Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meanwhile, in Poland

While we're all worrying about Nazis in America, we might also want to keep an eye on Poland:

Polish police broke up a feminist rally and forcefully removed activists to clear the way for a march for far-right extremists.

A live stream of the protest shows members of the All-Polish Women's Strike group and activists from Obywatele RP, which aims to defend democratic principles in Poland, taking part in a sit-in in central Warsaw, to block the far-right rally's route.

Many of the women were holding up photos of Heather Heyer, the American woman killed when a car ploughed into a crowd of counter-protesters during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

According to the story, the far-right groups included the National Radical Camp and the All-Polish Youth, explicitly racist, homophobic and anti-democratic groups (and in the NRC's case, fascist). Poland's politics has had an unpleasant nationalist and theocratic tinge for some time now, and recently the government has moved strongly towards autocracy, banning anti-government protests and attempting to end judicial independence. And now, their police are explicitly siding with fascists. Its a scary sign of how quickly democracy can die if you let people like the Law and Justice Party take over...

Privacy, not "secrecy"

Politik breathlessly reports that the New Zealand government kept information on Barnaby Joyce's kiwi citizenship "top secret":

New Zealand Ministers and officials imposed a heavy security lid once they realised that they had information which could, in effect, topple the Australian Government.

That extended to not even telling Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop even though she was at the same meeting last week as New Zealand Foreign Minister, Gerry Brownlee.

The realisation that Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was a New Zealand citizen and therefore not eligible to serve in the Australian Parliament came after questions were asked last week of both the Department of Internal Affairs and the Minister, Peter Dunne.

Except there's an obvious reason why: privacy. Information on who is and isn't a citizen is normally considered private, and its not the sort of thing you go around telling other people willy-nilly, and certainly not without telling the person themselves first. DIA seems to have acted perfectly consistently with this, and its what I'd expect them to do in any other case.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ardern stands up for kiwis

Today politics seems to be dominated by Australian ridiculousness, after the Australian government blamed Chris Hipkins (rather than hard-working Australian journalists) for exposing Barnaby Joyce as a New Zealand citizen, and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop interfering in our election by saying that she would find it hard to work with an NZ Labour government (or, to put it another way, the racist, homophobic Australian government prefers National and Bill English. Good to know; now we can all vote accordingly). The good news is that with Joyce exposed as ineligible to sit in Parliament, Bishop may not be Foreign Minister for much longer. But we've also learned something useful: that when push comes to shove, Jacinda Ardern stands up for kiwis against our "allies":

It is highly regrettable that the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has chosen to make false claims about the New Zealand Labour Party.


I also note that Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne has confirmed that the Australian media inquiries were the instigator of this issue and that he has described connections of the New Zealand Labour Party to this issue as “utter nonsense.”

I greatly value New Zealand’s relationship with the Australian Government. I will not let false claims stand in the way of that relationship.

I would happily take a call from Julie Bishop to clarify matters.

I have also contacted the Australian High Commission to register my disappointment and will be meeting with the High Commissioner later today.

Hopefully she'll mention our disapproval of Australia's refugee concentration camps while she's at it.

In a time when Australia is mistreating New Zealand citizens and the US seems to be trying to start as many wars as possible, it would be useful to have a Prime Minister who would decide foreign policy based on New Zealand's values, rather than just falling in meekly behind the powerful. That's what Helen Clark did over Iraq, and its clear that Jacinda Ardern is the same. The contrast with Bill English couldn't be any clearer.

Climate change: The Cullen fund divests

Climate change is now undeniable, and if we are to survive it, the fossil fuel industry has to die. And now the Cullen Fund has recognised that fact, and started divesting its risk:

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund has sold shares in some of the world's biggest companies to reduce exposure to firms emitting greenhouse gases.

The fund is quitting or reducing holdings in 300 firms as part of its "carbon transition". They include Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Statoil and local firms New Zealand Oil & Gas and Genesis Energy.

The firms are part of the Super Fund's huge passive investment portfolio - making up two thirds of the fund's total investments - and similar principles will be applied now to active investments.

Chief investment officer Matt Whineray said 40 percent of all super fund investments would be low carbon as a result of the changes.

40% doesn't sound high, but looking at their press release, they're ranking investments by emissions. The important thing is that they're bailing out of high-emission companies, effectively voting "no confidence" in their future. And that's one of the things that needs to happen if we are to get through this.

Dirty farmers

Surprise, surprise - Waikato's dairy farmers are failing to comply with their resource consents:

The Waikato Regional Council says dairy farm effluent compliance rates are heading in the right direction despite less than one quarter of farms monitored last year deemed fully compliant.

The figures released under the Official Information Act showed that the council inspected 1174 farms, nearly twice the number inspected the previous season.

Of those farms, 23 per cent achieved full compliance, 2 per cent had a high level of compliance, 43 per cent were provisionally compliant, 24 per cent were partially compliant and 9 per cent were significantly non-compliant.

Waikato Regional Council says this is "progress", but the proportion of fully-compliant farms dropped in the past year, from 26 to 23 percent. That's not "progress", it's going backwards.

The RMA includes enforcement provisions for both temporary and long-term non-compliance, including infringement notices, abatement orders, criminal prosecution, and ultimately review of a consent. WRC, like most councils, doesn't use these much. Clearly, they need to. Their current "enforcement regime" is not encouraging farmers to comply with the law. A tougher approach is required.

"As soon as reasonably practicable"

The Official Information Act requires agencies to decide on requests "as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received". But over the decades that the Act has been operating, it has become clear that agencies systematically ignore the first part of that clause, and instead focus on the latter, setting a 20-day target for response. Note that that's a 20-day target, not a within 20 day target. In my experience requests tend to arrive on the last possible day (or later), especially when they are politically controversial.

And now there's proof. OIA user Mark Hanna gathered data on timeliness from his requests on FYI. Sadly, the results confirm widespread misbehaviour by agencies:

That spike at close-of-business on the due date is telling. Some agencies at least really are dragging things out as long as possible, leaving it till the last possible minute to respond. This violates both the purpose of the Act, and the letter of the law.

This is a small data-set, but it clearly points to a problem. The good news is that FYI's database of more than 6000 requests is public, which means we can use it to get some serious data on this. This will both tell us how widespread the problem is, and which agencies are in need of a visit by the Ombudsman with fire and sword.

Monday, August 14, 2017

NZ Post spied on the public

Last night we learned that NZ Post had been spying on the public, using microphones on its delivery vehicles to record and listen to conversations between its employees and random members of the public without the consent of either party. They've stopped now, after a Privacy Act complaint was laid, but its not just the Privacy Act they should be worrying about, but criminal prosecution. Because pretty obviously, this seems to be a case of using an interception device:

Subject to subsections (2) to (5), every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years who intentionally intercepts any private communication by means of an interception device.

Microphones are "interception devices", and there's no question that the spying was intentional and knowing: NZ Post had been downloading recordings of conversations and listening to them. A "private communication" in this context means a conversation where there's a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that depends on the context. Some of the recorded conversations - on public footpaths with other people nearby, for example - won't be "private", while others (e.g. those up people's driveways or even at letterboxes where there aren't others around) certainly will be. And those are certainly conversations where the police would need a surveillance warrant to eavesdrop with a directional microphone.

The only real defence available to NZ Post is whether it was a "party" to those conversations. This normally covers employers in the workplace e.g. spying on phone calls and email. But in those cases, employees know. And as we've seen with Todd Barclay, they're not allowed to stick a dictaphone under someone's desk and listen to them. In this case, NZ Post seem to have Barclayed every one of their little spytrucks, without the knowledge of either their employees or the public. I don't think they can argue that they're a party, and I very much doubt they had any sort of surveillance or intelligence warrant for their spying. So the question is: will they be prosecuted? And if not, why not?

