Monday, June 30, 2014

So much for the "neutral" monarchy

The myth of the neutral monarchy has been looking increasingly threadbare of late. And over the weekend, it got another nail in its coffin:

Prince Charles lobbied Tony Blair's government to expand grammar schools, also exerting pressure over issues including GM food and alternative medicines, according to interviews with ex-ministers collected for a BBC documentary on the prince's political activism.

The prince openly tried to change the mind of the then education secretary, David Blunkett, on grammar schools, Blunkett told The Royal Activist, a Radio 4 programme broadcast on Sunday.

"I would explain that our policy was not to expand grammar schools, and he didn't like that," said Blunkett, who held the post from 1997 to 2001. "He was very keen that we should go back to a different era where youngsters had what he would have seen as the opportunity to escape from their background, whereas I wanted to change their background."

"The monarch stays out of politics" is the central bargain of Westminster democracy. If the monarchy isn't interested in keeping to it, then its time we did away with the institution and consigned it to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

More cronyism

There's an election coming up, so it must be time for the government to make some more crony appointments! Steven Joyce announced a bunch of CRI board appointments today, including Jeff Grant at AgResearch and Andrew von Dadelszen at Plant & Food. However, he's missed some pretty significant information from the bios: Grant is a former National party MP, while von Dadelszen is or was chair of National's "BlueGreens" group and is married to Simon Bridges' electorate agent. I guess one taxpayer salary just wasn't enough for them...

A law unto themselves

US mercenary company Blackwater (now Academi) has a dodgy reputation, being involved in murders and the massacre of civilians in Iraq. They managed to get away with it for two reasons: firstly, because they claimed to be subject to US rather than Iraqi law. And secondly, because they threatened to murder US investigators:

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

The second paragraph is simply astonishing: a US company explicitly threatened to murder US officials, and other US officials backed them. No wonder Blackwater felt bold enough to kill with impunity in Nisour Square.

New Fisk

Syrian ‘moderates’ aren’t so moderate in Iraq
How on earth can Israel tolerate this filth from B’nai Brith Canada?

National's "big plan"

So, National has revealed its "big plan" for the election: spending the money made by selling stolen state assets on roading projects in National or National-targeted electorates:

National is defending a new $212 million road transport package, saying the party is not trying to buy votes in the regions.

Prime Minister John Key announced plans to use cash from the sale of state-owned assets to upgrade 14 roads across the country.

Two of the projects would benefit Labour-held electorates - Palmerston North and West Coast Tasman - which National are targeting. But a number also fall in safe National seats, such as Taranaki and Clutha-Southland.

[That story is incorrect; the Whirokino Trestle Bridge is in the Otaki electorate; West Coast-Tasman is an obvious National target which they hope to win back]

So, they're basically stealing from everyone to provide pork to their supporters. In the process, they're wasting money by replacing bridges upgraded this year. But while the apparent target is National voters, the real beneficiary is National's donors in the trucking industry: as TransportBlog points out, the projects are primarily focused on upgrading bridges to take the super-heavy trucks National has allowed on our roads.

In the 2011 election campaign, the Road transport Forum (the trucking lobby) gave $30,000 to the National Party and $5,000 each to Bill English, Judith Collins, Joanne Goodhew, Todd McClay, and Phil Heatley. I guess they got what they paid for.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fixing Christchurch

Labour has announced another part of its package to fix Christchurch: an immediate crash home-building plan:

A Labour government would build 100 "high-quality modular" houses for Christchurch in its first four months and have a further 300 of its Kiwibuild homes ready within six months.

The commitment is part of a plan to build 10,000 affordable homes in Canterbury, addressing what Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford calls the broken free-market "tweaking" of planning laws in National's rebuild.


Fewer than 1000 of the 12,000 to 15,000 houses needed in Canterbury had been built after three and half years, he said.

Only 25 per cent of the state house repairs has been done, and of the 700 state house rebuild that had been promised a year ago, only 29 had been completed.

The market has failed, so the government has to step in. Its that simple. As for why the market has failed, there's the ongoing insurance problems of course, but perhaps this also has something to do with it: wages for builders, plumbers, and the other workers required to rebuild Christchurch haven't kept pace with the living costs there. Or, to put it another way, the construction industry is simply pocketing increased rebuild costs.

In this context, Labour saying they'll bring workers in from overseas if necessary looks like a betrayal. There are workers here. They're just not paid enough to work in Christchurch. Importing people with lower living standards expectations isn't a solution to that problem - it just creates more exploited, desperate people. And that doesn't sound like a very labour-oriented policy to me.

Who'd have thunk it?

By advocating for a controversial policy, Labour has managed to win public backing for it:

Once regarded as a political poison, public opinion has moved in favour of Labour's capital gains tax since it was announced three years ago and support for idea has moved well ahead of the party's own popularity, according a recent Herald Digipoll.

Numbers backing the policy, which is Labour's primary weapon to curb rising house prices, is particularly strong in Auckland where first home buyers have borne the brunt of those increases.

Its still not strong majority territory, unlike e.g. the health and education systems or the principle of progressive taxation. But for a policy long considered a "third rail" of New Zealand politics, its a significant shift.

This shouldn't be surprising - National and the Greens have been doing this for years (and Labour's adoption of the capital gains tax is in part because the Greens had laid the groundwork by pushing for it). But it ought to put paid forever to the idea that parties are just "logs floating in a stream" which must go with the flow of public opinion because they are unable to affect it. Weak parties are. But if Labour stops being scared of its own shadow and afraid of its left-wing heritage, it can actually change things, and build the majorities it needs to govern.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

So much for Ruataniwha

Yesterday, the Hawkes Bay Regional Coucil voted to invest $80 million in the Ruataniwha dam. Today, the board of inquiry upheld its resource consent decisions, effectively shitcanning the project:

The Board of Inquiry into the Ruataniwha Dam has upheld strict conditions which the Hawke's Bay Regional Council has said makes the $600 million water storage project unworkable.

The board has just issued its final decision, confirming nitrogen leaching levels from agriculture at 0.8 milligrams per litre, which would ensure the ability of rivers to sustain life.

The council has acknowledged the Tukituki River already significantly exceeds that limit, and it appears that would leave no room to further intensify agriculture in the catchment.

And that, hopefully, is that. Or will HBRC and the farmers demand National pass a law under urgency to allow them to pillage this river, just as they're doing for the West Coast forests?

Urgency for pillage

As I write, the House is in urgency to pass a law through all stages - without select committee consideration - allowing the pillage of windblown timber from the conservation estate. Beyond the obvious abuse of the Parliamentary process, its also a perfect example of the mindset of this government and their view of conservation. Most New Zealanders see the conservation estate as a way of protecting valuable parts of the natural environment for their own sake or for the enjoyment of future generations. National sees it as something which just locks up valuable resources which could be looted by their donors and cronies. They look at windblown native forests and see money lying around waiting to be picked up, which will go to "waste" if left to rot. I look at it and see the nutrient cycle in action, a vital part of the natural processes in these forests, which needs to be protected if we want them to survive.

Forest & Bird's Kevin Hackwell has made a strong case against the law here. It will damage the environment, and it will probably damage the industry it purports to support. Unmentioned is that we will likely see the bulk export of pillaged native logs overseas. National's donors and cronies in the resource extraction industry will do very well out of this. As for the rest of us, our conservation estate will be degraded for their profit.

This is not conservation. It is pillage, pure and simple. And while National may pass a law, we'll hopefully see the environmental movement take direct action to stop it from actually happening.

