Friday, October 09, 2015

Court fees violate the right to justice

That's the opinion of the UK's chief justice:

The lord chief justice’s speech – the Legacy of Magna Carta: Justice in the 21st Century – given to a legal audience in New Zealand last month, was only released on Thursday.

“We have seen in England and Wales significant increases in court fees and the introduction in April of this year of mandatory fees to be paid by those convicted of crimes (either by plea or verdict),” Thomas explained.

“Whilst the judiciary has taken the view in modern times that modest fees in civil, family and tribunal cases are permissible and in accordance with the provisions of Magna Carta – and has made powerful submissions about the level of fees – it has left the balance as a matter for parliament to determine.

“Nonetheless the scale of court fees, together with the cost of legal assistance, is putting access to justice out of the reach of most, imperilling a core principle of Magna Carta. It is something that the judiciary, working with the executive and legislative branches of the state, needs to address.”

And he's right. In order for there to be justice, the courts need to be accessible to all. If people can't afford to go to court, or are dissuaded from defending themselves by the prospect of being whacked with extra charges which equal or outweigh the possible penalty for the offence, then there is no justice.

The question now is whether someone will challenge these fees under the UK's Human Rights Act. Though I'm not sure how well that deals with questions of general policy rather than specific injury.

No journalists allowed on Nauru

Over the past year Nauru has turned into a tinpot dictatorship, evicting the opposition from Parliament and then jailing them on trumped-up charges, exiling the judiciary, and shutting down Facebook. To prevent scrutiny of this (and Australia's refugee gulag), they have also imposed an $8000 "visa fee" for journalists to visit the island. So what happens if an undeterred journalist actually applies and offers to pay it? You'll never guess:

This week, Lateline put the visa application process to the test.

Via emails, the Nauru visa office first confirmed the fee - $8,000, non-refundable if rejected.

When an application form was requested, I was told that I had been rejected, even before an application was issued.

I then received a second email, stating quote "all media application is not approved" unquote.

On the positive side, it appears that they didn't have to waste $8,000 to find that out. But it suggests that the recent successful crowdfunding effort to get journalists to Nauru will be similarly unsuccessful.

Looking for another dumping ground - again

When their Pacific gulags on Nauru and Manua Island turned toxic, Australia went looking for another dumping ground for refugees. They ended up cutting a deal with Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the region, and paying them A$55 million to resettle the people Australia didn't want. But that didn't work out, so Australia is looking for a new dumping ground: the Philippines:

Refugees who travelled to Australia by boat could be permanently resettled in the Philippines under a deal being negotiated, but senior government sources fear the premature leaking of the deal to the media could see the proposal scuttled.

The deal, reported to be worth about $150 million, would be similar to the one Australia struck with Cambodia to send refugees processed on Nauru to the impoverished nation. However that deal collapsed with just four refugees opting to resettle there at a cost of $50 million to the Australian taxpayer.


The deal was first reported by News Corp on Thursday, citing Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as saying: "The governments of Australia and the Philippines have long co-operated on irregular migration, people smuggling and human trafficking.

"These issues are important to both countries, and to the region."

Ms Bishop raised the matter with her Philippine counterpart at the United Nations in New York but no final agreement has been struck or signed.

Again, Australia's target is one of the poorest nations in the region, with widespread poverty and a climate of lawlessness and active insurgencies. It is, in short, the sort of place people flee, rather than a suitable place for resettlement. But Australia doesn't care about that - it just wants to dump its problem on someone else and ensure that poor brown people aren't allowed in Australia. And it will waste however much public money it takes to make that happen.

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius

Over the past few days Radio New Zealand has been doing great work exposing how Horizons, the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council, has been refusing to enforce its One Plan after dairy industry lobbying. This being local government, it woudl be easy to think that this was a plan cooked up by management without reference to the elected councillors - but you'd be wrong. Today's Whanganui Chronicle makes it clear that the councillors knew all about it:

But Horizon's Wanganui-based councillors held no concerns. "I knew what was going on," councillor Rod Pearce said. "I knew there was a opportunity for dairy farmers to phase down their nitrogen outlet." Mr Pearce believed there would be significant decreases in nitrogen reaching the water. "That's as far as I can go with it," he said. "I think we've got to be talking to the professionals about that.

"With all due respect to them (Fish & Game) they do tend to stir the pot from time to time. I don't mean that as any criticism of them."

Councillor David Cotton said it was practical to give farmers time to meet compliance and was happy with the council's approach. "They are going to have to meet compliance over a period of time. If you make these people go broke, what does that achieve?"

