Friday, August 23, 2019

Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me tody - I'm off to Christchurch to pretend to be other people for a weekend. Normal bloggage should resume on Tuesday.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Dodging a bullet

Donald Trump seems to be eager to start a war with Iran, and naturally Australia is yapping at its heels like a good little vassal. The UK also asked New Zealand to get involved, but fortunately, we had a good excuse: we simply didn't have the toys available:

Britain asked New Zealand whether it could help patrol the Strait of Hormuz following the seizure of oil tankers by Iran, but we didn't have any boats to send, the Minister of Defence says.


New Zealand's Defence Minister, Ron Mark, says while no formal request for assistance was made, Britain approached New Zealand about whether it had any capacity to help.

"I've said right now both of my frigates are in Canada undergoing refit. We don't actually have any capabilities available," Mark told reporters.

"The bottom line that I can barely struggle to keep two P3s [surveillance aircraft] flying ... I just don't see that we have any spare capability right now to engage in that kind of a mission."

Which seems like we really dodged a bullet there. The lesson is obvious: you can't be involved in a US war if you don't have the capability. Which suggests that rather than replacing the frigates when they reach the end of their lifetime, we should simply ditch that capability, and focus on things which actually suit our needs.

Meanwhile, National is desperate for New Zealand to get involved in America's war, as usual. Lest we forget, their continued involvement in Afghanistan killed ten New Zealanders in an unjust war which was none of our business and not worth fighting. How many kiwis do they want to die for the America over Iran?

Climate Change: Another emergency

Yesterday the Greater Wellington Regional Council unanimously declared a climate emergency. They've also set themselves a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, though this only applies to their direct emissions. Still, its a good step, and as usual it invites the question: where is Parliament? When are we going to see some national leadership on this issue? Or was the Prime Minister's talk of climate change as "my generation's nuclear-free moment" simply hot air?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

New Fisk

The history of religious conflict in the Middle East carefully leaves out periods of coexistence

A sensible idea

That's the only way to describe the government's plans for a Parliamentary Budget Office to allow opposition parties to get an independent costing of their policies. When the idea was first floated back in 2016 as an office within Treasury, I thought that wasn't independent enough and argued that it should be an Officer of Parliament. I'm glad that that's the path the government has gone down.

Meanwhile, National Leader Simon bridges claims this is "screwing the scrum" against the opposition. Rather, it does the opposite. in the past, we have seen governments use the bully pulpit of the Treasury benches to falsely claim that the opposition is financially profligate and has a "fiscal hole". An independent Parliamentary Budget Office will protect oppositions from such behaviour, while providing the public with more information on which to base their votes. That's something an honest opposition should welcome. The fact that National doesn't tells us they are neither honest, nor interested in informing voters properly about their policies.

Another attack on transparency

Something I hadn't noticed: there is a Statutes Amendment Bill currently awaiting its second reading in the House. Among its many changes is an amendment to the Ombudsmen Act 1975 which would remove the Māori Trustee from the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman, and thus from the Official Information Act.

What's the reason for this change? Unfortunately, the Bill doesn't say. The explanatory note simply says that the amendment is to "remove redundant references, insert an updated reference to the State Services Commission, and update spelling in 5 items." But the Māori Trustee hasn't been disestablished, and it does not appear to have changed into another form of entity already covered by another part of the Act, so it doesn't seem to be redundant. Perhaps the government feels it is inappropriate for the Trustee to remain subject to the Act. But if so, firstly, they need to make the case, and secondly, that doesn't seem to meet the "technical, short and non-controversial" requirement for inclusion in a Statutes Amendment Bill.

I've sent in an OIA request to Andrew Little, who (under the usual approval process had to sign off on this amendment). Hopefully that will provide a justification for this change. If none is forthcoming, or it is simply a desire on the part of the Trustee for more secrecy, then I will be seeking an MP to object to the clause at the Committee Stage, which would see it removed from the bill.

Member's Day: End of Life Choice, part 2

Today is a Member's day, and after the third reading of Hamish Walker's KiwiSaver (Oranga Tamariki Guardians) Amendment Bill, Parliament will be continuing the committee stage of David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill. The bigots have put up another pile of amendments in an effort to delay or wreck the bill, which is going to mean a large number of personal votes. So its likely that the House will sit late, as they did last time, in an effort to get through them all.

