Monday, November 24, 2014

New Fisk

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

A war on judicial oversight

In response to a leak, the government has been forced to release its "temporary" anti-terror legislation - and reveal that its a lot less temporary than they said it would be. Rather than a one-year patch-job pending a review, John Key's spies will have extra powers and warrantless emergency surveillance rights for his entire term. And to spies, everything is an "emergency"...

Reading the bill, the overwhelming thrust is to remove appeal rights and judicial oversight. This is particularly clear in the case of the new powers to seize and cancel passports, where a 12-month cancellation, extendible for a further 12 months on application to the High Court, becomes a 3-year cancellation. The net effect is to remove judicial oversight from the process. Note that the government hasn't actually told anyone how many times it has even applied to extend a cancellation, let alone whether it has been successful or not; no case has actually been made. We're all simply supposed to believe that there is a problem, and see unaccountable Ministerial discretion as a solution.

There are obvious BORA problems. The cancellation of passports interferes with freedom of movement, both the right to leave New Zealand, and the right of every New Zealander to return here. And while the former might conceivably be justifiably limited for reasons of preventing crime etc, the latter cannot be. It also appears to be punishment without trial, a violation of the right to justice, while the procedural denial of appeals from those overseas (appeals are limited to 30 days after notification, but the Minister doesn't actually have to notify his victims) is another. Not to mention the new rules allowing the government to use secret "evidence" in court cases, which have been found overseas to violate fair trial rights...

These measures are not acceptable in a free and democratic society. Insofar as they are necessary to prevent terrorism, they should be exercised by judges in open court, rather than Ministers in secret.

Class of 2008

Labour announced its new lineup today, and the change in leadership has led to a significant change: their top 10 are now absolutely dominated the Labour's class of 2008, while the old guard of Mallard, Goff etc have been shuffled off to the rear. Labour finally seems to have got the generational change it has been desperate for.

Except for Annette King, of course. She's still there as deputy, an MP who has been in Parliament longer than many voters have been alive, a veteran of the Rogernomics era. While the rest of the lineup screams "change", she's a big reminder of Labour's dirty past, and of its rump of older MPs who don't know when to quit. Its poor messaging, and for the sake of a senior MP maintaining a vanity position. A clean break would have been better.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Chipping away at police unaccountability

Traditionally, our police have enjoyed a wide discretion over who to prosecute and how. Sometimes, this is a good thing - it means that the time of the courts is not wasted on minor crimes. In other cases, its use is more questionable, enabling the police to selectively enforce laws, persecute those they dislike or want an excuse to put under bail, and ignore crimes by friends, relations, or fellow officers. And in some cases, such as the Roastbusters, its use appears to be truly mind-boggling.

The key problem here is that there has been no public accountability over police charging decisions. Who gets charged and with what, is secret. But thanks to a recent Ombudsman's decision, that could be about to change.

The decision concerns a request for information concerning the Police's decision not to lay a charge of manslaughter against Christopher Drummer for a shooting during a hunting trip (Drummer was instead charged with careless use of a firearm causing death and jailed). The police refused, claiming legal privilege. The Ombudsman accepted that the material was privileged, but found that there was a public interest in release of a summary as

The complainant was entitled, as is the public, to a fuller explanation from the Police about why they decided to charge Mr Dummer with the lesser charge of carelessly using a firearm causing death. Disclosure of a summary of reasons for this decision serves to increase the transparency of the decision-making process and to promote the accountability of the Police for their decision.

The upshot: the Police will have to release summaries of prosecution decisions on request, at least in major cases, allowing them to be scrutinised to see whether they are justifiable. The application to the Roastbusters case is obvious.

Tearing up Westminster

The central bargain of Westminster democracy is that the monarch stays out of politics, and in exchange they get to stay in the role, both legally and literally. Prince Charles - already famous for his undemocratic interventions in politics - is apparently planning to tear up that bargain:

Prince Charles is ready to reshape the monarch’s role when he becomes king and make “heartfelt interventions” in national life in contrast to the Queen’s taciturn discretion on public affairs, his allies have said.

In signs of an emerging strategy that could risk carrying over the controversy about his alleged meddling in politics into his kingship, sources close to the heir say he is set to continue to express concerns and ask questions about issues that matter to him, such as the future of farming and the environment, partly because he believes he has a duty to relay public opinion to those in power.

