Tuesday, August 14, 2018



And more cronyism

Labour's cronyism continues. Last week, it was appointing MP's partners to a charity trust. This week, they've appointed former Labour MP Margaret Wilson as deputy chair of the Waikato DHB.

As with many crony appointments, its not so much an issue of qualification as of preference. If Wilson had applied like a normal person and been appointed by the previous government, her appointment would have been unobjectionable. But the fact that its a Labour government appointing one of their own immediately calls both the process and the outcome into doubt. If the government wants people to have confidence in its appointments, it needs a better process which is transparent, merit-based, and does not allow Ministers or MPs to shuffle their friends in and bypass the usual process.

Some defence!

Yesterday Forest & Bird released a report into dirty dairying, showing that some regional councils have been turning a blind eye to pollution. Several regional councils have since tried to quibble over the results - results base don information they provided. For example, here's my local council, Horizons, trying to claim that it doesn't deserve its "D" grade:

According to the information given to Forest and Bird by the council, there was enforcement action against only 31 per cent of the 26 farms found to have serious non-compliance problems.

[...]

But Horizons chief executive Michael McCartney said Forest and Bird's information was incomplete, party due to the questions asked by the group.

Other groups often went to the council after compiling a report to check if the numbers were right, but Forest and Bird did not, he said.

Horizons strategy and regulation group manager Dr Nic Peet said the council had at least given an abatement notice to every seriously non-compliant farm.


As noted above, the report is based on information sourced via LGOIMA, so here Horizons is effectively saying that they gave false information in response to a LGOIMA request. Some defence! As for their suggestions that people should check numbers with them, requesters are entitled to believe that information they receive in response to a LGOIMA request is accurate. And if its not, that's on the agency who provided it, not requesters who subsequently publish it.

What the Haumaha inquiry is about

From the moment it was revealed that new Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha was a rape-apologist, it was clear that he had to be fired - and that outcome only looks more likely with the new revelations about his bullying and apparent attempt to pervert an internal inquiry. And now, the Prime Minister has given the first hint that that's what's going to happen:

Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha could be replaced depending on the outcome of an inquiry into his appointment, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Ardern said on Tuesday she was frustrated at the handling of Haumaha's appointment and wants the matter addressed quickly.

"But I also want to get it right and that's why we have an independent person assisting us," Ardern said.


Ardern is being dishonest here, in that whether Haumaha was a suitable candidate is explicitly outside the scope of the inquiry. She can and should sack him today if she wanted. The inquiry is about whether the appointment panel was both adequately informed and adequately informed the Minister about Haumaha's background - not whether Haumaha should be sacked, but whether Police Commissioner Mike Bush should be as well.

Climate change: Fixing the ETS

The big problem in New Zealand climate change policy is that our key emissions control mechanism - the emissions trading scheme - is unfit for purpose. Stacked with subsidies to reward polluters, and flooded with fraudulent foreign "credits" in its initial term, it failed to do anything meaningful to reduce emissions. We need to fix it if we want to actually do anything about this problem (as opposed to twiddling our thumbs while the waters rise).

The good news is that James Shaw has been working on it, and has released a consultation document on its initial proposals. These include:

  • Announcing unit supplies five years in advance, and auctioning units rather than handing them out as pollution subsidies, with the option of putting the revenue into specific climate-change policies rather than general funding.
  • Limiting the number of international units that can be used, if New Zealand is ever allowed back into international carbon markets (and that's a big if).
  • Replacing the current fixed-price option (which will become a de facto carbon tax in a few years as prices rise) with additional auctions from a "reserve" - though its unclear whether this will form part of the official carbon budget, or result in it being blown.

Of these, the latter is the most controversial. The government's aim is to avoid sudden price shocks causing pain to business, but giving polluters the right to pollute more if they're polluting too much simply encourages pollution. Pre-banking the units is one option (and removing units from supply is more than justified given the banking enabled by the use of fraudulent credits in the past), but then that creates a pile of emissions credits which future governments will be tempted to spend for political favour. If you look at the electricity market, then when the spot price gets too high for too long, some companies just shut down production temporarily. And honestly, I don't see why carbon should be any different: the market will be sending a clear signal that we can no longer afford those people's pollution and that they should find something less polluting to do.

Of course, this is all technical stuff, about system design. None of it addresses the cow in the room: whether our biggest polluters, farmers, will have to pay their way like everybody else. And until the ETS includes agriculture, it will remain fundamentally broken.

Monday, August 13, 2018



Racist of the year

Apparently the "New Zealander of the year" award has been turned into "racist of the year" with the nomination of Don Brash:

Former National Party leader and Reserve Bank governor Don Brash has been nominated for New Zealander of the Year.

