Thursday, February 21, 2019



For a capital gains tax

The Tax Working Group has reported back, and (as expected) recommended taxing capital income. And they make the point that this is fundamentally about fairness:

The Tax Working Group has confirmed its support for a broad-based tax on capital gains, suggesting handing back much of the $8.3 billion it might raise over five years through income tax cuts for almost all workers.

Some have criticised the proposed tax as "envy tax", but working group chairman Sir Michael Cullen said it was wrong that wage-earners were taxed on their full income while "you can earn income from gains on assets and not be taxed at all".


At the moment we have a situation where ordinary New Zealanders are taxed on every dollar they earn, while the rich are not. And that is simply wrong. Income should be treated equally and taxed no matter what the source - and that means taxing capital income. If it has the side effect of removing distortions in our economy - the housing bubble, or farmers farming for capital gains - then that is a bonus, but fundamentally it is about fairness and making the leeches pay their fair share for once.

As for what to do with it, the Working Group recommends recycling the revenue into a broad income tax cut, by raising the lowest threshold. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But we don't just need to shift the tax burden back onto the rich where it belongs - we also need to end the cycle of underinvestment in and by government. Our health and education systems are tottering due to lack of money, and there are countless necessary things the government "can't afford", so we should take this opportunity to reset the size of the state and fund it properly for once. Kiwis expect decent public services. And the government should use the tax system to raise enough revenue to meet that expectation. Doing it by taxing capital income has the advantage that most people will never notice the cost - but we'll all see the benefit.

Their own fault

Another day, another employer whining about "worker shortages". This time, its Wellington's public transport operators, NZ Bus and Transdev:

Six Wellington train services have been scrapped indefinitely, while bus commuters can expect cancellations for at least the next six months as an "unprecedented" driver shortage continues to wreak havoc on the capital's public transport system.

[...]

Many of Tranzdev's drivers had left to join KiwiRail, which paid more and was expanding its operations, [Transdev chief operating officer Mike] Fenton said. It also gave drivers a change from driving electric trains.

Metlink spokeswoman Emily Liddell said Tranzdev expected to lose 12 per cent of its 100-plus drivers this year, up from its average annual turnover of 3.5 per cent.

[...]

Meanwhile, NZ Bus, which has been cancelling up to 30 buses a day in the morning peak in recent days, said it was 20 drivers short and was struggling to attract any applicants at all.


According to a Radio New Zealand report, NZ Bus wants the government to declare a skills shortage, allowing them to bring in foreign drivers. But once again, this "shortage" is a shortage at the price employers want to pay. Transdev pays less than KiwiRail (and less than Australian operators). NZBus lowballed their contract bid and took their profit margin out of their workers' wages - with the result that most of them simply left and those that remained went on strike. So its not really surprising that people no longer want to work for them. As for the solution, it seems obvious: better pay and conditions. But that might mean the operators make lower profits, so its apparently completely off the table, and instead they're asking for a regulatory subsidy.

As for how to force this, both companies now seem to be in breach of their contract, and unwilling to deliver the services they are contracted to provide. GWRC needs to make it clear to them that either they deliver those services or be replaced. They should not tolerate lowball operators destroying public infrastructure with low wages.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019



A vested interest

Why are National squealing so loudly about a capital gains tax? Look at how many houses they own, says Newsroom. Their article details the blatant conflict of interest of most National MPs, who are loaded with hoarded houses and business investments - all of which would be subject to a capital gains tax. So it seems a bit... self-interested of them to be speaking out against it, neh?

Unfortunately, what's obvious to the public is not obvious to Parliament: its Standing Orders define financial interests only in terms of benefits (rather than avoided costs). Further, they explicitly exclude "any interest held by a member or any other person as one of a class of persons who belong to a profession, vocation, or other calling, or who hold public offices or an interest held in common with the public", and do not require interests declared in the Register of Pecuniary Interests to be specifically declared to the House before voting. The net result: Standing Orders think it is fine for MPs to vote to keep taxes on themselves low, despite the fact that they could be benefitting by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from the vote.

There's a word for this: corruption. And our parliament has institutionalised it.

More dirty dairying

Another Waikato farmer has been convicted of dirty dairying:

Nagra Farms Limited and director Naginder Singh received five convictions each from Judge Melanie Harland in the Hamilton District Court on Monday.

The Waikato farming company that supplied Fonterra has been fined $116,000 for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment.

At the time of the offending, in late 2017 and early 2018, the firm owned five Fonterra-supply farms at Gordonton, near Hamilton. Offending was identified on two of the farms by Waikato Regional Council staff inspecting the farm's effluent systems for compliance with environmental regulations, Waikato Regional Council said in a statement.

A farm manager on one of the farms, Nikolai van den Einden, was also convicted for breaches of the Resource Management Act. He was sentenced to 12 months' supervision and ordered to attend a dairy effluent management course.


