Tuesday, June 27, 2017



I do not care about Todd Barclay's lifestyle

The Todd Barclay saga hit the sewer this morning with a Newsroom article on Glenys Dickson's negotiations with Parliamentary Services, which included implications about Todd Barclay's lifestyle.

The Barclay scandal raises several matters of public interest. Whether Barclay broke the law against the use of interception devices. Whether the National Party perverted the course of justice by trying to heavy Dickson into dropping the matter. Barclay's shitty treatment of his employees, and whether he and the Prime Minister lied to the public about it. But what Todd Barclay (or any other MP) does in private is no part of it, and none of our concern. I keep my nose out of MP's private lives, and I'd appreciate it if they'd do the same for us.

New Fisk

By demanding the end of Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia is trying to turn Qatar into a vassal state

Why we need to price water III

Another day, and another announcement of a water bottling firm wanting to suck us dry:

Millions of litres of crystal clear spring water could be bottled and shipped overseas in a proposal backed by the local council.

NZ Pure Blue Springs Limited wants to take from Putaruru's Blue Spring in the Waihou River more than the amount of water currently being pulled from the Waikato for bottling.

In its resource consent application to Waikato Regional Council, it has asked to extract 6.9 million litres a day.

[...]

A council spokesperson confirmed it would be getting some form of payment from the company for its support, saying it had indicated it would provide an amount of funding in trust to benefit the Putaruru community.


How much? Because 6.9 million litres a day is worth at least $2.5 billion a year retail. Obviously, there are extraction and operating costs associated with getting that money, but still. Its a huge amount of money, and the public deserves its share of the revenue derived from the extraction of a public resource. Otherwise, we're just being taken for suckers.

Just say no to Broadspectrum

National wants to sell 2500 state houses in Christchurch,as part of its plan to exit the state housing sector and make government suck. And who do they want to sell them to? Broadspectrum:

One of the consortiums shortlisted to buy Housing New Zealand homes in Christchurch has links to a company accused of human rights breaches on Manus Island.

[...]

One consortium is made up of housing provider, Trust House Limited and Broadspectrum New Zealand, a subsidiary of a larger Australian-based business in charge of operating the controversial Manus Island refugee detention centre.

Broadspectrum, along with the Australian government, this month agreed to a $73 million out of court settlement with detainees after they said they were mistreated.


Where "refugee detention centre" is Australian for "concentration camp where people are tortured, beaten, and neglected". Presumably Broadspectrum would bring the same standard of care it has shown on Manus Island to Christchurch social housing tenants.

This is not a bid we should accept. Instead, Broadspectrum should be banned from operating in this country as long as it continues to operate concentration camps.

Monday, June 26, 2017



OIA timeliness complaints

Official Information Act requests are supposed to be responded to "as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received". But as we all know, delays are common. Apparently 23% of all OIA complaints to the Ombudsman are about delays, and previously every single one of them resulted in a (time-consuming) formal investigation. But from 1 July, that will change. The Ombudsman is introducing a new, streamlined approach to handling OIA delay complaints, which basicly boils down to recognising that a formal investigation is fairly pointless if the requester now has the information. Which is sensible, and a good way to focus the Ombudsman's resources on the cases that need it. But before you start thinking that this is letting agencies off easy:

To ensure that repeated non-compliance or any other apparent systemic issues are identified and addressed, all delay complaints will be logged and tracked by the Office of the Ombudsman.

In addition, the number of OIA delay complaints received and completed will be published on a six-monthly basis, as part of our current publication of OIA complaints data project.


So, delinquent agencies will be named and shamed, and it is likely that the worst offenders will face formal investigations into their OIA systems. Its a good move, and one I support. And maybe it'll be worth complaining about timeliness again...

The British used waterboarding in Northern Ireland

Its long been known that the British government used torture in Northern Ireland during "the troubles". The Five Techniques were the subject of a case before the European Court of Human Rights, and it has since emerged that (contrary to the evidence it gave at the time) the British government had an official policy of torture. British army officers have admitted being torturers (that guy is still an MP, BTW. I guess Tories love torturers). But previously the admissions of torture have bene restricted to the Five Techniques. Now it turns out that they waterboarded, sexually assaulted, and electrocuted people as well:

Fresh documents which allege waterboarding was used by the British Army and the RUC in the North in the 1970s have been uncovered by a Derry human rights organisation.

Extracts from the papers - which also include claims of sexual assault and the use of electric shock treatment - will be read aloud by the actor Stephen Rea and others at a seminar hosted by the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and Amnesty International in London today (Monday).

Most of the documents, which have been seen by The Irish Times, are statements made by alleged victims to the Association for Legal Justice (ALJ).

