Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mass-surveillance is illegal

Mass-surveillance is illegal under European law, according to the European Court of Justice:

“General and indiscriminate retention” of emails and electronic communications by governments is illegal, the EU’s highest court has ruled, in a judgment that could trigger challenges against the UK’s new Investigatory Powers Act – the so-called snooper’s charter.

Only targeted interception of traffic and location data in order to combat serious crime – including terrorism – is justified, according to a long-awaited decision by the European court of justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg.

The finding came in response to a legal challenge initially brought by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, when he was a backbench MP, and Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, over the legality of GCHQ’s bulk interception of call records and online messages.


“Legislation prescribing a general and indiscriminate retention of data … exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society.” Prior authorisation by a court or independent body to access retained data is required for each official request, the ECJ said.

Of course, GCHQ's trawling wasn't even specified by legislation, but permitted by general spy warrants. But since the case was lodged the UK has passed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which requires ISPs to retain internet communications data and provide it to dozens of government agencies on request. That law is now almost certainly illegal. The bad news is that because this is a question of EU data standards, rather than human rights, then Brexit will make it legal again. To put it another way, only the EU is stopping the British establishment from implementing the total surveillance state they have been longing for since the 80's.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

MPI should do its damn job

Fish dumping and high-grading are widespread problems in the fishing industry which threaten the viability of the Quota Management System. They are serious offences, carrying a penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. And yet MPI has brought only four cases in the last seven years:

The Ministry for Primary Industries has brought just four successful fish-dumping prosecutions since 2009, newly released information shows.


The four cases show various levels of dumping, including five tonne of snapper discarded in the Hauraki Gulf, and multiple dumping convictions for three Korean fishers on a big trawler whose dumping was large scale and endemic. In all four cases, the fishers forfeited their boats to the Crown.

The ministry's director-general Martyn Dunne has repeatedly claimed, in the face of claims his department was soft on illegal discarding, that they were prosecuting 300 cases and issuing over 3000 infringements a year. However, for dumping, these latest OIA figures show it is fewer than one a year.

And this is for a problem MPI itself says is "critical". So why the inaction? Simple: MPI also admits that the problem is so widespread that if they enforced the law they'd put over half of fishers out of business. Rather than do that, they've instead decided to talk up their achievements while in practice doing nothing. They've been totally captured by the criminal industry they're supposed to be policing.

This isn't good enough. MPI should do its damn job and enforce the law - as we pay them to do. If they don't want to, then they should be dissolved and replaced with a new agency willing to do the job. Its that simple.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Making the problem go away

New Zealand has a housing crisis, which is beginning to cause significant flow-on effects for the real economy. So what is the government doign about it? Abolishing the role of Housing Minister.

You might think that removing the person whose job it is to oversee policy would mean that there is no longer any policy. And you'd be right. You might also think that that would make the crisis worse. You'd be right there too. But there's a positive benefit: with no Housing Minister, the government can't be asked questions about the housing crisis in Parliament. Abolishing the title literally makes the problem go away, at least as far as the government is concerned.

As for actual people, they'll still be struggling to pay unaffordable housing costs thanks to a speculator-driven boom funded by dirty foreign money, while the market refuses to build the affordable houses they need because there's more money in palazzos. But since when has National ever cared about them?

Friday, December 16, 2016

New Fisk

It was bizarre to watch Samantha Power at the UN conveniently forget to mention all the massacres done in America's name

Scenes from a housing crisis

Auckland schools can't get teachers. Auckland businesses are facing a wave of strikes. The Department of Corrections is spending $2 million a year on hotel accommodation for temporary staff at Mt Eden.

The common factor in all of this? The housing crisis. Teachers can't afford to buy a house in Auckland anymore, so they seek jobs elsewhere. Workers are facing higher housing costs, so they want more money from their employers. And prison officers won't move to Auckland because they'll be unable to buy a house, so Corrections has to pay inflated hotel bills. This is the cost of National's Auckland housing crisis, the result of its neglect of the issue. And its going to get much worse before it gets better. While the bubble might have peaked, prices are unlikely to fall, for the simple reason that the greedy speculators who snapped up all the houses won't want to sell at a loss. It will take years for wages to rise to compensate. In the meantime, the message has been sent: if you want to own your own home, or pay affordable rents, don't live in Auckland. And businesses are going to be paying the cost of that in unfilled positions and industrial action for years to come.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Good riddance

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has announced that he will not stand at the next election.

Good riddance. McCully is one of New Zealand's worst ever Ministers, with a history of control-freakery and corruption stretching back to the Shipley years. In his current term as a Minister, he has vindictively cut funding to aid agencies which criticised the government, awarded contracts corruptly and without tenders, corruptly created a position to get an opposition MP out of Parliament, all while boozing his way around the world at our expense. More recently there's the festering sore of his corrupt Saudi sheep deal, which saw him lie to his Cabinet colleagues in order to bribe a Saudi billionaire.

New Zealand will be better off for his resignation. Unfortunately, given the way these things usually work, National will probably add insult to injury by giving him an honour on the way out.