Two farms out of five failing to handle their shit properly suggests that the farmer simply didn't care about it. Hopefully the fine an convictions will help change their mind, as well as put other farmers on notice to clean their act up.

Climate change: Local governments in denial

Thames is on the front line of climate change. The town already suffers from coastal flooding, and in the event of even modest sea-level rise, half of it will be underwater every spring. And just this week they were in the news for (finally) sticking a flood warning notice on a coastal development they should never have allowed in the first place. So its a bit shocking to see this morning's news that the local council is refusing to sign up to a local government climate change declaration:

A push to get local authorities to sign up to a declaration on climate change is "politically charged and driven", the Thames-Coromandel mayor says.

Fifty-five councils have signed up to the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration. It states there is an urgent need to address the threats of climate change.

It states councils will commit to plans to reduce greenhouse gases, promote walking, public transport, increase resource efficiency, and commit to renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Yesterday members of the public presented to the Thames Coromandel District Council meeting, urging it to sign up to the declaration. It will be voted on by councillors at a later meeting.

However, mayor Sandra Goudie said she did not support it and most other councillors were cautious.


Goudie refuses to give a straight answer on whether she recognises climate change is happening - which sounds like the weaseling of a Denier not wanting to admit it. And meanwhile, the waters keep rising. And no doubt, having stuck her fingers in her ears and refused to do anything, she'll expect the rest of the country to bail her shitty little council out of the problem exacerbated by their own stupidity.

Goudie isn't alone. According to Radio New Zealand, 23 local authorities plus the West Coast Regional Council have refused to sign up to the declaration. And by refusing to act, they are imposing long-term costs on their residents, and potentially on the rest of the New Zealand as well. The good news is that there are local body elections coming up in October. If you want action on climate change, you should vote accordingly.

(The Denier councils are the Far North, Whangarei, Kaipara, Thames-Coromandel, Otorohanga, Taupo, Opotiki, Wairoa, Stratford, South Taranaki, Manawatu, Tararua, Horowhenua, Buller, Westland, Hurunui, Ashburton, Timaru, Mackenzie, Waimate, Waitaki, and Queenstown-Lakes districts, Hamilton City, and the West Coast Regional Council).

Tuesday, February 19, 2019



New Fisk

The West is encouraging a vicious war between Sunnis and Shias — that's the real truth about Iran and Saudi Arabia

They can't take it with them when they go

Simon Bridges, leader of the party of the rich, is spreading the usual scare stories about how taxing capital income will see people leaving New Zealand. Its supposed to suggest that the tax will be ineffective, that people will leave the country to avoid it. Except that most of these assets - investment properties, farms, small businesses - are immobile. So whether they sell up when they move, or keep their assets and remain as foreign absentee landlords, it doesn't matter: the asset is still here and can still be taxed, regardless of who owns it or which foreign country they hide in. They simply can't take it with them when they go. Which is why Bridges and his rich masters are so upset by the idea: finally, they won't be able to hide, and will have to pay their fair share.

As for the idea that an exodus would be some sort of loss to New Zealand, I doubt it. Someone who flees the country to avoid paying their fair share is someone we were better off without. Let Australia have them - they'll fit right in with the corrupt arseholes over the Tasman.

But while a capital gains tax is a great idea, its not enough: we should be going further, and taxing the wealth of the ultrarich directly, as suggested in the US by Elizabeth Warren. The rich have leeched off our government and society for too long. Time to make them pay their way.

"More ambitious"?

Newsroom reports on the OGP IRM report into our last Open Government Partnership Action Plan. They highlight the IRM' assessment of progress as "marginal" and their criticism that the "commitments" were chosen so they "would get completed in that time so they would not be recorded as not completed". And then State Services Minister Chris Hipkins tries to pretend that things have changed:

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins, who absorbed Curran’s open government responsibility, told Newsroom he agreed with Booth about the scope of the “utterly unambitious plan” under the last government, saying the follow-up plan for 2018 to 2020 was more ambitious but there was room to do even more.

“Rather than taking the new plan as being the ultimate end state, I’m going to push hard to go even further and faster.”

[...]

“I don’t think anyone’s taken their foot off the accelerator - in fact, quite the opposite.”


Except when you look at their latest OGP Action Plan - completed last year under Labour - its the same problem: business-as-usual commitments, chosen to ensure completion. Most of the commitments were well underway before the plan began, and many have completion dates within six months of announcement, and some announced their completion shortly afterwards. Which tells you that they were existing work shoved under the OGP brand for "quick wins" (even the very welcome proactive release of cabinet material falls into this category: despite saying work would begin in October 2018, it had actually begun back in February). Meanwhile, ideas which would result in transformative change and a real opening of government - like OIA reform, real protection for whistleblowers, and public registers of company beneficial ownership - have been ignored. So you really have to wonder where the Minister is getting his information from, and whether letting the change-averse SSC filter everything on the topic for him is a good idea.