“He will be true to his beliefs and contributions,” said a well-placed source who has known him for many years. “Rather than a complete reinvention to become a monarch in the mould of his mother, the strategy will be to try and continue with his heartfelt interventions, albeit checking each for tone and content to ensure it does not damage the monarchy. Speeches will have to pass the following test: would it seem odd because the Queen wouldn’t have said it or would it seem dangerous?”

But any political comment by an unelected monarch is, by definition, dangerous. The idea of an unelected monarch purporting to tell elected Ministers what to do even more so. If a future king Charles keeps doing that, then Parliament will have to rethink the role of the monarch, and whether they want them to have any constitutional role at all.

As for New Zealand, I think its unlikely that Charles would pay any attention to us (though now I'm curious: has he sent any of his infamous "black spider memos" to any NZ Minister?) But the idea of a monarch who purported to be able to tell us what to do would not sit well with our democracy. If there was any suggestion that he would, then it would be time to rid ourselves of that piece of historical baggage.

Journalism is not terrorism

What happens if you're a UK journalist and you campaign for press freedom or report on police misconduct? The police database you as a terrorist:

A group of journalists has launched a legal action against Scotland Yard after discovering that the Metropolitan police has been recording their professional activities on a secret database designed to monitor so-called domestic extremists.

The six journalists have obtained official files that reveal how police logged details of their work as they reported on protests. One photographer discovered that the Met police had more than 130 entries detailing his movements, including what he was wearing, at demonstrations he attended as a member of the press.

They have started the legal action to expose what they say is a persistent pattern of journalists being assaulted, monitored and stopped and searched by police during their work, which often includes documenting police misconduct.

This is an appalling abuse of police power. Sadly, it seems to be entirely normal behaviour for the British police, who treat any democratic dissent of questioning of those in power as terrorism. As a result, they've spied - on a massive scale - on peaceful protestors, politicians, and even their own victims. This is a force which is rotten to the core, more suited to a totalitarian state than a democratic society. It is long past time it was cleaned out and made fit for a modern democracy.

Boycott thieving employers

In the past few days, we've learned of a new employer horror: petrol-station workers, often on the minimum wage, being forced to pay for the crimes of their customers. Its unfair, immoral, and possibly illegal. So what can we do about it?

These people have the right idea: boycott the scum employers and the petrol chains who tolerate this from their franchisees:

Angry customers are calling for a boycott of service stations which dock workers for customer drive-offs.

The calls came after it was revealed today that at least four low-paid workers at Masterton's Night 'n Day store, which also operates a Gull service station, were docked hundreds of dollars in wages after customers fled without paying.

"Boycott all Night n' Day stores and pumps," said reader "marty@wainui" in a comment on the story. "I for one am taking my business elsewhere until Gull resolves this," said fellow reader "jestriding".

And the same should go for any other station or chain which does this. Which means Gull, Mobil and Caltex as well, until their head offices start restricting franchisees (according to this story BP and Z have already publicly declared such policies).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Class warfare in the UK

Surprise, surprise! An independent study has shown that the UK's conservative government has been driving a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich:

A landmark study of the coalition’s tax and welfare policies six months before the general election reveals how money has been transferred from the poorest to the better off, apparently refuting the chancellor of the exchequer’s claims that the country has been “all in it together”.

According to independent research to be published on Monday and seen by the Observer, George Osborne has been engaged in a significant transfer of income from the least well-off half of the population to the more affluent in the past four years. Those with the lowest incomes have been hit hardest.


The report also claims that the transfer of funds from the poorest half of the country to the more affluent did not contribute to deficit reduction.

It says: “The revenue gains from some tax changes and benefit cuts were offset by the cost of tax reductions, particularly the increase in the income tax personal allowance.”

So, the bankers fuck up the economy, then their get their government to steal from the poor to pay them for it.

There is a name for this: class warfare. And the sooner we recognise what it is and call it by its name, the sooner we can fight it.

(Meanwhile, I'd love to see a similar analysis of the Key government's regressive "tax switch" (which lowered taxes on the rich while raising GST on the poor) and austerity programmes. While its unlikely to have been as extreme as the UK version, its the same underlying tactic at play: making the least well-off pay for the continued prosperity of the few).

