Red Alert

Archive for the ‘#ownourfuture’ Category

Why a spy-free internet should be a human right

Posted by on June 14th, 2014

Last Wednesday I had an opinion piece published in the Dominion Post titled Why a spy-free internet should be a human right. Unfortunately it hasn’t been put online (still) so I can’t link to it.

However I have posted below the fuller version of the piece I submitted to the Dom Post. An edited version was published.

New Zealand: a nation of  digital pioneers or laggards

On 10 June 2013 Labour made the first public statement of concern just days after news broke that the equivalent of the GCSB had been routinely monitoring US citizens’ phone calls, texts and social media activity. Our voice was joined by hundreds of thousands of Kiwis as the National Government, abetted  by Peter Dunne, pushed two pieces of law through Parliament to provide the GCSB with wide ranging invasive powers which extend into all of our technology companies and reduce their ability to innovate without asking for permission first.

We New Zealanders place a very high value on our open democracy. But without privacy, there can be no democracy. How can you even consider dissent when the state is listening to everything you say? Of course security also is necessary for democracy, but there needs to be a balance between them. The recent revelations about surveillance show this balance has been ignored.

John Key has told us that security is more important than anything, but he didn’t say why. Through Snowden, we now know about the mind-boggling reach of state surveillance into citizens’ homes. New Zealand’s link through the five eyes network raises questions about our role in the US-led global surveillance network and the impact of that surveillance on the relationship between the New Zealand state and its own citizens. It is frightening that this has been done in the name of security by the free world.

Half of New Zealand’s population has a Facebook account. Three quarters of households have an Internet connection and 60% of us have smartphones. We are becoming completely reliant on the Internet and the technologies that make it work. Our financial systems rely on data storage and secure electronic transactions; our personal data is stored and manipulated by companies and government, yet we now find that the information security we depend on for the security of our data and our economy as been deliberately undermined to make surveillance easier.

Labour says that access to the Internet should be a right just like the right to free expression. This is more than rhetoric. Any prospective government in 2014 should make this policy, and must make the internet off-limits to government interference.

Our current Bill of Rights Act dates back to 1990 when almost no-one had heard of the Internet, let alone used it. How things have changed! Labour has proposed a Digital (or Internet) Bill of Rights setting out what we can all do online. The Greens also have proposed declaratory piece of legislation along the same lines. The Internet Party has proposed reforming the Privacy Act, reviewing surveillance laws and strengthening human rights protection and Internet freedom. All these approaches have merit and we want to see a discussion among New Zealand’s excellent legal, tech and human rights-focused community. It is essential that we protect citizens’ privacy, encourage innovation and keep New Zealand a progressive country with a responsible approach to its own national security. We should take care to get it right, but we should not take too long.

These things will have a profound impact on society, and position us as a pioneer or as a laggard in the digital world. A Labour-led government will drive and implement a digital rights framework. We will do this alongside an inquiry into our surveillance agencies, in particular the GCSB, and we will recast our security laws. We say that our citizens should not be exposed to blanket mass surveillance.

The National Party and the right are disinterested, perhaps deliberately because this discussion leads to uncomfortable questions about surveillance and privacy. But the parties on the left have the public’s ears and their hearts.

New Zealand has always been a forward-looking nation. Recognising Internet access as a fundamental human right and enshrining it as part of our civil society is our next progressive step. As Sir Tim Berners Lee, creator of the world wide web, recently said, “unless we have an open, neutral internet…we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture.” If we don’t act to avoid the digital divide becoming entrenched we risk lack of digital access resulting in second-class digital citizenship.

New Zealand would certainly not be alone in enacting such a bill or declaration. Brazil as already adopted one. There is a bipartisan movement in the US Congress to do so. The movement is becoming global, and New Zealand must be part of it. Labour envisages a dynamic public interaction with the progression of rights-friendly digital legislation.

By forging a rights-friendly approach to the Internet and data issues, New Zealand will establish its reputation as a digital hub for innovation. More tech companies will be attracted here and more start-ups that need digital connectivity will be able engage effectively with the rest of the world. New Zealand’s emerging digital economy relies on its reputation as a trustworthy place to do business and to promote innovation. Secretive surveillance laws and uncertain rights around the Internet are a threat to this. Labour is committed to match security laws with strong privacy protections and to protect our civil liberties.

Across the globe people are demanding the right to access the internet, the right to privacy, free speech and to a neutral internet.  Without these there can be no open government, no good democracy, no connected communities and no diversity of culture. Just as the Internet transcends national boundaries, a Labour-led government will work with other countries to agree a common set of principles and rights on the Internet. We challenge the other parties in New Zealand to agree to do likewise. We embrace the multi-stakeholder approach of our very own Internet NGO, InternetNZ, which was worked to ensure a framework that keeps governments and corporates at arms length from controlling the Internet.

An international standard, which articulates not so much the values of Western democracy, but the values and importance that underlie an open internet. Is not this truly new and ground-breaking evolutionary thinking and does it not show how the internet is transforming the world away from traditional notions of governance?

Let us recast ourselves as the pioneers of digital thinking and not remain laggards. Our small country has leapt before into unchartered waters based on our shared beliefs in what is right. We can do it again.

John Key’s backtrack and Steven Joyce’s chickens

Posted by on December 2nd, 2013

The government is furiously backtracking on pretty much all the positions it’s taken on the Chorus issue all year.

John Key on TVNZ Breakfast this morning said : “we were never going to use legislation because we knew right from the get go that people wouldn’t vote for that” [2 Dec 2013]

How curious!

On December 11 last year when asked in the House by me whether he would rule out legislation if the Commerce Commission came back with a final decision that his Government did not agree with, his answer was “definitely not!”

An answer both he and Amy Adams, his somewhat damaged looking Minister, has repeated on many occasions both inside and outside the House.

Certainly in February this year, changing the law to over rule the Commerce Commission’s decision on copper pricing was clearly one of the options  in her review of the Telecommunications Act.

