Thursday, April 18, 2019



Our environment is in trouble

Statistics New Zealand has released their latest Environment Aotearoa report, and it shows that our environment is in trouble:

New Zealand's environment is in a precarious state and facing an overwhelming number of threats, according to a sweeping government stocktake.

The major issues include thousands of species threatened or at risk of extinction, rivers unsafe for swimming, the loss of productive land due to urban expansion, and a warming climate likely to destabilise many parts of the environment.

The findings were detailed in Environment Aotearoa 2019, undertaken by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and Stats NZ. The agencies are required by law to produce such a report every three years.


The big cause? Farmers. They suck our rivers dry, then fill them with cowshit, while destroying native habitats and the global climate. And they do this not to provide us with food, but to enrich themselves by selling overseas. Limiting their activity and reverting some of their land to native forest would fix a huge amount of our problems. As for how to do it, imposing stocking limits, reducing irrigation takes, and limiting nitrogen-based fertiliser all seem like good starts. But the chances of this chickenshit government doing any of these things is about zero.

The cost of cowardice

How big a mistake was Jacinda Ardern's cowardly act of rejecting fairer taxes, not just now but for the rest of her political career? Not only has it poisoned her own base against her and created a strong incentive to end that career, it also fatally undermines the other policies she pretends to care about:

Consider the Prime Minister's pledge to halve child poverty within a decade, possibly the political priority closest to her heart. It is very difficult to see how that can be achieved without the $3.4 billion a year that the capital gains tax was, according to the most recent estimate, going to raise.

Lifting tens of thousands of children out of poverty will take money, and lots of it. And the government can't just rely on the economy delivering solid growth. A decent amount of that growth will go to middle-income earners - but meeting (at least one of) the child poverty targets requires lifting the incomes of poor families relative to those in the middle. In other words, it requires a redistribution, a shifting-around, of the proceeds of growth, not just growth itself.

[...]

Many of the government's other priorities - building more state homes, eliminating introduced predators, and repairing mental health services, among others - also require significant funds, again well above what will be generated under existing tax settings. Some of the government's goals can be achieved by regulation and putting costs onto businesses, but not many.

Effective policy costs money, and this government has just robbed itself of that vital tool. Remember this next time they plead "poverty" as an excuse for not doing something: they chose to be poor. They chose to be a government which could not afford things. They chose to not be able to do the things they promised. Or, to put it another way, they chose to be shit. And we should hold them accountable for that choice.

Who owns England?

Why do we need to tax land and wealth? Because otherwise we'll end up like England, where 1% of the population own half the country:

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, according to new data shared with the Guardian that seeks to penetrate the secrecy that has traditionally surrounded land ownership.

The findings, described as “astonishingly unequal”, suggest that about 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – have control of half of the country.

The figures show that if the land were distributed evenly across the entire population, each person would have almost an acre – an area roughly the size of Parliament Square in central London.


And this is almost certainly an underestimate: the ownership of 17% of England's land is undeclared, because it hasn't been sold for centuries. Meaning that it is probably also owned by aristocrats. many of the major corporations are also owned by them, being a corporate front for their land interests. Meanwhile, "oligarchs and city bankers" own another 17%. Ordinary homeowners own 5%.

This concentration of ownership and wealth corrupts everything. As in Scotland, it gives local landowners monopoly powers to dictate to communities. The Scottish solution is to forcibly break up those estates. England should do that too.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019



Don't get fooled again

Remember how in 2017 Labour campaigned on change? They were going to fix things, introduce a capital gains tax, make the rich pay their fair share for once.

Yeah, fooled us all, didn't they? And they'll no doubt try and do it again in the elections next year. But if you're angry about their betrayal, make yourself a promise now: don't get fooled again. If you want change, don't vote Labour, don't donate to Labour, don't volunteer for Labour. Give your vote, your money, your time and effort to another party, any other party that promises change, than the one who betrayed you. Because if you don't, Labour will continue to treat you like a fool, and continue to promise change while delivering none.

This government does not deserve re-election

Back in February, Green co-leader James Shaw asked a good question: does the government deserve to be re-elected if they failed to implement a capital gains tax? Today, the government gave its answer: it does not. The government has ruled out any capital gains tax, and Jacinda Ardern has ruled out campaigning on or implementing it in future.

And that's Labour for you: chickenshits as usual, promising change but when push comes to shove, preserving an unequal, unjust status quo. They do not deserve re-election in 2020.

A start on odious debt

Last year, when the government finally admitted that the meth-testing industry was a scam and that they had wrongfully evicted hundreds of state housing tenants on the basis of bullshit "meth tests", it moved swiftly to compensate its victims. But that's not enough - some of those it evicted ended up in emergency housing, which heartless bastards WINZ charged them for. But now, the government is wiping and repaying that odious "debt":

The Government is cancelling up to $3.2 million of debt racked up by hundreds of people who were wrongfully kicked out of their Housing NZ homes over a flawed methamphetamine test.

But the debt write-off won't cover social welfare payments for medical or dental costs, nor is compensation being offered for any private debt that followed the evictions.

Last year Housing NZ apologised after admitting to using a methamphetamine test that had little merit and led to about 800 tenancies being shut down. The test was 10 times lower than what it should have been, and based on guidelines not meant for anything but former labs.


Its a start, and a good one - but its also obvious that it doesn't go far enough. These people incurred significant costs due to a wrongful decision by the government. And the government should pay every last cent of those costs, in addition to compensation for the wrong they did.

But even that isn't enough. Because WINZ's "debt" for emergency housing - essentially incurred because either HousingNZ or WINZ failed to do their job by providing a house - is inherently odious. Its not enough for WINZ to stop charging people for its failures - they need to wipe these "debts", and repay every dollar that was "repaid" to them. Our government agencies should not act like slumlord loansharks. it is that simple.

Spies are just murderous scum

From 1975 to 1989, the spy agencies of South America's right-wing military dictatorships cooperated in Operation Condor, a joint campaign of extermination against the continent's left. Roughly 400,000 people were imprisoned, 30,000 disappeared, and 60,000 murdered - kidnapped, tortured, executed, assassinated, or thrown out of flying aircraft. The scheme was a massive human rights violation,and many of its surviving architects are now in prison for their crimes. So its a little shocking to learn that in the late 1970's, the spy agencies of supposedly human-rights-respecting European nations were trying to learn from their South American counterparts so they could plan similar murders:

British, West German and French intelligence agencies sought advice from South America’s bloody 1970s dictatorships on how to combat leftwing “subversion”, according to a newly declassified CIA document.

The European intelligence services wanted to learn about “Operation Condor”, a secret programme in which the dictatorships of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador conspired to kidnap and assassinate members of leftwing guerrilla groups in each other’s territories.

[...]

“Representatives of West German, French and British intelligence services had visited the Condor organization secretariat in Buenos Aires during the month of September 1977 in order to discuss methods for establishment of an anti-subversion organization similar to Condor,” states the document.

“The terrorist/subversive threat had reached such dangerous levels in Europe that they believed it best if they pooled their intelligence resources in a cooperative organization such as Condor,” the Europeans told the Condor secretariat in Buenos Aires, according to the CIA document.


Which immediately raises questions about whether they moved forward on this. But even if they didn't, the fact that they were even asking is deeply troubling. European nations are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, which forbids torture, arbitrary detention, and execution. These spies basicly planned to violate it in the most egregious way possible. Which tells us that intelligence agencies are both fundamentally lawless, and deeply institutionally opposed to basic human rights. And this is why their existence is incompatible with democratic society.

Meanwhile, now I'm curious as to whether there was ever any contact between the SIS and these murderous regimes. But they'll never tell us, because of "national security".

