Tuesday, July 25, 2017



New Fisk

Secret Russian-Kurdish-Syrian military cooperation is happening in Syria’s eastern desert

Data gaps and social murder

Today in Question Time we saw a perfect example of how government dodges accountability: by deliberate ignorance. Asked how many beneficiaries were homeless, the Minister for Social Development made it clear that she didn't know, and asked that it be set down as a written question. Not that that would likely result in any answers, because it is highly unlikely that WINZ collects this data (and in fact, the requirement for a contact address in order to receive a benefit means that they can simply pretend that all beneficiaries have homes - and violently cut off anyone who contradicts the official story).

It gets worse. Because the next question was how many beneficiaries have committed suicide in the past ten years. On this, the Minister was clear that WINZ had never collected such data. Which seems to be one hell of a gap. Because surely if beneficiaries are killing themselves, that's the sort of thing we should know, and which should result in questions being asked about whether WINZ's policy of cruelty towards the poor is a contributing factor. But those are not questions the government or WINZ wants asked, so the data is never collected. And laws against reporting on suicides prevent advocacy groups from collecting it themselves (in the style of the UK's Calum's list).

The UK is a useful example. Because over there, statistics were collected. When eventually made public (DWP naturally tried to keep them secret), they revealed that the government knew that their policies were killing people. But they kept imposing them anyway, because the British establishment has a depraved indifference towards the lives of everyone outside their public schoolboy clique.

We know that WINZ has killed at least once. The question is how many other times they have driven people to suicide, and what their policy of cruelty costs us in unnecessary mental health problems. We need to know these things, so we can properly judge these policies. The government's refusal to collect this data is simply an attempt to dodge accountability.

As for how we should hole them accountable: if a policy is expected to result in death, and death occurs, that is nothing less than murder. And those who design, implement and approve that policy are all co-conspirators who should go to jail for it.

Monday, July 24, 2017



WINZ staff have a target for throwing people off benefits

Something we knew all along, but until now could never prove: WINZ staff have a target for throwing people off benefits:

Work and Income (WINZ) staff are "more than happy" to break the law to get people off benefits so they can reach monthly targets, it has been claimed.

Beneficiary advocate Jeremy Roundill says a WINZ employee in Manurewa told him the target for each case manager was 12 clients off the benefit a month.

The beneficiaries often don't fight back because "when you're a beneficiary and WINZ provides you with your lifeline, you're likely to capitulate to the orders of your case manager, as they're the one who puts food on your table".

WINZ documents released under the Official Information Act require employees to make "an appropriate individual contribution, as agreed with their manager, to the number of clients supported off-benefit and into employment".

WINZ declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a statement while there are targets - which differ by regions - employees have no financial incentives to reach them and are not sanctioned if they don't.

And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Auckland to sell you. In reality, if this target is not met, questions will be raised at performance reviews, and pressure will be applied to make sure that it is met. And the net result will inevitably be people thrown off benefits unlawfully so that the case manager keeps their job.

(Note that the "into employment" part of that target is there for show. WINZ isn't interested in getting people jobs, and they don't care what happens when they throw people off benefits. All they care about is reducing benefit numbers to meet to the arbitrary reduction targets set by Ministers).

WINZ should be there to assist people, to ensure they receive the help they are legally entitled to. Instead, it actively denies people that help, as part of the government's war on the poor. This isn't a new problem - remember Christine Rankin? - but it needs to end. Only a complete cultural change will do that. And as shown by the police with their rape culture, that requires more than just a change of top-level management. Instead it will require the removal of almost all long-term WINZ staff.

Two-faced

Since National introduced charter schools into New Zealand, Labour has been crystal clear in its opposition, promising repeatedly to abolish and close them. But now it turns out that they didn't really mean it after all:

Labour plans to make changes to special character schools, which will throw a lifeline to the charter schools they promise to shut down.

[...]

On Monday, responding to Davis' pledge to resign over them, Hipkins said "tweaks" would be made so there weren't any "unnecessary barriers" for new special character schools.

That could include allowing schools to have more than one special character, which would make it easier for some Maori and Pacifica-targeted schools, he said.

[...]

Under the special character changes Hipkins said it was "quite possible" the charter schools operating in Davis' electorate would meet the criteria to transition.

Those years of opposition? Gone. All that tub-thumping? Meaningless noise. But given its professed opposition, this sudden reversal simply makes Labour look like two-faced liars. And if they'll reverse themselves on something they pushed as a rock solid core policy for years, we really have to ask what other, similarly "core" policies they're willing to throw overboard to pander to Andrew Little's pet picks.

Shooting the messenger

There is abundant evidence that the British military committed war crimes in Iraq: torture, abuse, the murder of civilians, all of which are crimes under UK and UK military law. But rather than properly investigating those crimes, the Ministry of Defence instead appears to have attempted to have lawyers representing their victims disbarred:

The government has been accused of undermining the rule of law by putting pressure on an independent regulator in its action against a legal firm pursuing claims of human rights abuses involving British troops in Iraq.

The former deputy leader of the Labour party, Harriet Harman, has called for the release of any emails that would reveal whether the ministries of justice and defence attempted to influence the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to act against Leigh Day. The human rights firm has been involved in many high-profile cases against British soldiers and has referred a number of them to the controversial Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), now being wound up.

Earlier this year, the firm, two of its senior partners, Martyn Day and Sapna Malik, and a junior lawyer, were cleared by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal of any wrongdoing over claims they had made against British troops. The MoD said it was disappointed with the verdict which, if it had gone the other way, could have been fatal for the firm.

[...]

The tribunal hearing the case against Leigh Day was told that 276 pieces of correspondence were exchanged between the MoD and the SRA. In several, defence ministers urged civil servants to contact the SRA to seek updates on the firms’ prosecutions.


Which seems to be straight-out evidence of an attempt to interfere in the judicial process. It's as if they were emailing a judge during a court case. Which is grossly improper, if not an attempt to pervert the course of justice. But this is the British establishment, which clearly will stop at nothing to defend the reputation of their Glorious Military.

While Leigh Day was not disbarred, another law firm representing victims of British war crimes was. The MoD's pressure immediately calls that decision into question, and makes it look like a political verdict. And it destroys any pretense that the UK's war crimes investigations were anything other than another attempt at a shabby cover-up. But if the UK won't investigate its war criminals, I guess they'll just have to go to The Hague instead.

Must read

Today's must-read (though its from last week): Peter Newport's piece in The Spinoff on The Ministry of Transport fraud case: Why the rot goes deeper than Joanne Harrison. Based on information from more MoT whistleblowers, it makes a convincing case that, contrary to government excuses, Harrison was not some fraudulent mastermind who deceived everyone. Instead, her fraud was clumsy, easily detectable - and was detected multiple times. And that it was the failure of then chief executive (and for the time being, Auditor-General) Martin Matthews to actually act on these warnings that was the problem.

That's bad, and it puts Matthews in a very bad light. But the thing that really gets me is this:

Martin Matthews was assistant auditor general for eight years from 1990. One of his core responsibilities was fraud prevention. His boss for much of that time was Jeff Chapman. Chapman holds the dubious distinction of being New Zealand’s highest ranking civil servant to be convicted and jailed for fraud. As auditor general and head of ACC, according to evidence at his trial in 1997, Chapman lived the high life: first-class travel, fine wine and food, trips on Concorde and helicopter rides from the French Riviera to Monte Carlo. He was found guilty of defrauding ACC of $20,000 and the Audit Office of $34,549.

According to our source, Matthews had given MOT staff the impression that he was aware his former boss, Auditor General Chapman, had been cheating the system...


The first bit is bad enough. The natural question is why anyone who was deputy to New Zealand's worst public sector fraudster was ever allowed to work in a management role in the public service ever again. And then to learn that he's been telling people "yeah, I knew about it" and did nothing - its as if he's proud of his role in covering up for criminals. Which is fundamentally inconsistent with the values of the New Zealand public service and the leadership chief executives are required to display. Those statements alone are reason for immediately firing him, because they suggest that he would tolerate corruption in his department. And when there has been corruption in his department, that he was warned about repeatedly, it starts to look a lot like he was a knowing party to the offence.

