Friday, December 09, 2016



Why don't we do this here?

The Australian Taxation Office has released its annual corporate tax transparency report, showing that a third of large companies in Australia paid no tax:

More than a third of large public and private companies paid no tax in 2014-15, according to data released by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

The ATO's latest corporate tax transparency report showed 36 per cent of large firms had zero tax payable in 2014-15.

The entities covered by the report are public and foreign firms with an income of $100 million or more and companies privately owned by Australian residents with an income of $200 million-plus.

[...]

Resources and energy had the greatest proportion of firms that did not pay any tax, at just under 60 per cent, while almost 40 per cent of manufacturers also paid nothing.


There may be good reasons why these supposedly large and profitable companies aren't paying tax (most obviously: they may not in fact be profitable). And thanks to the facts being published, we'll probably get to hear them - these companies will be forced to explain themselves to the public as well as their shareholders.

Which invites the question: why don't we do this here? The Commissioner of IRD can release information if it will enhance public confidence in the integrity of the tax system, and this sort of release definitely does (or will, once companies start fearing it). So why don't they?

About time

The Greens are calling for cannabis to be legalised for recreational and medical use:

The Green Party say it will legalise cannabis if it forms a government next year.

Under its proposal, people would be able to legally grow and possess marijuana for personal use.

The Green Party would also urgently amend the law so sick people using medicinal marijuana were not penalised.


The full policy is here, but it basicly recognises that waging war on cannabis users causes more harm than good and we would be better off simply regulating it like tobacco. That'll take a while, so in the short-term they're pushing for full implementation of the Law Commission's recommendations (which would basicly stop prosecutions of users and "social dealers") and removing all legal penalties for medicinal users. Its a sensible policy which recognises the utter stupidity and waste of the "war on drugs" and instead approaches drugs from a public health perspective. The question is whether they can convince Labour, or whether there's still just too many old farts in the establishment party.

WINZ kills

One of the long-term trends in New Zealand welfare policy, amplified under National, has for WINZ to become ever crueller and more vicious. Unsurprisingly, its driving people to suicide:

Monthly quotas were imposed at the Ministry of Social Development to prosecute beneficiaries, an inquest into the death of a woman accused of benefit fraud has heard.

"We had to get one prosecution per month. We had to get $30,000 of debt to be recovered per month," a former MSD investigator told the inquest into the death of Wendy Shoebridge. "Four cases had to be cleared per month."

Shoebridge, a 41-year-old mother, was found dead in Lower Hutt on April 3, 2011.

The day before, she opened a letter saying she was to be referred for prosecution over an alleged $22,000 benefit fraud. After her death, that amount fell to about $5500.


There's more unpleasant details in the report. The victim was suffering from severe depression. The investigator didn't want to prosecute. But they were over-ruled by management, who had quotas to meet. Records appear to have been "manipulated". But the blunt fact is that WINZ targetted a mentally vulnerable woman and drove her to kill herself. And their managers probably regarded that as a win, a beneficiary off the books, one person closer to meeting Ministerial targets to reduce benefit numbers.

People with long memories may remember that IRD was doing this in the 90's. But after a high-profile suicide, Parliament launched a select committee inquiry, and IRD's processes were supposedly reformed ("supposedly" because the deaths haven't stopped). Its looking like WINZ's policies and culture of bullying are going to need a similar excavation. But with both National and Labour united in hating beneficiaries, which party will stand up for them and demand that our welfare system stops killing people?

(Thanks to @buzzandhum for the idea for this post)

New Fisk

There’s one key difference between the Second World War and the Syrian conflict – the rebels of Aleppo are no heroes
The anguish of a family seeking justice for writer shot outside Jordanian court

Rotten to the core

How bad are Britain's police? Clint Rickards bad:

Hundreds of police officers are being accused of sexually abusing victims and suspects in what a senior police watchdog has called “the most serious corruption issue facing the service”.

Forces across England and Wales received 436 allegations of abuse of power for sexual gain against 306 police officers, 20 police community support officers and eight staff in the two years to March but inspectors believe the problem is even more prevalent than the numbers suggest.

Despite the large numbers, there is evidence that only 40 officers or staff have been dismissed for abusing authority for sexual gain in a similar period.

Vulnerable individuals, including domestic abuse victims, alcohol and drug addicts, sex workers and arrested suspects were among those targeted by officers and staff, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said.


This is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust. Police officers are supposed to protect people. Instead, these officers are exploiting and abusing them for their private gratification. It is utterly corrupt behaviour - and those in charge appear to just let them get away with it.