Climate change: Saving the data

One of the standard moves in the climate denier playbook is to make climate change "go away" by shutting down institutions, firing the scientists and deleting all the data. Tony Abbott tried this in Australia, shutting down the Climate Commission and sacking hundreds of scientists in an effort to prevent future work on climate change. Now, US climate scientists are protecting themselves against similar moves by the incoming Trump regime by organising a mass copying of all their data:

Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.

“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a non-government server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

Their fears seem well-founded. The Trump regime is being stuffed with climate change deniers, wants to shut down NASA's climate change work, and seems to be gearing up for a witch-hunt against climate scientists. Faced with that, protecting the US's data from denier vandalism begins to look like a bloody good idea.

Not too difficult after all

When thousands of people petitioned Parliament for pardons for those convicted of historic consensual homsexual sex, Justice Minister Amy Adams dismissed the issue as "too difficult". Now apparently she's bringing a pardon plan to Cabinet:

It has taken 30 years but men convicted of homosexual acts could get the right to apply for a pardon next year.

1 NEWS has confirmed the Cabinet will consider a plan to clear convictions before the 1986 law change that meant homosexuality was no longer illegal.


But there won't be a blanket pardon. Men or their families will have to apply for one. That's because some convictions were for sex with a minor, which is still a crime.

"I believe many of the public would like to see this happen and it should happen... just on the grounds of natural justice people should not have this shadow over them for the rest of their lives," Mr Jolliff said.

Good. The historic persecution of homosexuals was a crime, and the least we can do for its victims is pardon them. What's inexplicable is why it has taken the government so long to recognise this. But I guess when the senior Cabinet is stuffed with bigots, there will be institutional resistance.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Even more expensive

The police's illegal raid on Nicky Hager's home has got even more expensive:

Nicky Hager’s home was raided by Police in October 2014. The raid was part of an investigation into the source of Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics. In December of last year, the High Court ruled that the warrant that was used for the raid was “fundamentally unlawful”. The Police are not appealing that decision.

Nicky Hager’s daughter was the only one home when the Police turned up to raid the house. She had to stay and watch the 10-hour raid of her home. The Police search included a search of her bedroom and private belongings. The Police seized and cloned her phone and laptop. The laptop was kept by the Police for over four months. This all happened two weeks before she was due to submit her end-of-degree University papers.

The Police have agreed to pay Nicky Hager’s daughter damages and her costs. They have also agreed to destroy all copies of her information taken during the raid and copied. On that basis, his daughter has agreed to discontinue her proceedings against the Police.

This is on top of quarter of a million dollars in interim costs, and the main suit is still ongoing. When you factor in the cost of the police's lawyers, we're already well over a million dollars, and that's without even thinking about final damages.

But again, this isn't real money, its taxpayer's money. Those actually responsible for this abuse of power, from the police officers who authorised it and carried it up to John Key, who was ultimately responsible, won't be paying a cent. And given past police practices, it is unlikely they will ever be held to account, despite abusing their powers and costing us a large amount of money.

Seizing the opportunity

It looks like Andrew Little is seizing the opportunity presented by Bill English threatening the retirement age:

Speaking to RNZ, Little said he opposed any changes to the superannuation age, due to the strain it could place on some elderly people.

"There are working people, people who do physical and manual jobs throughout their working life, right now they struggle to get to the age of 65 already.

"I met a line technician a few years ago who was 64, looking forward to his retirement at 65, his employer had approached him and said 'Listen, we can't find replacement line technicians, do you mind working until you're 70?

"He was horrified...he simply could not do that work anymore."

While people who worked in less physical professions could continue past 65, universal superannuation meant you needed the same rules for everybody.

Instead, Little is pushing for the government to resume contributions to the Cullen Fund, effectively forcing high-earning Boomers to pre-fund part of their own retirement. So, it looks like he can recognise a political opportunity, and has learned the lesson of Labour's last two massive defeats.

Why is the government ignoring this exploitation?

The Herald this morning reports on the shocking exploitation of migrant workers:

Widespread migrant exploitation has been uncovered in New Zealand with a new report stating workers have been unpaid, denied toilet breaks and subjected to threats and abuse by Kiwi bosses.

More than 100 migrant workers who have fallen victim to exploitation and human trafficking in New Zealand have relayed disturbing accounts of abuse to Auckland University researcher Dr Christina Stringer.

Workers claimed their passports have been confiscated, their movements have been restricted and they've been forced to work up to 18 hours a day and live in overcrowded, substandard accommodation.

Some reported being propositioned for sex by employers while others said New Zealand authorities had refused to listen to their pleas for help because they didn't have the right documentation.

Two interviewees said they felt like they were "prey," while another commented: "I feel like they own me because of visas."

This is another way in which migrant labour effectively subsidises bad employers: by providing a pool of victims for them to exploit. All of this is unquestionably illegal: we have a minimum wage, employment standards, anti-slavery and anti-human trafficking laws. But the government apparently refuses to enforce those laws by refusing to handle complaints from victims. Which suggests a policy from National of tolerating this sort of exploitation. Which is unsurprising, since their pet dairy industry seems to rely on it (few sane people being willing to work 18 days in a row in the middle of nowhere for less than minimum wage unless they're effectively kept prisoner by their employer).

This isn't acceptable, and the answer is for the government to actually enforce the law and start putting employers who exploit migrant labour in jail. Sadly, I don't think we'll see any such action under this government. If we want this to change, we need to vote for it.

