Thursday, February 21, 2019



For a capital gains tax

The Tax Working Group has reported back, and (as expected) recommended taxing capital income. And they make the point that this is fundamentally about fairness:

The Tax Working Group has confirmed its support for a broad-based tax on capital gains, suggesting handing back much of the $8.3 billion it might raise over five years through income tax cuts for almost all workers.

Some have criticised the proposed tax as "envy tax", but working group chairman Sir Michael Cullen said it was wrong that wage-earners were taxed on their full income while "you can earn income from gains on assets and not be taxed at all".


At the moment we have a situation where ordinary New Zealanders are taxed on every dollar they earn, while the rich are not. And that is simply wrong. Income should be treated equally and taxed no matter what the source - and that means taxing capital income. If it has the side effect of removing distortions in our economy - the housing bubble, or farmers farming for capital gains - then that is a bonus, but fundamentally it is about fairness and making the leeches pay their fair share for once.

As for what to do with it, the Working Group recommends recycling the revenue into a broad income tax cut, by raising the lowest threshold. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But we don't just need to shift the tax burden back onto the rich where it belongs - we also need to end the cycle of underinvestment in and by government. Our health and education systems are tottering due to lack of money, and there are countless necessary things the government "can't afford", so we should take this opportunity to reset the size of the state and fund it properly for once. Kiwis expect decent public services. And the government should use the tax system to raise enough revenue to meet that expectation. Doing it by taxing capital income has the advantage that most people will never notice the cost - but we'll all see the benefit.

Their own fault

Another day, another employer whining about "worker shortages". This time, its Wellington's public transport operators, NZ Bus and Transdev:

Six Wellington train services have been scrapped indefinitely, while bus commuters can expect cancellations for at least the next six months as an "unprecedented" driver shortage continues to wreak havoc on the capital's public transport system.

[...]

Many of Tranzdev's drivers had left to join KiwiRail, which paid more and was expanding its operations, [Transdev chief operating officer Mike] Fenton said. It also gave drivers a change from driving electric trains.

Metlink spokeswoman Emily Liddell said Tranzdev expected to lose 12 per cent of its 100-plus drivers this year, up from its average annual turnover of 3.5 per cent.

[...]

Meanwhile, NZ Bus, which has been cancelling up to 30 buses a day in the morning peak in recent days, said it was 20 drivers short and was struggling to attract any applicants at all.


According to a Radio New Zealand report, NZ Bus wants the government to declare a skills shortage, allowing them to bring in foreign drivers. But once again, this "shortage" is a shortage at the price employers want to pay. Transdev pays less than KiwiRail (and less than Australian operators). NZBus lowballed their contract bid and took their profit margin out of their workers' wages - with the result that most of them simply left and those that remained went on strike. So its not really surprising that people no longer want to work for them. As for the solution, it seems obvious: better pay and conditions. But that might mean the operators make lower profits, so its apparently completely off the table, and instead they're asking for a regulatory subsidy.

As for how to force this, both companies now seem to be in breach of their contract, and unwilling to deliver the services they are contracted to provide. GWRC needs to make it clear to them that either they deliver those services or be replaced. They should not tolerate lowball operators destroying public infrastructure with low wages.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019



A vested interest

Why are National squealing so loudly about a capital gains tax? Look at how many houses they own, says Newsroom. Their article details the blatant conflict of interest of most National MPs, who are loaded with hoarded houses and business investments - all of which would be subject to a capital gains tax. So it seems a bit... self-interested of them to be speaking out against it, neh?

Unfortunately, what's obvious to the public is not obvious to Parliament: its Standing Orders define financial interests only in terms of benefits (rather than avoided costs). Further, they explicitly exclude "any interest held by a member or any other person as one of a class of persons who belong to a profession, vocation, or other calling, or who hold public offices or an interest held in common with the public", and do not require interests declared in the Register of Pecuniary Interests to be specifically declared to the House before voting. The net result: Standing Orders think it is fine for MPs to vote to keep taxes on themselves low, despite the fact that they could be benefitting by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from the vote.

There's a word for this: corruption. And our parliament has institutionalised it.

More dirty dairying

Another Waikato farmer has been convicted of dirty dairying:

Nagra Farms Limited and director Naginder Singh received five convictions each from Judge Melanie Harland in the Hamilton District Court on Monday.

The Waikato farming company that supplied Fonterra has been fined $116,000 for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment.

At the time of the offending, in late 2017 and early 2018, the firm owned five Fonterra-supply farms at Gordonton, near Hamilton. Offending was identified on two of the farms by Waikato Regional Council staff inspecting the farm's effluent systems for compliance with environmental regulations, Waikato Regional Council said in a statement.

