthews had given MOT staff the impression that he was aware his former boss, Auditor General Chapman, had been cheating the system...

The first bit is bad enough. The natural question is why anyone who was deputy to New Zealand's worst public sector fraudster was ever allowed to work in a management role in the public service ever again. And then to learn that he's been telling people "yeah, I knew about it" and did nothing - its as if he's proud of his role in covering up for criminals. Which is fundamentally inconsistent with the values of the New Zealand public service and the leadership chief executives are required to display. Those statements alone are reason for immediately firing him, because they suggest that he would tolerate corruption in his department. And when there has been corruption in his department, that he was warned about repeatedly, it starts to look a lot like he was a knowing party to the offence.

The report on Matthews should be out this week. But if it finds him blameless and lets him continue in office, there is simply no hope whatsoever for our public service.

The GCSB perjured themselves

Kim Dotcom lost a court case last week over whether he could see the communications the GCSB intercepted from him in order to assess the amount of damages he is owed. But in doing so, we learned something new: that illegal surveillance lasted two months longer than previously admitted, and the GCSB lied about it in court:

The illegal spying which earned Kim Dotcom an apology from former Prime Minister Sir John Key went on two months longer than previously admitted, according to a High Court judgment.

The revelation - if accurate - would open a can of worms over sworn admissions the GCSB has made in the High Court and the Court of Appeal over assistance given to police ahead of the FBI-inspired 2012 raid which saw Dotcom and three others arrested.

It could also raise the possibility of a fresh apology to Dotcom because Key's apology was in the context of spying from December 16, 2011 through to January 20, 2012.

The GCSB had previously given sworn statements on the earlier date in court, so the spies who gave those statements are now on the hook for perjury. But that's not all - because the new date also means that the GCSB continued spying on Dotcom for a full month after they knew it was illegal. Which pushes their spying from "incompetent mistake for which people should lose their jobs" to "knowing illegality for which people should go to jail". Not that that, or a perjury prosecution, will ever happen. Because if we've learned one thing from this whole saga, its that the law simply does not apply to the GCSB. And that makes one of the foundations of consent in the modern state - equal laws, applying to the government as well as the people - a lie.

The GCSB are not just undermining our sovereignty and our international relations. They are also undermining the foundations of our democracy. They are a poison in our body politic. And it is long past time we eliminated them.

Friday, July 21, 2017

"No idea" II

Meanwhile, while the government claims it had "no idea" there was a housing crisis or that it would cost so much, social housing waiting lists have hit record highs:

The growing demand for social housing in New Zealand is showing no sign of slowing down, according to newly-released figures.

The official waiting list for social housing grew by 40 per cent in the last year, and has passed 5000 households for the first time since the Ministry of Social Development took over responsibility in mid-2014.

The increase appears to be driven by demand in Auckland and Christchurch, where a combined 250 people were added to the list since March.

After the last quarter's results were released in April, Social Housing Minister Amy Adams noted that growth in demand had slowed to 2 per cent. It has now bounced back up again, rising 10 per cent in the last three months.

And remember, this is the waiting list after WINZ have denied assistance to everyone they possibly can in a desperate effort to save money and make the Minister's stats look good. So it massively under-estimates demand.

Again, the only reason National had "no idea" there was a housing crisis is because they steadfastly ignored the evidence for years. I guess they were just more interested in the rising value of their personal property portfolios than in what that actually meant for ordinary people.

New Fisk

To the Government, Saudi Arabia is 'The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All'

The cost of denial

Despite having been warned for years about the housing crisis, National now says it had "no idea" that it was a problem:

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett has admitted "in hindsight" the Government's response to the housing crisis has been too slow.


"We had no idea how much it was going to cost," Ms Bennett told The AM Show on Friday morning.

"We had no idea it would ever be this big. No Government had ever picked up the bill for this. No Government has ever funded emergency housing."

Asked if the Government should have done something about it earlier, Ms Bennett said that "in hindsight, you always wish you'd gone earlier".

But this wasn't ignorance: it was denial. National simply didn't want to admit the problem existed (especially when it was making its urban voters feel wealthy as their house prices rose). But this denial has cost us. At the moment the government is spending $50 million a year putting homeless people up in overpriced motels, spending that could have been avoided if they'd acted sooner and built more state houses. But again, that would have required admitting that the problem existed, and accepting that it is the government's job to fix it - both anathema to National.

