Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bombing their own people

Several days ago, the Pakistani government learned that a madrasa in a village called Chingai was being used by "terrorists". But rather than sending in the police or the military to arrest those involved and try them for their crimes (whatever they might have been), they bombed it, killing 80 people.

That's bad enough, but it gets worse. It turns out that not all of the people the Pakistani government sentenced to death without trial were terrorists. In Chingai, villagers are digging bits of children out of the rubble. Among the dead was Maulana Liaqatullah, the leader of the madrasa. He was a radical Islamist, a supporter of the Taleban with "links" to Al Qaeda - but even in Pakistan that doesn't justify execution without trial. These people were murdered, by a lawless government that bombs its own people - and what sort of government does that?

And as if that isn't bad enough, ABC is reporting that according to Pakistani intelligence sources, the airstrike was an attempt to assassinate Al Qaeda number 2 Ayman al Zawahiri, and was carried out not by Pakistani helicopter gunships, but by a US drone.

You can just imagine how this is going down in Pakistan. The one thing worse than a government which bombs its own people is one which has foreigners do it for them. So people are on the streets chanting "death to Bush" and calling for jihad against America, and tomorrow, they'll be helping Al Qaeda. Way to win the war on terror, guys.

The Pentagon and propaganda

The US military has set up a new unit to "promote its mesage" in the media and on the internet. While being sold as correcting "innaccurate" stories (such as those saying that the US is losing the war), the purpose is clearly domestic propaganda. While part of the operation will focus on official spokespeople, there's also a heavy emphasis on "surrogates" - "unconnected" third parties whose job is to echo the official line, giving it a veneer of independence.

This sort of domestic propaganda operation simply has no place in a democracy. Democracy is supposed to work by public debate and the consent of the governed - but what the US government is saying is that it should use deceit to shape that debate, in effect manufacturing that consent. That sort of behaviour is more reminiscent of totalitarian governments like North Korea, or Stalin's Russia, than a democracy like the United States.

Pumpkin time

It's Halloween, the only holiday that I truly celebrate, so I am about to embark on the annual pumpkin ritual. I have everything I need: a pumpkin, a knife, and a vast amount of chocolate; hopefully this year I'll even get some trick or treaters.

Photos may be posted later, depending on whether I can borrow a digital camera.

Climate change: a Stern warning

For the past year, Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the UK's Government Economic Service and former World Bank Chief Economist, has been conducting a comprehensive review on the economics of climate change. Today, he released his report - and its a stern warning indeed. Climate change has the potential to cause immense damage, with even 2 degrees of warming expected to cause the extinction of 15 - 40 percent of all species as habitats shift and vanish. Three degrees will cause the dislocation of millions of people due to sea-level rise, while four degrees would seriously reduce global food production. And of course most of these impacts will fall on the poor - so there's definitely a moral imperative for action.

For a long time, action on climate change was limited by worries about the economic cost. Stern - who is about as credible as you can get on this front - blows those worries out of the water. Dealing with climate change will cost us 1% of GDP a year - steep, but manageable. Not dealing with it is expected to cost 5% of GDP a year, and possibly as much as 20% if the worst-case scenarios come true. That makes action a no-brainer (though I'm sure that those with no brains and large wallets will continue to oppose it).

Fortunately, we still have time - but not much. The window is 10 to 20 years to get a solution in place and set emissions towards a downward path, or we will commit ourselves to paying the price of inaction. This means that we need to push ahead quickly on negotiating a successor to Kyoto, with stronger emissions reduction targets and some way of eventually bringing in major developing countries (note "eventually". The rich countries created this problem, so we have a moral obligation to bear most of the burden of solving it). Hopefully the Stern report will help make that task easier.

The report was welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry, who called for swift action to build a global carbon market. Meanwhile, in "clean and green" New Zealand, business leaders aren't so sure about this whole Green thing, while on National Radio this morning the Business Round Table and Federated Farmers were doing their best to pooh-pooh the entire idea of climate change (let alone dealing with it). Clearly, if we want to act, we are going to have to go over these people rather than working with them. Fortunately, it looks like there is now the public support to do that.

Something to go to in Auckland

The Bruce Jesson Foundation will be holding its annual lecture next month. This year's speaker is former Listener journalist and Green Party media advisor Gordon Campbell. His topic is Getting personal: The trends towards tabloidisation, personalisation, and commercialisation and how they are shaping the ways that the media and politicians deal with each other:

The lecture traces the trends towards tabloidisation, personalisation, and commercialisation in the mainstream media in New Zealand, from the perspectives of someone who has been a former Gallery journalist and is a current media adviser. The lecture will be using various media theories, film criticism, relationship counselling and the legacy of Bruce Jesson to try and explain why Gallery coverage and political spin has become increasingly non-linear and apparently trivial in a traditional policy sense. It will conclude by citing a few upcoming issues that will require activists to develop other avenues of political discourse than print and television, and speculates on how this might be done.

When: November 21st, 18:30 (bar open from 17:30)
Where: Maidment Theatre, University of Auckland (8 Alfred Street)
How much: Free!

It should be well worth going to.

Pinochet arrested again

In 1998, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was placed under house arrest in London while facing extradition on torture charges. Now, it's happening in his own country. Pinochet has been charged with 36 counts of kidnapping, 23 counts of torture, and one of murder for the disappearance and torture of opponents of his regime at the Villa Grimaldi. Among the victims there were current Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and her mother.

Pinochet has been charged with human rights abuses before, and always found to be too ill to stand trial. Hopefully this time will be different. He is an old man, but I want to see him convicted and held to account for his crimes before he dies.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Wind in Australia

So far, the competition to be the Southern Hemisphere's largest windfarm has been limited to New Zealand (and the Manawatu at that). Currently, Meridian Energy's Te Apiti holds the title, at 90.8 MW, but it will soon be eclipsed again by Tararua, which then be overtaken by the 210 MW Project Westwind (assuming consents are granted), which will in turn lose to the 270 MW Hawkes Bay Windfarm. But now Australia is getting into the act, with a 329 MW farm planned for MacArthur in Victoria. This cannot be allowed to stand. But fortunately, Meridian has a plan to trump the Aussies: Project Hayes, a massive 630 MW monster in Central Otago.

The Aussies are now having exactly the same sorts of debates about wind farms we have had (and mostly gotten over) in New Zealand. People are arguing that they're ugly, unreliable, noisy, that they kill birds, and that the flicker of their turning blades drives people mad (no, I didn't make that one up). In New Zealand, most of these concerns have been dismissed as spurious, though significant landscape values may still be taken into account. Interestingly, Project Hayes has problems on that front, as it would significantly change the nature of the Central Otago landscape. But that's what the RMA process is for.

Finally, its interesting to note that it costs around twice as much (in dollars per MW) to build a windfarm in Australia as in New Zealand. Given that their wind resource is generally poorer (meaning lower output and hence lower returns), this suggests that wind will not be playing anywhere near the role in Australia's electricity future as it will here.

InFAQs on Member's Bills

Parliament is in recess this week, so there probably won't be much political news unless Taito Phillip Field shows an unexpected strand of decency and resigns. But this does allow me to catch up on a few things - and one of the things I've been meaning to catch up on is Member's Bills. I've been covering these fairly intensively since the beginning of the year, so here's some statistics and answers to questions nobody has asked:

  • How many bills have there been? There have been 70 Member's Bills submitted to the ballot so far this session. I've managed to blog about 56 of them, either individually or in an In The Ballot post.
  • How many have been drawn? 33 of those 70 bills have been drawn, so the odds have been just under 50%.
  • Who uses the ballot? The most prolific users of the ballot have been National, with 24 bills submitted. However, this only 0.5 bills per MP. The most prolific per MP have been ACT, with 8 bills between 2 MPs. The Greens score well in both categories with 16 bills submitted (2.66 per MP).
  • Who has the ballot mojo? Clearly, it's the Maori party, who have a perfect hit rate - the only bill they've submitted so far was drawn on its first ballot. Beyond that, ACT has been clearly running ahead of the odds, with 5 bills drawn. The Greens have had 8, and Labour 4. United Future are the unluckiest party; despite having had bills in the ballot all year, they haven't had a single one drawn (though given the nature of those bills, I'm not entirely displeased about that).
  • What is the ballot used for? The highest profile bills last term have been those on "moral issues" - prostitution, the drinking age, the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill. This is still a heavy theme (e.g. Death With Dignity, gay adoption), but there's also been a heavy emphasis on the RMA and Treaty of Waitangi. Many bills are concerned with minor tweaks to legislation, some of which are subsequently taken up by the government; the role of the bill then is simply to promote an issue.
  • Do they pass? According to the Progress of Legislation report, 16 Member's Bills introduced this term have been set to select committee. 7 were voted down, and 2 were discharged. Another 8 are still on the Order Paper awaiting their first reading. However, no bills introduced this session have passed into law yet.

