Monday, December 18, 2017



The British Army committed war crimes in Iraq

Its official: the British Army committed war crimes in Iraq. Their own courts say so:

British troops breached the Geneva conventions and subjected Iraqi civilians to cruel and inhuman treatment by hooding them and taking turns to run over their backs, the high court has ruled.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) breached the conventions as well as the 1998 Human Rights Act in the way in which it detained civilians after the 2003 invasion, the court concluded on Thursday.

The judgment comes 10 days after the international criminal court (ICC) declared there was “a reasonable basis” to conclude that British troops committed war crimes against Iraqi detainees.

[...]

The court also ruled that the MoD’s policy of detaining individuals as prisoners of war unless it was certain they were civilians, rather than releasing them when there was no proof they were combatants, was based on a misunderstanding of the Geneva conventions.


The victims in this case were mistreated in other ways - subjected to forced nudity and sexual humiliation and burned with cigarettes - but couldn't prove that they were in British (rather than US) custody at the time. Still, they've been awarded £84,000 in compensation, and there are over 600 cases pending.

But the kicker is this bit:
Despite the court’s findings, the MoD said no service personnel or veterans had been interviewed by investigators, nobody had been charged with any offence and no criminal charges may ever be brought in the UK.

A court finds war crimes were committed, and the Ministry of Defence says they won't do anything to find and punish those responsible. Which seems like a deliberate policy of turning a blind eye, a criminal conspiracy to ensure impunity. And that's exactly why the International Criminal Court needs to get involved, and why the British generals and politicians responsible for the invasion and its conduct need to be tried in The Hague.

Climate change: Costs and benefits of ending oil

On Friday, SSC released the information it had provided to political parties during the coalition negotiations phase. Among this was advice to the Green Party on the cost of ending all future coal mining, offshore oil drilling, and fracking. Using a present-value approach - basicly, all the money we will ever get from those industries, discounted for time, and not including benefits such as stopping spills and environmental destruction - put the cost of ending oil at $15 billion. Note that that's not an actual price tag, but a cost in terms of "money we will never get". Ending coal was priced at $441 million, which in present-value terms is next to nothing.

$15 billion sounds like a lot, and it is. But as noted above, it doesn't consider benefits, only costs (which largely fall on foreign oil companis, not kiwis). So what are those benefits? Avoiding sea-level rise, for a start:

The most recent national assessment found nearly 170,000 buildings sat within 3m of the mean high water spring, exposing them not just to sea level rise, but also storm-tide and wave flooding that could reach 1-2m in exposed places.

If all of those buildings were lost, they would cost $52 billion to replace.

About 68,000 buildings are below the 1m mark, carrying a replacement value of about $19b.

The report didn't include other assets or infrastructure on the damage bill, other than identifying the kilometres of road and rail exposed, and the number of airports.


So, the benefits of ending fossil fuel burning outweigh the costs by a margin of at least three to one. Even if the first metre of sea-level rise (which will drown South Dunedin, New Brighton, Eastbourne and Petone) is already baked in and unavoidable, its still a two to one benefit to cost ratio. Which seems like a complete no-brainer.

Two thirds of kiwis live in areas prone to sea-level rise. Ending fossil fuel use isn't some green quack - its an essential survival step. And while ending it here will only be a small amount, and won't protect us from foreign CO2, the journey is made of single steps, and we can't expect others to do what we won't do ourselves.

Friday, December 15, 2017



Submit!

The Justice Committee has called for submissions on the End of Life Choice Bill, you can either submit using the online form linked above, or by sending two copies to:

Committee Secretariat
Justice Committee
Parliament Buildings
Wellington

Submissions are due by Tuesday, 20 February 2018.

This is an important bill, and will be the subject of heavy lobbying from religious loonies. If you care about the bill, I encourage you to speak up about it.

New Fisk

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is no longer a force on the world stage

Little on the SIS

The Herald has a big piece on the SIS's unlawful use of customs data, which includes the first comment by SIS Minister Andrew Little on the matter:

Gwyn seems to have eschewed diplomatic niceties for the benefit of plain-speaking. It is not common to have oversight watchdogs speaking so bluntly.

And when Gwynn does speak so, the agencies' minister Andrew Little has reminded Kitteridge that she is obliged to listen.

"The Inspector General is the final and independent active oversight of these agencies.

When she reports, that's the bottom line.

