Friday, June 29, 2018

Australia persecutes a whistleblower

Back in 2013, a former ASIS agent blew the whistle on how the Australian government had illegally bugged the leaders of East Timor in order to listen in on their negotiating position over oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea. When the issue was raised in the International Court of Justice, the Australian government raided the homes of both the whsitleblower and East Timor's Australian lawyer. And now, they're prosecuting both of them for revealing information about ASIO:

A Canberra lawyer whose client exposed a secret Australian spying operation in East Timor has described the prosecution against them both as an attack on freedom of speech.

On Thursday, using parliamentary privilege, independent MP Andrew Wilkie revealed the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions recently filed criminal charges against Bernard Collaery and his client, a former spy known only as "Witness K".

Witness K had raised concerns about a covert Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) operation he ran to bug East Timor's cabinet in 2004 during negotiations about an oil and gas treaty.

Mr Collaery, who once served as ACT attorney-general, described the move as a personal attack on him and his client, who cannot be named, and said it was a sad day for Australia.

So, they prosecuting a whistleblower for blowing the whistle on illegal and immoral behaviour, and a lawyer for representing their client, under a clause of the law which makes it illegal to reveal any information about government spying. It is simply persecution. And it highlights the danger of our own similar law, which has no public interest defence or protection for those who reveal illegal, but classified, activities here.

It gets worse. Because Australia has just passed an "espionage" law which would criminalise protests and which considers embarrassing the government or diminishing its international standing (e.g. by exposing poor policies) to be damage to "national security". Our nearest neighbour is turning into a nasty little authoritarian hellhole. I guess we've just got to hope that Australians wake up and stop it, before it is too late.

The Minister for Open Government strikes again!

How committed to transparency is Clare Curran, our "Minister for Open Government"? The Public Media Advisory Group, which she appointed under her other hat as Broadcasting Minister, decided that it would not keep minutes of its meetings after hearing that it would be subject to the OIA:

A Ministerial Advisory group met once, noted its meeting minutes were subject to the Official Information Act (OIA), then stopped taking minutes in further meetings.

Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Clare Curran set up the Ministerial Advisory Group in February to investigate establishing a Public Media Funding Commission.

Documents released to Opposition MP Melissa Lee under the OIA show the group decided to "not keep minutes for its further meetings" after meeting for the first time on 27 February.

The minutes for that February meeting show early on in the meeting, "The MAG (Ministerial Advisory Group) noted it is subject to the Official Information Act."

After that meeting, there are no more minutes recorded.

MAG members also signed a "confidentiality deed", presumably in an attempt to contract themselves out of the OIA.

Of course, this is illegal. The MAG is a public agency, and as such is required to create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice. Failing to do this is a crime, though the penalty is a paltry $5,000 fine. But is also tremendously stupid, in that if the meeting doesn't keep minutes, it won't know what it has done in the past. Finally, its legally ineffective: the OIA applies to information, not just documents. If the information exists only in people's heads, then they are required to write it down for requesters. As for what to do about it, the answer is simple: the law should be enforced, and the group should be sacked and prosecuted for violating it. It is not acceptable for a government agency to deliberately refuse to create records in an effort to thwart the OIA regime, and they need to be held to account.

New Fisk

The 'ultimate deal' that Jared Kushner is proposing for Palestine would strip the people of all their dignity

A shameful appointment

It turns out that new Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha has a huge and stinking rotting corpse in his closet:

New deputy police commissioner Wally Haumaha questioned why Louise Nicholas publicly accused his friends in the police of raping her in the 1980s and continued to support them after the scandal broke, according to interviews with fellow officers.

One officer told the 2004 Operation Austin investigation into the police sex allegations that Haumaha, who was appointed to the senior role by Police Minister Stuart Nash last month, described Nicholas' allegations as "a nonsense" and that "nothing really happened and we have to stick together".


[Haumaha] described Schollum as a good friend, a dynamic leader and a "legend in his own right".

"It was no secret that Bob was attractive to a lot of women. The legend was that he was never short of a girlfriend or female company," Haumaha told Price.


Haumaha also spoke highly of Rickards and Shipton, who was an "awesome cop and good friend" whom other police officers were jealous of.

These comments should have immediately ruled Haumaha out of contention for any senior position (or indeed, any position in the police). It is important that the New Zealand public can have confidence in the police. Having an apologist for rapists as Deputy Commissioner simply makes that impossible.

It is unclear whether the SSC panel which recommended Haumaha's appointment knew of his background, but Stuart Nash, the Minister who signed off on it, was not informed. And that's unacceptable. As for what to do about it, deputy commissioners hold office at the pleasure of the Governor-General. The Prime Minister can simply advise the Governor-General to sack Haumaha, and that is exactly what they should do.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Up to their necks in torture

When news broke that the US had been systematically torturing people in its "war on terror", the British government vigorously denied that their spies had anything to do with it. Naturally, it was a lie:

British intelligence agencies were involved in the torture and kidnap of terrorism suspects after 9/11, according to two reports by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee.

The reports published on Thursday amount to one of the most damning indictments of UK intelligence, revealing links to torture and rendition were much more widespread than previously reported.


The report dealing with the treatment of detainees details a litany of cases of concern, saying: “We have found 13 incidents where UK personnel witnessed at first hand a detainee being mistreated by others, 25 where UK personnel were told by detainees that they had been mistreated by others and 128 incidents recorded where agency officers were told by foreign liaison services about instances of mistreatment. In some cases, these were correctly investigated but this was not consistent.”

It said in 232 cases UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to other services despite knowledge or suspicion of mistreatment, as well as “198 cases where UK personnel received intelligence from liaison services which had been obtained from detainees who knew they had been mistreated – or with no indication as to how the detainee had been treated but where we consider they should have suspected mistreatment”.

The committee found three individual cases where MI6 or MI5 made or offered to make a financial contribution to others to conduct a rendition operation. In 28 cases, the agencies either suggested, planned or agreed to rendition operations proposed by others. In a further 22 cases, MI6 or MI5 provided intelligence to enable a rendition operation to take place. In 23 cases they failed to take action to prevent rendition.

And its not just intelligence agents: in at least one case, then-Foreign secretary Jack Straw authorised funding for a rendition operation. But he is still claiming to know nothing - perhaps because he knows that that would constitute conspiracy to torture, a crime under UK and international law.

Many of these actions appear to be criminal. But naturally, no-one has been prosecuted. No-one has even lost their job over this - there has been no accountability whatsoever. The message from the British establishment is clear: their "opposition" to torture is just a show, a PR sham. When push comes to shove, they support torture, just as they did in their colonial wars, and just as they did in Ireland. But since the UK government has clearly failed to prosecute these international crimes, it falls to the international community to do it. The International Criminal Court should investigate, and the MI5 and MI6 agents who solicited torture, their bosses, and the Ministers ultimately responsible should all face trial in The Hague.

"No friends, only enemies"

That's how the European Union, historically one of America's allies, is characterising US foreign policy under Trump:

Donald Trump has been accused by the European Union of pioneering a new American doctrine in which there are “no friends, only enemies”.

Ahead of what is set to be a stormy Nato summit next week – and with EU leaders gathering in Brussels to discuss a developing transatlantic trade war among other issues – the bloc’s most senior officials expressed deep anxiety about the future.

The European Council’s president, Donald Tusk, said the EU had to now prepare for the worst due to the policies of Trump’s White House. Tusk is planning to engage in a discussion with the leaders of the 28 member states on Thursday.