Evidence: The NSA is funding the GCSB

Last week, The Intercept published details on the NSA's programs with partners to tap international communications cables. Most of the article focused on a program called RAMPART-A, which seems to involve Denmark and Germany, with each helping the NSA to spy on the other (while claiming to their own governments that their citizens are protected). But buried in one of the background documents - the US "black budget" for Foreign Partner Access Project - was this titbit:

WINDSTOP currently partners with all the second parties, but primarily the United Kingdom (UK), to develop a well-integrated,over-arching architecture to utilize unprecedented access to communications into and out of Europe and the Middle East.  Collection capabilities include Digital Network Intelligence processing and selection capabilities for e-mail, web, internet chat, and VOIP.

"Second parties" means the rest of the Five Eyes: the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. And while most of it is through the UK (likely involving this facility and their transatlantic cable taps at GCHQ Bude), all parties are involved. So, we now have an NSA document which says that the US is paying "our" GCSB (something both the GCSB and their spy minister have refused to answer). As for what they're getting for their money, the obvious conclusion is access to data tapped from cables in the Pacific.

So, "our" spies take foreign money to work for a foreign power. Isn't there a very ugly word for that?

No freedom of religion in Nigeria

We take freedom of religion for granted in New Zealand. You can believe what you want, and its treated as a private matter between you and the uncaring universe. If you happen to believe different things from your family, they just have to live with it.

In Nigeria, things are a little different:

A Nigerian man has been incarcerated in a mental health institution by his family after saying he had lost his belief in God.

Mubarak Bala, 29, is said to have been forcibly medicated for "insanity" for nearly two weeks, despite a doctor's opinion that he has no psychological problems.

Campaigners are calling for his release and say the case highlights the fact that atheists are a persecuted minority in many African countries.

The Nigerian constitution affirms the freedom of religion. sadly, this doesn't seem to mean much in practice.

Equality comes to Indiana

Another day, another state's bigot-law is struck down by a federal court:

A federal judge struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday in a ruling that immediately allowed gay couples to wed.

The court clerk in Marion County, home to Indianapolis, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couple about an hour after U.S. District Judge Richard Young ruled that the state law violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause.

“Same-sex couples, who would otherwise qualify to marry in Indiana, have the right to marry in Indiana,” he wrote. “These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.”

Also today: Utah's appeal against a similar decision was turned down.

The turning tide has become a flood. And like the civil rights movement fifty years ago, it will sweep this bigotry away.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The "no-fly" list is unconstitutional

After September 11 2001, the US government created a "no fly" list of alleged terrorists who were not allowed to fly within or to the United States. The list now has tens of thousands of names on it, and has led to numerous cases wher einnocent people have been forbidden to fly. But today, a federla judged ruled that is is unconstitutional:

The U.S. government offers no adequate method for people to challenge their placement on its no-fly list, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in a case involving 13 Muslims who believe they're on the list.

U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown found people lack a meaningful way to challenge their placement on the list, which bars them from flying to or within the United States. She also said the 13 people who sued the government have been unconstitutionally deprived of their right to fly.

"This should serve as wakeup call to the government," said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Hina Shamsi. "This decision also benefits other people wrongly stuck on the no-fly list because it affords them (an opportunity to challenge) a Kafkaesque bureaucracy."

The US government now has to provide people on the list with an effective means of challenging the ban, and a summary of information being used against them.

Meanwhile, apparently the list is shared with 22 countries. Which invites the question: are we one of them? Wikileaks has shown that NZ Immigration has expressed interest in the list, so its quite likely that our government is collaborating in an unlawful blacklist to restrict freedom of movement.

UK reporter threatened with anti-terrorism legislation

On Monday, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague joined the world in condemning the Egyptian regimes jailing of journalists for terrorism. That very day, British police were threatening to jail a journalist in Sheffield for terrorism:

A reporter was threatened with arrest under anti-terrorism laws and forced to erase potentially important video evidence after filming a protest in Sheffield.

The editor of the Sheffield Star has demanded an explanation as to why his reporter, Alex Evans, was warned off filming a protest against cuts to free travel provision for pensioners and disabled people by British transport police officers on Monday.

Evans claims he was ordered to erase footage he’d recorded on his phone because he did not have permission to film on private property inside Sheffield station. When he initially resisted the request and continued to film, he says he was told he could be arrested under terror laws.

Shortly after he stopped filming, British transport police officers handcuffing and bundling away two men. The arrested men, aged 64 and 65, were taking part in the Freedom Ride, a long-running protest against cuts to free travel provision in South Yorkshire.

Anti-terrorism laws: protecting government abuses of power since forever the world over.

A less progressive Labour

Labour released its fiscal policy today. The headline policies? Paying down debt faster than National, and a top tax bracket of 36% on those earning over $150,000. But before everyone starts praising Labour for "restoring progressivity to the tax system", lets remember: back in 2011 they promised that that tax on high earners would be 39%. So, they're promising a less progressive tax system today than they were three years ago. As for the intended uses of this extra revenue, they're promising that they will

Create fiscal headroom to allow the option of income tax reductions in the second term

Yes, that's right, faced with a mountain of debt and gutted social services, Labour is promising tax cuts. And this is supposed to inspire people who have given up on democracy because all the parties work for the rich to turn out and vote for them? I don't think so.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and hopefully one where we'll see some action. There's a private bill first up - Christchurch's Arts Centre needs to rework its trust arrangements after the earthquakes - followed by the committee stage of Cam Calder's Summary Offences (Possession of Hand-held Lasers) Amendment Bill. But the main issue of the day is the committee stage of Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months' Paid Leave) Amendment Bill and whether the government will try and exercise an unconstitutional financial veto over it. Moroney has lodged an amendment which she thinks will prevent a veto by pushing the commencement of the bill back to July next year, after the next budget. I'm not sure this will work, and we'll likely see some torturous argument over the exact definition of "fiscal aggregates" and the time period they apply to. However, if the bill is vetoed by a government which lacks the majority to vote it down, then I think we need to be clear that the financial veto is an undemocratic, unconstitutional vestige of royal privilege, which has no place any more in a democratic Parliament.

The Internet Party on copyright

The Internet Party released its copyright policy today, requiring a first principles review of the Copyright Act 1994 and a host of changes, including legal protection for circumventing geoblocking, broader fair use exceptions (including parody and satire), effectively gutting the skynet law, and removing any penalty for copying works unavailable legally in New Zealand. Disappointingly they're not saying anything about the length of copyright, but that's difficult given the international agreements we're party to. However, they will add protection for derivative works based on orphan works.

Overall, it looks pretty good, and an important contribution to the debate. The question now is whether other parties will respond with their own policies, or try to pretend that this isn't an issue.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Fisk

A proxy in the war between Qatar and Saudi Arabia

Climate Voter

On Monday, an alliance of environmental organisations launched the Climate Voter campaign. The aim is to get people to signal their intention to vote on the basis of climate change policy, in the hope of driving parties to compete for that bloc of support. The campaign got 10,000 supporters in its first 32 hours, and is currently sitting on 11,300 or so.

I think this is a good thing. At the same time, it needs to get a lot more people to sign up for it to have the sort of impact it wants. While 11,300 voters sounds like a lot - and it is - its about 0.5% of the 2.26 million who voted last election. Which probably isn't enough to shift anyone's policies. OTOH, if it grows to 50,000 - around 2% of expected voter numbers - then it might begin to have an impact. If it gets more than 100,000 (a number I regard as highly unrealistic, but what the hell) then no party will be able to ignore them.