The report on Matthews should be out this week. But if it finds him blameless and lets him continue in office, there is simply no hope whatsoever for our public service.

The GCSB perjured themselves

Kim Dotcom lost a court case last week over whether he could see the communications the GCSB intercepted from him in order to assess the amount of damages he is owed. But in doing so, we learned something new: that illegal surveillance lasted two months longer than previously admitted, and the GCSB lied about it in court:

The illegal spying which earned Kim Dotcom an apology from former Prime Minister Sir John Key went on two months longer than previously admitted, according to a High Court judgment.

The revelation - if accurate - would open a can of worms over sworn admissions the GCSB has made in the High Court and the Court of Appeal over assistance given to police ahead of the FBI-inspired 2012 raid which saw Dotcom and three others arrested.

It could also raise the possibility of a fresh apology to Dotcom because Key's apology was in the context of spying from December 16, 2011 through to January 20, 2012.


The GCSB had previously given sworn statements on the earlier date in court, so the spies who gave those statements are now on the hook for perjury. But that's not all - because the new date also means that the GCSB continued spying on Dotcom for a full month after they knew it was illegal. Which pushes their spying from "incompetent mistake for which people should lose their jobs" to "knowing illegality for which people should go to jail". Not that that, or a perjury prosecution, will ever happen. Because if we've learned one thing from this whole saga, its that the law simply does not apply to the GCSB. And that makes one of the foundations of consent in the modern state - equal laws, applying to the government as well as the people - a lie.

The GCSB are not just undermining our sovereignty and our international relations. They are also undermining the foundations of our democracy. They are a poison in our body politic. And it is long past time we eliminated them.

Friday, July 21, 2017



"No idea" II

Meanwhile, while the government claims it had "no idea" there was a housing crisis or that it would cost so much, social housing waiting lists have hit record highs:

The growing demand for social housing in New Zealand is showing no sign of slowing down, according to newly-released figures.

The official waiting list for social housing grew by 40 per cent in the last year, and has passed 5000 households for the first time since the Ministry of Social Development took over responsibility in mid-2014.

The increase appears to be driven by demand in Auckland and Christchurch, where a combined 250 people were added to the list since March.

After the last quarter's results were released in April, Social Housing Minister Amy Adams noted that growth in demand had slowed to 2 per cent. It has now bounced back up again, rising 10 per cent in the last three months.


And remember, this is the waiting list after WINZ have denied assistance to everyone they possibly can in a desperate effort to save money and make the Minister's stats look good. So it massively under-estimates demand.

Again, the only reason National had "no idea" there was a housing crisis is because they steadfastly ignored the evidence for years. I guess they were just more interested in the rising value of their personal property portfolios than in what that actually meant for ordinary people.

New Fisk

To the Government, Saudi Arabia is 'The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All'

The cost of denial

Despite having been warned for years about the housing crisis, National now says it had "no idea" that it was a problem:

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett has admitted "in hindsight" the Government's response to the housing crisis has been too slow.

[...]

"We had no idea how much it was going to cost," Ms Bennett told The AM Show on Friday morning.

"We had no idea it would ever be this big. No Government had ever picked up the bill for this. No Government has ever funded emergency housing."

Asked if the Government should have done something about it earlier, Ms Bennett said that "in hindsight, you always wish you'd gone earlier".


But this wasn't ignorance: it was denial. National simply didn't want to admit the problem existed (especially when it was making its urban voters feel wealthy as their house prices rose). But this denial has cost us. At the moment the government is spending $50 million a year putting homeless people up in overpriced motels, spending that could have been avoided if they'd acted sooner and built more state houses. But again, that would have required admitting that the problem existed, and accepting that it is the government's job to fix it - both anathema to National.

And so because of government denial we have a massive social problem which is going to cost us hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars to directly fix, while likely imposing that much in flow-on costs due to its health, education, and other effects. If only they'd pointed their social investment approach at that, rather than at finding more ways to throw people off benefits.

Thursday, July 20, 2017



Unprotected disclosures

The State Services Commission has released the results of its inquiry into retaliation by convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison against staff who tried to blow the whistle on her. They're pretty devastating:

Four whistleblowers at the Ministry of Transport suffered "humiliating" reprisals after they raised concerns about convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison, a high-level inquiry has concluded.

And while the staff members were not forced out of their jobs as initially claimed, Harrison's advice meant some of them were made redundant just before Christmas or had requests for a pay rise rejected.

The affected staff members are now in line for compensation, the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said at a press conference this afternoon. The size of the payout was confidential.


Each of these staff did the right thing, and were punished for it. Its a clear breach of the Protected Disclosures Act, and SSC has recognised that with compensation. At the same time, it has once again raised the wider issue of whether the Protected Disclosures Act is fit for purpose. There's some vague recommendations for a review, but nothing concrete, despite the clear failure of the Act in this case. Reform was suggested in last year's Open Government Partnership consultation, but was not taken up by the government. This case suggests very strongly that that was a mistake. We need an improved whistleblower law, one which empowers employees to go to MP's and the media if their bosses ignore them, and one which offers concrete protection against retaliation, with personal liability and jail terms for bosses who try to silence them. Anything less, and we are implicitly tolerating corruption in our public service and our society.

National's New Zealand

Welcome to National's New Zealand, where infant mortality is at a three-year high:

New Zealand's high rates of infant deaths places it near the bottom of the OECD, with opposition parties blaming inequality and poverty for the country's poor record compared to the rest of the developed world.

Poor healthcare; poor housing; lack of access to a midwife or maternity carer; and poor health in the mother have all been blamed by experts for the poor statistics.

The rate of neonatal deaths has fluctuated over the past 20 years, but in that time there has been little sustained improvement.

Recently-published government figures from 2013 are the worst in three years.


This is the hard edge of National's cuts and its grinding down of the poor: dead babies. National doesn't care - hell, it probably sees them as a net gain, an avoided cost in their "social investment" models. If we want to fix this, and rejoin the first world, we need a government which does, and which will reverse National's austerity.

People should be paid for their work

The Māori Party's latest immigration policy: slavery for migrants:

An internship visa that would require migrants with special skills to train young people in the regions is to be announced by the Maori Party today.

The package is part of the party's new policy on immigration, which until now has been solely a bid to have a crash course on Te Tiriti o Waitangi - the Treaty - added to the requirements for citizenship.

The Community Internship Scheme would see migrants work for two years as builders, doctors, beekeepers, plumbers or in other skilled work, depending on their qualifications or the needs of regions. The regions targeted would be identified as "Economic Hotspots" - areas experiencing an economic, population or income decline.

The internship would be unpaid


But don't worry: the local community would feed and house their migrant slaves, so they won't starve or freeze to death.

As with WINZ's provision of force labour to The Warehouse, this is not something we should permit in New Zealand. People should be paid for their work. If the Māori Party wants to offer proper, paid jobs in the regions to encourage people to migrate there, that's one thing. But removing their right to pay and restricting their freedom of movement under a coerced "contract" is simply slavery.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017



Who needs tax collectors anyway?

New Zealand has a problem with tax cheats. Large multinational corporations, rich pricks, dodgy tradespeople, all not paying their fair share. So naturally, National is gutting the IRD:

Staff at Inland Revenue offices around the country have been told 30 percent of its workforce will go by 2021.

[...]

The PSA said restructuring from February next year could affect up to 4000 staff in various ways, but the impact had not been fully explained.

In a statement released this afternoon, Inland Revenue Commissioner Naomi Ferguson said there would be no reduction in frontline customer services staff.

She said the 3300 customer-facing staff would all be offered new roles or confirmed straight into new roles.


Which means the ones they're planning to sack are the specialist staff, the ones who know what they're doing. The ones who know how to detect fraud and spot bullshit from the rich. Because hey, who needs to do that? Its not like the government depends on people paying their taxes to fund all those schools and hospitals or anything...

This is pure wrecking behaviour by National. And clearly, if we want a functioning state supported by a functioning tax system, we need a change of government.