New Fisk

There is more than one truth to tell in the awful story of Aleppo

National finally pretends to act

The Herald reports that the government is finally going to take some action against multinational tax-cheats:

The Government is planning unilateral action to crack down on tax dodging by multinational companies, including changing the law, amid growing concern about fairness.


The proposals include granting broader information-gathering powers to Inland Revenue investigators, shifting the burden of proof to multinational companies in disputes over transfer pricing, and tightening loopholes that allow companies to claim they have no taxable presence in New Zealand.

The moves stop short of a full-scale diverted profits tax, as introduced by Australia and the United Kingdom, but Woodhouse refused to rule out such a measure if this new package failed to achieve results.

"If we continue to get aggressive tax planning and tax arbitrage I won't rule out - I wouldn't call it the nuclear option, but the stronger option - a diverted profits tax," Woodhouse said.

Any action is better than none, but given that other countries have already implemented a diverted profits tax, everyone is already asking why National isn't planning to as well. And the natural suspicion is that, as with everything else, they're trying to do as little as possible: enough to get the headline "National cracks down on tax-cheats", but not enough to actually hurt them and dry up the donations.

But again, its a useful peg in the ground, and allows the left-wing parties far greater room to move. National now openly supports targeting tax-cheats. Which means that Labour and the Greens can give us the real action we need.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Climate change: Heating up

In case anyone was in any doubt about the way the climate is heading: 2016 was New Zealand's hottest year on record:

NIWA directly attributes this to climate change. And meanwhile, our government fiddles while the planet burns.

National gives up on energy efficiency

Today the government released its draft New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy 2017 - 2022 for consultation. While the accompanying PR tries desperately to talk up how the NZEECS will "enable our transition towards a smarter, lower-carbon and more productive economy", reading the draft, it is clear that it will do the opposite: National is giving up, completely, on energy efficiency and conservation.

Compare the new draft with the existing strategy (appended to the New Zealand Energy Strategy 2011-2021). The old target of improving commercial and industrial energy intensity by 1.3% a year has been weakened to 1%. Targets for an overall improvement in light vehicle fuel efficiency have been replaced with one for the uptake of electric vehicles. All other targets have simply been discarded, in favour of some vague, targetless waffle about improving energy efficiency without any concrete steps to do so. Targets for more geothermal energy, to insulate homes, improve minimum energy performance standards for products, and improve public sector energy use have simply been discarded. They still retain the energy strategy's 90% renewable by 2025 target, but the maths shows we have no hope of achieving it, and they certainly don't propose any policies to change that picture.

We know why this has happened: targets mean accountability, which is not something National wants in this area. Like child poverty, this is simply not an area of policy interest for them. They think "energy efficiency" is something espoused by Greens and hippies, rather than just a damn good idea. The only reason they've produced even this weak document is that they are statutorily obliged to do so - and even then, its so piss-weak that its unclear whether it meets the statutory requirements around contents and targets. They simply do not take this seriously, and are making it clear for everyone to see.

The problem is that they need to take it seriously. Climate change is happening now, and we need to radically decarbonise our economy to prevent it from becoming absolutely catastrophic. The NZEECS could and should be a primary vehicle for doing that. But National's yokel-like hostility to the problem and its required solutions is preventing that. And as they're the party of denier farmers and sociopathic polluters, I can't see that changing. If we want real action on energy efficiency, decarbonisation or climate change, we need a new government.

Still indecent

The annual Child Poverty Monitor was released today, showing that 295,000 children were living in poverty and 90,000 in severe hardship. While the percentage has dropped since last year, by the numbers that's more than ever before, and it certainly doesn't constitute any real progress. Which is understandable, given that the government's response to these reports has ranged from sticking their fingers in their ears through bureaucratic obfuscation and denial to bullshit victim blaming. But no matter which way they spin it, the problem is real. And as the government, its their responsibility to do something about it.

National has done one good thing: raised benefits for the first time in 40 years. But that hasn't flowed through into the statistics yet (we'll probably see it show up in the 2018 report), and they need to do more. One very obvious measure would be to make a solid commitment to reduce child poverty by setting targets - a policy measure they use for everything else. The longer they refuse to do so, the more they make it clear that they really just don't care about hungry kids.

And they should care. Not just because this is a moral stain on our nation, but because child poverty costs a fortune and reducing it saves money. That's logic that even Bill English should understand. Reducing child poverty is not a cost - it is an investment in a better future for everyone. Isn't that meant to be what his government is about?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Talking to themselves about secrecy

The latest Ombudsman's Quarterly Review mentioned that the Ombudsman was planning to consult on new guidance around the "free and frank" withholding ground:

Accordingly, next month, we join with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in leading a discussion on the issues that arise, and appreciation of the viewpoints, to feed into guidance we are drafting to give a little more certainty in this very sensitive area of good government.

The "free and frank" clause is the most controversial withholding ground, effectively giving Ministers licence to hide politically embarrassing material under the guise of protecting public servants' ability to do their jobs. So there's an obvious question of who exactly will the Ombudsman and DPMC be having this "discussion" with? I sent an urgent OIA to DPMC to find out, and the response is not good news:

Looking at this participant list, everyone on it is either a public servant or a former public servant. Who speaks for OIA users in this "discussion"? No-one. Instead, the government is having a one-sided "discussion", effectively with itself, about how much we should be allowed to know about what they are doing. And in practice, given the numbers and the total absence of requester voices, it will be DPMC browbeating the Ombudsman for more secrecy.

