Tuesday, July 31, 2018

National supports democracy on drugs

Surprise, surprise! National supports democracy on drugs!

If the public votes in favour of legalising cannabis in a referendum, a National-led government would change the law accordingly, National Party leader Simon Bridges says.


Mr Bridges said National would enact a law change if that was what New Zealanders wanted.

"Oh I think we've got to, I mean we've got to go with what the people want and what a referendum tells us.

"We've got a bit of water to go under the bridge, we've got to see the question, we're going to have an informed debate I hope on the issues, but absolutely on principle we support referendums and their outcomes."

Compare this to the government's bad-faith approach, where they have explicitly refused to be bound by the results of the vote they themselves have demanded. At the same time we should also remember that National doesn't actually give a shit about democracy and is happy to ignore referenda when they go against the interests of their rich donors and cronies. On this issue, they're simply motivated by a desire to embarrass the government. But the support of useful idiots is still useful, and hopefully it will force the government to do the same thing (or see the election turn into a vote on implementing their referendum).

Class warfare in the USA

The OECD has looked at the wages and conditions of American workers, and called it what it is: outright class warfare:

There’s likely some truth to these narratives [of automation etc]. But a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) offers a more straightforward — and political — explanation: American policymakers have chosen to design an economic system that leaves workers desperate and disempowered, for the sake of directing a higher share of economic growth to bosses and shareholders.

The OECD doesn’t make this argument explicitly. But its report lays waste to the idea that the plight of the American worker can be chalked up to impersonal economic forces, instead of concrete political decisions. If the former were the case, then American laborers wouldn’t be getting a drastically worse deal than their peers in other developed nations. But we are.

And here's the graph which shows it:

[Apparently this is from the 2018 World Inequality Report]

As for what USAians can do about it, very little. Their political system is unique among western democracies in suppressing competition, effectively instituting a two-party oligarchy. There is no peaceful, democratic way to fix it. Which means that the only option for Americans who want a fairer deal is to move to a better country.

(As for New Zealand, as The Spinoff points out, things aren't exactly rosy here - though this is looking at wealth inequality, which is even more extreme than income inequality).

National's corrupt quack schools

National seems to have chosen charter schools as their hill to die on. Their supposed reason for this is that they're "better" than state schools. They're certainly better-funded, because National chose to fund their pet project at several times the usual level in an effort to ensure success. But as for educational quality, it's a different story:

A former student of a Villa Education Trust private school claims creationism was taught as a preferred theory of how the world began in science classes he attended.

The student from Mt Hobson Middle School said Darwinism was taught as an unproven theory and students were shown a video purporting to show science had found proof of God's existence.

His impression was the school backed the concept of creationism “100 percent”.

I think that speaks for itself about the "quality" of these "schools". As for why National funded this quackery, there's this:
The science teacher was Rachel O’Connor, sister of National Party leader Simon Bridges and wife of National MP Simon O’Connor.

So we have millions of dollars of public money wasted to promote the personal quackery of National MPs and ensure jobs for their families. That's not what New Zealanders expect from their government. The sooner these quack schools are shut down, the better.

Contempt for voters

Did you submit on Winston Peters' anti-party-hopping bill? Congratulations, you wasted your time:

National's electoral law spokesman Nick Smith said the justice select committee looking at the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill was unable to consider any amendments nor get any advice from officials on key issues.

"Government MPs simply stated the bill had to be reported back to the House unamended to meet the demands of Winston Peters," Smith said.

"Not a single submission supported the bill without amendment yet the Government insisted it be progressed as is. The Ministry of Justice would not provide any views on the bill and simply stated it was government policy to pass it unamended," he said in a statement.

This displays an absolute contempt for voters, not to mention bad faith. If they weren't willing to consider amendments, why did they even bother asking for submissions? It would have been more honest to say "we're passing this, fuck you" from the outset - at least that way all those people wouldn't have wasted their time.

Shit like this is why I simply don't bother submitting on legislation anymore. The pricks in Parliament simply aren't interested in our views on anything that matters, and pretending that they are simply legitimises their charade. Better not to waste your time on their bullshit.

And of course, I'm a lot less comfortable about the Greens supporting the bill given this information. There's holding your nose, and then there's being complicit in an abuse of democracy. If Winston wants to force them to vote for this bullshit, he should at least have the decency to be open about it, and make it a matter of confidence so that everyone can see who is pulling the strings.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The reality of Brexit II

Last week the UK government was promising that there woudl be "adequete food supplies" after Brexit. Since then, a number of commentators have highlighted the reality of just-in-time inventory systems and basicly said that it can't be done - that a hard Brexit which disrupts trade will mean a food crisis. But don't worry! The government promises the army will solve the problem!

The military would be called in if blockages at ports after Britain leaves the EU led to shortages in supplies, ministers told the Sunday Times.

Blueprints usually reserved for civil emergencies have been included as part of the “no deal” planning, the newspaper reported.

Helicopters and army trucks could be used to carry medicine to vulnerable people outside the south-east.

A Ministry of Defence source told the Sunday Times that "no formal request" to supply aid had been received but said the department has "a blueprint for us supporting the civilian authorities that can be dusted off".

Except that the real problem they're likely being called in for isn't food distribution - which requires that there actually be food to distribute - but the resulting anger and civil disorder as it becomes apparent that the toff government has sold its people into starvation while they sip champagne in their bolt-holes. The no-deal Brexit that Rees-Mogg and his fellow rich pricks are betting on is also an invitation for a police state.

Not TOP-less?

It looks like TOP might not be dead after all:

The Opportunities Party board has put on hold plans to de-register the party while it considers expressions of interest from a number of people interested in forming a "political party with principles", founder Gareth Morgan says.


"My July 16 invitation to anyone interested to 'form a political party with principles' has garnered many expressions of interest, including some pretty compelling ones from members of The Opportunities Party.

"That has led the TOP Board to put on hold our plans to de-register the party and give us time to evaluate the offers. I have to say that at this time it is looking pretty good and we expect to make an announcement in August."

So maybe they'll stick around after all. And hopefully in the process they'll move past Morgan, because his lack of patience and constant slagging off of voters are the party's biggest problems. If they want to actually change things, they need to become less of a vanity vehicle and more of a real party.

Improving the OIA

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties has released a proposal for a better Official Information Act, outlining the changes they'd like to see made. the key ones:

  • Shifting oversight from the Ombudsman to a specialist Open Government Commission;
  • Extending the Act to cover Parliament, state-controlled companies, the IPCA, the Ombudsman, and various other bodies currently excluded, as well as fully covering government contractors;
  • Introducing daily fines for delays, and criminal penalties for deliberate obstruction;
  • Firewalling Ministers from agency requests to prevent political interference;
  • Requiring proactive publication and accessible formats
These are all good proposals, and if the government won't commit to updating the Act, they can be implemented piecemeal. Hopefully the NZCCL will be looking for backbenchers to implement some of these reforms as members' bills.

As for why the NZCCL is interested in this, its because oversight and accountability are key to democracy, and key to protecting people's rights. The government's foot-dragging on transparency is a human rights issue, and one it needs to act on.

Something to go to in Auckland


Live in Auckland? Don't like Nazis? Turn out to show that Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux aren't welcome in Aotearoa.

And this is how we should deal with their sad little travelling racist uncle show: not with censorship and bans, but with protests. The answer to speech you don't like is more speech, not less.

Friday, July 27, 2018

NZPAM vs the government

Earlier this month, New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals opened up two large areas of the South Island for prospecting. Shockingly, the areas contained a large amount of conservation land, and included national parks and conservation areas listed in Schedule 4, in which no mining is possible. And this was done in advance of a clearly-signalled policy from the government to ban mining on conservation land.