If this is "terrorism", we should all be "terrorists"

Turkey has arrested six human rights activists for "terrorism":

Amnesty International urged the British government to end its silence over Turkey’s slide into authoritarian rule on Tuesday after its local director and five other activists were remanded in custody on accusations of belonging to a terrorist organisation. It is possible the six will now be held in jail for as long as two years before their full trial comes to court.

Idil Eser, local director of the London-based organisation, was one of a group of activists including a German and a Swedish national detained on 5 July while attending a routine workshop on digital security and information management near Istanbul.

Turkey’s state prosecutor had asked the court on Monday to remand all 10 in custody pending trial on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation. Six were retained in jail to give the prosecution time to assemble full charges. Four others were released.


If promoting human rights is "terrorism", we should all be "terrorists". And governments which adopt that definition deserve to be overthrown by their people.

Farmers never learn

The dairy lobby is trying to tell us that farmers are cleaning up their act and polluting less. Meanwhile, a Waikato farmer has been convicted for the second time of pouring his cowshit into the local river:

A south Waikato dairy farming company has been fined for the second time in four years for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment.

Fernaig Farms (2006) Limited was convicted and fined $33,750 for their activities at their Lichfield property.

The fine was imposed in the Rotorua District Court last week by Judge CJ Thompson following a prosecution taken by Waikato Regional Council under the Resource Management Act.

The company owns a number of farms within the Waikato region, including four dairy farms.

A prosecution in 2013 also resulted in convictions and a fine of $30,000 for effluent mismanagement on their Mangakino property.


This farmer is a repeat offender, and its clear that they haven't learned from their first prosecution. And if it happens again, the court should ban them from farming. We do this for those who mistreat animals. Shouldn't we also do it for those who mistreat our environment?

A game of hide and seek

Radio New Zealand reports on the Ministry of Transport's attempts to bury information about its resident fraudster Joanne Harrison:

Emails from the Transport Minister show he told his own ministry that its plans to withhold information from a Labour MP were at odds with its promise to be open and transparent.

[...]

Labour MP Sue Moroney used the Official Information Act to request information about taxpayer-funded flights to the Far North that Harrison had taken, and a restructure of the finance team that took place at the Ministry while she was employed there.

Emails obtained by RNZ show the Transport Ministry's chief legal adviser David Bowden knew the information existed but was going to refuse to release it.

Mr Bowden said the financial restructure happened just outside the timeframe the MP had identified in her request, so the Ministry would say the information did not exist.

He said the Ministry would not release the costs of Harrison's flights because the MP asked for information on flights to Kaitaia, whereas Harrison had flown to a different airport in the region.


In this case they were pulled into line by the Minister's office, who reminded them of promises to be open and transparent on the issue (not that this is the same Minister who himself tried to bury information about Kiwirail). But it illustrates the toxic culture of secrecy that same Minister has allowed to fester (and at times promoted) in his Ministry. Agencies faced with a request which is obviously for certain information should not be playing these sorts of games to pretend that it does not exist. That both thwarts the purpose of the Act and arguably violates the duty of assistance. It also makes more work for them, in that if specific requests are gamed, they will be replaced with broader, more general ones which require more work. Plus it undermines the reputation of the Ministry, and broader trust in government.

We need a complete culture change around secrecy in our government agencies. It needs to be made clear to Chief Executives and to public servants in general that failing to properly comply with the OIA is a career-limiting move. No government is interested in this, so it is only going to happen when Parliament itself takes an interest and defends our right to transparency.

Labour finally opens its wallet

Labour has announced a massive spending package this morning, aimed at restoring our health, education and welfare systems after National's neglect:

Labour has run its numbers and opened its books, promising multi-billion-dollar injections into health and education.

If elected, Labour leader Andrew Little said he would pump $8b more over four years into health and $4b into education, all the while maintaining surpluses of more than $4b.

The party has released its fiscal plan at an event held in Wellington's Kilbirnie Medical Centre. It provides the broad-brush numbers of what Labour would spend in key social areas, of health, education and housing.


These are big numbers, even over four years, and National will no doubt cry "fiscal irresponsibility". But they add up. And what's amazing is how easy it is to enable that level of spending on core services simply by tweaking a few parameters: the net debt target (20% vs 15%), and the annual surplus (a billion dollars lower in 2022). And by cancelling some tax cuts. And it makes it crystal clear how National's brutal austerity, which is seeing the homeless freeze to death and the sick waiting in ambulances at A&E, is entirely a matter of choice, of their prioritising numbers on a spreadsheet and giving money to their mates rather than delivering the core services the public expects from government. We can afford to have decent public services - its just that National chooses not to. And they do it, bluntly, because they are vicious arseholes.

As with the Greens' families package, this is a negotiating platform rather than a concrete promise. But if Labour manages to lift its vote, then it becomes the framework its coalition partners' policies will fit within. And what's clear is that they have plenty of room to manoeuvre, and deliver a kinder, fairer New Zealand, if we let them. Or we can have three more years of National giving themselves tax cuts, while telling you that you'll have to wait for that operation or pay a thousand dollars in "donations" to keep your kids' school operating. I know which one I prefer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017



Dealing with the tax cheats

New Zealand has a problem: large multinational companies like Facebook, Amazon, and RT cheating ontheir taxes. Now Labour is proposing a solution: a diverted profits tax:

Labour is promising to claw back hundreds of millions of dollars a year from multinationals such as Apple, Facebook and Google if they don't pay their fair share of tax.

If elected, the party would impose a diverted profits tax (DPT) on multinational firms that sent profits offshore to minimise their tax bill.

Leader Andrew Little has written to 50 multinationals setting out the pledge.

He told Morning Report an extra $200 million a year could be collected, which would make a "huge difference" and represented "a heap of teachers, a heap of nurses and doctors".


The basic mechanism is a deemed rate of tax on anything routed through a tax haven. Both the UK and Australia have such mechanisms, and they seem to be successful in eliminating transfer pricing and making these countries pay their fair share. There's no reason why such a policy wouldn't work here. The trick is getting a government that wants to tax the cheats rather than defend them.

But they still hate cats

Gareth Morgan's Opportunities Party has announced a $200 a week youth UBI:

All New Zealanders between 18 and 23 will be given an obligation-free $200 a week under an Opportunities Party policy announced this afternoon.

The policy would allow young people to "pursue their dreams" and "take stress off ... at a pivotal time" in their lives, the party said.

The Opportunities Party (TOP) has previously announced an "unconditional basic income" for over-65s and families with children under 3.

But today it said budget surpluses announced this year would make it possible to extend a basic income to "one of the most needy and neglected groups in society possible".


We already have a UBI for over 65's: its called "New Zealand Superannuation". Expanding it to true universality would be good for everyone, and that expansion has to start somewhere. Starting at the bottom, with young people, is a good place to do it. In a flash it would remove the inequity of students having to borrow to eat, while also replacing or supplementing student allowances, youth unemployment benefits, and the DPB for young parents. For those pursuing work rather than study, it would massively improve their bargaining position by allowing them to just walk away from a bad job. And because oppression starts at the bottom, this would have significant flow-on effects on the pay and conditions of older workers. And all for the price of Nationals' tax cuts.

And on the gripping hand: Gareth Morgan hates cats, so fuck him and his party. Him floating the idea is useful, but I'll get someone else to implement it, thanks. Someone who doesn't want to murder half my family.

Why we should price water IV

At their campaign launch in Nelson the Greens announced a 10 cents a litre levy on bottled water. So how much is that worth? Up to $2 billion:

Right now, 73 companies hold consents to take up to 23.7 billion litres of New Zealand water between them. Adopting the same approach as our Pacific neighbour and charging 10 cents per litre would bring in nearly $2.37 billion a year in revenue - roughly about 1 percent of the country’s GDP, and comparable to a third of the $8 billion the dairy industry contributes every year.

The country’s largest water permit grants Okuru Enterprises permission to pump 800 million litres of water out of Jackson Bay on the South Island’s West Coast for export every month, or 9.6 billion litres annually. With a 10 cents per litre tax, the West Coast Regional Council-approved consent would rake in a staggering $960 million a year alone.


