Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Open Government: Were we wasting our time?

For the last month, Engage2 has been running a consultation exercise on New Zealand's second Open Government partnership national action plan. The consultation resulted in nearly 90 proposed commitments, and on Friday Engage2 held a co-creation workshop in Wellington in an effort to shape the action plan. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend, but there's a report on it here. Unfortunately, it includes some extremely disappointing statements from SSC:

In my introduction to the day, I proposed that the actions be prioritised by what was most ‘do-able’ and likely to be accepted by Ministers and Cabinet. Some Civil Society participants opposed this approach saying the Action Plan should be ambitious and public servants should be free to recommend what came out of the workshop, not just recommend what Ministers would find acceptable. In response, Al Morrison, a Deputy Commissioner from the State Services Commission, reminded participants that the Action Plan was the Government’s Plan and would only succeed if it consisted of commitments that were achievable over the next two years. They can be ambitious but need to be relevant to open government and have the support of agencies, and ultimately their Ministers.

There was a similarly disturbing report over Twitter:

Governments measure commitment in dollars, so this is basicly saying that the government has no commitment whatsoever to the OGP or improving transparency.

The good news is that there are some good, achievable, low-cost proposals - for example around proactive disclosure, OIA reform, lobbying regulation and whistleblower protection. But while they might not cost much, they would clearly require a commitment from SSC and Ministers to move towards a more transparent society. And given Morrison's statement and SSC's behaviour throughout this exercise - having a hidden agenda directly at odds with public expectations, wanting to do as little as possible, doing nothing to promote the consultation until it was too late - I really doubt that that is the case. The entire thing seems to be back in SSC's court now, and I have a nasty feeling we've been had, encouraged to waste our time (which could be productively spent elsewhere) on a meaningless "consultation" which will be effectively round-filed - just like our submissions on the consultation process were. And if that's the case, if SSC's action plan doesn't reflect the input from the public, then there's simply no point in participating further. Instead, we should campaign for New Zealand to be ejected from the OGP - because our government will have shown that it is not interested in meaningful participation.

Christchurch's war on the young

The NZ Council for Civil Liberties this morning pointed me at an article in The Press about the Christchurch City Council using a sonic weapon to discourage young people from using one of its libraries:

A mysterious high-pitched sound is being used to deter youths from fighting at a Christchurch library.

The sound, only detectable by young ears, can be heard by the doors and in the foyer of Christchurch's Papanui library.

Christchurch City Council acting head of libraries Erica Rankin said the sound was beamed from a $1350 "mosquito device".

"The mosquito device emits a noise that is undetectable by adults and proves uncomfortable to youth if they spend any length of time in close proximity. The alarm is on all the time."

TechLiberty's Thomas beagle has submitted a LGOIMA request via FYI seeking further information, and the answers will be fascinating. Because its pretty obvious to even a cursory examination that the use of such devices to discourage young people from accessing public places or facilities or using certain goods or services constitutes discrimination on the basis of age, which is unlawful under the Human Rights Act. I am not aware of anyone having legally challenged the Mosquito yet, but hopefully it will happen soon, and then we can end the Christchurch City Council's war on the young.

Making the cheats pay

Apple is one of the world's biggest tax cheats, abusing accountants and strong-arming governments to avoid paying their fair share for civilisation. So I'm pleased to hear that the European Commission has overturned one of their sweetheart tax-cheat deals, and ordered them to pay the Irish government €13bn:

Apple has warned that future investment by multinationals in Europe could be hit after it was ordered to pay a record-breaking €13bn (£11bn) in back taxes to Ireland.

The world’s largest company was presented with the huge bill after the European commission ruled that a sweetheart tax deal between Apple and the Irish tax authorities amounted to illegal state aid.

The commission said the deal allowed Apple to pay a maximum tax rate of just 1%. In 2014, the tech firm paid tax at just 0.005%. The usual rate of corporation tax in Ireland is 12.5%.

“Member states cannot give tax benefits to selected companies – this is illegal under EU state aid rules,” said the European competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, whose investigation of Apple’s complex tax dealings has taken three years.

The US is apparently outraged that a company which doesn't pay taxes in the US (because it piles its money up in the Cayman Islands to evade US taxes) might have to pay them elsewhere. As for the Irish government, they're such crawling toadies that they're saying they don't want the money (while of course inflicting grinding austerity on their people). Which I guess tells you whose pocket they're in.

Meanwhile, its worth remembering that Apple pays next to no tax in New Zealand, in part because they use Ireland as a tax haven. Isn't it time we made them pay their fair share?

A death-knell for Ruataniwha?

The Court of Appeal has ruled on Forest & Bird's appeal against the Ruataniwha Dam, finding that the Department of Conservation could not trade protected land unless it no longer needed to be protected:

The future of the proposed Ruataniwha water storage scheme is uncertain after the Court of Appeal found the Director-General of Conservation was not entitled to revoke the special conservation status of Ruahine Forest Park land.


The Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company had agreed to exchange 22 hectares of Ruahine Forest Park land for 170 ha of nearby farmland known as the Smedley block.

In order to create a reservoir behind the dam, the flooding of the 22 hectares of the DOC land was required.

Forest and Bird lawyer Sally Gepp said she was "ecstatic" over the decision because it had confirmed the fundamental tenet of the Conservation Act to safeguard specially protected areas.

If the ruling stands, it won't just kill the dam, but also National's policy of trying to crack open reserves for development through an ideology of "net conservation gain". The Court of Appeal has affirmed that the law simply does not support that policy. In the process, it has also called some of DoC's past land-swaps (for example, with the Porter ski field) into doubt.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On track for failure on renewable energy

Back in 2007, Helen Clark committed New Zealand to a target of 90% renewable electricity generation by 2025. When they were elected in 2008, National adopted this target and included it in their national energy strategy. But according to MBIE's newly released Electricity Demand and Supply Generation Scenarios 2016, we will fail to meet that target.

The EDGS includes five basic scenarios: "mixed renewables" (the base case), "high grid" (high demand coupled with low oil and carbon prices - the dirty future), "global low carbon" (what it says on the label), "disruptive" (with high uptake of solar PV) and "Tiwai off" (again, what it says on the label". In none of those scenarios do we meet the renewable energy target. None of them. The best we do is 89% in the low-carbon scenario (which means we might make it if the weather is good), and 88% if we shut down Tiwai Point. Some scenarios show us meeting the target after 2030, but most don't.

Which is what happens if you have targets without policy. Labour had policies - a thermal ban and a working ETS - to achieve this target. National dismantled those policies. Pretty obviously, they don't care what happens in 2025 (or 2030, or 2050, to pick some other years they've stuck targets on) - even if they're in power (and who knows, three elections away) their current Ministers will be long-gone by then. So we get targets without policy, and government without responsibility. Just another example of how National's vaunted targets are just another bullshit PR exercise...


The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has called for submissions on the New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill. You can submit online at the link provided, or in hardcopy to

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Secretariat
Parliament Buildings

Submissions are due by Friday, 7 October 2016.