Dr Brash spoke at a University of Auckland debate last week on free speech. Massey University had previously cancelled his speaking event because of Facebook threats.

He has been nominated, along with fashion designer Annah Stretton, Team New Zealand's Peter Burling, former Green MP Sue Kedgley and mental health advocate Mike King.

Who next? Bob Jones? Kyle Chapman? Maybe people could nominate some sex offenders and bigots as well?

There have to be better people out there than Brash, and better reasons to nominate than being a tired old racist crank. Who's done great things for human rights, the environment, women's' rights or worker's rights in the last year? Nominate them instead.

Time to end the pastoral lease rort

Stuff had a story yesterday of another South Island farmer whining about the government imposing access over "his" leased high country land. In this case, the Commissioner of Crown Lands had imposed an easement to allow a nearby camping ground to access its water pipes and tanks, formalising a 50 year old status quo, and compensated the leaseholder as required by law. Its entirely within the terms of the lease; the problem is that the farmer has mistaken their right of temporary occupancy for real ownership, just like foreign sexual harasser Matt Lauer.

But underlying this is a bigger problem: the entire crown pastoral lease system is a giant rort. Under the lease system, farmers are practically given South Island land. They have leases on 33 year terms, permanently renewable, and they pay average rents of less than a dollar per hectare per year. While I can't find Totara Peak Station in LINZ's database, Black Forest on the other side of the lake from them pays $1830 a year for 7942 hectares - or 23 cents a hectare. If you apply that rate to Totara peak's reported 4900 hectares, then the whining farmer was probably given two years' rent as compensation. Which seems overly generous given the footprint involved - surely it should be compensated at the same rate that he is paying?

And of course, these nominal rents are a hidden subsidy to our "subsidy free", "independent" farmers, which should be removed just on principle.

As for what to do about it, the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 needs to be replaced. The new law needs to start from the position that high country land is public land, held for public purposes, and that farmers are just temporary occupants. It needs to have much shorter terms, and the power for the government to remove land from the lease or impose easements (with an appropriate reduction in rent) where it is needed for public purposes such as conservation, recreation, or public access. And above all, it needs to impose commercial rents, and remove the corrupt process of tenure review, which has seen farmers handed millions for giving up the rights of their dollar-a-hectare leases.

Obviously, shifting to the new system will require a transition period. It could be done as leases expire, but in the case of leases which have not changed hands, then it could be done much quicker. People who have recently purchased a lease have a legitimate expectation about its terms. People who have leached off the public for decades already have had more than enough time. And if they don't like the new terms, they're welcome to move their polluting farming operation elsewhere.

Turning a blind eye to pollution

The Resource Management Act is our key defence against environmental pollution. But in order to be effective, we need regional councils to enforce it - not just by denying resource consents for polluting activities, but also by ensuring that polluters keep within the terms of their consents. Sadly, where the polluters are dairy farmers, it seems regional councils are reluctant to do their job:

Regional councils are letting dairy farmers get away with breaking their own rules, according to a report just released by Forest and Bird.

The group found that between July 2016 and June 2017, there were 425 cases of serious non-compliance. But despite this, some councils did not take any formal enforcement action such as an infringement notice, an abatement notice or prosecution.

Forest and Bird has compiled official information gathered from all the councils over the 12-month period to illustrate the state of monitoring and enforcement on the dairy sector across the country.

The group said some regional councils were failing even the basics of managing the significant environmental risks posed by dairy effluent.

Of the hundreds of cases of non-compliance, for 29 farms this was the third year they were seriously non-compliant. In one case, a Northland farm received four abatement notices and eight infringements notices but was not prosecuted.


Its the equivalent of the police catching a burglar red-handed multiple times but continually refusing to prosecute. And its an appropriate comparison because violating the RMA is a crime, punishable by up to two years in prison. But apparently farmers are above the law.

Dairy farmers are our worst polluters, and the law needs to be enforced on them. Those not complying with their consents need to be issued with abatement notices or prosecuted, with the provisions allowing for review of a consent applied. Until that happens, until they face actual consequences for their actions which make it unprofitable to pollute, they will continue destroying our rivers and poisoning our soil and groundwater. And that's just not acceptable.

Friday, August 10, 2018



Climate change: Fonterra ditches coal

Big news in the fight to lower New Zealand's emissions today, with Fonterra announcing that it is moving away from coal:

Fonterra today announced it is transitioning from coal to renewable energy at its Stirling site in Otago. The move will reduce Fonterra’s coal use by more than 9,700 tonnes per year –about the same weight as 122 Boeing 737-800’s.

