Saturday, February 28, 2009

New Fisk

Examine the Pope's words, and there's only one thing to conclude

Friday, February 27, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words

The Hand Mirror has hooked into the government for the diversity deficit at today's jobs summit, but while they have the stats on hand about the tiny number of women attending, sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words:

Wall to wall dead white men. And this is what National calls a diversity of viewpoints...

(Stolen from The Standard, who framegrabbed it from the Herald's video feed).

Climate change: the cost of overallocation

In May 2008, the previous government made a spineless decision to delay the entry of transport into the ETS by two years. The decision was driven by fears of the effects of higher fuel prices on inflation, but one of the effects was to throw the supply and demand of emissions units within the ETS significantly out of balance. How far out of balance? Here's the original figures on the Supply and Demand of New Zealand Units, taken from a briefing to the Climate Change leadership Forum:


(Note that while transport enters the ETS in 2009, and industry in 2010, the first emissions units do not need to be surrendered until April of the following year, so the demand part of the graph is lagged by a year).

As designed, the ETS had a slight undersupply of units, which would either drive emissions reductions or see units purchased overseas (which is the same thing from a Kyoto accounting perspective). but the removal of two years of transport emissions - 40 million units - completely reverses this situation. instead of a slight undersupply of 8 million units over CP1, we now have a massive oversupply of 32 million units - more than half the anticipated demand. So thanks to Labour's spinelessness, our ETS is overallocated by 50%.

This has significant consequences. As the Europeans are discovering, emissions trading only works when there is a shortage of permits. Where there is an oversupply, the price collapses, fatally undermining the effectiveness of the scheme. And where permits can be "banked" (as in New Zealand) the effect is even worse, because overallocation now creates the opportunity for more emissions in the future.

But its worse than that, because in the New Zealand ETS these units can be sold overseas. This has two consequences. Firstly, it will cost us a large amount of money. Every permit sold overseas must be "backed" by a unit from New Zealand's Kyoto Assigned Amount. But our net position is seriously in deficit [PDF]. So we are going to have to buy those units back. Using Treasury's costings, that will cost us an extra NZ$807 million - more than doubling our expected Kyoto liability.

Secondly, under the Kyoto Protocol, the New Zealand government is obliged to hold back 90% of its Assigned Amount as a "commitment period reserve" (this clause was designed to stop countries from just selling their entire allocation immediately, taking the money and running). Our Assigned Amount is 309.56 million units. 90% of that is 278.61 million units. You don't need much maths to see that the difference - 30.95 million units - is less than the amount by which the ETS is overallocated. So overallocation could threaten the CPR, our credibility, and our ability to engage in international trading.

(The government has said that in the event of the CPR being threatened, it will close off trading. This creates a perverse incentive to sell immediately, so as to ensure that you can...)

This issue was not really canvassed in official advice on the decision to delay. I have now obtained the relevant briefings and Cabinet papers using the OIA, and nowhere do they consider the effects on the overall balance of units within the scheme or the effect on its environmental integrity. Treasury - the primary source of advice on the decision - was concerned primarily with inflation and flow-on threats to the introduction of the scheme at all. They noted the opportunity cost of the government holding fewer units and recognised that this meant having to buy on the international market, but they did not consider overall supply, the effect of banking on future commitment periods, or the possible threat to the CPR

If we want our ETS to work, we need to find a way of removing those units from circulation. One way is to soak them up by restoring transport to its original timetable (a phased entry, with fuel companies responsible for 30% of emissions in 2009, 65% in 2010, and 100% from 2011 onwards, significantly reduces the cost). Alternatively, the government can reduce free allocations to industry. As emissions will have dropped due to the recession, the effect of this will be to rob them of the windfall profits accruing from a mass transfer of wealth from the taxpayer. A third option is to assume permits will be banked and reduce future allocations to compensate. Neither of these options will be popular with polluters - but if we want an ETS which functions properly, we will have to choose one of them.

Words fail me

The government is holding its much-touted "job summit" today, a gathering of New Zealand's richest dead white male businessmen (with a few token women and brown people thrown in) to make it look like the government is "doing something" plot how to offload the cost of the recession onto their employees discuss how to protect (their) jobs (and fat salaries) during the recession. And the "big idea" to come out of this august meeting? "A $50 million cycleway built the length of the country". Seriously.

Have I slipped into the Onion-verse by mistake?


So, having denied it black and blue for years, the UK government has finally admitted that it was complicit in extraordinary rendition. But not in the way you'd think. So far, suspicions have centred on the use of UK military bases as waypoints or even detention centres in the US's secret network of "black sites". But what the UK has admitted is even worse: turning over prisoners captured in Iraq to the Americans so they can be rendered to Afghanistan:

[Defence Secretary John Hutton] said British soldiers, believed to have been SAS troops, handed over two terrorist suspects to the US in Iraq in February 2004. The men had been captured outside the UK-controlled zone covering south-eastern Iraq.

Hutton said the pair, believed to be Pakistanis, were still being held in Afghanistan. He said they were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned organisation that he said was linked to al-Qaida. The US had assured Britain the two continued to represent "significant security concerns" and it was "neither possible or desirable to transfer them to either their country of detention or country of origin", Hutton told MPs.

The US had assured him the men were being held in humane conditions and had access to the Red Cross, Hutton said.

Which may indeed be true now - but in 2004 these prisoners were simply disappeared, and the Red Cross was denied access. As late as 2007, the Red Cross was complaining that prisoners were being held incommunicado at Bagram, the chief US gulag in Afghanistan, and "sometimes subjected to cruel treatment in violation of the Geneva Conventions". The CIA's prison, the charmingly named "salt pit", is even worse. Which means the UK isn't just complicit in rendition, but potentially torture, ill-treatment, and violations of the Geneva Conventions as well.

Boot camps don't work

That's the conclusion of principal Youth Court judge Andrew Becroft. Examining the effectiveness of military-style training camps for youth offenders, he calls them "arguably the least successful sentence in the Western world":

"It made them healthier, fitter, faster, but they were still burglars, just harder to catch, " Judge Andrew Becroft said.

He said physical programmes backed up by mentoring and family support could work, but New Zealand's corrective training camps, which ran up till 2002, found 92 per cent of young attendees reoffended within a year.

"It was a spectacular, tragic, flawed, failure," he said.

What does seem to work is intensive mentoring and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. But that sort of thing a) costs money; and b) doesn't get win any votes from the pedophobic "law and order" crowd. So instead we waste millions on an ineffective policy implemented essentially as a PR stunt. It's like something from an episode of The Hollowmen...

Thursday, February 26, 2009


The Justice and Electoral Committee has called for submissions on the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill. Two copies, by Monday, 6 April 2009, to

Committee Secretariat
Justice and Electoral Committee
Parliament Buildings
The bill would empower the police to forcibly take DNA from anyone arrested for an imprisonable offence, regardless of severity. This violates the presumption of innocence, is grossly out of step with international norms around DNA sampling, and is simply an excuse for a giant police fishing expedition. The government's own Attorney-General considers this it to be unreasonable, and thinks the bill violates the Bill of Rights Act [PDF]. Submitting against it may make a real difference to the eventual shape of legislation.

If you haven't submitted on legislation before, there's a handy guide here [PDF]; its as simple as writing a letter saying what you think of the law and why.

McDonalds are evil

OK, so its a truism that McDonalds are evil. They have poor labour standards, their "food" is crap, but at least they're cheap. Unless you happen to be poor. Over in Australia they've just introduced a "demand-based pricing" scheme. In English, that means charging higher prices in poorer areas:

Corporate documents obtained by The Advertiser reveal McDonald's Australia has identified an "opportunity to introduce more aggressive price increases" at 13 of South Australia's 47 outlets.


