Monday, December 11, 2017



Will National support child poverty targets?

When it was in government, National resolutely refused to set a target for child poverty, or even recognise an official statistic for it. Basicly, they didn't want to talk about it, or how their policies to help the rich seemed to make other people worse off. But now, Jacinda Ardern wants their support for a new targets regime:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants National's support for a new law that will "take the politics out of poverty" and bind future Governments to set targets to reduce child poverty.

And she says the Government's families package, which will be launched this week, will lift more than 50,000 children out of poverty and help 70 per cent of low and middle income families.

Ardern, who is also the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, said the Government would introduce a child poverty bill in the new year, and she will write to National Party leader Bill English to seek his support.

It would set a range of measures of child poverty and bind the Government, and future Governments, to setting three-year and 10-year child poverty reduction targets.


Its a good policy, which will force governments to admit the problem and at least pretend to do something about it - and allow us to hold them accountable at the ballot box if they don't do enough. But while I think Ardern has to make the offer to National, I don't think they'll be interested. Throughout its nine long years in government, National consistently showed it simply was not interested in child poverty, and refused to admit that there even was a problem, let alone that government could do anything about it. So they're really not going to be interested in binding themselves to care about it in future. And while normally losing an election would cause an ex-government to reconsider things like that, National is in denial even about that, and still pretending that they didn't lose (despite the reality that they're now in opposition and Bill English has taken a $250,000 pay cut).

In other words, I don't expect anything from National in this area. Its not a problem that affects the rich, or farmers, or trucking or construction companies, so they just won't give a shit about it. The best we can expect is a sullen acceptance of the law produced only by fear of the political cost of repeal, combined with do nothing targets next time they're in government. Just like climate change, in other words.

New Fisk

Donald Trump says recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will bring peace – it will do quite the opposite

Time to bring them home

Over the weekend, Iraq declared victory in the fight against ISIS, saying that "All Iraqi lands are liberated from terrorist Daesh [Isis] gangs". Which means that its time to think about bringing kiwi troops home.

New Zealand currently has ~150 soldiers in Iraq training the Iraqi army. That deployment is currently expected to end in November 2018, though NZDF wants to keep them there forever to suck up to Trump. But now the war is officially over, there's no reason to. Australia will be immediately reviewing its deployment, and we should be too. After all, if there's no reason to remain, why stay?

Friday, December 08, 2017



Truth overboard again

When the New Zealand government started making serious noise about Australia's immoral refugee concentration camps, and offered to free people from them and give them a new home in New Zealand, suddenly there were Australian claims of "boats heading for New Zealand". Of course, it was all a lie:

There have been no intelligence reports that boat-people are targeting New Zealand more since the change of Government, nor any suggestion of a credible attempt by people smugglers to reach these shores by boat, the Government says.

And Andrew Little, Minister responsible for intelligence agencies the GCSB and the SIS, says that the boat-people who Australia says wanted to come to New Zealand probably didn't even know where New Zealand was.

His comments support those of a senior Foreign Affairs official, who told the Foreign Affairs select committee this morning that there was no evidence boat smugglers are targeting New Zealand more since the standoff over Manus Island.


This isn't surprising. The Australian government has shown a willingness in the past to lie to its own people to bolster its monstrous policy - as in the case of the "children overboard" affair (where the Australian Liberals used such lies to win an election). At the same time, Australia is supposed to be our closest friend. And yet, they're lying to us in an effort to manipulate our public and our policies. This is not the action of a friendly nation. But I guess, Australia hasn't been friendly for quite a while.

Meanwhile, remember: if you don't like Australian policy, Australian cruelty, and Australian lies, don't buy Australian. Its very easy once you get into the habit.