And so because of government denial we have a massive social problem which is going to cost us hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars to directly fix, while likely imposing that much in flow-on costs due to its health, education, and other effects. If only they'd pointed their social investment approach at that, rather than at finding more ways to throw people off benefits.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Unprotected disclosures

The State Services Commission has released the results of its inquiry into retaliation by convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison against staff who tried to blow the whistle on her. They're pretty devastating:

Four whistleblowers at the Ministry of Transport suffered "humiliating" reprisals after they raised concerns about convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison, a high-level inquiry has concluded.

And while the staff members were not forced out of their jobs as initially claimed, Harrison's advice meant some of them were made redundant just before Christmas or had requests for a pay rise rejected.

The affected staff members are now in line for compensation, the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said at a press conference this afternoon. The size of the payout was confidential.

Each of these staff did the right thing, and were punished for it. Its a clear breach of the Protected Disclosures Act, and SSC has recognised that with compensation. At the same time, it has once again raised the wider issue of whether the Protected Disclosures Act is fit for purpose. There's some vague recommendations for a review, but nothing concrete, despite the clear failure of the Act in this case. Reform was suggested in last year's Open Government Partnership consultation, but was not taken up by the government. This case suggests very strongly that that was a mistake. We need an improved whistleblower law, one which empowers employees to go to MP's and the media if their bosses ignore them, and one which offers concrete protection against retaliation, with personal liability and jail terms for bosses who try to silence them. Anything less, and we are implicitly tolerating corruption in our public service and our society.

National's New Zealand

Welcome to National's New Zealand, where infant mortality is at a three-year high:

New Zealand's high rates of infant deaths places it near the bottom of the OECD, with opposition parties blaming inequality and poverty for the country's poor record compared to the rest of the developed world.

Poor healthcare; poor housing; lack of access to a midwife or maternity carer; and poor health in the mother have all been blamed by experts for the poor statistics.

The rate of neonatal deaths has fluctuated over the past 20 years, but in that time there has been little sustained improvement.

Recently-published government figures from 2013 are the worst in three years.

This is the hard edge of National's cuts and its grinding down of the poor: dead babies. National doesn't care - hell, it probably sees them as a net gain, an avoided cost in their "social investment" models. If we want to fix this, and rejoin the first world, we need a government which does, and which will reverse National's austerity.

People should be paid for their work

The Māori Party's latest immigration policy: slavery for migrants:

An internship visa that would require migrants with special skills to train young people in the regions is to be announced by the Maori Party today.

The package is part of the party's new policy on immigration, which until now has been solely a bid to have a crash course on Te Tiriti o Waitangi - the Treaty - added to the requirements for citizenship.

The Community Internship Scheme would see migrants work for two years as builders, doctors, beekeepers, plumbers or in other skilled work, depending on their qualifications or the needs of regions. The regions targeted would be identified as "Economic Hotspots" - areas experiencing an economic, population or income decline.

The internship would be unpaid

But don't worry: the local community would feed and house their migrant slaves, so they won't starve or freeze to death.

As with WINZ's provision of force labour to The Warehouse, this is not something we should permit in New Zealand. People should be paid for their work. If the Māori Party wants to offer proper, paid jobs in the regions to encourage people to migrate there, that's one thing. But removing their right to pay and restricting their freedom of movement under a coerced "contract" is simply slavery.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who needs tax collectors anyway?

New Zealand has a problem with tax cheats. Large multinational corporations, rich pricks, dodgy tradespeople, all not paying their fair share. So naturally, National is gutting the IRD:

Staff at Inland Revenue offices around the country have been told 30 percent of its workforce will go by 2021.


The PSA said restructuring from February next year could affect up to 4000 staff in various ways, but the impact had not been fully explained.

In a statement released this afternoon, Inland Revenue Commissioner Naomi Ferguson said there would be no reduction in frontline customer services staff.

She said the 3300 customer-facing staff would all be offered new roles or confirmed straight into new roles.