Unfortunately, the fun may be about to end - there may be no ballots for a while. Why? Look at the Order Paper: a large number of bills given their first readings earlier in the year have now returned from Select Committee, and so their second readings (and those of local bills) will likely eat all the time before Christmas. Meanwhile, there's more bills due back from committee - Easter Sunday shop trading and s59 in November, and more in December and January - and eight bills waiting for their first reading. So it might be quite a while before we see a space open up on the Order Paper again.

New (expat) kiwi blog

Caraka - A wanderer's weblog. Interestingly, he's into wave energy, and wants to have his server running entirely on off-grid renewables.

South America stays red

Brazil held the second round of its presidential election overnight, and re-elected sitting President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva by an overwhelming margin. According to preliminary results from the Justiça Eleitoral, with the count 98.4% done, Lula is leading 60.79% to 39.21%. South America stays red.

I am curious as to why so many South American countries use a runoff vote. Sure, it works - but wouldn't it be easier to use a preferential voting system instead?

Meanwhile, next weekend it will be Nicaragua's turn - and Sandinista President Daniel Ortega looks to be set for a first-round victory. Oliver North - remember him? - is not pleased. He blows his career trading arms for hostages with Iran in an effort to overthrow a foreign left-wing government in violation of US law, and they elect the guy. Clearly Nicaraguans have no sense of gratitude...

Flag burning in the UK

The London Metropolitan Police want to criminalise flag burning. Their reason?

Tarique Ghaffur, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told BBC Radio Five Live that Britain was seen as soft on extremist demonstrators. "There appears to be a growing public perception that policing of demonstrations is unduly lenient," he said. "The reason this is a great country is the tolerance of people. If they start to see images of people who seem to be 'getting away with it', that starts to erode."

"Getting away with" what, exactly? This isn't about violent protests - the police can already arrest and charge those who run riot and smash windows. Neither is it about those who supposedly threaten lives - the police have shown they are willing to prosecute those who make abstract statements advocating killing people (at least if they're Muslim - the BNP of course gets a free ride for much, much worse). No, what these protestors are "getting away with" is voicing unpopular opinions that the government does not want to hear. The opinions themselves are not criminal, and cannot be criminalised - so instead, they are trying to create a new offence of flag burning to use as a proxy to allow them to arrest and harass those people for their views. Just another step on the UK's road away from being a free society...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Geeking out on milk

In response to my post on Clark on climate change, in which I suggested that farmers should be paying the cost of their emissions rather than receiving an environmental subsidy from the government, Muerk asked the obvious question: wouldn't this cause prices to rise? And could this have bad equity effects by pricing low income families out of dairy consumption?

I've just spent the last half hour geeking out trying to answer this question. Here's my quick calculations:

According to Fonterra's summary of the dairy industry, there are 3.85 million dairy cows in New Zealand, producing 14.6 billion litres of milk. So each cow produces on average 3792 L of milk.

According to the latest inventory report, each cow produces:

  • 117 kg / year of nitrogen in urine. Using the measured emissions factor of 0.01 and the standard Global Warming Potential of 310, this turns into 0.3627 T CO2-e per year of nitrous oxide.
  • 79.4 kg / year of methane from enteric fermentation, and 0.889 kg / year of methane due to shit. Using the standard emissions factor of 21, this turns into 1.686 T CO2-e per year of methane.

Added up, this is just under 2.05 T CO2-e per cow per year. The cost of those emissions varies depending on who you ask - the government says $20 / tonne, the Greens $30. Using the Greens' figure to get a high estimate, this means an additional $61.50 a year per cow. Dividing by 3792 L of milk yields an extra 1.6 cents a litre. Hardly going to break the bank, is it?

Similar calculations to find the carbon cost added to each sausage or steak are left as an exercise for the reader.

Something to go to in Auckland

While we're on the topic of farmers being an environmental problem, Sunday Star-Times columnist Rod Oram is giving a talk in Auckland on the topic of "100% Impure New Zealand: A View From Abroad":

When: Tuesday, November 7th, 6pm
Where: Red Lecture Theatre, UniTec, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert
How Much: Free.

No doubt, Don Brash will regard the topic as "treasonous".

Clark on climate change

Labour is having its annual conference this weekend - something which is dominating political commentary at the moment - so I thought I'd highlight a piece of Helen Clark's keynote address. Speaking about climate change, she said:

I believe it’s time to be bold in this area.

Why shouldn’t New Zealand aim to be the first country which is truly sustainable – not by sacrificing our living standards, but by being smart and determined?

We can now move to develop more renewable energy, biofuels, public transport alternatives, and minimise, if not eliminate, waste to landfills.

We could aim to be carbon neutral.

I believe that sustainability will be a core value in 21st century social democracy.

  • I want New Zealand to be in the vanguard of making it happen – for our own sakes, and for the sake of our planet.
  • I want sustainability to be central to New Zealand’s unique national identity.

This is a strong signal that the upcoming New Zealand Energy Strategy (a draft version of which is due out in the next few months) will include a strong commitment to renewable energy, and possibly even the goal of 100% renewable or carbon neutral electricity generation mooted in the government's "way ahead" cabinet paper earlier in the year. This would be good news if it happens, but at the same time it displays the same flaw which has characterised New Zealand climate change policy from the beginning: excluding agriculture. The problem can be clearly seen in the graph below (taken from the Climate Change Office's annual report):

Agriculture is responsible for 49.4% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity generation is responsible for 8.1%. While reducing electricity sector emissions to zero by switching to renewables or requiring generators to plant trees would make a significant dent in our net position (and be a remarkable step forward), doing so while allowing agricultural emissions to continue to grow unchecked will make it a futile effort. We cannot continue to wall off agriculture and pretend that it is not part of the problem - it is the problem in New Zealand.

This doesn't mean that we need to start shooting cows and throwing them in a ditch. But it does mean that the government needs to do a hell of a lot more to target the agricultural sector. Taxing nitrogen-based fertiliser (responsible for both greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our waterways) so that farmers pay the full price of its environmental effects rather than dumping them on the wider community would be a good start. Capping stocking levels so that farmers couldn't overstock their land (which worsens both problems) would be another. On the methane front, there are currently few abatement options - so the government needs to work harder on finding them. Doubling the funding for research into reducing ruminant methane would improve our chances of solving this problem in the future. Unfortunately, so far they're not making much noise about any of these measures.

Finally, the agricultural sector has to come to the party on this. They are the problem, and they need to acknowledge that fact and start cleaning up their own mess rather than spouting denialist rhetoric. Otherwise, the rest of us just might get sick of the massive environmental subsidy we are paying them...

New Fisk

Mystery of Israel's secret uranium bomb

Update: More here. Its not any sort of fission weapon, but rather enrisched (but not weapons-grade) uranium seems to have been used in the place of DU. This could be a mistake, or Israel could be turning its nuclear waste into weapons and effectively dumping them on its neighbour's territory.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Vice President for Torture

Last year, when US Vice-President Dick Cheney was working to prevent Congress from passing a law outlawing cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners in US custody, he was denounced as the Vice President for torture. Now he has made it crystal clear that he is unequivocally, undeniably pro-torture by endorsing waterboarding. And yet, at the same time, he tries to deny that that is in fact what he is endorsing:

"Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Mr Hennen asked.

