Monday, December 10, 2018

Climate Change: Punching above our weight

New Zealanders are usually proud when New Zealand ranks highly at something when measured per capita. But one measurement of that nature which we shouldn't be proud of: we're one of the worst countries in the world for per-capita greenhouse gas emissions:

New Zealand accounts for a fraction of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, about 0.17 per cent in 2014.

But, on a per capita basis we have an out-sized carbon footprint, emitting 18 tonnes of greenhouse gasses per person, every year.

That makes New Zealand the 21st biggest per capita contributor to climate change in the world. Amongst the OECD (other rich nations which we benchmark ourselves against) we have the fifth highest per capita emissions.

The primary reason for this? Our outsized agricultural sector, which produces roughly half of our emissions (46% directly, plus a fair whack of transport and energy sector emissions for processing). But 95% of that is for export, so if it was scaled back to cater for only our domestic needs, our emissions would roughly halve - putting us somewhere in the middle of the EU pack.

we can also look at it as an internal distribution issue. Those agricultural emissions are produced by and for the benefit of the ~5% of kiwis who work in agriculture. And that tiny portion of the population emits as much as all the rest of us combined. At the moment, they don't pay a cent for that - we in the 95% carry the cost of their pollution. At the very least, they should pay their own way, rather than destroying the planet at our expense.

Climate Change: Fingers in their ears

Back in October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we have to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures, and that we had only 12 years left to do so. The stark description of the disaster we are heading for has focused minds around the world and created a push for urgent action to avoid it. Unfortunately, the denier states simply don't want to hear it:

The US and Russia have thrown climate talks into disarray by allying with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to water down approval of a landmark report on the need to keep global warming below 1.5C.

After a heated two-and-a-half-hour debate on Saturday night, the backwards step by the four major oil producers shocked delegates at the UN climate conference in Katowice as ministers flew in for the final week of high-level discussions.

It has also raised fears among scientists that the US president, Donald Trump, is going from passively withdrawing from climate talks to actively undermining them alongside a coalition of climate deniers.


when it was submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on Saturday, the four oil allies – with Saudi Arabia as the most obdurate – rejected a motion to “welcome” the study. Instead, they said it should merely be “noted”, which would make it much easier for governments to ignore. The motion has not yet been able to pass as a result of the lack of consensus.

The diplomatic language game hides the reality that this is about preventing the conference from using the report as the basis for future action. It is about pretending the problem does not exist, and watering down the response, so these countries can keep on burning and polluting and destroying the world. But given the consequences, the actions of these states are now a threat to global security. And the answer must be a global campaign to boycott and blockade them.

The British establishment's propaganda problem

From 1948 to 1978, the UK Foreign Office ran a secret domestic propaganda operation, the Information Research Department, which targeted UK trade unions and left politics under the guide of "countering communism". Forty years after that operation was shut down, it looks like they're at it again:

A secret UK Government-funded infowars unit based in Scotland sent out social media posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

On the surface, the cryptically named Institute for Statecraft is a small charity operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife.

But explosive leaked documents passed to the Sunday Mail reveal the organisation’s Integrity Initiative is funded with £2million of Foreign Office cash and run by military intelligence specialists.

The “think tank” is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming “clusters” of friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against disinformation.

But our investigation has found worrying evidence the shadowy programme’s official Twitter account has been used to attack Corbyn, the Labour Party and their officials.

Now there's a surprise. Because when the establishment funds propaganda ostensibly against a foreign target, it always seems to turn into propping up the establishment and the government-of-the-day at home.

Obviously, this is completely contrary to both public service neutrality and democratic values. The Foreign office needs to shut this operation down. But more than that, it needs to be open about what other propaganda it is funding, and shut that down too. Government officials simply should not be engaging in propaganda against the political opponents of the government-of-the-day.

A victory for transparency

This morning the government announced that it will be proactively releasing ministerial diaries from January next year:

Government ministers are trying to shake the image of shady politicians holding secret meetings by opening up their diaries.

The State Services Minister will announce today that for the first time all government ministers will publicly release details of their internal and external meetings from early next year.


The details released will include the date, start and finish time, a brief description, location, who the meeting was with and the ministerial portfolio involved.

It will all be published on the Beehive website within 15 business days of the end of each month.