Tuesday, April 16, 2019



Climate Change: No future for farming

Over at The Spinoff, energy analyst Briony Bennett has an article about our pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050. Its going to be a difficult path, given the weather-dependence of our renewables and need for more electricity generation to power the required transport switch. But its going to be even worse for farmers:

Changing land-use from dairy, sheep and cattle farming to new forests or low-emissions crops and horticulture (growing fruit, vegetables and flowers) is key to achieving carbon neutrality in New Zealand by 2050. This implies that fewer sheep and cattle will be farmed in the future.

And given the scale of agricultural emissions and limited land for offsetting, its not just "fewer", but a lot fewer. Basicly, today's export-focused industrial dairy industry will have to cease to exist if we are to survive, and be scaled down to one focused on local needs. Assuming we even continue to eat animal-derived protein at all...

Like fossil fuels, there is simply no future for farming. Farmers had better get used to it.

A step forward

One of the big problems with local government is gerontocracy: only 6% of local authority members are under 40, while 83% of them are over 50. This doesn't just mean that local government is unrepresentative, it distorts policy outcomes - most notably giving a short term focus on "keeping rates low" (AKA skimping on maintenance and investment and subsidising existing citizens by dumping costs on future ones).

So why is local government so dominated by such a narrow slice of the community, when institutions like Parliament aren't nearly so bad? One of the problems is low wages: small local authorities mean low pay, which is fine for a mortgage-free pensioner as a top-up to their universal superannuation, but impossible for a younger person with commitments. And part of it is that astoundingly, there's no allowance for childcare. Now, the Remuneration Commission is moving to fix the latter:

More young people may put their hands up for spots on local councils this year after the Remuneration Authority announced a proposed childcare allowance policy for local government representatives.

[...]

The draft policy offers an allowance of up to $15 per hour for the care of children under the age of 14, while elected representatives are engaged in local authority business. The allowance cannot be paid to family members or anyone who normally resides with the child and is only available for up to eight hours in any 24-hour period.

[Hurunui District councillor Julia] McLean and [Nelson City councillor Matt] Lawrey said they were "ecstatic and relieved" their calls for support had been heard.

"This is a bold step forward from the Remuneration Authority in addressing an issue that will send a strong message to young elected members and others considering standing, you are valued," McLean said.


This obviously won't solve the whole problem of local government gerontocracy, but its a welcome step forward. And hopefully it will enable more representative local government in future.

Monday, April 15, 2019



New Fisk

No more excuses – Israeli voters have chosen a country that will mirror the brutal regimes of its Arab neighbours

99% renewable is probably good enough for now

Radio New Zealand reports that getting from 99% to 100% renewable electricity is likely to be very expensive:

A government body is poised to announce that a core of the country's energy policy will be prohibitively expensive to implement.

[...]

[The 100 percent renewable by 2035 target] was agreed in the confidence and supply agreement between the Labour Party and the Greens after the 2017 election.

But the chairperson of the ICCC, David Prentice, told the Palmerston North conference the cost of the final stages of that proposal would be exorbitant.

"(Prices would rise) 14 percent for residential electricity, 29 percent for commercial, and 39 percent for industrial electricity.

"The emissions abatement cost of getting the last one percent of renewable electricity is prohibitively expensive ... at a cost of over $1200 per tonne of Co2 or equivalent."


Which is prohibitively expensive now, when carbon prices are held artificially low by a government cap, a glut of laundered fraudulent "credits", and weak policy. That may change in the future. But on the flip side, it suggests that getting to 99% isn't going to be that hard, and given the caveats around the target anyway (its 100% renewable in an average hydrological year), that might be good enough anyway for the time being. In the longer run, the switch to electric cars is going to mean both massively increasing our electricity generation, and installing a bunch of networked storage (in the form of cars), which will change the dynamics again. Plus of course all the existing non-renewable generation will age out and have to be replaced anyway - and when that happens, we just need to make sure that its carbon free rather than a pollution source.

Friday, April 12, 2019



Places to go, people to see

While there's news today, I'm off to Wellington to attend Armageddon on the weekend. Normal bloggage will resume on Monday.

Thursday, April 11, 2019



New Fisk

Ivanka Trump has already told us everything we need to know about The Donald’s meeting with el-Sisi
What can past civil wars tell us about Syria and its road to recovery?

How the SIS can protect NZ elections

The SIS has been appearing before the Justice Select Committee to discuss concerns about foreign interference in New Zealand elections. In the process, they suggested that something dubious has been going on around donations:

"We do see foreign interference activity from a range of actors, and that is through a range of vectors, including some concerns we have had about political donations being made by state actors where the origin of those donations has been unclear."

Kitteridge said the best way to combat this was with a donation system that was as transparent as possible.


while they have a strong point about transparency, it is worth pointing out that concealing the identity of a donor is a crime. Laundering a foreign donation to hide its origin is also a crime. The SIS has both the power, and arguably the obligation, to turn intelligence regarding such crimes over to police. And if they have seen anything like this, that is exactly what they should be doing.

Climate Change: The latest inventory

The annual inventory report[PDF] of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions has been released, showing a slight increase in emissions:
nzemissions2017

Its small, and the government is blaming the weather (2017 was not a good hydro year), but it is still not good news. We are going in the wrong direction. The ETS has done nothing: since its passage in 2008, we have made no progress whatsoever (and in fact our net emissions - pollution minus trees - have risen, because carbon prices are not yet high enough to stop people cutting down trees for dairy conversions). And since National set the "50% by 2050" target in 2011, we've gone backwards.

The gun control bill passed yesterday shows how quickly our government can act when it recognises we have a crisis. Well, we have a fucking climate crisis, and it is only going to get worse. It is time the government gave it similar attention, and began a crash policy of decarbonisation, before it is too late. Unfortunately, with its carefully chosen international comparisons designed to minimise just how shit we really are, and its apparent commitment to continue using fraudulent CP1 "credits" to "meet" our 2020 commitments (not to mention its business-as-usual approach to oil drilling), it is apparent that all the government is interested in is spin. And they'll keep on spinning while your kids drown.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019



Cheap at twice the price

In Parliament to day, opportunistic hologram David Seymour attacked the government's proposed gun buyback scheme, claiming that it would be costly and unsuccessful. Its success is obviously up to gun owners and police - and I would hope that they take a hard line on criminals hoarding prohibited weapons. But as for cost, the buyback would be cheap at twice the price.

Just do the maths. There are 300,000 gun owners in New Zealand. Not all of them will own illegal semi-automatic weapons, but a large proportion will. After today, those who do not turn over their weapons will be criminals, subject to five years imprisonment. That's a high enough penalty to require a jury trial, which costs over $1,000 a day in jury costs alone. A judge costs another $1,000 a day, the prosecutor twice that, plus there are court staff. So, the cost of simply bringing these people to trial is ~$5,000 a head. Prosecuting all of them would cost ~$1.5 billion, and that's without even getting into the astronomical cost of punishment ($300 / day, plus building thirty times as many prison cells as we have at present).

Or, we can just buy their now-illegal guns. Its cheaper. Its unquestionably easier. Its more humane than throwing people in jail. And it would let police focus their resources on the gun owners who refuse to turn over or account for their weapons, meaning much better enforcement. But I guess ACT isn't interested in any of those things.

No wonder she didn't want to answer

Last week, Parliament threatened the Chief Statistician with contempt to force her to produce basic statistics on last year's census. This morning, she finally produced them. And its become clear why she wanted to keep them secret: because the census was a disaster:

The government's chief statistician Liz MacPherson has finally revealed how many New Zealanders did not complete last year's census.

Ms MacPherson had been threatened with being held in contempt of Parliament, prompting her to write to MPs yesterday to confirm almost one in seven Kiwis didn't complete the census.

Partial responses at the 2014 census were two percent. That number more than doubled to five percent last year.


