Thursday, December 05, 2019



Climate Change: The shameful reality

The government has been congratulating itself over the passage of the Zero Carbon Act, which sets out long-term emissions targets. Meanwhile, Climate Action Tracker has the shameful reality: those targets are insufficient:

While New Zealand is showing leadership by having passed the world’s second-ever Zero Carbon Act in November 2019, under currently policy projections, it is set to miss its “insufficient” 2030 unconditional target by a wide margin, as it lacks the strong policies required to implement it. There is as yet no signal from the Government that it intends to submit an updated and more ambitious NDC by 2020.

[...]

The Zero Carbon Act aims to achieve net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases, except for methane emissions from agriculture and waste, by 2050. Methane emissions from these two sectors, which represent about 40% of New Zealand’s current emissions, with the lion’s share from agriculture, are covered by a separate target of at least 24-47% below 2017 levels by 2050, with an interim target of 10% by 2030.

While the Zero-Carbon Act recently adopted strengthens its former New Zealand’s 2050 target (halving its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050), excluding such a substantial share of emissions from the net zero goal lowers its ambition.


Thanks to the methane exclusion, our 2050 target is at the very top end of the "insufficient" range, verging on "highly insufficient". Meaning that it is not consistent with the UNFCCC target of 2 degrees, let alone the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C. Instead, if everyone was as lazy as we are being, we'd be heading for between 2 and 3 degrees, if not more.

Our policies are also inadequate to get to those inadequate targets, but the Zero Carbon Act at least has some mechanisms to change that. But at best, we're headed for failure, while the government is patting itself on the back about its success.

We are not doing enough. We are not pulling our weight. The ambition of these targets needs to be increased, and we need policies to meet them. And that means rural New Zealand must do its share.

More secrecy

The government introduced a Racing Industry Bill today. As an urban who horse racing as pointless-to-cruel, and gambling as a tax on stupidity and/or hope, this isn't normally a bill which would interest me in the slightest, beyond grumpiness at more government money for a dying industry. But there is something there worth paying attention to: secrecy.

The bill reforms the racing industry. As part of this, it transfers some of the functions of the old Racing Industry Transition Agency to the TAB, which it rightly makes subject to the OIA (though weirdly, it does this with both a special clause and by scheduling it. Only the latter is necessary). But it also establishes a new Racing Integrity Board, responsible for compliance, integrity (including judicial functions), and animal welfare - functions which were partly the responsibility of the old Transition Agency, and partly of the industry-owned Racing Integrity Unit. The latter will be replaced by the government body to ensure an integrity system independent of the industry.

The Board is appointed by the Minister, funded with public money and enjoys statutory powers of entry and search. But unlike the old Transition Agency, it will not be subject to the OIA. An important component of the oversight system for a notoriously corrupt industry will thus be shrouded in secrecy.

This is not acceptable. This is a public agency, performing public functions and funded with public money. It should, like other such bodies, be subject to the Official Information Act.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019



A "coincidence"

When it was revealed that NZ First had tried to enrich itself from public office via the Provoncial Growth Fund, the Prime Minister assured us that everything was OK as Shane Jones, the Minister responsible for the fund, had recused himself. Except it seems that that recusal came very late in the piece:

Shane Jones' office received official documents about a forestry company's bid for public money five times over four months, but the New Zealand First minister only declared a conflict of interest on the day RNZ began asking questions.

[...]

Documents provided to RNZ show Mr Jones wrote to the prime minister advising her of his conflict of interests on 14 October - the same day RNZ lodged an Official Information Act request with his office.

Mr Jones has told Parliament that he was only "formally" made aware of the NZFFP bid to the Provincial Growth Fund on 14 October.

But answers to written questions lodged by National MP Chris Bishop show Mr Jones' office was sent documents mentioning NZFFP and its applications to the PGF on five occasions between 17 June and 9 October.

A spokesperson for Mr Jones said it was a coincidence that the minister declared his conflict of interests on the same day RNZ lodged its OIA.


And again, like his excuses before Parliament, if Jones isn't corrupt then he is trying very hard to look it. Because the natural conclusion to be drawn from this is that he wouldn't have recused himself if questions hadn't been asked. Which would have seen him hand over millions of dollars of public money to a company he knew all along was run by NZ First cronies.

This is an unacceptable standard for any government Minister. And like Winston Peters over NZ First's secret slush fund, he has violated the Cabinet Manual requirement to uphold and be seen to uphold the highest ethical standards. The Prime Minister should sack both of them. But she won't, because she needs their votes. And that act of political cowardice shows that she is willing to tolerate corrupt behaviour from her Ministers if it keeps her in power.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and probably the last one of the year. After the marathon of the End of Life Choice Act, most of the bills up for debate today are uncontentious. First up is the second reading of Chlöe Swarbrick's Election Access Fund Bill. This will be followed by the first reading of the cross-party Crimes (Definition of Female Genital Mutilation) Amendment Bill, which was introduced and pushed up the Order Paper by leave, and should enjoy unanimous support. Once that's out of the way, the House will move on to the gripping committee stage of Ian McKelvie's Dog Control (Category 1 Offences) Amendment Bill. It should then make a start on the first contentious bill on the order paper: the second reading of Rino Tirikatene's Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill. As usual, there will be no ballot.

Worse than I thought

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has reported back on the government's odious and tyrannical control orders bill. As expected, the fraudulent select committee process has made no significant changes (partly because they couldn't agree, but mostly because it was a stitch-up from the start, with no intention of ever listening to submitters). But in the process they've revealed that they expect the law to be applied far more widely than expected. While the committee dismisses fears the law could be applied to protestors, it then goes on to say:

Similar concern was expressed about clause 7, which states that a person engages in terrorism-related activity if they “facilitate or support the carrying out of terrorism”. We consider this wording appropriate. It is deliberately broad, so that those who knowingly spread terrorist propaganda — whether as part of a recognised terrorist group or less formally — could be considered for a control order. Labour Party and Green Party members were particularly concerned about informal terrorism, and spe-cifically white supremacist terrorism.

So the threshold for having your liberty removed, without evidence, trial or prosecution, is "spread[ing] terrorist propaganda". Which seems awfully low. And it this stage, it seems worth pointing out that environmentalists are often considered to be terrorists overseas, that Australia has passed laws against "vegan terrorists" (AKA "people who film farm animals suffering") and is using similar rhetoric against climate protesters as it desperately attempts to defend the coal industry. So, speaking or posting in support of such groups or causes could fall foul of such a standard. And given Simon Bridges' views of Extinction Rebellion, this seems like an accident waiting to happen.

As for white supremacists, the implication here is that visiting Nazis like Southern and Molyneux who spread racist hate would be gagged at the border, without evidence, trial or prosecution. I don't like Nazis, but that seems a bit extreme, and not the sort of thing that a free and democratic society operating under the rule of law should do.

If "spreading terrorist propaganda" reaches a criminal threshold, it should be prosecuted. If it doesn't, then there seems to be no justification for restricting someone's liberty on the basis of what they say. And if the government believes the law in this area is inadequate, then it should say so, and make a case for proper legislation - not pull a half-arsed, tyrannical workaround which is open to abuse and undermines the values it purports to protect. But I guess that, like gathering evidence, that would be actual work.

Sadly, it seems like the Greens are still supporting this odious piece of tyranny. And if they continue to do so, then you should not support them.

The cannabis bill and the referendum

Yesterday, the government released its draft Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, which will be put to a non-binding referendum at the next election. I'm not a drug policy expert, but Russell Brown is, and he thinks its pretty good. And pretty obviously, it will be a massive improvement on the status quo, which criminalises a huge number of people for mostly harmless private behaviour, while legitimising significant police intrusion, not to mention a total waste of resources. So, come referendum time, I will be supporting it.