"Well, it's a no-brainer for me," Mr Cheney replied. "But for a while there, I was criticised as being the vice president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in."

But there's absolutely no wiggle-room here. It was torture when the Spanish Inquisition did it. It was torture when the Nazis did it. It was torture when the Japanese did it. It was torture when the Khmer Rouge did it. According to the US military, it was torture when their own soldiers did it in the Philippines and Vietnam, and torture when it is done to captured American servicemen. It doesn't stop being torture now simply because Dick Cheney says so.

Friday, October 27, 2006


By now everyone will have heard that the police have executed search warrants on Taito Phillip Field's home, electorate office, and Parliamentary offices. The latter is particularly interesting due to the interaction with Parliamentary Privilege. The freedom necessary for Parliament to do its job (and the bad history of the monarch trying to arrest "treasonous" MPs) has led to Parliament asserting its power over police operations within the Parliamentary precinct. There's a report on the draft agreement between the Speaker and Police Commissioner from the Privileges Committee here [PDF], but it doesn't seem to cover actual searches. The Speaker has therefore been forced to draw up an additional agreement, which seems to require that they be accompanied by Parliamentary Services staff. I'll try and get a copy and see whether it has anything interesting in it.

In the meantime, Field must be coming under intense pressure to resign, if only to avoid dragging his Labour colleagues even further into the muck. But given his past behaviour, I'm not holding my breath.

"Inducing compliance" is assault

Last month I blogged about a police officer who had been charged with assault after using pepper spray to "induce compliance" in a party-goer who talked back. He's just been convicted of assault and fined. It seems the law applies to the police after all. And hopefully, the rest of them will get the message and be more cautious about their use of pepper spray in the future.

Nicaragua bans abortion

Nicaragua has banned abortion - all abortion, even when necessary to save the life of the mother. The message is clear: women's lives and wellbeing are less important than obediance to god. In a country where a third of new mothers are 16 or under and face significant health risks as a result, that is simply monstrous.

Naturally, the ban will really only affect the poor. As the story notes, it is an open secret that the rich send their female relatives to Cuba. So, poor mothers will die so that rich politicians can feel virtuous (while shuffling their own daughters overseas in secret). The sadism and the hypocrisy is breathtaking.

The end of the probationary employment bill?

The Transport and Industrial Relations committee has reported back [PDF] on the Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill, and recommended that it not proceed. Attempts to amend it to make it more palatable were lost on a tied vote, but could be reintroduced at the committee stage if it makes it that far. But given that Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party have all stated their opposition, the vote is a forgone conclusion - the bill will fail.

An interesting point raised by both sides in submissions is the increasing prelevance of "no win, no fee" employment lawyers. This is a natural consequence of the de-unionisation of the workforce and move to a contractual model, and one of the side-effects has been to shift the focus of personal grievance claims from getting the employee's job back to getting a financial settlement so the lawyer gets paid. While National would probably like to ban this practice (in keeping with their general attitude that rights should only be enforceable by the rich), what's really needed is greater access to mediation services. While the government does provide such services through the Department of Labour, it doesn't do much to advertise them. Perhaps that should change?


According to The Guardian, the CIA tried to get Germany to silence the EU on its extraordinary rendition programme, using access to German citizens in captivity as a bagaining chip. What the headline doesn't tell you is that it worked:

After the CIA offered a deal to Germany, EU countries adopted an almost universal policy of downplaying criticism of human rights records in countries where terrorist suspects have been held. They have also sidestepped questions about secret CIA flights partly because of growing evidence of their complicity.

As Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Rapporteur Dick Marty found, these governments deliberately looked the other way on rendition, allowing the CIA "torture plane" to stage out of their airports or US military bases on their territory, transit their airspace, and even actively cooperating in the kidnap and rendition of their own citizens - while all the while claiming to oppose torture. And they need to be held politically and legally accountable for it.

5% or One News gets it

EPMU and PSA members at TVNZ have rejected a sub-inflation pay offer in favour of industrial action in pursuit of a 5% pay rise. This will take the form of "surprise stoppages aimed at high profile New Zealand-made programmes". I'd say the targets there are pretty clear: Breakfast, Close Up, and One News. That's a lot of advertising revenue which could be under threat. How much will TVNZ have to lose before bowing to the inevitable?

Of course, the real question is why a Crown Entity Company such as TVNZ is forcing its workers to take industrial action simply to keep up with inflation. Surely under a Labour government we should expect the state sector to be better than this?

Against an armed police force

When the police launched their taser trial, civil libertarians warned it was the thin edge of the wedge towards an armed police force. Now, with Police Commissioner Howard Broad effectively saying give us tasers, or give us guns, it seems that they were right.

Just to see how dangerous Broad's suggestion is, let's look at what it would actually involve. Currently, the use of firearms by the New Zealand police is highly restricted. While they are available, officers do not routinely carry firearms in the line of duty, and they are typically only seen when the Armed Offenders Squad are called out. And even in those circumstances, they can only be used when lives are actually in danger. Contrast this with the taser: if adopted, it would fill the same role as pepper spray - as a "less than lethal" weapon which can be used to subdue violent and aggressive suspects (and, judging by actual police practice, to "induce compliance" in those who talk back - which is a good reason why we should not trust them with those weapons). Note that the circumstances under which tasers can be used are significantly wider than those in which firearms are allowed - so if Broad is taken seriously, what is actually being proposed is a significant loosening of restrictions on firearms. For example, it would allow the police to use firearms on bottle-throwing youths, or against angry drunks in bars (and of course to threaten to use them to ward off such circumstances - thus instituting a culture of routine threats to use lethal force against the citizens they are supposed to be protecting). This would not just be a move towards an armed police force - it would be a move towards US-style policing in which the use of lethal force was completely normalised. And I do not believe that that is something which New Zealanders - other than the authoritarian freaks in the Police Association - want to see.

It's also questionable whether such a move (or the move to introduce tasers) is actually necessary. While much has been made of the fact that there were over 2000 assaults against police last year, statistics from their latest annual report [PDF] tell their own story:

While "Crimes Act assaults" (its a question of which law the offence is prosecuted under, not necessarily of seriousness) have risen significantly in the last year, overall assaults have risen only slowly in the last ten (which you'd expect, given that it will be strongly correlated with population and the number of police). Meanwhile, the number of assaults with weapons - the stat you would look at in judging whether the police need to be more heavily armed - has remained fairly stable. Like so much to do with crime statistics, it seems to be mostly a matter of misperception, fearmongering, and outright political spin than any real need.

Climate change: resettlement?

United Future's Gordon Copeland is calling on the government to develop a resettlement plan to help Pacific peoples affected by rising sea levels due to climate change, pointing out that

At present there is very little planning in place for the resettlement of people from low-lying countries such as the Tokelaus, Tuvalu and Kiribati, which are all likely to disappear in the event of a rise in sea-levels.

He's not joking about this. Tuvalu is mostly underwater every spring tide now, the highest point of Tokelau is a mere two metres above the high tide mark, and Kiribati is in the same boat. If sea levels rise by the amount they are expected to, 110,000 people are going to need a new home. And so far, we take a mere 75 people a year from Kiribati and Tuvalu under stringent conditions as part of the Pacific Access Category.

In the case of Tokelau, we have a special responsibility. While moving towards self-government, it is still part of New Zealand, and each and every Tokelauan is a New Zealand citizen, as kiwi as you or I. They thus have an absolute right to come here. More importantly, if Gisborne suddenly disappeared beneath the waves, the government would spare no effort in resettling its inhabitants and ensuring they could make a new start. We can do no less for Tokelau if the worst happens.

