Friday, June 28, 2019

So that's what they were trying to hide

Nicky Hager has released the previously classified US video footage of the Operation Burnham raid, and it shows that civilians were shot at by American helicopters the SAS called in for air support:

The video shows three men - said to be described as insurgents, but not visibly armed - being shot by exploding rounds while climbing a hill above village Khak Khuday Dad.

Another clip from earlier showed two men were visibly carrying weapons - a rifle and a rocket propelled grenade launcher - when emerging from a building that is said to have included a woman.

The building was the home of an insurgent being targeted by the NZDF which claimed it was a weapons cache, Hager said.

Hager asserted the presence of a woman seen leaving the building showed it was a home to unarmed civilians.

The first is simply murder. As for the second, NZDF's rules of enagement are clear that merely carrying a weapon is not proof that someone is directly participating in hostilities. US-style policies which classify all "military-aged males" as "hostile insurgents" to be murdered are neither legally nor morally acceptable.

And then there's this bit:
Among the release was a report by US 'initial assessment team" that found a video taken by an Apache helicopter had been altered to remove 12-seconds of audio, in which the presence of a woman among a huddled group 200 metres in front of the ground patrol is relayed to the New Zealand officers.

He said the Defence Force had not admitted the existence of this inquiry.

I guess this is what NZDF wanted to hide: evidence that there has already been a coverup, and that they knew they were attacking civilians.

Climate Change: Ambition in Denmark

Currently our parliament is debating a Zero Carbon Bill, which would set a climate change target of net zero carbon dioxide by 2050. Meanwhile, Denmark is aiming for a 70% reduction in all greenhouse gases by 2030:

Denmark’s government announced a “new political direction” based on an ambitious climate manifesto, released on Wednesday.

Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen, 41, became the country’s new prime minister on Wednesday, after she secured a political deal with three other left-wing parties to form a one-party minority government.

Under the agreement, the new government pledged to introduce binding decarbonisation goals and strengthen its 2030 target to reduce emissions by 70% below the 1990 level – the current target is 40%.

The left-wing alliance acknowledged this was “a very ambitious target” and that the last five points of emissions reduction to 70% would be “particularly difficult to reach”.

But the alliance warned “the world and Denmark are in a climate crisis” and that limiting global temperature rise is “not just the right thing to do, it’s also the most economically responsible one”.

This is what we need to do: stronger targets, driven by effective government policy to meet them. Instead, it looks like we'll continue to piss round, with governments leaving real action to be a problem for their successors, while doing absolutely nothing about agricultural emissions (our biggest greenhouse gas source).

Climate Change: More emergencies

Four more local authorities declared climate emergencies yesterday: Hutt City, Porirua, Bay of Plenty and Queenstown. All of which is great, and will hopefully see real action by these councils to limit emissions in their areas. But once again I'm asking: where's Parliament? We pay MP's the big bucks to lead us. How about they show that leadership, rather than sitting on their arses?

Thursday, June 27, 2019

What are they trying to hide?

When the NZDF was asked to release US information on Operation Burnham which would have revealed how the villagers died, they refused, claiming that the US objected. So, Nicky Hager and Deborah Manning requested it in the US, under that country's Freedom of Information Act. Unlike New Zealand, the FOIA is enforced through the courts, so when the US refused, they took the government to court. And they won:

The information will be of interest to the Operation Burnham inquiry, which is inspecting allegations made in Hit & Run that Special Air Service troop killed six civilians and injured 15 in a 2010 raid.

Hager said the New Zealand Defence Force had opposed the evidence being obtained, saying it could not be released to the pub[l]ic.

But he said it was provided "promptly and without fuss" by the US military after a freedom of information court case - similar to New Zealand's Official Information Act.

In a statement, he said: "Secret evidence has been a huge obstacle in the current government inquiry into Operation Burnham."

"The US court decision sets a precedent for New Zealand freedom of information as it shows that what was declared impossible by NZDF and the Ombudsman has turned out to be possible as a relatively routine release of public information in the United States."

Part of the problem is that the Ombudsman is simply unwilling to thoroughly investigate "national security" claims, because the law does not require them to be balanced against the public interest. So if NZDF says "a foreign country gave this to us and they would object to its release", that's it, its secret, no saving throw - even if that country would be forced to release it themselves if requested.

The lesson in this is that the "national security" clauses in our Official Information Act are broken, and allow agencies to hide too much. They need immediate reform. And the obvious one is to introduce a public interest test, requiring the interest in secrecy to be balanced against the public interest in release, as there is for other withholding grounds. The way legal advice is handled shows it is perfectly possible for the Act to accommodate varying strengths of interest in withholding and balance them appropriately with the public interest in transparency and accountability that comes from release. And there's no reason - other than the reflex, authoritarian secrecy of the defence establishment - that we can't do this for s6 withholding grounds as well.

(Hager and Manning will release the information tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what it reveals, and what NZDF has been desperately trying to hide).

Climate Change: Ignoring the real problem

Statistics New Zealand has released a new report on New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, with a sectoral breakdown shown how much is caused by different sectors of the economy. The data is crystal clear: half our emissions are caused by the primary sector, a quarter by the secondary sector (manufacturing), with the rest split evenly between services and households. So which sector does the Minister single out in his commentary? The latter:

“From 2007-2017 emissions from households were up, and emissions in other parts of the economy were down, showing we need to continue our work to build a sustainable economy,” says the Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw.


“Farmers often get singled out as climate criminals, but this report shows we have work to do right across the economy. I know New Zealanders want to see our collective emissions come down, and that’s what this Government is focused on delivering”.

Its easier to show the problem with this in visual form:

[Datavis stolen from Stuff]

But it gets worse - because that dirty section of the economy, the one responsible for a huge chunk of our emissions? Its also the least efficient, and really not worth that much:
The dairy industry is now responsible for more emissions than the manufacturing and electricity and gas supply industries combined, rising 27 per cent over a decade.

The agriculture industry [sic - actually its the whole primary sector] as a whole comprises half of all emissions, but contributes less than 7 per cent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the data shows.

And yet this is who the Minister, following successive governments, wants to protect: the dirtiest, least efficient part of the economy, which provides the fewest jobs and delivers the lowest economic benefit for its pollution. The kicker: most of it is completely unnecessary: we export more than 90% of the milk we produce, and the vast majority of the meat, wood, and coal we extract. From an emissions point of view, we'd be better off cutting these industries down to a size commensurate to our domestic needs, and shutting down the rest. But that would upset farmers, which is of course something we can never do.

As for households, we know what we need to do: make our next car electric, then install solar panels, while shifting to a more plant-based diet. We're not the ones resisting change here. But it seems the Minister would rather blame us to avoid having to confront the real problem emitters.

The IPCA ignores torture

Another day, another IPCA report finding police misbehaviour, this time in relation to police beating a suspect in Huntly in 2017. But despite a finding that officers used excessive force, the police as usual refused to prosecute their own. But delving into the report, it gets worse, because there's allegations of torture and findings of quite disturbing comments made by officers.

One of the questions considered by the IPCA was whether an officer used "pain compliance" - that is, torture - on a suspect at Huntly police station:

At Huntly Police Station the arrested people were taken into the custody unit. Officer D told the Authority he saw an officer squeeze handcuffs into the wrists of one of the arrested people “deliberately hard enough so the offender yelled out in pain telling him to “’Stop, Stop’ and he was almost in tears…” Officer D said the officer told the arrested person to “shut up”.


Officer D said that, while he was interviewing Mr Z for an unrelated offence, Mr Z disclosed that he had received wrist injuries during the incident on 18 November 2017. Mr Z said he had bruises on his wrists for weeks after the incident, was unable to move them and they were sore. However, he did not wish to make a complaint to Police as he felt they would not listen to him.