Thursday, December 07, 2017



Equality finally comes to Australia

The Australian parliament has finally passed its same-sex marriage bill. Unlike New Zealand, where MPs simply introduced and voted for a member's bill, the Australian government forced its citizens to participate in a non-binding postal referendum, exposing gay Australians to an outburst of hate speech. When the referendum failed to produce the result the bigots wanted (because they're a minority even in racist, bigoted Australia), they then tried to wreck the resulting legislation with amendments which would have effectively nullified anti-discrimination law and allowed widespread discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Fortunately, those amendments failed. And in the end, the bill was passed without even a head count, because those "opposing" it weren't actually willing to go on record as voting against it.

In other words, the opposition to marriage equality wasn't principled, wasn't from people who actually cared. It was from people who knew better trying to pander to the very worst in society. What a pack of arseholes. Australia needs, and deserves, better politicians than this.

Merry BIM-mas!

Its BIM day, and so I'm spending it reading the Briefings to Incoming Ministers. Most of them are dull, but there have been a few interesting bits:

  • NZDF has redacted comments about how long kiwi troops will be in Iraq. Its not clear whether this is because they expect the new government to withdraw them, or because they want to keep them there for as long as the US wants.
  • The GCSB and SIS want Ministers to trek down to Pipitea House for classified briefings, rather than giving them in the Beehive. Who goes to who shows who works for who, so basicly they're saying they're more important than our elected government. The inconvenience will also deter such briefings, potentially impacting on oversight of both our spy agencies and the intelligence warrant system. The alternative - appropriate secure facilities in the Beehive - is never suggested.
  • The State Services BIM has only a single mention of "open government". SSC's BIM does talk about opennness and transparency, but seems to be largely in denial about the problems with the OIA, and uses good statistics on timeliness to pretend that there are no problems around e.g. unlawful redaction. Its certainly not the approach I'd expect from an organisation committed to open government.
  • The climate change BIM is informative about expected policy direction, but still has an unhealthy (and, given our lack of access to international markets, utterly unrealistic) focus on using international units to meet our commitments. This is echoed in MFAT's briefing on international climate change issues, which also suggests that MFAT is going to keep pushing for accounting scams for trees in order to actuarially reduce our commitment.
  • Unlike Gareth Morgan, DoC thinks domestic cats have a place in New Zealand, even in a predator-free New Zealand. That's a relief for us cat-minions.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017



Time for a republic

During his 33 years in Parliament Peter Dunne was a strong supporter of a New Zealand republic. Now, he's used his pseudo-valedictory speech at VUW's post-election conference to renew that call:

Former United Future leader Peter Dunne has challenged the millennial generation in Parliament to "seize the moment" and begin a process to turn New Zealand into a republic.

"I strongly believe that the time has well passed for us to have severed the umbilical cord to grandmother England," he told a conference at Parliament today.

"We should be an independent republic within the Commonwealth, like India or South Africa and the majority of other Commonwealth nations.

"It is not just my Irish heritage or my sense of pride and confidence in our country in what it can do that is why I am so staunchly in the belief that we can do so much better than continue to bend our knee to a hereditary monarch on the other side of the world.

"We have consistently shown over the last 30 years or so that we can produce many quality New Zealanders to serve as our Governor-General.

"There is no reason why we cannot do likewise with a non-executive president in that role and frankly the time for change is well overdue."


He is absolutely right. While Britain colonised us, there is no reason now why we should continue to be ruled by a foreign monarch on the other side of the world. Instead, we should complete the repatriation of our constitution, ditch the monarch, and have our own president. Given how little the monarch actually does, the change will be almost entirely symbolic. But symbols matter, and the symbolism of the monarch - especially a foreign monarchy with a history of genocide and murder - is utterly inconsistent with the values of modern Aotearoa. We should change that symbol, and the sooner we do it, the better.

New Fisk

An Israeli dream might come true if Trump declares Jerusalem the capital – but so will an Arab nightmare

Withdrawn

For the past month, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has been in exile in Brussels, forced to flee to avoid being jailed on charges of "sedition" and "rebellion" for respecting the outcome of a democratic vote. The Spanish government has been trying and failing to extradite him. But now they've suddenly withdrawn their extradition request:

A Spanish judge has lifted the extradition order on the former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and four former cabinet members who fled to Belgium to avoid charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

In a surprise move as campaigning officially began for this month’s Catalan election, supreme court judge Pablo Llarena withdrew European arrest warrants for the five, but national warrants still stand – meaning they would be likely to face arrest if they chose to return to Spain.