Given the impending trade war, a US decision to renege on the Iran deal and the Paris climate change pact, and the repeated attack on European allies for underspending on defence, there are concerns in Brussels over the long-term stability of the relationship. Indeed it is feared that the US change in attitude could outlast Trump’s presidency.

And they're not wrong. US "friendship" pre-Trump was always controlling, but under Trump the US is now openly demanding tribute from and imposing trade sanctions on countries it once regarded as allies, while acting in a more hostile manner towards those it has traditionally labelled its enemies (the exception, of course, being Russia - I guess helping the president get elected gets you some slack). In general, the US is a more hostile state to everyone, and is even more of a global bully. And that doesn't make for a safer world.

Which makes me very glad I live at the bottom of the world in a country that no-one thinks about much and is often left completely off the map. In times like these, being beneath people's notice seems safer.

"The most transparent government ever"

When Labour was elected, they promised that "this will be the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had". The reality? Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard just opened Question Time by publicly calling out a Minister over abusive answers to parliamentary written questions, which he called an abuse of the written question process and a contempt of the House. In addition to ordering that the specific questions be answered properly, he has also been forced to award the opposition an additional 20 supplementary oral questions because they've effectively been denied the chance to ask questions in writing. Hopefully that will provide an incentive for the government to curb its abusive behaviour, but at the same time this and other incidents make it clear that on transparency, this government is no different from its predecessors. It is an enemy, not a friend.

MPI looks the other way on animal abuse

We've seen plenty of examples of how MPI refuses to prosecute fishers, even when they blatantly and repeatedly break the law. But fishers aren't the only group which has captured MPI. Newsroom has a story today about a farmer who beat cows with a steel pipe. And naturally, MPI didn't want to know about it:

A Northland sharemilker caught on hidden cameras hitting dairy cows with a steel pipe in his milking shed had previously been the subject of a complaint to the Ministry for Primary Industries about other claims of animal abuse.


The farmhand and another former worker raised concerns about the abuse with the owner of the farm.

When nothing was done by the owner they raised the issue with MPI by phone. The former worker said MPI didn’t seem to understand the issues.

“She was going on about - 'On a scale of one to 10 were the cows skinny, or in good condition?'

“I said ‘Look, you’re not really listening, they’re well-fed, the abuse is physical abuse’."

When MPI did nothing, the farmhand went to Farmwatch, who installed hidden cameras and caught the abuse on video. That evidence has now been turned over to MPI. It will be interesting to see whether they act on it, or continue to make excuses for an animal abuser.

As Catriona MacLennan points out, this is another example of MPI's reluctance to act on animal welfare issues, and it is clear that they see their role as advocating for farmers rather than enforcing the law. Which suggests that we need to resolve this fundamental conflict of interest by removing responsibility for investigations and prosecutions from MPI, and placing it in the hands of a separate, specialist agency.

A shakedown

Back in 2009 the government passed an asset forfeiture law, the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act. At the time, and during a previous attempt to introduce such a law in 2004, I warned that it would lead to US style practices and affect prosecution decisions, resulting in revenue being privileged over justice. And that is exactly what appears to have happened yesterday in the Assignments4U case.

Assignments4U sold ghostwritten essays to students at New Zealand universities. When they were exposed by the media in 2013, they were quickly shut down, but it was unclear whether the police would prosecute. And in the end, they didn't. Instead, they took action under the Criminal proceeds Recovery Act to seize the profits of this illegal business, and yesterday walked away with a settlement of $2.2 million, without any finding or admission of guilt. That's disturbing, but it gets worse. Because during the court hearings, the police accused Assignment4U of forgery and using false documents - serious crimes carrying a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment. And given the definition of a "false document" as one in which "the whole or any material part purports to be made by any person who did not make it" and the law of parties, ought to be very easy to prove. But the police have made no effort to prosecute those crimes, instead going after the money on a lower standard of evidence, seemingly in an effort to force a settlement and grab some revenue (which in the past would have gone straight back to them, creating what some would call "motive"). So, we have no conviction, no justice, and bunch of people who (as the judge noted) have been deprived of their property without the facts of the case ever being properly tested in court.

It looks like a shakedown, exactly the sort of behaviour I warned about here. And with the government setting a new target for the police to seize $500 million of assets under the law, we can expect to see more of it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ending multinational tax-cheating

Over the past few years, we've heard endless tales about multinational companies cheating on their taxes by hiding their profits overseas. Thanks to legislation passed last night, that's about to stop:

The taxman will begin cracking down on multinational companies rorting the system next week.

The Taxation (Neutralising Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) Bill passed its third reading Parliament on Tuesday evening and will come into effect on Sunday.

Revenue Minister Stuart Nash said the new law will "address the problem of companies operating cross-border and using aggressive tax structuring to reduce the tax they pay".

The law will stop them from shifting profits through transfer pricing, high-interest loans, or pretending that business done in New Zealand is really done elsewhere. It should bring in about $200 million a year, but more importantly it enforces the principle that companies which extract a profit from New Zealand should pay taxes in New Zealand. No doubt sociopathic multinationals will find some other way to cheat eventually, but this should hopefully keep them in line for a little while.

New Fisk

This moment will go down in history: the US has given up on the overthrow of Assad in Syria

Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day - though like the last one it is full of later stages. First up is the third reading of Stuart Smith's Friendly Societies and Credit Unions (Regulatory Improvements) Amendment Bill, which looks to pass. Following that is the committee stage of Jan Logie's Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill, and if that gets done in time, there'll be more of the second reading of Jo Hayes' Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill. If the house works quickly, it might make a start on the second reading of Parmjeet Parmar's Newborn Enrolment with General Practice Bill. Any debate on first readings is a long wya off, so there won't be a ballot any time soon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Saying the unthinkable

Winston Peters has finally said what we need to do to fix the housing crisis: we need house prices to drop:

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters says houses should be affordable even to those on living wage.

Peters said on Tuesday that "a long-term target" of getting median house prices to drop to five times the annual living wage was desirable and "should be achievable before too long".

"That's what our aspiration is, to have a first house buying regime, where young families with not great deal of discretionary money, nevertheless can buy their first home."

Currently Living Wage Aotearoa puts the living wage at $20.55 an hour - or $42,744 a year while working a 40-hour week.

A house at five times that annual income would be $213,720. New Zealand's current median house price is $562,000 nationally, or 13 times the living wage annual income.

Of course, that's a long-term goal, and part of it could be met by increases in real wages while house prices remain static. But the idea of static or falling house prices is unthinkable to middle New Zealand, because it means slashing the value of their biggest asset. But the previous government's refusal to deflate the boom means that that is where we are now: achieving the social goal of accessible housing means liquidating the unearned, unrealised, and largely illusory "wealth" of the boom's beneficiaries. And no doubt, they will fight tooth and nail against that, in defence of their right to profit from the misery of others.

China is breaking the Montreal Protocol

Last month we learned that there had been a sudden spike in the atmospheric concentration of the ozone-depleting chemical CFC-11, which suggested that someone was breaking the Montreal Protocol on a huge scale. The new CFC production / release was located somewhere in east Asia, which immediately suggested China was responsible. And yes, its them:

Interviews, documents and advertisements collected by The New York Times and independent investigators indicate that a major source — possibly the overwhelming one — is factories in China that have ignored a global ban and kept making or using the chemical, CFC-11, mostly to produce foam insulation for refrigerators and buildings.

