Thursday, February 22, 2018



But why would we want to do that?

The Queenstown Lakes District Council wants luxury houses exempted from the Overseas Investment Act's foreign-buyer ban:

The Queenstown Lakes District Council wants luxury homes to be exempt from the government's foreign buyers ban.

Some expensive homes owned by the exeptionally wealthy may not sell if they are only available to New Zealanders, it said in its submission on the bill.

[...]

The council said the district had benefited "significantly" from people who have purchased in the luxury home market.

"Not only have we seen traditional investment in local business, but we have seen the launch of ground breaking social enterprises and incredible impact investment," the submission said.

That part of the housing market attracted high net worth people to the country who help the economy by bringing expertise, connections, investment and philanthropy, it said.


Yeah - people like anti-democratic vampire capitalist Peter Thiel and his silicon-valley doomsday prepper friends. Or the various foreign millionaires who have restricted access to public land. Or foreign criminals stashing and laundering money. Why would we want people like that?

The proposed law doesn't apply to anyone who actually lives here, so what QLDC is saying is that non-resident foreigners should be allowed to own parts of New Zealand for use as emergency boltholes for when they've fucked up the world, or as a commodity, effectively a house-shaped gold bar. And I just don't see why we should accept that, especially when said house-shaped gold bars are fucking things up for the rest of us. While QLDC is correct that the luxury property market is effectively a foreign market, utterly out of reach of almost all kiwis, those empty luxury houses are still taking up land which could be used for real homes for real people - something Queenstown is desperately short of. If they are devalued by the law, then maybe that land will be used for other purposes. The only losers in that will be the foreign speculators and the parasitic developers and real-estate agents who service them. But I guess the latter are exactly the sorts of people who get elected to local authorities and use them as a platform to promote their own economic interests.

Disappointed

Last year, the Palmerston North City Council voted to ensure Māori representation with Māori wards. Now, thanks to a visting band of out-of-town racists whipping up hate, we're going to be forced to have a referendum on it:

Petitioners opposing a decision to guarantee Māori seats on the Palmerston North City Council have succeeded in forcing a city-wide poll on the matter.

Organiser Don Esslemont, whose campaign has been supported by Hobson's Pledge, presented nearly 4000 signatures to the city council on Wednesday afternoon.

Only 2727 signatures needed to be verified as those of registered voters to require a referendum.

Council officials confirmed about 7.20pm on Wednesday the threshold has been reached and the poll would be held on Saturday, May 19, by postal vote and using the first-past-the-post system. The result will be binding.


So, we're going to have vote where the majority will vote on the democratic rights of a minority. Hopefully it'll go the right way, but no matter what the outcome, the situation is not acceptable. The decision of how they want to be represented is really one for Māori, and its not really the place of Pakeha to try and veto that. Such polls should be restricted to those on the Māori roll, and I'd love to see a Member's Bill to require that.

National vandalised our health system

Surprise, surprise! The health system in Auckland is collapsing due to underfunding:

Auckland health bosses have revealed a picture of a health system at breaking point from underfunding and population growth.

Reporting to MPs at Parliament yesterday, they spoke of a wave of unprecedented demand for acute services and staff who were extremely stressed at having to cope with more and sicker people.

"Our staff were working unexpectedly long hours and became increasingly stressed about not just how hard they were having to work but about the numbers of extremely unwell people they were having to look after," the head of Manukau Counties District Health Board, Gloria Johnson, told the health select committee.

"The problem we have at the moment, particularly over the last 18 months, [is] we've become overwhelmed by demand."


Its so bad that the former chair of the three Auckland DHBs believes they no longer have the resources to deal with a pandemic.

This isn't surprising: National deliberately underfunded health for its term of office in an effort to pay for its tax cuts for the rich. While they played up large nominal increases, these were always less than that required to counter inflation, let alone population growth and demographic change. Instead, like the rest of the public service, the health system was expected to "do more with less". The results of that policy can be seen above. What's changed is that with a new government, DHB chairs feel they can openly say it, rather than risking dismissal and revenge funding cuts under National.