The bill would significantly expand the power of National's spy agencies, allowing the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders while gagging former public servants from blowing the whistle (or from reading the Guardian). It would also expand the power of spy agencies to create false fronts and false identities, effectively re-establish the Official Secrets Act over such activities, and immunise them from any crimes committed in the process (including electoral fraud and perjury). There's also some tricky stuff around the definition of "interception" which would effectively legalise using foreign intelligence agencies to circumvent New Zealand law (something the GCSB has just been caught doing - without punishment, of course). If you oppose this, then you should speak out about it. If you don't think you can do that without the SIS starting a file on you, you should request that your submission be kept confidential.

New Fisk

Iraq’s hangmen are back and this time they’re becoming more efficient

Hoist by their own petard

Back in 2009 Parliament passed a new Immigration Act. One of the "features" of the new Act was a massive increase in what the Act terms "absolute discretion" - the power to make a decision without having to give reasons. Immigration New Zealand loved this, and promptly went beyond the law by instructing their staff not just to not give reasons to their victims in such cases, but to not even record them in the first place. Now, that instruction and attitude has come back to bite them in the arse.

In a case note released today, the Ombudsman has ruled that the absence of recorded reasons for an immigration decision makes it unreasonable:

The Chief Ombudsman formed the provisional opinion that because the DDMs had failed to record reasons, it could not be determined that all relevant considerations had been addressed and that therefore the Ministry’s decisions were unreasonable. The Chief Ombudsman considered that the case notes prepared for consideration of the complainant’s requests were insufficient to demonstrate that the decision was properly
reached, and that any process omitting to record reasons for a decision was administratively unsound.

Whoops! Especially when you remember that the decision not to record reasons in the first place was made explicitly in an attempt to thwart such review. Instead, its made all such decisions instantly overturnable. The good news is that Immigration has since rescinded the instruction not to record reasons, and now requires that they be "briefly" recorded. But we're still looking at nearly two years of decisions being prima facie unreasonable. Heckuva job they're doing there. Great use of public money. But somehow, I doubt that the muppets who came up with this idea will face any consequences whatsoever for their incompetence.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Christchurch for Phoenix, their annual larp convention. Normal bloggage will resume Monday, once I've caught up.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

New Fisk

The predictions have come to pass: Turkey is now in Syria and this is what it means for the Middle East


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

  • Companies (Annual Report Notice Requirements) Amendment Bill (Matt Doocey)

Its another National spam bill, containing a trivial provision presumably plucked from the Statutes Amendment Bill pile, designed purely to fill a ballot slot and prevent something more substantive from being drawn. Another example of how National abuses the Parliamentary process to undermine our democracy.

As for how to deal with it, seeking leave to add it to the Statutes Amendment Bill is probably the way to go. Alternatively, threatening to veto every SAB provision unless the bullshit bills are withdrawn might help.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Raiding the opposition in Australia - again

Back in May, during the election campaign, the Australian Federal Police raided the office of an opposition Senator in an effort to uncover a whistleblower who had embarrassed the government. And now parliament is back, they're raiding that too:

Plain-clothes federal police have entered Parliament House to search for evidence related to the leak of documents from NBN.

The AFP search warrant, obtained by Lateline, shows police want access to emails, records relating to Labor staffers and to news organisations including the ABC.

The development follows the AFP's search of the Melbourne offices of Labor Senator Stephen Conroy and the home of a Labor staffer over the leaks in May, during the election campaign.

Labor has asserted parliamentary privilege over the materials seized, so the government will have to win a vote in the Senate for the material to be released. Good luck with that. But by mounting the raid, they've sent a clear message that dissent and whistleblowing won't be tolerated - another sign of how Australia has become increasingly authoritarian under the coalition government.

Something to go to in Wellington

Peace Action Wellington and Changemakers Refugee Forum are holding a protest in Wellington tomorrow against Australia's torture and abuse of refugees. Speakers will include whistleblowers who have worked in the detention centre on Nauru.

When: 12:30, 25 August 2016

Where: Parliament, marching to the Australian High Commission

And remember: don't buy Australian

Member's Day

Today is a member's day. And when our esteemed MP's have finished getting pissed at lunchtime in honour of the departing colonial satrap, they'll get on to our business. There's a private bill first, which gives the government an opportunity to filibuster, but then its on to the committee stage of David Parker's Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill. And they're likely to make progress on the first reading of Peeni Henare's Customs and Excise (Prohibition of Imports Made by Slave Labour) Amendment Bill, and maybe a start on Catherine Delahunty's Public Works (Prohibition of Compulsory Acquisition of Māori Land) Amendment Bill. And if they get that far, there will be a ballot tomorrow for one bill. Hopefully we'll see some better efforts than Nuk Korako's "lost luggage" bill emerge.


Yesterday Education Minister Hekia Parata announced a major piece of education policy: closing schools and replacing them with online learning centres:

School-age students will be able to enrol in an accredited online learning provider instead of attending school, under new Government legislation.

The move has dismayed the primary school teachers' union who say education is about learning to work and play with other children.

The radical change will see any registered school, tertiary provider such as a polytechnic or an approved body corporate be able to apply to be a "community of online learning" (COOL).

Any student of compulsory schooling age will be able to enrol in a COOL - and that provider will determine whether students will need to physically attend for all or some of the school day.

Firstly, the idea of allowing more distance education isn't necessarily bad. There may be people who might do better under such a scheme, and there might be a couple of providers who could usefully supplement Te Kura in providing it at a primary and secondary level. It could be usefully looked at. And if the idea was coming from the education sector and driven by education professionals who were interested in outcomes and the welfare of those kids, it would be worth considering. But when it comes from an education minister whose sole priority in office seems to be trying to find ways to close schools, cut costs, and funnel public money to her private donors and cronies, its hard to view it as anything other than yet another means to achieve those ends. The logic for the government is just a little too naked: "schools are expensive and troublesome, so lets close them down, sack the teachers, and replace it all with online learning we can contract out to the lowest bidder / our donors". Yeah, nah. I'd rather have schools, sorry.

Hopefully this idea will be buried in a pit and the earth salted, along with every other idea Hekia Parata has ever had. If not, I pity the kids who end up as the victims of her cost-cutting exercise - and pity us when we end up paying for her mistake through the welfare, mental health and criminal justice budgets fifteen years later.

Open Government: The last minute

The SSC and Engage2 are currently conducting public consultation on New Zealand's second Open Government partnership national action plan. Suggestions for commitments close tomorrow (you can make them here), so naturally its the perfect time for the SSC to issue a press release announcing the consultation:

New Zealanders are being asked to contribute their ideas for ways government can improve its openness as part of the international Open Government Partnership (OGP) through an interactive online forum running until this Wednesday, or by coming along to a workshop in Wellington this Friday.

“New Zealand’s second National Action Plan is being developed and we are looking for New Zealanders’ ideas on steps we can take to make government more open, accountable and responsive,” says State Services Commission Deputy Commissioner Al Morrison.

“New Zealand’s government is internationally recognised as one of the most trustworthy and open in the world, but we can do better,” he said.

People need to get in quickly to contribute their ideas for actions to be considered for New Zealand’s second National Action Plan.

In case you're wondering, yes, this is the only press release SSC has issued on the consultation - and indeed the only press release it has issued on the OGP since it appointed its ill-fated Stakeholder Advisory Group last year. You'd almost get the impression that they don't want people to know about it...

