Thursday, May 31, 2018

Struck out

The new government is planning to repeal the "three strikes" law. Good. The law was a largely symbolic effort to pander to the "tough on crime" brigade, red meat for the arsehole vote. And every time it actually came into play, the sentencing it required was found to be manifestly unjust by judges. Which pretty much describes the entire law: manifestly unjust. While it didn't affect many people, I will be glad to see it go, because a manifestly unjust society is not one I want to live in.

Labour's other proposal is for greater use of home detention to counter the moral and fiscal failure of National's mass-incarceration regime. Again, that's good. Prison doesn't help anyone, and frequently results in people being denied the help they need. Using home detention for the vast majority of non-violent offenders will help ensure they are integrated in their communities and reduce re-offending, while also avoiding both the cruelty and the massive cost of Judith Collins' prison-fetish. While there will undoubtedly be people who abscond from it, just as there are escapes from prison, they'll inevitably be caught and then sentenced to a higher-security regime. And we should accept that as the cost of having a corrections regime, rather than trying to design one which protects the Minister from bad headlines at the cost of actively harming the public.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

No right to privacy in Australia

Like most civilised countries, Australia has a Privacy Act purportedly protecting people's privacy. Except it turns out that in cases of serious abuse, its not worth the paper it is written on:

The government acted “reasonably” when it released a Centrelink recipient’s personal information to counter her public criticism of the robodebt program, the privacy commissioner has found.

The acting privacy and information commissioner, Angelene Falk, released the findings of a long-running investigation into the government’s release last year of personal information about the blogger Andie Fox.

Fox had written a piece for Fairfax Media critical of Centrelink’s controversial debt recovery program. She had detailed her own experience of attempting to resolve a debt, which she likened to throwing herself into a “vortex of humiliating and frustrating bureaucratic procedures”.

In response, the federal government released details of her interactions with Centrelink and her claims history to another Fairfax Media journalist, who subsequently published an article countering Fox’s claims.

The office of the former human services minister Alan Tudge also sent an internal document marked “for official use only” to journalists, which disclosed additional details of Fox’s relationship and tax history.


Late on Tuesday it found in the government’s favour. The ruling said the department was permitted to disclose personal information for a secondary purpose if the individual “would reasonably expect it to do so”.

Or, to put it another way: Australians should expect the government to weaponise personal information they have been forced to provide if they ever criticise government policy. And no matter what way you look at it, that is simply unreasonable, and counter to the very interests privacy legislation is supposed to protect.

New Fisk

In the Middle East, Putin has a lot to thank Trump for right now

Pervasive criminality III

Another day, another leaked MPI report into criminal behaviour in the fishing industry. This time its systematic under-reporting in the Southern Blue Whiting fishery:

A leaked Government report has revealed under-reporting and massive waste in another high-value New Zealand fishery.

The MPI compliance report targeted 13 trawlers in the Southern Blue Whiting fishery, which brings in around $26 million a year for New Zealand.

It found almost 3000 tonnes went unreported due to poor practice when cutting fish.


Up to 2678 tonnes was misreported as a result - that's almost 10 percent of all fish landed by the vessels being monitored.

And 10% under-reporting means they're effectively catching 10% more fish than they should be, with flow-on effects for the sustainability of the fishery. But the culprits weren't prosecuted, and the quota wasn't reduced to take actual industry practice into account. Instead, the report ended up with all the other ones: filed and ignored. Because MPI is totally captured by the fishing industry, and not actually interested in regulating it properly.

Greenpeace is right: we need a full and independent review of MPI's oversight and the effects of its capture on sustainability. But more importantly, we need a government agency willing to enforce the law. It is clear that MPI's internal culture prevents any chance of that. So if we want fishers regulated properly, we will need a new agency, and it will need to start from scratch and never hire anyone tainted by MPI's institutional corruption.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

There is no corruption in New Zealand

We like to think of ourselves as a non-corrupt nation. The sorts of self-enriching abuses of public power that we read about happening in places like China or Africa or Australia just don't happen here. Except they do:

A former Automobile Association worker has admitted taking bribes in exchange for drivers' licenses.


According to court documents, Brar kept more than $56,000 worth of bribes.

The 25-year-old worked for the Automobile Association with the title "customer service consultant" in the Meadowlands branch in east Auckland.

He processed paperwork and took money from people who wanted to sit their practical driver's licence test.

And he wasn't the only one - there was an entire ring of them, taking bribes to allow unsafe drivers on our roads.

The good news is that we caught these ones. But how many other corrupt officials are going undetected, because of our complacent attitude?

The EU trumps democracy in Italy

Back in March Italians went to the polls to elect a new government, and delivered an indecisive result with no clear winner. After months of wrangling and failed talks, it looked like an alliance of the populist Five Star Movement and the racist League would finally be able to form a government. But it was effectively vetoed at the last minute by Italy's President, when he refused to appoint someone who had voiced doubts about the EU as finance minister.

No matter which way you look at it, this is grossly undemocratic. The two parties ran on an anti-EU platform. They won a majority, both of the popular vote and in parliament. No matter what you think of their policies, this gives them an unquestioned right to form a government of their choosing. That right has clearly been violated. Worse, by doing this, the president has sent a clear message that he believes that the European Union trumps democracy and that he is just a local satrap for Brussels (a message strengthened by the support he is receiving from major EU governments). You don't need to support or like M5S or the League to think that that is an extremely dubious position.

The president has now appointed an interim prime minister - a former IMF budget-slasher, no less - who has no support and will fall at the first confidence vote. New elections are inevitable. And the president has just ensured that they will be fought on the question of Italy's membership of the EU and the EU's toxic effect on the democracy of its member states (not to mention constitutional reform to prevent the president from ever pulling a stunt like this again). If he was trying to protect Italy's place in the EU, he couldn't have picked a worse way to go about it.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Only guilty states do this

Two weeks ago, the Israeli Defence Force massacred over 50 Palestinians and wounded 1,200 more when they slowly and methodically shot people protesting against their border fence. Like other Israeli war crimes, the shootings were filmed, providing both potential evidence against the criminals and bad PR for the IDF. But Israeli nationalists have a solution to this: ban anyone from filming their heroic military!

Israel’s parliament is to consider a law banning the photographing or filming of soldiers, in what critics claim is a “dangerous” attempt to undermine scrutiny of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Under the proposed legislation, entitled the “Prohibition against photocopying and documenting IDF Soldiers”, those found photographing troops “with the intention of undermining the spirit” of the army can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

“Anyone who filmed, photographed, and/or recorded soldiers in the course of their duties, with the intention of undermining the spirit of IDF soldiers and residents of Israel, shall be liable to five years imprisonment,” says the bill, proposed by Robert Ilatov, a member of the Knesset and the chairman of the right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party.

“Anyone intending to harm state security will be sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.”

So, propaganda photos and videos will be fine. But showing the IDF doing its actual job of terrorising and murdering Palestinians so as to keep them under subjugation and steal their land will result in a jail sentence. And the intent of the law is clearly to hide the evidence of those crimes.

Only guilty states do this. But its been clear for quite some time that that is exactly what Israel is: a criminal state, built on and sustained by systematic human rights abuses. The one positive thing in this is that they seem to still at least have a sense of shame about them.

Abortion wins in Ireland

Over the weekend, Irish voters went to the polls in a referendum on their country's constitutional ban on abortion - and overturned it by a massive margin. While all the vote does is remove the constitutional prohibition, it is being interpreted correctly as a vote for change, and the Irish government is promising to pass a sane abortion law which doesn't kill women by the end of the year. Which will leave Northern Ireland as the only place in the British isles where abortion is still illegal.