Which means the ones they're planning to sack are the specialist staff, the ones who know what they're doing. The ones who know how to detect fraud and spot bullshit from the rich. Because hey, who needs to do that? Its not like the government depends on people paying their taxes to fund all those schools and hospitals or anything...

This is pure wrecking behaviour by National. And clearly, if we want a functioning state supported by a functioning tax system, we need a change of government.

If this is "terrorism", we should all be "terrorists"

Turkey has arrested six human rights activists for "terrorism":

Amnesty International urged the British government to end its silence over Turkey’s slide into authoritarian rule on Tuesday after its local director and five other activists were remanded in custody on accusations of belonging to a terrorist organisation. It is possible the six will now be held in jail for as long as two years before their full trial comes to court.

Idil Eser, local director of the London-based organisation, was one of a group of activists including a German and a Swedish national detained on 5 July while attending a routine workshop on digital security and information management near Istanbul.

Turkey’s state prosecutor had asked the court on Monday to remand all 10 in custody pending trial on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation. Six were retained in jail to give the prosecution time to assemble full charges. Four others were released.

If promoting human rights is "terrorism", we should all be "terrorists". And governments which adopt that definition deserve to be overthrown by their people.

Farmers never learn

The dairy lobby is trying to tell us that farmers are cleaning up their act and polluting less. Meanwhile, a Waikato farmer has been convicted for the second time of pouring his cowshit into the local river:

A south Waikato dairy farming company has been fined for the second time in four years for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment.

Fernaig Farms (2006) Limited was convicted and fined $33,750 for their activities at their Lichfield property.

The fine was imposed in the Rotorua District Court last week by Judge CJ Thompson following a prosecution taken by Waikato Regional Council under the Resource Management Act.

The company owns a number of farms within the Waikato region, including four dairy farms.

A prosecution in 2013 also resulted in convictions and a fine of $30,000 for effluent mismanagement on their Mangakino property.

This farmer is a repeat offender, and its clear that they haven't learned from their first prosecution. And if it happens again, the court should ban them from farming. We do this for those who mistreat animals. Shouldn't we also do it for those who mistreat our environment?

A game of hide and seek

Radio New Zealand reports on the Ministry of Transport's attempts to bury information about its resident fraudster Joanne Harrison:

Emails from the Transport Minister show he told his own ministry that its plans to withhold information from a Labour MP were at odds with its promise to be open and transparent.


Labour MP Sue Moroney used the Official Information Act to request information about taxpayer-funded flights to the Far North that Harrison had taken, and a restructure of the finance team that took place at the Ministry while she was employed there.

Emails obtained by RNZ show the Transport Ministry's chief legal adviser David Bowden knew the information existed but was going to refuse to release it.

Mr Bowden said the financial restructure happened just outside the timeframe the MP had identified in her request, so the Ministry would say the information did not exist.

He said the Ministry would not release the costs of Harrison's flights because the MP asked for information on flights to Kaitaia, whereas Harrison had flown to a different airport in the region.

In this case they were pulled into line by the Minister's office, who reminded them of promises to be open and transparent on the issue (not that this is the same Minister who himself tried to bury information about Kiwirail). But it illustrates the toxic culture of secrecy that same Minister has allowed to fester (and at times promoted) in his Ministry. Agencies faced with a request which is obviously for certain information should not be playing these sorts of games to pretend that it does not exist. That both thwarts the purpose of the Act and arguably violates the duty of assistance. It also makes more work for them, in that if specific requests are gamed, they will be replaced with broader, more general ones which require more work. Plus it undermines the reputation of the Ministry, and broader trust in government.

We need a complete culture change around secrecy in our government agencies. It needs to be made clear to Chief Executives and to public servants in general that failing to properly comply with the OIA is a career-limiting move. No government is interested in this, so it is only going to happen when Parliament itself takes an interest and defends our right to transparency.

Labour finally opens its wallet

Labour has announced a massive spending package this morning, aimed at restoring our health, education and welfare systems after National's neglect:

Labour has run its numbers and opened its books, promising multi-billion-dollar injections into health and education.

If elected, Labour leader Andrew Little said he would pump $8b more over four years into health and $4b into education, all the while maintaining surpluses of more than $4b.