In the case of Tuvalu and Kiribati, the argument is a simple humanitarian one: they need our help. Australia is unwilling to take them (hell, they're happy to let people drown if it means they won't change the average skin tone of their fine, white nation), so as the only other country in the South Pacific capable of doing so, we will have to.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dirty dairying in Canterbury

A survey by Environment Canterbury of local dairy farms has found that fewer than half are meeting their resource consent conditions around stock effluent. Once technical breaches - those not causing any adverse environmental effects - are eliminated, that still leaves only 55% complying. As Environment Canterbury notes, this simply isn't good enough. And it should not be allowed to continue. Farmers should not be allowed to spew shit into local waterways and poison people and wildlife the way they are doing.

As for what can be done about it, the RMA provides for criminal penalties, including jail time and fines for those who discharge contaminants (such as shit) without consent. Environment Canterbury should be using those provisions. Farmers will pollute as long as it is profitable to do so; clearly it needs to be made unprofitable until they get the message.

Popcorn, anyone?

Now that the issue of Parliamentary Services spending has been dealt with, it looks like we're back to normal: speculating over when John Key will roll Don Brash. Popcorn, anyone?

This is an excellent spectator sport, though not one that DPF would be likely to run a pool on (besides, as he's been reminded, internet gambling is the sole prerogative of the TAB). But it is so fun to watch the rumours and denials fly, while knowing that Key's window of opportunity to conduct a successful coup in time to bed himself in before the next election is closing. And all the more so because of the obvious way it discomforts National (though the sycophantic court environment of political parties is a key part of this. The need to present a "united front" means that no-one can honestly admit that leadership struggles happen and that its all part of the Game without being seen as "disloyal").

A Key-led National Party would certainly be more electable, precisely because it is likely to be less radical and more centrist than one led by Brash. It would also provide an opportunity for National to finally break with the toxic legacy of the 90's and pursue a milder policy agenda rather than seeking to restart the Revolution and complete Douglas and Richardson's "unfinished business". While I don't want to see a National government any time soon, if one does happen I'd rather it be the least worst National government possible - and Key clearly trumps Brash on that front (though possibly only because he hasn't been sticking his foot in his mouth for the past three years).

Of course, the fact that people outside National want to see a change in leadership will be taken as an excellent reason by some in the party to support the status quo. Which means we might get what I really want to see: a bitter and divisive leadership struggle that undermines National's election chances. That really would be entertaining. But then I'd really need to get more popcorn...

Gay marriage in New Jersey

The New Jersey State Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual ones [PDF]:

HELD: Denying committed same-sex couples the financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heterosexual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose. The Court holds that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, committed samesex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes. The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to samesex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.

What this means in practice is that the New Jersey state legislature will be forced to update its existing "domestic partnership" law to ensure that such partnerships are treated identically under the law to marriages, and provide exactly the same benefits at the same cost and effort, rather than discriminating as they do at the moment. Unfortunately, they will still discriminate in denying same-sex couples the name of marriage - exactly as our civil union legislation does.

The interesting bit, as noted by Kevin Drum, was that

the decision was essentially unanimous. Technically it was decided 4-3, but the dissenters all agreed that it was unconstitutional to deny equal rights to same-sex couples. The reason they dissented was that they felt the decision didn't go far enough. They argued that the right to marriage itself was as fundamental as all the other rights.

These judges are right. While "everything but the name" is an improvement on the current situation, this simply gets gays as far as "separate but equal" - something the Supreme Court found usually wasn't more than 50 years ago. I'd like to think that a "separate but equal" system of "black marriage" would not pass the constitutional laugh test in the United States anymore (though I'm sure Justices Thomas and Scalia would make a go of defending it); a system of domestic or civil partnerships designed to exclude and marginalise gays shouldn't either.

Something to go to in Wellington

Parliament is having an open day on Sunday, complete with guided tours of the Beehive, Parliament Buildings, and Parliamentary Library. So, if you'd like to see the place where it all goes down, why not go along?

When: Sunday, 29th October, 10 am - 3:30 pm
Where: Parliament Buildings, Wellington.
Stupid Security Protocol: No cellphones or cameras.

Despite all the Parliament-watching I do here, I've never really visited the place. Unfortunately, I won't be able to do it this weekend.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Iraq 'success' possible, US says

One question: for whom?

Remember the Delphic Oracle's prediction to Croesus of Lydia: "if you invade Persia, a great empire will fall". Unfortunately, it turned out to be his own.


Today, a copy of Gordon Copeland's newsletter, "Copeland's Chronicle", landed in my mailbox. It's a special edition, sent out in response to the recent Auditor-General's report that United Future (among others) had unlawfully spent parliamentary Services funds on "electioneering". The bulk of the newsletter is Copeland's third-reading speech on the Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill (which you can read here), but it finishes with a not-so-coded appeal for funds:

Concurrently we are seeking support from United Future members and others.

The newsletter is produced by Parliamentay staff and sent from Parliamentary servers. So, does it count as "electioneering"?

Climate change: was the Projects Mechanism successful?

One of the government's core climate change policies over the last few years was the Projects to Reduce Emissions program, AKA the Projects Mechanism. This was basically a system of subsidising emissions-reductions, particularly investments in renewable energy, with carbon credits. There were some restrictions - the project had to result in a reduction of at least 10,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent, be additional to "business as usual", and result in reductions which would not occur unless credits were awarded in order to qualify - but there were plenty of projects which met these criteria. All told, 41 projects were subsidised in this way, including 13 wind farms and 4 geothermal projects. These were expected to cover at least 4 year's demand growth in electricity.

So, was it successful? Last year's climate change policy review (s4.2.5) cited a report by Allen Consulting and argued that emissions reductions through the program had been "achieved at a cost (on average) greater than the Kyoto price". An analysis done earlier this year noted that the Projects Mechanism had resulted in expected emissions reductions of 11.85 MT CO2-e during CP1, at a cost of 10.6 MT CO2-e of emissions units. A 10% payoff seems pretty poor, considering the administrative overhead of multiple tender rounds involved, as well as the uncertain nature of the reductions. Several of the projects (for example, the proposed Wainui Hills Wind Farm, which was awarded 378,000 emission units) seem to have sunk without a trace, while others have been delayed, meaning their reductions may be less than expected. OTOH, this means the government will simply hand out fewer credits, so it has no overall effect on the success of the scheme except insofar as it drives up administrative costs.

While this seems to be a fairly gloomy assessment, there are two good reasons for regarding the Projects Mechanism as a success:

  • It is credited (by Pete Hodgson and others) with "kick-start[ing] wind energy in this country". When the Projects Mechanism was started, we had two wind farms (Hau Nui and Tararua 1). Now we have 3 more, and another 10 planned or under construction, and many more proposed (check out the list on the last page of this report [PDF]). Many of the early wind farms received emissions units through the Projects mechanism - but not all have. For example, Meridian Energy's Project West Wind - a 210 MW monster at Makara - was a purely commercial proposition, and it is likely that future wind farms will be too. The experience gained in construction and operation through those early subsidies has helped wind across the "technology valley of death" and turned it into a serious commercial proposition in New Zealand.
  • Emissions units were only handed out for reductions over CP1, but those reductions will continue well into the future. At the time, it made sense to only look at CP1 - after all, it was uncertain whether Kyoto would even come into effect, let alone survive. Now it is looking like there will be a post-Kyoto emissions control regime, and that it will in one way or another include or create an international price on carbon. So the emissions reduction payoff from any project can be measured over the lifetime of the asset (or at least the expected lifetime of a post Kyoto regime), rather than just CP1. If we assume that there will be a similar 5-year CP2, the payoff for the government effectively doubles. More generally, the projects have helped shift New Zealand towards a lower emissions path than otherwise would have been taken, and the government will be able to reap the benefits of that in future.

But while it has IMHO been successful, the Projects mechanism may not have much of a future. Now that wind doesn't need assistance, there's not much left that does; landfill gas, microhydro and cogen are all worthy, but at the same time mostly kibble around the edges. The cost of supporting such schemes in this manner (both to the government and the companies in question, who remember must find a buyer for the carbon credits) may not be worth it. While I think there's a case to be made for reduction subsidies where there's a decent payoff, it may be easier just to cut out the carbon credit "middleman" in future and pay in cash.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Assent has been granted

Question Time today opened with Don Brash asking Michael Cullen (as Acting Prime Minister)

When will the Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill passed by the House last week come into force?