In a way this isn't surprising. The British used similar techniques in Palestine, Malaya, Cyprus and Aden, and taught "friendly" dictatorships how to use them. At the same time, its worse than what's been previously alleged. And those responsible, from the soldiers and constables pouring water down people's throats to the politicians who authorised it, need to be prosecuted for it. And if the current British government won't commit to a full investigation and holding its past criminals to account, they should be joining them in the dock for perversion of the course of justice.

Climate change: To the courts!

There's an interesting case in court today: student Sarah Thomson is challenging the government's climate change target:

Sarah Thomson, 26, will have her case against Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett for the perceived failure to set emissions targets that reflect the science of climate change heard on Monday.

"Every year we're experiencing more extreme weather like cyclones, droughts and floods. Entire communities are being left devastated, yet our Government is burying its head in the sand," Thomson said.

While some have dismissed the action as a joke, Thomson will be climbing the court steps armed with affidavits from two of the foremost climate scientists from New Zealand and the United States, backed by lawyers from Auckland firm LeeSalmonLong.


The case revolves around the Minister's target-setting powers under sections 224 and 225 of the Climate Change Response Act and the degree to which they are governed by the UNFCCC (which the Act incorporates in its purpose and schedules). If the court concludes that the Minister's power is strongly constrained by the UNFCCC and that (in light of that) her targets were irrational, she could be required to set new ones. There's an analysis here by Otago law student Charles Owen, which suggests that the chances of that happening are not good - but I guess there's only one way to find out. And at the least it'll force the government to come clean about its target-setting process, and let us learn whether there was any improper purpose (e.g. adhering to the UNFCCC in name only) involved.

Not grovelling after all

Last week, after a report in Stuff, I accused the Labour Party of grovelling to the almighty cow by backing away from resource rentals for water. But it turns out they were misreported:

“It was reported following my speech to Federated Farmers last week that Labour has abandoned its policy of charging a royalty on farming uses of water. We haven’t.

“At the conclusion of my speech I was asked about resource rentals which I thought was a reference to our NZ Power policy of 2014. I replied that we were not continuing with that policy. I confirmed we would impose a levy on bottled water. This was in addition to our focus on water quality, which I had already spoken about.

“The message of my speech was that we will work with farmers on regulatory change and that there is urgency to act on environmental quality and climate change. We remain committed to setting a resource rental for large water take for irrigation at a fair and affordable price.


This is good to hear. Currently farmers enjoy an enormous public subsidy in the form of free water, and this encourages and enables environmentally destructive practices. Hopefully Labour will follow through on this policy, and make farmers pay their way, rather than letting them steal and pollute with impunity.

Friday, June 23, 2017



Correcting the wrongs of the past

Germany is to pardon and compensate victims of a Nazi-era anti-homosexual law:

Germany’s parliament has voted to quash the convictions of 50,000 gay men sentenced for homosexuality under a Nazi-era law that remained in force after the second world war.

After decades of lobbying, victims and activists hailed a triumph in the struggle to clear the names of gay men who lived with a criminal record under article 175 of the penal code.

An estimated 5,000 of those found guilty under the statute are still alive. The measure overwhelmingly passed the Bundestag lower house of parliament, where chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition enjoys a large majority.

It also offers gay men convicted under the law a lump sum of €3,000 (£2,600) as well as an additional €1,500 for each year they spent in prison.


Note that this isn't about Nazi crimes - those convicted under the Nazi regime had their convictions overturned in 2002. Its for those punished under the law between 1945 and its repeal in 1968 or 1994 (for east and West Germany respectively). This law was wrong, and it is entirely right that those punished under it receive an apology and compensation (though €1,500 for a year in prison is derisory).

Meanwhile, where's New Zealand? National promised to overturn past convictions for homosexuality back in February, but no bill has been introduced to the House yet. And of course its on a case-by-case basis (meaning you need to grovel for justice), and there's no talk of an apology or compensation for the state's abuse of power. I guess righting these past wrongs simply isn't a priority for the National Party...

New Zealand votes against international law

Over fifty years ago, Britain stole the Chagos Islands and forcibly expelled their inhabitants to Mauritius to make way for a US military base. Since then, they've been fighting for justice through the UK courts, and most recently at the UN. Last night, they won another victory, with the UN General Assembly voting 94 to 15 to seek an advisory opinion from the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague on the UK's actions, which appear to breach international law. Sadly, New Zealand voted against the motion:



I guess this is National's foreign policy now: voting to cover up the colonial crimes of our former masters. Its sickening. We're supposed to stand for a law-governed world, and that means supporting international law, no batter who benefits. Instead, we're just sucking up to the powerful and being their dogsbody.

