Friday, October 21, 2016

This is why we need Parliamentary authorisation for military deployments

The Guardian is reporting that New Zealand SAS troops are in combat in Northern Iraq. The government is vigorously denying the claims, but do you believe them? The problem - entirely of their own making - is that they cloud SAS deployments in self-serving secrecy and refuse to give any details. This, combined with the fact that they reserved the right to send them to Iraq alongside the supposedly non-combatant trainers, means that it can't really be ruled out.

Which is precisely why foreign military deployments should have to be authorised by Parliament. The government shouldn't have the right to involve us in a shooting war and send kiwis overseas to kill and die without telling us about it. The UK requires Parliamentary authorisation for foreign military deployments. We should follow suit.

A blow against bigotry in the UK

The UK government has agreed to pardon gay men convicted of historic offences:

Thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under outdated gross indecency laws are to be posthumously pardoned, the Government has announced, in a “momentous” victory for campaigners.

Announcing what has been dubbed as the ‘Alan Turing law’ justice minister Sam Gyimah said the Government would seek to implement the change through an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill. It will effectively act as an apology to those convicted for consensual same-sex relationships before homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967.


In another step, the Government is also announcing that it will introduce a new statutory pardon for the living in cases where offences have been successfully deleted through the disregard process.

Mr Gyimah added: “It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today. Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs.”

Righting this historic wrong is a great step forward for justice in the UK, and a blow against bigotry. But what about New Zealand? There's a petition currently before the Justice and Electoral Committee, but the government's response has been to dismiss it as "too hard". National thinks it is far easier to let these people carry the burden of their unjust convictions than to act to correct them - and that's just wrong. These people were convicted of things that should never have been criminal in the first place. The government has wronged them, and it needs to right that wrong and apologise. If the UK can do it, then so can we.

New Fisk

Lebanon is a sectarian nation, yet it has avoided civil war while the Middle East burns – here's why

Open Government: Finally, an action plan!

Yesterday, just ten days before the (self-extended) deadline, the government released its Second Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2016-18. The first action plan was a disaster, with unambitious and vague "commitments" developed in secret without meaningful input from the public. The good news is that this one is much better.

The Action Plan contains seven commitments, focusing on open data, an open budget, improved OIA practice, improved access to legislation, improved policy practice (including around consultation), and improved OGP engagement. Many of these reflect suggestions made in the public engagement process, and there's no hidden Big Brother agenda. They're also all specific and measureable, with defined milestones, so we can tell if the government is meeting its commitments.

The downside however is a lack of ambition. There's nothing big here, nothing which is going to be transformative or which will be a star commitment - no sign that the government has bought in to the OGP agenda of a race for the top. Instead, they're still trying to do as little as possible while not spending any money or changing anything substantive. They're just doing a better job of complying with OGP guidelines than last time.

In other words, we have a victory of process over substance, which ignores the OGP's promise of real change. New Zealand can and should do better.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


National's New Zealand: where austistic teenagers are held in prison because the DHB is too lazy to help them:

A severely autistic young man is being held in prison because disability service providers cannot find an alternative place for him.

The 18-year-old, who has name suppression, appeared in the Palmerston North District Court this morning before Judge Gerard Lynch, who labelled the situation as "outrageous".

Community liaison nurse Grahame Stillwell said the young man was taken into custody on Sunday, after allegedly assaulting his mother.

He was assessed by the Mid-Central District Health Board crisis team, who said they were unable to perform a full assessment because of the man's challenging behaviour.

Stillwell said nothing had changed since then, and no agencies had responded to his emails asking for help.

The judge is right: this is outrageous. We should be helping disabled people, not imprisoning them - but here we have a young man effectively warehoused in prison because the government agency responsible for providing that help is too fucking lazy to do its job. But I guess helping him would cost money; easier to just dump him on someone else's budget instead.


We're supposed to live in a free society, where people are free to advocate peacefully for changes to the law. But if you advocate peacefully for death with dignity, the police will come knocking on your door:

Wilhelmina Irving is 76, healthy, and law-abiding. She has no immediate plans to die.