Cullen's answer was "tomorrow". Given that the commencement clause of the bill states that it will come into force "on the day after the date on which it receives the Royal assent", this suggests that it has already been signed into law, or will be so very shortly. As anyone with any knowledge of New Zealand's constitution (as opposed to the 40,000-odd supporters of monarchical fiction) knew it would be.

Blair Mulholland, the petititon's organiser, is now turning to an indicitive referendum under the Citizen's Initiated Referenda Act 1993. Unfortunately, his proposed question illustrates all the problems with that act and the style of referenda we have pursued so far in this country. Rather than asking the electorate whether they approve of motherhood and apple pie (or rather, hate politicians, which amounts to the same thing), he'd be better off drafting some legislation and presenting a question along the lines of "that the [attached bill] be enacted by Parliament". That would at least strip them of one excuse - vagueness - for not doing so.

A referendum petititon needs the valid signatures of 10% of registered electors - about 250,000 people - in order to force a poll. That's a big ask, and certainly far more difficult than getting 40,000 people to click a link on the internet.

Meanwhile the irony of seeing ACT people who supported the Douglas blitzkrieg suddenly turning to referenda as a vital check on government power is inescapable.

Update (25/10/06): I've since been reliably informed that the Assent has now been granted. The bill had apparently already been conveyed to Government House when Culen spoke. So, it's law. That for your monarchical veto!

Times have changed

Today we expect to be able to monitor our government 24/7. Parliament is available on the web, you can listen to its preceedings by streaming audio, and watch MPs in the chamber during Question Time. Other legislatures around the world are similarly open. But it hasn't always been like that. A story a reader pointed me at today on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution mentioned the UK's "Fourteen Day Rule": issues scheduled for debate in Parliament could not be discussed on television for fourteen days. As one history of British TV notes

As Parliamentary business was only fixed for one week, this rule effectively stopped any topical discussion. In the News was very rarely able to discuss things that were in the news.

The rule eventually collapsed due to the other big event of 1956 - the Suez crisis. But its a sign of how times have changed, and for the better.

Blaming the victim

So, having illegally invaded Iraq and provoked a civil war, at the cost of an estimated 655,000 lives, the US is now saying that it's Iraq's responsibility to clean up the mess, and threatening "consequences" if they don't. Talk about blaming the victim!

At this stage, its difficult to see what they can do. The war is unwinnable, the stated aim of a free and democratic Iraq to serve as an inspiration to the region unachievable (by American methods at least). Staying around means they provoke more violence (but paradoxically, increases the chances of a united Iraq). Withdrawing means watching a bloodbath (but on the plus side, at least they won't be making things any worse, and there won't be any more blood directly on their hands; on the minus, it will still be their fault for having caused it in the first place). So instead they're now openly talking of installing a "strongman" to "stabilise" the country - a betrayal of the very reasons they supposedly invaded in the first place. But I suppose to American eyes, that's better than admitting you were wrong and that you should never have invaded in the first place.

More on the Solomons

Today's Sydney Morning Herald has more on the dispute between Australia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea that is dominating this year's Pacific Islands Forum. For those who haven't been following it, two weeks ago, the Australian government attempted to extradite Solomon Islands Attorney-General Julian Moti from Papua New Guinea to face child sex charges. He was subsequently spirited out of the country back to the Solomons, where he was promptly arrested for entering the country illegally. When an order from the Solomon Islands Immigration Minister Peter Shanel allowing entry was produced, the Australians arrested him too - for "perverting the course of justice" by initially denying its existence. In the SMH, Roger de Robillard points out just how dubious this is:

When challenged to charge Shanel or release him immediately, RAMSI charged him with having (in substance) lied to the Police Commissioner, an Australian Federal Police officer.

The allegation is not that the lie was told during a formal police interview or inquiry but at a meeting between the Police Commissioner and the Prime Minister in the Prime Minister's office. Shanel, as Immigration Minister, was present at the meeting.

Imagine a minister of government being arrested and charged under similar circumstances in Australia.

Then of course they kicked in the Prime Minister's door while trying to seize a fax machine in an effort to discover who had sent the order to PNG. Its difficult to escape the feeling this is more driven by a vendetta by Australia over Moti than a serious attempt to enforce Solomon Islands (as opposed to Australian) law.

But it gets worse. Shanel's charge - "perverting the course of justice" - depends on the immigration order existing (after all, he can hardly lie about it if it doesn't exist). Moti's charge - illegal entry - depends on it not existing. It doesn't take a genius to see that these two positions are contradictory, and that the Australians are trying to have it both ways here. But as I said, this is more about vendetta than the law.

The problem is that this arrogant and bullying attitude on the part of Australia is now undermining RAMSI's work, and calling its future into question. No-one in the Pacific Islands Forum wants to see RAMSI asked to leave - but if the Australians keep swinging their dick around like this, that might be exactly what happens.

Update: Added missing "not".

Moving up the Order Paper

After hanging around at the bottom of the Order Paper for over a year, the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill has been bumped up to fifth place. They probably won't get through it this week (not with three committee stages to do), but possibly in the next sitting week in early November.

The bill itself doesn't do much - it allows the transfer into private hands of Kyoto emissions units required for the Projects Mechanism and Permanent Forest Sink Initiative. But it suggests that the government has finally made up its mind and is ready to move forward, rather than just stalling as it has for the past year.

Monday, October 23, 2006

New Fisk

We've all been veiled from the truth

Why the masks?

There's been some comment about why those protesting against the National Front on Saturday were hiding their faces. The answer is RedWatch - a neo-Nazi website established to "build a catalogue of information and pictures of the Left". This includes names, addresses, phone numbers, and pictures of where people live. While there is the odd disclaimer, the purpose of the site is clearly to encourage violence against those listed. For example, a collection of pictures on the recent Peace Action protest against the weapons conference at Te Papa exhorted readers to

Remember these faces for they are anti-New Zealand and anti-White. These people are your enemy.

In the UK, a similar site has led to a series of violent attacks on journalists, protestors, and others who speak out against racism. These have included stabbings, beatings, and fire-bombings. RedWatch New Zealand is explicitly modelled on this site, and its clear intent is to provoke at least the fear of similar attacks by nazi thugs here. Against this background, I can't really blame anyone for taking precautions.

In the ballot XVII: Foreshore and Seabed

Two years ago, in one of the most divisive political battles seen in modern times, the government and its allies in New Zealand First passed the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. Now, the Maori Party have introduced a bill to try and repeal it.

The aim of the bill is not to vest ownership of the foreshore and seabed in Maori. Rather, its purpose is to restore Maori equality under the law, and allow those iwi with a case the chance to prove such ownership in court by restoring the legal status quo ante before the passage of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Because of this, the bill doesn't just repeal that Act, but also re-enacts some laws it repealed - in particular provisions identical to the Foreshore And Seabed Endowment Revesting Act 1991. These had the effect of a) revesting foreshore and seabed granted to harbour boards and local authorities in the crown; and b) establishing a regime so that such land was managed by DOC and could not be sold or transferred except by act of Parliament. The inclusion of these provisions has caused some Maori (and the Labour Party) to claim that the bill vests the foreshore in the Crown - which it does. However (and this is important), this vesting does not extinguish Maori customary title.

In its decision in Attorney-General v Ngati Apa 3 NZLR [2003] 643, the Court of Appeal explicitly considered these provisions of the Foreshore And Seabed Endowment Revesting Act 1991. Here's what they had to say:

  • Elias CJ: [70] "The argument for the Crown entails reading s9A [s13 of the bill] to effect an appropriation to the Crown of Maori customary land in respect of foreshore and seabed when no such appropriation is made in the Land Act. The language of s9A(1) is not capable of being read as itself effecting a vesting of land."
  • Gault P: [115] "The argument for the Crown is that title to Maori customary land could not be an interest in that land within para (b) [s13(6)(b) in the bill]. However, I am not persuaded that title according to tikanga maori to undeclared Maori customary land could not constitute an interest in land".
  • Keith and Anderson JJ: [168] "The purpose and effect of s5 of the 1991 Act [s8 of the bill] is to revoke the earlier vesting of land in harbour boards and local authorities and re-vest it in the Crown. The theory of the present claim must be that customary property has continued to exist since before 1840. That property had not been "vested" in its Maori owners and accordingly there is no question of such a "vesting" being reversed."