I am not sure why you would start a review of the Telecommunications Act 2011  two years earlier than scheduled if you don’t intend to change the legislation in the first place! In fact legislative change was two out of the three (Update: all options require legislative change!) options outlined in her very own review document intended to bypass the Commerce Commission process.

Option 1: the Commerce Commission sets prices by reference to UFB contract

Option 2: the Government sets a new UBA price

Option 3: the Government sets a new UCLL price

Ultimately all three options have the same outcome; setting the copper price very close to the existing fibre price. The second two options involved direct government intervention through legislation. Claiming that they were “never going to use legislation” is a lie. What’s more likely is that they realised there was no support from their minority parties and they would have to create a Plan B. Update: John Key was spinning furiously at his post Cabinet media conference today that the government never planned to legislate and that ‘circumstances change’ . They sure do John,a bit quick for your liking no doubt!

Plan B is the Ernst & Young review of Chorus’s financial state. And no matter what its findings, questions must be asked about the Chorus management’s handling of the copper price issue. And of course the Minister’s handling of it. Amy Adams “Review” is pretty much cactus now.

And NOTE this is not the first time the government has had to reverse its position on a controversial aspect of its ultrafast broadband programme.

Remember when Steven Joyce was forced to back down on giving a 10 year regulatory holiday to the winning bidder of the ultrafast broadband programme? This was the first major back down by Steven Joyce. It looks as if his chickens may be coming home to roost.

The following is an extract from an NBR piece in May 2011

In a surprise move – seemingly instigated by the Maori Party – Communications Minister Steven Joyce has caved to critics, and pulled the 10-year “regulatory forbearance period” from the Telecommunications Amendment Bill, two days after it was reported back to parliament unchanged.

Better known as”10-year regulatory holiday”, the provision exempted Crown fibre contract winners from Commerce Commission scrutiny under the government’s $1.35 billion ultrafast broadband (UFB) project.

Critics claimed the forbearance period would lead to New Zealanders paying higher prices than other countries for broadband.

The Commerce Commission will now be able to regulate pricing below the level agreed in a 10-year Crown fibre company contract with the government. If it does, the government will wear the difference in the form of a Crown fibre company being given longer to pay-off its government co-investment) rather than private investors

One of the real stories in this whole mess is the role played by Joyce. It was his legislation and he oversaw the contract with Chorus.

TPP watch: why doesn’t NZ quantify its intellectual capital?

Posted by on November 17th, 2013

In 2012 the US produced this report :

Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy


Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are the principal means for establishing ownership rights to inventions and ideas, and provide a legal foundation by which intangible ideas and creations generate tangible benefits to businesses and employees.

Intellectual property (IP) protection affects commerce throughout the economy by: providing incentives to invent and create; protecting innovators from unauthorized copying; facilitating vertical specialization in technology markets; creating a platform for financial investments in innovation; supporting startup liquidity and growth through mergers, acquisitions, and IPOs; making licensing-based technology business models possible; and, enabling a more efficient market for technology transfer and trading in technology and ideas.

On April 11, 2012, the U.S. Commerce Department released a comprehensive report, entitled “Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: Industries in Focus,” which found that intellectual property (IP)-intensive industries support at least 40 million jobs and contribute more than $5 trillion dollars to, or 34.8 percent of, U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).

Pretty compelling stuff.

To my knowledge there is nothing comparable in New Zealand.

In 2012 a report Price Waterhouse Coopers produced a report for the NZ screen industry which found that the film and television industry’s total contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) was $2.78 billion, representing 1.4% of New Zealand’s total GDP.

This report was important (though it should be noted our film industry is under threat and under resourced). But it’s not the full picture.

Our growing tech industry, the total intellectual capital of our ideas and their conversion to export potential remains unquantified. Consequently, it’s hard to argue in hard facts when it comes to points of trade off in a trade deal so important as the TPP. THis doe not make the value of our ideas any less improtant though.

So what’s the government doing about it? Well it seems; a big fat nothing!

When the mega ministry MBIE came before the Commerce Select Committee earlier this year I asked them what work was being undertaken on treating New Zealand’s intellectual property as ” a sector” and what quantification was being done. They looked at me blankly and made noises about determining New Zealand’s compliance with our obligations under various international  trade and other agreements. In other words, our Ministry of Economic Development is only concerned with whether we protect other countries IP laws rather than thinking about how we can protect our own innovation industries against the multinational corporate interests.

That didn’t seem very smart to me. What do you think?


TPP watch: We must stand strong against the US on excessive IP demands

Posted by on November 15th, 2013

Yesterday Phil Goff laid out Labour’s position on the leaked IP chapter of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement

“The Government needs to stand up to the excessive and self-interested demands by US drug and entertainment multinationals in the TPP negotiations.

“The chapter on intellectual property shows that our negotiators are doing their best in opposing the demands of drug and entertainment moguls.

“We are supported by most other countries in doing that. The US appears isolated in its demands and will need to back down from them.

“Labour supports the protection of intellectual property and those who invest in research and development getting a fair return on that investment.  But we do not support big corporations being able to lock in excess profits at the expense of the consumer or to disadvantage small New Zealand companies. Patents and copyright should not be so excessive that they stymie innovation. They should not prevent the emergence of generic drugs to allow health care to be provided affordably to those in need.

Those are strong words and Labour means them.

The Government meanwhile is refusing to comment saying it doesn’t comment on leaks and downplaying any issues in the leaked text for New Zealand and talking about the wonderful upsides to NZ from the agreement.

This is despite the leaked text showing a huge gulf  between the United States and many of the other 12 countries including New Zealand. Among the contested issues are medicines, copyright and parallel importing.

We are heartened that the Kiwi negotiators are fighting for our interests as is evidenced by NZ’s position throughout the chapter. Our deep concerns lie in what may be traded off in the final stages of the negotiations. It is my belief that IP concessions not in NZ’s interests was always going to get traded away in the final round.

