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Wednesday, April 29, 2009


That's the latest piocture of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, courtesy of the ESA. In the month since the final collapse of the ice-bridge holding it back, much of the main ice-shelf has shattered. And they're expecting a lot more breakup to come...


Today in Question Time, Opposition leader Phil Goff attempted to take the government to task over its expected decision to cancel its now unaffordable tax cuts to the rich. Goff's aim was to contrast Labour's record of keeping its promises with National's record of breaking them. But in the process he simply looked stupid. Why? Firstly, because Labour opposes those tax cuts. And secondly, because cancelling them is a sane and pragmatic response to the recession. When the government is predicting three years of no growth, spiralling deficits, and enormous pressure on government spending, the last thing they should be doing is bankrupting the country to hand out money to those who need it least. In fact, they should be doing the opposite: raising taxes on the rich to ease the burden and properly fund public services.

Demanding the government follow through on a stupid policy you fundamentally oppose is mindless oppositional FPP politics at its worst. I had thought the shift to MMP had moved Labour away from that political culture. Sadly, it seems I was wrong.

Rudd sides with the bigots

Whenever I look at Australian politics, I'm constantly reminded that the Australian Labor Party is neither as progressive or liberal as its New Zealand equivalent. I've had another such reminder today, with Kevin Rudd categorically ruling out any move to introduce civil unions in Australia. His reason? American-style bigotry:

The Government’s response equated the proposal with same-sex marriage equality, saying the no gay unions policy "reflects the widely held view in the community that marriage is between a man and a woman".
The furtherest they'll go is to officially recognise gay de facto couples. And this in a country which has not yet outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at a federal level.

Civil unions are not full equality - they are "separate but equal", which never is. At the same time, they are a marked improvement, and a step on the road to full equality. Rejecting even this half-measure is the sign of a party - and a country - which is still deeply bigoted, and does not yet accept the fundamental principle that everyone is born equal and should be treated as such. We expect that from the right; to see it from the left is deeply troubling.

Fiji: great news if its true

Last night Australian Prime Minister claimed that the UN was going to ban Fiji from future peacekeeping missions. It hasn't been confirmed yet by UN authorities, but its great news if its true. This is a measure which strikes directly at the Fijian military - at its prestige, and its income. It sends a clear message to every Fijian soldier that the regime has cost them a pile of tax-free US dollars. And it deprives the military of an income stream they use to both justify their excessive size and build up their capabilities for oppression. In short, it would be a highly effective measure; the real question is why they didn't do it sooner.

Something to go to in Wellington

Climate change activist and founder of Bill McKibben is currently touring the country talking about climate change. He's already appeared in Dunedin, and this Friday he'll be hitting Wellington:

When: 18:00, Friday, 1 May
Where: Lecture Theatre 2, Rutherford House, Victoria University, Wellington (next to the train station)
How much: Free!

People in other cities don't miss out - he does Dunedin again tomorrow night, Christchurch on Friday morning, and Auckland on Monday.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Select committee supports medical THC

The Health Committee has reported back [PDF] on a petition from NORML asking them to change the law to allow medical use of marijuana. Despite strong evidence from the Ministry of Health of its efficacy and safety, and a submission from the New Zealand Drug Foundation in support, it shied away from backing them, and instead recommended that THC-based medicines be listed under the Medicines Act, making them easier to prescribe.

Even that mild recommendation is likely to be controversial with the anti-drug wingnuts - but it shouldn't be. We're happy to use opiates as medicines, despite the fact that they also have recreational uses. Why shouldn't we also use THC if it has proven medical benefits? But sadly, the degree of hysteria about drugs in our society means that what should be the key question - whether it is safe and effective as a medicine - is drowned out in the noise.

New Fisk

Obama falls short on Armenian pledge

Reminder: Drinking Liberally Auckland tomorrow

Drinking Liberally is on in Auckland tomorrow. The guest speaker is Manukau mayor Len Brown, who will talk about the government's Auckland SuperCity proposal.

When: 19:00, Wednesday, 29 April
Where: London Bar - corner Queen and Victoria Streets, Auckland CBD

Be there or be thirsty.