The good news is that the co-creation site now has almost 70 proposed commitments. A few are duplicates, some are of questionable relevance and quality, but there's some good stuff in there, and certainly enough to be the core of an action plan. So now we get to see whether the SSC is really interested in co-creation, or whether, having asked us to do all this work for them they're going to round-file it and just do what they were always planning on doing, with the box successfully checked. And if its the latter, then I predict that the next IRM report is not going to look very good at all.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Something to hide

Back in June, the UK's Crown Prosecution Service decided that they wouldn't be charging anyone over MI6's complicity in the kidnapping, rendition and torture of Libyan dissident Abdul Hakim Belhaj. There's obvious suspicion that they were lobbied into making that decision by the British government. But oddly, the cabinet Office doesn't want to talk about it:

The previous month Reprieve submitted a request to the Cabinet Office under the Freedom of Information Act asking whether any of its ministers or staff had met or corresponded with the CPS about the investigation.

The Cabinet Office said it would not answer the question as it “could neither confirm nor deny whether any relevant information is held”. The department judged that this refusal was justified in the public interest to protect the enforcement of the law.

As well as running the prime minister’s office, mandarins in the Cabinet Office advise the PM and other senior ministers on intelligence matters. They also co-ordinate the government’s response to sensitive issues relating to the UK’s spies.

The natural conclusion is that the Cabinet Office feels it has something to hide on this, something which would not survive public scrutiny. And the obvious thing they have to hide is that they unlawfully interfered in a prosecution decision to protect themselves and the establishment from facing justice for their crimes.

Open Government: A flood of ideas

The SSC and Engage2 are currently conducting public consultation on New Zealand's second Open Government partnership national action plan. As part of this, Engage2 is collecting public suggestions for commitments through its co-creation site. While it had a slow start, the site has really taken off, with over 50 commitments now proposed. Not all of these are particularly focused on open government, some need development, and a lot of the recent ones are wooly and bureaucratic, but there's some good ideas in there. There's also some clear favourites: increased whistleblower protections, regulation of lobbyists (also here), improved OIA compliance, improved proactive release of official information and increased funding for the Ombudsman.

These themes will be turned into proper commitments at a co-creation workshop on Friday (which I sadly won't be able to attend). And somewhere in there, the government will have to choose which (if any) of them to adopt and advance as formal commitments. And that's the problem area. Because its clear that some of these proposals require serious political commitment to open government, and in particular to transparency and accountability, the aspects which directly threaten politicians. Its also clear that the National government does not share these values, and isn't particularly interested in advancing them.

It needs to. Not just because its the right thing to do, but also because the success or failure of our participation in the OGP will be judged on whether it adopts these commitments. The public and civil society have engaged in good faith with this process, and made it clear what we want. And if the government then pisses in our faces and ignores those demands, it will make a clear that the entire thing was a sham from the outset. More generally, if the payoff from engaging in this way is so low, then people will stop doing it. That might suit the government, but the cost of that will be surrendering any pretence of consent for its OGP policies (not to mention being kicked out of the OGP).

New Zealand is supposed to be a leader in open government. We've made it clear what we think that means. Its the governments job now to rise to the challenge.

Charter schools rip us off

Surprise, surprise - National's charter schools are ripping us off with high "administration" fees:

The country's eight charter schools paid their owners or related entities more than $1 million for administration and management services last year.


The financial statements showed the eight schools paid the organisations that own them or related companies as much as $360,000 for administration and management in 2015.

Collectively those payments appeared to have totalled at least $1.25m from total funding of about $14m last year.

Vanguard Military School chief executive Nick Hyde said the payments were no different to any other school.

...except for being much higher. Because this is how the private companies which run these charter schools make their profit (when they're not just outright stealing from the people of New Zealand)

This demonstrates the fundamental problem of charter schools. With a state school, every dollar we spend goes on education. With a charter school, the operator takes a slice of it for profit. This is by definition less efficient, and a good reason not to use this model.

Nothing to see here, move along

Last week Havelock North suffered from an outbreak of campylobacter in its town water supply. 4500 people - a third of the population - got sick, with over 500 registered cases. One person died. Its third world stuff, a basic failure by the city council to do its job, and the government has (rightly) announced an inquiry. But there's one thing they won't be looking at: cows:

Cabinet decided against a two-tier inquiry into Havelock North's water supply that would look at the broader issue of whether farm intensification is to blame.


Cabinet did consider whether to broaden the inquiry to include a second-tier, which would delve into wider national issues, such as farm intensification, and what effect it may be having on the country's water supply.

However, Prime Minister John Key said the terms of reference were already quite broad – but if the inquiry made recommendations on a wider front then the Government would listen to them.

"While there has been some intensification of farming in New Zealand without doubt in recent time, that's been happening for a long time and we haven't seen this issue anywhere else."

"Some" intensification? The number of dairy cows has almost doubled since 1990, from 3.4 to 6.5 million. The amount of shit they're pouring into our rivers has almost doubled as well. We're seeing cow-related bacteria in Patea, Hamner Springs and Christchurch. The Hawkes' Bay has been explicitly linked to ruminant animals, and has literally killed people. The government needs a better reaction than "nothing to see here, move along".

The dairy industry's cows and the resulting dirty waterways are now a direct threat to human life. We need to do something about that threat, before more people die. And if this government won't do it, we need one that will.

Monday, August 22, 2016

$1 million per refugee

That's how much money the Australian government has spent detaining and torturing refugees on Manus Island:

The detention centre on Manus Island has cost Australian taxpayers about $2 billion since it was reopened four years ago – more than $1 million for each of the 2000 people who have been imprisoned there.


While official figures relating to the cost of offshore detention are opaque, analysts in the Parliamentary Library have trawled years of Senate estimates hearing transcripts to piece together a total cost for Manus.

They show the centre has cost Australians at least $420 million to build and maintain, and $1.25 billion to run since the Gillard government reopened it in late 2012 – giving a total of more than $1.6 billion.

However the library's figures do not include the last year of capital costs or the last four months of operating costs, estimated to add hundreds of millions more. The figures also do not include the costs of resettlement, charter flights to and from the island, or the additional aid spending Australia has directed towards PNG in exchange for hosting the centre. Much of the money has been lost to corruption.

Its a ridiculous amount of money, and utter waste. Bringing these refugees to Australia and integrating them into Australian society would have been far, far cheaper (and they'd have 2,000 dedicated citizens to boot). But then I guess the Australian government wouldn't be able to win votes from racists.

New Fisk

Turkey's hit list of enemies is growing as Erdogan prepares to buddy up with Putin in Syria

More unconstitutional over-reach

In the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes, the government turned New Zealand into a legal tyranny, granting earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee the power to rewrite virtually any law with a stroke of his pen, without having to go to Parliament. The law was a constitutional outrage which has now fortunately expired, but it seems to have given the government a taste for Henry VIII-style dictatorship. And now they're doing it again (though on a smaller scale), introducing a SOP to the Taxation (Business Tax, Exchange of Information, and Remedial Matters) Bill to allow it to be rewritten at will by the Minister.

What emergency justifies this constitutional outrage? An earthquake? An epidemic? Something else threatening the life of the nation? No. The "justification" is that IRD is getting a new computer system, and they're not sure that it is compliant with the law.

The solution here, of course, is to make that system compliant with the law, rather than rewriting the law arbitrarily to suit. But that apparenly would be too difficult for IRD and its overpaid contractor, so they're going to piss all over our constitution instead.