If this is the process, we can have no confidence in the guidance which results.

Opportunity knocks

Bill English is now officially Prime Minister. One of his first policy announcements? Refusing to commit to not raising the retirement age:

Our retirement system is one of the things our welfare system does really well (we have very low rates of poverty in old age, unlike other countries), and tinkering with it is a third rail in NZ politics. For the past two elections Labour has boldly thrown itself on that third rail in an effort to gain "fiscal credibility" with crazed anti-taxers, and suffered the two worst defeats in its history as a consequence as people rightly asked what the point of them was. English's announcement is a golden opportunity for Labour to repudiate that mistake, to differentiate itself from National, and recapture New Zealand's socialist centre. The question is whether they will take it.

(The same goes for the Greens: you're a left-wing party. Protecting generous social services against tax-cutters is what left-wing parties are supposed to do. So do it already. You support a UBI, so protect the age-restricted one we've already got. Better yet, expand it)

Friday, December 09, 2016

Why don't we do this here?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

About time

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

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

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

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

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

WINZ kills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Fisk

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

Rotten to the core

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The police are above the law

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

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

The shifting political consensus

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Strapping the chicken on charter schools

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A long-overdue change

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

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

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


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

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

Bonus Member's Day

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

But what about Paula Rebstock?

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

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

Climate change: Still melting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Even more spying

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

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

Key's resignation and the OIA

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

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

Fiji: Still a dictatorship

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 05, 2016

Fiji: Ten years on

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

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

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


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

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

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

The rich are worried

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 02, 2016

The future of Canterbury

What will Canterbury's future look like? We're seeing it today with the death of the Selwyn River:

The signs say there's a river here, but no one's seen it in months.

A long stretch of the Selwyn River near Christchurch is barren. Its dry river-bed is snaked by tyre tracks, faint clues of its past as a river disappearing as it becomes a vehicle track.

A beloved swimming spot downstream is stagnant. Fish and eels die in their dozens, trapped in pools evaporating around them.

It's not new for some parts of the Selwyn to dry up, but the scale of this year's disappearance is unprecedented.

The causes? Prolonged low rainfall and over-extraction for irrigation. The former is a result of climate change, which is predicted to significantly increase drought in Canterbury. The latter is the result of the greed of the dairy industry. As for what to do about it, over-extraction is easier to control with policy, so if we want there to be a river for future generations, we should start by eliminating that.

What does Waikato DHB's CEO have to hide?

According to the Herald, Waikato DHB's Chief Executive Nigel Murray is two years late with his expenses disclosures:

A Government watchdog is "disappointed" that the Waikato District Health Board has not disclosed chief executive Nigel Murray's expenses since he took up the job in 2014.

The State Services Commission's expectation is that DHB chief executives disclose their expenses, gifts and hospitality at least once a year.

"Annual disclosures must now be published, containing information up to the end of the financial year (June 30), by the third week of July each year," the commission says.

Waikato DHB's latest disclosure on its website relates to former chief executive Craig Climo and covers the 12 months to June 2014.

Murray started in July 2014.

This sort of shit is unacceptable. It also doesn't happen by accident. Which invites the question: what does Murray have to hide?

New Fisk

Does Aleppo prove that we westerners should keep the world’s antiquities?

How is this a bad thing?

The switch of failed Wellington mayoral candidate Nick Leggett from Labour to National has caused the usual flood of articles from the press gallery trying to explain it. But instead of going for the obvious explanation - self-serving ambition - they're attempting to slot it into some political meta-narrative. Here's Rachel Smalley's attempt:

Labour and National have increasingly nudged to the Left, and that’s largely the result of Labour’s deal with the Greens. I thought, some time ago, it was a good move – but it’s pulled Labour further to the left, instead of dragging the Greens further towards the centre. And Leggett has echoed the mutterings of many long-term Labour supporters, accusing the party of losing touch with working kiwis.

I suspect National’s centrist position and popularity is now very appealing to Leggett.

And look at the policies that National has effectively snatched out from under the nose of Labour. National will build more affordable homes but crucially, more social housing too. The party's essentially introduced a capital gains tax -- of sorts -- on residential properties bought and sold within two years. And in terms of social welfare, last year National upped benefits for families by $25 a week. It's easy to see why Leggett felt he could transition into a National party that's positioned itself very much in the centre.

This is presented as if its a Bad Thing for Labour. And I suppose it is if you see politics through the lens of winners and losers and who gets the baubles of office - in other words, if you're a major-party MP or a gallery reporter. But when you look at it through the lens of policy, its an entirely different story. The Greens drag Labour left, and National shifts left to fill the gap, meaning they introduce, implement and retain a pile of left-wing policies instead of the vicious austerity shite they normally give us. In other words, it gets National to cement a (weak) social democratic consensus which can be strengthened by future left-wing governments. As someone who wants such policies, I struggle to see how this can possibly be a bad thing.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

"Land of the free"

One of the signs that a country is not a democracy is when it restricts the ability of the media to cover its crimes. The US is doing exactly that over what its doing at Standing Rock:

Award-winning Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou has had plenty of scary border experiences while reporting from the Middle East for the past decade. But his most disturbing encounter was with U.S. Customs and Border Protection last month, he said.