[Hat-tip: The Standard]

Legislating for equality in the UK

Yesterday the UK government introduced its Equality Bill, which updates and collects the UK's scattered anti-discrimination legislation into a single, comprehensive Act. The bill is being hailed as a tremendous step forward for equality, and it does contain some landmark measures - starting with the opening clause imposing a duty on public bodies to reduce socio-economic and class inequality (meaning that every Minister, department, local authority and school would need to allocate resources to the poor rather than the rich). It also requires large employers to publish statistics on pay equity (though shies away from comprehensive pay audits), bans secrecy clauses in employment contracts, gives employment tribunals powers to recommend general rather than specific solutions in discrimination cases (effectively turning every such case into a free class action), and extends protection to transgendered people. It is a bold push, though as Polly Toynbee notes, also too late - if New Labour had done this at the beginning of its term, rather than the end, it would have had a decade to bed itself in and produce a better society. Now, thanks to New Labour's "caution", much of it will likely be gutted by the next Tory government.

Many of these measures could and should be adopted in New Zealand. There has already been one attempt to protect the transgender community by adding them to the Human Rights Act, though it was dropped before it ever came to a vote after Labour panicked over "moving too fast". And the measures around gagging clauses and pay statistics would make an easy member's bill (the equality measure I think needs a more comprehensive look - but it could be something for labour to run on in 2011). At the same time, I'm struck by the differences in the UK's legislation compared to our own. Firstly, the UK does not include family status, employment status, or political opinion in its list of protected characteristics. Secondly and more importantly, it takes a completely different approach to discrimination. In New Zealand, the prohibited grounds of discrimination include both the traits and their absence - so for example it is discrimination on the grounds of marital status to refuse someone a room because they are married (or civil unioned or de facto) - or because they are single (or divorced, widowed, whatever). In the UK, only the listed trait is protected - so while it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they are married, it is not illegal to discriminate against someone because they are single, divorced, or de facto. It's a glaring hole, and one they need to fix immediately.

This is what racism looks like

This piece of garbage from cartoonist Jim Hubbard was splashed across the opinion pages of the Manawatu Standard today:

(Image stolen from NZPA).

I can only conclude that Hubbard is an ignorant redneck who has no clue about the history which underlies Treaty settlements, or how little we spend on them. That, or he is deliberately trying to incite racial hatred (a quick test: ask yourself what it would look like if it was about Jews. This one definitely fails). Either way, I'm surprised a respectable (albeit provincial) newspaper would publish it. Or did they have the Don Brash in to edit for the day?

(I'm also strongly reminded of another vile cartoon a few years back, showing health, education etc as starving dogs watching on while a fat dog labelled "Maori" was fed in front of them. Was that one by Hubbard as well?)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Extremely weak

Over the weekend, United Future leader Peter Dunne began the push for a republic, arguing that the public is clearly ready for the debate, and we should be allowed to have it through a two-stage referendum process. He also attacked the common delaying tactic of "passive denial", saying

I am tired of politicians who say it is probably inevitable we will become a republic at some stage, but who are unwilling to do anything to bring it about – that is extremely weak.
Prime Minister John Key immediately scotched the proposal. How? By attempting passive denial:
As I have always said in the past one day it's likely New Zealand will become a republic but, I don't think anything is going to happen under my watch.
Unfortunately, the denial is no longer passive when there's an actual concrete proposal which you then reject. Instead, it becomes active opposition. And trying to hide this with mealy-mouthed sentiments about inevitability is indeed "extremely weak". Key should have the courage of his convictions and tell us what he really thinks, rather than trying once again to bullshit us and please everyone.

Meanwhile, to those of us who want a republic, the message is clear: if we want one, we're going to have to vote for it. And that means ditching Key.

A project of national significance

The Manawatu Standard had a major scoop on Friday, uncovering evidence that the Minister for the Environment's call-in of the Turitea windfarm proposal did not meet "national significance" criteria. The project - an ordinary mid-sized wind farm contentious because it was being built in a reserve - was called in in December, ostensibly as a "project of national significance". But the Minister was advised before making the decision that it met only two of the eight criteria in the law: it involved more than one district, and affected our international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. The former is usually uncontentious - plenty of projects (including several previous Manawatu wind farms) cross district boundaries, and local authorities handle it by holding joint hearings; the latter, as MfE noted, "is true of all proposals for the use and development of wind farms". But rather than take his ministry's advice that it was a local project which could be handled locally, Smith called it in because it was

consistent with my intention to amend the RMA to provide for priority consents for larger-scale infrastructure.
In other words, local democracy was trampled so the Minister could show the business community his desire for "reform". Our rights as citizens to control local development came second place to the Minister's ego.

