Red Alert

Archive for September, 2011

Time to say goodbye #4

Posted by on September 30th, 2011

Labour MP Ashraf Choudhary gave his valedictory speech this week

Time to say goodbye #3

Posted by on September 30th, 2011

Green MP Keith Locke gave his valedictory speech this week

Bottom Lines on Search and Surveillance

Posted by on September 30th, 2011

I’ve been using this site a lot more than usual over the last week to make available to the public relevant material over National’s attempts to put in place a temporary fix on surveillance powers.  Yesterday, I issued 4 bottom lines that Labour says any legislation must meet in order to receive our support.

Someone told me today that No Right Turn – which I know often contains good commentary – has been critical of the bottom lines I issued yesterday on the temporary surveillance bill.  So I just took a look.  He has a right to his opinion, but I don’t think this is his best work.  If you read his blog and are forming a view about Labour’s surveillance bottom lines, please read what I say below first.

Labour is a mainstream political party.  We seek to act with principle, but also to apply pragmatism.  Sometimes this means that we oppose implacably.  But sometimes it means that we can’t be as pure as the driven snow.  Last week’s debate on the Criminal Procedure Bill is a good example.  We saved the right to silence, and stopped the Government from being able to try people in absentia.  We got the usual level of credit – none –  from the media, and from left-wing commentators.  Ah well.

Did we stop poor un- or under- represented people being tricked into being sent to jail by giving high-minded speeches in the House and refusing to engage?  No. We got our hands dirty.  We sat down with the Nats and negotiated.  That’s how we sometimes get change when we are in opposition. Labour has always had to take this approach when National is in government, otherwise the people we represent get screwed.  We look out as far as we can for their interests, rather than shout ineffectually from the sidelines and maintain our purity until the political cycle turns in their favour again.  I make no apology for that.  I’m proud of it, even if those who can afford the luxury of purity of thought without action like to criticise us when we take that approach.

It’s the approach we have also taken on the Nat’s temporary fix to surveillance laws.  Do the maths.  There are 57 Nats.  Peter Dunne gave them a blank cheque on day 1 on this issue.  ACT has 5 MPs.  That adds up to 63 and it’s a parliamentary majority.  So if ACT are going to support the fix, the fix happens, and we open the door to a whole lot of human rights abuses.

Labour and ACT joined forces to make National hold select committee hearings on the fix.  There was limited time for sumbissions.  No Right Turn made one, and Labour MP Clare Curran turned up to hand it in (she got the usual credit for this, by the way – none.  Ah well.)  So unless we wanted to just stand aside from the process, the question became how to apply the evidence we heard at select committee to narrow down the scope of the fix to only what it absolutely needs to be, in a way that allows ACT to support such a narrow solution rather than the Nats’ excessively broad one.

We applied the evidence to our analysis of the political solution, and we came up with 4 fundamental positions:

– The Nats’ bill was too wide.  In particular, there is no need to interfere with existing investigations.  Despite all John Key’s rhetoric, the Courts have all the powers they need to control these, and we don’t need to and won’t agree to confer any more on a retrospective basis.

– 12 months is too long a period to apply a temporary fix to an issue that the Nats should have moved on ages ago in the current Parliament instead of pushing through law and order window-dressing like 3 strikes, depriving inmates of the right to vote, and boot camps.  6 months will do.

– Ideally, we’d require warrants for all surveillance, but the experts were emphatic that drafting the regime required in the few days left – even if based on existing law – could leave big loopholes.  Meanwhile, we should limit any powers to strictly and only those that could be exercised before the Supreme Court decision.

– And what should happen to cases already decided in good faith by the courts on the basis of what they thought was settled law?  Should those cases be able to be reopened by applying the Supreme Court decision retrospectively?  The Human Rights Commission said – emphatically – that they should not.  I agree.  The Courts are busy enough and those currently accused of crimes – and everyone else in the system – should not be made to wait longer for justice because of the need to deal with a flood of post hoc appeals. 

If we get legislation that complies with the four points I just summarised, the Nats will have lost big time in a major attempt to interfere with our human rights.  And it won’t be because MPs from a couple of minor parties stood clear of the debate and held their noses.  It will be because Labour pushed the envelope as far as possible given the numbers in the House.  In most democracies, that would be regarded as a pretty significant achievement given the right:left imbalance in Parliament right now.  Here, expect us to get the usual level of credit.  Ah well.

What does the ‘Buffett rule’ tell us

Posted by on September 30th, 2011

Across the world, developed countries are implementing changes to their tax system (France and Italy have recently altered their top tax rate and the UK Government is under attack to reduce the tax paid by the wealthy (from 50%).