On Oct. 1, customs agents detained Ou for more than six hours and briefly confiscated his mobile phones and other reporting materials before denying him entry to the United States, according to Ou. He was on his way to cover the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline on behalf of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation.

Because obviously, exposing militarised local police and oil company goons beating, shooting, and setting dogs on peaceful protesters trying to defend their land is a "threat" to "national security". Or at least, the ignorance of white Americans about where "their" country came from.

So much for the "land of the free". Trump is just the cherry on the top of a long decline into fascism.

OIA stats are coming

Last year the Chief Ombudsman announced that he was planning to release detailed statistics on OIA complaints in order to identify poorly performing agencies. The statistics were originally planned to be released in July, but they haven't appeared. So what happened?

The answer is in the latest Ombudsman's Quarterly Report. As part of an OGP commitment, the State Services Commissioner has asked the Ombudsman for assistance in ensuring greater transparency and compliance. As a result, the statistics project has been delayed, but we'll still be getting them:

Our plan is to publish the first statistical information by the end of January next year. But beyond that, just what we publish and when may depend very much on how this project with the State Services Commission proceeds.

So we'll get to have a public naming and shaming of non-performing agencies (and hopefully docking of bonuses) next year. But more importantly, this cooperation - if it is real - opens the door to full Canadian-style statistics on OIA requests, refusals and complaints. And that will help a lot to identify problems. You can't manage what you don't measure, and the fact that they haven't bothered measuring this information for over thirty years tells us a lot about how little the government cares about it.

Plain packs win in the UK

In 2014, the UK introduced plain packaging for cigarettes in an effort to destroy tobacco companies' last form of stealth advertising. Naturally, they went to court over it. And naturally, they lost:

The latest attempt by tobacco companies to prevent the introduction of mandatory plain packaging of cigarettes in the UK has been rejected by the court of appeal.

The judgment is a fresh blow to companies who face having to replace their current heavily branded distinctive packs with boxes that are indistinguishable from each other bar the brand name on the packet in standard typeface, colour and size.


In May, the high court rejected their arguments, the day before the tobacco products directive of the EU took effect. Some of the companies took the case to the court of appeal last month but, on Wednesday, the three judges, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, dismissed the challenge.

Lord Justice Lewison, Lord Justice Beatson and Sir Stephen Richards ruled that the health secretary had “lawfully exercised his powers”.

Big Tobacco has deep pockets and is desperate, so they'll probably try and take this to the Supreme Court. And hopefully they'll lose there too.

Meanwhile in New Zealand we've passed the law, but it hasn't yet been brought into force as they're still finalising regulations. But hopefully that will be soon.

Online schools should not be a dumping ground

Back in August the government introduced a bill to allow schools to be replaced with "Centres of Online Learning". The bill is currently before select committee, and in a rare move the Ombudsman has made a submission, raising concerns about them being used as a dumping ground for disabled students:

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has called for significant restrictions on online schools including legislation to stop them becoming dumping grounds for children with disabilities.


Online schools could become the default for disabled children that physical schools did not want to enrol, he said.

"I'm really worried about what the unintended impact of this could be on those who schools might wish to exclude because its convenient," he said.

"I'd want there to be, if you don't mind, if we're going to go this way, an actual statutory safeguard to guarantee the right of disabled people to attend physical schools if they wish to."

Judge Boshier said children in online schools risked social isolation and full-time attendance should be restricted to those who could not access a physical school because of illness or remoteness.

Online learning has a definite place in our education system, but this is also a real risk. Schools frequently try and deny entry to disabled children, or try to exclude them, despite a statutory right to free public education. And creation an online alternative means a real danger of those kids being forced into substandard education and denied social contact by discrimination.

The Ombudsman also points out other serious problems with the bill: online schools won't be covered by the Ombudsman's and Official Information Acts, and the Minister will purportedly have absolute discretion over their closure (the latter obviously being a reaction to the government's repeated losses in court over school closures in recent years). So in addition to being a discrimination risk, its a shift towards unaccountability and autocracy (which in turn invites poor governance and abuse of power). Neither move is welcome, and hopefully the committee will fix these problems.


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

  • Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill (Jan Logie)
  • Housing Corporation (Affordable Housing Development) Amendment Bill (Kelvin Davis)
  • Student Loan Scheme (First Home Repayment Diversion) Amendment Bill (Gareth Hughes)
It looks like the Green ballot-mojo has returned from its holiday. It also looks like housing is seriously on the agenda - Davis' bill requires Housing New Zealand to build 10,000 affordable homes a year, while Hughes' allows people repaying odious student debt to divert those repayments to building a deposit for their first home. (Logie's bill ensures employment protections for victims of domestic violence and seems like a no-brainer). There were 76 bills in the ballot this morning. A complete list is here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

This is what happens if you don't vet your list

Mt Roskill is having a by-election on saturday, and while Labour's Michael Wood is expected to win, he's not a certainty. But the National candidate Parmjeet Parmar is already in Parliament as a list MP, so if they win, the next person on the list gets elected. Who is that? Misa Fia Turner, who seems to be a crazy bigot:

Little has been written about Turner. She was the subject of a minor scandal in 2014 when it was alleged she had not earned the Samoan chief title 'Misa'.