Obviously, there are some serious questions to be asked here, such as "why is NZPAM attempting to undermine and sabotage government policy". Because sabotage is what it is. While mining lobbyists Straterra say "its only prospecting", they are being deliberately disingenuous. Because each permit, unless it expressly specifies otherwise, includes a statutory right to upgrade it if anything interesting is found. A prospecting permit, allowing only aerial surveying and hand sampling, can be upgraded as of right to an exploration permit, allowing drilling and excavation. And that in turn can be upgraded as of right to a mining permit. And there's a real danger that this process will be used to circumvent the ban by the back door. Straterra knows this, so when they tell you "it's only prospecting", they're lying to your faces and treating you like a fool.

As for why NZPAM is doing this, it was obvious from their advice on the offshore drilling ban that they're totally captured by the industry they are supposed to regulate, just as MPI is captured by the fishing and farming industries. Plus of course if there's less mining, then there's less need for NZPAM staff to regulate it, and they can be safely cut. So again, this is about NZPAM protecting their own jobs by promoting the destruction of our environment.

As for how to fix this, the Minister needs to make it fucking clear to all applicants that no permit issued over conservation land in these areas will be upgradeable as of right. And then she needs to wade in there with fire and sword and purge and restructure NZPAM until it implements the policy of the democraticly elected government. Because it is simply unacceptable for any government department to enact its own policy in this manner, and industry-captured agencies need to learn who they actually work for.

New Fisk

Even the White Helmets have been rescued from Syria – so are we about to see the final battle of the war?


The police have finally charged one of their own for illegally using a taser. Which regardless of the eventual outcome ought to provide a powerful incentive for police officers to be cautious and obey the law when using these things, rather than simply threatening to electricly torture people to "induce compliance". And hopefully it also signals a shift by police to enforcing the law neutrally, rather than turning a blind eye to criminality among their own. At the same time, given that they've previously repeatedly ignored IPCA findings of outright criminal behaviour involving tasers, you really have to wonder how bad this case must be to have got their attention...

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The price of change

The Greens have announced that they will be swallowing that giant dead rat and voting for Winston's anti-party-hopping lgislation. Yes, it's a shit, undemocratic bill. Yes, its something the Greens oppose. But this is what happens when you end up in coalition (and no matter what they call it, that is what they effectively are in). Eugenie Sage said it straight out when she said

"It's legislation I don't like, but when you are part of a coalition there are just some things you have to do as part of the coalition agreement."

However, the Green Party is not part of the coalition, and nor is it outlined in their agreement with Labour that they must support the proposed law.

When this was put to her she conceded that was correct, but said it was important to another coalition party and the stability of the government.

And that's what it comes down to. Winston wants this bill, so Labour wants this bill. So if the Greens want this government to keep existing - and to be able to implement policies like banning offshore drilling, banning mining in the conservation estate, and setting a robust target on climate change - they need to vote for it. Its that simple. Whether the policies they get for this compromise are worth it is an exercise for Green voters - but personally, I'll hold my nose and stomach it. After all, they can always vote to repeal it when Winston is gone.

Doing something about pay equity

New Zealand has an unjust and unjustifiable gender pay gap. Despite legislating for equal pay as far back as 1972, discrimination has persisted. Now, the government has committed to stamping it out in the public service:

The public service has two-and-a-half years to end pay discrimination against women, and to make flexi working hours the norm, the government announced today.

Women's Minister Julie Anne Genter and State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said they were taking action to end the existing 12.5 percent pay gap between men and women in the public service.

They have set a target to close the pay gap in two-thirds of core state services by the end of next year, and the rest by 2020.

There are also targets for eliminating gender bias in starting salaries, and for equality in the top tiers of management. All of which is good, and will hopefully force the private sector to follow suit or see talented women work elsewhere. At the same time, we should all be asking: why did this take 45 years?


The UK is the world's biggest money laundry. But after years of dragging their feet, they're finally going to get a beneficial ownership register for property:

Offshore owners of British property will be forced to reveal their true identities or face jail sentences and unlimited fines under draft laws that aim to end the UK’s reputation as a high-risk jurisdiction for money laundering.

The legislation follows years of scandals involving the acquisition of high-value UK property by offshore companies, and concerns that a lack of regulation was allowing corrupt money into the housing market.


Under the new legislation, overseas companies that own UK properties will be required to identify their true owners on a publicly available register. The government said the register was part of a wider crackdown on money laundering in the property sector, and would make it easier for law enforcers to seize criminal assets.

Which means that Putin's cronies will finally have to front up and admit how many empty London mansions they're stockpiling their stolen wealth in, and they can then be forced to explain where it came from. But its not just going to help in the fight against corruption - it will also help reduce tax cheating, by exposing wealth. And insofar as it encourages criminals and tax cheats to flee the market, it will lower property prices, making homes more accessible to UKanians.

...which really makes you wonder why we don't have a similar law here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The reality of Brexit

When the racists were campaigning for Brexit, they promised a financial windfall, with £350 million a week extra for the NHS. Now, the government is reduced to promising that there will be "adequete food supplies":

In testimony to the Brexit select committee on Tuesday, the minister dismissed claims that the government was stockpiling provisions. However, he acknowledged that it would work with the food industry to ensure that a no-deal outcome would not disrupt supply.

“We will look at this issue in the round and make sure that there’s adequate food supplies,” Raab told the Brexit select committee. “It would be wrong to describe it as the government doing the stockpiling … of course the idea that we only get food imports into this country from one continent is not appropriate.”

And that's what Brexit means: a real threat that an entire nation will starve to death, or have to have rationing imposed, so that rich arseholes like Jacob Reese-Mogg can make out like bandits. But hey, at least EDL members won't have to see Polish plumbers any more, right?

Reported back

The Health Committee has reported back on the government's Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill, and been unable to reach a decision. Which is what happens when you have a select committee split 4-4 between Labour and National: it becomes dysfunctional and is unable to reach a decision over any substantive policy issue. So, instead the final shape of the law will be resolved at the committee stage, by ad-hoc amendment, which means we won't know what it will look like until the third reading.

National's major objection seemed to be that the bill didn't ban the terminally ill from being allowed to (gasp!) smoke cannabis for medical reasons. Which is something almost universally supported by New Zealand society. So they've proposed their own bill which would ban this, while imposing punitive restrictions on cannabis growing licensees to prevent people who know how to grow cannabis from going legit. It does have wider eligibility for use, and puts the licensed user regime in statute rather than regulation, but there's a core of punitive nastiness in there which is just pure National. And no doubt they'll be hoping to get the reactionaries in NZ First to go along with it (though the fact that the average NZ First voter is old, and old people use cannabis medicinally too might be a check on this).

Hopefully the sensible parts of National's bill will be stolen and added to the government one at the committee stage, and the punitive bits dumped. But we might see this bill fail, and sick people condemned to being criminalised, because of spoiling behaviour by the opposition.

If this is "victory", what would defeat look like?

When the Free Speech Coalition was formed, they promised to stand up for freedom of expression (even that of Nazis). Now, they're dropping their urgent case against Auckland Council:

The Free Speech Coalition has withdrawn its request for urgent orders and a hearing on Auckland Mayor Phil Goff's decision to ban two right-wing Canadians from council venues, it says.

The so-called Free Speech Coalition crowd-funded tens of thousands of dollars to launch the court action, which was in response to Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux being prevented from using the Bruce Mason Centre for an upcoming speaking event.

In a press release, the coalition said it was withdrawing the action because it had achieved "victory".