The TPP is not like other trade agreements. There are real risks for New Zealand’s ability to control our increasingly important digital economic development and protect our own intellectual capital while not ceding ground to the United States attempts to control content and information flow on the internet.

The 95-page, 30,000-word leaked IP Chapter lays out provisions to institute  a far-reaching, transnational legal and enforcement regime, modifying or replacing existing laws in TPP member states.

The Chapter’s subsections include agreements relating to patents (who may produce goods or drugs), copyright (who may transmit information), trademarks (who may describe information or goods as authentic) and industrial design.

The longest section of the Chapter – ’Enforcement’ – details new policing measures, with far-reaching implications for individual rights, civil liberties, publishers, internet service providers and internet privacy, as well as for the creative, intellectual, biological and environmental commons.

The US Model pushes for an aggressive and heavy-handed copyright regime. This has huge potential to harm the way New Zealand artists work and use the internet to connect with overseas markets. It has the potential to unfairly harm public rights and public respect for copyright, artists and their work.

The US Model includes a significant extension of Copyright Duration; internet termination as a penalty; making it illegal to bypass Technical Protection Measures (TPMs) so you can’t watch a DVD you legally purchased overseas; and restricting parallel imports so NZers would both lose access to many overseas works, and be forced to pay more for books, CDs and DVDs than the rest of the world.

New Zealand copyright protection of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works typically lasts until the end of the year the author dies plus an additional 50 years beyond that. Under the US Model however this could be extended to life plus 70 years. Sound recordings and films currently have 50 years of copyright protection in New Zealand from their year of publication, however the US Model could more than double that – up to 120 year Trade deals always come down to compromise. We must ensure that New Zealand’s position retains the ability to maintain and reform our own patent and copyright laws in the best interests of New Zealand.

We must not agree to a deal that results in stifled innovation in our ICT and creative industries   where multi-nationals have the power to block innovation growth.

And we must protect against an adverse impact on our libraries, universities and schools having access to content they can afford and reduced access to content, particularly in the digital environment.

A government that cannot control its own economic development cannot govern.

The leak of the text allows transparency into these negotiations and a public debate to occur on the impact of the US demands. We support that debate occurring before the talks are concluded.

We call on on the National Government to continue to back New Zealand negotiators in the talks to protect our economic future through our ability to innovate and a maintain sensible and balanced copyright framework.

Here’s a couple of good (but disturbing pieces) pieces to read on the implications of the leaked text

  • Dr Malcolm Rimmer writes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will stifle innovation and put real limitations on our ability to govern ourselves. It is a monster and is too important a deal to be done in secret (written from an Australian perspective)
  • Sarah Putt of the NZ Institute of IT Processionals (IITP) writes that the leaked text shows that NZ’s hard fought for new patent law which excludes software from being patentable could be under threat.

The Government is very unwise to be refusing to engage with stakeholders directly affected by these heavy-handed provisions which will stifle innovation in New Zealand. One has to ask why. Is it because they were always going to be traded off?

Are we all John Key’s playthings?

Posted by on July 2nd, 2013

Despite a consistent chorus from lawyers, civil rights organisations, telecommunications companies, and many others arguing that John Key’s new GCSB legislation (and the accompanying telecommunications interception bill) will increase the GCSB powers and sanction its role as a domestic spy agency, this is what the Prime Minister had to say in answer to question from me last week in parliament:

Intelligence Agencies—Sharing of Information on New Zealanders

10.CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement of 11 June 2013 that “I can assure the House that we do not use our partners to circumvent New Zealand laws”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Clare Curran: How can he justify his statement this week that his new laws will not expand the Government Communications Security Bureau’s powers when three telecommunications network companies, an international service provider, and the New Zealand Law Society all told a select committee today that these powers will be expanded and that they do not support this?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it is correct.

Clare Curran: How can he continue to deny the expansion of the Government Communications Security Bureau’s powers through his new legislation when the major New Zealand – based telecommunications companies, which invest millions of dollars into our local economy, told the select committee today that this will have a chilling effect on their investment and development in new networks?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member is showing her ignorance by confusing the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill with the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill.

Clare Curran: Are there comparable protections in his new legislation for the privacy and rights of New Zealand citizens and businesses alongside the expansion of the bureau’s powers to become a domestic spy agency?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I reject the member’s premise.

Clare Curran: Given the revelations last week that the Government Communications Headquarters—the British equivalent of the bureau—is attaching intercept probes on to transatlantic fibre-optic cables where they land on British shores, does the bureau intercept the Southern Cross cable or any other transoceanic system that connects New Zealand’s internet to the rest of the world?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not believe it is in the national interest to talk about those matters.

Clare Curran: Is he aware of the concern raised in Google’s submission to the select committee that requiring global internet companies based outside New Zealand to undertake interception may put them in conflict with statutory privacy and confidentiality obligations in other countries—in other words, enforcing his law might force companies such as Google to break other laws?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member should direct her question to the Minister responsible. She is getting terribly confused between the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill and the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill.

I wasn’t confused at all. Both pieces of legislation are intimately linked. As John Key knows. Tomorrow will be interesting

Major issues need major solutions

Posted by on June 17th, 2013
By Meka Whaitiri
Published in The Gisborne Times
Saturday, June 15, 2013

Parekura Horomia was a huge man, with a huge heart, and he loved our people.

I met Parekura when I was 20 years old and finishing my degree down in Wellington.

I waited in his office for eight hours before he finally had time to see me for my first interview. After a quick discussion about who I was and where my whanau were from, he told me to pack an overnight bag and be back first thing in the morning.

That was the first day of what would become a 25-year journey of travelling up and down the country, working in service of our people alongside a great man, Parekura Horomia.

Since he passed, I’ve reflected on what I learned from him and his lessons were basic: love our people, serve our people, trust our people and do the yards on the ground.