These changes are not ‘envy-tax’ but a way to ensure that tax-systems are fair. Many have seen these changes as wake-up calls for billionaires and millionaires to pay their fair share.

Barack Obama has just unveiled changes to the US tax system which aims its tax increases at the wealthy. These changes include the ‘Buffett rule’ which ensures that no households earning more than one million a year pays a lower average tax rate than ‘middle-class’ families do.

The reason it is called the ‘Buffett rule’ is because Warren Buffett has cited in the past that despite being a billionaire, he pays a lower average tax rate than his secretary.

Barack Obama was quoted in the September 24 issue of Economist Magazine as saying that tapping the rich to close the deficit “is not class warfare but math”.

What does the Buffett rule tell us? I think two words come to mind: Math and fairness.

Garner on Key

Posted by on September 30th, 2011


Garner also spoke to Firstline about Don Brash’s unexpected support for cannabis decriminalisation and worrying signs for the economy.

Despite the grim economic climate and fears of another recession in the US, Mr Key’s “fingers are crossed” that he can generate 170,000 new jobs over the next four years, Garner says.

This is unlikely to happen if economic growth forecasts are scaled back, something Finance Minister Bill English has indicated will happen.

“You’ve got the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister kind of singing different songs here – one’s upbeat, sunny, and the other’s a little bit more realistic in Mr English.”

Mr Key’s optimism stems from ambition for New Zealand and a dislike of talking about negative things, Garner says.

“I think Key actually has to come up with a way of dealing with bad news and negative news.

“Ambition’s great but you’ve also got to temper it with an outcome, and in a democracy if you don’t get the outcome people also have a chance to say goodbye.”

Mr Key has promised positive outcomes in several areas including the Pike River mine body recovery, rebuild of Christchurch and closing the gap with Australia, and Garner says it’s time to see results.

“The Prime Minister needs to be careful – if he says something, people will hold you to that.

“Some of these big promises aren’t starting to happen.”

ACT party leader Don Brash’s comments in support of cannabis decriminalisation are a sign he works in isolation, Garner says.

“[Brash] hasn’t listened to anyone, and what he’s forgotten in all this is that [John Banks] is an arch-conservative…. Brash’s mistake has been that he didn’t communicate with Banks and he didn’t communicate with his party.

“[ACT] put Brash there to talk about the economy, recessions, interest rates, and getting the economy on the right footing. They didn’t put him there and roll Rodney Hide to talk about dope.”

Filed under: economy

Time to say goodbye #2

Posted by on September 30th, 2011

Labour MP Mita Ririnui gave his valedictory this week

Time to say goodbye (the valedictory season)

Posted by on September 30th, 2011

Next week is the last week of parliament for this term. It’s also the season for goodbyes from colleagues across the House.

I thought it would be a good gesture to post all the speeches in the order they are delivered. Each has made an enormous contribution in different ways.

This week there were seven valedictories. The first was from Green MP Sue Kedgley.

Beer and apology

Posted by on September 29th, 2011

There’s been a bit of media kerfuffle about some facebook comments I made about Sir Peter Leitch on Monday.  Normally this kind of fuss wouldn’t bother me much, but I’ve had another look at what I said and reckon I went too far.

Peter’s a top bloke and he’s done a lot for Kiwi communities, and even though we might disagree on politics these days, I’ve still got a lot of respect for him.

So, Peter, if you are reading this, sorry about the comments.  Oh and we should catch up for a beer sometime – my shout.  Enjoy the game at the weekend.

Filed under: personal

Play of the day – Stuart Nash to the Minister of Finance

Posted by on September 29th, 2011

Update: For those without high or even medium-speed broadband, the Hansard is below:


If we sign ACTA what are we agreeing to?

Posted by on September 29th, 2011

This Saturday in Tokyo, according to reports, New Zealand will sign a controversial trade agreement, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (otherwise known as ACTA) targeting counterfeiters and copyright infringers.

The big questions are what are we signing up to? Will it mean we have to change our laws? And why hasn’t government informed the community of its contents and that we were going to sign it until 2 days before it happens?

A media release issued this afternoon by the government says this:

Cabinet has formally approved New Zealand’s signature of ACTA.  As is normal practice with international treaties, a separate decision to ratify ACTA will be made subsequently, the Minister said.  This would require the Government to make some minor amendments to the Copyright Act 1994 and the Trade Marks Act 2002 and would be subject to the usual ratification process, including public consultation and scrutiny by Parliament.

What minor amendments? What will change?