The IPCA made no finding on this, partly because police officers denied it, and partly because "Mr Z’s custody evaluation did not detail any injuries". That's a common thread in this: they also refuse to make findings on some of the beating because no injuries are recorded in the custody report. However, they also explicitly find police failing to make legally required reports on use of force where it was illegal. The obvious question here is that if police are failing to report using force, isn't it possible that they're also failing to report the injuries it inflicts? But I guess its so much easier to trust the paperwork than actually worry about whether we have a problem with systematic lying.

There's there's the attitude of a certain police officer:
Later the same night, Officer D spoke to Officer E about the incident. In his complaint to Police, Officer D said:

“[Officer E] informed me that he had ‘dealt to them’. He continued to tell me that it’s about time some of these kids got what they deserved. He then suggested that he believed he had deliberately torn [Mr W’s] rotator calf [sic] muscle and that it should put him out of action for six months. He continued to state that he knew based on his physiotherapy experience how to hurt him in ways not to leave any marks.”

This is basicly a police officer admitting to torture. The IPCA found that these comments were made. However, they made no finding on the injuries themselves (again, because they were not in custody records, which were made by this officer and his colleagues). They also don't seem to have suggested that an officer saying that he knows how to torture suspects and get away with it is any cause for concern, or something police should sack them for. Because let's be clear: torture has no place in our police force. And any police officer who thinks otherwise, or thinks that they are entitled to inflict pain on suspects for their gratification or as revenge or to "keep them off the streets", has no place in our police. Instead, they belong in jail, with the rest of the criminals.

An unreasonable arse-coverer

The State Services Commission has released its report into Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf's handling of treasury's budget security failure. And it is not good:

Outgoing Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf was "clumsy", unreasonable and fell "well short" of expectations in his handling of the Budget data breach, a government report has found.


The Commission's report - released today - said Mr Makhlouf did not act reasonably in his use of the word "hacked" or his subsequent explanations to media.

That included the use of a "bolt analogy" in an interview with RNZ's Morning Report.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said Mr Makhlouf should have publicly taken responsibility for the failure rather than focusing on the searchers of the website.

The full report is here. It finds that Makhlouf acted in good faith, despite being unreasonable, but also that he has some pretty weird beliefs about the government convention of budget secrecy being somehow binding on the rest of us. Because of this, Makhlouf and Treasury were "focused on the actions of the person or persons who had accessed the material, rather than on the deficiencies in their own systems" - which is pretty convenient if you're trying to avoid blame for a fuckup.

So what happens now? This is Makhlouf's last day, so there's no effective employment remedy against him. But hopefully the Irish will be looking at this report and considering whether they really want to employ an unreasonable arse-coverer, or whether they want someone who is more interested in the public interest (rather than their own).

End of life choice advances

David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill passed its second reading in Parliament last night, 70 - 50. Which means now the real struggle for consensus over amendments begins. Pretty much everyone who voted for it agrees it needs changes (in part becuse the select committee refused to do its fucking job), and the bill's majority isn't huge. If just five MP's change their minds, it will fail. So those amendments are going to matter, and David Seymour is going to have serious work to do to build and hold a consensus behind a specific package, and prevent the bigots from wrecking it.

Stuff has a list of how MPs voted. The Greens, NZFirst and ACT all voted for the bill in a block. Labour was 70% in favour, National two-thirds against. The big parties have that sort of ratio on every bill of this type, and it really highlights the cultural difference between them: one modern and secular, the other backwards and bigoted. And it really makes me wonder how long National's position can be sustained, given the increasing secularisation of New Zealand.

The bill should face its next reading on the 31st of July.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The end of New Public Management

In the 1980's, the revolutionary government "reformed" the public service, splitting it up into competing agencies. This was supposed to produce better focus and greater accountability: agencies would focus on their area of expertise and argue their corner, and chief executives could be held accountable for tightly-defined policy targets. What it actually led to was silo-isation, key capabilities (like running elections) being left out or falling through the cracks of those policy targets, and the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. These flaws were apparent since at least the mid 1990's, and since the 2000s the trend has been in the other direction, with the creation of "mega-ministries" (like MBIE and MPI) in an effort to rebuild what Roger Douglas had destroyed.

And now, it's all going to go. The government has announced sweeping public sector reforms with the aim of restoring a unified public service. There's a lot to this, but it means that chief executives will no longer be petty monarchs of their own personal fiefdom, public servants will be employed by the public service, rather than their individual agencies, and the government will be able to set minimum standards for public sector pay and conditions (something they've had trouble with so far, which has led to wildly varying compensation for the same jobs in different agencies). It also means that core public service values, such as political neutrality, independent professional advice, and merit-based appointment, will be enshrined in law. Interestingly, "open government" is now one of those values, so there'll be a further recognition of the value of transparency. There will also be a specific "Treaty clause", recognising the public service's obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi (I guess we can expect the racist old National Party to go apeshit at that).

Its a huge change, and another nail in the coffin of the 1980's. Labour has fixed the Reserve Bank Act. They're reintroducing awards, effectively repealing the key component of the Employment Contracts Act. And now they're repealing the State Sector Act and restoring the public service. But sadly, that's not enough to undo the real damage Douglas and Richardson did to our society. Labour may fix government, but they'll still have to deal with mass-poverty, mass-debt, and a privatised state which has had all its best assets stolen in corrupt privatisations. If they really want to undo the revolution, they need to deal with those legacies too.

Climate Change: More emergencies

Yesterday the Dunedin City Council declared a climate emergency. Today, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council followed suit. And in both cases, the councils are committed to action as well as a declaration.

So MPs: when will you step up?

New Fisk

The West is silent over the death of a man it once called the great hope of Arab democracy

We should not give extra votes to the rich

The basic principle of democracy is "one person, one vote". Everyone's voice counts equally. But our local government system obeys a different system of "one house, one vote" - effectively giving extra votes to the rich. While there are restrictions to ensure that people only vote once for mayor and councillors, in Auckland house-hoarders get to vote for each local board they own property in. And if they own a holiday home in the Coromandel or Queenstown, they get to vote there as well.

The latter can be quite distortionary. In Coromandel, absentee property-owners make up 5.5% of the electoral roll. But they are twice as likely to vote, so make up 10% of votes cast. And as Andrew Geddis points out, the interests of absentees, who are not part of a community but instead rent their property out or pop in a few times a year, are very different from the interests of people who actually live there:

"It's quite possible that they don't actually care that much about things like libraries, they don't care that much about things like roads and so on, because they're just not there that often. But what they do care about is keeping their rates low ... so you do see the potential for the divergence of interest to occur."

Ratepayer votes made sense when there was a property qualification for voting. But New Zealand dispensed with that and adopted democratic principles in 1893. Its time that our local government caught up. While its too late to do anything about it this election, we should make sure this is the last election where the rich get to vote twice. We should eliminate ratepayer voting now, and restore fundamental democratic principles: one person, one vote, and everyone is equal.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and its crunch day for David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill. But its only third on the Order Paper, and has to wait a bit. First up is the third reading of Kieran McAnulty's Employment Relations (Triangular Employment) Amendment Bill, and after that is the second reading of Hamish Walker's KiwiSaver (Foster Parents Opting in for Children in their Care) Amendment Bill. The bigots will probably try and talk those out to filibuster the euthanasia debate, and its possible there won't be a vote tonight as a result. But if there is, it looks like the bill will pass, for this stage at least. The real shitfight is going to be the committee stage, as the House tries to do the work its select committee refused to do, and amend Seymour's bill into a functional shape. And it may be difficult to find a version agreeable to enough people. Meanwhile, the bigots have filed hundreds of amendments to delay the process and in the hope of wrecking any compromise. Its politics as usual - ugly, brutal, and petty - but in this case, the stakes are rather higher, and this spectacle does the House no credit whatsoever.

Regardless of whether there is a vote tonight, there will not be a ballot tomorrow, and there is unlikely to be for some time: the Order Paper is stacked up with later stages as bills from last year come back. So we're at least two months away from any chance at new bills being drawn for debate.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Which emissions does National want to cut?