Monday, February 18, 2019



Unlawful

That's the view of a UK House of Lords committee on the country's arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

The UK is on “the wrong side of the law” by sanctioning arms exports to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen and should suspend some of the export licences, an all-party Lords committee has said.

The report by the international relations select committee says ministers are not making independent checks to see if arms supplied by the UK are being used in breach of the law, but is instead relying on inadequate investigations by the Saudis, its allies in the war.

It describes the humanitarian plight of Yemenis as “unconscionable”.


Or, to put it a little more accurately: the UK is providing the weapons used to commit war crimes in Yemen, and it should stop. The problem is that the British government regards arms sales to war criminals as the country's core business, so they will probably simply ignore this, just as they have ignored blatant corruption in those sales. The solution is to charge the Ministers approving these sales as accessories to the crimes committed, and drag them in chains to The Hague.

Climate change: The threat of methane

More climate change bad news: methane may fry us:

Dramatic rises in atmospheric methane are threatening to derail plans to hold global temperature rises to 2C, scientists have warned.

In a paper published this month by the American Geophysical Union, researchers say sharp rises in levels of methane – which is a powerful greenhouse gas – have strengthened over the past four years. Urgent action is now required to halt further increases in methane in the atmosphere, to avoid triggering enhanced global warming and temperature rises well beyond 2C.

“What we are now witnessing is extremely worrying,” said one of the paper’s lead authors, Professor Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London. “It is particularly alarming because we are still not sure why atmospheric methane levels are rising across the planet.”


...and meanwhile, our government continues to exclude agricultural methane from the ETS, and it is unclear whether they will even include it in climate change targets under the Zero Carbon Bill. But if they fail to do so, then they will effectively condemn us to being fried.

The 1080 referendum question

The Clerk of the House has determined the final form of the question for the proposed citizen's inititated referendum on 1080:

Should New Zealand stop using all cruel and inhumane poisons, such as 1080, brodifacoum, and PAPP, to kill wildlife, because these toxic substances inflict intense and prolonged, unjustifiable suffering on all animals, including native birds, pets, and livestock?

It's a perfect example of the sort of shit, leading questions we get under the CIR Act. Everything from the "because" simply has no place in a referendum question (instead it rightly belongs in campaign material for the referendum's promoters). What's scary is that its actually a better question than the one originally proposed (in that it is at least structurally clear), but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the CIR Act.

The referendum's promoters now have a year to get the approximately 367,000 signatures they need to force a poll. If they manage it, then we might end up having a fourth referendum to vote on at the 2020 election. Personally, though, I won't be signing it.

Friday, February 15, 2019



Why is Labour subsidising bad employers?

The government has declared a seasonal labour shortage for Hawke's Bay, effectively subsidising employers with cheap migrant labour. But why do they have a labour shortage? Perhaps those same employers' attitude to wages have something to do with it...

Fruit may be left on trees and businesses face closure as steep rises in the minimum wage hit labour-intensive industries such as horticulture.

Many exporters were facing higher costs due to employment law changes and the minimum wage lifting to $17.70 an hour on April 1, an increase of $1.20, a survey of 400 exporters by ExportNZ has found.

Businesses with 75 to 120 staff said the minimum wage increase would add an extra $120,000 to $800,000 to wage costs a year.


This "labour shortage" is a shortage of labour at the price employers are willing to pay. The solution is for them to offer better pay and conditions to attract the people they need. Instead, a "Labour" government has given them a regulatory subsidy to stop them from having to increase wages.

Bad employers shouldn't be subsidised. If they can't make a profit when paying decent wages to their workers, they don't deserve to be in business. It is that simple.

Not one hectare more!

Yesterday the government announced that it was ending the farmer's rort of high country tenure review, under which over 350,000 hectares of public land has been corruptly privatised for next to nothing (and then frequently flicked on for 500 times more than farmers paid for it). But while this will protect most of the high country, there are still 30 leases in the process. The Minister has said these will be decided on a "case-by-case basis". But what should this mean?

Simple: it should mean not one hectare more. This is public land, and it should stay public. Unless the government has a binding contract, it should simply walk away from negotiations.

Can they do this? Largely, yes. The Crown Pastoral Land Act allows any tenure review to be discontinued at any time. If things have advanced further in the process, to a preliminary proposal, then that can be ended too - the language is discretionary: the Commissioner of Crown Lands may publicly notify a preliminary proposal, and (after consultation) may make a substantive proposal. It is only when the substantive proposal is accepted by a leaseholder that the language changes to "must" and imposes "an irrevocable authority to and obligation on the Commissioner to take the appropriate actions required".

How many leases are in this situation? According to LINZ's tenure review statistics (last updated in December), 8 properties have accepted substantive proposals (some as far back as 2016). So, we're stuck with those, unless we legislate. As for the rest, 8 preliminary proposals have been advertised for public submissions, 17 are currently being consulted on with leaseholders, and one is being explored. All of those processes can be stopped dead, and they should be. We should not surrender a single hectare more of public land to farmers.