Of course, not all of these consents are fully utilised, or even used at all: Okaru infamously has consent, but hasn't pumped a single drop in 25 years. And really, we want some of these consents (such as Okaru's) to be surrendered or never used. At the same time, it shows how charging water bottling companies for their use of a public resource could be a significant revenue stream for the government (and for iwi, once the necessary settlement is reached) and allow us to fund better public services for kiwis. And at the heart of it, there is the basic fairness article: that water belongs to the people of New Zealand. It is only right that those who want to profit from its extraction pay for it.

The same question

Another day, another case of unjustified taser use:

The police watchdog has found that a sergeant's use of a Taser on a young man in south Auckland was "excessive and unjustified".

[...]

"Police policy clearly states that a Taser must only be used on a person who is assaultive," said IPCA chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers.

​"The young man was being restrained by two officers at the time he was Tasered. Although he managed to spit in the sergeant's direction twice, the sergeant's use of the Taser was excessive and unjustified."

The IPCA also found that while the sergeant's arrest of the young man was lawful, his decision was "ill-considered and premature," and his decision to arrest the young man had unnecessarily escalated the situation.


Again its a classic case of "compliance policing": of electrically torturing someone for the convenience and ego of the police rather than because they were a threat to public safety. And as in other cases, it's the same question: Will this officer be prosecuted? Because ont he face of it, they appear to have committed an assault with a weapon, and arguably torture. If any of us did this, we'd be in jail, and rightly so. So, does the law apply to the police, or not?

This constant stream of taser abuse cases also shows why we can never allow an armed police force. It is clear that these weapons are constantly abused and that police lack judgement around use of force. We're lucky that so far no-one has died as a result. If they were using guns, I'd undoubtedly be asking that question about murder, not just assault.

The Warehouse: Subsidised by forced labour

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley is proudly announcing a new "youth initiative" with The Warehouse to give young people work experience. Which sounds great, until you realise that that work experience, lasting 15 days, is unpaid. So what this really means is that MSD will be leaning on young people and threatening to cut benefits unless they "agree" to work for free for three weeks for a perfectly profitable major company. There's a name for that: forced labour. And its not something we should permit in New Zealand.

Assuming National's discriminatory "training wage" applies, each of these workers will be deprived of over $1500 in wages during their "work experience". MSD has agreed to provide a thousand of them, so what this really amounts to is a $1.5 million government subsidy to The Warehouse, extracted by bullying and threatening vulnerable young people. For a company which supposedly prides itself on its social conscience, its absolutely disgusting. And we shouldn't shop there, until they agree to pay every one of these workers at least the minimum wage, like any other employee.

Monday, July 17, 2017



And he says he's not racist...

Last week, Winston Peters was in full outrage mode because the Greens had dared to speak the truth and call him what he was: a racist. This week, he wants Pakeha to have a vote on whether Māori should be effectively represented in Parliament:

Mr Peters also said that if New Zealand First was part of the next government, he would let the public to decide whether to abolish Māori seats and cut the number of MPs in Parliament to 100.

He said Māori seats send a terrible message and vowed to hold a mid-term binding referendum on the two matters.

"The fact is that Māori don't need to be told that they're not good enough to be equal, or that somehow they should be handicapped or somehow they should be pigeon-holed," Mr Peters said.


What the Māori seats actually do is ensure that Māori are effectively represented in Parliament, and can never be silenced by the Pakeha majority. We also effectively have a referendum of Māori voters on them every five years when the seats are recalculated after the census. Māori have overwhelmingly chosen to be represented that way. Against that background, a referendum seems to be a calculated attempt to strip representation and silence voices Peters and his redneck followers would rather not hear.

Fundamental rights should never be decided by referendum. The good news in this case is that if Winston wants his binding referendum, he'll need legislation. And he'll never get that from the left. So I guess the question is whether National will also rule it out, or whether they're so desperate for a fourth term that they're willing to return to Brash-style racism to get it.

Accountability measures

National supposedly loves targets, on the basis that they allow the government to be held accountable for failure. But when you look inside the sausage factory, its not a pretty picture:

A goal of reducing New Zealand's total suicide rate by 20 per cent over 10 years was rejected over fears the Government would be held accountable if the rate didn't drop.

The target would have seen New Zealand aiming for 12 fewer people to die from suicide per year, each year until 2027. An expert panel created to advise the Ministry of Health concluded that target should be the main purpose of the ministry's new suicide prevention strategy.

But Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman's office pushed instead for vague phrasing, like "reduce rates of suicide", that wouldn't become an "accountability measure" for the Government.


Because the last thing the government wants is to actually have to do what they say they're going to do. So instead, they avoid meaningful targets, or we get bullshit business-as-usual ones which will be met regardless, as seen in the EECS.

Except that there's a bigger "accountability measure", of holding them to account for their failure to set (and achieve) proper targets. And from the above, I think its clear National is a failure.

Standing on their principles

The Greens held their party conference over the weekend, and announced a $1.5 billion families package aimed at massively relieving poverty in New Zealand. Benefits would be raised, the minimum wage increased, child support universalised, and the boot of WINZ removed from beneficiaries' faces. This would be paid for by cancelling National's tax cuts - and by adding a new top-tax rate applying to rich people like MP's.

MMP being what it is, this is a negotiating platform rather than a concrete promise. But its a bold statement of principle, and of priorities. NeoLiberalism, with its benefit cuts, has left us a legacy of entrenched poverty. The policy of ever-harsher sanctions - continued unchanged under Clark and made even worse under National - has made things worse, not better. We have tolerated this inequality for far too long, and it is time we did something about it, by reversing the policies that cause it. And for those who think money is more important than basic decency, its not a question of whether we can afford it: given the huge social costs these policies have imposed on us, it is a question of whether we can afford not to.

As for Meyt's admission that she lied to WINZ in the 90's, well, wouldn't you to help your kids survive? And if not, you're a sorry excuse for a human being. People deliberately and consciously setting out to rip off the system out of greed is one thing; desperate people who are just trying to get by in the face of a system designed to grind you down rather than support you is quite another. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of dealing with WINZ knows what wankers they are, and I'm not going to condemn anyone for doing what they need to do to survive.

The message is clear: if you want principle, you vote Green. If you want bland, technocratic tinkering, business-as-usual with a few more smiley face stickers over the nasty parts of NeoLiberalism (plus crawling into bed with Winston), you can vote Labour. I know which one I'll be doing.

Absolutely outrageous

We all knew that Horowhenua District Council was a toxic environment, with the council and Chief Executive refusing to accept the election of a new mayor. But Radio New Zealand this morning reported that its Chief Executive was spying on the mayor's email and personally redirecting, blocking, and editing emails within the council system. The story is audio only, but its worth a listen (as is the interview with one of its victims, mayor Michael Feyen).

According to the story, council David Clapperton had the IT team set up a blacklist several years ago, and emails to those on the list were sent to him for his review (and editing) before being sent on. Feyen, while a councillor, was on that list, as well as a number of other people. There's at least one quoted example of emails being edited in transit by Clapperton, and another of emails marked "confidential" being screened.

The report all this is from calls this an extreme risk to the council. No shit. It goes well beyond what's acceptable in the workplace, and raises serious questions about the Chief Executive's ethics. In case he's forgotten, he is an employee of the council. And here he's effectively spying on his bosses, and directly manipulating communications with them for his own purposes. This is absolutely outrageous, and he should be being fired immediately for it (sadly I doubt he can be prosecuted for use of an interception device, as an agency is considered to be a party to everything which crosses its own email system, even if its clearly private and not for them). It also raises obvious risks under the Privacy Act, and under LGOIMA.

But don't worry! The Chief Executive has decreed that the audit report covering all of this - which also talked about the governance issues between him and the council - will be peer reviewed, and that his abuse of the email system was "out of scope". Well, obviously, that makes it alright then, if its never mentioned in an official report ever.

Like parliamentary Services' spying on MPs, this isn't acceptable. The spying needs to stop, and Clapperton needs to be sacked. Sadly, given the toxic environment at HDC, he'll probably get away with it entirely.

Friday, July 14, 2017



An investment in the future

Labour has announced more policy: reversing National's ECE cuts:

Labour is promising an extra $193 million over three years for early childhood education.