The Stuff story on the renewable energy target quotes National climate change spokesperson Todd Muller as opposing cuts to electricity sector emissions:

National's climate change spokesman Todd Muller said the report exposed the "economic lunacy" of being fixated on greenhouse emissions from electricity generation, which formed only a small part of New Zealand's overall emissions.

Meanwhile, he's also on the record as opposing agricultural emissions targets:
National will not support the Zero Carbon Bill passing into law if "ridiculous" methane targets are not wound back, the party's climate change spokesman Todd Muller says.

"I totally reject the view that when there is no ability to mitigate (methane emissions), you just push on regardless," he told the Federated Farmers Taranaki annual general meeting in Stratford on May 24.

Which invites the question: what emissions does National want to cut, and how to they expect to meet a remotely plausible emissions reductions goal when ruling out ~60% of our total emissions? Or is this just the latest version of their entrenched climate change denial: pretend to accept the problem exists, while opposing any meaningful action to prevent it?

The renewables target

Back in April, the Independent Climate Change Commission leaked that it thought the government's 100% renewable energy target would be prohibitively expensive. Now they're leaking it again, suggesting that fully renewable electricity would actually cause emissions to increase:

The committee, headed by former Opus International chief executive Dr David Prentice, said the impact of higher prices would likely mean that New Zealand as a whole would generate more emissions as a result.

High electricity prices would slow the decarbonisation of the wider economy, making it more difficult for New Zealand to meet its target under the Paris Agreement to cut greenhouse emissions, the ICCC argues.

Instead of focusing on 100 per cent renewable electricity generation, the committee urged the Government consider New Zealand's energy use as a whole, with industrial heat and the transport sectors generating far more in terms of carbon emissions than electricity.


The report claims such an approach could avoid 6.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from transport and another 2.6 million tonnes from process heat.

Overall, the policy would cut net emissions by 5.4 million tonnes of carbon a year by 2035, compared to the scenario where the Government pushes for 100 per cent renewable electricity sources.

To which the obvious answer is taco girl: why not both? Renewable electricity and transport decarbonisation aren't exclusive policies, after all. Our government is capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Though it does also suggest that it might be worth having a primary energy target as well.

But I'm also rather suspicious of a chain of reasoning which says "we will have to build a massive amount of generation to ensure security of supply for the last couple of percent, so electricity will be expensive". But when you dig into it, that generation is all about covering for the possibility of the wind not blowing on a cold winter's night when demand is highest, and will sit idle almost all the time - meaning in fact supply will massively, massively outstrip demand. Absent anti-competitive behaviour from power companies, this should cause prices to fall. And on the gripping hand: we are going to need to build a massive amount of new generation anyway, to power all those electric cars (completely replacing petrol with electricity would mean increasing generation by ~25%). All of that generation should be renewable, and we might as well leverage this long-term need to crash prices in the short-term, driving electrification and pushing dirty fossil fuels to the absolute margins. As I noted last week, it is remarkably cheap to do so.

Ultimately, though, 99% renewable electricity is probably good enough for now. We should aim for 100%, try and drive the change, see where we get, and offset the rest. Because one thing we do know is that we won't get anywhere by not trying. Trusting "business as usual" (as the Climate Change Commission seems to think we should do) is how we got into this problem in the first place.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Australia's criminal government

Australian Ministers are guilty of crimes against humanity over their treatment of refugees, says a top Australian lawyer:

The top politicians in this country are guilty of major criminal offences, but they are unlikely ever to be tried for them, says lawyer Julian Burnside.

“I think it’s pretty clear that Australian prime ministers and immigration ministers are guilty of criminal offences against our own law,” says the Melbourne-based QC. “The problem is that no one can bring a prosecution for those offences without the approval of the Attorney General. Take a lucky guess what the Attorney General would say.”

The offences he has in mind involve the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers – deliberate and unnecessary cruelty that amounts, he argues in the documentary Border Politics, to torture.

And Australia has laws against that, both under the Convention Against Torture and as a party to the International Criminal Court. But they all have a political safeguard, which means that in practice no member of the government or official will ever face justice for their crimes.

The question then is, at what stage does that political safeguard become a deliberate obstruction of justice, enabling the ICC to assert jurisdiction over both criminals and obstructers? Because that's where this is heading unless Australia sorts its shit out. And as a decent country, the new Zealand government should be making the complaint. Friends don't let friends torture refugees and commit crimes against humanity.

Local elections, regional councils, and climate change

Local body elections are happening in October. With councils around the country declaring or debating climate emergencies, climate change is likely to play a big role, and the surge in younger candidates should provide some welcome and necessary representation against the gerontocracy on that front. But most of the focus is on city councils. And with climate change, its really regional councils we need to focus on.

Regional councils control public transport. They also control land, air, and water quality under the RMA. They set the rules which allow dairy intensification and the burning of fossil fuels, among other things. And if the government repeals the RMA's ban on considering climate change, then the plans and policies they make are going to be absolutely critical in limiting emissions and fighting climate change.

Those plans are made and approved by elected councillors. So who is on our regional councils is going to matter like never before. And because they're stacked with farmers, we desperately need voices to oppose the vested interests of rural climate change denial.

So, if you're a young or green and considering running for local office this year, please run for regional council. Its a real chance to make a difference - not just for your region, or New Zealand, but to the world.

Democracy wins in Turkey

Three months ago, Turkey's increasingly authoritarian government suffered a shock loss in local elections, losing the mayoralty of Istanbul to an opposition candidate. So the Turkish government made them vote again so they'd get it "right". But it didn't work out the way they'd planned:

Turkey’s opposition has won a high-stakes rerun of the Istanbul mayoral election, a landmark victory in a country where many feared democracy was failing and a serious blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Shortly after initial results pointing to a landslide win for opposition coalition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu emerged on Sunday evening, the candidate of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Binali Yıldırım, conceded and congratulated his rival.

The repeat election, designed to undo İmamoğlu’s narrow surprise win in the 31 March contest, was an unprecedented test for both Turkey’s fragile democratic institutions and Erdoğan’s political future.

Yıldırım’s swift concession saved the AKP the embarrassment of watching the vote count add up to a second defeat, but the loss is likely to lead to intense new power struggles inside the coalition government. Opposition parties were jubilant.

This looks like a strong backlash against Erdoğan's anti-democratic behaviour, which is good for Turkey's democracy. And it also suggest that Erdoğan is going to respect the vote, rather than trying to overturn it again. Which means that his time in charge is hopefully coming to an end.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Climate Change: A citizen's assembly in the UK

One of the central demands of the Extinction Rebellion campaign has been for climate change to be taken out of the hand of corrupt establishment politicians and put in the hands of the people via a citizen's assembly. Now, it looks like the UK government will give them what they asked for. But as usual, there's a catch:

A citizens’ assembly on the climate emergency will take place this autumn to explore the fastest and fairest ways to end the UK’s carbon emissions.

Six House of Commons select committees announced the assembly on Thursday. It is the second of the three demands made by the Extinction Rebellion protest group to be addressed.

However, the group have criticised the initiative as it wants the assembly’s decisions to be binding, not advisory.

Because the last thing the corrupt polluter establishment wants to do is yield any sort of real power. So instead, they'll run this as a PR exercise, pretend they've listened, then ignore or water down the proposals to suit the interests of their corporate backers. Which means that the rebellion will simply have to continue...


For the past four years, Saudi Arabia has been indiscriminately bombing Yemen, attcking hospitals and other civilian targets and committing war crimes. They're doing it in part with British weapons, exported by British arms dealers with the approval of the British government. Now, the UK Court of Appeal has declared those approvals unlawful:

British arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been ruled unlawful by the court of appeal in a critical judgment that also accused ministers of ignoring whether airstrikes that killed civilians in Yemen broke humanitarian law.