Mad dogs

Last night the police were asked to help a mentally ill person in Hawke's Bay. They were meant to help him. Instead, they killed him:

A man - who police had been trying to locate because of fears for his safety - has been killed after crashing into a truck while fleeing officers in Hawke's Bay.

Police had been trying to find the man most of Thursday after concerns were raised about his welfare.

Police located his vehicle on State Highway 5 at Eskdale at 9.40pm last night, and signalled for him to stop.

He did not and a pursuit was initiated.

"After a short period of time, the vehicle crossed the centre line and collided with an oncoming truck," said Hawke's Bay Acting Area Commander Inspector Jeanette Park.

"The driver of that vehicle — a silver Mitsubishi stationwagon — died at the scene."


Its a perfect example of what is wrong with police pursuit policy. Rather than exercising any judgement - which in this case would have been to back off and try to contact them later - the police behaved like mad dogs in pursuit of a small furry animal. And the results were as predictable as they are tragic: they killed the person they were trying to protect.

The police have to stop killing people. This policy has to change. As for how, The Side Eye shows us the alternative, and it is a lot safer and more humane. The problem is that our police force is not interested in safety or humanity. All they want to do is kill.

Thursday, February 14, 2019



The law means nothing

Disposing of public records without authorisation is a crime. Destroying them to prevent their release under the OIA is an aggravating factor in that crime. But when push comes to shove, it seems that the Chief Archivist isn't actually interested in enforcing the law:

Archives New Zealand has decided not to prosecute the former chairman of RNZ Richard Griffin over a voicemail left on his phone by former government minister Clare Curran a year ago.

Ms Curran called Mr Griffin after it was revealed he and the RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson had misled the committee over the nature of a meeting between the former head of news Carol Hirschfeld and Ms Curran.

In the voicemail, she urged Mr Griffin to write to the committee to correct the record as soon as possible but Mr Griffin took that to mean she would rather he wrote than turned up in person.

He subsequently refused to hand over the voicemail despite formal requests for it.

Chief Archivist Richard Foy said the matter did not meet the threshold for prosecution.


I guess it was all just too hard. But with this decision, the Chief Archivist has sent a clear message to Ministers and officials that its perfectly OK to illegally dispose of or even destroy public records to thwart an OIA request, and that they will face no penalty for doing so - undermining our entire system of transparency. And from the public servant responsible for protecting that system, that is simply unacceptable.

As for Griffin, with this sort of approach to public records and accountability to parliament, he is unfit to ever work in government again.

"The most transparent government ever" - again

Remember when Labour promised to be "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had"? How's that working out?

Like this:

at present, there are 172 written questions that have not received a final reply. Many of the replies were due in December, but one was due in May last year. It appears that written questions are not working as they were supposed to as an accountability mechanism, so I intend to award the Opposition 10 additional supplementary questions each day until the end of this sitting block or until all the questions due last year have received their final replies—whichever comes first. I will review the situation again in the next sitting period.

And if you read down, you'll get to see Labour trying to blame the Speaker for their inability to run their ministerial offices properly.

Ministers playing bullshit games over written questions has been a theme of this government right from the beginning. And they have been repeatedly called up on it by the Speaker. In the process, they make work for themselves and bring parliament and the political process into contempt. But that's what happens when you have a government of childish, petty control-freaks. As for the solution, incentives matter: Ministers play these bullshit games because there is no real personal penalty for doing so. So, instead of pissing about with being read the riot act by the Speaker and additional questions, we should simply make it clear that answering these questions properly is part of their job, and if they don't do it, they won't be paid. Then if they want to engage in bullshit, they can do it on their own dime, without the public giving them a fat salary and a free car. Simple.

The end of tenure review?

High country tenure review is organised corruption, which has seen the privatisation of huge swathes of our country. Hundreds of millions of dollars of public land has been effectively given to farmers for free, and then flicked on for enormous profits. But now, finally, it looks like the process will end:

The Government is about to scrap tenure review.

Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage won’t confirm the move, but Newsroom has been told by multiple sources that the controversial process, dubbed “organised corruption” by opponents, is finished. What’s unclear is how Sage intends to deal with two crucial elements: whether the 40 properties already within the process will be allowed to continue; and what clamps might be placed on the powerful Commissioner of Crown Lands.

Using Sage’s previous comments as a guide, it could be expected that those properties at the “substantive proposal” stage of the process, at least, will go on. That is likely to upset opponents of a massive dairy development at Simons Pass Station, in the Mackenzie Basin.

An official announcement may be made by Sage as early as this weekend. It’s expected to be bundled with promises of tougher management of South Island high country leases. That will include more scrutiny of discretionary consents to farmers and better monitoring of their effects.


Good. But obviously, I'd prefer it if they just stopped it dead and walked away entirely. This is public land, and should be kept in public ownership, and the fact that a previous corrupt government opened negotiations on a corrupt transaction does not give any right for that transaction to continue. As for the long-term, we need to end the pastoral lease rort entirely, and start charging these parasites commercial terms rather than subsidising their environmentally destructive lifestyles. But one step at a time...