The party has released its fiscal plan at an event held in Wellington's Kilbirnie Medical Centre. It provides the broad-brush numbers of what Labour would spend in key social areas, of health, education and housing.

These are big numbers, even over four years, and National will no doubt cry "fiscal irresponsibility". But they add up. And what's amazing is how easy it is to enable that level of spending on core services simply by tweaking a few parameters: the net debt target (20% vs 15%), and the annual surplus (a billion dollars lower in 2022). And by cancelling some tax cuts. And it makes it crystal clear how National's brutal austerity, which is seeing the homeless freeze to death and the sick waiting in ambulances at A&E, is entirely a matter of choice, of their prioritising numbers on a spreadsheet and giving money to their mates rather than delivering the core services the public expects from government. We can afford to have decent public services - its just that National chooses not to. And they do it, bluntly, because they are vicious arseholes.

As with the Greens' families package, this is a negotiating platform rather than a concrete promise. But if Labour manages to lift its vote, then it becomes the framework its coalition partners' policies will fit within. And what's clear is that they have plenty of room to manoeuvre, and deliver a kinder, fairer New Zealand, if we let them. Or we can have three more years of National giving themselves tax cuts, while telling you that you'll have to wait for that operation or pay a thousand dollars in "donations" to keep your kids' school operating. I know which one I prefer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dealing with the tax cheats

New Zealand has a problem: large multinational companies like Facebook, Amazon, and RT cheating ontheir taxes. Now Labour is proposing a solution: a diverted profits tax:

Labour is promising to claw back hundreds of millions of dollars a year from multinationals such as Apple, Facebook and Google if they don't pay their fair share of tax.

If elected, the party would impose a diverted profits tax (DPT) on multinational firms that sent profits offshore to minimise their tax bill.

Leader Andrew Little has written to 50 multinationals setting out the pledge.

He told Morning Report an extra $200 million a year could be collected, which would make a "huge difference" and represented "a heap of teachers, a heap of nurses and doctors".

The basic mechanism is a deemed rate of tax on anything routed through a tax haven. Both the UK and Australia have such mechanisms, and they seem to be successful in eliminating transfer pricing and making these countries pay their fair share. There's no reason why such a policy wouldn't work here. The trick is getting a government that wants to tax the cheats rather than defend them.

But they still hate cats

Gareth Morgan's Opportunities Party has announced a $200 a week youth UBI:

All New Zealanders between 18 and 23 will be given an obligation-free $200 a week under an Opportunities Party policy announced this afternoon.

The policy would allow young people to "pursue their dreams" and "take stress off ... at a pivotal time" in their lives, the party said.

The Opportunities Party (TOP) has previously announced an "unconditional basic income" for over-65s and families with children under 3.

But today it said budget surpluses announced this year would make it possible to extend a basic income to "one of the most needy and neglected groups in society possible".

We already have a UBI for over 65's: its called "New Zealand Superannuation". Expanding it to true universality would be good for everyone, and that expansion has to start somewhere. Starting at the bottom, with young people, is a good place to do it. In a flash it would remove the inequity of students having to borrow to eat, while also replacing or supplementing student allowances, youth unemployment benefits, and the DPB for young parents. For those pursuing work rather than study, it would massively improve their bargaining position by allowing them to just walk away from a bad job. And because oppression starts at the bottom, this would have significant flow-on effects on the pay and conditions of older workers. And all for the price of Nationals' tax cuts.

And on the gripping hand: Gareth Morgan hates cats, so fuck him and his party. Him floating the idea is useful, but I'll get someone else to implement it, thanks. Someone who doesn't want to murder half my family.

Why we should price water IV

At their campaign launch in Nelson the Greens announced a 10 cents a litre levy on bottled water. So how much is that worth? Up to $2 billion:

Right now, 73 companies hold consents to take up to 23.7 billion litres of New Zealand water between them. Adopting the same approach as our Pacific neighbour and charging 10 cents per litre would bring in nearly $2.37 billion a year in revenue - roughly about 1 percent of the country’s GDP, and comparable to a third of the $8 billion the dairy industry contributes every year.