That's a hell of a data hole, and it means the information we use to plan our schools, hospitals, and election boundaries may not be reliable. As for who is responsible, it was National who pushed for the all-online census, a method which deliberately excluded anyone without an internet connection. And they did this not because the technology would work, but to save money. Instead, it looks like it is going to be a very expensive decision. So naturally, they're all pretending that it is someone else's fault...

Hopefully StatsNZ has learned the lesson: online is a supplement, not a replacement. Things like the census are too important to do on the cheap. Hopefully they'll remember that next time, and demand the money to do it properly.

Climate Change: Business as usual

Remember when Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear free moment"? From that tough talk, you'd expect urgent and real action to stop fossil fuels and reduce emissions. But when they banned offshore oil exploration, existing permits were left unchanged. And now foreign oil giant OMV is planning to drill a series of offshore wells in some of the roughest seas in New Zealand, risking not just a discovery and burning more unsustainable carbon, but also an environmental disaster:

Austrian oil giant OMV has unveiled one of the most ambitious oil and gas drilling programmes proposed in New Zealand.

It plans possibly three exploration and seven follow-up appraisal wells off Otago's coast in the Great South Basin (GSB).

The 10 oil and gas prospects are within a 100km-150km arc, southeast of Dunedin.

OMV has applied to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for a marine discharge consent to release contaminants to sea, the application being made public today.


And meanwhile, Oil Minister Megan Woods is merrily extending the permits of other polluters, so they can do the same. So much for urgent action to stop fossil fuels. Instead, its business as usual - that business being destroying the future for the private profit of a few.

This government is not going to save us. Its not even going to try. If we want that to happen, we need to vote for a party which will take action: one which will end oil, end coal, and do it properly, rather than trying to protect incumbent profits. Labour will not do that. If we want a future, we need to vote for someone else.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019



Will the SIS double down on Islamophobia?

Yesterday the government announced the terms of reference for a royal commission of inquiry into the Christchurch terrorist attack. Among other things, the inquiry will be examining the failure of intelligence agencies in allowing a violent Nazi to buy weapons and murder fifty people, and whether there was "any inappropriate concentration or priority setting of counter terrorism resources by relevant state sector agencies" - in other words, whether the SIS was Islamophobic and focused on spying on the victims rather than protecting them. But as Scoop's Gordon Campbell points out, their likely defence strategy will be to double down on Islamophobia and smear the Muslim community some more:

What will happen is that the SIS (and presumably the GCSB) will attempt to defend and rationalise their actions in the light of the “Muslim threat” priorities set out in the string of SIS annual reports for the past decade or more. Again and again, those reports cite the over-riding threat to New Zealand from local and foreign jihadi agents, influences and social media recruitment efforts. That’s the dilemma. This Commission of Inquiry has been established in the wake of a horrific attack, amid a groundswell of public compassion for the victimised Muslim community in our midst.

If, however, the SIS is going to conduct a high profile defence of its concentration of time and resources on Muslim surveillance, there is an obvious risk that this process will result in the re-stigmatising of the Muslim community all over again.


A "blame the victims" strategy by the SIS would be absolutely indecent. A government agency engaging in hate speech against the people it failed to protect, echoing Nazi propaganda in an effort to cover their own arses and protect their jobs would be utterly vile. But I doubt it would go down well with the public, not least because it would effectively be an admission of guilt, a confirmation of what everyone suspects. The question is whether anyone in the national security deep state can recognise this, or whether they are that far down their own rabbithole...

New Zealand landlords have it easy

Landlords and house-hoarders are whining about the prospect of a capital gains tax forcing them to pay their fair share. But in Berlin, they have a different solution to controlling rising rents: forced expropriation:

Thousands of Berlin residents took to the streets on Saturday to vent anger over surging rents and demand the expropriation of more than 200,000 apartments sold off to big private landlords, which they blame for changing the character of the city.

Activists have started collecting signatures for a ballot proposal that would require the city to take back properties from any landlord that owns more than 3,000 apartments. Polls suggest such a measure could pass, forcing the city to consider spending billions of euros buying privatized housing back.

Demonstrators marched through the city center under a giant model shark. Banners read "against rent sharks and speculators".

"We have had very bad experiences with these property companies for years, and we know that they answer to their shareholders and not to tenants. We don't want them in our city any more," organizer Rouzbeh Taheri told Reuters television.


Unmentioned in that article: the expropriation would be at less than current market value, depriving corporate landleeches of windfall profits and capturing that value for the people.

The campaign needs only 200,000 signatures to force a referendum, which the polls say they'll win. I'm hoping they succeed. Because nobody likes a tax-cheating absentee landlord, no matter where they are, and the precedent on how to deal with them will be useful.

Reported back

The Justice Committee has reported back on the End of Life Choice Bill. As expected, they were unable to agree on a contentious piece of legislation, so they have recommended a few minor technical amendments, while leaving major policy questions untouched. The latter will be decided in the bill's committee stage.

The bill will now go to its second reading. It will be a conscience vote, and it passed its first reading by a wide margin (though with 20 chickenshit MPs not even turning up to show where they stood). I think its a reasonable bet that it will get to its committee stage. Whether it gets further than that will likely depend on the exact amendments that are put forward. But this is an issue that parliament has been working on for over twenty years; hopefully this time they'll get it right, and get it passed.

Doing what they promised II

The Finance and Expenditure Committee reported back on the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill, and recommended that it be passed with only minor amendments. There are new exemptions allowing commercial pest controllers and people with heirlooms to posses semi-automatics, though the latter will have to disable them. There are also tighter restrictions on collectors (and those heirloom holders), requiring the "vital parts" they must remove to disable their weapons to be stored at a separate address to reduce the risk of theft. There's some tightening of the Henry VIII powers, and an additional power to declare a limited amnesty whenever key definitions are changed, but there's still a significant problem with the government being able to change criminal law with very serious penalties without having to go through Parliament.

Unusually, the select committee report doesn't include the actual amendments, because they hadn't yet drafted them. But they should be before the House today so the bill can go through its second reading. The report also mentions further changes at the committee stage as well, so this is very much a moving target. But there'll be a second Arms Bill focused on vetting and registration in a few months, and that should give them an opportunity to fix any bugs which arise in the meantime. Which would also be an opportunity to make any definitional change sin statute, rather than having to use those Henry VIII powers...

Monday, April 08, 2019



One way of fixing it

Last year, Auckland got a regional fuel tax to help pay for its new rail link. But in addition to expanding public transport, the tax has also delivered another benefit: pushing more people to use it:

Auckland's regional fuel tax is being credited with helping to shift Aucklanders out of their cars and onto public transport.

A detailed analysis of trip data by the council's chief economist shows bus and train use in outer-lying areas grew by three to four times that in central suburbs, after the 11.5 cent a litre tax came in last July.

"That's really strong evidence," said the council's chief economist David Norman, after sifting through 450,000 rows of figures.

Norman said patronage in August and September 2018, was up 26.5 per cent, and 9 per cent in the outer-most local board areas of Franklin in the south and Rodney in the north, compared with a year earlier.

That compared with growth of just 1-2 per cent in the more central suburbs.


And that's after correcting for other factors like increased frequency. And its fairly obvious: if you change prices, then people change their behaviour. But the problem is going to be making sure the people in those outer suburbs have access to decent public transport, so they can switch, rather than simply being forced to pay more with no alternative.

As for why this is a good thing, in addition to reducing congestion, it will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Which is why we need to make such measures a key part of our climate change response. Give every major city a regional fuel tax to fund its public transport, and watch New Zealand get cleaner.

Thailand's dictatorship strikes back

Last month, Thai voters gave the finger to the country's military dictatorship, electing - against all odds - a majority opposition coalition to throw out the junta. But now the military has struck back, charging a major opposition leader with (of course) "sedition":

The leader of a new party that has challenged Thailand’s military government has been charged on Saturday with sedition, the latest legal action facing the rising star after a disputed March election.