Three judges said that a decision made in secret in 2016 had led them to decide that Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox and other key ministers had illegally signed off on arms exports without properly assessing the risk to civilians.

Sir Terence Etherton, the master of the rolls, said on Tuesday that ministers had “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”.

As a result, the court said that the UK export licensing process was “wrong in law in one significant respect” and ordered Fox, the international trade secretary, to hold an immediate review of at least £4.7bn worth of arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

Significantly, the court found that the British government had consciously decided to turn a blind eye to war crimes in order to allow continued arms sales. Those sales have now been suspended, but international trade secretary Liam Fox has apparently told people that he does not expect any permits to be overturned when war crimes are considered. Which seems to be both pre-determination (and further grounds for judicial review), and a further example of the problem. Ministers obviously don't care if the arms trade is moral, but now they are no longer even pretending to care about whether it is even legal, provided their mates get to keep on profiting by selling weapons to war criminals. And that is something they need to be held responsible for.

Democracy with Spanish characteristics again

Last month, Catalans elected three exiled and jailed pro-independence politicians to the European Parliament. Unfortunately, Spain no longer seems to respect the results of democratic elections, and the Spanish Electoral Commission today declared their seats vacant. The reason? None of them had made the required oath to uphold the Spanish constitution before the Electoral Commission. But in all three cases, it is because the Spanish state did not permit them to.

Oriol Junqueras's case is the most outrageous. He is currently in pre-trial detention awaiting the verdict of his show-trial for "rebellion" and "sedition" for supporting the Catalan people's right to vote in an independence referendum. He was unable to make the required oath because the court refused to permit him to do so, regarding it as a threat to the trial process (MEPs gain immunity from prosecution, meaning that he could not be sentenced). The democratic process? Apparently unimportant. The exiles, Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín, are in a different situation: they face arrest if they return to Spain, so they swore the oath before a notary in Belgium, and additionally sent their lawyer to the Election Commission to provide it by proxy - a process which the Commission has apparently deemed acceptable in the past. But as we've seen throughout this struggle, the rules change depending on what advantages the Spanish state, and it was refused.

Spain has used an arbitrary procedural barrier to thwart the expressed will of the Catalan people. It is naturally going to the European courts, and hopefully they will be able to restore democracy in Spain.

For election-day enrolment

Yesterday the government announced some minor tweaks to the electoral system, including more locations for advance voting, and allowing people to enrol on election day. The changes were recommended by the Electoral Commission in its post-mortem on the 2017 election, and would lead to an extra 19,000 votes being counted. So you'd expect them to be accepted by all parties, right? But instead, National is claiming they are a "stitch-up":

National MP Nick Smith told RNZ the move was a "stitch-up" because same-day enrolment favoured left-wing parties.

"The government is simply cherry-picking electoral law changes that will improve its own chances of re-election in 2020," Dr Smith said.

"That should really raise the hairs on the back of those people who want our democracy to have integrity."

A democracy has integrity when everyone who is eligible to vote is able to. Currently the law prohibits this in a completely arbitrary manner: people who vote before election day - about 50% of us at present - can enrol and have their votes counted, while people who do it on the day can not. This may have made sense back in the day of pen and paper bureaucracy, when rolls were closed weeks before the election because it was simply not administratively possible to enrol people over the election period and verify their data quickly enough to have their vote count, but it makes no sense today. The Electoral Commission can check whether an enrolment is valid, and they did for about 130,000 people who enrolled during the election period. Excluding election day enrolments seems simply arbitrary and cruel. And there's no threat to the vote count: late enrolments are special votes, and so counted separately, after checking.

At least 19,000 extra votes would have been able to be counted if we'd done this last election. It speaks volumes about National's values that they don't want these people to vote. But like the British Tories in the C19th, or modern day US Republicans, it seems that if you scratch a right-winger, you find that they're really not that keen on democracy, and certainly not keen on high turnout. Its almost as if they think their policies aren't actually that popular, and that the only way to gain or retain power is to stop people who would vote them out from being able to do so...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Ombudsman on Horowhenua District Council

The Ombudsman has tabled a report in parliament on the Horowhenua District Council's compliance with the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act. While it finds no wrongdoing, its not exactly good. The money quote:

In relation to official information requests, the building blocks are all there. The Council has well-developed webpages for making a request, sound policy documents and a database for tracking requests. However senior leadership needs to take ownership of the Council’s official information practices. There was a marked absence of engagement from senior leadership in this area and I think the political climate during the recent Council term has been a distraction in this respect.
Shorn of the polite bureaucratese, this is basicly an acknowledgement that things are not working properly. Specific findings include a habit of the CEO of engaging in intemperate and unprofessional communications with requesters, a perception from staff that decisions on withholding and charging are being driven by the political tensions within (and about) the council, and inappropriate handling of requests from elected members. The Ombudsman has recommendations suggested "action points" about all of this, but fundamentally the problem seems to be one of councillors and the CEO engaged in perpetual warfare with one another, and insofar as the public are seen as proxies for one party or another, this spilling over to undermine the public's right to know. And while the Ombudsman can't say it, the public is ultimately going to have to resolve this in October - because it is clear that none of the parties can be trusted to behave professionally or lawfully.

Correction: An Ombudsman can only make "recommendations" where they have found error or wrongdoing, so the Ombudsman has "suggested action points" instead.

Climate Change: Wellington joins the crowd

Wellington has joined the growing list of local authorities declaring a climate and ecological emergency. And to back it up, they've adopted a zero-carbon plan as well, pushing them towards greater investment in public transport and cycleways, building energy efficiency standards, a climate resilience fund, and lobbying central government for better policies. They've set themselves a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, but 80% of their submitters wanted an earlier target - and with that level of public support, councillors are going to have to fall in line or get de-elected.

So, who's next? And when will Parliament follow suit?

This changes nothing

The core claims of Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager's Hit & Run are that the New Zealand SAS raided two villages in Afghanistan in search of "insurgents" who weren't there, and in the process killed six civilians including a three-year-old child. Today, Jon Stephenson has retracted one of those claims: he has been able to interview the insurgents the SAS wanted to kill (!), and found out they were there that night - but that they also escaped without firing a shot. Meanwhile those interviews also confirm the rest of the story: that the only people killed were civilians.

This doesn't seem to change anything from the point of view of the SAS's moral responsibility for the killings. They still killed non-combatants, including a three-year-old. And they still went back later to destroy a building as revenge, in violation of the laws of war. They're still murderers and war criminals. And they still need to be held responsible for it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

StatsNZ to not engage in mass-surveillance

Correction: More information on this has emerged, and it appears the information will be aggregated before StatsNZ sees it. See the update section at the bottom of the post for further information.

Statistics New Zealand is planning to track everyone through their cellphones "for statistical purposes":

Stats NZ is partnering with cellphone companies to launch a new way of tracking people's movements every hour.

The population density programme will launch next month and Statistics Minister James Shaw said he was aware there would be perception issues around every step being recorded.

Mr Shaw said cellphone companies and credit companies already held that level of detail, but for the first time Stats NZ was able to act as a data broker to identify trends and patterns with the anonymised information.

James Shaw stupidly compares this to census night, where in theory everyone fills out a form saying where they are. But tracking people on an hourly basis is orders of magnitude more intrusive. He also assures us that the data will be kept secure. That would be the same as the IDI data, which had 24 identifiable breaches between 2015 and 2018?

Meanwhile, there's the obvious problem: cellphone users never consented to this. While cellphone companies collect the data as part of how the network works, their users have never consented to it being shared, and there's no suggestion that they are being legally compelled to provide it. As with the IDI, its a gross abuse of people's privacy. I'm also wondering why cellphone companies are retaining this data in the first place. Its personally identifying information, Privacy Principle 9 applies, so they have a strict obligation to retain it no longer than necessary.