Hence the title: our current council is rotten to the core, saying one thing and doing another. And that is something we should not tolerate. De-elect them all and let Cthulhu sort them out.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Australia's new refugee horror

To the rapes, the beatings, the torture, and the murders, Australia now has a new horror in its refugee gulags: denying abortions to rape victims:

Australia is refusing to grant an abortion to a Somali woman who was raped after Canberra sent her to Nauru.

The 23-year-old refugee says she was raped on Nauru and is now 11 weeks pregnant.

Lawyers acting on her behalf have asked the Australian government to fly her back to Australia for a possible termination, but have reportedly received no reply from either the Prime Minister or the Immigration Minister.

The reason for this is simple: the legality of the gulags, and Australia's power to render refugees to them from Australia, is currently being challenged in the Australian courts. The Australian government is afraid that permitting refugees to enter Australia for medical care will mean they cannot then be rendered back to the gulag, and so they have been denying people that care. Its monstrous - but sadly what we've come to expect from modern Australia.

...and whitewashing dirty dairying

Speaking of suppressing uncomfortable data, Hekia Parata isn't the only guilty party: Horizons is also suppressing data to whitewash dirty dairying:

A dairy lobby group appears to have pressured the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council into removing potentially embarrassing information about dairy farm pollution from public documents.

The council has been giving farmers discretionary consents that allow more nitrate leaching than set out in its so-called One Plan to clean up rivers.

In a July 2014 email obtained by Radio New Zealand, Dairy NZ project manager Geoff Taylor said the council agreed to remove certain data tables from the discretionary consents after feedback from farmers.

The tables showed gaps between the actual nitrogen leaching targets set for some farmers and those in the One Plan.

"This was seen to be a risk if the gap between what the farm was actually targeting and the target set in the table was too wide," Mr Taylor said in the email.

"Under an Official Information Act request this was seen to be easily discoverable with the potential to cause significant harm to the industry."

In other words, the public would object if we knew what they were doing. Well, now we do, and they look even worse for their spineless grovelling to farmers and shady attempt at a coverup. Again, the council have lied to us - and we should de-elect the lot of them and salt the earth where they stood pour encourager les autres.

Whitewashing Charter Schools

When the National government foisted its charter schools on us, they promised that they would be subject to rigorous assessment. But it turns out that that is exactly what they don't want:

The Education Minister shut down comparing student achievement results from charter schools with those of state schools despite ministry advice to do so.


The ministry's plan was to draw comparisons between the achievement of students in charter schools with a matched group of students in state schools.

Parata scribbled "do not agree" next to the recommendation before signing off on the report, which was passed on to Parliamentary under-secretary for education, David Seymour, who was instructed to notify the board.

In addition to student achievement information, the board had asked that the first phase of the evaluation be deferred while its re-scoped "to better reflect Cabinet's intent".

Which suggests that Parata really isn't very confident that her charter schools would measure up. But if they're not delivering, that's exactly the sort of information we should know, so we can hold the government to account for their failure.

For transparent treaties

The other day I blogged about NZ First's new International Transparent Treaties Bill, which according to its press release "will give Parliament or Select Committees the right to examine and review the terms of the TPPA and other international treaties before or during negotiation". The bill is now online, and while it does do that, its not quite in the way I was expecting. Instead of open diplomacy, its a new version of Rod Donald's 2003 International Treaties Bill, requiring the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade to present any proposed international treaty to the House and for the House to approve any binding action such as signature (the final clause of the bill preserves the current constitutional understanding that treaties in and of themselves do not create NZ law). So, its transparency at the end of the process, but not (as suggested by NZ First) during it. Still, it would be a massive improvement over the process we have at the moment (where a government without a majority can effectively bind future Parliaments solely on its word), and something we should welcome.

Dunne protects pokie parasites

In 2013, the government cracked down on the pokie industry, increasing the proportion of revenue it was expected to return to the community. Now, just two years later, Gambling Minister Peter Dunne wants to reverse that:

Increases to the proportion of revenue clubs and bars with pokie machines give to community groups will be delayed under a new Government proposal.

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne said the possible breathing room for pokie operators came as they faced increasing financial pressure.

The rise of online gaming, lower drunk drive limits and stricter rules were possible factors he said.

"The levels of funding to the community from class 4 gambling have dropped significantly in real terms since 2004," Mr Dunne said in a speech to the Hospitality Association's annual conference in Nelson.

"We need to rethink the proportion of proceeds that societies give to the community. Some societies could go out of business because of the combination of higher fees, other cost pressures and a high proportion of proceeds required to be given back to the community.