    [170] "...the legislation is careful to save existing property and rights as appears from s2(2) of the Amendment Act as well as the saving in s(a)(1)(b). Indeed, as the President demonstrates, s2(2) alone provides a sufficient basis at this stage for the application to proceed. Just as there is no general confiscatory purpose in the 1994 Amendment Act, there is nothing in it which has the clear and plain character required to extinguish Maori customary property."

  • Tipping J: [202] "Although s9A is wider in its terms than the earlier sections in the harbours Acts, its principal purpose seems to me to be the same. Notably, the revesting was not to "limit or affect" any interest in land held by any person other than the Crown. I agree therefore that it is not appropriate to regard either the Revesting Act in its original form or s9A as being designed to extinguish the status of such Maori customary land as might have been involved."

If the Foreshore and Seabed Act is repealed, and the legal status quo ante restored, then I would expect this precedent to be followed in any subsequent case over ownership. However, if people are concerned, it might not hurt to make it clear, for example by adding a s13(6)(c) stating that for the purposes of clarity, "interest in land" includes Maori customary title.

I do not think this bill will pass, but I think it is well worth taking. The Foreshore and Seabed Act was a shameful and unjust abrogation of the equality under the law guaranteed by Article 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi. The sooner it is repealed, the better.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Short quits Labour

Former UK Development Secretary and opponent of the Iraq war Clare Short has finally quit the Labour Party to become an independent. It's a good move - its clear that she had no future in Labour given her opposition to Blairite warmongering and vocal support for electoral reform - but at the same time you have to ask: why didn't she jump earlier?

Her resignation letter is here [DOC].

The "invisible knapsack" in action

From the Herald:

An Auckland woman is offended that Cabinet minister Phil Goff sent her a letter wishing her a happy Diwali when she is neither Indian nor Hindu.

Well, now she knows how those who are not Christian might feel when sent a letter wishing them a merry Christmas. But its clear from what follows that that thought would simply never occur to her:

Ms Chandra, who did not want her age or other details published, accused Mr Goff of "cheap political scoring" and said she was offended by the letter because it singled out one ethnic group for special treatment.

"He didn't treat all races the same ... It's reverse discrimination."

So, celebrating or mentioning the holidays of any religion other than the dominant one is some sort of privilege or "special treatment". Meanwhile, its not even Halloween, and shops are already sticking up their Christmas decorations - but this isn't any sort of "privilege" or "special treatment" - it's just assumed to be the natural, baseline state of affairs.

This story is a perfect example of the "invisible knapsack" in action. Originally applied to race and white privilege, there is also an invisible knapsack for Christians of unstated and undeserved privilege. The knapsack is smaller here - we are a far more religiously diverse and culturally tolerant society than the US, where these articles originated - but the fact that this story was even published rather than dismissed because people make assumptions and mistakes about religion all the time speaks to the fact that there are still some privileges in it. Mistakenly assuming for stupid reasons someone is Christian (as will happen to pretty much everyone over the next few months) is not news; mistakenly assuming (for similarly stupid reasons) that someone is not Christian shouldn't be either.

Brash's stunning hypocrisy

For the past year, Don Brash has been accusing the government of "corruption" for paying for its election pledge cards from its Parliamentary Services budget. This was judged by the Auditor-General to be "electioneering", and thus an unlawful use of taxpayer's money. Yet on Radio Live yesterday, Brash admitted that he had used National's Parliamentary Services budget to pay the salary of his chief election strategist, Bryan Sinclair. For most of 2005, Sinclair was tasked with helping National win the General Election - something which cannot be described as anything other than "electioneering". The hypocrisy here is simply stunning, but it also raises an obvious question: having pranced around on his moral high horse over Labour's unlawful expenditure and demanded that they repay the money spent, will he now pay the money back? Or is this yet another case of "one law for all, for everyone but National"?

Time to come home

For the past six months, New Zealand soldiers and police have been in the Solomon Islands as part of RAMSI - the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands. Their mission has been primarily humanitarian - to serve as a neutral guarantor of law and order. Now however that neutrality is under threat. Two weeks ago, the Australian government attempted to extradite Solomon Islands Attorney-General Julian Moti from Papua New Guinea to face child sex charges. He was subsequently spirited out of the country back to the Solomons, where he was promptly arrested. The Solomons government has refused to extradite him, so today Australian soldiers operating as part of RAMSI kicked in the Prime Minister's door to search for evidence of collusion in Moti's escape. In doing so, they have shattered RAMSI's neutrality, and made it crystal clear to everyone that RAMSI is serving Australia's interests and enforcing Australian power in a foreign country rather than being a neutral police force.

That is not something we should be a part of. It is one thing to help out a friend in need at their invitation. It is quite another to help Australia in an exercise in colonial enforcement. I said when we first became involved in this operation that when RAMSI ceased to be neutral, and started favouring one faction over one another, then it would be time to come home. Thanks to Australia, that time has now arrived.

Friday, October 20, 2006

It could be worse

Currently, New Zealand politics is at its most poisonous, with anonymous smear campaigns, dishing or personal dirt, cries of "corruption!" and calls for a constitutional coup. But it could be worse - we could be seeing politicians branding their opponents as supporting paedophiles...

A third world attitude to torture

The BBC's recent global survey on attitudes to torture has produced some disturbing results. 27,000 respondents in 25 countries were asked to select between two competing statements about torture:

  • Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights standards against torture.
  • Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives.

Globally, 59% of respondents opposed torture, while 29% thought it might be permissible. But this average masks a clear division between first and third world. Respondents from civilised countries - Australia, France, Germany, Canada - tended to overwhelmingly oppose torture, with 75 - 80% against versus only 20 - 25% in favour. Respondents from the rest of the world tended to be less opposed, with 55 - 65% opposed and 30 - 40% in favour. And guess which category the US fell into? That's right - the uncivilised world. Support for torture in the US is around the same as that in China (36% vs 37%), though they do have a higher level of opposition as well. Another nail in the coffin of the "land of the free"...

The right to silence

Retiring Auckland QC Kevin Ryan has proposed ending both the right to silence and the ban on introducing previous convictions as "evidence" at trial. Like DPF, I'm stunned. Both are cornerstones of our justice system, and vital protections against miscarriages of justice. The right to silence ensures that any confession is voluntary (rather than extracted under duress by police eager to boost their closure rate), and protects that other cornerstone of our justice system: that it is the crown, not the defendant, which must prove their case. The bar on introducing previous convictions ensures that cases are judged on their merits and the evidence before them - not on what else the defendant is accused of or has done in the past. While both clearly lead to frustration at people "getting away with it" (as for example in the case of the Kahui twins, or the police rape case), this is the cost of justice. Eroding them would undermine another of our core principles: that it is far better for the guilty to go free than see the innocent wrongly jailed. And that is a principle I'd think that Kevin Ryan of all people would understand.

Drinking Age Bill is back

The Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill has been reported back by the Law and Order Committee. As the original bill addressed two different functions, they've divided it into two: the Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill [PDF] and the Sale of Liquor (Youth Alcohol Harm Reduction: Purchase Age) Amendment Bill [PDF]. The first bill contains the provisions on restricting liquor advertising to after 10pm, with clarifying amendments. It is likely to be a party vote, and it will probably pass. The second part would raise the purchase age to 20, and reintroduce the host of exceptions that prevailed under the previous law. At the same time, it would remove clauses criminalising supply to minors, and retain the ability for parents to supply at private social gatherings (which is both desirable, and yet at the same time one of the key problem areas. We've all seen the media reports of teenage parties which have turned into drunken near-riots fuelled by parentally-supplied booze, and the committee’s position means no-one could be held accountable for it). This bill will be a conscience vote, most likely on November 8th. As for how it will go, 28 of the MPs that voted on the first reading have now left Parliament (19 of them voted for, the rest against). However, that still leaves the bill with 60 votes in favour, without even considering the views of new MPs (at least two of whom - Tau Henare and Eric Roy - voted against lowering the drinking age in 1999). While some of those who voted in favour will have done so simply to let a select committee examine the issue, those wanting to see the bill defeated face an uphill struggle.