Puigdemont said after the supreme court decision he would stay in Belgium “for the moment”.


The reason is simple: they were going to lose, as (unlike Spain) Belgium requires actual violence rather than democratic voting for sedition and rebellion. And as he can't be jailed for "misuse of public funds" (AKA "spending money according to the commands of the Catalan Parliament on something Spain didn't like"), that would defeat the entire purpose of the exercise. This week Spain finally released six Catalan cabinet Ministers on bail - but only after they had promised to give up politics and not campaign for independence. Those who refused, including Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, are still in prison. Which makes it clear that they are being detained for their political views, not because of any threat to the public.

Meanwhile, in an ominous sign, Spain has refused to allow international observers to observe its forced elections. Which immediately suggests that they are going to try and fix them. They are already mounting a campaign of repression to prevent people campaigning for independence, including banning the colour yellow. If this continues, then it is unlikely the elections will meet international standards. But as we've already seen, the last thing Spain wants is for Catalans to have a free and fair vote to choose their future. Instead, that future will be dictated to them by Madrid. That's not democratic. But Spain surrendered any pretence of democracy when it sent riot police to beat and shoot people for voting.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017



Justice for Iraq?

In 2003, British forces joined the US in invading Iraq. The invasion was followed by serious allegations that they had abused and tortured prisoners in their custody, resulting in at least one death. While the UK government compensated several victims, they have generally tried to impede any investigation or prosecution, shutting down the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, while secretly pressuring the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to try and have a law firm which represented their victims punished. But now, the game is up, with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announcing that the claims of war crimes by British troops have a reasonable basis:

The chief prosecutor at the international criminal court in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, has declared there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that UK soldiers committed war crimes against detainees during the Iraq conflict.

The announcement on Monday means the ICC will press ahead with its investigation into claims that British troops abused and unlawfully killed prisoners after the US-led invasion.

It came in a 74-page report delivered in New York to the annual assembly of states parties that participate in the jurisdiction of the court.

In her conclusion on the long-running inquiry into the role of British troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2008, Bensouda said: “The [prosecutor’s] office has reached the conclusion that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the UK armed forces committed war crimes within the jurisdiction of the court against persons in their custody.”


Hopefully this means the ICC will investigate and prosecute the offences the British have refused to properly investigate and prosecute themselves. Which means we might finally see some justice for Iraq.

Stopping the beast

At the moment, a giant seismic survey ship is operating off the coast of New Zealand. It will be firing extremely loud seismic blasts into the seabed every 10 seconds for up to three months in an effort to find oil. But Greenpeace may have found a way of stopping it:

At the rally, Greenpeace will announce legal proceedings seeking a declaration that Schlumberger requires an additional permit from DOC under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and without it, must stop seismic blasting. Greenpeace understands the company has only been granted a permit by the Ministry of Energy under the Crown Minerals Act.

Anyone undertaking activities that could disturb marine mammals, including whales, must seek a permit under the MMPA, says Greenpeace campaigner Kate Simcock. She says there is clear evidence that seismic exploration disturbs and even injures whales.

Schlumberger’s operation will see it firing seismic blasts into the seabed to search for oil every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for up to three months.

"The impacts on blue whales in this area are likely to be torturous, interfering with their communication and feeding," Simcock says.


The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits "taking" any marine mammal without a permit. "Taking" includes to harass or disturb, and the regulations governing ordinary interactions with whales, dolphins and seals make it clear that loud noises are contemplated as a disturbance. Those regulations are aimed at hoons in boats and sorts of noises they could make. But the Amazon Warrior will be doing something much more severe: constant and extremely loud noise pollution in the whales' habitat. In other words, constant disturbance and harassment.