It is going to take the best part of a decade to undo this damage. And no doubt, National will spend that time complaining about "overspending" and "inefficiency" and promising more vandalism if re-elected. Just like they did during the Clark government after Jenny Shipley and Bill English vandalised the health system in the 90's.

New Fisk

Western howls of outrage over the Ghouta siege ring hollow – we aren't likely to do anything to save civilians

Drawn

A ballot for four Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Election Access Fund Bill (Chlöe Swarbrick)
  • Oranga Tamariki (Parent’s and Guardian’s Responsibility) Amendment Bill (Barbara Kuriger)
  • Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill (Denise Lee)
  • Health and Safety at Work (Volunteer Associations) Amendment Bill (Harete Hipango)
Despite the hopeful title, Denise Lee's bill is National's pre-election bill designed to overturn caselaw and make pay equity and equal pay claims more difficult. It was widely criticised, and allowed to lapse by National when Parliament was dissolved for the election, which tells you a) how little support there was for a pro-employer framework; and b) how little National really cared about it anyway. I'm sure we can expect a lot of tub-thumping from them about how the government is opposing pay equity by voting it down, and it should put the pressure on them to introduce their own legislation ASAP.

There were 68 bills in the ballot today, so its back to running near capacity again.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018



Local government fails the transparency test

That's the view of Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier:

The chief ombudsman says local democracy is being undermined as councils fail to meet obligations to release public information.

Peter Boshier said councils are not meeting their responsibilities under the Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act and that some councils seem to resent having to be held accountable.

"The performance of many councils is disappointing. Local government is absolutely fundamental to democracy, and in that respect the need for accountability and supply of information is just as strong as it is with central government, and yet many local councils don't see it that way.

"We will commence a better process of publicising our data on complaints, giving better guidance and encouraging an earlier dispute resolution process so ratepayers who often have legitimate complaints can get to the end of the journey earlier than before."


This matches my experience. Local government agencies tend to be less familiar with the requirements of the LGOIMA, and generally less forthcoming with information. And if you look at the sorts of responses they give on FYI, its the same picture. As for what to do about it, for central government agencies, we address this sort of problem with training and performance statistics. Extending that regime to local government would seem to be a good first step.

No freedom of speech in Spain

Oh look - Spain still has an archaic lese majeste law:

Spain's Supreme Court confirmed Tuesday rapper Jose Miguel Arenas, known as Valtonyc, will serve three and half years in prison for insulting, slandering Spain's monarchs and "exalting terrorism." Arenas was found guilty by a national tribunal on Feb. 7.

Valtonyc had argued he was exercising his right to free speech and artistic creation, but the court dismissed his defense saying the songs he wrote and published via internet include support of terrorist groups and attacks against the king and his family.


Spain is supposed to be a democratic country which respects freedom of expression, as required by the European Convention on Human Rights. But as we've seen from the state use of violence to suppress Catalonia's democratic desire for independence, it has abandoned those values. Civilised states don't have special criminal libel laws protecting the monarch, and civilised states allow people to criticize corrupt aristocrats and comment on politics without going to jail. But I guess Spain isn't really civilised any more.

Muppets

That's the only way to describe Ministerial Services, who are apparently incapable of paying MPs and Ministers the correct amount of money:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters were both mistakenly paid over $21,000 for accommodation they didn't need.

The pair put out a press release on Tuesday afternoon explaining the overpayment, which resulted from the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) continuing to pay them an accommodation allowance despite each moving into an official residence.

Ardern received $12,082.19 while Peters received $9123. They have both repaid the amount in full and received an apology for the error.

"As soon as we were advised of the error, we both immediately took steps to reimburse the money. That has now happened," the pair said.

"The error occurred when the DIA's Ministerial Services continued to pay each of us a Member of Parliament's Wellington accommodation allowance after they had moved us into official accommodation, at which point payments should have stopped."