A McDonald's franchisee, who asked to remain anonymous, said the biggest price rises were concentrated in low-income areas.

"In general, the poorer suburbs will pay more," the franchisee said.

"In essence, areas that the franchisor thinks will pay more for our products, will have to."

The document says the new system's objective is for individual stores "to maximise the potential for a price rise" while minimising the risk consumers will go elsewhere or choose a cheaper meal.

So, if you're poor, not only does this mean having junk food marketed more aggressively at you (McDonalds deliberately locates its outlets in poorer areas) - it also means paying more for the privilege. It's a perfect example of socio-economic discrimination. And they wonder why everybody hates them...

This isn't just South Australia, but Australia-wide. Which raises the question: is it also happening here? Does some enterprising journalist want to check?

Open justice in New Zealand

Yesterday I vented my spleen about a case where a judge had reduced the sentence of two crooked cops who admitted perverting the course of justice in a manslaughter case and failed to give reasons for it. A friend has since emailed me part of the Court of Appeal ruling in Lewis v Wilson & Horton [2000] 3 NZLR 546 (the billionaire name suppression case), which talks a little about this issue. Surprisingly, there is no general rule that judges must give reasons for their decisions under New Zealand law. However, the Court of Appeal - who are now the Supreme Court - thought it was a good idea for three reasons:

Most importantly, the provision of reasons by a Judge is an important part of openness in the administration of justice. The principle of open justice in criminal proceedings is affirmed by s138(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1985 and s25(a) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, but it is far older in observance and extends beyond criminal proceedings (although it is of particular importance there). It yields only where the application of the general rule in the particular circumstances of the case would frustrate the interests of justice, and then only to the extent necessary...


The principle of open justice serves a wider purpose than the interests represented in the particular case. It is critical to the maintenance of public confidence in the system of justice. Without reasons, it may not be possible to understand why judicial authority has been used in a particular way. The public is excluded from decision-making in the courts. Judicial accountability, which is maintained primarily through the requirement that justice be administered in public, is undermined.

The second main reason why it said Judges must give reasons is that failure to do so means that the lawfulness of what is done cannot be assessed by a court exercising supervisory jurisdiction. Those who exercise power must keep within the limits imposed by law. They must address the right questions and they must correctly apply the law. The assurance that they will do so is provided by the supervisory and appellate courts. It is fundamental to the rule of law. The supervisory jurisdiction is the means by which those affected by judicial orders, but who are not parties to the determination and who have no rights of appeal or rehearing, obtain redress. Their right to seek such review is affirmed by s27 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights 1990. It is important that sufficient reasons are given to enable someone affected to know why the decision was made and to be able to be satisfied that it was lawful. Without such obligation, the right to seek judicial review of a determination will in many cases be undermined.


The third main basis for giving reasons is that they provide a discipline for the Judge which is the best protection against wrong or arbitrary decisions and inconsistent delivery of justice. In the present case it is hard to believe that the Judge would have granted the order if he had formally marshalled his reasons for doing so.

It was not necessary for the Court to rule on the issue in order to decide the case, but they expressed a desire to "at an early opportunity". Hopefully they'll get that opportunity sooner rather than later.

Pay equity faxathon

Last week, the government showed its contempt for women by shitcanning two inquiries into pay-equity in the public sector. This has inspired the folks at the Hand Mirror to organise a protest: a pay-equity faxathon. On March 6th (next Friday), print the above, sign it (and get your friends to sign it), and fax it to Tony Ryall's office (04 817 6504). If you don't use archaic fax technology, you can always post it (remember, postage to Parliament is free), or email him on

A big backlash now may limit government action in the future. So, start collecting signatures today.


Below is the draft of my submission on the Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill, which I'll be posting away later this afternoon. It is based on posts made here, here, here, here, and here.

  1. While I support the aims of the Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill, I oppose a key part of it, and ask that it be passed with amendments.
  2. I support the amendments to the Sentencing Act 2002 in Part 2, the Bail Act 2003 in Part 3, and the amendments to the Domestic Violence Act 1995 in sections 3 to 6 of Part 1. These amendments collectively address a key flaw in our existing domestic violence regime: the difficulty of enforcement. I ask that they be passed.
  3. I oppose new Part 6A, relating to on the spot “police orders”, and ask that it be amended to ensure that it conforms with the values affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
  4. Domestic violence is responsible for approximately 50% of all homicides, and 12,000 violent assaults a year. Combating it is undoubtedly an important public goal. But our means of doing so must be consistent with our fundamental values of fairness, justice, and the rule of law. The amendments proposed in new Part 6A are not consistent with these values. As written, they impose a significant penalty on a relatively low threshold of evidence with no effective possibility of review. This violates the rights to freedom of movement and justice affirmed in the BORA.
  5. The orders impose a significant penalty: A police order requires not only that its subject not assault, threaten, intimidate, harass, or damage the property of the person it protects – it also requires them to “vacate any land or building occupied by a person at risk, whether or not he or she has a legal or equitable interest in the land or building”. In plain English, that means kicking people out of their homes and effectively sentencing them to a short period of internal exile. The Ministry of Justice considers this to be a “very broad and intrusive effect” which “necessarily limits various significant legal rights of the person against whom it is made” and prima facie violates the right to freedom of movement. Such a significant penalty should be ideally imposed by a court, not by a mere police officer. If it must be imposed as an “on the spot” measure, it should be for only as long as reasonably necessary to apply to the Family Court for a full protection order – one or two days at most.
  6. The threshold for an order is low: The criteria for issuing an order laid out in new section 124B amount essentially to suspicion – a very low threshold on which to impose a penalty, let alone one as severe as throwing someone out of their home. In addition, the matters an issuing officer must have regard to are vague, and the inclusion of s124B (2) (e) – “any other matter the constable considers relevant” – provides a catchall clause which invites abuse. Finally, it is also questionable whether, in the circumstances where the orders are expected to be used, they would actually be necessary. As noted by the Law Commission,
    it is difficult to envisage circumstances that would meet the threshold of having "reasonable grounds to believe ... [it] is necessary to ensure the immediate safety" of an at risk person, where it would not also attract a power of arrest.
    In other words, suspected offenders could simply be arrested and charged.
  7. There is no effective review: The bill makes no provision for orders to be appealed or reviewed. While in theory an order could be subject to judicial review by the High Court, in practice the point will be moot long before a review gets on the docket. Such unreviewable power has no place in a democracy, and is a prima facie violation of the right to justice (including the right to appeal) affirmed in the BORA. There seems to be no reason for this violation beyond administrative convenience.
  8. An unjustified limitation: The proposed powers in the bill violate several rights affirmed in the BORA. In order to be a “justified limitation” of those rights under s5, a policy must be rationally connected to an important public goal, and it must be proportionate to achieving that goal. As noted above, combating domestic violence is undoubtedly an important goal, and there is clearly a rational connection. But the severity of the penalty combined with the low threshold and lack of effective judicial review render it disproportionate. If the orders are intended to provide protection for victims until a full order can be granted by the Family Court, they clearly last too long; if they are intended as a punishment then the threshold is too low and they should be imposed by a judge. Absent judicial oversight, they constitute punishment without trial.
  9. Recommendations: New part 6A should not be passed in its current form. Instead, it should be amended to:
    1. Provide an express right of appeal;
    2. Reduce the duration of the orders to only the time necessary for a victim to apply to the Family Court for a full protection order: one day, or two days on weekends;
    3. Remove s124B (2) (e).
  10. I do not wish to make an oral submission to the Select Committee.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This stinks

Stuff: Former cops' sentences quashed:

Two police officers convicted of covering up a colleague's alleged assault of a prisoner won't serve a day in jail, a judge decided yesterday.