The sedition charge, which was filed by the junta, was the second criminal case opened against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 40, since he formed the progressive, youth-oriented Future Forward party last year.

The 2015 case resurfaced after the Future Forward party made a surprisingly strong showing in the 24 March election, coming in third with 6.2m votes.

[...]

Police told Reuters the complaint dated back to 2015 when Thanathorn, who was running his family’s car parts empire at the time, allegedly “provided assistance” to a leader of protesters against the 2014 military coup who violated a junta ban on gatherings of more than five people.


I don't think you'll find a better example of how sedition laws are a political weapon used by establishments to keep themselves in power. Which is precisely why anyone who values democracy should support getting rid of them. Fortunately we've already done that in New Zealand.

This is not how our public service should work

Our public service is supposed to work for us. While they are directly accountable to the government of the day, they are ultimately accountable to us through Parliament. A key mechanism for this accountability is the annual review process, in which public service chief executives are questioned by Parliamentary select committees. The process relies on public service agencies being open with Parliament. But last week, we saw something unprecedented: a chief executive having to be threatened with contempt in an effort to force her to provide basic information about her agency's performance:

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson is facing contempt of Parliament after being ordered by MPs to produce census information.

In an unusual move, a select committee invoked a standing order compelling Statistics NZ chief executive to produce the number of partial responses were received in Census 2018.

MacPherson was first asked by to provide the answer by the governance and administration select committee during its annual review in February, and again on Wednesday. Both times she declined.

The chief statistician now says she will provide the information – which could further reveal the extent of Census 2018 issues – not on the given April 10 deadline but as part of an announcement promised later in the month.


She can say that, but if she doesn't produce the information by the required deadline, this will go the Privileges Committee, and she will be found guilty of contempt. The actual penalties for that are (sensibly) low - Parliament can fine her $1,000 - but you'd expect there to be severe employment consequences for any public service, and it would seem to constitute just cause to remove them under the State Sector Act. And anything less than an immediate sacking would encourage chief executives to forget who they work for, and to defy Parliament in future.

Friday, April 05, 2019



Crapper than we thought

Yesterday we learned that the Environmental Protection Agency couldn't be arsed prosecuting 13 companies caught illegally storing banned PFOS and PFOA firefighting foams. It turns out its even worse than that: last year, they couldn't be arsed prosecuting anybody:

The agency charged with protecting New Zealand’s environment investigated 20 cases last year but issued no prosecutions.

Data obtained by Newsroom under the Official Information Act shows that the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) prosecuted no one in the last financial year.

In the same period, it investigated 20 tip-offs and found “compliance issues” indicated in five instances. Of these five cases, two were given “enforcement action” and none were prosecuted.

The data did not include the EPA’s longstanding investigation into contamination from firefighting foams containing the banned chemical PFOS.


Which looks an awful lot like an agency which simply cannot be fucked. According to their annual report, the government allocated the EPA $6.5 million last year for "monitoring and enforcement functions. It would be nice if they actually did the job they were paid for, rather than wasting public funds doing nothing while our water is poisoned.

New Fisk

There may be no direct comparison, but the ghosts of Northern Ireland’s violent past haunt Brexit

Why we need fixed election dates

Writing in the Herald, Matthew Hooton argues that Jacinda Ardern should call an early election. Not for any reason, of course - but simply because she would probably win it:

Were an election held tomorrow, Jacinda Ardern would win in a landslide.

The sense of national unity and pride following Ardern's empathetic and decisive response to the Christchurch terrorist attack means she could be confident of securing a strong Labour-only Government in a two-party Parliament, with a demoralised National Opposition finally forced to confront its emptiness after a decade of John Key's hokey-dokey-ism.


Pretty obviously, this is a shit reason to call an election, and one which violates our constitutional norms (not that Hooton has ever cared about them). Yes, its "within the rules" (as the politicians love to say), but its also pissing on them - and on us.

I do not for a moment think that Ardern would take Hooton's unsolicited, unconstitutional advice. But it highlights a flaw in our democratic system that we need to plug, to prevent it being exploited by unscrupulous politicians. As for how to do that, the answer is simple: legislatively fix election dates, and require Parliament to assent (perhaps by a supermajority) to any attempt to call an election outside of the normal cycle. That would free us from the self-interested whims of politicians, and ensure that they obey the public expectation of playing the hand they're dealt and trying to make it work, rather than bothering us all the time because they are too lazy or unscrupulous to fulfil the commitments they've made to us by standing for election.

Thursday, April 04, 2019



The EPA is a joke

In theory, New Zealand has tough environmental law. The use or storage of persistent organic pollutants is a criminal offence and punishable by imprisonment or a fine of up to $500,000 plus $50,000 a day. This is supplemente dby a pecuniary penalty order regime allowing companies to be fined up to $10 million for breaches of the Act.

PFOSs and PFOAs are persistent organic pollutants which have been banned under the Act for over a decade. Their possession and storage is thus a criminal offence. A recent Environmental Protection Agency audit found these illegal chemicals were illegally stored at 13 sites around New Zealand. But no-one is going to be prosecuted for it:

The Environmental Protection Authority won't be prosecuting anyone found with the banned firefighting foam despite an investigation revealing several companies with it.

The EPA today released the results of its nationwide investigation into foam containing toxic PFOS and PFOA, dubbed "forever chemicals" as they are long-lasting and accumulate in people's livers.

It looked at 166 sites and found foam stocks at 13 of them, mostly at airports and petrochemical plants.

It was "surprising" to find any foam concentrate at all, given it was banned in 2006 in New Zealand, EPA chief executive Allan Freeth said.

"I don't think we've taken a softly-softly approach," he said.

"It came down to, was there deliberate and wilful breaching of the Act? We found no indication that there was.

"There was ignorance, that is certainly true."


When something has been banned for this long, and there have been news stories about it poisoning our water for the last two years, then ignorance is simply not credible. The breach of the law is pretty much wilful by definition. But I guess prosecution would simply be too much work for the EPA. They'd rather be paid to do nothing instead.

Drawn

A ballot for one Members' Bill was held today, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill (Louise Upston)

Which sounds like its more "law and order" wank from National as they desperately try and grab the arsehole vote from New Zealand First. Which is a pretty unseemly display.

Why police should not be armed

Need a reason why the New Zealand Police should not be armed? Just look at how they behave with weapons:

A police officer was not justified in shooting at a stolen police car in Murupara in October 2017, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found.

The Police officer, working alone in Murupara, was driving two young children home when he stopped to arrest a man believed to have been involved in a recent armed robbery.

The officer placed the man in the front seat of the police car, with his hands handcuffed in front of his body.

When the officer dropped off the children he got out of the car and left the keys in the ignition and the engine running.

The arrested man moved over to the driver's seat, locked the doors and drove off.

He shouted for the man to stop and fired two shots at the police car's tyres with the Glock pistol he was carrying.


Police are supposed to use firearms only when an offender poses an immediate risk of serious harm or death (classicly, pointing a weapon at someone or something similar). Firing at someone who is simply fleeing does not meet that standard. Instead, it appears to be a clear cut violation of s198(2) of the Crimes Act, discharging a firearm with reckless disregard for the safety of others. Which leads to the perpetual question: will this police officer be prosecuted? Or will the police continue to look the other way and protect their own when they engage in criminal behaviour.

The good news is that the gun law currently going through Parliament will remove the major police "justification" for routine arming. And once it has passed and the semi-automatics are all rounded up and destroyed, we can disarm them as well, and leave firearms where they belong: in the hands of trained, specialist units who don't pull cowboy shit like this.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019



Pure sophistry

The Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill will be going before the House today. The bill would create two unelected positions on ECan for Ngāi Tahu, giving them 12.5% of the representation for 3% of the population. Except its worse than that, because the positions aren't elected - so in practice iwi management will get to decide.