Leader Andrew Little said Labour would increase funding "for centres that employ 100 per cent qualified and registered teachers, and we will require all ECE centres to employ at least 80 per cent qualified teachers by the end of our first term".

"This $193m increase for Early Childhood Education demonstrates our commitment to strong public services as the foundation for a just and prosperous society."


ECE funding has been frozen since 2010 - effectively a cut once inflation is factored in. This reverses that, as well as National's cut in teacher qualifications. And it will be money well spent: ECE is one of the highest value investments a government can make in future generations, and has a significant payoff by reducing future education, welfare, and justice spending. And it speaks volumes that National would rather have tax cuts now than investing in our future.

New Fisk

Fethullah Gulen is facing extradition to Turkey by Donald Trump – so he should read up about his country

National's New Zealand

How bad is National's New Zealand? We now have people freezing to death in the streets:

A homeless man has been found dead, huddled under his sleeping bag at the back of a church - the second known such death of a homeless person in two weeks as a polar blast grips the nation.

The man was found on Tuesday morning as Manurewa Methodist Church set up its weekly soup kitchen for the homeless.

Manurewa mum Beverley Losefa, who organises the soup kitchen, thought he was sleeping in. But when they served the first cup of tea and he still hadn't risen she became worried.

Police were called and confirmed the man had died, before they cordoned off the area.


This is what happens when you cut benefits and state housing and mental health care: people end up on the street, exposed to the weather. And then, in Winter, they die. It is social murder, pure and simple. And Ministers and officials need to be held accountable for it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017



The Greens vs Winston II

The spat between the Greens and NZ First has escalated, with Green MP Barry Coates suggesting (on The Daily Blog) that the Greens could deny confidence to a Labour - NZ First coalition and force another election if Winston locks them out of government.

Its an empty threat, in that if Labour needs Winston as well as the Greens, he can almost certainly switch his support to National (and in the event of a confidence loss, he would have space to do this, because the Prime Minister needs the confidence of the House to call an election). And that alone means it is a stupid one. But it does demonstrate just how angry the Greens are getting at the prospect of being taken for granted by Labour again.

As for what they should do about it if Labour doesn't significantly lift its performance and a three-way deal is necessary: choose no deal over a bad one. Sure, give Labour - NZ First confidence and supply, but unless they are offering serious policy concessions on areas of core Green interest, and policy vetoes over NZ First racism, give them nothing else. Then use their effective legislative veto to extract concessions piecemeal, and bargain hard over anything not in the Green manifesto. Don't even give them a house management vote (as the Maori Party has done for National) - if they want urgency, then they can demonstrate the need. And if they want policy which isn't already backed by the Greens (and isn't contrary to their values), then they can fucking pay for it.

Labour and NZ First can either have the Greens inside the tent pissing out, or outside the tent setting it on fire. The choice is up to them.

Reckitt Benckiser: Tax cheats

Reckitt Benckiser (RB) makes a bunch of household brands in New Zealand, including Dettol and Neurofen. And according to Oxfam, they're tax cheats, who have stolen $15 million from kiwis in the past three years:


So how do they do it? Oxfam's investigation says by profit shifting. That's when firms make profits in one country and shift them across borders by exploiting gaps and mismatches in tax rules.

"This is not tax evasion, it's tax avoidance and it's legal within our current rules in New Zealand this is something multinationals are able to do all round the world," Ms Le Mesurier said.

The Oxfam investigation shows RB restructured its business to create regional hubs in the Netherlands, Singapore and Dubai.

"Before they restructured they were clearly making good profit ... they were doing very well in New Zealand ...in the last three years what it looks like is their profits have dropped off a cliff," Ms Le Mesurier said.


None of this is illegal, of course - as with MP's rorting their travel and entitlements, it's all within the rules. But it is immoral, a betrayal of the social contract. And we should respond by taking our money elsewhere until RB pays its fair share.

The meh factor

On Tuesday, Labour announced its "families package", which redistributed National's tax cuts into Working For Families and extra help for parents with young children. It was better than what National is offering, but at the same time, its hardly awe-inspiring - tinkering around the edges, rather than real change. Stuff's Vernon Small argues that its just not enough to excite voters into voting for Labour:

So the two big parties have set out their Family Packages and are at each other's throats over the details.

Who gains, how many and by how much. Who pays, how much and to how many.

But it is no surprise there is no baying from the crowds in the stands.

Because in the big scheme of things, the argument is really being played out in a very small ball park.

[...]

Accepting that Labour's fiscal plan next week may change the story, Labour may have a problem; that the two plans are not only similar, they are too similar to make a difference. That while they have different ideologies at their core, those different world view have not taken them far enough to energise the voters.


And that's a real problem. Labour wants people to vote for change. But when it comes down to it, the only real change they're offering is who gets the Ministerial salaries. Everything else is basicly business-as-usual, the rich get richer and the poor keep getting screwed. Oh, they'll offer a bit more money here and there to put a sticking plaster on that oozing sore, and change employment laws a bit (but not too much) to give workers a better chance, but its basicly the same shit with different dungworms. And who really gives a fuck about that?

The worst part is that they've bullied the Greens into signing up for this, in the name of offering "stable alternative government". Except that what it means is that they're not really offering an alternative at all - and the Greens aren't allowed to offer an alternative to them (which is what Labour really fears).

If you want people to vote for change, you actually need to offer some. But if you let the right set the fiscal and policy parameters, you simply can't do that in any meaningful sense. The solution is obvious: reject National's fiscal and policy straitjackets, and open up policy space to do something real. Sadly, that's probably too much to expect from Labour.

Equality comes to Malta

Earlier in the month the German Parliament voted for marriage equality. And now Malta has followed suit:

MPs on the predominantly Catholic island of Malta have voted to legalise same-sex marriage.

In a vote passed by 66-1, Malta’s parliament approved legislation replacing the traditional "you are now husband and wife" declaration in civil ceremonies with "you are now spouses”.

The sole MP who voted against the change said he did so because of his faith.


One more down. And hopefully the rest of the world will follow suit soon.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017



An exercise in pointless cruelty

Over the past few years, the European Union has increasingly adopted Australian anti-refugee tactics, intercepting and "pushing back" refugee boats in an effort to avoid their obligations under the Refugee Convention. But according to a report from the UK House of Lords, these operations have simply increased the number of refugees dying at sea:

The tactics used by the European Union’s naval mission – in which Britain plays a leading role – to tackle people-smuggling in the Mediterranean have resulted in more deaths at sea of refugees and migrants, a cross-party House of Lords inquiry has concluded.

The peers say an unintended consequence of Operation Sophia’s policy of destroying smugglers’ boats has been that they have adapted and sent refugees and migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels, leading to more deaths.

The number of recorded casualties on the central Mediterranean route – between Libya and Italy – rose by 42% to more than 4,500 people drowning in 2016 compared with 3,175 in 2015. So far in 2017 there have been 2,150 deaths.

The report by the Lords’ EU external affairs sub-committee says the bloc’s naval operation has failed in its mission to disrupt the business of people-smuggling in the central Mediterranean and its mandate should not be renewed. The initiative has had little impact on the flow of irregular migrants, which reached its highest level yet in 2016 with 181,436 arriving in Europe by this route.


I hope the EU will take that advice. Sadly, I expect Europe's racist politicians will simply double down on the cruelty. I guess the good news about Brexit is that the UK won't be being their thugs anymore.

The obvious solution

Auckland schools are complaining about a teacher shortage again:

More than half of Auckland schools are each struggling to fill up to four teaching jobs, a new survey reveals.

Sixty-six per cent of schools across the region took part in the survey, which found more than 50 per cent had three or four teacher vacancies.

Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Kevin Bush said of those, more than half had advertised four or five times, spanning several months, and even then still failed to fill the roles.

He said it was the worst shortage he'd seen in 30 years.


And its entirely unsurprising, in light of stories like this and this. National's housing bubble means that even those on decent wages like teachers can no longer afford to live in Auckland. As for the solution, its called an employment market. If schools can't find enough teachers at the wages they're offering, clearly they need to offer more. If they don't, then they have no-one but themselves to blame if qualified staff pursue better options elsewhere.