Reuben James Harris and Benson Lyle Murphy were sentenced to 15 months jail last August after pleading guilty to conspiring to defeat the course of justice last August.

They tried to protect a colleague, who has name suppression, who allegedly assaulted George Tipene Harris in the back of their police car on October 3, 2004. Mr Harris was later found dead.

But in the High Court yesterday Justice Pamela Andrews quashed their prison sentences, instead sentencing them to 10 months home detention, the Dominion Post reported.


Justice Andrews did not give a reason for her decision.

This stinks. No, not because two crooked cops who admitted perverting the course of justice in a manslaughter case are avoiding jail - though that doesn't smell too good either. The reason it stinks is because the judge provided no reasons for her decision, making it absolutely impossible for us to scrutinise her decision. As Tumeke points out, there must be reasons - judges don't make their decisions by rolling 3D6 and consulting the sentencing table - but if we can't see them, we have no way of knowing whether they are good or bad - or of dismissing the odour of institutional corruption that naturally arises.

Which reinforces the importance of open justice. It's not about the spectacle or providing the media with easy copy; it's about ensuring public confidence in the justice system. If things are done in secret, as in this case, we can have no confidence at all in the outcome.


New Zealand diplomats have finally made contact with Mark Taylor, the kiwi held in Pakistan on suspicion of links with Islamic militants. And fortunately, he reports being well-treated and has not been tortured. The next step has to be to end his detention. Currently Taylor has been detained for two weeks, but he has yet to be charged with any offence. The New Zealand government needs to make it clear to Pakistan that detention without charge or trial is unacceptable and contrary to the undertakings it made when signing the ICCPR. The Pakistani government should therefore either charge him with something, or release him.

First strike

Oh dear. It seems that ACT MP and death-penalty advocate David Garrett has been caught out deliberately lying to the New Zealand public about the expected costs of his proposed "three strikes" law. Rethinking Crime and Punishment - a sane voice on "law and order issues" - had estimated the cost of "three strikes" at $7.5 billion over 25 years. Garrett responded by claiming the figures the costing was based on were false. But it turns out that those figures were provided by Corrections, and had been provided to Garrett back in 2007 in response to a request he had made. Which begs the question: why hadn't Garret used them in his estimate of the costs? Could it be because they were... inconvenient?

(Meanwhile, I - like a lot of other people - have an OIA in with Corrections to get their advice and costings on "three strikes". The results will no doubt be interesting)

[Hat-tip: The Standard]

No tour

The New Zealand and Zimbabwean cricket authorities have decided to delay the Black Caps' tour of Zimbabwe for a year to allow the situation in Zimbabwe to stabilise. Good. While Mugabe has recently signed a power-sharing deal with the opposition, we have yet to see whether it will work, or whether the country will continue to be a shitty, torturing despotism. A voluntary delay gives us time to assess the situation, and spares us the hassle of trying to find a legal way to stop it. It also shows a marked change in attitude from New Zealand Cricket, who last time were reciting the old apartheid mantra, "sport and politics don't mix". I guess the public revulsion - and the threat of undermining their sponsor's brands - was just too much for them.


Last month the UK Information Tribunal ordered the release of Cabinet minutes relating the decision to invade Iraq. The ruling was hailed as a victory for freedom of information and as proof that the UK's Freedom of Information Act was working properly in enabling the government to be held to account by the public. But now, Justice Secretary Jack Straw has vetoed release, claiming that it would not be in the public interest.

This has been met with a certain amount of cynicism. After all, the public has shown a great deal of interest in these documents, and in what they show about the way the Cabinet system broke down in the lead-up to Iraq. It's also very easy for politicians to conflate their own interests with those of the public - particularly when they could end up in the dock in The Hague for initiating a war of aggression if these documents are released. And that latter point is precisely why the public interest in these documents is so overwhelming: so that Tony Blair and the other war criminals who criminally ordered the invasion of Iraq can be held to account, either legally or democratically.

But now, thanks to the veto, the documents will not see the light of day for 30 years - by which time everyone involved will be dead or senile, and there will be no hope for justice. Unless, of course, some public spirited individual leaks them...

Oh, and for the curious, New Zealand's Official Information Act likewise has a veto clause, allowing the Governor-General (which in practice means Cabinet) to overrule an Ombudsman's recommendation to release by Order-in-Council. But they have to give reasons, which can in turn be judicially reviewed by the High Court. It has never been used. An earlier version of the clause, which allowed Ministers to veto release for any reason (rather than simply those considered earlier in the process) was used 14 times between 1983 and 1987, but a change in the law and strong public support for disclosure has put an end to it. Which points to the way forward in the UK: the electorate has to make it clear to politicians that vetoing a FOIA decision will have severe political consequences, and punish those responsible for this abuse. But given the UK's unfair electoral system, such a message may have little chance of getting through.

Reminder: Drinking Liberally in Wellington (again)

Drinking Liberally is on again in Wellington tomorrow, with guest speaker Grant Robertson.

When: 17:30, 26 February
Where: Southern Cross, Abel Smith St

[Hat-tip: The Standard]

Shameless greed

Now this is truly shameless: having bankrupted their employers and destroyed the global economy, Britain's fast money men, the scumbags who caused this mess, are now demanding a pay rise to make up for their lost bonuses. Because obviously they deserve one, having done so well at their jobs...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Unison Networks' proposed Te Waka windfarm has been rejected for the second time by the Environment Court. The project was originally consented by Hastings District Council in April 2007. It was appealed the the Environment Court, which rejected it on the grounds that it would "desecrate" an outstanding landscape. Unison resubmitted a smaller version of the project, which was called in to the Environment Court by Trevor Mallard; the Environment Court has now rejected it again on the same grounds. The upshot: renewable energy doesn't trump everything, and there are limits on visual pollution and where you can stick windfarms. And while I'm strongly in favour of wind power, I'm quite comfortable with that.

Hopefully this means the project will die a quiet death; if you can't win on the stacked process of a call-in, then your project really does suck. But its more likely that they'll pout and whine and complain about how the RMA is "holding up development" and demand the government sidestep its own courts to give them another go with an even more stacked process. This would be destructive not only of the environment, but also of the rule of law. But it seems our business community only favours that when it suits them.

No word on Mark Taylor

Two weeks ago, Mark Taylor, a kiwi, was arrested in Pakistan on suspicion that he had links with Islamic militants. Two weeks later, we hear that the New Zealand government is still being denied access to him. This matters. As I pointed out two weeks ago, Pakistan is a torture-state, which routinely abuses both criminal and terrorist suspects (and even witnesses) by various methods, including

beating, burning with cigarettes, whipping soles of the feet, prolonged isolation, electric shock, denial of food or sleep, hanging upside down, and forced spreading of the legs with bar fetters.
And any of that could be happening to Mark Taylor.

So far, MFAT has left this to an honorary consul - not even a professional diplomat - and have no plans to send more senior diplomats to Pakistan. In other words, they do not consider the possible torture of a New Zealand citizen to be a priority. And that simply isn't good enough.


Binyam Mohamed, a UK resident detained in Guantanamo Bay, has been freed. For those who aren't familiar with his story, he was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 when he was attempting to return home to the UK after a visit to Afghanistan. He was beaten by Pakistani authorities and hung from straps, before being rendered by the US to Morocco. There, he was tortured by having his penis and chest cut with scalpels; his torturers asked him questions clearly supplied by British authorities. He was then rendered to Bagram, before finally being dumped in Guantanamo in 2004. While the US has accused him of terrorism and conspiring to build a dirty bomb - based apparently on his admitting to reading a parody article - the UK clearly does not believe these charges, and he is not subject to any restrictions now that he has returned home.