The coalition said its main purpose for next Monday's hearing had gone because the council had conceded that mayor Phil Goff did not make the decision and that it was in fact made by Regional Facilities Auckland.

Except that that's not actually "victory". "Victory" would be a ruling from the court saying that the Council's decision was unlawful and that it can not use "health and safety" and a heckler's veto as a pretext to discriminate on political grounds in its venue decisions. Instead, they didn't even try arguing that, because in fact they support discrimination, at least when it comes to gay people. But then, its difficult to escape the impression that for many of them this was never about free speech at all, but about finding some way to attack their ideological enemy, Phil Goff. And now they can't sue him, they've simply lost interest. As for the actual principle at stake, well, that's been pushed back into the never-never, and they'll probably lose interest in that too. After all, its not as if the likes of Stephen Franks, Don Brash, David Farrar and Jordan Williams have ever been consistent supporters of freedom of expression...

I don't like Nazis, but tolerating them is the cost of a free and democratic society, the cost of the right of all of us to speak out and try and change things. And that right has been compromised. If you're happy with that, you might want to think about the precedent it sets: that a threat by people to protest against an event justifies its suppression. To point out the obvious, Nazis can also protest, and you are supporting their right to shut down progressive speech. And that doesn't seem like either a liberal or progressive position to hold.

Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day, and it looks like the log-jam of later stages is finally beginning to clear. First up there's the third reading of Jan Logie's Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill, which looks certain to pass. After that there's the second reading of Parmjeet Parmar's Newborn Enrolment with General Practice Bill. And if the House gets through those, then it should have time to wrap up the first reading of her Patents (Advancement Patents) Amendment Bill, and might make a start on Todd Muller's Companies (Clarification of Dividend Rules in Companies) Amendment Bill (a classic "what matters to rich people" bill from National). And if that happens, there might even be a ballot tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Willfull blindness

An OIA request on FYI has exposed another government agency collaboration with Thompson and Clak. This time its AgResearch, who hired them from 2006 to April 2016 to provide "risk management reporting on animal rights and GE-related issues". During that time, TCIL provided a "media scan" and other reports, and was "involved in nearly every controversial project undertaken by the Institute".

AgResearch says they didn't ask TCIL to spy for them. But given the numerous public scandals around this firm's infiltration and spying on activists, this can only be described as willfull blindness on a level similar to MI6's around CIA torture. Infiltration and spying is what Thompson and Clark do. It is what they are for. And AgResearch hiring them is effectively asking them to spy, to infiltrate, and to plant unlawful surveillance devices on people's cars.

The good news is that AgResearch dumped them in 2016, apparently due to lower risk. But the fact they hired them at all is troubling, and hopefully will be examined by the SSC's inquiry.

New Fisk

I traced missile casings in Syria back to their original sellers, so it’s time for the west to reveal who they sell arms to

Murderous Tories

Civilised countries don't extradite people to be murdered, and the UK, as part of its pretence to be a civilised country, supposedly has a consistent opposition to the death penalty. Except, apparently, when the Americans want to murder UK citizens:

Senior MPs of all parties have condemned the decision to allow two murderous British Isis fighters to face the death penalty in the United States – as the government admitted it had also secretly lifted objections in previous cases.

Ministers faced a furious backlash after confirming they had not demanded a “no execution” assurance in return for handing over the jihadis, the remaining members of the “Beatles” group.

The move was branded “abhorrent and shameful”, with warnings the UK would be guilty of “arrant hypocrisy” the next time it urged any other country to abandon the death penalty.


At one point, [security minister Ben] Wallace said he had “respect” for countries that allowed the death penalty, although it is UK policy to oppose it worldwide.

Significantly, the minister revealed that Britons had been sent abroad in the past with no block on use of the death penalty, agreeing to supply MPs with details “for your summer reading”.

So, senior UK government Ministers are secret death penalty supporters, who have repeatedly extradited UK citizens to be murdered in foreign countries. That's something UKanians should find intolerable. They should be demanding this Minister - and government's - (metaphorical) head, and demanding that UK law categorically forbid extradition in death penalty cases.

(If you're wondering what the situation is in New Zealand, the Extradition Act allows the government to refuse extradition in death penalty cases, but does not require it. Pretty obviously, we need to fix this, to prevent spineless Ministers from doing a Britain and compromising our values in order to grovel to murderous foreign powers).

Transparency from the Greens

The Greens today have kept their promise of ministerial transparency, releasing their ministers' diaries for the last quarter:

The Green Party today released its ministerial diaries showing its co-leader met with Gas New Zealand in April to discuss the government's ban on future offshore oil and gas exploration.

The diaries show party co-leader James Shaw met with Gas New Zealand in April to discuss the implications of the ban and today released the quarterly diaries of its ministers and under-secretary as promised earlier this year.

The diaries were released for the party's three ministers, and one under-secretary.

They state who the meeting was with, the date it was held and a very brief description of the reason for the meeting.

If you're interested in trawling through them, you can read them here. If you're curious about a particular meeting, you can request further details under the OIA. I recommend using FYI for this, so everyone can see both the response, and how the request is handled (its a great tool for forcing agencies to behave by automatically publicising bad behaviour).

Of course, this raises an obvious question: when will "the most transparent government ever" follow suit? Or are they going to let themselves be shamed by the Greens on transparency?

Monday, July 23, 2018

More Australian corruption

Another Australian state MP is quitting after being caught behaving corruptly:

Voters in the NSW Riverina will head to the polls twice in a matter of months after Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced disgraced Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire would resign from state parliament.

Mr Maguire last week quit the Liberal Party and his role as parliamentary secretary, after a corruption inquiry heard secret recordings of him discussing potential commissions with a local councillor from property deals with a wealthy Chinese developer.

But a defiant Mr Maguire had until now refused to quit NSW politics, saying he would remain in Parliament until the March 2019 state election.

On Saturday afternoon, Ms Berejiklian said Mr Maguire would resign some time next week, before Parliament resumes on August 7. A byelection will be held in the seat of Wagga Wagga, Ms Berejiklian said.

It is good that he has been forced to resign. But if he has behaved criminally, then he needs to be prosecuted, and if convicted, jailed.

New Fisk

The Syrian war is a 'shame to mankind' says Serbia's top weapons maker – but I found his instruction books in eastern Aleppo

Immigration NZ's racism problem

Last week, Immigration NZ quite properly granted visitor visas to a pair of foreign Nazis, because there was no lawful reason to refuse them. Meanwhile, they're refusing to grant visas to visiting human rights activists:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is meeting in Auckland in early August to discuss projects and policy. It campaigns against human rights abuses, particularly from religious influences, and has representatives at the European Union and United Nations.

Gulalai Ismail from Pakistan has been campaigning since she was 14 for girls' rights to education and women's rights. She has faced death threats and been attacked more than once, but continued her work from outside the country, Humanist Society of NZ president Sara Passmore said.

Ismail's visa application was made after mid-April, but has not had confirmation it has been granted, and two Immigration offices had given contradictory answers about its status. Another board member had been denied entry, one was still awaiting an answer, and another was initially denied and only granted a visa after a lawyer interceded.

All four do work to make their countries and the world a better place, and were all "heroes" in their own right. The response from Immigration NZ was a shock, and "embarrassing for New Zealand", she said.

In both cases, the applicants want to come to New Zealand to speak publicly - the Nazis at their travelling hate show, the human rights activists at an international conference. So why the difference in treatment? Well, the Nazis are from Canada, while the human rights activists are from places with serious human rights problems: Pakistan, Uganda, and Nigeria. And obviously, the only reason anyone from such a country could ever want to come to New Zealand is to live here, and that prior assumption from Immigration means that they discount all evidence to the contrary. Alternatively, we could put it more simply: the Nazis are white...