You'd expect such a bill would raise obvious Bill of Rights questions. But the Attorney-General says it is no problem whatsoever. But not for any reason you'd think:

Ethnicity is a prohibited ground of discrimination under s 21 of the Human Rights Act. The Bill proposes to confer rights on Māori that are not conferred on other people, by providing Ngāi Tahu with non-elected representatives on the Council, in addition to their vote for elected members. On face value, this appears to breach s 19 of the Bill of Rights Act

Notwithstanding this, we consider that the Bill does not limit the right to freedom from discrimination affirmed by s 19 of the Bill of Rights Act. Under s 19, discrimination arises only if there is a difference in treatment on the basis of one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination between those in “comparable circumstances, [that] when viewed in context...imposes a material disadvantage on the person or group differentiated against”.

In the context of the provisions within this Bill, no other persons or groups can be considered to be in comparable circumstances to Ngāi Tahu and no persons or groups will be materially disadvantaged by the passing of the Bill.

I am struggling to think of a more appalling act of legal sophistry. And if taken seriously, it renders s19 BORA utterly meaningless. After all, if you can define comparator groups at will like this, then you can define them so as to remove discrimination entirely. I'd expected them to maybe argue "good faith measures" under s19(2), or a justified limitation under s5. The fact that they have not tells us that they do not believe those arguments to be sustainable.

The natural comparator group in this bill is "Canterbury voters", whose representation will be diluted by the presence of unelected members. And that is unquestionably a disadvantage, just as Māori would be disadvantaged if the government were to return to granting disproportionate voting power to pakeha (as it did pre-1996 by limiting the number of Māori seats).

I support guaranteed Māori representation on regional councils, but it must be democratic: elected and proportionate. There's some wiggle room on the latter to guarantee a voice. But this is setting up Ngāi Tahu to wield unelected, disproportionate power, like the British House of Lords, or Tonga's laughable noble seats. And that simply is not democratic.

Update: The bill was voted down 66-54. Good riddance. And now maybe ECan can pursue a democratic plan instead.

Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day, though a fairly boring one. First on the order paper are a couple of local bills: the second reading of the Gore District Council (Otama Rural Water Supply) Bill (which is exactly as interesting as its title suggests), and the first reading of the controversial Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill. I blogged about the latter last month, and back then it wasn't expected to pass. The fact that it is up for a vote suggests that that has changed, and that National or NZFirst are willing to see it through to select committee. Alternatively, ECan is out of time, and wants a vote one way or another.

Once the local business is done, the House will continue the committee stage of Andrew Bayly's Arbitration Amendment Bill, and may also wrap up Harete Hipango's doomed Health and Safety at Work (Volunteer Associations) Amendment Bill. There will be no ballot tomorrow.

Climate Change: The problem of gerontocracy

The Thames-Coromandel District Council considered the issue of climate change yesterday, and once again refused to sign up to the LGNZ declaration. While the declaration doesn't commit to much, its an important sign of whether a local authority is even pretending to care about climate change. And the message from Thames-Coromandel is clear: it doesn't. And this, despite being one of the areas most threatened by rising sea levels.

But there's a bigger problem here: as Stuff points out, the youngest member of the Thames-Coromandel council is 60. They are literally a gerontocracy, with a gerontocracy's short-term view. They won't live to see the problem, so it doesn't exist to them. Better to fuck over the grandkids, stick your head in the sand, and Keep Rates Low. And unfortunately, the biggest victims - those grandkids - can't vote yet, so are powerless to do anything about it.

Its a problem which is widespread across New Zealand. Only 6% of local authority members are under 40, while 83% of them are over 50. Our councils don't even remotely represent the people who live under them. And when it comes to climate change, or other long-term problems, this narrowness of worldview causes problems.

As for solutions, there are local body elections coming up in October. If you want change, then vote for it: vote for young people, not gerontocrats. Its that simple.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019



New Fisk

Egypt’s brutal crackdown on workers’ rights runs far deeper than the fate of two actors

Doing what they promised

The government has introduced its Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill to enact the promise made last month to ban semi-automatic and military-style firearms. As many other commentators have noted, its a careful compromise rather than a full ban. But apart from a tight list of permitted users, military-style semi-automatics such as the Americans' beloved AR-15 will be prohibited. There's also much tighter regulation of collectors, who will be required to disable their weapons (apparently not the case at the moment). The bill generally delivers on what has been demanded by the public, and I look forward to its passage through the House. Given the current situation and the decades of delay, this seems to be a case where urgency is warranted, but I'm also glad there will be some time for select committee examination - because the bill needs it.

As introduced, the bill includes a Henry VIII clause, allowing a Minister to amend the definition of a semi-automatic firearm by regulation. This is the key definition in the bill, and while the government is probably thinking of using it to plug any loophole exposed and exploited by litigious gun-nuts, its a two-edged sword. To point out the obvious, it would also allow a future Minister in the pocket of the NRA to effectively undo this legislation and thwart the clear will of Parliament. It is also simply constitutionally inappropriate. New Zealand has a strong constitutional prohibition on such instruments except in exceptional circumstances: complex regulatory transitions, or a nation-shattering earthquake (and even then, we look at them very dubiously). There's a relatively obvious way of achieving the government's objective on this issue without doing such violence to our constitution (e.g. mirroring the existing s74A(d) and allow the Minister to define or describe features resulting in prohibition), and the government should do that.

An unrepentant Islamophobe

Back in 2005, Winston Peters gave an utterly vile speech called "The End of Tolerance", in which he demonised Muslims, calling them "two-faced" and a front for extremists. After last month's act of terrorism targeting Muslim New Zealanders, you'd have expected him to have reconsidered those views and his role in encouraging and legitimising hate. Sadly, he has not:

Winston Peters isn't backing down over comments he made about Muslims during a 2005 speech titled The End of Tolerance.

[...]

Mr Peters told Morning Report the comments were made in the context of recent terror attacks in London and that Imams around the world were saying the same thing.

"I was talking about extremism and I don't resile from that."


And that pretty much settles it. Winston is unrepentant. And that means he needs to be fired. There should be no place in our parliament, let alone in Cabinet, let alone as Deputy Prime Minister, for a man who promotes this sort of hate against our fellow New Zealanders. It is simply a matter of political hygiene: Winston Peters must go.

Monday, April 01, 2019



Unlawful threats and undue influence

Junior doctors are going on strike again, in an effort to retain safe working hours from DHBs who want to roll them back. And sadly, rather than recognising this is a serious issue and bargaining in good faith, the DHBs are resorting to unlawful threats:

The DHBs said doctors had to realise strikes have consequences.

"We've already told the RDA we would withdraw the lump sum payments that were part of our offer if there was further strike action while still talking," [DHB spokesman Dr Peter] Bramley said.

"If there is no resolution, DHBs will also need to carefully consider their position on the employment contracts to offer RDA members when they change DHBs on their next rotation."

Medical colleges would also need to review whether the lost work time had affected the doctors' training, he said.


The threat to change contracts for union members when they change DHBs is clearly intended as a threat of punishment for belonging to the union. And that violates s9 of the Employment Relations Act (which prohibits preferential treatment based on non-union membership), and may constitute the crime of undue influence. The threat to impact doctors' training certainly falls into the latter category. And quite apart from being illegal (when will the government obey its own laws?), neither is likely to help resolve the dispute. Instead, its likely to piss them off even more.

A perversion of justice

That's the only way to describe the police's demand to be allowed to use secret "evidence" to defend themselves from the claim they unlawfully invaded a blogger's privacy by demanding his bank records:

Police are trying to use secret evidence to defend searching an activist's personal banking records without a warrant while hunting for the hacker Rawshark.