If they're doing a part per sitting day, this will drag on for at least another month, and there's still a pile of second readings stacked up on the Order Paper as well. So we won't be seeing a ballot any time soon.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Oh Canada

Canada is having an election in the next few months, and (perhaps because their Prime Minister is so nice and reasonable) they have a party running on a platform of Trumpism and climate change denial. But there's a twist: the latter means that it will be illegal for anyone in Canada to state the scientific fact that climate change is real:

A pre-election chill has descended over some environment charities after Elections Canada warned them that discussing the dangers of climate change during the upcoming federal campaign could be deemed partisan activity.

An Elections Canada official warned groups in a training session earlier this summer that because Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate change, any group that promotes it as real or an emergency could be considered partisan, said Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

The Canada Elections Act dictates that advertising by third parties, like environment groups, can be considered partisan if it promotes or disputes an issue raised by any party or candidate during the campaign period, even without mentioning that party or candidate by name. If the ad campaign on that issue costs at least $500, the third party has to register as such with Elections Canada.

Fortunately, they repealed the clause which would have made it illegal for anyone else in the world to talk about climate change.

Obviously, this is a nonsensical position. If a politician says the sky is green or that 2+2=5, everyone gets gagged from saying otherwise, in any context, unless they include a promoter statement? If a politician says they don't believe in the germ theory of disease, no-one else can say "wash your fucking hands"? In NZ, we avoid this problem by a "may reasonably be regarded as" clause, which rules out such silliness. Canada's definition of "election advertising" does not include such a clause. Of course, its still subject to the affirmation of freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and you'd think that would imply a reasonableness test. But the only way to find that out is to get prosecuted and challenge it in court. Which is simply a terrible way to do electoral law, especially given the consequences for getting it wrong (notably, charities face deregistration if they engage in "partisan political activity" - a definition which until now hasn't included environmental advocacy).

Hopefully Elections Canada will reverse this obviously unreasonable advice. If not, well, I guess we'll find out what civil disobedience to electoral law looks like.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Australia should be suspended from the Pacific Forum

Last week, Australia sabotaged the Pacific Forum by opposing action on climate change. Their Deputy Prime Minister followed that up by saying that Pacific Peoples could always pick Australian fruit - just as they had done in the era of blackbirding. And now, that arrogant, tone-deaf approach has drawn a response, with former Kiribatian President Anote Tong calling for Australia to be kicked out of the Pacific Forum:

Australia should be sanctioned or suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum over the Morrison government's pro-coal stance, Kiribati's former president, Anote Tong, says.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Mr Tong saying if a country causes harm to others, such as by fuelling climate change, "there should be sanctions".

Mr Tong, who has long been an advocate for low-lying nations facing catastrophe as sea levels rise, said the Australian government's recent approval of Adani's Carmichael coal mine was an example of "ignoring the science that's coming forward".

And he's right. Australia, by its actions, is trying to drown much of the rest of the Forum, and literally wipe their nations from the face of the Earth. Such an attitude seems completely inconsistent with membership. Australia should be suspended until it changes it policies so as to no longer pose a direct threat to the existence of its neighbours.

Winning the battle on feebates

It looks like the government has won over the public on its vehicle feebate scheme:

A feebate scheme that would transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from buyers of higher-emission cars into the pockets of people buying EVs and other more fuel-efficient vehicles has been winning favour with submitters, the Government says.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter said about 80 per cent of the online responses the Transport Ministry had so far received in response to a discussion paper on the feebate scheme and an associated "clean car standard" had supported the policies.

And its obvious why: because raising vehicle fuel efficiency standards and making drivers of dirty cars pay for clean ones is a no-brainer, and people can see it has been successful overseas. The problem is that it doesn't go far enough - standards imposed too slowly, and no final cutoff for fossil fuels - not that its a bad idea.

And meanwhile, National is still trying to pretend that its a "tax grab" or solely about subsidising expensive electric vehicles and luxury cars. Its not. The policy is designed to be roughly revenue neutral, and drivers of gas-guzzling utes will mostly be paying to subsidise fuel efficient fossil-fuel vehicles, like Honda Fits and Nissan Notes. Sure, Leafs and expensive new EVs will also get a subsidy - but they make up only 2% of new registrations, and while that number will increase, its very obviously not where the money will be going. Its an utterly dishonest position. But I guess that's the National Party for you: preferring deceit to honest policy criticism.