While the immediate call here is for the Minister to intervene to make sure these people get visas and the conference can go ahead, Immigration obviously has a deep-seated racism problem, and the Minister needs to root it out. It is not appropriate for race, or any proxy for race, to play a role in immigration decisions.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The UK uses child spies

British police and intelligence agencies are using children as spies:

British police and intelligence agencies are using children as spies in covert operations against terrorists, gangs and drug dealers.

A committee of the House of Lords revealed the practice while raising the alarm over government plans to give law enforcement bodies more freedom over their use of children.

Some of the child spies are aged under 16, the committee says, adding that it was worried about proposals to extend from one month to four the period of time between each occasion that child spies go through a re-registration process.

This isn't using children as informants or witnesses - its actually using them as covert, undercover agents in a criminal or terrorist environment. Which raises obvious child welfare and legal issues. Pretty obviously, it raises questions about whether the UK is complying with its duty under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that best interests of the child is the primary consideration in any decision about them. And in anti-terrorist operations, it raises questions about whether the UK is complying with its duties under UNCROC's First Optional Protocol on the recruitment of children in armed conflict.

More generally, the use of children as soldiers is a war crime. Shouldn't this also apply to using children as spies?

Fuck Australia

The Australians are pissed off at Andrew Little for calling them out on their deportation policy and treatment of kiwis. And Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton thinks Little should "reflect" on the NZ-Australia relationship before criticising our neighbours. I think we should reflect on it too, because there's a lot to criticise.

Where to start? Their shittiness to kiwis is the least of it. The Australian government is full of racists. Their political system is irredeemably corrupt, and their federal politicans refuse to try and clean it up out of fear they'll lose their slice of the pie. They spy on their neighbours, and prosecute those who blow the whistle on them. They have authoritarian espionage laws which in practice target journalists. Their treatment of their indigenous people is appalling. They stick refugees in concentration camps where they are abused and neglected.

Whenever our politicians meet, they talk a lot about how the relationship is built on "shared values". I don't see a lot that we share. Racism is not a kiwi value. Corruption is not a kiwi value. Authoritarianism and cruelty are not kiwi values. The values we take pride in - compassion, fairness, justice, honesty, democracy - are values Australia is walking away from. They're even walking away from their supposed "mateship". They're no longer the sort of country a modern democracy can or should count as a friend.

As their closest neighbour and oldest friend, this is something we should be speaking out against, not keeping silent on. And if they don't like that, then fuck Australia.

Also, if you don't like what Australia has become or the way it treats people, then vote with your wallet and don't buy Australian. Don't give your money to these arseholes until they change for the better.

Labour lied on refugees

When they were in opposition, Labour advocated for an increased refugee quota. When they were running for election, they explicitly promised to raise it to 1,500 a year. But now they're in government, they're saying that we're full:

The Government has stalled on plans to double New Zealand's refugee quota - and it's because of the housing crisis.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says Aotearoa need to sort that before it thinks about welcoming more refugees.


"What we have to do is make sure we've got the capacity to take those extra people."

Translation: we just don't have enough homes.

For context, the promised increase in the refugee quota is less than one percent of net immigration, and it would be completely buried by this year's decrease. So Lees-Galloway's "justification" isn't especially convincing. But more importantly, there will always be problems in New Zealand, but that's no excuse to ignore the greater problems of the wider world. Refugees are in desperate need, and we are nowhere near to doing our bit for them (we take fewer refugees per capita than the much-reviled Australians, for example). Labour promised to move part of the way towards correcting that, to be a more compassionate government than their predecessors. Sadly, it looks like they were just fucking lying to us, as usual.

New Fisk

A Bosnian signs off weapons he says are going to Saudi Arabia – but how did his signature turn up in Aleppo?

A victory for European justice

A week ago, a German court rejected the extradition of exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on "rebellion" charges. He could be extradited for "misuse of public funds", but not for "rebellion" as there was no equivalent offence in German law (Germany requires actual or planned violence, not peaceful protest and democratic advocacy. The idea of a peaceful "rebellion" is nonsensical). And now, as expected, Spain is having a legal temper-tantrum and has withdrawn the European Arrest Warrants against all the exiled Catalan politicians:

A Spanish judge has dropped the international arrest warrants issued for the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and five other pro-sovereignty politicians over their roles in last year’s illegal referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.


The dropping of the international warrant means Puigdemont and his former colleagues – currently in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland – no longer face extradition proceedings. But domestic warrants remain in force, meaning the six will be arrested should they return to Spain.

In his ruling, published on Thursday, Llarena hit out at the court in Schleswig-Holstein, accusing it of “a lack of commitment” over acts that could have “broken Spain’s constitutional order”. The German court’s refusal to extradite Puigdemont on the rebellion charge – which prosecutors had argued could be equated to “high treason” in the German penal code – meant the deposed president could not be tried for the offence if sent back to Spain.

That offence - again, for purely democratic actions taken and backed by the Catalan Parliament - is really all Spain wants to charge him with. The "misuse of public funds" charge is a smokescreen, and even the Spanish government says it didn't happen. But now Spain is being denied its show trial. No wonder they're upset.

Unfortunately, Spain is still holding nine Catalan political leaders as political prisoners on similar trumped-up charges. And they'll probably take out their anger on them.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Good news from Nelson: the Waimea dam project - the one National wants to pass a Muldoonist Enabling Act to rip land out of a forest park for - has escalated in price and looks doomed:

Updated costs for the proposed Waimea dam have added a whopping $26 million to its bottom line, putting the future of the controversial project in doubt.

"Unless a solution can be found to close the gap, the dam won't go ahead," Tasman district mayor Richard Kempthorne told a media briefing on Thursday morning. "There is no doubt this is a major setback and possibly the greatest challenge yet for the project."

A long-time supporter of the dam as the best option to augment the water supply for Waimea, Kempthorne said he was "gutted" by the updated figures, which represent a 35 per cent escalation in costs.

Good riddance. The conservation estate is for conservation, not building dams, while the resulting intensified farming (in part driven by the need to pay irrigation fees) will only lead to dirtier rivers. The sooner this project is cancelled, the better.

A curious absence

The Free Speech Coalition has filed its suit against Phil Goff and the Auckland Council over their cancellation of a Nazi event, seeking to have the decision overturned. But reading the statement of claim, there's an odd omission: while they cite a variety of administrative law reasons and breach of sections 14 - 17 (freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association) of the Bill of Rights Act as reasons to overturn the decision, for some reason they don't include their strongest case: breach of the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of political opinion. Its alluded to in passing when suggesting that Goff unlawfully directed the decision, but not otherwise mentioned. I'm not sure whether this is because they felt it would be difficult to prove, or because several of the Coalition's backers (e.g. Stephen Franks) are ideologically opposed to anti-discrimination legislation, but given that they're throwing the kitchen sink at it elsewhere, its a curious absence.

They've requested an urgent hearing and interim orders allowing the event to proceed, though whether they get it is another question. Still, hopefully we'll have a ruling and some clarification on local authority powers and freedom of speech soon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Another transparency failure

Last month, Regional Development Minister Shane Jones claimed he had received 365 text messages supporting his criticism of Fonterra. But surprisingly, he's refusing to release them under the OIA:

Self-styled "provincial champion" Jones launched a blistering attack on the long-serving dairy co-operative boss last month. Defending his remarks, Jones then claimed 365 people had sent messages supporting his stance.

But the NZ First Minister is now refusing to release those text messages. And that raises questions about the Government's official record-keeping processes.