Of course, there is still the problem that that referendum is non-binding, so no matter which way we vote, the government could just ignore it, or change the regime under us while claiming public support for their version. The government's process here is completely unsatisfactory. They clearly have an idea of what policy they want to put to the public, but lack the commitment to actually stand behind it or stand behind our right to decide on it. So as usual for this government we have bullshit half-measures: a non-binding referendum on a concrete proposal. Instead of wasting our time like this, they should do it properly: pass the law, with a referendum-based commencement clause - exactly as has been done for the End of Life Choice Act.

Climate Change: Alignment

One of the big problems in New Zealand climate change policy is the government working at cross-purposes with itself. It wants to reduce fossil fuel use, but encourages oil and gas exploration. It wants to reduce transport emissions, but then builds enormous new roads. The problem could be avoided if the government assessed all policies for their climate change impact. And thanks to the Greens, it is finally going to start doing that:

Major government decisions will be required to go through a climate change assessment, thanks to new rule.

A Cabinet circular instituted by the Greens means any legislation or government decision aimed at reducing emissions, or likely to greatly increase emissions, will have a mandatory "climate impact assessment" attached.

This will join mandatory assessments on how bills impact human rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, rural communities, the disability community, and gender equality.


Its an obviously good move, and one which has been too long coming. If we'd been doing this back in 2002, or in 1996, we wouldn't be in nearly the emissions mess we're in now. And the assessments will be publicly released, meaning that we'll be able to see whether the government is making decisions that reduce emissions or increase them - and hold them to account for it.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019



More bad faith

Last year, the government announced it was ending offshore oil exploration by no longer issuing new permits. The idea was that the industry would then die off as permits expired. Except almost immediately the government revealed its bad faith, by saying they would extend permits and alter conditions to keep polluters drilling - a threat they have followed through on. And now, their discussion document on the Review of Crown Minerals Act 1991 takes this further, with an entire chapter devoted to overturning existing permit restrictions, allowing exploration and drilling to continue.

At present, exploration permits typically have conditions requiring the permit holder to periodicly surrender some of the permit area. This is expected to result in 56% of the current permitting area being surrendered by November 2021, and 75% by April 2025. But the government wants to remove these provisions. They also want to remove provisions restricting the expansion of permit areas or permit durations, or requiring the surrender of all exploration permit area when converting to a mining permit. The upshot of these changes is to undermine the offshore exploration ban, by keeping the polluting offshore drilling industry going for as long as possible.

These changes need to be resisted. Submissions are open on the review until 27 January, and I urge everyone to make a submission (and also: oppose the "promotion" purpose, and support the removal of the Anadarko Amendment while you're at it). Details on how to submit can be found here.

This is bullshit, and our democracy deserves better

The government has said it will ban foreign donations to political parties and candidates, and will be introducing legislation to be passed under all-stages urgency this afternoon. While I agree with the goal, I don't see a particular case for urgency, unless the government is concerned about a flood of foreign money being snuck in before the ban comes into place (in which case, simply include a retrospective reporting requirement, and let the parties face the voters). And given the complexities (we allow anonymous donations of up to $1,500, while targeting foreign-controlled NZ companies and trusts is going to be fiddly), this seems like a move which needs serious select committee scrutiny. Otherwise, we're either going to end up with a cosmetic PR move, or a fuck-up. And the public deserves better than that.

Update: The bill is now online. It limits foreign donations to $50, and imposes a duty on party secretaries to "take all reasonable steps in the circumstances" to ensure that anonymous donations aren't from "overseas persons". Meanwhile, it leaves the definition of "overseas person" unchanged, meaning NZ front companies can still be used to run a herd of Mongolian horses through the law. This is bullshit, and our democracy deserves better.

Reforming the Education Acts

The government introduced the Education and Training Bill to Parliament yesterday. Its a massive bill, which replaces both existing Education Acts, as well as various other bits of legislation (including some which are still proceeding through the House). I'll leave the serious analysis to teachers and people who actually know about education policy at various levels. But there are a couple of interestign points. On the administrative side, it introduces a new dispute resolution system, with a chief referee and dispute resolution panels to resolve disputes between students and schools (this is presumably to reduce the workload of the Ombudsman and the courts). And while it retains the "close the school" dodge which allows legally secular schools to hold religious instruction, it now requires it to be explicitly opt-in (though in a later section, it seems to retain the old opt-out drafting, which will need to be fixed). This is a good step forward, but it is not enough, because these provisions (and the requirement for explicitly secular teaching) apply only to primary and intermediate schools; state secondary schools are not included, and so can still shove religion down their student's throats. If we're going to have this compromise, then it needs to apply to all state schools, not just some.

Also: the old requirement for teachers to take an oath of allegiance as a condition of employment - imposed after the sedition trial of Hatty Weitzel in the 1920's - has not been included. So no more patriotic bullshit, huzzah!

Monday, December 02, 2019



Loosening the purse strings

When Labour was running for election in 2017, it felt it needed to demonstrate "fiscal responsibility" and signed itself up to masochistic "budget responsibility rules". It was a fool's errand: the sorts of voters who demand fiscal responsibility are also the sorts of voters who believe that labour can never provide it and will never vote for them, while the rules prevented any real improvement in social spending. But now, finally, it looks like the government will loosen the purse strings:

The government plans to loosen the purse strings and spend up large on infrastructure - but the details are still some weeks away.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson flagged extra spending in his speech to the Labour Party's annual conference in Whanganui.

He said Cabinet had committed to a boost to infrastructure as part of the short to medium term spending plan.

"We are currently finalising the specific projects that the package will fund but I can tell you this - it will be significant."


And the first step - $400 million for school property upgrades - looks good. This is what Labour governments are meant to do: invest in New Zealand (as opposed to National, who run it down then flog it off to their cronies). And hopefully this will also signal a greater willingness to invest in social infrastructure as well, rather than just concrete and steel. Because it makes no sense to run huge "surpluses" while there are unmet needs - that's not "responsible", its simply stupid.

Climate Change: How to get there

Writing in Stuff, Joel MacManus looks at what we need to do to meet the Zero Carbon Act's targets. The core of it:

1. Convert 85 per cent of vehicles on the road to electric.

2. Eliminate fossil fuels from all industrial heating up to 300 degrees Celsius.

3. Double our electricity production, without using more fossil fuels.

4. Research and develop new technology that will reduce the amount of nitrogen that gets converted to nitrous oxide in animal urine.

5. Plant enough trees to cover any emissions gaps.


These are immense changes, but its not as hard as it sounds. We have maybe twenty years to do this, which is about the time it took for horses to be replaced by cars, or for intercontinental air travel to kill passenger liners, or for New Zealand to build most of its hydro dams. A gradual transition needs the government to have policies which push in the right direction, with rising carbon prices and increasing regulatory pressure on polluters. But we could go faster if we treated this as the civilisational challenge that it is.

Meeting the methane target is harder. On this, the article relies on magic bullet methane reduction technology. Which is the same cross-your-fingers-and-hope strategy farmers have been pretending to rely on for the past twenty years, and which has produced exactly squat. We can't afford to wait any longer to reduce emissions, so while a technological solution would be welcome, we need concrete ways of reducing pollution now. And that means reducing the herd: fewer cows, burping and shitting and pissing less. Farmers react to this idea as if its the end of the world, but its worth remembering that we had almost 20% fewer cows a decade ago, and less than half as many thirty years ago (which is the timescale we're looking at). How low we need to go depends on the final methane target, but either way, it doesn't need a mass-slaughter, just a gradual reduction in herd sizes with the business cycle. It is going to mean that farmers are going to have to move away from mass commodity production if they want to stay profitable, but they need to do that anyway, so we might as well use climate (and freshwater) policy to push it along.