These mass-signalling exercises can work. So, if you care about the climate, sign up.

The Jones appointment II

In my earlier post on the Jones appointment, I noted the lack of any formal advice. There were no briefings, no policy development documents, no cabinet papers, no advice to the Governor-General to make the appointment, not even a formal appointment letter. This was surprising, so I queried it, asking for a list of those documents that had been withheld. The response:

no documents, of the type you specified (formal briefings, cabinet papers or appointment letters), were withheld.
A further query confirmed this, and also elicited this:
Head of Mission/Post roles are not considered by Cabinet or APH.
This is utterly unbelievable. The Cabinet Manual requires that "all but the most minor public appointments" must be submitted to Cabinet. The detailed guidance on this makes it clear that all appointments made "by the Governor-General on the advice of a Minister, or by the Governor-General in Executive Council" (such as the appointment of a head of mission / post ambassadorial role) must go to Cabinet and the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee (APH) (it also has a helpful outline of the appointments process which McCully has completely ignored). So what am I to conclude? There seem to be three options:
  • McCully's SPS is lying to me about the documents that exist and the process followed (unlikely);
  • McCully violated the Cabinet Manual by not consulting his Cabinet colleagues on a senior appointment. But even then the Minister should have signed an appointment letter; or
  • Jones' position isn't a head of mission / post and did not need Cabinet approval, and McCully ordered MFAT to employ him in violation of the State Sector Act.
At this stage, I think its time for some real journalists to start asking some questions to get to the bottom of this.

Update: added note about the existence of an appointment letter for option 2.

In Australia, how your vote is counted is a "trade secret"

Yes, really:

Following the shambolic Western Australian Senate election, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has turned down a citizen's FOI request to look at the software it uses to count Senate votes.

The decision, published yesterday at, was in response to a request made by Michael Cordover.

Cordover had asked for the source code of the software, along with scripts and interpreted code; along the data specifications the AEC used in writing the software.

In turning down the request, the AEC stated that 58 documents were discovered, and all were withheld, since according to the AEC the documents “would disclose trade secrets”, and would risk destroying or diminishing the commercial value of the information released.

This not only means that it is impossible to determine whether the AEC's software complies with the law, it also means its impossible to test its security (though as its not an online system, that's less on an issue, unless people are writing SQL injection attacks on their ballot papers and these aren't weeded out as "informal" first).

There's a full archive related to the request here. Currently its before the Official Information Commissioner, who wants to kill it off because they are unlikely to be able to resolve it before they are shut down at the end of the year. The requester is planning to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. But they shouldn't have to. The idea that a process specified in law and owned by a government agency is a "trade secret" is simply crazy.

The Jones appointment

Back in April, Shane Jones announced that he would be quitting Parliament to take up a position as a "Pacific Economic Ambassador", which the Herald noted had been "created by the National Government especially for him". Like many people I was curious about this, so I filed an OIA request seeking information on the role and the appointments process. That OIA was filed on 28 April. Last night - after a mere 41 working days - I received the response. The full documents are up on DocumentCloud here (if that doesn't work, someone also requested it through FYI. We all got the same response).

Some key observations:

  • The position was dreamed up by McCully. On January 28, Billie Moore - apparently his press secretary - sent an email to senior MFAT staff relaying the Minister's views on the need for an ambassador to "move the region forward" on fisheries issues. The Minister was "keen for feedback from the Ministry on how you see this issue", but clearly didn't like what he heard: all immediate response was redacted as "free and frank advice", while the Ministry's promised "considered view" was not included in the release.
  • The job was created especially for Jones. On March 3 Moore tells MFAT CEO John Allen that "the Government has decided to appoint an Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development". Allen's response is "I am seeing Shane tomorrow evening. I will let you know how I get on".
  • There was no job description until May. You would expect a formal role whose creation had been discussed with the Ministry to have produced one during the advice process. Instead MFAT staff were scrambling to produce one in the days after Jones left Parliament.
  • There is no information whatsoever on the appointment process: no mention of other candidates, interviews, or shortlists. It appears that McCully simply decided, King Dick style, that Jones should be employed, and so it happened. As previously noted, this is a total violation of public service values, and an unlawful exercise of Ministerial power.
  • There is a stunning lack of formal advice. No briefings. No policy development docs about the need for the position. No Cabinet papers (and there should be one for an appointment at this level). No salary information. No formal advice to the G-G to make the appointment. Not even an appointment letter. Clearly some of this material must exist - the government is incapable of functioning without it - but for some reason it has been withheld. Given how ordinary such documents usually are, either it shows how blatantly political and corrupt this appointment was, or it is another example of McCully's obsessive secrecy.
When I first heard of this appointment, I commented that if McCully had offered Jones a briefcase full of cash rather than a specially-created high-paying job to resign, we'd call it what it is: Corruption and bribery of member of Parliament. From what I've seen in this release, I stand by that.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Our misogynistic political media

In previous elections, the major parties have submitted lists heavily dominated by men, and this passes without comment. This year, Labour has submitted one with a slight imbalance (53:47) towards women. The reaction is sadly predictable:

Not mentioned: Labour's list is gender-balanced up to position 40; that slight imbalance comes from the bottom, unelectable end of the list and will not translate into caucus places. Meanwhile, its electorate candidates are heavily male. The interaction of these facts is expected to produce a caucus which is roughly 45% female. But again, let's not let that fact get in way of some good misogyny. Men's "right" to dominate politics is under threat! Labour women are going to cut your penis off! To the barricades!

And seriously: Labour should be congratulated for trying to ensure a caucus that properly represents the 50% of New Zealand with two "X" chromosomes, and I look forward to the day when they actually get there.

Labour's list

The Labour Party released its party list today. Last election, they focused squarely on incumbent protection - and as a result sacrificed a lot of the new blood they'd worked so hard to bring in in 2008. This time retirements and the Mallard faction abandoning the list have given them more space to work with. What's noticeable is that the unknowns kick in at around 30 this time, rather than 40 last election; this seems to be a deliberate strategy to bring in more new blood rather than a problem with attracting talent (which is what causes it in small parties).

On the gender front, there's a slight male bias in the top 10, but its balanced across the top 20, 30, and 40 (after which I stopped counting). However, those electorate MPs who have abandoned the list swing male, so we might see Labour's efforts for a gender-balanced caucus frustrated by its FPP rump.

As with last election, I've done a table showing the top candidates relative placements with last time. I don't think there's anything particularly surprising here, and the big moves all look related to the generational and leadership shift within the caucus.