There's some exceptions, including of course the hat game, so ministers can pretend they're meeting with people in a "personal" or "party" capacity rather than a ministerial one. I would hope that there's some external scrutiny on this, because there are strong incentives for politicians to lie to us to cover up their dodgier meetings. The presumption should be the same as for Ministers' information in general: that everything is official by default, and that not being a ministerial meeting is something that must be proved for each case.

One other gap is that the subject of the meeting is not automatically disclosed. Meeting topics are a significant target of OIA requests and parliamentary written questions, and the failure to disclose them will mean that those requests will have to continue (the way to force disclosure is for people to file regular, standardised OIA requests after each proactive disclosure seeking meeting topics, until they decide that it is just less work to include them in the first place).

But while there are holes, this is still a lot better than the status quo, and a victory for transparency. Now we just need to see if Ministers will follow the spirit of the thing, or try and circumvent it.

Friday, December 07, 2018

New Fisk

Spare me America's tears for Jamal Khashoggi – this excuse for Trump-bashing ignores the CIA's past crimes

Same old same old

A couple of years ago, in response to a report showing pervasive criminality within the fishing industry, the Ministry of Primary Industries finally started talking about doing something about it, via remotely-monitored cameras on fishing boats. After much foot-dragging that system is now in the trial phase. But despite detecting over 130 crimes, not a single fisher has been prosecuted:

Official figures show the trial of cameras on commercial boats has identified more than 130 compliance issues - but so far, no one has been prosecuted.


From what has been viewed, the offences have been stacking up.

Of the 133 cases of suspected non-compliance, six cases of fish coded as recreational catch when they were caught with commercial nets has been found.

Also not recorded were 44 cases of non-quota species being discarded, 14 cases of seafloor material being dredged up, four cases of seabird catches and 15 catches of undersized fish.

Although five compliance investigations were launched and two are still underway, no fishing company or individual has been prosecuted.

And these are serious crimes. Making a false catch statement is punishable by up to five years in jail; the rest is worth a $250,000 fine for each offence. But its the same problem we've seen again and again and again. MPI doesn't seem to have a problem detecting these offences. What it has is a total unwillingness to prosecute them. The agency has been completely captured by the criminals it is supposed to regulate. As for what should be done about it, MPI is completely unsalvageable. It should be split up and replaced with new, enforcement-focused agencies to actually enforce the law. And when establishing those agencies, the primary rule should be not to hire anyone who has ever worked for MPI. Their internal culture is corrupt and compromised, and no-one who works in them is fit in any way to serve in the public service.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Australia: racism beats "national security"

Today the Australian house of representatives is debating the government's super-important encryption backdoor legislation, which would require services like Signal to put a government backdoor in their software. Meanwhile, the Senate is debating an amendment which would require the government to approve medical transfers of refugees held in its Pacific concentration camps. Which given the level of mental illness in those gulags, will mean most of the victims being brought to Australia. The government doesn't want this to pass, firstly because they're racists, and secondly because it will mean a vote in the House which they will lose. And that won't just be humiliating for them - it may also mean an election.

The government has spent all week talking about how vital the encryption legislation is, and how it Must Be Passed By Christmas to deal with some nameless threat to the holidays (despite it not actually coming into force until next year). But when push comes to shove, it seems that knee-jerk authoritarianism has lost out to their desire to deny basic medical care to the people they've tortured: rather than risk having to listen to doctors, they've sent the house home early for christmas, sacrificing their encryption legislation in the process. I guess it just wasn't that important after all - or at least, not as important as being irredeemable racist arseholes, and being seen to be so by the Australian electorate.

Update: Except of course you can always rely on the chickenshittedness of the Australian Labor Party. The moment the house rose, they pulled their amendments to the encryption backdoor bill, allowing it to pass without challenge. So, Australia gets to be racist and a tyranny. 'Straya!


Last night Parliament passed the Employment Relations Amendment Act. The Act is disappointing, in that it only eliminates 90 day trials for large employers and restricts union access to workplaces. At the best, it returns the law to where it was before National's 2015 assaults on workers' rights. National is acting like that is the end of the world - in other words, that they presided over some left-wing hellzone for their first seven years of government - and that in itself is a reason to pass it. But I'd be lying if I said I was happy. A Labour government can and should do so much more than this on workers' rights. The realities of coalition and NZ First's reactionary nature meant that it could not, but that simply means that the law will be revisited if Labour is ever free of their shackles. Meanwhile, this has hopefully been a lesson to them about the value of potential coalition partners. In the past, they have chosen to partner with the reactionary NZ First party, and we can see where it has got them. If in the future they have such a choice again, then I hope they would do right by their supporters and choose a partner who won't kneecap them on this fundamental issue.

