Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Some "scrutiny" II

Last month I blogged about the Ministry of Justice's Open Government Partnership commitment to strengthen scrutiny of Official Information Act exemption clauses in legislation", and how their existing efforts did not give much reason for confidence. As part of that, I mentioned that I had asked the Ministry for its "scrutiny" of a bunch of recent bills containing secrecy clauses. They didn't want to do the work, but they agreed to look at what they'd said about six bills. They gave me the information (such as it was) today, and it turns out that they had not been consulted on any of them. Worse, they only recognised interactions with the OIA in three of the six bills, and in those three, they missed the actual issues (the annotations on the reply show exactly what they missed).

From this, I think its clear that the Ministry of Justice wouldn't recognise a secrecy clause if it bit them in a very uncomfortable place. And as they're the agency responsible both for the OIA, and for scrutinising legislation to ensure that secrecy clauses are justified, that seems to be a problem. (Its also clear that other agencies don't recognise them either, and so fail to consult. But the primary responsibility here is on Justice, which should both be educating them, and proactively hunting such clauses).

There's another problem as well: in their response the Ministry said

We note that the Ministry would not likely have been consulted on an OIA exemption provision in a bill if such a provision was already present in the principal Act.
The problem here is that many of these "exemption provisions" - MoJ's toned-down way of referring to secrecy clauses - are old, possibly even ancient or archaic. Meanwhile, both the law and our attitudes to transparency have shifted. There's the OIA itself, of course, but also the Bill of Rights Act, section 14 of which protects the "freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form" [emphasis added] - language which is recognised internationally as covering freedom of information laws. Plus there's been 30 years of progressive transparency since then, with more and more information routinely released, and assessments of the harm from release of certain types of information - particularly commercial information - changing with experience.

The upshot from this is that simply because an existing law requires secrecy does not make it OK. And if that law is being re-enacted, that is a perfect time to re-examine that secrecy clause from first principles to see if it can still be "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". Unfortunately, no-one is doing this, and in its consultation paper, Ministry of Justice made it clear they were opposed to such work. And so secrecy persists by inertia, and expands by ignorance and over-deference, and our right to transparency is eroded.

Friday, June 14, 2024

The looting is the point

Last time National was in power, they looted the state, privatising public assets and signing hugely wasteful public-private partnership (PPP) contracts which saw foreign consortiums provide substandard infrastructure while gouging us for profits. You only have to look at the ongoing fiasco of Transmission Gully to see how it was a complete disaster. So of course National are going to do it all again:

The infrastructure minister wants more private sector financing, such as public-private partnerships (PPPs), to pay for major projects.

In a speech to Local government New Zealand on Thursday night, Chris Bishop said he wanted government grant funding to become a last resort for councils.

"My speech talks about some of the things we've been talking about as a government for six months, and we've actually campaigned on - so making greater use of tolls, public private partnerships, things like value capture as well," he told Morning Report on Friday.

So, basically National's promised new motorways are going to be for the rich and for businesses, not for actual people, in order to guarantee a privatisable revenue-stream. And they'll be paying foreigners inflated prices to build those roads, to keep debt off the government's books and so meet a completely artificial and self-imposed debt-target.

This is inherently less efficient than simply borrowing to build, because the private providers will be paying higher interest rates while demanding a huge, government-guaranteed profit. That's the clear lesson from the UK's disastrous Private Finance Initiative. The fact that National is persisting with this leads to the obvious conclusion that the purpose of the policy is in fact the looting, not the infrastructure. Like everything else they're doing, its about paying off donors and cronies with public money - corruption on a grand scale.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Hipkins is still useless

The big problem with the last Labour government was that they were chickenshits who did nothing with the absolute majority we had given them. They governed as if they were scared of their own shadows, afraid of making decisions lest it upset someone - usually someone who would never have voted for them anyway. As a result, they pleased nobody, delivered nothing, and were abandoned by their voters at the 2023 election.