Wednesday, February 13, 2019



New Fisk

We’ve seen the west’s approach to Venezuela before – in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, need I go on?

A good question

The government is currently waiting to formally consider and release the advice from its Tax Working Group, which is widely expected to recommend a capital gains tax. But Green co-leader James Shaw has pre-empted it by asking whether they deserve to be re-elected if they don't implement one:

Green Party co-leader James Shaw has pushed out the boat on a capital gains tax (CGT), asking whether the Government "deserves" to be re-elected if it doesn't implement one.

[...]

"The Green Party have long been calling for this fundamental imbalance to be addressed. Every expert group in living memory has agreed with us. But no government has been bold enough to actually do it," Shaw said.

"If we want to reduce the wealth gap, to fix the housing crisis and to build a more productive, high-wage economy, we need to tax income from capital the same way as we tax income from work."

Shaw rubbished discussion of whether such a tax would be politically palatable, saying it was needed.

"The last question we should be asking ourselves is, 'can we be re-elected if we do this?' The only question we should be asking ourselves is, 'do we deserve to be re-elected if we don't?'"


And its a good question. This government was elected on a platform of reducing inequality. Fairly taxing capital income is fundamental to that, and (despite scaremongering from the rich) an increasing proportion of New Zealand society recognises that fact: it is simply not just that the poor are taxed and the rich are not. If Labour fails to fix this, then they simply will not deserve to be re-elected. It is that simple.

Basic humanity in Australia?

Australia's anti-refugee policy is based on cruelty. According to the Australian government, refugees claiming their rights under international law are a "threat", which can only be deterred by imprisoning them without trial forever in concentration camps, neglecting them, allowing them to be sexually abused and tortured by their guards, and denying them basic medical and psychological care until they either die of preventable diseases, or kill themselves. It is a monstrous, vicious, inhumane, criminal policy, for which its architects and implementers should be facing justice in The Hague. But now, there's a tiny crack, with the Australian parliament voting to allow its victims to be transferred to Australia to receive medical treatment:

Australian MPs have passed a landmark bill with an opposition amendment making it easier for sick refugees held offshore to be treated in the country.

This is the first time in decades a government has lost a vote on its own legislation in the lower house.

The move is a blow for Prime Minister Scott Morrison's minority government's highly controversial immigration policy.

[...]

Doctors will now have the power to recommend transfers for refugees on Nauru and Manus to Australia for treatment. However, the immigration minister could ask an independent panel to review the medical assessment, and would have some authority to overrule it.

Previously, doctors had reported that their medical transfer recommendation were ignored by authorities.

Refugee lawyers thus had to apply for court orders to bring ill people to Australia. There were 44 medical transfers achieved through court battles.


The way the Australian government is acting, you would think this was the end of the world. They have such an inflated view of their own country that they seriously think people will sign up to be tortured in a concentration camp for five years simply so they can set foot on Australian soil to receive treatment in a hospital. But what it is is showing some basic humanity which has long been missing from Australian refugee policy. The Australian government wants its victims to die quietly. The Australian parliament has said that that is simply not acceptable, and recognised that they have a duty of care. But while its a step forward, it also invites the basic question: what is so wrong with Australia and its politics that they had to pass this law, rather than behaving in a lawful and humane manner in the first place?

Democracy on trial

Twelve Catalan political leaders went on trial in Madrid today. Their crime? Advocating peacefully for an independent Catalonia and organising a referendum on the issue. The Spanish government calls this "sedition" and "rebellion". But what it really is is democracy. In a democratic state with freedom of expression, people can and should be allowed to advocate for independence. And in a democratic state, when people peacefully demand independence, it is entirely right and proper for them to vote on it. Spain attempted to crush that vote with brute force - and failed. Now they are attempting to crush its advocates. But in a democratic state, democracy should not be a crime. If Spain thinks it is, then it shows that that country is not a democracy, and not a fit member of the civilised world. Democratic countries should condemn this political trial, and demand that Catalans get what they have demanded all along: a free, fair and binding referendum on their independence.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019



Open Government: Marginal

That's the verdict of the Open Government Partnership's Independent Reporting Mechanism on New Zealand's OGP progress for the last two years:

Although this report reflects high commitment completion, change in government practice stood as marginal overall. Notably, the government’s early efforts to improve access to legislation could provide major efficiencies for lawyers and the public. In future action plans, the government could fully reform the Official Information Act and add open government performance to public sector chief executives’ contracts and to the new well-being indicators.

Which is what you expect when the "commitments" are all business-as-usual tinkering round the edges, rather than anything which might actually change things. And with similarly business-as-usual "commitments" (some of which were already completed before they were announced) in the 2018 - 2020 action plan, it looks like we'll have a similar level of thumb-twiddling in future.

The IRM's full report is here.

