Friday, April 27, 2018

Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Cerberus, the South Island's coldest larp convention. Normal bloggage should return on Tuesday.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

DPMC drops the ball on intelligence oversight

Correction (June 2018): Documents released under the OIA show that this post is unfair to both the then-Prime Minister Bill English, and to DPMC, who tried very hard to make an appointment. See the post here for details.

When John Key rammed his 2013 spy bill through Parliament, he made much of new "safeguards" which would ensure the GCSB did not abuse the new powers he was giving it. Among those safeguards was a new statutory advisory panel for the Inspector-General of Intelligence and security, a provision which has been re-enacted in the replacement Intelligence and Security Act 2017. But it turns out that that advisory panel has been vacant for almost two years, because the government couldn't be fucked appointing anyone to it:

Intelligence and security agencies have been lacking a layer of oversight for almost two years.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's advisory panel was set up in 2014, to aid the inspector-general in her role as independent watchdog of the country's intelligence and security agencies: the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) and The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

The idea was to provide another layer of oversight, and give the inspector-general "a sounding board" to help her determine whether the agencies were acting lawfully and "properly". But no-one has been appointed to the panel since October 2016.

Unlike the inspector-general's recently established reference group, the members have security clearance, meaning they are given access to classified or sensitive information.


The inaugural members' two-year terms ran out in October 2016, and there have been no appointments to the panel since.

DPMC blames the 2017 election for the vacancies. But that election happened almost a year after the initial appointments lapsed, so that seems just a tad disingenuous. If DPMC had been on the ball, they would have begun an appointment process in mid-2016 to ensure that there was not a vacancy. Instead, they didn't even start until the positions were vacant, and then never followed up. You'd almost get the impression that intelligence oversight was not a priority for them or their then-Minister. And if you draw that utterly reasonable conclusion, I think DPMC has no-one to blame but themselves.

A terrible idea

Shane Jones wants to politicise the public service:

Cabinet Minister Shane Jones, says he would like to "soften that line" between governance and the bureaucracy, including allowing ministers to appoint top officials.

In an interview on the provincial growth fund Jones, the Regional Development Minister railed against a bureaucratic system he characterised as a "treacle-riddled", slowing down process around funding economic projects, without evidence of improved efficiency.

"I'm looking forward to fighting an election to change the way that politicians relate to the bureaucracy," Jones said.

"I know we have this separation of governance and the bureaucracy, but I'm really attracted to the idea where the Aussies have softened that line, and key ministers bring in their s...-kickers to get things done. That's always been my preference."

Jones is pushing this as a way to "get things done" and lessen bureaucracy. What it actually means is providing Ministers with a way to stack the upper echelons of the public service with cronies, who will then in turn politicise the hiring process lower down, resulting in a politicised public service like they have in America. It will also lessen the quality of advice given to Ministers, replacing the free, frank and fairless advice of professional public servants with the groupthink of party hacks. And that in turn will lead to mistakes in policy implementation. We've seen enough of those already (see the endless stream of stories about underfunding and infrastructure deficits from National, or about Christchurch). This will make it worse. And for what? So Ministers like Jones can feel like they're adequately in charge? Personally, I'd prefer if the Minister for Pornography didn't take out his domination fetish on the country, thankyouverymuch.

This is a terrible idea, and hopefully Chris Hipkins, the Minister for State services, will bury it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The tories knew all along

For the past few weeks pressure has been growing on the British government over its persecution of the "Windrush generation". People who legally came to the UK, lived there their entire lives, and had a permanent right of residency are being treated as illegal immigrants because the government deliberately destroyed the records that would enable them to prove otherwise. The tories have tried to portray this as an unfortunate accident, an unforseen consequence of their hate policies towards refugees. But it turns out that they knew all along that this was happening:

A letter from a Home Office minister dated May 2016 and obtained by the Guardian shows that the government has known for years about the impact of its “hostile environment” policy on the Windrush generation.


The letter set out that Johnson was liable to be deported despite having lived in Britain for 45 years because he could not show that he had arrived before 1973, when the law changed. Nor could he provide the documentary evidence the Home Office demanded of continuous residence over other periods in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2014 he was told he was here illegally, and his benefits were stopped.

Asked about the letter on ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme, Brokenshire – who is now on the backbenches and has been receiving treatment for lung cancer – said he had not seen the letter before.

...which is odd, because he signed it. But its another example of how these dirty racists are trying to dodge responsibility for the known and foreseeable outcomes of their own racist policies.

The good news is that the government appears to be backing down, and has promised citizenship and compensation to its victims. Good. But I'll believe it when I see the legislation, and I'm sure they'll find some equally vile way to prevent people from taking it up in practice.

Democracy wins in Armenia

For the past eleven days Armenians have been protesting against their Prime Minister's efforts to do a Putin and make himself ruler for life. Initially, he had responded with repression, arresting protesters and the leader of the opposition. But now, suddenly, he has resigned:

For 11 days, the opposition pressure mounted against Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s most powerful politician. But few expected he would go so quietly.

Sargsyan, the country’s prime minister and former president for a decade, resigned suddenly on Monday in a stunning concession to the country’s opposition, which had filled the former Soviet republic’s main square with tens of thousands of demonstrators demanding his exit.

Facing a renewed wave of thousands of demonstrators, including deserting soldiers, Sargsyan issued a stark mea culpa on Monday. “I was wrong,” he said in a statement on his government’s website. And he resigned.

Good riddance. Hopefully now Armenia can have a democratic government rather than a thinly-veiled autocracy.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Climate change: What about coal?

Now the government has banned offshore oil exploration and effectively called time on the gas industry's future, people are asking the obvious question: what about coal? But the government says they haven't done any work on this - something National finds incredulous. But its not really all that surprising.

Firstly, yes, the government has made an international commitment to end coal in electricity generation, backing its domestic pledge for a 100% renewable electricity system. But that's working at a generator level, and the only power company which still burns coal to generate electricity - Genesis - has already said they're phasing it out. So there's not much to do there. While I expect they'll be looking at a ban on new thermal generation to ensure the target is met and prevent the lock-in of dirty assets, none of that is coal-specific.

As for the rest of coal emissions, the problem with coal isn't that people keep looking for it (as they do with oil and gas) - we already know where most of it is. The problem is that people keep digging it up and burning it. But on that front, the market seems to be cleaning up coal all by itself. Major users like Fonterra have committed to end coal use, while low international prices have seen coal mines close down and driven Solid Energy into bankruptcy. Provided this situation continues, the government doesn't need to do much except keep the ETS in place and the market will probably do the rest (ensuring carbon prices rise by cutting credit supply would make it more certain). Banning mining on conservation land - again, not coal specific, but affecting a few coal projects - won't do any harm either. But they don't need to do anything so specific as banning new coal mines or shutting down old ones because the industry is already dying, and all they need to do is wait until it passes.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Differentiation vs delivering

For the first time in their history, the Green Party is in government, with ministers and a confidence and supply agreement and the ability to change things directly rather than through the long, slow process of persuasion. And this seems to be leading to tensions. While the latest round seems to be focused on their decision to dump surplus parliamentary questions on the opposition so they can be used to hold the government to account (rather than wasted on pointless patsies), there's also underlying dissatisfaction with the decision to support the odious waka-jumping bill, and concerns about the Greens being lost in government. On the latter front, former MPs are talking about the need for the Greens to carve out their identity and differentiate themselves from Labour. Whereas I think they've already done something better, by delivering the hugely symbolic policy of banning offshore oil exploration. This is a solid Green policy, with multiple benefits - shutting down the pollution chain, protecting marine life from disruption and reducing the risk of future spills. And its one which I think runs contrary to the natural instincts of their partners. While Labour has talked about climate change, telling a significant industry in a marginal electorate that its days are numbered is not something they would naturally do (just look at how they treat coal on the West Coast). And NZ First are even less inclined to. But thanks to the Greens, the exploration pipeline has been closed off, at least for now. Slightly less huge, but still significant and symbolic and similarly against the instincts of their partners is cutting off government support for irrigation projects, which is a step towards cleaning up our water.

