Monday, July 24, 2017



WINZ staff have a target for throwing people off benefits

Something we knew all along, but until now could never prove: WINZ staff have a target for throwing people off benefits:

Work and Income (WINZ) staff are "more than happy" to break the law to get people off benefits so they can reach monthly targets, it has been claimed.

Beneficiary advocate Jeremy Roundill says a WINZ employee in Manurewa told him the target for each case manager was 12 clients off the benefit a month.

The beneficiaries often don't fight back because "when you're a beneficiary and WINZ provides you with your lifeline, you're likely to capitulate to the orders of your case manager, as they're the one who puts food on your table".

WINZ documents released under the Official Information Act require employees to make "an appropriate individual contribution, as agreed with their manager, to the number of clients supported off-benefit and into employment".

WINZ declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a statement while there are targets - which differ by regions - employees have no financial incentives to reach them and are not sanctioned if they don't.

And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Auckland to sell you. In reality, if this target is not met, questions will be raised at performance reviews, and pressure will be applied to make sure that it is met. And the net result will inevitably be people thrown off benefits unlawfully so that the case manager keeps their job.

(Note that the "into employment" part of that target is there for show. WINZ isn't interested in getting people jobs, and they don't care what happens when they throw people off benefits. All they care about is reducing benefit numbers to meet to the arbitrary reduction targets set by Ministers).

WINZ should be there to assist people, to ensure they receive the help they are legally entitled to. Instead, it actively denies people that help, as part of the government's war on the poor. This isn't a new problem - remember Christine Rankin? - but it needs to end. Only a complete cultural change will do that. And as shown by the police with their rape culture, that requires more than just a change of top-level management. Instead it will require the removal of almost all long-term WINZ staff.

Two-faced

Since National introduced charter schools into New Zealand, Labour has been crystal clear in its opposition, promising repeatedly to abolish and close them. But now it turns out that they didn't really mean it after all:

Labour plans to make changes to special character schools, which will throw a lifeline to the charter schools they promise to shut down.

[...]

On Monday, responding to Davis' pledge to resign over them, Hipkins said "tweaks" would be made so there weren't any "unnecessary barriers" for new special character schools.

That could include allowing schools to have more than one special character, which would make it easier for some Maori and Pacifica-targeted schools, he said.

[...]

Under the special character changes Hipkins said it was "quite possible" the charter schools operating in Davis' electorate would meet the criteria to transition.

Those years of opposition? Gone. All that tub-thumping? Meaningless noise. But given its professed opposition, this sudden reversal simply makes Labour look like two-faced liars. And if they'll reverse themselves on something they pushed as a rock solid core policy for years, we really have to ask what other, similarly "core" policies they're willing to throw overboard to pander to Andrew Little's pet picks.

Shooting the messenger

There is abundant evidence that the British military committed war crimes in Iraq: torture, abuse, the murder of civilians, all of which are crimes under UK and UK military law. But rather than properly investigating those crimes, the Ministry of Defence instead appears to have attempted to have lawyers representing their victims disbarred:

The government has been accused of undermining the rule of law by putting pressure on an independent regulator in its action against a legal firm pursuing claims of human rights abuses involving British troops in Iraq.

The former deputy leader of the Labour party, Harriet Harman, has called for the release of any emails that would reveal whether the ministries of justice and defence attempted to influence the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to act against Leigh Day. The human rights firm has been involved in many high-profile cases against British soldiers and has referred a number of them to the controversial Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), now being wound up.

Earlier this year, the firm, two of its senior partners, Martyn Day and Sapna Malik, and a junior lawyer, were cleared by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal of any wrongdoing over claims they had made against British troops. The MoD said it was disappointed with the verdict which, if it had gone the other way, could have been fatal for the firm.

[...]

The tribunal hearing the case against Leigh Day was told that 276 pieces of correspondence were exchanged between the MoD and the SRA. In several, defence ministers urged civil servants to contact the SRA to seek updates on the firms’ prosecutions.


