Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dear Parliament

(With the honourable exception of David Seymour and the four green MPs who voted against):

(Image stolen from Wikipedia)

While banning cyberbullying is a nice idea, your law goes too far, and almost all of you are too chickenshit to stand up and say it, even though you recognise the problem. So, fuck you. If you think this is a good idea, I look forward to the day when people start lodging complaints and private prosecutions about what you say to each other; maybe that will change your minds.

[While posted with the intent to cause serious emotional distress to thin-skinned MPs by hurting their iddy-widdy feelings, the law isn't in force yet, so this expression is still legal]

Achieving Better Public Services

Back in 2012, the National Government set itself some targets as part of its "Better Public Services" Programme. Among them was a goal to "reduce the recorded crime rate by 15 percent, the violent crime rate by 20 percent and the youth crime rate by 5 percent". Apparently they've been doing very well at this, with Police Minister Michael Woodhouse so pleased with progress that he has strengthened the targets to a 20% reduction in crime. Its a success story, a clear example of how targets drive performance.

Or maybe not. Because police statistics released by the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse show something interesting:

Police conducted 101,981 family violence investigations in 2014. In only 37 percent of investigations was an offence recorded. This is down from 47 percent in 2008.

Isn't that amazing? The government sets a target to reduce crime, and specifically violent crime, and suddenly police are recording fewer offences in its most common category? Which sounds awfully familiar:
"Juking the stats ... Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. I've been here before."

And concerns about stat-juking aside, there's another serious problem here: resolution rates have dropped by roughly 10%, or 20% for sexual offences against adults. So, the police are recording fewer crimes, and solving fewer of the ones they do record. Which suggests that there may be a problem with resourcing here...

But not like this

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back on the New Zealand Flag Referendums Bill, and recommended it be passed with minor amendments. While the public commentary is focusing on the referendum structure - which is quite sensible as a way to focus choice - something important has been missed. Every other democratic exercise conducted in this country, whether it be a general election, local body election, or referendum, is subject to spending limits and expense disclosure to prevent the rich from buying power. There is no such clause in the current bill. Looking at the Ministry of Justice advice on the issue, they hedged their bets and presented Ministers with a range of options rather than the usual single preferred option. That said, they did have something to say about the government's chosen option of only requiring a promoter statement:

This option is not recommended. On its own, a promoter statement requirement offers few benefits to justify the costs and burden of applying promoter statements to referendum advertising. Unless combined with a registration requirement, information about promoters’ key office holders may not be accessible.

They recommended at minimum that promoters spending above a certain threshold be registered, and recommended spending limits and expense declaration if a tighter approach was desired. The government ignored them, instead choosing a regulatory regime seemingly designed to allow wealthy interests to spend unlimited money in secret in an effort to buy the outcome. Which casts doubt on the entire referendum process and the legitimacy of the result.

I want the flag changed, but that is increasingly being followed by "but not like this". I'm not sure at what stage my disgust at this entire process is going to win over my dislike of a colonial relic, but its getting close.

A new low for Australian corruption

How corrupt is Australia? This corrupt:

Mafia figures donated tens of thousands of dollars to the discredited NSW Liberal Party fundraising vehicle, the Millennium Forum, as part of an ultimately successful campaign to allow a known criminal to stay in Australia.

A senior Millennium Forum figure, who is already under investigation by ICAC for allegedly funnelling illegal developer donations to the NSW Liberal Party, also helped criminal Frank Madafferi's lawyer meet then immigration minister Philip Ruddock on the visa issue.

A year-long Fairfax Media and Four Corners investigation has obtained confidential documents that outline the Millennium Forum's role as the receiver of the Mafia money, raising more questions about the integrity of the nation's political donations regime.

Documents also reveal that Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent hosted alleged Mafia boss Tony Madafferi, Frank's brother, for lunch in the parliamentary dining room and in his Parliament House office. Mr Broadbent also introduced Tony Madafferi and his associates to senior Liberal MPs including Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

Mr Broadbent, who has repeatedly refused to answer questions, helped organise, or attended, several fundraisers involving the alleged Mafia figure.

The Australian political system is rotten to the core, with multiple MPs jailed and perennial investigations of cash-for-access, cash-for-contracts, and cronyism. But taking money from organised crime seems to be a new low even for them.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Selling for the sake of selling

National wants to sell our state housing stock to Australians:

The Government is not ruling out selling a stake in the country's state housing portfolio to Australian interests.