The separation of powers is a fundamental constitutional principle in this country. Laws are made by Parliament, not the executive. And that is not a principle we should give up lightly. Its certainly not one we should sacrifice simply because IRD doesn't think it can properly manage an IT project. This unconstitutional amendment must be binned, and the people who advocated it binned with it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Open Government: As little as possible

The SSC and Engage2 are currently conducting public consultation on New Zealand's second Open Government partnership national action plan. Engage2 is busy collecting suggestions for commitments through its co-creation site, and running workshops to gather more. But the timeline doesn't include any time to properly develop those proposals into actual policies, and the suspicion is that at the end of the "consultation" all the public proposals will be round-filed and the actual action plan will consist of whatever ambitionless bureaucratic pap SSC has been developing in the background. There's been some hints about SSC's hidden agenda in previous OIA releases, but thanks to an OIA I received back today, we now have a better picture.

I had asked SSC for agendas, papers and minutes of both its newly appointed-in-secret Expert Advisory Panel, and its OGP Officials Working Group. Surprisingly, they released them urgently. As expected, they show that SSC is keen to use the OGP to push its Big Brother "social investment" agenda (in which all the private information the government holds on you, from tax records to whether you've ever had an abortion, is thrown together in a pile so that it can be mined for random correlations in order to find better ways to cut services). But they also suggest some other possible commitments:

Very obviously, this is the expected ambitionless bureaucratic crap - and the absence of any commitments around the OIA (even the low-hanging fruit of implementing the Law Commission's recommendations) is glaring. Charitably, they're trying to push participation, but if you look at the public proposals, they're very strongly focused on transparency and accountability, with strong support for greater regulation for lobbyists, improved whistleblower laws, and improved OIA compliance. SSC's agenda is completely out of touch with what civil society wants.

There's also a lack of ambition. SSC is looking for "a focused set of five to seven commitments". The OGP meanwhile recommends "that each action plan contain between 5 and 15 ambitious commitments" [my emphasis]. SSC is clearly aiming for the lower end, both in number and ambition. In other words, they're looking to do as little as possible, and treating the OGP as a matter of technical compliance rather than a "race to the top". Again.

Russia heads back to the dark ages

A Russian MP wants to "decriminalise" domestic violence. Yes, really:

Ultra-conservative Russian MP Yelena Mizulina, best known for successfully introducing for the law banning so-called gay propaganda, introduced a new bill to the State Duma in July proposing the decriminalisation of violence within families.

“Battery carried out toward family members should be an administrative offence,” said Mizulina, who is chair of the Duma committee on family, women and children’s affairs and is now a senator in the Federation Council, Russia’s upper chamber of parliament. “You don’t want people to be imprisoned for two years and labelled a criminal for the rest of their lives for a slap.”

Except of course it's not "a slap": its serious, pervasive violence. 36,000 Russian women are abused by their partners every day. 40% of all violent crime in Russia is domestic violence. If an MP suggested that they "decriminalise" violence by organised crime, they'd be laughed at. And yet apparently the idea of decriminalising violence by men against women gets taken seriously.

The scary thing is that Russia is such a bigoted society at the moment that this could actually pass. The mere fact that it is being discussed tells you that there is something incredibly wrong with their society and their political system.

A blow against the private prison industry

The USA this morning announced that they were ending the use of private prisons in the federal prison system:

The US Justice Department will phase out use of privately owned prisons, citing safety concerns.

Contracts with 13 private prisons will be reviewed and and allowed to expire over the next five years.

"They do not save substantially on costs and ... they do not maintain the same level of safety and security," Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said explaining the decision.

Federal prisons are a small proportion of the US prison-industrial complex - most prisoners are held by states, not the federal government. still, its a powerful signal, and has been enough to send the share prices of these misery providers into freefall. No doubt they'll spend a lot of money on lobbyists to keep the states from following suit - but the precedent has been set.

Meanwhile, you have to ask: how long will we tolerate private prisons in New Zealand? Mount Eden has been a disaster, and there's been no suggestion Wiri is saving any money (while leading to accountability problems). Shouldn't we follow suit and ban private companies from our prison system?

New Fisk

The Shias are winning in the Middle East – and it's all thanks to Russia

We don't need the GCSB

John Key's latest spy legislation passed its first reading in the House yesterday, and is off to select committee. They'll no doubt be calling for submissions soon, but I'm not sure whether it is worth wasting time on. The last committee into a spy bill notoriously didn't even bother to read the public submissions it was sent, and with a National majority on this committee, there's no reason to believe that it would be anything other than a government rubber-stamp.

Which is a shame, because this bill needs fixing. Listening to the speeches yesterday, it was clear that the government's thinking on expanding GCSB powers in particular was muddled. First, they claimed that the GCSB needed the power to spy on New Zealanders to cover cases where the SIS couldn't get a warrant because they didn't know who to spy on. Except that the GCSB also needs warrants, and would need to know who to spy on - so that excuse only holds water if the law enables mass-surveillance, something the government denies. So which is it?

The other major excuse for the GCSB's expanded powers was "cyber". MPs are deeply scared of the internet and the sorts of hoodie-wearing people who hang around on it, and think we need a government agency to counter these dastardly cyber-criminals and protect our private information from Evil h4ck0rs. And you know, they're right. Except that that agency does not need to be an intelligence agency with intrusive surveillance powers and legal immunity from prosecution.

The "information assurance and cybersecurity" function is the GCSB's sole legitimate function. The problem is that it is in direct tension with the agency's intelligence functions. A cybersecurity agency wants to find security loopholes and publicise them so they can be fixed. An intelligence agency wants to keep them secret and un-patched for future exploitation for intelligence purposes (something which has just backfired messily on them). A cyber-security agency would regard the NSA and GCHQ - foreign intelligence agencies whose purpose is to compromise our information systems, steal our data, and spy on our citizens - as enemies to be countered. The GCSB regards them as friends to be courted. The GCSB's intelligence function - which according to the Prime Minister comprises most of its workload - compromises its cybersecurity function. And so they need to be separated.

Instead of the GCSB, what we need is a completely civilian agency, an expert cyber-defence team. And instead of operating covertly and with government approved warrants, it would operate by consent. Such a team wouldn't need secret warrants to do its job, because people would ask it to. And it wouldn't need legal powers to dictate network architecture and hardware choices, because people would trust its recommendations rather than regarding them as a thinly-veilled front for NSA hackers. And with a clear focus on cybersecurity and a statutory prohibition on any intelligence gathering, it would be free of the suspicion which taints the GCSB. As for the intelligence function, we should shut that down, sack its staff, destroy its files, and throw its equipment in a volcano - because it serves no legitimate purpose in a free and democratic society.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Australia tortures more children

Another day, more images of Australian prison guards torturing and humiliating children in their care...:

Images of alleged mistreatment at Townsville's Cleveland Youth Detention Centre have emerged, prompting calls for the royal commission into Northern Territory juvenile detention to be extended to Queensland.

One series of CCTV images obtained exclusively by 7.30 shows a boy, 17, being held face down by five adults. He was handcuffed, ankle-cuffed, stripped naked then left alone in isolation for more than an hour.

The incident was prompted by the boy refusing to have a shower.

Images from another incident caught on CCTV footage show a girl in a swimming pool being threatened by security guards with an un-muzzled dog.