This has put pressure on the UK government to Do Something about its backward colony, for example by legislating to allow for their own referendum. But that would be constitutionally improper. Northern Ireland is a devolved region, with its own government (though not at the moment) and laws. It is as inappropriate for Westminster to legislate for them as it would be for them to legislate for Scotland. They can only do so with consent. Unfortunately, due to the sectarian nature of Northern Irish politics, which sees bigot unionist parties holding a veto on government (which is why they don't have one ATM), that consent is unlikely to be granted. The only way to fix this problem is for Northern Irish voters to vote out the bigots and vote for people who will change the law. In other words, they have to solve this problem themselves.

Its also raised questions about why New Zealand is dragging its feet on removing abortion from the Crimes Act. Despite a clear promise from Labour, the issue has been parked with the Law Commission in an effort to gain political cover for change. Except that anti-abortionists won't care what the Law Commission says in its report, and will MPs will face a torrent of hate regardless. Which means the entire exercise is pointless - they might as well have simply cut out the middle man and introduced the law they wanted themselves.

NZDF has a culture of deceit

Six months ago, we learned that a toxic firefighting foam used by NZDF may have contaminated water supplies near its bases. Over that time, there's been a few stories suggesting that NZDF may not have been honest with us about the problem. But now, according to Radio New Zealand, it appears that they have been lying systematically to the New Zealand public:

Documents about the nationwide firefighting foam contamination investigation show the Defence Force told the public one thing, but said something different in internal reports.
  • Defence told the public the foam that it is still using, does not contain a banned chemical.
  • But it told its own consultants that it did contain this chemical, called PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid.
  • It told the public its investigation was only about "historical" contamination that occurred before 2002.
  • But it told its consultants to look at historical and "current" contamination.
The documents released to RNZ under the Official Information Act include internal reports on contamination investigations in Auckland and Manawatū.
The details in that report are stunning, and show calculated deceit in NZDF's public communications, clearly intended to minimise their exposure. Which all seems familiar. In the Hit & Run saga NZDF has been caught lying multiple times, even deceiving their Minister. This is an institution which appers to have an entrenched culture of deceit. And while Ministers may excuse it when soldiers are deployed and lives are on the line, this is not that sort of case. Instead, it is purely about reputation and legal liability. And where that's the case, I think the expectation of the New Zealand public is that government agencies behave honestly, rather than trying to bullshit and weasel us.

NZDF needs to come clean with us about what they've done, how much of our water they've poisoned, and whether they're still doing it. And they need to admit responsibility and compensate their victims. Finally, those who have been lying to us about this need to be fired, because they clearly lack the integrity required to work for a government agency.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Spain's corrupt government

Key figures in Spain's ruling party have just been jailed for corruption:

Spain’s ruling party has suffered a major blow after one of its former treasurers was jailed for 33 years for fraud and money laundering, and the party itself was found to have profited from an illegal kickbacks-for-contracts scheme, in a case that has become emblematic of political corruption in the country.

Luis Bárcenas, once a close ally of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, was sentenced to prison for his part in the conspiracy and fined €44m (£38.5m), while the People’s party (PP) was fined €240,000 after judges at Spain’s highest criminal court ruled that it had benefited from the racket.

The so-called Gürtel case centred on Francisco Correa, a businessman with close ties to the PP who was accused of paying bribes to party officials between 1999 and 2006 in return for contracts to carry out public works and organise events. The investigation was codenamed Gürtel, the German word for correa (belt).

Correa was sentenced to 51 years in prison, and his lieutenant Pablo Crespo was jailed for 37 years and six months. Bárcenas’s wife, Rosalía Iglesias, was jailed for 15 years, and Correa’s ex-wife, Carmen Rodríguez Quijano, for 14 years and eight months.

All up, 29 party officials were sentenced to a combined 350 years in prison. There's now talk of a no confidence vote in the Spanish parliament to oust the government, and hopefully that will happen. This sort of corruption is not something that can be tolerated in a modern, democratic state, and parties which look the other way on it deserve to be punished by the electorate.

This is corrupt

One of the unstated rules of New Zealand society is that when you deal with the government, you get treated equally, regardless of whether you are rich or poor. Or at least, that's the ideal, and we'd be disturbed to find a government agency offering better service to the rich by "virtue" of their ill-gotten gains. But that's exactly what Immigration NZ is doing to customers of a Chinese bank:

More than half of a Chinese bank's wealthy clients had their New Zealand visitor visas approved within a day in the last year after an agreement to fast-track them.

Immigration New Zealand introduced a streamlined visa process for the bank's private banking or prestigious wealth management customers two years ago.

It has since also signed a similar deal with China UnionPay for its Platinum or Diamond credit card holders.

The Bank of China said the streamlined applications had cut visa processing times by at least half, from 15 days to fewer than five days, and in the past year, more than half of its clients that had applied for visas, had them approved within one business day.


Under the agreement, those travellers no longer needed to provide evidence of onward travel from New Zealand or their financial employment status.

So, quicker processing and lower visa standards if you're rich and use particular companies. It's corrupt in all sorts of ways - both a direct attack on equal service, but also the idea that private companies get to offer better services from our government as a perk. Supposedly there's a benefit to tourism, but the intangible cost is to reduce trust in government services while establishing a culture of corruption. What next? Visa-free travel if you fly here on Air New Zealand? Immunity from prosecution if you hire Russell McVeagh as your lawyers? No need to meet building standards if you work with Fletchers?

This is corruption, pure and simple. Government services should not be bought and sold like some commercial affiliate arrangement. This deal and any others like it must be terminated.

New Fisk

Whether Armenia, the Nazis or Isis – if you're going to commit genocide, you can’t do it without the help of local people

Total capture

In 2011, MPI uncovered systematic and sustained fraud by multiple fishing companies, which undermined the entire Quota Management System. The fraud was a serious crime with a penalty of five years imprisonment, but MPI didn't prosecute. Why not? Because they didn't think it would result in behaviour change:

The fishing companies did not face any sanctions following the compliance audit.

"Prosecutions will have a short-term effect in terms of behavioural change," Orr said.

"We've modelled this in the past and, at best, it is three, four, maybe five years if you're lucky through prosecution action.

Can you imagine the police taking that approach to murderers, burglars, or drunk drivers? Laughable, isn't it. Why bother even having laws if they're not enforced?

There are two options here. One is that MPI is right, and the fishing industry suffers from such deep-seated criminality that the existing penalty structure fails to deter their crime. In which case the answer is stronger incentives to counter the obvious and direct financial incentives to commit such fraud. And there's an obvious one available: quota forfeiture - taking away their right to fish. Or seizing the vessels which commit fraud as instruments of crime. The latter is already available as a penalty; MPI just has to use it.

The second option is that MPI is totally captured by the industry it is supposed to be regulating, and refusing to prosecute because they're not really interested in doing their jobs. In which case we might as well sack the lot of them and get new people who are interested in doing the job, people who aren't institutionally corrupt.

Either way, if we are to maintain the integrity of our fisheries system, things need to change. I think the change needs to start with MPI, but there is clearly a deep-seated culture of criminality in the fishing companies. It needs to be stamped out.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The police put themselves above the law, again

Another day, another IPCA report about police abuse of tasers. In this case, a police officer tasered someone in the back while they were running away and knocked him unconscious - an action the IPCA found to be unlawful and in violation of police policies on use of force. If you or I had done that, we'd be looking at five years for assault with a weapon or disabling. But because the offender in this case was one of their own, the police are making excuses for him and there's no suggestion of prosecution. The police apparently consider themselves above the laws they enforce on the rest of us. And then they complain that no-one respects them...

This continued toleration of serious criminal behaviour by police undermines both them and the law. it needs to stop. Since the police won't stop it, we need to give the IPCA the ability to bring prosecutions against those under its jurisdiction so that the police can actually be held to account. Until that happens, they're simply a charade, an institutional lie to deceive the public into thinking that the law actually means something.

Pervasive criminality II

More evidence this morning that fishing is a criminal industry, from yet another suppressed MPI report:

Some of the country's biggest fishing companies have been under-reporting their hoki catch by hundreds of tonnes, according to a leaked fisheries report.