Barnaby Joyce is a New Zealand citizen

Over the last few weeks the Australian Parliament has been rocked by a succession of resignations and court referrals over various Senators falling foul of s44 of the Australian constitution, which bars dual-citizens from the legislature. Today, that clause appears to have claimed its highest profile victim, with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce referring himself to the High Court so they can investigate whether he is a kiwi. But I don't think there's any question about it at all.

According to his Wikipedia page, Joyce was born in 1967 in New South Wales. However:

His father, James Joyce, was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia to study veterinary science at the University of Sydney, where he met Joyce's mother, Marie
The Guardian has some links here and a conviluted explanation about the Citizenship Act 1977 (as enacted) and claims to citizenship by descent lapsing. But the descent clause of that Act only applies to those "born outside New Zealand on or after 1 January 1978". Joyce was born before that, so his existing rights of citizenship were protected by s13 of the Act, which makes it very clear that everyone who was already a citizen stays one, and (to reiterate the rules of the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948),
every person born outside New Zealand on or after 1 January 1949 but before 1 January 1978 shall be a New Zealand citizen by descent if... in any case, his father was a New Zealand citizen at the time of that person's birth
Joyce's father was a kiwi, so he is a kiwi, end of story, no registration required. Which means that he will lose his seat in Parliament. That seat is the Australian government's majority, so NZ citizenship law may very well have just caused an Australian election.

Edit to add: Joyce is apparently trying to argue that his father wasn't a New Zealand citizen because we didn't create a citizenship until 1948 and before then everyone was a "British subject". Unfortunately that doesn't help him. Section 16(1) of the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948 is crystal clear:

Joyce's father was a British subject immediately before the date of the commencement of the Act. He was born in New Zealand. And so under New Zealand law he became a New Zealand citizen, whether he knew it or not.

National resorts to racism on water

National knows it can't defeat the Labour-Green policy on water charging on fairness grounds, so they're now appealing to racism, with Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson scaremongering that making farmers pay their fair share will mean reopening historic Treaty settlements:

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson is warning that Labour's water taxes could force existing full-and-final Treaty of Waitangi settlements to be opened for renegotiation with iwi.

He said the policy overturned accepted policy of successive Labour and National Governments of the past 25 years that no one owned the water.

Governments applying a tax on water was an assertion of Crown ownership "and then that gives rise to the counter assertion that Maori own water".

"They are dicing with death, quite frankly," he told the Herald.

"It opens a complete Pandora's Box. I'd like to know [if] it is Labour Party policy that, after all the work we've done, both political parties over 25 years, are they proposing to re-open treaty settlements so that this matter can be looked at?

Except of course it wouldn't, for the simple reason that those settlements cover historic claims. A unilateral government assertion of water ownership would be a fresh injustice, and simply not covered by those settlements.

But Finlayson's dishonesty gets worse, because National has itself recognised that it needs to settle the issue with iwi. Their Cabinet paper on the Land and Water Forum's mock consultation notes that "Cabinet also agreed on June 2 [CAB Min (09) 19/7A] that there is a need to make real progress in the unresolved area of Māori rights and interests in water", which is why the iwi leadership group has been involved in the entire process. They have considered and rejected a nationwide "Waterlords" settlement which would resolve any issues around the Treaty and water allocation and pricing, primarily because they want to impede any progress in that area in order to continue subsidising farmers (or rather, letting them effectively own and sell the public's water, without having to pay for it).

This isn't a "Pandora's box". The model for an easy, full and final settlement to resolve this exists, and iwi are keen. What is lacking is goodwill from the government to sign it. And Finlayson knows all this - so he is actively trying to mislead the New Zealand public about it, trying to appeal to the racism of rednecks in order to protect the stolen "rights" of a privileged few. And to be honest, I thought he was a better person than that. But I guess now that English is back in charge, National is back to the same racism he ran on in 2002. He lost then; lets hope for the sake of New Zealand that he loses again.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The rising tide sucks us down

National is trying to talk up its supposed "economic growth" for the election. But the Herald's Brian Fallow points out the truth: the economy may be growing on paper, but its not making us better off:

The average wage (average ordinary-time hourly earnings from Statistics New Zealand's quarterly employment survey) rose 1.6 per cent in the year to June. But that was boosted by some pay increases in the public sector that had been a long time coming.

In the private sector, the average wage rose 1.2 per cent, in a year when consumer prices rose 1.7 per cent. In other words, it fell 0.5 per cent in real terms. That was still better than the March report, when annual wage growth was 1.1 per cent and inflation 2.2 per cent.


Interest rates are historically low. The terms of trade (the mix of export and import prices) are the most favourable they have been for 44 years, boosting national income. The demand pulse from the need to rebuild our second largest city has been followed by the need to respond to the largest city bursting at the seams. Tourism is booming.

In these circumstances, are declining real wages the best we can do?

And that's a good question. Economic growth is supposed to make us better off - "a rising tide lifts all boats" as the rich love to say. Except it turns out that its all a lie, and the rich's rising tide in fact sucks the rest of us down.

It doesn't have to be this way. The reason growth doesn't benefit ordinary kiwis is a matter of policy choices made by the government to favour the rich over the rest of us. Those choices can be made differently, as they were in the 2000's. All we need is a government which works for us, not foreign billionaires...

British inquiries are a sham

We all know how it goes: the UK establishment does something terrible, like murdering people, or illegally invading somewhere, or burning hundreds of people to death in a high-rise incinerator. The public get justifiably angry. The government announces an "independent" inquiry to "get to the bottom of" or "draw a line under" the issue. The inquiry drags on for years, decades even - as long as it takes for public anger to dissipate and for those responsible to disappear off into the private sector or retirement with fat golden handshakes. When it finally reports back, the problems are found to be "systemic" and no-one is held to account.

It sounds like a sham, and it is. And now those who have been involved in such inquiries have openly said so:

Two original panel members of the government’s child abuse inquiry have said they were forced to fight attempts at political control and interference from the Home Office when it was run by Theresa May.

The pair said they wanted to speak out to warn potential members of supposedly independent teams being assembled at the orders of the prime minister to investigate the Grenfell Tower fire and contaminated blood transfusions.

Sharon Evans and Graham Wilmer revealed how government officials intervened with the independent panel members by preparing a 23-page document instructing them how to answer questions from MPs.

Both left the inquiry when the original panel was disbanded within months of its formation and have since been critical of the inquiry.

In practice, these "independent" inquiries are tightly directed by the government of the day to ensure that they don't cause any problems. What they're allowed to investigate, what they're allowed to say, who they're allowed to listen to. The establishment members of such inquiries have no problem with this - they know its all a scam to pacify the public and prevent any accountability. But non-establishment members clearly take the government's promises of justice and expect something a little better. More fool them. Because the dirty truth is that there is no justice in British inquiries. Instead, they are an instrument to deny justice and uphold the unjust status quo. People should not cooperate with them and they should not participate in them. And they should not treat them as anything other than a scam and a further insult to the government's victims.

New Fisk

If you're wondering why Saudi Arabia and Israel have united against Al-Jazeera, here's the answer

Irrigation is a threat to public health

That's the view of Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey:

Drinking water in the Selwyn District is at increasing risk of contamination as more dairy cows are being farmed there, local residents have been told.


Dr Humphrey said it was impossible for the regional council, Environment Canterbury, to meet its targets for reducing pollutants while at the same time meeting its other targets for increasing the amount of irrigation that was happening.

He said a soon-to-be released report from the council showed the level of polluting nitrates in ground water was increasing in 25 percent of wells.

"There's increases all the way across the Canterbury Plains, so we're not doing very well and we're not even hitting the targets we've set ourselves."

Dr Humphrey said high nitrate levels were potentially fatal for newborn babies, and this was something midwives were now factoring into their visits to expectant mothers.