To which the response is "so what"? Pokie trusts are parasites. The trustees drive BMWs paid for by the poor communities they exploit. The sector is riven with fraud and other crime, and tends to redistribute money upwards, from poor communities to wealthy ones. If they go out of business, no-one should shed a single tear for them. If we're concerned about maintaining the pool of grant money, then we should be making other forms of gambling pay more, rather than letting pokie parasites off the hook.

As for Dunne, once again he looks like a total tool of the hospitality industry. And if he's upset about people saying that, maybe he should change our minds by changing his decisions.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

National's New Zealand

Another sign that National's economic management isn't delivering to ordinary New Zealanders: more and more people with jobs are being forced to turn to WINZ for help:

Rising numbers of employed Kiwis needing Government assistance to make ends meet highlight a "stalling economy" where housing costs are growing faster than incomes, says Labour.

Figures released to the Party by Social Development Minister Anne Tolley show a 58 per cent increase in the number of people applying for temporary income assistance since 2009, who were not already on a main benefit.

A rise of 9.9 per cent had been seen in the past year.

This shouldn't be happening. Jobs should pay enough for people to live on. But with a stagnant economy, persistent high unemployment and a labour market stacked in favour of employers (and a housing market stacked in favour of speculators and MPs), people are being forced to go grovelling to WINZ to get by. And that simply isn't right. Isn't it time we had a government which worked for us, rather than the 1%?

No safe harbour

Edward Snowden just claimed his biggest scalp: the "safe harbour agreement" between the European Union and the USA. Safe harbour was an arrangement that allowed US companies to transfer EU data offshore for processing and storage by promising that they'd obey EU privacy law with it. But they then cut deals with (or were simply spied on by) the NSA as part of its PRISM program. And now that that's public thanks to Snowden, safe harbour has been struck down by the European Court of Justice. The net result: Facebook etc are going to have to start storing European data in Europe, where its safer (or at least where the NSA have to work to get it, rather than simply ask).

But this also has consequences for New Zealand. Firstly, because we've just signed the TPP, which apparently outlaws such data storage arrangements (that is, its a condition of "free" trade that we expose our data to American spying). Secondly because New Zealand also has a "safe harbour" agreement with the EU - which is now obviously in danger. To point out the obvious, New Zealand is a Five Eyes nation, foreign personal data is a legal target for GCSB spying, and we have a mandatory "lawful intercept" capability to allow them to acquire it secretly - all of which means that European data is neither safe nor private in New Zealand. Which means we can probably expect that to be struck down in the near future as well. Just another example of how our spies' relationships cost us...

Going the wrong way on copyright

One of the more obnoxious clauses in the TPP is a requirement to extend the term of copyright from the current life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years. The supposed justification for this is that it creates a greater incentive for dead people like J R R Tolkien and Ian Fleming to create works, knowing that not just their children, but their grand-children and great-great-grandchildren - or, more likely, the publishing company they sold the rights to - can continue to reap economic benefits from their work long after they are dead. The real justification of course is the US's powerful copyright lobby, which profits by denying the works of the dead to other people, and wants another 20 years revenue out of everything.

Implementing this will mean that at some stage, New Zealand will have a twenty year period in which nothing leaves copyright. Someone who knows more about New Zealand creative works than me can compile a list of whose work will be locked up, but it basicly means we won't see the work of New Zealand artists who died in the 1970's until the 2040's. And this will cost - MFAT, in its PR, estimates the annual cost as $55 million a year (and remember, this is MFAT PR, so they'll understate costs and overstate benefits).

But beyond that, it is simply moving in the wrong direction. The copyright term is already far longer than it needs to be. Copyright exists to ensure artists can make a living and to provide them with an incentive to create. It doesn't need to last two human lifetimes to do that. It doesn't even need to last one: the optimum term of copyright turns out to be 14 years. And we should be moving in that direction, rather than endlessly extending copyright terms to benefit corporate rent-seekers. But now, thanks to the TPP, the option of reforming copyright so that it serves the public rather than Walt Disney's lawyers is forever foreclosed to us. Yet another reason why we should never have signed it.

A shit deal

MFAT has released its PR on the TPP, trying to convince us how great it is by talking up the gains. Except that when you look at them, these gains just aren't very big. Manufacturing, for example, is expected to benefit by $10 million on $7 billion of current exports - which is margin of error stuff. For other sectors, the gains are in the region of 1% of current exports - hardly the economic nirvana we were promised. And where its more significant - meat and dairy, where its ~2 - 2.5% of current exports - there's the caveat that these figures are when the TPP is fully implemented, in fifteen years. And even then, they're still likely to be outweighed by currency fluctuation.