Hopefully Smith will be forced to answer some tough questions about his decision-making process in Parliament tomorrow. Meanwhile, we might all want to consider what this tells us about National's RMA reform plans, and how low it is setting the bar for call-ins. This is, as noted above, an ordinary, mid-sized windfarm. If this makes the threshold, then so does pretty much every major project, and local government will have no control whatsoever. Instead, decisions on local matters will be made in Wellington, and local communities will be left out in the cold.

Swine Flu

Some years back, I read a couple of books on the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. One of the things they were very clear about was that it would happen again. A common virus, which most years lurks in the background killing a "mere" hundred thousand or so people, but which can evolve rapidly, spread easily and turn deadly quickly, combined with unprecedented global mobility, equals the potential for a global plague. Which is why the WHO and medical authorities keep a serious eye on it, and warns people when there's some danger of it heading that way. This has led to regular false alarms - such as the 1976 swine flu outbreak (where vaccination killed more people than the actual disease), or more recently "bird flu" (which still hasn't made the big leap to human-to-human transmission yet). But in the face of such danger, it is wise to be cautious.

This time round its swine flu, which has already killed 80 people in Mexico and has spread to the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand. 80 people doesn't sound like a lot, but its enough to classify the disease as an epidemic (meaning: "a lot more cases than expected"), and its virulence, spread and contagiousness is enough to classify it as a potential pandemic (meaning: "a lot more cases than expected over a large area"). For all that, it might be another false alarm - it could just peter out. Or it could be 1918 all over again. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing until it is too late.

What's interesting to me is that for all our advances in medical technology and disease monitoring, we are now more vulnerable than we were in 1918. Back then, countries could close their borders (we did - then made an exception because Bill Massey, the Prime Minister, was too important to wait with the hoi polloi. 8,000 people died as a result). Now, thanks to globalisation, we can't. Oh sure, the legal power exists, but the economic disruption it would cause means that no government (and particularly a "pro-business" government) would do so until it was already too late. Though with travel times now generally being shorter than incubation periods, its questionable whether such measures would be effective anyway.

Stupid as well as wrong

The critiques of US torture have generally followed two strands: that it is morally and legally wrong, and that it is ineffective. To this, we can now add a third: that it is actively counterproductive. That's the assessment of Major Matthew Alexander, a former US interrogator who served in Iraq. In his view, the US's torture program has likely killed more Americans than 9/11. How? By recruiting people to the resistance:

Before he started interrogating insurgent prisoners in Iraq, he had been told that they were highly ideological and committed to establishing an Islamic caliphate in Iraq, Major Alexander says. In the course of the hundreds of interrogations carried out by himself, as well as more than 1,000 that he supervised, he found that the motives of both foreign fighters joining al-Qa'ida in Iraq and Iraqi-born members were very different from the official stereotype.

In the case of foreign fighters – recruited mostly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and North Africa – the reason cited by the great majority for coming to Iraq was what they had heard of the torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. These abuses, not fundamentalist Islam, had provoked so many of the foreign fighters volunteering to become suicide bombers.

(Emphasis added)

American torture was also a reason for Iraqis joining the resistance. And it is undoubtedly a reason for others to join al Qaeda or allied groups to conduct terror attacks against Americans and their allies. Which makes it (to paraphrase Talleyrand) not just a crime, but a mistake.

Iceland settles the score with neoliberalism

Iceland went to the polls yesterday to replace the government the people drove from office after it had destroyed the country's economy. The result was a resounding victory for the left, with the Social Democrat Alliance and Left-Green Movement collectively winning 34 seats in the 63 seat Parliament. The neo-liberal Independence Party, whose deregulation of the financial sector had caused the mess, were decimated, losing nine seats. Talk about political chickens coming home to roost...