"If the Inspector General is saying something is unlawful, it is for the agencies to step in line with what she says."


Which is what you'd expect a Minister to say. The problem is that here, the SIS has systematically refused to listen, and obstructed the Inspector-General's investigation (which is a crime). There need to be consequences for that, so that they actually get the fucking message. Unfortunately, where Little could be laying down the law and making examples, he is silent. Which is not a good sign that this will be the last case of unlawful behaviour by our spies, or that their culture of impunity will change.

Thursday, December 14, 2017



Fixing National's social deficit

The government has unveiled plans to fix National's social deficit, with a $5.5 billion package to help the poor, to by funded by taking away National's tax cuts for the rich. Good. For nine long years, National doled out tax cuts to its rich mates, while shitting on everyone at the bottom of the heap. At the same time, they eroded workers rights, keeping wages low and ensuring that people couldn't work their way out of poverty. I'm glad to see that change.

Government exists to help us, both by direct redistribution through taxation, and by providing the services we need. Labour, NZ First and the Greens will do that. National wouldn't. And we're well rid of them.

NZ's intelligence oversight is a bad joke

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has released their report into NZSIS access to Customs data, and it is an appalling litany of criminal behaviour by our spies. The short version: for years, the SIS accessed customs and immigration databases giving details on everyone's travel movements, and copied the data to their own servers for future mining (so, they know where you've been, if they ever care to look). In November 2014, they were told that this was illegal, so following their usual pattern, they had the government ram through an urgent law-change to legalise it (you may recall the democratic atrocity of the government holding sham select committee hearings, where submissions were solicited, but never read). They then systematically violated the constraints imposed by the law they had written, and did not stop even when informed by the Inspector-General that it was illegal. It was only in August last year that they finally began obeying the law (and of course, they then had another urgent law rammed through to broaden their access).

It gets worse. The SIS is refusing to admit that they behaved unlawfully, and refusing to provide the Inspector-General with information about the extent of their unlawful access or what has happened to the data. That in itself is contrary to the Intelligence and Security Act (and the Act which preceded it), and a criminal offence, which the Inspector-General all but accuses them of. So will anyone be prosecuted, or even sacked? Of course not. Because when push comes to shove, the spies are above the law, and the Inspector-General (like the IPCA) is there to provide pretty lies to the public about how they are under control, rather than actually keep them under control (or at least, that is the effect in practice when their recommendations are ignored and there are no prosecutions even in cases of clear and systematic criminal behaviour, as here).

As I noted when this story first emerged earlier in the week, Parliament needs to put its foot down. They have told us very explicitly that the spies will be controlled and their powers scrutinised. They've passed laws saying so. And those laws are being ignored. Their legitimacy as a parliament depends on their standing up for our rights, upholding those laws, calling the SIS to account and sacking people. And if they don't, then we might as well give up on laws and elections, because they will have shown that in practice, its the spies who call the shots.

Passed

Last night, Parliament debated David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill - and voted 76-44 to send it to committee. Its an overwhelming vote, much larger than the bare majority I think people were expecting. And while some of it is due to NZ First's agreement to vote it forward if Seymour agreed to support a referendum clause, it still had enough support to get over the line without them.

So now the battle moves to the select committee. The bigots (including foreign bigots) are lobbying heavily on this, just as they did over homosexual law reform, civil unions, and marriage equality. So if you support the bill, its important to speak up for it. I'll post details on how to submit when they go up.

The good news is that with 77 votes for first reading, the bill has a high likelihood of passing. There will undoubtedly be amendments from the committee, but they are likely to be technical rather than substantive. Though there will be a strategic question about whether Seymour continues with the referendum path, or just opts for a straight up or down vote. I guess we'll find that out late next year.

Drawn

A ballot was held today for a single Member's Bill, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Renewal of Licenses) Amendment Bill (Louisa Wall)

Parliament's website still hasn't caught up on all the bills in the ballot yet, so I've no idea what that one does.

Jan Tinetti (whose Education (National Education and Learning Priorities) Amendment Bill was drawn yesterday) already has another bill in the ballot. Also, despite all their noise about "transparency" over the last few weeks, National doesn't have a single bill in on the subject. Which I guess shows how they really feel about it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017



More dubious behaviour from the SIS

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has released their report into the Legality and propriety of warnings given by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. The report is a follow-on from an early inquiry into the SIS's actions in raiding and warning members of the NZ Fijian community, in the process smearing an innocent man. The Inspector-General at the time found that that practice was illegal. The new Inspector-General has followed up by investigating past "warnings" from the SIS, and given substantial recommendations on how to ensure that future warnings respect fundamental human rights and comply with s16 of the Intelligence and security Act.