Overall, MFAT is estimating $259.3 million of gains (in fifteen years). And remember, this is going to be their best, most inflated, strapped chicken PR estimate - the actual benefits are likely to be much less. As for the costs, MFAT is silent. What's the cost of a 20-year extended copyright term? What's the cost (in dead people) of Pharmac being forced to buy more expensive drugs to avoid lawsuits from US pharmaceutical companies? What's the cost of ISDS? Actually, we know that: its in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. Which means one ISDS case a year wipes out any gains. And with hyperaggressive US companies increasingly using ISDS to standover governments and demand payoffs, that can't be ruled out.

Basicly, even on MFAT's most inflated estimates, the benefits of the TPP look low, and the costs look high. Its a shit deal - and National should never have agreed to it. But more than half of those benefits flow to National's tiny clique of farmer cronies, so they were keen. And the rest of us now get to pay for it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Peterloo mindset again

On 16 August 1819, the people of Manchester held a protest meeting on St Peter's Field to demand the right to vote. The British government called it a seditious riot and sent in the cavalry to murder them.

Sadly, that authoritarian mindset is not yet dead. Those protesting outside the Tory party conference last weekend did so under the guns of snipers:

Police have defended their use of snipers posted on rooftops during the Conservative Party Conference as anti-austerity protesters marched below - saying they were there "purely for observation".

Pictures were posted on social media of a marksman, wielding a rifle, on the top of a building in Manchester city centre.

On the streets below, up to 60,000 people, including singers Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church, were protesting against the Government's cuts to public spending.

The message is clear: protest and you might be shot. Just another example of how modern Britain has returned to being a tyranny. And with a fixed electoral system and entrenched establishment preventing any hope of democratic change, those wanting to be free really only have one option: leave.

MPs are listening on open diplomacy

One area of huge public disquiet around the TPP negotiations is secrecy: everything about them is secret, and a precondition of negotiations was accepting a "confidentiality" agreement forbidding the release of negotiating material for five years after any deal is agreed. The net result is that "our" government has been telling its negotiating partners things without telling us, enabling them to lie to us about what they are negotiating away. And they were explicitly caught doing so on the issue of the investment-state dispute settlement clause.

Some politicians at least have picked up on this disquiet, with NZ First proposing a member's bill to open negotiations to Parliamentary scrutiny:

“The concerns of New Zealanders are being ignored as the Cabinet makes the decision to sign us up to the TPPA. So New Zealand First is urgently putting forward a bill to stop such anti-democratic behaviour,” says New Zealand First Spokesperson for Trade Fletcher Tabuteau.

“The International Transparent Treaties Bill will give Parliament or Select Committees the right to examine and review the terms of the TPPA and other international treaties before or during negotiation.

Its not the full open diplomacy legislation requiring proactive disclosure of all material shared with other parties that I'd like, but scrutiny by select committee during negotiations is undoubtedly a step forward. And hopefully it will be drawn from the ballot and passed.

Horizons enables dirty dairying

Late last year, the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council finally approved its "One Plan" after a 10 year struggle. The new regional plan imposed tough controls on nutrient leaching - cowshit - and required resource consent for intensive farming. At the time, it was seen as a long-term solution to the filthy, polluted state of the Manawatu river and other regional waterways: less shit would mean a cleaner river.

Of course, that would require tha tthey actually enforce it. Because it turns out that the council aren't, and are instead giving dirty farmers a free pass, allowing them to just keep on shitting:

Farmers in Manawatu-Whanganui are getting around tough new rules to cut down on dirty dairying.

The regional council says tighter controls on nitrate leaching under the regional plan are too hard, and it is giving farmers consents that allow them to pollute more.

The discretionary consents last for 20 years and critics say they give dirty farmers an unfair advantage over those who have met the plan's standards.

How big is the problem? Only 9 of 61 consents issued so far meet the standard. The rest are discretionary consents that violate it. So, rather than cleaning up the river, the One Plan means that 85% of farmers get to keep on doing exactly what they're doing at the moment. And that's just not good enough.

As for the council, they've lied to us. They ran on a platform of implementing the One Plan, they passed it, but it turns out that they're cheating it. That's not good enough either. These fuckers are all up for re-election next year; I think we should de-elect the lot of them and elect councillors who will actually enforce the basic environmental standards they have passed.