Climate change: Our future is burning

Like many, I've spent the last week watching the Nelson fire in horrified fascination as the Australian-style spectacle of a huge long-lasting fire threatening an urban area played out. But while it looks like we were lucky this time, the bad news is that climate change means such fires are significantly more likely in future:

Parts of the country with low or moderate fire risk are likely to see dramatic increases in danger as climate change occurs.

[...]

Scion fire scientist Grant Pearce said the organisation, a Crown Research Institute, had studied climate change and its impact on fire risk.

Research in 2011 looked at 21 weather stations across the country and what the projected change in conditions - temperature, humidity, windspeed, and rainfall - would mean for fire danger.

It said drier conditions expected with climate change were "likely to result in significantly greater risk of large and damaging wildfires that threaten life and property, and economic and environmental sustainability. Longer fire seasons, increasing population and associated demographic impacts, changing land use and changes in vegetation cover are expected to exacerbate these risks."


The accompanying risk maps show serious fire risks in parts of the country that have never had them before, which means a real risk of rural firefighters facing something they're not equipped to handle. And it will probably end up costing lives, as it does in Australia. Which is another reason why we need to cut our emissions now: because people are going to burn to death if we don't.

Good riddance

Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe is finally over:

The controversial Saudi sheep deal been shut down, which the Government says will save about $1 million.

[...]

But Trade Minister David Parker said the deal has now been axed.

"We're not spending any more money on its installation or delivery," Parker told 1 NEWS.

"We have managed to bring it to an end, saving the last million dollars or so. But I'm afraid the other $10 million that has already been spent has been flushed down the drain by the prior Government."


Good riddance. The sheep deal was dodgy on so many levels - a Minister lied to Cabinet and the New Zealand public, fearmongering over a lawsuit which didn't exist in order to pay a bribe in the hope of influencing a foreign government. That's not how our government is supposed to work, and its not how we're supposed to do business. And it makes me very glad that its architect, Murray McCully, a deceitful micro-managing control-freak, is out of our politics for good.

Friday, February 08, 2019



Climate change: A step in the right direction

Some good news on climate change from Australia: for the first time, a court has refused permission for a new coal mine, explicitly on the basis of climate change:

The controversial Rocky Hill coalmine in the Hunter Valley will not go ahead after a landmark ruling in the land and environment court on Friday that cited the impact it would have had on climate change.

Chief judge Brian Preston dismissed an appeal by Gloucester Resources, which was seeking to overturn a New South Wales government decision to reject an open-cut mine because of its impact on the town of Gloucester, north of Newcastle.

[...]

In his judgment, Preston explicitly cited the project’s potential impact on climate change, writing that an open-cut coalmine in the Gloucester Valley “would be in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

“Wrong place because an open cut coal mine in this scenic and cultural landscape, proximate to many people’s homes and farms, will cause significant planning, amenity, visual and social impacts,” he wrote.

“Wrong time because the GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions. These dire consequences should be avoided. The project should be refused.”


If humanity is to avoid the worst of climate change, we need to stop burning coal, and this decision is exactly what is needed to push Australia down that path. Meanwhile in New Zealand our consent authorities are specifically forbidden to consider the effects of climate change when considering direct discharges of greenhouse gases, which suggests they're even more strongly forbidden from considering the indirect damage caused by extracting fossil fuels. It would be good if the current government changed that.

Thursday, February 07, 2019



Climate Change: Breaching the threshold

Last year the IPCC warned us that the Paris Agreement target of limiting climate change to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels was a line in the sand for our species and that if we miss it, we will face catastrophe. Today, the UK Met Office is warning that we could breach that target for the first time within the next five years:

Global warming could temporarily hit 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the first time between now and 2023, according to a long-term forecast by the Met Office.

Meteorologists said there was a 10% chance of a year in which the average temperature rise exceeds 1.5C, which is the lowest of the two Paris agreement targets set for the end of the century.

Until now, the hottest year on record was 2016, when the planet warmed 1.11C above pre-industrial levels, but the long-term trend is upward.

Man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are adding 0.2C of warming each decade but the incline of temperature charts is jagged due to natural variation: hotter El Niño years zig above the average, while cooler La Ninã years zag below.

In the five-year forecast released on Wednesday, the Met Office highlights the first possibility of a natural El Niño combining with global warming to exceed the 1.5C mark.


The Paris target is a long-term average, so a single year above it doesn't mean disaster. But it would be a foretaste of things to come, and a warning that we need to radically change direction. And if we don't do that, things are going to get pretty unpleasant.

Two-faced criminals

Last year, in a desperate attempt to regain social licence, the fishing industry ran an expensive series of TV ads assuring us that they had nothing to hide. Meanwhile, they were furiously lobbying the Minister to oppose video monitoring of fishing boats:

At the same time as the seafood industry was placing adverts on television last year proclaiming it had "nothing to hide", it was writing to the minister, Stuart Nash, expressing its "overwhelming opposition" to the idea of cameras on board its boats to monitor what they were up to.