I have written many posts about ACTA. Here and here. Calling for transparency. That did seem to happen for a while. But now it appears we are moving to sign it. Where has been the public discussion on where the agreement is at?

Will signing ACTA result in New Zealand being required to include a disconnection from the internet clause in our copyright laws? This is despite repeated denials from Commerce Minister Simon Power. And make it extremely difficult to remove. And what else will it require?

Will ACTA will foreclose future legislative improvements in response to changes in technology or policy. Read this post and worry.

One report this week  has said:

Representatives of the U.S., Japan, Australia, Canada, the E.U., South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland will be at the signing ceremony for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Countries that have “completed relevant domestic processes” will sign ACTA, the ministry said in a press release. The agreement, which would create international standards for protecting intellectual property, will be open for signature until May 1, 2013, the ministry said.

Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, said the latest version of ACTA contains more protections for consumers than previous versions. Still, the group urged U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration to “make it clear” that ACTA does not change U.S. law, including provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protecting ISPs and websites from copyright enforcement.

I’ve still got significant concerns.

  • Agreements negotiated in secret don’t make for good law or public policy
  • ACTA contravenes a number of fundamental rights
  • The major parties in ACTA (US and Europe) still don’t agree about whether their laws might need to change, even though provisions in it are incompatible with existing laws

I’d like to hear from our Trade Minister on these issues. And from our Commerce Minister on the domestic implications for Kiwis and our own intellectual property. In the meantime,  until we know what the implications are NZ shouldn’t sign up to it.

iPredict this week

Posted by on September 29th, 2011

Key Points:

* National hits 50% and Greens above 10%

* Brash now most vulnerable party leader

* Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill to be passed

* Inflation and growth figures deteriorate

* Unemployment and OCR figures remain steady

* Fonterra payout predictions improve (more…)

Filed under: ipredict

Healthy Older New Zealanders a Priority for Labour

Posted by on September 29th, 2011

Today I’m excited to be launching Labour’s Aged Care policy. I started working on this policy the instant it was allocated to me a few months ago and it’s been full-steam ahead since then.

To get an idea of the issues, ideas and concerns surrounding Aged Care I’ve met with people from all across the sector, all across the country. It’s been fascinating. I’ve spoken at Grey Power branch meetings, with the Aged Care Association, the Retirement Villages Association, Age Concern, the Service and Food Workers Union, Career Force, Presbyterian Support, the Human Rights Commission, those in the health sector like Alzheimer’s New Zealand and Arthritis New Zealand plus many members of the public. With that much input you start to build a picture of the sector pretty quickly and the insight of everyone involved has been invaluable.

This insight plus ideas from within the Labour Party have all contributed to the policy I’m proud to be releasing today.

The funding and delivery of aged care in New Zealand faces significant strain as our population is ageing and costs are rising. This requires a comprehensive, well thought out and long-term government plan of action, which this government is showing no signs of creating.

Labour’s plan includes:
• Government-funded training for all aged care staff
• Minimum staffing levels for nurses and caregivers and
• When government finances allow, pay parity between aged carers and their equivalents in the public health system.

Additionally, a Technical Working Party to be set up by Labour will investigate all the recommendations in the ‘What the Future Holds for Older New Zealanders’ report which Labour produced last year with Grey Power and the Greens, and the Auditor General’s Home-based support services for older people report.

The working party will report back on the recommendations by May 2012. It will then be tasked to chart the way for a New Model of Service Delivery, which Labour believes is essential for New Zealand to meet the growing challenges in the aged care sector.

Labour has a strategic and long-term plan for the aged care sector and the values and drive to implement it. Aged care in the future needs to be built on the values of accessibility, dignity and respect for all older New Zealanders, underpinned by transparency and accountability in the way the services are provided.

Update: For the full press release on Labour’s Aged Care policy please use this link.

Watch Out Students

Posted by on September 28th, 2011

Today National and Act passed a law to reduce the effectiveness of student unions.
Earlier this year they passed a law that took student reps off polytechnic councils.

Seems they dont want students to have a strong voice when it comes to tertiary education. I wonder what they have in store for them?

Democracy in action

Posted by on September 28th, 2011

Started getting tweets and emails last night about how people could make submissions to the truncated select committee on the Video Camera Surveillance Bill.

Because of the swiftness of the process, the normal democratic process was not able to be followed.

I was approached by someone at around midnight and asked whether I could lodge their submission. Which of course I did this morning.

In the absence of an electronic process (which is now available I understand) I told people via twitter and facebook they could send submissions directly to me and I would lodge them. I’ve had a steady stream all day.