The report has been kept secret from the public for seven years and environmentalists say it casts doubt on industry claims that lucrative hoki is being fished sustainably.

The companies include Sanford and Talley's.

Hoki is the most valuable export fish, earning the country $230 million last year and famously used in McDonald's filet-o-fish burgers.

The Ministry of Fisheries 2011 report said McDonald's supplier Talley's failed to report an estimated 780 tonnes of hoki in one season.

The report and Greenpeace's summary are here. Talleys is not the only company named, and it suggests pervasive underreporting in the hoki fishery. This is a serious crime with a penalty of five years imprisonment, and it calls the entire quota management system (which is predicated on honest reporting) into doubt. But instead of prosecuting these criminal companies, MPI suppressed the report, as usual. Our regulator is rotten to the core, to the extent that we should probably be considering it a co-conspirator in these cases...

What this report (and the others like it) show is that the public can not trust the fishing industry, and we can not trust MPI. We need to clean up both, and quickly, before they destroy our marine environment forever.

Bad faith

That's the only way to describe the Prime Minister's refusal to commit to being bound by the result of the marijuana referendum if people vote to legalise it for recreational use. Firstly, its bad faith with the people of New Zealand: she's promising us a vote, but refusing to pay attention to it. So why bother with the charade? Its another example of politicians earning their reputation as dishonest liars, and she deserves every bit of that. Secondly, it's bad faith with her support parties: she promised this to the Greens in their confidence and supply agreement, and the implication in that promise is that the will of the people would be obeyed. By refusing that, she's basicly tearing up the agreement - and inviting the Greens to do likewise. (say, by refusing to support NZ First's awful party-hopping legislation until Labour keeps its promises to them).

Of course, if you're promising a binding referendum, the public should know exactly what we are voting for, as we did with MMP and the New Zealand flag. In this case, that means either publishing the agreed legalisation law, or actually passing it with a commencement clause saying that it will only come into effect if a referendum passes. But this would take control over this issue away from the politicians and give it to the people - which seems to be exactly what Jacinda Ardern opposes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A victory for freedom of the press in Fiji

For the past three weeks, Fiji Times executives and journalists have been on trial for sedition over a letter to the editor that they published. Today, they were acquitted:

Fiji's High Court has found three executives of The Fiji Times newspaper and another man not guilty of sedition.

The four men, and the newspaper itself, were charged with sedition over a letter published in the indigenous language publication Nai Lalakai in 2016.


During a three-week trial the prosecution had argued the aim of the letter was to sow feelings of ill-will towards Muslim Fijians.

But in handing down his verdict, Justice Thushara Rajasinghe said, "the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the letter was seditious" and he acquitted all four men of the charge.

Its a clear victory for freedom of the press, and an unexpected one - the Fijian judiciary is not noted for its independence (in part because they hire judges on short-term contracts, rather than appointing them for life). And I'm now wondering whether Justice Rajasinghe will have his contract renewed, or whether he'll effectively be fired by the government for failing to punish its enemies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Spain lied

When Spain suspended Catalan democracy last year and imposed colonial rule from Madrid, it presented it as a temporary measure, to be ended once elections had been held and a new government was in place. But they lost those elections, and their efforts to prevent a new government from being formed (including nakedly arresting and charging a presidential candidate with "rebellion" to prevent his election) failed. And so Spain is now simply refusing to return control:

ANGER was rising in Catalonia last night after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy backtracked over withdrawing the unprecedented direct rule he imposed after last October’s independence referendum.

He claimed to recognise the powers of newly-elected President Quim Torra but refused to approve his choice of ministers, four of whom are facing charges connected with the poll, and refused to publish their nominations in the official gazette.

The Madrid government must end direct rule once the Catalan government is formed and cabinet ministers named, under the terms of the emergency legislation brought in under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution.

So much for Rajoy's vaunted "rule of law". This was always and only about usurping Catalan democracy.

As for what happens next, I expect the Catalan government will take the Spanish government to court to enforce its own law. Though I doubt they'll get justice from Spanish judges appointed by Rajoy.

A pawn of the fishing industry

Deep-sea trawling is an environmentally destructive practice which devastates vulnerable marine ecosystems for the private profit of a few fishing companies. The New Zealand government has been worried about this for a long time, and so they've been working through the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation to regulate it in our region. But now, they've suddenly shitcanned that plan:

The Government pulled plans to put major restrictions on deep sea trawling after the fishing industry threatened legal action.

Officials and scientists from New Zealand and Australia had been working on the joint proposal since 2012 and it was finally due to go in front of an inter-governmental body in Peru in late January.

It was designed to protect the stocks of orange roughy in the high seas and prevent the destruction of delicate seabed life like coral and sponges.

But just weeks before the meeting, the High Seas Fisheries lobby group – which includes Talleys and Sealord – wrote to the Government threatening legal action.

In a story which sounds awfully familiar, Winston Peters got involved, and suddenly six years of careful work and consultation were overturned so the fishing industry could keep on pillaging. Combine it with his push for a "marine sanctuary" in which fishing is permitted, and its beginning to look like the Minister for Foreign Affairs is simply a pawn of the fishing industry.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Conspiring against transparency

Radio New Zealand has yet another story of the Auckland Council failing to meet its obligations under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and having to be ordered to release material by the Ombudsman. This time its about proposals for a new stadium. But what's interesting is how Auckland Mayor Phil Goff deliberately tried to insulate himself from having to release information on the matter:

Mr Goff personally called for the report soon after he was elected Mayor in October 2016, following 33 years in national politics.

Consultants PwC were engaged in January, although that move was not publicly announced until March, and the draft was delivered on time in June to the council agency Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA).

Mr Goff opted for a verbal briefing, and did want a copy of the draft.

The aim was clearly to lie about what he had been told, while being able to claim that the actual document wasn't held by him and could not be requested. Which is not acceptable behaviour from any elected official. But it shows how deep the OIA rot goes within Labour, and raises serious questions about Goff's compliance with the Public Records Act.

As for Auckland Council, they tried to claim that as they'd called the report a "draft", they didn't have to release it - which shows that they don't understand the law (or alternatively, are willing to lie about the law to requesters in the hope they won't complain). As the Ombudsman pointed out, "There is no basis for a blanket withholding of drafts under LGOIMA until they are completed and finalised," and this one is so old it has its own section in the common OIA misconceptions FAQ, which you'd expect the supposed professionals at Auckland Council to be familiar with. So either they're not professional or not competent. Either way, Auckland Council needs to hire a new LGOIMA team committed to obeying the law.

Why is Labour building houses for the rich?

KiwiBuild - the promise to squash the housing bubble by building 100,000 new affordable homes - is Labour's core policy for this term. Pretty obviously, if they do that, it will help get more people into their own homes, rather than paying rent to some landleech. But when it comes to implementation, Labour is quite happy to sell those houses to the rich:

People wanting to buy one of the Government's affordably priced homes will not be income-tested.

That means high-income earners will not be blocked from purchasing one of the 100,000 planned houses to be built over 10 years, which will be priced at up to $650,000.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the criteria for prospective buyers in the KiwiBuild scheme were still being developed.

It is already known that the houses will be limited to first home-buyers and permanent residents.

But it is understood that income caps will not be used for the scheme.

Not applying income caps will mean that the wealthy are free to bid up the price and continue the bubble. It also raises the prospect of those houses ending up in the property portfolios of landlords and speculators rather than improving home ownership rates. And when we have a crisis caused in part by the wealthy hoarding houses, letting them do more of the same just seems foolish.

But its also inconsistent with the values Labour is purporting to represent to voters. They're supposed to stand for ordinary kiwis, not the wealthy. So why are they building houses for the latter?

New Fisk

How long after this week's Gaza massacre are we going to continue pretending that the Palestinians are non-people?

Palmerston North voters are racists too

So, it turns out that Palmerston North voters are racists too, just like their hick cousins in Manawatū:

Palmerston North people have spoken and more than two-thirds who voted were in opposition to creating separate Māori wards.