The letter, released under the Official Information Act, said its purpose was to "dismiss any suggestion that the 'New Zealand Seafood industry' supports the current proposal".

For the removal of any doubt the words "do not support" were underlined.

Some of the signatories were redacted but amongst those still visible are managers at Talley's, Sealord, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen and Te Ohu Kai Moana, representing Māori fishing interests.

Forest and Bird spokesperson Karen Baird said it was a case of them saying one thing publicly while working towards a quite different outcome behind the scenes.


So I guess they do have something to hide after all. But what could it be? The illegal dumping of less-valuable fish? The criminal doctoring of records to understate catches? Or maybe the failure to report catching and killing endangered species? The problem here is that the fishing industry is pervasively criminal. They need to be treated as such, and monitored and prosecuted until they change their behaviour. Instead, our government - bought and paid for by Talley's - is doing the exact opposite.

6,000 employed under Labour

The labour market statistics have been released, showing that unemployment has risen to 4.3%. All up there are 120,000 unemployed - only 6,000 fewer than when the government took office. But buried in that there's worse news: underemployment is up, from 11.8% in 2017 to 12.1% today. Which insofar as it reflects people who want jobs being unable to get them, is bad news, especially for a Labour-led government.

The government needs to turn this around. Reducing unemployment is their key deliverable. And if they don't deliver on it, then people will rightly ask what the point of them is.

A constitution party?

New Zealand has a new political party - the New Zealand Constitution Party. Unfortunately, it seems like their reasons for wanting a codified constitution are a little dubious:

Warren established his political party - the New Zealand Constitution Party - on Waitangi Day.

He said New Zealand's rapid population increase is one reason it should be taken seriously.

"In the next 10 years, our population will double. In 10-20 years, it will quadruple and there is no way we can have a constitution that will serve the people when there are so many voices demanding minority rights," Warren said.

"In 179 years, for example, New Zealand has never adopted the Treaty of Waitangi. We can't agree on that. We are going to have difficulty agreeing on any other constitutional issue."


Which sounds an awful lot like "we need to nail down a constitution now and make it difficult to amend to stop those filthy foreigners from having a say". But there's worse - from their press release (so far only on YourNZ), they're also pushing "family values", oppose immigration, and have a purpose of "strengthen[ing] NZ's constitutional monarchy". So basicly monarchist bigots then. Which sounds like a party to stay away from.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019



Getting what they paid for

A political party makes strong promises to regulate a destructive industry and prevent it from engaging in widespread criminal behaviour. They are elected to government. But their coalition partner includes an MP who was paid $10,000 by that industry. That MP argues from within government against regulation, and successfully prevents the government from enacting meaningful reform.

If this happened in Africa, or the Pacific Islands, we'd call it what it is: corruption. But it has happened here. The industry is the fishing industry. And the MP is Shane Jones, who took $10,000 from Talleys in 2017 in addition to large donations in the past, and has claimed responsibility for preventing any independent review of the fisheries industry. The government has recently shitcanned plans to use video cameras on fishing boats, and announced plans to lower criminal penalties when fishers break the law - and there is a suspicion that Jones is behind both of these moves too. So it looks like Talleys is very definitely getting what they paid for.

So how do we stop this? Fundamentally, we need to remove the ability of corporations to buy favourable treatment with large political donations. And that means moving to publicly funded political parties. Its either that, or allowing corruption to continue unchecked.

Climate change: Now panic and freak out

A couple of years ago David Wallace-Wells published a piece in New York magazine called "The Uninhabitable Earth" on the impacts of climate change. Its about to become a book, and the Guardian has an excerpt. Which is as terrifying as you'd expect. The consequences of even the best-case scenario (2 degrees) are hugely disruptive. The consequences of the worse - and more likely, if we keep going the way we're going - scenarios are are even worse. Drought, famine, disease, and war are all coming, and the costs and disruption from this are going to be enormous. And as Wallace-Wells says in the accompanying interview, we should be freaking out over this - and acting on that fear:

The short answer is yes [we should freak out]. We should not sit back and feel complacent that the world beyond us will figure this out without political pressure. We cannot continue on the path we are on and believe our future will be secure and stable. We need to dramatically change our climate policy globally. That was the very clear message of the UN report. You are right that, in a certain way, it was written soberly, but it is also the case that it was saying we need mobilisation on the scale that we saw in the second world war in Europe and the US – and that is not a keep-calm message. It is saying we have to light the fuse and get going.

...to go back to the second world war analogy, we did not mobilise in that way because we were optimistic about the future. We mobilised in that way out of fear, because we thought nazism was an existential threat. And climate change is obviously an existential threat and it is naive to imagine we could respond to it without some people being scared.


"Mobilising" requires concerted government action. Which means the most important thing you can do is vote: vote for parties which take the problem seriously. Don't vote for parties which peddle bullshit and pretend life can go on unchanged. There is a huge range of outcomes between the best and worst scenarios, between hugely disruptive and uncomfortable, and absolutely apocalyptic. Our votes will determine where we end up. They'll also determine who pays: the poor, with their lives, or the rich, by giving up their excessive, polluting lifestyle. And on that front, there's really only one moral choice.