What's really worrying is that they try and do their jobs and take action against the people polluting the water table, they get told that they can't because they don't want to upset the Minister. Think about that for a moment. We have a clear threat to public health, pollution that poisons babies, and it is allowed to continue because of Ministerial interference. That's simply not acceptable. Public health officials must be free to do their job of protecting us. And the polluting industries which are endangering us must be forced to stop.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Public servants should work for us, not foreign billionaires

Another sign of the decay in transparency under National: the Department of Internal Affairs unlawfully allowed lawyers for foreign vampire capitalist Peter Thiel to veto what was released about him under the OIA:

An Official Information Act request by the Herald into the handling of the botched redaction revealed emails showing lawyers acting for Thiel were behind the blacking-out of the short time he lived in the country.

The Ombudsman's full ruling showed Internal Affairs were happy to accommodate Thiel's concerns, despite describing the case for protecting his privacy in this case was "borderline".

Once again, we have a department ignoring its own judgements about what is lawful in order to bow to the wishes of the powerful. And that is simply not acceptable. The government must obey the law. And our public servants should work for us, not foreign billionaires.

We need a housing warrant of fitness

Why we need a warrant of fitness for rental housing: because unhealthy housing is making thousands of kids sick a year:

In a 50-page paper released today, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has called on politicians to do more to address the causes of health inequity in New Zealand.

Too many people were living in cold, mouldy and over-crowded homes and it was ruining the health of children in particular, the college said.


"Cold, old, damp and mouldy houses directly links to poor health through respiratory illnesses, and those illnesses affect vulnerable groups in our society like children and elderly people and can exacerbate their other health conditions."

That was especially bad in winter, Dr Christiansen said.

More than 40,000 people were living in precarious, insecure housing, including garages, sheds and caravan park, he said.

The problem here is the houses. So why won't the government address this? Simple: because they're all landlords, and sticking up for their own "right" to profit from (government-created) desperation by renting out unhealthy homes. It is simply corrupt. But that is how the establishment rules New Zealand.

Statoil spies

Greenpeace has caught New Zealand's most infamous private spy agency, Thompson & Clark, spying on them:

Greenpeace claims it has caught spies in the act of tracking its staff and supporters and compiling detailed dossiers.

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman told the Herald the surveillance included tracking people in their private lives.

The environmental lobby group has filed a civil suit in the High Court against Thompson & Clark Investigations alleging breach of privacy and seeking an injunction to stop the surveillance.


"We have discovered that Greenpeace has been subject to systematic highly intrusive investigations by Thompson & Clark [Investigations] and people working for them," Norman said.

"They have been following our staff and volunteers in their private lives as well as their professional lives.

"We took steps to confirm some of the information we received. That involved looking at some of the dossiers compiled by Thompson & Clark. We also put in place a counter-surveillance operation to catch them in the act.

You may remember Thompson & Clark as the outfit Solid Energy hired to spy on anti-coal activists a decade ago and which has used illegal tracking devices on animal rights activists. Now they're working for Statoil and Anadarko - foreign companies. Which incidentally makes them an agent of a foreign power, spying on New Zealanders to try and disrupt our democracy. Supposedly we have an agency which is supposed to protect us from shit like that, but I think we all know whose side they're on. And so its left to Greenpeace to protect themselves through the courts.

The New Zealand government is allegedly involved in this as well (by which I assume MBIE). We've seen this before with Timberlands and Solid Energy, and it is simply not acceptable for any government agency to hire private thugs to spy on and disrupt democratic opposition to government policy. There needs to be a full and public inquiry into any government involvement, and if there is any, it needs to be stamped out and the people who arranged it fired. There should be no place in our public service or wider public sector for those who would suppress democracy.

Meanwhile, we should be asking Norway why a supposedly friendly country is hiring thugs to disrupt our democracy, and whether they think it is acceptable or in accordance with their democratic values.

Why should we subsidise the dairy industry?

The Green-Labour policy to make commercial water users pay for their use of a public resource has farmers running scared and whining that it will force them out of business. To which the response is "so?" To point out the obvious, that water is a public resource, and it is only fair that farmers pay for it. Letting them not pay for it is effectively subsidising them. And why should urban New Zealand subsidise environmental destruction for the private profit of a few?

The same argument applies to the whining about Canterbury dairy farmers going out of business if they have to clean up their act to save Lake Ellesmere. These farmers are currently destroying a public resource, causing (according to ECan) $300 million in economic damage to it per year. Which means that we are effectively subsidising them by that sum. And why the hell should we do that?

Polluters should pay the full social costs of the resources they use and the environmental damage they cause. If paying those costs means that they are no longer (privately) profitable, then they were never profitable in the first place - they were simply hiding that fact by getting us to pay for their losses. And in such situations, the best thing that can happen to such businesses is for them to go out of business as quickly as possible, so they don't cost us any more money.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Burn it all to the fucking ground

That's my immediate response to the news that Metiria Turei has resigned and will be leaving Parliament. Rage, just utter rage at a political system where this can happen. Where people who have been poor are villified and harassed because of the choices a corrupt, unfair, immoral system forced them to make. Where those people are sent a clear message that they should not and never can be involved in politics. Where instead, we're ruled by entitled wankers like Gower and Hosking and People Like Them who meet their approval.

The actual resignation was triggered by unsubstantiated rumours put about about Metiria's family. The sort of rumours which are impossible to answer without involving people who never signed up for politics. Rather than do that, Metiria resigned. It was the decent thing to do. At the same time, it is utterly fucking vile that these arseholes get to win like this. It is absolutely disgusting that the right wins by going after people's families. But that's the sort of arseholes we have running this country.

Earlier today, I said that if the right wants a C19th "democracy" which excludes poor people, they need to be reminded of the C19th solution: pitchforks and guillotines. I stand by that. Fuck them all, burn it all to the fucking ground.

Justice for CIA torture?

So far the US courts have ruled that those tortured illegally by the CIA can receive no justice from their torturers. But there is someone they can go after: the unethical psychologists who designed the torture programs:

A civil lawsuit brought by three victims of the CIA’s torture program against the two psychologists who created it will go to court on 5 September in Washington state, after a judge ruled that more than a year of discovery had yielded sufficient evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims.

Judge Justin Quackenbush issued a written opinion on Monday in the suit, in which James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen are accused of designing, promoting and sharing responsibility for the interrogation methods to which the three men were subjected.

It will now be up to a jury in Spokane, Washington, to decide if the psychologists, who reportedly were paid $75m-$81m under their contract with the CIA to create the so-called enhanced interrogation program, are financially liable for the physical and psychological effects of their torture.

At least 39 men were tortured using Mitchell and Jesson's techniques, and at least one of them died. Its entirely right that they be held liable for that. But they're not the only ones, and it shouldn't just be civil. The CIA thugs who drowned people on the waterboards and the suited policy-makers who approved it should all be facing criminal charges, and long terms of imprisonment if convicted. The US's refusal to allow this is a betrayal both of its own professed values, and of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

More Australian corruption

The Australian Liberal Party has been taking money from the mafia:

A Liberal insider conspired to funnel donations from an alleged Mafia boss and his three relatives into party coffers after a lobster dinner involving the men and Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, secret phone records have revealed.

Recordings of phone conversations obtained by Fairfax Media and Four Corners involving Liberal Party official Barrie Macmillan also capture Mr Macmillan plotting to split the promised donations into smaller amounts to avoid disclosing the source of the funds to authorities.

"They want to give Matthew a substantial donation towards next year. Now, I understand what they can and can't do," Mr Macmillan says on the recording, referring to alleged Mafia boss and long-time Liberal donor Tony Madafferi and three of his relatives.


Mr Macmillan said on the recording: "You can't associate Matthew with money and I would have to be the intermediary. But I'm talking about a swag of money that they're prepared to give for them [Mr Guy's campaign].