“You had a choice: Choose the cheaper foam agent that’s not so good for the environment, or the expensive one that’s better for the environment,” said Zhang Wenbo, owner of a refrigerator factory here in Xingfu, in Shandong Province, where he and many other small-scale manufacturers said that until recently, they had used CFC-11 widely to make foam insulation.

“Of course, we chose the cheaper foam agent,” Mr. Zhang said during an interview in his office. “That’s how we survived.”


“They never told us until last year that it was damaging the atmosphere,” Mr. Zhang said. “Nobody came to check what we were using, so we thought it was O.K.”

Apparently there's an entire underground industry there of illegally producing CFC-11 to supply corrupt businessmen like Zhang who choose the cheaper foam over obeying the law and protecting the environment. Its just another example of that country's corrupt business culture, which puts profit ahead of everything else. Previously that culture has killed children. Now it is threatening the entire planet.

New Fisk

In the land of the massacres, the very last Armenians have been finally been found

How's that trade war going?

Last month, Donald Trump started a trade war with the rest of the world. So how's it going? Badly:

Harley-Davidson said on Monday that it will move production of EU-bound motorcycles out of the US in a bid to combat costs linked to tariffs on various American products.

The EU is Harley-Davidson’s second biggest market in terms of revenues outside of the US.

The motorcycle maker said the tariffs, which came into effect on 22 June in response to levies imposed by Donald Trump on steel and aluminium imports, had risen from 6 per cent to 31 per cent.

This translates into a cost of around $2,200 (£1,700) per motorcycle exported from the US to the EU.

Not mentioned: US production is probably facing higher input costs due to the steel and aluminium tariffs as well. So moving some production away from that seems like a good idea.

Naturally, this is the opposite of what Trump wanted when he started sticking tariffs on other countries. But its what happens in a globalised economy where your biggest market might not be domestic. And the longer Trump's tariffs continue, the more likely other companies are to follow.

Monday, June 25, 2018

This is not what customs powers are for

The Herald has a piece about a Canadian accused of running a pyramid scheme, who was allegedly hiding his money in New Zealand. But the interesting bit is this:

It seems the police became involved when ANZ bank made a Suspicious Transaction Report about one of Gong's accounts in March 2016.

The police were able to trace the IP addresses of the computers used to make the transactions to physical addresses in Canada linked to Gong.

Then in July 2016, Customs detained Gong at the New Zealand border when he was found with 34 bank cards and more than $10,000 in undeclared cash.

His laptop and phone were cloned by Customs and copies given to the police, who later interviewed Gong. He said the millions of dollars in New Zealand bank accounts were funds from the sale of health products in China.

The police would require a search warrant to clone someone's laptop and phone. But here, they appear to have conspired with Customs to circumvent those protections. And that is simply not what Customs' border search powers are for. They are for "the administration and enforcement of Customs controls at the border", not for undermining due process and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure in New Zealand.

The good news is that the new Customs and Excise Act 2018 makes it clear that Customs will only be able to search electronic devices where they have reasonable cause to suspect "relevant offending" - that is, offences related to importing or exporting prohibited goods. The question is whether Customs will actually obey that, or continue to carry out searches at the behest of police in order to allow them to circumvent warrant requirements and harvest data unlawfully.

Dodgy as hell

That's the only way to describe Horowhenua District Council's plan to give council assets to a private "economic development" trust:

Millions of dollars of council assets will be transferred into independent hands to help boost the Horowhenua economy.

The Horowhenua New Zealand Trust could be operating in the next month, chairman Cam Lewis said. It will own and manage property and assets given to it by the Horowhenua District Council, and promote the district as a place to do business.

The trust would benefit residents by increasing jobs in the district, but it was not yet known how profits would be spent or invested, he said.

Council staff said property to be transferred would only include "non-core properties". The council owns almost $28 million in non-core property and more than $100m in assets.

Having commercial assets owned by an arms-length organisation isn't unusual (Auckland has Auckland Council Investments Limited, Christchurch has CCHL etc). But normally its clear in such cases that profits go back to the council, that the council appoints or otherwise controls the organisation, and that it is a Council Controlled Organisation and therefore subject to LGOIMA. Here, none of that seems certain, the use of a trust structure seems designed to prevent public control and oversight, and the primary aim of the move seems to be to put public assets under the control of cronies rather than ensure they provide a benefit to the public. This deal needs a lot more scrutiny, otherwise Horowhenuans may find that their public assets have been stolen from them.

America is now using children as hostages

Last week, the world was outraged by the US stealing the children of refugees and sticking them in cages. The Trump administration's response was to offer to stick families in desert concentration camps instead. But now they have a new horror: using family separation as leverage to coerce "voluntary" deportation:

Detained Central American migrants who have been separated from their children have been told they can reunite with them if they agree to voluntarily deportations, The Texas Tribune reported Sunday.

The news outlet, citing a detained Honduran man and two immigration lawyers, reported that the migrants have been told they would be reunited with their children at an airport if they agree to sign off on deportations.

The Honduran man, who was not identified, said he gave up his asylum case and signed the paperwork in an effort to reunite with his 6-year-old daughter. He said he’s now trying to rescind his agreement and fight his case in court.

In other words, they're using children as hostages. Of course, its illegal, under both US and international law (the detention may be legal; the threat to continue to detain another person to coerce behaviour is the crime here). Which is perhaps why Trump is so keen to have "no judges or court cases" over border decisions: because they would enforce the law, rather than allowing ICE to violate it with impunity.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The IGIS advisory panel mess

Back in April, Stuff published the news that our spies had been without proper oversight for over a year, due to the failure of the previous government to appoint members to the Inspector General of Intelligence and security's statutory advisory panel. At the time, I blamed the previous government, saying that they simply couldn't be fucked appointing anyone to it. I also blamed DPMC for dropping the ball, assuming that they didn't follow up the appointments process they began in February 2017. Documents I've received via the OIA today have shown both my conclusions to be unfair and wrong. There's plenty of blame to go around, but the failure to appoint anyone wasn't for lack of effort by either former Prime Minister Bill English or DPMC.

The full documents are here. They show:

  • DPMC ran a straight appointments process in 2017, came up with a shortlist and two nominees (one of whom English "had reservations" about). These were duly discussed by the Intelligence and security Committee in May, and only one of them was approved.
  • In June, senior DPMC staff consulted the Inspector-General about alternative candidates and shoulder-tapped two alternatives. English offered both of them to the Intelligence and Security Committee and invited them to pick one. Both were rejected (though it is unclear if this was a formal or informal rejection). National MP Amy Adams is specifically identified as vetoing one candidate.
  • Despite this, DPMC tried to get the (previously approved) panel chair appointed in the last cabinet meeting before the election, noting both the urgency of the appointment and that the candidate had been approved by both opposition members of the ISC. Cabinet rejected them, with the result that the panel remained vacant.
  • The rejection of multiple candidates by National Ministers presents problems for future appointments, as noted by DPMC in November 2017:
    IGIS Panel Email Nov2017
So, it wasn't Bill English's fault. But Amy Adams certainly bears some of the blame here. Meanwhile, its now been 20 months, and this panel is still vacant. I wonder if it will ever be filled? Update: A replacement panel was finally appointed a month ago. Somehow in my googling I'd managed to miss that.

New Fisk

Can former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush turn even the coldest of Middle Eastern sceptics into an optimist?