Sadly, that electoral lesson doesn't seem to have sunk in. Yesterday, the National government rolled over to climate denying farmers, announcing they would end any efforts to price agricultural emissions and make farmers do their share in the fight against climate change. As with so many of the government's other anti-environment policies, the perfect counter-policy is for the opposition to make it clear that National's policies will be immediately reversed. This isn't just a statement of party values - it ensures policy certainty, deters wasteful investment predicated on a free ride forever, and avoids stranded assets. The Greens clearly understand this. Labour, OTOH, clearly does not:

Labour leader Chis Hipkins wouldn't commit to restoring the climate change policies the coalition government is backtracking on.
It's Labour in a nutshell: no values, and no commitments. And they wonder why nobody gives a shit about them anymore.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Climate Change: Farmers get what they wanted - for now

Since entering office, National has unravelled practically every climate policy, leaving us with no effective way of reducing emissions or meeting our emissions budgets beyond magical thinking around the ETS. And today they've announced another step: removing agriculture entirely. At present, following the complete failure of he waka eka noa, agriculture is scheduled to enter the ETS next year at the processor level, with 95% of emissions subsidised. National will reverse this, disband he waka eka noa, and ensure an effective hundred percent subsidy for our worst polluters forever.

...or at least until there's a change of government. Because agriculture is our biggest source of emissions, the next government will have to have a policy to reduce them. And by abandoning the compromise on agricultural emissions pricing, National has effectively given the next government carte blanche to do the same. Meaning they can do what we need to do, immediately price emissions at the processor level, and finally make farmers pay. And in doing so, they won't have to be bound by the policy National just threw in the bin - meaning we can eliminate subsidies and make them pay the full cost of their pollution, just like the rest of us do. Which would be both effective and fair. And if it causes dirty farmers to go out of business, well, that is the purpose of emissions pricing.

So, farmers have got what they wanted for now. But it won't last, and there's good reason to think they'll be worse off in the future as a result. So maybe farmers should have been careful what they wished for?

Monday, June 10, 2024

Putin would be proud of them

A Prime Minister directs his public service to inquire into the actions of the opposition political party which is his harshest critic. Something from Orban's Hungary, or Putin's Russia? No, its happening right here in Aotearoa:

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has announced the Public Service Commission will launch an independent inquiry into Te Pāti Māori.

Te Pati Māori is facing mounting investigations into whether it has misused Census data and information collected from people who had COVID-19 vaccinations for electioneering.

The Privacy Commissioner, Electoral Commission, Police and Stats NZ are already investigating the allegations.

There is no question that the allegations against Te Pāti Māori are serious. Misuse of census data has been a crime since the early C20th, and covid data was protected by a similar secrecy clause with criminal penalties, reflecting the value of this private information. And Te Pāti Māori have themselves called for a police investigation to resolve the issue. But that's very different from an inquiry by Te Kawa Mataaho - a body which simply has no jurisdiction over political parties, or criminal matters - where the PM gets to pick the inquirer and write the terms of reference to ensure the outcome he wants. Such a process lacks any pretence of fairness, and any credibility. Instead, it just looks like National augmenting its blatant racism with tyranny. Putin would be proud of them.

Policy by panic

Back in March, Ombudsman Peter Boshier resigned when he hit the statutory retirement age of 72, leaving the country in the awkward (and legally questionable) position of having him continue as a temporay appointee. It apparently took the entire political system by surprise - as evinced by Labour's dick move of trying to ram a member's bill to remove the age limit through under all stages urgency to allow Boshier to continue - which naturally raised the question of how the hell it happened. The answer is an illustration of political dysfunction and panic-driven policy.

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask the Ministry of Justice - the agency responsible for administering the Ombudsmen Act 1975 - for advice and communications since 2020 relating to the appointment of an Ombudsman or amendments to the Act. The response shows basically nothing until December last year, at which stage Boshier apparently emailed the Speaker and the Office of the Clerk so that they could work on recruitment of a replacement. Nothing seems to have come of that, so in late January Boshier sent an email [p22] to Secretary for Justice Andrew Kibblewhite pointing out that his statutory retirement date was rapidly approaching and "to raise with you... some issues and some solutions". All of which are redacted as "free and frank", because apparently the Ombudsman, the equivalent of a departmental CEO, would be deterred from sending such emails pointing out such problems in future if we were allowed to see what he said. But its clear from the other emails that the preferred solution had already been stovepiped down the emergency legislation to allow reappointment path, because the Parliamentary Counsel's Office was already working on it. So the Ministry of Justice prepared an aide memoire for the Minister on the subject, with the clear plan of ramming a bill through under all-stages urgency before Boshier's term expired.