2014 RankName2011 RankDifference
1David Cunliffe3+2
2David Parker4+2
3Grant Robertson14+11
4Annette King2-2
5Jacinda Ardern13+8
6Nanaia Mahuta12+6
7Phil Twyford33+26
8Clayton Cosgrove80
9Chris Hipkins30+21
10Sue Moroney100
11Andrew Little15+4
12Louisa Wall----
13David Shearer31+18
14Su'a William Sio17+3
15Maryan Street7-8
16Phil Goff1-15
17Moana Mackey19+2
18Kelvin Davis23+5
19Meka Whaitiri----
20Megan Woods47+27
21Raymond Huo210
22Damien O'Connor----
23Priyanca Radhakrishnan----
24Iain Lees-Galloway37+13
25Rachel Jones----
26David Clark49+23
27Carol Beaumont22-5
28Poto Williams----
29Carmel Sepuloni24-5
30Tamati Coffey----
31Jenny Salesa----
32Liz Craig----
33Deborah Russell----
34Willow-Jean Prime----
35Jerome Mika36+1
36Tony Milne----
37Virginia Andersen----
38Claire Szabo----
39Michael Wood32-7
40Arena Williams----
41Hamish McDouall52+11
42Anjum Rahman----
43Sunny Kaushal----
44Christine Greer----
45Penny Gaylor----
46Janette Walker----
47Richard Hills50+3
48Shanan Halbert----
49Anahila Suisuiki51+2
50Clare Wilson----
51James Dann----
52Kelly Ellis----
53Corie Haddock----
54Jamie Strange----
55Katie Paul----
56Steven Gibson----
57Chao-Fu Wu70+13
58Paul Grimshaw----
59Tracey Dorreen----
60Tofik Mamedov----
61Hikiera Toroa----
62Hugh Tyler----
63Susan Elliot----
64Simon Buckingham----

A picture of decline

Labour is supposed to release its list today (assuming it doesn't get delayed again while they cool off some egotistical MP unhappy with their ranking). Meanwhile, The Political Scientist has an interesting analysis of the Fairfax/Ipsos poll showing the real story behind Labour's declining poll rankings: Labour voters giving up and becoming "undecided":


[Image stolen from The Political Scientist]

Its a pretty striking correlation. As for the why, its becoming increasingly obvious that Labour is not going to win this election, causing people to just give up on them. Beyond that, they offer nothing (other than yet more economic sadomasochism), don't know what they stand for, and look like muppets. Its entirely natural that people who favour a more equal society will give up on such a party and instead stay home: because they're not really offering one, and to the extent they are, can't deliver. But for a party which aims to reconnect with the "missing million", its exactly the wrong trend - rather than shrinking it, they look set to add to it. Heckuva job, Labour.

New Fisk

If history and petropolitics teach us anything, it's that the collapse of Iraq shouldn't come as surprise
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: A conqueror shows his respect for the holy city

Equality comes to Luxembourg

Something I missed from last week: Luxembourg has become the 17th country in the world to allow same-sex marriage:

Lawmakers in Luxembourg, whose prime minister is openly gay, have overwhelmingly approved changes in the small European nation's legislation governing marriage that will allow people of the same sex to wed and to adopt children.

The Chamber of Deputies voted 56-4 to adopt the bill, which is said to be part of the most fundamental rewrite of Luxembourg's laws on marriage since 1804. The chamber's website said the new rules could take effect in early 2015, or six months after their official publication.

The next big target is probably Germany. There's a clear pro-equality majority there both among the public and in the Bundestag, but the Social Democrats are in coalition with the bigot union (CDU/CSU), and may vote with their new friends (and to protect their Ministerial positions) rather than their supporters. The politics of that could get very ugly indeed...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

This is why we needed the Electoral Finance Act

The Herald today finally has their bombshell about Donghua Liu, reporting that he "spent more than $150,000 on the previous Labour government":

Liu's signed statement was dated May 3, two days after Williamson's resignation. It said:
  • Liu paid "close to $100,000" for wine at a 2007 Labour Party fundraiser;

  • That he spent $50-60,000 hosting then-labour minister Rick Barker on a cruise on the Yangtze River in China in 2007; and

  • That Liu visited Barker in Hawke's Bay in 2006, having dinner with him at an exclusive lodge and then meeting for breakfast the next morning. Liu said he made a donation to Hawke's Bay Rowing, which Barker was associated with.
Barker previously told the Herald that he could barely remember having dinner.
Naturally, there's no mention of a $100,000 donation in Labour's 2007 party donation return. But there's a reason for this: our electoral law at the time did not count over-valued purchases as "donations". So, you could pay $100,000 for a $20 bottle of wine as a backhanded way of slipping a party or a candidate some cash in exchange for a favour, and they would not have to report it in any way to the public. Things have changed since then: In December 2007 Labour passed the Electoral Finance Act. And while National railed against it and promised to repeal it, they re-enacted its transparency provisions (which counted over-valued purchases as donations, replaced "candidate knowledge" with reasonable knowledge, busted trusts and made hiding donations a crime) unchanged. It speaks volumes to how accepted those changes have become that pundits and political insiders and even political scientists who should know better are now apparently incapable of imagining that the law was ever any different. (I guess there's an alternative explanation that those pundits and insiders are total goldfish with no memory, or ignoring inconvenient facts because they have axes to grind, which is believable. The political scientists OTOH have no excuse because they actively debated the law at the time). So, no prosecution. It does however stink, and its a powerful reminder of why the Electoral Finance Act was necessary. As for Barker's Yangtze tour, its not a donation. It may however be a bribe (and it certainly looks that way to the public). Interestingly, Barker didn't declare it as a gift or overseas travel costs in the 2008 Register of Pecuniary Interests (which covered 2007). That may have been a contempt of Parliament. But as he is no longer an MP, and the rules around investigations of breaches of privilege are pretty strict, he's got away with it. The best we can do is subject him to the public contempt and vituperation he deserves.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

How can the PM not know about this?

One revelation from John Key's leg-rubbing expedition to Washington: New Zealand was only welcomed back into the Five Eyes spy network five years ago. Its a bit surprising because most people thought we'd never left. But what's more surprising is that John Key claims to know nothing about it:

Prime Minister John Key said he could not recall any such change since National took office.

"I don't know exactly what they are referring to.

"My understanding of it is that even through the challenging times of the relationship post the anti-nuclear legislation, New Zealand continued to be an active member of Five Eyes."

Asked to confirm whether his Government had ever made a decision to actively rejoin Five Eyes, Key responded: "I don't think that's right, but I remember there were some vague things . . . "

He then said he would check.

This is a major change to our intelligence and foreign policy; how can the Prime Minister (and Minister in charge of the GCSB) not know about it? Did he just not notice? Or did the spies not tell him (effectively running their own foreign policy without any democratic mandate whatsoever)?

Either way, it seems that the man who should be overseeing what our spies are doing, and making sure they are not stepping out of line, is asleep on the job. I hope you all feel safer now.

Friday, June 20, 2014

An abuse of the OIA

So it turns out that Immigration released letters from David Cunliffe and Chris Carter in support of Donghua Liu, but kept letters from government MPs secret:

Letters of support from two Government MPs for Donghua Liu's citizenship bid have been kept secret - despite letters from Labour politicians for his residency bid being released this week.

The Herald reported in March that Liu received citizenship in 2010 against official advice after lobbying by Maurice Williamson, the Minister for Building and Construction, and John Banks, the Mayor of Auckland at the time who later entered Parliament as an Act MP.

However, the Department of Internal Affairs refused to release the letters sent by Mr Williamson and Mr Banks under the privacy and commercial provisions in the Official Information Act.

The Office of the Ombudsman is reviewing the decision but the Herald also asked the DIA to reconsider after Immigration officials released letters from Labour MPs David Cunliffe and Chris Carter written for Liu's residency bid.

This looks like a blatantly political release decision to advance the interests of the government of the day. It is an abuse of the Act which shames the entire public service and calls its impartiality into question. Transparency of official information applies to everyone, not just the government's enemies.

As for the merits, its hard to see how privacy concerns would be any greater than in the released letters. As for commercial confidentiality, any clause referring to the specifics of Liu's business dealings can simply be redacted. These letters should be released immediately.