Guy has apparently referred himself to Victoria's corruption commission, which will find that everything is above board because they're specifically excluded from investigating cases like this. Which tells you how institutionally corrupt the Australian political system is: few safeguards, and the few they do have are intentionally crippled by corrupt politicians so that all they can do is provide a veneer of respectability. I'm utterly shocked that Australians put up with this. But I guess their unfair election system doesn't really give them much choice.

Class and Metiria

Over on Newsroom, Claire Timperley points out the not-so hidden subtext in the public lynching of Metiria Turei: class:

Beneficiary fraud is a uniquely class-based problem. The only people who are in the position of having to make difficult choices about whether to ‘play by the rules’ and by doing so risk not having the means to support their family are those who are in the poorest group of New Zealanders.

The fact Turei lied to the authorities demonstrates the very difficult position many beneficiaries find themselves in. Whether or not Turei made the morally or legally correct decision is not relevant to the issue I am raising (although there are undoubtedly important questions it raises about the beneficiary system).

What is important, however, is that by dint of her experience of this specifically class-based conundrum, she is no longer considered fit for high office.

And its all the more apparent when you compare it with Bill English's housing allowance rort: there, a rich man lied about where he lived and paid lawyers to order his affairs to scam the taxpayer of tens of thousands of dollars. But it was "within the rules" - rules he helped write - so its all OK. But as Simon Wilson points out on The Spinoff, beneficiaries don't have lawyers to order their affairs like this, and don't get to write their own loopholes, so they have to steal bread rather than being able to pay people to make it look like they're not stealing it. And again, that comes down to class.

The overwhelming message from the political status quo has been that poor people have no place in our Parliament and no place in government. That's been their message since the 18th century (hell, its been their message since fucking Plato). But if they want to overturn 150 years of democracy and go back to the C19th, then they are inviting the C19th response: pitchforks and guillotines.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the last for the Parliamentary term. Sadly, though, we won't be seeing a vote on death with dignity today, or any time soon.

Partly this is because there's an hour of valedictory statements taking up the House's time - Clayton Cosgrove and Murray McCully's political rememberances being considered more important than actually legislating. But mostly its because the top of the Order Paper is clogged with local bills and latter stages. First up is the second reading of the New Plymouth District Council (Waitara Lands) Bill, aimed at easing the oozing sore of the Waitara Purchase and subsequent land thefts from local iwi. Then there is the first reading of the (vitally important, I'm sure) Thames–Coromandel District Council and Hauraki District Council Mangrove Management Bill. If the House moves quickly it might get on to the third readings of Chris Bishop's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Interim Restriction Order Classification) Amendment Bill and Sarah Dowie's Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill, but I don't think it'll get any further. And of course no first readings means no ballot tomorrow.

Labour steps up on water

Labour has followed the Greens' lead and committed to making commercial water users pay their fair share:

Water bottling companies and farmers operating irrigation schemes will pay royalties under Labour's new freshwater policy announced in Auckland on Wednesday.

Newly-minted Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has set out a plan to charge water bottling companies and users of irrigation schemes if Labour's in government after the election.

The policy would be flexible around drought or very wet areas but a rate won't be set until Ardern has an opportunity to consult on the issue, if in government after September 23.

Good. The New Zealand public are being ripped off over water, and in the process we're subsidising the harmful dairy industry to destroy our environment. But water is a public resource, and it is entirely right that companies who profit by extracting it pay for its use, just like they would for oil. Internalising those environmental costs may also help turn the tide against dairy intensification, and push farmers on to a more sustainable track. Alternatively, it might just drive the worst of them out of business. I'm fine either way.

This won't be easy - notably, it will require a Treaty settlement with the original owners - but its a necessary move to save our environment from destruction. And its good to see that Labour has got on board with that.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Climate change: Orwellian

How hostile is the Trump regime to climate change? They've banned Department of Agriculture scientists from even mentioning it:

Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference “weather extremes” instead.


A missive from Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, lists terms that should be avoided by staff and those that should replace them. “Climate change” is in the “avoid” category, to be replaced by “weather extremes”. Instead of “climate change adaption”, staff are asked to use “resilience to weather extremes”.

The primary cause of human-driven climate change is also targeted, with the term “reduce greenhouse gases” blacklisted in favor of “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency”. Meanwhile, “sequester carbon” is ruled out and replaced by “build soil organic matter”.

The clear aim is to remove any implication that people, and especially people who profit from the fossil fuel industry, are responsible for destroying the global climate. It is simply Orwellian manipulation of language. But I guess that's the sort of place the USA is now.

Climate change: "Happy with where we are"

14 NGOs have united to call on the government to pass a UK-style Climate Change Act, with legislated targets setting a downward path for emissions. National's response: yeah, nah:

Prime Minister Bill English said he had seen the letter but was happy with how New Zealand was getting on fighting climate change.

"We're happy with where we are on climate change," English said, but said some other policies to fight climate change might emerge before the election. There would not be a major shift from current policy.

"We've signed up to the Paris Accord - that's pretty clear cut, the measurements are published, we have the Emissions Trading System, which is one of most advanced carbon trading systems in the world."

"Where we are" is that we are going to miss our patheticly weak 2030 target, let alone National's "50% by 2050" target, because "one of most advanced carbon trading systems in the world" subsidises emissions rather than reducing them. No-one with the slightest interest in the issue should be happy with this, and if Bill English is, then it suggests that he doesn't actually care about our future at all. Which given his previous history of virulent climate change denialism, sadly isn't surprising.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Good riddance

Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? Two mediocre male Green MPs told the party "its Metiria or us", and were quickly and efficiently shown the door. Despite trying to roll it back for a bit on RNZ - "no, we didn't quit, we're candidates till writ day", they'll likely be suspended from caucus tomorrow and ejected from the party in short order. Because that's what happens when you pull that sort of stunt: you either win or you die.

Graham and Clendon were a poor fit for the Greens anyway. Back in 2010 they voted for Manukau to be allowed to jail prostitutes again - the only two Green MPs who did so. The rest of the party understand that sustainability and social justice and human rights go hand-in-hand, and you can't throw one of them overboard without harming the whole - a view which also resonates with the vast majority of their voters. Insofar as Graham and Clendon now seem wildly out of step with the party and its support-base, its probably better that they go (though obviously, it would have been better if they'd gone quietly, rather than trying to burn everything down in the process).

The net effect is that a bunch of talented candidates - including Chloe Swarbrick, Golriz Ghahraman, Jack McDonald and John Hart - will move up a place or two on the list and become that much more electable. Which isn't a bad outcome. The great thing about the Greens is that they have more talented people than they have space for. Dead-weights ritually throwing themselves overboard simply makes room for someone better.

The market is not providing

We have a housing crisis, caused primarily by a failure to build enough houses to cope with demand. Dogmatic economics tells us that the market will respond to this naturally by increasing supply to match demand - and the government has basicly crossed its fingers and is waiting for that to happen. Instead, the market seems to be building even fewer houses than before:

The government's forecast for new home building in Auckland in the coming years has been lowered for the second year in a row.

The National Construction Pipeline Report has sliced 2200 off the number of new home consents it expects to be issued in Auckland in the current calendar year, to 11,100.


The forecast for 2018 has been lowered by nearly 1700 to 11,900, and in 2019, by 513 to 12,800.

The 2017 estimate is now 3549 lower than the report forecast two years ago.

The pipeline report is compiled by the building industry, along with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and its findings are released each year by Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith.

And only about half the homes consented actually get built. So, they're consenting fewer homes, and only building half of what they get approved. Its a clear example of market failure, of an industry focused on providing status properties for rich wankers rather than ordinary homes for ordinary people. And the sensible solution is for the government to get involved and build what the market won't.