During this time, the Officers of Parliament Committee - the body actually responsible for the appointment - had been meeting, and someone (probably a Labour MP, given their subsequent antics) seems to have proposed a Member's Bill to allow reappointment. For whatever reason - and once again, we're Not Allowed To Know, this time due to Parliamentary Privilege - the government chose not to progress it. So when the Ministry of Justice presented their plan for legislation to the Minister of Justice in late February, it sank like a stone: "It is not clear to us what happened after we provided the AM", and further inquiries were redirected to the Minister's Office. In other words, "blame the Minister, not us!" At a guess, I'd say that Labour suggesting a bill killed the idea, because Ministers are petty little shits who reject opposition ideas out-of-hand to deny them a "win", even when its also being pushed by their own Ministry.

This is not how any of us would expect a well-organised system of government to run, especially for an appointment to a significant constitutional role. As the NZCCL points out, Parliament should have begun an appointment process in June last year. But they were asleep at the wheel, and so we got a paniced response proposing an emergency change under all-stages urgency, which (fortunately) was not advanced - and a bit of a constitutional mess. And so, here we are: Parliament finally began an inquiry to appoint a new Ombudsman on 19 March, and on past performance that will take until August, and we have Boshier filling the seat and subject to legal challenge on every decision he makes until then. Heckuva job our political class are doing. And clearly, such attention to detail is why we pay them the big bucks and give them huge pay rises.

Friday, June 07, 2024

Ministerial conflicts of interest

Since the National government came to power, it has been surrounded by allegations of conflicts of interest. Firstly, there's the fast-track law, which concentrates power in the hands of three Ministers, some of whom have received donations from companies whose projects they will be deciding on. Secondly, there's the close ties of certain Ministers to the industries they are regulating. More generally, the National Party received over $10 million in electoral donations during the last election cycle, and ACT over $4 million. No-one who isn't a politician believes that those donors won't want something for their money. Prime Minister Chris Luxon's response to this has been to hide behind Cabinet's conflict-of interest procedures, which he calls "incredibly good". The problem is that those procedures don't reassure the public, producing only an intentionally vague statement of conflicts once a year. And back when these concerns were being raised, the most recent such statement was released in December 2023, and covered only the former Labour government. No information was available about the conflicts of the current government.

So, I asked, filing an OIA request seeking up-to-date information on cabinet conflicts of interest. I was backed in this by the previous Ombudsman's 2012 decision on the issue, which found that there was no good reason to withhold information on actions taken to mitigate such conflicts. DPMC responded on Wedenesday, releasing the information. They've since posted it to the web.

As for what it shows, well, its the usual anodyne list which never states what the conflict actually is. But through all the intentional vagueness, you can see what's not there: the high-profile links between certain ministers and certain industries, and the publicly identified donations to certain Ministers by people seeking decisions from them. Apparently, the Cabinet Office doesn't think these are important enough to require declaration, let alone management. The public, I think, will disagree.

A post I hope is incorrect

In May, we learned that National MP David MacLeod had "forgotten" to declare $178,000 in electoral donations. Filing a donation return which is false in any material particular is a crime, and the Electoral Commission has now referred MacLeod to police, since they're the only people who are allowed to prosecute.

Sadly, from past incidents, we know how this will go: despite the enormous amount of money involved and the clear threat to the integrity of our political system, the police will ignore it, fail to investigate, drag out the clock, and then say "whoops, too late to bring charges". Or just nakedly go "not in the public interest" (which is police for "he's rich and white and powerful"). They've done it before, and they'll do it again. Which is why we need to take this power off them, and give the Electoral Commission the power to prosecute electoral crime in their own right. Because unlike police, they at least take it seriously, and don't see their primary role as being bodyguards and bootlickers to the powerful.