Results from a binding poll came in on Saturday night, with 14,567 voting against wards for the city council and 6530 voting for.

The percentage was 68.87 against and 30.88 per cent for.

The turnout was at 37.21 per cent of eligible voters, and 49 votes were counted as blank and four "informal" votes received.

I guess its just too much to expect better from this rural shithole. I hope they're really proud of themselves, being exactly the sort of people Don Brash thinks they are.

As for the solution, Local Government New Zealand has pointed out the iniquity of a racist law which allows the majority to veto minority representation, and they're right. Either all boundary changes need to be subject to referendum (in which case Maori can force a referendum on any scheme which does not guarantee appropriate representation), or none should be. But the current situation, where some boundary changes but not others can result in a referendum, based on race, is simply racism.

ActionStation has a petition on the issue here if you'd like to sign it (note: this form does not comply with the Privacy Act). But with NZ First involved in the government and holding a blocking majority in parliament, I doubt there will be progress in this term of parliament.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A downpayment

I think that's the best way of describing today's budget. There were no huge policies, and no surprises - the first because they'd all been dealt with in December, the latter because of the now-usual process of pre-announcement. Neither was there masses of new money for health and education. But there were increases, targeted pretty clearly at rebuilding those key public services so they can begin to meet people's expectations of them. Its a budget which begins to undo the damage of nine years of National vandalism - but only begins. The infrastructural, service, and social deficits National left will take more than a single budget to fix, but this one sends the message that the government is at least starting the job.


A ballot for two Members' Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill (Darroch Ball)
  • Broadcasting (Games of National Significance) Amendment Bill (Mark Patterson)

So it looks like NZ First has the ballot mojo at the moment. Unfortunately they're using it for redneck "tough on crime" and free rugby policies, rather than anything useful.

The gift that keeps on giving

Remember sheepgate? Murray McCully's amazing plan to avoid a nonexistent lawsuit by bribing a Saudi businessman with $10 million of public money? McCully may be gone, but his legacy lives on: now, MFAT is being sued over his corrupt deal, by an NZ company angry they didn't get their cut:

An Auckland-based company has started legal proceedings against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) in the High Court, the Herald can reveal.

That raises the possibility of more costs related to the controversial, and still unfinished, project.

The company, Laurium Asset Management, helped put the Saudi businessman who now owns the agrihub, Hmood Al Khalaf, in touch with the National Government.

However, it was left out of the eventual deal, and later wrote to Mfat asking why its intellectual property had been used as the basis for the tender.

It's "intellectual property" presumably being the idea of paying a bribe. But I'm not sure you can claim IP over a crime (OTOH, I'm sure the US Patent Office would grant a patent for it - they do for everything else).

Being sued by National's bottom-feeders adds insult to injury, and hopefully it'll be thrown out of court. If its not, MFAT should dump the liability where it truly belongs: with its corrupt former minister.

Someone is breaking the Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is one of the global community's most significant environmental achievements - the environment treaty that actually worked. But now, someone is apparently breaking it:

Emissions of some ozone-depleting Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have shot up in the past six years, despite a decades-old treaty banning them altogether.

“Atmospheric detective work” has pinpointed a mysterious new source in East Asia that might be responsible for this surge in destructive chemicals.


However, in a new paper published in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists report an unexpected finding of CFC-11, one of the major ozone-depleting chemicals.

The rate of this substance’s decline in the atmosphere has slowed by approximately 50 per cent since 2012.

This suggests new CFC sources have emerged in recent years, hampering the international effort to completely rid the atmosphere of these chemicals.

"East Asia" probably means "China", and its exactly the sort of behaviour you get in a corrupt state where businesses routinely ignore environmental regulation for profit (see also: melamine in milk). CFCs are cheaper than HFCs to make, so someone is probably just making them and bribing officials to look the other way. A business culture which doesn't care about poisoning children is unlikely to care about destroying the ozone layer.

Except its not just ozone. The CFC they've detected - CFC-11 - is also a greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential of 5350. The Nature article estimates the new production at 13 ± 5 gigagrams per year, or 13,000 tons. Which is equivalent to almost 70 million tons of CO2 - close to the entire gross emissions of New Zealand. So they're not just cheating on Montreal, they're also cheating on Kyoto and Paris, to the tune of over a billion dollars a year.

Hopefully now that this has hit the global media, this pirate pollution factory will be shut down. But the fact that it even started in the first place suggests certain nations have inadequate environmental monitoring - something they need to fix if the world is to collectively address its problems.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wage thieves

Last week, the Employment Court ruled that unpaid morning meetings held by Smiths City were work, and ordered the retailer to pay its workers for them. In the wake of the ruling there were hundreds of complaints alleging similar practices, and it turns out that they are widespread in the retail sector:

Retail workers at the Cotton On Group, the Briscoes Group and Harvey Norman are not being paid for working overtime, according to a union representing retail staff.

The employers are the most recent to be named for alleged illegal pay practices from hundreds of worker complaints laid with First Union, retail secretary Tali Williams said.

Staff complaints were over unpaid preparation meetings before stores opened and being forced to stay after stores closed to "cash up" the counter and clean, she said.

If an employer expects you to do it, then its work, and it should be paid. The refusal of these companies to pay their workers is simply systematic wage-theft. At the minimum, they need to be forced to pay their workers, with backpay and interest. But in the long-term, we need to punish this like any other form of theft. If a person steals a $1,000 TV set, they can face 7 years in prison. But if they steal $1,000 in wages, they don't. If a worker swipes $100 from a till, they can face a similar penalty. But abusing your position of power to steal from your workers apparently isn't criminal. And it needs to be. Because clearly the current situation, where thieving employers face no effective punishment, provides no incentive for them to obey the law.

Manawatū voters are racist

Last year the Manawatū District Council voted to introduce Māori wards to ensure representation for its Māori voters. But racist hate group Hobson's Pledge organised a referendum against the wards, using a racist clause of our local government legislation which allows voters a say on Māori representation, but not on anything else. And sadly, it seems that rural Manawatū voters are indeed the racists Don Brash thought they were:

Manawatū District voters have come out more than three-to-one in opposition to creating separate Māori wards.

Results from a binding poll have come in on Tuesday afternoon, with 7062 voting against, and 2038 in favour.

Some 43 per cent of electors cast a vote, with 18 votes counted as blank and one "informal".

I guess those stereotypes about rural folk being redneck arsehats are at least 75% true.

Meanwhile, Palmerston North is in the middle of a similar racist referendum, and today is the last day to post your vote. I'm hoping we'll have a different result here.

A constitutional clusterfuck

Brexit has been a huge clusterfuck for the UK, with the stupid decision of elderly racist tories leading to a self-cannibalising cabinet, a completely dysfunctional government, and a country sleepwalking towards international isolation. And that's without even looking at the Irish problem. And now, to add to the steaming pile of messes it has caused, they have a new one: threatening the constitutional settlement with Scotland.

Scotland is a devolved government, effectively a separate country within the UK. And, as with the UK's overseas colonies, there's a longstanding constitutional convention that Westminster doesn't legislate for Scotland without Scotland's consent. But Brexit means reallocating EU powers within the UK, and that means legislating for Scotland, if only to determine where they go. But the Scottish parliament doesn't like the deal being offered (under which they merely get "consulted"), and so have effectively vetoed it in an effort to get a better one:

The Scottish parliament has voted against Theresa May’s Brexit legislation by a large margin, putting the UK on the brink of a major constitutional dispute.

Holyrood rejected the UK government’s EU withdrawal bill by 93 votes to 30 on Tuesday after Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens backed Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to oppose proposals on post-Brexit power sharing set out in clause 11 of the bill.

The vote is not legally binding but it will force the prime minister to make a high-risk decision to impose those power-sharing plans on Scotland or make further concessions to the Scottish government to avoid a crisis.

