Friday, August 23, 2019

Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me tody - I'm off to Christchurch to pretend to be other people for a weekend. Normal bloggage should resume on Tuesday.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Dodging a bullet

Donald Trump seems to be eager to start a war with Iran, and naturally Australia is yapping at its heels like a good little vassal. The UK also asked New Zealand to get involved, but fortunately, we had a good excuse: we simply didn't have the toys available:

Britain asked New Zealand whether it could help patrol the Strait of Hormuz following the seizure of oil tankers by Iran, but we didn't have any boats to send, the Minister of Defence says.


New Zealand's Defence Minister, Ron Mark, says while no formal request for assistance was made, Britain approached New Zealand about whether it had any capacity to help.

"I've said right now both of my frigates are in Canada undergoing refit. We don't actually have any capabilities available," Mark told reporters.

"The bottom line that I can barely struggle to keep two P3s [surveillance aircraft] flying ... I just don't see that we have any spare capability right now to engage in that kind of a mission."

Which seems like we really dodged a bullet there. The lesson is obvious: you can't be involved in a US war if you don't have the capability. Which suggests that rather than replacing the frigates when they reach the end of their lifetime, we should simply ditch that capability, and focus on things which actually suit our needs.

Meanwhile, National is desperate for New Zealand to get involved in America's war, as usual. Lest we forget, their continued involvement in Afghanistan killed ten New Zealanders in an unjust war which was none of our business and not worth fighting. How many kiwis do they want to die for the America over Iran?

Climate Change: Another emergency

Yesterday the Greater Wellington Regional Council unanimously declared a climate emergency. They've also set themselves a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, though this only applies to their direct emissions. Still, its a good step, and as usual it invites the question: where is Parliament? When are we going to see some national leadership on this issue? Or was the Prime Minister's talk of climate change as "my generation's nuclear-free moment" simply hot air?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

New Fisk

The history of religious conflict in the Middle East carefully leaves out periods of coexistence

A sensible idea

That's the only way to describe the government's plans for a Parliamentary Budget Office to allow opposition parties to get an independent costing of their policies. When the idea was first floated back in 2016 as an office within Treasury, I thought that wasn't independent enough and argued that it should be an Officer of Parliament. I'm glad that that's the path the government has gone down.

Meanwhile, National Leader Simon bridges claims this is "screwing the scrum" against the opposition. Rather, it does the opposite. in the past, we have seen governments use the bully pulpit of the Treasury benches to falsely claim that the opposition is financially profligate and has a "fiscal hole". An independent Parliamentary Budget Office will protect oppositions from such behaviour, while providing the public with more information on which to base their votes. That's something an honest opposition should welcome. The fact that National doesn't tells us they are neither honest, nor interested in informing voters properly about their policies.

Another attack on transparency

Something I hadn't noticed: there is a Statutes Amendment Bill currently awaiting its second reading in the House. Among its many changes is an amendment to the Ombudsmen Act 1975 which would remove the Māori Trustee from the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman, and thus from the Official Information Act.

What's the reason for this change? Unfortunately, the Bill doesn't say. The explanatory note simply says that the amendment is to "remove redundant references, insert an updated reference to the State Services Commission, and update spelling in 5 items." But the Māori Trustee hasn't been disestablished, and it does not appear to have changed into another form of entity already covered by another part of the Act, so it doesn't seem to be redundant. Perhaps the government feels it is inappropriate for the Trustee to remain subject to the Act. But if so, firstly, they need to make the case, and secondly, that doesn't seem to meet the "technical, short and non-controversial" requirement for inclusion in a Statutes Amendment Bill.

I've sent in an OIA request to Andrew Little, who (under the usual approval process had to sign off on this amendment). Hopefully that will provide a justification for this change. If none is forthcoming, or it is simply a desire on the part of the Trustee for more secrecy, then I will be seeking an MP to object to the clause at the Committee Stage, which would see it removed from the bill.