The MMPA trumps other laws, so any approval under the Crown Minerals or EEZ Acts doesn't permit this harassment. The issue for the court then will be whether the extreme levels of underwater noise generated by the seismic survey process disturb or harass whales - and if there's an arguable case, whether they need to injunct it to prevent a breach of the law . Of course, the Amazon Warrior could apply for a permit, but this both means that DoC gets to decide whether they can survey, and effectively admitting that they have already committed a criminal offence. Either way, its going to be interesting. And no doubt, we'll see the dying fossil fuel industry wailing for another regulatory subsidy to exempt them from a law that everyone else has to follow.

New Fisk

What the Russian Revolution can teach us about the Middle East today

Austerity equals poverty

How bad is the British government's self-inflicted austerity? In addition to murdering 120,000 people, it has driven 20% of the population into poverty:

Britain’s record on tackling poverty has reached a turning point and is at risk of unravelling, following the first sustained rises in child and pensioner poverty for two decades, a major report has warned.

Nearly 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are now living in poverty than five years ago, during which time there have been continued increases in poverty across both age groups – prompting experts to warn that hard-fought progress towards tackling destitution is “in peril”.

The report, by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that a total of 14 million people in the UK currently live in poverty – more than one in five of the population. While poverty levels fell in the years to 2011-12, changes to welfare policy – especially since the 2015 Budget – have seen the numbers creep up again.


The basic function of government is to take care of its people. By any measure, the British government has failed at this. And with their attention focused on Brexit and its related infighting, they're just not going to bother fixing this any time soon, or ease the horrific impact of Brexit on their victims.

Monday, December 04, 2017



Our police are still rotten

Back in the 1970's, the New Zealand Police framed Arthur Allan Thomas for a murder he did not commit. Thomas was eventually freed, but none of the officers who framed him faced any professional or criminal consequences, and just a few years ago the Police were still pretending that they had done nothing wrong. And its not an isolated story. Over the weekend, the Sunday Star Times had a story about former assistant commissioner Malcolm Burgess, who the Independent Police Conduct Authority has now (belatedly) concluded threatened to kill a woman in an effort to prevent her from going to the media about police wrongdoing. Burgess had been assigned to lead a police investigation into the cover-up of police involvement in the death of a young man. Instead, he threatened the victim's relatives to try and silence them. The IPCA initially rejected the complaint without investigating it and concluded that Burgess had "behaved appropriately". Last year, they finally bothered to speak to the witnesses, changed their minds, and even issued an apology for their failure to the complainant. By which time Burgess had retired on a full pension. As for the police, they're relying on that initial failure to investigate, and continuing to pretend nothing bad happened:

Joyce wants a public apology from police, but that call was rejected by current assistant commissioner Richard Chambers.

"Former assistant commissioner Burgess served New Zealand Police for 40 years and was a distinguished and professional officer who was dedicated to serving the community," Chambers said.

"For these allegations to continually be raised when they have already been formally considered and dismissed is disappointing. The allegations from Ms Joyce are strongly refuted by police and retired former assistant commissioner Malcolm Burgess.

"Therefore New Zealand Police will not be offering any apology."


And that's the problem right there: the police are simply institutionally incapable of admitting that one of their own has ever done anything wrong, even when a royal commission or their own conduct authority finds otherwise. In other words, they still institutionally shield and protect the reputations of the criminals among them. And until that changes, they simply cannot be trusted.

Time to strengthen whistleblower protections

The government is reportedly considering stronger protections for whistleblowers:

Whistleblowers who dob-in bad behaviour by their employers to the media could get legal protection.

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government planned to review New Zealand's Protected Disclosures Act saying there was "a strong view" the 17 year-old law needed updating to keep pace with international best practice.

"Over the coming months I will be working with my officials on available policy options. I will consider the next steps when this work is more advanced," he said.