"The messages I was referring to were received predominantly on my private phone and not in my capacity as a Minister. They therefore do not fall within the scope within the scope of the Official Information Act 1982," Jones said in a letter to Stuff.

As the article points out, that's bullshit. Its not the phone that matters, but the capacity the messages were received in. And when they are supposedly received in response to a statement made as a Minister, that capacity can only be as a Minister. Meaning that they are official information and covered by the Act.

Perhaps in recognition of this, Jones' office is now claiming that releasing them would require "substantial collation and research". Not really. Or rather, as Jones is claiming to have counted them, then he already knows which messages they are, which means most of the work is already done. While there will obviously be substantial work required to redact the identifying details from these messages, that is not part of the "collation and research" process and cannot be used as a reason for refusal.

Of course, the real reason for the request isn't so much the content of the texts, but that a response will show the public whether Jones actually received that level of public support, or whether he was just big-mouthing himself. And that's probably the reason for the refusal as well. But while relatively inconsequential, its another failure of transparency by this government, and another example of how they are all talk and no action on this issue.

When police investigate police

Another IPCA report is out today, this time into an officer's use of pepper spray in a police cell. The inquiry found that the officer's actions were unjustified, in breach of police policy, and unlawful. So there's the obvious question again: why wasn't the officer charged? Interestingly, his fellow police officers thought his actions were so beyond the pale that the police were forced to launch a criminal investigation. But rather than recommend prosecution, it decided the officer's actions were "commendable". As for the quality of that investigation, and a subsequent employment investigation, the IPCA had this to say:

The Authority considers that both Police investigations failed to critically and objectively analyse the evidence and, therefore, the findings (that Officer H’s actions were justified and lawful, and did not amount to misconduct) are unsustainable when measured against the provisions of sections 39 and 48 of the Crimes Act 1961 and Police policy.

In light of our findings, the Authority finds it particularly disturbing that the criminal investigation concluded that Officer H’s actions were commendable.

But that's what happens when police investigate police. And its precisely why we need to give the IPCA the ability to launch its own prosecutions: because even in egregious cases like this, the police are clearly incapable of enforcing the law against themselves.

UK drone pilots are criminals

That's the conclusion of a UK Parliamentary inquiry into drone strikes:

British military personnel could be prosecuted for killing civilians in drone strikes and risk becoming complicit in alleged war crimes committed by the US, an inquiry has found.

A two-year probe by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones revealed that the number of operations facilitated by the UK in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia has been growing without any public scrutiny.

As well as launching its own strikes, the Ministry of Defence is assisting operations by the US and other allies that could violate both national and international law, it said.


Because the use of force outside conflicts Britain is directly involved with is not protected by combatant immunity, British servicemen and women can be prosecuted for murder.

As can the Ministers who approve such strikes. And they should be. Because what the UK has is a state policy of murdering its political opponents (some of whom are UK citizens) outside of armed conflict. The only difference between them and Putin's polonium and novichok poisonings is that they do it in Syria rather than Salisbury, and they use even more indiscriminate methods.

The inquiry also found that because the US drone program "appears to be violating international law", and that assisting it was therefore illegal and similarly exposed UK military and intelligence personnel to prosecution for US war crimes. Unlike the US, the UK is a party to the International Criminal Court, so it has an obligation to prosecute these criminals - and the threat that the international community will do it if they won't. Which ought to incentivise the UK government to cease such cooperation.

It also ought to focus the minds of New Zealand's spies - because in 2014 the Prime Minister admitted that their data may have been used for drone murders. Which could put them on the legal hook for murder and war crimes, just as the UK is. Once the Inspector-General of Intelligence and security has finished their report on SIS and GCSB engagement with the CIA (and its torture and rendition program), maybe they could look into this?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

New Zealand should ratify the Kampala Amendment

In 2010, the parties to the International Criminal Court agreed the Kampala Amendment, which finally gave a formal, legal definition to the crime of aggression (you know, the one they convicted the Nazis of), allowing the court to prosecute it. 35 states have since ratified the amendment, and it finally came into force today. But strangely, New Zealand wasn't one of them. Writing in Stuff, lawyer Roger Clark and former Green MP Kennedy Graham argue that we should ratify:

Should New Zealand join? Of course it should. If it is good enough for the German chancellor and the prime minister of Samoa to be accountable under law for aggression, it is good enough for our own leaders. New Zealand signed on to the Kampala Amendment back in 2010. Liechtenstein ratified in 2012, Germany in 2013. New Zealand could also have done so then. No reason to delay further.

In the New Zealand Parliament back in 2009, a member's bill making aggression a crime was given a first reading debate. The penalty for a New Zealand leader could stretch to 10 years in prison, a sobering consideration. The bill was voted down, but the vote was close – 64 to 58.

It is time for the Kampala Amendment to be brought into the House, and for that vote to be reversed.

And they're right. New Zealand's fundamental foreign policy position is for a peaceful, rules-based international order. But such an order is impossible where aggression is legal. As a small country, all we have is our voice. So if we want a peaceful, law-governed international order, we need to put our money where our mouth is, agree to be part of one, and do our bit to strengthen and spread those norms. I'm actually boggled we haven't done so already, but I guess that's what happens when you have a previous government obsessed with grovelling to the aggressive US...

Monday, July 16, 2018

Israel's new apartheid law

Israel is an apartheid state. But the pretence in Israel has always been that this is about the occupation and "security" against their victims, and that Arab citizens are equal in law. Now, a new law aims to allow formal, legal segregation:

Israel is in the throes of political upheaval as the country’s ruling party seeks to pass legislation that could allow for Jewish-only communities, which critics have condemned as the end of a democratic state.

For the past half-decade, politicians have been wrangling over the details of the bill that holds constitution-like status and that Benjamin Netanyahu wants passed this month.

The proposed legislation would allow the state to “authorise a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community”.

In its current state, the draft would also permit Jewish religious law to be implemented in certain cases and remove Arabic as an official language.

This isn't some fringe party project, but official government policy. The good news is that it is being vigorously opposed by Israelis who recognise its naked racism and corrosive effect on the society they live in. But the fact that it has been proposed shows how sick Israel is as a society, and how the occupation is undermining its democracy.

New Fisk

The fisherman in Sarajevo told tales of past wars – and warned me of ones to come

Will Talleys get what they paid for?

Talleys is one of the country's largest political donors. Last year it dished out $49,000 to election candidates, including $10,000 to NZ First's Shane Jones. Talleys also hates the idea of the government properly regulating the criminal fishing industry, and has written to the government opposing plans to but cameras on fishing boats:

The fishing industry says a Government plan to put cameras aboard commercial fishing vessels has been "driven by a level of hysteria around discarding" fish.

Stuff has seen an industry letter sent to the Government this month expressing "real concerns about the use of cameras without understanding what their purpose is".

In June, Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash confirmed he would push ahead with plans to put cameras on commercial fishing boats.

He hoped to put a proposal to ministers this month, but needed to get agreement from NZ First and the Greens.

...and reportedly, the primary opponent of the proposal is the aforementioned Shane Jones. But I'm sure it has nothing to do with the $10,000 they gave him. Absolutely nothing.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Minister for Open Government, yet again

Clare Curran attended a secret meeting with Google and refused to take notes about it:

At least two Cabinet ministers attended a dinner at an exclusive club hosted by Google's top lawyer under secretive "Chatham House" rules, but made no notes of what was discussed.

National open government spokesman Nick Smith blasted their attendance, accusing Labour of hypocrisy.

Google's chief counsel, Kent Walker, hosted the dinner at the capital's swanky Wellington Club for invited guests who included Justice Minister Andrew Little, Open Government Minister Clare Curran and top public servants and lawyers.