Johanna Sigurdardottir, the Social Democratic leader and Prime Minister, said that the country was "settling the score with the [sic] neoliberalism". Other neo-liberal governments should take note. If they don't change their policies, the people may want to settle a score with them too.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Fisk

Everyone wants to be an author, but no one is reading books

Friday, April 24, 2009

Geeking on electricity

This is cool - live stats on power usage and how it is being generated. At the moment they're burning a lot of coal while the North Island's hydro capacity lies idle. Which is one of the things that will change when we start pricing carbon properly.

[Hat-tip: Kyle Matthews on PASystem]


Below is the draft of my submission on the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill, which I'll be emailing away later this afternoon. It is based on posts here and here.

  1. I oppose the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill, and ask that it not be passed.
  2. The bill would create a “three strike” regime for repeat violent offenders and allow judges to deny any possibility of parole to those convicted of murder. Both changes violate the rights affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and our binding commitments to the international community under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In addition, there are a number of practical difficulties with the bill.

    Bill of Rights Problems

  3. The problems with the proposed “three strikes” regime are well-covered in the Attorney-General’s section 7 report [PDF] tabled in Parliament. The mandatory sentences imposed for second or third strikes are likely to constitute disproportionately severe punishment, in violation of s9 BORA and article 7 of the ICCPR, in that they are likely to be grossly disproportionate to the offence. An offender who commits a crime which would otherwise receive a sentence of five years, would receive a mandatory life sentence with a mandatory 25 year non-parole period if it is their third strike. This is grossly disproportionate, and destroys any pretence of a rational connection between the offence and the punishment.
  4. Official advice has highlighted the risk that such grossly disproportionate sentences provide a strong incentive for offenders to commit more serious offending to avoid arrest. This may result in victims and police being killed. Overseas, three strike regimes have been linked to a 16-24 percent increase in the long-term homicide rate. In New Zealand terms, that works out to an extra ten deaths a year. Members of the committee should ask themselves whether they are willing to be party to ten extra murders a year just to show they are “tough on crime”.
  5. While the Attorney-General’s report disagrees, official advice has also noted that mandatory life-sentences without parole for second-strike murderers may also constitute cruel or disproportionate punishment in violation of the BORA and ICCPR, as they “do not provide for any consideration of a change in the offenders' circumstances”.
  6. Though its recognition of Parliamentary sovereignty in s4, the Bill of Rights Act makes Parliament the ultimate guardian of our human rights in this country. I ask that the committee take that role seriously, and either reject the bill in its entirety, or amend it (if that is possible) to make it consistent with the BORA.

    Practical Problems

  7. In addition to creating incentives on offenders, the bill also creates perverse incentives on judges to reduce sentences to avoid manifest injustice in the future.
  8. It also removes incentives for good behaviour from prisoners subjected to the regime. To point out the blindingly obvious, if there is no hope of release from prison, then there is no incentive to moderate behaviour, let alone reform. This endangers both other prisoners, and prison officers.
  9. These incentives are inherent in the nature of the regime, and cannot be moderated. They are another argument for the bill’s rejection.

    Proposed ACT amendments

  10. The ACT Party has proposed several amendments to the bill, including expanding the list of strike offences and making the law retrospective. I oppose these amendments, and urge the committee to reject them.
  11. ACT propose to expand the list of strike offences [PDF] to include “Assault on a child, or by a male on a female contrary to section 194 of the Crimes Act”. This creates an extremely strong and perverse incentive against the reporting of domestic violence, as victims may not want to see their abuser imprisoned for the rest of their natural life. For this reason, I urge that if the bill proceeds, the committee not expand the list of strike offences to include such offences.
  12. ACT also proposes making the three strikes regime retrospective, and treating those already convicted as having 1, 2 or even 3 strikes already for the purposes of subsequent offences. This comes dangerously close to retrospective punishment, and defeats any pretence that this bill is about improving deterrence. I urge that such amendments also be rejected.
  13. I do not wish to make an oral submission to the Select Committee.

Goff backs a referendum

Labour's Phil Goff has come out in support of a referendum on the government's undemocratic SuperCity plans:

The National-Act Government should seek a mandate from Aucklanders before fundamentally restructuring local government in Auckland, says Labour leader Phil Goff.

