It’s beginning to look like the name of a Guns N’ Roses album.

The leaders of two opposition parties are being held without charges after participating in a forum critical of the country’s new 2013 constitution law. A trade unionist is also being held.

Sadly, Mr. Bainimarama’s government is not an unpopular one, (and for all I know he does good work on issues other than civil liberties and has done some genuinely good things post-coup, it’s somewhat difficult to get news on anything except the aborted attempt to change their flag. The expat Fijians I know all seem to think he’s done well) but still, it really needs to get its act together. Arresting the leader of the opposition is a serious thing, and while I absolutely do think that MPs are subject to the law like the rest of us, there should be no question of illegality for a peaceful gathering to discuss the constitution. That’s not a security concern in a democratic country, it’s people exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, which no longer exists in Fiji. Now, if there were evidence they were stockpiling arms or planning another military coup, that would be different, but I think it highly unlikely that’s the case, given that one of the opposition party leaders turned himself in.

Biman Prasad‘s house has been searched for documents and a laptop has been seized by police, presumably on the hunt for something appropriately “subversive” to charge him with so he can be arrested as a threat to governmental security. For his political opinions. This is exactly the sort of thing that “freedom of expression” is supposed to prevent, and without that right, Fiji really doesn’t have even the dregs of democracy it could lay claim to before, and its elections are a complete farce, as opposed to merely slanted in Frank Bainimarama’s favour.

Hi again to everyone, I’m not dead, I’ve been working on fiction writing and some other things ahead of political blogging.

I thought I’d step back into blogging, possibly very temporarily, to talk about a recent poll from Curia, noted push-poller and National Party satellite operation. The poll is commissioned by the liberal (and I carefully use the word “liberal,” because some of their members are prominent right-wingers) organisation New Zealand Republic Incorporated, who advocate for Parliament to appoint a New Zealand head of state. (as opposed to the Prime Minister appointing a Governor General) I may have mentioned in the past that I am an enthusiastic Republican, (in the sense of not wanting a Monarchy) but I should also mention I’m not actually involved with NZ Republic Inc in any way because I disagree with their approach.

Curia are not a particularly ethical or reliable polling operation in my opinion, but they do generally put an extra effort into their polls that don’t relate to National Party policies to make them fair, so it’s likely that any errors in this poll are genuine errors rather than biases.

The short version of the results: A plurality1 of New Zealanders support a specific option for becoming a republic for the first time ever, and a majority2 support some method of becoming a republic. That’s about 44% for directly electing a President, and 15% for Parliament appointing one through a vote in the House of Representatives. (that second method being the one NZ Republic favours)

This raises a few issues. The first is: is this a sustainable groundswell for republicanism? It’s a bit too early to tell, but at the risk of revealing myself to be living in a liberal bubble like Red Peak supporters did3, I think it actually could be. (especially with effective campaigns that represent multiple voices) The flag referendum was a fiasco, but I think it really did make some kiwis realise they aren’t as attached to the Monarchy as they thought, they just want a better process to be followed and to be presented with real options that they’re enthusiastic about before they go ahead. It also didn’t help that left-wing voices were largely left out of the debate, and it ended up essentially being between right-wing liberals and conservatives from both wings, with left-wing liberals generally opining that the whole thing was a waste of time. If right-wing liberals want to push for a Republic, they’re going to need left-wing liberals not just theoretically onside, but also with some degree of enthusiasm for change.

Secondly: What sort of republic do we want, and do we need some more complicated safeguards to get it?

Well, I think this poll makes it clear for the first time how New Zealand would like to move forward. They would like Presidential elections if we form a Republic. There’s an argument to be made that that’s because a lot of them don’t know the upsides of Parliament appointing someone, (and there are upsides, most of them being “they’re more likely to use their powers as reserve powers because it could create a constitutional crisis for an appointee to overrule elected representatives”) but I expect that’s not the case. I expect New Zealanders actually want more power for voters, not less. And that’s okay. There are ways to make a directly elected president work, and they would likely not be too expensive on top of current government costs. (Maybe $1.5-3 million extra a year because we’d need to allow for extra ballots and counting, some public funding for the candidates, and maybe some education about how to vote for President, if we chose a system other than FPP, which we should. By comparison, royal visits can cost the taxpayer up to $1million each, which I hope we would stop funding under a Republic, and in both systems we pay the cost of Government House and a salary to the Governor General/President, so we’ll call those a wash)

Nobody is talking, fortunately, about an American-style strong executive President, which would replace Cabinet in our government, and have powers like the ability to declare war, deploy police, and generally mess around with the operation of the civil service to an even larger degree than ministers do. That system has huge problems and it’s better we avoid them, and I think both Republicans and Monarchists are agreed on that fact.

What powers could we give an elected President, and what limits should we place on them? I think the powers could be very similar to the current powers of the governor general, but we could actually define situations in which we want them to be used. They could be obliged to attend ceremonial events, to sign bills into law, to determine who is appointed Prime Minister, when Parliament dissolves, and generally required to resolve constitutional crises, ideally by using one of the previous two powers. We could maybe throw them an extra power or two if needs are identified before this debate seriously becomes a thing.