Which seems to be straight-out evidence of an attempt to interfere in the judicial process. It's as if they were emailing a judge during a court case. Which is grossly improper, if not an attempt to pervert the course of justice. But this is the British establishment, which clearly will stop at nothing to defend the reputation of their Glorious Military.

While Leigh Day was not disbarred, another law firm representing victims of British war crimes was. The MoD's pressure immediately calls that decision into question, and makes it look like a political verdict. And it destroys any pretense that the UK's war crimes investigations were anything other than another attempt at a shabby cover-up. But if the UK won't investigate its war criminals, I guess they'll just have to go to The Hague instead.

Must read

Today's must-read (though its from last week): Peter Newport's piece in The Spinoff on The Ministry of Transport fraud case: Why the rot goes deeper than Joanne Harrison. Based on information from more MoT whistleblowers, it makes a convincing case that, contrary to government excuses, Harrison was not some fraudulent mastermind who deceived everyone. Instead, her fraud was clumsy, easily detectable - and was detected multiple times. And that it was the failure of then chief executive (and for the time being, Auditor-General) Martin Matthews to actually act on these warnings that was the problem.

That's bad, and it puts Matthews in a very bad light. But the thing that really gets me is this:

Martin Matthews was assistant auditor general for eight years from 1990. One of his core responsibilities was fraud prevention. His boss for much of that time was Jeff Chapman. Chapman holds the dubious distinction of being New Zealand’s highest ranking civil servant to be convicted and jailed for fraud. As auditor general and head of ACC, according to evidence at his trial in 1997, Chapman lived the high life: first-class travel, fine wine and food, trips on Concorde and helicopter rides from the French Riviera to Monte Carlo. He was found guilty of defrauding ACC of $20,000 and the Audit Office of $34,549.

According to our source, Matthews had given MOT staff the impression that he was aware his former boss, Auditor General Chapman, had been cheating the system...


The first bit is bad enough. The natural question is why anyone who was deputy to New Zealand's worst public sector fraudster was ever allowed to work in a management role in the public service ever again. And then to learn that he's been telling people "yeah, I knew about it" and did nothing - its as if he's proud of his role in covering up for criminals. Which is fundamentally inconsistent with the values of the New Zealand public service and the leadership chief executives are required to display. Those statements alone are reason for immediately firing him, because they suggest that he would tolerate corruption in his department. And when there has been corruption in his department, that he was warned about repeatedly, it starts to look a lot like he was a knowing party to the offence.

The report on Matthews should be out this week. But if it finds him blameless and lets him continue in office, there is simply no hope whatsoever for our public service.

The GCSB perjured themselves

Kim Dotcom lost a court case last week over whether he could see the communications the GCSB intercepted from him in order to assess the amount of damages he is owed. But in doing so, we learned something new: that illegal surveillance lasted two months longer than previously admitted, and the GCSB lied about it in court:

The illegal spying which earned Kim Dotcom an apology from former Prime Minister Sir John Key went on two months longer than previously admitted, according to a High Court judgment.

The revelation - if accurate - would open a can of worms over sworn admissions the GCSB has made in the High Court and the Court of Appeal over assistance given to police ahead of the FBI-inspired 2012 raid which saw Dotcom and three others arrested.

It could also raise the possibility of a fresh apology to Dotcom because Key's apology was in the context of spying from December 16, 2011 through to January 20, 2012.


The GCSB had previously given sworn statements on the earlier date in court, so the spies who gave those statements are now on the hook for perjury. But that's not all - because the new date also means that the GCSB continued spying on Dotcom for a full month after they knew it was illegal. Which pushes their spying from "incompetent mistake for which people should lose their jobs" to "knowing illegality for which people should go to jail". Not that that, or a perjury prosecution, will ever happen. Because if we've learned one thing from this whole saga, its that the law simply does not apply to the GCSB. And that makes one of the foundations of consent in the modern state - equal laws, applying to the government as well as the people - a lie.

The GCSB are not just undermining our sovereignty and our international relations. They are also undermining the foundations of our democracy. They are a poison in our body politic. And it is long past time we eliminated them.