We can do this. But we need the government to lay the policy foundations, keep up the pressure, and ratchet up ambition if it seems like we're succeeding easily. And we need them to do that for decades. Which means that we as voters need to make sure the political parties know we want them to do this, and that we will punish any backsliding viciously at the ballot box. And you can start that by sticking it to National next election.

Friday, November 29, 2019



New Fisk

The remembrance poppy is becoming a weapon against immigrants to Canada. We need to remember everyone’s contribution to the war
I talked to everybody I could in Syria, controversial or otherwise. That's how you find out the truth

Climate Change: Europe declares an emergency

The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to declare a climate emergency:

The European parliament has declared a global “climate and environmental emergency” as it urged all EU countries to commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The vote came as scientists warned that the world may have already crossed a series of climate tipping points, resulting in “a state of planetary emergency”.

Intended to demonstrate Europe’s green credentials days before a crucial UN climate conference in Madrid, the vote also ratchets up pressure on Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming president of the European commission, who declared this week that the EU would lead the fight against “the existential threat” of the climate crisis.


The next step of course is to follow this up with action: more ambitious targets, and tougher policies to reach them. Most of Europe has agreed to phase out coal, which is a good start, but they need to do a lot more.

Meanwhile, I'm once again asking: what about New Zealand? Where's our emergency? Because while its symbolic, symbols matter. They drive action, say "we are going to take this seriously", and enable the government to be held to account for failing to do so. So, why isn't prime Minister who famously declared climate change to be "my generations' nuclear free moment" pushing this here?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019



Leaving us with the bill

Two weeks ago, Malaysian-owned oil company Tamarind declared it was insolvent and went into administration after a failed offshore drilling campaign. Tamarind apparently specialises in buying oil fields at the end of their life and trying to squeeze out the last few drops of pollution. But part of their scam may also be leaving us with the cleanup bill:

The $155 million bill to decommission an oil field off the coast of Taranaki may end up being covered by taxpayers.

Tamarind Taranaki, which owns the Tui Field, went into voluntary receivership earlier this month, meaning the government could be responsible for plugging and abandoning its wells.

[...]

But the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment said in a statement that if the company was not able to cover the costs of abandoning the field, the entire bill may fall to the Crown.


There's an obvious parallel here with climate change (where the fossil fuel industry is also leaving up with the cleanup bill, despite having created the problem), and it ought to be a warning about the dangers of allowing these companies to operate in New Zealand. At the least, before they drill a single well, they should be required to deposit a bond covering the entire cost of cleanup with the government, to prevent them from pulling this sort of scam in future.

Climate Change: The task before us

Two weeks ago, the Zero Carbon Act became law. Right this moment, the Climate Change Commisison will be working on its initial budgets for 2022-25 and 2026-2030, and the UN has just given them a very clear steer:

Countries must make an unprecedented effort to cut their levels of greenhouse gases in the next decade to avoid climate chaos, the UN has warned, as it emerged that emissions hit a new high last year.

[...]

Global emissions must fall by 7.6% every year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5C ceiling on temperature rises that scientists say is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences. The only time in recent history when emissions have fallen in any country at a similar rate came during the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the financial crisis and recession, emissions in the US and Japan fell briefly by about 6% but soon rebounded.

[...]

Postponing action could no longer be an option, said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we must now deliver deep cuts to emissions [of] over 7% each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade. This shows that countries simply cannot wait.”

Without such urgent action the world’s fate would be sealed within the next few years as carbon would rise to such a level as to make dangerous levels of warming inevitable, she said. “We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger [commitments under the Paris agreement] to kickstart the major transformations of economies and societies. We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”


This is the yardstick by which the first emissions budgets under the Zero Carbon Act are going to be measured. If they're compatible with this trajectory, then all is good. If they're not - if they propose weaker cuts, action considered inadequate by the experts - then the Act will be a failure from the outset, and the Minister and the Commission can expect to have their budgets challenged in the courts and on the streets. It is that simple.

Monday, November 25, 2019



Giving the finger to Beijing

Hong Kong has been protesting for six months for, demanding democracy, human rights, and an end to police violence. Today, they went to the polls in district council elections - a low-level of government with virtually no power, similar to community boards in New Zealand. But while the positions themselves were fairly powerless, they could still be used to send a message and give the finger to Beijing. And that's exactly what voters did:

The anti-establishment reverberations from almost six months of street protests swept through polling stations across Hong Kong on Sunday, as voters in record numbers roundly rejected pro-Beijing candidates in favour of pan-democrats.

The tsunami of disaffection among voters was clear across the board, as pan-democrats rode the wave to win big in poor and rich neighbourhoods, in both protest-prone and non protest-afflicted districts and, in downtown areas as well as the suburbs.

Less immediately obvious was whether there was a generational divide in the way the people voted, but ousted pro-establishment district councillors suggested that young, first-time voters had been instrumental in dislodging them from their perch.

By 7am, the pro-democracy camp had gained a majority in at least 12 of the 18 district councils, taking 278 seats.

All councils were previously under pro-establishment control from the 2015 elections.


More recent results are saying the democrats have 333 seats to the establishment's 37, with less than a hundred seats to go. Its a very clear message from voters to their government, and to Beijing. The only question is whether the latter will listen.

National supports slavery

Meanwhile, while the government is planning to restore voting rights to prisoners, National is promising to turn our prisons into US-style slave-labour camps:

The Opposition is proposing compulsory education, training or employment for prisoners who are serving sentences of two years or more.

[...]

On Sunday, National Party Leader Simon Bridges said his was a party of law and order and would release its full discussion document on the law on Tuesday.

Part of that would include making the current opt-in system of working prisons becoming compulsory.


Compulsory work or you get punished? There's a name for that: slavery. And its illegal everywhere in the world, including New Zealand.

And lest anyone think this is hyperbole: prisoners in New Zealand are paid just 20 cents an hour. They have no labour rights, cannot join unions or strike, and their "employer" is not subject to the usual health and safety regime. This is not "employment" as normally understood, with contracts, rights, and transparent deductions for expenses, but a regime which uses the coercive environment of the prison system to extract forced labour from prisoners, while undercutting real businesses and driving free workers onto the dole queue. And the New Zealand government recognises this for foreign prisons, banning the importation of goods produced by prison labour. We need to recognise it domesticly as well.

National's policy is one part Trumpian performative cruelty, and one part keeping wages low for the benefit of their business cronies. It is abhorrent and immoral, and they should be ashamed of themselves for advocating it.

Erasing the infamy

Last year, the Supreme Court confirmed that National's prisoner voting ban - a law so shoddily passed that it brought Parliament into disrepute - breached the Bill of Rights Act. This year, the Waitangi Tribunal added that it also breached the Treaty of Waitangi. And now, the government has finally got the message and will reverse it:

Justice Minister Andrew Little has revealed some prisoners will be allowed to vote in next year's general election.

People sentenced to less than three years in prison will have their voting rights restored.

This will return the law to the way it was pre-2010, before the National-led government removed voting rights from all sentenced prisoners.

"We plan to make this change in an Electoral Amendment Bill before the next election, so that people sentenced to less than three years imprisonment can participate in the 2020 election," Little said.


Which is good, and what should happen when the courts find Parliament has breached its duty to follow the Treaty and the BORA. At the same time, it raises a number of questions. Most obviously, why they're not going the whole way, and restoring voting rights to every prisoner, rather than just going back to the status quo ante? Because the arguments for short-term prisoners being able to vote apply just as powerfully to long-term ones. But Labour is the government of half-measures, so I guess that's all we'll ever get from them.