When they were in government, National stuck an arbitrary cap on the size of the public service, ostensibly to keep costs down. It was a dishonest sham: Ministers still expected agencies to do more and more work, and so they responded by hiring hugely expensive consultants. The result: costs rose by quarter of a billion dollars. So now, Labour is ending the scam and removing the cap:

The Government will dump the cap on public servant numbers in a bid to reduce the half a billion dollars a year being spent on consultants and contractors.

"The Government has made a decision to lift the 'cap' on core public servant numbers put in place by the previous government," State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said today.

"The cap was introduced at the height of the global financial crisis but it created perverse incentives and in the following years its arbitrary nature forced the previous government to find creative ways to get around it."

The estimated cost of contractors and consultants in the year to June 2017 was more than $550 million, nearly double the $272m spent in 2008/09 before the cap was introduced.

National will no doubt wail about "costs" and "waste" (because that's ultimately what they think public servants are: "waste"). But hiring actual employees is likely to be far cheaper in the long run than outsourcing, and internalising capabilities means that they're more likely to be available when required. We'll get better public agencies from this. And then, next time they're elected, National will sack everyone again - because ultimately, they don't want better public agencies, just lower taxes for their rich mates.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The EU needs to stand up against its racists

The European Union is founded on values of "respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities". Those values are under threat from several of its members. In Spain, the government has unleashed state violence against those who peacefully advocate secession. In Italy, the government wants to deport Roma, an ethnic minority who were targeted for extermination by the Nazis. And in Hungary, the racist government has just made it illegal for lawyers and NGOs to help refugees claim asylum.

These actions clearly contravene the EU's fundamental values. They may also explicitly contravene European law and the European Convention on Human Rights, and look likely to result in court cases. But more than that, they require political action from other EU nations to enforce the Eu's values. These are not things civilised, democratic countries which respect human rights should be doing. And insofar as a government by its actions consistently fails to meet that standard, the EU should be looking at suspending or even revoking membership. If Hungary and Italy want to go back to being 30's racist shitholes, then they can do it without belonging to the EU.

A childish tantrum

That's the only way to describe events in Parliament last night. Faced with the opposition filibustering two time-sensitive bills, the government moved urgency, then attempted to amend the instruction to the committee to prevent any debate on what was being voted on. The urgency isn't problematic - the bills are time-sensitive, and need to be passed this week if they are to come into force on time on July 1. They could have been completed under urgency with the budget, but the government unusually didn't take that opportunity at the time (something which I was happy to see, but it did set them up for this problem later). But the motion to forbid debate was an affront to our democracy. While it was withdrawn this morning - saner heads having prevailed - the fact that it was moved at all is obscene.

Oppositions exist to oppose. This will be inconvenient to the government, and that's the point. The way governments respond under this pressure illustrates their character. And Labour has exposed itself as authoritarian and intolerant of dissent (who'd have thunk it) - not values I want to see in a government. Chris Hipkins' childish tantrum actively undermined our democracy and the stature of our Parliament. And someone who does that is not fit to be Leader of the House.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

NZ must speak out for its values

At the moment, the USA is separating children from their parents and putting them in concentration camps. This is utterly abhorrent to most New Zealanders. So what is our government saying about it? Nothing:

Winston Peters is coming under pressure from the Government's support partner, the Green Party, to speak out about the United States' separating children at its southern border from their non-documented migrant parents.

The Greens want Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, to protest to US ambassador Scott Brown about the treatment of children.

Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis and National leader Simon Bridges yesterday joined an international chorus of opposition to the current practice, saying it was cruel and inhumane.

The closest Peters got to criticism was saying New Zealand would not do what the US did but said he wanted focus on what was happening in New Zealand, while he deputises for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on maternity leave, not other countries.

This silence isn't acceptable. Kiwis expect our government to represent our values, and criticise the powerful where necessary. The fact that even National, who are normally craven little US vassals, recognises this shows how utterly unacceptable America's conduct is. The government needs to speak out about it. Alternatively, we can get a government who will at the next election.

Sanity in Canada

Canada has taken a major step towards ending America's insane "war on drugs", by legalising recreational cannabis use:

Recreational cannabis use in Canada is to become legal after the Senate approved the legislation.

The measure is expected to come into effect in two or three months, with the exact official date to be set by the government. Prime minister Justin Trudeau has previously emphasised that the Cannabis Act will be implemented without delay.

The landmark agreement, making Canada the first G20 country to legalise recreational use, came to pass after the Senate voted 52 to 29 to approve the legislation.

It means adults will soon be allowed to carry up to 30g of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in a “public space”, which includes personal vehicles. Those caught with more than 30g could face up to five years in prison. It will remain illegal for one adult to sell cannabis to another, unless they are a licensed retailer.

Exactly what that means will vary from province to province, but one thing which is guaranteed is far fewer arrests, far less police time wasted on how people choose to entertain themselves, and far fewer lives ruined.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, the government has promised to give us a vote, but not to be bound by the result. Which shows us how deceitful and dishonest they are on this issue, and how committed they are to perpetuating the persecution of recreational drug users.

One way of fixing it

The USA - which is currently kidnapping the children of refugees and sticking them in concentration camps - has consistently complained that the UN Human Rights Council is not fit for purpose. For a start, it criticises Israeli human rights abuses - something a human rights organisation should apparently never do. But the US is also annoyed that countries which persistently abuse human rights are regularly elected to the council. So they're quitting it.

I guess they're finally admitting they're a human rights abuser, and being the change they want to see in the world.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Cosy corruption

Since Thompson and Clark have been in the news over their undemocratic and bullying behaviour around Southern Response, people have been looking hard at what parts of government they've been doing business with and what exactly they're doing. And the picture exposed is... not good. First, there was their dubious manipulation of DoC to cover up public domain information. But they've now been exposed as having dubious dealings with MPI and the SIS which have resulted in the State Services Commissions' inquiry into them being broadened to cover the entire state service.

The dubious behaviour was apparently revealed by OIA requests to those agencies. I haven't seen the MPI one, though they have a press release here about it. But the SIS one is on FYI, and it is... disturbing. The SIS's Protective Security Engagement Manger, responsible for making sure government agencies handle information securely, had a very chummy relationship with someone from Thompson and Clark, and steered business their way. They provided them with information to help bids, got them into classified meetings, arranged for them to do a bug sweep for someone who had contacted SIS for assistance. The head of the SIS notes in response to this:

In light of this correspondence, I have asked for several matters to be looked into. The emails raise questions in relation to conduct and possible bias in favour of Thompson and Clark. These questions are the subject of an internal investigation. I have also asked for our internal processes, policies and guidance to be reviewed to ensure that our (necessary and important) engagement with private sector providers is professional, appropriate and even-handed.
And, as noted, the SSC is now investigating as well. as they should - because this is basicly a case of cosy corruption, mates helping mates, and at the heart of an agency (the SIS) we trust to be above such things.

This relationship is far too cosy. The best thing the government can do is amputate it.

Time for the government to pay up

Yesterday, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation voted to take strike action. While they'd been offered a half billion dollar pay package by DHBs, this was mostly focused on divide and rule and raising salaries for those already at the top of the pay scale, with only crumbs for the overworked and underpaid masses at the bottom. And clearly, their membership felt that this was unacceptable, that after nine long years of austerity under National, they deserved more.