Friday, July 21, 2017



"No idea" II

Meanwhile, while the government claims it had "no idea" there was a housing crisis or that it would cost so much, social housing waiting lists have hit record highs:

The growing demand for social housing in New Zealand is showing no sign of slowing down, according to newly-released figures.

The official waiting list for social housing grew by 40 per cent in the last year, and has passed 5000 households for the first time since the Ministry of Social Development took over responsibility in mid-2014.

The increase appears to be driven by demand in Auckland and Christchurch, where a combined 250 people were added to the list since March.

After the last quarter's results were released in April, Social Housing Minister Amy Adams noted that growth in demand had slowed to 2 per cent. It has now bounced back up again, rising 10 per cent in the last three months.


And remember, this is the waiting list after WINZ have denied assistance to everyone they possibly can in a desperate effort to save money and make the Minister's stats look good. So it massively under-estimates demand.

Again, the only reason National had "no idea" there was a housing crisis is because they steadfastly ignored the evidence for years. I guess they were just more interested in the rising value of their personal property portfolios than in what that actually meant for ordinary people.

New Fisk

To the Government, Saudi Arabia is 'The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All'

The cost of denial

Despite having been warned for years about the housing crisis, National now says it had "no idea" that it was a problem:

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett has admitted "in hindsight" the Government's response to the housing crisis has been too slow.

[...]

"We had no idea how much it was going to cost," Ms Bennett told The AM Show on Friday morning.

"We had no idea it would ever be this big. No Government had ever picked up the bill for this. No Government has ever funded emergency housing."

Asked if the Government should have done something about it earlier, Ms Bennett said that "in hindsight, you always wish you'd gone earlier".


But this wasn't ignorance: it was denial. National simply didn't want to admit the problem existed (especially when it was making its urban voters feel wealthy as their house prices rose). But this denial has cost us. At the moment the government is spending $50 million a year putting homeless people up in overpriced motels, spending that could have been avoided if they'd acted sooner and built more state houses. But again, that would have required admitting that the problem existed, and accepting that it is the government's job to fix it - both anathema to National.

And so because of government denial we have a massive social problem which is going to cost us hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars to directly fix, while likely imposing that much in flow-on costs due to its health, education, and other effects. If only they'd pointed their social investment approach at that, rather than at finding more ways to throw people off benefits.

Thursday, July 20, 2017



Unprotected disclosures

The State Services Commission has released the results of its inquiry into retaliation by convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison against staff who tried to blow the whistle on her. They're pretty devastating:

Four whistleblowers at the Ministry of Transport suffered "humiliating" reprisals after they raised concerns about convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison, a high-level inquiry has concluded.

And while the staff members were not forced out of their jobs as initially claimed, Harrison's advice meant some of them were made redundant just before Christmas or had requests for a pay rise rejected.

The affected staff members are now in line for compensation, the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said at a press conference this afternoon. The size of the payout was confidential.


Each of these staff did the right thing, and were punished for it. Its a clear breach of the Protected Disclosures Act, and SSC has recognised that with compensation. At the same time, it has once again raised the wider issue of whether the Protected Disclosures Act is fit for purpose. There's some vague recommendations for a review, but nothing concrete, despite the clear failure of the Act in this case. Reform was suggested in last year's Open Government Partnership consultation, but was not taken up by the government. This case suggests very strongly that that was a mistake. We need an improved whistleblower law, one which empowers employees to go to MP's and the media if their bosses ignore them, and one which offers concrete protection against retaliation, with personal liability and jail terms for bosses who try to silence them. Anything less, and we are implicitly tolerating corruption in our public service and our society.

National's New Zealand

Welcome to National's New Zealand, where infant mortality is at a three-year high:

New Zealand's high rates of infant deaths places it near the bottom of the OECD, with opposition parties blaming inequality and poverty for the country's poor record compared to the rest of the developed world.

Poor healthcare; poor housing; lack of access to a midwife or maternity carer; and poor health in the mother have all been blamed by experts for the poor statistics.

The rate of neonatal deaths has fluctuated over the past 20 years, but in that time there has been little sustained improvement.

Recently-published government figures from 2013 are the worst in three years.