And while we're at it, if the government is willing to use the Electoral Amendment Bill - pitched as an administrative tidy-up - to do this, why won't it also use it to reform the electoral finance regime and impose greater transparency? Or begin the process to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote? Both have powerful democratic arguments in their favour, and have also been demanded by submitters on the Bill. Or is the unjust status quo all we can ever expect from Labour?

Friday, November 22, 2019



New Fisk

I witnessed my first real battles and saw my first corpses in Belfast. It prepared me for the Middle East
Mike Pompeo scorns the law because powerful men like him never have to follow it

Climate Change: Submit!

The Environment Committee has called for submissions on the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading Reform) Amendment Bill. Submissions are due by Friday, 17 January 2020, and can be made online at the link above.

The bill makes a number of changes to the ETS, including linking it to the carbon budget framework in the Zero Carbon Act. It also brings agriculture into the scheme in 2025 and continues to subsidise it for a century after that, while continuing free industrial allocation for another four decades. It also includes another secrecy clause for the auction monitor, because the government does not trust the withholding provisions of the OIA, despite them working well for almost 40 years. I urge people to submit specifically to ask that:

  • Agricultural emissions be brought into the ETS immediately, with an identical free allocation and phase-out regime to industrial emissions;
  • The free allocation baselines for industrial emissions be reduced to 82% and 52% respectively to align them with present levels, and that these free allocations be phased out within a decade;
  • If the free allocation baseline is not reduced, then the allocation regime needs to be amended to prevent industrial polluters getting windfall credits for previous years;
  • Carbon prices are up against the price cap, so the carbon price needs to rise. The fixed price option should be immediately raised to $50, and by $25 a year thereafter, so that prices can find their true level (this will become irrelevant in 2023, when the cost-containment reserve kicks in);
  • The secrecy clause in s30GF and 30GG should be removed, as the OIA is sufficient;
  • The secrecy clause in s99 of the Act should be amended in accordance with the Ombudsman's advice on the issue given to the committee when hearing the Zero Carbon Act.

The current bill favours polluters and farmers while keeping carbon prices low. Which is exactly the opposite of what we need at this stage of the climate crisis. Instead, we need prices to rise, and for farmers and polluters to face the full prices of their emissions. That's how economic instruments are meant to work, and the government's continued subsidies undermines any chance of real emissions reductions.

Thursday, November 21, 2019



If Shane Jones isn't corrupt, he is trying very hard to look it

Last week we learned that New Zealand First had apparently tried to enrich itself from public office, with a dodgy forestry company linked to a number of NZ First figures sticking its hand out repeatedly for government money. Today in Question Time Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones had his first opportunity to answer questions for himself on the issue (previously, others had been answering on his behalf). But when asked simple questions about what he knew and when, he did his utmost to cloud the issue:

CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: On what date was N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd's application to the Provincial Growth Fund lodged, and when did he first become aware that N.Z. Future Forest Products Ltd had applied to the Provincial Growth Fund?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): I am advised the application was lodged on 8 April. I found out that the application was coming to Ministers for consideration on 14 October.


He was rightly pulled up for not answering, so refined it to saying that he "became aware that the company had applied to the Provincial Growth Fund on 14 October." Which seems like a straight answer. Except when asked whether he had not been aware of the application at any time over the 6 month interval in between, he refused to give a straight answer, and talked only of when he became "formally" aware. And he clung to that when asked repeatedly whether he was informally aware, or aware in any way of the application whatsoever.

At any time, Jones could have ended speculation over his guilt by simply saying that no, he was not aware. His repeated refusal to do so invites the conclusion that he was, and that he behaved corruptly by not immediately declaring a conflict of interest and recusing himself. If he's not corrupt, he is working very, very hard to look that way, and he has no-one to blame but himself for the conclusions the public draw from his non-answers.

Climate Change: We need to end fossil fuels

Finally, governments seem slowly to be beginning to act on climate change. But its not enough. While they're publicly signing up to targets, they're planning to destroy the world by continuing fossil fuel extraction:

The world’s nations are on track to produce more than twice as much coal, oil and gas as can be burned in 2030 while restricting rise in the global temperature to 1.5C, analysis shows.

The report is the first to compare countries’ stated plans for fossil fuel extraction with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which is to keep global heating well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, and to aim for 1.5C. It exposes a huge gap, with fossil fuel production in 2030 heading for 50% more than is consistent with 2C, and 120% more than that for 1.5C.

[...]

“We’re in a deep hole – and we need to stop digging,” said Måns Nilsson, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), which was part of the analysis. “Despite more than two decades of climate policymaking, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever.”


Its not enough to target fossil fuel demand with carbon prices and electric car policies and phase-outs of power stations: we need to directly target supply as well, and cut it off. New Zealand has begun this process by ending offshore oil exploration, but that doesn't go nearly far enough: we need to end extraction as well, and not just for oil and gas, but for coal too. And its not just New Zealand; we need a global fossil fuels non-proliferation treaty to manage this industry down to a level consistent with human survival.

Of course, that means bursting the carbon bubble, and admitting that fossil fuel companies are valueless, because their balance sheets are based on "reserves" which can never be extracted and sold. And that means a lot of rich people (and suckers) will lose a lot of money, which in turn will mean a lot of screaming and lobbying to prevent it. But its going to happen one way or another, either by planned government action or when the markets finally admit it to themselves. And on that front, planned is almost certainly better, but it means politicians get directly blamed for it. And to be honest, I just don't think our establishment, Status quo parties are up for that. Which means if we want to save ourselves, we need to get rid of them first.

As bad as we expected

Stuff has begun interviewing NZ First's secret donors, and it turns out that its as bad as we expected. They start with racing industry figure Garry Chittick, who is predictably grumpy about NZ First's coalition choices. Meanwhile, I'm looking at the list of pork NZ First has effectively given its secret donors - tax breaks, grants, more gambling money - and thinking that this is an influence that needed to be declared. Because it looks like a bunch of people in the racing industry invested in a politician to get government kickbacks, and that stinks. And then there's this bit:

But there were other large donations, many of which are from companies and individuals who work in industries that have benefited from the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund. Stuff is not suggesting any wrongdoing on the part of the donors, and it may be that those industries would have benefited regardless.

Sure, they might have. But the fact their donations were kept secret gives it a certain odour of corruption.

Meanwhile, the government has ruled out any real change to election finance laws [audio, 55s in], and are quite happy with the status quo. But as Andrew Geddis pointed out the other day, if the status quo permits this, we have a real problem. And if the government is refusing to fix it, then that invites the conclusion that the problem extends further than NZ First, and that we need to fix them too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019



Winston is the PM's problem

In Question Time today the Prime Minister was naturally facing questions about Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and his dubious party financing arrangements, which seem to violate electoral finance law. Her response was to pretend that it was nothing to do with her, and that she is not responsible for Peters' conduct in that capacity. But she's lying. As Prime Minister, Ardern is responsible for the conduct of her Ministers. And the rules on that conduct are pretty explicit:

A Minister of the Crown, while holding a ministerial warrant, acts in a number of different capacities:

a. in a ministerial capacity, making decisions and determining and promoting policy within particular portfolios;
b. in a political capacity as a member of Parliament, representing a constituency or particular community of interest; and
c. in a personal capacity.

In all these roles and at all times, Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards. This includes exercising a professional approach and good judgement in their interactions with the public and officials, and in all their communications, personal and professional. Ultimately, Ministers are accountable to the Prime Minister for their behaviour.


[Emphasis added]

...and the Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament, and to the people.

Its fine for the PM to say that the Electoral Commission is investigating, and to withhold judgement until then. But its not fine for her to pretend its not her problem. And the longer she does, the more crooked she looks. But hey, if she wants to bleed out like Helen Clark defending the indefensible, then that's her problem.