Keep them coming tonight people. This is democracy in action. It may be flawed. But it’s yours.

Update: email me

Or any of your MPs. That’s what we’re here for

Thanks Keith

Posted by on September 28th, 2011

Keith Locke is about to give his valedictory. There will be a big crowd in the House to hear his speech, and no doubt at the party afterwards. Keith has won a lot of respect and made many friends during his 12 years in Parliament.

I have been friends with Keith for about 25 years and I have to admit when I heard he was standing for Parliament I didn’t immediately think that with his activist and revolutionary politics he’d be suited for the place. How wrong I was. He has made a huge contribution.

He has been a dogged advocate on civil liberties and human rights, and a voice for a progressive internationalist foreign policy.

He put up with endless barbs from members of the House who wanted to paint him as an ultra-left nutter, and just kept plugging away, sticking to his principles, avoiding ad hominem attacks, and maintaining his dignity. And for someone whose politics are pretty far to the left, he has shown a great ability to work with MPs across the House.

Go well Keith. Thanks for so many years of great service to New Zealand.

Key’s plan – let’s muddle

Posted by on September 28th, 2011

Part 1:

Part 2:

For those without high or even medium-speed broadband, the Hansard is below: (more…)

Yes or No (would be good)

Posted by on September 28th, 2011

It will be interesting to get a straight answer from the David Bennett, the Chair of the select committee today. He struggled yesterday, despite the deputy leader of the House Simon Power attempting to give him advice to say Yes or No.

It was a pretty simple question. Either he did, or he didn’t.

Did he, as chair, put a motion to the committee that a submission be called for from the petitioner, or a representative of the petitioner?

The nearly 14,000 people who signed the petition to save the Hillside and Woburn workshops need to know whether they will have the opportunity for their voices to be heard in this parliamentary term. I don’t sit on the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee, but to my knowledge there are two more meetings before parliament rises for the election. period.

The petition was tabled on August 9th. The issue is very live and current in Dunedin and the Hutt, and has implications for the whole of NZ’s rail engineering industry.

I would have thought there’s a strong public interest.

And I look forward to seeing which way Michael Woodhouse, who is the local List member based in Dunedin (and sits on the committee) voted on the issue.

Surveillance Bill update VI

Posted by on September 28th, 2011

I’ve attached my email exchange with the Office of the Clerk, the new SOP and a Media Statement by the Justice and Electoral Committee to this post. They all show that Finlayson’s attacks on me yesterday are wrong.

If people want to submit on the Bill, they should use the online method outlined in the press statement or, if in Wellington, come along to the committee meeting this evening. This is not an ideal situation by any means but is better than not being able to submit at all and is what we have managed to get the committee to agree to.

Media statement 110928

KT SOP VCS (TM) Bill(2)

Exchange of Email with Office of the Clerk Showing that SOP criticism from Finlayson Unjustified

National MP Opposes VSM Bill

Posted by on September 28th, 2011

Here is a video taken of Michael Woodhouse at a public forum at Otago University in July. He quite clearly states that he is opposed to the Bill in its current form (ie the form that it is in right now). Today, in the Third Reading Michael Woodhouse and other National MPs will vote to pass the Bill into law.

Michael also goes on to assure people that the Bill in its current form won’t pass into law this year. I have heard from other students that is the same commitment they got from other National MPs. This was misleading students and the National MPs should be ashamed of themselves. They heard the evidence at the Select Committee, and they know that tertiary institutions do not want the Bill, the vast majority of other submitters do not want the Bill, but they are still supporting the ideological crusade of their crumbling coalition partner.

Michael also suggests that Labour should promote the ‘opt out’ compromise solution. We did. It was rejected by ACT and National.

So the question for Michael Woodhouse (and other National MPs) is, why will he vote to pass a Bill today that he does not support and that he knows will destroy student services and advocacy?

Sleepover bill nearly there

Posted by on September 27th, 2011

Labour supported the “Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill’  tonight to select committee, in a truncated process that will see the bill reported back to the House next week and hopefully finalised.

We’ve been pushing this issue all year and we’re pleased the government has finally reached a settlement with the unions and caregivers.

I want to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of the disability support workers and their unions. I’m delighted that years of a dragged out process, including three court cases and the threat of a Supreme Court case is coming to an end.

I’m particularly pleased that the government has seen sense and not tried to legislate the Court decisions away.

Backpay is coming. It’s well deserved. But having said that, I want to acknowledge the generosity of these workers, who through their unions, are accepting a 50% settlement of backpay and a drawn out process toward being paid minimum wage.

The settlement is great.  But the contribution of the workers is even greater.