Unfortunately, supporting Winston's waka-jumping legislation is probably going to be the price of this. The Greens may be able to demand a sunset clause, but unless Winston decides to drop the whole thing, they'll have to vote for it as the price of getting along. Differentiating yourself by opposing or vetoing key policies of other parties is something you can do outside of government, but not when you have ministers as part of a formal support arrangement. It can happen - see for example Peter Dunne's opposition to National's gutting of the RMA, which delayed it for a whole parliamentary term until the Maori Party sold out the environment for a few corporate donations. But you only get to dig your heels in against your partners once without significant damage to the coalition relationship. And I'm just not sure if this is either the time or the issue for it. It might be better to save that card for the next American war...

So far at least the Greens seem to be delivering significant policy gains, which should keep their supporters happy for the moment. The question is whether they can keep delivering, and keep delivering big, attention-grabbing things as the costs and compromises mount up. Lest we forget, the Maori Party claimed to be delivering for their supporters, but after the symbolic victory of "repealing" (re-enacting under a different name) the hated foreshore and seabed legislation, what they mostly seemed to deliver was ministerial salaries to their leaders. And that simply wasn't good enough. Whether the Greens are doing enough is an exercise for their members and supporters at the next election...

Proactive release of Ministerial briefings

For a while I've been posting about Ministerial weekly briefings, encouraging people to OIA them as a resource for finding out what the government is doing. There's been some pushback from Labour over this, and I have a complaint in with the Ombudsman over this. But Labour's David Parker has decided to do the right thing, and proactively release them all after three months:

I take the position that Weekly Updates which are under three months old remain under active consideration. It is, however, important to me that this material is made publicly available once I have been able to make decisions on the material provided.

Because of this, I have asked officials to release my Weekly Updates once they are over three months old on the Ministry for the Environment website. On 11 May 2018 the Environment Weekly Updates I received between October 2017 and January 2018 will be made available on the Ministry for the Environment website. Ministry for the Environment officials will be in touch with you to provide you with a link to this material.

This is a good step forward. I expect that the released briefings will still have redactions where issues are still under active consideration, but three months should minimise the need for that while still ensuring a timely release. And its also about the timeframe I've been aiming for with my requests for past briefings. Hopefully other Ministers will soon follow suit.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

When extension becomes effective refusal

I've had a lot of bad OIA experiences, and my fair share of Ministers and officials playing games with extensions to delay access to documents until an issue is out of the media. However, I've never had anything as bad as this Canadian requester, who had an agency give itself an 80 year extension on an Access to Information Act request:

A federal institution has given itself what may be the longest-ever time extension to respond to a citizen's request under the Access to Information Act — at least 80 years, which will delay the delivery of documents to 2098 or beyond.

"I may get those records in my next lifetime," 70-year-old Michael Dagg, the requester and longtime user of the act, said in an interview.

Dagg asked Library and Archives Canada (LAC) for files from Project Anecdote, an RCMP investigation into money laundering and public corruption that was launched in May 1993.

No charges were ever laid in the massive probe, which concluded in 2003. The voluminous Mountie files were eventually turned over to the government archives.

"You will note the extensive list of responsive records … and we will need up to an 80-year minimum (bringing the due date to the year 2098)," LAC advised Dagg in writing last week, warning that consulting other departments would add more time.

This seems to be the longest AIA extension in Canadian history, and it effectively amounts to a refusal. There's good reason - the file is 780,000 pages, so there's a lot to go through and redact - and in New Zealand it is likely that it would simply be refused as requiring substantial collation and research. That at least would be honest; instead Library and Archives Canada is pretending that they're going to grant the request, while pretty obviously having no intention of doing so in practice - the files will be released when they would be required to be made public under public records law, and not before. Which means this "extension" is simply an official exercise in deceit.

Less than open II

Back in March, I received some OIA'd documents from Clare Curran, the Minister of Open Government. Among other things, they showed that SSC had presented her with an draft open government strategy in November. Naturally, it was kept secret. I was curious about this, so sent in a followup request seeking information about this strategy. Today I received the response. Despite at least four months having passed since it was given to the Minister, the strategy is still being kept secret, supposedly because it is under "active consideration" (as opposed to under a desk somewhere being ignored). One thing that is clear however is that SSC's proposal that the strategy be consulted on at the same time as the Open Government Partnership action plan was rejected - that consultation is currently underway, and there's no mention of the strategy at all.

SSC did release some pretty powerpoint slides, including one of "actions taking place in the open government system". Naturally, this includes something secret. But it also mentions under international actions the idea of "New Zealand taking a leadership role in the Open Government Partnership". Of course, to do that, we'd have to start by developing an action plan which actually displayed some ambition, rather than just being a grab-bag of unambitious business-as-usual policies. And they'd need to walk the talk on consultation, rather than treating it as a box to be ticked. Whether they're actually doing that is left as an exercise for the reader.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A convenient purge

At the moment the UK government is persecuting the "Windrush generation". People who legally migrated to the UK and have a legal right to remain are being thrown out of their jobs and threatened with deportation unless they can prove that fact. But it turns out that before they started this persecution, the UK government destroyed all the evidence that they were legal migrants:

Proof that could have spared members of the Windrush generation from the threat of deportation was destroyed by the Home Office under Theresa May, it has been revealed.

Thousands of landing cards – recording dates of arrival in the UK – were thrown away, despite staff warnings that it would be harder for Caribbean-born residents to establish their right to be in the UK.

The files were discarded in October 2010, when the current prime minister was home secretary, a former Home Office employee revealed.

Having destroyed that evidence, May then established a "hostile environment for illegal immigrants", requiring people to arbitrarily prove their residency in order to do pretty much anything. Naturally, this has provided cover for racists to discriminate against anyone who looks or sounds "foreign" because they might be an illegal immigrant. As for what it means in practice, here's a UK immigration lawyer's take on what would happen to Paddington Bear under May - and its not pretty.

While supposedly justified under data protection laws, retaining the information was obviously necessary, since people were regularly requesting it to prove their migration status. But I'm sure its just a complete coincidence that it was all destroyed right before a crackdown, and not part of a plan to engage in the mass deportation of people the Tories have always hated and think "don't belong" in the UK.

A good idea

In the wake of Tony Blair's illegal war in Iraq, the UK had been developing a constitutional convention which saw Parliament vote on waging war, and this had prevented the UK from bombing Syria in 2013. But over the weekend, Theresa May violated that convention, joining the US in bombing Syria. And now, UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is calling for legislation to prevent it from happening again:

Jeremy Corbyn has called for a war powers act that would stop Theresa May from launching bombing raids without first consulting MPs.