I desperately hope that this is a post which will prove to be incorrect, and for which I will have to issue a correction. But from the police's past performance, I'm not betting on it.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

SIS "evidence" isn't, again

Back in 2016, then-Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne cancelled a New Zealand woman's passport, claiming she was a terrorist. The basis for his decision was a secret briefing by the SIS, which claimed that if she was allowed to travel, the woman would "engage with individuals who encourage acts of terrorism". The Supreme Court has now ruled that that decision was unlawful and invalid:

In its judgment released today, the court found the minister did not have reasonable grounds to believe the woman intended to facilitate an act of terror, and the briefing paper provided to the minister by the SIS was not fair, accurate, or adequate.

The judgement said Dunne's reliance on the woman potentially travelling to Syria to join a terrorist group fell short of the requirement under the law that the person be an actual danger to a country, not just a potential one.

The judges also found the law required there be evidence that the passport holder intended to travel and facilitate in a terrorist act, and Dunne did not have reasonable grounds to believe this - a higher standard than just suspecting it.

So, once again, SIS "evidence" turns out to be a tissue of lies and assertions when subjected to independent judicial scrutiny - just as it was in the Zaoui case. No wonder they kept the entire trial under a cloak of secrecy.

Obviously, this invites serious questions about why the SIS is so bad at its job, and why Ministers persist in relying on their "evidence" when it so obviously and so publicly gets it wrong whenever tested. And it invites serious questions about the quality of the "security assessments" they apply to visa applicants, and whether those assessments are also similarly unfair, inaccurate, and inadequate. A serious government, and a serious opposition, would be asking those questions. But given the way these things normally go, instead we'll see legislation to prevent judicial scrutiny of such decisions, rammed through under all-stages urgency, with the full support of the Labour Party.

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

More democratic abuse from National

"Abuse of democracy" seems to be the emerging theme of this government, with bills rammed through under urgency or given pathetically short select committee submission times seemingly designed to limit and undermine public engagement. And today we have another case, with the public given just nine days to submit on National's Local Government (Water Services Preliminary Arrangements) Bill.

The bill makes significant changes to water regulation. It would force councils to amalgamate their water services and prepare them for privatisation while undermining public consultation rights over such decisions (and allowing the Minister to just appoint someone to impose their preferred outcome by diktat). It would steal Watercare from Auckland. And an amendment paper also being considered would gut water quality standards for wastewater - basically, allowing councils to dump shit in rivers. These are big changes, and they deserve proper consideration and input from the public. But National doesn't want that, so its strapped the chicken and given the bill an arbitrarily short report-back date, precisely to prevent it.

This is how National governs. Over us and without us. They think this country belongs to them, not us; that decisions should be made by a narrow elite of bribed former businessmen, without any input from the people who are affected. Basically, a return to the pre-MMP "elected dictatorship". Luxon is used to that style of government, because he's a corporate manager, and corporations are essentially dictatorships. But a country is not a corporation, any more than it is a household. This is not the style of government kiwis are used to, and its not a style we will accept. And we need to throw Luxon and his gang of dictators out of office at the first opportunity.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Naked corruption

There's been all sorts of corruption swirling around the government's Muldoonist fast-track law, with various donors invited to apply. And now we have another case, with a donor demanding specific amendments to help it in a legal dispute:

A NZ First donor wants Fast Track legislation to free up permanently protected land for quarrying.

J Swap, a company involved in quarrying, wants land protected under QEII covenants to be available to quarry. It donated $11,000 to NZ First in December, after the coalition was formed.

It also gave $5000 to NZ First's Shane Jones in August 2023 and $3000 to National's David MacLeod in September 2023.

One of J Swap's related companies is currently involved in a long-running court case trying to pry open (permanently protected) QEII covenanted land for a quarry. They've lost every round. But if the select committee chair they donated to approves their amendments, then three Ministers, including one they donated to, can solve that problem for them. Of course, interfering with QEII covenants would be a massive government over-reach - its private property, and you'd think ACT would have something to say about that. But this company apparently thinks its possible, if you pay NZ First enough money.