The country’s largest water permit grants Okuru Enterprises permission to pump 800 million litres of water out of Jackson Bay on the South Island’s West Coast for export every month, or 9.6 billion litres annually. With a 10 cents per litre tax, the West Coast Regional Council-approved consent would rake in a staggering $960 million a year alone.

Of course, not all of these consents are fully utilised, or even used at all: Okaru infamously has consent, but hasn't pumped a single drop in 25 years. And really, we want some of these consents (such as Okaru's) to be surrendered or never used. At the same time, it shows how charging water bottling companies for their use of a public resource could be a significant revenue stream for the government (and for iwi, once the necessary settlement is reached) and allow us to fund better public services for kiwis. And at the heart of it, there is the basic fairness article: that water belongs to the people of New Zealand. It is only right that those who want to profit from its extraction pay for it.

The same question

Another day, another case of unjustified taser use:

The police watchdog has found that a sergeant's use of a Taser on a young man in south Auckland was "excessive and unjustified".


"Police policy clearly states that a Taser must only be used on a person who is assaultive," said IPCA chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers.

​"The young man was being restrained by two officers at the time he was Tasered. Although he managed to spit in the sergeant's direction twice, the sergeant's use of the Taser was excessive and unjustified."

The IPCA also found that while the sergeant's arrest of the young man was lawful, his decision was "ill-considered and premature," and his decision to arrest the young man had unnecessarily escalated the situation.

Again its a classic case of "compliance policing": of electrically torturing someone for the convenience and ego of the police rather than because they were a threat to public safety. And as in other cases, it's the same question: Will this officer be prosecuted? Because ont he face of it, they appear to have committed an assault with a weapon, and arguably torture. If any of us did this, we'd be in jail, and rightly so. So, does the law apply to the police, or not?

This constant stream of taser abuse cases also shows why we can never allow an armed police force. It is clear that these weapons are constantly abused and that police lack judgement around use of force. We're lucky that so far no-one has died as a result. If they were using guns, I'd undoubtedly be asking that question about murder, not just assault.

The Warehouse: Subsidised by forced labour

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley is proudly announcing a new "youth initiative" with The Warehouse to give young people work experience. Which sounds great, until you realise that that work experience, lasting 15 days, is unpaid. So what this really means is that MSD will be leaning on young people and threatening to cut benefits unless they "agree" to work for free for three weeks for a perfectly profitable major company. There's a name for that: forced labour. And its not something we should permit in New Zealand.

Assuming National's discriminatory "training wage" applies, each of these workers will be deprived of over $1500 in wages during their "work experience". MSD has agreed to provide a thousand of them, so what this really amounts to is a $1.5 million government subsidy to The Warehouse, extracted by bullying and threatening vulnerable young people. For a company which supposedly prides itself on its social conscience, its absolutely disgusting. And we shouldn't shop there, until they agree to pay every one of these workers at least the minimum wage, like any other employee.

Monday, July 17, 2017

And he says he's not racist...

Last week, Winston Peters was in full outrage mode because the Greens had dared to speak the truth and call him what he was: a racist. This week, he wants Pakeha to have a vote on whether Māori should be effectively represented in Parliament:

Mr Peters also said that if New Zealand First was part of the next government, he would let the public to decide whether to abolish Māori seats and cut the number of MPs in Parliament to 100.

He said Māori seats send a terrible message and vowed to hold a mid-term binding referendum on the two matters.

"The fact is that Māori don't need to be told that they're not good enough to be equal, or that somehow they should be handicapped or somehow they should be pigeon-holed," Mr Peters said.

What the Māori seats actually do is ensure that Māori are effectively represented in Parliament, and can never be silenced by the Pakeha majority. We also effectively have a referendum of Māori voters on them every five years when the seats are recalculated after the census. Māori have overwhelmingly chosen to be represented that way. Against that background, a referendum seems to be a calculated attempt to strip representation and silence voices Peters and his redneck followers would rather not hear.

Fundamental rights should never be decided by referendum. The good news in this case is that if Winston wants his binding referendum, he'll need legislation. And he'll never get that from the left. So I guess the question is whether National will also rule it out, or whether they're so desperate for a fourth term that they're willing to return to Brash-style racism to get it.