Also in 2014, she told the Catholic website CathNews that gay marriage is "really against our moral values".


Turner also seems to be a fan of United States president-elect Donald Trump, who she refers to as "anointed [by God] for an assignment".

She has also posted about a young Samoan woman who claimed to suffer from stigmata, writing: "If God can use a donkey, then He can use anyone as He pleases."

Hating gay people and believing in stigmata and politicians being anointed by god is like something out of the middle ages. But I guess that's what you get if you don't vet your list candidates properly: crazy people.

Member's Day

Today is a member's day, unless the government bumps it for urgency. Assuming that doesn't happen, we'll see the third reading of Chris Bishop's Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill, followed by the first readings of Andrew Little's Our Work Our Future Bill and Metiria Turei's Residential Tenancies (Safe and Secure Rentals) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly, it might make a start on David Bennett's Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill, but I think that's unlikely. There should be a ballot for two bills tomorrow.

A barrage of hate

Since the US election there have been a distressing series of reports of hate crimes against immigrants, African-Americans, and Muslims from the US. Now, a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center has explicitly linked this to Donald Trump's election:

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has counted 867 hate incidents in the 10 days after the US election, a report released Tuesday found, a phenomenon it partly blamed on the rhetoric of Donald Trump.

The advocacy group collected reports of incidents from media outlets and its own #ReportHate page. SPLC said it was not able to confirm all reports but believed the number of actual incidents was far higher, as according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics most hate crimes go unreported.


According to the report’s findings, anti-black and anti-immigrant incidents were the most commonly reported, with K-12 settings and colleges the most common venues.

Nearly a third of the incidents (289 of them) were motivated by anti-immigrant sentiment, the report said. Assailants often invoked Trump’s promise to build a wall in their attacks and called for the victims to be deported. For instance, in Redding, California, a student brought “deportation letters” to school and recorded himself handing them out to Latino students. In Royal Oak, Michigan, students chanted “build the wall” in a school cafeteria the day after the election.

SPLC released a separate report on Tuesday detailing the impact of the election on schools.

Anti-black incidents were the second-most common, making up 23%, or 180, of the total. References to lynching were frequent, and pictures of nooses were used for intimidation. For instance, a black doll was found hanging from a noose in an elevator at New York’s Canisius College.

In a school in Orlando, students wrote “Yall Black ppl better start picking yall slave numbers. KKK. 4Lyfe.” followed by the line “Go Trump. 2016”.

This is what happens if you run a campaign based on hate (see also: Brexit). The problem, as Jim Bolger recognised, is that you have to govern the country in the morning. No matter how much Trump's racist supporters want it, non-white people aren't going to just suddenly disappear from the US, and if they try and make that happen, its going to lead to civil disorder. But the scary thing is that Trump might be quite happy for that to happen, provided his name is on the desk.

Beneficial ownership registers expose crime

Why do we need a public register of the beneficial ownership of companies and trusts? Just look at what the UK one has exposed so far:

On top of these data validation issues, we found a number of signs of non-compliance with the law. For example, 9,800 companies listed their beneficial owner as a foreign company. Now this is possible if the foreign company was listed on one of the stock exchanges deemed equivalent to the UK system (e.g. the US, EU and Japanese exchanges). However, we found almost 3,000 companies with tax haven addresses listed as beneficial owners. This is not allowed under the rules. We’ll be handing this list of companies over to Companies House to investigate further.


Initial findings suggest 19 senior politicians (known as politically exposed persons), 76 people from the U.S. sanctions list and 267 disqualified directors were listed as beneficial owners.

However, these matches were based on name and month and year of birth. This means that it’s hard to be certain that the matches are good ones. Any leads coming out of the new register will have to be followed up with more traditional investigative digging.

So that's 3,000 corporate and potentially 350 individual criminals right there. Plus, they can use the data to trace complicated the corporate ownership structures designed to cheat taxes and steal from the public as well.

These seem like excellent reasons to have a public register in New Zealand. So why doesn't our government implement one? Are they on our side, or the side of the criminals and tax cheats?


Last year, driven by panic around cyber-harassment, the government passed the Harmful Digital Communications Act. Among other things, the Act creates an offence of "causing harm by posting digital communication", punishable by up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $50,000. When it was going through Parliament, TechLiberty pointed out that the offence was so poorly defined that it would capture people exposing political corruption by politicians. Now, in the first defended case under the HDCA, a judge has supported that interpretation.

The critical questions are the definitions of "harm" and "serious emotional distress", which are not defined elsewhere. The judge interpreted them like this:

"[A]nguish, anxiety or feelings of insecurity" (the prospect of damage to your political career and even imprisonment) are exactly the intent and expected effect of such a post. There's no public good defence, so the prima facie result is that exposing political malfeasance is a crime in New Zealand. You might hope that a judge would interpret the Act through the lens of the BORA to protect such speech, but that's a risky proposition. As for exposing the identity of a rapist or serial harasser online, you're pretty much fucked.