"Section 49 of the Local Government Act 2002 provides for a poll of electors to be held before reorganisation of local government occurs," he says.

"If the National-Act Government has the courage of its convictions, it will seek a mandate for what they are proposing rather than simply ramming changes through by special legislation.

It's a good, principled move. National's plans would rob Aucklanders of their voice and gerrymander local government in favour of the Remuera business elite and John Banks. Aucklanders deserve to be given a say on this. As I've argued repeatedly, their local government belongs to them - not to politicians in Wellington.

A competitive by-election II

So, the Greens are making a serious push to win Mount Albert by standing co-leader Russel Norman as their by-election candidate. I'm expecting a tidal wave of Labour outrage at the thought of another left-wing party standing in "their" seat, but I have just two words to say in response: "screw them". Seats don't belong to parties - they belong to the voters who live in them. And if Labour wants to win that seat, they should have to fight for it against whoever puts their name forward.

If they're that concerned about "vote splitting", then here's a suggestion: rather than seeking to limit voter choice, they could enhance it by pushing for preferential voting in the electorate vote.

Anything but Sweden!

The Standard highlights the first part of the Daily Show's trip to Sweden to uncover the horrors of a socialist society. Part two screened last night. In case you missed it:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Stockholm Syndrome Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Free education, free healthcare, well-paid and well-treated workers - I can see what American elites have to be afraid of. As for the rest of us...

Scandanavian socialism seems to be a theme on US television at the moment - just before I saw that, I'd caught the tail end of 20/20 boggling at Denmark, where a strong social safety net and a high level of equality had led to the country being the happiest place on Earth. Cthulhu forfend that Americans - or kiwis - end up like that!

South Africa votes

South Africa went to the polls yesterday in national and provincial elections. Now the results are beginning to come back - no thanks to the Independent Electoral Commission's crap election results site - and it looks like the ANC is just going to miss getting the two-thirds majority which lets them change the constitution. Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Alliance has done well and managed to win control of Western Cape province. Both are Good Things, in a big picture sense - its always good for parties to have limits on their power, and to have to compete strongly for it.

But beyond the big picture, the election participants are somewhat uninspiring. The ANC's presidential candidate is Jacob Zuma, who some may remember from his messy rape trial a few years back (he was ultimately acquitted, after running the usual defence of accusing his victim of being a slut and a liar and arguing it was all consensual anyway. She was forced to seek political asylum in the Netherlands to avoid retaliation from Zuma's supporters). Then there's the corruption allegations which just don't seem to go away. OTOH, the opposition's attacks on Zuma seemed to cross the line into thinly-veiled racism, despite their anti-racist roots. As for the grandly-named Congress of the People, they're just a patronage network without a patron anymore. I wouldn't consider any of them to be worthy of my vote - but fortunately I don't live in South Africa, so I don't have to make that icky decision.

Update: It's now looking like the ANC will make two-thirds after all. Damn. It's not that I'm particularly worried about constitutional amendments - they had an amending majority last term but didn't use it - but more the principle of the thing. Governments should be weak and divided and unable to make such changes without having to seek and gain the consent of others.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The ugly face of bigotry

BBC: Gay marriage row at Miss USA show

The runner-up at the Miss USA beauty pageant says her outspoken opposition to gay marriage cost her first place in the competition.

During the televised event, Carrie Prejean - Miss California - said she believed that "a marriage should be between a man and a woman".

She had been asked for her views on the subject by one of the judges, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton.

"It did cost me my crown," said Ms Prejean, after the competition.

Maybe someone should tell her: bigotry just ain't beautiful.

(Blogging about beauty pagents - does this mean I've sunk to DPF's level?)

"A very big terrorist plot"

Two weeks ago, UK police launched raids across Northwest England following the inadvertent display of a secret document by a security official. According to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the raids had foiled "a very big terrorist plot" - but they uncovered no evidence of terrorist activity. No weapons, no bombmaking materials, no plans, no target lists, no suspicious documents, nothing. Now it turns out the whole thing was based on a single cryptic email and a handful of ambiguous phone conversations (which, for some reason, the government was listening to - I guess being Muslim is enough now as far as the UK is concerned). And the government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws, Lord Carlile - is investigating.