Accountability measures

National supposedly loves targets, on the basis that they allow the government to be held accountable for failure. But when you look inside the sausage factory, its not a pretty picture:

A goal of reducing New Zealand's total suicide rate by 20 per cent over 10 years was rejected over fears the Government would be held accountable if the rate didn't drop.

The target would have seen New Zealand aiming for 12 fewer people to die from suicide per year, each year until 2027. An expert panel created to advise the Ministry of Health concluded that target should be the main purpose of the ministry's new suicide prevention strategy.

But Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman's office pushed instead for vague phrasing, like "reduce rates of suicide", that wouldn't become an "accountability measure" for the Government.

Because the last thing the government wants is to actually have to do what they say they're going to do. So instead, they avoid meaningful targets, or we get bullshit business-as-usual ones which will be met regardless, as seen in the EECS.

Except that there's a bigger "accountability measure", of holding them to account for their failure to set (and achieve) proper targets. And from the above, I think its clear National is a failure.

Standing on their principles

The Greens held their party conference over the weekend, and announced a $1.5 billion families package aimed at massively relieving poverty in New Zealand. Benefits would be raised, the minimum wage increased, child support universalised, and the boot of WINZ removed from beneficiaries' faces. This would be paid for by cancelling National's tax cuts - and by adding a new top-tax rate applying to rich people like MP's.

MMP being what it is, this is a negotiating platform rather than a concrete promise. But its a bold statement of principle, and of priorities. NeoLiberalism, with its benefit cuts, has left us a legacy of entrenched poverty. The policy of ever-harsher sanctions - continued unchanged under Clark and made even worse under National - has made things worse, not better. We have tolerated this inequality for far too long, and it is time we did something about it, by reversing the policies that cause it. And for those who think money is more important than basic decency, its not a question of whether we can afford it: given the huge social costs these policies have imposed on us, it is a question of whether we can afford not to.

As for Meyt's admission that she lied to WINZ in the 90's, well, wouldn't you to help your kids survive? And if not, you're a sorry excuse for a human being. People deliberately and consciously setting out to rip off the system out of greed is one thing; desperate people who are just trying to get by in the face of a system designed to grind you down rather than support you is quite another. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of dealing with WINZ knows what wankers they are, and I'm not going to condemn anyone for doing what they need to do to survive.

The message is clear: if you want principle, you vote Green. If you want bland, technocratic tinkering, business-as-usual with a few more smiley face stickers over the nasty parts of NeoLiberalism (plus crawling into bed with Winston), you can vote Labour. I know which one I'll be doing.

Absolutely outrageous

We all knew that Horowhenua District Council was a toxic environment, with the council and Chief Executive refusing to accept the election of a new mayor. But Radio New Zealand this morning reported that its Chief Executive was spying on the mayor's email and personally redirecting, blocking, and editing emails within the council system. The story is audio only, but its worth a listen (as is the interview with one of its victims, mayor Michael Feyen).

According to the story, council David Clapperton had the IT team set up a blacklist several years ago, and emails to those on the list were sent to him for his review (and editing) before being sent on. Feyen, while a councillor, was on that list, as well as a number of other people. There's at least one quoted example of emails being edited in transit by Clapperton, and another of emails marked "confidential" being screened.

The report all this is from calls this an extreme risk to the council. No shit. It goes well beyond what's acceptable in the workplace, and raises serious questions about the Chief Executive's ethics. In case he's forgotten, he is an employee of the council. And here he's effectively spying on his bosses, and directly manipulating communications with them for his own purposes. This is absolutely outrageous, and he should be being fired immediately for it (sadly I doubt he can be prosecuted for use of an interception device, as an agency is considered to be a party to everything which crosses its own email system, even if its clearly private and not for them). It also raises obvious risks under the Privacy Act, and under LGOIMA.

But don't worry! The Chief Executive has decreed that the audit report covering all of this - which also talked about the governance issues between him and the council - will be peer reviewed, and that his abuse of the email system was "out of scope". Well, obviously, that makes it alright then, if its never mentioned in an official report ever.

Like parliamentary Services' spying on MPs, this isn't acceptable. The spying needs to stop, and Clapperton needs to be sacked. Sadly, given the toxic environment at HDC, he'll probably get away with it entirely.