Today's must-read: Graeme Edgeler's post on how the system for reporting on suicide simply doesn't work. Most media simply ignore the law, and having read Graeme's story (which saw him absurdly barred by a court order not to mention facts in the public domain, including even the existence of a Coroner's Court in Christchurch), I can fully understand why. The law is an ass, the people responsible for implementing it seem (with a few notable exceptions) to either be asses, lazy, or utterly useless, and the result is a completely dysfunctional system. Given that the law is widely flouted and never enforced, you really have to wonder why it is on the books at all.

The Cold War mindset is alive and well

Back in the Cold War, the Western establishment viewed any attempt to question the status quo of their societies as a communist plot. The peace movement? An attempt by the Russians to weaken "western resolve". The environmental movement? A communist plot to destroy capitalism from within. And so on...

Sadly, that thinking is still alive and well at NATO HQ:

The head of one of the world’s leading groups of democratic nations has accused Russia of undermining projects using hydraulic fracturing technology in Europe.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), and former premier of Denmark, told the Chatham House thinktank in London on Thursday that Vladimir Putin’s government was behind attempts to discredit fracking, according to reports.

Rasmussen said: “I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations - environmental organisations working against shale gas - to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”

He declined to give details of those operations, saying: “That is my interpretation.”

Yes, we must Protect The Sanctity Of Our Precious Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids from Russians who want to steal and impurify them!

Or, alternatively, citizens in democracies don't actually like being able to set their tapwater on fire. But that clearly is too simple an explanation for the paranoids at NATO.

No more secret treaties

Last night, Wikileaks leaked the full text of the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) Financial Services Annex. Like the TPP, its another "free trade" deal which isn't, being primarily concerned with locking in a global regulatory race to the bottom rather than trade. Most of it is about giving bankers the right to peddle whatever fraudulent financial products they want, and preventing countries from regulating them to prevent another global financial crisis. But a key provision bans governments from requiring that data be held locally, overturning both the safeguards of the European Data Directive (which are becoming a global standard and are about to be included in our own Privacy Act) and forbidding us from defending ourselves against US spying. And naturally, this is all being negotiated in total secrecy, with the draft text required to be kept secret for five years after the deal come into force.

It shouldn't be surprising that New Zealand is a party to these secret negotiations. But given that they it has been negotiated in secret, like the TPP, we cannot possibly regard it as binding.

We're a democracy. Our government acts on our behalf. That's the foundation of its legitimacy and powers. But as I've argued before, the consent of the governed does not extend to deals negotiated in secret and signed behind our backs. Such deals have no democratic legitimacy; their sole purpose is to enable "our" governments to lie to us, to betray us, and avoid accountability for doing so.

We need to immediately end our involvement in these secret negotiations. But beyond that, we need to end MFAT's predilection for getting involved in them in the first place. Secret treaties are an affront to our democracy. Instead, we should have "open covenants, openly arrived at", and ratified by Parliament in an open vote for which our politicians can be held accountable at the ballot box. Only then can they be considered legitimate and binding.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Submissions on Standing Orders

Sad bastard that I am, I've been looking through the public submissions on Parliament's Review of Standing Orders. They fall into three broad groups:

  • Political parties and Parliamentary insiders suggesting largely procedural tweaks to the rules;
  • Human rights groups seeking a permanent Human Rights Select Committee and greater BORA scrutiny;
  • Members of the public wanting greater transparency and an end to feudal provisions
There's also an enormous submission from the Clerk of the House. As you'd expect, it suggests a lot of ordinary rules changes, but there's also this bit:
New Zealand is a representative democracy, in which certain people are, through elections, charged with the responsibility to make decisions for the good governance, administration and regulation of society. As the pre-eminent political forum, the House could find meaningful ways for the public to bring matters onto the parliamentary agenda, making good use of the opportunities provided by social media to inform its consideration. One option could be through the development of electronic petitions and, through them, opportunities to interface with the legislative process. For example, there could be an investigation of a procedure for Members’ bills that garner sufficient support to be introduced for the House to consider. While there would be significant practical issues arising from such a procedure, it could become a reality in light of moves towards electronic registration of electors and the establishment of the RealMe service.
Currently we're well behind the world on this. Both the US and UK have such systems, with the latter having direct applicability to NZ (get X thousand signatures, force a debate in Parliament). For Member's Bills, you could quite easily use a similar mechanism: X thousand signatures, and it gets introduced, bypassing the ballot entirely. It would be a direct way for us to influence Parliamentary business, and it would mean that parties would have to be more directly responsive to the public. Anything that improves that is a Good Thing.

A nonsensical decision

When is journalism not journalism? When it takes a lazy judge longer than five minutes to read it, apparently:

A High Court judge has ruled that a book written by a New Zealand Herald journalist about internet tycoon Kim Dotcom is not "news activity" and does not get special legal protections.

The book's author and media commentators fear the ruling could have a "chilling effect" on New Zealand journalism if reporters were unable to protect their sources.

Justice Helen Winkelmann handed down her ruling on Monday, stating that material gathered by Herald senior journalist David Fisher to write
The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom: Spies, Lies and the War for the Internet can be accessed by New Zealand Police and the GCSB in their case against Dotcom.

Well, technically she ruled that Dotcom had to issue a Privacy Act request to Fisher for his interviews, and pass relevant material from the results along to the crown. But the net result is the same: to void the journalistic privilege that would have been found to exist if they made the application directly. That privilege exists for a reason: to ensure that people can safely talk to journalists, and that journalists can do their job of informing the public. This ruling directly threatens that - and with it the free flow of ideas and debate in our democratic society. And all because a judge thinks that if your journalism is too long and published standalone rather than in a newspaper, it ceases to count.

Its a nonsensical decision. To pick a not-so-random example, Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men and Other People's Wars are clearly works of journalism. But not according to Justice Winkelmann. And she's just given the government and the National Party licence to try and uncover his sources (though they'd have to sue people individually, allege that they are sources, then make them issue Privacy Act requests).

As for what happens next, hopefully the decision will be appealed. If not, then Fisher can always simply deny that he is an agency, or that if he is, assert that he is engaged in news activity, and invite Dotcom to complain to the Privacy Commissioner. If that tactic fails, he could take appropriate precautions required under s45(b)(i) to ensure that any information released is seen only by Dotcom, and not passed on to other parties.

The same problems everywhere

Last year, we learned that our government was starving the Ombudsmen's Office, leaving it unable to perform its basic functions (while the resulting media attention has seen a budget increase, its too small, and very explicitly won't see the Ombudsmen's investigators getting the pay they deserve). We're not the only ones: the same thing is happening in the UK as well:

The [Information] Commissioner stressed in frank terms the financial difficulties his office was facing. At the moment, the ICO is funded by the notification fees that it receives under the Data Protection Act and grant-in-aid that it receives from the Ministry of Justice. The former brings in substantial amounts but is ring-fenced – it can only spend that money on its data protection-related activities. FOI activities are entirely dependent on MoJ funding. That funding has been progressively reduced over the last few years. The Commissioner stated that:

"If grant in aid was cut further, action on anything other than routine freedom of information enquiries would be impossible."

This seems to be a common tactic of governments fearful of the greater transparency and accountability that freedom of information brings: rolling back the law would be too overt, so they just make it meaningless in practice by underfunding the oversight body, or imposing high fees for its use. The net result is that no-one can effectively challenge the government's decisions, and they can withhold what they want.

As for how to stop it, empowering oversight bodies to charge investigation costs to the agencies being investigated would seem to be an obvious solution.