Ikaroa-Rawhiti is an enormous electorate. I have travelled thousands of kilometres over the past month meeting nannies in the kitchen, kids at kura, whanau, hapu and iwi leaders on farms and in offices, freezing and forestry workers at the factories, and many of our people doing what we can to get by.

These weeks have affirmed a few things for me: our people are struggling on the ground and no one has been listening; our people are talented and travelling to Australia in droves because there is a lack of opportunities at home; and finally, there are opportunities that are not being realised because the current government is out of touch with us and we have been ignored.

I was born in Manutuke and moved to Whakatu (Hastings) when I was a child. I started my working life as a rousey in Uncle Pong Wyllie’s shearing gang up on the East Coast, and then later worked in the casings department at Whakatu Freezing Works. Looking back, I feel fortunate at the life we lived, where we all had mahi, and I know that this is no longer a reality for many of our whanau.

Our people need jobs and we need to be heard.

A key motto that Parekura had was “local solutions to local problems”. I have been privileged to be the chief executive of Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated for the past four years. Our key focus was on developing local talent and building capacity. For example, we recently bought a 3680-hectare farm that spans 12 kilometres of coastline, which we will use to train our own to work the whenua.

The role of Government should be to enable hapu, iwi and our people to create sustainable solutions for our whanau. That is why I have put my hand up to be a part of a major party that will form a new government in 2014.

Our people face major issues and we need major solutions and major champions sitting at the cabinet table ensuring that our voice is heard.

Too close for comfort: is the GCSB spying on us?

Posted by on June 9th, 2013

Stunning revelations that the US equivalent of the GCSB has been routinely monitoring US citizens phone calls, texts and activity on social media impacts on directly on Kiwis with two new laws being hurriedly pushed through out parliament.

Reports say the US National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting metadata on tens of millions of US citizens on phone calls. And it has now been confirmed  that NSA also uses a program called PRISM to access extensive user content  held by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple: although targeted at non-US citizens, it includes content for US citizens too.

The Government must allow more time for submissions to allow citizens and organisations and the telecommunications and IT industry more time to consider the implications and make submissions.

John Key must front the public (as Barack Obama is doing in the US and David Cameron is being pushed to do  in the UK) to tell New Zealanders whether information about their communications is routinely able to be accessed by the GCSB NOW, and just exactly what extra powers they will have under the new laws which will impact on the privacy and freedoms of us all.

The government would have us believe this is an over reaction. If you don’t believe me read this summary of what has been revealed since last Thursday. And then read this piece by a Kiwi Lawyer who has grasped the implications for New Zealand.

Submissions on both the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Bill and the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill are due next Thursday 13 June.

The submission period must be extended to give New Zealanders more time to consider the implications of both bills which will give the GCSB and other agencies more powers to undertake surveillance on New Zealand citizens through all forms of communications as a matter of course.

That is far too short a period of time for such critical pieces of legislation. Both bills are being hurried through the House and the ability of citizens concerned about civil rights and personal privacy has been removed with one of the Bills to be considered behind closed doors with no public discussion.

This is simply intolerable in a democracy where  New Zealanders have ultimate power over the way they are governed.




We have the power

Posted by on June 8th, 2013

On Friday afternoon my office was contacted by a Plunket nurse in my electorate who had visited a young mum with a 4 month old baby for a regular check. She discovered a very distressed  young woman who was grappling with the fact that her electricity had been disconnected. Her and her partner (who was at work) had a $600 debt which they were trying to clear but couldn’t get on top of.

The Plunket nurse was horrified as the baby was bottle fed. Electricity was essential in the house for heating. She rang the electricity company and was fobbed off. She then rang my office. I sighed, because it is not the first time this has happened. I rang the Chief Executive’s office and within a few hours the problem was rectified and the electricity was reconnected.

I will not name the company here because I was impressed with how quickly the matter was dealt with and because this is not the only energy company where I have had to “go to the top” to sort it out.

There are clear guidelines for medically dependent and vulnerable customers set out by the Electricity Authority following the highly controversial and tragic case of Folole Muliaga, who in 2007 died less than three hours after the electricity supply from state-owned Mercury Energy was disconnected to her house due to an outstanding balance.

These guidelines set out an “enhanced process around disconnections for non-payment, including a range of requirements that retailers should meet before a disconnection can take place”.

I am writing to the company in question to ask them whether they followed these guidelines before they disconnected this young woman’s power. And I will write to the Electricity Authority to point out that I believe they need to pay closer attention to the number of disconnections occurring.

The power bill is a major monthly cost for every household. Prices continue to accelerate upwards. This is a young family trying to make a go of it. They face cost of living increases which are out of their control.

Instead of selling off these energy companies the National Government should be stepping in to ensure that young families don’t get put in these positions. Electricity costs are too high. Electricity companies make huge profits. There’s something sick in our country if we can’t see that and do something about it.

A Labour Government will do something about it. We will bring down the price of electricity by hundreds of dollars a year. It’s got to be done.

The right wing agenda

Posted by on May 22nd, 2013

*Update to post. It’s fair enough that the comments are focussing on why I’m not support this or that. I highlighted and bolded one issue that I could definitely support. I didn’t highlight others that I thought needed discussion because I didn’t outright support them. But have subsequently done so. I do however think the discussion should be about the impact of the agenda and not about what I think.

On the 4 April, in the great stone-and-glass National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, luminaries descended to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), Australia’s leading free-market think-tank.

Tickets to the gala dinner cost a minimum of AU$500 (£340) per head, and an auction to raise funds for the IPA featured prizes including a guided tour of the Reagan Ranch in California and a behind the scenes Fox News “experience” in New York City, including a meeting with host Bill O’Reilly . Among the speakers were Rupert Murdoch, journalist Andrew Bolt, billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart, and a man named Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition.

Tony Abbott, Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch took turns sharing the stage. Andrew Bolt (a conservative columnist for the Melbourne Herald Sun) was MC. By accounts, Abbott praised his fellow key-note speakers, especially Murdoch, and promised the crowd a “big yes” to many of the think tank’s list of 75 policies to radically transform Australia.