Dead white males

Over the weekend Stuff had an analysis of the demographics of our local body "representatives". It was a horrifying read. The average councillor is dead, white, and male, and there are more councillors named "John" than there are councillors born after 1980. Representative? Not very. Local government is basicly a gerontocracy. And that explains a great deal about why our councils deny climate change, skimp on social services, and persistently underfund infrastructure by Keeping Rates Low.

So what can we do about it? The first step is encouraging people who aren't dead white males to run, and there's some promising signs this year. But ultimately it comes down to us at the ballot box (or rather, the voting form). And for that, there's some simple rules to rebalance our representation:

  • Vote for women
  • Vote for young people
  • Don't vote for anyone named "John"
Basicly, vote for change. Because its clear that we desperately need it. Update: There's a spreadsheet of young and young-adjacent candidates here.

A matter of consistency

When people suggest lowering the voting age, others argue that the young are too uneducated or silly to exercise the duties of citizenship. Australian John Quiggin has just blown that argument out of the water:

Looking at the array of ignorant and vindictive old men attacking Greta Thunberg and other young climate activists, the case for lowering the voting age is just about unanswerable. Anything that could be urged in justification of stopping 16 year olds, as a group, from voting, is equally applicable to those over 60 (a group to which I belong). Over 60 voters are, on average, poorly educated (the school leaving age in Australia was 15 when they went through and I assume similar in most places), and more likely to hold a wide range of false beliefs (notably in relation to climate change).

Worse, as voters the over 60s have ceased to act, if they ever did, as wise elders seeking the best for the future. Rather (on average) they vote in a frivolous and irresponsible way, forming the support base for loudmouthed bigots and clowns... Substantively, they respond to unrealistic appeals to nostalgia, wanting to Make America Great Again, and restore the glories of the British Empire, while dismissing concerns about the future. If my age cohort were to be assessed on the criteria applied to 16 year olds, we would be disenfranchised
en masse.

Democracies don't do that, of course. Regardless of their poor education, stupidity, and irresponsibility, old people still have interests and those interests need to be represented. So rather than taking the vote off old people, we should instead extend it to 16 year olds. Its a simple matter of consistency.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Not destined to be

Back in May, Destiny Church leaders Brian and Hannah Tamaki launched another political party. Despite consisting entirely of followers of their religion, they grandly called it "Coalition New Zealand", in a vain effort to suggest it was something broader. But when they applied for registration, submitters opposed the name, as being likely to mislead voters (which was perhaps the point). And as a result, they've been refused registration:

The Electoral Commission has refused to register Hannah Tamaki's political party, Coalition New Zealand.

The Destiny Church-derived party was refused registration because the name and logo was likely to mislead or confuse voters, the commission confirmed on Friday.

The Tamakis launched their political party in May and claimed the country would see "politics with teeth".

The party can simply reapply with another name. Hopefully next time they'll choose something more honest.

Meanwhile, its worth noting: this is the first party anyone can remember being refused registration for having a misleading name. Others have been refused for not having enough members, but not apparently for this reason. The closest parallel is that in 2014 the Conservatives were refused a misleading logo (it said "vote", and would have been right next to their circle on the ballot box, so likely to be viewed as a ballot-paper instruction). Which really does invite the question: what is it with bigots and deception?

A real mayoral race

Last local body elections, the race for Palmerston North mayor was pretty boring - basicly being the incumbent rugby meathead vs the convicted child-beater. As a result, 1500 people (including myself) simply left that part of the ballot paper blank (vs less than 300 for the council elections). The good news is that this time, we have some actual competition. And the race has had a surprising last-minute entry from the Green Party:

The Greens have put action on climate change centre stage for Palmerston North's mayoral election, endorsing activist Teanau Tuiono as their candidate.

The party two months ago chose incumbent councillor Brent Barrett and newcomer Renee Dingwall as council candidates, pitching Tuiono for mayor on Friday, the day nominations close.


[Tuiono] said he would stand up to tackle climate change, putting in place a local plan to prepare for the changes expected, and do what was possible to reduce effects on the environment.