Past practice seems to have been appalling, with SIS officers at one stage explicitly instructed to exploit people's misapprehensions about their role and connections with foreign intelligence services - in other words, to let people think they were a despotic secret police able to kidnap and torture, and that they would pas son information to enable foreign human rights abuses if cooperation was not forthcoming. The Inspector-General calls this a one-off, except that this is exactly what they did in the Fijian case, explicitly threatening to inform Fijian authorities, which "could result in problems for and harm to people in [that country]". In one warning, they even appear to have specifically referred to Fijian human rights abuses.

The Inspector-General has made it clear that this isn't acceptable, and this has been accepted by the SIS (largely because its also been nailed down very clearly in statute and Ministerial Policy Statements). But the IGIS has also made recommendations about procedural fairness in such interviews, around both their context (whether there are police present), and whether people are allowed to retain a written copy so that they know exactly what they are being warned about. The SIS has rejected these recommendations, putting its own operational convenience and petty secrecy above people's fundamental rights.

This is not acceptable. It also undermines the whole oversight regime. Again, if the spies can just ignore the Inspector-General, there's simply no point in having one. But bluntly, if there's not going to be oversight, we can't have spies. If the SIS behaves like this, they need to be defunded and eliminated. Because the cost of having a lawless, criminal agency is far worse than anything they might ever prevent.

Drawn

A ballot was held today for three Member's Bills, and the following bills were drawn:

  • KiwiFund Bill (Fletcher Tabuteau)
  • Education (National Education and Learning Priorities) Amendment Bill (Jan Tinetti)
  • Education (Protecting Teacher Title) Amendment Bill (Jenny Marcroft)
So, three government bills to replace the ones they pulled. Things worked out for them after all. Sadly not drawn: Angie Warren-Clark's Crimes (Offence of Blasphemous Libel) Amendment Bill, which would presumably repeal the archaic offence of blasphemous libel. Its good to see a Labour MP finally stepping up to push for this - it is long past time.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the second of the new Parliament - and finally, we're going to see something happen. Labour withdrew three of its member's bills yesterday in order to move David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill up the Order Paper, and it looks likely to begin its first reading today. But first, there's some other business to plough through, in the form of the committee stage of Ruth Dyson's Rates Rebate (Retirement Village Residents) Amendment Bill, the rest of the second reading of Brett Hudson's Employment Relations (Allowing Higher Earners to Contract Out of Personal Grievance Provisions) Amendment Bill, and the rest of the first reading of Parmjeet Parmar's Newborn Enrolment with General Practice Bill. These will take up most of the day, but the debate on the End of Life Choices Bill should start before 9pm. Whether we'll see a vote will depend on how quickly the House gets through other business.

Due to Labour pulling its bills, there will be a ballot for three bills at noon today. There should also be a ballot for a further bill tomorrow. So, new bills for the House to play with!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017



Spain is more transparent than New Zealand

Given its treatment of Catalonia, it is clear that Spain is (still) a fascist, authoritarian state. However, its a fascist, authoritarian state which is more transparent than New Zealand, in that it is now legally required to release Cabinet agendas and minutes. The original article is in Spanish, but there was an English translation on the FOIANet mailign list:

Access Info has today published on its website the minutes of Spain’s weekly Cabinet meetings for the years 1996 to 2017, making them available to the public for the first time in Spanish democratic history.

The minutes, which contain the desicions reached in each weekly meeting, were obtained using information requests by Access Info as part of collaborative research with journalist Jesús Escudero, and have been published to mark the third anniversary of the entry into force of Spain’s Transparency Law on 10 December 2014.

[...]

Access Info's work to open up the Spanish Cabinet started in 2016 with an initial request for the agendas of the weekly Cabinet meetings, documents which were then used by various journalists as the basis for further investigations.

Access Info is calling for information on decision-making processes to be made public: “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” concluded Gutiérrez, “The government should now ensure proactive publication of the minutes not only of Cabinet meetings but also those of other decision-making processes.”