Climate change: A sad pretence of policy

Its election season, so the government is proudly announcing how much money it has spent to encourage new forests:

A total of 5183ha of new forest will be planted by 101 applicants who have received support through the 2017 Afforestation Grant Scheme funding round, Associate Minister for Primary Industries Louise Upston says.


“Estimates suggest that 1.1 million ha of land is at serious risk of erosion, and forest cover is the best form of erosion control. Through the AGS, we aim to plant 15,000ha of new forest by 2020,” says Ms Upston.

“The latest funding round drew 40 applications and 400ha more than last year’s. That brings the total number of hectares funded through the AGS since 2015 to 12,451, putting us well on track to achieving our 15,000ha goal by 2020.

1.1 million hectares of land under threat. So a paltry 15,000 hectares of forest (over five years!) to cover it. To ask the obvious, what about the other 1,085,000 hectares?

But we should also remember that this isn't really an erosion-control policy: its a climate change policy. Planting permanent forests is our best and quickest way of soaking up carbon from the atmosphere and buying time to decarbonise the economy. Once its through its initial establishment phase, a hectare of pine aborbs 25 tons of CO2 a year, every year, until it peaks in 40 or 50 years time. Doubling our current planting rate to 80,000 hectares a year would soak up an extra million tons of carbon from the atmosphere for every year we did it. That's the scale of ambition we need. Its achievable - we maintained this sort of planting rate for most of the 90's. Its cheap: a mere $40 million a year at AFG prices. Its the sort of thing a government which was serious about preventing climate change would be pushing hard to do. Instead, we've got the usual pretence of action, utterly disconnected in scale from the problem, aimed at getting headlines rather than actually doing anything. And when faced with a problem the size of climate change, it looks like downright negligence.

Australia kills again

Australia is reportedly planning to storm its Manus Island concentration camp to suppress protests there. Meanwhile, their refusal to provide proper medical care to those imprisoned there has claimed another life:

A refugee in Australia's immigration detention network on Manus Island has died, with local police suggesting the man had taken his own life.

The man was understood to be an Iranian refugee who had a history of mental illness. Manus provincial police commander David Yapu said a crime scene had been established.


According to Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani, who is also on Manus Island, the refugee concerned had a long history of mental illness and distress.

He was reportedly jailed following a mental breakdown at the regional processing centre, but was released, only to be found wandering the streets of Lorengau without clothes.

Australia's concentration camps are full of people in utter despair, many of whom have already attempted suicide. In those circumstances, attempting to clear them by force to force refugees into an even more dangerous situation seems to be a recipe for deaths. And every single one of the corpses should be laid at the feet of the Australian government. They killed this man. They are his murderers. And they should be held accountable for it.

Auckland's future is rail

National and Labour both announced transport policy over the weekend, with the usual lists of projects and spending. But while they had different priorities, one thing is clear: Auckland's future is rail. Both big parties now support the third main (the idea National tried to bury) to stop freight from clogging Auckland's roads. National supports electrification to Pukekohe, Labour supports rail to the airport, but either way its on tracks, and they're arguing about what trains to build when rather than more useless roads. Which is a big shift from the previous roads vs trains arguments of the previous decade. I guess the evidence that Auckland needs proper public transport has got so overwhelming that even the trucking-industry funded National party can no longer ignore it (alternatively: too many Ministers got stuck behind trucks in Auckland gridlock).

The big difference between the parties is in funding: Labour would allow councils to charge regional fuel taxes, giving them a source of revenue to fund transport upgrades. National hates this idea, partly because its a tax, and partly because of control freakery. Auckland having its own revenue stream for transport would allow them to set the agenda, rather than having to wait for central government to dole out the cash (and if Auckland sets the agenda, Auckland politicians rather than government Ministers get to make the announcements). But it seems entirely fair that if Aucklanders need more transport infrastructure, they should pay for it, and for the revenue to be collected from those who would directly benefit from the spending rather than from residents in general. And its certainly a better idea than letting politicians in Wellington slowly strangle Auckland until there's an election on and they need to announce some spending.

Spies are a threat to democracy

If you need any further evidence that spies are inherently a threat to democracy, just take a look at South Korea, where its chief spy agency has just admitted manipulating elections to get its preferred candidate elected:

South Korea’s spy agency has admitted it conducted an illicit campaign to influence the country’s 2012 presidential election, mobilising teams of experts in psychological warfare to ensure that the conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, beat her liberal rival.

An internal investigation by the powerful National Intelligence Service also revealed attempts by its former director and other senior officials to influence voters during parliamentary elections under Park’s predecessor, the hardline rightwinger Lee Myung-bak.


The NIS’s in-house investigation found that its cyberwarfare unit formed as many as 30 “extra-departmental” teams comprising officials and internet-savvy citizens to upload posts in support of conservative politicians for two years in the run-up to the 2012 presidential vote.

“The teams were charged with spreading pro-government opinions and suppressing anti-government views, branding them as attempts by pro-North Korean forces to disrupt state affairs,” the NIS report said.

The NIS's 2012 candidate was eventually forced from office and is now standing trial on corruption and abuse of power charges. The NIS director at the time is also currently standing trial, and faces four years in prison if convicted.

The fundamental problem here is a conflation of domestic politics with enemy action, and the interests of the spies with the interests of the state. Secretive agencies are prone to such problems, and the problem is that we'll never find out that they've done it until its too late. For safe, peaceful countries, its is safer then not to have such agencies at all, lest they get tempted...

Friday, August 04, 2017

Coalition relations and the silver lining

So, Jacinda Ardern has stuck the knife in by saying that she had told the Greens this morning that she would not have Metiria Turei in any Labour-led Cabinet. Political parties work for their members and their own interests of course, so I expect Labour to do what's best for Labour and the Greens to do what's best for the Greens. At the same time, that's crossing a boundary. Its one thing for Metiria and the Greens to decide that a recusal from any future Cabinet post is the best way of handling this. Its quite another for another party to order it. And it smacks of the usual Labour arrogance.

In case Labour people are having trouble understanding this, imagine of the Greens had said "Stuart Nash doesn't get to be in Cabinet" or "Greg O'Connor doesn't get anywhere near the justice sector" or "Trevor Mallard doesn't get to be Speaker" or "Willie Jackson doesn't get to be anything". Sure, they might all be good ideas (because right wingers, proto-fascists, useless has-beens and misogynist rape-apologists have no place in a left-wing government anyway) - but its not really the Greens' place to say. Part of good coalition relations is knowing when something is another party's business - and Labour just crossed that line. And by doing so, they've lost any basis to complain if the Greens demand a scalp of their own as utu (the sad thing is, there's just so many to choose from. Why does Labour tolerate these people? How bad is their judgement that they'd personally handpick a rape-apologist for a list spot?)

There is a silver lining however: not being in Cabinet means not being bound by Cabinet Collective Responsibility. Which means that if Labour forms a government, Metiria will be absolutely free to criticise them if they continue to weaponise poverty and wage war on the poor. So, Labour can either sort that shit out quick-smart, or they can have Meyt standing up to them in Question Time every sitting day holding them to account for not doing so (and wedging them against their own supporters in the process). Because shitting on the poor doesn't stop being wrong simply because a Labour apparatchik rather than a National one is collecting a fat salary for overseeing it.

Labour would probably be very upset with this. But they've made their bed. Now they get to lie in it.


A couple of weeks ago, Metiria Turei confessed to not telling WINZ everything about her living arrangements when she was a poor solo mother on the DPB in the 90's. Since then there has been a relentless barrage of hate from the dead white male establishment commentariat, outraged at the thought that a mother would do whatever she had to to keep her kids from starving. Yesterday, it emerged that - shock! horror! - in 1993 she had enrolled in a different electorate from the one she lived in (something which was fine for the PM and fine for his predecessor, because under NZ electoral law you live where you say you live, provided you only live in one electorate at a time). The hate intensified. And so today, Metiria fell on her sword and ruled herself out of any Cabinet position if the Greens were lucky enough to be involved in a government.