This wasn't a case like Bill English's of MP's trying to rort the system - instead it was a pure fuckup from Ministerial Services. They've accepted complete responsibility for the error, but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence, and it invites the question of how many other times they've fucked up, and whether they've even noticed. As for Ardern and Peters, their salaries had just doubled or tripled. Unless they're getting a detailed payslip every month setting out which of the multiple allowances they are and aren't receiving, I can't blame them for not noticing this.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and it looks like its a chance to clear space for a ballot. First up is protest-suppressing Jonathan Young's Local Government (Freedom of Access) Amendment Bill, which has been found to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act, so hopefully it'll be voted down. Next is Fletcher Tabuteau's KiwiFund Bill, which would establish a government-controlled Kiwisaver provider. Then there are two education bills: Jan Tinetti's Education (National Education and Learning Priorities) Amendment Bill (which is about diversity) and Jenny Marcroft's Education (Protecting Teacher Title) Amendment Bill (which is about preventing unregistered instructors at charter schools from misrepresenting themselves as registered professionals). The latter has also been found to breach the Bill of Rights Act, so hopefully it too will be voted down. Finally, the House should make a start on Louisa wall's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Renewal of Licences) Amendment Bill (No 2). If they get that far, there should be a ballot for four bills tomorrow - which should hopefully allow some more exciting bills to be drawn.

Blasphemous libel is getting closer, and the debate on the first reading of the bill to repeal it should be in a month, on March 21.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018



Good news for once

The Gambia has put a moratorium on use of the death penalty, and is working towards abolition:

The Gambia's President has announced a suspension of the death penalty as the West African country seeks to rebuild its international standing following the removal of its authoritarian ruler last year.

"I will use this opportunity to declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in The Gambia, as a first step towards abolition," Adama Barrow said in a speech to mark the 53rd anniversary of the country's independence from Great Britain.


If Gambia abolishes the death penalty, it will be the first former British colony on West Africa to do so. Hopefully they'll do it soon.

Monday, February 19, 2018



Time to lock the revolving door

Stuff reports that former National Chief of Staff Wayne Eagleson has become a lobbyist within months of quitting. He's the second high profile public official to do this recently, with former Labour Chief of Staff Neale Jones joining Australian lobbyists Hawker Britton in November. In both cases, these former public officials are seeking to leverage the knowledge and contacts they built up in their highly paid public careers for private profit.

Why do we allow this? Many other democracies don't. Australia, Canada, the USA and the European Union all have cooling off periods for public officials, preventing MPs and senior public servants from seeking to use their networks for private gain for up to five years. Such cooling off periods can be specific to issues in which the official worked (e.g. generals can't go and work for defence contractors, but can work for tobacco companies), or a general prohibition. The justification is to prevent the distortion of democracy, to prevent conflicts of interest and the abuse of knowledge and networks gained in public service for private gain, and to prevent post-retirement payoffs. All of which seem like something we need here.

(In fact, we have one provision: s15(2) of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 prohibits former Immigration Ministers and officials from working as immigration advisors for 12 months after leaving office. So we recognise that there is a need)

Regulation of lobbyists was another key demand of the Open Government Partnership consultation which was ignored by the government. They're supposed to be working on a new OGP action plan this year, so this is an opportunity to get them to commit to it.

Fifteen

This blog turned fifteen last week, and my first post on it (about the run-up to the Iraq war) was on February 18, 2003.

Well, shit. That's a long time.

Things have slowed down here over the past few years as I've moved a lot of my commentary to Twitter. And they've been particularly slow in the past few months due to the post-election / holiday break from politics (and some of the big stories being about the personal lives of politicians - something I am resolutely Not Interested in). But I have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

Will they prosecute?

Over the weekend, farmers poisoned two Manawatu streams:

Stockyards are the most likely source of a significant discharge of animal effluent into Feilding waterways, the regional council says.

Residents have been told not to swim, wade or fish the Makino Stream and Oroua River because of the waste contamination.

Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council staff last night discovered a significant amount of effluent being discharged into the Makino Stream near Rata Street.

The council's manager for strategy and regulation, Dr Nic Peet, said the discharge most likely came from the yards where sheep and beef sales were held every Friday.

He said the council was alerted by a call by a member of the public to its pollution hotline.