Walker's visit came at a time when the world's fifth largest company faces the possibility of additional regulation in the areas of tax, privacy and competition policy.

Little said in a letter sent in response to an Official Information Act request that he didn't generate any notes or memos from the event. A spokeswoman for Curran said she hadn't either.

In which case, they should have generated them in response to the request. The Ministers attended in an official capacity, so any information that resulted is official information. And that includes information in Ministers' heads. Their failure or refusal to take notes does not protect them from requests, only from poorly-worded ones (though arguably, that would violate the duty of assistance). As for the "Chatham House rule", the government can not contract out of the OIA. It may be able to withhold information provided to them under such an express obligation of confidence, if the interest in receiving such information in future is not outweighed by the public interest. But they cannot withhold information they provided to others simply by declaring it "confidential". The problem is that refusal to record gives deniability, so even if Smith successfully appeals this atrocity to the Ombudsman, Curran will be able to smile and say she remembers nothing - while providing Google with whatever secret backhanders it wants.

And that's why refusal to keep records is bad: because it enables the government to lie to us, and it enables them to behave corruptly. Ministers who deliberately do so (and Curran is a serial offender) need to be held to account.

Better news than it sounds

Last night, a German court ruled that exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont could be extradited to Spain - but only on charges of "misuse of public funds". The charge Spain really wants to stick him with - "rebellion" - was rejected. Which is better news than it sounds, because (thanks to EU law) it means he can not now be prosecuted for that offence if extradited. The German court found that there was no violence or criminal organisation in the independence referendum (or at least, not from the Catalan people. The Spanish state is another matter). This hands a ready-made legal argument to those facing extradition elsewhere, as well as to the nine Catalan political prisoners Spain is currently holding. Its so bad for Spain that they may themselves refuse to accept the extradition rather than live with the legal consequences (though its unclear whether they can then seek it again elsewhere on charges which have already been rejected).

There will be an appeals process, of course. But its a good sign for Puigdemont at least, and it puts pressure on the Spanish government to drop its ridiculous charges. And given that they've declared that no public money was spent on the referendum, they should drop the "misuse of public funds" ones as well.

Climate change: Getting rid of petrol cars

What does the government's target of zero net emissions by 2050 mean in practice? James Shaw states the obvious: no more petrol cars:

If New Zealand is to meet its zero carbon pledge, nearly all the country's cars will have to be zero-emission by 2050, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says.

As of June, roughly 8700 plug-in cars are on the road of a total fleet of more than four million.

Mr Shaw said achieving the country's commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050 was reliant on significantly boosting the uptake of plug-in vehicles.

"We can't get to the zero-emissions carbon goal without switching over the ground vehicle fleet to electrics. You just can't get there," he said.

"We think that means about 95 percent of vehicles in the year 2050 will be zero-emissions vehicles."

Which is obvious if you think about it. Road transport was responsible for 13.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2016 - 17.3% of our national total. And if we are to reach zero emissions, those emissions need to be eliminated or offset. Some of that can be done by mode-shifting - getting people out of cars and into electric-powered trains and buses in our major centres. But the car is unlikely to die, so that means getting people to use cars which don't ruin the climate. And on current technological trends, that looks like a massive switch to electric vehicles.

The good news is that its possible. Electric vehicles are a tiny chunk of the fleet at the moment - there are less than 9,000 on the road. But thirty years is a long time for technological change, and New Zealand imports more than 250,000 cars a year. There's about 3.4 million cars registered, and the entire fleet will turn over multiple times before 2050. And while electric vehicles are expensive at present, the price will drop as they become standard, and we'll see greater numbers showing up on the used market (which is where NZ gets about half its cars).

As for how to push that change, rather than ending up a dumping ground for the rest of the world's discarded dirty cars when they switch to electric, the obvious policy is to set a long-term cutoff date on the sale or import of petrol cars. Overseas, dates have been set between 2025 (for Norway) and 2040 (for the dirty UK), with 2030 as the average. For New Zealand, I'd suggest no later than 2035, giving plenty of time for petrol cars to age out of the fleet. The followup policy is to have a cutoff date for registering petrol cars, 5 - 10 years after the import ban, which would restrict them to historical display use only. Because by that stage they should all be in museums, or driven only by obsessive engineers who like tinkering with and restoring dead technology, like Model-T Fords and 1957 Chevys today.

It sounds hard, but remember that it took only thirty years for the petrol car to completely replace horses in city streets. We've got that much time, and the technological shift required is smaller. We can do this. The trick is to make sure that it happens sooner rather than later, and not just leave it to the market.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Brexit as a natural disaster

Something bad is about to happen. The government has plans to stockpile food and medicine to ensure continued supplies, and to float thousands of generators on barges in the irish Sea to provide electricity to Northern Ireland. A hurricane, earthquake, or asteroid strike? No - all this is preparation for Brexit:

MINISTERS have drawn up secret plans to stockpile processed food in the event of EU divorce talks collapsing - to show Brussels that “no deal” is not a bluff.

Theresa May has ordered “no deal” planning “to step up” — with the government poised to start unveiling some of the 300 contingency measures in the coming weeks.


The Sun can reveal that includes emergency measures to keep Britain’s massive food and drinks industry afloat - including stockpiling ahead of exit day on 29 March next year.

More than £22 billion worth of processed food and drinks are imported in to the UK - 97 per cent from the EU - in an industry that keeps 400,000 workers employed in the UK.

Similar stockpiles are also being prepared for medical supplies amid fears of chaos at British ports next year.

Its as if the UK is preparing for a state of siege. Except it will be one entirely of their own making. And it really makes you think that the Brexiteers' insistence on leaving the common market is a really, really bad idea.

Time to fix renting

Renters United this morning launched The Plan to Fix Renting, a set of policy proposals building on last year's People's Review of Renting. Things like giving renters security of tenure by banning no-cause evictions and requiring landleeches to give reasons which can then be legally challenged. Reducing the degree to which landleeches or their property managers can intrude on their tenant's lives with inspections. Limiting rent increases to the CPI once a year, unless significant improvements are made. Requiring minimum standards for rental properties, and licences for property managers. And fixing the Tenancy Tribunal so tenants can actually use it without fear of being evicted and blacklisted.

These are all sensible proposals, and the government has already committed to implementing some of them (though that seems to be taking a while). Of course, the landleeches' union is outraged, and making their usual threat that they'll get out of the landlord business. Which is great - because one of the problems with our housing market is that there are too many greedy boomers hoarding houses so they can harvest tax-free capital gains, and playing landlord in between to pay the bills. If tighter regulation drives these parasites out of the market, we get a double benefit: the demise of bad landleeches, and more houses on the market, leading to a drop in prices. I fail to see any downside in this.

If you'd like to show your support for these proposals, ActionStation has a petition here.

We need to protect dolphins from mining

Correction: The Conservation Minister had no role in granting this permit. I had assumed that, as on land, exploration would require an access arrangement, which would have required her approval. But thanks to the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011's "no-one owns the seabed" position, the Crown Minerals Act was amended so that you don't need an access arrangement to explore or mine in the common marine and coastal area. And thanks to Taranaki District Council's "drill, baby, drill" policy, exploration is a permitted activity despite the entire area being a marine mammal sanctuary, so there's no RMA process either. There will be an RMA process for actual mining at least, but that won't stop the disruption from exploration.