If you are upset about this, I suggest you contact your cellphone provider. If the government won't listen, maybe a bit of consumer backlash is in order.

Update: When I posted this, I was assuming that StatsNZ would be receiving "anonymised" raw location data. I've since been sent the privacy impact assessment for the project, which makes it clear that this is not the case:
The information Data Ventures acquires is anonymised by the data providers providing it and consists of a count in an area within an hourly range. It does not contain any information which will allow for the identification of an individual by Data Ventures. Therefore, the information received by Data Ventures is not personal information within the meaning of the Privacy Act and it does not apply in relation to the Population Density product.

Counts by statistical area seems fairly harmless, and non-intrusive, though it still raises questions about the consent of users. StatsNZ / Data Ventures' position is that this is all according to their clickwrap, take-it-or-leave-it user agreements, so everything is OK. I think there's real questions about consent here, and the companies involved should be identified so users with a preference for high privacy can vote with their feet (as people like me already are by not using cellphones). But then there's this:
Data Ventures has indicated on its website there may be the possibility for the creation of related products concerning demographics and travel patterns. Such products may require additional data attributes to those collected for the Population Density product and, if they go ahead, would need further PIAs to assess potential privacy risks.

This seems to require far more intrusion - demographics requires either cellphone providers to collect this data on StatsNZ's behalf, or to provide disaggregated data for later matching. Travel patterns requires someone - which may be telcos - to start looking at where individual phones are going, rather than just how many are in a large area at a particular time. And that's a whole new level of creepy. Especially when you consider that the data is collected for network purposes and therefore shouldn't be used for anything else.

As with the IDI, there is a real issue of public consent and social licence here. Our public service seems to be getting into spying for convenience, without asking us first. If we want to stop it, then we need to send a clear message to politicians that our data belongs to us, and they don't get to use it for whatever they want just because they can. Alternatively, vote with your feet, and make it useless.

New Fisk

Egyptian democracy died yesterday in a prison cage alongside Morsi

Good riddance

Another major oil company has given up exploring in New Zealand:

Chevron and Norwegian oil giant Equinor have opted to abandon their joint exploration efforts off the east coast of the North Island.

The two firms have applied to surrender three permits they were granted in December 2014. The acreage covers more than 25,000 square-kilometres of ocean – roughly a quarter of the country's active exploration portfolio – and stretches from south-east of Turakirae Head on the southern Wairarapa coast, north towards Hawke's Bay.

The permits were granted for 15-year terms. Chevron said the decision not to proceed with the next five-year stage of their work programmes was based on the firms' broader portfolio considerations and not "policy or regulatory concerns."

"Broader portfolio considerations" being polluter for "its more profitable to explore for oil elsewhere'. At the same time, this is exactly the result we want from the ban: the withdrawl of the oil industry from New Zealand, and the slow expiry or surrender of its permits.

The area covered by the three permits can be seen in the map below (modied from NZPAM's permit maps):

The one remaining permit on the East coast of the North Island is owned by OMV - the only foreign climate criminal still exploring for oil in New Zealand. They've just sent a massive oil rig to New Zealand to drill in their other permits (including off the South Island). If you'd like to tell them to fuck off, you can do so here.

(The next permits to watch are 38602, which expires at the end of July, and 38479, which expires in September. They're both small, but every bit helps, and their expiry will put more ocean off-limits to the oil industry).

An invitation to corruption

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hired a lobbyist to set up her government in 2017, she assured us that everything was above board and any conflicts of interest would be managed. She lied:

The lobbyist who served as the prime minister’s closest adviser during the early days of the coalition government appears to have failed to comply with commitments he made to disclose conflicts of interest on an ongoing basis, according to documents released to The Spinoff under the Official Information Act.


The prime minister recently told parliament that the potential conflicts of interests were managed because Thompson was subject to codes of conduct and signed a declaration about conflicts of interest.

But documents show Thompson’s initial disclosure to Ministerial Services didn’t identify the firm’s clients and suggest that Thompson failed to comply with the undertakings he had made in the declaration to keep Ministerial Services informed on an ongoing basis about potential conflicts of interest, raising questions about a breach of government rules around conduct in the public service.

Effectively Ardern and Ministerial Services left it entirely up to Thompson to identify any problems, and he didn't. Which simply isn't good enough. With the integrity of our government and political system on the line, I'd expect something a little more proactive - like forcing him to identify his clients, and then firewalling him from anything to do with anything they might be interested in (such as appointments to agencies they lobby). While there's no evidence he behaved corruptly in the role (because we don't know who his clients were), ignorance isn't a good enough standard. Our government must not only be honest - it must be seen to be so. And Thompson's appointment and behaviour simply fails that test.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Climate Change: Ireland will ban fossil fuelled cars

If humanity is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid making the Earth uninhabitable, we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Transport is a key emitter, so this means we need to stop using fossil fuelled vehicles. A number of countries have already committed to do this, and Ireland has become the latest:

The Irish government plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, as part of a major new strategy to protect the environment.

The aim is to ensure that all new cars and vans on Irish roads in 11 years' time are electric vehicles.


The hope is that by the time the petrol and diesel vehicle ban is introduced in 2030 there will be 950,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads.

The government is set to invest in a "nationwide" charging network to power the new vehicles.

At least one recharging point will be required at new non-residential buildings with more than 10 parking spaces by 2025.

Banning new imports is only the start - you also need to get legacy vehicles off the roads. Ireland plans to no longer issue registrations for fossil fuelled vehicles from 2045 - a window which gives plenty of time to make the switch. The question is whether it is fast enough, but its a plan, which can be sped up as required.

So, what's New Zealand's plan? Oh yes - let the market sort it out. Heckuva job the government is doing there.

The whitewash becomes a farce

The government's Operation Burnham whitewash has become a farce, with the SAS's victims refusing to participate any further:

Afghani villagers are turning their backs on a Government inquiry into allegations six civilians were killed and a further 15 injured in a botched New Zealand SAS raid.

Human rights lawyer Rodney Harrison QC said the villagers did not want to take any further part in the inquiry.

Harrison told a press conference on Tuesday the villagers were "completely disillusioned" by the process that has heard the vast majority of evidence behind closed doors.


Harrison said a key reason the villagers wanted to pull out was the inquiry's decision to hear evidence without them or their lawyers being present.

I don't blame them. With secret "evidence", an initial refusal to even hear from the the victims, and an ongoing refusal to allow them to participate as anything other than show-ponies, the "inquiry" was very obviously shaping up to be a whitewash aimed at publicly exonerating NZDF and defending their reputation. Continued participation simply lends credibility to this abusive process. Better to walk away and pursue justice through the courts than have anything to do with it.

Meanwhile, the public should be asking what the point of an "inquiry" which refuses to hear from victims is, and what is wrong with our political and judicial establishment that they think that that is acceptable, useful, or remotely credible.

Monday, June 17, 2019

New Fisk

No one is innocent in the Gulf of Oman debacle – but Trump’s ‘evidence’ of Iran’s role is dodgy at best
An Isis killer and an unlikely hero have heaved open the cracks in Lebanese politics

Climate Change: Advice it was right to ignore

A story on Scoop from NZ Energy and Environment Business Week about how the government had "ignored advice" when setting its methane target caught my eye last night. The story is based on a week-old press release from National climate denial spokesperson Todd Muller, and highlights the difference between the recommendations of the Climate Change Chief Executives Board - a collection of public sector CEOs - and the government's final position on methane targets. Reading the actual paper, the CEOs noted that the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change had recommended cuts to methane emissions of between 22 and 47% by 2050 were required to stabilise the climate and avoid more than 1.5 degrees of warming. Despite this, they then recommended a lower target. Their reasoning?

In respect of the range presented for the biogenic methane target, 22% represents the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s assessment of the reduction in livestock methane emissions required by 2050 below 2016 levels to prevent additional warming from these emissions. 35% represents the midpoint of the range for agricultural methane set out in the IPCC special report. Analysis suggests that this range of emissions reductions is feasible.