Thursday, December 08, 2016



The police are above the law

In March 2015, police surrounded Gregory McPeake in his car in a Napier carpark. Despite McPeake being contained and able to be arrested at leisure, they proceeded to smash the windows of the car, set police dogs on him, and repeatedly pepper sprayed and tasered him in an effort to arrest him. He died shortly afterwards. This week, the officers were tried for their manifestly excessive use of force in effecting the arrest. Despite being condemned by their fellow police, Radio New Zealand is reporting that they have been acquitted:



And there you have it: the police are above the law. They can use excessive force, rape, even kill, and they will not be convicted - assuming they are even charged. The courts and the legal infrastructure are simply not capable of providing justice against them when they commit criminal acts.

The shifting political consensus

John Key's strategy for winning three elections was simple: do nothing. Continue all of Labour's policies (which he had denounced as "socialism" while in opposition) while not meaningfully changing them (or maybe eroding them slowly). It was unpopular on the right, but very successful at winning elections, because it turns out that kiwis like socialism and don't much care who delivers it.

But that has consequences. Last week the press gallery was all about the consequences for Labour, who were forced left to differentiate themselves (which was apparently bad because they lost Nick Leggatt). But there's consequences for National too, in that Key's sustained political strategy has effectively created a political consensus.

Look at the platforms of the three leadership candidates. How many of them are advocating full Ruthanasia as a way of appealing to the backbench? None. How many are explicitly opposed to tax cuts, and instead arguing for increases in public spending on social services? Two. And the one who isn't doing that - Bill English - is pretty lukewarm on tax cuts, because unlike John Key he can count.

(Update: Actually, English thinks there are higher priorities than cutting taxes. So that's three for three).

Basicly the party of "slash the state" has instead become the party of "manage the state, if not moderately increase it". And as someone who likes left-wing policies, I again find it difficult to think that this is a bad thing.

But its not just a consensus against austerity. Look at the way policy has flowed over the last eight years. Under a National government, you'd expect policy to be flowing from ACT: ACT comes up with a crazy idea, convinces National's donors and a few backbench MPs, and National does it. Instead, policy has been flowing in the opposite direction: the Greens push for something (a capital gains tax, mass home building), they convince Labour, who convince the public, and National is forced into doing it in order to hug the centre. And while they do it in weaker form (a two-year bright line test, fewer homes), it establishes a consensus which can later be strengthened. Next time there's a Labour government, that two-year bright line test will become a permanent capital gains tax on investment properties (and maybe on shares too), and there will be more homes built. And National won't be able to oppose it except on managerial grounds. And if they leave the mild socialist centre and return to their traditional policies, they'll find themselves struggling, because taking care of people is popular.

Drawn

A ballot for five member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Employment Relations (Allowing Higher Earners to Contract Out of Personal Grievance Provisions) Amendment Bill (Scott Simpson)
  • Public Finance (Sustainable Development Indicators) Amendment Bill (James Shaw)
  • Broadcasting (Games of National Significance) Amendment Bill (Clayton Mitchell)
  • Land Transport (Vehicle User Safety) Amendment Bill (Jami-Lee Ross)
  • Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill (Steffan Browning)

There were 75 bills in the ballot today, and Labour was unlucky to not have one drawn. But five bills drawn today hopefully means better odds next ballot.

Strapping the chicken on charter schools

National is desperate that their charters chools are successful. So naturally, they allowed them to lie about how good their results were:

Charter school pass rates are out of line with state schools, a report has revealed.

[...]

The reported results were inflated because the charter schools, also known as partnership schools, were using a different method from state schools to report NCEA pass rates.

The report showed Vanguard Military School on Auckland's North Shore and Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paraoa reported they had met their 2014 NCEA leaver targets - but when the figures were analysed, they did not.

Vanguard reported a 100 per cent pass rate for NCEA Level 2. However, when revised in line with NCEA standards it dropped to just 60 per cent. It met Level 1 standards.

At Te Kura Hourua, neither Level 1 or Level 2 NCEA standards were met once revised: Level 1 dropped from 82 per cent to 77.8 per cent, and Level 2 dropped from 80 per cent to 55.6 per cent.


This sort of chicken-strapping is normal for National - see also their lowball targets for private prisons. But it deliberately sets out to mislead the public, and potentially persuades parents to send their kids to a substandard school as a result. That's obviously great for National's charter school cronies, who get to profit as a direct result of these lies. But its very, very bad for the public. But then, when has National ever cared about us?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016



A long-overdue change

The government has finally done the right thing and put 17 year olds accused of crime in the youth justice system where they belong:

The youth justice age has been raised to 18, ensuring offenders 17 and under will be dealt with in the youth court, away from more hardened criminals dealt with in District Courts.

But the extension only applies to lower risk 17-year-olds who would face the Youth Court system if they committed a crime. Certain violent crimes like murder, rape, aggravated assault, would earn automatic inclusion in the adult court system.

[...]

The changes, which will take place by 2019, will ensure that all 17-year-old offenders are dealt with according to which jurisdiction is best suited to the particular case, they said.