It is worth remembering that Tony Abbott and his conservative Liberal Party, David Cameron and the UK Conservatives and John Key and the National Party are all advised by the PR gurus Crosby Textor.

It’s also important to note that this dinner and the following ideas were the brain children of a right wing think tank. But it’s no coincidence that these three men and their parties share much of the following agenda. I wonder how many of these ideas (which have relevance here) will find their way into National’s agenda if they win another government term? I have marked the  ideas which I think have merit.

  • Means-test Medicare
  • Eliminate family tax benefits
  • Abandon the paid parental leave scheme
  • Abolish the Baby Bonus
  • Abolish the First Home Owners’ Grant
  • Repeal plain packaging for cigarettes and rule it out for all other products, including alcohol and fast food
  • Repeal the alcopops tax
  • Reject proposals for compulsory food and alcohol labelling
  • Repeal the Fair Work Act
  • Allow individuals and employers to negotiate directly terms of employment that suit them
  • Introduce a single rate of income tax
  • Return income taxing powers to the states
  • Cut company tax to 25 per cent
  • Cease subsidising the car industry
  • Abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board
  • Abolish the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
  • Abolish the Office for Film and Literature Classification
  • End local content requirements for Australian television stations
  • Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function
  • Devolve environmental approvals for major projects to the states
  • End mandatory disclosures on political donations
  • End all corporate welfare and subsidies by closing the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
  • Immediately halt construction of the National Broadband Network and  privatise any sections that have already been built
  • Privatise Australia Post, Medibank and SBS
  • Halve the size of the Coalition front bench from 32 to 16
  • Reduce the size of the public service from current levels of more than 260,000 to at least the 2001 low of 212,784
  • Slash top public servant salaries
  • Force government agencies to put all of their spending online in a searchable database
  • Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it (if it is replaced by another costly scheme, most of the benefits will be undone).
  • Abolish the Department of Climate Change
  • Abolish the Clean Energy Fund and repeal the renewable energy target
  • Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol
  • Repeal the mining tax
  • Privatise the CSIRO and the Snowy-Hydro Scheme
  • Abolish the Commonwealth Grants Commission
  • Introduce fee competition to Australian universities
  • Means test tertiary student loans
  • Repeal the National Curriculum
  • Introduce competing private secondary school curricula
  • Reintroduce voluntary student unionism at universities
  • Introduce a voucher scheme for secondary schools
  • Abolish the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
  • Eliminate ‘balance’ laws for radio and television broadcasters
  • Abolish television spectrum licensing and devolve spectrum management to the common law
  • Eliminate media ownership restrictions
  • Cease funding the Australia Network
  • Rule out government-supported or mandated internet censorship
  • End public funding to political parties
  • Introduce voluntary voting
  • End media blackout in final days of election campaigns
  • Formalise a one-in, one-out approach to regulatory reduction
  • Legislate a cap on government spending and tax as a % of GDP
  • Legislate a balanced budget amendment which limits the size of budget deficits and the period the government can be in deficit
  • Allow people to opt out of superannuation in exchange for promising to forgo any government income support in retirement
  • Encourage independent contracting by overturning new regulations designed to punish contractors
  • End all hidden protectionist measures, such as preferences for local manufacturers in government tendering
  • Remove all tariff and non-tariff barriers to international trade
  • Remove anti-dumping laws
  • Deregulate the parallel importation of books
  • End preferences for Industry Super Funds in workplace laws
  • Privatise the Australian Institute of Sport
  • Rule out federal funding for 2018 Commonwealth Games
  • End all public subsidies to sport and the arts
  • Eliminate the National Preventative Health Agency
  • End all government funded ‘Nanny State’ advertising
  • De-fund Harmony Day and close the Office for Youth
  • Repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act
  • Allow the Northern Territory to become a state
  • Introduce a special economic zone for northern Australia including:
    a) Lower personal income tax for residents
    b) Significantly expanded 457 Visa programs for workers
    c) Encourage the construction of dams.

When David beat Goliath

Posted by on May 13th, 2013

In Opposition most days are a battle.  Every now and then there’s a victory which makes it all worthwhile. It might be a constituent’s battle against inequality and injustice in our system. Or it might be a moment when there is a shift in industry direction which you just know will have a positive, even profound impact.

Last Thursday such a moment occurred. It was a David and Goliath moment for New Zealand and it’s worth celebrating.

In the hub-bub of the week’s emotional tributes to (our) Pakekura Horomia, the blinding spotlight on (their) Aaron Gilmore, David Shearer’s framing of the Budget as being one “for the boardroom, not the smoko room” and the introduction under urgency of two draconian and frightening pieces of spy legislation which will reverberate on our justice system and our telco industry, there was a relatively under-reported but likely momentous outcome to a three year battle to protect New Zealand’s burgeoning software industry. An outcome which will protect an important export industry for New Zealand’s economic future.

This is no small victory. It is, in effect, a signal to the world that New Zealand is a good place to grow a software business. And in time it may stimulate our tertiary education and training sector to wake up and realise what potential we have for significant growth in the weightless economy and in weightless exports.

But what a journey it has been. One which has pitted the might of the multinational software companies led by Microsoft and IBM  and the bloated patent attorney sector against New Zealand’s innovators who united (90% +) to oppose what they saw as one of the biggest threats to their future.

The National Government, blind to the local economic potential, and despite a unanimous select committee recommendation, sided with the multinationals and the out-dated advice from MFAT.

Thankfully they were over-ruled. Thanks must go firstly to the plucky ICT sector, led by Paul Matthews at the NZ Institute of IT Professionals and the software  innovators who formed an industry group called NZ Rise to push the case for software innovation in New Zealand. Internet NZ, and the NZ Open Source Society too.

Thanks should also go to Peter Dunne, who, under our MMP system essentially had the casting vote which forced the government into revising its position.