Finance Minister Bill English said it was possible state houses could be sold to an Australian charity as the government looks to divest some of its housing stock to third parties.

Speaking on TV3s The Nation, English said Australians would be able to buy the State houses if they were registered as community housing providers.

A Gold Coast non profit charity, Horizon Housing, has expressed an interest after visiting New Zealand. It reportedly wants to buy 400 plus houses.

The Government has announced plans to sell a limited number of State houses to community housing providers to take on vulnerable tenants.

National's whole "selling state houses to charity" policy was always just shuffling the deckchairs in an effort to be seen to be doing something while really doing nothing, but this is even worse. At least with an NZ charity there'd be a commitment to helping New Zealanders, and any profits would be directed to that purpose. Selling to foreigners removes all that.

But then, the policy was never intended to actually solve anything. It was always selling for the sake of selling, to run down the state housing stock as part of National's gradual exit from fulfilling this core government obligation. And when this fails, they'll probably suggest something even crazier, like burning state houses down for the insurance or something.

New Fisk

Tunisia hotel attack: Backdrop to this slaughter is a history of violence against Muslims
Israeli disinformation sullies a rare moment of wartime compassion


While we were all celebrating the US Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, the IMF and Germany decided to pull the trigger on forcing Greece out of the Euro, revealing that those negotiations the Greek government had been engaging in and come close to betraying its own base on to find a compromise weren't for a permanent solution to Greece's debts, but just to kick the can down the road for six months, after which it'd be more knife to the throat "negotiations" for more austerity again. This wasn't what Syriza was elected to do, so they've gone to the people in a referendum. No-one knows which way that will go, but in the meantime Greece's slow-motion bank-run (driven by the uncertainty over negotiations, and one of the reasons for the Greek government's poor performance - you can't tax a cash economy) has gone hot, while the EU has tried to strangle Greece even further by capping the mechanism designed to prevent it.

So, basicly, the IMF and EU's efforts to be "tough" has driven the Greek economy even further into the ground, and provoked an effective referendum on default and Grexit. I'm assuming they don't want both of those things (since they involve bankers losing their money and politicians losing their pride), so heckuva job guys.

As for what happens next, faced with a concrete threat of departure and a decision in the hands of voters rather than politicians, the EU has finally offered debt relief. So maybe there'll be a better deal on the table by Sunday which the Greek government and people can accept. If not, and Greece is forced out of the Euro as punishment for debt, then I guess we'll know that it is bankers and not elected politicians who run the EU.

But either way, the fact that things have got to this point tells us that something is deeply wrong with Europe. The idea that you would crash a member country's economy with five years of crippling austerity is monstrous; to do it in an effort to repay debts which simply cannot be paid, and to keep doubling down on that mistake is just obscene. This should never have happened. People have died because of the IMF and EU's approach to Greece, and their negotiators should be held legally responsible for every one of those deaths.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

And that's that

Held: The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.

That's the ruling of the US Supreme Court today on marriage equality. Its a great moment for freedom and human rights, and one we should all celebrate. And yet the ruling was only 5-4. Somehow, four of the US's most eminent jurists (well, three and Scalia, who is an unquestionable hack) talked themselves into thinking that the constitution doesn't mean what it clearly says it does, or that there's a secret "except for gays" clause in it or something. What the fuck is wrong with these people, and how the hell do they end up on the bench, let alone the US's highest court?

As for the bigots: you'll die, your hate and bigotry will die with you, and your kids will grow up in a different world, where the stuff you hate will be absolutely normal and unremarkable and people like you are regarded as sad fringe rednecks who live under rocks. And good riddance to you.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Much worse than I thought

As if the criminal provisions of the harmful Digital Communications Bill weren't already bad enough, it turns out they're even worse than I thought. How? Because they effectively ban serious TV journalism.

How? TechLiberty has already explained how they outlaw exposing politicians (or others e.g. serial fraudsters, criminals in hiding etc), and Tim Watkin has already pointed out what this means for journalism. The law only applies to "digital communications", which are defined as "any form of electronic communication", including "any text message, writing, photograph, picture, recording, or other matter that is communicated electronically". But here's the kicker: a consequential amendment to the Human Rights Act make it clear that the law considers radio and television to be "electronic communications", and hence "digital communications". Which means that when Paddy Gower exposes some politician's misdeeds on 3News, with the intent of informing the public so they can end his career, he could go to jail for it.