I suggest that those wanting to see the bill defeated, and particularly those who are under 20, but over 18 now or who will turn 18 before the next election contact their MPs and remind them that while they may no longer be able to drink if this bill passes, they will still be able to vote, and that they will be judging those MPs and their parties on how they vote. I particularly suggest targeting those MPs who voted to reduce the age originally, but also voted to raise it. These are:

  • Shane Ardern
  • Nick Smith
  • Wayne Mapp
  • Maurice Williamson
  • Jim Anderton (though he's probably a waste of effort)
  • Murray McCully
  • Rick Barker
  • Steve Maharey
  • Mark Burton
  • David Carter

I also suggest targeting new MPs. Full contact details are here.

Oh, and for those who are interested, details of the bill's first reading, and of the 1999 Sale of Liquor Amendment Bill (no 2) are in the CommoNZ conscience vote database.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Below is the first draft of my submission on Doug Woolerton's Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill. It is based primarily on arguments here, here, and here. Submissions close tomorrow, and I will be emailing it to the Committee, but any comments would be appreciated.

  1. I oppose the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill for the following reasons:

    A: The Bill would “kill the Treaty”

  2. It is a well established principle of common law that treaties are not justicable in the courts. This principle has been incorporated into New Zealand law and applied to the Treaty of Waitangi (see for example Hoani Te Heuheu Tukino v Aotea District Maori Land Board [1941] AC 308 (PC)). Any legal force the Treaty of Waitangi has depends on the extent of its adoption in statute.
  3. The “standard” Treaty clause, such as that in the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986, declares that
    Nothing in this Act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
  4. Other clauses, such as that in the Crown Minerals Act 1991 or Resource Management Act 1991, require those exercising powers and functions under the Act to “have regard to” or “take into account” the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
  5. More recent clauses such as those in the Local Government Act 2002 or Land Transport Management Act 2003 are narrower, and spell out specific sections of the law enacted so as to fulfil the Crown’s obligation under the Treaty.
  6. All of these clauses exist for a single reason: to give the Treaty legal force. This allows Maori to use the courts to contest government action which is believed to be inconsistent with its obligations under the Treaty (as occurred in NZ Maori Council v Attorney-General [1987] 1 NZLR 641). In doing so, they both remind the Crown of its ongoing obligations under the Treaty, and help to prevent future Treaty breaches. I regard this as a desirable state of affairs.
  7. By contrast, repealing the clauses wholesale would return the Treaty to being (in the words of Justice Prendergast) “a simple nullity”. This is undesirable. The committee should need no reminding that relying on “the conscience of the Crown” has proven manifestly inadequate in the past, and allowed Maori to be systematically dispossessed and robbed of their lands, forests, fisheries and taonga, and pushed to the margins of New Zealand society.
  8. As a side note, it is often claimed that the “principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” referred to in these clauses are vague and undefined. This is untrue. They have been defined by the Waitangi Tribunal [PDF], the Ministry of Justice, and the Courts. Te Puni Kokiri has an excellent summary [PDF] available on its website . This is not a problem of “vagueness”; it is a problem of ignorance on behalf of those too lazy to actually look.

    B. The Bill will affect existing Treaty settlements

  9. The list of Treaty clauses the Bill attempts to repeal includes clauses from six settlement bills. These clauses are very different from those referred to above.
  10. For example, the bill would repeal section 5.1. of the Ngati Turangitukua Claims Settlement Act 1999. This states:
    The Crown acknowledges that, in relation to the construction of the Turangi township, it failed to act towards Ngati Turangitukua in a manner consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. The relationship between the Treaty partners obliges the Crown actively to protect Maori interests and the Crown apologises that it did not actively protect the interests of the hapu.
  11. The bill would also repeal sections 6(1), (2)(e), and (4)(c) and section 7 of the Ngati Tama Claims Settlement Act 2003. These state that
    (1) The Crown acknowledges that the wars in Taranaki constituted an injustice and were in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

    (2) (e) the confiscations were wrongful and in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

    (4) (c) that its treatment of the Ngati Tama people at Parihaka was unconscionable and unjust and that these actions constituted a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

  12. These clauses are typical, and are acknowledgements of past wrongdoing by the Crown which underlies these settlements. It is completely inappropriate that they be repealed, and their repeal could be seen as a repudiation of those settlements.

    C. The Bill would interfere with the work of the Waitangi Tribunal

  13. The bill would also repeal sections 6(1)(d), section 8(1), and section 8HB of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975.
  14. As with the clauses in settlement Acts above, these are not traditional “Treaty clauses”. Instead, they confer powers upon the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate breaches of the Treaty and recommend action. Section 6(1)(d)1 allows claims to be lodged on the basis of
    any act done or omitted at any time on or after the 6th day of February 1840, or proposed to be done or omitted, by or on behalf of the Crown
  15. Section 8(1) empowers the Tribunal to consider legislation referred to it by the Attorney-General and determine whether it is “contrary to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”. To my knowledge the clause has never been used, but it is in principle no different from the power of the Attorney-General to advise on the consistency of proposed legislation with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
  16. Section 8HB empowers the Tribunal to recommend the return of Crown forestry land which is subject to a well-founded Treaty claim. Repealing it may affect the ability of some claimants with well-founded claims to be effectively compensated.
  17. These clauses are vital for the Tribunal to perform its functions, and their repeal would be a mistake.

    D. The bill takes a hatchet to legislation

  18. As a final note, the bill effectively takes a hatchet to legislation. It is as if someone has run a crude search function through the statute book searching for the phrase “principles of the treaty of Waitangi”, and where the “objectionable” phrase is found, deleted the entire clause that contains it irrespective of function or context and without regard to the impact elsewhere in the law. This is clearest in the cases of the settlement Acts (where clauses containing exactly the same reference in Maori are left untouched) and the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 (where one of the clauses seems to have been identified in error). This is no way to make law.
  19. I do not wish to make an oral submission to the Select Committee.


1. This clause actually seems to have been identified in error, as the reference to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi occurs in an encapsulating clause in s6(1). Repealing that clause would effectively strip the Waitangi Tribunal of any jurisdiction.

Gas for Auckland?

Contact Energy have called for tenders for their proposed 400 MW gas-turbine at Otahuhu. The power station would produce base-load electricity to ensure Auckland can meet its soaring demand. However, as the Greens point out, it will also emit 1.14 million tons of CO2 a year, costing the taxpayer $34 million every year at current carbon prices. That's $170 million over CP1 - a substantial fraction of our estimated $656 million cost of meeting our Kyoto obligations.

All things considered, I far prefer gas to coal. Otahuhu C will be an efficient, modern power station which will produce almost twice the output of Marsden B while producing only half the emissions. At the same time, we should recognise that it costs us money. That $34 million a year represents a substantial transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to Contact's shareholders, adding 6 cents a share (around 20%) to their annual dividend. And that is simply not something we should be doing. If companies want to emit greenhouse gases, they should be forced to pay the full cost of doing so, rather than being allowed to simply dump those costs on the taxpayer while their shareholders laugh all the way to the bank.

A Victory for decency

The Legal Aid Review Panel has ruled that prisoners facing Parole Board hearings are eligible for legal aid. This is a victory for decency and the basic principle that everyone regardless of wealth should have equal access to justice. Parole Board hearings have a significant effect on people's liberty, and to demand that illiterate or disabled inmates face them without the benefit of legal representation in essence predetermines the outcome regardless of the merits.