And to the Greens, who consistently backed the local industry and Labour position, NZ First, the Māori Party and Hone Harawera and Brendon Horan. This was a moment when every vote counted.

Dunne’s vote forced Craig Foss into the embarrassing position of having to re-write and re submit an amendment unravelling the position he had in-advisedly and belatedly pushed due to pressure from the multinationals.

His back down last Thursday now allows the Bill to pass with likely support from most parties and giving our local Kiwi innovators the opportunity to innovate, build new software without the threat of patent suits from big companies which could stifle them or threaten them and pay them off.

If New Zealand is to build an economic future based on our thinking power, then our creativity must be allowed to flourish.

I knew that. The industry knew that. Labour backed me for three years on this issue. Finally it has paid off.

There is a real story to tell about this Bill. One that has seen very big foreign companies place sustained pressure on New Zealand to influence its domestic laws. And lose. This is good news.

Three years ago, the Commerce Select Committee undertook a much needed review of New Zealand’s patent laws which hadn’t been looked at since 1953. A substantial review which considered and recommended modernisation to an important plank of our intellectual property regime ranging from inventions to medicines, traditional knowledge and indigenous plants and animals to software programs.

The Bill sought to modernise and simplify the procedures for obtaining a patent and that our patent regime would not inhibit innovation or discourage technology growth and exports.

The Commerce Select Committee, strongly led by former Commerce Minister Lianne Dalziel (with my keen input) considered these issues carefully and heard numerous submissions. We sent officials back several times to reconsider particular issues and provide international comparisons.

This is what we concluded:

Under the Patents Act 1953 computer programs can be patented in New Zealand provided they produce a commercially useful effect.3 Open source, or free, software has grown in popularity since the 1980s. Protecting software by patenting is inconsistent with the open source model, and its proponents oppose it. A number of submitters argued that there is no “inventive step” in software development, as “new” software invariably builds on existing software. They felt that computer software should be excluded from patent protection as software patents can stifle innovation and competition, and can be granted for trivial or existing techniques. In general we accept this position.

While the bill would provide adequate incentives for innovation, however, we are aware of New Zealand companies who have invested in a significant number of software-related inventions, involving embedded software.4 We sought advice on the approach taken in other jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and the United States, and whether legislation that would enable “embedded software” to be patentable might be practicable. After careful consideration we concluded that developing a clear and definitive distinction between embedded and other types of software is not a simple matter; and that, for the sake of clarity, a simple approach would be best. We received advice that our recommendation to include computer programs among the inventions that may not be patented would be unlikely to prevent the granting of patents for inventions involving embedded software.

We recommend that the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand develop guidelines for inventions containing embedded software.

We knew that this recommendation was ground-breaking, but the select committee felt assured that we had looked carefully at the issues and reached the right conclusions.

There are varying views on what happened next. No doubt some will disagree but here’s my view, most of which is backed by evidence.

When the Select Committee reported back to the House in 2010, the big software multinationals (via the patent attorney companies which submitted on the Bill) either under-estimated the grasp that the committee would have of these issues, or were caught napping.

There was an immediate and sustained round of lobbying of government Ministers. As I understand it, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade became involved.

The Commerce Minister at the time was Simon Power. When the legislation sat on the table and wasn’t moved to the next reading for months (and then more than a year) Labour began to ask questions in select committee hearings and even in the House about the reason for the delay. Power publicly confirmed on two occasions that the select committee’s position would stand. This gave hope to the local industry that the legislation proceeding as was intended but still it sat in parliament. But I wasn’t convinced and repeatedly warned that the industry should remain vigilant.

Simon Power announced his resignation in March 2011 and left parliament that October. The Bill went into abeyance. The new Minister Craig Foss had no grasp on the underlying issues and was ripe for the capture of the foreign software lobby and the influence of MFAT.

Sure enough, in August last year, as the Bill finally returned to the House, Foss introduced a last minute amendment which contradicted the will of the select committee and allowed software patents under the guise of this phrase:

“… prevents anything from being an invention for the purposes of this Act only to the extent that a patent or an application relates to a computer program as such

The two words “as such” tacked on at the end are precisely the same as those that are found in Article 52 of the European Patent Convention that also excludes software patents, BUT which has allowed lawyers to obtain thousands of software patents in the EU on the grounds that they weren’t software patents “as such“. In other words, legal speak for allowing something to occur which doesn’t appear to be allowed.

Craig Foss had given in to patent lawyers and multinational software players and sought to impose a software patents system on our IT sector. He over-rode the advice of the Commerce Select Committee that patenting software would smother innovation.

It caused an uproar in our innovative IT industry, that knew it would be stifled by constant threats of law suits from multinationals. My personal view is that he didn’t understand what he’d done. Fortunately, we have a local industry with legal minds and guts which recognised the critical importance that this seemingly small law change could make to our local industry.

Interestingly, I spent a month in the US in October last year where the debate about excluding software from being patented is growing. People should be aware that a huge legal industry has grown around patent software wars and that banning software patents would significantly affect the litigious community. I’d rather back growth in weightless exports and jobs for our kids vs an industry based on litigation any day!

Why should lawyers profit from running cases which ultimately stifle new innovators inventing the next software programme?

The clamour in New Zealand opposing the Craig Foss amendment grew late last year. I put up a counter amendment which was backed by the industry A petition by the local Kiwi software industry gathered more than 1200 signatures from software developers in just a few weeks.

Again the legislation stalled. Some media began to take an interest the wider backdrop of the influence of foreign companies on New Zealand’s domestic law and economic interests began to gain some traction.

It has taken more than 8 months, but finally a compromise has been reached. I understand that more than one Government Minister was required to sign off on SOP 237. Importantly, it is backed by the Kiwi software industry and to my mind that is what counts.