With no gas or feasible alternatives available in the South Island, Fonterra has used coal in its plants to ensure it can process its highly perishable milk.

Reinforcing the shift toward renewable energy, Fonterra has also surrendered its Mangatangi coal mining permit, divested nearly 50% of land acquired for coal mining and will no longer mine coal.


The dairy industry is one of New Zealand's biggest coal users, so this is big news. While its starting with a single site, the goal is to shift to renewables for all sites, and eliminate emissions entirely by 2050. The problem now will be holding them to that commitment.

But while Fonterra's decision will make a difference, the real problem for our emissions remains their suppliers: dairy farmers. Agricultural emissions make up around 50% of our total, and the majority of them are from cows and cowpiss from dairy farming. If we want to reach a real net-zero target (as opposed to some bullshit "excluding methane" one), we will need to deal with the cow in the room, and force farmers to either reduce numbers, adopt more sustainable methods, or permanently offset their emissions within NZ.

New Fisk

On the anniversary of the end of the First World War, even photographs cannot speak of our true history

The bag-ban

The government has announced that it plans to phase out single-use plastic shopping bags using regulations under the Waste Minimisation Act. Good. They're a significant source of marine pollution, and while not the biggest, they're an easy place to start. Its also not that disruptive: the behaviour change to stop using plastic bags at the supermarket is relatively trivial, and once established, easy to maintain, at least for planned trips. There is a cost: those bags tend to get reused, and many end their lives as bin-liners, which will probably be replaced with purpose-bought bags which don't meet the ban criteria (thickness and handles). But those bags end up in landfill, not the ocean, so it should still achieve its goal.

Of course, bags aren't the only source of marine plastic. But this is a start, and will hopefully lead to the government looking to eliminate the others.

Thursday, August 09, 2018



This man should be fired

So, it turns out that in addition to being a rape-apologist, deputy police commissioner Wally Haumaha is also a workplace bully:

Three women working on a joint justice project walked out of Police National Headquarters and refused to return because of Wally Haumaha's alleged bullying behaviour towards them.

The policy analysts - two from the Justice Ministry, one from Corrections - were based at PNHQ in Wellington working in the Māori, Pacific, Ethnic Services division run by Haumaha, a superintendent at the time.

[...]

A number of alleged verbal bullying incidents, including a particularly heated exchange in which one of Haumaha's senior staff intervened, contributed to the three women leaving PNHQ in June 2016 feeling "devalued and disillusioned".

The three women told their managers, did not return to PNHQ, and continued working on the project from the Justice Ministry offices.


I've argued previously that Haumaha should be fired immediately to protect public confidence in the police. This adds more weight to that argument. But it also raises further questions about the appointment process, and what both the panel and Minister were told about Haumaha's past. There's supposed to be a government inquiry into that, though its been derailed by National's scandal-mongering (its as if they think that having tenuous links to NZ First is a bigger crime than being a rape-apologist). but the sooner that inquiry can begin, the sooner we can start rooting out the systematic problems in the police which allowed this appointment to happen, and prevent similar appointments from happening in future.

Tax cheats should be prosecuted

Newsroom reports that homeowners are cheating on their taxes by refusing to comply with the bright line test:

The bright-line test, a key part of both National and Labour’s strategy for addressing the housing crisis, is being flouted by as many as a third [sic] of the people who should be paying it.

[...]

An IRD submission to the Tax Working Group says that a review and audit of property sales in the 2016 tax year found just a third of sales where the bright-line test should have applied were compliant.

The IRD also noted that voluntary compliance appeared to be getting worse. It estimated that in the 2017 tax year as many as 2,625 sales that may be subject to the test had yet to file a return.

This represents a voluntary non-compliance rate of 71 percent, up from 66 percent in the previous year.


Its also a hell of a lot of crime. Not filing your required tax paperwork is an absolute liability offence, punishable by a $4,000 fine. Do it knowingly, and the fine goes up to $25,000. And doing it with the intent to avoid taxes is 5 years in jail.

IRD knows exactly who these people are, where they live, and how much they potentially owe. If they are flouting tax law, it is because IRD is letting them. Instead, they should prosecute these tax cheats. otherwise there's simply no incentive for them to fulfil their obligations.

Drawn

A ballot for two Members' Bills was held this morning, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (Ginny Andersen)
  • Broadcasting (New Zealand on Air and Te Māngai Pāho Reporting Requirements) Amendment Bill (Melissa Lee)
Nothing terribly exciting, though Andersen's bill seems like a good idea which employers will hate and which will likely pass. Given the stuff National has in the ballot (e.g. eroding the right to silence), it could have been a lot worse. A full list of bills in today's ballot is here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018



Why is NZ First opposing youth rates repeal?