Climate Change: A threat to our security

If we don't stop it, climate change threatens to cause famine, migration, war, and death. and now NZDF has recognised the obvious: that all of this is a threat to New Zealand's security:

Climate change has been identified as one of the "most significant security threats of our time," according to a new report by the Ministry of Defence.

It said climate change was "already having adverse impacts both at home and in New Zealand's neighbourhood".

The assessment identified the particular security impacts which may arise as a result of climate change.

These included vulnerable populations losing their economic livelihoods, increased food and water scarcity, malnutrition, climate migration, health-related crises, competition for resources, land disputes and the potential for increased violence from mismanaged adaptation or migration.

The Stuff report on this has a lot more detail, but it basicly means NZDF is going to have to do a lot more disaster relief, both here and in the Pacific, as well as potential "stability operations" if climate change causes severe disruption to Pacific societies. And that's going to mean changes to how we equip them. Unstated is that the best way to deal with this security threat is to prevent climate change, by supporting strong global action to reduce emissions, and taking such action ourselves. But that bit isn't really defence policy...

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Climate Change: Helping the market

The government today announced a $100 million green investment fund to help new Zealand transition to a green economy:

The Government has bankrolled a $100 million green investment fund which aims to invest with businesses to reduce emissions while also helping them make a profit.

Climate Minister James Shaw said an increasing number of investors were looking to fund clean, sustainable ventures. The Government's $100 million start-up capital injection will help achieve this, he said.

"New Zealand faces a big job in upgrading our economy and infrastructure. New Zealand Green Investment Finance will help deliver financial backing to help ensure that the upgrade is fit for purpose," Mr Shaw said.

This is something the Greens have been advocating for years, and its a good idea. Financial markets have trouble supporting clean energy projects due to short-term thinking or a lack of long-term data, and so there's an obvious case for government to step in and fill the gap. Australia, the UK, and various US states have such institutions, and they've been useful in pushing their economies in a greener direction. Hopefully the NZ one will do a similar job (and be funded in future years to do it properly).

NZ should sign the UN Global Compact on Migration

One of the foundations of New Zealand foreign policy has been support for international institutions and international law. Now, the National Party is opposing that foundation over the UN Global Compact on Migration, saying that "it's not for the UN to tell NZ what to do", and threatening to withdraw from it if the government signs it. So what does this evil UN compact do?

having read the final draft version, the answer seems to be "what we're doing anyway". The Global Compact is a non-binding agreement - an aspiration statement more than anything - written in pure business quack-speak rather than the legal language of UN treaties. It basicly says that orderly migration is good, and better when migrants are welcomed by the societies they move to. It sets out some broad principles which should govern it - including human rights and national sovereignty - along with a series of objectives and "actions to be considered" in achieving them. Most of these objectives and actions are completely unobjectionable, and things New Zealand does anyway. So there's stuff like making it easy for migrants to know whether they'd actually meet the legal requirements to move to your country (duh), opposing people smuggling, and reducing the scope for migrants to be exploited. Plus boring things like working towards portable social security, mutual recognition of skills, and making it easy for migrants to send money back to their families. Through this, there's a constant focus on human rights, gender, and the rights of children, but this echoes actually-binding treaties NZ is a party to, like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and Convention on the Rights of the Child.

So what's controversial? National says it "treats legal and illegal migration in the same way". This doesn't seem to be the case. The principles section makes it clear that states may distinguish between regular and irregular migration status, including in the implementation of their commitments. And this is made clear in the section on providing basic services to migrants:

We commit to ensure that all migrants, regardless of their migration status, can exercise their human rights through safe access to basic services. We further commit to strengthen migrant-inclusive service delivery systems, notwithstanding that nationals and regular migrants may be entitled to more comprehensive service provision, while ensuring that any differential treatment must be based on law, proportionate, pursue a legitimate aim, in accordance with international human rights law.
What is a "basic service" is undefined, but New Zealand is already a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which requires us to recognise the right of all persons, without discrimination, to social security, health, education, housing, and an adequate standard of living (developing countries get to decide the extent to which they implement these rights for non-nationals. Developed countries like NZ don't). So, to the extent that we see this as an obligation, its one we signed up for fifty years ago. As for what it actually means, I'd interpret it as ruling out UK-style "hostile environment" policies (under which illegal migrants - or people who have forgotten their papers - cannot even rent homes or open bank accounts, let alone get jobs, go to school, use the hospitals, or receive benefits, in an explicit attempt to starve them out). We can't leave illegal migrants to starve in the street, or punish their children, but under that provision it seems lawful to treat them in the same manner as tourists or make them subject to the same residency requirements for services as citizens - or at least, no more unlawful than it is at present.