Activist and blogger Martyn Bradbury has provided the Herald documents showing the police are seeking a closed hearing of the Human Rights Tribunal to present evidence it does not want made public.

In an application to the tribunal from Crown Law, the lawyer acting for police said: "Police indicate at this stage that it will seek to invoke the "closed" hearing process in relation to information relevant to this claim."


A closed hearing means that "evidence" is given to the judge, without the other party or their representative being present, effectively preventing them from challenging it in any meaningful way. Its a straight-out violation of the right to justice, and overseas has been found to violate fair trial rights and to run a real risk of misleading the court. Which is probably why the police are keen on it.

We first saw this atrocity in the Ahmed Zaoui case. It was bullshit then and it is bullshit now. But despite the obvious problems with it, the establishment has legislated for its use in our courts in certain national security cases (for example, in challenges to passport seizures, immigration decisions, terrorism designations, or proceedings under TICSA). The Human Rights Review Tribunal has no such statutory authority, and it is difficult to see any justification why they should be permitted to violate fundamental norms of justice in this way. If the police don't want Bradbury to see the evidence, they have a simple solution: don't use it, yield the case, and pay damages. It speaks volumes about them and their ethics that they would instead attempt to pervert the course of justice in this way.

Friday, March 29, 2019



The false economy of cuts

When they were in government, National cut funding to NZTA's compliance section to save a few pennies. People died as a result. But it turns out that their "savings" were illusory:

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has planned a rebuild of its $30 million regulatory functions, but investigations into its failures are far from over.

In October, it emerged NZTA had not been properly checking up on companies who certify vehicle safety and give out licenses, and when problems were identified were often not following up.

Law firm Meredith Connell was appointed to lead the NZTA regulatory compliance function to clear a backlog of 850 open compliant files, which it has now completed.

To date this has cost taxpayers about $5m and looks set to increase by about 20 per cent during the next three months, as the non-compliance project continues.

[...]

The second stage of the project was under way with a blueprint and plan for regulatory compliance being created.

'Future State' would require about $30m to start, to "get NZTA back to the position it should always have been in" but that cost could increase, he said.


And that's the false economy of cuts. If its an actually essential service - a category which includes most of what government does - then you just end up having to repay it all later, plus interest, to get things working properly again. Unfortunately, some things - like the lives of the people National killed - can't be replaced.

And now I'm wondering how many other similar messes have been created by National's penny-pinching, and how much we'll have to pay to clean up the mess they left.

Thursday, March 28, 2019



Giving the finger to dictatorship

Thais went to the polls over the weekend in the first elections since 2014's military coup. The elections were supposed to be a way for the dictatorship to legitimise its rule, Fiji-style. But despite censoring the media, banning a major opposition party, wheeling out the king to support the junta, having soldiers check the ballots of people voting, and the electoral commission refuse to finalise the results, the opposition still managed to win a majority on provisional results. And now, they've united to form a majority coalition to throw out the dictatorship:

Seven pro-democracy political parties in Thailand have united to form a coalition large enough to claim a parliamentary majority and declared their intention to form a government, ousting the military from power.

The announcement came amid concerns about potential irregularities in Sunday’s vote and before a full preliminary vote count has been released. Official results are not due until May.

Thailand’s Pheu Thai party said on Wednesday that it had formed a “democratic front” with six other parties after the disputed election, claiming the opposition alliance had won a majority in the lower house of parliament and the right to try to form a government.

The coalition, led by Thaksin-aligned party Pheu Thai which won the most seats in Sunday’s election, said they intended to “bring back democracy and stop the power of the NCPO [military junta]”.


Whether they'll actually get to do that will depend on whether the results stand, or whether the military "adjusts" them to give themselves power. But even if they do, the elected parliament will be battling against an entirely military-appointed Senate, which absurdly gets a voice in deciding the Prime Minister. OTOH, if they don't, then they will be able to prevent the dictatorship from passing any legislation whatsoever - a power they should use to the fullest until the Senate is abolished and democracy is restored.

Leaving them to drown

Every year, thousands of refugees try to cross the Mediterranean in leaky boats, desperate to escape whatever hellhole they're in and find somewhere safe. Previously, the EU had rescued them when they got into trouble. But now, thanks to Italy, they have a new policy: leave them to drown:

The European Union is to stop the sea patrols that have rescued thousands of refugees and migrants from the central Mediterranean, after Italy’s populist government threatened to veto the entire operation.

Operation Sophia, which has two vessels and five planes and helicopters, was set up in 2015 to prevent loss of life at sea in a year when 3,771 people died or went missing attempting to reach Europe in rickety boats.

The sea patrol element of the operation will end on 30 September, though air patrols will be stepped up. The mission will also continue training the Libyan coastguard – part of a controversial strategy that critics say leads to people being trapped in Libyan detention centres, where they suffer horrific abuse.


Meanwhile, they've harassed and deflagged the independent rescue ships, so there is now no-one to save these people. It is simply a policy of outright murder. And the politicians responsible should go to The Hague for it.

Time to sack NZBus

How bad are Wellington's bus problems? This bad:

The scale of Wellington's bus problems has been revealed, with one operator copping 117 fines a day for failures such as cancelled or late buses

Figures released to Stuff reveal NZ Bus was stung 17,663 times in five months after Greater Wellington Regional Council began penalising operators not meeting their contract requirements from October.

The infractions included 3207 cancellations, 8451 late services, and 6005 instances of using buses too small for the route.

In total, the company copped a fine on almost 12 per cent of its services from October 1 until February 28.


So basicly they're only doing 90% of the job they signed up to do. They're cheating us.

Unfortunately the total amount of the fines has been withheld as "commercially sensitive", but the Wellington Regional Council claims they are "substantial". The real question is whether they are "substantial" in relation to the contract, and whether they mean it is unprofitable to fail this badly. Because if it is not, it damn well should be (and if its still profitable to do this, the contract is badly written and WRC should be sacking its lawyers).

The whole idea of contracting out public services is predicated on there being meaningful incentives to perform. Time to apply some. Rongotai MP Paul Eagle has called on NZBus to surrender the contract. Instead, Wellington Regional Council should sack them.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019



New(ish) Fisk

US grovels to Israel the same way ‘supporters’ fawned on Saddam
Don’t believe the hype, Isis has not yet been defeated – here’s why
Ardern’s response to Christchurch has put other leaders to shame – but not for its compassion alone
Like power-hungry leaders before him, Abdelaziz Bouteflika can’t quite let go – and now Algeria is a necrocracy

Shouldn't there be prosecutions?

Yesterday we learned that the Department of Corrections had agreed to compensate 15 women for illegal internal searches carried out at Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility between 2006 and 2016. Corrections had been "suspecting" people of internally concealing contraband (none was ever found), locking them in solitary confinement in a "dry room" to allow material to pass, then proposing they "consent" to an internal search - clearly outlawed by the Corrections Act - in order to be released. There can be no consent of any kind in a prison, and the prisoners are being compensated for torture and degrading treatment, which is appropriate. But as the article points out, the searches "constitute[d] the offence of sexual violation under the Crimes Act". So shouldn't the staff who arranged and conducted them be prosecuted for that offence? Or are we happy for guards to sexually violate prisoners in our prisons?

A monument to corruption

Over a decade ago, the Palmerston North City Council corruptly sold access to one of its reserves to Mighty River Power to build a windfarm. The project then spent five years fighting for resource consent, before apparently being buried by the global financial crisis. But now, unfortunately, its back, and construction is beginning later this year:

Mercury has confirmed it will build the first 33 of 60 consented wind turbines at Turitea near Palmerston North.