The range reflects the differing views of departments on the trade-offs involved in the target decision, and that specific targets have not been tested with the agriculture sector.

[Emphasis added]

So, despite everything that is happening, despite the planet literally catching fire in front of us, public sector CEOs are still recommending doing as little as possible to solve the crisis, due to (economic) trade-offs. Which is unsurprising, really: its the same narrow circle of thought that got us into this mess, and the same advice they've been giving for decades, and changing their minds now would mean implicitly admitting they were wrong. And so public sector arse covering means doubling down on failure rather than admit error.

But snark at our failed public sector "leadership" aside, what this really is is a case of the government deciding to listen to the IPCC - the acknowledged international experts in the field - rather than a bunch of business managers. And that's a perfectly reasonable decision. When it conflicts with the IPCC, the advice of the NZ public service is most definitely advice that should be ignored.


New Zealand's spy agencies are supposedly subject to the rigorous oversight of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, an independent watchdog appointed to keep an eye on them and ensure they don't break the law again. But that watchdog depends entirely on the agencies they are overseeing for the information required to oversee them - and it turns out that they are simply refusing to provide it [paywalled]:

The watchdog for New Zealand's spy agencies was thwarted for months when trying to see secret emails about a controversial NZSAS raid in Afghanistan - and says she is prepared to use a legal summons if they continue to frustrate her legal duty.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn was eventually given access to "several tens of thousands of emails" - then discovered another 115,000 were apparently overlooked.

Gwyn was given an explanation as to how the emails were missed but has now sought independent advice to establish if more might be missing.

The SIS and GCSB had been quibbling over the Inspector-General's powers. But the law is crystal clear on that: they must be given access to all security records that they consider to be relevant, and "security record" is defined in the broadest possible terms. Which makes you wonder why the spies were trying this on. What were they trying to hide from the public's watchdog? And even the most charitable interpretation - a mix of incompetence and obsessive secrecy - doesn't exactly give confidence.

The spy agencies have highly intrusive powers. It is vital that those powers are kept in check. If the spies aren't going to cooperate with that, then I think we need to reconsider what we let them do.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Why hasn't New Zealand been building more wind farms?

New Zealand needs to decarbonise its electricity supply, while also increasing it to cope with the extra demand from electric vehicles. Wind energy is an obvious solution for this: we have an excellent wind resource, and its cheaper than fossil fuels. Yet we haven't been building it. Why not? One reason is that demand has been decreasing lately, so we haven't needed to. But an article on Newsroom also offers another reason:

Without storage wind electricity producers will accept prices given to them. For companies with fossil fuel plants this drives down the price their fossil-fuelled electricity can demand, as well as not making them much money.

For electricity companies who have gas or other non-hydro facilities, wind risks driving their profits down.

“That’s my theory why no one was doing it. You would need a new company to come in and build it whereas if an existing company built a wind farm it would be eating into its profits.”

Our two biggest electricity gentailers are Genesis and Contact. They're also the two with the highest investment in fossil fuels: Genesis owns Huntly (which it infamously is reneging on shutting down or going coal free), and Contact owns the Stratford power station in Taranaki. So they have no incentive to build wind farms, and unsurprisingly, they haven't. Instead, its all been built by Mercury and Meridian, who are exclusively renewable. Even then though they don't want to build too much, because everyone gets paid the price of the marginal supply, and if that's fossil, then they get more money than if its wind or hydro. Once again, the invisible hand of the market is figuring out ways to screw us (and the planet) rather than making life better.

As for how to fix it, the solution is obvious: a generation-focused SOE with the specific purpose of building wind plants to expand supply and drive fossil fuels out of the market. Basicly, a "KiwiWind". The more renewables we have, the less coal and gas gets burned, and that in turn drives up the price (because the fixed costs of the generator must be recouped over less time), which provides stronger financial incentives for industrial users to avoid high spot prices by changing demand patterns. We don't need much to set up a virtuous cycle here - maybe 500 MW of generation to monster the market and exile coal and gas to dry year / dead of winter backup. And that's not that expensive: wind energy costs ~$1.5 million / MW of installed generation, so we're talking about $750 million over five years, or an investment of about $150 million a year. Its not peanuts, but its not huge either, and if they do the maths right, pays for itself through electricity sales.

If the government is serious about its renewables target, and doesn't want to just leave it to the market, it needs to invest to make it happen. If they fail to do this, we can draw our own conclusions about their seriousness.

Strikes work

When teachers demanded more time and more money to do their jobs, Education Minister Chris Hipkins was adamant: there was no more money and they should expect disappointment. No, after a joint strike and facing five weeks of rolling stoppages, he's suddenly found an extra quarter of a billion dollars to provide an offer the PPTA likes:

The government has announced a new deal aimed at breaking the deadlock with teachers, which Education Minister Chris Hipkins says unions will recommend to their members.

Mr Hipkins said a key element of the revised deal is a unified base salary scale for all primary, secondary and area school teachers and will restore parity between primary and secondary school teachers.

"I'm now confident this will draw the matter to a close," Mr Hipkins said.

The offer also includes a lump sum payment of $1500 for union members and a new top step salary rate of $90,000.

Whether this is enough for teachers is up to them. But they would never have forced Hipkins to the table if they hadn't stood up for their rights and gone on strike. Strikes work! Which is why its so obscene that the "Labour" government wants to continue to deny that right to film workers so Hollywood can keep them in serfdom.

Equality comes to Ecuador

Ecuador's Constitutional Court has legalised same-sex marriage:

Ecuador's highest court has approved same-sex marriage in a landmark ruling in the traditionally Catholic country.

The vote at the nine-member Constitutional Court came as they ruled on the lawsuits by two same-sex couples who wanted to get married.

Five voted in favour, arguing all people were equal. Four said the issue had to be debated in parliament.

Interestingly, Ecuador's constitution has an explicit bigot amendment restricting marriage to opposite genders. The Constitutional Court has effectively over-ruled that. Its an interesting development, which suggests that where there are existing anti-discrimination clauses or binding international agreements (in this case the American Convention on Human Rights), such clauses might not be as useful as bigots think.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Climate Change: National commits to failure

National released a policy document on the primary sector today, in which they commit to ensuring farmers do not have to do anything to reduce emissions:

On climate change, National recommends farmers remain outside the ETS, while critics such as Greenpeace have charged dairying in particular has so far been given a free pass for climate pollution.

National said it had concerns with the proposed methane target of 24-47 per cent reduction by 2050, recently set by the Coalition Government.

"In our view it is exactly the sort of decision the newly formed scientific Climate Commission should provide advice on, rather than politicians cherry picking numbers."

Remaining outside the ETS means that farmers face absolutely no incentive to reduce their emissions. Not facing any target does the same. And the result will be that emissions will continue to rise, making it impossible for us to meet any credible climate change target. Its basicly a commitment to burn the planet so their dirty, polluting supporters can keep on profiting for a few more years. But its also a commitment to unfairness, for the majority of us who live in cities and who pay for our emissions already to subsidise a tiny rural minority so they can keep on polluting. It is neither moral nor sensible.

As for the contention that farmers don't have any way to reduce emissions, sure they do: they can reduce their herd sizes. That's not the end of the world, and there's some evidence its more profitable (in that farmers don't have to waste money on fertiliser and supplementary feed to support higher intensity). If they don't want to do that, then they deserve to go out of business.

Climate Change: Time to fix the RMA

OMV's application for resource consent for drilling offshore exploration wells has highlighted a major flaw in our environmental legislation. Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, is our most pressing environmental threat. But the EPA, which is deciding the application, is specifically forbidden from considering "the effects on climate change of discharging greenhouse gases into the air". And their legislation echoes a wider problem with the RMA, where local authorities are told they must have regard to the effects of climate change when carrying out their functions - except when it comes to deciding on greenhouse gas emissions. It is, as gareth Hughes points out, a ludicrous situation. The good news is that the government may be planning to fix it.