The images are from reports from Queensland's Youth Detention Inspectorate from 2013 and 2015, but have been kept secret until now. Which just shows the pointlessness of secret, internal inquiries. The abuse and humiliation was detected, reported, and then covered up, because exposing it and punishing the perpetrators would have made the government look bad. And that's just not good enough.

Sedition in India

Last weekend Amnesty International held a meeting in the Indian city of Bangalore to discuss human rights abuses by Indian forces in Kashmir. During the meeting, some of the attendees began calling for "Azadi" - freedom. So naturally, they're all being charged with sedition:

Amnesty India's project manager Arijit Sen said a right-wing student group lodged a complaint, and police filed charges, known in India as a first incident report, or FIR.

The FIR reportedly mentions a number of offences, including sedition, unlawful assembly, rioting and promoting enmity.

I can think of no better example of what sedition laws are for: to suppress criticism and dissent of an authoritarian, nationalist government. And its a perfect example of why such laws are incompatible with democracy and need to be repealed.

Kiwisaver funds which invest in cluster bombs should be prosecuted

This morning, the New Zealand Herald revealed that New Zealand kiwisaver funds are consistently making unethical investments in companies on the New Zealand Superannuation Fund's blacklist. Those companies are involved in the tobacco industry, international human rights violations, and nuclear weapons manufacture. That's unethical, and kiwisavers should be getting upset about it and applying pressure, but it gets worse. Because they're not just investing in nuclear weapons, but in cluster bombs - and that's illegal:

A Herald investigation has found funds run by three KiwiSaver providers, who collectively have more than 400,000 members, have investments in companies making cluster munitions.

A number of Westpac-managed funds - including the balanced, conservative, growth and moderate funds and the CPP Funds numbered one through five - were listed as holding shares in Northrop Grumman Corporation, General Dynamics and Textron worth a total of $1,552,660.

AMP disclosed investments worth $572,703 in Textron and General Dynamics by its aggressive, default, growth, moderate, balanced, moderate balanced, cash and conservative funds.

Aon's Russell LifePoints funds - including balance, conservative, growth, and target dates 2015 through 2055 - disclosed $192,136 worth of investments in General Dynamics.

Section 10(2) of the Cluster Munitions Prohibition Act 2009 imposes a penalty of seven years imprisonment or up to a $500,000 fine on anyone who " provides or invests funds with the intention that the funds be used, or knowing that they are to be used, in the development or production of cluster munitions". These funds appear to be violating the law, and they need to be prosecuted for it. Investing in cluster munitions isn't just unethical, it is also a crime, and the law needs to be enforced.

Meanwhile, isn't it time the anti-nuclear law was updated to include such language as well?

New Fisk

Erdogan’s mass prisoner release will make way for new inmates – but they could languish for years without trial

Climate change: Bad faith

The big news yesterday was the government's announcement that it would ratify the UNFCCC's Paris Agreement by the end of the year. They'll also be seeking cross-party support on how to implement it, having opposed such agreement for years. But their sudden support for consensus evaporates the moment that they get into specifics, with Minister for Climate Change Paula Bennett opposing any strengthening of targets or measures to limit agricultural emissions (which make up almost half of our total emissions). Which smacks more than a little of bad faith. Rather than seeking support for robust climate change policies which will actually have a hope of meeting their pie-in-the-sky "50% by 2050" target, National instead seems to be trying to use a cross-party agreement to prevent such action, binding the other parties to weak targets and measures so that their donors and cronies can keep on destroying the planet.

As for what the response should be, its simple: make no promises to polluters. Support what National proposes for the moment, but make it very clear that there will be a tougher regime when power shifts - and that the softer National's regime is, the tougher that regime will be, because there will be more ground to make up. If National negotiates in bad faith like this, simply refuse to be a part of it.

California is burning down. Louisiana is drowning. They're now talking about zombie-smallpox outbreaks in Siberia due to corpses thawing out in the heat. This is a real crisis. National doesn't want to solve it - or at least, not solve it until polluters and farmers have extracted every last dollar they can from us. We shouldn't let them get away with it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A failed policy

In 2013, National rammed through the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013. The law established "special housing areas" in which gaining resource consent to build would be easier, in an effort to relieve Auckland's housing crisis. But it turns out that the policy has been a complete failure:

Affordability requirements in up to half of Auckland's special housing areas look set to lapse because developers have not even applied for consents ahead of the areas disappearing next month.

The revelations have sparked claims of land-banking, and at least one developer is seeking legal advice on whether the affordable housing rules will still stick after that date.

Auckland Council data supplied to the Herald under the Official Information Act shows developers had applied for building consents in only 57 of the 154 special housing areas (SHAs) by August 5.

The special areas, which gave fast-track consents in exchange for requiring that at least 10 per cent of new housing was "affordable", will be disestablished on September 16 after the city's new Unitary Plan comes into force.


The data shows 1268 homes were completed by May 31 in just 24 of the 154 SHAs. No homes were completed in the other 130 areas.

So, rather than encouraging home-building, the special housing areas encouraged land banking. Developers also seem to have used them to gain resource consent on a promise of providing affordable homes, and then refused to deliver.

There's a name for that: fraud. And the developers and land bankers who committed that fraud should be held to their agreement, or prosecuted.

Resurrecting the Official Secrets Act

On Monday the government introduced new spying legislation into Parliament. One of the "features" of the new law is that it would allow employees of intelligence agencies such as the SIS and GCSB to use false identity information and to lie about the employment whenever they felt like it. But in addition to that, it would also allow those agencies to create false companies or charities on demand to front their operations.

To some extent, this merely expands on current powers. For example, the Director of the SIS can already order the Registrar of Births Deaths and marriages to create false records for intelligence purposes. But the new law goes further, declaring any information relating to the creation of false records to be secret and forbidding its release. The purpose of this seems to be to frustrate OIA requests intended to monitor such activity. Except that those requests can already be lawfully refused under s6(a) or under s10. So, there seems to be no practical purpose for such a law, except to re-establish a principle of statutory secrecy. As with the anti-whistleblower provision, the spies seem to be trying to undermine our transparency regime and resurrect the defunct Official Secrets Act instead.

26,000 unemployed under National

The Labour Market Statistics were released today, showing that unemployment has dropped to 5.1%. Even so, there are still 131,000 unemployed - 26,000 more than when National took office.

But while the unemployment rate is dropping, its not expected to get anywhere near the levels which prevailed during Labour's term. Rather than driving it to 3.5% or lower, National seems quite content to let it hover around 5%. And the result is stagnant wage growth and declining standards of living. That's just not good enough, and New Zealand deserves better.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Against anti-whistleblower laws

Yesterday the government introduced new spying legislation into Parliament. The new law would enable the GCSB to engage in the mass-surveillance of New Zealanders while granting the SIS even more power to lie, cheat, and break into people's houses. But it also has another unwelcome feature: an anti-whistleblower provision. The proposed new section 78AA of the Crimes Act would impose a five year jail term for passing on, retaining, or refusing to return "classified information". And it would apply this penalty not just to government agents who hold that classified information in the course of their jobs - but to anyone who has ever held a security clearance, and over all classified information whether or not they've ever seen it before.