This is utterly ridiculous. Legally, its not clear that there was any offence, and even if there was, it is so long ago and so minor as to be utterly trivial (seriously - its on the same level as the standard protest charge of disorderly conduct. And can you imagine the palpitations those establishment political commentators would have if it emerged that Turei had ever participated in a political protest?) This is not the sort of thing that should rule anyone out from a political or Ministerial career. But Metiria's real crime wasn't stopping her kid from starving, or voting in the "wrong" electorate: it was putting the issue of our society's weaponisation of poverty front and centre, and standing up for the poor and downtrodden. And it has now been made crystal clear that that is absolutely intolerable to the establishment, and so she has been crucified for it. Which kindof proves her point, neh?

We desperately need change. Political change and social change. We need a political system where people who have escaped poverty are allowed to seek power. And we need a media where people can talk about the experience of being poor without being denigrated for it or treated like a criminal. And the first step to that is to change the fucking government.

New Fisk

When you watch Dunkirk, remember that it’s a whitewashed version which ignores the bravery of black and Muslim soldiers

We have a right to know

Yesterday, Auditor-General Martin Matthews resigned, apparently to avoid a formal motion to remove him from office. But the report which led to his resignation, into his handling of convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison, has been kept secret. And Speaker of the House David Carter says that we have no right to know its contents:

Speaker of the House David Carter says the public don't have the right to know what was in a draft report that led to the resignation of the Auditor-General.


The Officers of Parliament Committee is now refusing to release the $27,000 report.

Mr Carter, who leads the select committee, told Morning Report it was only a draft report, and there was a unanimous cross-party decision not to make it public.

He said he could not say whether a deal was done with Mr Matthews to keep the report secret, saying any such discussion would break Parliament's rules.

This smacks of a stitch-up, a dodgy deal by which the facts are kept secret to preserve Matthews' reputation, allowing him to get another job and do the same thing in future. That's the normal way the private sector handles these sorts of things - getting people to go quietly - but this isn't the private sector. Matthews was a public servant. His mistakes cost public money. And above all, the public needs to be able to have faith that they will never be repeated. The committee's cosy secrecy robs us of that, and prevents the public service from making the necessary changes to ensure that fraud is stamped out. And while that might suit arse-covering politicians who want this all to just go away, it fundamentally betrays the public.

That report needs to be released. If its not released, it needs to be leaked. And if anyone wants to send it, my mailbox is always open.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Corrupt Australia

Oh look - more Australian politicians have been found to have acted corruptly:

Former NSW Labor ministers Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly have been hit with fresh corruption findings and may face criminal charges after the state's corruption watchdog found they were involved in preparing a "deceptive" cabinet minute to benefit the Obeid family.

On Thursday, the Independent Commission Against Corruption released its long-awaited report on Operation Credo, its investigation into Obeid-linked company Australian Water Holdings.


The ICAC found Eddie Obeid snr and his ministerial allies Mr Tripodi and Mr Kelly were involved in preparing a deceptive cabinet minute to support AWH's push for a multimillion-dollar public-private partnership.

It recommended the DPP consider charging the men with misconduct in public office.

Obeid is already in jail for corruption, and there's a string of further charges still awaiting trial. But its not just him - two other NSW politicians have been convicted in the last decade, and the list from across Australia is long indeed. Australia's political culture suffers from pervasive corruption, with far too many politicians scumbags focused on lining their own pockets rather than serving the public who elected them. And the rot comes from the top: while most states have an independent anti-corruption body, the Federal Parliament has refused to create one for Federal politicians. Which suggests strongly that they have something to hide.

Australia needs to clean its act up and eliminate this culture of political corruption. Until it does, it can't be regarded as a decent country.

Good riddance

Auditor-General Martin Matthews has resigned. Good riddance. Given his woeful performance as chief executive of the Ministry of Transport, where he appears to have repeatedly looked the other way on Joanne Harrison's fraud, there really was no other option. While the Select Committee report into his appointment has clearly been rewritten in light of the resignation, it is clear on one thing: the constitutionally important role performed by the Controller and Auditor-General means that they must demonstrate the highest standards of judgement, and to have a reputation that is beyond question. Matthews failed on both counts. And that is why he had to go. And if he hadn't resigned, I would have expected the committee to recommend an address to the Governor-General to sack him.

Dealing with ghost homes

There's a bit in Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 where the empty investment properties of the ultra-rich are compared to giant gold bars, taking up space in our cities that people could live in. Its becoming an increasing problem. It was nakedly exposed in London after the Grenfell fire, when the residents of the apartment were left homeless despite being surrounded by empty properties which could easily house them. And with Auckland's property bubble, it has become a problem here as well. So how do we deal with it? Simple: we tax it:

How to persuade the world’s wealthiest people not to leave properties empty is a conundrum that is not confined to London – other major cities around the globe have also been grappling with the problem of buy-to-leave.

Higher rates of tax for owners and buyers seem to be the preferred choice. In Vancouver, where an estimated 20,000 properties were lying empty all or much of the year, a new tax on empty homes was introduced at the start of this year. The city is now charging 1% of the value of any property left empty for at least six months a year. Owners must declare that this is the case, or face fines of up to $10,000 a day if they do not and are found out. On a property worth £500,000 the annual bill is £5,000 and as the property rises in value, so does the penalty for leaving it unused.

In the days running up to the first taxes kicking in, six months into the year, local media reported that homeowners were caught in a “scramble to rent”, or considering selling up to avoid the tax. The response suggests that the threat of taxation was having the desired effect.

Which is what we want: we want houses to be homes for people to live in, not gold bars for the rich. If they want to stockpile wealth, they can do it in a way which doesn't fuck up the rest of our lives, thanks.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Pissing on the public

Back in 2015, almost 9000 people signed a petition asking Parliament to investigate public attitudes towards assisted dying legislation. When the petition was sent to select committee, almost 22,000 people submitted on it, and nearly a thousand appeared before it.

Today that committee reported back to the House. And after all that effort, all that engagement in the democratic process, they make no recommendations. Not a one. Zip. Nada. In other words, all of those people, at least 22,000 of them, wasted their efforts. There was simply no point in their hard work, because when push came to shove, our politicians were more interested in covering their arses and avoiding having an opinion on a controversial topic than in fulfilling their duty as representatives (naturally, they all kept their fat parliamentary salaries for this year of not doing their jobs).

And then MP's wonder why people think they're lower than dogshit, and why people no longer engage in the democratic process. This is why: because when they do, politicians piss in our faces.

MP's have normally responded to calls for direct democracy by talking up the value of representatives. But that argument relies on them actually doing the job they're elected and paid to do. And if they're not, then we might as well cut out the middle-man, and legislate for ourselves directly.

The GCSB has no control over its systems

That's the natural conclusion of their latest admissions about illegal spying on Kim Dotcom:

The GCSB also told the High Court the "majority of selectors" were removed on January 24, 2012, the Monday following the raid, and a further "small number of selectors" were removed on January 30, 2012.

"They say that all activity by GCSB staff relating to Operation Debut ceased by 30 January, 2012."

But it added: "Limited interception of some communications continued beyond the detasking date without the knowledge of GCSB staff."

The GCSB said it was unaware of continued access of Dotcom through its systems until legal action was filed over the unlawful spying.

How did they not know? There's a tacit admission that the NSA might have been involved, and that the GCSB assisted them to illegally spy on a New Zealand resident, in violation of both New Zealand law and the Five Eyes agreement. There's also a suggestion that the equipment really belongs to and works for the NSA, and that the GCSB don't have control over it. Either way, they seem unable to meet their obligations under New Zealand law, or to find their arse with both hands. And it raises the obvious question: if they can't work their toys properly, why do we let them play with them?