Australia's secret prisoner

A prisoner stripped of their name, imprisoned for a secret crime after a secret trial, with all details legally suppressed for secret reasons. A story by Kafka or Dumas? China? No, its just the latest stage of Australian tyranny:

An Australian citizen was prosecuted, convicted, and jailed in the ACT last year in a process completely hidden from public scrutiny.

It is understood the prisoner, given a pseudonym of Alan Johns, was a military intelligence officer, but details about his crime and background have been kept secret.

The very existence of his case remained hidden until earlier this month, when a dispute between him and prison authorities about a draft memoir he had written found its way into the ACT supreme court.


He is apparently now free (and tweeting, though he's clear that what he can say is limited by law). But the fact that this even happened is appalling. It violates the fundamental value of open justice, and comes close to being a forced disappearance (a crime in international law).

If this can happen once, it can happen again. Australians should be very, very worried about the direction their country is taking.

Bridges should put his money where his mouth is

Stuff has more details on what New Zealand First's slush-fund has been funding, with much of the spending directly benefiting the party. Which makes it look a lot like hidden donations, rather than the completely-innocent-giant-pile-of-cash Winston is trying to portray it as. The Electoral Commission is now investigating, but Simon Bridges doesn't think its enough:

Bridges was highly critical of both Peters and Ardern over the saga.

He said the Prime Minister needed to show leadership on this issue, and make sure it was thoroughly and independently investigated because it goes to the heart of New Zealand's democracy.

The Electoral Commission is looking into the allegations, but Bridges said that body was a "toothless tiger".

"It ultimately does not have anything like the powers to deal with this."


Which sounds like he supports change. Which is great, because there's an Electoral Amendment Bill before the Justice Committee right now which could be amended. If Bridges wants greater transparency and more enforcement powers for the Electoral Commission, he should put his money where his mouth is and publicly suggest appropriate amendments. The government will be basicly backed into a corner on this and be forced to either support them, or taint themselves with the public by backing the obviously broken status quo. But of course Bridges won't, because the last thing any establishment party wants to do is let the public know who is bribing them...

The APEC police state enabling bill

I've joked before about how hosting international summits effectively turns part of your country into a police state for the duration. Well, New Zealand is hosting APEC in 2021, with events throughout the year in Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland. And the government has put up a bill to give itself police-state powers for those events. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC 2021) Bill allows the government to put the army on the streets as "police" with full arrest and search powers, let foreign security staff bring pistols and automatic weapons into New Zealand and use them, arbitarily close buildings, roads and public places, require proof of identification ("papers, please") from anyone wanting to enter, jam WiFi and any other radio communications. Appeals against these decisions are strictly limited, with no appeal against closures, removals or most other decisions permitted. And of course the government will not compensate anyone for the disruption or any abuse of rights.

(Coincidentally, unless Winston explodes prematurely, this will all be happening smack-bang in the middle of an election campaign, with the potential to disrupt access to advance polling places. Oh joy).

But what about the Bill of Rights? The bill overrides it, along with every other Act. There's no BORA vet on the bill available yet, but I expect our supine Attorney-General will rubberstamp it in the name of "security", just like he did for control orders. But we've hosted such events in the past without this sort of statutory violence to our constitution and way of life, so you really have to ask why it is all necessary.

More generally, if the security requirements of hosting such meetings require this sort of sustained violation of of human rights, the price is not worth paying and we should not host them. If Jacinda Ardern wants to wear a silly jacket and hob-nob with the elite, she should do it somewhere else, somewhere which doesn't require her to impose a police state on New Zealanders for the duration. Because the elite's networking and photo opportunities are not worth a single compromise to our human rights, and anyone who tells you they are is simply pushing feudalism.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019



Still denying responsibility

Stuff's story on NZDF's negligence around its Afghan firing ranges has produced a result, with a commitment from the Prime Minister for an urgent cleanup. But this doesn't mean NZDF is accepting responsibility for the deaths and injuries that have occured - they're still refusing compensation. Which given that the sums involved are so trivial on a government level, just seems petty, a further effort to deny responsibility. But it is our responsibility: we accepted it when we sent troops to Afghanistan and took over those ranges. And even if it was someone else's grenade which killed those children, its still our fault for not cleaning it up, and we have accepted as much by accepting the full cleanup costs. This just smacks of the usual NZDF arse-covering and reluctance to acknowledge responsibility.

Unfortunately, its also looking like NZDF has engaged in its usual behaviour towards Ministers, their bosses. NZDF has said they received a report from Human Rights Watch about deaths and injuries on the firing ranges last year, which apparently spurred some action and resulted in a briefing to the PM on the issue. But she said on Morning Report this morning that she was not informed of any possibility of deaths. Did NZDF bullshit her, massaging the truth to equivocate away civilian casualties, as they did over Operation Burnham? I expect Stuff already has an OIA in for that briefing (if they don't already have it), so we'll find out eventually. Unless NZDF tries to hide it under "national security", of course.

But I'm also wondering why Ministers continue to tolerate NZDF, given that all they seem to do is leave these stinking messes around for people to tread in. Whenever they go overseas, they fuck up, and Ministers are left to deal with the fallout. Which suggests keeping them on a short leash, at home, is necessary to keep them under proper supervision.

A corrupt practice

Last week RNZ broke the news on NZ First's mysterious "foundation" and its dodgy-looking loans. The arrangement seemed to be designed to evade the transparency requirements of the Electoral Act, by laundering donations. But now Stuff has acquired some of their financial records, and it gone from dodgy to outright criminal:

Almost half a million dollars in political donations appear to have been hidden inside a secret slush fund controlled by a coterie of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters' trusted advisers.

The secretive New Zealand First Foundation collected donations from wealthy donors and used the money to finance election campaigns, pay for an MP's legal advice, advertising, fund a $5000 day at the Wellington races and even pay an IRD bill.

[...]

Stuff has seen records for the foundation that suggest there have been breaches of the Electoral Act and that the foundation is being used to obscure political donations to the NZ First Party.

Donors to the foundation are primary industry leaders, wealthy investors and multi-millionaires.

One legal commentator, public law expert Graeme Edgeler who also saw the records, believes there would be different consequences under the Electoral Act depending on whether the party and foundation are separate entities or connected.

In either scenario, Edgeler concluded the Electoral Act had likely been broken.


The big offence here is making a false electoral donation return - a corrupt practice if done knowingly, but merely an illegal practice if the result of negligence and other people's lies. And with that on the line, you can see why their party president suddenly quit rather than sign the financial statements.

Stuff appears to have evidence that funds were given to the foundation as "donations", and then used to directly pay party expenses. Some of these donations were split up to avoid the declaration threshold - suggesting a belief they were going to a political party (not to mention corrupt intent on the donor's part). Which suggests other criminal offences as well. But because politicians write the law to suit themselves, there's an extraordinarily short time window for prosecution, and many of the offences may not be able to be prosecuted. Still, the Electoral Commission needs to investigate, and bring charges if it finds anything. Anything less would simply be a betrayal of our democracy.

Monday, November 18, 2019



Corruption as usual

Next year is an election year, and Labour needs money to fund its campaign. So naturally, they're selling access:

Labour is charging wealthy business figures $1500-a-head to lunch with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at its annual conference later this month.

[...]

On the weekend beginning November 29th, around 800 delegates will gather at the Whanganui War Memorial Centre, for the convention.

Also on the guest list are a select number of business guests, who will spend the day at a business conference and lunch with Ardern.

Eight MPs will give presentations and all MPs are invited. Stuff understands Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi are expected to attend.


Officially, they're all attending in a "personal capacity" of course. But the only reason anyone is interested in talking to them is because they hold public office. They are exploiting that office for party profit. Their "excuse" that they're only selling themselves a little compared to the previous government is unacceptable. What they are doing is corrupt and wrong, and any politician who engages in it should be prosecuted for soliciting a bribe.