What happened to Mohamed was outrageous, and I'm glad he has been released. But there are two things we need to remember. First, there are still another 250 prisoners still languishing in Guantanamo. And secondly, those responsible for his torture have not been held to account. And until the last prisoner has been released or transferred to a civilian court and those responsible for torture and abuse have been prosecuted, there will be no justice for Guantanamo.

Time and freedom

There's been some interesting discussion in the blogosphere in the past week on time and the lack of it in most people's lives. Both KiwiPolitico and Liberation have highlighted the effects of this on our society and our democracy. Chris Trotter argues powerfully that the struggle for more time to spend on ourselves has been at the heart of the left-wing project:

One of the earliest demands of organised labour – dating back over a century – was for a limitation of working hours. And one of the first things the First Labour Government did in 1936 was to reduce the length of the normal working week from 48 to 40 hours.

In a very real sense the entire socialist programme was about how to disengage the individual from the tyranny of the employer’s clock. What, after all, is profit, if it is not the time you spend working for the capitalist rather than for yourself? Public ownership, by doing away with the need for profit, was supposed to reduce the amount of time required to keep society functioning – thereby making more time available for individuals and families.

Trotter sees this through his old socialist economic lens, of course; I view it as a matter of freedom and autonomy. It's not just about enough rest, enough play, family and friends, "work-life balance", stress, happiness and overall quality of life - it's fundamentally about who is making the decisions: time spent doing what I want to do versus time spent doing what other people want me to do. And only during the former am I really free. Every moment I spend working to pay the rent1 is thus a very real intrusion on my liberty. Which is why they call it wage slavery...

So what is to be done? Obviously, we need to take back more of our time. On Just Left, Jordan Carter tries to present a concrete political programme for doing so, focusing on increasing leave provisions, reinstating the 40-hour week (remember that?), greater paid parental leave and an acknowledgement that "employment" may not be a binary state. This is all good, if incremental, stuff, but somewhat surprisingly misses what I would have thought would be the key policy. Research by the Department of Labour into those who work long hours shows that it can be broken down into two roughly equal groups: professionals working to "get ahead", and people driven to it by poverty. It also shows that those who work the hardest receive the least reward, with the income distribution skewing downwards among those working over 60 hours a week. What this tells us is that if we want to give people their time back, the first step has to be income adequacy and wages families can actually live on.

As for the longer-term, I favour something more ambitious than Jordan's vision. Let's start with a 35-hour week - not as a measure to reduce unemployment, but simply to give us more of our time back (to those who immediately start whining about "productivity", the ball is in the bosses' court; one reason they have not made the capital investments required to boost it is because despite everything Labour has done, labour is still too cheap). Beyond that, we should be moving to replace the benefit and pension system with a universal basic income, a universal payment given to every adult regardless of circumstances. Not only would this give us time (in that people could choose to take that six months off, or even not to work if they were content to do without luxuries); it would also permanently remove the employers' boot from our neck. And that more than anything else will give us our time - and our lives - back.

1 And contra Trotter's trolls, this is why most of us work. Yes, its nice if you love your job. But most of us are only in it for the money, and would much rather be doing something else.

Made in America

Amnesty International has been investigating who provided the weapons for Israel's recent bombing of Gaza. And they discovered that - as expected - Israel's weapons, including the white phosphorus it used to murder civilians, were made in and paid for by America:

Amnesty researchers in Gaza found several weapon fragments after the fighting. One came from a 500lb (227kg) Mark-82 fin guided bomb, which had markings indicating parts were made by the US company Raytheon. They also found fragments of US-made white phosphorus artillery shells, marked M825 A1.

On 15 January, several white phosphorus shells fired by the Israeli military hit the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza City, destroying medicine, food and aid. One fragment found at the scene had markings indicating it was made by the Pine Bluff Arsenal, based in Arkansas, in October 1991.


At the scene of an Israeli attack that killed three Palestinian paramedics and a boy in Gaza City on 4 January, Amnesty found fragments of an AGM114 Hellfire missile, made by Hellfire Systems of Orlando, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The missile is often fired from Apache helicopters.

As for the Palestinians, most of their weapons (such as they are) were homebuilt or supplied by illegal arms dealers.

Amnesty is calling for a total arms embargo against the two sides, and a suspension of US military aid (those weapons - including the white phosphorus Israel uses to melt the skin off children - aren't sold, but are paid for by the US taxpayer). It's a good idea. It won't stop the killing - Israel has built up a large domestic arms industry precisely in case of such an eventuality - but by depriving both sides of weapons, it should reduce them. And if the Israelis have to pay for their own wars, maybe they'll fight fewer of them...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Climate change: the effects of the recession II

Another story on the effects of the recession on climate change policy, this time from Europe. Over there, the recession is having its predictable effects, causing factories to close and energy usage to drop. One effect of this is to lower emissions. But it has also dropped the carbon price in the EU ETS through the floor - so low that Treasury's lowball estimates are accurate for once. Which has tilted the market against renewables, and set a perverse incentive to invest in future pollution...

The underlying lesson, as in new Zealand, is simple: emissions trading only works when there is a shortage of permits. If there are too many - if allowable emissions exceed actual emissions - then they cease to be effective, and combined with bankability in fact store up emissions for the future. The only solution is to reduce the number of permits available in a recession. Unfortunately, in a poorly designed ETS, this can be difficult. In Europe, they're not going to be able to do that until 2012 - too late to have any effect. in New Zealand, we're more fortunate; the allocation of free permits to industrial polluters has not yet been decided (let alone handed out), so we stil have plenty of time to fine-tune it to ensure the system works as advertised, rather than simply being a new subprime scam.

Victory on s92A!

The blackout was successful; we won!


Government announces delay in 92A enactment until March 29. If no agreement by then, it will be suspended.

Score one for the NZ public.

No freedom of speech in Afghanistan

Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai is a publisher in Afghanistan. Two years ago, he produced a Persian translation of the Koran. A Muslim cleric, Mushtaq Ahmad, signed a letter endorsing the translation as accurate. Now both have been sentenced to twenty years in jail for doing so. It's just another sad example of how Afghanistan has turned into a theocracy which infringes on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But the thing to remember is that we are supporting it. New Zealand currently has a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan Province, which is helping to prop up the government which is doing all this.

As I've said before, we should not be doing this. We would not send troops to prop up Iran's theocracy, and we shouldn't send them to prop up Afghanistan's. Instead, we should bring them home - and the sooner, the better.


So, after 14 years as Green party co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons is finally stepping down and retiring to the backbenches. I'll miss her. The plaudits are already flowing, and much is being made of her being the "credible" voice of the Greens and her status as New Zealand's most trusted politician, and I'll happily echo them. But I also like her because she's an unashamed wonk who seriously knows her stuff. It's a rare quality in a politician - Bill Birch reportedly didn't even know how to read a graph - and Fitzsimons has raised the level of public debate on energy policy and climate change. While she'll still be around, her departure from the co-leadership will result in less time for that knowledge. But like Nandor, she's served her time and given us more of her effort than we have any right to expect. She deserves her life back.

As for who will step into her shoes, that's obviously up to the Green party membership. But the right is already lining up to bash the two leading contenders, Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei, for their activist roots. I don't think the Greens should care about that. What matters is not whether their co-leader appeals to Peter Dunne, but whether they appeal to potential Green voters, and whether they are effective in the House. Both Bradford and Turei meet that standard, and either will be good.

A picture of the blackout

Like many other blogs, No Right Turn was blacked out this morning as part of a webwide protest against the imposition of the guilt by accusation copyright law. So how did it go? Pretty well. Tumeke has assembled a collage of the top 50 NZ political blogs (according to their blogocracy), and the effect is obvious:

(Less obvious is the fact that even those blogs which are not completely blacked out had posts protesting the law as well).