This is good, both for electoral competition, and because its good to see a candidate focusing on what is really the only policy issue in town. Yes, Palmerston North is 10m above sea-level, so things have to get pretty bad before we're going to be drowned. But climate change is also going to mean floods and severe weather, which local authorities need to prepare for. More importantly, there's the need to reduce emissions to stop all that from happening, and that's something which requires leadership at all levels.

(Its also good to see the Greens running strong local body campaigns, and hopefully it'll pay off both in elected councillors and in a higher general election vote. Though, there's no-one running for Horizons carrying the Green banner, which is odd given that they decide both water quality and air pollution - which will mean CO2 if the government keeps its promises and puts climate change back in the RMA.

But its not all good news: because this time, we have not one, but two convicted child abusers running for mayor (child-beater Ross Barber is back, and he's joined by convicted child sex abuser Maruna "donut man" Engu). I guess Palmerston North is really living up to its reputation for quality mayoral candidates...

New Fisk

If Chinese tanks take Hong Kong, who'll be surprised? Land grabs are happening everywhere – and we're all complicit

Climate Change: Fuck Australia

The Pacific is on the front line of climate change, and if we don't cut emissions quickly, some countries are literally going to be underwater. Because of this, small Pacific states had tried to use this week's Pacific Islands Forum meeting to get Pacific countries to agree to ending coal use. Australia sabotaged it:

Australia has stymied efforts by small island states to get Pacific-wide consensus on their declaration for stronger action on climate change.

Regional leaders, including Australia and New Zealand, held 12-hour talks in the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu for this year's Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), eventually reaching an agreement on a statement on climate change and a communique early this morning.

They could not reach agreement on the Tuvalu Declaration made by smaller Pacific countries, instead drafting a separate Kainaki II Declaration, with different terms on coal use and emissions reduction.

The finished communique comes with a qualification that means the leaders do not support all of the declaration from the smaller nations.

So Australia's attitude is that the Pacific can drown before they will stop using coal (oh, and if climate refugees come to Australia, they'll put them in a concentration camp). That's not really being a good neighbour. Its certainly not being decent human beings. But Australia hasn't been either for a long time, has it?

Which is just another reason to not buy Australian - because if you do, you're effectively funding coal burning and the drowning of the Pacific.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Nazis, prisons and mail

Everyone was outraged yesterday to learn that the Christchurch shooting accused had been able to send mail from prison to his Nazi fans, apparently pushing more hate. "How could this possibly happen", people asked. Simple: because New Zealand is a civilised country, and so we let prisoners send and receive mail.

The right of prisoners to send and receive mail is stated very clearly in the Corrections Act: "A prisoner may send and receive as much mail as the prisoner wishes". In fact the law goes further, because the Corrections Regulations state that the prison must pay for postage for up to three standard letters per week (plus another three to prison inspectors or the Ombudsman). We do this for simple and obvious reasons: firstly, simple freedom of speech, which prisoners retain despite being in prison. Secondly, because communication with the outside world helps prisoners maintain their social relationships, and that's one of the key drivers of reoffending (in that if they don't have any beyond the prison walls, they tend to reoffend). For the same reason, we let prisoners make phone calls (I have no idea if they're allowed to receive email, but they should be allowed to do that too, given the way social relationships have all moved online).

This right isn't a blank cheque. Mail is monitored. It may be opened and read. Incoming or outgoing mail (or items in it) can be withheld for various reasons, including consent, court orders, and preventing the commission of further offences. In particular, it can be withheld if it appears to "promote or encourage the commission of an offence, or involve, or facilitate the commission or possible commission of, an offence". The letter in question may fall into that category. So, the first lesson here is Corrections fucked up. Because the letter was marked as having been screened, and they let it through.

Corrections' immediate response to publicly fucking up is to ban the prisoner from sending or receiving any more mail. Which I guess protects them from fucking up again, but it is simply illegal. The right to send or receive mail is not a privilege that can be withheld, but a minimum entitlement specified in law. It can be withheld only under narrow, legally defined circumstances. The closest one is probably s69(2) - that there is an emergency in the prison, a threat to the prison's security or to someone's health or safety. But I think even the latter is pushing shit uphill, and in any case the ban must be for no more time than is reasonable in the circumstances. And in this case, the amount of time that is reasonable in the circumstances is zero, because the correct response to Corrections failing to screen mail properly is not to ban someone from sending anything, but to do their fucking job properly.