Westminster purporting to legislate for Scotland without their consent and in defiance of constitutional convention would undoubtedly be legal (because they would say that it would be), but equally undoubtedly unconstitutional. Of course, Scotland has a solution if they don't like England's Brexit deal: leave. And with Scottish voters voting overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, its an option they should take.

Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day, though thanks to some jiggering around with the Order paper, things are happening in an unusual order. First up is Chlöe Swarbrick's Election Access Fund Bill, which will provide funding to make it easier for disabled people to run for election. This bill has been postponed for a while, but has suddenly been un-postponed, pushing it to the top of the Order Paper. Which means it trumps Darroch Ball's Farm Debt Mediation Bill, which was introduced at the top of the Order Paper by leave during Question Time yesterday. The bill is another regulatory subsidy for farmers, making it more difficult for their shell companies to be bankrupted by their banks. Mycoplasma Bovis - a disease spread by farmers ignoring regulation - is the latest excuse for this, but before that it was the banks dubious business practices, and it really does seem like an excuse-of-the-week bill. Yesterday National tried to have it heard as a single question (effectively giving it all-stages urgency on a 60 minute debate, with no select committee stage), and I'm glad that failed. As for the merits, I see no reason to exempt farmers from the consequences of their poor business decisions, but National and NZ First clearly do, so it'll probably pass.

Thirdly, there's the second reading of Stuart Smith's Friendly Societies and Credit Unions (Regulatory Improvements) Amendment Bill, which is an uncontriversial regulatory update. If the House moves quickly, it might make it back onto Erica Stanford's nasty little Education (Social Investment Funding and Abolition of Decile System) Amendment Bill, but I don't think they'll get much further than that. Which means there probably won't be a ballot tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Catalonia has a government again

Six months ago, in the wake of their violent repression of an independence referendum, the Spanish government dissolved Catalonia's regional government and forced new elections. Despite arresting several candidates and banning the colour yellow, their local quislings lost (apparently beating people in the streets does not make them like you. Who knew?), and since then Spain has been trying to stop the elected majority from forming a government. The obvious candidates were in prison or exile, and Spain refused to release them, despite a ruling from the UN Human Rights Council. An alternative candidate was arrested and charged with "rebellion" on the eve of the vote, and it seemed like Spain was trying to run out the clock and force Catalans to vote again until they got it right. But when the Catalan Parliament suggested a new pro-independence candidate, they were not arrested (maybe Madrid can read the polls after all), and so Catalonia finally has a regional government again:

The Catalan parliament has narrowly elected a hardline secessionist as president, presaging the end of 199 days of direct rule from Madrid.

Quim Torra, an uncompromisingly pro-independence MP who joined parliament six months ago, was elected by 66 votes to 65.

He is the first candidate to be approved by the body since Carles Puigdemont’s administration was sacked seven months ago, when the Spanish government used the constitution to assume control of Catalonia and call last December’s regional election.

The Madrid government has said it will cease using article 155 of the constitution – which had never been invoked until last year – when a new Catalan government was in place.

Which means Catalans will get back control of their government, and stop being treated like an internal colony of Madrid.

Spain's policy of thuggery and brutality has clearly failed. It hasn't persuaded anyone to abandon independence - not the politicians they have in jail or the ones who belong to pro-independence parties, let alone the majority of Catalans who vote for them. The question is whether Spain will recognise this and try talking, or whether they'll continue to try and use force and alienate even more people.

The police break the law

It turns out that the spies aren't the only coercive government agency seemingly incapable of following the rules. The police had been unlawfully accessing government data on people's travel for more than a year:

Police broke the law by accessing Customs and Immigration data for more than a year when they did not have permission to do so.

The embarrassing situation saw police logging on to CusMod, Customs’ computer system, 15,799 times between December 2015 and January 2017 for border security reasons after an “administrative oversight” led to an authorisation expiry date being ignored.

It follows a December announcement by Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn that the country’s spies also unlawfully accessed the same database for more than 20 years between 1997 and 2016.


Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri was informed in December after asking for information on other CusMod access arrangements.

CusMod is Customs' internal database of people's travel movements. Its used for setting border alerts, so agencies can be alerted if someone enters or leaves the country or arrange for them to be stopped, and it records information on customs officers interactions with people (so e.g. when they poke through all your electronic devices at the airport). Its the sort of thing you can see that there are legitimate law enforcement uses for. But those uses have to be legal and authorised. And the police are so institutionally useless, that they simply let that authorisation expire.

Their "defence" is that the searches would have all been legal if authorised 9that is, nothing was outside their internal policy, whatever that is). But that wouldn't stand up in court if they failed to apply for a search warrant, and it isn't good enough here. The police, of all agencies, need to obey the law, and be seen to obey it. Their behaviour must be beyond reproach. instead, we have systematic, SIS-like illegality. And that's simply not good enough. There's no suggestion in the article that anyone was held to account or faced employment consequences for this systematic illegality. And without that, there's simply no incentive for it not to happen again.

A massacre

That is the only way to describe what is happening in Gaza at the moment:

Gaza has had its bloodiest day in years after Israeli forces shot and killed 55 Palestinians and wounded at least 1,200 as tens of thousands protested along the frontier against the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

The violent scenes contrasted sharply with the glossy inauguration of Washington’s new mission around 60 miles away in an affluent Jerusalem neighbourhood. The US president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, celebrated the opening to clapping and cheering from American and Israeli VIPs.

In Gaza’s hospitals, dozens of casualties were in a critical condition, and medics said the dead included a 14-year-old boy. There were reports that a man in a wheelchair who had been pictured using a slingshot had also been killed.

The sky was blackened with thick smoke as protesters lit tyres. Intermittent sniper fire was heard and crowds of protesters were seen rushing towards the fence, although Israel’s military said none had managed to breach it.

The use of force is, as always, disproportionate. This isn't policing. It isn't "self-defence". It's simply mass-murder. Governments which do this deserve to be overthrown. The politicians and soldiers responsible need to be prosecuted. And since Israel will never hold its own to account, we need an international court to do so.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Labour will not fix the OIA

When Labour was in opposition, they frequently demanded that National fix the Official Information Act to improve transparency. But despite a Law Commission review telling them exactly what needs to be done and a review from the Open Government Partnership's Independent Reporting Mechanism recommending they implement it, the government has no intention of doing so:

Contrary to reporting last year, it seems that the Government currently has no plans to reform the Official Information Act.

At the time we wrote to Ministers Clare Curran and Andrew Little expressing our support for such a reform. We have finally had a response from Justice Minister Andrew Little that:

"Although a review of the Official Information Act is not presently under consideration by the Government, such a review is possible at some point in the future."

So much for Clare Curran's promise that "this will be the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had". Instead, its the usual story: transparency is something preached in opposition, but ignored when in government. And politicians wonder why the public perceive them as deceitful hypocrites who are lower than dogshit? This is why.

As for what we can do about it: if the government won't act, maybe the opposition will. They're talking a good game on transparency in Question Time at the moment (just as Labour was in opposition). We need to get them to back that with members' bills. At the least, it'll then lead to awkward questions for the Minister for Open Government about why they are doing her job for her.

New Fisk

In the Middle East right now, all sides in this complex battle are staring at each other with increasing concern


Our supermarkets are spying on us:

New Zealand's largest supermarket company has quietly rolled out facial recognition CCTV technology in some of its North Island stores.

It comes after revelations a man was mistakenly identified as a shoplifter at New World and amid warnings from the Privacy Commissioner about the use of the covert surveillance technique.

The man was allegedly misidentified due to human error, and Foodstuffs NZ claimed facial recognition was not used in the South Island.

However, the
Otago Daily Times can reveal a security system that "bridges the gap between businesses and the police'' is now used at the Centre City New World in Dunedin, among other South Island stores.

The ODT identifies that system as "Auror" (yes, its a Harry Potter reference), and it is apparently used in petrol stations run by Z and Caltex and retailers like Farmers, Mitre 10, and Briscoes. It uses facial recognition as well as ANPR to alert stores when an "offender" enters the premises. Who counts as an "offender" and how reliable is that information? Only Auror knows, and they're not telling. But the result, as with other uses of facial recognition, is false-positives, which damage the user's brand.