So did it have any effect? Russell Brown thinks so:

Was the protest a success? Yes. On February 13, the rights owners stance on the draft code of conduct for ISPs was that they should be in the sole position to adjudicate their own claims, and that they should be make to pursue those claims without incurring any of the cost of the process, which should fall entirely on ISPs. Now, they can't understand why no one grasped that they were never opposed to an independent dispute resolution process.

That's a big shift. But the code is months away from agreement. A vague law that relies overwhelmingly on an unfinished code should, at the least, be delayed.

I agree. And we'll see whether that is happening this afternoon.

Update: Kiwipolitico has more here.

Climate change: the effects of the recession

The Herald this morning reports that Climate Change Minister Nick Smith wants officials to recalculate our expected greenhouse gas emissions to take into account the effects of the recession. This is an obviously good move. Our last Net Position Report [PDF] was computed in early-mid 2008, when it seemed like the good economic times would continue forever. And its assumptions (p. 37) reflect this: apart from a small dip in 2008, economic growth hovers just short of 3%, the US-NZ exchange rate in the mid 60's, and the price of oil at US$100 a barrel. Now the global economy has fallen off a cliff and Treasury is projecting at least two years of recession, the exchange rate is around the 50 cent mark, and oil is back around US$40 a barrel. Updating the projection to take account of this is likely to make a real difference to our figures.

How much of a difference? Recessions in the 90's lopped a couple of megatonnes off our annual emissions due to declines in industrial activity and energy use. Which is enough to make a significant difference over CP1. But there are two obvious problems. First, emissions rose quickly again when the recession ended, so this isn't a free pass; we need to make sure they stay down. Secondly, this will likely throw the ETS even further out of whack. As I noted last year, the ETS is already massively overallocated: thanks to government freebies and cowardice on transport, there are far more permits than necessary to cover projected emissions. If industrial emissions decrease further, that problem will be exacerbated. There are two likely results: either the credits will be "banked", meaning that the emissions will simply happen later, or they will be sold offshore - meaning that the government will have to buy extra credits to replace them. The latter could be a significant expense: 40 million tons at $25/ton makes a nice round billion. That's money we wouldn't have to spend if the government hadn't been so keen on subsidising polluters.

The upshot is that the recession will not save us. While emissions may decline, our overall carbon account will go further into the red. The solution is for the government to take the opportunity to reduce its handouts to polluting industry to restore balance to the ETS. But that's highly unlikely under National.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Fisk

Obama was unconvinced by Bibi’s desire for peace
It’s been 250 years, but war still rages on the Plains of Abraham


Harry Nicolaides, the Australian author jailed in Thailand for the archaic "crime" of lese majeste, has been pardoned and released. He has now (sensibly) fled Thailand for a country which respects free speech and does not imprison people for writing bad novels. But while this is good news, Thailand's ridiculous law remains on the books, and the government is using it increasingly to stifle opposition to its plans to move Thailand away from democracy (or just to squash tourists used to freedom of speech). That should not be acceptable in any civilised country, and until Thailand repeals its law, people simply should not go there.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Police still spying on unions

What do you think it takes to get on the police's criminal investigation database? The sensible answer would be that it would contain reports of crimes - burglaries, murders, stolen cars, that sort of thing. Instead, it is being used to track day-to-day union business: pickets, meetings, public campaigns.

This is outrageous. Quite apart from the fact that it is a complete waste of resources, it is treating peaceful groups like criminals. And that should be utterly unacceptable in a democracy.

Speak out on s92A

With only 8 days to go until the guilt by accusation copyright law comes into effect, time is running out to stop it. Monday's Cabinet meeting will be crucial. And United Future's Peter Dunne is urging people to speak out against it while there is still time:

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne today called upon New Zealanders to let National’s MPs know in the next 24 hours exactly how strongly they feel about having their internet connections cut because of no-proof-needed internet piracy allegations.

He said Monday’s Cabinet meeting will effectively be the last chance to have Section 92A of the Copyright Amendment Act derailed before it comes into force on February 28.

“Basically, New Zealanders need to really speak up today and let National know exactly how strongly they feel about having this unjust law imposed upon them,” Mr Dunne said.

“They need to email National MPs and blog while they still can, because frankly, given that an unproven accusation of illegal downloading can get you disconnected from February 28, who knows who will be impacted?”

So, get to it. If you're wondering how to email an MP, the format is "". Or you can download the parliamentary contact list here [PDF].

MfE's budget "hole"

Since the election, the government has gone to great lengths to blame its predecessor for the cuts it is making to government programs and departmental budgets - for example by accusing them of failing to allocate funds for its promises (an accusation thoroughly refuted by David Cunliffe in Question Time on Tuesday). This morning's Herald piece about possible job cuts at the Ministry for the Environment seems to be part of this campaign, with Minister for the Environment Nick Smith blaming Labour for a $20 million budget "hole":

Environment Minister Nick Smith said job cuts were inevitable if the ministry was to keep within its 2009-10 budget of $56 million set by Labour - down from $75 million in the 2008-09 year.

Dr Smith said it was too early to know how many jobs would go or which programmes would be cut. But spending priorities would include climate change, work on water issues and waste management.

A ~30% budget cut in a year is unusual, to say the least, so I checked out the 2008/09 Appropriations for Vote: Environment [PDF]. And it turns out that Smith's "cut" isn't all its cracked up to be.

Firstly, the numbers (which, as usual, Smith is wrong about): In 2008/09 MfE was voted $85.3 million. In 2009/10, it will get $64.7 million - a gap of $20.6 million. But that's a little deceptive, because as the graph below shows, 2008/09 was an unusual year:


So, the truth is that MfE's 2009/10 budget will be about the same as its 2007/08 one. As for Nick Smith's "cut", it seems to be composed almost entirely of one-off expenses and inter-year transfers: $3 million in capital expenditure, another $3 million for policy advice on the Waste Minimisation Bill (a member's bill, so not part of their normal work programme), and a massive $8 million due to an interyear transfer of funding for the cleanup of the Tui Mine. Another $1 million for policy advice on that mess, $1.5 million for other cleanups, half a million for policy advice on trade agreements (which means the China FTA), and half a million for RMA call-ins, and most of the "cut" is accounted for. Of the remainder, $1.8 million is due to a fluctuation in the funding the Rotorua Lakes Restoration project. Which leaves a $0.8 million difference of actual program cuts as various projects expire - par for the course, and certainly nothing to get excited about.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering how Smith is able to get away with spouting this shit. I've been told that the first rule of journalism is to check your sources, and if your grandmother tells you she had soup for lunch, you don't report it unless you have two independent witnesses who can be quoted on it. But the Herald's journalist seems to have failed to bother to check the Budget documents to verify Smith's claims. I guess it's just too much hard work...

Women come last under National

Gender equality in the workplace is one of the basic tenets of a civilised society, and has been part of our public service since the mid 70's. But not any more. National is cancelling two pay-equity inquiries in the public service. Why? Because acting on the results might cost money:

The inquiries were aimed at female social workers at Child, Youth and Family, who are paid 9.5 per cent less than their male colleagues, and at inequities in the pay of mainly female school support workers.

But State Services Minister Tony Ryall said the investigations would "generate an additional form of remuneration pressure that is unaffordable in the current economic and fiscal environment".