This is the hard edge of National's cuts and its grinding down of the poor: dead babies. National doesn't care - hell, it probably sees them as a net gain, an avoided cost in their "social investment" models. If we want to fix this, and rejoin the first world, we need a government which does, and which will reverse National's austerity.

People should be paid for their work

The Māori Party's latest immigration policy: slavery for migrants:

An internship visa that would require migrants with special skills to train young people in the regions is to be announced by the Maori Party today.

The package is part of the party's new policy on immigration, which until now has been solely a bid to have a crash course on Te Tiriti o Waitangi - the Treaty - added to the requirements for citizenship.

The Community Internship Scheme would see migrants work for two years as builders, doctors, beekeepers, plumbers or in other skilled work, depending on their qualifications or the needs of regions. The regions targeted would be identified as "Economic Hotspots" - areas experiencing an economic, population or income decline.

The internship would be unpaid


But don't worry: the local community would feed and house their migrant slaves, so they won't starve or freeze to death.

As with WINZ's provision of force labour to The Warehouse, this is not something we should permit in New Zealand. People should be paid for their work. If the Māori Party wants to offer proper, paid jobs in the regions to encourage people to migrate there, that's one thing. But removing their right to pay and restricting their freedom of movement under a coerced "contract" is simply slavery.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017



Who needs tax collectors anyway?

New Zealand has a problem with tax cheats. Large multinational corporations, rich pricks, dodgy tradespeople, all not paying their fair share. So naturally, National is gutting the IRD:

Staff at Inland Revenue offices around the country have been told 30 percent of its workforce will go by 2021.

[...]

The PSA said restructuring from February next year could affect up to 4000 staff in various ways, but the impact had not been fully explained.

In a statement released this afternoon, Inland Revenue Commissioner Naomi Ferguson said there would be no reduction in frontline customer services staff.

She said the 3300 customer-facing staff would all be offered new roles or confirmed straight into new roles.


Which means the ones they're planning to sack are the specialist staff, the ones who know what they're doing. The ones who know how to detect fraud and spot bullshit from the rich. Because hey, who needs to do that? Its not like the government depends on people paying their taxes to fund all those schools and hospitals or anything...

This is pure wrecking behaviour by National. And clearly, if we want a functioning state supported by a functioning tax system, we need a change of government.

If this is "terrorism", we should all be "terrorists"

Turkey has arrested six human rights activists for "terrorism":

Amnesty International urged the British government to end its silence over Turkey’s slide into authoritarian rule on Tuesday after its local director and five other activists were remanded in custody on accusations of belonging to a terrorist organisation. It is possible the six will now be held in jail for as long as two years before their full trial comes to court.

Idil Eser, local director of the London-based organisation, was one of a group of activists including a German and a Swedish national detained on 5 July while attending a routine workshop on digital security and information management near Istanbul.

Turkey’s state prosecutor had asked the court on Monday to remand all 10 in custody pending trial on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation. Six were retained in jail to give the prosecution time to assemble full charges. Four others were released.


If promoting human rights is "terrorism", we should all be "terrorists". And governments which adopt that definition deserve to be overthrown by their people.

Farmers never learn

The dairy lobby is trying to tell us that farmers are cleaning up their act and polluting less. Meanwhile, a Waikato farmer has been convicted for the second time of pouring his cowshit into the local river:

A south Waikato dairy farming company has been fined for the second time in four years for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment.

Fernaig Farms (2006) Limited was convicted and fined $33,750 for their activities at their Lichfield property.

The fine was imposed in the Rotorua District Court last week by Judge CJ Thompson following a prosecution taken by Waikato Regional Council under the Resource Management Act.

The company owns a number of farms within the Waikato region, including four dairy farms.

A prosecution in 2013 also resulted in convictions and a fine of $30,000 for effluent mismanagement on their Mangakino property.


This farmer is a repeat offender, and its clear that they haven't learned from their first prosecution. And if it happens again, the court should ban them from farming. We do this for those who mistreat animals. Shouldn't we also do it for those who mistreat our environment?