Winston: Supported by Nazis

The Herald's Kirsty Johnston spent months infiltrating the online discussions of New Zealand's "alt-right" Nazis. And unsurprisingly, they love Winston Peters:

Secondly, a week later, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters visited Victoria University in Wellington. During his speech to students he questioned the media's role in causing the [Auckland University European Students Association] group to shut down. He accused journalists of suppressing dissenting voices, and on his way out, unashamedly signed a cartoon of a frog named Pepe - the most popular symbol of the alt-right.

Peters' actions set the New Zealand 4Chan boards alight.

"Guess who just got my vote!!" one user wrote. "Winston is based". (Based, loosely, means good).

"Absolutely BASED," said another. "Winnie has my undying respect."

"Winston is /ourguy/, right?" another asked. "I want someone to get rid of the Indians and Chinese, those f****** are stealing our country right out from under us."

In addition to the hype, users began earnestly discussing the importance of helping Peters win.


They also apparently talked about getting involved in Young NZFirst in order to have a greater influence on the party. So, they're not just directly supporting him, but his party is rotten with them (and it really makes you wonder how many of them are going to be on his party list).

And then Winston gets all high and mighty when called on his racism? Please. Nazis know a racist when they see one, and that's why they support Winston. But the result is that no-one else should.

(Not that this is any great surprise: the National Front - actual, open Nazis - publicly endorsed Winston in 2005, and in 2011, and in 2014 reminded him that "We have had NF supporters working hard for NZ first from its beginning". So alt-right support for NZFirst is absolutely consistent with the positions of both groups).

National's new Muldoonism

What's National's plan for the economy? Apparently, it is to suspend all environmental law for their cronies:

Forest & Bird can reveal that for 18 months, the Government investigated creating ‘Special Economic Zones’ to push through contentious developments, including coal mining on the Buller Plateau.

Special economic zone legislation would give the Government powers to take conservation land and private land, provide tax breaks for favoured developers, and override overseas investment and immigration controls.

“We’re talking about zones where normal environmental, social and democratic safeguards don’t apply,” says Mr Hague.


National has already pulled this stunt once, with "Special Housing Areas" giving free licence to property developers (who then sat on the approvals and didn't build anything, or if they did build something, sold it all to speculators). But SHAs only short-circuited the usual RMA process. SEZ's go much further, and effectively equate to a total suspension of all law which might interfere with business. The protections of the Conservation Act, Reserves Act, National Parks Act and Crown Minerals Act against mining on protected land? Gone. RMA requirements to consider and mitigate adverse environmental impacts? Gone. Ignoring the Immigration Act (which prevents people from simply importing a cheap workforce from overseas) or Overseas Investment Act (preventing investments by foreign criminals and money launders) is just the icing on the cake.

Back in the 80's, Muldoon passed special enabling legislation for the Clyde Dam, his pet project. But this goes much further. It's Clyde Dam 2.0, a general framework for central government to support the projects of favoured projects in defiance of the law. And it shows the same arrogance and disregard for the environment and the rule of law as piggy did all those years ago.

As for those wondering (as National pollster DPF mischievously did yesterday) why the Greens can't work with National, this is why: because at its core, the National Party is an anti-environment party, dedicated to destroying our natural heritage and impoverishing future generations for the profit of their cronies. And until that mindset fundamentally changes, no party dedicated to protecting the environment can possibly work with them. It is that simple.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017



Australia committed war crimes in Afghanistan

The ABC has a major leak showing Australian special forces repeatedly committed war crimes in Afghanistan:

Hundreds of pages of secret defence force documents leaked to the ABC give an unprecedented insight into the clandestine operations of Australia’s elite special forces in Afghanistan, including incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children.

The ABC can reveal that some of the cases detailed in the documents are being investigated as possible unlawful killings.

This comes a day after the ABC revealed the alleged cover up of the killing of an Afghan boy and another alleged incident in which a father and son were shot dead during a raid.

The documents, many marked AUSTEO — Australian Eyes Only — suggest a growing unease at the highest levels of Defence about the culture of Australia’s special forces as they prosecuted a bloody, secretive war against insurgents across a swathe of southern Afghanistan.

One document from 2014 refers to ingrained “problems” within special forces, an “organisational culture” including a “warrior culture” and a willingness by officers to turn a blind eye to poor behaviour.


Hands severed as "trophies". Murdered prisoners. Dead civilians. These are the signs of a military out of control. And they need to be reined in, and hard, with prosecutions and sackings. And if they're not, I guess then the Defence Minister gets to join their soldiers in The Hague...

Climate change: The bad news

Today's must-read: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells in New York magazine. It looks at the expected consequences of climate change and points out just how fucking awful its going to be, just how badly our parents and grandparents have screwed us. If current trends continue and emissions continue to rise, great chunks of the world are going to become uninhabitable, while major urban areas like New York will become the sort of places people can only survive with air-conditioning and never going out during the day (ironicly, a shutdown of the Gulf Stream might be the only thing which saves them). And that's the least of it. We're also looking at global famine as current food-production areas become less productive in higher temperatures; at forgotten diseases bubbling out of the permafrost; at a significant increase in war as countries and people struggle over these challenges; and economic collapse from the damage all of this causes. And of course a mass extinction of the world's wildlife... which might potentially include us if things go very badly.

Some of this is preventable if emissions drop sharply. But its a real question now of how much climate change is already baked in, and how much our past stupidity has committed us to. We are probably already in the situation, to steal a phrase from Kim Stanley Robinson, of bolting the stable door after the four horsemen have escaped. But we probably still have a short window to avert the worst. Probably.

This ought to be a call to action. We need a government which will set us on a rapid path to decarbonisation, and which will push hard for global efforts to do the same. National won't do either (neither, I should add, will NZ First - they're still in the denier / do nothing camp). We need a change. Otherwise, we may all burn.

The rich vs families with kids

That seems to be the choice we're going to get this election, with Labour announcing its new "families package":

Labour is promising to scrap National's Budget tax cut plan.

Instead it will funnell the cash into higher Working for Families payments and extra help for those with young children.

It's a package it says will deliver up to $48 a week extra to middle income families.

It would also reinstate the independent earners tax credit, which was dumped in the May Budget, but keeps in place National's big boost to the accommodation supplement.


National's tax-cuts tweaked thresholds - meaning that they only benefitted those above them. And as usual, the rich got the most. Labour reverses that, and puts the money towards helping those further the income pyramid - though not those at the very bottom or without kids. Still, its a different focus, and while its merely tinkering around the edges, a better one overall, which puts resources more where they're needed (rather than where they're not).

At the same time, it also shows the narrowness of New Zealand politics, because for all Labour tries to tart it up, this is primarily an argument over tax-cuts vs targeting as a delivery mechanism. Meanwhile, our low-wage economy is still failing to deliver to a huge number of people. I guess the real difference is going to be in what goes with this policy: Labour has already announced employment law reforms which should allow workers to better fight for pay rises, and they're also likely to run a monetary policy which pushes unemployment lower rather than higher. National, OTOH, wants a low-wage, high unemployment economy, because it means higher profits for them and their cronies. And that I guess is the real choice we're looking at.

A verdict without credibility

An NGO sues the government in an effort to force it to adhere to the laws. The public evidence suggests strongly that the government is openly flouting its own rules, but the government is allowed to present evidence to the judge in secret, without the other party having any chance to challenge it. Naturally, the judge rules for the government.

A tale from the old Soviet Union or some shitty third world despotism? No, its just the UK again:

The Government is not breaking the law by continuing to sign off the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, the High Court has ruled.

Activists from Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) had brought a legal challenge against the department in charge of arms control after British arms continued to flow to the autocracy despite it conducting a bloody military campaign in Yemen.

[...]

The court heard both closed and open evidence over a period of three days earlier in the year. The judgment issued by the Court on Monday suggests that evidence given by the Government in closed court – and thus not made public – was crucial to the final decision. The Court said the evidence “cannot be referred to in open court” for “national security reasons”.