"There was a really obvious discharge via the stormwater system," he said. Staff traced it back to the stockyards and from there were able to have it stopped and shut off.


There's now a public health warning in place, because this pollution could make people sick. Which leads to the obvious question: will they prosecute? Because the discharge of contaminants to water without resource consent (which this doesn't appear to have had) violates the Resource Management Act. It is a criminal offence with a penalty of up to two years' jail and a $300,000 fine.

Or is Horizons just going to look the other way, just like they have on nitrogen pollution?

NZDF lied to us all along

When the New Zealand SAS raided two villages in Afghanistan in a revenge attack over the death of a kiwi soldier, they told us they hadn't killed any civilians. When Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson published Hit & Run showing that they had, NZDF claimed they were wrong. But it turns out that while they were making those claims of no civilian deaths, they had been sitting on intelligence reports saying the opposite:

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) received intelligence updates within one or two days of the August 2010 SAS raid in Afghanistan that reported civilian casualties, including the death of a child, new Official Information Act documents reveal. This is what was written in the book Hit and Run but the NZDF had denied the whole book.

Hit and Run co-author Nicky Hager, who has been probing the defence force using the Official Information Act (OIA), says this is an important crack in the NZDF denials.

The 13 February 2018 NZDF OIA response admitted that five New Zealand military intelligence reports written after the SAS raid “mention the death of a child” and also injuries to a woman. The intelligence reports were dated 24 (two), 25 and 26 August 2010, the days following the 22 August 2010 raid, and 27 July 2011.*

The NZDF letter said the reports of civilian casualties were “unconfirmed” – but under international law and the NZDF’s own internal rules, the SAS should have thoroughly investigated any reports of civilian casualties during an operation that it had commanded. Instead, it appears they did not bother to investigate nor made any effort to help the victims.


So, they lied to us all along - and not for any reason of protecting lives or operational security at a critical moment, but to protect their own reputation and maintain public support for their dirty little war. And that fact alone should be reason enough to bring them all home and take their toys away forever - they have clearly shown that they can not be trusted to respect democratic control while involved in a war, so we shouldn't let them play their little war games until they have proven otherwise.

Friday, February 16, 2018



Our reserves are open for pillage

The Reserves Act 1977 is meant to protect our environment, by placing some areas off-limits for development. Except, it turns out that it doesn't. Where a reserve is owned and managed by local government, they can apparently let it be dug up for an open-cast coal-mine:

One of several legal attempts to block a new coal mining venture on the West Coast has failed, but campaigners say the fight to stop the mine is far from finished.

[...]

Forest and Bird fought a separate legal campaign over an earlier decision by Buller District Council to allow the mining company access to its Water Conservation Reserve.

The council then rescinded that decision after being threatened with legal action from Forest and Bird.

Rangitira replied by challenging that reversal in the High Court.

That case has now produced a verdict, and it went against Forest and Bird and in favour of the mining company.

The court argued the original approval of access - granted under the Crown Minerals Act - had higher legal standing than the Reserves Act that Forest and Bird had relied on to block access.


This follows straightforwardly from s109 of the Reserves Act in combination with s22(2) of the Interpretation Act 1999. While local councils are required to have regard to the purpose for which land is held, it can be balanced against other considerations such as supposed economic benefit. Which, given the usual quality of local government decision-making and its propensity for capture by large donors and special interests, means open pillage.

As for fixing it, I'd suggest repealing s109. Does any MP want to bring a member's bill?

The full decision is here.

...and on whistleblower protection

Abortion isn't the only area where Labour is moving to act on its promises. last year, the newly elected government suggested it would strengthen whistleblower protections. Now, they're doing that too:

Work has begun on a review of the Protected Disclosures Act 2000, Minister of State Services Chris Hipkins said today.

The Government is exploring whether the law and procedures to protect whistle blowers need to be strengthened. The review will start with a series of targeted workshops next week.

“Getting this right is critical to building public confidence in the integrity of government and business in New Zealand,” Mr Hipkins says.