And they're right. They do deserve more. And the government has to pay up. Pleading poverty won't help - everyone knows that their "poverty" is entirely self-inflicted, a voluntary adherence to National's budget targets in a vain effort to please the business community (who will never be pleased, so there's no point). But people elected this government to fix the social infrastructure National had eroded, to make sure we had schools and hospitals which actually work. The bill for that is now due. Either they can pay up and promise more money, or they can see those hospitals stop working and pay the political price for that.

Let's do this

Westpac has been modelling the effects of the government's proposed capital gains tax, and concluded that it would be effective in lowering house prices:

House prices would fall, rents would rise but home ownership would improve if a capital gains or some other type of property tax was brought in according to a new study.

Westpac Bank has looked at six possible changes to the tax system, ranging from a capital gains, property or land taxes through to a new way of taxing rental income.

A 10 percent capital gains tax, a 1 percent land tax or 0.5 percent property tax would result in house prices falling 10 or 11 percent.

A deemed rate of return, which would tax landlords on an assumed rate of return, say 5 percent on their properties, could see prices fall by 20 percent.

In all cases, the tax changes would boost home ownership rates as investing became less attractive, but would also cause rents to rise.

Rents would rise because landleeches would have to actually make a (taxed) profit from their houses, rather than using rent as a loss-leader for untaxed capital gains. OTOH, the drop in house prices will make it far easier for people to own their own home, as well as removing some of the unearned, paper wealth of those who have benefited from the bubble, so it'll reduce inequality as well. The task for the government will be to ensure that there's a good supply of new houses, so that people can buy, rather than being trapped paying rent to some greedy Boomer forever.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Not achieved

Back in 2010, the then-National government sacked the elected Canterbury Regional Council and replaced it with a group of unelected dictators. One of the key tasks of National's dictators was to implement the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, a collaboratively developed plan to improve Canterbury's water. But it turns out that the strategy has been a failure:

A report looking into the 10th anniversary of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) suggests it has failed numerous goals to protect the health of rivers and the environment.

But an Environment Canterbury councillor is pouring cold water on the concern, saying it was not an official report.

The report, presented to CWMS's regional committee, gives marks out of 10 against the strategy's initial goals, and how it was meeting them.

Some goals, such as maintaining rural community viability, and "ensuring high levels of audited self-management", received good marks. However, protecting "ecosystems, habitats and landscapes and indigenous biodiversity received a zero out of 10.

And really, that's not surprising: the strategy's use of regional "zone committees" in practice means turning over control of water to farmers, who unsurprisingly give it to themselves. The committees are so conflicted and corrupt and unwilling to consider environmental issues that environmental organisations have simply walked away from them rather than lend them legitimacy. Which is a huge failure for a strategy supposedly based on "collaboration".

The only way we will get proper management of Canterbury's water is with a fully elected council which gives a full voice to Canterbury's people. Fortunately that will be happening next year.

The RMA and deterrence

Our environment is under threat. We have farmers polluting our rivers and sucking aquifers dry. Our own "defence" force is poisoning people's drinking water. Greedy property developers cut down protected native trees. And that's just a few recent examples. In theory, all of this should be prevented by the RMA: environmentally damaging activities require resource consent, and there are hefty fines or even prison terms to deter people who don't bother. But the problem is that none of that is enforced: local councils just don't prosecute:

Fewer than a hundred prosecutions are being carried out under New Zealand's main environmental law each year, despite thousands of breaches.

Now a legal researcher is investigating whether the 27-year-old Resource Management Act (RMA) is having the deterrent effect that any law including criminal offences should.


"There is a difference between the law itself and how it works in practice," he said.

"There are thousands – if not tens of thousands – of breaches of the RMA every year, yet under 100 prosecutions a year."

Many of those breaches are minor, and better resolved by an infringement offence and bringing them into compliance. But local councils are looking the other way on major environmental crimes with irreversible effects. And the effect is obvious: people keep on committing those crimes, because there is no penalty for them, not even one as simple as having to stop. And that's just not good enough.

Our environmental laws need to be enforced. If local councillors are unwilling to direct their councils to do that, then we should elect ones who are. Local government elections are just over a year away, so making sure your council knows that you will be judging them on their prosecution rate is probably a good idea.

Stopping the orcs in their tracks

When the government was elected, they promised to end mining on conservation land. And they're delivering:

An application to mine coal on public conservation land near Te Kuha in the Buller District has been declined, Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage and Minister of Energy Resources Megan Woods announced today.

Rangitira Developments Ltd had applied for an access arrangement under the Crown Minerals Act to mine 12 hectares of public conservation land in the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area, near Te Kuha, as part of a large opencast coal mine.

The 12 ha area is part of the company‘s 116 ha mining proposal and compromises approximately 10 per cent of the planned mine site and open cast pit. Most of land which the company seeks to mine is within the Westport Water Conservation Reserve vested in, and managed by, the Buller District Council. The Council is the decision-maker for mining access to that area.

The Ministers declined the application to mine 12 hectares of conservation land because it was not considered that the mine’s potential economic benefits were large enough to outweigh the irreparable damage to an area with very high, unique and nationally significant conservation values.

This decision was made under the existing law, and was made possible simply by having a different Minister who listened to DoC's views on ecological significance rather than ignoring them as National had done. Obviously, we want a safer framework so we don't have to rely on that happy coincidence in future, but for the moment it'll do. The orcs have been stopped in their tracks!

The Minister has saved a whole mountain from being dug up and turned into a scar. But she's also sent a clear message to the coal industry that they have no future in New Zealand (or at least, no future on conservation land, which is pretty much the same thing, because that's where most of the coal is). If it has a chilling effect on future coal investment, so much the better: this is not an industry we want or can afford to have in New Zealand anymore. The sooner it dies, the better.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Farmers covering up their epidemic

The government is currently trying to eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis, at huge expense to the taxpayer. But there's a problem: farmers are refusing to cooperate:

A crucial part of the puzzle in working out how far the cow disease has spread is establishing who has received calves from the Southland farm believed to have had it first in late 2015.


MPI's Geoff Gwyn said this had been made more difficult by a lack of co-operation from farmers.

"After 10 months we've not had one scenario, and many of these names are in the public domain, who have come to us and said 'oh by the way I got animals from a property down south'.

"We have even gone out down in Invercargill and put advertisements in the newspaper with the farmer's consent and people are not coming forward and saying I traded with them."

Mr Gwyn said MPI has had to trace every farmer itself or find them through some form of testing.

Not mentioned: the mass non-cooperation with NAIT, which would allow the sources of disease to be pinpointed and quarantined.

So why aren't farmers co-operating to fight this disease? Because if they say they're infected, then they can't sell their animals. So instead, they keep it secret and spread it to others, making the problem worse. Which is a serious crime. But the chances of farmers being held responsible for their actions is about zero.

Climate Change: National's forked tongue

So, National says it wants to work with the government on climate change:

National leader Simon Bridges has offered bipartisan support to the Government on climate change.

Bridges wrote to the prime minister on Friday saying he wants to help find cross-party support for a non-political Climate Change Commission.

"In order to drive long-lasting change, broad and enduring political support is needed for New Zealand's climate change framework - on the institutional arrangements we put in place," Bridges wrote.

"I am confident that we can work constructively together to establish an enduring non-political framework for future governments and parliaments when considering climate change issues."

Which sounds great. Except there'll be a price - and that price will be to water down policy to make it virtually pointless.

