Friday, August 17, 2018



Labour supports Muldoonism

Last month, National's Nick Smith pushed a Muldoonist bill aiming to force the Department of Conservation to surrender part of a protected forest park so farmers in his electorate can build a dam for irrigation. Sadly, it seems that Labour has decided to support it:

However, the Labour Party caucus has agreed to support the legislation while Shane Jones, of NZ First, this week said the social and economic benefits of the dam were large. Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith, who is sponsoring the local bill, in July said he had secured support for it from all 56 National MPs.

The local bill seeks to gain an inundation easement over 9.67 hectares of conservation land in the Mount Richmond State Forest Park needed for the creation of the reservoir for the proposed dam in the Lee Valley. The bill would also secure a right to construct the dam on Crown riverbed.

[Green Party co-leader Marama] Davidson said the Green Party believed that conservation land should be protected for its innate values and that the transfer of conservation land "for use as part of a dam cannot be reconciled with the fundamental commitment to protect it for conservation".

The Green Party caucus was listening to the concerns of environmentalists "and the local community, and will not support the upcoming Waimea dam-enabling legislation".


So, when it comes to a choice between conservation and farmers, Labour chooses farmers. Its good to know which side they're on, and that they cannot be relied upon to protect the environment. And hopefully, the Greens will be taking that into account when considering their support for government legislation in the future.

New Fisk

A US trade war with Turkey over a little known pastor? Don't believe a word of it

Unsurprising

The 2017 election delivered a tight result, with National feeling cheated because they no longer held a majority. So naturally, they've been trying to persuade NZ First MPs to switch sides:

National leader Simon Bridges has tried to talk New Zealand First MPs, including Ron Mark, into leaving the party, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has claimed.

[...]

"The leader of the National Party Simon Bridges has been talking to members of my caucus about how they might jump the ship and stay on, doing a deal with them. This is how bad and how rotten it is," Peters said.

He named Defence Minister and New Zealand First MP Ron Mark as a target of Bridges' approaches.

"He's been witnessed saying 'look come on Ron, let's just do a deal. You can have Wairarapa'. In short he was talking about dumping his local MP called [Alastair] Scott. So, you know, pretty bad stuff."

Mark did not return a call for comment but in a text message said "Wow, how did you find out about that."


This is completely unsurprising. National is just four seats from government, and if NZ First has refused as a party to work with them, they'll naturally try shifting individual MPs and buying their loyalty with electorate deals. Its dirty, but that's what desperate Tories when denied what they think is their "natural" place. At the same time, its no justification for anti-party-hopping legislation. If a party cannot maintain the loyalty of its MPs, then that's on them, and our democracy shouldn't be undermined because Winston Peters feels insecure and inadequate.

Thursday, August 16, 2018



A contempt of Parliament?

Today in the sparring over the waka-jumping bill, Nick Smith reminded everyone of something we'd forgotten about: NZ First's dubious attempts to coerce their Members of Parliament:

NZ First leader Winston Peters has defended a clause in the party's constitution which hold MPs liable for a $300,000 penalty if they resign.

The clause states that every member who is elected as a New Zealand First list MP or constituency MP, must sign a "resignation obligation contract" which imposes a "liability for liquidated damages in the sum of $300,000" if they resign or are expelled from caucus or the party.

Peters said a lot of time and money was put on the line and "no one is entitled to jeopardise it and just walk off without any regard to the proportionality of the vote at election time, that's why it's important".

[...]

National MP Nick Smith asked Justice Minister Andrew Little in Parliament whether the Government supported MPs being subjected to legally binding contracts requiring them to pay $300,000 if they fell out with their party.

Little said he had no knowledge of such an arrangement and it sounded hypothetical.


Clearly, its not: its part of NZ First's constitution. And, as Andrew Geddis explained last time this came up, its clearly unenforceable: no court will touch a contract which purports to determine whether someone is an MP, and any attempt to enforce such a contract (that is, to financially punish someone for being an MP) would be a clear contempt of Parliament. But while the clause may be unenforceable, like a lot of other illegal contracts, it still may be treated as binding by its victims and influence their behaviour. So its worth asking: insofar as it threatens MPs in the course of their official duties, is the rule itself also a contempt? Hopefully the Privileges Committee will give us an answer.

More pillage

Back in 2014, the then-National government rammed through the West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Act 2014. The Act was an act of pure pillage, using the excuse of a strong storm to undermine the Forests (West Coast Accord) Act 2000 and allow National's donors and cronies to loot native timber from the conservation estate. The one good thing about the Act is that it is scheduled to expire next year. But naturally, National wants to extend it:

National MP Maureen Pugh is hoping to introduce a bill to Parliament soon on behalf of the West Coast Regional Council which would allow the Director-General of the Department of Conservation to authorise the removal of some windblown trees on conservation land following bad weather.

"I have been working with the West Coast Regional Council since the Government blocked my motion to have my Members Bill on this topic introduced to Parliament in April," Pugh said.

It is similar to legislation implemented by the former National government in 2014, opposed then by Labour and the Greens, after Cyclone Ita flattened large swathes of native forest in the region.

Worse, according to that article it has the support Shane Jones, and therefore probably NZ First. Which is odd as they opposed the 2014 version. But now they're promoting themselves as the champions of rural pillagers I guess.

This is the issue where the Greens should put their foot down, because it strikes at the very idea of conservation in New Zealand. These trees are on conservation land, and conservation land is for conserving, not for mining. But it also shows the gulf in mindset between the pillagers and the rest of New Zealand. As with its characterisation of rivers as "water flowing out to sea", National is characterising these trees as "waste". What they actually are is the nutrient cycle in action, and vital for the health of those forests. Removing them will actively undermine conservation. This bill needs to be opposed, both in the House and in the forests themselves.