But because she attended a euthanasia meeting in Lower Hutt on October 2, at which police were also believed to be present and noting down car registration plates, the law came knocking on her door.


When she recently got a knock at the door from a plain-clothed officer calling himself an inspector, she assumed he was a building inspector. But it soon turned out he wanted to discuss the meeting.

"He told me he knew exactly what had been said, who was there, everything else and [asked] what did I have to say?"

He asked if her children knew whether she had investigated the option of eventually ending her life. Her children did know, she said, just as they knew of her 25-year membership of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society VES).

Before leaving, the inspector gave her a letter, containing details for suicide and depression helplines, which she was instructed to open after he left.

This is chilling and Orwellian. It is no crime to advocate for a law change. It is no crime even to kill yourself. So why are the police investigating and persecuting these people? When Parliament is looking at changing the law, it smacks of interfering in the democratic process.

New Fisk

Saudi Arabia cannot go on throwing every decent person who speaks out on human rights into jail

Drawn: Democracy for ECan?

A ballot for one member's bill was held today and the following bill was drawn:

  • Environment Canterbury (Democracy Restoration) Amendment Bill
Unfortunately, the bill hasn't been updated to take account of the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Act 2016. So where simply calling an election was enough under the old Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010 to return ECan to full democratic rule, all it does now is call an election. Fixing this requires a minor tweak to the definition of "resumption day" in s4 to mirror the old Act in returning everything to normal after the next election. It could be easily done by a select committee, but the question is whether it will get there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Climate change: No silver bullets for agriculture

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report today on Climate change and agriculture: Understanding the biological greenhouse gases. It investigates New Zealand's agricultural greenhouse gases and what we can do to mitigate them.

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be "not a lot". The government makes a lot of noise about how it is investing in Science!TM to find a silver bullet solution to allow these emissions to be magiced away without affecting farmers' profits. It turns out that its not that simple. While there's a lot of avenues of research, we're a long way from any solution, let alone one which meets the requirements of being cost-effective, easily delivered, and not tainting the milk with illegal residues. Basicly, the current policy of crossing our fingers and hoping (because we can't possibly make farmers pay their own way like everyone else does) isn't working. And meanwhile, the planet continues to burn...

So what can we do? The PCE suggests bringing nitrogen fertilisers into the ETS, since they're easily managed. This will mean higher prices, based on their decay emissions, and this should in turn discourage farmers from using them (or, in market-speak, ensure that they use them when the benefit of using them outweighs the cost). They also suggest lower stocking rates, which no government is ever going to push despite the clear benefits both for the climate and our waterways. But ultimately they suggest offsetting agricultural emissions with trees as a stopgap measure to allow us to buy more time. The scale required is enormous - a million hectares of native forest. But that's what you end up having to do when you let a polluting sector grow like a cancer for twenty years without doing anything to stop it.

The problem is that this merely pushes the problem into the future. While like John Key I hope for a scientific solution to agricultural emissions, unlike him I recognise that hope is not a strategy. Instead, its the policy equivalent of saying that you'll pay your bills by winning the lottery. Agricultural emissions are a real problem now. They are destroying the planet now. And some hoped-for magic bean future solution does absolutely nothing to solve it now. We need a solution for this in the here-and-now, not the distant future, and if the government doesn't want that solution to be shooting cows (saving ~2.5T/year per cow), they need to come up with something.

Climate change: A good move

The Cullen Fund is getting out of fossil fuels:

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund will start getting rid of its investments in fossil fuel companies, it has announced.

The sell-down is part of The Super Fund's climate change strategy, which includes measuring its carbon footprint, engaging with companies and investing more in low carbon or renewable businesses.

The $31 billion fund will not be getting rid of all its fossil fuels investments, however, focusing instead on where it could reduce climate risk "as quickly and easily as possible".

Superannuation Fund chief executive Adrian Orr said the plan would most likely improve the Fund's performance.

Basicly, climate change means there's no future for coal, and a limited future for oil and gas. Ditto industries which depend on those dirty fuels (which, in New Zealand, means milk). Which means that the Cullen Fund's "investments" in those industries are likely to decline in value or simply crash. Selling out of them now, before that happens, is simply good sense from an agency required to be a prudent manager.