Every time the GCSB comes under any sort of scrutiny, they're found to be incompetent muppets at best, if not criminals working for a foreign power. Its long past time this agency was shut down, its spying functions removed, and its privacy invading equipment and records thrown in a volcano. We need a computer security agency. We do not need foreign spies.

Not a good look

Yesterday National defunded Lifeline and gave the contract for suicide-prevention training to LeVa. And surprise, surprise, it turns out that the new contractor has a family connection to National:

The Ministry of Health announced LeVa as the "new, preferred supplier" for national suicide prevention training in March this year, ending a 10-year contract with Lifeline.

The switch, reported by the Herald yesterday, prompted advocates who work in the mental health sector to note that Dr Mary English, a GP in Wellington, was on LeVa's board.

LeVa says they won the contract on merit, and they might have done. But its not a good look, and it creates a perception of political favourtism and cronyism. And its that perception that matters. Its not enough for government to be clean, it has to be seen to be clean. Dr English's involvement has done LeVa and the government no favours, and her presence taints them both.

23,000 unemployed under National

The latest labour market statistics are out, showing another small drop in unemployment. It is now the lowest it has ever been under National - but there are still 23,000 more unemployed than when they took office.

And this is apparently as good as they can do. Nine long years, and they still have 23,000 more people abandoned to the market and left in poverty. Kiwis deserve a government which can do better than that. Fortunately, we'll get a chance to elect one next month.

The Jacinda effect

What a difference a new leader makes. Since jacinda Ardern was elected leader, the party has raised $250,000 and gained over a thousand new volunteers:

The Labour Party has seen a serious boost in volunteer and financial support since Jacinda Ardern took over as leader.

In the 24 hours since the Mt Albert MP took the top job on Tuesday the party say they have received around $250,000 in donations - with a peak of $700 a minute in the hours just after she announced her leadership.

It wasn't just money - party general secretary Andrew Kirton said 1000 new volunteers had also got in touch.

That's what happens when you have a leader who makes voters go "yes!". Its what happens when you have a leader who takes no shit from moronic TV hosts, who tells them very clearly when they're being sexist arsehats. When you have someone people can actually feel enthusiastic about, rather than just go "meh".

Its early days yet, but from the initial reaction, National might actually have a fight on its hands.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Meanwhile on Manus Island...

Meanwhile on Manus Island, Australia is trying to force refugees out of its concentration camp and into the community by cutting off power and water supplies. Strangely, the refugees don't want to go. Why not? Because if they leave, this will happen:

A Sudanese man and another from Iran were brutally attacked with machetes in two separate incidents over the weekend before an Afghan refugee was mugged on Sunday morning.

The Refugee Action Coalition said that at about 10pm on Saturday night, up to eight local men entered a house in Lorengau town and attacked the Sudanese refugee, slashing his leg with a bush knife.

The coaltion says in the second attack, about six hours later on Sunday morning, the same people responsible for the first assault, robbed an Iranian refugee before hacking his wrist open, cutting veins and tendons.

It said later that morning, while refugees were assisting the two men at Lorengau hospital, the Afghan refugee was robbed of his phone and belongings by another group of locals.

Papua New Guinea is simply not safe for refugees. By trying to force them into an unsafe situation, the Australian government is contributing to their continuing persecution. As for the solution, if Australia refuses to accept responsibility and allow the refugees into Australia, the New Zealand government should step in and offer them a home here.

New Fisk

Woe betide the Kurds of northern Syria when the war is over

The big gamble

So, Andrew "I might quit" Little has gone ahead and actually done it. And Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis have drawn the short straw of trying to save the Labour Party from another historic defeat.

Good luck. They're going to need it.

Ardern is a breath of fresh air in a political system dominated by bland old men. And hopefully that will be enough to salvage Labour's vote to something respectable. But Labour are a long way from victory and are going to have to fight incredibly hard to get there. Unlike Little, Ardern looks like she will at least try.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Secret school funding and the OIA

National today has announced that it will be scrapping the school decile system and replacing it with a "confidential" funding system:

The government is scrapping the decile rating system for schools, replacing it with a confidential funding system.

Schools will be rated by a "Risk Index", which would estimate the number of their students at risk of underachievement.

That rating will stay private and be reviewed every year.

The aim here is to try and stop parents from judging schools based on whether they're rich or poor. But regardless of what you think of that aim, I think it is unachievable, for the simple reason that we have an Official Information Act. If every school has a risk index assigned, then that number will be easily obtainable under the OIA. If they try and avoid this by applying it to each student, then the average per-student figure, or the average per-student funding, which is a proxy for it, will likewise be obtainable. There is simply no legal way to keep any of this secret, unless National exempts this information from the scope of the OIA.

Information should not be kept secret simply because it causes political problems for the government. It especially should not be kept secret where there is significant public interest in ensuring that funding is allocated fairly and correctly. National's promise of a secret school funding system is both legally dubious, and does violence to our fundamental principles of government. And we should hold them accountable for it.

National's list

National released its party list yesterday. And as expected, it is full of dead white males:

2017 RankName2014 RankDifference
1Bill English2+1
2Paula Bennett9+7
3David Carter3-
4Steven Joyce5+1
5Gerry Brownlee4-1
6Simon Bridges18+12
7Amy Adams15+8
8Jonathan Coleman10+2
9Chris Finlayson8-1
10Michael Woodhouse20+10
11Anne Tolley12+1
12Nathan Guy16+4
13Nikki Kaye19+6
14Todd McClay23+9
15Nick Smith13-2
16Judith Collins6-10
17Maggie Barry40+23
18Paul Goldsmith30+12
19Louise Upston27+8
20Alfred Ngaro34+14
21Mark Mitchell42+21
22Nicky Wagner25+3
23Jacqui Dean36+13
24David Bennett37+13
25Tim Macindoe28+3
26Scott Simpson45+19
27Jami-Lee Ross29+2
28Barabara Kuriger58+30
29Matt Doocey56+27
30Brett Hudson39+9
31Melissa Lee31-
32Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi32-
33Jian Yang33-
34Parmjeet Parmar48+14
35Jonathan Young38+3
36Joanne Hayes47+11
37Ian McKelvie41+4
38Simon O'Connor43+5
39Andrew Bayly55+16
40Chris Bishop49+9
41Sarah Dowie57+16
42Nuk Korako50+13
43Todd Muller59+16
44Maureen Pugh52+8
45Shane Reti60+15
46Alastair Scott61+15
47Stuart Smith62+15
48Nicola Willis---
49Agnes Loheni---
50Paulo Garcia---
51Matt King---
52David Hiatt---
53Matthew Gregory---
54Adrienne Pierce---
55David Elliot---
56Katrina Bungard---
57Bala Berram---
58Carolyn O'Fallon---
59Euon Murrell---
60Simeon Brown---

8 penises in the top 10, and 20 in the top 30. This is not the list of a party dedicated to reducing discrimination and systematic inequality. But I guess they'd just say that Nick Smith is more talented than most of their female candidates.

The other obvious point is that end-of-term retirements mean that National's incumbents are all pretty safe, and on expected voter levels they'll be bringing in a healthy group of new MPs as well. Contrast this with Labour, whose MPs cling desperately to their salaries, with the result that they're always the same old faces, with no chance at bringing in new blood. And then they wonder why people don't vote for the same people who have failed them time and time again...

Are we going to let Australia beat us to a republic?

The republic debate is back on the agenda in Australia again, with Labor leader Bill Shorten promising a referendum if elected:

Bill Shorten says Labor will activate the process towards Australia becoming a republic if he wins the next election, and put a question to the voters by the end of his first term in office.

The Labor leader will use a speech to the Australian Republican Movement to lay out a concrete timetable for a referendum, and argue Australia should not wait for a change of monarch to activate the debate.

Shorten will pledge to make a member of a newly elected Labor ministry responsible for advancing the republican push post election, “and – by the end of our first term – we will put a simple, straightforward question to the people of Australia”.