That didn't take long

National's new teabreak law isn't even in force and employers are already abusing it:

Yesterday a union member, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, emailed Hotel Organiser Shanna Reeder.

“This morning in the briefing our manager declared that its now her right to decide when we take our breaks, and that since it was a busy day no one could have one until 3pm. Everyone started at 8am, and were due to finish at 3:30pm or 4pm.”

The new law actually will only come into effect in March 2015, however it seems this misinformed employer has jumped at the opportunity to stop workers having their breaks.

[The employer should have been named. If the law will no longer constrain bad employers, then we'll just have to use public pressure and boycotts instead].

National passed this law, so they get to own it. Every bad and abusive employer who behaves like this can be laid directly at the Minister's door. And hopefully the opposition will take the opportunity to ask him about every incident in Parliament.

Justice is more important than international relations

Yunus Rahmatullah is a Pakistani citizen. In 2004 he was disappeared by British forces in Iraq. The British then gave him to the Americans who rendered him to Afghanistan and kept him there without charge or trial for ten years, during which he was tortured. He was finally released in May this year, and is now seeking justice through the UK courts. Now, the courts have ruled that potential damage to foreign relations is no barrier to the case proceeding:

The high court has dismissed the government’s claim that Britain’s relations with the US would be damaged if a Pakistani citizen who says he was tortured by British and American troops was allowed to sue for damages in court.

British courts would be failing in their duty if they did not deal with the claims even if that involved the court finding that US officials acted unlawfully, Mr Justice Leggatt ruled on Wednesday.

“If it is necessary to adjudicate on whether acts of US personnel were lawful … in order to decide whether the defendants violated the claimant’s legal rights, then the court can and must do so,” he said.

He added: “For the court to refuse to decide a case involving a matter of legal right on the ground that vindicating the right would be harmful to state interests would seem to me to be an abdication of its constitutional function.”

Not to mention an outright denial of the principle that the government is also subject to the law.

This case has a long way to go yet, but if past behaviour is anything to go by the British will settle once it becomes clear that they actually show up in court, in order to avoid an actual court ruling that they tortured people or collaborated in torture. Why? Because such a ruling would then expose British politicians, spies and generals to criminal charges. And apparently the whole point of the British legal establishment is not to ensure that torturers are prosecuted, but to prevent that from happening.

No wonder no-one believes in the British state: its a scam to protect the powerful. Always has been, always will be.

Climate change: The cost of past inaction

For the past 20 years, New Zealand's climate change policy has been one of inaction and delay. While we've seen no less than four failed attempts at putting a price on carbon (including the current ETS), we've never really tried to cut our emissions. Instead, we've treated our legally binding targets as a "responsibility target" and relied on forest sinks and the international carbon market to meet them.

Writing in the Herald, Simon Terry points out how this is about to go disastrously wrong:

It is the third period from 2021 to 2030 that is the critical one. This is the period world leaders are focusing on for global climate action to make a genuine showing and commitments for it are to be set next year.

It is also the decade during which the trees New Zealand relied on to claim forestry credits are scheduled to be cut down.

Including payback for forest credits, New Zealand's emissions for the third period are officially projected to be 55 per cent above even the current target level - an overshoot of 350 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The Treasury warns that carbon prices will be considerably higher during this period, and expects them to be between $10 and $165 a tonne. At the midpoint of that range, even a 350 million tonne excess would represent a $30 billion cost if settled with carbon credits. Result: Visa card payment comes due with major penalty interest - and underlying emissions growth on top of it.

And even if its at the low end, we're looking at billions of dollars, the sort of cost which is beyond even a major policy initiative.

This is where short-term thinking and a refusal to take action gets us: it hasn't made costs disappear, just put them off. Now that bill is about to come due. But the current government isn't thinking about it because they will have all retired on their fat Ministerial pensions by then, leaving others to clean up their mess.

Policy of fear

Community groups have a vital role in New Zealand. In addition to speaking out on social problems such as poverty, mental illness and addiction, they also often have a direct role in fixing them via government funding. Unfortunately there's an obvious tension between those two roles - and one National is exploiting to stifle criticism of its agenda:

Community groups are being muzzled by fears that speaking out against Government policies will result in funding cuts.