Now, if only ACC would do the same, rather than risking people's future accident compensation on doomed industries...

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. While the committee stage of a private bill will take up most of the afternoon, after that the House should deal with the second reading of Chris Bishop's Financial Assistance for Live Organ Donors Bill. Once that's done, we'll get some fireworks with Chris Hipkins' Education (Charter Schools Abolition) Amendment Bill, and if the House moves quickly it will make a start on Ruth Dyson's Rates Rebate (Retirement Village Residents) Amendment Bill. Which will mean a ballot for one or two bills tomorrow.

New Fisk

Victims of Israeli raid on Gaza flotilla fear legal case will be dropped over new political deal

Climate change: The cost of National's inaction

How much will National's refusal to act on climate change cost us? $72 billion:

New Zealand could face a $72 billion bill to meet its obligations under the Paris climate change agreement unless there's an effective international carbon market, an official says.

New Zealand ratified the accord two weeks ago, committing to reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Ministry for the Environment climate change director Kay Harrison told a conference last week that the cost to New Zealand to meet it its obligations hit $72 billion, or nearly 30 percent of New Zealand's annual GDP.

That amount would cover the period 2021 to 2030.

While MfE is worried about the lack of an international market, even if we have one we're still looking at $36 billion. The real problem here is that National has allowed emissions to rise and rise, while doing nothing to curb them. Instead, they're subsidising pollution and promoting dirty thermal power plants, locking in higher emissions for the forseeable future. This effectively commits us to a huge bill - about 2% of GDP per year for a decade - money that could be better spent elsewhere.

But I guess their plan is that it'll be someone else's problem, and to throw shit at them for trying to clean up the mess they left. Because that's how National operates, on the economy and on the environment.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A moral and fiscal failure

Back in 2011, Finance Minister Bill English called prisons a "moral and fiscal failure". So naturally, the government he is a part of is building more of them:

The Government has announced plans for a growing prisoner population including double-bunking for an extra 80 beds at Ngawha in Northland, a new building at Mt Eden to take 245 extra prisoners, and possibly a new 1500-bed prison on the current Waikeria Prison site in Waikato.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins said prison population growth required a further 1800 places.

Work was already underway to add 341 prison places through double-bunking and converting facilities to accommodate more beds.

But another 1800 places were needed which would cost $1 billion.

...which is pretty much National's planned tax cuts, up in smoke.

This is what happens when you make "tough on crime" your policy centrepiece. This is what happens when you continually promise to throw more people in jail for longer and longer: you need to build more prisons to house them - prisons where their lives are destroyed, their skills eroded, and they learn to be better criminals. Its a huge, pointless expense and a complete waste of money which would be better spent on health and education.

GCHQ spied illegally for 17 years

The UK's Investigatory Powers Tribunal has rule don GCHQ's collection of bulk communicatiosn metadata, finding that they had spied illegally on the UK public for seventeen years:

British security agencies have secretly and unlawfully collected massive volumes of confidential personal data, including financial information, on citizens for more than a decade, senior judges have ruled.

The investigatory powers tribunal, which is the only court that hears complaints against MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, said the security services operated an illegal regime to collect vast amounts of communications data, tracking individual phone and web use and other confidential personal information, without adequate safeguards or supervision for 17 years.


The tribunal said the regime governing the collection of bulk communications data (BCD) – the who, where, when and what of personal phone and web communications – failed to comply with article 8 protecting the right to privacy of the European convention of human rights (ECHR) between 1998, when it started, and 4 November 2015, when it was made public.

It added that the retention of of bulk personal datasets (BPD) – which might include medical and tax records, individual biographical details, commercial and financial activities, communications and travel data – also failed to comply with article 8 for the decade it was in operation until it was publicly acknowledged in March 2015.

Seventeen years of illegal spying in violation of the ECHR - you'd think there would be some accountability for that, maybe some people in jail? But no. Instead, GCHQ's abuse is going to be legalised, and they will be handed even more power to engage in mass surveillance on the UK public. Because if the government had to obey its own laws, the "terrorists" might win or something.