Good. Because the current law clearly isn't working, and is ignored by the very institutions responsible for upholding it. As for how to fix it, there are two obvious measures. One is to allow whistleblowers to go to the media or MP's if their concerns have been ignored by their proper reporting chain. That's an important incentive for those who receive whistleblower reports to actually act on them: because otherwise it will blow up messily in their faces. Related to this, we need to decriminalise government whistleblowing. National made it a criminal offence for people who have ever held a government security clearance to report classified government wrongdoing to the New Zealand public. The obvious result is that such wrongdoing will not be reported, even when it involves corruption, deception, or the violation of human rights. Obviously, that needs to change.

Secondly, while the law prohibits retalation against whistleblowers, it requires the victim to take an employment case against their abuser. And where the organisation they blew the whistle on has deep pockets, that's pointless. Instead, retaliation needs to be a criminal offence. Again, Australia does this, and it seems to provide the right incentives against retaliation for agencies and their staff.

All of this was suggested as part of the Open Government Partnership action plan consultation last year. National didn't pay any attention to it. I'm glad that the new government did.

National going back to Brash

Over the weekend Don Brash crawled out of his fetid crypt to remind us all that he was still a racist old arsehole. And the National party followed suit, by reintroducing their Kermadec ocean sanctuary Bill. As I've said before, a Kermadec Ocean sanctuary is a good idea. But it also pisses all over a Treaty of Waitangi settlement. National, the party of racists, naturally ignores this completely, and wants to unilaterally overturn the settlement. This calls the government's good faith and the entire settlements process into doubt. And National is doing this not because it particularly cares about our oceans - they don't, any more than they care about our national parks - but simply in an effort to stir trouble in the coalition government. Its a piss-poor reason to undermine a fundamental of our constitution. But isn't it so very, very National?

I want to see the Kermadecs protected. I also want the government to honour the Treaty and act in good faith towards its Treaty partners. These are not irreconcilable goals, and I'm confident that the current government is both interested in and capable of finding a solution. But National's arrogant racism isn't helping. If they really wanted an ocean sanctuary, they'd drop their bill, and focus on negotiations instead.

Friday, December 01, 2017



Mallard on transparency

Since the resumption of Parliament, the Labour-led government has been engaged in a war on transparency, refusing to answer even the most basic and specific written questions, while denying OIA requests on blatantly unlawful grounds. But one good sign is that Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard wants them to stop playing silly buggers and start answering questions:

Speaker Trevor Mallard has put both sides of Parliament on notice in the war over written questions, warning them he expects a higher standard once the House resumes in 2018.

[...]

“I think it’s fair to say I wouldn’t be happy if the current approach from either side continued in the long term ... I don’t want us to be in this situation after Christmas.”


While he says Labour's refusals are "within standing orders" (because standing orders basicly leave it entirely up to the Minister how to respond, and forbid any inquiry into those responses), he's also clear that the information should be released. And on that front, he's supporting automatic, proactive release:
However, he described written questions as “sort of like a last resort”, and instead believed it would be better to establish an automated method of releasing information.

“There was a strong view [in past discussions] that if you could get a system that was pretty much automatic, transparent, didn’t require application, then that would be better.

[...]

“Eventually getting some websites going which contain most of that material, for example, Cabinet papers two months after they’ve been to Cabinet automatically up unless there’s a good reason not to, just that sort of stuff would mean you’d have a lot of access to, actually quite boring information, but access to what's going on.”


I agree. Ministerial diaries, briefing lists, Cabinet and committee agendas, and the papers should all automatically be made public, with redactions only where necessary and according to the scheme of the OIA (so they can be challenged and reviewed by the Ombudsman). And these would certainly remove a huge number of mundane requests (while enabling specific ones... which is what the government doesn't want). Unfortunately, none of this falls under Mallard's powers as Speaker. But if he wants to push for it, the way to do it is to read Ministers the riot act and force them to answer written questions, so that it will be less fucking work to proactively release everything than it is to try and refuse it.