To give an idea of what this means in practice, a large number of public servants hold security clearances in the course of their work. MPs and Ministers automatically hold such clearances. Various people in the IT sector can be required by the GCSB to obtain a security clearance in order to keep their jobs. And this law would see all of them thrown in jail for five years for reading the Guardian, the Intercept, or any other news site which regularly publishes stories based on leaked government data (in other words, any news media worthy of the name).

Its a ridiculous overstretch, effectively an attempt to re-impose the long-repealed Official Secrets Act. It's also obviously incompatible with section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act, which affirms freedom of expression, including the right to impart and receive information. While the protection of (some) classified information may be an important public purpose, this measure is neither rationally linked to that purpose, or proportionate to it. Reading someone else's leak should not be a crime.

It is also of course completely unnecessary. We already have laws imposing confidentiality on spies (which are replicated in section 177 of the new bill), and we already have laws which criminalise the passing on of information which will harm "national security". The difference is that that law requires that real harm be likely and intended. Clearly, the spies feel that that is too high a threshold, and that their classification decisions should be exempt from factual scrutiny and impose penalties in and of themselves. It is our job as citizens to rein them in.

Meanwhile, if you are asked to gain a security clearance for your employment, you should refuse. Holding a security clearance exposes you to the whims of the spy agencies and allows them to fuck up your life at any time in the future if they ever want to. The safest way to protect yourself from such threats (other than campaign to disband those agencies) is to refuse to have anything to do with their bullshit.

Open Government: What do people want?

The SSC and Engage2 are currently conducting public consultation on New Zealand's second Open Government partnership national action plan. Proposed commitments are flowing into the co-creation site here, and some good ones are emerging (the current winner is signing up for the International Standards for Lobbying Regulation, which would see lobbyists registered and regulated). But earlier, they ran a short consultation on the background to the action plan, including what people meant by "open government" and what themes they wanted in the action plan. Engage2 has reported back on some of the ideas that emerged from that here, but they missed the big one: what do people mean by "open government"?

Analysing the public submissions, and the answer is clear: open government means transparency. Nine of the fourteen submitters talked about transparency and access to information in their answer about open government. By contrast, six talked about participation (so this is clearly important to people too), three about accountability, and only two about technology.

Compare this to SSC's hidden agenda, which is all about technology - because focusing on technology allows them to avoid fundamental change and allowing us dirty peasants some scrutiny and say. But its clear that that agenda isn't what people want. And if the action plan reflects it, then it will be another failure, just like the last one.

Finally: while the public and civil society are contributing their ideas through the co-creation site, I've been told that SSC won't be - perhaps because they're afraid of public criticism and rejection. But if they want the action plan to be truly co-created, they should seek public endorsement of their proposals and preferred themes. Otherwise, they run the real risk of the entire process being seen as a cynical box-ticking exercise aimed at legitimising an agenda into which the participants have no input - and a complete waste of our time.

Monday, August 15, 2016

John Key lied about the GCSB circumventing NZ law

Back in 2013, when the Snowden leaks were first released, John Key faced some very uncomfortable questions about whether the GCSB used the NSA's PRISM system to circumvent the law (nad in particular, the law against spying on New Zealanders). His response was a categorical denial:

On TV3's Firstline this morning, the PM categorically denied New Zealand uses systems like the NSA's PRISM to circumvent NZ law.

The logic is that if the US government spy agency collects traffic arriving at its borders through PRISM, then it will be hoovering up lots of txts, emails and calls from New Zealanders (it has also been alleged PRISM collects information from the servers of tech companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft - the companies deny this is happening, at least with their knowledge; in some cases the denials are very carefully worded). When information is exchanged between US and NZ agencies, this US-gathered information would be shared, providing a warrant-less way to spy on Kiwis).


The Prime Minister continued: "I can’t tell you how the United States gathers all of their information and what techniques they use. I simply don’t know that."

He added, "If the question is, 'Do we use the United States or one of our other partners to circumvent New Zealand law?' then the answer is categorically no we don’t."

It turns out he was lying. A major story released by The Intercept today (and teased by TVNZ last night) tells the story of how the GCSB spied on kiwi public servant Tony Fullman over his links to Fiji's pro-democracy movement. And a key part of that spying? Getting the NSA to use PRISM to grab all of his communications, so they could be passed on to the GCSB:
Between early July and early August 2012, New Zealand spies appear to have requested American assistance to obtain the emails and Facebook communications of Fullman and Ratu [ Tevita Mara], including from a “democfiji” email address used by Fullman to organize events for the campaign group, whose slogan was “thumbs up for democracy.”

The NSA’s documents contain a “priority list” that names the two men as “Fiji targets” alongside their Gmail addresses and an account number identifying Fullman’s Facebook page. The documents indicate that the NSA began intercepting messages associated with Ratu’s accounts on about the July 9, 2012 and on August 3 started spying on Fullman’s messages. The agency also obtained historic messages from the two men dating back to the beginning of May 2012.

To conduct the electronic eavesdropping, the NSA turned to one of its most controversial surveillance programs: PRISM. The agency uses PRISM to secretly obtain communications that are processed by major technology companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Yahoo, as the Washington Post and The Guardian first reported in 2013.


The classification markings on the files — “REL TO USA/NZ” — make clear that the intercepted communications were to be released to New Zealand spies. In one of the files showing Fullman’s intercepted emails and Facebook chats, the NSA explicitly noted that the intercepted material had been forwarded to its New Zealand intelligence counterpart, the GCSB.

And yet the Prime Minister was denying that was was happening just six months later, despite apparently having "personally" signed the warrant authorising the interception. I guess he just wasn't paying that much attention.

But its not just a case of political deceit about spying - it is also a crime. Because it is very clear that by receiving Fullman's information, the GCSB was intercepting it. And as that interception was not authorised by the GCSB Act (being explicitly contrary to the section 14 prohibition on intercepting the communications of New Zealanders), it is a breach of s216 of the Crimes Act.

The government clearly owes Fullman an apology and compensation for unlawfully invading his privacy. But more importantly than that, someone at the GCSB needs to go to jail. And the Prime Minister who lied to us about what they do? He needs to resign, now.

National's state housing rip-off

When National sells off state houses, it tells us that its done to recycle capital and allow more state houses to be built.


Housing New Zealand has sold about 300 state houses for less than their government valuation, says the Labour Party.

According to documents released under the Official Information Act, most of the state houses sold between July last year and April this year were in places like Palmerston North, Gisborne, Dunedin, Invercargill and Taumarunui.


He said the government got $60 million from the sales, but could have got much more.

"On average, each of the properties has been sold at $32,000 below council valuation. And that amounts to a $12.5 million hit on the taxpaper."

These aren't the prudent sales of a government trying to manage the state housing stock and ensure it has the right-sized houses in the right places. Instead, its a fire sale, dumping these houses at a discount simply for the sake of selling them. And the government is doing this purely to degrade the capacity of Housing New Zealand to perform its vital task of ensuring that every kiwi has a roof over their heads.

People are going homeless because of this policy. It is a fucking crime, and National's Ministers need to be held to account for it.

Against domestic spying

Last year, National held a strapped-chicken review into "our" intelligence agencies. In March, it duly reported back with the expected results, recommending more money, more powers, and fewer legal restraints for the spies. One of their core recommendations was to remove the longstanding prohibition on the GCSB spying domesticly. And today, it looks like the government is going to introduce legislation to do that.