Not that it will help those arrested. Detained for two weeks without charge or trial under draconian anti-terrorism legislation, all twelve have now all been released without charge. But eleven face deportation, ostensibly on "national security" grounds - despite the raids having uncovered no evidence. The inescapable conclusion is that, having screwed up and ruined these people's lives, the government now wants to dispose of the evidence of its mistake before any of them get to talk to the media and voice their outrage. Just another example of how Britain's authoritarian government in action...

An alternative to cutting spending

As the National government slashes government spending in an effort to balance the books and offset the disastrous effects of their unaffordable giveaway to the rich, its worth remembering that there is another alternative: we could increase revenue by raising taxes on the rich.

The state of New York is doing this, hiking state income taxes by 1% on those earning over US$300,000, and 2% on those earning over half a million (a relative increase of about 30%), while the UK government has just hiked the top tax rate to 50% and eliminated various dodges the rich use. We could do the same, and introduce, say, a 45% rate on those earning over $100,000. From Treasury's 2008 detailed model data, this would bring in over $750 million a year (unfortunately as the table only goes up to $100,000, I can't model higher thresholds). That's $750 million we won't have to cut from our spending on health, education, welfare and roads - and $750 million we won't have to borrow.

This move would not be contractionary, because the rich tend to stick their money in the bank (or in a housing bubble) rather than spending it. And while they will squeal and posture and spam tiresome homilies and bogus graphs and threaten to leave, those threats are vastly overstated. Very few people will leave the country over an extra 8% marginal tax rate. Labour's imposition of a new top tax rate in 2000 did not cause the threatened crash in revenue, and neither will this. Instead, it will help balance the books while helping to reduce the inequality which is fundamentally harmful to everyone in our society - and that can only be a Good Thing.

Compare and contrast

Next year too late for govt action on recession, IMF warns, New Zealand Herald, 23 April 2009:

The International Monetary Fund has urged governments worldwide to make contingency plans for spending immediately, warning that the economy is likely to lurch into reverse this year.

The IMF's World Economic Outlook report predicted a shrinking global economy would lead to trillions of dollars in lost business, surging unemployment and more people thrust into poverty, hunger and homelessness.

It called for called for more stimulus projects from world governments, including money for public works projects.

Budget to tighten Govt spending , New Zealand Herald, 20 April 2009:
Prime Minister John Key is planning to tighten the belt on government spending, not loosen it, in the Budget next month.

The government has decided against any fresh fiscal stimulus in the May 28 Budget because it cannot afford to provoke ratings agency Standard & Poor's into downgrading New Zealand's AA+ sovereign credit rating, Key told the Financial Times in an interview over the weekend.

New Zealand "cannot afford" to provide fresh fiscal spending for its embattled economy and was instead planning to cut government expenditure, the Financial Times reported Key as saying in the article.

So, in the face of what is now openly being described as the worst crisis since the great depression, our government is doing exactly the opposite of what it should, contracting the economy by penny pinching rather than stimulating it with public works. And the result will be a deeper, longer recession and moe kiwis out of work for longer.

But what do they care? Most of them earn more than most of us could possibly imagine, and as Big News points out, the Prime Minister's salary - unlike the median income - has more than doubled in the last ten years (the CEO of Air New Zealand's salary doubled in the last year alone). These people are simply not in the same boat as us anymore. So its no wonder that they simply don't give a shit.

Carnival of the Liberals

The 89th Carnival of the Liberals is now up at Johnny Pez.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Aucklanders deserve a referendum

A couple of weeks ago, I floated the idea of a referendum on the SuperCity. Now The Standard has taken up the cry, calling for Aucklanders to be given a vote on the massive changes proposed to their local government:

[C]ouncils have referenda on whether to put fluoride in the water. How can we not have a referendum on creating a supercity? How dare the Government trample over our right to decide?

It would be simple for the Government to write the referendum into the legislation. There is no reason not to do it. If they won’t it’s because they don’t give a damn about democracy.

It’s not Key’s city. It’s not Hide’s city.

It’s all Aucklanders’ city. All Aucklanders should get to decide.