While New Zealand (falsely) prides itself on our government transparency, this information would never be released here. DPMC has rejected requests for basic information such as Cabinet agendas, claiming that telling us what ministers are discussing or have discussed in the past this would compromise Ministerial collective responsibility, free and frank advice, and confidentiality. They have refused to release older agendas where those interests are less likely to be relevant, and refused even to release information with redactions to protect those interests (standard practice with every other agency). Their justification for this is that
Cabinet agendas have been requested under the OIA in the past, but the Cabinet Office has never released them publicly because my predecessors and I have maintained a consistent position that it would not be in the public interest to do so.

In other words, it is secret because it has always been secret, and bugger the law! (Incidentally, the public servant who wrote that is now the SIS head who is obstructing IGIS investigations. Mindless secrecy seems to be her thing).

Cabinet is the heart of our government. Secrecy there poisons everything else. Transparency there, around what they are discussing and what they have decided, is vital if we are to consider ourselves to be an open democracy. The new government has made some positive noises around proactive release of Cabinet material, which is good, but until that happens, the least they could do is force DPMC to comply with the OIA and release such information on request. Otherwise, we face the prospect of being less transparent than fascist Spain.

The SIS breaks the law again

Another annual report from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, and another revelation that our spy agencies have broken the law - this time over data sharing with Customs. But what's worse is that they have flatly refused to cooperate with the Inspector-General's investigation:

Our spies have broken the law accessing Customs and Immigration data and have resisted explaining to the intelligence oversight body why they have done so.

That's the blunt statement spelled out in the latest annual report from the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

[...]

The details are revealed in the latest annual report from Gwynn into the NZ Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau.

In it, Gwynn said the NZSIS had "unlawfully obtained Customs data" until mid-2016 and it had not properly explained why.


In the past, intelligence agencies have provided the Inspector-General with their internal legal advice, which is essential to understanding their position. SIS has refused. Which suggests that their advice is tenuous (or non-existent), and they know it, and are relying on secrecy to avoid the criticism they deserve. But either wya, it shows us that the "oversight" of IGIS is fundamentally broken, that their legal power to compel evidence (which overrides secrecy) is apparently insufficient, and that spies do not fear the derisory $5,000 fine for obstructing the Inspector-General in their duties. In other words, the oversight regime is a joke. But if that's the case, then the promise the government made (that new spy powers would be constrained by better oversight) was a lie, and that it is simply not safe for our society to have spies.

Parliament needs to put its foot down: either SIS cooperates completely with IGIS, or they get defunded and eliminated. Because their legitimacy depends on being seen to uphold our rights against the spies, by ensuring that the latter follow the law. Parliament cannot permit a public agency to behave in such a criminal and lawless manner. At least, not if it wants to keep saying that we are a democracy.

Stealing from their employees

Checkpoint last night had an appalling story about KFC, which has an explicit corporate policy of stealing leave from its employees:

Former store managers at fast food chain KFC say they were told to manipulate rosters in the lead up to public holidays so the company could avoid giving staff a day in lieu.

Checkpoint with John Campbell has spoken to five former store managers who say they were sent an excel spreadsheet unofficially called a 'yellow list' in the weeks before public holidays.

The managers say employees who needed their shifts changed, stopping them from being entitled to a day in lieu, were highlighted in yellow.

They say yellow lists were sent by either their area manager, or payroll at KFC head office, and were to "control labour costs".


And corporate HQ explicitly praised store managers who manipulated rosters to ensure that no-one got paid for their day off.

This is simply theft, an abuse of their power as an employer to steal entitlements from their workers. But its also clear that KFC are arseholes. And who wants to buy from thieving arseholes?

The good news is that its also probably illegal: burger chain Wendy's used the same techniques, and the Employment Relations Authority has just ruled that it is illegal and that they must review all public holidays for the past five years and repay thjeir employees for any holidays they've stolen. Other fast food companies are following the ruling, and hopefully KFC will too. Otherwise, I guess their workers will just have to take them to court, and make them pay not just for stolen holidays, but the costs of enforcing them as well.

Not official information

The ombudsman has issued a provisional opinion on the government's 33-page coalition document, and found it not to be official information. Meaning that its not covered by the Act and does not have to be released:

The coalition Government's refusal to release a 33-page document created during negotiations has been backed by the Chief Ombudsman's provisional ruling.

[...]

In the provisional ruling, sent to Newsroom, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said he was satisfied the document had not played a role in policy decisions.

Boshier said he had "carefully read and considered" the document, saying it was "clearly made for the purpose of assisting the parties with coalition negotiations".