Friday, July 14, 2017

An investment in the future

Labour has announced more policy: reversing National's ECE cuts:

Labour is promising an extra $193 million over three years for early childhood education.

Leader Andrew Little said Labour would increase funding "for centres that employ 100 per cent qualified and registered teachers, and we will require all ECE centres to employ at least 80 per cent qualified teachers by the end of our first term".

"This $193m increase for Early Childhood Education demonstrates our commitment to strong public services as the foundation for a just and prosperous society."

ECE funding has been frozen since 2010 - effectively a cut once inflation is factored in. This reverses that, as well as National's cut in teacher qualifications. And it will be money well spent: ECE is one of the highest value investments a government can make in future generations, and has a significant payoff by reducing future education, welfare, and justice spending. And it speaks volumes that National would rather have tax cuts now than investing in our future.

New Fisk

Fethullah Gulen is facing extradition to Turkey by Donald Trump – so he should read up about his country

National's New Zealand

How bad is National's New Zealand? We now have people freezing to death in the streets:

A homeless man has been found dead, huddled under his sleeping bag at the back of a church - the second known such death of a homeless person in two weeks as a polar blast grips the nation.

The man was found on Tuesday morning as Manurewa Methodist Church set up its weekly soup kitchen for the homeless.

Manurewa mum Beverley Losefa, who organises the soup kitchen, thought he was sleeping in. But when they served the first cup of tea and he still hadn't risen she became worried.

Police were called and confirmed the man had died, before they cordoned off the area.

This is what happens when you cut benefits and state housing and mental health care: people end up on the street, exposed to the weather. And then, in Winter, they die. It is social murder, pure and simple. And Ministers and officials need to be held accountable for it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Greens vs Winston II

The spat between the Greens and NZ First has escalated, with Green MP Barry Coates suggesting (on The Daily Blog) that the Greens could deny confidence to a Labour - NZ First coalition and force another election if Winston locks them out of government.

Its an empty threat, in that if Labour needs Winston as well as the Greens, he can almost certainly switch his support to National (and in the event of a confidence loss, he would have space to do this, because the Prime Minister needs the confidence of the House to call an election). And that alone means it is a stupid one. But it does demonstrate just how angry the Greens are getting at the prospect of being taken for granted by Labour again.

As for what they should do about it if Labour doesn't significantly lift its performance and a three-way deal is necessary: choose no deal over a bad one. Sure, give Labour - NZ First confidence and supply, but unless they are offering serious policy concessions on areas of core Green interest, and policy vetoes over NZ First racism, give them nothing else. Then use their effective legislative veto to extract concessions piecemeal, and bargain hard over anything not in the Green manifesto. Don't even give them a house management vote (as the Maori Party has done for National) - if they want urgency, then they can demonstrate the need. And if they want policy which isn't already backed by the Greens (and isn't contrary to their values), then they can fucking pay for it.

Labour and NZ First can either have the Greens inside the tent pissing out, or outside the tent setting it on fire. The choice is up to them.

Reckitt Benckiser: Tax cheats

Reckitt Benckiser (RB) makes a bunch of household brands in New Zealand, including Dettol and Neurofen. And according to Oxfam, they're tax cheats, who have stolen $15 million from kiwis in the past three years:

So how do they do it? Oxfam's investigation says by profit shifting. That's when firms make profits in one country and shift them across borders by exploiting gaps and mismatches in tax rules.

"This is not tax evasion, it's tax avoidance and it's legal within our current rules in New Zealand this is something multinationals are able to do all round the world," Ms Le Mesurier said.

The Oxfam investigation shows RB restructured its business to create regional hubs in the Netherlands, Singapore and Dubai.

"Before they restructured they were clearly making good profit ... they were doing very well in New Zealand the last three years what it looks like is their profits have dropped off a cliff," Ms Le Mesurier said.

None of this is illegal, of course - as with MP's rorting their travel and entitlements, it's all within the rules. But it is immoral, a betrayal of the social contract. And we should respond by taking our money elsewhere until RB pays its fair share.