Fairer rentals

Yesterday the government announced its changes to tenancy laws, including an end to no-cause evictions, limits on rent increases, and anonyminity for tenants who defend their rights against bad landlords (sadly necessary because landlords are scum who maintain blacklists of "uppity" tenants). They're all good moves, and have resulted in the usual squeals from landleeches, who think it will be the end of the world if they are required to treat people with basic fairness and dignity. And they're making the usual threats of people "leaving the industry", which they seem to think is a Bad Thing. Its not. Every house owned by a landleech is a hoarded house. If they sell, then those hoarded houses will end up in the hands of people who want to use them as homes, not investments - pushing house prices lower in the process. And I don't see how society loses at all by that.

Another NZDF coverup

In 2003 New Zealand sent a Provincial Reconstruction Team to Afghanistan to support America's doomed war there. While there, they conducted regular weapons practice on local firing ranges, littering the landscape with unexploded ammunition. These ranges weren't secure - they're on land used by locals for animal herding - so the inevitable tragedies occurred. And re-occurred. And kept occurring. And NZDF did... nothing:

Seven children were killed in an explosion caused by a device left behind on a New Zealand firing range in Afghanistan, a Stuff Circuit investigation has revealed.

The children are among 17 civilians killed or injured in incidents connected to unexploded ordnance on New Zealand's firing ranges.

[...]

The Defence Force refused to be interviewed, but in a statement said it "takes its responsibility to ensure areas used by New Zealand forces are free of unexploded ordnance very seriously".

Defence was in talks with the Afghan government to clear the ranges, and had set aside $10 million to do so, the statement said.

But locals point out it is now six years since New Zealand left Afghanistan and question why the work hasn't been carried out already.


NZDF's statement is the usual arse-covering, saying their negligence was all within the rules, and trying to point at the finger at others (again: so much for the supposed military ethos of taking responsibility). But as the article points out, the clearance was clearly inadequate, and there was a spike in injuries and deaths after NZDF had used the ranges. And frankly, its their responsibility, our responsibility, and they have failed. Its also appalling that we're only learning about this now, and it just smacks of the institutional behaviour currently under examination in the Operation Burnham inquiry: keep the public in the dark, shuffle everything under the carpet, and deny, deny, deny (next they'll no doubt be attacking the journalists as well). If NZDF is wondering why people don't trust them, and look at them as liars and criminals, then they simply need to look in the mirror.

As for what to do about it, there needs to be an immediate cleanup, and compensation for the victims. Anything less is simply failing our responsibilities.

A loss for the Greens

Green MP Gareth Hughes has announced he will retire at the election. Its understandable - he's been there ten years, and wants to actually see his children grow up rather than miss it while drowning in the toxic parliamentary sewer. But his departure is also a huge loss for the Greens, stripping them of parliamentary experience and energy.

Hughes has also made it clear that one of the reasons for his departure is frustration at the failure of this government to rise to the challenges we face and be transformational. That was always a doomed hope, and not just because of NZ First: Labour is an establishment party, so it reflexively supports the status quo, no matter how unjust, unequal, and unsustainable it is. And yet, the need for transformation to deal with climate change and inequality is clear. Sadly, convincing our sclerotic establishment of that is simply banging your head against a brick wall. That's useful in the long-term - it wears down the wall, so that eventually, someday, your successors can smash it - but frustrating and pointless in the short-term. And its perfectly understandable that people don't want to waste their time doing that, especially when they have better things to do with their lives.

Friday, November 15, 2019



New Fisk

Michael Lynk’s UN report on Israeli settlements speaks the truth – but the world refuses to listen

Unacceptable

That's the only response to the findings of the Ombudsman's investigation into LGOIMA practices at the Christchurch City Council:

My investigation identified serious concerns about the Council’s leadership and culture, and its commitment to openness and transparency. In particular, Council staff raised concerns with me about various methods employed by some members of the Executive Leadership Team to keep negative information about the Council from the public and/or elected members. These methods allegedly included manipulating or removing information from reports, project reporting not occurring, staff being told not to record information or to keep information in draft form. This has caused a perception to develop among staff that some members of the Executive Leadership Team wished to manipulate any messaging about the Council that might be negative.

The then-Chief Executive was in total denial about this, refusing to see any problem. The good news is that they've now left the job, and their replacement seems a lot more interested in transparency. Still, the Ombudsman has taken the unusual step for a practice investigation of issuing a formal recommendation to prevent this from happening again, which the council has accepted. Its a huge change from the previous situation, where the chief executive tried to ignore formal recommendations and had to be taken to court.

Which I guess shows how one rotten person at the top can undermine transparency in an entire organisation, and how important it is to keep an eye on them to stop that from happening.

This is what corruption looks like

NZ First seems to be nakedly trying to enrich itself from public office:

A powerful New Zealand First figure helped establish a forestry company that then pushed for money from two key funding streams controlled by a New Zealand First Minister.

An RNZ investigation has found Brian Henry, lawyer for Winston Peters and judicial officer for the New Zealand First party, became a founding director of NZ Future Forest Products in March.

The company immediately began its bid for money from the Provincial Growth Fund and also sought funding from the One Billion Trees programme - both overseen by New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones.

The Billion Trees funding bid was rejected by officials at Te Uru Rākau, Forestry New Zealand, on 22 August.

Less than a week after that rejection, Future Forest Products appointed the partner of New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters as a director of the company.

[...]

Ms Trotman was made the fourth director of the forestry company on 27 August, when the company bid for at least $1 million from the Provincial Growth Fund was still live.

They were turned down for that as well, fortunately, but its more than a little disturbing that they tried, and got the Deputy Prime Minister's partner on board for it. What's also disturbing is that the ultimate ownership of this company is unknown, hidden behind a "limited partnership" designed (by National) to give secrecy. Is it more politicians? NZ First's mysterious foundation? Or the Deputy Prime Minister himself? We simply don't know, and thanks to National's love of corrupt foreign money, we can't. But here we see how the foreign money laundering regime can potentially be used to cover up domestic corruption. Its a perfect example of why we need a public beneficial ownership register, to ensure that the rich and corrupt can't hide their dodgy financial dealings.

Escape from Manus Island

Behrouz Boochani is an award winning author and journalist. He is also a refugee, who for the past six years has been detained in Australia's offshore gulag on Manus Island, and in Papua New Guinea. But last night, with the cooperation of the WORD Christchurch festival and Amnesty International, he finally escaped to New Zealand. As for what he was escaping from, The Guardian has the litany of horrors:

Over the six years he was held on Manus Island and in Port Moresby, Boochani witnessed friends shot, stabbed and murdered by guards on Manus Island, saw others die through medical neglect, and watched others descend into mental anguish and suicide.

He was twice tortured for several days in the notorious Chauka solitary confinement block, in the now-demolished Manus detention centre. He was jailed for eight days for reporting on a hunger strike in the centre, which was put down by force by PNG police.


This is basicly nazi stuff. And its our "closest friend" Australia doing it. But countries who run concentration camps, who deliberately leave people to die, who torture, can never be our friends. Which is why you should never buy Australian.

As for Boochani, he will be appearing at the WORD festival in Christchurch tonight, and plans to enjoy his freedom in New Zealand. While he has no plans to apply for asylum here, that could (and should) change if the US withdraws its acceptance. Because what's clear is that he has been persecuted by Australia and its PNG patsies, and would suffer further persecution of returned there. Which gives him a slam-dunk case for refugee status in New Zealand should he need it.

Thursday, November 14, 2019



Climate Change: We need more trees, not less

Farmers held a hate-march on Parliament today, complete with MAGA hats, gun-nut signs, and gendered insults. While supposedly about a grab-bag of issues - including, weirdly, mental health - it was clear that the protest was about one thing, and one thing only: climate change. And specifically, forestry "destroying" rural communities. They want the latter to stop, with land-use restrictions to prevent sales for forestry.