And there you have National's priorities in a nutshell: equality - decency - is "unaffordable". That money would be better spent giving tax cuts to their rich - and primarily male - mates. Under National, the government will no longer lead by example on pay equity. Under National, women come last.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Urgency again

This time for the Resource Management Simplifying and Streamlining Bill. So, urgency on three days in a row solely as a way of hiding bills from the public until the last minute - with the result that the House has spent more days in urgency than out of it. It's smelling like the 90's blitzkrieg again...

Refusing to act on slavery

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee has reported back [PDF] on the Trade Aid petition to ban the import of products produced with slave labour. The petition was signed by 17,000 people, and the ban on slavery is a part of customary international law. Despite this, the committee has recommended that the government do... nothing. Why? Because it would be contrary to our WTO obligations:

We were told by the ministry that in the context of international trade rules New Zealand would need to consider a number of technical issues if it were to impose a trade ban on goods proven to have been produced by slave labour. While Article XI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade would prohibit banning the importation of goods made by slave labour, Article XX may allow the banning of imported goods on such grounds as the need “to protect public morals” or evidence “relating to products of prison labour”. However, where Article XX exceptions have been formally tested, they have proven very difficult to use and have never before been applied to the products of slave labour. Furthermore, there is no international consensus on which to base trade restrictions on goods produced using slave labour. New Zealand would need to prove that such a trade ban was not a disguised restriction on trade.
So the WTO (which succeeded GATT) permits goods produced by forced and slave labour to be prohibited when they are produced in a prison, but not when they are produced as the result of illegal activity or where slavery forms part of the general economic conditions of a country or industry. This is simply madness. And as a result, instead of legislating a ban, the select committee instead recommends "voluntary corporate social responsibility mechanisms". For slavery - something which is illegal under both New Zealand and international law.

What a crock. Time for someone to bring a member's bill.


So, having put up a bill which spits on the Bill of Rights, the government is now frantically back-pedalling, and trying to reassure people that it won't actually pass. But as amusing as it is to see them doing this a mere day after ramming it through to select committee under urgency, I have to ask: if they don't intend to pass the bill in its present form, why did they put it up in the first place?

Meanwhile, Labour's chief criticism of the bill seems to be that it is not vicious enough. And people wonder why I have such contempt for them...

Absolutely outrageous

That's the only way to describe the behaviour of immigration officials reported in the Herald this morning in forcing their way into someone's home. Here's the full description:

Mr Delamere, a former immigration minister, said officials needed to process travel documents to send 5-year-old New Zealand-born Eason Diao to China with his parents, who are overstayers.

But when his mother did not let them, the officials allegedly entered their home, grabbed Eason off the couch as he was watching television, pushed him against the wall and snapped the photographs they needed for the entry permit into China.

It was also alleged that the officials then made Ms Hao sign a handwritten letter they had written in poor English, stating that she wanted to take Eason, a New Zealand citizen, back to China to learn Chinese for three months.

Actually, I can think of another word: "unlawful". The police have powers of entry and search under the Immigration Act; immigration officers don't. They do have the power to require people in New Zealand unlawfully to surrender travel documents, and to require third parties to produce them if they are being hidden somewhere, but these powers apply only to existing documents. They absolutely cannot invade someone's home and photograph a minor - and a New Zealand citizen, at that - or force someone to sign a false declaration in order to kick them out of the country.

The immigration officials responsible for this abuse should be charged and prosecuted with breaking and entering, assault, and kidnapping. Then they should be fired. As for the department, it needs to take a long, hard look at itself, and the reasons for this growing culture of lawlessness and unaccountability among its staff - and take positive steps to eradicate it.

Draco would be proud

For the second time in a week, the Attorney-General has been forced to announce in the House that a key piece of government legislation is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act [PDF]. This time its the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill, which would implement ACT's "three strikes and you're in" policy by imposing a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with a 25-year non-parole period for a third specified violent offence. Where this would be "manifestly unjust", the court may impose a shorter non-parole period, but must still sentence the offender to life imprisonment.

The problem, of course, is that in many cases this sentence will be grossly disproportionate to the offence - and so outrageously so as to violate the BORA ban on disproportionately severe treatment or punishment (to which the normal "justifiable limitations" clause does not apply - there being no conceivable justification for torture, cruelty, or grossly disproportionate punishment). Even in cases of "manifest injustice", the law requires the courts to confirm rather than mitigate that injustice. In addition,

Absent manifest injustice [and even with it in most cases - I/S], the sentencing court is obliged to impose a sentence on a qualifying offender that may be significantly more severe than that imposed on a more culpable, but non-qualifying, offender. As a result, the scheme does not ensure a consistently rational connection between the offence and the penalty.
Instead, the Attorney-General points out that every specified offence is already subject to a possible sentence of preventive detention. Preventive detention is itself a violation of the BORA ban on arbitrary detention - but what's scary is that this proposed scheme makes it look good by comparison. At least with preventative detention the courts have to be satisfied of a significant and continuing risk of reoffending; here, they just have to say "you're a crim", and that's the end of it. So far, the courts have been reluctant to make declarations of inconsistency. But this law, engaging as it does a key part of the BORA which does not permit "justified limitations", seems designed to force them to it.

This is a bad law. it violates the BORA, it violates our international obligations under the ICCPR, and it violates basic standards of justice and decency. Instead, we seem to be codifying savagery and cruelty. Draco would be proud.

Another misuse of urgency

Before the holidays, the government abused urgency to ram through controversial legislation without the benefit of a select committee hearing. Today, they did something worse: calling for urgency for government business on a member's day - meaning that members were not given a chance to conduct their business. This displays utter contempt for the house, for their fellow MPs, and for the role of Parliament as a legislature. And it is virtually unprecedented. I've spent the last hour trawling Hansard all the way back to 1987 looking for a previous example of this sort of abuse. And it simply hasn't happened. Urgency has only been moved on a member's day on three previous occasions. And all differ significantly from the current abuse:

  • On 25 July 2001 Labour moved urgency on a Member's Day for the committee stages of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Bill and Electricity Industry Bill. The first of these was a local bill which was already top of the order paper and which had already eaten the previous member's day; the government seems to have been keen to clear it out of the way so MPs could conduct some of their own business. As for the second, they were in the middle of an electricity crisis. The House sat until Thursday night, and from the Hansard record it does not look as if the urgency interfered significantly with member's time (instead being used to make everyone start early the next day). IMHO it should still have been moved at 21:59, just before the House rose.
  • In June and September 1998, the Shipley government moved urgency on a member's day twice. On both occasions it was after a significant amount of member's business had been conducted.
So, we have one case of using urgency to push on with local business, and two of the government giving member's a fair shake first before moving it late in the evening. But on no previous occasion has a government simply usurped a member's day by moving urgency for government business. Eaten Wednesday, so member's day is delayed a week, yes - but take it over wholesale, no.

This is a gross abuse of the government's majority, and a clear sign of an arrogant, authoritarian government which sees Parliament simply as a rubber stamp. Again its worth pointing out that in 2005 the then-opposition made the House ungovernable after the government collapsed quorum during a member's day. The present opposition should take a similarly strong line.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No Member's Day and more BORA problems

The government has just shoved the House into urgency to debate its (not yet public) Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill implementing ACT's "three strikes" policy. So, no Member's Day after all. The government is however promising a full Member's Day next week.

Interestingly, the Attorney-General made another section 7 report that this bill is inconsistent with the BORA. This seems to be becoming a habit. It would be nice if we had a government committed to upholding the BORA, rather than having contempt for it.


Meridian Energy's 130MW Project Central Wind windfarm has been granted resource consent. While the decision can still be appealed, that is unlikely - Meridian bothered to get the local community onside this time. The application was filed in July last year, meaning the entire process has taken less than nine months. Which begs the question: why does the government need to gut the RMA if its this easy to get consent?

And Meridian's Mill Creek project as well - though this one may go to the Environment Court.