This law isn't just a threat to the internet - its a threat to our democracy. Our Parliament should not pass it.

[Hat tip: Graeme Edgeler and Thomas Beagle]

This law should not be passed

Yesterday Parliament began the third reading of the government's Harmful Digital Communications Bill. While well-intentioned as an attempt to prevent and punish serious cyber-bullying, the law is overbroad, vague, and criminalises speech which any reasonable person would wish to see protected. I would prefer that it did not pass, and was sent back to select committee for another go.

The core problem with the bill lies in the criminal provisions, which provide for a punishment of two year's imprisonment - below National's new jury trial threshold - for causing harm by posting [a] digital communication. The usual defences of truth and public interest do not apply. As TechLiberty has pointed out, this is so overbroad that it criminalises public interest political speech, such as exposing corruption or dodgy dealings by an MP. And as Tim Watkin pointed out yesterday, it applies not just to bloggers, but to journalists - leading to the ludicrous situation that a story would be perfectly legal if broadcast on TV or in a dead-tree newspaper, but punishable by imprisonment if posted on that media organisation's website. For the same content. To give a concrete example, Nicky Hager's The Hollow Men and Dirty Politics were unquestionably works of public interest journalism which should not be illegal in a free and democratic society. But if Hager had published them online rather than in hardcopy, he could be facing jail under this law. That's how bad it is.

While you'd hope that a judge would apply the BORA in such a case and interpret the law consistently with it so as not to outlaw public interest political speech, that's the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. People should not be charged for such speech. This law allows them to be, and therefore exerts a chilling effect. And that's why it needs to go.

In the committee stage of the bill, ACT and Labour voted for an amendment removing these odious provisions. They were voted down. I'm deeply disappointed that the Greens, who I normally regard as sound on freedom of expression, voted against. And I'd really like to see an explanation why they want to see journalists like Nicky Hager facing charges if they do their work online rather than in hardcopy.

(I should note that part 2 of the bill, which extends harassment law to the internet and makes various other changes, is absolutely unproblematic and should be passed. The problems are all in part 1).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Another unconstitutional intervention

Earlier this year, the queen unconstitutionally intervened in the Scottish independence referendum debate, telling Scottish voters to "think carefully about future". And now with the UK on the verge of another referendum, this time on EU membership, she's done it again, warning of the dangers of the UK leaving the EU:

The Queen has warned of the dangers of division in Europe at a state banquet in Berlin, urging Britons and Germans not to take the benefits of a peaceful continent for granted.

Her speech, weaving historical events with present crises, was replete with some subtle and other not so subtle hints that she believed Britain belonged in the European Union – her most public stance yet that she wished to avoid Britain voting to leave in a referendum.

“The United Kingdom has always been closely involved in its continent. Even when our main focus was elsewhere in the world, our people played a key part in Europe,” she told an audience of 700 dignitaries.

This is not acceptable. If it was her own view, then she violated the central rule of the Westminster system, that the monarch acts only on advice. If OTOH she was acting on advice (as she apparently was on Scotland) then she has violated the principle of political neutrality by effectively lending her status to the government of the day. And either way, it is unconstitutional. The monarch simply has no constitutional role in political debate - none whatsoever. If she thinks she does, then its time to end the charade.


A ballot for four Members bills was held today and the following bills were drawn:

  • Local Government Act 2002 (Greater Local Democracy) Amendment Bill (Stuart Nash)
  • Public Collections and Solicitations (Disclosure of Payment) Bill (Matt Doocey)
  • Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill (Chris Bishop)
  • New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Pro Rata Entitlement) Amendment Bill (Denis O’Rourke)
Its a fairly dull collection, with Staurt Nash's one being the most controversial (it reinstates automatic referenda for local government amalgamations - something National hates because democracy is apparently bad). Doocey is dull but worthy. O'Rourke attacks the citizenship rights of his fellow kiwis (and especially young people who spend time working overseas). I'm not sure what to think of Bishop's yet, but it'll likely go to select committee for a proper inquiry, which is good.