The Privacy Commissioner is reminding retailers of the requirement to notify customers if they are using this sort of technology. But the way to stop it is to publicise the false positives, fuck the brands of the businesses using it, and make it toxic.

Friday, May 11, 2018

An insincere apology

In 2004, Britain helped the CIA kidnap Libyan dissident Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his family from Thailand. Belhaj and his pregnant wife were rendered to Libya, where they were imprisoned by the Gaddafi regime. Belhaj was tortured. MI6 knew and wanted this to happen. Now, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has purportedly "apologised" for the government's actions:

Theresa May has issued an unprecedented apology for Britain’s role in the “appalling” treatment of a Libyan dissident and his wife, who were victims of a rendition operation mounted with the help of MI6.

The prime minister wrote to Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, to apologise unreservedly on behalf of the government for its failings over the case and missed opportunities to end their ordeal.

The attorney general, Jeremy Wright, read out May’s letter in the Commons as he announced that Boudchar, who was pregnant when the couple were kidnapped, would receive £500,000 compensation for the UK’s role in her treatment. Belhaj has neither sought, nor received, a financial settlement.


In her letter, May admitted the UK should have done more to reduce the risk that the couple could be mistreated, and had wrongly missed opportunities to help them once they were held in the prisons of the former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

She acknowledged that Britain should have realised sooner that its allies were involved in unacceptable practices, implying criticism of Libya for torture and the CIA’s practice of rendition.

If you believe May, this was all a terrible misunderstanding, poor British spies not really understanding what they were doing and what horrors they were sending Belhaj to. Bullshit. They knew all along, about both American and Libyan torture. They visited Belhaj in the prison where he was being tortured and questioned him. Pretending now that they didn't know about it is just Britain minimising its crimes, as usual.

An apology was what Belhaj was seeking, and he may be satisfied with this. But we should not be. The criminals who arranged his rendition, who knowingly sent him to be tortured in exchange for political favour with Libya, are still free. No-one has been held to account. And unless there is accountability for these crimes, there is no incentive for them not to be repeated.

But no doubt then we'll see an equally insincere apology and compensation from an establishment which has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

A bullshit idea

The government is trying to revive the Kermadec Ocean sanctuary idea, which had been held up by the need for consultations with iwi. Unfortunately their proposal for reviving it is to allow fishing in it:

A marine sanctuary in the Kermadec Islands could be back on the table – but not in its original form.

Labour and NZ First are working on an alternative proposal for an ocean sanctuary in the region which allows some fishing to take place.

The compromise solution would appease NZ First, which was concerned about the impacts of a no-take zone on the fishing industry and iwi.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Green Party would support a watered-down proposal.

Hopefully they won't, because this is a bullshit idea. A "sanctuary" which allows fishing isn't a sanctuary at all, and I expect the Greens to hold firm on that. While boundaries can be negotiated, the fundamental of a marine protected area actually being protected can't be.

There's a relatively easy solution for iwi whose fishing rights in the area would be affected, and that is to compensate them and offer co-management. Their mana is protected by the Treaty, and infringing upon it without compensation would be a breach of the government's duty. But I don't think its beyond the wit of government or iwi to come to an arrangement on this.

As for the fishing industry, fuck them. There's practically no fishing in that area anyway (a total of 20 tons of fish worth $165,000 are caught there every year), and the tiny amount there is is all for migratory species for which the quota can be exercised elsewhere. Their objection isn't because this will interfere with their business in any meaningful way, but to the very idea of marine protection itself - that there might be areas off-limits to their pillage. And like farmers whining about the "right to farm" (meaning the "right" to stick animals and their shit anywhere, without any environmental regulation) that is simply not an idea worth engaging with.

Unfortunately the fishing industry has NZ First in its pocket, and so we get bullshit ideas like this. I think the best we can do is work for a deal with iwi, while waiting for the government to change to one that doesn't involve Winston Peters or Shane Jones. Then we might be able to get some actual progress on this issue.

An impoverished idea of public participation

DPMC Chief Executive Andrew Kibblewhite and Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier have a joint article in the latest Policy Quarterly on Free and frank advice and the Official Information Act: balancing competing principles of good government. The article attempts to give a joint view on the issue in order to reduce uncertainty about what will be released and what may be withheld by public servants fearful of public scrutiny. Much of it rehashes Kibblewhite's speeches on the issue, and there's some discussion of the Ombudsman's recently updated guidance as well. But there's one bit by the Ombudsman which is deeply concerning, where he talks about protecting advice at different stages of the policy process:

If I liken this approach to a potential journey with four phases, the first phase is alerting the minister that a journey may be needed, and indicating some possible routes. It is impossible to say at this early stage whether the journey will actually take place, or if it does what route the journey will take. If the minister indicates potential interest in embarking on this journey, the second phase is becoming clearer as to what the destination might be.

During these early stages, advice is more likely to require protection on the basis that disclosure would prejudice the future free and frank exchange of opinions necessary for the effective conduct of public affairs. However, general information could be released at this time about the policy’s scope or terms of reference, and the development plan or stages of policy development ahead (including timeframes for any public consultations and final decisions).

The third phase of the journey will involve reasonable certainty of the route and likely destination. By this time I think the principles of participation in democracy should weigh heavily...

So, the Ombudsman, who is meant to be the defender of transparency and the public participation it enables, thinks the public shouldn't be able to have a say on policy until the government has already decided what's going to happen. To put things back into his metaphor, in his view we don't get to decide where we're going to go, how we're going to get there, or even if we're going to go on a trip at all. But we might get to choose the music we listen to or which cafe we stop at along the way, if the government hasn't already made up its mind about these things.

No matter which way you look at it, this is a deeply impoverished view of public participation. Pretty obviously, it reflects central government's view of this - where they make the decisions, and public "consultation" is simply a rubberstamp designed to build legitimacy rather than give us a real say. But public participation is supposed to serve the interests of the people, not the government, and the Ombudsman is supposed to protect it. How the fuck is this supposed to be guarding the mana of the people?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

An "inquiry" with no witnesses

The British government had a problem: their police had been secretly infiltrating and spying on peaceful protest groups, leading double lives, stealing the identities of dead children and lying in court about who they were. Some even fathered children with the people they were spying on, then abandoned them. So they did what the British establishment always does: hold an inquiry. Not to establish the truth, expose the police's activities to public scrutiny, or hold those responsible to account, of course - that would be damaging. Instead, it was the usual PR stunt, designed solely to "draw a line" under the issue and give politicians and police something to point to and claim "problem solved" while everything continued as usual.

But they've done this so often that everybody knows the game, and they know how to deal with it. At the first sign that the inquiry would be a whitewash - when it decided to keep the identities of police spies secret - their victims boycotted it. And now a crucial witness, former police spy Peter Francis, has joined them:

A former undercover police officer who has become a whistleblower has joined a boycott of a public inquiry into the covert infiltration of political groups, saying it was concealing the state’s misconduct.

Victims of the undercover spying had previously walked out of the inquiry, criticising the judge leading it for allowing too much of it to be cloaked in secrecy.

On Wednesday, Peter Francis, a key figure in the controversy over the police’s use of undercover officers whose revelations had helped to force the government to set up the inquiry, boycotted its latest hearing.

He told the judge, Sir John Mitting, that his decisions giving anonymity to police spies undermined the ability of the inquiry to uncover the truth of how the police had infiltrated more than 1,000 political groups since 1968.

This is just the latest of a long string of major British inquiries to be boycotted by the people they're ostensibly held on behalf of. Inquiries into torture, child abuse, Grenfell Tower. And in each case, its because the inquiry has not been honest, has been focused on protecting those in power from accountability rather than justice for victims. People are right to boycott these establishment con-jobs. The sad thing is that the establishment keeps trying the same scam, even though their game is obviously up.

