Monday, November 20, 2017



Climate change: Eliminating coal

Last week, at the climate talks in Bonn, New Zealand joined an alliance to eliminate coal-fired power stations:

New Zealand has joined an international alliance - including Britain and Canada - to phase out coal from power generation before 2030.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance was unveiled at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany, working out implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

[...]

Since signing the Paris Agreement, several countries had already made national plans to phase out coal from their power supply mix.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance also involves sharing technology to reduce emissions, such as carbon capture and storage, and encouraging the rest of the world to cut usage.


For us, this is largely a business-as-usual goal, in that the government has already committed to a 100% renewables target, which includes the elimination of coal. The country's sole coal-fired power station, Huntly, usually runs on gas at the moment, and the older dual-fuel turbines are scheduled to shut down in the next five years anyway. At the same time, its an important sign of international solidarity to help shift the balance away from and de-legitimise dirty electricity, and it turns a domestic commitment into an international one, raising the cost if a future National government welches on it. It also lays the groundwork for a future agreement to eliminate coal from industry (e.g. from Fonterra). So, worth doing, even if it doesn't mean much for us immediately in practice.

Restoring democracy to the RMA

One of National's primary policy goals during its time in power was to remove democracy from the RMA by removing notification and appeal rights while allowing Ministers to dictate local plans from their office in Wellington. This agenda was so extreme that they were unable to gain the votes for it for years, despite reliable footstools as coalition partners. But finally, earlier this year, the Maori Party sold out and let them do it. The changes only came into effect a month ago, so their impact hasn't yet been felt. But they're bad enough that Environment Minister David Parker has promised to roll them back and restore democracy:

The Government will attempt to reverse a National-led law change that has removed the public's right to participate in discretionary resource consent processes, Environment Minister David Parker says.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 also removed the right for applicants and submitters to appeal discretionary resource consent decisions made by district councils.

[...]

Parker told Stuff this week removing public notification and appeal rights was going "a step too far" for applicants and submitters.

"We still think that was wrong. We are intending to have some reform of the Resource Management Act and that would be one of the things that we would fix," he said.


Sadly, it'll take a while, because the RMA is a complicated piece of legislation. On the other hand, there's usually at least a bill a year tinkering with it in one way or another, so it should be easy enough to put the changes in the next one. But unlike National, Labour won't be ramming it through under urgency.

Meanwhile, while they're restoring democracy, maybe they could do something about ECan as well? Apparently they can't hold an immediate election because National's dictatorship dragged its feet on setting electoral boundaries (which were set before the earthquakes and will not take subsequent population shifts into account). But they have nearly complete discretion to sack the appointees, or to appoint new people to replace them. Removing National's dictators from office ought to be a priority. As for their replacements, if they can't yet hold a proper election, holding some sort of poll and appointing the winners would seem to be a more democratic solution. Because its simply unacceptable for Cantabrians to have an illegitimate local government where half the members have no democratic mandate and were specifically appointed to thwart the will of the people.

Unnatural partnerships

Post-election, there was a sustained campaign in the media from National supporters for the Greens to support National to cling to power for another term. One of their arguments was to point to Germany, where Green - Christian Democrat coalitions have been tried at a regional level, and such an arrangement looked like the only possible outcome in the wake of the German elections. Except that hasn't worked out so well...

Exploratory talks to form Germany’s next coalition government were on the verge of collapse on Sunday night after the four parties involved missed their own deadline to resolve differences on migration and energy policy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been trying to forge a coalition between her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green party following federal elections at the end of September.

A so-called “Jamaica” coalition – so nicknamed because the parties’ traditional colours mirror that of the Jamaican flag – represents new ground even for Germany’s experienced leader, and has only previously been tested at regional level.


The key sticking points are immigration and climate change, with the parties unable to find common ground on either. And this in a country where the political mainstream is greener than ours. In Germany, they're in a four party situation (thanks in part to the CDU maintaining a regional partner party), but in New Zealand some of those parties are effectively factions within the National Party. And its hard to imagine National's farmer-yokels or climate change refuseniks accepting Green demands for real action on water or the climate, let alone allowing them to be implemented effectively.

Basicly, unnatural political partnerships are difficult and likely to fail. In Germany, they've been forced to explore the option because successive grand coalitions turned voters against the political establishment. And even then, it looks to have failed. In New Zealand, where there's no such pressure, there's no reason for parties with choices to take the risk. National's long-term problem of course is that now it has no friends, it has no choices, so it will be perpetually begging for such an unnatural partnership - and is likely to be perpetually rejected if there's any credible alternative.

Friday, November 17, 2017



Farmers ruin another river

The Kaiapoi River is turning salty, and irrigation is to blame:

A freshwater Canterbury river is on the brink of turning into a saltwater estuary, in part due to water abstraction, new data shows.

It has blindsided some in the community and would permanently alter the river's character if the trend continued.

"The prospect of that river turning to a smelly, scum-filled seawater estuary is just totally unacceptable," Waimakariri District councillor Sandra Stewart said.


The problem is caused by farmers taking too much water from the Waimakariri River, meaning that its flow is too weak to prevent salty tidal flows from entering the Kaiapoi. The solution is obvious: reduce irrigation flows. But that means reducing farmers' profits, which was unacceptable under National. Hopefully with a different government (and a soon-to-be elected ECan) they'll be able to stop the farmers poisoning this river before its too late.

New Fisk

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri accepts exile in France as Saudi Arabia no longer feels like a home away from home

Democracy wins in Tonga

Back in August, Tonga's king dissolved the country's parliament, because he and the noble caste did not like the elected government. Yesterday, Tongans went to the polls, and re-elected Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva in a landslide. Pohiva's Democratic Party won 14 of the 17 "commoner seats", giving them an absolute majority in parliament and the ability to elect a government unchallenged.

You'd hope that the king gets the message: that it is for the people, not the monarch or the nobles, to choose governments. And hopefully Pohiva will be able to use this mandate to push for further constitutional change, such as the elimination of the noble seats and the restriction of monarchical power. Because the current situation, where a third of parliament is elected by just 33 inbred nobles, is simply unsustainable. The sooner this undemocratic power is removed, the better.

Thursday, November 16, 2017



Horse trading

In their coalition agreement, Labour and New Zealand First agreed to pass a "waka jumping" law, preventing MPs from switching parties. Now, it looks like the Greens will support it to keep the coalition peace. But naturally, they want something in return:

The Green Party is considering opposing NZ First's "Waka Jumping" bill - a deal struck in coalition talks - unless Labour gives it a national "Parihaka Day".

Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman, in an internal email obtained by Stuff, suggested some horse trading with Labour to acknowledge the fact the party has long opposed waka jumping legislation.

Ghahraman's suggested her colleague Marama Davidson's bill, which recognises the anniversary of the invasion of Parihaka by making it a National Day, be put on the table for Government support.


Waka-jumping laws are undemocratic, prevent the natural formation and evolution of parties, and give too much power to parties and their leadership to stifle dissent. At the same time, I don't think this is worth dying in a ditch over. It sounds as if there's been some additional limits on the ability of parties to throw out members, and if they sunset clause it for the end of the Parliamentary term, then its something that can be accepted in the name of getting along. And that said, the Greens should not let themselves be taken for granted, and its entirely right that they ask for something in exchange. If Labour and NZ First don't like that, then they're welcome to seek National's support instead.

Austerity kills

Tory austerity has murdered 120,000 people in the UK since 2010:

The Conservatives have been accused of “economic murder” for austerity policies which a new study suggests have caused 120,000 deaths.

The paper found that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led efficiencies than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels.

On this trajectory that could rise to nearly 200,000 excess deaths by the end of 2020, even with the extra funding that has been earmarked for public sector services this year.


The study attributes this to cuts in health and social spending. It attributes 10% of the death toll to cuts in the number of nurses. And those cuts have led directly to the deaths of people. Just as the Grenfell Tower fire was social murder, a result of "cutting red tape", this is economic murder, a result of cutting the vital services people depend upon to protect their lives. And in both cases, the architects of that murder, the policy-makers who cruelly cut those vital protections, need to be held criminally accountable for it.

Meanwhile, here in New Zealand National pursued a similar strategy of health cuts. How many people have they murdered?

The same question, again

The Independent Police Conduct authority has found that police used unjustified force, including pepper spray, to effect an unlawful arrest:

A Lower Hutt man who was pepper sprayed by officers trying to serve a trespass notice on him was within his rights to stop them entering his home and should never have been arrested, the police watchdog says.

The man complained to the Independent Police Conduct Authority that the officer who pepper sprayed him in his apartment complex on 23 December 2015 also kicked him and deliberately forced his arm up behind his back while he was being led away.

The authority has determined the officer did not kick the man and the force used to escort him from the building was not excessive - but it was unjustified.

Its chairman, Judge Colin Doherty, said the complainant, who was trying to close the door on the officers, had clearly revoked permission for them to be there, which meant they were trespassing and the arrest was unlawful.


The police could simply have served the notice on the victim by dropping it at his feet. Instead, they invaded his home, assaulted him with a weapon, and kidnapped him. If you or I did that, we would be prosecuted and would be facing up to 14 years in jail. So, to ask the obvious question again, why aren't the police? Or does the law simply not apply to them?

If the law is to mean anything, it must apply to those who enforce it as well as those they enforce it on. As long as police officers feel they are above the law, they will continue misbehaving and treating New Zealanders with contempt. These officers must be prosecuted, pour encourager les autres.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017



We need to do more than this

Jacinda Ardern has again approached Australia with New Zealand's offer to save refugees from their concentration camp on Manus Island - and again been rejected. So instead, we're giving aid to Papua New Guinea to help them:

New Zealand will give Papua New Guinea and aid agencies up to $3 million to help care for Manus Island refugees.

[...]

"We intend to work with PNG and other agencies like the International Red Cross to financially support them with any additional needs that may need to be met while those refugees remain on the island."


Its better than nothing, but we must do more. We cannot allow people to be tortured in concentration camps. If Australia opposes them coming to New Zealand, then fuck them - we should talk directly to Papua New Guinea. The New Guineans don't want them, we do, so it should be easy to negotiate a deal. Especially as the refugees have already been assessed.

Meanwhile, while we're all celebrating Australia's vote against bigotry today, lets also remember that they are currently detaining people who fled countries where they fear persecution on the basis of their sexuality in a country which will persecute them on the basis of their sexuality. And that is blatantly failing to meet their obligations under the Refugee Convention.

Australia votes for equality

The results of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey were released today, showing a 61.6% majority in favour of marriage equality. Good. And now maybe Australia can join the civilised world and actually legislate, rather than trying to remain a bigoted backwater? But before it does, I suppose we'll have to watch another orgy of autophagy from the Australian "Liberal" Party, as its bigots desperately try to pretend they're still living in the C19th. Not to mention attempts to roll back basic anti-discrimination laws to enable bigotry. This people would be justifiably outraged if shops refused to serve them on the basis of their bigoted religious views, but they think the same protections shouldn't apply to gay people. Which just shows how hypocritical the bigots are.

Meanwhile, while Australians are in a progressive mood, maybe they could release the refugees they are currently torturing in concentration camps as well?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017



"Daddy leave" and the parental leave bill

Labour's Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill will be going through its committee stage this afternoon, having been introduced and taken to second reading under urgency last week. The bill essentially duplicates Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave and Work Contact Hours) Amendment Bill. That bill had already been through the select committee process and had the support of the House, but National subjected it to an unconstitutional financial veto earlier in the year. So naturally, having now lost an election over the issue, National are trying to wreck the bill with an amendment allowing the parental leave allocation to be split between parents - effectively halving its length.

They do have a point. The best overseas parental leave schemes include provisions requiring leave to be split (or rather, that no parent can take the full allocation). In Sweden, this "daddy leave" has levelled expectations around parental leave, leading to greater equality in the workplace. Employers have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and this has a levelling effect on both pay and promotions. In 2007, the Families Commission recommended [PDF] that the then 14 weeks of parental leave be extended progressively and include a specific "partner leave" allocation. So, this is clearly something New Zealand should do at some stage. At the same time, what we're doing really badly on at the moment is duration and pay rates. I'm perfectly comfortable for the government to prioritise fixing that first - especially when that's the bit that's already been examined by select committee. When a bill is introduced in this way, under urgency, then I'd prefer to keep the scope to what's already been approved, thanks.

In the longer term, I think its likely that further extensions to the paid parental leave scheme will feature in future Labour-NZ First budgets. So we'll hopefully see a move to a split allocation in the future, in a way that doesn't effectively reduce existing entitlements.

Opening the floodgates

One of Labour's first decisions in government was to respect the ruling of the High Court and inflation adjust Teina Pora's compensation payment for the more than twenty years of wrongful imprisonment he suffered. Now, National's "justice" spokesperson Amy Adams is warning that this move will "open the floodgates":

National's justice spokeswoman Amy Adams is warning the Government may have opened up a can of worms in awarding Teina Pora almost an extra $1 million for his two decades of wrongful imprisonment.

[...]

How the new calculation for Pora's settlement will affect "everyone else who has had compensation that wasn't inflation adjusted" remains to be seen, Adams said.

"The way the decision is written, it now throws in to question every sort of payment of any sort the Government might make that isn't specifically provided to be inflation-adjusted."

"There will be others now looking at whether they should be inflation-adjusted."


And so they should. Because the High Court has effectively ruled that National's penny-pinching policy of screwing over people shown to be innocent was wrong. And that means the current government may have to clean up National's mess. But the proper response to that is to clean the fucking mess up, not stick your fingers in your ears and deny that you ever did anything wrong.

So, let the "floodgates" open. The worst that will happen is that we'll have to treat people fairly, like we should have done in the first place. And only an arsehole from a party of arseholes which grubs for votes from other arseholes would see any problem with that.

New Fisk

This isn't the first time Saudi Arabia has threatened the stability of Lebanon

Climate change: Not good news

Back in September, we had some apparent good news about climate change for once, with reports that emissions had peaked. Sadly, those reports were incorrect:

Scientists’ predictions that carbon emissions had peaked were actually far too optimistic and they will continue to rise this year, according to a major new study.

After claims that world CO2 emissions could soon start falling, new research has been presented at a UN meeting that says they will rise by 2 per cent this year to hit a new record.

Emissions had been roughly flat between 2014 and 2016, leading to hopes that one of the leading drivers of climate change would stay that way. But they are up this year in large part because of an increase in China, where emissions have fallen over the last couple of years.


Damn. Climate change is the world's most urgent problem, and one we desperately need to see progress on. But hopefully this will encourage parties to the UNFCCC to do more, rather than fiddling while the planet burns.

Monday, November 13, 2017



Bring them here

Last week, Jacinda Ardern rolled over for Australia on refugees, accepting their bullshit story that Donald Trump would somehow take them. Now, she's going to use the East Asia Summit in Manila to offer them a new home in New Zealand:

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces further pressure from Jacinda Ardern as the New Zealand leader repeats her offer to take 150 refugees from Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru.

[...]

"I will be raising with Prime Minister Turnbull, as I have consistently done, that we have great concerns over the situation on Manus Island but also for the refugees on Nauru."

She saw no difference in principle between the cases on the two islands.

"Our hope is to lend a hand as far as we are able in helping resolve this situation."

Good. Because what Australia and its PNG proxies are doing here is horrific: torturing people for years, then abandoning them to starve to death in the jungle or be murdered by hostile locals. Its a human rights disaster, contra Gerry Brownlee, we need to help.

The good news is that, in theory (and explicitly in PNG, because they Are Not Being Detained), the refugees are free to leave to any country which wishes to take them. We should call Australia on that. And if they don't like us offering a new home to 150 people, then we should offer one to 500. If they don't like that, we should offer one to all of them, whether on Manus or Nauru. And if they still don't like that, it should be "fine, you're a citizen. The next Australian PM will give us what we want, or get the same".

Because ultimately, this is about who decides who gets to come to New Zealand. And the answer to that question can only be "New Zealand". Not "Australia", and certainly not Malcolm Turnbull or Peter Dutton. To riff on John Howard, we will decide who comes to New Zealand, and the circumstances in which they come - and we will be far less arseholey about it than our racist arsehole neighbours.

And remember, as long as Australia is torturing refugees in concentration camps, don't buy Australian.

New Fisk

The resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has not gone as smoothly as the Saudis wanted

Saved by Canada

APEC was held over the weekend, during which various countries were expected to make a final push to resurrect the Trans-Pacific Partnership. On Friday night, it looked like it was dead, and that Canada had saved us from a shitty US trade deal. By Sunday morning, it was alive again - but Canada has still probably saved us.

There were three bits of the TPPA that most people objected to: the anti-democratic Investor-State Dispute clause, under which multinational (US) corporations could sue countries for regulations which affected their (real or imagined) profits; US patent pork which threatened Pharmac; and general US copyright bullshit, including a mandatory copyright term extension to protect Mickey Mouse, along with various attacks on fair use and file sharing. But thanks to Canada, all of that shit is gone. Technically, its only "suspended", and could be back in if the US ever rejoins the agreement, but that's about as likely as Trump not sticking his foot in his mouth next time he opens it, so for all practical purposes these provisions are dead. So, we've got an FTA shorn of its most objectionable parts. Whether the deal is still worth it for New Zealand without US market access remains to be seen, but in the previous analysis the US bullshit was a significant cost, so it might be (whether you trust MFAT's analysts to do a fair analysis when institutionally their prestige rests on the deal being accepted is another question, of course).

The government has been clear that the new TPPA will have to go back to Parliament - that is, that it is a different deal from the "Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, done at Auckland on 4 February 2016", so National's TPPA law can never come into effect. While they're now part of the government which has agreed to this, I don't expect NZ First and the Greens to give it an easy ride through select committee, and I expect the numbers to be heavily scrutinised. If they don't like it, then I guess Labour will just have to ask National for support instead.

Meanwhile, if this experience has shown us anything, its how badly National sold us out on this issue. A better deal was possible the moment the US walked away, but National was perfectly happy to sign the TPPA as written, complete with US IP bullshit. Its also shown us how undemocratic our foreign policy is, and how secret negotiations do nothing but enable our politicians to lie to us. This isn't good enough. In order for such agreements to be legitimate, they need the consent of the people - and that means full transparency during negotiations, and explicit Parliamentary approval not just for ratification, but for signing. Anything less is buying into the arrogant ideology that foreign policy is for kings, and something us dirty peasants must be kept in the dark about, because we couldn't possibly know what we want. And that is simply undemocratic monarchical bullshit.

Friday, November 10, 2017



New Fisk

Saad Hariri’s resignation as Prime Minister of Lebanon is not all it seems

Freedom of information declines in the UK

The UK publishes comprehensive statistics on the operation of its Freedom of Information Act, covering request volumes, timeliness, and success rates. An article in The Economist highlights the disappointing trend in the latter, with more refusals:

Attempts to obtain the Brexit studies under freedom of information (FOI) requests, which are used by the public to access information from roughly 100,000 public bodies, were rejected. That is increasingly the norm. Between 2010 and 2016 the share of FOI requests that were granted in full by the central government fell from 57% to 46% (see chart).

One often-cited explanation is the increasing complexity of requests. When the FOI law came into force in 2005, the thinking goes, requesters sought the low-hanging fruit, such as details of MPs’ travel expenses. Over time they made trickier demands, which met refusal. Yet if this were so, one would expect a rise in the proportion of rejections that were attributed to excessive cost (departments can refuse requests that would cost more than £600—$785—or take more than 24 hours, to complete). In fact it has barely budged.

A likelier reason is that civil servants have become more wary. Almost every department is refusing requests more often. And they are clamming up in other ways, says Gavin Freeguard of the Institute for Government, a think-tank. Departments are supposed to publish monthly figures on their costs over £25,000. In 2010 roughly half of them published these data on time. By late 2016, only a quarter did. Biannual releases detailing civil servants’ pay and rank have become similarly tardy.


The Economist lays this clearly at the feet of the UK's politicians, who have consistently attacked the FOIA as being somehow "bad" for "good government" (meaning: "inconvenient for corrupt, secretive, incompetent politicians). The UK's public servants are clearly getting this message loud and clear.

Sadly, we won't be able to get any similar story about New Zealand. While SSC has finally started collecting statistics on OIA requests, it only covers volumes and timeliness, not outcomes. Which means we won't get to see whether National's similar opposition to the OIA has had a similar effect on decisions in New Zealand. But we have a new government now, one which has a specific Associate Minister for Open Government. So maybe they could walk the talk and start actually measuring how open we really are?