What limits would we need to place on an elected president to ensure they didn’t act as a dictator? Well, firstly, I would submit that any candidate for President should not have been a member of a political party for the past five years at the time they apply to become a candidate. We don’t want an active politician in this role, and we don’t want it to be a retirement package for Prime Ministers, or a reward for party faithful. As someone who has been a member of a political party, I think this is absolutely fair. Some people will retire their memberships before running for President, and that’s well and good, as it should also to some extent cut their ties to their former parties by requiring them to quit more than a single term in advance, even if they still have political views aligned with a party. If we really wanted to enforce a seperation, we could also ban parties from endorsing presidential candidates or donating to them to campaign, but I think on the whole it’s better that we preserve freedom of speech there, as there are several ways to get around a ban, so it would just separate the pragmatists from the principled rather than prevent collusion.

Secondly, the President should be obliged to sign any bill into law that gains a 75% supermajority in the House of Representatives. This is to protect New Zealanders against a president dictating a veto despite broad political support for a bill. The President should, however, be able to exercise their own discretion on bills passed with a normal majority but less than 75% support. In practice, the governor general never exercises their reserve powers to refuse assent to bills, precisely because they’re not elected. It would have been excellent to have had an independent political voice to strike down say, that abomination against natural justice that is the Three Strikes Law, which stops judges from exercising their discretion to sentence people leniently where it’s appropriate, and outright contravenes BORA.

Thirdly, I would suggest that if an elected President dissolves Parliament, they also become a lame duck and are required to immediately (or within a very short timeframe) set a date for both a Parliamentary and Presidential election, and that Presidents may only be re-elected once. This means that Presidents that abuse their power to dissolve Parliament face an immediate referendum of the people on whether they should stay in office, and that first-term Presidents would also be potentially shortening their own term even if they do get re-elected.

Fourthly, I would consider whether the President, rather than the Prime Minister or an arbitrary legal cutoff, should have the ability to remove Ministerial responsibilities from MPs, and to eject MPs from Parliament. Right now, corrupt or scandalous ministers can only be removed by the Prime Minister. I would suggest that the President should also be able to remove Ministers in cases of corruption, unethical behaviour, or threat to democracy only, as this prevents situations like Judith Collins being a Minister because she’s too powerful in the National Party to keep her out of cabinet, despite her being provably corrupt. We should then generally expect a Prime Minister not to re-appoint ministers a President sacks, but leave the discretion with the PM to do so, and with the President to just sack them again if necessary. (It also gives the Prime Minister an incentive to quickly sack misbehaving ministers or to privately encourage their resignation, so that the PM is seen as more effective than the President in that regard, so over time Presidents should need to resort to that power less and less. It also has a nice side-effect of giving the President a legitimate reason to dissolve Parliament if the Prime Minister can’t find enough qualified and uncorrupted MPs to act as Ministers) I would also suggest that although we should keep the current threshold that allows MPs convicted to crimes with significant sentences to be automatically ejected, and that the President also be able to eject MPs from Parliament for similar reasons to removing their ministerial warrants, subject to an override by a supermajority of 75% of MPs to make sure this power isn’t abused. 75% supermajorities generally require a large amount of the opposition to cross the aisle, so the only vulnerability that would leave us with is that an opposition-aligned President decides to sack unpopular government MPs for reasons that aren’t really corruption, hampering the government’s ability to function. There could be additional safeguards placed here that allow the government to dissolve Parliament and necessitate a Presidential election if we need to prevent against that.

Fifthly, I would suggest we require all elections to be both Presidential and Parliamentary at the same time to reduce voter fatigue, and recommend setting a date towards the end of the year (perhaps a set day in September) as a fixed election date, and making that date a public holiday every year with a trading ban in place. (It could be called “Republic Day”😉 ) A public holiday for elections is superior to the current law, as it removes the need of employees to ask for time off to vote if they work weekends, and it also gives us both the reminder and time off to think about our government and how it should work. (or just some well-deserved family time, which is equally as precious) If the President does not dissolve Parliament using their special powers, Parliament would automatically dissolve a set time before that date, (say, the second August after the last election, so that there is a disincentive to calling early elections) and the next election day would have both a Parliamentary and Presidential election. Early elections would be held under the provisions of the current law, ie. on a Saturday and employers must grant reasonable time off to vote.

The non-trading provision could also increase the number of locations that could function as polling places, as businesses could offer their premises too, allowing churches that prefer to hold Saturday services an option not to participate as a polling place without leaving communities stranded without a nearby polling place.

Those should be adequate safeguards to allow an elected President to both effectively use the current reserve powers if they need to, while still protecting New Zealand from an elected dictator vetoing everything the House passes and dissolving it if they don’t do the President’s will. (which seems to be nightmare that Monarchists warn a Republic would turn into)

There are other relevant issues as well. I’ll delve shallowly into some of the most important.