As for how to fix this, if we want to change our foreign policy direction, we need to change the government. It is that simple.

New Fisk

What politicians said in the wake of Grenfell Tower rings hollow if you’ve seen it all before in the Middle East

Pull the other one

Issues around illegal interception of communications have been prominent in the media over the last few years. There's the Kim Dotcom case, of course, and all the GCSB's shennanigans around driftnetting communications (including those of New Zealanders) from our Pacific Island neighbours. And who could forget the Bradley Ambrose case, where a dictaphone was inadvertently left running during John Key's sitdown with John Banks, and which resulted in the police raiding several media offices? So its quite surprising then for Bill English to claim that he and the National Party had no idea that Todd Barclay might be committing a crime by recording the conversations of his electorate staff:

Prime Minister Bill English has indicated Todd Barclay didn't know his recording of a staffer's conversations could be illegal until a police investigation was launched.

[...]

Speaking to media in Auckland, English said during the dispute his advice to Barclay had been that "that wasn't good behaviour".

When a police investigation started it raised issues about possible offences and "I don't think [it] had occurred to anybody that there may be some potential offence", English said.

English said once there was an investigation established the possibility of an offence became clearer.


Yeah, right. In order to believe this, we'd have to believe that English, a senior politician, had paid no attention to major events affecting the party and government he is a part of. We'd have to believe he has been effectively brain dead for the past decade. Its simply not credible.

It is however a perfect example of how politicians pretend ignorance for political advantage. This is dishonest and it shows a lack of respect for the public. And we should respond by punishing such politicians brutally at the ballot box.

Thursday, June 22, 2017



There is corruption in New Zealand

Its commonly believed that New Zealand is not a corrupt country. But that belief is wrong, according to a new study by Deloitte's:

[A]ccounting firm Deloitte's latest bribery and corruption survey has found that about 20 percent of New Zealand companies surveyed had detected some form of corruption - about the same level as the previous survey two years ago.

"The perceptions differ from the reality. Corruption is real in New Zealand, it's happening and that's evidenced by the cases coming before the courts," said Deloitte forensic director Lorinda Kelly.

In February, Stephen Borlase and Murray Noone were each jailed for five years, and a third man was given 10 months' home detention, in a bribery case involving the awarding of contracts at Auckland Transport.


This is something we need to stamp out, before it becomes the sort of pervasive culture seen in Australia or elsewhere overseas. And the government should be leading on that, by eliminating corruption by politicians. Crony appointments, secret donations and gifts, and misuse of public funding all send a message that corruption is acceptable. If we don't want that message to become established, politicians need to clean house.

Labour grovels to the almighty cow

Correction: It appears Labour were misreported. Followup post here.

Farmers are destroying our environment, sucking our rivers dry and filling them with cowshit, while poisoning underground aquifers. So naturally, Labour wants to let them off paying for any of that:

Labour has dropped its 2014 election policy to charge a resource rental on farmers who use water for irrigation and discharge too many nutrients.

Speaking to the annual conference of Federated Farmers, Labour Party leader Andrew Little said while there were "real environmental limits to growth", the party would discard the policy which had alarmed the farming community.

Prior to the 2014 election, Labour said a resource rental was the best tool for making sure freshwater was used efficiently.

Federated Farmers environmental spokesman Chris Allen welcomed Labour backing off from the policy as a "significant shift".

A resource rental is both fair, in that farmers are profiting from a public resource, and environmentally sound, in that it will discourage environmentally destructive practices. But Labour clearly doesn't care about any of that. Instead, they're sucking up to farmers and grovelling to the almighty cow. And why? Its not like these people will ever vote for Labour anyway.

Still, its a crystal clear sign of where Labour stands on the environment. Faced with our biggest domestic environmental challenge, they've chickened out for fear of offending National voters. And the solution to this is clear as well: if we want clean rivers and for farmers to pay their way, we need to vote Green.

Boo hoo

Faced with the undeniable degradation of its rivers and lakes due to intensive dairy farming, ECan is finally planning to do something about it by imposing nutrient limits. Naturally, farmers hate the idea, claiming that it will put them out of business:

Dairy farmers in Canterbury could be pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by new rules designed to limit pollution from farm animals, a local farmer says.

Canterbury Regional Council's Plan Change 5 to the Land and Water Regional Plan involves limits being placed on, for example, how much urine is deposited on paddocks by dairy cows.

The intention is to reduce the leaching of harmful nitrates into surrounding waterways.

Mid-Canterbury dairy farmer Willy Leferink said in some cases this would force farmers to reduce their herd size, which could send them bankrupt.