This entire incident shows the problem with fast-track in a nutshell. Its just a nexus for corruption, in law-making, and in decision-making. We should throw it in the garbage bin. And if we don't, well, we're clearly going to need a specialist Anti-Corruption Commission to sort out the resulting mess.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

This matters

I've been watching the reports of the Māori-led protests all around the country this morning, seeing huge crowds not just in Auckland and Wellington and other major cities, but in much smaller places like Nelson and Whangārei. Its a significant show of opposition to the government, and hopefully they are looking at all this and thinking about what's going to happen when they introduce their racist bill to unilaterally redefine the Treaty and gut it from the law. And while they some of them might be laughing to their mates in the Koru club about how none of this matters because its not their voters protesting, the problem is that we can all see. Their voters can see how unpopular they are, and can see that it will get worse if the current agenda continues. And that's going to have an effect.

They can also see that these are perfectly orderly protests within Aotearoa's strongly democratic tradition, and that government Ministers calling them "absolutely illegal" is authoritarian, bullying, and undemocratic. While National swings that way, I don't think the centrist voters they rely on to win a majority do, so that's going to have an effect as well. The protests have made it clear that the government is nasty, racist, authoritarian, and undemocratic. And hopefully, this will cement the narrative that is already appearing in the polls that this will be a one-term regime.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. First up there is the committee stage of the McLean Institute (Trust Variation) Bill, some private law for a charity. This will be followed by the third reading of Greg O'Connor's Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill (law and order bullshit) and the committee stage of Stuart Smith's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Cellar Door Tasting) Amendment Bill. The House will then move on tot he second reading of Dan Bidois' Fair Trading (Gift Card Expiry) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly it might get to the second reading of Helen White's Employment Relations (Restraint of Trade) Amendment Bill (which National has decided to oppose at select committee, because they love feudalism), but it is unlikely to get further. There is unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow.

Climate Change: Another budget hole for National?

National's 2023 campaign was all about tax cuts for landlords. And one of the key ways they were planning to fund it was a "climate dividend" - basically, pillaging ETS revenue and redirecting it from decarbonisation straight into the pockets of the rich. But there's a problem: there might not be much ETS revenue this year.

The first ETS auction of the year didn't clear, selling only 2.974 of 3.525 million tons (and that for the minimum price of $64/ton). The second one - for the leftovers plus another 3.525 million tons - is due in three weeks. In the meantime, National has repealed key climate change policies, announced reviews, and promoted fossil fuels - all of which have destroyed confidence in the carbon market. Basically, the government's commitment to climate action is now highly questionable - and so is the future value of carbon. This has flowed into the carbon market, with the spot price reducing to about $45/ton - nearly $20 below the auction minimum price.

The implications for the next round if auctions ought to be obvious: people are unlikely to pay $20/ton more than they have to. It seems unlikely to clear, or indeed, to sell anything. And unless the direction of the government changes significantly, its hard to see that changing for the September and December auctions either. The result will be that 11.125 million tons of carbon will go unsold, and the government will get no money for it - creating a $700 million budget hole.

But while this is bad for National's books, its good for the environment. Unsold ETS credits are cancelled at the end of the year, removing them from the system. So if the auctions fail again this year, its effectively an 11 million ton emissions cut (plus another 7 million tons from the cost containment reserve). Polluters will instead plant trees, or burn down the massive stockpile of credits effectively given to them by the policies of the last National government - both things we need them to do. So, its a direct benefit to the future - unlike the National Party.

National's current consultation on ETS price settings includes a proposal to reduce the price floor, to ensure the government always gets some revenue. But they can't fix that this year, and any proposal which diverges from the recommendations of He Pou a Rangi is likely to face a judicial review. If you're interested in this consultation, you can submit on it here.

Monday, May 27, 2024

What to say on the government's racist Māori wards bill

I've spent the afternoon working on my submission on the Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill - National's racist bill to eliminate Māori representation from local government. It's an important bill, and the timeframe for submissions is tight - only two days left! National is doing this specifically to limit public opposition on its racist legislation, and I urge everybody who opposes it to submit.