Member's Day: End of Life Choice, part 2

Today is a Member's day, and after the third reading of Hamish Walker's KiwiSaver (Oranga Tamariki Guardians) Amendment Bill, Parliament will be continuing the committee stage of David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill. The bigots have put up another pile of amendments in an effort to delay or wreck the bill, which is going to mean a large number of personal votes. So its likely that the House will sit late, as they did last time, in an effort to get through them all.

If they're doing a part per sitting day, this will drag on for at least another month, and there's still a pile of second readings stacked up on the Order Paper as well. So we won't be seeing a ballot any time soon.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Oh Canada

Canada is having an election in the next few months, and (perhaps because their Prime Minister is so nice and reasonable) they have a party running on a platform of Trumpism and climate change denial. But there's a twist: the latter means that it will be illegal for anyone in Canada to state the scientific fact that climate change is real:

A pre-election chill has descended over some environment charities after Elections Canada warned them that discussing the dangers of climate change during the upcoming federal campaign could be deemed partisan activity.

An Elections Canada official warned groups in a training session earlier this summer that because Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate change, any group that promotes it as real or an emergency could be considered partisan, said Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

The Canada Elections Act dictates that advertising by third parties, like environment groups, can be considered partisan if it promotes or disputes an issue raised by any party or candidate during the campaign period, even without mentioning that party or candidate by name. If the ad campaign on that issue costs at least $500, the third party has to register as such with Elections Canada.

Fortunately, they repealed the clause which would have made it illegal for anyone else in the world to talk about climate change.

Obviously, this is a nonsensical position. If a politician says the sky is green or that 2+2=5, everyone gets gagged from saying otherwise, in any context, unless they include a promoter statement? If a politician says they don't believe in the germ theory of disease, no-one else can say "wash your fucking hands"? In NZ, we avoid this problem by a "may reasonably be regarded as" clause, which rules out such silliness. Canada's definition of "election advertising" does not include such a clause. Of course, its still subject to the affirmation of freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and you'd think that would imply a reasonableness test. But the only way to find that out is to get prosecuted and challenge it in court. Which is simply a terrible way to do electoral law, especially given the consequences for getting it wrong (notably, charities face deregistration if they engage in "partisan political activity" - a definition which until now hasn't included environmental advocacy).

Hopefully Elections Canada will reverse this obviously unreasonable advice. If not, well, I guess we'll find out what civil disobedience to electoral law looks like.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Australia should be suspended from the Pacific Forum

Last week, Australia sabotaged the Pacific Forum by opposing action on climate change. Their Deputy Prime Minister followed that up by saying that Pacific Peoples could always pick Australian fruit - just as they had done in the era of blackbirding. And now, that arrogant, tone-deaf approach has drawn a response, with former Kiribatian President Anote Tong calling for Australia to be kicked out of the Pacific Forum:

Australia should be sanctioned or suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum over the Morrison government's pro-coal stance, Kiribati's former president, Anote Tong, says.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Mr Tong saying if a country causes harm to others, such as by fuelling climate change, "there should be sanctions".

Mr Tong, who has long been an advocate for low-lying nations facing catastrophe as sea levels rise, said the Australian government's recent approval of Adani's Carmichael coal mine was an example of "ignoring the science that's coming forward".

And he's right. Australia, by its actions, is trying to drown much of the rest of the Forum, and literally wipe their nations from the face of the Earth. Such an attitude seems completely inconsistent with membership. Australia should be suspended until it changes it policies so as to no longer pose a direct threat to the existence of its neighbours.

Winning the battle on feebates

It looks like the government has won over the public on its vehicle feebate scheme:

A feebate scheme that would transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from buyers of higher-emission cars into the pockets of people buying EVs and other more fuel-efficient vehicles has been winning favour with submitters, the Government says.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter said about 80 per cent of the online responses the Transport Ministry had so far received in response to a discussion paper on the feebate scheme and an associated "clean car standard" had supported the policies.