New Fisk

Donald Trump has shown himself to be the American version of Gaddafi in his behaviour towards Iran and the nuclear deal

Kiwis want to pay more tax

The conversation about tax in New Zealand is only ever about one thing: cutting it. This is because the conversation is driven by the rich, who exclude themselves from government services to avoid mingling with us dirty peasants and thus don't see why they should pay for them, and by radical libertarians, who want to shrink the state out ideological zeal. But if you actual ask ordinary kiwis, it turns out that we want a state which provides decent schools, hospitals, and social services, and we'd like to pay higher taxes to get it:

A majority of New Zealanders say they would support higher or new taxes to maintain funding for schools, hospitals and transport systems, according to polling by the country's largest union.

And despite the Government ruling out income tax rises, there appears to be public support for them - at least for the wealthiest earners.


A majority of people said top earners in New Zealand paid too little tax, and 66 per cent of people supported a fifth tax bracket for those earning well over $70,000.

There's also strong support for pollution taxes and sticking it to foreign tax cheats.

This is a long-standing social consensus, not a recent one. So why do politicians keep ignoring it, rather than acting on it and reaping the political rewards? At this stage, it's kindof hard not to notice that they're all paid at least $160,000 a year, and so in a different boat from the rest of us. And that will be the case, no matter who we elect. Decent pay for MPs protects us from corruption, but the consequence is a political elite which is increasingly divorced from the lives of the people who vote for them, and with strong personal incentives to betray us.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

About time

Yesterday the government announced there would be more money for MFAT in the upcoming budget - including a big boost to foreign aid:

Foreign Minister Winston Peters has secured $900 million in extra funding for more diplomats and international aid in the Budget, saying the extra spending is needed in a "turbulent" global environment.

The funding over four years will include $191m for an extra 50 diplomats and the reopening of New Zealand's embassy in Stockholm, Sweden.

However, the vast bulk of it, $714m, will be in aid spending targeting the Pacific, and going into the UN and World Bank. Peters said he expected more to follow.

Peters said that would be aimed at responding to climate change, contributions to the United Nations and the World Bank and helping humanitarian agencies respond to natural disasters.

About time. New Zealand spends pathetically little on foreign aid, less than half of the 0.7% of GNI target we have publicly committed to. This new spending will boost it from 0.23% of GNI, where it had slipped to under National, back up to 0.28%, which is where it was when they took power. So, it undoes the damage of the past nine years, but doesn't really fix the underlying problem. But hopefully with a government which takes aid seriously rather than seeing it as a vehicle for cronyism, we might finally start heading in the right direction.

Making the world a more dangerous place

In 2015, after years of tension, then-US President Barack Obama signed a nuclear deal with Iran. The deal was simple: the US would drop its sanctions regime, and Iran would give up its nuclear weapons program. And it worked: Iran kept its commitments, and IAEA inspectors have verified this. It made the world a safer place.

Donald Trump has now torn all of that up:

Donald Trump has announced he will impose “the highest level of economic sanctions” on Iran, violating an international nuclear agreement and a UN resolution, breaking decisively with US allies in Europe, and potentially triggering a new crisis in the Gulf.

In a statement at the White House, Trump said this decision meant that the US would “exit the Iran deal” agreed with other major powers in 2015, and warned that “any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could be strongly sanctioned”.

He then signed an executive order reimposing sanctions on any foreign company that continues to do business with Iran. The order gives companies 90-day or 180-day grace periods to extract themselves from existing Iranian contacts or face punitive US measures.

Its a stupid decision, taking for seemingly no reason at all (apparently getting what you want by talking rather than threatening or bombing is not acceptable to US Republicans). And the likely consequence is that Iran will restart its nuclear program, putting the US on the same path towards war that it was in 2015 (a war the US government at the time recognised it couldn't win - a reality those aggressive Republicans probably see as treasanous or something). So the US will be right back where it started, with a problem it can't solve by bombing, strong incentives for Iran to get nuclear weapons and a ticking clock to do so, and reduced chances of negotiating a way out because it has just told Iran that it does not keep its word. Its practically Darwin Award-worthy.

But its not just Iran it is telling it is untrustworthy, but the whole world. To point out the obvious, Donald Trump is currently trying to negotiate a denuclearisation deal with North Korea. And he's just told them, before talks have even started, that he might not stick to it, and that he might just change his mind if he gets questioned by the FBI or sued for defamation by a porn star. So why would North Korea agree to anything with such an untrustworthy partner?

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

There's a lesson here

When then Prime Minister John Key rammed the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill through Parliament, he whipped up fear and presented the new powers it contained as vital to the security of the New Zealand public. Only giving the SIS warrantless and video surveillance powers immediately would prevent a terrorist bloodbath! This spy fearmongering was used to justify suspending normal parliamentary procedure and ramming the bill through under urgency after a select committee process so abbreviated that MP's had no time to even read the submissions of people who engaged with it in good faith.

But it turns out that it wasn't that serious after all. Because when the new powers expired due to a drafting oversight in the replacement Intelligence and Security Act, the government didn't feel a need to legislate immediately to replace them:

A law-making bungle deprived our spies of a key weapon against terrorism in the wake of classified briefings warning of "an increasingly complex and escalating threat environment" in New Zealand.

NZ Security Intelligence Service documents revealed the blunder left our spies unable to use video surveillance tools to watch terrorism suspects in their cars, homes or workplaces for six months last year.


Kitteridge revealed the hole in the law to former NZSIS minister Chris Finlayson last year. In a memo on June 30, she said "the NZSIS no longer had the power to apply for a visual surveillance warrant" or to use emergency power to act without a warrant in emergencies.

The memo said warrants to allow visual surveillance were to "detect, investigate or prevent a terrorist act".

But she said the NZSIS was unable to do so for six months after the old law expired on April 1 2017 because the new Intelligence and Security Act did not apply until September 28 2017.

In a handwritten note, Finlayson told Kitteridge: "You will not be seeking a legislative solution AT ALL. Don't even bother asking."

If the SIS could live without these powers for six months, it suggests at the least that there was no case for urgency, and possibly no case for the powers at all (DPMC certainly didn't bother to make one in their shoddy and unprofessional Regulatory Impact Analysis). There's a lesson here both for future attempts to expand spy powers, and for abuse of urgency, and it is one we should heed. Our spies are power grabbing liars, who use fear to boost both their powers and their budgets. And this is not behaviour we should tolerate.

Good riddance

New Zealand First's Jenny Marcroft has dropped her Education (Protecting Teacher Title) Amendment Bill. Good riddance. The bill serves no real purpose - it is already an offence to falsely claim to be a registered teacher - while violating the Bill of Rights Act through overbroadness. And the policy outcome - of preventing people like piano teachers from using the ordinary name for their profession - is simply ridiculous in a free society. I'm glad parliament will not be wasting any more time on it.

Monday, May 07, 2018

The problem with facial recognition

Britain, the world's most surveilled society, is very keen on facial recognition. And you can see why: in addition to allowing people the government doesn't like to be tracked wherever they go (thanks to the UK having a camera for every 11 people), it also promises to cut the cost of policing. Instead of having to do actual police work, they can just send an arrest team whenever the cameras pop up a hit. Except there's just one problem: 90% of the "hits" are false:

A police force has defended its use of facial recognition technology after it was revealed that more than 2,000 people in Cardiff during the 2017 Champions League final were wrongly identified as potential criminals.

South Wales police began trialling the technology in June last year in an attempt to catch more criminals. The cameras scan faces in a crowd and compare them against a database of custody images.

As 170,000 people arrived in the Welsh capital for the football match between Real Madrid and Juventus, 2,470 potential matches were identified.

However, according to data on the force’s website, 92% (2,297) of those were found to be “false positives”.

So not only did it massively waste police time, it also created a real risk of innocent people being harassed or even arrested by police due to poor data. Sadly, though, this doesn't seem to have convinced them that its a bad idea.