As for how to fix this, the Marine Mammals Protection Act allows activites within Marine Mammal Sanctuaries to be regulated, and this is already used to prohibit mining (but not oil drilling) in part of the West Coast North Island Sanctuary. That area could be expanded, and further oil drilling banned. But in the long term, there seems to be no reason to distinguish between onshore and offshore wildlife sanctuaries, so they need to be added to Schedule 4.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage MBIE appears to have quietly granted a permit to explore for ironsands in a Marine Mammal Sanctuary:

A mining exploration permit has been quietly granted inside a marine sanctuary set up to protect the endangered Māui dolphins.

The decision has shocked conservation groups who were unaware of the move and the Department of Conservation has “significant concerns” about the safety of the dolphins if mining were to go ahead.


In May, permission to explore a 220-square-kilometre section off the coast of New Plymouth that falls within the sanctuary was granted to a company that wants to dredge the ocean floor for minerals.

Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd will now be able to carry out tests, including drilling, to assess the viability of the project.

Its an appalling decision, and a pointless one: while the impact of exploration may be low, it is difficult to imagine a full mining operation being approved. But like the Otakiri Springs water decision, it may be a case of the Minister's hands being tied: marine mammal sanctuaries enjoy no special protection from mining, while the law covering access arrangements requires the Minister to consider economic benefits but not environmental costs unless the land is specifically held for conservation purposes (because in theory that is dealt with at the RMA stage, not at the mining consent stage. Except where the local council short-circuits the entire process with a "drill, baby, drill" policy...)

As for how to stop this, hopefully Greenpeace will OIA the advice, and seek a judicial review if there is any doubt about the decision. And of course there's protests (though again, when will the government repeal the Anadarko Amendment?) But in the long term, if we want to prevent mining or prospecting in marine mammal sanctuaries, we need to change the law. And at this stage it is worth noting that sanctuaries for land-based wildlife enjoy the protection of Schedule 4, meaning mining is absolutely forbidden. Sanctuaries for marine mammals do not, despite serving an identical purpose at sea. It would be a very simple members bill to add them. Maybe a Green MP would like to put one in the ballot?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Taking on dirty dairying

Taranaki is one of the country's biggest dairying districts. And somewhat surprisingly, the Taranaki Regional Council appears to be taking on dirty dairying, with prosecutions and fines:

A dairy farmer collapsed in the dock and cried into her husband's arms after a judge slapped them with a $45,000 fine for illegally discharging untreated dairy effluent into a Taranaki creek.

John and Alison Vernon, who live and manage a 144-hectare Denbigh Rd dairy farm in Midhurst, admitted one charge each of discharging contaminants into water, a breach of the Resource Management Act.


Meanwhile, in a separate case, a husband and wife pair of company directors were fined $54,000 after admitting two charges of discharging contaminants into water.

Kevin and Diane Goble did not live at Block 8 Farm, on Block 8 Rd in Waverley, but had employed a contract milker on the site since 2016.

In both cases, farmers had let cowshit flow into streams, poisoning them. In most areas of the country, this simply isn't prosecuted: regional councils work for farmers, or view enforcement as too much work, and so take a passive role. Taranaki seems to be taking it seriously, and hopefully it will lead to an improvement in farmer behaviour.

No incentive

The UK Information Commissioner looks likely to fine Facebook £500,000 over its enabling of Cambridge Analytica:

Facebook is set to be fined £500,000 by the UK’s privacy watchdog after it concluded the social media giant broke data laws.

The California-headquartered company failed to protect users' information and then failed to be clear about how that information had been harvested by others. That was the conclusion of a major report into whether personal data had been misused by both sides during the EU referendum.


In a progress update to a parliamentary select committee, the ICO said it had served Facebook with a notice of intent to issue its maximum fine after it found the company had twice breached the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). A final decision will be made after the social media giant has had a chance to respond.

While a fine of £500,000 is the biggest possible punishment available to the ICO, it is the same amount of money that Facebook makes in just a few minutes.

And that's the core problem: that the fines UK law enables are completely inadequate to provide any incentive whatsoever on a global company like Facebook. Still, they're better than New Zealand, which currently has a fine of a mere $2,000. The government's Privacy Bill (currently before select committee) will increase this to a whopping $10,000, which is still nothing like what is needed. The Privacy Commissioner wants to see that raised to $1 million, but that's less than the UK maximum, which is clearly inadequate. An EU-style cap set as a percentage of global turnover (not profit) would be far more effective at providing an incentive against multinational privacy abuse.

Make our Parliament accessible to parents

In addition to the Prime Minister, several other MPs have already become parents this term. And one of them is highlighting that Parliament's new travel rules pose a big barrier for new parents:

One of Parliament's new parents, Kiri Allen, has argued for a cap on taxpayer-funded travel for MPs' partners to be lifted for those with young babies.

While MPs' partners used to be allowed unlimited travel to be with the MP, the so-called "perk" was cut back in 2014 after excessive use by some.

The cap does not apply to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford, who will be primary caregiver for baby Neve, because the Prime Minister's partner gets unlimited travel.

However, the partners of ordinary MPs get 20 trips a year maximum while ministers' partners get 30 trips a year. The caps are set by the Remuneration Authority and can only be used to accompany MPs on work-related travel.

As Allen highlights, 20 trips a year isn't enough for new parents, and apparently works out to a visit every six weeks. Raising it would allow far better work-life balance, and allow these MP's to better participate in our democracy without unduly burdening their families. And she's absolutely right: it is an unreasonable burden - but one that is so easily fixed. And if we want our Parliament to look like New Zealand, and to include MP's at all stages of life, we need to raise that cap for them.


Nurses are going on strike tomorrow for higher pay, after years of being underfunded. The government has condemned that underfunding, and says it wants to help, but also says that they have no more money to give. And meanwhile, their Defence Minister is wasting $2.3 billion on high-tech anti-submarine warfare aircraft their own defence policy says we don't need.

I guess that's where the nurses' pay-rise went: on pointless militaristic wank-toys, whose sole purpose is to make NZDF feel like they're a "real" defence force, and allow them to involve us in yet more American wars.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons

A "free speech coalition" is planning a judicial review of Auckland mayor Phil Goff's decision to ban a pair of visiting Nazis from speaking in a council venue. A judicial review is welcome: I think Goff has behaved illegally, and should be forced to obey the law. At the least, it will clarify the law on freedom of speech in New Zealand in a useful way. At the same time, this "free speech coalition" looks a little odd:

It was being supported by former Labour Party minister Dr Michael Bassett, former National Party and ACT leader Dr Don Brash and business leader and Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church.

Also in favour was Auckland University senior lecturer Dr David Cumin, Canterbury University academic Melissa Derby, lawyer Stephen Franks, AUT professor Paul Moon, broadcaster Lindsay Perigo, writer Rachel Poulain, political commentator Chris Trotter and Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams.

If you were wanting to run a principled free speech campaign, then simply as a matter of PR, it might be a good idea not to have so many outright racists in it. Or people who have been outright hostile to free speech in the past. And be led by someone who hasn't called for critics of the government to have their arts funding cut. And OTOH, at least this time they're doing the right thing, if almost certainly for the wrong reasons.

New Fisk

Nearly two decades on from Nato's deadly bombing of civilians at Varvarin in Serbia, the wait for justice continues

The pathway to an equal parliament

Helen Clark has called for political parties to put more women on their party lists:

Political parties need to promote more women on their lists, former Prime Minister Helen Clark says.

Clark was speaking on Tuesday on a panel at Parliament on efforts to make Parliament's more family friendly.

Parties are the gateways through which most people enter Parliament and need to be "the greatest champions" for equality, she said.

Lists are crucial because research shows fewer women make it into electorate seats.

Though largely that's because parties don't nominate them, or don't nominate them in winnable seats.