The Labour leader said the prime minister should have strived for parliamentary approval before instigating UK involvement in yesterday's air strikes on Syrian targets.

And he called for a proper debate in parliament on Monday, concluding with a vote on action in Syria.


The MP for Islington North, who also called for a war powers act in 2016, continued: "I think what we need in this country is something more robust like a war powers act so governments do get held to account by parliament for what they do in our name".

Its a good idea, both on principled and pragmatic grounds. Foreign military operations are exactly the sort of thing which should require democratic approval by elected representatives, to ensure that there is a mandate. And such a requirement would help deter a warmongering executive and allow the UK people to take back control of their foreign policy from America.

But its not just a good idea for the UK, but a good one for New Zealand. In 2012, Labour promoted a Defence (Overseas Deployments) Amendment Bill which would have required explicit parliamentary consent for any deployment of more than 20 people. They should make that formal government policy, and commit to letting Parliament vote before kiwi troops are sent anywhere. And if future governments don't like that, they can always make it a question of confidence, and stand or fall on the result.

Climate change: Making farmers pay

Yesterday the government announced its interim climate change committee - a group of experts to advise it on climate change policy. The group is intended to eventually become a permanent independent climate change commission once the government's Zero Carbon Act is passed, but they need advice now, so an interim body has been set up in the meantime. And their first order of business is working out how to make farmers pay for the pollution they cause:

A new climate change group has been immediately tasked with working out how New Zealand farmers can pay for their climate pollution.

And the highly controversial decision about whether and when the agricultural industry is charged for its greenhouse gases could fall close to the next election.


The commission won't be set up until May, and Shaw said that in the meantime work needed to get underway on two key issues – agriculture's inclusion in the Emissions Trading Scheme and the goal of moving to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2035.

Any changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme will be finalised in late 2019, meaning if they are delayed they could be decided in the heat of the 2020 general election.

Agriculture is responsible for ~50% of our total greenhouse gas emissions, so working out how and when to bring it into the ETS and set it on a downward pathway is vital if we are to have any hope of reducing our emissions and doing our bit to reduce the damage caused by climate change. The current situation, where the rest of New Zealand effectively subsidises farmers to polluter, is neither fair nor effective, and provides farmers with no incentive at all to clean up their act. While any transition will need to take into account the technology and methods available to limit emissions, its important that we establish the principle of farmers paying their way, as well as providing an incentive to prevent further growth of their polluting industry. Neither the climate nor our rivers can afford more cows, and bringing farms into the ETS will help prevent that.

Naturally, the farmers are squealing at the prospect of being made to pay their own bills. We should resist that self-interested whining. We pay for our pollution now; they should too. Urban New Zealand should not be expected to support the polluting and environmentally destructive lifestyle of rural New Zealand.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

National opposes oversight of our spies

Yesterday, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and security announced the creation of a civil society reference group to provide advice on her work programme. The group includes lawyers, intelligence policy experts, journalists and civil libertarians, and many have been strong critics of New Zealand's intelligence agencies in the past. Journalist Nicky Hager is the most prominent of these, but the group also includes Deborah Manning (who represented Ahmed Zaoui in his battle for freedom), journalist David Fisher, and Thomas Beagle of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties. Together, they'll help bring a more critical eye to the IGIS' work, and raise issues of concern which the IGIS may not have thought of. And if we want robust oversight of the spies to stop them getting out of control, that's a Good Thing.

Naturally, though, National is outraged at the thought that anyone who isn't part of the spy-club getting to have an opinion on spying. And its clear from Brownlee's press release that he doesn't actually want robust oversight at all. Instead, he wants an Inspector-General who meekly accepts whatever the spies tell them, and doesn't ask awkward questions - just like in the "good old days" before Zaoui. But as we say in the Zaoui case, that sort of chummy relationship does not serve the public, and allows the spies to get away with mayhem. And in a democracy committed to the rule of law, that simply isn't acceptable.

I am concerned about the reference group, but only insofar as it is used to silence critics. The rules around what they are and are not allowed to say will have to be closely examined. But I have confidence that if there is any attempt to silence them (e.g. by forcing them to get security clearances, making them subject to s78AA of the Crimes Act and unable to read Wikileaks for the rest of their lives), then they will simply pull the plug and resign.

New Fisk

The search for truth in the rubble of Douma - and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack

The cost of victory

Only a week ago, the government took a stand against climate change and banned offshore oil exploration - the first step on the long pathway to decarbonising New Zealand. But as the Herald notes, Russel Norman and Sara May Howell are still facing trial at the end of the month for protesting against the very activity the government has banned back in 2017:

Prosecution against two Greenpeace activists who were charged with jumping into the water in front of an oil exploration ship will go ahead despite the Government announcing a ban on offshore oil exploration last week.

Greenpeace executive director and former politician Russel Norman and volunteer Sara May Howell are set to stand trial in the Napier District Court at the end of this month for their roles in a deep-sea oil protest last year.

The pair allegedly jumped into the water in front of oil exploration ship Amazon Warrior, off the Wairarapa coast, forcing it to stop its seismic work on April 10.

They were both charged with interfering in the operation of the 125m ship and pleaded not guilty at a joint appearance last October.

It would obviously be inappropriate for Ministers to direct that the case be dropped. At the same time, its also obviously a pointless prosecution, a mean-spirited act of revenge against those who turned the tide of public opinion and pushed the government into banning this toxic industry (and in the process, probably laying off some MBIE staff). But then, that's exactly what you'd expect from a vindictive organisation which seems totally in thrall to the industry it is supposed to regulate (and their nasty little spies).

The prosecution then is the cost of victory. Hopefully it won't be too high for Norman and Howell. Though with them gearing up to mount a necessity defence against the overwhelming threat of climate change, and effectively putting MBIE and the previous government's policies on trial, they're going to impose some pretty serious political costs on the government too.

Meanwhile, the law they are being prosecuted under - National's "Anadarko amendment" - is still on the books. I'm quite surprised that the government hasn't taken the opportunity to repeal it in their Crown Minerals Amendment Bill. Though I guess that's something we can all demand when it gets to select committee.

Monday, April 16, 2018

New Fisk

Trump's 'mission accomplished' tweet may come back to haunt him as another battle looms around Damascus

This is just wrong

Imagine living somewhere for your entire life, and then being jailed as an overstayer pending deportation "back" to a foreign country. That's what's happening to Mark Middleton:

Mark Middleton was once a popular choice to become Whanganui's Member of Parliament ... now he is facing deportation.

The stepfather of murdered schoolgirl Karla Cardno has been ordered to leave New Zealand after overstaying for more than 30 years.

Middleton, who came to live in New Zealand with his British parents as a 4-year-old in 1962, said immigration officials stormed his workplace on Tuesday, accusing him of living in the country illegally.

He was arrested and put in a cell at a Wellington police station until Wednesday afternoon.