The longer-term response is the real problem. Firstly, because the government is apparently reviewing the law and threatening to change it, and that law exists for good reasons. If they move to amend it, it'll be a perfect example of hard cases making bad law, and long-term interests around rehabilitation being threatened by the short-term ones of politicians around re-election.

(While we're on politicians, journalists are badgering both the Minister and Corrections for details of what mail has been sent. But its a criminal offence to tell them, and indeed, a criminal offence for the prison manager to tell anyone higher up the food chain, and in particular, the Minister. And if they've done the latter, then they need to be prosecuted - because prison officers, like police, must obey the law, and must be held strictly accountable when they do not, to prevent the whole institution from going rotten).

Secondly, the Minister has told Corrections "this can not happen again". Which means that every prisoner's mail is now going to be subject to the "front page of the Dom-Post" test by overenthusiastic Corrections officers, resulting in more stuff being unlawfully withheld for an essentially political purpose of "avoiding embarrassing the Minister". Corrections, being natural arseholes, will have no problem with that whatsoever. But its both illegal and stupid, in that it undermines long-term rehabilitation (and remember: we're not barbarians, so everyone in a New Zealand prison eventually gets out. Everyone. Yes, even the Nazi shooting accused, if he is convicted). Fortunately, this is probably self-correcting, because prisoners can complain to the Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman will force Corrections to obey the law. And if that fails, Arthur Taylor will sue them and win.

A good start

If we are to avoid dangerous anthropogenic climate change, we need to rapidly decarbonise our transport fleet. The good news: its starting to happen:

The number of electric vehicles on New Zealand's roads have nearly tripled in the past two years.

There are currently 15,453 registered electric vehicles (EVs), up from 5,363 in October 2017.

That's an annual increase of 70%. But we have a long, long way to go: EVs only make up 2% of quarterly vehicle registrations, and at current rates it'll be a decade before its even 25%. There are doubts whether that rate will continue, but if the technology matures and cheapens over that time, and an "electric car" just becomes a "car", then it will. But if we want it to remain high, we will need policy. The government's feebate scheme will help, when it kicks in - and it will certainly help reduce the dirtiness of the fossil fuel fleet. The just-announced support for EV trials and charging stations will help too. But in the long run, we need to push people towards EVs, by calling time on fossil fuel vehicles - both new imports and re-registrations. Unfortunately, our government is too chickenshit to do that.

Against facial recognition

Yesterday, we learned that Auckland Transport wanted to turn Auckland into a surveillance state, with an extra 8,000 cameras equipped with facial recognition technology. Today, we learned that the police want to use those cameras:

The new cameras are capable of facial recognition but Auckland Transport (AT) said this function was not used.

However, police are interested in it.

"Police does not currently have the ability to run facial recognition off live CCTV cameras," a police spokesperson said in a statement.

"However, we would always be open to using new and developing technologies in the future, balanced against relevant legislation."

Or, to put it another way: they're open to engaging in mass-surveillance and spying on innocent members of the public going about their daily business, in the hope of catching a few criminals. Except that its a forlorn hope, because facial recognition has false positive rates between 81% and 96%. Meaning that if they try and make an arrest based on a "match", they'll be harassing an innocent person four times out of five, or 24 times out of 25. Which may work fine in a police state like China, but imagine what it does to the police's social licence in New Zealand.

Using facial recognition cameras is mass surveillance. Instead of encouraging Auckland Transport, we should be outlawing this intrusive technology and the tracking it enables and entails.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Drowning our taonga

The government has announced plans to move the Treaty of Waitangi and other taonga to a new site. Great news! So where are they going? Right next to the old one:

The new plan will see a new 22,000-square-metre archive built on the former site of Defence House - the former Defence Force headquarters demolished after the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake - to home the documents.

Huh. Isn't that close to the pre-colonial shoreline? I wonder how it looks on the Wellington City Council's interactive climate flooding map, with their expected sea-level rise of 1.5 metres?

So basicly, the government plans to move everything to a site which will be on the beach within 80 years, and subject to erosion and flooding. I don't think that's a good idea. Instead, the government should be seeking to minimise its climate risk. And that means taking this opportunity to move the archives out of Thorndon, to somewhere well above sea-level. Like Karori.