I guess being a spy means never having to say you're sorry...

New Fisk

When Mosul falls, Isis will flee to the safety of Syria. But what then?

Australia should be prosecuted for its torture camps

Yesterday Amnesty International released a damning report on Australia's Pacific refugee concentration camps. A key finding of the report was that the treatment in the camps amounted to torture:

Amnesty International found that the system to which refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru are subjected amount to torture.

The combination of refugees’ severe mental anguish, the intentionally harmful nature of the system, and the fact that the goal of offshore processing is intended to intimidate or coerce others to achieve a specific outcome, means that Australia’s offshore “processing” regime fits the definition of torture under international law.

Now, lawyers are apparently investigating laying charge with the International Criminal Court over this state policy of torture:
Lawyers are investigating taking Australia to the International Criminal Court over its offshore detention centres, Amnesty International says.


"The system is illegal and we show in our report in great detail how Australia is violating its multiple international obligations, including an obligation not to torture," she said.

"There are lawyers who are communicating with the International Criminal Court - it's not Amnesty International yet, but we are in touch with them as well, who believe there is enough evidence for the ... court to investigate Australia's offshore processing."

Good. Torture is illegal under international (and Australian) law, and those responsible for it - the architects of the policy and those who implemented it, from government Ministers down to the lowest camp guard - need to be held to account for it.

New Zealand should be a part of this. As I've frequently pointed out, we have universal jurisdiction for torture. And we should use it whenever someone involved in torture sets foot in our country. When our nearest neighbour is running torture camps in our backyard, we need to stand up for what is right. And if that means arresting the Australian Prime Minister on their next state visit, so be it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A rich man's bubble

Why is John Key so completely out of touch on child poverty? Maybe its because he only visits rich schools...

Prime Minister John Key has been accused of neglecting children in the poorest neighbourhoods, after he visited more than three times as many high decile schools this year, than low.

Of the 27 schools Key visited in the year to September 12, 13 of those were in the decile 8, 9 and 10 bracket, data obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA) shows.

Just four were either 1, 2 or 3 bracket. Ten fell in between.

This is a symptom of a wider problem: our Prime Minister isn't one of us, but lives in a rich man's bubble. At home, he lives in a multi-million dollar mansion in Parnell. At work, he's in a huge state-funded house. He travels everywhere in Ministerial limos, accompanied by armed security goons so he can feel important. And this seals him off utterly from the experiences of normal kiwis, the people he claims to represent. He's said himself that the only time he gets to talk to people is in the Koru Lounge - which isn't really a representative sample...

And the result of all this self-isolation is that the Prime Minister is absolutely blind to the real problems affecting our society. He never sees the beggars on our streets or the hungry kids in our schools. He never has to go on a waiting list to access housing or medical care. He never even sees the way his farmer friends are destroying our rivers, because he holidays overseas. Isn't it time we had a Prime Minister who is actually one of us?

New Fisk

A beautiful mosque and the dark period of the Armenian genocide

Australia's concentration camps are torture

What are the effects of being detained indefinitely in an Australian refugee concentration camp? According to Dr Nina Zimmerman, a forensic psychiatrist contracted by the UN to study the issue, they make 81% of their inmates mentally ill:

Recruited by the UN refugee agency due to her expertise with populations in detention, Dr Zimmerman's mission to Nauru required her to interview refugees and asylum seekers within the detention camp and those living in the island's settlements.

She found 81 percent of those she surveyed were suffering disorders due to their indefinite detention, the second highest rate ever recorded in a group of refugees.

"There's been a study done on Syrians who are fleeing and find themselves in central Europe," explained Dr Zimmerman, putting her findings into context.

"These rates are two to three times higher than what you find in those refugees... three times higher than what you see in the imprisoned populations in Australia."

With an 81% mental illness rate, I'd say that the camps reach the threshold of inflicting severe mental pain and suffering. Which makes them torture under international law. These camps are torture camps. They need to be closed, and the people who order, guard and run them need to be prosecuted.