(In the particular case - a nasty case of someone posting intimate photos of their ex online in an effort to bully and control them - the charge was dismissed as the prosecution failed to provide evidence that such harm was actually inflicted. But the threshold has been set).

I doubt that this was National's intention. But its the law they passed. Now the problem is clear, they need to fix it, and quickly. Otherwise, they invite the conclusion that criminalising the exposure of corrupt politicians is something they're perfectly comfortable with.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

More torture of autistic kids

Another school has been caught torturing autistic children:

Claims that staff at a Dunedin special needs school hit, sat on and force-fed children as young as five have led to three investigations - by police, an independent investigator and the Ministry of Education.


RNZ has been told there were 11 sworn affadavits from teachers and teacher aides about children being abused - including being hit, force-fed fruit, and having their wrists bent backward.

Another source said teaching staff had sat on children, pinched their nail cuticles, and tackled them to the ground.

Nearly all the eight or nine pupils of at the Sara Cohen junior class, aged between 5 and 10 and mostly with autism, are non-verbal.

Some were put in a seclusion room regularly, which appears to have been used for longer than two years.

This is just fucking wrong. The use of solitary confinement on adults has been found to be torture; its use on children is prohibited. The idea that a school, which is supposed to protect children, is intstead tortring them for its own convenience is simply monstrous. As for what we should do about it, we have a Crimes of Torture Act, and the police should use it.

More police intimidation

What is it with the police interfering in politics? First there was their attempts to intimidate people protesting against US ship visits, then their outright abuse of power to undermine the push to legalise death with dignity. The anti-democratic mindset is so ingrained that they're now attempting to intimidate people protesting on boring local government issues:

A Horowhenua woman planning to attend a protest in Levin next week has complained to the police watchdog about what she says was an intimidating phone call from an officer.

The protest, dubbed Don't Rumble Our Ross, is being organised against a push to strip the Horowhenua District Council deputy mayor of his title.


Bernadette Casey indicated on the protest's Facebook page that she was planning to attend in support of Mr Ross, but was shocked to receive a phone call from police asking about it on Monday morning.

"I get a phone call from the police asking me if I was the organiser, asking if I knew the organiser of the protest - I don't know who organised it - and then asking if I was going to it. I said to the constable who rang me I didn't think it was any of his business."

This is intrusive and intimidating. People should not be treated like criminals simply because they want their voice to be heard. The police need to be reminded that we have freedom of speech and assembly in this country, and that their job is to facilitate the exercise of those rights, not to try and shut them down.

As for the response, it was exactly the right one. You don't have to tell the police anything in this country, and you shouldn't.

Monday, November 28, 2016

This'll be fun

It turns out that the Scottish Parliament may have the legal power to block Brexit:

Not many people are familiar with section 2 of the Scotland Act of 2016, but it could give First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her government in Edinburgh the legal power to block the UK from triggering Article 50. Conservative MP Anna Soubry - in a wonderfully honest interview in The Guardian yesterday - mentioned it in passing:

The government is appealing against the high court ruling, but at the supreme court hearing, the Scottish government will argue that the consent of Holyrood is also required to trigger article 50. Soubry thinks it has a strong case. “Yes. I’m reliably informed that the Scotland Act 2016 section 2 says that you cannot interfere with devolved Scottish matters, they must be determined by the Scottish parliament.”

The application of EU law in Scotland is a devolved matter. Which means the consent of the Scottish Parliament is required if Westminster wants to remove it (just as the consent of the NZ Parliament used to be required if the UK Parliament legislated something which affected us).

Of course, the deal here is obvious: Holyrood will consent to Brexit if Westminster consents to Scoxit. And the two countries can then happily go their separate ways. Sadly, I expect the "English nationalists" (actually English supremacists) who backed Brexit won't be happy with that though...

Climate change: More bad news

Currently we're seeing unprecedented weather in the arctic, with air temperatures 20 degrees above normal delaying the usual winter ice formation. That's bad, but the real problem is that this could push us over some tipping points in the global climate:

Arctic scientists have warned that the increasingly rapid melting of the ice cap risks triggering 19 “tipping points” in the region that could have catastrophic consequences around the globe.

The Arctic Resilience Report found that the effects of Arctic warming could be felt as far away as the Indian Ocean, in a stark warning that changes in the region could cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level.

Temperatures in the Arctic are currently about 20C above what would be expected for the time of year, which scientists describe as “off the charts”. Sea ice is at the lowest extent ever recorded for the time of year.

“The warning signals are getting louder,” said Marcus Carson of the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the lead authors of the report. “[These developments] also make the potential for triggering [tipping points] and feedback loops much larger.”


In the Arctic, the tipping points identified in the new report, published on Friday, include: growth in vegetation on tundra, which replaces reflective snow and ice with darker vegetation, thus absorbing more heat; higher releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from the tundra as it warms; shifts in snow distribution that warm the ocean, resulting in altered climate patterns as far away as Asia, where the monsoon could be effected; and the collapse of some key Arctic fisheries, with knock-on effects on ocean ecosystems around the globe.

All of which means either faster climate change or worse consequences for us or both.