Colluding in torture

More dirt is emerging on the UK's role in the torture of Benyam Mohammed, with news today that MI5 fed questions to the CIA for his interrogation despite knowing that he had been disappeared and rendered to a third country. As for what that interrogation consisted of, here's Mohammed's own description, smuggled out of Guantanamo Bay by his lawyer:

They cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor's scalpel. I was naked. I tried to put on a brave face. But maybe I was going to be raped. Maybe they'd electrocute me. Maybe castrate me.

They took the scalpel to my right chest. It was only a small cut. Maybe an inch. At first I just screamed ... I was just shocked, I wasn't expecting ... Then they cut my left chest. This time I didn't want to scream because I knew it was coming.

One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony. They must have done this 20 to 30 times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. "I told you I was going to teach you who's the man," [one] eventually said.

There is no question that this was criminal, and those involved should be held accountable for it, no matter which government they work for.

Who funded the NZIER report III

Last month, we learned that Solid Energy, an SOE, has been subverting democracy again by using public money to pay for a report aimed at undermining the government's climate change policy. In a defence unworthy of a four-year old, they have claimed that they were not the only government department doing this - but refused to identify the other culprits. So, I've been using the OIA to try and find them. Unfortunately, so far, it has drawn a blank. Timberlands, Mighty River Power, TransPower, Genesis Energy, Treasury and DoC all deny having funded the report in question (though some have funded other work by NZIER). And now we can add the Ministry of Transport and Ministry for the Environment to that list as well. MfE has funded other work by NZIER, including "two firm-level case studies based on cost modelling of potential ETS impacts" - but they didn't fund this report.

So, who does that leave? MED (who are late), MAF, and Meridian. Or of course the other option: that Solid Energy was simply trying to lie its way out of trouble.

Protest against guilt by accusation copyright law!

Creative Freedom NZ has organised a protest against the "guilt by accusation" copyright law tomorrow in Wellington:

When: 12:00, Thursday 19 February
Where: Parliament forecourt
Wear: bright colours, with a black placard.

Please head along and show your support for natural justice.

Correction: Updated time.

Member's day

I thought it wasn't going to happen, but it has: today is (finally) a Member's Day. First up is the Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Bill, which criminalises people based on the clothes they wear and tramples all over the Bill of Rights Act. Unfortunately, this is seen as a Good Thing by National, ACT, and Labour, so we can expect a big "tough on crime" hatefest.

Second is the first reading of Franklin District Council's attempt to shirk paying for the regional facilities their citizens use in Auckland. This should be uncontentious (in that local bills are almost always sent to select committee), but National may want to talk it out.

Finally, if we're lucky we may get to the committee stage of Darien Fenton's Minimum Wage and Remuneration Amendment Bill which extends the minimum wage to contractors. The bill was delayed repeatedly before the election to get a couple of Green bills through, and I bet they're kicking themselves over that now.

ACT has delayed its Regulatory Responsibility Bill until August. ACT managed to get a taskforce to consider this as part of its coalition agreement [PDF], and they probably won't be reporting back until then at the earliest. So, they're probably holding it for amendments.

There are still six first readings on the Order paper, and while one - Craig Foss' Electoral Finance Amendment Bill - is likely to be withdrawn, that still leaves five. So, no ballot, and with 4 bills in their final stages, there may not be one for a while.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Election funding: repealed

According to the daily progress in the House, the Electoral Amendment Bill was passed earlier this evening, meaning the EFA will no longer be law as of 1 March. So, having been caught using sock puppets to circumvent the spending limits, the right has... relegalised using sock puppets to circumvent election spending limits. But don't worry - they've retained the more transparent donation regime; the fact that they will simply direct donors to non-transparent, unaccountable third-parties to run Brethren-style anonymous smear campaigns is never mentioned.

This is a disaster for our democracy, and it shifts power from the ballot box (where it belongs) to the banker's trust fund (where it does not). Shifting the regime back towards greater transparency on all participants, including "third parties", and preventing sock-puppet campaigns should be among the first acts of any future left-wing government. But with the right now free to buy elections by the backdoor, that may be rather difficult.

Against guilt by accusation

New Zealand's new Copyright Law presumes 'Guilt Upon Accusation' and will Cut Off Internet Connections without a trial. Join the black out protest against it!

Over the years I've taken a strong stand for legal due process on this blog. I've opposed the government's treatment of Ahmed Zaoui, its plans to seize assets from suspected (or even acquitted) criminals, and its plans for ASBOs, local body banishment orders, anti-domestic violence "police orders", and anti-boy-racer "cease and desist orders" for one simple reason: because I believe that people should not be punished without trial, and that when the government accuses you of something, you should be given a decent chance to defend yourself against that accusation. These are basic principles of a fair and just society, and recognised as such in our Bill of Rights Act.

So you can imagine what I think of the government's attempt to impose guilt by accusation on the people of New Zealand when it comes to copyright. This move violates those basic principles of justice and fairness, and it does so for the worst of reasons: because the copyright mafia have decided that it would be too expensive to even try to prove an allegation of breach of copyright. Instead, they want people cut off from the internet - and by extension, their friends, family, community, society, political system, and life - simply on accusation. And if they get it wrong? Tough shit.

This should not happen in a free society. We should not let it happen. Quite apart from the gross unfairness, the potential for abuse is enormous. Want to silence someone? Accuse them of copyright violation, and their ISP will be forced to take them down. The possibilities are endless...

As for what you can do about it, the Creative Freedom Foundation has a few suggestions here. And they promise not to kick you off the net if you pass it around...

[More on Public Address and Just Left]

Must read

Guantanamo, as seen through the eyes of one of its jailers. It's ugly stuff, and includes testimony of "sexual abuse by medical personnel, torture by other medical personnel, brutal beatings out of frustration, fear, and retribution". I hope one day it is heard in a court, with the people who planned this atrocity in the dock.

How the "war on terror" is destroying the UK

Three quick links on the way the wholehearted pursuit of the "war on terror" is destroying the UK:

Rimington is right: if the UK keeps doing this, it will end up as a repressive police state (if it isn't already - and their panopticon looks pretty close). Which means that in an important sense, the terrorists will have won. But somehow, I don't think the UK's authoritarian political class will mind one bit.

Update: So what's Miliband hiding? Looks like the UK's own torture by proxy policy using the Pakistanis and Americans to keep MI5's hands officially "clean". Another thing we can all thank Tony Blair for...

Slash and burn

After a promising start, it looks like National is reverting to type after all, with an ACT Minister letting slip that the government's razor gang had been instructed to slash 10% from departmental budgets:

ACT MP and minister outside Cabinet Heather Roy named the savings target in an email newsletter.

"In a response to current economic circumstances, all Government ministers and departments are conducting a line-by-line review of expenditure to identify where savings – of around 10 percent – can be made."

And it looks like the slash and burn has already begun, with confirmation that the government is planning to slash 500 to 1000 people from the Ministry of Social Development - the very people who are going to be needed to help others during the recession. But as usual, they'll be told to "do more with less". In the 90's, that philosophy - of imposing arbitrary budget cuts in pursuit of some arbitrary fiscal target - led to crumbling schools, roads, and hospitals, to chronically underpaid doctors, nurses, and teachers, to growing public health waiting lists and high barriers to getting social support. It also led to a government which outsourced core functions to highly paid consultants while letting its internal capacity wither - to the extent that it was eventually unable to run an election properly due to the relevant people not being budgeted to do it. Even after nine years in power, Labour was unable to heal all of that damage. And now it looks like National is going to do it all again...

So, when your local school starts falling down and you can't find a doctor, just remember: that's the price you pay for electing a National government.