We should not be doing this. The techniques used by the GCSB in collecting foreign intelligence - full-take collection of entire countries' internet and telephone communications feeds - are mass surveillance. The justification for using them for foreign intelligence is tenuous - we're not at war, and we simply have no enemies which justify such extreme action. The idea of doing it to New Zealanders, in peacetime, is simply monstrous. It turns us into a mass-surveillance society, and no amount of GCSB bullshit about how its not "surveillance" until they pick your data out of the feed and look at it changes that.

Despite the best efforts of the spy agencies to convince us otherwise, New Zealand faces no credible domestic or external threats. None whatsoever. And insofar as we have transnational criminals and potentially violent extremists, they're jobs for the police. We have no need for spy agencies, and absolutely no need to let them spy on every aspect of our lives as proposed.

Instead of granting the GCSB more powers, we should be shutting them down. Disestablish the agency, sack all their staff, and throw all their gear and records into a volcano. Make New Zealand a Five Eyes-Free Zone, rather than another US-run surveillance state.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering: will Labour oppose this? Will they repeal these changes if National rams it through with Winston's votes? And if not, what fucking good are they?

Open Government: Co-creation

On Friday, Engage2 launched its Open Government Partnership co-creation site, allowing people to suggest (and vote and comment on) commitments for our next OGP action plan.

The site relies on public input: people suggesting, voting, and commenting on proposals. Its already hada few. I dumped nine on there on Friday, covering the suggestions from my posts on freedom of information and corruption and public integrity, as well as proactive publication of Ministerial briefing lists, and proactive publication of treaty negotiation documents. Since then, other people have added suggestions for

It is unclear at this stage whether SSC will put their hidden agenda (around open data and Big Brother) up for comment and debate on the site, or whether they'll keep it secret to drop on us at the end of consultations. But either way, if you care about open government, you should register with the site, comment and vote on the proposals, and add a few of your own. A complete list of current proposals can be seen here.

Intimidation in Opotiki

Back in April, Opotiki Mayor John Forbes publicly suggested that no-one should stand against him or incumbent councillors because elections were a distraction. And then, when someone announced they were running against him, he turned up at their house to try and bully them out of it:

One of New Zealand's longest-standing mayors went to a rival candidate's home in his mayoral car and told him the region could save $50,000 if he continued in office unopposed.

Mayoral candidate Les Keane says incumbent Opotiki mayor John Forbes knocked on his door this week to discuss Keane's decision to challenge him for the mayoralty - and there would be no need for a costly local body election if no one opposed him for a sixth term.

When approached by the Herald on Sunday yesterday, Forbes admitted he used the mayoral car to pay a visit to Keane's house on Thursday, and he went there specifically to discuss Keane's candidacy.

This is undemocratic bullying, plain and simple. And Opotiki voters should respond to it by voting out the bully.

Meanwhile, in Palmerston North, the fear that Grant Smith, the meathead mayor, would be elected unopposed are unrealised. Unfortunately, his sole "opposition" is a four-time convicted child-beater, so its not really any competition at all. Which means I'll just be spoiling that part of my ballot, because I can't stomach either of them.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Open Government: Co-create!

The State services Commission and Engage2 are currently running a public engagement process on the development of New Zealand's second Open Government partnership National Action Plan. And after some initial work on developing the background (which you can still submit on here), we're into the second phase: co-creating the actual commitments. For those who haven't been following this closely, our action plan has to consist of specific, measurable, answerable (I would say "additional"), relevant and time-bound commitments - basicly, promises to do something that can be checked on. They should also be ambitious, aimed at creating a "race to the top" among countries for transparency and open government. The commitments in our first action plan failed miserably at this task. This is our chance to do better.

There's a specific website for submitting suggested commitments here. There's also a host of good advice on commitments, including some suggestions on format and structure. Once you've read those, you can register on the website and start making suggestions. We'll also be able to comment on suggested commitments, so we can refine them and see what has popular support.

If you're looking for ideas, I have a couple of suggestions here and here. There's also an open government guide to see what other governments have promised.

Finally, there will be a co-creation workshop in Wellington on August 26 to discuss these ideas. Details are here.

Australia's fraudluent gulag-guards

In addition to exposing torture, neglect and child sexual abuse, the Nauru Files have also exposed something else: pervasive fraud by Australia's gulag-guards, Wilson Security:

Self-harm and sexual abuse incident reports filed on Nauru were routinely altered and downgraded in seriousness by the security company tasked with protecting asylum seekers on the island, new documents reveal.

Save the Children, one of the major agencies in the detention centre, protested that they were “usually downgraded without any clear justification”. A spokeswoman for Wilson Security said the company followed the reporting guidelines established by Australia’s immigration department and denied that incident reports are systematically downgraded in breach of the guidelines.

The reason? Simple:
Critical incidents must be reported verbally within 30 minutes and in writing within three hours. Major incidents must be reported verbally within an hour and within six hours in writing. Minor incidents don’t require a verbal report. A written report only needs to be filed within 24 hours. Timeframes for reporting incidents to the department are extremely important because failures to meet these deadlines can trigger financial penalties.

Those financial penalties are up to $80,000 per incident. Downgrading incidents extends the timeline and allows Wilson to escape the penalty. Of course, they're ripping off the Australian taxpayer, but that's just what happens when you give a contractor control over the metric they will be judged by.

It also of course helps cover up just how awful Nauru is, and how many people are tortured, sexually abused, or try to kill themselves there. Which is convenient for Australia's politicians, which is perhaps why they don't bother looking too closely at whether Wilson is really adhering to their contract.

The real crime on nauru is the torture and abuse and coverup thereof, but this just makes it an example of toxic privatisation as well.

When will the government condemn Australia's refugee concentration camps?

For the past three years the Australian government has intercepted vessels on the high seas, detained their passengers, and rendered them to concentration camps on Nauru and Manus Island, all because those people dare to exercise their legal right to claim asylum in Australia. In those camps, the prisoners are tortured and children are physically and sexually abused. It is a crime against humanity, being committed by our closest neighbour (and supposedly closest friend). So what has our government said about this?


New Zealand is supposed to stand up for human rights. We're supposed to oppose torture and cruelty. And yet, we're silent in the face of ongoing human rights abuse by our closest neighbour.

This isn't good enough. Our government should stand up for our values. Our government should condemn Australia. It should also offer to take all the refugees from Nauru and Manus Island, simply to free them from Australia's gulags. It would be a significant investment of resources, but we can cope, and rescuing these people is the right thing to do.

And remember, don't buy Australian. Decent people don't give money to torturers.

New Fisk

Isis has not radicalised young Muslims, it has infantilised them – and that is why it is so powerful and dangerous

The TPP is dead

Its official: Hillary Clinton won't support the Trans Pacific Partnership:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been given the formal kiss of death this morning, with Hillary Clinton saying she'll will not sign up to it if she's the next US President.

"I oppose it now, I'll oppose it after the election and I'll oppose it as President," the Democratic nominee told supporters at a factory in Michigan.

It's one of the few policy positions she has in common with Republican candidate Donald Trump.