This secret evidence presented by the Government is said by the court to have included Saudi Arabia’s “fast-jet operational reporting data”, “high-resolution MoD-sourced imagery” and “UK defence intelligence reports and battle damage assessments”. The judgment summary said the MoD and FCO’s analysis “has all the hallmarks of a rigorous and robust, multi-layered process of analysis” and that the evidence presented by the campaigners was “only part of the picture”.


But of course, that's a one-sided assessment, because the secret "evidence" could not be effectively challenged. It was kept secret from the other party, with only a "Special Advocate" - a security-cleared member of the establishment who was forbidden to talk to the people they were ostensibly working for - there to argue it. Which is simply a mockery of the judicial process. The net result is that this verdict has no credibility whatsoever.

But the UK government clearly doesn't care about credibility anymore. It cares only about preventing peasants from effectively challenging their actions in court (as seen in another case ATM about British complicity in rendition and torture). Simply banning such cases would be too overt, so they strap the rules instead - just like any other shitty little tyranny.

Monday, July 10, 2017



More Wind

Tararua Wind Power's proposed wind farm at Waverley has been finally granted resource consent:

Permission has been granted for the construction of Taranaki's first windfarm.

Tararua Wind Power Ltd now has resource consents for 10 years to begin work on a $325 million, 48-turbine wind farm on the coast between Waverley and Patea, if it decides to go ahead.

A decision was announced on Friday by the trio of independent commissioners who heard submissions for and against the plan by the firm, (formerly Trustpower), in May.


This is good news. Generators had stopped seeking consent for new capacity a few years ago in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis and uncertainty over long-term electricity demand. But now they seem to be back at it. And if the previous focus on renewables keeps up, we should see a real shift in New Zealand's energy emissions.

The Greens vs Winston

There was a minor political spat over the weekend, with Green co-leader Metiria Turei calling NZ First racist, and Winston getting upset about it. Meanwhile, Labour is stuck in the middle desperately trying to demand that their two pathways to power pretend to get along.

Fuck that. NZ First are a racist party and always have been. They've consistently run on a platform of whipping up hatred against others - initially Asians, then Muslims, and now its back to Asians again. Whining about this truth being spoken is like bigots whining about being called on their bigotry. And my response is the same: if you don't want to be called a racist, don't be a racist.

What this does expose is how tenuous Labour's pathway to power is. Depending on the votes of two parties who basicly hate each other to form a government and pass policy is not a recipe for coalition success - especially when the decision of one of those parties is in the hands of its members, not its MP's. It's Labour's fault they're in this position: they've done precisely squat to increase their vote since last election. But now we all have to deal with it. And with Winston threatening to lock the Greens out of government again, Labour is effectively presenting its voters with two alternate coalition choices. Which means that if you want Labour to work with the Greens, you need to vote for the latter to strengthen their hand.

Good news for a change

The world seems to be turning into a darker place at the moment, with endless war in the Middle East, and Donald Trump threatening to start even more of them. But over the weekend, there was some light, with the UN formally adopting a treaty to ban nuclear weapons in international law:

More than 120 countries have approved the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons at a UN meeting boycotted by all nuclear-armed nations.

To loud applause and cheers, Elayne Whyte Gomez, president of the UN conference that has been negotiating the legally binding treaty, announced the results of the "historic" vote - 122 nations in favour, the Netherlands opposed, and Singapore abstaining.

"We have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons," Whyte Gomez said. "We (are) ... saying to our children that, yes, it is possible to inherit a world free from nuclear weapons."


The treaty is simple, committing its parties to being nuclear free: they won't develop, manufacture, test, transfer, use, or even allow the stationing of nuclear weapons within their territory. And while no nuclear-armed state has joined (and NATO, as good little US vassals, refused to participate), they can, by renouncing their weapons and conducting an IAEA-verified disarmament process. While that probably won't happen soon (again, Trump: an aggressive US makes disarmament less likely), it leaves the door open for gradual denuclearisation. Meanwhile, by establishing a clear prohibition in international law, the treaty has effectively redefined every great power as a rogue state, while reducing their operating scope and providing a basis for future sanctions against them.

New Zealand has been at the heart of this struggle, and we're expected to be one of the first states to sign and ratify it (the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 means we're already compliant). Its an actual foreign policy success! Not that National seems proud of it - they blocked a motion in the House to celebrate it last week. But formally prohibiting nuclear weapons in international law is a major achievement, and one all kiwis can be proud of.

A sign of failure

Wellington has a new children's hospital:

Wellington is to get new $50m children's hospital paid for by millionaire property developer Mark Dunajtschik.

The philanthropist will pay for, build and gift the hospital to Capital & Coast District Health Board (CCDHB).

Almost 30 years' old, the current children's hospital has been deemed not fit for purpose


Which is great news for Wellington kids. But its also a sign of the failure of National as a government. Building hospitals is a core function of the state in New Zealand, so having to rely on charity to do it means the government is simply failing to do its job. Ultimately, this comes back to taxes: National's obsession with cutting taxes for its rich mates starves the government of the revenue needed to perform core functions like schools, hospitals, and state housing. If we want these services - and kiwis overwhelmingly do - we need to elect governments who will do what is necessary to pay for them. Otherwise we're going to see more of the slow decline into US-style public squalor that this generous donation represents.

Friday, July 07, 2017



"Surplus"

Housing New Zealand waiting list quadruples in Palmerston North, Stuff, 5 May 2017:

The waiting list for Palmerston North's state homes has quadrupled for the second year in a row.

There were 193 applications on the Housing New Zealand waiting list in March. A year ago it was 44, and two years ago there were only 10.

Manawatu Tenants' Union co-ordinator Kevin Reilly said the union was dealing with people struggling just to get a roof over their heads.

For the past few years, the cost of living – the amount needed to cover essentials such as food, rent, and electricity – had increased faster than incomes, he said.


Almost 40% of Manawatu schools report operating deficits, Manawatu Standard, 25 June 2017:
Almost 40 per cent of Manawatu schools outspent their income during 2015, data shows.

The figures back up what many principals are saying – schools are struggling to make ends meet with current funding, Central District Secondary Principals' Association chairman Peter Brooks said.


'Cruel' ministry rejects Canterbury's 'urgent' mental health funding plea, Stuff, July 4 2017:
The Government has rejected an "urgent" request for millions of dollars of additional mental health funding for Canterbury.

A Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) member has labelled the rejection "brutal, cruel, unfair and wrong" and warns mental health staff are under such pressure that "we're heading towards a service failure".

CDHB chief executive David Meates told the Ministry of Health in March about a proposal to request "urgent additional mental health funding of $7.2 million to address increasing demand", documents obtained by Stuff reveal.

Director general of health Chai Chuah responded in a letter to CDHB acting chair Mark Solomon that such a proposal for additional funding was "inappropriate" as it was the responsibility of the board to ensure the provision of services for its resident population.


Govt surplus beats expectations, Radio New Zealand, 6 July 2017:
A higher tax take and lower spending has helped boost the government's coffers.

Excluding investment gains and losses, the operating surplus stood at $4.49 billion for the 11 months to May, compared with the $2.9bn surplus that had been forecast.

[...]

Expenses came in below expectations, at $69.3bn.


[Emphasis added]

So, the government apparently is rolling in money, while health, education, and state housing are all chronicly underfunded. This isn't a "surplus" - or if it is, its the "surplus" you have when you haven't paid for rent or food and are putting off that visit to the doctor. In other words, not a surplus at all. In reality, our government is deeply in debt: a social, infrastructural, and health debt, accumulated over thirty years of NeoLiberalism. But because that misery is not counted on the government's books, it doesn't exist in government thinking, and so it's "yay, tax cuts", rather than "we need to fix this".

This is simply not sane. Our government is like a drunk, ignoring basic costs in order to feel rich and splurge on its mates. And that is not "good economic management".

New Fisk

The Qatar crisis has nothing to do with Al Jazeera and everything to do with the war in Syria

Climate change: Ending oil

Fossil fuels are the primary cause of climate change. A significant chunk of those fossil fuels are burned in cars, so if we want to beat climate change, we need to stop doing that. And today, the French government signalled that it would do just that, announcing that it would ban the sale of petrol and diesel-fuelled cars by 2040:

Nicolas Hulot, the country’s new ecology minister, said: “We are announcing an end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.” Hulot added that the move was a “veritable revolution”.