The Manawatū wind farm will be the third largest in the country when construction begins in August, with it producing enough electricity to power 210,000 cars.

Mercury chief executive Fraser Whineray said it would be the first large-scale addition to New Zealand's generation capacity since 2014.


All of which would be great, if that wind farm wasn't in a reserve, and the local council hadn't effectively taken a bribe to reclassify that reserve to allow it to proceed. If instead they'd been able to proceed with the Motorimu project a bit further down the ridge (and not in a reserve), that would be great. Instead, they're going to cut down native bush (sorry: "regenerating native scrub") to build a monument to corruption.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019



The fear of a good example

Over the Tasman, the racist One Nation has been caught soliciting donations from the US NRA. Naturally, they've complained to police and ASIO about "foreign interference" in elections - not about themselves, of course, but about the (foreign-owned) media who exposed them. But why was the NRA wanting to donate to a racist Australian political party anyway? It was all about the fear of a good example:

In one meeting in Washington DC last September, senior NRA lobbyist Brandi Graham told the pair it would be easier for the NRA to resist calls for gun control in the US if Australia had softer gun ownership laws.

"That helps us, because the biggest argument we always get from folks is, 'Well, look at Australia'," Ms Graham said.

"They are continually attacking us, it's never-ending."


Which ought to raise some concern, given that New Zealand is setting a similar example. And while foreign donations over $1,500 are illegal, the ban is trivially circumvented by using a local company (which can be 100% foreign-owned), or simply a New Zealander to launder it. Though given the near-universal support for gun control, the NRA might have trouble finding people willing to take their money. Other than ACT, of course...

Climate Change: Coal is doomed

If we are to avoid dangerous levels of anthropogenic climate change which will make the earth uninhabitable, we need to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible. The good news is that advances in renewables mean that coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, is already uneconomic:

Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.

“Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,” said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. “Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.”

The study’s authors used public financial filings and data from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) to work out the cost of energy from coal plants compared with wind and solar options within a 35-mile radius. They found that 211 gigawatts of current US coal capacity, 74% of the coal fleet, is providing electricity that’s more expensive than wind or solar.

By 2025 the picture becomes even clearer, with nearly the entire US coal system out-competed on cost by wind and solar, even when factoring in the construction of new wind turbines and solar panels.


And that's in the US, which does not have a price on carbon. The picture is likely to be even better in countries with an effective carbon price.

But while simple economics should stop the construction of new coal plants, that's only part of the solution. There's also a huge train of legacy plants which are still burning. These aren't just destroying the planet - they're also making consumers pay more for electricity than they need to. And we do not have time to let them age out naturally. Which means that governments need to prioritise rapidly shutting down this old, dirty generation and replacing it with newer, cleaner, cheaper renewables.

Monday, March 25, 2019



Objectionable

The Chief Censor has declared the Christchurch terrorist's manifesto objectionable. Its not an especially surprising decision: the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 specifies whether a publication "promotes or encourages criminal acts or acts of terrorism" as a possible grounds for such a classification, and while it must be balanced against various other factors such as dominant effect, impact, scientific, literary or artistic merit, or intended audience, none of those present a particularly compelling reason for rejecting their conclusion. And its not a novel interpretation: the law has been used to classify ISIS material as "objectionable" in the past.

That said, I don't think this is the minimum restriction on freedom of speech necessary (as required by the BORA), and the Chief Censor recognises that it may interfere with the ability of journalists to do their job in reporting on this event. Graeme Edgeler has suggested restricting it to journalists subject to the jurisdiction of the BSA or NZMC, and that seems to be a far better solution. But if anyone wants that to happen, they can always seek a review, and then (if necessary) an appeal. The outcome will likely be a valuable clarification on the extent of freedom of speech, whatever way it goes.

Germany must investigate US drone murders

For the past 15 years the US has been murdering people all over Africa, Asia and the Middle East with drone strikes. At their best, these drone-strikes are simply outright assassinations. At their worst, they are indiscriminate murders or political killings of non-combatants - basicly, an airborne death squad. It is doubtful whether this policy of murder complies with international law. And now, a German court has ruled that that country's government can't just look the other way on it:

Three Yemeni men have scored a partial success after suing Germany for its apparent role in drone attacks that killed relatives. The plaintiffs want Berlin to stop the US using German territory to relay information.

A court in Münster on Tuesday ruled partly in favor of three plaintiffs from Yemen who believe that their relatives were killed in a 2012 US drone strike that was relayed via an airbase in Germany.

The Münster Higher Administrative Court ruled that the German government must take "appropriate measures" to ascertain whether US operations conducted via the Ramstein Air Base are in line with international law.

The court ruled that Berlin should also, if necessary, press Washington to adhere to international law on drone strikes.


There's more details here, but the short version is that the German government can no longer accept US assurances that everything is legal. Its unclear what would happen if the US refuses to cooperate with the required investigations, or they find that it is violating international law, but its not unthinkable that it could be ordered to cease any support for drone operations from German territory.

There's also implications here for New Zealand. Like Germany, we have a statutorily affirmed right to life which is binding on every action of any part of our government. And like Germany, parts of our government are providing tacit cooperation with US drone murders (in our case, far more directly: the GCSB provides them with information as part of the Five Eyes, and in 2014 the Prime Minister admitted that that information may have been used to murder people). The German ruling suggests that the GCSB can't just rely on US assurances of legality, but must actively investigate to ensure we are not assisting in an arbitrary deprivation of life or other violation of international law. The question is, who is going to make them do that?

Reversing the clearances?

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Scottish landlords cleared the highlands, driving people off their land and forcing them into destitution or to emigrate. The result was a Scottish countryside full of sheep farms and deer-parks, run by and for a small clique of rich lords. Now, the Scottish government has been advised to reverse the process:

Scottish land ownership rules must be radically reformed to reverse the concentration of the countryside in the hands of a small number of ultra-wealthy individuals and public bodies, a major review has warned.

The study by the Scottish Land Commission, a government quango, says that in extreme cases where landowners abuse their power they could face compulsory purchase or community buyouts.

The commission, set up by Scottish ministers who are likely to look closely at its conclusions, found that major landowners behaved like monopolies across large areas of rural Scotland and had too much power over land use, economic investment and local communities.

[...]

Describing the worst effects of that monopoly power as “socially corrosive”, the SLC warned: “In some parts of Scotland, concentrated land ownership appears to be causing significant and long-term damage to the communities affected.” The eventual goal of the commission would be to break up many large estates.


The Scottish parliament will be debating the report this week. Hopefully they'll decide to proceed. Alternatively, they could do what New Zealand did when faced with an incipient rural aristocracy in the late C19th: tax rural land, drive the landlords into bankruptcy, and use the resulting proceedings to break up their estates.

Thursday, March 21, 2019



Banned

The government has followed up with its strong words on Monday by announcing plans to legislate to immediately ban all semi-automatic and military-style firearms, backed by an immediate order-in-council recategorising them as requiring an E-class licence (so immediately banning sale to almost everybody):

Military style semi-automatics and assault rifles will be banned in New Zealand under stronger new gun laws announced today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

“On 15 March our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Cabinet agreed to overhaul the law when it met on Monday, 72 hours after the horrific terrorism act in Christchurch. Now, six days after this attack, we are announcing a ban on all military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles in New Zealand.

“Related parts used to convert these guns into MSSAs are also being banned, along with all high-capacity magazines.

“An amnesty will be put in place for weapons to be handed in, and Cabinet has directed officials to develop a buyback scheme. Further details will be announced on the buyback in due course.