“It is crucial that employees feel safe to report cases of serious misconduct. Anyone who raises issues of serious misconduct or wrongdoing needs to have faith that their role, reputation, and career development will not be jeopardised when speaking up.

“The first step in this review is to identify possible gaps and weaknesses in the current Act.”


There are a couple. Firstly, that whistleblowers can't go to MPs or the media if their reports are ignored by their proper reporting chain. Secondly, that (thanks to National) it is literally a criminal offence for staff in some departments (notably those with significant intrusive powers) to pass on evidence of wrongdoing. Thirdly, that it is not currently a criminal offence to retaliate against whistleblowers. All those things need to change. Hopefully this review will be the first step in that process.

New Fisk

In the cases of two separate holocausts, Israel and Poland find it difficult to acknowledge the facts of history

Labour acts on abortion

During the election campaign, Jacinda Ardern promised that if elected she would decriminalise abortion. Now Labour are taking the first step towards that, with a review by the Law Commission

Justice Minister Andrew Little intends to ask the Law Commission to update the archaic law on abortion, including looking at decriminalising it.

This morning, the Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC)​ told Parliament that the 41-year-old law was impractical and made the difficult lives of women seeking abortion even more difficult.

The committee added that it had been years since it had seen any meaningful engagement from Parliament, including over three years since a minister had met with its members.


A review by the Law Commssion is a good idea - it will formally document how badly the current archaic law works, while examining more modern laws from overseas (e.g. Victoria). And it should give us decent draft legislation for any change.

The question is whether it will pass. In order to get enough votes, any bill will need substantial support from National, but their current leadership contest shows that even "liberals" like Amy Adams are grovelling to the Christian right and defending the status quo. That might not last - there's nothing as two-faced as a politician - but its a bad sign. There's also a real danger of wrecking amendments such as mandatory scolding "counselling" or parental consent requirements, which may undermine the right to abortion in practice. So we may end up with a great proposed law, which we can't pass due to too many National misogynists in Parliament. Though given the expected length of time for a review, it'll probably be the next Parliament which has to deal with this anyway, so we'll at least get a chance to fix that first.

Thursday, February 15, 2018



Extending the bright-line

The government has announced it will extend the de facto capital gains tax on investment properties:

Government is extending the amount of time for which investment properties must be held before their owners can avoid capital gains tax - despite a warning that it could be bad news for renters.

Revenue Minister Stuart Nash confirmed the "bright-line" test would be extended from two years to five in legislation working through Parliament.

"The extension of the previous government's bright-line test will help dampen property speculation and make homes more affordable," Nash said.

He said reducing speculative demand would help to improve affordability for owner-occupiers.


Good. Because the way the rich get to enjoy tax-free capital gains on property speculation, while the rest of us pay taxes on everything we earn, is unjust and wrong. Its good to see it limited. At the same time, it clearly doesn't address long-term speculation, or financial assets (which the ultra-rich own almost all off). Labour has punted that problem till next election. Hopefully they'll actually show some spine and implement a proper capital gains tax if they win, rather than continuing to protect the untaxed rich.

Dunne on the OIA

Despite no longer being in Parliament, former MP Peter Dunne is still writing a weekly column. And today, he has a few thoughts on the Official Information Act. Dunne's perspective is useful, because he's been on both sides of the Act, as a requester and as a Minister, so he's seen how it works from both ends. His conclusions are that the government plays games and that this needs to stop, and that the Act needs to be extended to cover Parliament (but not MPs) and the courts. But his way of getting there is just bizarre:

Therefore, it is time for a joint working party, involving the Ombudsman's Office, the news media, and the politicians (not just the government of the day) to be convened to prepare a new OIA that upholds its original principles and the good things about the current legislation, but which also modernises its scope, processes, and, if possible, operating culture in the light of contemporary circumstances. And then we should commit in these rapidly changing times, to carrying out a similar review every five years.

We don't need another review - everything Dunne suggests was recommended by the Law Commission review in 2012. What we've lacked since then is a government willing to implement its substantive recommendations. It remains to be seen whether the current government is interested in real change or not. But one sure sign that its not will be if it sets up another review.