There's an obvious parallel with the UK's current persecution of the "windrush generation", who are being told they are illegal migrants despite having arrived in the UK legally and having a legal right to remain. Over there, the problem is poor government record-keeping and a guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude in immigration cases. Here, its a poorly-drafted transition clause in the Immigration Act 1987, which required pre-1974 migrants to have never left New Zealand (except to go to Australia) in order to have their residency survive the law change. Which when you're talking about people who came here as children and are likely unaware that they are not citizens, seems guaranteed to result in injustice. And oddly, that doesn't seem to have been a problem at the time, or subsequently - despite having supposedly ignored an immigration direction to normalise his status, Middleton was allowed to continue his life without being bothered, and was even able to run for Parliament in 1999 (something you'd think Immigration would notice if they were actually concerned about his citizenship status). Instead, it only seems to have become an issue now he's getting old and in line to be paid superannuation - or, in immigration-speak, become "high risk".

Middleton has lived here all his life. He is a kiwi in fact, if not in law. Deporting him is simply wrong. Charging him money for the status he is entitled to is simply wrong. The Minister should issue him with citizenship or permanent residency, and let him get on with his life.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Homophobia loses in Trinidad

The High Court of Trinidad and Tobago has struck down the country's colonial sodomy law:

A judge in Trinidad and Tobago has declared the nation’s laws banning sodomy and consensual homosexual acts are unconstitutional, a ruling that could potentially lead to the complete decriminalization of homosexuality.

Judge Devindra Rampersand of the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago ruled on Thursday that Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act are unconstitutional as applied to acts between consenting adults.

The court will meet again in July to determine whether the sections of the law should be struck down in their entirety or just in part.

LGBTQ activist Jason Jones challenged the colonial-era sodomy law in February 2017 by suing the nation’s attorney general, claiming that the prohibitions on “buggery” and “acts of serious indecency” between two men violate his — and, by extension, other LGBTQ people’s — right to privacy and freedom of expression.

Ironicly, it was the T&T legislature's own homophobia which allowed this. They had successively rewritten the law to increase the penalty to 25 years imprisonment - an act which removed the law from the protection of a "savings clause" preventing judicial review of colonial laws, and placing it squarely under the jurisdiction of the courts.

There's still a long way to go. Trinidad and Tobago is still a homophobic society which permits discrimination and employment and has a legal ban on homosexuals entering the country. But hopefully this ruling is the first step towards making it a better place.

New Fisk

As Theresa May gears up for war in Syria, we should remember what hypocrites we are about chemical warfare in the Middle East

We should tell Trump to take a hike

Last month, New Zealand formally signed the successor to the TPPA, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. The deal had few benefits for New Zealand, and the primary one seems to be MFAT negotiators not feeling left out, but it had one saving virtue: America wasn't involved. And that meant that it was merely a bit shit, rather than being actively toxic due to US IP bullshit. But now, having pulled out of the TPP and left the other countries to negotiate amongst themselves, Donald Trump wants back in:

US President Donald Trump told top administration officials Thursday to look at rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multination trade agreement he pulled the United States out of shortly after taking office.

Rejoining the pact - now also known as the CPTPP - would be a major reversal as Trump escalates a trade conflict with China. The Pacific Rim trade deal was intended by the Obama administration as a way to counter China's influence, but Trump criticised the pact as a candidate and pulled the United States out of the pact in early 2017.

Trump gave the new orders to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow during a meeting with lawmakers and governors on trade issues, according to two GOP senators in attendance.

Senator John Thune said that he and others at the table raised the point that "if you really want to get China's attention, one way to do it is start doing business with all the people they're doing business with in the region: their competitors."

Trump then told Lighthizer and Kudlow to "take a look at getting us back into that agreement, on our terms of course," Thune said. "He was very I would say bullish about that."

"On our terms" means taking the negotiated position (currently suspended) as a baseline, and then demanding even more regulatory subsidies for US businesses. Which means making the deal even worse for New Zealand (and presumably everybody else as well).

The good news is that the US's re-entry requires the unanimous consent of all CPTPP parties. We can - and should - tell Donald Trump to take a hike.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Climate Change: The latest inventory

The annual inventory report [PDF] of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions has been released, showing a welcome small decrease in pollution in 2016:

2016 was a good hydro year, so less coal and gas were burned. There were also fewer sheep. But its not all good news. The drop from last year was about 2.4%, but this was offset by a rise in forestry emissions as trees planted in the early 1990's were harvested. And that's going to become a bigger effect over the next decade: the cushion of forests we used to soak up carbon and reduce our net emissions are going to be cut down, meaning we will have nowhere to hide from our long-term failure to reduce gross emissions. Hence why the government is so keen to plant a billion trees: to buy us some time. The good news is that they seem to be willing to make the tough decisions required to decarbonise the economy and set us on a greener path. Hopefully that work won't be undone by a future National government desperate to curry favour with the provinces at the expense of drowning our cities.

A formal finding of deceit

The Chief Ombudsman released their decision on the release and withholding of information around Operation Burnham the other day. At the time, I focused on the surprising news that a foreign country was deciding who kiwi soldiers were allowed to shoot - something which now seems to be part of the formal inquiry. But there was also another surprise in the report: a formal finding that NZDF had lied to the New Zealand public. Here's what the Ombudsman had to say about the release of information about Operation Burnham's location:

[A] key plank of NZDF’s rebuttal of Hit & Run was that the authors were wrong about the location of the operation, and appeared ‘to have confused interviews, stories and anecdotes from locals’ from one operation with another operation. NZDF’s rebuttal suggested that there was no connection between the account of events in the book and the operation that did take place.

Having reviewed information about the location of the Operation, I formed the provisional opinion that the information NZDF had publicly released did not fully reflect the information NZDF held on this issue, particularly in relation to the photos of buildings in
Hit & Run. NZDF agreed to consider releasing some more information on this topic.

[Emphasis added]

Or to put it another way, they were telling the public that Hager and Stephenson were wrong, while they held and kept secret information showing that they were in fact right. No wonder the Chief of Defence Force resigned. This sort of systematic, calculated deceit is absolutely unacceptable in a public agency in a democratic state, and it makes you wonder whether NZDF thinks they are at war with us, their bosses. But while Lt General Keating fronted the briefings which deceived the public, other defence staff must have been involved in designing these lies. They need to be held to account for their actions too.

Climate change: Decarbonising New Zealand

Today the government has taken the first real step towards decarbonising the New Zealand economy, by banning all future offshore oil exploration:

The New Zealand government will issue no new exploration permits for offshore oil and gas fields in a historic move to support its commitment to action on climate change.

While some 22 existing offshore oil and gas exploration permits remain in place, with rights to explore and potentially develop any commercial discovery unaffected, the decision signals the endgame for decades of attempts to find major new oil and gas deposits outside the Taranaki Basin, where the offshore Maui, Kupe, Maari, Pohokura, and Tui fields are all producing oil and gas today.

"The coalition government is taking an important step to address climate change and create a clean, green and sustainable future for New Zealand," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a statement issued at 5am in coordination with other Ministers and environmental groups.

Good. Humanity is pushing up against the edge of its safe carbon budget, and we can't afford to burn even half the carbon we know about. Under those circumstances, looking for more carbon is both pointless, and creates pressure to destroy the planet for the profit of a few. This is an industry we need to wind down, phase out, and replace. Which means the second part of this will be to gradually start revoking existing permits, and close the pipeline so that any new discoveries will not be developed. The market does most of the latter part for us - bringing new oil and gas fields into production is hugely expensive, and most discoveries are uneconomic to develop, meaning they just get recorded as an asset inflating the value of fossil fuel companies. Systematically devaluing those assets is the way to force those companies out of business.