A farm manager on one of the farms, Nikolai van den Einden, was also convicted for breaches of the Resource Management Act. He was sentenced to 12 months' supervision and ordered to attend a dairy effluent management course.


Two farms out of five failing to handle their shit properly suggests that the farmer simply didn't care about it. Hopefully the fine an convictions will help change their mind, as well as put other farmers on notice to clean their act up.

Climate change: Local governments in denial

Thames is on the front line of climate change. The town already suffers from coastal flooding, and in the event of even modest sea-level rise, half of it will be underwater every spring. And just this week they were in the news for (finally) sticking a flood warning notice on a coastal development they should never have allowed in the first place. So its a bit shocking to see this morning's news that the local council is refusing to sign up to a local government climate change declaration:

A push to get local authorities to sign up to a declaration on climate change is "politically charged and driven", the Thames-Coromandel mayor says.

Fifty-five councils have signed up to the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration. It states there is an urgent need to address the threats of climate change.

It states councils will commit to plans to reduce greenhouse gases, promote walking, public transport, increase resource efficiency, and commit to renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Yesterday members of the public presented to the Thames Coromandel District Council meeting, urging it to sign up to the declaration. It will be voted on by councillors at a later meeting.

However, mayor Sandra Goudie said she did not support it and most other councillors were cautious.


Goudie refuses to give a straight answer on whether she recognises climate change is happening - which sounds like the weaseling of a Denier not wanting to admit it. And meanwhile, the waters keep rising. And no doubt, having stuck her fingers in her ears and refused to do anything, she'll expect the rest of the country to bail her shitty little council out of the problem exacerbated by their own stupidity.

Goudie isn't alone. According to Radio New Zealand, 23 local authorities plus the West Coast Regional Council have refused to sign up to the declaration. And by refusing to act, they are imposing long-term costs on their residents, and potentially on the rest of the New Zealand as well. The good news is that there are local body elections coming up in October. If you want action on climate change, you should vote accordingly.

(The Denier councils are the Far North, Whangarei, Kaipara, Thames-Coromandel, Otorohanga, Taupo, Opotiki, Wairoa, Stratford, South Taranaki, Manawatu, Tararua, Horowhenua, Buller, Westland, Hurunui, Ashburton, Timaru, Mackenzie, Waimate, Waitaki, and Queenstown-Lakes districts, Hamilton City, and the West Coast Regional Council).

Tuesday, February 19, 2019



New Fisk

The West is encouraging a vicious war between Sunnis and Shias — that's the real truth about Iran and Saudi Arabia

They can't take it with them when they go

Simon Bridges, leader of the party of the rich, is spreading the usual scare stories about how taxing capital income will see people leaving New Zealand. Its supposed to suggest that the tax will be ineffective, that people will leave the country to avoid it. Except that most of these assets - investment properties, farms, small businesses - are immobile. So whether they sell up when they move, or keep their assets and remain as foreign absentee landlords, it doesn't matter: the asset is still here and can still be taxed, regardless of who owns it or which foreign country they hide in. They simply can't take it with them when they go. Which is why Bridges and his rich masters are so upset by the idea: finally, they won't be able to hide, and will have to pay their fair share.

As for the idea that an exodus would be some sort of loss to New Zealand, I doubt it. Someone who flees the country to avoid paying their fair share is someone we were better off without. Let Australia have them - they'll fit right in with the corrupt arseholes over the Tasman.

But while a capital gains tax is a great idea, its not enough: we should be going further, and taxing the wealth of the ultrarich directly, as suggested in the US by Elizabeth Warren. The rich have leeched off our government and society for too long. Time to make them pay their way.

"More ambitious"?

Newsroom reports on the OGP IRM report into our last Open Government Partnership Action Plan. They highlight the IRM' assessment of progress as "marginal" and their criticism that the "commitments" were chosen so they "would get completed in that time so they would not be recorded as not completed". And then State Services Minister Chris Hipkins tries to pretend that things have changed:

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins, who absorbed Curran’s open government responsibility, told Newsroom he agreed with Booth about the scope of the “utterly unambitious plan” under the last government, saying the follow-up plan for 2018 to 2020 was more ambitious but there was room to do even more.

“Rather than taking the new plan as being the ultimate end state, I’m going to push hard to go even further and faster.”

[...]

“I don’t think anyone’s taken their foot off the accelerator - in fact, quite the opposite.”