Firstly, Te Tiriti o Waitangi. (Yeah, that’s the Treaty for those of you with even less Māori than me) Now, any way that we reasonably would become a Republic should preserve the treaty. We are in fact obligated to preserve treaties that guarantee human rights under international law, so there would be a lot of pressure on New Zealand if we tried to ditch the Treaty as part of becoming a Republic. Our independence should make it relatively clear that it’s absolutely possible for what’s called a “successor state4” (in my example, the successor state is the current Realm of New Zealand) to take on the obligations of an existing treaty. But is it enough that the Treaty remain as it is?

I think any law making us into a republic needs to explicitly acknowledge the Treaty as a constitutional document, explicitly identify and protect its known principles, (some of which are defined, but like the Bill of Rights Act, some of which may not even have been identified yet, because it is living law) require participation in the Māori electoral roll to drop below 0.83% of the national population before any legislation can remove the Māori seats, (ie. make the Māori roll into a regular referendum on whether Māori wish to retain their separate seats) and guarantee Māori their traditional rights. These provisions need to be sovereign over Parliament, so that courts can if necessary strike down laws that attempt to cause new Treaty violations. This wouldn’t create any new powers or entitlements for Māori, but it would protect those rights that already exist. My understanding is that Māori as a whole are already more supportive than average of the idea of a Republic, so it’s only right that this process strengthen their rights.

Secondly, I think any law making us into a republic also needs to make the Bill of Rights Act (or BORA) sovereign over Parliament, and to outline any reasonable exceptions to BORA in law. Right now, Parliament effectively decides when it is reasonable to violate BORA, and just gets a report on where each piece of legislation is inconsistent, but can then vote away even if they’re trampling on our civil liberties by doing so. This would allow New Zealanders the option to go to the courts to obtain their rights if legislation, through either action or inaction, has become inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. If this had been an option, we would likely have had gay marriage a lot earlier, for instance, and it would be another safeguard against unconstitutional legislation like the Three Strikes law.

Thirdly, I think regular independent reviews of our electoral system and constitutional issues should be set up, with the power to refer issues to a binding referendum. We’ve seen from the MMP review that when changes are recommended that are inconvenient for the government, that they often aren’t passed into law. We need an option that skips Parliament to make changes in the future, so that they can’t slow things up and hope they get forgotten, or turn them into political footballs like happened with flag change. (actually the flag change is the best example yet, because it started out as a football for pop patriotism from the government, and its poor process turned it into a football for anti-government resentment for two of the opposition parties)

I intend to come back for at least a second post later on less important issues like why a republic, (that case has effectively already been made if a majority want one, but I will justify why they should later) should we codify the constitution5, how we should elect a President if we did have a public vote, what we should replace Queen’s birthday with (Matariki, oh wait now I don’t need to post that😉 ) and anything else you or I can think of.

Read the rest of this entry »

For those of you who haven’t been following things, (and you could be forgiven for having been busy on boxing day, much the way Valve could be forgiven) a technical hiccough has exposed private information of some steam customers.

This may not be 100% confirmed yet, but apparently valve pushed an update to its caching on its store pages that didn’t work as intended, and exposed other people’s emails, their usernames, their steam wallet balances, (think prepaid cash balance, although it can also be the proceeds from selling digital goods such as steam trading cards) and the last two digits of their credit cards. We don’t know the exact timeframe, but potentially everyone who accessed any steam store pages and saw anyone else’s info has had this information exposed. Fortunately, nobody had the ability to charge anyone else’s account during the time as far as I know.

This exposure occured for roughly an hour, after which Valve managed to get someone on-site and shut down external access to the problematic pages, until they could rectify the breach. (Store pages are now accessible with no adverse consequences as of my drafting of this post) This is a relatively impressive turnaround for a public holiday and is to be commended, not attacked. Only the most basic services should be using real staff on public holidays, and Steam is not a basic service.

As a former employee of an organisation that has struggled with both public perceptions and privacy breaches, I can tell you that there are some basic steps that need to be taken as soon as Valve can get people back into work:

  1. Firstly, own up publicly to what information was exposed, apologise to all customers, even those unaffected, and offer to allow people to close their accounts and have their personal information deleted. The first part of this is the basic necessity. You HAVE to apologise if you’ve screwed up, full stop. It also helps if no excuses are made until after the unreserved apology is delivered. But allowing people to express their distrust in you by leaving your service, and deleting their information if they do so, shows you really mean your apology and are accepting the consequences of your mistake.
  2. If possible, generate a list of customers whose accounts were accessed during the timeframe the breach occured, and warn all of them their privacy may have been breached by email. Valve should also recommend that they be aware of potential phishing attempts, take any necessary steps to ensure their credit card remains secure, and change their steam passwords, and any other passwords that match their steam passwords. While in the short term actively notifying people of the breach who haven’t learned of it might seem bad PR, in the medium and long term it means customers know that Valve is willing to be accountable when mistakes are made, and that they will place their customers needs ahead of their own PR.
  3. Valve should put ALL employees through privacy training immediately, so they are aware of the consequences of for instance accidentally disclosing an email address or a partial credit card number. This is both a practical (Valve will be under extra scrutiny now, and human security breaches will be much more serious) and a PR requirement.
  4. Valve should take immediate policy steps to ensure this same breach cannot occur again. For instance, they may want to institute a policy that no software patches or website changes that could impact security or privacy are to be pushed near holidays.
  5. In the medium term, Valve needs to upgrade its privacy security policies and systems. Valve serves some of its private information directly over insecure protocols- this needs to stop. If valve wants to offer Steam pages over the web, it should secure them if the web pages offer private information, or it should only serve account information through its client in secure packets, or on seperate, secured pages. (similar to how purchases are currently handled) The worst privacy breach that should be possible using secure software is that someone unintended views your account name. There are also some really basic information security steps that can be taken, such as:
    1. turning off auto-complete for any external addresses in all email clients,
    2. stocktaking access to private and/or confidential information and ensuring all access granted is either necessary or authorised, practical, and secure,
    3. disabling insecure methods of file-sharing, such as email attachments, without a second employee authorising them,
    4. implement quality-checking on any existing and new safeguards, at least in the short term.
  6. In the longer term, ensure customer data is secure from external access, hackers, and properly anonymised to internal employees.

Valve has a lot of work to do. A lot of this work is better done before any privacy issues occur, but they’re in for a lot of learning about why prevention is better than cure. I’m pretty sorry to all of the employees who weren’t responsible but are about to be affected.

The government is now proposing to apply GST to goods and services sold online by overseas vendors. This would mean that your netflix subscriptions, Steam purchases, Amazon purchases, iTunes purchases, Google Play purchases, and possibly your Kickstarter donations, (depending on how much revenue Kickstarter takes in fro New Zealand- it may well be above $60k annually. Kickstarter already allows projects in New Zealand dollars so may already have its GST infrastructure set up) would all need to track how much money comes from New Zealand purchases, and return 15% of revenues to the New Zealand government if their total annual revenues from New Zealand exceed $60,000.00.

Or would they?

If you read the press release carefully, you’ll notice that as New Zealand law can’t apply overseas, they’re essentially just asking very nicely for these companies to track tax information, and expect them to voluntarily comply out of the goodness of their own heart, or at “risk to [their] reputation”. That’s incredibly naive, and much more likely to hit medium-sized digital businesses than large multinationals, who largely have no problem tax dodging. *cough*google*cough*facebook*cough*vodafone*cough* – sorry about that, had something in my throat.

If the government is really concerned with fairness around transaction taxes, it should axe GST and shift the tax burden to unproductive areas of the economy, (such as large-scale capital gains, speculative investment, pollution, and other social ills) as it’s an incredibly unfair tax in general, and it’s complicated to administer. Applying GST to even more goods and services is just further discouraging involvement in digital life for New Zealanders, who already pay unfairly high prices for digital goods, which have no sunk cost to be sold in New Zealand beyond their actual development.

The systems to do this would not be complicated- the government’s proposal largely mirrors the EU’s existing tax requirements, so the UI should already be designed and ready to go for any firms doing business in both Europe and New Zealand, which is likely to be most of them. Basically it says that if any two pieces of information collected for the transaction (say, a credit card through a New Zealand bank, New Zealand address, New Zealand phone number, or a New Zealand IP) agree that the transaction originates from New Zealand, GST should apply.

Basically the only changes for users are possible price inflation of online services that pass on GST costs to consumers, (which is a double-hit against overseas digital services, as we already pay extra value so it can be converted into a sizable profit in US dollars) and that self-employed businesspeople or small businesses earning over $60k may need to provide GST information when purchasing digital goods and services, or shipping goods in online from overseas, and will be liable to a fine of up to $25,000.00 if they try to provide false info. Because there are so many avenues to identify whether someone is from New Zealand, I highly doubt the speculation on twitter that anyone is going to be hit with a similar fine for using a VPN to somehow “dodge” GST, especially as they will most likely be paying from a New Zealand bank and providing a New Zealand address when buying goods and services online.

Fairfax has an interesting article up by Eric Crampton, in which he laments that the referendum might not pick a Condorcet winner. He actually understands voting systems, I would say, but he’s not exactly picked a great one to advocate. I agree with him to the extent that I think releasing anonymized voting data so people can run it through other electoral systems seems like a legitimate use of the OIA to me, and shouldn’t compromise secrecy. (I have fired off an enquiry to the Electoral Commission checking on this info, and asking them to identify any legislation that would prevent disclosure of the number of each unique preference order chosen in the first referendum)

Update: I did get my OIA back, but it refused to release the information on the same grounds, and I really didn’t think it was worth taking to the Ombudsman.