Unfortunately the Legal Services Agency is appealing. I guess we'll have to hope that the High Court shares the Legal Aid Review Panel's regard for justice.

Sedition in Question Time

It looks like sedition is on the agenda for Question Time today:

5. KEITH LOCKE to the Minister of Justice: Does he agree with Law Commission President Sir Geoffrey Palmer that in a free society like New Zealand, which respects the democratic value of free speech, people should not be able to be punished for defaming the Government; if so, will he act to implement the recommendation of the Law Commission “that the seditious offences set out in sections 81 to 85 of the Crimes Act 1961 be abolished.”?

It will be interesting to see whether they have developed a view yet.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


The Appropriation (Parliamentary Expenditure Validation) Bill just passed its third reading 61 to 50, with 6 abstentions (and the Maori Party not voting). We won, you lost, suck it. Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Services Commission has already begun the process of formulating new rules, including the basic step of having Parliamentary Services actually check material before paying for it. Which means that we should not see this sort of retrospective reinterpretation happening again.

A monarchical fiction

I'm listening to the House at the moment, and they seem to be involved in a long debate which turns on the claim by the opposition that the Governor-General might realistically refuse assent to a bill. It's a point which has been quite popular of late in opposition circles (see in particular Matthew Hooten's recent call for a constitutional coup), but it is a monarchical fiction. While s16 of the Constitution Act 1986 requires that bills be signed by the Governor-General before becoming law, the last time the Royal Assent was refused was in 1708 - and then on the advice of Ministers. It has never happened under responsible government, and for a Governor-General to refuse assent to a bill when advised by Ministers to sign it is now simply unthinkable. Even those who do not think it is unthinkable (notably Phillip Joseph) view the power as so tightly circumscribed as to be effectively nonexistent; it is patently not the case (as National is currently asserting) that a Governor-General could wake up one morning and say "I don't feel like signing this". To do so would be to break our most fundamental constitutional convention, that

the Queen reigns, but Cabinet rules, so long as it has the support of Parliament

It is not the role of the Governor-General to be an independent actor or act as any sort of right-wing check on our democratically elected Parliament. Instead, their job is to host garden parties and sign whatever is put in front of them. To see a party openly questioning this in Parliament is stunning, and it shows how radical and desperate and contemptuous of our democratic system the National Party has become.

Update: Lewis has an excellent post on a related point which spells it out:

The Governor-General does not have the ability to refuse Royal Assent to legislation; if not because the power was repealed by the Letters Patent 1917 then by the repeal of the relevant provisions New Zealand Constitution Act 1852; if not by implied repeal then because the Governor-General is bound by the convention of responsible government to act on the advice of the government of the day; if not convention then because the Prime Minister may have the Governor-General recalled by the Queen at any time.

(Original emphasis).

That about sums it up. What we have is the atrophied appendix of a once-absolute monarchy. And for the record, I'm all in favour of chopping it out before it turns septic. If we are to have any form of veto power by the Head of State, then it must be codified and brought into law to act on behalf of the people - rather than left as some vestige of "divine right" to be used against them.

In the ballot XVI

Another batch of Member's Bills currently in the ballot. Previous batches are indexed here:

Fireworks Safety Bill (Marian Hobbs): This bill would restrict the sale of fireworks to approved community groups. Sales to individuals would stop, but groups seeking to have a display for Guy Fawkes, Diwali, Chinese New Year, or July 4th (or presumably any other reason) could gain permission from the Fire Service and their local council.

Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill (Heather Roy): This bill would amend the Education Act 1989 to introduce VSM. Existing provisions relating to student's associations at tertiary institutions would be repealed, and replaced with a single clause forbidding institutions and associations from exerting undue influence to force students to join or pay, or from acting in a way "which conflicts with the sprit and intent of this section".

New Zealand Taxpayer Bill of Rights Bill (Rodney Hide): Another attempt by Rodney to become the local Grover Norquist and drown government in the bathtub. This bill essentially combines his Local Government (Rating Cap) Amendment Bill and Local Government (Rates Poll Demand) Amendment Bill and applies them to central government. Government spending or tax revenue could not increase above inflation and population growth, or new taxes, charges or fees levied without the approval of a referendum. As an interesting note, this would be superior legislation - section 4 ("This Act prevails") asserts that "[t]he provisions of this Act prevail over those of any other Act unless that other Act otherwise provides", while section 7(2) bars the government from amending the definition of "taxable income" in the Income Tax Act 2004 to get around its provisions. This is quite unusual for New Zealand (even the Bill of Rights Act, through which every other act is interpreted, is ordinary legislation; it relies on mana and an interpretive clause for its power). Despite this, it is not entrenched, and so would be very easy to bypass (a clause stating "The New Zealand Taxpayer Bill of Rights notwithstanding..." at the top of every appropriations or taxation bill would do the trick).

It's interesting that ACT has traditionally decried the Bill of Rights Act as allowing unelected judges power to decide on crucial issues of social policy, while demanding that they be given that very power in this bill, and in a far more intrusive way. Redistribution via the tax system is a vital part of social policy, and of course, you can't even do social policy without tax revenue - but that is exactly the point.

As a final note, both of Hide's local government bills went down in flames, and I expect this one to too.

As usual, I'll have more bills as I acquire them.

No Wednesday this week

It's 12:40 or so, and Parliament is still at it trying to pass validating legislation, so it looks likely there will be no Wednesday this week. As far as the House is concerned, its still Tuesday (this happens when they go into Urgency), and if they overrun the start of the next day, it disappears. So, no Wednesday this week, which means that next week's Wednesday, which was expected to be a Member's Day, is in fact a Govenment Wednesday, and the next Member's Day is pushed back to November 8th.

I now expect a press release from Don Brash accusing the government of "stealing Wendesday" (along with taxpayer's money, the election, the TV remote from his office, and his hair) and demanding that the Auditor-General force them to "give Wednesday back".

Revenue recycling

In his presentation to the Climate Change: the Policy Challenges symposium, Murray Ward suggested that an emissions trading regime covering the energy sector could raise between $150 and $300 million per year (one covering electricity alone would raise $30 to $60 million). He also thought that this revenue should be recycled, both to compensate losers and in the pursuit of "double dividends" by e.g. energy efficiency projects, sink creation or research into ways to reduce emissions. So what would that sort of money get us? Here's what we spend at the moment:

  • $5.4 million / year on EnergyWise Home Grants to retrofit insulation into older homes. This targets 300,000 homes, and retrofits 5,000 a year.
  • $2 million /year on Crown Energy Efficiency Loans to help firms overcome the problem of limited capital.
  • $4 million / year on research into reducing ruminant methane emissions.
  • $3 million / year on energy research.

Fairly clearly, even a narrow scheme would allow all of this spending to be doubled, and perhaps increased further. But what else could we do? Here are some options:

  • Provide grants, loans or prizes to assist new energy efficiency firms (total cost: $5 million)
  • Fund a serious research program into wave or tide power, with the eventual aim of commercialisation (total cost: $10 million)
  • Provide grants or loans to install 1000 solar water heaters (a 50% increase over current rates) (total cost: $5 - $7.5 million)
  • Provide grants or loans to install 1000 heat pumps (total cost: $5 - $7.5 million)
  • Provide free or heavily subsidised public transport passes to 10,000 people adversely affected by increased transport costs (total cost: $5 million)

And those are just off the top of my head (and I'm not feeling particularly imaginative tonight). So far, I've only suggested $45 - $50 million a year, which is at the bottom end of the revenue prediction. At the top end, we would be able to fund significant reforestation projects (20,000 Ha / year) and further rounds of the Projects to Reduce Emissions (supporting new renewable energy and efficiency projects with Kyoto credits), and still have a significant amount to set aside for a "carbon fund" to mitigate large scale impacts.

Every one of the projects suggested would either directly reduce emissions (while providing other environmental or health co-benefits), or have the potential to result in significant future reductions (with economic co-benefits as well). This sort of revenue recycling would therefore seem to be a no-brainer.