New Fisk

Once the Syrian war is over, Qatar could become an empire once more

Too many cows

What a difference an election makes. After nine long years of denial about water-quality problems, the new government has straight-out said that New Zealand has too many cows. Better, it is actually going to do something about it:

The Government could be buying itself a fight with the farming lobby after suggesting there needs to be fewer cows.

Environment Minister David Parker told TVNZ's Q+A programme there would not be a direct cap on the number of cattle but there may be limits on the amount of nutrients lost from a farm into a waterway.

"Cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, but yes, in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain. That won't be done through a raw cap on cow numbers; it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway, because it's not just a dairy cow issue."

Farmers will kick and scream, but this change can be made without affecting their bottom line (or at a profit if they ditch cows entirely in some regions). All it requires is for them to change what they're doing and how they treat the environment. But that's something that they culturally seem to have a real problem with. And when regional councils have introduced nutrient limits, farmers have fought them all the way. I expect they'll do exactly the same here.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Labour tackles homelessness

During its nine long years in office, National gutted the state housing system while presiding over a housing bubble which forced rents through the roof. The result was predictable: homelessness on an unprecedented scale, with people forced to live in cars because WINZ and Housing New Zealand wouldn't provide a state house. Now, Labour is doing something about that:

Housing Minister Phil Twyford has announced $100m of funding for homelessness, with $37m allocated to finding 1500 new places by the end of winter.

The remaining $63.4m will be spent over four years to expand and sustain the Housing First programme across the country, adding 550 more places and keeping 900 established households going.

"There is no reason why there should be homelessness in a country like New Zealand," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at the announcement.

And she's absolutely right. We're a rich country, and no-one should be without a roof over their heads. Allowing homelessness in a country like this is just fucking indecent. Fortunately, we now have a government which understands this, rather than one which turns a blind eye to any problem which doesn't affect their rich mates.

The effects of voter ID laws

Following the American lead, the right in both the UK and New Zealand are eager for voter ID laws, requiring people to prove their identity at the ballot box. Supposedly the justification for this is to prevent impersonation at the polling booth - a vanishingly rare crime. But what do such laws actually do? Prevent people entitled to vote from voting:

A trial of voter ID has seen people in England turned away from polling booths for the first time for not carrying the necessary documents, with other issues reported including abuse of voting staff and some confusion over what evidence needed to be shown.

The local elections saw the scheme tested out in five boroughs in an attempt to crack down on voter impersonation, with the possibility it could be extended nationwide in future elections.

The main issues appeared to be in Bromley and Woking where, along with Gosport, people had to show one piece of photo ID or two from a list of other documents. In the other two test areas, Swindon and Watford, only a polling card was required.

In Bromley, south-east London, tallies by the opposition Labour group found at least 13 people turned away from just one ward, Crystal Palace. There were also reports of some voters being angry and abusive to polling station workers when asked to show ID.

In the UK, this is a solution to a non-existent problem - none of the trial areas have reported a single incident of impersonation over the past decade (its similarly rare in New Zealand). So why are the right so keen on it? Because the people least likely to have ID, or to want to prove their identity to the government, are poor people, who don't vote for them. Its just the usual American-style politics of trying to win by suppressing turnout of your enemies, rather than actually persuading people to vote for you.

Thursday, May 03, 2018


A ballot for four Members' Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill (Rino Tirikatene)
  • Dog Control (Category 1 Offences) Amendment Bill (Ian McKelvie)
  • Arms (Firearms Prohibition Orders) Amendment Bill (Paula Bennett)
  • Land Transport (Random Oral Fluid Testing) Amendment Bill (Jami-Lee Ross)

So a bunch of random law and order bullshit from National, and something of constitutional significance from Labour. The latter will require National's agreement to pass - parliament's standing orders require any proposal for entrenchment to be passed by at least the supermajority it seeks to establish. So the question is whether National is still clinging to the racism of the Brash era, or whether it has now accepted that Maori have a permanent place in this country, and their representation should be protected from being randomly repealed by racists.

Fitzsimons on the Electoral Integrity Bill

Over on The Spinoff, former Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says her piece on Winston Peter's waka-jumping bill, and calls it a bad solution to a non-existent problem:

The main argument advanced for the Bill, in fact its stated purpose, is to maintain proportionality of political party representation … as determined by electors. This elevates a bureaucratic structure – the party – above the principles it stands for.

Political parties exist to give form to a set of (hopefully) coherent ideas, policies and processes which together make up its platform. This is what voters vote for, along with confidence (or not) in the representatives themselves. Proportionality in the representation of ideas, policies and political philosophy is a worthy goal as voters’ wishes, in a democracy, should be supreme. However parties do not always ensure that. Major unsignalled changes in policy by parties have led to a number of the realignments of members in order to better represent their constituents and their consciences – notably the move to neo-liberalism in 1985; division over war in Afghanistan in 2002; the Foreshore and Seabed legislation in 2004. The Bill is founded on the idea that parties are always right, and dissidents always wrong. That is far from the case.

It is not parties who should forever be represented proportionally, freezing parliament in some kind of time warp, but the ideas they put to the electorate, and the will of the people as expressed in their votes.

And she's entirely right. This is a stupid bill, which exists primarily to protect Winston Peters from embarrassment (and the government from falling) if his MP's defect again. It should be withdrawn or voted down. Unfortunately, by entering a tight support agreement and accepting Ministerial positions, the Greens have put themselves in a position where it will be very difficult for them to do the right thing. So they'll probably end up paying the price for Labour and Winston's control freakery.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day, and after some boring second readings last month, we're back to new bills. First up is Harete Hipango's Health and Safety at Work (Volunteer Associations) Amendment Bill, and then Chris Finlayson's Administration of Justice (Reform of Contempt of Court) Bill. The latter was drafted by the Law Commission, and should really be a government bill. It will almost certainly go to select committee, where they will hopefully remove its odious "sedition for judges" clauses. Next is Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki's Oaths and Declarations (Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill. This allows for MP's oaths of allegiance to be made in languages other than English or Maori, and it has been a long time coming - I look forward to it passing. After that there's Scott Simpson's Litter (Increased Infringement Fee) Amendment Bill, which does exactly what it says on the label, and if the House moves quickly it should make a start on Erica Stanford's Education (Social Investment Funding and Abolition of Decile System) Amendment Bill, which would implement National's policy of robbing poor schools to pay rich ones. There should be a ballot for three or four bills tomorrow.

How can they not track this?

One News last night had a disturbing story about allegations that Corrections officers had sexually assaulted prisoners - and that Corrections was for some reason not bothering to track these allegations:

1 NEWS can reveal that prisoners made 16 complaints of sexual abuse and 15 complaints of serious assault against Corrections staff between 2012 and 2016.

Ten prisons face allegations including Paremoremo, Christchurch Men's, Hawke's Bay Regional, Mount Eden Corrections Facility, Rimutaka, Spring Hill Corrections Facility, Tongariro, Waikeria and Whanganui. A serious assault is alleged to have taken place at a court house, which has not been identified.

1 NEWS first asked for the information in September 2016 but was declined by Corrections on the grounds that "it did not exist in a form that could be readily supplied".


1 NEWS had also asked and was again declined by Corrections for the number of allegations that progressed to an investigation, the number of complaints upheld and the number of staff subject to a complaint who are still employed.

This is exactly the sort of serious allegation that you would expect an employer with a legal duty of care towards those it imprisons to be all over. The fact that they didn't have this information readily accessible suggests that institutionally, they just don't care about it. If they did, then such allegations and how they were handled would be reported to senior managers (or to Corrections' internal prison inspectors, or to the outside jurisdiction of the Ombudsman), putting it all in one place so they could track it. Instead, there's just a vacuum, suggesting malign neglect.

Corrections needs to front up with some hard numbers showing that they are dealing with this issue properly. OTOH, now that it is on the Ombudsman's radar, I suspect they might be doing some investigation themselves.