“Do you support an Australian republic with an Australian head of state?”

And that could be coming sooner than we think. Australia currently has a hung Parliament, and the government has a majority of one. But they've also just had several Senators resign over unexpected dual citizenship. The same clause which has forced them from office also applies to MP's, and there's an awful lot of them who might be dual citizens. It takes only a single such resignation, and Australia will be back to the polls.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, our politicians all say a republic is "inevitable", while doing nothing to bring it about. But if they piss about, we're going to be beaten to it by Australia. Do we really want to let that happen?

New Fisk

On the Syrian frontline, the battle against Isis is reaching its crescendo

What reason is there to vote for Labour?

Seven weeks to the election, and Labour's vote has once again collapsed to historic lows. Andrew "I might quit" Little is blaming the Greens, and he's right - because the Greens have actually been campaigning, trying to win people's votes. Meanwhile, Labour has been patiently waiting for "their turn", expecting that after nine years people will just be bored of a National government and switch to something else.

And that just isn't good enough. Parties need to give us a reason to vote for them. What reason has Labour given? They're not National? Pretty obviously, that's not going to convince anyone who currently supports the government to change their mind. Neither is their "fresh approach" of the status quo with different managers. If you want that, why vote for the imitator rather than the real thing? And if you're pitching on being better managers, you actually need to be better. Labour's pervasive incompetence and consistent fuck ups isn't going to win over even the tiny fraction of voters for whom "better management" is a primary consideration.

Fundamentally, Labour are trying to convince people to vote for change. So they need to actually offer some. And not the pallid, triangulated, tinkering around the edges they've offered so far, but something real. The Greens do. Winston does too, in a different way (change back to the way things were in the 1950's). And people who want change are voting for them. The only change Labour offers is who gets the jobs and who gets the perks, which cronies feed at the trough. And that doesn't inspire anyone. Its no wonder that they're losing.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The police actively covered up for the GCSB

When the police issued their report on their investigation into the GCSB's illegal spying on Kim Dotcom, they argued that they could not prosecute because the criminal spies had not known they were breaking the law. That legal test has already been shown to be bullshit, but now we also know that it is false, because the GCSB continued spying for a month after they knew it was illegal. Now it turns out that the police who "investigated" them knew this:

The judgment stated: "The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has admitted unlawfully intercepting private communications of Kim and Mona Dotcom (the Dotcoms) and Bram van der Kolk during the period from 16 December 2011 to 22 March 2012."

There had been speculation the judge had simply got the date wrong but a police statement that detectives were aware of the dates during the 2012/2013 investigation has put an end to that.


A spokesman for police said: "We've checked the file and can confirm that the dates you've highlighted were known to the Operation Grey team. They were considered as part of the investigation and decision-making about the outcome."

And yet despite the police knowing that the GCSB knew that the spying was illegal, they concluded that they didn't. Which makes the entire "investigation" look like a shabby cover-up for criminal activity by the government. It also raises serious doubts about the IPCA report on the "investigation", and about whether the police were honest with the IPCA (or whether the IPCA was complicit).

As for what to do: the police have shown that they can not be trusted on this. If we want power to be held to account in this country, there is only one option: a private prosecution of the GCSB staff involved.

Climate change: Doing nothing

That's Herald columnist Brian Fallow's assessment of Paula Bennett's response to the ETS review:

Into the fog of uncertainty shrouding the future of the Emissions Trading Scheme, Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett has blown the gentlest of puffs.

Most of the long-awaited outcomes announced on Wednesday, flowing from the Government's review of the ETS, are decisions in principle, bereft of numbers and with vague timeframes about when essential implementation details will be forthcoming.

No changes to the demand side of the carbon market are proposed.

That means the majority of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions will continue to be exempt from a carbon price - in particular, the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from pastoral farming (nearly half the national total). That entrenches the de facto subsidy to farmers that gets capitalised into land prices, so that someone selling a farm gets a higher tax-free capital gain while the buyer gets a larger mortgage.

Fallow points out that under National's policy settings, 93% of our "carbon budget" for the 2020s - which we are expected to exceed by 37% - are already accounted for by free pollution credits and the agriculture subsidy. Which means there is simply no hope of meeting it. National's "plan" seems to be to hope to rejoin international carbon markets (from which we are banned due to refusing a binding Kyoto CP2 target), then buying fraudulent foreign credit again. But hope isn't a plan, especially when its hope of merely achieving technical compliance. If we want to actually deal with this problem, we need to actually reduce emissions. And that means adopting serious policies, rather than the current bullshit. It will mean making polluters, including the sacred dairy industry, pay the full cost of their pollution. Those industries will squeal and whine and lobby about that, and threaten to leave (to where? Everywhere is now covered by Paris), or to shut down (good). The government will need to resist such whining. Because it is now either them or us, and those industries need to clean their act up if we are to survive. And a government which sides with the polluters who are destroying the planet is betraying the people it is meant to serve.

New Fisk

The Syrian army were standing up to Isis long before the Americans ever fired a missile

A systematic assault on democracy

That's the only way to describe the revelation that British undercover police infiltrated and spied on over a thousand political groups:

Undercover police officers who adopted fake identities in deployments lasting several years spied on more than 1,000 political groups, a judge-led public inquiry has said.

It is the first time that the number of political groups infiltrated by the undercover spies over more than four decades has been made public. The list of groups that were infiltrated has not been published by the inquiry. However, it is known to include environmental, anti-racist and animal rights groups, leftwing parties and the far right.


May ordered the inquiry following revelations that the spies had gathered information about grieving relatives such as the parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, deceived women into forming long-term relationships and stolen the identities of dead children.

Exactly who was spied on is still secret, but we already know that the vast majority of these groups were engaged in peaceful democratic protest, not criminal activity (though in some cases police spies attempted to encourage crime in order to discredit protests). Its a gross abuse of police power, and a clear attempt by the establishment to stifle democracy. But isn't that so very, very British?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Secrecy vs accountability

While we're on the subject, there's something else in the Ombudsman's report on Simon Bridges' bullying of Kiwirail which is worth discussing: Bridges (or his staff's) views on the "need" to withhold failed budget bids. The Ombudsman quotes these in full, because they're quite an eye-opener:

Noting that the project was highly likely to form a bid for Budget 18, the Minister’s Office formed the view that if the Business Case was released, then it would open the project up to undue influence and public debate which would more likely than not prejudice the path the Budget bid takes.

As the Budget process is a contestable process, negotiations should be allowed to occur unimpeded without any action that could influence the weighting of one bid over another.

This applies to both the future negotiations to be had at a departmental level in the initial stages of the Budget process, and in the subsequent negotiations between Ministers once a bid has progressed to this level.

A bid will be more objective at both stages of the negotiation process if it is on an even footing with other bids (i.e. that haven’t been publically debated). Public and media scrutiny could directly or indirectly influence the weighting of bids and decision making during the contestable budget process. This is the same principle that the Ministry of Transport advised the Office it applies when considering whether to release failed Budget bids under the Official Information Act.

Or, to put that in plain english: policy proposals must remain secret to prevent the public from telling us what they want.

Its an arrogant, undemocratic attitude, which primarily serves to protect those in power from accountability for their decisions. And in this case, there's a lot to be accountable for. The Spinoff has obtained an unredacted version of the Third Main business case, and it shows it to be the best of ten options considered. The option that National chose to fund - more freight by road - was the worst. If Bridges had succeeded in keeping this secret, then we would not know that he had chosen the worst possible option for freight in Auckland. I can understand why he would be interested in that. But we shouldn't be. While Ministers and sniffy public service technocrats may hate the idea, we live in a democracy, and that means making decisions in the public view. If they don't like that, they can fuck off to a country which better suits their preferred style of governance - like North Korea.