"It contains discussion points designed for negotiation and, despite certain public comments to the contrary, does not include information such as directives to Ministers," Boshier said, in the provisional decision sent to Newsroom.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office told Boshier the document had not been passed on to any ministers or government departments, or used by any ministers in carrying out their official duties.

Boshier said he was satisfied the information had not been used by Ardern in her role as Prime Minister, and was held "solely in her capacity as Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party".


And that's reasonable. The OIA covers government information, created or held by Ministers or agencies. It doesn't cover political parties, or information created or held by politicians in their political capacity as MP's or party leaders. And while that distinction can and has been abused by (National) Ministers playing the "hat game", I'm satisfied that the Ombudsman can tell the difference between what is official and what is not.

Monday, December 11, 2017



Will National support child poverty targets?

When it was in government, National resolutely refused to set a target for child poverty, or even recognise an official statistic for it. Basicly, they didn't want to talk about it, or how their policies to help the rich seemed to make other people worse off. But now, Jacinda Ardern wants their support for a new targets regime:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants National's support for a new law that will "take the politics out of poverty" and bind future Governments to set targets to reduce child poverty.

And she says the Government's families package, which will be launched this week, will lift more than 50,000 children out of poverty and help 70 per cent of low and middle income families.

Ardern, who is also the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, said the Government would introduce a child poverty bill in the new year, and she will write to National Party leader Bill English to seek his support.

It would set a range of measures of child poverty and bind the Government, and future Governments, to setting three-year and 10-year child poverty reduction targets.


Its a good policy, which will force governments to admit the problem and at least pretend to do something about it - and allow us to hold them accountable at the ballot box if they don't do enough. But while I think Ardern has to make the offer to National, I don't think they'll be interested. Throughout its nine long years in government, National consistently showed it simply was not interested in child poverty, and refused to admit that there even was a problem, let alone that government could do anything about it. So they're really not going to be interested in binding themselves to care about it in future. And while normally losing an election would cause an ex-government to reconsider things like that, National is in denial even about that, and still pretending that they didn't lose (despite the reality that they're now in opposition and Bill English has taken a $250,000 pay cut).

In other words, I don't expect anything from National in this area. Its not a problem that affects the rich, or farmers, or trucking or construction companies, so they just won't give a shit about it. The best we can expect is a sullen acceptance of the law produced only by fear of the political cost of repeal, combined with do nothing targets next time they're in government. Just like climate change, in other words.

New Fisk

Donald Trump says recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will bring peace – it will do quite the opposite

Time to bring them home

Over the weekend, Iraq declared victory in the fight against ISIS, saying that "All Iraqi lands are liberated from terrorist Daesh [Isis] gangs". Which means that its time to think about bringing kiwi troops home.

New Zealand currently has ~150 soldiers in Iraq training the Iraqi army. That deployment is currently expected to end in November 2018, though NZDF wants to keep them there forever to suck up to Trump. But now the war is officially over, there's no reason to. Australia will be immediately reviewing its deployment, and we should be too. After all, if there's no reason to remain, why stay?

Friday, December 08, 2017



Truth overboard again

When the New Zealand government started making serious noise about Australia's immoral refugee concentration camps, and offered to free people from them and give them a new home in New Zealand, suddenly there were Australian claims of "boats heading for New Zealand". Of course, it was all a lie:

There have been no intelligence reports that boat-people are targeting New Zealand more since the change of Government, nor any suggestion of a credible attempt by people smugglers to reach these shores by boat, the Government says.

And Andrew Little, Minister responsible for intelligence agencies the GCSB and the SIS, says that the boat-people who Australia says wanted to come to New Zealand probably didn't even know where New Zealand was.

His comments support those of a senior Foreign Affairs official, who told the Foreign Affairs select committee this morning that there was no evidence boat smugglers are targeting New Zealand more since the standoff over Manus Island.


This isn't surprising. The Australian government has shown a willingness in the past to lie to its own people to bolster its monstrous policy - as in the case of the "children overboard" affair (where the Australian Liberals used such lies to win an election). At the same time, Australia is supposed to be our closest friend. And yet, they're lying to us in an effort to manipulate our public and our policies. This is not the action of a friendly nation. But I guess, Australia hasn't been friendly for quite a while.

Meanwhile, remember: if you don't like Australian policy, Australian cruelty, and Australian lies, don't buy Australian. Its very easy once you get into the habit.