The meh factor

On Tuesday, Labour announced its "families package", which redistributed National's tax cuts into Working For Families and extra help for parents with young children. It was better than what National is offering, but at the same time, its hardly awe-inspiring - tinkering around the edges, rather than real change. Stuff's Vernon Small argues that its just not enough to excite voters into voting for Labour:

So the two big parties have set out their Family Packages and are at each other's throats over the details.

Who gains, how many and by how much. Who pays, how much and to how many.

But it is no surprise there is no baying from the crowds in the stands.

Because in the big scheme of things, the argument is really being played out in a very small ball park.


Accepting that Labour's fiscal plan next week may change the story, Labour may have a problem; that the two plans are not only similar, they are too similar to make a difference. That while they have different ideologies at their core, those different world view have not taken them far enough to energise the voters.

And that's a real problem. Labour wants people to vote for change. But when it comes down to it, the only real change they're offering is who gets the Ministerial salaries. Everything else is basicly business-as-usual, the rich get richer and the poor keep getting screwed. Oh, they'll offer a bit more money here and there to put a sticking plaster on that oozing sore, and change employment laws a bit (but not too much) to give workers a better chance, but its basicly the same shit with different dungworms. And who really gives a fuck about that?

The worst part is that they've bullied the Greens into signing up for this, in the name of offering "stable alternative government". Except that what it means is that they're not really offering an alternative at all - and the Greens aren't allowed to offer an alternative to them (which is what Labour really fears).

If you want people to vote for change, you actually need to offer some. But if you let the right set the fiscal and policy parameters, you simply can't do that in any meaningful sense. The solution is obvious: reject National's fiscal and policy straitjackets, and open up policy space to do something real. Sadly, that's probably too much to expect from Labour.

Equality comes to Malta

Earlier in the month the German Parliament voted for marriage equality. And now Malta has followed suit:

MPs on the predominantly Catholic island of Malta have voted to legalise same-sex marriage.

In a vote passed by 66-1, Malta’s parliament approved legislation replacing the traditional "you are now husband and wife" declaration in civil ceremonies with "you are now spouses”.

The sole MP who voted against the change said he did so because of his faith.

One more down. And hopefully the rest of the world will follow suit soon.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

An exercise in pointless cruelty

Over the past few years, the European Union has increasingly adopted Australian anti-refugee tactics, intercepting and "pushing back" refugee boats in an effort to avoid their obligations under the Refugee Convention. But according to a report from the UK House of Lords, these operations have simply increased the number of refugees dying at sea:

The tactics used by the European Union’s naval mission – in which Britain plays a leading role – to tackle people-smuggling in the Mediterranean have resulted in more deaths at sea of refugees and migrants, a cross-party House of Lords inquiry has concluded.

The peers say an unintended consequence of Operation Sophia’s policy of destroying smugglers’ boats has been that they have adapted and sent refugees and migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels, leading to more deaths.

The number of recorded casualties on the central Mediterranean route – between Libya and Italy – rose by 42% to more than 4,500 people drowning in 2016 compared with 3,175 in 2015. So far in 2017 there have been 2,150 deaths.

The report by the Lords’ EU external affairs sub-committee says the bloc’s naval operation has failed in its mission to disrupt the business of people-smuggling in the central Mediterranean and its mandate should not be renewed. The initiative has had little impact on the flow of irregular migrants, which reached its highest level yet in 2016 with 181,436 arriving in Europe by this route.

I hope the EU will take that advice. Sadly, I expect Europe's racist politicians will simply double down on the cruelty. I guess the good news about Brexit is that the UK won't be being their thugs anymore.

The obvious solution

Auckland schools are complaining about a teacher shortage again:

More than half of Auckland schools are each struggling to fill up to four teaching jobs, a new survey reveals.

Sixty-six per cent of schools across the region took part in the survey, which found more than 50 per cent had three or four teacher vacancies.

Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Kevin Bush said of those, more than half had advertised four or five times, spanning several months, and even then still failed to fill the roles.

He said it was the worst shortage he'd seen in 30 years.

And its entirely unsurprising, in light of stories like this and this. National's housing bubble means that even those on decent wages like teachers can no longer afford to live in Auckland. As for the solution, its called an employment market. If schools can't find enough teachers at the wages they're offering, clearly they need to offer more. If they don't, then they have no-one but themselves to blame if qualified staff pursue better options elsewhere.