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?

Democracy on trial

Twelve Catalan political leaders went on trial in Madrid today. Their crime? Advocating peacefully for an independent Catalonia and organising a referendum on the issue. The Spanish government calls this "sedition" and "rebellion". But what it really is is democracy. In a democratic state with freedom of expression, people can and should be allowed to advocate for independence. And in a democratic state, when people peacefully demand independence, it is entirely right and proper for them to vote on it. Spain attempted to crush that vote with brute force - and failed. Now they are attempting to crush its advocates. But in a democratic state, democracy should not be a crime. If Spain thinks it is, then it shows that that country is not a democracy, and not a fit member of the civilised world. Democratic countries should condemn this political trial, and demand that Catalans get what they have demanded all along: a free, fair and binding referendum on their independence.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019



Open Government: Marginal

That's the verdict of the Open Government Partnership's Independent Reporting Mechanism on New Zealand's OGP progress for the last two years:

Although this report reflects high commitment completion, change in government practice stood as marginal overall. Notably, the government’s early efforts to improve access to legislation could provide major efficiencies for lawyers and the public. In future action plans, the government could fully reform the Official Information Act and add open government performance to public sector chief executives’ contracts and to the new well-being indicators.

Which is what you expect when the "commitments" are all business-as-usual tinkering round the edges, rather than anything which might actually change things. And with similarly business-as-usual "commitments" (some of which were already completed before they were announced) in the 2018 - 2020 action plan, it looks like we'll have a similar level of thumb-twiddling in future.

The IRM's full report is here.

Climate change: Our future is burning

Like many, I've spent the last week watching the Nelson fire in horrified fascination as the Australian-style spectacle of a huge long-lasting fire threatening an urban area played out. But while it looks like we were lucky this time, the bad news is that climate change means such fires are significantly more likely in future:

Parts of the country with low or moderate fire risk are likely to see dramatic increases in danger as climate change occurs.

[...]

Scion fire scientist Grant Pearce said the organisation, a Crown Research Institute, had studied climate change and its impact on fire risk.

Research in 2011 looked at 21 weather stations across the country and what the projected change in conditions - temperature, humidity, windspeed, and rainfall - would mean for fire danger.

It said drier conditions expected with climate change were "likely to result in significantly greater risk of large and damaging wildfires that threaten life and property, and economic and environmental sustainability. Longer fire seasons, increasing population and associated demographic impacts, changing land use and changes in vegetation cover are expected to exacerbate these risks."


The accompanying risk maps show serious fire risks in parts of the country that have never had them before, which means a real risk of rural firefighters facing something they're not equipped to handle. And it will probably end up costing lives, as it does in Australia. Which is another reason why we need to cut our emissions now: because people are going to burn to death if we don't.

Good riddance

Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe is finally over:

The controversial Saudi sheep deal been shut down, which the Government says will save about $1 million.

[...]

But Trade Minister David Parker said the deal has now been axed.

"We're not spending any more money on its installation or delivery," Parker told 1 NEWS.

"We have managed to bring it to an end, saving the last million dollars or so. But I'm afraid the other $10 million that has already been spent has been flushed down the drain by the prior Government."


Good riddance. The sheep deal was dodgy on so many levels - a Minister lied to Cabinet and the New Zealand public, fearmongering over a lawsuit which didn't exist in order to pay a bribe in the hope of influencing a foreign government. That's not how our government is supposed to work, and its not how we're supposed to do business. And it makes me very glad that its architect, Murray McCully, a deceitful micro-managing control-freak, is out of our politics for good.

Friday, February 08, 2019



Climate change: A step in the right direction

Some good news on climate change from Australia: for the first time, a court has refused permission for a new coal mine, explicitly on the basis of climate change:

The controversial Rocky Hill coalmine in the Hunter Valley will not go ahead after a landmark ruling in the land and environment court on Friday that cited the impact it would have had on climate change.