One organisation, which wished to remain anonymous, told Radio New Zealand about subtle threats from a cabinet minister it refused to name, and said the fear of being punished financially for speaking out had worsened over the past three years.


Those fears were backed by a recent survey by Victoria University senior lecturer Sandra Grey and teaching associate Charles Sedgwick.

The pair conducted two surveys into advocacy at non-Government organisations with the same 93 community groups.

Dr Grey said in the latest survey, conducted over the past year, about half of respondents said if they spoke out their funding would be cut, compared with about 25 percent in 2008.

What changed in 2008? We switched from a Labour to a National government.

Naturally, the organisation which controls the purse strings, MSD, sees no problems here. But they wouldn't, would they? After all, they and the politicians who give the orders are the prime beneficiaries of this policy of fear. But terrorising and intimidating community groups doesn't exactly seem democratic, does it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What should replace Parliament's prayer?

While the current Speaker is trying to preserve it, given the changing religious landscape in New Zealand, its only a matter of time before Parliament's opening prayer is consigned to the dustbin of history. So what, if anything, should replace it?

The current prayer does two things: its a statement of religion which excludes all non-Christian (and arguably, non-Anglican) New Zealanders. But it also attempts to remind MPs why they're there. We can keep the last bit. An opening statement reminding MPs of the purpose of Parliament - to represent the people of New Zealand and hold the government to account - would work.


The more I read about Roger Sutton's sexual harassment, the more appalled I am. And reading the allegations, I'm left asking the same question as Danyl: how can you not be sacked for this? Behaviour like that is not acceptable in any workplace, and everybody should know that. If the State Services Commissioner thinks it is acceptable - and that's implicit in his admission that he would not have asked Sutton to stand down - then he is completely out of touch with modern workplace standards and utterly incapable of upholding the values of our public service - in short, a sexist dinosaur who should stand down himself.

(And that's without even getting into the ethics of Rennie's tacit endorsement of Sutton during his PR exercise yesterday...)

For fuck's sake, this is the New Zealand public service, not Mad Men. We expect better.

(Meanwhile, now that Sutton has breached confidentiality - something Rennie tacitly endorsed with his presence - does that mean we can actually sack him now, rather than giving him a golden handshake and unblemished record which leaves him free to harass and abuse again? Or will the SSC boy's club forgive that too?)

Denying what we already know

One of the core concerns about the GCSB is that they don't really work for us, but for the US. As part of this, they host NSA staff, not as arm's length liaisons, but completely integrated into their organisation. We've known about this since Secret Power, and the former Deputy Director of the NSA this month admitted it on NZ TV:

"There is a sharing of personnel," says Mr Inglis. "We call them 'intergrees' across the Five Eyes partnership."

So there is no reliable proof of bases, but the NSA does have staff working in New Zealand.

However, when the GCSB is asked directly via the OIA whether they host NSA staff, they refuse to answer:
In response to your request, under the provisions of section 10 of the Official Information Act (the Act), I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a Special US Liaison Officer in New Zealand or a New Zealand Liaison Officer in the United States, on the grounds that disclosure of this information would prejudice the interests protected by section 6(a) of the Act.

This fools no-one. Firstly, as noted above, its a documented fact. Secondly, given the optics with the New Zealand public, if there weren't such NSA plants in the GCSB, they'd surely admit it. So their "refusal to confirm or deny" can really only be taken as an admission of guilt.

Against the extradition of Kyung Yup Kim

Kyung Yup Kim is an alleged murderer. In 2010 he allegedly murdered a prostitute in Shanghai. Since May 2011 he has been on remand in New Zealand pending extradition to China to face trial for murder.

I have no opinion of whether Kim is innocent or guilty. But regardless, we should not extradite him to China. Why? Because China has the death penalty for murder, and they are the biggest state-murderer on the planet. If Kim is extradited, there is every chance that he will be executed by the Chinese government.

New Zealand opposes the death penalty. Our Bill of Rights Act affirms that everyone has a right not to be deprived of life, and this is regarded as one of sections for which there can be no "justified limitation". The pre-BORA Extradition Act says that a Minister "may" refuse extradition where there is a chance of execution. In light of the BORA, that "may" is now effectively a "must", of similar strength to the prohibition on extradition to torture.

New Zealand should not extradite people to be murdered. We should not extradite Kyung Yup Kim.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


The last three times Labour has changed its leader, my initial reaction has been "they'll do OK". I've been wrong every single time. Phil Goff may have been a safe pair of hands as a Minister, but he displayed a total lack of virtù as a leader. David Shearer was a spineless wimp. And Cunliffe has been eloquently judged by the electorate. So what to make of Andrew Little being elected as Labour's fourth leader in three years? To be honest, I'm unenthused. He's already displayed some of the same spinelessness I despised in Goff and Shearer, as well as a disturbing desire to chase the votes of the rich. But to be honest, Labour isn't my party, and Little isn't my leader. I've been relying for a long time on the Greens to provide a principles-based left-wing voice, and I don't really see Little's election changing that.

Secret "justice" in the UK

Surprise, surprise! Britain's secret "trial" has resulted in a conviction:

A man accused of plotting terrorist attacks in London has been convicted of possession of a bomb-making manual.

Erol Incedal was found guilty six days ago, but an order imposed by the judge in the case prohibited any reporting of the verdict before Monday.

Incedal, 26, will face a retrial next year accused of preparing acts of terrorism, after the jury failed to reach a verdict on that charge. His four-week trial at the Old Bailey in London was surrounded by unusual secrecy, with the public and press excluded from two-thirds of the hearing.

As a result of that secrecy, the public were forbidden from hearing - and the press forbidden from reporting on - the evidence against the defendant. Which means that we are simply unable to assess the quality of that evidence and therefore whether the conviction is valid. The result is that the conviction simply lacks credibility.

But this isn't just an affront to justice which brings the British justice system into disrepute - it's also a mistake. By holding the trial in secret and casting doubt over its integrity, the British government has ensured that it will be used as an example of British oppression and a recruitment tool for terrorists. Another fine foot-bullet from Britain's spies, and a perfect example of how they do more harm than good.

A low R&D economy

The Herald this morning reports that New Zealand is near the bottom in global R&D spending:

New Zealand's world ranking for research and development spending continues to drop, despite increased incentives for companies to invest, according to a report by Grant Thornton, which puts New Zealand near the bottom of the table.

Paul Kane, spokesman for the global business consultancy, said the number of companies in New Zealand that expected to increase their spending on research and development had dropped significantly, with just 12 per cent of firms expecting to increase their spending in the next year.

"We're really at the bottom of the table, we're fourth from the bottom behind Estonia, Argentina and Russia, and we've been steadily dropping," Kane said.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce is in full denial mode, saying that this doesn't reflect what he's seen. From which we can conclude that he did not read his own department's Briefing to the Incoming Minister, which explicitly says (in bold, so the Minister won't miss it) that NZ's level of R&D investment is "low by international standards". Its also very clear about who is at fault:
While New Zealand is spending a lot more on science and innovation, our investment is still very low when compared with the small advanced economies. This is true in both absolute terms (the total that we spend) and in relative terms (the size of our science and innovation investment relative to our GDP). The 1.28 per cent of GDP New Zealand spends on science is well below the OECD average of 2.06 per cent. There are many reasons for our comparatively low science spend, although a significant portion of the disparity is due to our low investment in the business sector.

According to the BIM, the government wants to increase business-sector R&D spending. Perhaps the first stage to doing that is admitting that we have a problem, rather than trying to deny it.

No place for prayers in our Parliament

The New Zealand Parliament may be getting a new prayer. But while its shorter, removes the offensive reference to "true religion", and masks its reference to the imaginary sky-fairy by putting it in te reo, the fundamental problem remains: it is still a prayer, and a Christian one at that. And in a country which is committed to freedom of religion (and which is no longer Christian), that's simply not tenable.

In our society religion is not a matter of state, but a private matter, between an individual and whatever entities they believe in. Our Parliament is not supposed to be a bully pulpit for granting a particular religion the official approval of the state, but should be religiously neutral. And the way that is done is not by having a watered down prayer, but by not having one at all. Its a Parliament, not a church.

Meanwhile, the way this is being done - a straight choice between the two alternatives, with no amendments, let alone a "none of the above" option - is terrible, an attempt to strap the chicken for the status quo. Rather than endorse this charade, MPs who favour freedom of religion should deny it legitamacy, and abstain.