There were 73 bills in the ballot today, with Labour's David Parker and NZ First's Darroch Ball and Fletcher Tabuteau being the only opposition members to fail to submit one.

Climate change: Taking it to court

The Netherlands is one of the countries most at risk from climate change, but its government isn't doing enough to stop it. So a group of Dutch citizens went to court to get a tougher emissions-reduction target, and won:

A Dutch court has ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020, in a case environmentalists hope will set a precedent for other countries.

Campaigners brought the case on behalf of almost 900 Dutch citizens.

They argued the government had a legal obligation to protect its citizens from the dangers of climate change.

The case was a straight-out tort, made possible by the clear and obvious harm the plaintiffs would suffer if emissions continue: sea levels would rise and they would be under water. That's not going to be possible everywhere. OTOH, a case from people in low-lying regions, or areas affected by flooding or drought, might be an interesting option in New Zealand.

Australia's war on dissent

Tony Abbott has been trying to appear "tough on terrorism" by pushing to strip citizenship from suspected terrorists without judicial oversight. This has turned into a disaster, so he's pared it back to stripping it automaticly on conviction for a terrorism-related offence. Except even that seems to go far too far:

Gareth Smith, 72, is hardly the death cult killer the Abbott government has in mind when it vows to strip dual national terrorists of their Australian citizenship.

But on a literal reading of the government's citizenship legislation, introduced yesterday to Parliament, Mr Smith, who proudly acknowledges he's a "serial protester", could find himself in the crosshairs.


Mr Smith was convicted in 2000 of damaging Commonwealth property after he spray-painted, "Shame Australia!! Shame!" in hot pink across the front of Parliament House, Canberra, as part of a protest about East Timor.

Under the legislation, dual nationals who are convicted of certain offences would be automatically stripped of their citizenship. Those offences range from treachery, sabotage and mutiny all the way down to damaging or destroying Commonwealth property.

It also includes a broad range of speech-related offences such as urging violence or advocating terrorism.

In short: disagree with the government about its position on the "war on terror", and lose your citizenship. Unless you're white, of course - then the Immigration Minister can use their discretion to overturn it. Which makes it crystal clear that this is simply more political repression rather than any principled and proportionate policy.

Again, this is a counterproductive policy which will simply further alienate Australia's Muslims. But saying that is probably "terrorism".

This is what democracy looks like


[Photo stolen from @katieabradford]

The big news this morning: Greenpeace protesters have scaled Parliament to install solar panels and drop a banner highlighting the government's inaction on climate change. Its one of those moments where we're reminded of what sort of democracy we are. Had this happened at the US capitol, the entire place would be in lockdown and there would be guns everywhere. But because its New Zealand, its "yeah, nah, do you want some coffee?"

And that's as it should be. We live in a democracy. Our Parliament absolutely should be a place of protest. That's what its for.

What the Speaker should be saying is "this is no threat to the Order of the House. Protest is part of our democracy. They'll come down when they're ready". Instead, he's describing it as an "attack", and I fully expect that at 2pm when the House sits some National MP will bombasticly demand that they be dragged before Parliament's Star Chamber for a breach of privilege. Which would itself breach privilege by bringing the House into disrepute.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Today's sheepgate revelations

The government's "defence" of Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe has been to blame Labour, alleging that it promised to resume live sheep exports with Saudi Arabia and then changed its mind. But today in Question Time, it turns out that the opposite is true: it was Murray McCully who raised Saudi expectations. The transcripts aren't online yet, but you can watch the details here; McCully admits that he had met with Brownrigg and Al Khalaf's business partner George Assaf to discuss the resumption of the live sheep trade, and that he promised to "look seriously at resolving the live trade impasse". The government then turned around and renewed the export prohibition order - so you can see why they were upset.

More interestingly, it appears that former National Party President Michelle Boag has her dirty pawprints all over this, was involved in the negotiations, and may have suggested the bribe. So it looks like this goes beyond just McCully.

A 111 app is a police backdoor

Today in Question Time the Minister of Communications proudly talked about her plans for a new 111 Smartphone app. The point of this app would be to allow people making 111 calls on smartphones to be located by GPS. But while I agree that's beneficial, given the way that apps invade privacy and are exploited, it seems like a backdoor for police.