The Standard is right. Government belongs to the people. Significant changes to its structure should be decided by the people. In 1992 and 1993 we all got to vote on changes to our electoral system. The changes proposed to Auckland's local government, to its powers and duties and the manner and level at which citizens are represented, are at least as significant on a local scale. Aucklanders must be allowed to vote on this. Anything less is an abrogation of our democratic principles.

Conserving our natural heritage

According to the Department of Conservation website, its mission is

To conserve New Zealand’s natural and historic heritage for all to enjoy now and in the future.
It's a noble aim, but unfortunately the new Minister of Conservation, Tim Groser, doesn't seem to believe in it. He's just altered the boundaries of a conservation park so that Solid Energy can dig a dirty great lignite mine in the middle of it in the future. Not only is this bad in itself - it's also part of Solid Energy's grand plan to build for a lignite-to-diesel plant in Southland - a dirty process which will pollute the local environment and send our greenhouse gas emissions soaring, devastating the natural heritage DoC is tasked to protect.

Someone needs to tell the Minister that open-cast coal-mines are not part of our natural heritage.

The consequences of three strikes

The Herald this morning sounds another warning about the government's draconian and cruel "three strikes" policy, pointing out that it could have some pretty ugly consequences:

"One response, consistent with the three-strikes experience in the USA, is that offenders facing a second or third strike offence, would have little qualms about committing further violent acts to escape apprehension or conviction.

"A recent USA study found that in cities with three-strikes laws, homicide rates increased on average 13-14 per cent in the short term and 16-24 per cent in the long term, compared with cities without the laws.

In New Zealand, that equates to an extra five to ten murders a year, all so the government can show it is "tough on crime". Seems a bit counterproductive, neh? But that's not all: All the good work we've been doing on getting people to report family violence could go out the window:
"But what it also showed, was that victims of family violence would be less likely to report violence against them from their partners, if they knew it would be followed by imprisonment without parole, in the case of a second strike, or 25 years in prison on the third strike.

"The common reaction of the partners was, `I don't want to put my old man away in prison for a long time; I just want him to stop hitting me'."

And no doubt this reduction in reported crime rates would be hailed as proof the law was having a deterrent effect. Dickheads. (See note below)

ACT's David Garrett has responded, as usual, by spewing ink, pointing out that in California "Homicide and robbery have decreased by 50 percent since 'Three Strikes' became law". What he doesn't mention is that the reduction was part of a broader, demographically-driven reduction in crime across the US and Canada, and the difference "three strikes" made is entirely unclear. But Garrett isn't about the empirical evidence; as we've seen before, he's just the crime-equivalent of a climate change denier.

Note: It has been pointed out to me that the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill does not include domestic violence in its list of qualifying offences. However, I should also point out that it is included in garrett's draft bill [PDF], and that ACT is pushing for its re-inclusion - so it is a problem we need to worry about if they get their way.

New kiwi blog

Life and politics - occasional comment on life and politics in New Zealand.

[Hat-tip: Just Left]

Reminder: Drinking Liberally Wellington

Drinking Liberally is happening in Wellington tomorrow, with guest speaker Sue Bradford.

When: 17:30, Thursday, 23 April
Where: Southern Cross, Abel Smith St

[Hat-tip: The Hand Mirror]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Foreshore and seabed: Labour admits it was wrong

Labour has released its submission [DOC] to the government's review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. And in it, they do a surprising thing: admit they were wrong. When it passed the Act, Labour was adamant that iwi would not be allowed to win customary title through the courts, and certainly not through the (expert) Maori Land Court. Instead, even if iwi had a cast-iron case for continuing customary ownership, the most they would be able to get would be one-sided "negotiations" with the crown, or the creation of a foreshore and seabed reserve over which they would exercise kaitiakitanga. Now they're arguing that the ability of the courts to award customary title should be restored, and that it should be done in the first instance by the Maori Land Court, rather than making iwi waste tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary High Court action.

Its nowhere near a complete reversal - they still want a ban on such customary title being converted to freehold title, a ban on its alienation, and a ban on charges for access and passage. But its still a tremendous change, and for all those limits, having the courts able to say "this is your land" is a significant and meaningful difference. All along iwi have said that what they wanted was the recognition of their mana and kaitiaki. This is a step towards doing that.