Except when you look at their latest OGP Action Plan - completed last year under Labour - its the same problem: business-as-usual commitments, chosen to ensure completion. Most of the commitments were well underway before the plan began, and many have completion dates within six months of announcement, and some announced their completion shortly afterwards. Which tells you that they were existing work shoved under the OGP brand for "quick wins" (even the very welcome proactive release of cabinet material falls into this category: despite saying work would begin in October 2018, it had actually begun back in February). Meanwhile, ideas which would result in transformative change and a real opening of government - like OIA reform, real protection for whistleblowers, and public registers of company beneficial ownership - have been ignored. So you really have to wonder where the Minister is getting his information from, and whether letting the change-averse SSC filter everything on the topic for him is a good idea.

Monday, February 18, 2019



Unlawful

That's the view of a UK House of Lords committee on the country's arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

The UK is on “the wrong side of the law” by sanctioning arms exports to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen and should suspend some of the export licences, an all-party Lords committee has said.

The report by the international relations select committee says ministers are not making independent checks to see if arms supplied by the UK are being used in breach of the law, but is instead relying on inadequate investigations by the Saudis, its allies in the war.

It describes the humanitarian plight of Yemenis as “unconscionable”.


Or, to put it a little more accurately: the UK is providing the weapons used to commit war crimes in Yemen, and it should stop. The problem is that the British government regards arms sales to war criminals as the country's core business, so they will probably simply ignore this, just as they have ignored blatant corruption in those sales. The solution is to charge the Ministers approving these sales as accessories to the crimes committed, and drag them in chains to The Hague.

Climate change: The threat of methane

More climate change bad news: methane may fry us:

Dramatic rises in atmospheric methane are threatening to derail plans to hold global temperature rises to 2C, scientists have warned.

In a paper published this month by the American Geophysical Union, researchers say sharp rises in levels of methane – which is a powerful greenhouse gas – have strengthened over the past four years. Urgent action is now required to halt further increases in methane in the atmosphere, to avoid triggering enhanced global warming and temperature rises well beyond 2C.

“What we are now witnessing is extremely worrying,” said one of the paper’s lead authors, Professor Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London. “It is particularly alarming because we are still not sure why atmospheric methane levels are rising across the planet.”


...and meanwhile, our government continues to exclude agricultural methane from the ETS, and it is unclear whether they will even include it in climate change targets under the Zero Carbon Bill. But if they fail to do so, then they will effectively condemn us to being fried.

The 1080 referendum question

The Clerk of the House has determined the final form of the question for the proposed citizen's inititated referendum on 1080:

Should New Zealand stop using all cruel and inhumane poisons, such as 1080, brodifacoum, and PAPP, to kill wildlife, because these toxic substances inflict intense and prolonged, unjustifiable suffering on all animals, including native birds, pets, and livestock?

It's a perfect example of the sort of shit, leading questions we get under the CIR Act. Everything from the "because" simply has no place in a referendum question (instead it rightly belongs in campaign material for the referendum's promoters). What's scary is that its actually a better question than the one originally proposed (in that it is at least structurally clear), but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the CIR Act.

The referendum's promoters now have a year to get the approximately 367,000 signatures they need to force a poll. If they manage it, then we might end up having a fourth referendum to vote on at the 2020 election. Personally, though, I won't be signing it.

Friday, February 15, 2019



Why is Labour subsidising bad employers?

The government has declared a seasonal labour shortage for Hawke's Bay, effectively subsidising employers with cheap migrant labour. But why do they have a labour shortage? Perhaps those same employers' attitude to wages have something to do with it...

Fruit may be left on trees and businesses face closure as steep rises in the minimum wage hit labour-intensive industries such as horticulture.

Many exporters were facing higher costs due to employment law changes and the minimum wage lifting to $17.70 an hour on April 1, an increase of $1.20, a survey of 400 exporters by ExportNZ has found.

Businesses with 75 to 120 staff said the minimum wage increase would add an extra $120,000 to $800,000 to wage costs a year.


This "labour shortage" is a shortage of labour at the price employers are willing to pay. The solution is for them to offer better pay and conditions to attract the people they need. Instead, a "Labour" government has given them a regulatory subsidy to stop them from having to increase wages.

Bad employers shouldn't be subsidised. If they can't make a profit when paying decent wages to their workers, they don't deserve to be in business. It is that simple.

Not one hectare more!

Yesterday the government announced that it was ending the farmer's rort of high country tenure review, under which over 350,000 hectares of public land has been corruptly privatised for next to nothing (and then frequently flicked on for 500 times more than farmers paid for it). But while this will protect most of the high country, there are still 30 leases in the process. The Minister has said these will be decided on a "case-by-case basis". But what should this mean?

Simple: it should mean not one hectare more. This is public land, and it should stay public. Unless the government has a binding contract, it should simply walk away from negotiations.