He said it would be a “tough” objective for carmakers but France’s industry was well equipped to make the switch. “Our [car]makers have enough ideas in the drawer to nurture and bring about this promise ... which is also a public health issue.”


This is exactly what governments need to do to end the oil age and stop us destroying the world: send a credible signal to fossil fuel-intensive industries that their era is over, giving them time to come up with solutions. Though there are real questions as to whether France's 2040 target is ambitious enough - both in terms of what needs to be done to decarbonise the economy, and because in France, electric cars will likely have taken over well before then. But hopefully, they'll find they're able to advance their deadline by five to ten years, depending on how well their car-makers rise to the challenge.

The rest of the EU is likely to rapidly follow suit on this. Norway has already set a 2025 target (though they will allow hybrids), and Germany is considering a 2030 target. And with major car manufacturers giving up on fossil fuels, governments might be behind the curve.

It does raise new problems: how to power all of those cars without burning fossil fuels in power plants. In France, their answer is probably to burn uranium instead (they seem quite happy to run the risk of poisoning themselves and their neighbours). Though at the rate solar and wind are going, it might be less of a problem than expected.

Meanwhile, there is the obvious question: where's New Zealand's target? Is our government also going to commit to ending the age of oil, and by doing so, spark the necessary infrastructure changes? Or are we going to leave it all up to the market again - and essentially commit to failure?

If you don't fight, you don't win

There are op-eds in both the Herald and Stuff this morning calling for a leftward shift in New Zealand politics. In the Herald, Toby Manhire argues that the Greens should unleash Metiria Turei's radical side to "mak[e] the progressive case for the environment, the economy and society" properly - loud and in-your-face. And in Stuff, Andrew Dean argues that in the face of enormous public dissatisfaction with the political system, Labour and the Greens' pre-election commitment to NeoLiberalism is not just wrong, but a mistake:

Even on their own terms, though, the budget responsibility rules are misguided. They commit our two largest Left parties to continuing policies that have resulted in such dissatisfaction. The running down of public infrastructure – schools, healthcare, state housing, public transport, tertiary education, and so on – that has occurred over decades of restricted government spending, is of course very much central to this.

Those who are unhappy with the political system know what restricted budgets look like: lack of state houses; long waiting lists for services of all kinds; stratified and increasingly segregated schools; welfare and tax credit cuts. It means it is hard to make rent and get food on the table.


And the obvious question is, why vote for a left party if all they're offering is the same old shit with more sincere sounding excuses. Hell, if that's all government can offer, why vote at all?

We need change. Thirty years of NeoLiberalism have left us poorer, robbed of both our wages and our public services. Meanwhile, the rich are laughing all the way to the bank (and getting us to bail them out and fund their fucking MoneyBoat as well).

Fuck that. If left parties aren't going to end that, or at least make a credible effort, then what is the fucking point of them?

If Labour and the Greens want to win this election, they need to actually offer something. Mere managerial politics - Grant Robertson and Gareth Hughes getting Ministerial salaries rather than Nick Smith and Anne Tolley - does not cut it. It does not inspire support, because at the end of the day it makes no difference, means nothing to us.

As for what to offer: at the heart of the government's problems lies thirty years of starvation thanks to NeoLiberal tax cutting. So end that. Tax the rich, with a new top tax rate on high-income earners like MP's, and tax wealth with a land tax. And make polluters pay, with a real carbon charge and a resource rental for irrigators and industrial water users. And use that to fund the public services we need and have been denied by successive governments who care more about the rich than the people who elect them.

It might not work. But if you don't fight, you don't win. And OTOH, in the current climate, where two-thirds of us think the economic system is rigged for the rich, taking up a solid position on the side of the many against the people who are fucking us over doesn't seem like it will hurt. And at the least, its a better setup for next time than more failed managerialism.

Thursday, July 06, 2017



Climate change: The big danger

If you've been watching the news, you'll be aware that a huge iceberg is about to calve from the Larsen C ice shelf, potentially destabilising it and causing it to collapse. But as an article in The Conversation points out, the danger isn't the ice in the shelf - that's already floating. Instead, its the ice in the glaciers behind it:

The calving itself will simply be the birth of another big iceberg. But there is valid concern among scientists that the entire Larsen C ice shelf could become unstable, and eventually break up entirely, with knock-on effects that could take decades to play out.

Ice shelves essentially act as corks in a bottle. Glaciers flow from land towards the sea, and their ice is eventually absorbed into the ice shelf. Removal of the ice shelf causes glaciers to flow faster, increasing the rate at which ice moves from the land into the sea. This has a much larger effect on sea level than iceberg calving does.


Basicly, take out the cork, and all the ice flows down into the sea, raising sea levels due to buoyancy (and then eventual melting). In the case of Larsen C, that would raise sea level by 10 cm over a decade or two. Which doesn't sound like much, but the problem is that Larsen C is only one (smallish) ice-shelf. I'm currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140, which is set in a future where climate change continues and a whole bunch of them go. And the result is 15 metres of sea level rise in a couple of decades - which is enough to trash every coastal city in the world, put entire countries underwater, and cause hundreds of millions of people to become refugees. And that's... not going to be pleasant. Just on a local scale, it means the CBD's of Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, and half of Auckland will be under water. You can imagine the disruption that would cause.

If we want to avoid this, the world needs to decarbonise quickly, and we need to do our bit. But our government simply doesn't seem interested in that. Which means we need to replace them with one that is - and the sooner, the better.

National's priorities

Government puts up starter $5 million to America's Cup defence, Stuff, 3 July 2017:

The Government has put an early $5 million envelope on the table so Team New Zealand can retain its talent.

The early funding boost is similar to what the Government provided in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous 2013 America's Cup Challenge, to give TNZ breathing space while it worked to secure funding for its next bid.

It was a "no-strings" commitment, however the Government's resolve to be more involved in a defence, given the likelihood it would be held at least in part, on New Zealand waters appeared to be far stronger than four years ago.


Women's centre funding 'whisked away' by government, Radio New Zealand, 5 July 2017:
Thousands of people may lose support after two women's centres lost government funding, the centres say.

The Auckland Women's Centre, which has provided support services to tens of thousands of women since 1975, has been forced to turn to the community for support after a massive cut to its funding.

It supports about 4000 women including those suffering abuse, eating disorders, health issues and those needing parenting support.

It was receiving $100,000 from government a year but as of this month it will not get anything.


So there's money for sport for millionaires, but no money for basic support for women. Those are National's priorities. Remember them on September 23.

"Net conservation" is unlawful

Today the Supreme Court delivered its judgement on the Ruataniwha Dam land swap - and found it to be unlawful:

The Supreme Court has ruled conservation land cannot be destroyed for the Ruataniwha Dam.

[...]

In its decision, the court said the Conservation Act allowed the responsible minister to revoke protected status "only where its intrinsic conservation values no longer warrant such protection".

"The Court of Appeal was right to conclude that the revocation decision was unlawful because it was driven by the [Department of Conservation] Director General's view that there was net benefit to conservation ends to be obtained from the proposed exchange, which could be implemented only if protected status was revoked.

"That did not justify revocation under [Section 18(7) of the Act]."


This is obviously good news in the battle to protect Ruahine Forest Park, and its hard to see how the Ruataniwha Dam can go ahead now. But the case goes much wider than that. DoC has used this idea of "net conservation gain" - of allowing protected land to be bulldozed provided they get something else, somewhere, which also needs to be conserved - as a fundamental part of its business model, and has used it to enable everything from ski-fields to coal mines. But that entire approach has been ruled illegal. Which means that all those proposed coal mines and dams which rely on a compliant Conservation Minister signing away the conservation estate for magic beans are simply not going to happen. And our environment will be much better for it.

The interesting question now is the status of past land swaps. After all, if the decision was illegal, they should be reversed. But the environment may have been so degraded in the interim as to destroy the conservation value of the land in question, making a return pointless. But I guess that's going to depend on the specifics of the case - and on whether anyone wants to go to court to reverse something already apparently settled.