Don't believe me? Just look at their record. In the 90's, when in government, National repeatedly delayed and prevaricated, in the end producing two climate change policies and then refusing to implement either of them. Then when in opposition from 1999 to 2008, they opposed any action whatsoever, no matter how mild, even driving a tractor up Parliament's steps to oppose farmers paying a small contribution towards researching ways to reduce the pollution they caused. And their first action on winning power in 2008 was to repeal a bunch of climate change policy and gut the ETS to turn it into a pollution subsidy scheme. So no, I don't think they can be taken at face value, or trusted in the least on this issue. Their only interest in it is to delay or prevent action and ensure a free ride for their farmer cronies.

The government wants effective action. National doesn't. There is no middle ground here - ineffective action is pretty much the same as no action at all. As for what to do, National's support would be welcome, but the government shouldn't compromise one iota to win it. At that price, their support is not worth having.

A living wage for public servants

The government will be paying all public servants a living wage:

All core public service employees are being given a pay rise to at least the living wage of $20.55.

The new hourly rate, which works out to an annual salary of $42,744, will apply to full-time, part-time and casual employees.

It will be implemented on September 1.


ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said it could put pressure on other businesses to match the increase.

"It does have the potential to spill over and influence what other people may need to pay to attract and retain people."

Which is the point: not just for the government to be a decent employer itself, but to create pressure on other employers to do the same. Which is why employers groups hate this: because its a direct attack on their cosy low-pay cartel, and on the unjust profits they extract by underpaying their staff.

Hopefully this is just the beginning. The next step is for the government to require a living wage for all crown entity staff, and all contractors as a condition of doing business with them. But that's probably one for next budget cycle.

New Fisk

I spoke to Palestinians who still hold the keys to homes they fled decades ago – many are still determined to return

More lies from NZDF

When NZDF was first forced to admit that their firefighting foam was poisoning water around their bases, they said it was a historical problem and that the foams hadn't been used for many years. They lied about that. Then when they were banned from using foam at all, they said everything was fine because they hadn't used it since 2016. But it turns out that they lied about that too:

The Defence Force (NZDF) has changed tack, just three days after saying it had stopped using potentially damaging firefighting foam for training at all its bases in 2016.

The military did not stop in Auckland until a few months ago, and it remains unclear whether it has stopped at all in Taranaki.


"Our previous response that we stopped training with foams 'at all of our bases' referred to 'air bases'," it told RNZ.

"We apologise that this was not clear in the initial response.

Once again, their response to a problem has not been to come clean and help other government agencies solve it, but to spin and lie in an attempt to reveal as little as possible and minimise their exposure. Its another example of their systematic culture of deceit. It appears we can not believe anything NZDF says unless there is documentary evidence backing it up (and even then, they lie in that too).

This culture of deceit is not acceptable from a public agency. The New Zealand public deserves a defence force we can trust (and we deserve a defence force that doesn't fucking poison us). We deserve a defence force with integrity. And that means firing those responsible for this strategy of deceit.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Shared values"

Whenever New Zealand leaps to join Australia in another foreign war, the politicians always talk about our countries' 'shared values". Well, this is an example of the Australian values we are supposed to "share":

That's an Australian SAS truck in Afghanistan, flying a Nazi flag:

Australian soldiers have been photographed flying a Nazi swastika flag from their vehicle while on operations in Afghanistan.

The photo, obtained exclusively by the ABC, was taken in August 2007.

The photograph shows the large swastika emblem hoisted over an Australian military vehicle.

Two separate Defence sources have identified a particular soldier as the individual who took the flag to Afghanistan.

Because that's who Australia lets into its military: Nazis. Not surprising when you remember that for the last decade they've been sticking refugees in concentration camps and torturing them until they kill themselves of "voluntarily" leave.

We should have nothing to do with a country with a military like this, with policies like this.

Climate change: Melting faster

Bad news on the climate change front: Antarctica is melting much faster than we expected, and the rate of melting has tripled in the last five years:

Ice in the Antarctic is melting at a record-breaking rate and the subsequent sea rises could have catastrophic consequences for cities around the world, according to two new studies.

A report led by scientists in the UK and US found the rate of melting from the Antarctic ice sheet has accelerated threefold in the last five years and is now vanishing faster than at any previously recorded time.

A separate study warns that unless urgent action is taken in the next decade the melting ice could contribute more than 25cm to a total global sea level rise of more than a metre by 2070. This could lead eventually to the collapse of the entire west Antarctic ice sheet, and around 3.5m of sea-level rise.

This is bad enough as it is. New Zealand has $19 billion worth of property, and billions more of infrastructure, under threat from sea-level rise. Its already a half-billion dollar a year crisis, and that's on the old estimates. A higher rate of sea-level rise will blow that out even further.

And meanwhile, the government is still sticking its fingers in its ears and trying to pander to farmers by letting them off for their pollution (again). Despite calling this "my generation's nuclear-free moment", I don't think they've really grasped either the urgency or the magnitude of the problem. Sea-level rise is going to impose huge costs on New Zealand. Changes in climate are going to impose even more. This is not something we can piss about on any longer. The crisis is here, and we need to stop it. Or learn to fucking swim.

An "investigation"

Last year, Stuff published The Valley, an in-depth investigation into NZDF's actions on Afghanistan. It alleged that, among other things, SAS soldiers had deliberately abused civilians in order to provoke "insurgents" into combat, and that a "very senior officer" had given illegal orders to set booby-traps, and then had the resulting prosecution quashed by the top brass. The allegations were disturbing and criminal. And now, it seems, NZDF is finally investigating them. But not openly or transparently, of course:

Outgoing Defence Force Chief Tim Keating has revealed there is an investigation under way into allegations made in The Valley documentary.

The Stuff Circuit series looked into the 2004 SAS raid in Afghanistan which led to the awarding of a Victoria Cross to Willie Apiata.

In 2017, Keating said he would respond publicly but had failed to do so.

On Thursday morning, when asked by Stuff Circuit why he hadn't, he said because of the seriousness of the claims, there was a legal investigation under way and he would not give a timeframe.

The "investigation" is being done in secret, and kept tightly in the hands of Keating. Which suggests that its not an actual investigation, but the usual NZDF coverup. Its clear by now that we can't trust NZDF to investigate itself. As with the Hit and Run allegations, we need a full independent inquiry into NZDF's actions.

A terrible idea

When the then-Labour government first advocated American-style asset forfeiture laws way back in 2004, I highlighted the danger that they would begin to see it as a way of raising revenue - effectively incentivising police to make dubious seizures in order to meet revenue targets. And sadly, that's exactly what the government is doing:

A new police target aiming to seize $500 million from gangs may only serve to further marginalise a hard-to-reach community, those on the inside say.

A Cabinet paper seen by Stuff shows Police Minister Stuart Nash and Police Commissioner Mike Bush have set four new "high-level outcome targets", while also retaining most of the previous government's nine performance targets at an operational level.

The targets include $500m in cash and assets seized from gangs and criminals by 2021.

We're not yet in the horrific US situation where police can profit directly from forfeiture, encouraging them to engage in outright banditry or target people so they can seize their homes. But having a government-set target is bad enough, and it will undoubtedly shift enforcement action in order to meet it. So instead of investigating burglaries, they'll be targeting petty drug dealers because they're more likely to have money. Or going after people who enable university cheats so they can seize their $4.6 million...