Think about that for a moment. If at any other time a Labour government proposed preventing farmers selling their land to the highest bidder or putting it to the most profitable use, these rednecks would be screaming "communism!" Now they're demanding it, to protect their unsustainable, unprofitable way of life.

But the blunt fact is that these conversions happen because they are a more profitable use for the land than existing uses. Now that carbon costs are internalised in the non-agricultural economy, the market has shifted, and these farmers are on the short end. And the best thing that can happen, both economically and for emissions, is for them to be planted out.

Cows emit greenhouse gases. Trees absorb them. Any tree, anywhere, is better than a cow. So the faster this transition in rural land use happens, the better, for us, and for the planet. It is that simple.

The IGIS annual report: Dead letters and secret law

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security released their annual report today, and I've been busy reading through it. In amongst the usual review of what they've been doing all year, there's a few interesting bits. For example, a discussion on "agency retention and disposal of information", which points out that the clause of the Intelligence and Security Act which requires the destruction of "irrelevant" information is basicly a dead letter:

The application of s103 is more problematic, because judging when information collected for intelligence purposes is no longer relevant is not straightforward. If s103 means that information may only be retained so long as it is necessary, rather than merely desirable, to keep it, that is still a difficult test to apply in practice. The practical effect of s103 remains under discussion between our office and the agencies.

Reading between the lines, it appears that the current test for keeping irrelevant information - that is, information about people of no interest to the spies whatsoever, with no justification for retantion - seems to be whether it is "desirable" (that is, whether the spies feel like it, or feel they may be able to use it, somehow, in the future, despite no apparent use today). Which is a long way from what we were told when the law was passed, and basicly renders the clause meaningless. And that in turn creates an incentive for over-collection and mass-storage, just in case information becomes useful in future.

There's worse. One of the key safeguards in the Act is that any collection of intelligence about a New Zealander requires a Type 1 warrant, with enhanced safeguards. But (as mentioned in the IGIS's earlier report on warrants) the spies have been playing language games over anticipated "incidental" collection of New Zealanders' communications under less stringent, foreign intelligence Type 2 warrants - and they now have a legal opinion from the Solicitor-General backing up their view that this is OK. Which is part of the legal process and the back and forth of oversight, but as the IGIS points out, government agencies are bound to follow such opinions, so where they are issued, they are for all practical purposes the law. Which then raises a significant issue of there being a body of effectively secret law, shielded by legal professional privilege, which may differ significantly from the public understanding. Even more disturbingly, the spy agencies have "come close" to trying to use legal privilege to prevent the Inspector-General from stating their position on the law - effectively trying to keep it completely secret from the public.

But in a democratic society, the very idea of "secret law" is a nonsense. The law is, by definition, public. The government has to tell you what it is. And they should do exactly that with their interpretations of the spy laws. Otherwise, there will always be public suspicion that they mean one thing to the public, and something very different to the spies. And that is simply not sustainable in a democracy.

(If someone has the appetite for an OIA shitfight, there's a past Ombudsman's opinion supporting openness for such internal interpretive advice, so it may be worth trying to request it.

A referendum on bigotry

The End of Life Choice Bill passed its third reading last night, 69 - 51. Thanks to a compromise with NZ First - which looks to have been necessary on the final numbers - the commencement of the bill will be subject to a referendum.

Given the ugliness of the "debate" over the bill, which saw bigots equating the terminally ill being able to choose to die on their own terms when they are ready for it - something they already do illegally - with the mass murder of the old and disabled, it is likely to be a very ugly campaign. The same tiny clique of well-funded fundamentalist nutjobs who have opposed gay rights, women's rights, equal marriage, and pretty much any progress in this country forever are going to spew hate into our political system for months, because that is all they know how to do. And the biggest effect of it is likely to be to make people turn off, walk away and not vote.

I urge people not to do that. We simply can not let the bigots win, on this, or on anything. Instead, we have to crush them at the ballot box. This won't change their minds - bigots are incapable of learning - but it should teach them not to inflict themselves on us in this way, and go back to just bothering MPs instead.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019



Irony

Since 2013, the Australian government has detained refugees without trial in Pacific gulags, where they are abused, tortured, and driven to suicide. The policy is not just an abuse of human rights and possible crime against humanity; it has also had a corrosive effect on the states Australia uses as hosts. Nauru in particular has turned into a dictatorship, banning the media, evicting the opposition from parliament, and ending freedom of speech in an effort to stop criticism of the flow of Australian gulag money. And now, some of the victims of that regime are applying for asylum in Australia:

A former Nauruan politician is seeking political asylum in Australia as a retrial of anti-Government protestors kicks off in the island nation today.

Squire Jeremiah is a member of the so-called Nauru 19, a group of former opposition MPs and their supporters who were charged with rioting and disrupting the legislature over protests outside the nation's Parliament in 2015.

Mr Jeremiah and his cousin, Rutherford Jeremiah, fled to Australia in September.

He says the Government is determined to have them convicted.


And he's right. Nauru has conducted a campaign of persecution against these people, and then when the courts finally ruled it was illegal, abolished them. Now, they've bought in a Fijian judge, whose claim to fame is purportedly legalising a coup, to hear the trial. As the former chief justice says, this is simply an abuse of the judicial process.

The irony here: Australia's anti-refugee policies in the Pacific are now creating refugees in the Pacific. Its appropriate that they clean up their mess, and give sanctuary to those who they are having persecuted. If not, New Zealand should offer to help.

Another captured agency

Last month, Greenpeace head Russel Norman surrendered his speaking slot at an EPA conference to student climate activist Sorcha Carr, who told the EPA exactly what she thought of them. It was a bold move, which confronted both regulators and polluters (or, as the EPA calls them, "stakeholders") with the voices they were ignoring. The EPA's reaction was astounding:

“[EPA CEO] Allan Freeth publicly chastised her [the student] for lack of ‘politeness’ and the inappropriateness of the speech – seemingly more concerned about the offence caused to other ‘invited guests’. From what I witnessed, I believe he was particularly acknowledging a rep from the oil and gas industry, who not only shouted at Sorcha during and after her speech, but immediately stormed out and accosted senior EPA staff to express his outrage at the ‘ridiculousness’, inappropriateness and ‘bad taste’ of her speech.”

The event was described as an annual update where central and local government, industry and community groups were invited to hear what the EPA had been doing and an opportunity for the EPA to understand "what is of concern and interest to our stakeholders". Norman was a guest speaker.

Freeth later sent a letter to attendees apologising for “a person’s poor and disrespectful behaviour”. He was referring to either Norman or Carr, not the oil industry representative who spoke over Carr.


What this shows is a regulatory agency which is completely and totally captured by the industry it purports to regulate. It shares their values, and their sense of offence at being confronted with a message they do not want to hear. And by doing so, it has ceased to be a neutral, professional public service agency, and has effectively become an industry lobby group within government.

Such unprofessional and corrupt conduct should not be tolerated. Freeth needs to resign or be sacked. As for the EPA, if they are this captured and this compromised, they need to be disbanded. Raze it to the ground and start again from a clean slate, because clearly they're no fucking good to anyone but the polluters they protect.

NZ First's dodgy loans

The core principle supposedly underlying New Zealand's electoral finance regime is transparency: parties can accept large donations from rich people wanting to buy policy, but only if they tell the public they've been bought. Most parties abide by this, so we know that TOP was wholly-owned by Gareth Morgan, and that ACT is basicly the pawn of a couple of rich arseholes in Auckland. The exception to this is NZ First, which has never declared a single donation by anyone, ever. They do however declare lots of "loans":

Records show New Zealand First has disclosed three loans from the New Zealand First Foundation. In 2017, it received $73,000. Then in 2018, it received a separate loan of $76,622, in what the Electoral Commission says was a loan executed to "replace the first loan". In 2019, it received another loan for $44,923.