If you're wondering what to say, here's a few things I went with:

  • The bill breaches te Tiriti o Waitangi. You can read the Waitangi Tribunal report here, and there's a summary in their press release. As for what that means for Parliament, I take it as a given that the government should not breach te Tiriti, and if the Waitangi Tribunal tells them that a bill will, then that bill simply should not be passed (I take the same attitude towards bills that breach the BORA).
  • The bill's Regulatory Impact Statement makes it clear that the proposed changes are worse than the status quo in every way that they were assessed.
  • Question 3.1 of the bill's Departmental Disclosure Statement notes that it will breach our obligations under international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Again, this is something that we Just Shouldn't Do, and is likely to result in adverse comment during periodic reviews, which may in turn impact on our international reputation. As we have agreed to be subject to the individual complaints mechanisms for both instruments, there's also the possibility of complaints to the UN Human Rights Council and Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
  • The short submissions period for the bill is undemocratic and brings Parliament and our democracy into disrepute.
  • Māori wards ensure a Māori voice in local government, in the same way that the Māori seats do in Parliament. It is simply inappropriate to subject that voice to a Pākehā veto.

If you want more, 350.org has a full submission guide here.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

National's bulldozer dictatorship bill

This National government has been aggressively anti-environment, and is currently ramming through its corrupt Muldoonist "fast-track" legislation to give three ministers dictatorial powers over what gets built and where. But that's not the only thing they're doing. On Thursday they introduced a Resource Management (Freshwater and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, and the Order Paper says they'll be ramming it through its first reading on Tuesday. Obviously, this bill is about removing environmental protections which currently stop farmers from shitting in rivers and chainsawing native bush. But its far wider than that.

The RMA has an extensive system of national environmental standards and national policy statements, which are supposed to guide the plans and policies made by local authorities to cover matters of national importance. As I pointed out when Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard purported to "suspend" one by press conference, there is an actual legal process required to change these. This requires either an independent board of inquiry, or, if control-freaked by a Minister, notification, consultation, an evaluation and decision-making according to legislated criteria. The bill basically guts all that.

Firstly, of course, it removes independent boards. These decisions will be made by Ministers, and only by Ministers, strengthening their role as a nexus of corruption in the system. Secondly, while those corrupt Ministers will still be required to notify the public of what they want to do, we won't be allowed to have a say. An objective criteria that we be given "adequate time and opportunity to make a submission" is replaced with a squishy one of "what the Minister considers to be adequate time..." We've seen what that means to National in their constant abuse of Parliamentary select committee submission windows to prevent public engagement.

As for evaluation, there'll be a special stove-piped process for these Ministerial diktats. They will still be required to assess effectiveness, environmental and economic (but not social or cultural) impacts, and reasonably practicable alternatives. But there's no longer a requirement to assess costs and benefits, or the risks of acting (or not acting) when information is uncertain. Worse, the requirement that national directions be "the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of this Act" is removed; in fact, they will no longer be required to serve the purposes of the Act (or the other matters identified as important in the RMA) at all. And, as the final insult, there will no longer be a requirement to give reasons for the decision. This is likely cribbed from National's previous attacks on refugees, and like those, it is a recipe for legislated arbitrariness - a bulldozer dictatorship.

Finally, decision-making. Under the current law, if Ministers decide to control-freak, they must still decide on the same basis as a board of inquiry would, taking account of the purposes of the Act and other matters of national importance (including ti Tiriti), and the submissions and evidence received. That's all gone. So, in deciding on environmental standards and policies under the RMA, Ministers won't need to consider the purpose of that law, legislated matters of national importance, other important values, or ti Tiriti. None of that will matter. Neither will what we say - Ministers won't be required to consider it at all. The clear implication is that Ministers will be making decisions counter to those purposes and values, counter to ti Tiriti. And with the concentration of powers making the Minister a nexus for corruption, it basically replaces the legislated values with the Minister's bank balance.

Oh, and the Minister won't even have to do that if they're changing a national direction for a bunch of reasons, including "chang[ing] the time frame for implementation" - meaning Ministers can indefinitely delay things on a whim, without notification or consultation.

As I said, this is basically a bulldozer dictatorship, which will gut our environmental protections for the benefit of vandals and polluters, while enabling Ministers to corruptly enrich themselves in the process. It is contrary to our values and to our constitutional norms for decision-making. It should not be allowed to pass. And if it is rammed through, it must be immediately removed, under urgency, by the next government.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Cut the parliamentary term

When Labour was in power, they wasted time, political capital, and scarce policy resources on trying to extend the parliamentary term to four years, in an effort to make themselves less accountable to us. It was unlikely to fly, the idea having previously lost two referendums by huge margins - but politicians gonna politician. But now, we have a truly terrible, anti-democratic government, which is hopefully reminding us of the benefits of regular change. The problem is that its not regular enough.