Just a bit shit really

So, the biggest trade deal in a generation has been finalised. The thing National was pinning all of its hopes of economic success on, John Key's "something special". And it turns out to be just a bit shit really, because it doesn't include dairy. New Zealand's primary industry, the whole reason why we engage in these talks, and absent some reduced tariffs on cheese in twenty years or so, its excluded. Slow clap, Mr Groser. Heckuva job you've done there. You've totally earned that knighthood you were gunning for, you royalist suckup.

And how much did we pay for this "free trade" deal that doesn't include dairy? Sadly, we don't know, because the text is still secret. A deal has been reached, but they are still keeping it all secret from the people whose name it is made in. I guess they really don't want the Canadian public to be able to vote on it. But from what we do know, we've avoided some of the worst bits - no dismantling of Pharmac or extended patent terms for pharmaceuticals, for example. But we did have to accept an odious investor-state disputes clause, allowing foreign companies to sue us if we try to legislate to protect worker's rights, public health, or the environment, plus a twenty-year extension of the copyright term to further incentivise dead people to produce more work. In other words, we give foreigners a policy veto on our democracy and enable foreign rent-seeking, in exchange for nothing, and no dairy. Another round of applause for Mr Groser!

Still, there's a positive side: not including dairy means less incentive for farmers to overproduce milk - a good thing given that we're already over our environmental carrying capacity for cows and our lakes and streams (and Christchurch's groundwater) are being poisoned by their shit and piss. So, Tim Groser's shit negotiating has inadvertently helped save our environment. Maybe that is something we thank him for.

Monday, October 05, 2015

More police spying in the UK

Something from over the weekend: British police have been spying on its new Labour Party leader:

One of the many unanswered questions hanging over the police’s undercover operations has recently become more acute - to what extent did they covertly monitor Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, and other elected politicians?

A whistleblower, Peter Francis, has revealed that police compiled secret files on the political activities of Corbyn and nine other MPs, even after they had been elected to the House of Commons.

Francis disclosed that he had read the files on the 10 MPs while he worked for the Metropolitan Police’s special branch.

He added that he had personally collected information on Corbyn, and two other MPs, while he was working undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups in the 1990s. Read this and this for more details of his revelations that were made in March this year.

There seems to have been no good reason for this spying. It is not the role of the police to spy on peaceful rptest movements and those seeking change by democratic means. And to specifically spy on elected MPs is an explicit threat to democracy. This being the UK, of course, it is now the subject of an "independent" inquiry. And this being the UK, that inquiry will no doubt be delayed for a decade before presenting a whitewashed report excusing anyone of any wrongdoing.

An empty strategy

The government finally released its National Statement of Science Investment today, more than a year after releasing the draft. Its a significantly different document, lacking much of the information in its predecessor (for example, the news that they were planning to cut science funding by 15 - 20% over the next decade). The good news is that they've removed the material about trying to get the Royal Society of New Zealand to gag scientists from commenting on public policy via a code of conduct. Other than that, its exactly the sort of empty strategy document National loves to criticise Labour for: 66 pages of sweet fuck all.

The big news: they're planning to tinker with the science funding mechanism. Again. Whoop-di-do. If they spent the money they're planning to spend on external consultants to tell them how best to invest in science on actual science instead, then perhaps AgResearch wouldn't be having to sack 20% of its scientists and gut core capabilities. But the real problem is around the private sector.

New Zealand is a low R&D economy. Despite flinging around buzzwords like innovation, our business community is generally unwilling to invest in the future (foreign ownership is part of the story here: you don't invest in colonies. But the short-term thinking of our overpaid business "leaders" is a huge part of the problem). And the biggest offenders are those you'd think would have the most to gain: our primary industries like meat, wood and dairy.

The government's "solution" to this is to set an "aspirational" goal of increasing business R&D to 1% of GDP by 2018 - just over two years away. Its currently around half that. So, the government wants business to double its spending in just two years. And their plan to do this is... nothing. Or at least, nothing new or remotely credible given the scale of the challenge. Yes, they have Callaghan Innovation, which is supposed to hand out business R&D grants and co-fund (emphasis on the "co-") research. But the amount of money allocated isn't anything like what is necessary for the task, even assuming they get their maximum payoff for the funding. As for the government's "regional research institutes", they're a joke.

Basicly this is an empty strategy which commits the usual mistake of setting goals without any credible policy to back it up - exactly as they have done on climate change and energy. Its the same mistake, over and over and over again. But I forget: the purpose of the policy isn't to produce science or business R&D - it's to produce headlines saying that the government supports those things. And on those grounds, they'll be considering it a success, regardless of how much actual science is done.

New Fisk

Syria’s ‘moderates’ have disappeared... and there are no good guys