How it works in PNG

On Monday, Papua New Guinea police issued an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Peter O'Neill over his alleged involvement in a $31 million fraud. The Prime Minister didn't like this, so he has shut down the anti-corruption unit responsible for the investigation, and sacked the deputy commissioner in charge of it:

The Papua New Guinea prime minister, Peter O'Neill, has sacked the deputy police commissioner and shut down a corruption watchdog that was trying to arrest him over an alleged multi-million-dollar fraud.

A police warrant was issued for O'Neill's arrest on Monday over allegations that he siphoned $31 million of public funds to a law firm, Paul Paraka lawyers.

O'Neill denies any wrongdoing and on Wednesday shut the corruption watchdog Task Force Sweep, effectively ending its investigation into the matter.


O'Neill also sacked the police chief of operations, deputy commissioner Simon Kauba, who was heavily involved in the case, accusing him of disobeying government orders.

Those orders presumably being to drop the case and sweep the entire thing under the carpet. As for the police, they're now busy arresting each other for perverting the course of justice by delay the arrest.

Its a perfect picture of how things work in a rotten regime: politicians abusing their powers to protect themselves and prevent proper investigation of their actions.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

National hates dolphins

Maui's Dolphin is New Zealand's most endangered species. There are only 55 of them left. So naturally, National is opening the Marine Mammal Sanctuary which is supposed to protect them to oil drilling:

The Government has opened up more than 3000 square kilometres of a marine mammal sanctuary for oil and gas drilling, home to the critically endangered Maui's dolphin.

It comes less than a week after the International Whaling Commission urged our Government to do more to save the species.


"I think primarily once you go from exploration right through to production, you're not jeopardising the wildlife," says Minister of Energy and Resources Mr Bridges.

Scientists disagree. But National doesn't care about the science on climate change, so why would they care about the science on an endangered species?

Its another example of how National puts the economy (and the financial interests of its corporate mates) ahead of the environment. Even when it may lead to the extinction of our most endangered species.


Well, that's David Cunliffe sunk:

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe - who said this week he had never met Donghua Liu or advocated on his behalf - wrote a letter to immigration officials on behalf of the controversial businessman who was applying for residency in New Zealand.

The 2003 letter was written in his capacity as the MP for New Lynn after he was "approached my constituent Donghua Lui [sic] who is concerned at the time it is taking to process his Investment Category application".

Mr Cunliffe this week denied any involvement with Liu's residency bid after the Herald revealed the property developer paid $15,000 at a Labour Party fundraiser for a book signed by Helen Clark in 2007.

The actual letter itself - written in 2003, before Liu donated to Labour, and in his role as a constituency MP - is pretty innocent. It asks for nothing more than a timeframe on a decision, and is clearly an attempt to help a constituent. Its the subsequent strong denial of having had any dealings with Liu that's the problem. At the least, it shows a complete failure of political management (with Liu in the news, and the media alleging Labour Party leaks, a competent leader would have checked his files, and front-footed it if they'd found anything). But it is likely to be interpreted as deliberate dishonesty, a poor attempt at a cover up. And that's what kills him.

If our second largest party wasn't consistently led by muppets, they might have a chance of winning an election. Instead, their muppetry looks likely to condemn us to another three years of National. Thanks, Labour!

GCHQ thinks mass-spying within the UK is legal

From reading it, UK law on spying seems crystal clear: intercepting "internal" communications requires a warrant. Intercepting external ones doesn't. So what's an "external" communication? Apparently anything GCHQ wants it to be - including all social media and search engine traffic from within the UK:

The government's most senior security official, Charles Farr, detailed how searches on Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as emails to or from non-British citizens abroad, can be monitored by the security services because they are deemed to be "external communications".

It is the first time that the government has admitted that UK citizens, talking via supposedly private channels in social media such as Twitter direct messages, are deemed by the British government to be legitimate legal targets that do not require a warrant before intercepting.


[Director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, Charles Farr's] submission explains that searches on Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are likely to involve communicating with a "web-based platform" abroad and are therefore "external communications" which do not "require a person or a set of premises to be named in the interception warrant". Emails sent or received from abroad could be intercepted in a similar way.

And the reason for this interpretation? Basically because getting complying with the law woudl be too hard:
Farr says: "Any regime that … only permitted interception in relation to specific persons or premises, would not have allowed adequate levels of intelligence information to be obtained and would not have met the undoubted requirements of intelligence for the protection of national security.
But this seems to pretty blatantly violate section 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which makes it clear that an "internal" communication is one which happens in the UK.

The question now is whether the courts will let them get away with it. For an ordinary citizen, compliance being "too hard" (meaning: inconvenient) is not an excuse. Now we get to see if the establishment applies the same standard it expects from the peasants to itself.

As for New Zealand, we use a different formulation, prohibiting GCSB interceptions of "private communications" between New Zealand citizens or permanent residents. While there's an intentional loophole there allowing warrantless mass-surveillance of our metadata, it doesn't appear to give the GCSB the same scope to play definition games that GCHQ has. But they may very well be pretending not to know if a communication is from a New Zealander, or (like the NSA) pretending its not intercepted if a computer rather than a person looks at it. Unfortunately, we just don't know. Which is why they should be required to publish all their legal interpretations of their Act, so we can see exactly what they think they're empowered to do - and nip any illegal spying in the bud.

Update: It gets worse. According to Privacy International, GCHQ does subscribe to the NSA "spying doesn't count if its a computer" meme, and when an actual person is involved, it doesn't matter "because the analyst reading or listening to an individual’s communication will inevitably forget about it anyway." Except of course if they discover anything juicy, in which case its no doubt a triumph of British intelligence.

This is simply panopticon thinking. And the organisations promoting it must be defunded and destroyed.


Yesterday, we learned that the government was reviewing its future contribution to peacekeeping missions, with an eye to turning us into an American footstool. As I pointed out, this would be a major shift in our foreign policy, and one we need to stop. Unfortunately, we're too late: Cabinet agreed to the change last October (see ERD Min (13) 11/3). In secret, without consulting the people on behalf of which those troops will be deployed.

Reading that paper, there's also another bombshell: they want to send spies on peacekeeping missions. The new criteria ask:


Which agencies are so sensitive that their possible presence needs to be redacted for "national security"? (Hint: it is unlikely to be the Ministry for Culture and Heritage)

so, National has - in secret - completely changed our foreign policy, removed a major check on foreign troop deployments, and agreed to deploy spooks on peacekeeping missions. Given that latter bit, the UN would be wise to reject any contribution we offer as a trojan horse for US intelligence gathering.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A major shift in our foreign policy

Since 1945, New Zealand's foreign policy has been based around a commitment to international law, collective security, and UN peacekeeping. Since 1972, and more strongly after 1984, we've also pursued an independent path, acting on our principles rather than on the commands of the UK or US (or at least, that's been the ideal, and hotly fought for by the public). Now, in a secret review of peacekeeping, National is going to throw all that away and turn us back into America's footstool:

New Zealand wants to give up doing peacekeeping work for the sake of being a good global citizen and instead pick missions that benefit our international interests.

A review of peacekeeping options also suggests dropping a formal guideline that peace support operations (PSOs) must "be acceptable to the New Zealand public".

The review, by the staff of the ministers of foreign affairs, defence and police, released under the Official Information Act, says the military should "seek opportunities" to work aboard with Australia, the United States, Britain and Canada.