Iain Lees-Galloway says there's some areas of concern, such as "having identity cards for migrants, and what could be viewed as regulation of free speech". The former is an objective to implement the right to a legal identity by ensuring that both nationals have proof of nationality and migrants are issued adequate documentation at all stages of migration. The specific actions make it clear that this is largely an obligation on source countries to make it easy for people to get passports, birth and marriage certificates etc, rather than some Orwellian requirement to give migrants ID cards to mark them out from the rest of the population. As for the free speech stuff, suggested actions include enacting or maintaining anti-hate crime legislation and to cease public funding for media outlets that systematically promote xenophobia, racism and intolerance. We already have obligations to do both under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, so its hard to see any problem here.

So what's the real problem with this compact? Simple: it says immigration detention should only be used as a measure of last resort and outlaws leaving migrants to drown at sea. Racist countries such as Australia and much of Southern Europe hate this. And their racist discourse has been picked up and used locally by the National Party. Its kindof disturbing that they have those sorts of friends, but that's National for you. And so now they've become a party which explicitly opposes a rules-based international order. Except for trade in dairy products, of course.

Après moi, le déluge

Consequences of National's austerity, part 287: the public service forgot how to deal with (and was not funded for) a change of government:

Public servants responsible for the transition between governments failed to support new ministers as no-one had planned for a full scale, new administration.

Officials were caught on the hop after last year's general election, having planned for change no greater than a Cabinet reshuffle - that caused problems like being unable to supply laptops and mobile phones and a lack of experienced staff for incoming ministers.

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins ordered the review after frustration about the level of staffing and administration support ministers received from Ministerial and Secretarial Support Services (MaSS) upon taking office.

The KPMG report, obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act, found there was a shortage of skilled ministerial staff and IT support, which "affected some ministers' ability to get their offices up and running in a timely way".

There's a problem of institutional decay here - restructuring got rid of experienced staff who knew how to handle a change of government, meaning the organisation as a whole didn't really know what to do. But the core problem seems to be underfunding: National decided that the 2017 election would lead to no more than a reshuffle, and funded accordingly. I'm not sure whether that's just arrogance or not giving a fuck, but either way it is not acceptable. Like elections, changes of government are fundamental to a democracy, and its a core capability that needs to be retained. And the obvious answer is to fund and prepare for a full change of government each election, just in case. If it doesn't happen, then some of that money will be saved - but the institution will retain the skills, and that seems to be important here. Except, of course, to penny-pinching austerity-freaks who don't care what happens if they're not elected.

Legal advice and freedom of information

The UK government was found to have committed contempt of parliament today, and will be publishing its full Brexit legal advice as a result (and as a desperate attempt to keep government ministers out of the clock tower). Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson argues that legal advice to the government should be published as a matter of course:

There is no political “convention” more misguided and less examined than the supposed rule that legal advice to ministers must remain confidential. This is the basis for the government’s refusal to publish the attorney general’s advice on Brexit, instead releasing a summary. The refusal relied on the theory of attorney-client privilege – namely that counsel’s advice to a client is confidential to that client who has the sole discretion over whether to publish it. Ministers, however, are no ordinary clients.

Ministers expend taxpayers’ money when instructing counsel to provide an opinion on the law – a law that everyone is entitled (and indeed presumed) to know. In so doing they act not for their personal interest but on behalf of the people whose interest they are bound to represent. In any true democracy, the public should be able to see that advice, to discuss and debate it, and since it is not infrequently proved, later in court, to have been wrong, to expose its errors before the government acts unlawfully or mistakenly.

And he's got a point. Fundamentally, its our advice after all: ministers work for us, we have paid for it, so we have a right to see it. Publishing it or making it available under freedom of information laws will mean we will know what Ministers think the law means, whether it accords with public understanding, and whether they have been warned they might be breaking it. It will increase both public understanding and the accountability of ministers and officials. But Robertson goes further: as a lawyer, he knows lawyers will argue whatever the client wants them to, so he suggests that the instructions for legal advice also be published. That way, people can know whether ministers are asking whether an action is legal, or whether it is "arguably" legal (or as John Key would have put it, "pretty legal") - and there is a world of difference between the two. We expect a higher standard from government than mere "arguable" legality, particularly where human rights are concerned.