A game of hide and seek

Radio New Zealand reports on the Ministry of Transport's attempts to bury information about its resident fraudster Joanne Harrison:

Emails from the Transport Minister show he told his own ministry that its plans to withhold information from a Labour MP were at odds with its promise to be open and transparent.

[...]

Labour MP Sue Moroney used the Official Information Act to request information about taxpayer-funded flights to the Far North that Harrison had taken, and a restructure of the finance team that took place at the Ministry while she was employed there.

Emails obtained by RNZ show the Transport Ministry's chief legal adviser David Bowden knew the information existed but was going to refuse to release it.

Mr Bowden said the financial restructure happened just outside the timeframe the MP had identified in her request, so the Ministry would say the information did not exist.

He said the Ministry would not release the costs of Harrison's flights because the MP asked for information on flights to Kaitaia, whereas Harrison had flown to a different airport in the region.


In this case they were pulled into line by the Minister's office, who reminded them of promises to be open and transparent on the issue (not that this is the same Minister who himself tried to bury information about Kiwirail). But it illustrates the toxic culture of secrecy that same Minister has allowed to fester (and at times promoted) in his Ministry. Agencies faced with a request which is obviously for certain information should not be playing these sorts of games to pretend that it does not exist. That both thwarts the purpose of the Act and arguably violates the duty of assistance. It also makes more work for them, in that if specific requests are gamed, they will be replaced with broader, more general ones which require more work. Plus it undermines the reputation of the Ministry, and broader trust in government.

We need a complete culture change around secrecy in our government agencies. It needs to be made clear to Chief Executives and to public servants in general that failing to properly comply with the OIA is a career-limiting move. No government is interested in this, so it is only going to happen when Parliament itself takes an interest and defends our right to transparency.

Labour finally opens its wallet

Labour has announced a massive spending package this morning, aimed at restoring our health, education and welfare systems after National's neglect:

Labour has run its numbers and opened its books, promising multi-billion-dollar injections into health and education.

If elected, Labour leader Andrew Little said he would pump $8b more over four years into health and $4b into education, all the while maintaining surpluses of more than $4b.

The party has released its fiscal plan at an event held in Wellington's Kilbirnie Medical Centre. It provides the broad-brush numbers of what Labour would spend in key social areas, of health, education and housing.


These are big numbers, even over four years, and National will no doubt cry "fiscal irresponsibility". But they add up. And what's amazing is how easy it is to enable that level of spending on core services simply by tweaking a few parameters: the net debt target (20% vs 15%), and the annual surplus (a billion dollars lower in 2022). And by cancelling some tax cuts. And it makes it crystal clear how National's brutal austerity, which is seeing the homeless freeze to death and the sick waiting in ambulances at A&E, is entirely a matter of choice, of their prioritising numbers on a spreadsheet and giving money to their mates rather than delivering the core services the public expects from government. We can afford to have decent public services - its just that National chooses not to. And they do it, bluntly, because they are vicious arseholes.

As with the Greens' families package, this is a negotiating platform rather than a concrete promise. But if Labour manages to lift its vote, then it becomes the framework its coalition partners' policies will fit within. And what's clear is that they have plenty of room to manoeuvre, and deliver a kinder, fairer New Zealand, if we let them. Or we can have three more years of National giving themselves tax cuts, while telling you that you'll have to wait for that operation or pay a thousand dollars in "donations" to keep your kids' school operating. I know which one I prefer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017



Dealing with the tax cheats

New Zealand has a problem: large multinational companies like Facebook, Amazon, and RT cheating ontheir taxes. Now Labour is proposing a solution: a diverted profits tax:

Labour is promising to claw back hundreds of millions of dollars a year from multinationals such as Apple, Facebook and Google if they don't pay their fair share of tax.

If elected, the party would impose a diverted profits tax (DPT) on multinational firms that sent profits offshore to minimise their tax bill.

Leader Andrew Little has written to 50 multinationals setting out the pledge.

He told Morning Report an extra $200 million a year could be collected, which would make a "huge difference" and represented "a heap of teachers, a heap of nurses and doctors".