But determining if there even is a Condorcet winner requires voters to rank every option, an exercise that often fatigues voters who only want to vote for options they’re enthusiastic about. Requiring people to rank minnow options is a recipe for suppressing voter turnout. (They had to make voting compulsory in Australia to combat the fact that people don’t want to rank every option, which their at-large STV system requires for no sensible reason) Many people legitimately do not care which of several options they get if their actual preferred options are knocked out of the race.

There are two other problems with a Condorcet race. The first is that in insisting that head-to-head (or pairwise) competitions are the best measure of success, it actually robs the race of wider context. Sure A beats B, and B beats C, and A beats C, but you can only ever tell how any option fared relative to a single other option. You can’t see that actually A is the second or third choice of many voters, and that in a more expressive race B might actually be the best candidate.

I have said before that the way the referendum works is the best way it could work, if we vote using an election system we’ve already trialed in New Zealand.

The last problem with a Condorcet race is that it often doesn’t produce a winner. Using flags as an example, what if Koru beats Red Peak, Red Peak beats the Red White and Blue silver fern, but that silver fern beats Koru, and they all beat the remaining two options? Then there is no Condorcet winner. Election systems based on this idea of head-to-head contests then apply mathematical rules, often about how decisively each option has beaten each other option, to decide a winner, when this information should be supplied by voters. STV does a crude version of this by asking voters to rank every option they want to win. (Our version in New Zealand allows them to omit options they don’t care about, and treats them all as last-equal, never assigning your vote to them)

STV is not a perfect voting system. It’s not even the best voting system we know about. It fails the “favourite betrayal” criteria under certain circumstances, meaning you can cause your favourite to win by ranking them lower than your actual preference, and cause them to lose by ranking them first. But it is a more expressive and generally superior voting system to Condorcet systems, and it generally produces a good result compared with FPP “tick only one box” systems.

If Eric wants a more representative vote, I suggest he advocate Range Voting for future referenda. Here’s what it might look like for the first referendum: (You could even sneak the current flag onto the ballot and eliminate the need for two referenda in this system, as unlike STV, it wouldn’t cause any issues adding the current flag into the ballot)

flag referendum range vote

Basically, you rate as many flags as you like from 1-9. The voting form could be exactly as simple as the STV one, or you could include check boxes like above for people with difficulty writing clearly distinct numbers.  On the form above, we would count the vote as 9 for Black and White silver fern, 8 for Red Peak, 5 for Black Blue and Red silver fern, no preference for Koru, and 1 for Red White and Blue silver fern.

That would mean that this voter would feel that Black and White silver fern is the best possible option, and Red White and Blue silver fern is the worst possible option. They think Red Peak is very good, and that the Black Blue and Red fern is average. The scores for each option are then averaged in each counting station, and weighted by the number of people who recorded a preference for each option. (The number that didn’t vote for each option is also recorded) These totals can be passed to a central office, where some simple multiplication and addition can determine national-level winners easily. (The winner is the option with the highest average score that reaches a minimum threshold of people choosing to vote for that option. If say, less than 10% of voters expressed a preference for an option, it would be discarded regardless of it’s rating as being too obscure, to protect from obscure options winning with a relatively small number of votes, especially in elections with a large number of available options to rate)

The advantages of this system are numerous. First, it implies a preference order. Secondly, it allows people to express the size of the gaps in their preference order- this voter not only thinks that the Red White and Blue fern is the worst option, they think that even their second-to-last preference is average, while that option is terrible. It allows voters to express how bad they feel the options they don’t prefer are. Voters can even deliberately rank their most-preferred option lower than 9, or their least-preferred option higher than 1, if that’s how they honestly feel. (although that’s a less strategic way of voting- it’s a form of deliberate favourite betrayal, described above)

It has all the advantage of determining a “beat path” (from Condorcet) or a “preference order” (from STV) with the added bonus that it puts these things in context of how much each option beats or loses to each other option, and doesn’t require complicated totalling, instant runoffs, (which can introduce accidental favourite betrayal) or mathematical resolution when no condorcet winner is found. (For range voting to result in a draw, the electorate actually has to exactly prefer the candidates by the same amount)

This is the perfect system to use for a referendum when there are multiple options to choose from. It lets you independently express opinions for multiple options without one option affecting another, it can eliminate multiple-stage or multiple-question referenda like the flag referendum or the MMP referendum. And it’s just a more expressive way of voting.

So, I stumbled across a link to National Business Review talking about the Red Peak flag being added to the referendum today. (Briefly: I support it being added, I don’t think this is the Greens playing into National’s hands, and it’s exposed that Labour is being petty to try and upset the public about how badly National has dealt with this process. But I don’t think all of that is worth a blog)

Chris Keall from NBR claims that due to what he calls “preferential voting”, (generally known in New Zealand as Single Transferable Vote or STV) that Red Peak will be disadvantaged in the first stage of the referendum, due to the fact that the three fern designs are similar. (In evaluating electoral systems, we call similar choices “clones”. Some systems split the vote with clones, disadvantaging the clones. Others allow you to stack points for clones, making it easier for a choice to win when it has many clones to pad out its score) As someone who actually follows how voting systems works and advocates for reform of our voting system, (yeah, I’m not actually perfectly happy with MMP, but it’s better than any other systems New Zealand parties have proposed) let’s go to the classroom on why that’s not the case.

The problem with this argument is that STV is not vulnerable to this flaw. (every voting system has numerous flaws and advantages, the trick is picking one that’s suited to what you want to do) Similar options generally1 neither aid nor hurt each other in a single transferable vote, unlike the plurality system where you can check only one option. STV does an “instant runoff” if no choice achieves at least 50% of the votes when it’s used in a single-winner contest like the flag referendum. With five choices and no likelihood of a landslide, we’re definitely going to have a runoff in the election. Let me show you how this works. Let’s say the first preferences are as follows:

  • Silver Fern (Black and White): 6%
  • Silver Fern (Red White and Blue): 25%
  • Silver Fern (Black Blue and White): 35%
  • Red Peak: 30%
  • Koru (Hypnoflag): 4%

No design has more than 50% of the vote yet, so STV eliminates the option with the least votes in this round. That’s the Koru design. The algorithm tallying votes then looks at how the Koru’s second preferences were set, and reallocates all its votes according to that split. Let’s say 50% of Koru voters wanted Red Peak, 25% wanted the Black and White fern, and 25% only voted for Koru with no second preferences. Koru’s 4% is reallocated according to their second preference, and round two looks like this:

  • Silver Fern (Black and White): 7%
  • Silver Fern (Red White and Blue): 25%
  • Silver Fern (Black Blue and White): 35%
  • Red Peak: 32%
  • No votes/discarded options: 1%

We still need 50% for a winner, so we eliminate the least popular option again, this time the Black and White fern. Those votes are reallocated according to the second preferences of people who voted for the fern, and the third preferences of people who voted for the Koru but had their votes transferred to the fern. Let’s say half of them were Red Peak supporters, a quarter liked the Red White and Blue fern, and a quarter didn’t express any more preferences. We proceed to the third round.

  • Silver Fern (Red White and Blue): 26.75%
  • Silver Fern (Black Blue and White): 35%
  • Red Peak: 35.5%
  • No votes/discarded options: 2.75%

We still don’t have a clear winner, so we’ll have to eliminate the Red White and Blue fern, and proceed to the final round. If we say 10% of Red White and Blue voters didn’t express any further preferences, and 45% each supported the other two designs, Red Peak wins, despite the fact that first preferences for the Ferns added up to 66%. (If you do the maths, you’ll note that Red Peak doesn’t achieve 50% to win. This is because we actually ignore the no votes in determining 50%, but that’s difficult to show)

It doesn’t matter how many people vote for similar options in the first round, it only matters whether enough of the voters for those options rank them all in a block ahead of the other options. If Red peak had polled higher than any of the ferns in the first round, then in fact, the only other proposed system would have caused the ferns to lose, even though it’s likely fern voters will normally prefer other ferns over the two remaining designs.

The other system I mentioned is the one Labour proposed it its amendment bill that was shot down- using a Plurality Vote (the same as we do for electorates) to determine the winner, and rolling both referenda into one paper. If we had done that with the above example, the Black Blue and White fern would have won instead, because the less popular desgns split the votes away from Red Peak, even though Red Peak and the Black White and Blue fern designs were the most popular overall when people’s full preferences were accounted for.

This system is actually the best suited for the kind of referendum we’re holding in the first stage. It’s simple, (you rank as many preferences as you want, and all your consecutive preferences are counted. The only way to null vote is to not write a 1 anywhere) it doesn’t suffer from vote splitting, (that is, it doesn’t punish clones) and it allows you  to relatively1 safely vote your true preferences. Everyone’s vote is counted

Read the rest of this entry »

So lately we’ve seen some right-wing politicians in the USA come out swinging against the idea of Net Neutrality. The current favoured talking point about why they’re doing this is that Net Neutrality is a form of price control. For those who aren’t aware, the internet has informally functioned on a system described as “Net Neutrality” for most of its lifetime- until recently. It’s the principle that internet traffic should work like phone calls. That is, barring certain exceptions for law enforcement reasons, all traffic should be forwarded to its destination without interference or delay.

The argument that Net Neutrality is a price control relies on people not understanding how the internet works in order to be persuasive. They argue, look, you pay your Internet Service Provider to deliver you content. Why shouldn’t the content provider have to pay for this? They’re getting content delivered to you for free.

Only someone who has never had to deal with the realities of hosting a website would say this. Everyone who puts up a website pays hosting fees either directly or indirectly. If you have your own server in your home, you pay your ISP for the ability to upload certain amounts of bandwidth. For small websites that probably works fine. You might instead pay a specialised hosting company to perform this service for you as well, in which case, they manage the server. You also pay a fee to have a human-readable address (like “”) to the Domain Name Registry Service.

Sites like that offer “free” hosting services for certain types of content manage these fees for you and gamble that they can make money off advertising on your pages. Ending Net Neutrality would essentially open anyone hosting content to blackmail from large ISPs. They could block access to services that compete with them or their parent company, (so you wouldn’t be able to use the internet to move your service to a new ISP, for instance, or if your ISP owns a video streaming service, they might block or dramatically slow down competing services to the point they don’t function) and they could slow down sites hosted by large content providers if they refuse to pay for so-called “fastlane service” in order to extract extra fees. (in reality, they would be paying to get out of a slow lane that had been newly invented, as currently all “lanes” travel at the same speed)

This won’t just affect customers of one ISP, either. Internet traffic uses a system called “routing” that has regional servers direct your traffic. You’re often passing through six or ten intermediary servers when you request internet content. If just one of those intermediary servers slows or blocks content, it effects the whole route. Other ISPs who don’t support this sort of behaviour would need to develop systems to skip biased parts of the internet that don’t forward traffic on a neutral basis.

It’s as if someone actually had the power to mark a speed limit on a section of the ocean, or actually block it off altogether. The way ships are navigated would have to change.

The other argument used by opponents of Net Neutrality is, as I’ve alluded above, that the ability to prioritize certain types of traffic allows them to offer better service- that is, they can fast-lane the things that are important to their customers.

This is a better argument, but it’s still wrong. If prioritising internet traffic is helpful, (and I can see why it would be) a better way to handle it would be to allow software developers to opt in to having certain internet traffic handled slowly. This would allow things like periodic e-mail checks to be deprioritised, (because do you really need to know the instant you receive a new email?) but manual e-mail checks to go through at a full speed that might be slightly faster, and it would also let developers expose options to have all internet traffic sent at full priority.

That puts whether your traffic is handled as a priority in your hands, and the hands of people who actually design software, and whose job it is to know when an internet request needs to be fast or slow. Centralising the priority of internet traffic with ISPs leads to situations like torrent throttling, which slows down things like peer-to-peer video game updating in order to also discourage pirating of TV and blu-ray content, or at worst political censorship by ISPs or simple anti-competitive behaviour like mentioned above.

The worst thing is that if this happens in the USA, it sabotages the Internet for everyone else as well, given the large amount of traffic routed through the USA. It would pose big routing issues for any New Zealand or Australia-based ISPs wanting to avoid slow service. All internet users should be crossing our fingers that a Democrat (most likely either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton) ends up winning the USA’s next presidential election, otherwise this is going to be a problem we have to deal with.

So, occassionally I browse and attempt to assist people on, a site allowing for publicisation of OIA requests.

Somewhat alarming to me is that on reading a few of these requests, government agencies are still declining requests due to information being publicly available. Back in the days when this meant you would need to make a physical copy of what was perhaps a very large report to provide the data, this legal option made sense.

Nowadays, most publicly available data will be electronically available. In which case, we shouldn’t be denying requests- rather, the agency ought to have a duty to provide a link if the information is still available, or release the information through normal channels if for some reason it’s no longer available. If collated the publicly available information requested would take unreasonable time, then the agency ought to use existing policy around fees or denial for that reason.

In this day and age, there is no reason to deny a request due to information being publicly available, when it’s so easy to point out where the information is. It would seem that if anyone wants a member’s bill, giving agencies under the OIA an obligation to provide either the location (virtual or real) of said information or a copy would be a great idea.

Granted, this may be a symptom of the culture around Official Information at the moment- there are plenty of other problems with OIA requests, with many agencies (especially certain DHBs) refusing to answer questions due to collation requirements that any sensible reporting regime would make very easy to answer, and not clarifying why collation is required. (Sometimes it legitimately is, but a reason why such as “we use paper files for this” or “our software doesn’t allow a centralised report and we would have to view thousands of individual files” are great responses. Simply giving the section of legislation it’s being declined under are unhelpful, especially if there is related information that could assist the requester that can be provided) It might be time to modernise the OIA in general and remove or restrict several of the exemptions. An OIA or private information request ought to be viewed in general as an opportunity to either assist or inform the public, not an inquisition.

There are some agencies that are providing good responses, even when they have to decline requests. I read one request that not only detailed why each individual answer couldn’t be given in detailed format due to collation requirements, but actually requested information regarding the general details of the policies that the requester was interested in to reassure them to issue was being considered seriously and policies were in place. That is a good example of how to decline an OIA request, and the type of culture government agencies need to be building.

Johnson vs United States has concluded, and the US Supreme Court has ruled that Three Strikes laws are unconstitutionally vague, and cannot be enforced.

Where does this leave our own Three Strikes law? People actually involved in the justice system have been claiming it doesn’t work for various reasons.