I don't think this is a good idea in the context of litigation (at least until it is finally resolved), but should apply absolutely in the case of ministers and officials seeking advice on the lawfulness of a particular policy. What harm could arise? They won't stop doing that, especially if its legally required as part of the policy process. The only foreseeable "harm" is to limit the ability of government to play fast and loose with the law. And IMHO that is not a "harm" at all.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Redacting their dirty laundry

Earlier in the year, in response to a litany of abuse by EQC, MBIE, and others, the government initiated an inquiry into the government's use of Thompson and Clark Investigations, New Zealand's private anti-left-wing spy agency. In September, after Stuff exposed how the Police also used Thompson and Clark, they announced their own inquiry. As I understand it, the inquiry is now completed, but the report has not yet been released publicly. But the police have released their internal correspondence about it under the OIA.

The first interesting point: while there's some talk of cooperation with the SSC's inquiry (even though they are not covered by it), the police's own internal inquiry only happened when they are kicked into it by DPMC after direct questions were asked to the Prime Minister about the Stuff story. Which suggests a lack of willingness to be proactive on the issue.

As for the rest, there's a lot of redactions in there, ostensibly under s6(c) to prevent prejudice to the maintenance of the law because of the inquiries underway by the SSC and Police. I've blogged about that particular issue here, and I will be taking the opportunity to challenge those redactions. Hopefully a clear ombudsman's ruling will end that bullshit forever. Some of the redactions are supposedly under s9(2)(h) to protect legal privilege, which is interesting, given that the participant who is obviously a lawyer - Sarah Baddeley - is acting for SSC, not the police, so there's no solicitor/client privilege. And because the police haven't followed good practice and identified the reasons for each redaction, it means that everything has to be challenged (and if they haven't documented the reason for each patch of black, well, I doubt the Ombudsman will be very impressed).

But what's interesting is what they redact. Because there are repeated mentions of areas where police have worked with TCIL, "known areas", and potential areas the inquiry could touch on. These are all redacted. It is clear the police are aware of issues, and are simply trying to keep them secret.

Lock them in the clock tower!

Three weeks ago, the UK parliament voted unanimously to order the government to release its full legal advice on Brexit, so that it would be available to them ahead of their "meaningful vote". The government subsequently refused to obey, providing only a summary and a Q&A session with the attorney-general. And so parliament is now moving to punish them for contempt:

A cabinet minister is at risk of being suspended from parliament and missing next week’s crunch Commons vote after Labour and the DUP accused ministers of holding parliament in contempt for failing to publish the full Brexit legal advice on Monday.

The fate of the minister – likely to be either David Lidington or Geoffrey Cox – will be in the hands of MPs after John Bercow, the Speaker, declared there was “an arguable case that a contempt has been committed”.

Bercow said he would accept a contempt motion from Labour, the Democratic Unionist party and four other opposition parties, allowing MPs to debate the matter on Tuesday before the beginning of the five-day debate on whether to endorse the Brexit deal.

But suspension isn't enough. This is a deliberate and pre-meditated refusal to deliver information in response to a parliamentary command. The obedience of the executive to the legislature is the fundamental bedrock of the Westminster system, and the government's refusal to obey is a direct attack on the UK's constitution. The Minister should be imprisoned until they produce the information, just like any other person guilty of a similar contempt of court. Lock them in the clock tower!

Climate Change: National are still dragging their feet

The terrible news on the climate recently - the IPCC report, the UN report on rising greenhouse gas concentrations, and the background drumbeat of places burning, flooding, or otherwise being struck by climate-induced disaster - has caused some to hope that the National Party might finally get it and vote to save humanity when the government's Zero Carbon Bill comes before the House. But if a speech climate change spokesman Todd Muller and regional economic development spokesman Paul Goldsmith gave in New Plymouth last week is anything to go by, National are still foot-draggers:

National are supporting a steady approach to climate change policy based on broad science, technology and a clear understanding of what other countries are doing, as opposed to ideology, climate change spokesman Todd Muller has said.


[National] wanted to ensure deliberations were informed by broad science, and available technology was recognised when sectors transition away from current activity, as well as having a clear line of sight on what the rest of the world are doing, particularly NZ's trading partners, he said.