The law will be introduced under urgency when parliament meets again the week after next. It will have an abbreviated select committee process, and be passed within two weeks of introduction. There will be further legislation later around registration, but the immediate objective is banning these weapons and getting them turned into police. An amendment to the arms regulations means turning in a lawfully bought reclassified MSSA is not a crime, but as of half an hour ago, anyone who tries to retain or on-sell them is now a criminal. The government has made it clear that the police will be using their power to obtain records from dealers to track any semi-automatic that has been purchased, and will be following up if these guns are not turned in. So, the ban will be enforced, these guns will be taken off people if they don't return them lawfully, and the police will be asking questions if any of them can't be accounted for.

And that's that. The government is delivering exactly the sort of swift action people have demanded. And exactly the opposite of US-style "thoughts and prayers".

Wednesday, March 20, 2019



Looking the other way

In the wake of Friday's terrorist attack, the SIS has been quick to disclaim responsibility, making increasing claims that they were looking at Nazis, really. Perhaps then they'd care to explain why there's absolutely no mention of the issue in ten years of documents from them:

There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of public documents from the Security Intelligence Service or the GCSB.

[...]

RNZ has examined ten years of annual reports and ministerial briefings and the threat of right nationalists is never specifically mentioned.

There is a heavy focus on Islamic fundamentalists, in the context of several terrorist attacks in other countries and conflict in the Middle East and parts of Africa.


The latter makes it clear that this is not about a reluctance to broadly identify target communities for "security reasons". They have been quite happy to publicly identify Muslims as targets of security interest for the past fifteen years. So again, you'd expect that if they were really paying attention to Nazis, they would have made similar mention. They didn't. The first public mention they make of the issue was last month, as an afterthought.

Their silence speaks volumes. In the face of an increasing international campaign of Islamophobic terrorism by Nazis, the SIS looked the other way. While they are now, finally, paying attention to the real threat against our society, their leadership needs to be held accountable for that failure. And that process can start by the director of the SIS offering her resignation.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019



Show us the warrants

The SIS, in an effort to claim that Friday's terrorist attack which killed fifty people wasn't a failure on their part, is saying they had their eye on far-right extremists. It's an extraordinary claim, in contradiction to everything we know about their past behaviour and priorities. Fortunately, its easy to prove.

Since 2002, the SIS has been granted 314 intelligence warrants. These are basicly the sign of a serious investigation, allowing phone taps, computer hacking, and black bag jobs to gather evidence of interest to "national security". If they've been properly keeping their eye on Nazis, then there will be intelligence warrants for them. All they have to do to prove they've been doing their job is tell us how many there are, per year (or per 3 years, to give some statistical cover), relating to that sort of target.

They won't want to do this, of course. Telling us even broadly who they are spying on is anathema to the SIS. But they've already kindof done that by saying they've been surveilling Nazis. If they want us to actually believe it, and believe the level of surveillance was appropriate to the threat, they need to provide some proof. They need to show us the warrants.

Giving the finger to the Nazis

Parliament met for the first time today since Friday's act of terrorism, with an abbreviated timetable for a condolence motion. It opened with a procession of a dozen religious leaders of different faiths. Parliament's normal christian-centric opening prayer was preceded by an Islamic one.

This is what the Nazis say they fear. But rather than being some sort of sinister "takeover", here it was done as a sign that Muslims are New Zealanders, that they belong - as do members of those other religions, and those not represented, and those of no religion at all. That in New Zealand, religion is not exclusive of nationality, any more than ethnic or cultural background is.

What would the Nazis hate? For New Zealand to embrace the Muslim community. For us all to get along, in celebration of our differences, and protect each other against hate. Parliament gave a powerful symbol of that today. Now we all need to live it.

Little's whitewash

One of the obvious questions which immediately arose after Friday's act of terrorism was why our extremely well-budgeted spy agencies didn't stop it from happening. The fact that it happened, and 50 people were killed, represents a huge failure on the part of the SIS, and one the public deserves answers about. Yesterday, in her post-cabinet press conference, the Prime Minister suggested that we would get those answers, promising an inquiry into the question. But her Intelligence Minister Andrew Little has just pre-judged the outcome:

The Minister in charge of New Zealand's intelligence agencies, Andrew Little, says an inquiry into the events surrounding the Christchurch terror attack will show those agencies did their jobs.

[...]

Speaking to Q&A on Monday night, Little welcomed the news of the inquiry and said it would show the intelligence agencies did their jobs.

"… these agencies have done the correct things and done nothing other than fulfil their mandate in terms of security and intelligence."

He rejected any comments there was too much attention given to surveying potential Islamic extremism over other kinds of extremism.


So I guess we'll be getting a whitewash then, an exercise in arse-covering designed to protect the reputation of the spies, while doing nothing to address the question of who they target. Just like the Operation Burnham inquiry. Except of course they'll probably try and grab even more intrusive powers along the way.

We spend $80 million a year on the SIS, an amount which has nearly quadrupled in the last 15 years. What do we get for it? 50 dead bodies. They need to be held accountable for that, and we need to know where they went wrong, so we can be sure it will never happen again.

Monday, March 18, 2019



The Aftermath

I was expecting to spend today blogging about climate change, building on the enormous message of hope sent by the school strike on Friday. Instead, like everyone else, I'm struggling to deal with the aftermath of a horrific act of terrorism which targeted one of New Zealand's most vulnerable communities. According to Radio New Zealand, the terrorist talked in their manifesto about his victims "assault[ing] my civilisation". The real assault on civilisation is murdering people because of their religion, murdering children, spreading this sort of hate. The good news is that he's been arrested and will be prosecuted, and given that he videoed the thing, probably convicted. That won't bring back the dead, but it will stop him from killing anyone else. The other good news is that we're going to get better gun laws, which should make it vastly more difficult for people to engage in mass-murder in the future. And hopefully people are going to be a lot less tolerant of racism in future, now its been rammed home in blood what it leads to.

Obviously there has been a huge intelligence failure here, and I hope some very pointy questions are being asked about why police and the SIS have spent the last two decades spying on Muslims, Maori, environmentalists and the left, while ignoring Nazis. Or why the police were tapping the phones of human rights activists while handing out gun licences to militant racists. Given the scale of the failure, I am shocked that no-one has offered to resign over this. While I wouldn't expect such an offer to be accepted (at least, not immediately), I would have expected it at least to have been made. And it casts serious doubts on SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge's professionalism and integrity that she didn't.

I expect the government to be feeling quite uncomfortable as well. While the Prime Minister has shown us all why she is PM, and expressed the best of New Zealand, her deputy is a racist xenophobe who has repeatedly campaigned on Islamophobia and exploited it for political profit. He's wisely kept out of sight all weekend, but when he slinks back into the light, people are rightly going to ask why he is still in government, or indeed, in Parliament. And since he is unlikely to resign in shame, we're just going to have to de-elect him and his racist party at the next election.

Friday, March 15, 2019



Striking for a future

Thousands of schoolkids around New Zealand have walked out of class today in a school strike for the climate. They're part of a global movement, sparked by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, which is sacrificing a day of education to demand real action on climate change. The people in power now won't live long enough to be badly affected by the disaster they have made. These kids will. They are striking to make their parents care. They are striking for their future.

As it stands, that future is grim. The decisions their parents and grandparents have made - to knowingly keep spewing carbon into the atmosphere and warm the planet so a few people could keep on making money - have had terrible consequences. On current projections, we are heading for between three and four degrees of warming by 2100 - enough to destroy our food crops, spread tropical diseases, make significant chunks of the world uninhabitable, and cause widespread drought, mass-migration, and conflict. And that's just to 2100. Temperatures will continue to rise after that, making things even worse. This isn't extinction, not yet, but things will be very, very bad, with a huge amount of pain and suffering.

Unless we change. Another future is possible: one where we decarbonise the economy, stop polluting the atmosphere, and live within our ecological means. The schoolkids are striking for that future. And we should listen to them - because it is their future. We should not let the dead hand of the old destroy it.