Naturally, the Mayor of New Plymouth is unhappy. Like the West Coast, his local economy is dependent on a destructive and irresponsible industry, and that industry has been told it is no longer welcome. Won't someone think of the jobs! But those jobs and that illusory prosperity are bought at the cost of destroying the planet, and the homes and livelihoods of other New Zealanders. That tornado in Taranaki, those cyclones we've been having this summer, the droughts we've had which have made life difficult for farmers - that's what New Plymouth's fossil economy costs us. And the blunt truth is that if the rest of us are to survive and prosper, that economy has to die. The quicker it does so, the better.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


The government will hold an inquiry into Operation Burnham, the SAS revenge raid in Afghanistan in which six civilians were killed and 15 injured. But that's not all - according to the livestream, it will also be investigating prisoner transfers by NZDF, the truthfulness of NZDF's briefings to Ministers, and whether NZDF's foreign-written rules of engagement authorised assassinations. The latter is a new and unpleasant issue, and highlights the dangers of letting foreigners decide when and in what circumstances NZ soldiers are allowed to kill: we know that many of NZDF's allies (including the USA, UK and Australia) are not moral countries and their moral values around military action and assassination are deeply at odds with those of the New Zealand public (and with international law). Its not clear whether there's any allegation that NZDF soldiers have been involved in assassinations, but if they have, then they may have committed crimes under New Zealand and international law, for which they will need to be prosecuted. "Only following orders" is not an excuse we can accept from those who kill in our name.

Does Labour support social services or austerity?

Our country currently has decrepit schools, underpaid nurses, and hospitals with sewage in the walls. To fix this massive social and infrastructure deficit, the government needs to spend more money - which means eventually collecting more money. The new government's tax working group, which is looking at taxing the land, wealth and capital gains of the rich, is an obvious way of solving this problem, and there's public support for doing so. Instead, Labour seems to be forgoing this opportunity and suggesting that any changes will be "fiscally neutral":

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it is "entirely plausible" that any tax changes stemming from the tax working group could be balanced by tax relief elsewhere.

In a video with Stuff political editor Tracy Watkins, Ardern not only repeated that there would be no tax changes in the first term of Government, any changes which came as a result of the tax working group could well be "neutral".

"We've ruled out any changes to, you know, significant new tax changes in this first term. It was a big issue during the election and it was one that we very openly worked through," Ardern said.

"We've said we'd set up a tax working group, we have, it'll report this term, but anything it suggests wouldn't take effect until a new term and people will have a chance to vote on it, but it could be entirely plausible that it could be fiscally neutral."

Because you can always rely on chickenshit Labour to ignore a golden opportunity to do the right thing. They're so scared of National criticising them - something that will happen regardless of what they do - that they are pre-emptively taking major policies off the table, and effectively pledging to continue right-wing austerity forever.

Labour needs to decide what it stands for: social services, or austerity. And if its the latter, then they might as well not be in government. All they'll really be standing for is a different bunch of arseholes getting the big salaries, while ordinary kiwis keep on getting fucked over.

Not acceptable

Democracy in New Zealand is predicated on the fundamental rule that the executive and its agencies are accountable to Parliament, and through them to the people of New Zealand. We expect public servants and heads of public agencies to cooperate fully with Parliamentary oversight and investigations, and not attempt to mislead them or refuse to provide evidence. But that's exactly what RNZ Chair Richard Griffin is doing over his communications with his Minister Clare Curran:

RNZ chairman Richard Griffin says he has no intention of handing over a voice message left on his mobile phone by Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.

"No, I have no intention of handing it over, so I'm in breach of the select committee directive," he told the Herald.

He declined to comment further, saying a letter outlining the reasons why had been sent to the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee.

This simply is not acceptable. The information the committee has requested is official information, received and held in Griffin's official capacity as RNZ chair. By refusing to provide it, he is effectively saying that he does not work for Parliament, or the people of New Zealand. And if that's his attitude, then terminating his employment and getting his successor to provide the records seems appropriate.

(Meanwhile the voicemail has been the subject of numerous OIA requests as well, and there seems no real reason to refuse them. Its an official document sent and received in an official capacity in which there is no privacy interest. But given Griffin's attitude here, it is likely that he will try and unlawfully refuse them. All this will do is delay release until the Ombudsman has ordered it).

Spain is a tyranny

Charging peaceful protesters with "terrorism" is one of the hallmarks of tyranny. But that's exactly what Spain is now doing in Catalonia:

Spanish police have arrested the organiser of a Catalan separatist protest group on suspicion of terrorism after she blocked motorways and high-speed railway lines.

The woman, who has not been named, was detained in a dawn raid yesterday by the Civil Guard in the town of Viladecans, east of Barcelona.

It is the first time since the illegal Catalan independence vote last October that any separatist has been charged with terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

"Terrorism" is supposed to require a significant element of violence. Here it is being used against peaceful protesters. And as the Spanish judiciary is not independent, there's no real hope of a fair trial or the charges being thrown out as ridiculous. Instead, Catalans will have to rely on the European courts for justice.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Deeply dubious

Last week, a senior Immigration NZ manager repeatedly said that Immigration NZ was using racial profiling to target people for deportation. This week, Immigration NZ is in full denial mode about that. They use "demographic profiling" - including age and gender - but

does not consider nationality - and never has done. There is no racial or ethnic profiling undertaken in deportation activity and there never has been.

That's what they've told the Minister, and its what they've told the public. But its also very much at odds with what the person actually in charge of the program said last week. Who are we to believe? As former immigration officer Tze Ming Mok points out, it is possible that nationality was included in withheld parts of the spreadsheet. And when the department in question is infamous for agreeing to "lie in unison" (and lying to the Ombudsman about it), its not outrageous to think they're lying again now.

Of course, what they've admitted is bad enough: gender discrimination and age discrimination for one. And an unhealthy focus on punishing the victims of migrant exploitation:
"Alastair Murray last week talked about targeting people who were incurring health debts and criminal history yet these types of factors have an extremely low weighting in the spreadsheet. All of these migrants who are basically targeted as a high risk to the immigration system are the people who score highly on visa type, number of applications made and the type of employer."

Mr McLymont said there was an emphasis on targeting potential victims of exploitation rather than rooting out the causes of it. He said the minister needed to ask a lot more questions.

And that's explicit in the briefing note: the purpose of the programme was "to identify a group or groups of unlawful migrants who are more likely to commit harm or become victims of harm themselves" (emphasis added). But not to help them, but to throw them out of the country.

This program, its motivations, and what we are being told about it are all deeply dubious. There needs to be a better investigation of it before we can believe immigration's denials.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Why is a foreign power deciding who NZ soldiers are allowed to shoot?

The Ombudsman has released their ruling on the release and withholding of information around Operation Burnham. As expected, they've found that NZDF overclassified things and withheld information unlawfully. At the same time, a large amount of material was withheld lawfully because releasing it would prejudice national security or international relations, or it was given to NZDF by a foreign government and cannot be released without their permission.