And then we have the usual excuse-making: NZ's emissions are just 0.17% of the global total, strong action will undermine the economy, we shouldn't do anything until everyone else has. They specifically oppose acting against the gas industry, and they specifically oppose reducing cow numbers.

This is the same old mantra we heard when National was in office. The world is literally burning down, and rather than joining the fight, they're worried about how saving it might upset the status quo and put their donors and cronies out of business. Which means their policy is literally to let it burn.

In the current situation, this is simply not a credible position. And if the government is thinking of compromising with them for the appearance of unity, they should think again. "Compromise" with foot-draggers is actively dangerous to the climate, in that it locks in failure for the long run. Rather than making a deal which is not worth making and which cannot responsibly be kept, the government should legislate a strong target, and defend it at the next election.

NZTA, ANPR and privacy

Earlier in the month, we learned that NZTA would be trialling point-to-point speed cameras in the Waterview Tunnel. The cameras are a good road-safety tool to detect speeding, but they use automatic number-plate recognition (ANPR), and depending on how long the number plates are stored for and what is done with them, risks creating a UK-style database of people's public movements. So, I sent an OIA request to NZTA asking them for information about the system and any privacy policy or privacy assessment they had done for it.

The response is here. While they haven't completed the privacy work yet, there is some very good news about data retention:

In regard to the third part of your request, the system is being designed to hold an image of vehicles for the period of time it takes to travel between cameras. A second image will then be taken and only images of vehicles that have an average speed above the speed limit as well as being above the operating threshold (same as static cameras) will be retained by the system, all other images will be discarded. Infringement notices for speeding offences which are recorded by the cameras will be issued by the New Zealand Police.

Which seems pretty good: no storage, no database, so no huge privacy issue. We still need to keep an eye on it to ensure that it isn't subsequently modified to do those things, but if this is NZTA's default implementation of ANPR speed cameras and traffic counting, then we should be safe.

Monday, December 03, 2018

A compromised decision

Stuff reports on the government shelving its plans for a fisheries review after pressure from NZ First. Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash is trying to present this as no big deal, but it basicly means that the status quo - under which the fishing industry engages in widespread criminal behaviour and is not punished for it - continues. But the worst bit: the pressure was apparently from Shane Jones. And Shane Jones is... not exactly clean:

Jones accepted thousands of dollars in donations from industry giants Sealord and Talley's in his last election campaign.

He has defended the industry against Greenpeace in the past, saying he won't stand to see an industry that provides good jobs for the regions "disfigured".

Where "thousands" is actually "tens of thousands": $10,000 from Talleys in 2017, and another $10,000 from Sealord when a Labour candidate in 2011. These donations create an appearance of a conflict of interest so severe that no sane person would let Jones anywhere near fisheries policy. No matter whether Talleys and Sealord expected any payback or not, any decision that Jones makes or any lobbying he carries out will be seen not just as tainted, but as purchased. It simply looks corrupt. And it is a perfect example of why we need both greater transparency, but also a ban on large donations.

What's special about Simons Pass?

Simons Pass is a hugely controversial dairy conversion on leased high country land in the Mackenzie Country. The leaseholders plan to stick 15,000 cows on some of the dryest land in the country, using irrigation to turn the tussock into grass. All of this requires the permission of the Commissioner of Crown Lands, but it was granted - against DoC advice, and against normal practice:

Greenpeace is questioning why a particular high country station in the Mackenzie Basin has had multiple discretionary consents granted to it by the Commissioner for Crown Lands against Department of Conservation advice.

A summary of discretionary consents presented to the Canterbury Aoraki Conservation Board (CACB) this week reveals DOC provided advice on 28 separate discretionary consent applications for Crown Pastoral Lease land in the Canterbury region between July 2016 and May 2018.

Of those, it appears all but eight followed DOC advice in some form. Five of those related to Simons Pass Station, a 9700-hectare high country station at the southern end of Lake Pukaki, which lodged seven of the 28 discretionary concessions.

The only times they followed DoC advice was when DoC approved the changes anyway. When DoC opposed changes (usually because they would have "profound and irreversible adverse effects"), they were ignored.

So, what's so special about Simons Pass? Why is DoC advice followed for other stations, but not this one? The Commissioner for Crown Lands owes us some answers.

New Fisk

Middle East dictators always end up bringing their western allies down – and now they've got their coils in the White House
To unlock the diplomatic mysteries behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, take a look at Syria