Kiwis want a parliament that looks like New Zealand. But we can only elect candidates parties put up. And the reason we don't have an equal parliament, bluntly, is because our two biggest parties are sexist institutions which systematically discriminate against women. And if they don't like that description, maybe they should fix their sexism problem, by ensuring that their party rules provide for equal representation.

Wedding cake bigotry is illegal

So, some Auckland bigots have decided to try their hand at US-style wedding cake bigotry, and refused to provide a wedding cake for a marriage:

A same-sex couple is "shocked and upset" that their request for a wedding cake was refused by a Warkworth baker who said marriage equality was against her beliefs.

Moe Barr and Sasha Patrick both live in Brisbane, but since Australia had not yet legalised same-sex marriage when they got engaged last year, they planned their wedding at Waipu in Northland for next January.

When they approached Kath's Devine Cakes in Warkworth to make the cake, "Kath" refused, saying despite the New Zealand government legalising same-sex marriage, she believed it was not correct and therefore she would not make the wedding cake.

This is pretty obviously illegal. The Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discriminating in the provision of goods and services on the basis of sexual orientation, just as it prohibits it on the basis of race or disability. While this must be interpreted through the lens of the Bill of Rights Act, which affirms freedom of religion, the consensus when the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill was passed was that people had no right to refuse to provide services to gay couples, any more than they would to interracial ones. For that reason, a National MP put up a bigot amendment which would have allowed his fellow bigots to refuse services in exactly this manner. It was voted down, 79-36.

As for what should happen, the Human Rights Commission should take these bigots to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which should award damages for hurt and humiliation (and pour encourager les autres). And of course, no-one should buy cake from these bigots ever again. Because this sort of shit isn't acceptable, any more than refusing to serve Maori is.

TOP and the politics of impatience

Gareth Morgan has a post-TOP interview at The Spinoff, in which he makes explicit everything wrong with TOP and exactly why he is fundamentally unsuited for politics. There's the obvious constant slagging off of voters for valuing things different from himself, of course. But there's a top-down model of politics in which policies are offered "on a take-it or leave-it basis" and elections are bought so that they may be implemented. The problem of course is that people (and potential coalition partners) can just leave it, and (as we've seen in the case of Colin Craig and Kim Dotcom's respective vanity vehicles) elections in New Zealand are not just about money. But Morgan's biggest problem is that he is impatient:

That implies that to change the voting public’s political priorities requires a massive investment of time – time that individuals who have other options might more productively apply on other projects. While of course there is a body of politically active enthusiasts for TOP’s approach who would like to keep plugging away, the project needs money if it’s to realistically ever be more than a bit player like the Greens or NZ First and actually challenge the status quo of the two Establishment parties.

Morgan calls the Greens a "bit player", but if you look at the way policy flows in New Zealand - who introduces it, who advocates it, who adopts it, and who has to pretend to to avoid being offside with the public - they're a major influence. And they do it not by Morgan's (or rather, his hero Roger Douglas's) preferred methods of "crash through or crash", but by slow and patient advocacy. Why are we going to get a capital gains tax? Because the Greens advocated it, convinced the public (with the help of a housing crisis), and Labour and National had to follow (to the extent that National was forced to introduce the first steps). Why do we have a home-insulation scheme and a renewable energy target? Its the same story. Why are we going to clean up our waterways? Because the Greens have convinced the public, and the major parties are following their steer. As a small party, you can have an outsized effect.

(NZ First are a different story, because as a reactionary party they're about keeping things the same, or returning to some idealised past, rather than advocating for new policy. So their story is one of veto, not advocacy).

But its not just about introducing policy, but ensuring its survival. If TOP had won power and implemented its policies, it would still have had to do the hard work of building consensus behind them, or see their repeal at the next election. We want change. We want change now. But if we want it to stick, we need to convince people, either before or after the fact.

Max Weber called politics "a strong and slow boring of hard boards" - and that was said in an era when that was done with hand drills. Building consensus behind policy and changing political priorities requires time and patience. It requires convincing people. Morgan didn't have patience, either for the process or with the people he was trying to convince. And that is why he was doomed to failure.

Monday, July 09, 2018


The Opportunities Party has decided not to contest the 2020 election, and has asked the Electoral Commission to deregister it. Officially, they've recognised the reality that their policies just aren't popular enough, but Morgan couldn't do that without taking the opportunity to heap scorn on voters:

“The voting public demonstrated that best practice, evidence-informed policy is not of significant concern when deciding elections. When 20% of the vote moves in 48 hours simply on the back of a change of leader, with no improvement at all in policy being offered, what makes the New Zealand voter tick is clear.”

Hear that? We're all irrational and unworthy of Morgan's genius, so he's taking his ball and going home. Which I think demonstrates the problem with TOP in a nutshell: its hard to win the support of voters while displaying such utter contempt for us. And its hard to win elections when you clearly have no idea how politics works. Because despite what the self-proclaimed uber-rational TOP-men purport, politics is not just about policy. Among other things, its also about trust and credibility. And the reason Labour's vote shifted so dramatically simply with a change in leader was because Labour got a leader people could believe in, someone people could trust to do what Labour said it would do, and trust to do what a Labour party ought to do in response to all the events that will inevitably pop up over a three year term. No-one trusted the faceless Daves. And about the only thing you could ever trust TOP to do was for Morgan to throw a temper-tantrum while slagging off everyone who didn't agree absolutely with him. What's surprising is that 2.4% of voters went along with such an abusive relationship.

But while its clear that TOP has died a natural death, it means we'll be down to only 12 registered political parties (and only 5 in Parliament). Which isn't a lot of options for voters to choose from. One way of measuring the health of a democracy is by the number of registered political parties. And on that metric, ours seems to be in slow decline.

The cost of a free and democratic society II

On Friday, we learned that a pair of Canadian Nazis had tacked New Zealand on to an Australian (of course) speaking tour, and were planning on visiting New Zealand. Cue an immediate public outcry, which was cut short by Phil Goff apparently banning them from Auckland Council venues:

Auckland Council apparently acted on this and cancelled their booking, ostensibly for health and safety reasons. Which is about as credible as Donald Trump saying his anti-Muslim ban wasn't about religion. When the mayor of a city says they've given a direction, and what they want happens, I think we're entitled to take their word for it.

The problem, of course, is that this is all illegal. Auckland Council is a body performing a public function and so subject to the Bill of Rights Act. Which affirms, among other things, both the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of political opinion. The Auckland Council's actions are a prima facie violation of those rights and invite judicial review. And given Goff's tweet, the outcome of such a review is likely to be ratepayer's money spent on compensating Nazis for the breach of those rights, as well as an order that the council provide them with a venue (if they want one) on the same terms as any other customer.

Goff won't care. Like police officers who beat suspects, he will face no personal consequences for violating these rights, and there's no political downside for him because he's picking on someone everyone hates. But we should care. Because if we let the mayor of Auckland decide what speech is acceptable in public facilities, then a future mayor may decide that they don't like speech that we approve of. Like union meetings, or speeches in favour of reforming drug laws, or political movements against landlords and the rentier economy. Or speeches in favour of racial justice - because Pakeha New Zealand's neck seems to be pretty red these days, and there's votes in sticking it to "the Maoris".

That's why we need to stand up for freedom of speech, even for people whose views are repugnant. Not because we agree with those views, but because being able to express your views without interference from the government is the key to any democratic change, and giving away that principle gives politicians a veto on what we can demand from them. When push comes to shove, I'd rather put up with Nazis than trust politicians with a power so ripe for abuse.

(And, because some moron will need it to be explicitly said: threatening people is a crime and these people need to go to jail).