This is expected. The conclusive withholding grounds don't allow the public interst to be considered, so if NZDF makes a reasonable case, then they get to hide stuff and there's nothing that can be done. In some cases, the Ombudsman comments unfavourably on this, saying that it would be better if it could be released, but that the law allows it to be withheld. At the same time, the Ombudsman found their concerns clearly un reasonable in some cases.

Meanwhile, there's an unpleasant surprise in the ruling: the rules of engagement for NZ troops in Afghanistan are written by a foreign power:

NZDF’s ROE were created in collaboration with another nation and are used in the most part by both defence forces. The other nation has not released its ROE publicly and has indicated its intention not to do so.
In English, that means the rules on who NZ soldiers are allowed to shoot and under what circumstances are decided by a foreign country. Whether those rules properly implement NZDF's obligations under the Bill of Rights Act and international law is unclear, as is whether those obligations were even considered (if the foreign power is the US, with its arrogant contempt for other country's laws, I think the answer is a clear "no"). And of course because they were written by a foreign power, NZDF gets to hide them behind the shield of "international relations" and "confidential information" (they also seem to think that it would be bad for national security if they were released anyway. Apparently if opposing forces knew that they couldn't be shot unless they were posing a direct threat to human life, they might not threaten people, and thus avoid being shot. This would somehow be a Bad Thing...)

The circumstances under which soldiers are allowed to use force cuts to the heart of control of the military. It is simply not acceptable that our military is controlled in this way by foreigners. And if that is the price of foreign deployments, I think the solution is obvious: bring the troops home, and forbid them from operating overseas unless they are under kiwi control with kiwi rules.

Update (14 / 3/ 2019): After a year of back and forth with the Ombudsman, NZDF has finally admitted that the foreign powers in question are Australia and the United States.

Contract serfdom

The US labour market is already dysfunctional, with forced arbitration, health-insurance lock-in, and non-compete clauses combining to prevent workers from switching jobs and reducing pressure for wage rises. But US employers have invented a new form of abuse: forcing workers to pay if they want to quit:

Among other things, Sinclair contracts contain a requirement that employees must pay their employers if they leave their jobs before their contract terms end. For example, an employee making $50,000 annually might have to pay in the ballpark of $10,000 if she wanted to leave after one year of a two-year term.

While it’s plainly illegal to impose a penalty on employees for leaving a job, the contract describes this requirement as “liquidated damages”. But such damages are allowed only in very limited situations, such as when an employee leaves a job shortly after receiving, at the employer’s expense, costly, specific, and transportable training. This is hardly the situation for Sinclair employees.

The Sinclair contracts also contain a non-compete clause, barring employees from working for competitors for a set time period after separation.

Previously, American workers at least had the power to tell their bosses to take their job and shove it. Now they can't even do that. Like medieval serfs, they have to buy their freedom.

Time to punish wage theft

wage theft is endemic in Australia, with employers systematically stealing from their employees. Now, in the state of Victoria, unions are campaigning for it to be made a criminal offence:

Unions will campaign ahead of this year's state election for the Andrews government to make ‘wage theft’ a crime and punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The move by the Victorian Trades Hall Council and its Young Workers Centre is part of a growing legislative push in Australia to try to turn the deliberate underpayment of wages into a criminal offence.

‘’It’s so rampant, it’s so out of control, it’s time for police to step in,’’ said Trades Hall secretary Luke Hilakari. ‘’We think this will be a game changer. We will send people to prison over this.’’

This seems reasonable. The only difference between wage theft and other sorts of theft is that it is done by a person in a position of trust who abuses their power to steal. And that is an aggravating factor, not a mitigating one.

But what about New Zealand? Wage theft is a problem here too. The forestry industry is pervasively criminal, with 90% of employers stealing from their workers. Over here, you can get 7 years in prison if you steal over $1,000, or when in a relationship of trust (something referred to as "theft as a servant", which tells you its history and who it is used against). The same applies if you steal by deception. The same penalty scale should apply to bosses who intentionally and criminally steal from their employees. Anyone want to bring a member's bill...?


Palantir Technologies is an international spy software company owned by vampire capitalist Peter Thiel. They help out the CIA, banks, and various oppressive and criminal regimes. And NZDF has given them $7.2 million of your money:

The New Zealand Defence Force has spent millions on controversial spy software produced by secretive Silicon Valley firm Palantir.

After refusing for more than a year to reveal the extent of links to Peter Thiel's big data analysis company, prompting a complaint by the Herald on Sunday to the Ombudsman, the NZDF were forced to disclose annual spending with Palantir averaged $1.2 million.

The figures suggest since contracts were first signed in 2012 the defence force has spent $7.2m with the firm.

What are they spending this money on? They won't say. Its particularly worrying because Palantir specialises in surveillance and profiling, and has been in bed with Cambridge Analytica, the firm used to manipulate the US election and Brexit referendum. But most worrying of all is this bit:
Questions to the NZDF about what they used Palantir data to analyse or assess the data of New Zealand citizens went unanswered.

This question is effectively asking whether NZDF is waging cyberwar against the New Zealand public. The expected response in a democratic state with a civilian controlled military would be an immediate and uncategorical denial. NZDF's refusal to give such a denial is deeply concerning and requires further investigation.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Another rich American looking for a lifeboat

Stuff has a piece about a luxury property development in Twizel, whose foreign owner is trying to use it to gain NZ residency:

Crow, son of American real estate developer Fred Trammell Crow, told the Dallas News this week his investment in the New Zealand project would also give him permanent residency.

"And while he doesn't plan to relocate, he plans to gradually spend more time there," the report said.

"I wasn't hunting for a new real estate development in a far-flung country to mess with," Crow told the Dallas News.

"But I have been thinking for a long time where to go if things become difficult in America — not really just for social unrest but because of environmental concerns."

It would be one thing if he was actually planning to live and pay taxes here. But very obviously he's not. Instead, he's just after a lifeboat, a safe haven for when the inequality people like him have created and perpetuated in America comes back to bite them. And we simply should not be providing that service. If rich American arseholes want to be safe from "social unrest", they should go home and stop causing it.

New Fisk

Journalistic predictions of Middle Eastern politics are – mostly – an exercise in futility

There was no "rebellion" in Catalonia

Two weeks ago, exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was detained under a European Arrest Warrant in Germany. He's been in prison for the last two weeks while the court goes through the early stages of deciding whether he can be extradited on charges of sedition, rebellion, and misuse of public funds for his role in organising Catalonia's brutally suppressed independence referendum. But there's good news today: a German court has declared that he cannot be extradited on the rebellion charge:

Puigdemont was arrested on a Spanish-issued warrant upon entering Germany on 25 March as he attempted to drive from Finland to Belgium, where he currently resides. Spain accuses the Catalan separatist of rebellion and corruption after he organised an unsanctioned independence referendum.

The Schleswig court said that it considered a charge of misuse of public funds sufficient grounds for an extradition, but that a charge of “rebellion” was not, because the comparable German charge of treason specifies violence.

Proceedings to decide whether to extradite him on corruption charges could continue, it said.

Or to put it another way: Puigdemont is innocent of "rebellion" because the only violence in Catalonia was perpetrated by the Spanish government. It's significant because it means that if he is extradited, Spain cannot try him for that crime any more. When faced with this prospect in Belgium last year, Spain withdrew their arrest warrant (effectively gaming the European Arrest Warrant system in an effort to shop for jurisdiction). But now there's an actual court ruling on record calling their charges bullshit, and if they try that again, other courts will be able to take formal notice of it. Whoops.