When they ran for election, Labour promised to repeal National's hated and unfair youth rates - the system where employers could pay someone less simply for being younger. But NZ First is apparently holding up the process:

Labour's pre-election policy of ditching youth rates within its first year in power appears to be on the back burner for now as it negotiates with its coalition partner New Zealand First.

[...]

The New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters, said pre-election policies were irrelevant as there was now a coalition agreement.

"That is our policy, detailed as it is, if you don't find it there then it won't be part of any committment."

Youth rates are not mentioned in the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement.


Winston is typically evasive on why exactly he is opposing repeal, and its particularly odd given that NZ First supported their repeal in 2003 and opposed their re-imposition in 2013. Which suggests that this has been delayed as part of coalition bargaining - or, more bluntly, its a policy shakedown. Winston didn't agree explicitly to pass this, so he wants something (and probably something cruel or stupid) in exchange. But while he's haggling, young people continue to be discriminated against in the most basic way in the workplace. But I guess they're simply not a priority for the pensioner party.

More cronyism

Oh look! More cronyism from Labour. This time they've appointed the partners of two former MPs to a charity trust:

The partners of two former Labour MPs have been controversially appointed to the South Island's largest charity – the $600 million Rata Foundation.

Jane Sherriff and Philippa Burns are the latest appointments to the 12–member board of the former Canterbury Community Trust, which distributes about $18m in grants each year.

Rata made $42m from its investments in the year to the end of March 2017 and spent about $4m on administration and expenses.

Sherriff is the partner of former Labour minister Clayton Cosgrove and Burns is the wife of Brendon Burns, who was Labour MP for Christchurch Central between 2008 and 2011 and stood for Kaikoura twice without success.


This sort of appointment just reeks of cronyism, and as a result the Minister has been forced to go into detail about the process used to appoint them. Which includes this bit:
After advice from the Department of Internal Affairs, he had sought nominations from community trusts and from the caucuses of the Coalition Government in March and April 2018.

And this is the problem in a nutshell. Its done for every significant appointment, and odds are, if the final appointee is party-affiliated, they entered the process not by applying like a normal person, but because their name was given directly to the Minister by a fellow MP. Which immediately makes their appointment a prima facie favour and act of political patronage rather than anything to do with merit.

There's a name for dispensing government positions as favours and rewards: its called cronyism and corruption. And its not acceptable in New Zealand. And if we want to stamp it out, the best way to do so would be to end this institution of suggesting people to the Minister, requiring everyone to apply up-front, be considered on their merits by an independent panel, and requiring the Minister to report to Parliament or publish a gazette notice whenever they disagree with its findings. This sort of process is used in the State Sector Act for appointing chief executives, and it has been largely successful in preventing crony appointments in the senior public service. But given our politicians established culture of cronyism, we clearly need to extend it further, to board appointments as well.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and one which should finally see the end of the ballot jogjam. But there's some other stuff to get through first before the House can get on to those first readings. First up is a local bill, the Gore District Council (Otama Rural Water Supply) Bill, which is about transferring ownership of a community-built water supply back to the community which built it. Next is the third reading of Jo Hayes' Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill, an uncontroversial piece of legislation which tightens protections against families forcing young people to marry. Next is the last ten minutes of Parmjeet Parmar's Patents (Advancement Patents) Amendment Bill, a corporate IP-grab which looks like it will be voted down, followed by Todd Muller's rather dull Companies (Clarification of Dividend Rules in Companies) Amendment Bill. The House should get on to Hamish Walker's KiwiSaver (Foster Parents Opting in for Children in their Care) Amendment Bill, and if they move really quickly, could even make a start on Rino Tirikatene's Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill.

There should be a ballot for one or two bills tomorrow. National has been good about putting bills in the ballot over the long break, and it will be interesting to see what new ideas Labour is offering up.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018



Climate Change: The danger of a hothouse

Killer heat-waves in Europe. Enormous fires in California and Greece. Historic floods in Japan. Climate change is here. But worse, we may be heading for the hothouse:

A domino-like cascade of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests could tilt the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be increasingly futile, a group of leading climate scientists has warned.

This grim prospect is sketched out in a journal paper that considers the combined consequences of 10 climate change processes, including the release of methane trapped in Siberian permafrost and the impact of melting ice in Greenland on the Antarctic.

[...]

Katherine Richardson from the University of Copenhagen, one of the authors, said the paper showed that climate action was not just a case of turning the knob on emissions, but of understanding how various factors interact at a global level.

“We note that the Earth has never in its history had a quasi-stable state that is around 2C warmer than the preindustrial and suggest that there is substantial risk that the system, itself, will ‘want’ to continue warming because of all of these other processes – even if we stop emissions,” she said. “This implies not only reducing emissions but much more.”


Positive feedback and non-linear effects are the biggest threat in the climate system, and not very well understood. The danger of a cascade shifting the climate to a new, much hotter state, is real, though we don't know the trigger points. Which suggests a precautionary approach is needed if we want to avoid catastrophe.

There's an easy solution for that

Today, the government finally settled pay talks with DHB nurses, giving them a significant pay rise and boosts to staffing. Meanwhile, another major employer of nurses - rest homes - are whining about it:

Rest homes say they are losing nurses to public hospitals at an alarming rate.

They are blaming higher wages being offered to hospital nurses, and say changes to immigration requirements are needed.

[...]

Chief executive Simon Wallace said nurses had always moved between the sectors but it was far more pronounced now, driven by pay rises being offered by district health boards in ongoing pay talks.

He said it was driving pressures in rest homes that received a 2 percent DHB funding boost this year.


There's an easy and obvious solution, of course: they could pay their nurses more. Its not as if these businesses can't afford to: Ryman healthcare made a profit of over $200 million last year, and Oceania made $77 million. But instead, they're demanding they be subsidised with migrant labour so they can avoid paying the going rate for staff. And the response of the government should be a firm "no".

A paranoid's veto

Don Brash was supposed to speak at Massey tomorrow as part of a series of talks organised by a student club. But given his views on te reo and Maori representation, and his support for visiting foreign Nazis, people were naturally planning to protest his presence. There's no suggestion that the protest would have involved anything other than some signs and shouting - the usual push and shove of democracy. But Massey has used it as an excuse to cancel the talk, citing "security" concerns:

Massey University has cancelled a booking made by a students’ politics club at which former politician and Hobson’s Pledge founder Dr Don Brash was invited to speak at the University’s Manawatū campus on Wednesday.

Club members had signed a venue and space use agreement form in which they agreed to manage the venue in accordance with the University’s Strategy, including recognising the values of a Te Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation and ensuring its use would not adversely affect University operations, security, reputation or public safety.

The members later approached University management concerned about their ability to meet the agreement’s terms around security after becoming aware of social media posts suggesting the event could lead to violence.

The Univesity considered providing additional security for the event, but decided the risk of harm to students, staff and members of the public was too great, particularly at time of heightened tension over the issues around free speech and hate speech. Dr Brash was also a supporter of right-wing Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who were due to address a public meeting in Auckland.


So, according to Massey, a bit of shouting and sign-waving is "harm". This isn't a heckler's veto on speech - its a paranoid's veto, of assuming that any protest means a riot and public slaughter. It would be laughable, if it wasn't so dangerous to our democracy. Because if any speech which attracts protest is banned, then we simply can't publicly discuss controversial (or, given trolls, even uncontroversial) topics. Or basicly anything at all.

I don't like Don Brash, but our democracy deserves better than this, especially from our universities. Brash should be allowed to speak, and those who don't like him should be allowed to express their views. Absent a specific, credible threat of serious violence, there's no justification to do anything else.

Monday, August 06, 2018



Just wrong

A couple of years ago, Fonterra was publicly castigated for using its market power to unilaterally decide that it wouldn't pay its contractors for two months after invoicing - effectively, extorting a free loan from them. The problem is widespread amongst New Zealand businesses, and is a significant drag on the economy. But we'd expect the government to be better than that, right? Wrong:

The Ministry of Education is being blamed for a badly leaking Auckland high school and for changing contracts so that builders can wait up to twice as long as usual to get paid.

The construction industry is holding these up as examples of government behaviour that's undermining builders even as some go to the wall.

[...]

The Education Ministry is also facing criticism from builders who have complained that it has changed a contract so they can end up waiting a whole month longer for payment than before.

Contract mediator Peter Degerholm said a medium-sized contractor came to him, confused over a claim he expected would be paid on 20 June, but has been told would be paid on 20 July.

The payment delay clause was hard to decipher, Mr Degerholm said, but he advised the contractor this was what he had signed up for.


We expect the government to work hard to get value for money in its contracting. But late payment isn't about value-for-money - its fucking people over for the sake of it. There's no benefit whatsoever to the public in doing this, and insofar as it puts the survival of contractors at risk, significant negative effects. But more importantly than that, its just fucking wrong. When people do work, they shoudl be paid, on time. The government should be setting an example on this, not adopting dodgy foreign business practices whose sole purpose seems to be to screw people over.