The memo writers submit three options including no further involvement in peacekeeping, the status quo, and a third option in which New Zealand would no longer wait for requests from the United Nations but "could take a more active and strategic approach to identifying opportunities".

The paper favours the third option.

In English, this means that rather than going on UN missions to support peace and keep combatants apart, we'll be taking an active and direct role in America's wars, against the wishes of the international community. The effect this will have on our international reputation as a principled, neutral party committed to international law, which we rely on for both trade access and for vanity status projects like pursuing Security Council seats, is left as an exercise for the reader.

But what really takes the cake is the removal of the requirement that military operations "be acceptable to the New Zealand public". No, they don't provide any justification, because there cannot be one. It runs contrary to the fundamental principles of democratic and accountable government. But it is entirely consistent with the unaccountable, autocratic mindset which infects our foreign policy community, which sees us as ignorant peasants to be ruled, rather than citizens who rule ourselves.

It speaks volumes that such a fundamental change in our foreign policy was being pursued in secret. Now its been made public, it will hopefully be abandoned.

Farmers are poor sensitive little souls

Water quality is a major issue at the moment, with dairy farmers poisoning our lakes, rivers and streams with their runoff. So I was surprised yesterday to learn that the Waikato Regional Council was cancelling airborne spot checks on water pollution. I was even more surprised to hear the reason: because the flights stressed farmers:

Helicopter flights checking dairy farmers' effluent compliance in Waikato have been temporarily grounded because they're causing stress to farmers.

Waikato Regional Council has halted the flights, which were used to look for effluent running into waterways, while it carries out a review of the use of helicopters for monitoring farmers.

Federated Farmers and the Dairy Women's Network made presentations to the council last week saying the flights could be stressful to farmers and they spoke of high suicide rates in rural areas.

I expect burglars and murderers also find the fear of getting caught stressful, but we don't view that as a reason to stop trying to catch them. We should treat environmental criminals the same. These are public waterways which are being polluted, and the perpetrators can be identified from public airspace and targeted for a followup check. That seems to be a sensible and effective means of enforcement.

(Meanwhile, I'm wondering: if Regional Councils are too afraid to do this, can environmental groups do it? It seems to be a job perfectly suited for an airborne drone)

UK police spied on politicians

In 2000, Jenny Jones was elected to the London Assembly on a Green Party ticket. The moment she was elected, police started spying on her as a "domestic extremist":

Two Green party politicians, including its candidate for mayor of London at the last election, have criticised police chiefs who recorded their political activities on a secret database that was set up to track campaigners deemed to be "domestic extremists". Neither politician has a criminal record.

Official files show that the police kept a log of the political movements of Jenny Jones, a London assembly member and peer, over an 11-year period while she sat on the official committee scrutinising the Metropolitan police and stood to be London's mayor.

They recorded a tweet she sent about possible police tactics at a pro-cycling protest, and details of public meetings she addressed about issues including police violence and Conservative cuts in public spending.


Police started recording the political activities of Jones and Driver after they had been elected to office. The files refer repeatedly to the elected positions the pair have occupied.

There's no suggestion that Jones engaged in or advocated any unlawful activity. Instead, she did what we expect people who want to change society to do: pursued change by peaceful and lawful methods, by getting elected to office. And for this, she's been treated like a criminal: tracked, surveilled, and databased, solely because the police didn't like her politics. As she points out, its nothing compared to what they've done to others - "undercover police being sent to spy on a grieving family, and into the homes, lives and beds of women" - but its still a gross abuse of police powers. And it makes it clear who the real "domestic extremists" are: not the politicians who seek change through election, but the police who spy on them.

Its clear by now that the UK police are rotten to the core, and deeply engaged in political policing for their own purposes. They need to be cleaned out.

Fiji: Challenging the coup

Fiji is hopefully returning to democracy in September, and in an effort to protect itself, the dictatorship has riddled their new constitution with irrevocable clauses preventing any prosecution of them for their crimes. Their plan is clearly that if they don't fix the election, they'll at least be able to enjoy their retirement and keep their ill-gotten wealth. Fortunately, the major opposition party is having none of it:

Fiji's Sodelpa Party is planning a review of the constitution if it is elected to power in September.

The party's leader Ro Teimumu Kepa says the starting point will be to ask the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the status in law of Fiji's 1997 constitution.

That document was abrogated in 2009 by the Fiji regime which brought in a new constitution last year.

Sodelpa is also planning to get rid of decrees and policies which it describes as oppressive and vindictive.

I think its difficult to imagine an independent judiciary finding that the whims of a man with a gun have legal and constitutional effect. They might try and find that the point is moot after so much time, but the fact that someone is bothering to ask them shows that it is not. It would create a hell of a mess, but that is preferable to accepting that dictatorship is in any way legal - or letting those responsible escape justice.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dear Labour: I don't work for you

So, following this morning's post about David Cunliffe's finding his spine on Iraq, I received an email from Rob Egan, "Senior Strategic Communications Advisor" in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, who assured me that Cunliffe didn't focus group his position and that "the release was not delayed pending “testing” but was released as logistics allowed."

Right, so Cunliffe isn't a focus-group led mollusc, just so useless and lacking in political instincts that he can't say what he thinks on an important issue without having to effectively retract his original position within 24 hours. Glad we cleared that up.

Meanwhile, there's this bit:

I realise that the speed of social media means that misunderstandings can arise rapidly, and that part of the value of blogging is that it captures reaction quickly and without mediation, but I would really appreciate it if get in touch with me about any serious concerns you have such as this. You can reach me by phone or email most of the time.

To which I've already tweeted my response: Dear Labour: I don't work for you. I don't work for anyone. I voice my own views. If you don't like them, you can go fuck yourself.

Dispensing with justice

So, Owen Glenn's horribly compromised inquiry into family abuse has finally reported back. It's key recommendation? Replace the justice system with witch trials:

Sir Owen Glenn's independent inquiry into family violence suggests shifting the burden of proof in "domestic" cases so that alleged perpetrators are considered guilty unless they can prove they are innocent.


[I]t offers "ideas for change" from those who gave evidence, including "a major review of the court system". Ideas include:
  • "Revisit the burden of proof so that it lies with perpetrators not victims."
  • Review the adversarial system which "places an excessive burden of proof on victims", replacing it with "a more collaborative system where the burden of proof is on the perpetrator".
The presumption of innocence is a fundamental safeguard in our justice system. Along with the requirement that charges are proved beyond reasonable doubt, it helps significantly reduce (but sadly not eliminate) the chances that people are punished for crimes they did not commit. We have these rules because a justice system that punishes the innocent is not worthy of the name, and is little better than a witch trial. And that's basically what Owen Glenn would have us go back to: guilt by allegation. Its not justice. Its not even revenge (in that such a system would punish those alleged to be guilty, rather than those who had actually committed crimes). Such a system would not meet basic international standards. But it would let those outraged at domestic violence and child abuse feel like they were "doing something", which is apparently all that matters to such people.

I acknowledge the difficulties in prosecuting these sorts of cases. Often there are few witnesses, which turns any trial into a contest of credibility between victim and accused. But the answer to these problems is not just to give up on our values. We should not dispense with justice just because Owen Glenn thinks its too hard.

You shouldn't need a focus group to find your spine

On Friday, David Cunliffe was asked about whether he would send combat troops to Iraq. His response? Mush (you can listen to the full quote here). 24 hours later when he's had time to run a focus group and do some polling, his position had changed completely:

The Labour government I lead would not contribute combat troops to Iraq under any foreseeable circumstances.