It’s extraordinary that it’s taken so long and is a strong indication that the National Government has not understood the importance of:

1.      The growing importance of software to development of the NZ economy

2.      How intellectual property laws can be used as a tool to stifle innovation (and shouldn’t be)

For those who watch intellectual property issues and their impact on our economy, pay attention. The law excluding software from patentability can apply to other sectors such as pharmaceuticals and other types of IP such as copyright.

Perhaps the penny may drop as we move along the path towards an outcome on the Trade Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the absolute importance of the intellectual property regime being negotiated in New Zealand’s interests.

Our software industry now has a future. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.

Kiwirail: Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Posted by on March 13th, 2013

This column (written by me) appeared in the Dunedin D Scene newspaper today

A parliamentary inquiry into manufacturing heard this week in Dunedin there are no quality checks on the manufacturing standards of the rail wagons imported from China – a contract which sounded the death knell for the Hillside workshops.

Common themes emerged at the day-long hearing with Hillside, NZ Aluminium Smelters, Oamaru’s Summit Woolspinners and the unions representing workers at those plants questioning tenders awarded to offshore companies over local providers based purely on lowest cost, rather than the true value to the whole of the economy; the impact of the high dollar on exports and indifference of government to keeping and building a skilled workforce in our communities.

One of the most chilling revelations was that there are no quality checks being undertaken on the standard of manufacture of the Chinese imported wagons.

The inquiry, initiated by Opposition parties heard that welding on both wagons and locomotives was substandard and that no checks were undertaken to ensure they met New Zealand standards.

I have since been told that a directive has been issued to Kiwirail staff that no-one is to stand on, or ride in the controversial IAB wagons imported from China in 2011. That directive does not apply to New Zealand built wagons. These wagons also have a speed restriction placed on them due to the systemic flaws with their design and construction.

The Rail, Maritime Transport Union has recently sounded a sobering warning through its latest journal that Kiwirail culture has dangerously shifted towards services over safety.

Clocks have been installed in Kiwirail workplaces and performance is being measured on minimising time delays.

The pressure from within Kiwirail to meet Government policies for profit on its freight business and to reduce cost on other parts of the organisation is a time bomb waiting to go off.

The union likens it to the period in the late 1990s when a series of fatalities stimulated a Government inquiry in rail health and safety.

Kiwirail and its political masters should be warned that the country is watching closely the impact of lowest cost tendering, cuts to rail maintenance and the pressure to put time-keeping over health and safety issues. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Is the Govt trading away our tech sector’s ideas?

Posted by on February 15th, 2013

Pat Pilcher has written another good piece in the NZ Herald about the looming changes to NZ’s patent laws which could have provided a serious kickstart to oru software industry, but which won’t becasue of a stupid last minute amendment by Commerce Minister Craig Foss who has been heavied by the multinational software comapnies. And our own Ministries.

He writes:

The hope held out by many was that software would be excluded from being covered by patents, however it now appears that the government is likely to change patent legislation so that software can be patented.

Even though the Commerce Select Committee and numerous industry experts have all recommended that software be excluded from patentability, amendments made to the bill after pressure was placed on the government could be sufficiently vague that software could end up being patented.

This, say the experts, would provide large lawyered-up multinationals with a means of tying smaller kiwi software developers up in court, effectively stunting our home-grown software industry.

Indications are that even though the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) had agreed that software should be excluded from patents and were confident that this wouldn’t impact on trade treaties, sources indicate that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (who are currently in the midst of negotiating the trans pacific partnership trade agreement) are said to now be somewhat less enthusiastic about excluding software from patents.

Read more here

Red Alert: Deadline tomorrow to submit to the manufacturing inquiry

Posted by on November 29th, 2012

Submissions to the joint party Parliamentary Inquiry into Manufacturing close tomorrow Friday 30 November.

The inquiry has been jointly called by the Labour Party, the Green Party, New Zealand First and Mana as they seek to address the crisis in our manufacturing industry that the National Government continues to deny.

More than half of the manufacturing businesses that began in 2008 have disappeared in the past four years and the rate of new manufacturing businesses starting up has declined by a third in four years, from over 2,000 a year in 2008 to just 1,300 a year this year. Over 8,000 manufacturing businesses have closed and more than 40,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since this government took office. Jobs and businesses shutting down or heading off shore affect whole communities and local economies.

The recent announcement of 90 redundancies at KiwiRail’s Hillside workshops is an example of this that hits close to home for myself and my constituents. Workers at Hillside have lived with their uncertain futures since the intended sale was announced in May while the announcement of 25 redundancies at the O’Brien’s Benchtops Ltd no doubt took many of those affected by surprise so close to Christmas. I have started a collection for Christmas

Further afield the reverberations of further losses such as Tiwai Point aluminium smelter and Mataura’s Meatworks are being felt through my electorate and the wider South Island. And I know we are far from the only area hit by this crisis.

The Inquiry Committee is calling for submissions and will hear from people around the country early next month but you only have until tomorrow to submit in writing and request to be heard by emailing

We want to hear the personal experiences of workers and businesspeople who have lost jobs and income in recent years, as well as anyone else who has an opinion or ideas about what the Government should be doing to support these industries in the current global economic climate.

Because some workers fear there may be reprisals for having their say or simply don’t want to be personally identified, if so you can still submit.

Send your views to before the end of this week.


A message to Bill

Posted by on September 3rd, 2012

On Saturday a dozen Labour Party members took a trip from Dunedin to Milton, Balclutha and a few other small places in between, to collect signatures for the Citizens Initiated Referendum to Keep our Assets.

A couple of observations:

1. Almost everyone we came across wanted to sign. A carful of young blokes in a 1970s Holden at the service station heading on a day out. A farming family from Gore. Shopkeepers, EVERYONE at the RSA…

2. I was told that Bill English’s offices in Gore and Balclutha are rarely open. I asked where do people go if they have constituency issues? The response was a resigned “nowhere”. I have told people to contact my office in Dunedin South if they have issues that need dealing with. It means more work for my staff, but it’s pretty shocking if the local MP can’t provide representation.