The basic mechanism is a deemed rate of tax on anything routed through a tax haven. Both the UK and Australia have such mechanisms, and they seem to be successful in eliminating transfer pricing and making these countries pay their fair share. There's no reason why such a policy wouldn't work here. The trick is getting a government that wants to tax the cheats rather than defend them.

But they still hate cats

Gareth Morgan's Opportunities Party has announced a $200 a week youth UBI:

All New Zealanders between 18 and 23 will be given an obligation-free $200 a week under an Opportunities Party policy announced this afternoon.

The policy would allow young people to "pursue their dreams" and "take stress off ... at a pivotal time" in their lives, the party said.

The Opportunities Party (TOP) has previously announced an "unconditional basic income" for over-65s and families with children under 3.

But today it said budget surpluses announced this year would make it possible to extend a basic income to "one of the most needy and neglected groups in society possible".


We already have a UBI for over 65's: its called "New Zealand Superannuation". Expanding it to true universality would be good for everyone, and that expansion has to start somewhere. Starting at the bottom, with young people, is a good place to do it. In a flash it would remove the inequity of students having to borrow to eat, while also replacing or supplementing student allowances, youth unemployment benefits, and the DPB for young parents. For those pursuing work rather than study, it would massively improve their bargaining position by allowing them to just walk away from a bad job. And because oppression starts at the bottom, this would have significant flow-on effects on the pay and conditions of older workers. And all for the price of Nationals' tax cuts.

And on the gripping hand: Gareth Morgan hates cats, so fuck him and his party. Him floating the idea is useful, but I'll get someone else to implement it, thanks. Someone who doesn't want to murder half my family.

Why we should price water IV

At their campaign launch in Nelson the Greens announced a 10 cents a litre levy on bottled water. So how much is that worth? Up to $2 billion:

Right now, 73 companies hold consents to take up to 23.7 billion litres of New Zealand water between them. Adopting the same approach as our Pacific neighbour and charging 10 cents per litre would bring in nearly $2.37 billion a year in revenue - roughly about 1 percent of the country’s GDP, and comparable to a third of the $8 billion the dairy industry contributes every year.

The country’s largest water permit grants Okuru Enterprises permission to pump 800 million litres of water out of Jackson Bay on the South Island’s West Coast for export every month, or 9.6 billion litres annually. With a 10 cents per litre tax, the West Coast Regional Council-approved consent would rake in a staggering $960 million a year alone.


Of course, not all of these consents are fully utilised, or even used at all: Okaru infamously has consent, but hasn't pumped a single drop in 25 years. And really, we want some of these consents (such as Okaru's) to be surrendered or never used. At the same time, it shows how charging water bottling companies for their use of a public resource could be a significant revenue stream for the government (and for iwi, once the necessary settlement is reached) and allow us to fund better public services for kiwis. And at the heart of it, there is the basic fairness article: that water belongs to the people of New Zealand. It is only right that those who want to profit from its extraction pay for it.

The same question

Another day, another case of unjustified taser use:

The police watchdog has found that a sergeant's use of a Taser on a young man in south Auckland was "excessive and unjustified".

[...]

"Police policy clearly states that a Taser must only be used on a person who is assaultive," said IPCA chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers.

​"The young man was being restrained by two officers at the time he was Tasered. Although he managed to spit in the sergeant's direction twice, the sergeant's use of the Taser was excessive and unjustified."

The IPCA also found that while the sergeant's arrest of the young man was lawful, his decision was "ill-considered and premature," and his decision to arrest the young man had unnecessarily escalated the situation.


Again its a classic case of "compliance policing": of electrically torturing someone for the convenience and ego of the police rather than because they were a threat to public safety. And as in other cases, it's the same question: Will this officer be prosecuted? Because ont he face of it, they appear to have committed an assault with a weapon, and arguably torture. If any of us did this, we'd be in jail, and rightly so. So, does the law apply to the police, or not?

This constant stream of taser abuse cases also shows why we can never allow an armed police force. It is clear that these weapons are constantly abused and that police lack judgement around use of force. We're lucky that so far no-one has died as a result. If they were using guns, I'd undoubtedly be asking that question about murder, not just assault.