This is something that should have been done years ago. We've been repeatedly reminded by the UN that our policy of prosecuting children as adults violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and this brings us into greater compliance with international law. But its also a good pragmatic move - because the youth court actually works at turning people away from crime. Whereas throwing kids straight into the adult criminal justice system usually means that they stay there for life. Which means that we'll see less crime as a result of this move, and fewer lives ruined.

Bonus Member's Day

Today is unexpectedly a Member's Day, presumably because next week the House wil be in urgency for the end-of-year wash-up, or MP's will all be at some boozy party or something. First up is David Bennett's Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill, and that will be followed by Winston Peters' Land Transfer (Foreign Ownership of Land Register) Amendment Bill, Megan Woods' Environment Canterbury (Democracy Restoration) Amendment Bill, and Chris Bishop's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Interim Restriction Order Classification) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly, they should be able to make a start on Nanaia Mahuta's Charter Schools (Application of Official Information and Ombudsmen Acts) Bill. Which means that there should be a ballot for another two or three bills tomorrow as well.

But what about Paula Rebstock?

Back in 2012, after a campaign of leaks about its proposals to restructure MFAT, National announced an inquiry. Naturally, they appointed their go-to girl Paula Rebstock to investigate. And when she reported, it turned out to be a total hatchet job which ignored evidence and slandered innocent public servants, while failing to make a concrete case against the prime suspect.

Today, following a recommendation from the Ombudsman, SSC finally apologised to its victims and paid compensation. Which is good, but it leaves two questions. Firstly, why did it take so long? This was, after all, a recommendation from the Ombudsman, which normally has the force of an order. And secondly, what about Paula Rebstock? She was paid $208,907 and knighted for this hatchet job, which has ended up costing SSC hundreds of thousands in compensation and legal fees. Shouldn't they be seeking to recover that money from the person at fault? Or do we let National's crony-contractors do a piss-poor job and cost us all money while laughing all the way to the bank on their inflated salaries?

Climate change: Still melting

Its the dead of winter in the Arctic. And the ice cap is still melting:

Both the Arctic and Antarctic experienced record lows in sea ice extent in November, with scientists astonished to see Arctic ice actually retreating at a time when the region enters the cold darkness of winter.

Warm temperatures and winds drove record declines in sea ice at both polar regions in November compared to the 38-year satellite record of ice extent for the month. Arctic sea ice extent averaged 9.08m sq km (3.51m sq miles) for November, which is 1.95m sq km (or 753,000 sq miles) below the long-term average from 1981 to 2010 for the month.

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said that Arctic sea ice extent dipped for a short time in mid-November, an “almost unprecedented” event. Sea ice shrank by around 50,000 sq km (19,300 sq miles) in this period, mainly in the Barents Sea.


The graph is horrifying - record lows well below the average. And while it may manage to claw its way back to the sort of territory we've been seeing for the last five years, there will be a knock-on effect on next year's summer melt. It looks like the Arctic ice cap simply isn't going to be with us for much longer.

...which in turn is going to create positive feedback within the climate system, with more heating as dark water replaces reflective ice. This isn't good. And unless major polluters cut emissions, it will get worse.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016



Even more spying

The SIS and GCSB's annual reports were released today. The bad news: the trend of the past few years of a relentless expansion of spying has continued. The GCSB was granted 15 new intelligence warrants allowing individualised spying in 2016, and the number in force rose to 22 - both records. As for the SIS, again the picture tells it all:
NZSpying2016

The reasons for all this spying? "Terrorism" and "Espionage" - you know, the same threats we've faced for that entire graph. But now we apparently need to spy on two or three times as many people to combat them. Yeah, right. Again, its hard to escape the conclusion that the "oversight" on these warrants is simply a rubberstamp and that the threshold for granting one has dropped significantly in the past few years. And if we want to change this, we're just going to have to get a new government.

Key's resignation and the OIA

Did you want to know something about how John Key acted as Prime Minister? Which bloggers he briefed, or which journalists he had on speed dial, for example? Sorry, you're now shit out of luck. Key is subject to the OIA as Prime Minister, and all information he holds is official by default unless he can clearly show that it is held in a private capacity. But that obligation ends the moment he leaves office. And as we've seen in the case of Judith Collins, information about his specific practice as Prime Minister effectively disappears with him.

Its particularly annoying when complaints have been made to the Ombudsman and are now being shitcanned because of this. I've had one complaint which they've sat on since March which I've just had to withdraw because there is simply no credible prospect of the PM answering it in the next week. The briefings to bloggers complaint (which I'm a part of along with various media organisations) is currently going back and forth between the Ombudsman and the PM's chief of staff - and its clear that all the latter has to do is drag their feet and the information will never emerge. Which would of course be contemptuous of the law and utter bad faith towards the Ombudsman and requesters. Sadly, I've grown to expect nothing less from this government.