Bill English, it appears many people in your electorate don’t want you to sell our assets. And how about being a bit more available to them!


Kiwirail blocks new work for Hillside and Hutt workshops

Posted by on August 24th, 2012

Click on the image to enlarge. Here is the link

Govt on ropes over Kiwirail

Posted by on August 23rd, 2012

Worth watching the whole question. Government squirming. Kiwirail on ropes



Rail expert speaks out

Posted by on August 18th, 2012

Today the Otago Daily Times’ Allison Rudd has an important story where a former Kiwirail senior engineer has spoken out about the mistakes and failures of the decisions to purchase the cheapest locomotives and rolling stock and the impact it will have on New Zealand rail for decades.

It’s time more people spoke out. And it’s time that the board of Kiwirail and the Ministers that have directed their deeply flawed policies becomes accountable to New Zealanders.

KiwiRail bought 1970s technology when it bought new locomotives from China, but now has an opportunity to put matters right, one of its former long-serving senior engineers says.

It was “baffling” KiwiRail had ordered the type of locomotives it did, Randall Prestidge, who worked for KiwiRail for more than 34 years and headed the fleet performance team until he took voluntary redundancy last year, said yesterday.

“These locomotives [are] very similar to DX locomotive technology of the 1970s,” Mr Prestidge said.

… he said KiwiRail should make sure it did not buy the same technology again.

“They are thinking old and small and not thinking into the new century.”

He said he had tried to discuss his views with KiwiRail but “no-one wanted to listen” and he had decided to go public.

“I didn’t want to be disloyal to KiwiRail. I didn’t want to bag them in public. I wanted to help.

“I’m saying they . . . must change their ways. But I know in my heart they are not going to.”

How serious is the digital divide?

Posted by on July 25th, 2012

Have been sitting in the Education  Select Ctte for the last month or so, hearing submissions  on an inquiry into 21st century learning environment and digital literacy.

Am increasingly concerned at the consistent message to us that there is:

1. A digital divide in NZ where some schools have much better connectivity, access to technology and children are taught in an environment which incorporates the digital world, compared with schools that don’t have much of either.

2. This divide is growing, not lessening as broadband rolls out slowly to schools, prioritising higher decile areas. That the digital learning environment is not consistently supported across schools.

There have been some great examples of schools that are early adopters, have talented and committed staff which are driving change in how technology is used and the way teachers teach. But it’s not consistent.

It’s becoming clear that the learning environment and the digital environment are intertwined. Our kids need digital skills for their futures. There are however some significant barriers to this occuring.

Quantifying NZ’s digital divide is critical.

National’s legacy; false economy #2

Posted by on July 22nd, 2012

Since the National Government came to power, 40 locomotives have been purchased by Kiwirail from Chinese company Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Company with engines from MTU.

This follows the 500 Chinese built flat deck wagons which have all had to have brake pad replacements before being commissioned for service.

The Chinese DL locos are the first new diesel-electric locomotives to enter service on the New Zealand railway network in 30 years.

But consider this. Kiwirail measures the reliability of locomotives by measuring the mean distance between failures (in kilometres). A failure is commonly a derailment.

Loco class

FY2011/12 YTD

DC (1951)


DF (1979)


DX (1979)


DX (1972)


EF (1986 Electric)


DL (2011)


The DC class of locomotive was built by General Motors Canada and introduced to New Zealand between 1955 and 1967.

Twenty of the Chinese DL  locomotives were ordered in 2009 and delivered between 2010 and 2011, a further 20 units were ordered in 2011 for delivery in 2012.

Yet the 60 year old locos are four times more reliable than the 2 year old Chinese built locos. What does this tell us about their reliability and value for money? And Kiwirail’s decision-making., which has consistently been backed by the National Government.

*The figures above were dated April 2012. I have submitted an OIA to discover the latest MDBF for all classes of locomotives

National’s legacy; false economy

Posted by on July 21st, 2012

Today at the National Party conference, Steven Joyce spun the line that his Party was all about jobs and the Opposition was about fairytales.

His own intellectual dishonesty is breathtaking. Neither he, nor any member of his government have ever been able to articulate the source of  the Kiwi jobs of the future other than in vague unsubstantiated terms.

His government has instead made countless decisions which have cut skilled Kiwi jobs and resulted in the flight overseas of thousands of New Zealanders who should have been plotting their futures in our country not elsewhere.

Perhaps one of the worst things this government has done to demonstrate its disregard for Kiwi jobs, Kiwi skills and Kiwi industry is to use the purchasing power of government to buy trains built in China which do not meet New Zealand standards.In doing this they are responsible for destroying essential skills and ensured that a whole industry has been cut off at the knees.

A country that deliberately destroys manufacturing capability is not a smart country.

Yesterday, Radio NZ revealed that the brakes on all 500 Chinese-built freight wagons ordered by KiwiRail had to be replaced before they could hit the tracks last year.

Initial tests found that when the wagons were fully loaded to 72 tonnes, the wagons did not stop within the required 650 metres.

The wagons have been in New Zealand for less than a year and have been plagued with problems. Kiwirail pretends it’s no big deal and the government says it’s an operational issue and nothing to do with them. They have backed Kiwirail all the way in its outsourcing decisions. At some point they will become accountable.

As a result, the Hillside Rail workshops in Dunedin, which made the original wagons in the 1950s, has been gutted, skilled workers made redundant and now the workshops are up for sale in a deal which Kiwirail shows little enthusiasm for.

False economy is a kind way of describing the harebrained decision to buy cut price substandard wagons shipped across the world, which require serious faults to be fixed and parts replaced before they can even be put on the tracks. It’s my understanding that some of the wagons are already demonstrating more serious faults.

How long will it be before there is a serious derailment involving these wagons? Who will be held accountable then?

Gordon Campbell wrote sensibly about this issue yesterday.

Steven Joyce, meanwhile, speaks with a forked tongue.