The press release says it will only provide location information when a 111 call is made. But we have no guarantee that that will be true. Meanwhile, any information it gathers can be accessed by police either under existing information-sharing arrangements with the 111 service, or via a production order - the latter of which requires no evidence of serious crime, and which is used for spying on drunk drivers and journalists who offend the Prime Minister.

And of course if you have to give it permission to use your phones microphone - a requirement if it is to be used to make 111 calls - then it effectively turns your phone into a mobile police bug. And because you ticked the "I agree" box, they'll argue that you consented.

(And even if none of this functionality is in the initial release, remote update means it could be added at any time...)

Only a complete fool would agree to install such an app. When it is eventually released, I would not recommend using it. If you need to call 111, just dial it rather than consenting to a total invasion of your privacy.

A blind bit of difference

[T]he removal of the $1,000 kick-start contribution will not make a blind bit of difference to the number of people who join KiwiSaver

That's what John Key said when questioned about his decision to can the kickstart payment in this year's Budget. but it turns out he was wrong: KiwiSaver enrolments have dropped 50% in the last month:

But ANZ, which has a 26 per cent share of the KiwiSaver market, said that in the month since the measure had been announced, enrolments had dropped by "more than 50 per cent".

The bank declined to give further details. However, IRD figures have showed that the net increase in people in the KiwiSaver scheme nationwide was running at about 15,000 a month, meaning the change could have put off thousands of people.

ANZ Wealth managing director John Body said the removal of kick-start had hit confidence in the retirement savings scheme.

Which makes sense: the kickstart payment was the big incentive to join KiwiSaver, and without it it is far less attractive. And ignoring that was just stupidity.

Budget advice is due to be proactively released next month, so it will be interesting to see if Key and English knew and ignored it, or if Treasury ignored reality because they wanted to make cuts.

Spying on their allies again

First the NSA was caught spying on Germany. This time, its France:

The French president, François Hollande, has called an emergency meeting of his country’s defence council for Wednesday morning after revelations that American agents spied on three successive French presidents between 2006 and 2012. According to WikiLeaks documents published late on Tuesday, even the French leaders’ mobile phone conversations were listened to and recorded.

The leaked US documents, marked “top secret”, were based on phone taps and filed in an NSA document labelled “Espionnage Elysée” (Elysée Spy), according to the newspaper Libération and investigative news website Mediapart. The US was listening to the conversations of centre-right president Jacques Chirac, his successor Nicolas Sarkozy, and the current French leader, Socialist François Hollande, elected in 2012.

The recorded conversations, which were handled by the summary services unit at the NSA, were said to reveal few state secrets but show clear evidence of the extent of American spying on countries considered allies. WikiLeaks documents suggest that other US spy targets included French cabinet ministers and the French ambassador to the United States.

“The documents contain the ‘selectors’ from the target list, detailing the cell phone numbers of numerous officials in the Elysée up to and including the direct cell phone of the president,” a report of the taps published in the French media revealed.

The NSA justifies its existence by saying it spies on the US's enemies. Instead, it seems to spend most of its time spying on their allies, gathering information which isn't about defence, but advancing economic interests and global prestige. In the process it sours those relationships and makes it clear that it is the US which is everyone's enemy. Americans might want to consider whether that sort of spying is really in their interests.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and with the government's filibuster broken, its first readings all the way. First up is Damien O'Connor's Underground Coal Mining Safety Bill, which aims to bring our mine safety regime up to the level of Australia. I expect the government to vote against. Next there's Iain Lees-Galloway's Electoral (Adjustment of Thresholds) Amendment Bill, which will implement the main recommendations of the Electoral Commission's review of MMP. I expect the government to vote against that one too, and I'm not sure there's a majority to advance it (which I'm not exactly heartbroken about, because those recommendations would actually decrease the proportionality of our Parliament). After that its Winston Peters' SuperGold Health Check Bill (more pork for old people) and Alfred Ngaro's Local Government (Auckland Council) Amendment Bill (No 3) (which is a minor tidy-up which should be a government bill). If the House moves quickly, it might make a start on Meka Whaitiri's Environmental Protection Authority (Protection of Environment) Amendment Bill.

There is likely to be a ballot for three or four bills tomorrow, and with no Member's Bills in the select committee pipeline, we're likely to see that every member's day cycle until at least October. And the only way the government can stop the flow of opposition bills to the House is for some of them to start passing. maybe that filibuster wasn't such a good idea after all?