Chief judge Brian Preston dismissed an appeal by Gloucester Resources, which was seeking to overturn a New South Wales government decision to reject an open-cut mine because of its impact on the town of Gloucester, north of Newcastle.

[...]

In his judgment, Preston explicitly cited the project’s potential impact on climate change, writing that an open-cut coalmine in the Gloucester Valley “would be in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

“Wrong place because an open cut coal mine in this scenic and cultural landscape, proximate to many people’s homes and farms, will cause significant planning, amenity, visual and social impacts,” he wrote.

“Wrong time because the GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions. These dire consequences should be avoided. The project should be refused.”


If humanity is to avoid the worst of climate change, we need to stop burning coal, and this decision is exactly what is needed to push Australia down that path. Meanwhile in New Zealand our consent authorities are specifically forbidden to consider the effects of climate change when considering direct discharges of greenhouse gases, which suggests they're even more strongly forbidden from considering the indirect damage caused by extracting fossil fuels. It would be good if the current government changed that.

Thursday, February 07, 2019



Climate Change: Breaching the threshold

Last year the IPCC warned us that the Paris Agreement target of limiting climate change to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels was a line in the sand for our species and that if we miss it, we will face catastrophe. Today, the UK Met Office is warning that we could breach that target for the first time within the next five years:

Global warming could temporarily hit 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the first time between now and 2023, according to a long-term forecast by the Met Office.

Meteorologists said there was a 10% chance of a year in which the average temperature rise exceeds 1.5C, which is the lowest of the two Paris agreement targets set for the end of the century.

Until now, the hottest year on record was 2016, when the planet warmed 1.11C above pre-industrial levels, but the long-term trend is upward.

Man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are adding 0.2C of warming each decade but the incline of temperature charts is jagged due to natural variation: hotter El Niño years zig above the average, while cooler La Ninã years zag below.

In the five-year forecast released on Wednesday, the Met Office highlights the first possibility of a natural El Niño combining with global warming to exceed the 1.5C mark.


The Paris target is a long-term average, so a single year above it doesn't mean disaster. But it would be a foretaste of things to come, and a warning that we need to radically change direction. And if we don't do that, things are going to get pretty unpleasant.

Two-faced criminals

Last year, in a desperate attempt to regain social licence, the fishing industry ran an expensive series of TV ads assuring us that they had nothing to hide. Meanwhile, they were furiously lobbying the Minister to oppose video monitoring of fishing boats:

At the same time as the seafood industry was placing adverts on television last year proclaiming it had "nothing to hide", it was writing to the minister, Stuart Nash, expressing its "overwhelming opposition" to the idea of cameras on board its boats to monitor what they were up to.

The letter, released under the Official Information Act, said its purpose was to "dismiss any suggestion that the 'New Zealand Seafood industry' supports the current proposal".

For the removal of any doubt the words "do not support" were underlined.

Some of the signatories were redacted but amongst those still visible are managers at Talley's, Sealord, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen and Te Ohu Kai Moana, representing Māori fishing interests.

Forest and Bird spokesperson Karen Baird said it was a case of them saying one thing publicly while working towards a quite different outcome behind the scenes.


So I guess they do have something to hide after all. But what could it be? The illegal dumping of less-valuable fish? The criminal doctoring of records to understate catches? Or maybe the failure to report catching and killing endangered species? The problem here is that the fishing industry is pervasively criminal. They need to be treated as such, and monitored and prosecuted until they change their behaviour. Instead, our government - bought and paid for by Talley's - is doing the exact opposite.

6,000 employed under Labour

The labour market statistics have been released, showing that unemployment has risen to 4.3%. All up there are 120,000 unemployed - only 6,000 fewer than when the government took office. But buried in that there's worse news: underemployment is up, from 11.8% in 2017 to 12.1% today. Which insofar as it reflects people who want jobs being unable to get them, is bad news, especially for a Labour-led government.

The government needs to turn this around. Reducing unemployment is their key deliverable. And if they don't deliver on it, then people will rightly ask what the point of them is.