Can they do this? Largely, yes. The Crown Pastoral Land Act allows any tenure review to be discontinued at any time. If things have advanced further in the process, to a preliminary proposal, then that can be ended too - the language is discretionary: the Commissioner of Crown Lands may publicly notify a preliminary proposal, and (after consultation) may make a substantive proposal. It is only when the substantive proposal is accepted by a leaseholder that the language changes to "must" and imposes "an irrevocable authority to and obligation on the Commissioner to take the appropriate actions required".

How many leases are in this situation? According to LINZ's tenure review statistics (last updated in December), 8 properties have accepted substantive proposals (some as far back as 2016). So, we're stuck with those, unless we legislate. As for the rest, 8 preliminary proposals have been advertised for public submissions, 17 are currently being consulted on with leaseholders, and one is being explored. All of those processes can be stopped dead, and they should be. We should not surrender a single hectare more of public land to farmers.

Mad dogs

Last night the police were asked to help a mentally ill person in Hawke's Bay. They were meant to help him. Instead, they killed him:

A man - who police had been trying to locate because of fears for his safety - has been killed after crashing into a truck while fleeing officers in Hawke's Bay.

Police had been trying to find the man most of Thursday after concerns were raised about his welfare.

Police located his vehicle on State Highway 5 at Eskdale at 9.40pm last night, and signalled for him to stop.

He did not and a pursuit was initiated.

"After a short period of time, the vehicle crossed the centre line and collided with an oncoming truck," said Hawke's Bay Acting Area Commander Inspector Jeanette Park.

"The driver of that vehicle — a silver Mitsubishi stationwagon — died at the scene."


Its a perfect example of what is wrong with police pursuit policy. Rather than exercising any judgement - which in this case would have been to back off and try to contact them later - the police behaved like mad dogs in pursuit of a small furry animal. And the results were as predictable as they are tragic: they killed the person they were trying to protect.

The police have to stop killing people. This policy has to change. As for how, The Side Eye shows us the alternative, and it is a lot safer and more humane. The problem is that our police force is not interested in safety or humanity. All they want to do is kill.

Thursday, February 14, 2019



The law means nothing

Disposing of public records without authorisation is a crime. Destroying them to prevent their release under the OIA is an aggravating factor in that crime. But when push comes to shove, it seems that the Chief Archivist isn't actually interested in enforcing the law:

Archives New Zealand has decided not to prosecute the former chairman of RNZ Richard Griffin over a voicemail left on his phone by former government minister Clare Curran a year ago.

Ms Curran called Mr Griffin after it was revealed he and the RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson had misled the committee over the nature of a meeting between the former head of news Carol Hirschfeld and Ms Curran.

In the voicemail, she urged Mr Griffin to write to the committee to correct the record as soon as possible but Mr Griffin took that to mean she would rather he wrote than turned up in person.

He subsequently refused to hand over the voicemail despite formal requests for it.

Chief Archivist Richard Foy said the matter did not meet the threshold for prosecution.


I guess it was all just too hard. But with this decision, the Chief Archivist has sent a clear message to Ministers and officials that its perfectly OK to illegally dispose of or even destroy public records to thwart an OIA request, and that they will face no penalty for doing so - undermining our entire system of transparency. And from the public servant responsible for protecting that system, that is simply unacceptable.

As for Griffin, with this sort of approach to public records and accountability to parliament, he is unfit to ever work in government again.

"The most transparent government ever" - again

Remember when Labour promised to be "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had"? How's that working out?

Like this:

at present, there are 172 written questions that have not received a final reply. Many of the replies were due in December, but one was due in May last year. It appears that written questions are not working as they were supposed to as an accountability mechanism, so I intend to award the Opposition 10 additional supplementary questions each day until the end of this sitting block or until all the questions due last year have received their final replies—whichever comes first. I will review the situation again in the next sitting period.

And if you read down, you'll get to see Labour trying to blame the Speaker for their inability to run their ministerial offices properly.

Ministers playing bullshit games over written questions has been a theme of this government right from the beginning. And they have been repeatedly called up on it by the Speaker. In the process, they make work for themselves and bring parliament and the political process into contempt. But that's what happens when you have a government of childish, petty control-freaks. As for the solution, incentives matter: Ministers play these bullshit games because there is no real personal penalty for doing so. So, instead of pissing about with being read the riot act by the Speaker and additional questions, we should simply make it clear that answering these questions properly is part of their job, and if they don't do it, they won't be paid. Then if they want to engage in bullshit, they can do it on their own dime, without the public giving them a fat salary and a free car. Simple.

The end of tenure review?