While Labour's new position is welcome, a leader worthy of the name shouldn't need a focus group to find their spine for them on an issue like this. Helen Clark certainly didn't. And the net effect of Cunliffe's wibbling has been to make him appear untrustworthy to his own potential supporters (who have been sent a clear message that he either can't be trusted on core issues, or can't recognise one to save himself), while making him look weak, contemptible, and incompetent to everyone else.

New Fisk

Now we see how his doctrine turns enemies into ‘allies’
The old partition of the Middle East is dead. I dread to think what will follow

Putting the threshold on the agenda

The unlikely alliance of Internet-Mana has caused a surge of hate from the political status quo for the electorate lifeboat rule, which guarantees us a more representative Parliament (and gives outsider parties another way of "breaking in"). Meanwhile, Internet-Mana is trying to shift the debate to the real problem: the undemocratic 5% threshold:

The Internet MANA Party has called on Parliament to change the law on voter thresholds and will test public opinion online.

An online petition went live on the Internet Party’s website today (Sunday) and will run for a week. It calls for a change to the law to guarantee equal value for all party votes.

Harré highlights the distortionary effects of the threshold: distorted voting preferences and wasted votes. Hone Harawira is more scathing, calling it a "protection racket set up by the old guard". They're both right. The threshold is an undemocratic distortion in our electoral system whose primary effect is to reduce electoral competition and choice. The arguments for it - that small parties are undeserving of representation or are simply "ineffective" - cannot be justified. It needs to go. Sign the petition today and add your voice to calls for a better democracy for New Zealand.

[And in related news: Keri Henare's MMP calculator is back up, so you can calculate the effects of tweaks to the system on electoral outcomes]

Friday, June 13, 2014

David ain't no Helen

With Iraq turning into a mess again, and the US refusing to rule anything out while pointedly saying it can always count on Australia, people in New Zealand are asking the obvious question: if the US starts another war, will our politicians join it?

John Key hasn't spoken up yet. As for David Cunliffe, he's just been asked about it by Newstalk ZB's Felix Marwick. His response is pure mush:

Cunliffe on troops to Iraq: wd dep' on the circumstances when request made. Won't hypothesize what answer wd be w/out having specific facts.

a difficult decision and would rely on the position taken by the United Nations and our partners. Can't rule anything in or out.

And there you have it: David Cunliffe ain't no Helen Clark. If you want New Zealand to stay out of America's stupid wars, you'll need to vote for someone else.

Update: And meanwhile, John Key says the chances of his government contributing to any intervention are "remote". Its a sad day when Labour looks more warmongering than National.

Something to be ashamed of

New Zealand has dropped one place in the Reporters Without Borders World press Freedom Index.The reason? Spying:

In New Zealand, the interception of reporter Jon Stephenson’s metadata by the military, which thought his articles were overly critical, and the release of journalist Andrea Vance’s phone records to a leak investigation is indicative of growing government mistrust of the media and their watchdog role.

And these are just the cases we know about.

National erodes freedom of the press. Remember that when you vote in September.

Something to be proud of

New Zealand ranks 5th in the world for democracy, behind the usual Nordic suspects, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index. Unfortunately the full report isn't available without giving The Economist your data (no thanks), but the ranking is based not just on electoral processes and civil liberties, but also on political participation, functioning of government and political culture. New Zealand is likely to score badly on turnout, participation and trust in government. Still, its pretty good despite those flaws, and we're miles ahead of the US, which languishes on 19th.

New Fisk

Iraq crisis: Sunni caliphate has been bankrolled by Saudi Arabia

If its not open, its not justice

Last week we learned that the British government had tried to pervert their justice system into a new Star Chamber by trying to hold a trial in secret. Yesterday, the Court of Appeal rejected the government's demand:

An attempt by the Crown Prosecution Service to hold a terrorism trial entirely in secret has been overturned by the court of appeal.

The request, unprecedented in recent criminal justice history, would have prevented anyone knowing even the identity of the two accused.

The compromise reached over the highly sensitive Old Bailey case, known formerly only as the crown v AB and CD, sets fresh standards for imposing restrictions on the principle of open justice.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by The Guardian and other media which succeeded in overturning the Crown Prosecution Service's attempt to conduct the case entirely in secret with the accused remaining anonymous - a procedure that would have been unprecedented in recent criminal justice history.

This is being hailed as a victory for open justice, but its worth noting how small a victory it is. The public will be allowed to know the identity of the defendants, the charges they face, and hear the opening statements and verdicts (and, if necessary, sentencing). But the bulk of the trial, the actual evidence which will allow us to assess whether the accused are innocent or guilty (and whether the government has been abusing its powers) will all be kept secret. Journalists will be allowed to attend, pending a future appeal about their reporting, but only under a stifling protocol which gives the courts complete control over all their notes. Open justice? Yeah, right.

The identity of witnesses can be protected (though not from the accused), and crucial evidence can be heard in camera if necessary. But these measures should be truly exceptional. To hold an entire trial under such restrictions turns it into a farce, and brings the justice system into disrepute. Whatever its verdict, this trial has no public credibility. If its not open, its not justice.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Another case for Graham McCready

Back in 2011, a Whakatane police officer attempted to arrest a man who had fled from a traffic stop. When he resisted, he was pepper sprayed and beaten, after which the officer retrieved a taser from his vehicle and tasered him twice while he was lying on the ground.

Today, the Independent Police Conduct Authority released its report into the incident, finding that the police officer used excessive force by beating and tasering the man. Despite this, they recommend that merely that he face disciplinary proceedings. If you or I had done the same, we'd be looking at prosecution, and five years imprisonment for assault with a weapon.

But what really takes the cake is the police's response to the report: basically a "fuck you". They are "satisfied his actions were not the result of any ill will or malicious intent" and claim that they "initiated remedial action through the employment process some time ago" and as a result they can't do anything more. That "remedial action"? Extra taser training. Break the law, bring the police into disrepute, and they protect you and teach you how to do it better.

Once again, its clear that the police cannot hold their own to account, and that the IPCA won't do it either. Which means that if we want justice and equality under the law, we're left with Graham McCready's solution: private prosecution.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Modern Britain

What sums up modern Britain this week? Anti-homeless spikes and water cannon. Those running their society aren't interested in caring for its weaker members. Instead they just want to hose them away like dirt.

How to punish bad employers

The government has released a discussion document on strengthening the enforcement of labour standards. At the moment, breaches of the minimum wage, denying people their holiday entitlements, or not even bothering to provide them with a formal employment agreement attract derisory penalties which are hardly ever imposed. But now they're looking at cracking down, not only by naming and shaming bad employers (which costs them in bad PR with the public), but also with higher fines and bans on company ownership:

Another option would extend financial penalties to deter unlawful behaviour and to ensure there is no financial gain from non-compliance.

Fines would also be targeted at individuals to stamp out "phoenixing" - when directors wind up a company and begin another to avoid enforcement.

The ministry also suggests a measure that would restrict the ability of non-compliant companies to do business.

This would include director bans, licence amendments, revocations, disqualifications, seizure of assets or other restrictions.

So if you abuse your employees, you won't be running a company again. Good. We'll only stop this when it stops being financially worthwhile to abusive employers. But penalties are only half the equation - there also needs to be more effective enforcement, so that employers will actually fear those penalties. They're looking at this too, but it'll take a significant increase in funding for labour inspectors before there is an effective deterrent.