Those giving money to the foundation are able to remain anonymous because under electoral law, loans are not subject to the same disclosure requirements as donations.

Both of the foundation's trustees refused to answer any questions about what the foundation did and how it operated, and New Zealand First's party secretary, Liz Witehira, said she knew nothing about it.

"I don't know and I don't need to know," Mrs Witehira told RNZ.


The natural suspicion here is that they are simply laundering their donations. And of course, its all "within the rules". But when those rules were written by self-interested politicians for their own benefit, that doesn't fly very far with the public. Electoral law expert Andrew Geddis says that this isn't the level of transparency we expect to see from a political party, and he's right. As for how to stop it, we busted trusts on donations, requiring the true contributors to be identified; clearly we need to do this for non-commercial "loans" as well.

But that's just plugging the current loophole, and dodgy politicians wanting to hide their corrupt dealings will soon find (or create) another. So in the long-term, we need to insist on total transparency, with every non-trivial donation disclosable, while shifting to public funding to get the rich out of politics. The rich have their outsized influence because the parties need their money. Remove that need, and politicians might actually start working for voters for a change.

Member's Day: The choice on End of Life Choice

Today is a Member's Day, probably the second-to-last one of the year, and its a big one, with the Third Reading of David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill. last Member's Day it was reported back from committee, after MPs voted narrowly to make it subject to a (rules TBA) referendum. This week, we get to see if enough of them are happy with that compromise. Polling from Stuff suggests they are, and that the bill will pass comfortably with 70 votes. Its a two-hour debate, so we should find out just before 6pm.

After that, the House will move on to the third reading of Todd Muller's Companies (Clarification of Dividend Rules in Companies) Amendment Bill and the second reading of Ian McKelvie's Dog Control (Category 1 Offences) Amendment Bill. Neither of these should be especially contentious, so I expect they'll make a start on the second reading of Rino Tirikatene's Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill as well. There is unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow, and looking at the order paper, there probably won't be one till next year.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019



Contemptuous

The Referendums Framework Bill was due back from select committee today. But there's no report on it. Instead, the bill has been bounced back to the House under Standing order 295(3) because the Committee didn't bother to produce one.

They probably tried. But given the membership of the committee (which includes 4 National MPs), and National's opposition to the bill, they couldn't pass one. Oddly though they couldn't even produce a "we could not agree, but let's fix the typos" report which is usual in such circumstances.

The net result: if you submitted on this bill, congratulations: you wasted your time. I'm not especially annoyed about this personally, because my submission was a lightweight thing done at the last minute. But if I'd put actual work into it - and many submitters will have - I'd be feeling pretty pissed off right now. This failure to report treats submitters with contempt. And it is another perfect example of how MPs earn their reputation and the contempt the public holds them in.

Meanwhile, each member of this Committee is paid $160,000 a year (plus $16,000 a year slush fund). We're paying them to not do their jobs. Maybe we should be looking at some mechanism to dock their pay for this sort of bullshit in future.

New Fisk

Only ‘believers’ can sell their soul to the devil and expect justice

Climate Change: What happens next?

Now the Zero Carbon Bill is law, what's next? Obviously, the ETS changes currently before select committee are going to be the next battleground. But we're also going to get a good idea of where we're going, and if the progress the Zero Carbon Act promises is good enough, during the Act's first budget process next year.

Under the Act (s5U), the Minister must ensure there are emissions budgets for the 2022-25, 2025-30, and 2031-35 periods in place by 31 December 2021. But they don't get to just make them up: the Climate Change Commission must advise the Minister on the budgets in advance, with a legislated deadline of 2021 (they must also provide advice on the first emissions reduction plan, basicly what they recommend doing to achieve the targets in the budget). And before they do that, they must make their advice public, and run a public submissions process on it. Meaning that we are likely to be seeing those preliminary budgets sometime around the middle of next year (unless they go early to try and get it all in before the election).

So, before the middle of next year we are going to find out how the Commission thinks we should get to a net-zero by 2050 target: whether it will allow business as usual to continue for "just a little bit" (inviting failure), whether it will recommend immediately going for a straight linear cut (which basicly means slicing ~17% off net emissions every five years), or whether it will aim for going harder so as to make it easier to meet a stronger target if we need to. We'll also see whether that pathway is consistent with the government's (weak) international promise of a 30% cut by 2030 (which isn't enough to meet the 1.5 degree Paris target). And we'll see from its methane targets where in the (again, weak) 24 - 47% target range it is aiming for.

And more importantly, when the report lands on the Minister's desk, we'll see whether any of it means shit. There's an election between now and then, and National has already promised to gut the Act if they win; I doubt they'll be willing to accept strong budgets and plans. And even if the current government stays in power, there's the danger that NZ First will refuse to accept the outcome of the scheme they have supposedly signed up for, and demand any budgets and plan be watered down to protect polluters. Of course, there's the prospect of judicial review, but that's not guaranteed to force a Minister to accept the expert advice.

All of which is a long way of saying that we will have no idea whether this thing will work until 2022. In the interim, we should assume it won't, that the politicians will continue to drag their feet just like they always have, and keep up the pressure.

Monday, November 11, 2019



Climate Change: Thank Winston

The Zero Carbon Act is inadequate, with a weak methane target designed to give farmers a free ride. But it turns out it could have been worse: Climate Change Minister James Shaw was so desperate to get National on board, he wanted to gut that target, and leave it in the hands of the Climate Change Commission. And we have Winston to thank for stopping him:

Shaw negotiated with the party over many months and was very keen to get bipartisan support for the landmark climate change law.

The minister is generally of the opinion that if the Commission were to set the target it would not be much different to the one the range the bill sets, which is based on the overall goal to limit the temperature climbing by 1.5C by 2050.

Talks between Shaw and National leader Simon Bridges restarted in recent weeks, and it's understood Shaw was receptive to removing the target - but wouldn't be able to get that to Cabinet thanks to opposition from NZ First.

It's understood NZ First have generally rejected the idea of the Commission setting the target, as it believes that politicians need to own the decision.


The problem here is that while the Commission might have recommended a similar target, they could simply be over-ruled by the Minister. And with National planning to gut the law anyway, they could have simply removed the provision and left us with no methane target at all. Thanks to Winston, they will have to explicitly own that decision, and pay for it at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, this shows the dangers of compromise for compromise's sake. A compromise for failure is not worth making. A compromise for failure means we all drown. And by supporting such a compromise, Shaw has shown that meeting basic targets is not a bottom line for him, and that he can no longer be trusted on this issue.

This is not what armed police are for

Last month, the police announced a trial of specialist roaming armed units, which would drive round (poor, brown) areas in armoured SUVs, armed to the teeth. When they announced the trial, they told us it was about having armed police "ready to attend major incidents at any time if needed". What it actually means is armed police doing traffic stops:

Residents and politicians fear new armed police teams are being used for lower-risk responses and "preventative patrolling" after an arrest in suburban Hamilton over the weekend.

Video footage shows police from the newly formed Armed Response Teams pulling over a car linked to a dishonesty crime on a suburban Hamilton road.

The footage showed two officers, at least one with a Glock pistol, talking to a man sitting in a car on the side of the road. No other police cars or officers can be seen.

Police later said the stop was entirely appropriate, and resulted in the man being arrested without incident for "breaching conditions".


Basicly they're sitting by the side of the road running number plates and looking for people to pull over and point guns at - exactly the sort of shit you get in America. It is not what armed police are for in New Zealand, and it is likely only a matter of time before some twitchy, hyped-up cop machine-guns someone.