It is clear that a major problem in our political system is that it is not easy enough to get rid of a bad government. We need to make it easier. The way to do that is to cut the length of the parliamentary term from three years to two.

The political class will whine that its "not enough time to do anything". Bullshit. Its exactly as much time to do things as they do now - if they can convince us to give it to them. And that's the problem: they don't want to convince us. And this pack of wankers just wants to stomp on our faces.

In a democracy, the basis of legitimacy is the consent of the governed, though regular free and fair elections. Lets take that seriously, and make it more regular. Make them convince us. More nastily, keep them in constant fear for their jobs and their perks and their luxurious salary packages. They think that works for us - so let's do it to them.

Bringing our democracy into disrepute

On Monday the government introduced its racist bill to eliminate Māori representation in local government to the House. They rammed it through its first reading yesterday, and sent it to select committee. And the select committee has just opened submissions, giving us until Wednesday to comment on it.

Such a short period for submissions seems intentionally designed to minimise public participation and scrutiny, especially by local authorities (who typically have to formally approve their submissions). It's the Parliamentary equivalent of Douglas Adams' famous locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a "beware of the leopard" sign on it. And it brings both Parliament and our democracy into disrepute.

Unfortunately, this is the new normal under National. They are an inherently anti-democratic party. And despite MMP, with the collusion of explicitly anti-democratic coalition partners, they are returning to the Muldoonist mode of exercising power described in Palmer's Unbridled Power (or alternatively, the "blitzkrieg" of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson), where "the fastest legislature in the west" makes decisions in a flash, without any pretence of public consultation, and tells us to eat it. But that is not how kiwis want to be governed, and we will not tolerate it. Last time, our response to such abuses was to change the electoral system in an effort to prevent it. Clearly stronger measures are now needed to constrain our out-of-control political class.

(Meanwhile, please submit on the bill. If you're not sure where to start, pointing out that it breaches te Tiriti and that parliament should never pass such legislation is a good place to begin).

Thursday, May 23, 2024

More National corruption

In their coalition agreement with NZ First, the National Party agreed to provide $24 million in funding to the charity "I Am Hope / Gumboot Friday". Why were they so eager to do so? Because their chair was a National donor, their CEO was the son of a National MP who had wanted to become a National candidate, and they had paid a former National PM for the "independent" assessment used to pimp their service:

The chair of the I Am Hope Foundation donated $27,000 to the National Party prior to the past two elections, and its just-departed CEO sought the National Party candidacy for Botany in 2019, raising questions over close ties between the charity and the senior coalition partner, in the wake of a $24m funding announcement.


Recently-departed I Am Hope chief executive and current board member Troy Elliott, whose late father John Elliott was a National MP, sought the National Party candidacy for the Botany electorate in 2019, but was defeated by now-prime minister Christopher Luxon.


At Wednesday’s announcement, Doocey said every dollar invested in Gumboot Friday resulted in a social return of $5.70. He did not cite the source of that figure, although it had been previously quoted in National’s 100-day plan and in its campaign material ahead of the 2023 election as coming from a “social impact assessment” carried out by Impact Lab.

Impact Lab was co-founded by former National leader Sir Bill English, who is also the company’s chair.

That stench you're smelling? It's corruption. And it seems to taint everything this government does.

This is not how kiwis think our government should work. And if National can’t kick their corruption habit, we need to start sticking them in jail.


The Social Services and Community Committee has called for submissions on the Oranga Tamariki (Repeal of Section 7AA) Amendment Bill. Submissions are due by Wednesday, 3 July 2024, and can be made at the link above.

And if you're wondering what to say: section 7AA was enacted because Oranga Tamariki was systematically stealing Māori children. The consequences of its repeal should be obvious (and the clauses repealing information reporting requirements seem calculated to hide that impact). The Waitangi Tribunal has also found that the bill breaches te Tiriti, and no Parliament should pass legislation which does that.