Hopefully as ACT is now largely irrelevant, the government will soften or repeal the amendement act passed in 2010, or it will be gone when the government changes. The only real support for the law seems to be in the mis-named SST, who are claiming credit for it dropping reported crime rates, despite the law not being in effect long enough to have made a difference as anything other than a deterrent. (And there’s an argument against its powers as a deterrent in the link I provided above)

One of the more ludicrous problems with importing extreme right-wing legislation from the USA is that it’s often poorly drafted, doesn’t fit within legal principles, and just plain doesn’t work. If this is all ACT is going to bring in its coalition agreements, it’s a good thing the party is on electorate life-support. There is a reason why the previous law set guidelines for sentencing but largely left the specifics to judges: Judges can inject context of the crime into their decision and adjust sentences up or down as is appropriate to the crime, and parole can be used to address cases where either the judge was too harsh, or the person convicted has responded well to rehabilitation. The Three Strikes law undermines both of those advantages to normal sentencing and parole regime.


As those of you who will likely be reading this post don’t know me or my writing, my name is Matt and I’m a white cisgendered man. I like to provide male backup to feminists so they can use me as a resource for people who want to ask about some more basic things like “what about men?” or “what is privilege?” or “what does FBM mean?”.  I’m also bisexual and have a history of mental illness. (and yes, also in the sense that I’m not entirely “neurotypical”, which some of you will jokingly refer to in terms like “not being entirely sane/normal.” You may want to reconsider that.)

As someone who is very white, who comes from a reasonably well-off family, and who hasn’t had to deal with being transgender, and who is culturally Christian1, I have a lot of privilege. If you’ve been linked here because you took issue with the word privilege, don’t worry: almost everyone who hears this term addressed at them has a lot of difficulty coming to terms with the idea, you’re allowed to be upset in dealing with it, (although I would suggest you don’t direct your feelings or questions at the person who used this term, as it generally starts fights that nobody wants or needs!) but it’s almost never used as a personal insult or accusation.

What privilege refers to is essentially all of the advantages you get, that you can’t help getting, just by being a particular type of person who doesn’t have to deal with a particular oppression- ie. white people don’t have to deal with racism2, men don’t directly have to deal with sexism, straight people don’t have to directly deal with heteronormativity and homophobia, cispeople don’t have to etc…

Privilege happens regardless of what else is going on in your life. Sure, it’s more noticable that you have for instance white privilege if you’re also wealthy and have class privilege, but you still benefit from being perceived as white even if you’re really poor, if you’re a woman, if you’re gay or transgender, or if you’re a minority religion where you live, or if you’re not christian in general in terms of discussing things on the internet. How do you benefit? Well, if you’re of any other race, or if you ARE white but not perceived as white, people will start viewing you as one of a number of different stereotypes. Asian people get classed as nerds and people place an expectation to fit in and excel on them, regardless of who they are as a person. Black people in the USA, and pacific people in New Zealand, often get stereotyped as either criminals or culture leaders, depending on whether that person’s opinion of them is negative or positive. As a white person, I don’t usually have to deal with people crossing the street to get away from me in case I attack them. (Apart from women doing it at night because I’m a man, which I totally understand)

Intersectionality is an expansion on this idea of privilege. It’s the idea that oppressions and privileges compound together for different experiences as you add them together, and that the whole of these social experiences is more than the sum of its parts. Being a lesbian means you deal with different things than what you’d expect adding up what gay men deal with, and what straight women deal with. The reverse is also true- being more privileged means your privileges add up more and are harder to seperate and you may have been less likely to have been educated about them. This isn’t your fault. All anyone who throws around this word “privilege” is expecting of you is two things:

  1. To listen to people with other experiences than yours, and to take on board that in some ways, because of who you are, your different experiences in life may have been easier for you. (And in other ways your experiences might have been harder- it’s not intended as a contest)
  2. To not side-track these discussions by “talking from privilege”. This means that sometimes you are best not to engage in a conversation until you understand it, and that even when you do engage, you should be content with a supporting role if it isn’t your issue, and if it is your issue, you should be okay with engaging in food faith and supporting people with different views or issues than you because they sit at a different intersectionality than you do. (eg. if a gay black man and a white transwoman were talking, they might have very different views on the importance of marriage equality either due to her white trans perspective, or his black cis perspective, or due to being different genders. And it might not all be solvable just them putting themselves into each other’s shoes- they might need to educate themselves about what’s going on in each other’s communities a bit to understand their differences before they can work together productively)

Intersectionality is often brought up when privileged people are making a call for everyone to work together on their particular type of oppression. So white feminists, gay men, atheists, etc… often need reminding or informing about intersectionality when they’re advocating change, so that we don’t just stop at equal rights for white women, we get equal rights for transwomen, and women of all races and sexualities. So that we don’t stop at gay marriage, we also unpack cissexism, protect the rights of transpeople, and help break down the gender binary before moving on to more niche LGB issues. And so that we don’t stop by having a secular society, but we also consider the needs of women in various faith communities, and that we ensure our discussions about religion aren’t masking an racism. Read the rest of this entry »