Last year, the government announced a two-step process for RMA reform Buried in the Cabinet paper on the issue (in paragraphs 83 - 87) was a note that this was a priority for change:

Addressing climate change is a high priority for this Government. There could be significant benefits in elevating the importance of climate change within the RMA framework, so that decision-makers are able to fully consider both the effects of climate change on development (adaptation), and the effects of development on climate change (mitigation).

I am therefore proposing to reconsider the role of the RMA in relation to climate change in Stage 2 of the review of the RMA. This will provide the best opportunity for any changes to be carefully worked through.

We have these absurd provisions due to past governments saying "we will deal with climate change nationally" (and then refusing to deal with it in any meaningful way). There's now a greater awareness that price-based measures like the ETS are not the only way, and that they need to be backed up with other policies to reduce or limit emissions. The RMA is a useful tool to do that, and it is long past time we started using it. The Greens have promised that they'll be working to get their coalition partners to support restoring climate change management to the RMA; if we want emissions to reduce, we need to back them up on this.

Farmers are still poisoning Canterbury

In 2018, ECan decided to "solve" the problem of farmers poisoning the water with nitrates by raising nitrate limits so they could make the problem disappear. Of course, this didn't fix anything. Instead, its still getting worse:

In Canterbury, polluting nitrates were on the and risk maps the regional council was relying on were out of date, Forest and Bird said.

Using the council's own data, the environmental group created its own map, which it said showed an increasing number of private wells had nitrate levels above the safe standard for drinking water.

Forest and Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen said the last time the regional council, Environment Canterbury (ECan), updated its risk map for drinking water wells nearly 1.5 years ago.

She said analysis done on test results since then showed an increase in the number of wells where it was unsafe to drink the water due to nitrate levels, in Hurunui, Ashburton and possibly Selwyn.

This is a direct threat to human health. As the article points out, high nitrate concentrations have been linked to colorectal cancer. Failing to control nitrates means more people will die. But ECan apparently doesn't care about that. Instead, they're still grovelling to the sacred cow, and perfectly willing to kill people to keep dairy farmers in business.

Googling OIA requesters violates the Privacy Act

I saw an interesting article from FOIMan - a UK-based fredom of information site - on the subject of agencies googling requesters. This is apparently a common practice, but their short advice is "don't": its not just creepy and intimidating, it also almost certainly violates UK privacy legislation:

what’s your lawful basis? An individual’s FOI request, their identity, biographical information about them is personal data. You need a lawful basis to justify the handling of personal data – including searching for information about someone online. I presume you’ve completed a legitimate interest assessment and successfully justified how your need to know whether or not someone is a journalist outweighs the rights and freedoms of requesters? Even if you decide that you do have such a basis, are you otherwise complying with the requirements of the GDPR? Are you telling requesters that if they make a request it will result in the council looking them up online?

I'm aware anecdotally that New Zealand agencies also do this. But New Zealand has similar legislation, and the same logic applies here. Privacy Principle 1 requires that agencies only collect information "for a lawful purpose connected with a function or activity of the agency". And its difficult to imagine a lawful purpose for digitally spying on a requester in this way. Their motives or how they may use the requested information are not relevant to how a request should be processed. Their political views and whether they may be a journalist or a critic of the government explicitly are not. Requests should be processed without regard to such factors (sadly, as we all know, they are not). The fact that information about a requester is publicly available doesn't change that in the slightest: there must be a lawful purpose for collection before the question of public availability is even considered.

So, next time you get an OIA request, don't google them. Don't be curious - be professional instead.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

New Fisk

While the world watches Donald Trump, it’s missing what’s really going on with US foreign policy
Bloated bodies in the Nile show Sudan protesters were right to fear the arrival of Saudi and UAE money

Britain's criminal spies

Last month, we learned that MI5 had "compliance issues" around its data storage, and is retaining information for longer than necessary in violation of the law. But it turns out that its worse than that: they've been obtaining spy warrants on the basis of false information:

MI5 has lost control of its data storage operations and has been obtaining surveillance warrants on the basis of information it knows to be false, the high court has heard.

The security agency has been accused of “extraordinary and persistent illegality” in a legal challenge brought by the human rights organisation Liberty.

The failures have been identified by the official watchdog, the investigatory powers commissioner, Lord Justice Fulford, and admitted in outline by the home secretary, Sajid Javid.


In written submissions, Jaffey said: “Fulford’s generic warrant decision notes that warrants were issued to MI5 on a basis that MI5 knew to be incorrect and the judicial commissioners [the watchdogs] were given false information.”

There's more here, but the short version is that MI5 has never complied with the Investigatory Powers Act, and the "safeguards" the government promised when enacting it were bypassed by deceit. Which ought to be a warning to every democracy about granting powers to spies. Meanwhile, the IPC has said that until MI5 improves its data handling, applications for spy warrants will not be approved. Hopefully that will provide them with an incentive to sort their shit out.

(In NZ, sadly, the government response to this sort of issue would be to change the law to retrospectively legalise this criminal behaviour, while allowing the spies to do whatever they want).

Botswana decriminalises homosexuality

Botswana's High Court has ruled that colonial laws outlawing homosexuality are unconstitutional:

High court judges in Botswana have ruled that laws criminalising same-sex relations are unconstitutional and should be struck down, in a major victory for gay rights campaigners in Africa.

Jubilant activists in the packed courtroom cheered the unanimous decision, which came a month after a setback in Kenya when a court rejected an attempt to repeal similar colonial-era laws.

“Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalised,” Justice Michael Leburu said as he delivered the judgment. “Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement. It is an important attribute of one’s personality.”


“A democratic nation is one that embraces tolerance, diversity, and open-mindedness … societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity … The state cannot be a sheriff in people’s bedrooms,” Leburu said.

Good. And hopefully this ruling will be echoed in other countries suffering under the homophobic legacy of British colonialism.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Another industry no-one wants to be a part of

We see regular stories from farmers and orchards complaining that no-one wants to work long hours in terrible conditions for poor pay in their shitty industry. And now, its fishers. But in the process, they neatly explain why:

"It's a hard existence. There is a reasonable amount of risk, they're away from home on a small vessel, living conditions aren't necessarily fantastic, and their ability to enjoy some of the other things in life, like play rugby, tends to become quite difficult.

"I just don't think younger people are prepared to make that commitment."

Or, to put it another way: if you are crew on a fishing boat, you don't get to have a life, or friends, or a partner. There's just a job, which pays the princely sum of $50,000 a year. Which you can get on land, without the danger or the long hours or the shit working conditions which stop you from having a life.

So yeah, its not surprising at all that no-one wants to work for them. And that's without considering the industry's reputation for being full of criminals and using slave labour. Like farming, its an industry that no-one who is not already part of their cult would ever want to be a part of.

Climate Change: A climate emergency in Auckland

New Zealand's largest city has just declared a climate emergency. And its not just a symbolic move:

While the declaration is largely symbolic, it signals the start of a more urgent and focussed approach by councillors to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The council separately agreed to seek public views on an "action framework" that could lead to costed initiatives in next year's budget.

That framework is here. It proposes specific actions to reduce emissions and increase resiliance to climate change. If you live in Auckland, I suggest you read and submit on it.

Meanwhile, Auckland's declaration again raises the question: when will Parliament follow? If you'd like to urge MPs to declare a climate emergency, there's a petition to do so here. Sign it and share it.