Boo fucking hoo. To point out the obvious, farms threatened by this are only "profitable" because lax regulation means they are able to avoid paying their full environmental costs. And if ending that regulatory subsidy and preventing those costs puts those farms out of business, we're actually better off overall.

The latest Labour muppetry

Last week, the Labour Party announced a policy aimed at reducing the number of foreign students in New Zealand. Meanwhile, it turns out they've been using foreign students on their campaign - and mistreating them:

A group of 85 Labour Party interns flew to New Zealand from around the world expecting lectures from Helen Clark and real world campaign experience.

They arrived to a cramped dormitory, no pay, no lectures, and a broken shower.

[...]

Instead they have been working phone banks and living in a cramped dormitory in an Auckland marae, a report in Politik claims.

The scheme was run by former Labour Auckland head Matt McCarten, who left his job a fortnight ago.


The good news is that the party has stepped in to try and make things right, but its still not a good look. While international volunteering is a long and valuable political tradition, using foreign student volunteers to campaign against foreign students is simply hypocritical. And failing to treat your volunteers properly? That's stupid as well as wrong.

Once again, Labour have fucked up something they should have easily got right. They look like muppets. And if they can't organise an election campaign properly, how are they supposed to govern if they win?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017



Treasury and the OIA

How does Treasury handle OIA requests? Someone is using FYI, the public OIA request system, to ask agencies for their OIA processes as part of a wider research program. Treasury's response to this request is here, and the documents they have released are quite interesting and informative. And they reveal a couple of problems.

Firstly, Treasury's redaction policy appears to be unlawful. The instructions are contained in their process to "Finalise, Assess and Mark-Up Relevant Information" (p. 25) and requires staff to:

If at all possible, remove complete blocks of text (e.g. whole phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or pages) rather than individual words or numbers. If the removal of certain words or numbers makes the remaining information irrelevant or meaningless, then remove the entire sentence or paragraph.

[Emphasis added]

But information being irrelevant or meaningless without key words or numbers is not a lawful reason under the Act for withholding it. Furthermore, decisions on what to redact must be guided by the Principle of Availability - agencies should redact as little as possible. If this results in documents which look like confetti in places, then so be it - better that than agencies redact more than they need to.

Secondly, Treasury believes its OIA training material is secret (document 3, p 47-51). What staff are supposed to get out of the workshop, and examples / case studies of requests for discussion are all redacted as "free and frank opinion". This is simply ridiculous. A training goal is not an opinion, and neither is an example scenario. What staff say during any particular workshop might be free and frank opinion, but course material designed to encourage discussion and illustrate the proper application of the Act (and common mistakes in dealing with it) can not possibly be. Furthermore, there's a strong public interest in release, in that publication of this material helps build public confidence that Treasury staff are well-trained and will deal with requests lawfully. Conversely, keeping this material secret undermines public confidence. Treasury has fucked up here, and they need to remedy it.

The good news is that their detailed advice from that point onwards is not redacted, and is a thorough explanation of the Act and how it should be applied. There are a few problems - buried in the "process lessons" (doc 4, p. 99) is advice to effectively ask Ministers to approve redactions within Treasury OIAs, something they recognise elsewhere is inappropriate. But its generally good guidance. Hopefully other agencies guidance is as thorough.

Not good enough

So, spying National MP Todd Barclay has got the hint and decided not to stand at the election. Good riddance. And OTOH, as is being pointed out on Twitter, this is the "accountability" you have when you don't want to hold someone accountable for their actions. National will still benefit from Barclay's vote. And Barclay will receive full pay until 3 months after the election - effectively a $75,000 golden handshake.

As a reminder, Barclay is alleged to have unlawfully spied on his employees. And he has admitted that allegation on the public record. He shouldn't be getting $75,000 of our money to go quietly. He should be in jail.

New Fisk

The US seems keener to strike at Syria's Assad than it does to destroy Isis

Another look?

After yesterday's revelations, police are taking "another look" at the case against National MP Todd Barclay:

Police have confirmed they're taking another look at the investigation into under-fire National MP Todd Barclay.

Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers confirmed police are "assessing the information that has been discussed publicly in recent days in relation to any impact on the findings of the original Todd Barclay inquiry".

Their investigation into Barclay ended after the rookie MP refused to cooperate with police and there was inconclusive evidence to pursue it further.


On the one hand, I'm pleased to see that they're at least pretending to care. OTOH, we all know how this will go: they'll say they're taking another look at the allegations, sit on it for six months, then announce the same result. Because the police work for the people who pay them, which means the government-of-the-day. And the last thing they will want to do is piss off that government by bringing charges against one of their MP's and destroying their majority.

Of course, I could be wrong - in which case I will be pleasantly surprised. But based on their past performance, I expect the police will continue grovelling to power, just like they always have.