And if you want to actually apply some direct pressure, you might want to look at Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa.

Monday, February 04, 2019



OIA advice

Do you use the Official Information Act/ Following a discussion on Twitter on Friday, Mark Hanna of Honest Universe has started a public document of OIA advice. Its open to anyone for suggestions, so if you think there's anything missing, you can add to it.

New Fisk

As the UN jabs nervously at the truth about Khashoggi, remember how often journalists’ deaths are brushed aside

Chapple and Anderson on electoral donations

Newsroom has a piece by VUW's Dr Simon Chapple and Thomas Anderson on reform of electoral donation laws, in which they argue for greater consistency and transparency. Donations to local government candidates are handled under a different and laxer regime to those to parties and candidates in general elections, and this seems odd and in need of fixing. But there's also a call for disclosure thresholds to be much lower, and for them to be the same for candidate and party donations:

there seems to be no reasonable justification for the Electoral Act setting different and arbitrary public anonymity thresholds for donations to candidates (which can be made anonymously below $1500) and for party donations (which can be made anonymously below $15,000 – ten times more than for candidates). Why is privacy in terms of party donations more highly valued than for candidate donations? In both cases, one has information on a person’s possible vote, arguably an equal privacy violation. The sensible thing would be to set the same anonymity dollar threshold for both candidates and parties.

In addition, donations can be made by organisations – businesses, NGOs, unions, etc – who cannot vote and hence have no voting privacy to violate. There is no reason in such cases not to publicly disclose even the smallest donations.


And they're completely right on this. There's no sensible reason why a donation to a candidate should have to be declared, while an identical donation to a party gets to remain anonymous. In both cases, the donor is trying to buy influence, and the public deserves to know about it. Of course, we all know the real reason: because our political parties write the law to suit themselves and their donors.

Sucking us dryer

Cloud Ocean Water is sucking water out of Christchurch's aquifers for export, without paying a cent for it. Their existing water consents already pose a long-term threat to Christchurch's water supply. And now they're planning to take even more:

Cloud Ocean Water has bought land for a second bottling plant across the road from a factory it is developing on the site of a former wool scour.

The China-owned company could be eyeing up billions more litres of water from beneath Christchurch to bottle and sell overseas as part of a major expansion of its operations in Belfast.

At least eight bores with permission to take drinking water are on or next to the new site.

If it gains consent to use them, it could have access to another 7.5 billion litres of the city's water – five times what it can already take – for export each year.


If the consents are granted, Cloud Ocean will be using one eighth of all Christchurch's water - for free. And they'll be getting $9 billion a year retail for it. If you need an argument for pricing water, then that's it right there.

But more importantly, the greed of foreign water bottlers should not come before the needs of Christchurch's residents. The people of Christchurch should not have to go thirsty or face water restrictions because their water is being stolen for export. It is that simple.

Friday, February 01, 2019



Appalling

Parliament is a toxic hellhole of a workplace, for MPs and staff alike. But its especially a toxic workplace for women MPs. And the perpetrators are often their fellow MPs:

A damning new survey from inside Parliament shows more than half of women MPs have been the targets of sexism and harassment while doing their jobs – much of it from other MPs.

Fifty-three per cent of the MPs who took part in the study said they had suffered "psychological violence" during their term in office.

The vast majority – 86 per cent – either did not know who to go to for help or decided to simply put up with the abuse.

In two cases, the MPs said sexist behaviour had convinced them not to seek re-election.

The report, released to Stuff by a cross-party group of women MPs, told of inappropriate touching at public meetings, death and rape threats from constituents, and sexist and humiliating comments in work environments, including Select Committee meetings.

Other MPs were commonly the perpetrators of sexist remarks, which were collated under the heading of "psychological violence". This was defined in the survey as "remarks, gestures and images of a sexist or humiliating sexual nature made against you and threats and/or mobbing".


There should be no place in our Parliament for this behaviour. All MPs deserve a safe workplace which is free of harassment and abuse. It is the duty of both the Speaker and their parties to provide it. Sharp, pointy questions need to be asked of both why they are not, and why they continue to tolerate abusive arseholes in their parties, rather than publicly naming and shaming them under parliamentary privilege and kicking them out on their arses. But part of the problem seems to be that party infrastructures are deeply sexist and hostile to women - so much so that some MPs refused to fill out the survey for fear of demotion or deselection.

The fact that women are leaving Parliament because of this abuse tells us that it is a problem for our democracy. We want a Parliament that looks like New Zealand, which represents everyone. That's not going to happen when its full of sexist arseholes who make it a hostile environment for others. The only way of fixing it is for those arseholes to be forced out and replaced by better people. Any party which doesn't say straight up what they're doing to do that simply is not worthy of your vote.