New Zealand troops are coming home from Iraq next year. Good. Their mission there was never moral, and seems to have involved directly assisting the Iraqi army in a murderous war, as well as assisting the US with mass biometric surveillance and doing fuck knows what out in the desert. And all to support a corrupt, torturing regime which turned out to be little better than the one the US overthrew. The big problem with the withdrawal is that it isn't happening quick enough. To point out the obvious, the US seems to be gearing up for a war with Iran, and Iraq will likely be a major battlefield in that. In which case I hope NZDF has an emergency evacuation plan to get our people out if that looks like kicking off. Or is their plan to drag their feet, in th hope of being "unavoidably" involved in order to suck up to the US?

The OIA and Parliamentary Privilege

Immediately after being elected in 2017, the government started playing bullshit games over answers to written parliamentary questions. Since those games seemed to be systematic, I asked the likely culprit - Chris Hipkins - whether he'd given advice to other Ministers on how to answer questions, and if so, for copies of that advice. The request was refused, so I complained to the Ombudsman. And in the process of that complaint, the Minister's office tried to deny the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman over the matter, citing Parliamentary Privilege. Written questions are a proceeding in Parliament,and so could not be questioned before any court or tribunal - including the Ombudsman. While I eventually got a ruling, there was a lot of uncertainty about the interaction of the OIA and the 2014 Parliamentary Privilege Act, so I asked the Ombudsman and the Speaker to publish some guidelines on the issue so we would all know where we stood. The guidelines are now online here. The short version:

Official information cannot be withheld just because it constitutes parliamentary proceedings.

The PPA does not provide a reason for withholding such information. Releasing it under the OIA would not be ‘contrary to’ the PPA. Nor would it ‘derogate’ from the PPA.


However, neither Article 9 nor the PPA prevent the Ombudsman from carrying out their investigative role under the OIA, in relation to complaints about the withholding of information that constitutes parliamentary proceedings.

The Speaker of the House has said he does not see a general conflict arising from the Ombudsman performing the duties of that office, including conducting investigations into the withholding of official information that may also be a proceeding of the House

So Chris Hipkins' attempt to undermine the OIA failed. As for the specific request? Well, that failed too, as advice on answering questions is immediate and informal and so needs to be protected as "free and frank" to prevent Ministers and their officials from refusing to document it. Or, to put it another way: the threat that Ministers and officials may behave unprofessionally justifies protecting them when they behave unprofessionally. As someone who believes in accountability, I find this logic utterly perverse. Unmentioned in the summary in the guide is that parliament also supposedly holds itself to account. But given that those same bullshit games are continuing, how about that actually happens, rather than the theoretical possibility being used to protect the powerful?

Correction: The Minister's office did not try to invoke Parliamentary Privilege over this issue, or deny the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman considered the matter as a general issue on his own initiative. The issue had arisen in another complaint I had also made, and I had confused the two.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Climate Change: End pollution subsidies now

When National gutted the ETS in 2009, one of the ways they did it was to hand out huge subsidies to big polluters. Now the climate crisis is here, but the polluters want their subsidies to continue:

The latest climate pleaders to Government are seven of our largest manufacturers. Under the auspices of Business New Zealand, Fonterra, NZ Steel, Rio Tinto, NZ Refining, Golden Bay Cement, Methanex and Pan Pac Forest Products are arguing for more subsidies and an even easier ride in the Emissions Trading System than they have enjoyed over the past decade.


The seven big industrial emitters are the prime beneficiaries of a decade-old fudge of policies designed to minimise the impact of the ETS on companies that are emissions intensive and trade exposed, or EITE for short.

From the companies’ perspective, the policies were a triumph. The ETS has been essentially meaningless to them. The reductions they have made in energy use and emissions would have been good business practice and commercially beneficial anyway.

The highly favourable treatment they have received has come at a considerable cost to many other businesses and the country at large. In 2017, 82 emitters out of the 300 companies with direct obligations in the ETS qualified for free credits under the EITE rules. They received 5.6 million free credits, equal to 20 percent of the 28.6m units all companies surrendered to meet obligations.

This isn't just a huge financial cost and distortion to the ETS - it also means those polluters have no incentive to reduce their emissions (in fact, its the opposite: the more they pollute, the bigger the subsidy). And this in turn has significantly reduced the effectiveness of the scheme. When a huge chunk of the market just gets handed free credits, it reduces the value for everyone.

As for what to do about it, the answer is clear: we need to end these subsidies now. These polluters have had a decade of special treatment, and that's a decade too long. And if they can't survive without this government subsidy, they deserve to go out of business and be replaced by more efficient producers who can.

Will NZ Post sabotage local body elections?

School board of trustees elections were held last week. Unfortunately, NZ Post seems to have sabotaged them:

Voting in the triennial elections for most school boards closed at noon on Friday, June 7.

But Ponsonby Primary School principal Dr Anne Malcolm said most of her parents did not receive their voting papers until about 2pm on Thursday, giving them less than 24 hours to read the candidates' statements and get their votes in.

She put the blame squarely on "NZ Post inefficiency".

"They sent the voting papers out on Monday May 27," she said.

"It took 11 days for NZ Post to get mail into our letterboxes in the centre of Auckland, from Wellington, which is absolutely abhorrent."

NZ Post says its delivery time for standard mail is three days. Clearly, that's bullshit. And in this case, institutions who relied on it in good faith to run an election are paying the price. That stinks, but its going to get worse. Because, to point out the obvious, local body elections are being held later this year - and they run on a postal vote. According to the Electoral Commission, voting papers will be sent out from September 20, with polling closing at midday on October 12 - meaning there is just 3 weeks for voting. From NZ Post's observed performance, that's probably enough time for people to get their ballot papers - but possibly not enough time for them to be returned by post, especially if people take time to consider their votes. Which means that if you want your vote to count, you will need to physically drop it off at your local council, rather than trusting it to the mail.

NZ Posts shitness now seems to be posing a real threat to our democracy. Perhaps Parliament (through the Justice Committee?) might want to look into that, and see what can be done to fix it?

Friday, June 07, 2019

Time for some accountability

The Herald (paywalled) reports that the GCSB called the Beehive to try and stop the government from announcing the Budget had been "hacked". Why? Because it was false, and they'd told Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf so. But instead, he lied to his Minister, and the public, in a pathetic and easily disproven exercise in arse-covering - and in the process caused his Minister to repeat his lies.

Once upon a time, before NeoLiberalism destroyed public service ethics, a chief executive would have offered to resign for this sort of thing. Makhlouf hasn't. That position is looking unsustainable. Ministers may tolerate chief executives lying to the public on their behalf - but lying to them is another matter entirely. Especially when the lies cause the Minister to put their foot in it.

As for what to do about it, the SSC has begun an investigation, but that investigation can have only one credible outcome: Makhlouf must be fired. Anything less and the entire system of accountability between Ministers and the public service breaks down.

And again: we pay public sector chief executives the big bucks because (they tell us) they are accountable and responsible and can be fired when they fuck up. We should get what we paid for. And if the buck doesn't actually stop there, then we shouldn't be giving it to them in the first place.

Getting what they paid for again

Our fishing industry is pervasively criminal, with widespread under-reporting, dumping, and other illegal behaviour. The most effective way of stopping this crime is to put cameras on fishing boats to watch catches as they are brought aboard, enabling under-reporting, dumping nad high-grading to be detected, punished, and deterred. But thanks to a corrupt Minister who has been openly bought by the fishing industry, we're not getting that. Instead, we're getting another bullshit trial scheme:

Commercial fishing vessels deemed at risk of encountering endangered Māui dolphins will be required to operate with on-board cameras, the prime minister has announced.

Jacinda Ardern said just over $17 million had been set aside in the Budget for the purchase, installation and maintenance of the cameras, which will be required from November 1.

The new camera requirement will affect a small fraction of the more than 1000 commercial fishing boats in the country.

...all of which already carry human observers. So, we'll be watching the people who are already watched, while the huge hive of criminal activity elsewhere goes unmonitored and unpunished. And we'll be paying for it, rather than the criminal fishers.

This is bullshit. And its another example of the fishing industry getting what it paid for: a PR stunt rather than real action to clean them up.