High country tenure review is organised corruption, which has seen the privatisation of huge swathes of our country. Hundreds of millions of dollars of public land has been effectively given to farmers for free, and then flicked on for enormous profits. But now, finally, it looks like the process will end:

The Government is about to scrap tenure review.

Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage won’t confirm the move, but Newsroom has been told by multiple sources that the controversial process, dubbed “organised corruption” by opponents, is finished. What’s unclear is how Sage intends to deal with two crucial elements: whether the 40 properties already within the process will be allowed to continue; and what clamps might be placed on the powerful Commissioner of Crown Lands.

Using Sage’s previous comments as a guide, it could be expected that those properties at the “substantive proposal” stage of the process, at least, will go on. That is likely to upset opponents of a massive dairy development at Simons Pass Station, in the Mackenzie Basin.

An official announcement may be made by Sage as early as this weekend. It’s expected to be bundled with promises of tougher management of South Island high country leases. That will include more scrutiny of discretionary consents to farmers and better monitoring of their effects.


Good. But obviously, I'd prefer it if they just stopped it dead and walked away entirely. This is public land, and should be kept in public ownership, and the fact that a previous corrupt government opened negotiations on a corrupt transaction does not give any right for that transaction to continue. As for the long-term, we need to end the pastoral lease rort entirely, and start charging these parasites commercial terms rather than subsidising their environmentally destructive lifestyles. But one step at a time...

Wednesday, February 13, 2019



New Fisk

We’ve seen the west’s approach to Venezuela before – in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, need I go on?

A good question

The government is currently waiting to formally consider and release the advice from its Tax Working Group, which is widely expected to recommend a capital gains tax. But Green co-leader James Shaw has pre-empted it by asking whether they deserve to be re-elected if they don't implement one:

Green Party co-leader James Shaw has pushed out the boat on a capital gains tax (CGT), asking whether the Government "deserves" to be re-elected if it doesn't implement one.

[...]

"The Green Party have long been calling for this fundamental imbalance to be addressed. Every expert group in living memory has agreed with us. But no government has been bold enough to actually do it," Shaw said.

"If we want to reduce the wealth gap, to fix the housing crisis and to build a more productive, high-wage economy, we need to tax income from capital the same way as we tax income from work."

Shaw rubbished discussion of whether such a tax would be politically palatable, saying it was needed.

"The last question we should be asking ourselves is, 'can we be re-elected if we do this?' The only question we should be asking ourselves is, 'do we deserve to be re-elected if we don't?'"


And its a good question. This government was elected on a platform of reducing inequality. Fairly taxing capital income is fundamental to that, and (despite scaremongering from the rich) an increasing proportion of New Zealand society recognises that fact: it is simply not just that the poor are taxed and the rich are not. If Labour fails to fix this, then they simply will not deserve to be re-elected. It is that simple.

Basic humanity in Australia?

Australia's anti-refugee policy is based on cruelty. According to the Australian government, refugees claiming their rights under international law are a "threat", which can only be deterred by imprisoning them without trial forever in concentration camps, neglecting them, allowing them to be sexually abused and tortured by their guards, and denying them basic medical and psychological care until they either die of preventable diseases, or kill themselves. It is a monstrous, vicious, inhumane, criminal policy, for which its architects and implementers should be facing justice in The Hague. But now, there's a tiny crack, with the Australian parliament voting to allow its victims to be transferred to Australia to receive medical treatment:

Australian MPs have passed a landmark bill with an opposition amendment making it easier for sick refugees held offshore to be treated in the country.

This is the first time in decades a government has lost a vote on its own legislation in the lower house.

The move is a blow for Prime Minister Scott Morrison's minority government's highly controversial immigration policy.

[...]

Doctors will now have the power to recommend transfers for refugees on Nauru and Manus to Australia for treatment. However, the immigration minister could ask an independent panel to review the medical assessment, and would have some authority to overrule it.

Previously, doctors had reported that their medical transfer recommendation were ignored by authorities.

Refugee lawyers thus had to apply for court orders to bring ill people to Australia. There were 44 medical transfers achieved through court battles.


The way the Australian government is acting, you would think this was the end of the world. They have such an inflated view of their own country that they seriously think people will sign up to be tortured in a concentration camp for five years simply so they can set foot on Australian soil to receive treatment in a hospital. But what it is is showing some basic humanity which has long been missing from Australian refugee policy. The Australian government wants its victims to die quietly. The Australian parliament has said that that is simply not acceptable, and recognised that they have a duty of care. But while its a step forward, it also invites the basic question: what is so wrong with Australia and its politics that they had to pass this law, rather than behaving in a lawful and humane manner in the first place?