Fiji: Still a dictatorship

Today's reminder that Fiji is not a democracy: A Canadian woman living in Fiji appeared before a Parliamentary Select Committee and criticised government policy. So the government deported her:

A Canadian woman living in Fiji has been forcibly deported just hours after appearing before a parliamentary select committee.

Karen Seaton, who holds a Fiji residency permit, was taken from her Suva hotel and forced onto a plane to Los Angeles without any explanation.


You can see exactly how this happened: someone important heard of the evidence and was upset, so they picked up the phone and called in the thugs. Because that's how things work in Fiji: its a dictatorship.

Its not just contemptuous of free speech - it is a clear contempt of parliament (interfering with a committee witness is a slam-dunk contempt, and Fiji nominally shares enough of the Westminster constitutional tradition for that to be the case). But in Fiji, the regime is above the law. Parliament's rules are there to be used against the regime's enemies, not to protect the operation of parliamentary democracy.

Monday, December 05, 2016



Fiji: Ten years on

Ten years ago today, the Fijian military overthrew its elected government to establish itself as a dictatorship. And ten years later, it is still in charge. Oh, there are officially elections now, and Parliament has been "restored", but Fiji is not a democracy. Political competition was hobbled to ensure that the dictators won while soldiers "monitored" opposition meetings in the name of "national security". The opposition still faces persecution and arrest, and opposition MPs who actually oppose the government are thrown out of Parliament. Meanwhile the police and military torture with impunity while an amnesty decree has allowed the military to literally get away with murder.

The coup happened because Frank Bainimarama thought he knew better than the elected government how the country should be run. It was fundamentally illegitimate. Political legitimacy comes from the consent of the people, not from torture and guns.

As for a way forward, Bainimarama and his cronies need to stand trial, and the country's utterly pointless military needs to be disbanded. Until that happens, there will always be a weapon pointed at Fiji's democracy, and people will know they can get away with using it. This is about as likely as turkeys voting for christmas, but we can always hope...

Terminal

In the run-up to the Mt Roskill by-election, John Key said it was a referendum on Andrew Little's leadership, and that if Labour lost, Little would be "terminal". It looks like he was right about the referendum, but wrong about the party - just two days later, he has resigned.

Officially its for family reasons and because his heart wasn't in it for a full fourth term. Which is a great reason to resign. Too many politicians stay long past their use-by date, desperately clinging to power (or simply office) because they can't imagine what else to do with their lives (see Labour's front-bench for a perfect example of this). Recognising that its time to go, that there's more to life than yelling at one another in Parliament every day, is a good thing, and our politics would be healthier if more MPs did it.

At the same time, it massively changes the landscape for next year's election. Key's replacement will not be as popular as him, and some of the choices on offer - e.g. Judith Collins - are simply toxic. But Labour will have to work hard if they want to win. Mt Roskill shows they can do that if they want to, but too many of their senior MPs don't, and just want to wait their turn for a Ministerial salary. Hopefully the threat of the Greens eating them from the left will motivate them enough.

The rich are worried

The world is in dire straits. Inequality has put us of a 1917-style revolution which threatens to overthrow the global (economic) "liberal order":

The global economy has delivered too many of its benefits to the richest: in America, the proportion of after-tax income going to the top 1% doubled from 8% in 1979 to 17% in 2007. And in many ways the future looks worse. Productivity growth has slowed. Unless this can be changed, politics will inevitably become a struggle over dividing up the pie. Tech giants such as Google and Amazon enjoy market shares not seen since the late 19th century, the era of the robber barons.

You'd expect to read words like this in the pages of Jacobin. Instead, they're in The Economist, the official mouthpiece of the global 1%. The rich can see the writing on the wall, and they are worried.

But what do they propose as "solutions"? Strip away the rhetoric and the formulaic calls for deregulation, and there's some ugly suggestions of pandering to racists and bigots. But there's also at least some recognition that inequality is the central problem and that it needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, given the way the rich usually work, that's the bit that'll be ignored.

Yaaarrrr!

Back in October, Iceland went to the polls in a snap-election, and elected the Pirate Party as its third-largest party. Now, they've been invited to try forming a government:

Iceland’s president has invited the anti-establishment Pirate party to form a government, after the right- and leftwing parties failed in their bids.

Guðni Jóhannesson made the announcement on Friday after meeting with the head of the Pirate’s parliamentary group, Birgitta Jónsdóttir.

“I met with the leaders of all parties and asked their opinion on who should lead those talks. After that I summoned Birgitta Jónsdóttir and handed her the mandate,” he said.


The numbers are potentially there; the question is whether they can come up with a policy platform everyone will agree to support, at least temporarily. But after two failed attempts at government formation, the pressure will be on to succeed. Which means we may be about to get our first pirate government!