A bit rich

So, the Education Minister thinks teachers are demanding too much money:

The Education Minister says teachers' demand for a 16 percent pay rise over two years outstrips what others in the workforce are receiving.

[...]

Chris Hipkins told Morning Report he expected there to be compromise.

"If they're going to hold fast to 16 percent over two years or eight percent a year, that's way out of kilter with what everybody else in the economy is receiving and I think I would be looking for some movement from their side on that as well," he said.


Which is a bit rich coming from a man currently paid ~$250,000 a year, and who for the past decade has enjoyed an MP's salary of at least $120,000. Another example of how the necessary evil of MP's high pay distorts their perceptions.

The blunt fact is that teachers have been underpaid and exploited for years and need to catch up. And this necessarily requires pay increases that are "out of kilter" with what everyone else is getting - or else they don't get anywhere. As for the solution, Hipkins can either pay up, or learn to teach his own fucking kids.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018



More Australian racism

How vile is Australian politics? A federal Senator has called for a "final solution" to immigration, and called for a return to the white Australia policy:

An Australian crossbench senator has invoked the term “the final solution” in an inflammatory speech calling for a plebiscite asking voters whether they want to end all immigration by Muslims and non-English speaking people “from the third world”.

Fraser Anning, formerly of the far-right Pauline Hanson One Nation party, and now a member of the Katter’s Australia party, used his maiden speech in the Senate to call for “a plebiscite to allow the Australian people to decide whether they want wholesale non-English speaking immigrants from the third world, and particularly whether they want any Muslims”.

[...]

Anning also invoked the white Australia policy, suggesting Australians may want “to return to the predominately European immigration policy of the pre-Whitlam consensus”. The white Australia policy, which restricted non-European immigration, ran from 1901 until it began to be dismantled in the late 1960s.


The speech has been condemned by government ministers, but it all seems a bit two-faced when that government has been fearmongering about "immigrant gangs" and is putting refugees in Pacific concentration camps and letting them die of preventable diseases in an effort to psychologically torture them into renouncing their claims to refugee status. The blunt fact is that Anning's vile politics are simply an extension of the government's.

Teachers deserve a raise

Primary and intermediate school teachers are on strike today in effort to get higher pay and better conditions. Good on them. Teachers are massively underpaid for the work they do, and there's been an exodus from the profession as a result. Unless the government does something serious to improve things, they're going to find themselves with an even bigger shortage in coming years.

The government is of course pleading poverty and saying that the strike is "too early" - which is a bit rich coming from Ministers paid (respectively) quarter of a million and half a million a year. To point out the obvious, teachers are as deserving of nurses of a pay rise. But I guess Labour, "the worker's party", would rather spend $2.3 billion on pointless war toys than ensure the proper education of the nation's kids: something which will make far more of a difference to our wellbeing than searching for mythical submarines from non-existent enemies ever will.

During their time in office, National ran down our public infrastructure with cruel austerity. That included not just the physical infrastructure of hospitals and schools, but the human infrastructure, the people who staff them. The coalition government was elected to reverse that. If Jacinda Ardern wants to keep her half a million a year, she needs to deliver on that core promise. Alternatively, she can see disappointed voters kick her out in 2020. Her choice.

Captured

A farmer illegally digs up a reserve, destroying native vegetation, in order to plant pasture to make the land they lease seem more attractive to foreign buyers. You'd hope that in New Zealand, such actions would lead to charges under the RMA and Reserves Act. Instead, LINZ just retrospectively approves them:

Just as the country’s second-biggest Crown pastoral lease was being touted for sale, riverside reserve land on the farm was converted to pasture without permission to boost its prospects.

[...]

As the marketing campaign launched, a roughly 100ha block of Mt White was fenced, and some of it cleared of indigenous plants and put into pasture. Half of the area to be cleared was on a freehold title owned by Mt White, but the other 50ha was reserve land. Government officials didn’t know about the work until two months later, when Mt White sought retrospective permission.

The 50ha of reserve land – about two-thirds the size of Auckland Domain – is part of the 1000ha Riversdale Flats reserve, an area earmarked for inclusion in a national park since 1901. Despite the fact Mt White borders the Arthur’s Pass National Park, the reserve is part of the Mt White lease. Its care, therefore, is in the hands of the lessee, with Government oversight.

The Crown land manager, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), retrospectively approved Mt White’s reserve land work – against advice from the Department of Conservation (DOC) and without punishment of the lessee.


Worse, LINZ then turned around and granted permission to this criminal leaseholder to destroy another thousand hectares of the high country, turning native bush and endangered bird habitat into farmland.

This isn't good enough. LINZ is supposed to act as a guardian of crown land, and prevent it from being destroyed in this way. Instead, they just seem to be rubber-stamping everything. Like MPI, they seem to have been captured by the people they are supposed to be regulating.

Crown pastoral leases are a rort which needs to end. But until they do, is it too much to ask that the public's representatives actually enforce the public's rights, and prevent leaseholders from destroying the environment they are temporarily occupying? And if they're not willing to, they should be sacked and replaced by someone who will.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018



And more cronyism

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

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

Some defence!

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

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

[...]

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

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

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


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

What the Haumaha inquiry is about

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

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

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

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


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

Climate change: Fixing the ETS

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 13, 2018



Racist of the year

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to end the pastoral lease rort

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

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

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

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

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

Turning a blind eye to pollution

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, August 10, 2018



Climate change: Fonterra ditches coal

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

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

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

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


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

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

New Fisk

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

The bag-ban

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

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

Thursday, August 09, 2018



This man should be fired

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

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

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

[...]

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

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


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