A constitution party?

New Zealand has a new political party - the New Zealand Constitution Party. Unfortunately, it seems like their reasons for wanting a codified constitution are a little dubious:

Warren established his political party - the New Zealand Constitution Party - on Waitangi Day.

He said New Zealand's rapid population increase is one reason it should be taken seriously.

"In the next 10 years, our population will double. In 10-20 years, it will quadruple and there is no way we can have a constitution that will serve the people when there are so many voices demanding minority rights," Warren said.

"In 179 years, for example, New Zealand has never adopted the Treaty of Waitangi. We can't agree on that. We are going to have difficulty agreeing on any other constitutional issue."


Which sounds an awful lot like "we need to nail down a constitution now and make it difficult to amend to stop those filthy foreigners from having a say". But there's worse - from their press release (so far only on YourNZ), they're also pushing "family values", oppose immigration, and have a purpose of "strengthen[ing] NZ's constitutional monarchy". So basicly monarchist bigots then. Which sounds like a party to stay away from.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019



Getting what they paid for

A political party makes strong promises to regulate a destructive industry and prevent it from engaging in widespread criminal behaviour. They are elected to government. But their coalition partner includes an MP who was paid $10,000 by that industry. That MP argues from within government against regulation, and successfully prevents the government from enacting meaningful reform.

If this happened in Africa, or the Pacific Islands, we'd call it what it is: corruption. But it has happened here. The industry is the fishing industry. And the MP is Shane Jones, who took $10,000 from Talleys in 2017 in addition to large donations in the past, and has claimed responsibility for preventing any independent review of the fisheries industry. The government has recently shitcanned plans to use video cameras on fishing boats, and announced plans to lower criminal penalties when fishers break the law - and there is a suspicion that Jones is behind both of these moves too. So it looks like Talleys is very definitely getting what they paid for.

So how do we stop this? Fundamentally, we need to remove the ability of corporations to buy favourable treatment with large political donations. And that means moving to publicly funded political parties. Its either that, or allowing corruption to continue unchecked.

Climate change: Now panic and freak out

A couple of years ago David Wallace-Wells published a piece in New York magazine called "The Uninhabitable Earth" on the impacts of climate change. Its about to become a book, and the Guardian has an excerpt. Which is as terrifying as you'd expect. The consequences of even the best-case scenario (2 degrees) are hugely disruptive. The consequences of the worse - and more likely, if we keep going the way we're going - scenarios are are even worse. Drought, famine, disease, and war are all coming, and the costs and disruption from this are going to be enormous. And as Wallace-Wells says in the accompanying interview, we should be freaking out over this - and acting on that fear:

The short answer is yes [we should freak out]. We should not sit back and feel complacent that the world beyond us will figure this out without political pressure. We cannot continue on the path we are on and believe our future will be secure and stable. We need to dramatically change our climate policy globally. That was the very clear message of the UN report. You are right that, in a certain way, it was written soberly, but it is also the case that it was saying we need mobilisation on the scale that we saw in the second world war in Europe and the US – and that is not a keep-calm message. It is saying we have to light the fuse and get going.

...to go back to the second world war analogy, we did not mobilise in that way because we were optimistic about the future. We mobilised in that way out of fear, because we thought nazism was an existential threat. And climate change is obviously an existential threat and it is naive to imagine we could respond to it without some people being scared.


"Mobilising" requires concerted government action. Which means the most important thing you can do is vote: vote for parties which take the problem seriously. Don't vote for parties which peddle bullshit and pretend life can go on unchanged. There is a huge range of outcomes between the best and worst scenarios, between hugely disruptive and uncomfortable, and absolutely apocalyptic. Our votes will determine where we end up. They'll also determine who pays: the poor, with their lives, or the rich, by giving up their excessive, polluting lifestyle. And on that front, there's really only one moral choice.

And if you want to actually apply some direct pressure, you might want to look at Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa.