Thursday, June 04, 2020

Still getting what they paid for

Last year, in the face of public pressure to better regulate New Zealand's pervasively criminal fishing industry, the government finally anounced a bullshit trial scheme for cameras on boats. The trial would apply only to a limited number of boats fishing in Māui's dolphin habitat. But all fishing boats would eventually be required to have cameras, from 1 July this year.

The government has just quietly delayed that, until 1 October 2021 - a 15 month extension. There's no press release, and no explanation, so they were clearly hoping no-one would notice. And in the absence of any proper explanation, the only one we have is the history of large donations from the fishing industry to a key government Minister. I guess his donors are still getting what they paid for.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Time to double sick leave

The CTU is planning to mount a campaign to double sick leave, from 5 to 10 days a year. Good. We've all just had an extremely strong reminder of the need to stay at home when sick, and of the effectiveness of doing so (the lockdown, social distancing, and responsible attitude to disease ATM has absolutely crushed seasonal flu as well as protecting us from the pandemic). But the current sick leave entitlement of a mere 5 days does not enable this. Nor does the intrusive provision allowing employers to demand proof of illness. And then there's the problems caused by "lean staffing" - AKA employer cheapness - which lets employers guilt workers into coming into work when sick, because if they don't their co-workers will suffer (because the employer hasn't ensured there are sufficient staff to cope with people being away). The result is that disease spreads. We can all think of a time when someone came into work when sick, because they were out of leave, or felt they had to, or just stupid, and then everybody got it. And that needs to stop.

But in order for that to happen, we need to actually enable people to do the right thing. And that means ensuring they have plenty of no-questions-asked sick leave, and that they can actually take it. The first is the easy bit: it requires changing one number in one section of law (and two more numbers if you want to increase carry-over to match the increased entitlement). Ensuring that people can actually use their entitlement will require a shift in management styles. As for how to do that, public health is already recognised as a workplace health and safety issue, included in an employer's obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. Policies, practices, or a workplace culture which endanger public health by encouraging people to infect others violate an employer's primary duty of care under that Act. And that's punishable by a $500,000 fine - or $1.5 million if it is deemed to expose people to a risk of serious illness (like, say, COVID-19). So my solution to changing workplace culture is for Worksafe to actually enforce the law, and start prosecuting and fining employers over this. On the other end, workers should refuse to work when sick if they are able to, and complain to their unions (join a union!), or complain directly to Worksafe if their employer's practices are unsafe. Hopefully a few investigations and prosecutions will sharpen employer's minds, and force them to eliminate their present unsafe practices.

You can sign the CTU's petition in support of their campaign here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

This is not rehabilitation

When miners pillage conservation land, they are typically required to "rehabilitate" it afterwards. Its not much compared to the damage they do, but its something. But apparently even that is now too much to expect. NZG Limited, a company owned by Oravida directors James Blackwell, Julia Jiyan Xu, Stone Shi, and David Wong-Tung, has been mining gold in the Mikonui Valley near Hokitika. As a condition of access to conservation land, they were required to restore it afterwards, including recontouring it, replacing topsoil, and replanting it in native forest. But none of that has been done. Instead, all of these requirements have been quietly waived by DoC, and the area has been left looking like a moonscape:

A mine on conservation land on the West Coast conditionally signed off as rehabilitated has been described as a desolate wasteland.

The remaining condition for sign-off is one year of weeding.

There’s no topsoil, a gaping hole remains, and replanting, written as a concession condition, wasn’t done. The Department of Conservation (DoC), which signed off the rehabilitation, said conditions were changed after a discussion with the mining company. If rehabilitation is not completed, the company can lose the bond it paid when it gained the concession.

So rather than forcing them to meet their commitments (or take their money to pay for any failure), the conditions were weakened to allow them to walk away with their pillage free and clear. Its absolutely disgusting, and I am boggled as to why DoC or the Minister would allow it. But the article also notes that "no mining companies have left sites that have not been rehabilitated to the satisfaction of the Department of Conservation on public conservation land in the West Coast area". If that's the case, maybe someone should start looking at those sites to check that its not a similar story there.

Meanwhile, if this is an example of how a Green voice in government leads to better conservation outcomes, we're better off with them in opposition.

America burns

Like everyone else, I've spent too much of the weekend watching the protests in America, and the increasingly brutal response to them. The overwhelming impression is of a nationwide police riot, as people speaking out against a murder and demanding change are beaten, gassed and shot by racist, militarised thugs outraged that people would question their unaccountability. And today it has got worse, with President Trump demanding that state governors "dominate" protesters, and now threatening to send in the military.

Let's be clear: using the military against protesters is what tyrants do. Its what China did in Tiananmen Square. Its what Uzbekistan did in Andijan. Its what Britain did at Peterloo. And when the President of the United States behaves like a tyrant, he deserves to be treated like one.

Wales makes it 16

Wales has lowered the voting age to 16:

16 and 17 year olds can now officially vote in Wales for Senedd elections.

Votes at 16 & 17 come into force on Monday, as part of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020.

Next year’s Senedd elections will be the first in which 16 and 17 year olds and legally resident foreign nationals are allowed to vote in Wales, in a major expansion of the franchise. Around 65,000 16/17s are expected to benefit.

The move is a victory for young people, following campaigning from ERS Cymru and a coalition of youth and civil society campaigners.

Congratulations to the Welsh for recognising that teenagers are equal citizens! But isn't it time New Zealand followed suit?

Climate Change: Banking failure

The government announced more changes to the ETS today, including to the emissions budget for 2021 - 2025. The overall budget for that period will stay at 354 million tons of CO2-equivalent. But the ETS component of that - stockpile reduction, free allocation, and credits to be auctioned - budget will increase to 160 million tons:
[Graph by the Ministry of the Environment from here]

This is an increase of 10 million tons from what was proposed in the consultation document. Comparing the two, 10 million tons has been moved from "emissions outside the ETS" to auction volume. Which would be fine if it was because farmers are suddenly going to have to pay for those emissions. But they're not - agriculture isn't coming into the scheme until 2025. So what's going on? Well, if you go and look at the government's latest net position report, agricultural emissions over 2021 - 25 are expected to decrease due to land-use changes. The scale of that decrease? Just over 10 million tons. But rather than banking that success - or just going "agriculture will do what its going to do, and its outside the ETS so it doesn't matter for this calculation" - they've instead given that projected saving straight to industrial polluters, who were not expected to increase their emissions to compensate (and were in fact projected to have a net reduction as well, but now can be expected not to because they will have the credits to pollute). They've taken success, and turned it into failure. Meanwhile, if agricultural trends reverse, and their projected emissions increase again, we've already locked in higher emissions through the allocation budget, and we will blow our first carbon budget, and make it that much harder to meet our 2050 "net-zero-but-not-really" target.

Heckuva job they're doing there. Aren't you glad the Green voice in government is ratcheting down emissions?

Friday, May 29, 2020

A victory for freedom of information in Australia

Australia's High Court has ruled that the "palace letters" between the queen and then-Governor-General John Kerr are public records rather than private papers:

Historian Jenny Hocking has won her High Court bid to access the letters exchanged between then governor-general Sir John Kerr and the Queen around the time of the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

Until now, the National Archives of Australia had refused to release the documents, known as the "Palace letters", saying they were private papers.

But Professor Hocking told the High Court correspondence between a governor-general and a monarch was the property of the Commonwealth, and not private.

In a majority ruling, the High Court agreed with Professor Hocking, and found the letters to be Commonwealth records.

Weirdly, this wasn't on the basis of the "pub test": that the communications of the Governor-General and foreign monarch about whether to roll the Prime Minister are so obviously official in nature that of course they're an official record. Instead, they decide it simply on the basis of property. Commonwealth records are records that are the property of (certain parts of) the Australian Government, which includes the Governor-General's official secretary. The letters were held by the official secretary as part of their official duties, and submitted by them to the Archives. And that fact alone demonstrates they were Commonwealth property and therefore a Commonwealth record. Additionally, the fact that it was deposited by the official secretary means it was deposited by a Commonwealth institution, not a private institution, so private access arrangements simply do not apply.

Hopefully this means Professor Hocking will now receive access to the records. As for whether there's actually anything interesting in them, that remains to be seen.

Labour's Muldoonism

Labour's talk of gutting the RMA to push through "shovel ready" projects to boost employment after the pandemic predictably has every half-arsed pipe-dream crawling out of the woodwork demanding special treatment. Today, it's the West Coast inbreds, who are demanding a host of laws be rescinded so they can dig and dam and plunder and profit by destroying our natural heritage. But the article on that also has more details on the legislation itself, and they're pretty frightening:

Some large, Government-led projects — such as roads — would be individually listed in the legislation as going through the fast-track process. This would likely include six larger transport projects already on the books, awaiting resource consents.

More Government-led projects — specifically those led by the Transport Agency (NZTA) and KiwiRail — would be able to “occur as of right”, effectively a standing consent to do things like road and rail maintenance. This could also be extended to local authorities, the Cabinet paper states.

The final piece is a fast-track consenting process for all other projects. A public or private project could apply to the Environment Minister to go through this process, who must then decide whether the project meets a list of criteria, including whether it would have a “significant public benefit”. The minister can reject the application for any reason.

If approved, the project would be referred to an expert panel, led by an Environment Court Judge, to receive consent. A project referred to a panel would be expected to receive consent, the Cabinet paper says.

Which has more than an echo of the piggy cackle about it. Applications to the Minister, reference to an "independent" panel, and the Minister as effective decision-maker looks a lot like Muldoon's National Development Act, which was used to ram through numerous environmental atrocities and treaty breaches. Except that the NDA gave people affected by a development a statutory right to be heard, which the new legislation seems particularly aimed at preventing. Meanwhile, legislating certain projects for the fast-track - which as noted has an expectation of consent - is basicly the government saying "this project is consented, fuck you", exactly as Muldoon did over the Clyde Dam.

As for some projects not needing consent at all, this has been done before after the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes, but that's not exactly a good model: in Kaikōura it led to an occupation when the recovery authority tried to ram a road through an urupā. And the reason they ended up in that situation is because the government didn't need to listen to the public or hear any evidence before deciding what to do, and as a result either had no fucking idea of the actual impacts of its project, or decided it could run roughshod over the local iwi. And the result was entirely predictable. When you ignore people, when you don't even bother to hear the evidence, your decision isn't just bad, it's also illegitimate. And as we've seen in Kaikōura and Ihumātao, if people can't express their opposition through the planning process, they'll do it on the ground instead.

New Zealand's environmental movement was born in opposition to legislation like this and the bad and illegitimate decisions it enabled. It is absolutely shameful then that our primary environmentalist party, the Greens, will be supporting it with their votes.

Don't ask, don't tell

Since the government announced its pandemic wage subsidy, there have been regular stories about companies taking it and then sacking or refusing to pay their workers - essentially committing fraud. But how often does this happen? The Minister just doesn't want to know:

Government ministers are not receiving up to date figures on breaches of the $10 billion wage subsidy scheme, and one Minister's office says "it's not something we're interested in".

The government is monitoring how much money is paid out in the wage subsidy and leave payment schemes, but the number of complaints, audits and money paid back is only being provided in quarterly reports.

The Ministry of Social Development refused to provide up-to-date auditing numbers, instead treating RNZ enquiries as an Official Information Act request.

The office of Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Social Development, said that information would only be available at the end of June.

A member of her office said "it's not something we're interested in".

Why aren't they interested? Pretty obviously, its a case of "don't ask, don't tell": the Minister avoiding having to act by purposefully remaining ignorant. Whether this is appropriate governance in the public interest, or an appropriate attitude to serious crime by employers is left as an exercise for the reader.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Chickening out on clean rivers

The government released its Action for Healthy Waterways package today, ostensibly with the goal of cleaning up our rivers and making them swimmable within a generation. Doing that, of course, requires confronting the cow in the room: the dairy industry which causes most of the pollution. But while they've imposed some limits, including restrictions on dairy conversions, in the end they chickenshitted it again, setting a fertiliser limit which is far too high, and delaying setting bottom lines for nitrogen and phosphorus for another year. The latter in particular has gone down like a cup of cold cowshit with environmental groups, because it is the core of the problem, not to mention a public health hazard. But instead of controlling it, the government's "plan" is that farmers should be allowed to continue poisoning the public for at least another year.

This isn't acceptable. Kiwis deserve clean rivers and water which doesn't give us cancer. And if this government won't protect us from polluting farmers, we should get another one which will.

Austerity threatens our lives again

Public health specialists perform a vital role protecting us from disease, and they've just literally saved tens of thousands of kiwi lives from the pandemic. But it turns out that they are grossly underfunded and understaffed, and the government isn't doing anything about it:

The number of doctors in public health units confronting the pandemic is in crisis, but there is no sign of a plan to fix the situation.

The funding for training registrars to become public health specialists is so limited applicants have had to be turned away.


Des Gorman led attempts to identify then fix the shortages while heading the Government's Health Workforce unit until last year (when the unit, having had its staff numbers chopped, was rolled up into the Ministry of Health).

"It was profoundly frustrating," Gorman, a Professor of Medicine at Auckland University, said.

"We had no support from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

"We had little or no support from the district health boards and we received quite strong opposition from some of the more established medical colleges because they quickly worked out that if more money was going to go to public health and palliative care, that might mean less money for them."

Artificial scarcity of funding due to government-imposed austerity is the key driver here. And it is directly threatening our ability to identify, track and contain epidemic disease - in other words, all our lives. While they've had a one-off funding bump due to the pandemic, long-term funding is still at austerity levels, $50 million below what it was a decade ago. And that is simply not good enough.

This is what failure looks like

Remember KiwiBuild? Previously the government's flagship policy, it was supposed to build thousands of new homes every year for kiwi families. But instead of flooding the market, we've got a pathetic dribble:

The Government's former flagship housing policy is so far behind schedule it will take more than 400 years to reach its initial target of 100,000 homes. It had hoped to reach the target in 10 years.

Initially, the Government had been hoping the rate of building would increase over time as KiwiBuild ramped up, with 1,000 homes built in the first year, 5,000 in the second, and 10,000 in the third, but the rate of building is slowing.


The number of KiwiBuild homes built to date stood at 393 at the end of March, equating to roughly 19 homes built each month since the scheme began in June 2018.

At that rate it would take 436 years to complete the remaining 99,607 houses that remain from the 100,000 target.

After two years, they were supposed to deliver 6,000 homes. They've done just over 5% of that, and now have a delivery date which is further in the future than pakeha have been in this country. As for why, relying on the private sector for construction was part of the problem, but the fundamental issue is that the government simply wasn't willing to fund it, wasn't willing to borrow to invest in New Zealand. Which makes the whole "policy" a fraud from start to finish. Which doesn't bode well for their new promises of increased state house building...

The government has managed to get this right in the past. But they did it by being willing to actually put the public's money where their mouth was and pay for it. Until that happens, nothing will change.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

NZ First's policy of starving migrants

While the government has dealt with the pandemic spectacularly well, it hasn't been perfect. One big flaw in its response has been its treatment of temporary migrants. The government has the power to extend social welfare benefits to temporary migrants during a pandemic, and the Epidemic Response Act clearly expects that that will happen. But that power has not been exercised. The reason? NZ First, who views the pandemic as an opportunity to force migrant workers to return home:

NZ First MP Shane Jones sympathised with the plight of many migrants, but said he believed the Government should pay for their flights home and not let those trapped outside back in.

"There is a humanitarian duty upon me as a minister. Something akin to having a Christian disposition towards the struggle that a lot of the migrants find themselves in right now.

"My overarching feeling is that they should go home. And if it's possible for us to assist them to go home then that to me is a very Christian thing to do.

The result is people living on the street and going hungry. Most New Zealanders will be deeply ashamed of that. But Shane Jones probably sees it as a bonus in his racist campaign to cleanse the country of those he sees as "undesirable".

Equality comes to Costa Rica

Costa Rica has become the first country in Central America to recognise same-sex marriage:

The first same-sex weddings have taken place in Costa Rica, the first Central American country to equalise its marriage legislation.

A lesbian couple became the first to tie the knot in a ceremony that took place just after the new law came into effect at midnight.

The wedding was shown on national TV.

President Carlos Alvarado said the law change meant Costa Rica now recognised the rights lesbian and gay people had always deserved.

As in other countries, this change was made by the courts: in 2018 Costa Rica's Supreme Court implemented a ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and declared provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. They gave the legislature 18 months to fix the law. They didn't, so the ban was abolished.

Lining their own pockets

There's a new twist in the Winston Peters secret donation story. It appears that a significant chunk of NZ First's secret laundered donations goes straight into the pockets of the people administering the scheme:

Tens of thousands in donor's funds given to the New Zealand First Foundation were spent paying expenses, wages and bills for people closely associated with the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

The foundation, which has bankrolled NZ First using secret donations from rich business people, spent more than $130,000 on a company run by Brian Henry - the personal lawyer and close friend of Peters.

Documents obtained by RNZ show that between January 2018 and July 2019, the foundation took in $224,000 in donations from supporters - and overall, spent at least $368,000.

Of that, at least $137,000 of foundation funds were spent on a company called QComms.

Company office records show the sole director and shareholder of QComms is Brian Henry, who is a trustee of the foundation and the judicial officer of the New Zealand First party.

The money laundry paid Henry's daughter's rent and expenses, as well as John Thorn, the former NZ First official who wrote the memo suggesting setting it up. It also paid for air travel for Winston's partner Jan Trotman, who at the time was in business with Henry in a dodgy forestry scheme which attempted to extract money from the Provincial Growth partnership. No doubt there'll be reasons for all of this, but at the least it shows that Winston's money laundry is an orgy of nepotism and self-dealing by NZ First insiders. Which just makes it look personally corrupt as well as institutionally dodgy.

Meanwhile the SFO has promised to have a decision on whether to lay charges before the election. The sooner that happens, the better. Voters need to know what the situation is long before the voting period starts, so they can decide whether they want this party back in Parliament again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Climate Change: Still not serious

New National Party leader Todd Muller has been interviewed about his policies, and has promised to restart offshore fossil fuel exploration if elected:

The Bay of Plenty MP rolled former leader Simon Bridges last week, but says the party has not changed its stance on previous promises.

"That is absolutely National Party policy," Mr Muller told TVNZ1's Q+A with Jack Tame, when asked about the Government's 2018 policy to stop issuing new offshore oil and gas exploration permits.

The ban did not extend to current permits.

Muller is supposed to be one of the good guys on climate change in the National Party. Instead, this shows that he and the party are still not serious about climate action. After all, if you won't take the mildest of measures to decarbonise the economy - phasing out the supply of dirty gas over decades - then what hope is there that you'll move on carbon-free transport, or raising carbon prices, or on confronting the giant cow in the room?

But I guess it just goes to show: you can change the bald white man in charge, but underneath its the same dirty old National Party, clinging to the past and trying to destroy the future.

Monday, May 25, 2020

A weird reappointment

A couple of weeks ago, Parliament reappointed Peter Boshier as Chief Ombudsman for another five years. There's nothing weird about the reappointment - it was recommended by the Officers of Parliament Committee, and Boshier is generally recognised as having done a good job in office (though at the same time, having a government Minister praise your performance as an Ombudsman suggests you're not kicking enough arse - they're not meant to like you). No, what's weird is the term. Boshier requested, and the Officers of Parliament Committee recommended, a three-year reappointment, after which Boshier "would want to discuss and engage with the committee about future plans at that time". Why? Because like judges, Ombudsmen are forcibly retired when they get too old - in this case, at age 72. Boshier was born in 1952, so he will hit mandatory retirement in 2024, a year before his new term as Ombudsman ends.

This doesn't make the appointment illegal, just unusual. There's obvious questions about why the House wasn't told about this issue before voting, or why the term was raised - presumably with Boshier's agreement - from the committee's recommendation. Is the government planning to raise the age limits mid-term? Or were they just not paying attention?

Labour doesn't care about the already poor

The government has announced another income support scheme for people affected by the economic aftershocks of the pandemic: a $490 a week tax-free payment for the newly unemployed, which you can get even if you have a working partner. Which is great, because its supporting people who need help, but at the same time the fact that it is double the unemployment benefit, which does not allow a working partner (and indeed, WINZ will hire PIs to peer in your bedroom window at night to see if you're sleeping with anyone who "should" be economicly supporting you because love is an economic transaction to them) kindof stinks. To ask the obvious question: what about the already poor? Don't they deserve this level of support too? Or does Labour not care about them?

But I think we all know Labour's answers to those questions, don't we? While they talk about "kindness" and "wellbeing", when push comes to shove, they're happy with existing inequalities, happy even to exacerbate them, happy with the underclass Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson created, happy with the status quo and all its injustices. Because doing anything about any of those problems would mean them having to pay more tax on their $180K+ salaries, or on their property portfolios or family trusts, and that seems to be something which is simply unthinkable to them now.

The Green list

The Greens have released their party list, and it contains a few surprises. The one that's getting all the news is that the membership are clearly fans of Chlöe Swarbrick, and she has worked hard to earn that. But they've also favoured incumbent protection over new blood, and in the process abandoned their traditional practice of alternating male and female candidates on the list. Which means that on current polling, they'd elect a caucus with only one man - which while its a reversal of the situation in certain other parties, isn't exactly good in a party committed to equality.

I've done the usual list below:

2020 RankName2017 RankDifference
1Marama Davidson2+1
2James Shaw1-1
3Chlöe Swarbrick7+4
4Julie Anne Genter3-1
5Jan Logie6+1
6Eugenie Sage4-2
7Golriz Ghahraman8+1
8Teanau Tuiono16+7
9Dr. Elizabeth Kerekere19+10
10Ricardo Menéndez March21+11
11Steve Abel----
12Teall Crossen15+3
13Scott Willis----
14Kyle MacDonald----
15Lourdes Vano----
16John Ranta----
17Lawrence Xu-Nan----
18Luke Wijohn----
19Kaya Sparke----
20Jack Brazil----
21James Crow----
22Elliot Blyth----
23Richard McIntosh----
24Gerrie Ligtenberg----

Friday, May 22, 2020

The new leader of the National party!

One of these MPs is the new leader of the National party. Can you pick which? (Source: Office of the Clerk/Parliamentary Service)

National has chosen its new leader, and as expected, it is an old bald white man. Totally representative of modern New Zealand, then. But its not like they had much else to work with, the alternative being the hired killer (no, not Judith Collins, the real one). Which given that they're the biggest opposition in New Zealand history, with 55 MPs, is really kindof scary. You have to work hard as a party to have that little talent in that many people. But I guess selecting only old bald white men will do that...