New Kiwi blog

Micro Party Watch - keepign an eye on the electoral detritus.

[Hat tip: The Standard]

Monday, February 16, 2009

A victory for humanity

Iranian refugee Ali Reza Panah has been granted refugee status by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority. Panah came to New Zealand in 2002 and claimed refugee status on the basis of having converted to Christianity (which carries the death penalty in Iran). The RSAA didn't believe him. Then they changed their mind, accepted his conversion as genuine, but argued that he could simply practice his religion in secret - effectively washing their hands of the problem and their obligations under the refugee Convention. Now, they've changed their minds on that too, and decided he can stay - thanks partly to the publicity generated by their abuse of him. But it took two years detention without trial and Panah almost starving himself to death before they accepted that and made the decent, humane decision they should have made in the first place.

Meanwhile, it looks like things are going well for Bahareh Moradi as well. And I'm wondering: does this mean the ineffective system of mandatory detention is finally being abandoned?

Progressive bills project update

On Friday, I launched the New Zealand Progressive Bills Project - a wiki tool to enable the left to develop legislation and policy from the grassroots. So how's it going? Pretty well, I think. We now have 16 active topics, 7 actual bills, and a bunch of people throwing ideas around. And with some projects we're already at the stage of looking for MPs to front them.

If you're keen on participating, you can apply to join the project here

DoC, Meridian, and the RMA

Radio new Zealand has a scoop this morning on a secret deal signed between Meridian Energy and the Department of Conservation [audio] which saw the latter withdraw their objections to the Project Hayes windfarm in Central Otago in exchange for $175,000. A few thoughts on this:

  • Firstly, these sorts of arrangements are common, and in one sense are the whole point of the RMA. As I have noted before, the RMA is an attempt to implement Coase's Theorem. It is predicated on the idea that planning is "simply" an exercise in balancing competing property rights, and that the most efficient outcome is gained by letting one side buy the other out.
  • Secondly, it is not at all unusual for DoC to negotiate and settle on windfarm consents. For example, DoC initially expressed concerns about the Te Rere Hau windfarm's possible impact on local native birds. They withdrew their objection in exchange for an agreed condition to the consent allowing ongoing monitoring to determine that impact (in other words, they got what they wanted). But you would not expect them to settle where there were major conservation impacts.
  • Jeanette Fitzsimons is right: the deal should not have been secret. DoC is a government department, and has an obligation to act transparently. But this is what happens when you infect the public service with private-sector values through SOEs...
  • Finally, the real problem here seems to have been Labour's insistence on a whole-of-government submission in support, which completely overrode DoC's concerns and forced them to shut up. Under the circumstances, they may very well have got the best deal on consent conditions that they could. But they should not have been put in that position by the government. DoC is supposed to advocate for certain values regardless of what e.g. the Ministry of Energy thinks, and if they have concerns on a project, they should be free to express them. That's what "contestable policy advice" means.
As for what we should see out of this, I can think of two things: firstly, a directive that government departments should not agree to secrecy on such deals. If they negotiate a settlement which meets their concerns, they must make the whole deal public (and business with its culture of secrecy and unaccountability can take a hike). Secondly, a greater commitment to the principle of contestable policy advice, and the strongest argument winning. But with National cuddling up to the coal industry and wanting to ram projects through (or rather around) the RMA process, I don't regard either as particularly likely.

Another Bruce Emery?

Over the weekend the blogosphere has seen a number of excellent posts on child-killer Bruce Emery's sentencing. Meanwhile, New Zealand saw another Emery-style incident. In New Plymouth, a group of teenagers engaged in the age-old prank of ringing someone's doorbell then running away. The resident responded by chasing them to a local school and beating them unconscious. All three ended up in hospital and two are likely to need surgery. So, will the child-beater get the same lenient treatment that Emery got?

Police are seeking a male Maori with "bouffy" hair aged 17 to 20 years old, of medium build, who was wearing a white singlet, long pants and black and white shoes.
Somehow, I think not...

The cost of prison slave-labour

I've blogged several times in the past about the use of prison slave-labour in New Zealand. So far I've focused on the exploitation of prisoners and their lack of worker's rights - but there is another side to the equation as well. In Auckland, over a hundred workers have just lost their jobs due to prison slave labour. That work, skilled employment with reasonable pay, has gone inside prison walls to Corrections' captive labour market:

Auckland company Stevensons has been making concrete slabs for over 60 years.

But in the last three years it says its business has been threatened from within prison walls.

"We were aware of a couple of contracts at least that were awarded to prison, prison staff effectively undercutting the existing traditional precast players," says Managing Director of Stevensons, John Rae.

Rae says his company lost at least two contracts worth up to half a million dollars.

Maximum security Paremoremo Prison won the tenders.

It's difficult to compete with someone who can pay their workforce $0.20 an hour and is not subject to normal taxes, health & safety rules or labour standards. And while Corrections' Inmate Employment Policy requires charging "a competitive market-related price", as we've seen from recent abuses of electoral law, there's a high degree of wiggle room in that phrase, which leaves plenty of space for Corrections to undercut legitimate businesses. The end result is honest, hardworking people driven out of work in favour of slaves. And with National planning a massive boost in prison numbers and a greater use of prison slave labour, we're going to see more and more of it over the next three years.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

New Fisk

A fair point: Everyone is equal in their suffering during wartime

Friday, February 13, 2009

What stimulus?

The past few weeks have seen the government announcing measures to stimulate the economy as part of its "rolling maul" of initiatives. It's talked big about how they plan to spend $9 billion, and how this is the third-highest per-capita in the OECD.

Unfortunately, they're lying. Pundit has been digging into their numbers, and uncovered the truth: National's "stimulus package" is a $9 billion bait-and-switch. Almost all of the spending was already announced by the previous government. "It is old, pre-global recession spending dressed up as a response to the current crisis".

The short version is this: Last December the government confirmed that its new spending combined with Labour's already committed spending would total $9b over the next three years. Every spending announcement since – the business tax reform, the new bridges and schools – hasn't been about new money, it's merely been telling us how that $9b would be spent. While the economy tanks and the rest of the world commits hundreds of billions in new spending, New Zealand hasn't changed its fiscal plans one iota.


It's like Obama announcing all the policies in his new stimulus package, but funding most of them out of George Bush's bailout last year.

In retrospect, this should have been obvious from before the election. Their election campaign "economic management plan" was simply the same old policies they had already announced, tarted up as a response to the fiscal crisis. Of course they'd pull the same trick when they gained power. The problem is that they are now responsible for dealing with a real crisis with real consequences - and rather than actually doing something about it, they are engaging in empty spin while in reality doing nothing.

New Zealanders expect better than that. We expect action - and we expect honesty. And if National's dishonest fake "stimulus" results in bad consequences for ordinary New Zealanders, National will have those consequences repaid in full at the ballot box.

Election funding: the repeal bill

Yesterday the government introduced its Electoral Amendment Bill to repeal the Electoral Finance Act. As advertised, the bill re-enacts the old advertising regime of the pre-EFA Electoral Act 1993 [PDF], with the EFA's donation disclosure regime. Transitional provisions preserve the EFA's rules for the 2008 election. Third parties are once-again uncontrolled, allowing National to repeat its 2005 tactics of conspiring with proxies to circumvent spending limits (hopefully this will be remedied when they implement their supposed new regime, otherwise our democracy will be significantly endangered by the conspiracy of moneyed interests). But there is one notable omission from the law: s226A, inserted by the EFA, allowing the police to issue search warrants to investigate corrupt or illegal practices. This was not part of the old law, but it seems basic to any enforcement regime, and I'm surprised that a government which claims to be committed to transparency has neglected to re-enact it. Unless they have something to hide...?