"So my message to every worker in Michigan and across America is this: I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

Without the US, the TPP cannot come into force. And with a hostile congress and both presidential candidates opposing it, the US is out. So, thankyou Hillary Clinton - you've saved Pharmac and ensured the NZ copyright term won't bloat to US levels of insanity.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Predator-free by 3300!

In Question Time today Conservation Minister Maggie Barry was quizzed on the cost of her recently-announced predator-free New Zealand policy. First, she tried not to answer; then, when she was forced to answer by the Speaker, she admitted it:

There have been a number of estimates that have been put forward, some of which are accurate, some of which are building on suppositions. For example—[Interruption] Well, we think that they are accurate. At this stage, when we look at how much it costs us to, for example, rid the Million Dollar Mouse from the Antipodes, that is a million dollars and upwards. There are various studies—a $9.04 billion figure came through from Auckland University, for example. That figure is based on the estimated highest-per-hectare cost of current eradication technology. It does not, though, take into account potential technological advances, and it is really simply a scale-up of current methods that are used on islands.

Yes, that's right: the best estimate is $9 billion, but it will be cheaper because of magic TechnologyTM. Which will apparently appear from nowhere, as the government isn't funding its development. If that's the actual advice DoC gave her, its appalling, and I'd love to know what Treasury thought of it.

And against that $9 billion estimated cost, the government is contributing $28 million. Over four years. That's $7 million a year. And at that rate, we'll meet their target in... 3300 or so.

Making New Zealand predator free is a great goal. But its clear from the funding level and Barry's answers today that the government has no real commitment to it and view it only as a PR stunt. New Zealand - and our native birds - deserves better than this bullshit.

For a Taonga levy

Last month the government announced a new goal to make New Zealand predator-free by 2050. Its a bold ambition, and one worth supporting, but horrificly under-resourced. So the Greens have suggested a solution: a "taonga levy" on tourists to help pay for it:

The Green Party would nearly double the tax foreign tourists pay at the border to fund conservation efforts and regional tourism.

Its so-called "Taonga Levy" would increase current border charges for international visitors by between $14 to $18 to a total border levy of around $40.

The proposed tax, not applicable to Kiwis, would be split 70-30 toward the just-announced Predator Free New Zealand (PFNZ) effort and the Regional Mid-sized Tourism Facilities Fund.

Outlining the policy at the Environmental Defence Society's annual conference in Auckland today, party leader James Shaw said the new tax would generate about $46 million each year for PFNZ, or $1.5 billion by its zero-pest predator goal of 2050.

That's not enough to pay for the full programme, but its a substantial contribution, and one which will help fund the technological breakthroughs we need to achieve it. If the government is serious about making New Zealand predator-free, rather than just looking for cheap PR photos, they should adopt this proposal.

Australia's gulag guards lied to Parliament

Yesterday the Guardian released more than 2,000 leaked incident reports from Australia's refugee concentration camp on Nauru. One of the revelations? Their gulag guards Wilson Security lied to Parliament about the number of sexual assaults that happened under their watch:

The Guardian can also reveal that some of the incidents disclosed in the logs in 2014 and 2015 were not reported by Wilson Security when it was asked to provide materials to an Australian parliamentary inquiry into Nauru in 2015.

An Australian Senate inquiry examined conditions and allegations of abuse at the centre. Wilson Security was asked by Hanson-Young for details of all known incidents or allegations of sexual assault, child abuse and assaults on minors.

The company later provided a table of reports of sexual abuse and child abuse to the Senate.

But the Guardian’s analysis shows the reports provided by Wilson Security to parliament are incomplete and that incidents that occurred several months before the hearing were not reported. Although not every allegation will necessarily be proved, the documents Hanson-Young requested concerned allegations, not proven offences.

At least 16 serious cases of child abuse and sexual assault were not disclosed by Wilson Security to the Senate. The sexual assault allegations not reported include:

Wilson Security is in denial, but the files don't lie. And they should be facing contempt of parliament charges for it.


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

  • Residential Tenancies (Safe and Secure Rentals) Amendment Bill (Metiria Turei)
  • Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill (Nuk Korako)
  • Land Transfer (Foreign Ownership of Land Register) Amendment Bill (Mahesh Bindra)
There were 79 bills in the ballot this week, down from last month's 80+, so someone is slacking off.

Open Government: Something to go to

The State Services Commission and Engage2 are currently running a public engagement process on the development of New Zealand's second Open Government partnership National Action Plan. So far, we've been asked to provide input on the draft background for the action plan. But from next week, the engagement will be moving into phase three, and we'll be asked to suggest, share and respond to actions for possible inclusion in the plan. As part of this, Engage2 will be hosting two public meetings and an online webinar to introduce people to the OGP and allow them to develop potential actions for the action plan:

  • In Auckland on 17 August from 13:30 pm to 15:30 at Victoria University of Wellington Business School, Level 4, 50 Kitchener Street, Auckland CBD. Register here;
  • In Christchurch on 23 August from 9:00 to 11:00 at EPIC (Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre), 76/106 Manchester St, Christchurch Central. Register here; and
  • Online on 15 August 2016 from 19:00 to 20:00. Details here

(If you're in Wellington, there's apparently something on the 26th. Details to come when I hear about them).

If you're interested in the Open Government Partnership, I recommend attending one of these events. Open government is too important to be left to SSC and Paula Bennett.

Finally: oddly, none of this information is online. I had to join their mailing list to receive it. Which isn't the best way of running an engagement process...

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Corrections lies to the Ombudsman

When the Department of Corrections was caught subjecting a prisoner to cruel and degrading treatment by routinely tying him to his bed, they promised they'd stop doing it. They also promised they'd provide regular reports to the Ombudsman on his treatment, to ensure there was no re-occurance.

They lied:

The Ombudsman raised concerns in May about the length of time the prisoner was tied down and the Corrections' chief inspector launched an investigation, promising to provide the Ombudsman weekly updates.

However, chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Bouchier has told RNZ that Corrections took three weeks to release its first and only weekly update.

When the Ombudsman queried the progress of the investigation on 23 June, Corrections said it would be completed by the end of the month.

But the Chief Ombudsman is yet to receive a copy of the investigation's findings.

Withholding information from the Ombudsman is unprecedented. So what are Corrections hiding? Or are they just so used to unaccountability that they're willing to piss all over a core part of our constitution to maintain it?

Don't buy Australian


Don't like Australia's torture and systematic neglect of refugees in Pacific island concentration camps? Want them to end this environment of self-harm, despair, and sexual abuse and accept their responsibilities under the refugee convention? If you're Australian, you can try voting for those outcomes. If you're not, then there's really only one thing you can do: don't buy Australian.

Buying Australian goods and supporting Australian companies supplies the Australian government with tax revenue - tax revenue it spends on the torture and abuse of refugees. Refusing to buy Australian or support Australians with your business reduces that revenue. It also ensures you are not complicit in supporting these crimes against humanity.

Boycott campaigns have a mixed record. But they were successful against apartheid South Africa, and (judging by the intense Israeli reaction) are being successful against Israel. At the least, they de-legitimise behaviour and make it clear it is unacceptable to the global community. Australia's behaviour is unacceptable - and they need to know that. So, don't buy Australian, and let the companies you have stopped buying from - Arnotts, Harvey-Norman, Jacob's Creek, Holden, whatever - know about it. Because while you can't do much to change Australian government policy, they can, and will if it starts to hurt their bottom line.