Thursday, November 30, 2017



The Minister for Open Government again

How bad is Labour's Minister of "Open Government"? This bad:

Brett Hudson: Does she stand by her 29 November refusal to answer an Official Information Act (OIA) request made on 20 November, which sought a list of all reports, briefings, memos, or aide-mémoire that she had received since being sworn in as Associate Minister of State Services, on the basis that the request did not meet the requirement to be "specified with due particularity" as per section 12(2) of the Official Information Act?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes.


Ignore that its Hipkins answering on her behalf, and focus on that OIA request. It specifies the information it is seeking and the timeframe it is being sought over. It is immediately clear to any reader what information is being sought. To refuse it as lacking "due particularity" is utterly baseless and unlawful, and I expect the Ombudsman will tell her that in due course. That would be bad from any government Minister, but Curran is the Minister of Open Government. And it is clear from her reported response to this request that "open government" is not something she believes in or practices. Instead, she is undermining it in her own office, right from day one.

Seeing this, and her previous behaviour, I have no confidence in this Minister to actually open up government or produce anything useful in her portfolio. And if this is how their Minister is goign to act, the government might as well remove the portfolio entirely, because its clearly a complete waste of our time.

Pike River redux

In the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the CTV building collapsed. 115 people were killed. A later inquiry found that the collapse of the building was due to its poor design and that it should never have been approved. The design engineer, David Harding, of Alan Reay Consultants Ltd, was singled out as the cause of this as he was "working beyond his competence." In other words, Harding killed those 115 people.

Today, the police decided that they wouldn't bother charging him or anyone else over those 115 deaths:

Police will not prosecute over the collapse of Christchurch's Canterbury Television (CTV) building.

That result is likely to displease some who lost relatives in the disaster and wanted justice and assurance the construction industry will work to compliance.

[...]

Police began a criminal inquiry in September 2014 and commissioned engineering consultants and soil specialists to examine the site's foundations.

Families were informed of the decision in a letter on Thursday.

In it, Detective Superintendent Peter Read said the inquiry "did identify significant deficiencies in the CTV building design" and police considered charges of negligent manslaughter, but concluded there was insufficient evident to provide "a reasonable prospect of conviction in court".


Really? Because the causal link here seems pretty fucking clear and documented. But the police have never been keen on prosecuting cases of social murder - just look at Pike River. And the conclusion we can draw from this is that they regard it as legal, and that people are free to kill again in this manner.

Secrecy hides incompetance

One of ECan's basic jobs is water allocation. It was the entire reason for National's replacement of the council with a dictatorship in 2010, and for its continuing limitations on Canterbury's democracy since. So you'd think ECan would know how much water they were actually allocating in each of its management zones, and in particular, whether they had continued to allocate in over-allocated areas. But they don't, at least not unless you cough up a small fortune to find out:

A $3000 charge is being demanded by Canterbury’s regional council for information about water allocation.

Newsroom asked Environment Canterbury to provide the percentage allocation of each water “zone” and how many water consents have been granted or renewed since the over-allocated areas reached 100 percent. We also asked for those consents to be quantified.

In a response under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA), ECan’s science director Stefanie Rixecker says that information will take a large amount of work to collate and it would charge $2964. That’s based on 39 hours of work at $38 per half hour.

The council has agreed to provide, for free, the current percentage allocation of each of Canterbury’s water zones – but says it’s not information that is readily available and will take some time to compile.


Which is absolutely astonishing. Because surely "is there any water available?" would be one of the basic questions in deciding any water allocation consent, and that's information they should immediately have to hand. Likewise, the number of scale of consents allocated should be one of the basic ways of tracking whether they are making the problem worse or better. For them to not be able to obtain this easily suggests that they're simply not doing their job on water allocation properly in the first place.

You can understand why ECan might want to keep that secret, and why they'd want to discourage requests. But that secrecy and discouragement does not serve the public interest. This information should not just be provided for free - it should be proactively published, so we can tell whether they're doing their fucking jobs.

Meanwhile, the quicker ECan can ditch its dictators and have full, free and fair elections, the better.