Meanwhile, Belgium has opened an investigation into the Spanish intelligence services for illegally spying on their territory. It turns out that using a geotracker on someone's car is illegal without a warrant in Belgium. Whether a Spanish warrant is sufficient (or whether there even is one) is an open question, but hopefully it will cause Spain to think more carefully about spying on Catalan exiles in future.

A victory for the environment

Part of the government's confidence and supply agreement with the Greens was a commitment to wind back government support for irrigation projects. And now they're doing it:

The Government will cut funding to the three major irrigation projects in Canterbury and Marlborough.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced on Thursday afternoon that the Government would stop funding the Hurunui, Hunter Downs and Flaxbourne projects through Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd as part of its Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Green Party.

Funding for the Waimea Community Dam, Kurow-Duntroon Irrigation Scheme and the second phase of Canterbury's Central Plains Water Scheme have been given the green light though.

Good. Irrigation delivers a double-whammy to our rivers, sucking them dry while filling them with shit by encouraging destructive farming practices. Its good to see the government stop subsidising it. If farmers want to irrigate, then they can pay for it themselves, rather than expecting taxpayers to subsidise their destructive activity. And hopefully we'll be seeing a tougher RMA regime in future to make it more difficult for them to profit by destroying our rivers.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

The obvious question

Last month, the government announced a cattle cull to combat an infectious disease. The opposition has been hammering them over why it took so long, and now we know the answer: because officials hid important information from their Minister:

Officials delayed releasing a report which was critical of them, making it harder to fight crippling cattle disease mycoplasma bovis, the Minister of Agriculture and Biosecurity says.

A review of the animal tracking programme NAIT, started in 2016 under the previous government, and a report was scheduled to be completed in March 2017.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said a final report was only recently given to him after he asked for its completion.

Which leads to the obvious question: do those self-serving, arse-covering, unprofessional officials still have their jobs? Because they clearly shouldn't.

New Fisk

How rebels and civilians survived near total destruction of eastern Ghouta through huge network of tunnels

Why we need better labour laws

Radio New Zealand reports that workers are failing to get their fair share of the economic pie:

Workers are failing to get their fair share of the economic pie, with a study showing rising productivity has not been fully reflected in pay packets.

The Productivity Commission report found the labour share of total income slipped between 1978 and 2016, from 65 percent to 56 percent.

"Wage growth hasn't kept up with productivity growth in a one-for-one sort of way," Productivity Commission director of economics and research Paul Conway said.

"Even though productivity growth is still a key driver of wage growth in New Zealand."

The Productivity Commission talks about this as if its some mystery or fluke of nature, a completely random occurrence. Radio New Zealand implies that it is a failure of workers - silly proles, not getting their fair share! But its neither. The reason workers are getting less is because business owners have leveraged their political influence to ensure that the benefits of productivity growth go to them and them alone. Laws like the Employment Contracts Act and its successors and restrictions on the right to strike have kept wages low and let them run away with the cash.

How much is at stake? The CTU estimates that if workers were receiving the same income share as they did in 1981, they'd be $11,500 a year better off on average. Or, to put it another way, average wages are $11,500 lower than they should be. That's a shitload of money, and a significant fraction of most people's incomes. And its why we need better labour laws and a restoration of the right to strike: so workers can claim what is theirs again, and regain the living standards they used to have.


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

  • Patents (Advancement Patents) Amendment Bill (Parmjeet Parmar)
  • Companies (Clarification of Dividend Rules in Companies) Amendment Bill (Todd Muller)
  • KiwiSaver (Foster Parents Opting in for Children in their Care) Amendment Bill (Hamish Walker)

Parmar's Bill introduces an entire system of "advancement patents" covering things which are not inventions - effectively creating a whole new area of intellectual property for companies to monopolise and rent-seek over. As someone who thinks that intellectual property law already protects too much, for too long, I'd prefer that this didn't pass.

There were only 61 bills in the ballot today, compared to the close to 70 in previous ballots. I'm not sure which party is slacking, but clearly someone is.

Immigration does PreCrime

Imagine you're an immigrant to New Zealand. You've happily gone about your business for years, working, studying, whatever, leading a normal life like any other kiwi. You've obeyed the law, paid your taxes, laid down roots on your path to residency or citizenship. Then one morning Immigration NZ knocks on your door with a deportation order. Not because of anything you've done, but because some people with some undefined demographic characteristics in common with yourself are statistically more likely to go to hospital, or get cancer, or commit crimes or something else they've arbitrarily decided is unacceptable. And so, because of the actions - or just sheer bad luck - of others, your life is destroyed.

This situation is absolutely, completely unjust. But its actually happening:

Immigrants could be on a fast track to deportation if they belong to a demographic group identified as being a burden on the country.

Immigration New Zealand has been modelling data - including age, gender and ethnicity - of immigrants to identify which groups most commonly run up hospital costs or commit crime.

It could then move faster to deport people instead of prosecuting them or allowing them to re-apply for visas.

Its harm team has been using information such as past immigrants' convictions and unpaid hospital debts to feed into its data modelling work.

Other work included which demographic groups made multiple failed immigration applications or made a large section of immigration fraud allegations.

But while its laundered by the label of "data mining" and "demographic profiles", this comes down to the same old prejudice: "immigrants are all criminals", "immigrants are just here to use our health system", "immigrants are all liars". Worse, its being used to target people for deportation "as an alternative to prosecution" - that is, to punish people without trial, or even charge. They're doing PreCrime.

Punishing people for things they have not done is the height of injustice. Punishing them for the actions of others - AKA collective punishment - isn't just unjust, it is banned by international law. We don't do either in our criminal justice system, because we recognise that it is unjust, and that the prejudices of police, however tarted up and laundered, are not a suitable basis for deciding guilt or innocence or consequences of this magnitude. But the decision to deport someone is of similar magnitude. We should not tolerate this sort of data-driven victimisation in our immigration system either.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

For beneficial ownership registers

Two years ago, the Panama papers were published. Since then, governments have talked a lot about transparency to fight elite money-laundering, but done surprisingly little. Writing in The Guardian, two of the journalists involved are renewing the push for a simple, easy solution: public beneficial ownership registers:

There is a far less bureaucratic and more powerful measure: public beneficial ownership registries. Databases in which citizens can easily access and explore the owners of companies. Not the nominee director, not the fake shareholder – the real owner. The person at the center of the matryoshka-like corporate structures, or, as experts refer to them: the ultimate beneficial owner of a company.

A database of actual owners would enable companies to check with whom they are actually doing business. It would enable activists, journalists and skeptical citizens to investigate the individuals running dubious companies which earn millions in alleged “consulting contracts”, which are in many cases nothing more than concealed payments of corruption money. It would also give prosecutors the opportunity to follow dark money without having to rely on nerve-racking, time-consuming legal maneuvers with foreign governments.

Searchable by company and by individual names, it would enable investigators to see if Dictator X or Autocrat Y owns companies in Country Z. Combined with a public property register, it would narrow, if not close, loopholes which allow oligarchs and their relatives to betray their own citizens and stash plundered money across the globe.

And it would allow us to find out which rich arseholes are cheating on their taxes, and hold them to account.