Police enforcement should be based on the severity of the crime, not the profit motive. Nash's asset forfeiture target is a terrible idea, and it needs to be reversed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day. Unfortunately it looks to be a boring one. First up is a two-hour debate on the government's investment strategy in place of the usual general debate, which will take an extra hour out of members' time. And following that there's a committee stage and second readings on Stuart Smith's Friendly Societies and Credit Unions (Regulatory Improvements) Amendment Bill, Jan Logie's Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill, and Jo Hayes' Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill. Of these, only Logie's bill has any real chance of serious disagreement (National as usual seeing no reason why employers should be decent people). As there's unlikely to be any first readings, there's unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow, or in the near future - these bills will clog up the Order Paper for the foreseeable future.

The harsh reality of government

Yesterday Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage granted a consent under the Overseas Investment Act for a Chinese water bottling company to buy land near Whakatane, effectively allowing them to suck the Otakiri Springs dry for foreign profit. Green Party members are naturally upset because the consent flies in the face of local Treaty claims and is contrary to party policies aimed at ending foreign water-theft, or at least charging a fair resource rental for it. Unfortunately here they're up against the harsh reality of government - namely that being in government doesn't mean you get to do what you want. Our Ministers are not despots, and have to obey the law - and the law on granting foreign companies consent to purchase sensitive land is very specific and doesn't let the Minister refuse consent just because her party wants her to. And because the law does not include a Treaty clause (or any respect for Maori rights), she couldn't refuse on those grounds either. Basicly, Sage had no choice but to grant the consent - and if she had refused it, the decision would likely have been overturned by judicial review.

If the Greens want this to change, they need to change the law - and that means negotiating with their coalition partners, both to obtain the necessary parliamentary majority to make it happen, and to get space in the legislative calendar against all the other things the government wants to do. Until that happens, the Minister just has to obey the law. This will no doubt mean making decisions she doesn't agree with, but that's the reality of government for you.

New Fisk

For once in the Middle East, a single Arab nation is solely responsible for the destruction of its land and heritage

DoC covers up for corporate spies

Thompson and Clark Investigations, New Zealand's most evil private spy agency, is in the news again - this time for getting DoC to cover up official information for it:

The Department of Conservation (DOC) withheld official information after demands from security firm Thompson and Clark, internal emails show.

Thompson and Clark spied on anti-1080 activists for DOC, sharing intelligence through what it called its "Fusion Centre" - locked, hidden chat channels on messaging app Slack.

The work cost nearly $4000 a month - several government departments are signed up to similar packages - and also included a weekly phone briefing involving senior staff from both organisations.

But DOC withheld all material from the Slack channels when asked for correspondence between its staff and Thompson and Clark under the Official Information Act (OIA), saying releasing it "may prevent the supply of such information in the future".

Initially DoC had decided to release everything. They reversed that decision after a serious lobbying effort from Thompson and Clark. The decision has now gone to the Ombudsman, where it is almost certain to be overturned. Why? Because firstly the clause relied on - s9(2)(ba)(i) - requires that "it is in the public interest that such information should continue to be supplied" - something which is highly debatable given Thompson and Clark's corrosive effect on our democracy. But more importantly, "the intelligence shared through Slack was all publicly available, drawn from the Internet". And the Ombudsman's guidelines are quite clear that such information can not be regarded as "confidential":
No obligation of confidence will arise where the information is generally known or is readily available to the public, for example where it can be obtained in a public register or other document open to inspection by the public.

Which pretty obviously applies if its publicly available on a news media or other internet site.

So why is Thompson and Clark so desperate to keep this information secret? Partly its pure hostility to democratic oversight, but I suspect also to protect their lucrative government contracts. After all, if the public saw that public agencies were paying them $4,000 a month to read the newspaper, we'd quite rightly question whether that was value for money, whether it was really necessary, or whether it couldn't be done cheaper. And then Thompson and Clark's government gravy-train would end.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

More dirty dairying

Oh look, its a Federated Farmers official convicted of spewing shit into a waterway:

A hefty fine has been handed down to former Southland Federated Farmers president Allan Baird, whose inaction on his dairy farm was "careless".

Baird and his two companies, Benlyon Ltd and Vendale Ltd, were fined a total of $39,600 when he appeared for sentencing in the Invercargill District Court on Monday.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to the three charges of discharging dairy effluent onto land on October 20, 2016, in circumstances that may result in the effluent entering a waterway.

Environment Court judge Brian Dwyer denied Baird's application for a discharge without conviction.

Baird had informed Environment Southland staff on the day in question that dairy shed effluent from his farm's irrigation system had discharged into a tributary of the Winton Stream.

Council officers found significant effluent ponding from the stationary irrigator and it was flowing overland into the waterway.

Despite this, he's trying to play the victim here. Which shows us exactly how much contempt his organisation has for basic environmental legislation.


Winston Peters is set to become acting Prime Minister this weekend. And he's chosen this moment to launch a new lawsuit against senior public servants who will in effect be working for him over breaching his privacy during the 2017 election campaign:

Peters has begun new legal action seeking $450,000 for alleged breach of privacy in relation to the leaking of details of his superannuation overpayment.

Ardern told RNZ today that she found about her deputy's latest action yesterday.

Peters is going after the Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, the Attorney-General on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development and former ministers in the previous National government Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley.

These people need to be held to account. Passing on private information about a politician to their political rivals (who immediately and inevitably leaked it for political gain) is something that simply should not happen. Arguably, there's no reason whatsoever for Ministers to know anything about any individual's welfare payments unless they're sacking someone for fucking them up - its a purely operational matter, and none of any minister's business. Meanwhile, the obvious and significant risks of a privacy breach should have ruled out any disclosure. At the same time, its obviously awkward for Peters, who is now a Minister, to be suing people who effectively work for him (and with whom he will have to continue to work in future), not to mention his own government. While Cabinet conflict of interest provisions are robust enough to handle it, it's still going to be very awkward indeed.

Justice for Nicky Hager

In October 2014, as part of a political investigation into the book Dirty Politics, police raided and searched the home of journalist Nicky Hager. The raid has spawned a series of ongoing court cases which have in turn exposed illegal behaviour by the police: they deliberately misled the judge to get the search warrant, and unlawfully obtained 10 months of Hager's banking records. And now, finally, they've admitted the entire thing was wrong and paid damages:

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager has accepted a police apology and payment of "substantial damages" after the unlawful search of his home during the investigation into the hacking that led to the Dirty Politics book.

The settlement revealed police had sought information claiming Hager was suspected of criminal behaviour, including fraud.

"Police accept that they had no basis for such allegations," the settlement document read.

"Police apologise unreservedly for these breaches of his rights and have agreed to pay Mr Hager substantial damages and a contribution towards his legal costs."

The settlement also included police making a key admission around accessing Hager's banking data - a police practice used to get people's personal financial information without any legal order.

The full police apology is here.

Its good that they've settled and admitted their wrongdoing. But the real question is whether it will lead to any change of behaviour, or whether the police will continue raiding journalists whenever one offends the government of the day. And as no individual police officer seems to have been held to account, despite lying to a judge and systematically abusing their powers, I think we all know the answer to that.

Monday, June 11, 2018

This is what happens when you rely on reactionaries

Last month, the government indicated that it planned to repeal National's "three strikes" law in the first phase of its justice reforms. Now, their coalition-partners NZ First have said "no":

New Zealand First has put the brakes on Labour's plan to repeal the three strikes law - effectively hauling it off Cabinet's agenda.

Justice Minister Andrew Little planned to bring the matter before Cabinet this morning, but now says that won't happen.


Mr Little said New Zealand First had concerns about the repeal and indicated they'd be unlikely to support it.