If Labour had pushed for this in the beginning, rather than panicking in the face of National's race-baiting, there's a chance the tragedy of the last five years could have been avoided. Instead, thanks to their short-sightedness and pandering to racists, we got five years of bitterness and injustice. And for what? To get where we would likely have ended up anyway. At least now they seem to be making an effort to rectify their mistake.

No freedom of speech in Kuwait

Nasra Alshamery is an Australian citizen. In January, while on a trip to Kuwait with her family, she was involved in a dispute with Kuwaiti immigration officials. Her husband and family were beaten, and she was threatened with rape, before being arrested. She has now been sentenced to two years' imprisonment for insulting the country's ruler.

Like Thailand's lese majeste law, this would be laughable if it wasn't so serious. A woman is looking at two years jail for something which should not be a crime in any civilised country. The fact that the charge seems to be a punishment for talking back to a self-important official just makes it worse. But I guess that's Kuwait for you - a despotism from top to bottom.

Perverting the course of justice

Last year, we learned that MI5 had colluded in the torture of Binyam Mohamed. This year, we found out that they'd further colluded with the US to fabricate a threat that intelligence cooperation would be withdrawn in an effort to cover up that abuse. And now, to cap it all off, we find out that they gave false evidence in court in an effort to downplay their responsibility:

Lawyers for the government have admitted that a senior MI5 officer gave false evidence to the high court in the case of former Guantánamo Bay prisoner Binyam Mohamed.

The admission, combined with an apology, is contained in a letter from Treasury solicitor David Mackie to Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, who tomorrow will hear fresh demands from lawyers representing Mohamed, and the media, for the disclosure of information about who was complicit in his interrogation and torture.

The letter reveals that an MI5 officer, referred to as Witness A, gave "incorrect" evidence to the high court about when the CIA kept British security and intelligence officers informed about Mohamed's secret interrogation.


Mackie also apologised to the high court for not handing over 13 documents which he says should have been passed to the judges. They included six MI5 documents and MI6 documents identified originally by the security and intelligence agencies but subsequently not "selected for disclosure".

This is all symptomatic of an organisation which feels that it is above the law. It is time they were shown they were not. And the first step should be to prosecute their witness for perjury, and their superiors for conspiracy to pervert of the course of justice.

Failed already

It seems National's policy to manage the impact of the recession has failed already. Their "jobs summit" in February produced three "big ideas": a nine-day fortnight, a cycleway the length of New Zealand, and a $2 billion equity fund from the banks to keep businesses running. But now two of these three ideas have collapsed before they even began - the cycleway (a joke to begin with) will not be funded and has turned into a collection of small local tracks, while the $2 billion equity fund has collapsed amid squabbling between the banks and Treasury. Meanwhile, the much-vaunted nine-day fortnight has saved all of 123 jobs in five companies (one of which was allowed to impose massive pay cuts and dump half its workforce before signing up for the scheme). As economic recovery plans go, the results are somewhat underwhelming.

New Zealanders expect more from their government than this. National had better start delivering, otherwise people are going to get very angry, very quickly.

A way to go yet

The Republican Movement has just released the results of its annual poll on whether we should become a republic, and it shows we have a way to go yet before putting the issue to the people. The poll of 1,018 New Zealanders asked which they would prefer when the Queen dies - Prince Charles as monarch, or a republic. 45% said they wanted Charles, 43% a republic, and 13% wouldn't answer or didn't know. But while its good that a republic is now level-pegging with the monarchy, we need that number to be consistently well over 50% before we can start pushing for a referendum; there's no point pushing it to a vote if we're going to lose.

So what can we do in the meantime? Keep talking obviously, and working to change minds. But also we can push for constitutional reform which lays the groundwork for a republic, while also producing a more democratic monarchy - things like codifying the reserve powers, expressly eliminating the Royal Assent, or even electing the Governor-General. Unfortunately neither of the major parties has much stomach for constitutional change (National because they conservative traditionalists, Labour out of fear of "rocking the boat" too much), which mans we will have to work through member's bills. Fortunately there are plenty of MPs with republican sentiments we can lobby to advance such bills.