This is exactly why we need organisations like NASA's Earth Sciences Division (which President-elect Trump wants to shut down): to tell us what the hell we are doing to our planet and warn us of the consequences of our actions. But I guess that's precisely why Trump and the right want to kill it off: because a few people profit by fucking up the climate for the rest of us, and they don't want us to be able to measure the true cost of their vandalism.

Limiting electronic border searches

Last night the government introduced a new Customs and Excise Bill to Parliament. The bill would replace the Customs and Excise Act 1996 and one of the features is that it finally imposes some limits on Customs' unreasonable and invasive practice of electronic border searches.

The new provisions are in s207 of the bill. The short version is that Customs will only be able to search your electronic devices if they have reasonable cause to suspect "relevant offending" - defined strictly in terms of offences under the Act or the import or export of prohibited goods. And they won't be able to copy anything unless they have reasonable cause to suspect that evidence of that offending will be present. The search threshold is subject to some uncertainty as the new bill shifts prohibited goods largely to an Order In Council system, meaning we don't know exactly what is covered. But the bill includes objectionable publications and "goods that are for a dishonest purpose" (which ends up meaning a crime involving dishonesty in terms of the Crimes Act 1961). The upshot: unless the government passes some very dubious Orders In Council, Customs will not be able to abuse border searches to help police bypass the need for search warrants, they will not be able to abuse them to collect information for the SIS, and they will not be allowed to abuse them to search for pirated TV (which is the primary reason for such searches at present). They'll also be required to report annually on these searches - though not on the numbers of full vs initial searches, and not on what fraction of them actually result in finding anything.

The downside: Customs will be able to demand your password or that you assist them in unlocking any device. So, change your passwords before and after travel (better yet: don't travel with any devices or data other than "if you can read this you are a spying twatcock". Buy a burner at the other end, and get your data encrypted over the cloud).

On paper, this is still a huge advance. The problem is practice. To point out the obvious, Customs is an organisation which operates in near-total secrecy, with an entrenched culture of doing "favours" for police and foreign agencies. Do we really think the organisation which unlawfully harasses cyberactivists and harassed Kim Dotcom and his friends to earn "brownie points" with the FBI is going to change? Yeah, right. Unless this law is coupled with a purge of senior management to change the current institutional culture, I predict we will have a large number of unlawful searches, resulting in abuse of people's privacy and significant liability for the government.

The bigger problem is necessity. The new thresholds largely mirror the requirements for search warrants, sans judicial oversight. So if there's actual reasonable cause (rather than trawling and harassment), Customs could just get one of those. There's perhaps a timeliness argument, but I don't think its beyond Customs' abilities to get a proper warrant within 24 hours if they need to. Like the NZCCL, I think the intrusiveness of these searches requires proper oversight, not the suspicions of some jumped-up security thug at the border. If Customs wants to look at our devices, they should do what the police do and get a warrant for it.

New Fisk

Tougher tactics would have ended Syrian war, claims the country's top intelligence general

"A stupid idea"

That's what John Key thinks of equality around the Cabinet table:

Prime Minister John Key says the idea of promising a gender-balanced Cabinet is "stupid" because appointments are made on talent, not gender.

Speaking on The Nation on Saturday, Key dismissed the call made by Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue, who would like Key to follow in the footsteps of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last year unveiled a Cabinet which was half female.


But Key told Nation host Lisa Owen "it would be stupid" to promise a gender-balanced Cabinet.

And then he trotted out the usual excuse that Cabinet appointments are made on "merit". Yeah, right. I think Murray McCully, Tim Groser, and Sam Lotu-Iiga are proof of the absurdity of that idea. But even if we accept it, it just pushes the question back another level, from "why doesn't National select women as Cabinet Ministers" to "why doesn't National select women as candidates / MPs?" And I think we all know the answer to that question...

Friday, November 25, 2016

New Fisk

America once turned its back on Anne Frank, just as Donald Trump rejects Muslim refugees today

Utterly predictable

One of the first things National did after being elected was implement targets for A&E waiting times. Seven years later, and it turns out that hospitals have been faking their waiting-time data:

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has ordered an investigation into alleged "manipulation" of data at district health boards to comply with the six-hour emergency department target.

The first study on this since the six-hour target was introduced in 2009 was presented at a Queenstown conference today by Dr Peter Jones, an emergency medicine specialist and Auckland University researcher.

He said he had found evidence that the data had been manipulated to meet the target.

Opposition politicians have long suspected this, especially after widespread manipulation was uncovered in the UK to comply with its tighter, four-hour target. The UK's policy, unlike in New Zealand, came with incentives and penalties.

This is utterly predictable, and we've seen it everywhere such targets have been tried. When the incentives are strong enough, and its easier to fake data than meet the target, then that's exactly what institutions will do (see also: Serco). We're fortunate here that it doesn't seem to have negatively affected people's care, but that's all it is: good fortune. In reality, what this has done is shifted resources from elsewhere in the health sector to meeting National's targets - and who knows what else is being neglected as a result?

The key problem in the health system isn't slack doctors letting A&E patients suffer because they're on their tea-break - it is under-resourcing. Maybe we should fix that? But I forget: to National, having enough doctors and nurses to deal with actual demand (let alone letting them work sane hours rather than endangering patient safety with endless 14-hour days) is "waste". Better to have mickey mouse targets that everybody lies about instead.