He said further work on a criminal justice reform package will be progressed in August.

Damn. "Three strikes" is a reactionary law which has been found to be manifestly unjust by judges every time it might have applied. Its sole purpose was to make the then-government look tough and appeal to the arsehole vote. Sadly, that vote is NZ First's core support base, so its not surprising that they think this unjust law should stay. And unfortunately, as NZ First's votes are needed for any repeal, that means we're going to have to lump it. If we want change, we're going to have to vote for a better government at the next election - one which does not include reactionaries.

New Fisk

Lebanon's mountains are being wiped from the map – but does anyone care?

Time to deal with this criminal industry

Surprise, surprise! It turns out that the fishing industry - a pervasively criminal industry which has been caught time and time again lying about how much fish it is catching - has been resisting proper oversight:

Newshub can reveal that in just the past year-and-a-half, 50 skippers have refused to have government fishing observers on their vessels.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says since 2009, it's had to take 10 skippers to court for saying no.

Most refusals were due to skippers claiming there were issues with "maritime manning limits", meaning there wasn't enough room on board.

Other cases include a skipper simply not responding to MPI's phone calls, a skipper refusing to take an observer because of the extra food costs, and another case where despite being under "placement notice" orders not to sail without an observer, the vessel left port anyway.

This is of course illegal. The observer programme is statutorily authorised to collect proper information on catches and on safety. Its a crime to put to sea without a notified observer if one is required, its a crime to refuse to provide food and accommodation, and its a crime to obstruct them in their duties. The penalty for each of those crimes is a fine of up to $250,000, and it is severe enough that the court may order quota to be forfeited as well. Which makes sense: accepting observation is effectively a condition of holding quota, and fishers who refuse or obstruct it in order to hide their illegal practices shouldn't be in the business. And if we want to end this problem, actually seeking that penalty would go a long way towards bringing this criminal industry into compliance and making it sustainable (as is required by the law).

Friday, June 08, 2018

More spying from Thompson and Clark

New Zealand's most evil private security agency has been at it again - this time abusing their access to the Motor Vehicle Register to spy on protestors:

The MVR contains details of every vehicle and its owner. Details can be obtained by quoting a registration number plate.

1 NEWS has obtained figures from the NZTA under the Official Information Act that show a striking pattern. A spike in requests from Thompson and Clark to access the register coincides clearly with heightened activity from Greenpeace and other environmental groups.

For example in Jan/Feb 2013, the Rainbow Warrior was visiting New Zealand. In January 2014 there were extensive protests mounted when oil company Anadarko's drilling ship was in New Zealand waters.

Mr Norman says: "It's pretty plain that Thompson and Clark are using their access to the register as a kind of trawling tool to identify people who were involved in protest action".

This is illegal: TCIL was granted access to the register for a number of very limited purposes, and "spying on protesters" was not one of them. Access was also on the basis that information was not passed to third parties. Interestingly, they've since had their access removed - something NZTA says is common where there has been inappropriate use. Apparently there's a $50,000 fine for abuse of this information, but we can be certain the police will never prosecute: Thompson and Clark are on their side, and so the police will simply look the other way on their crimes, just as they do for crimes committed by their own officers. If Greenpeace wants justice, they'll need to seek it themselves by civil action or private prosecution.

Climate change: Why we need to worry about methane

In its Our Climate Your Say discussion document released yesterday, the government attempted to back away from its previous promises of net-zero emissions by 2050. Instead, they'd like to ignore methane - basicly so they can keep giving farmers, our largest polluters, a free ride. The proposal breaks faith with their supporters and doesn't stack up economically, in that the additional cost of going all the way to net-zero emissions is next to nothing. But in addition, its just a bad idea. Why? Well, for a start, atmospheric methane levels are still increasing:

This isn't a natural increase: two-thirds of atmospheric methane comes from human sources. So, this isn't a greenhouse gas we can just ignore.

Secondly, much is made of methane's short lifespan - it lasts less than ten years in the atmosphere before being broken down. Unfortunately, what it breaks down into is carbon dioxide, the very long-lived gas that the government says it wants to focus on. So, every "shot-lived" methane source is effectively a source of long-lived carbon-dioxide as well, and if we want to solve the latter problem, we need to solve the former.

Basicly, trying to take the focus off short-lived greenhouse gases is just more special pleading from polluters to allow them to keep on destroying the world. And that's not something we should let them do.

Same as the old boss

When they were in power, National exploited public office for its own profit, selling access to its Ministers at its corrupt "Cabinet Club". Sadly, Labour is no different:

Finance Minister Grant Robertson gave a post-Budget speech at a $600-a-head Labour fundraiser at the exclusive Wellington Club, drawing comparisons to the previous National Government's "Cabinet club" scandal.

According to several attendees, about 40 people, including party supporters, business figures and corporate lobbyists, attended the dinner hosted by Labour president Nigel Haworth on Wednesday, at which Robertson was the key attraction.

A similar dinner is due to be hosted at the even more exclusive Northern Club in Auckland on Thursday night.

National leader Simon Bridges has accused the Government of hypocrisy, after Labour once described National's events, which appear similar to the one attended by Robertson, as "cash-for-access".

Labour is claiming that Robertson was attending solely as an MP. Except that he's listed in the advertising as a Minister, and clearly speaking as one at the event. So, they're selling access, exploiting office for private gain, just like National. No doubt they'll trot out the Politician's Excuse: "it was within the rules". But that doesn't change the fundamental truth here: this is corrupt, and the only reason it is not criminal is because politicians write the laws to suit themselves.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Climate Change: Ambition is cheap

One of the annoying things about the government backing away from its net-zero emissions target is that its so obvious about it. They're not just cheating us and breaking their promises, but they're also taking us for complete morons who won't notice them doing it. Quite apart from their shady linguistic games about trying to introduce ambiguity into "net zero emissions" where there was none before, they're also being blatantly transparent about it in their discussion document. The oldest trick in the bureaucratic book, seen in countless Cabinet papers and Regulatory Impact Statements, is that you present three options: do nothing, the option you want to select, and the salmonella option, one pitched as extreme or otherwise obviously bad. Because doing nothing is not an option, it devolves into a decision between the option you want chosen, and salmonella. To make it even easier, you sandwich the option you want chosen between the other two, presenting it automatically as the sensible "middle ground". What were the options the government was offering us again? Oh yeah:

Pretty obvious what they want chosen then.

Except when you look at the detailed economic modelling, a real net-zero emissions target isn't exactly salmonella. The economic difference between full ambition and their half-arsed broken promise (modelled as "75%" in the table below) is sweet fuck-all:

Yes, that's right: real ambition has next to no impact on economic growth, and "costs" us only a billion dollars a year, insofar as you consider being less rich than you otherwise might have been to be a real cost. Which is less than the effect of currency fluctuations, and certainly less than the effect of the enormous floods or droughts refusing to act is setting us up for. In government terms, it is basicly nothing. Distributionally, its a different story - the impact of that policy shift will fall on the sources of methane, which means farmers (and predominantly dairy farmers), so we can expect a hell of a lot of whining and special pleading from them. But bluntly, they've had a free ride for a decade now. They need to stop expecting to be carried by the rest of us, and start paying their own fucking way, like everybody else. And if they don't like it, they're welcome to take their stinking, polluting cows, and try and find a jurisdiction without a climate change policy to shit in.

Basicly, being ambitious here is cheap. The economic case for less ambition is shit. So why be less ambitious?