There's no privacy issue here. In New Zealand, nominal company owners are identified and publicly registered. If you go to the Companies Office website and look around, you'll find the (nominal) owners of many New Zealand companies. However, when a company is owned offshore, all you'll get is the name of the offshore front. Requiring public beneficial ownership information would place foreign owners on the same playing field as kiwi ones. And that seems entirely fair, even without the substantial benefits in deterring corruption and identifying criminals.

Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day, and after the flood of first readings we've had recently, we're now into the boring bit. First up are two National Party bills which have come back from select committee - Alastair Scott's Crimes (Increased Penalty for Providing Explosive to Commit Crime) Amendment Bill and Brett Hudson's Social Security (Stopping Benefit Payments for Offenders who Repeatedly Fail to Comply with Community Sentences) Amendment Bill. In both cases the select committee has gone "yeah, nah", pointing at significant flaws in the bills. Whether they pass or not is going to depend on New Zealand First, and how much stupidity they're willing to indulge in to appear "tough on crime" and appeal to elderly arseholes.

Once they're out of the way, the House should move on to Denise Lee's misnamed Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill (which is intended to make it harder for women to get equal pay) and Harete Hipango's Health and Safety at Work (Volunteer Associations) Amendment Bill. If the House moves really quickly, it may make a start on Chlöe Swarbrick's Election Access Fund Bill, but it really depends on how much time they waste on those second readings. There should be a ballot for at least one bill tomorrow.


Last night, Parliament unanimously passed the Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill, which will wipe some historic offences:

Convictions for homosexual sex under old laws can be wiped under a law that passed Parliament tonight.

The Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill passed its third reading on Tuesday evening with unanimous support.

The bill will set up a system where men charged with consensual homosexual conduct (or their families) under old laws can apply to have those convictions wiped from the record.

Good. At the same time, its not enough. The government has committed a huge historic wrong here, and its victims should be compensated. Arguing that compensation is inappropriate because it was all according to law misses the point - something can be lawful, but still grossly wrong. The systematic theft of land from Maori was lawful, and yet something we now recognise as wrong and deserving of (token) compensation. So why not the wrongful but legal persecution of gay men?

A good move

At the Wellington Climate 2050 panel on Thursday, Climate Change Minister James Shaw mentioned that the government had recently rewritten its policy statement on transport, which directed how transport funding would be allocated. Now its been released, and there are major changes. National's pet roads are gone, to be replaced with better public transport and light rail in Auckland:

The Labour Government released its draft 10-year transport plan yesterday, including cutting more than $5 billion from state highway upgrades and channelling the money into public transport such as light rail, urban cycleways and safety improvements on urban and regional roads in a bid to lower the road toll.

Big ticket items include about $4 billion over the next five years for the beginning stages of light rail in Auckland - one of Labour's election promises.

To pay for it, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said further petrol tax hikes of between 9–12 cents per litre would need to be phased in over the next three years.

While National is already wailing about regional road users paying for "trolleys in Auckland", there's a much greater focus on regional roads, and especially on making immediate safety improvements to them so they're not death-traps - something National stripped funding from to pay for its RONS. And of course the regions will get their share of public transport and rail funding as well. It seems to be a much more balanced policy than National's, with a welcome focus on safety rather than economic growth (code for "subsidising the trucking industry"); hopefully it'll last long enough to have an impact.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Still in denial

NZDF head Lt General Tim Keating has unexpectedly resigned, just two months before his term of office was meant to end. But he wants everyone to know that it has absolutely nothing to do with alleged war crimes committed by his men in Afghanistan in 2010, or the lies he told about them:

The Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating has announced he is stepping down from his role.

Keating announced the move in an email sent to all Defence Force staff on Tuesday.

He did not give a reason for his resignation, but said he was not standing down due to the allegations about Operation Burnham in 2010 which was the subject of the book
Hit & Run.

From his email, he's still in complete denial about those crimes, publicly at least. But this sort of resignation, so soon after being exposed as a liar, and on the eve of the government announcing an inquiry into NZDF's coverup, seems... suspicious, neh? Almost as if he is jumping overboard after something unpleasant was finally forced to light.

But a mere public inquiry may not be enough. If war crimes have been committed, their perpetrators and accessories after the fact (which almost certainly includes Keating) need to be prosecuted. And that's a job for the courts, not an inquiry.

Another company after cheap migrant labour

In the past I've argued that we should not be rewarding companies with poor labour practices by subsidising them with migrant labour because kiwis won't take their shit jobs. And today we have a perfect example of the problem, in the form of Ritchies' Coach Lines:

The Government should reject a national bus company's request to fill 110 bus driver jobs with migrant workers, a bus driver union says.

Ritchies Transport Holdings made a request to Immigration New Zealand on March 3 seeking permission to hire overseas labour to fill 80 bus and coach driver roles for Auckland, 15 for Dunedin and 15 for Queenstown.

Because bus drivers are not on the Government's skill shortage list, Ritchies must obtain permission from Immigration New Zealand in the form of an Approval in Principal to fill the vacancies with overseas workers.


Bus drivers did not want to work for Ritchies because it was known as a low paying company, [First Union transport and logistics secretary Jared Abbott] said.

It recently won a number of new contracts which were tendered at a price so low it required drivers to be paid a wage which was not attractive to local talent, he said.

The market solution for a company which can't find workers at the pay and conditions it is offering is to offer more. If they can't afford to, then well, maybe they shouldn't lowball their bids. Instead, these scum are sticking their hand out and demanding foreign labour so they don't have to pay a proper wage. That's not acceptable, and they should be rejected. If they're not profitable without a subsidy, then they're not profitable at all, and they deserve to go out of business.

New Fisk

Watching on as Islamist fighters are evacuated from war-torn Eastern Ghouta

Dodgy as hell

Like many former Pacific colonies, Nauru retrained judicial links with its former colonial master, using an Australian court as its final court of appeal. Last month they abolished those ties. That's a good move, except for one detail: they did it in secret, and apparently to strip defendents in political cases of their appeal rights:

Nauru's justice system is without any court of appeal, after the Nauruan government severed ties with the Australian judicial system.

The move by the Pacific island's government has left former Opposition MPs involved in highly-politicised cases with no avenue of appeal.

Their lawyers only found out about the change after a chance encounter with senior Nauruan officials on a flight to Brisbane.


The ABC understands this took place on 12 December and that it took effect three months later.

Nauru establishing its own supreme court is a good thing. But this seems calculated to deny justice to the government's political enemies. And that's simply not acceptable.

Still paying off National's cronies

When they were in power, National established a system of charter schools to direct public money into private pockets. And now that they're out of power, we're still paying for it:

Taxpayers have paid $3.4 million to five proposed charter schools that may never open.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins has told National education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye that two proposed schools were paid establishment grants on the day the Ardern Government was sworn in, October 26.

Two others have been paid establishment grants since then, apparently because the new Government was bound by contracts signed before the election even though Hipkins has introduced a bill abolishing charter, or partnership, schools.

None of the five schools is believed to have paid back any of the money yet because they are still negotiating about either opening state or integrated schools instead, or recovering their costs for dreams that will never be realised.

Screw negotiations. This is public money, and it should be repaid. The government should introduce a clause into its charter school abolition bill to ensure that it is. The public should not be paying for schools which will never open, or for assets for private companies who will take them and run.