And its obvious why: because raising vehicle fuel efficiency standards and making drivers of dirty cars pay for clean ones is a no-brainer, and people can see it has been successful overseas. The problem is that it doesn't go far enough - standards imposed too slowly, and no final cutoff for fossil fuels - not that its a bad idea.

And meanwhile, National is still trying to pretend that its a "tax grab" or solely about subsidising expensive electric vehicles and luxury cars. Its not. The policy is designed to be roughly revenue neutral, and drivers of gas-guzzling utes will mostly be paying to subsidise fuel efficient fossil-fuel vehicles, like Honda Fits and Nissan Notes. Sure, Leafs and expensive new EVs will also get a subsidy - but they make up only 2% of new registrations, and while that number will increase, its very obviously not where the money will be going. Its an utterly dishonest position. But I guess that's the National Party for you: preferring deceit to honest policy criticism.

Dead white males

Over the weekend Stuff had an analysis of the demographics of our local body "representatives". It was a horrifying read. The average councillor is dead, white, and male, and there are more councillors named "John" than there are councillors born after 1980. Representative? Not very. Local government is basicly a gerontocracy. And that explains a great deal about why our councils deny climate change, skimp on social services, and persistently underfund infrastructure by Keeping Rates Low.

So what can we do about it? The first step is encouraging people who aren't dead white males to run, and there's some promising signs this year. But ultimately it comes down to us at the ballot box (or rather, the voting form). And for that, there's some simple rules to rebalance our representation:

  • Vote for women
  • Vote for young people
  • Don't vote for anyone named "John"
Basicly, vote for change. Because its clear that we desperately need it. Update: There's a spreadsheet of young and young-adjacent candidates here.

A matter of consistency

When people suggest lowering the voting age, others argue that the young are too uneducated or silly to exercise the duties of citizenship. Australian John Quiggin has just blown that argument out of the water:

Looking at the array of ignorant and vindictive old men attacking Greta Thunberg and other young climate activists, the case for lowering the voting age is just about unanswerable. Anything that could be urged in justification of stopping 16 year olds, as a group, from voting, is equally applicable to those over 60 (a group to which I belong). Over 60 voters are, on average, poorly educated (the school leaving age in Australia was 15 when they went through and I assume similar in most places), and more likely to hold a wide range of false beliefs (notably in relation to climate change).

Worse, as voters the over 60s have ceased to act, if they ever did, as wise elders seeking the best for the future. Rather (on average) they vote in a frivolous and irresponsible way, forming the support base for loudmouthed bigots and clowns... Substantively, they respond to unrealistic appeals to nostalgia, wanting to Make America Great Again, and restore the glories of the British Empire, while dismissing concerns about the future. If my age cohort were to be assessed on the criteria applied to 16 year olds, we would be disenfranchised
en masse.

Democracies don't do that, of course. Regardless of their poor education, stupidity, and irresponsibility, old people still have interests and those interests need to be represented. So rather than taking the vote off old people, we should instead extend it to 16 year olds. Its a simple matter of consistency.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Not destined to be

Back in May, Destiny Church leaders Brian and Hannah Tamaki launched another political party. Despite consisting entirely of followers of their religion, they grandly called it "Coalition New Zealand", in a vain effort to suggest it was something broader. But when they applied for registration, submitters opposed the name, as being likely to mislead voters (which was perhaps the point). And as a result, they've been refused registration:

The Electoral Commission has refused to register Hannah Tamaki's political party, Coalition New Zealand.

The Destiny Church-derived party was refused registration because the name and logo was likely to mislead or confuse voters, the commission confirmed on Friday.

The Tamakis launched their political party in May and claimed the country would see "politics with teeth".

The party can simply reapply with another name. Hopefully next time they'll choose something more honest.

Meanwhile, its worth noting: this is the first party anyone can remember being refused registration for having a misleading name. Others have been refused for not having enough members, but not apparently for this reason. The closest parallel is that in 2014 the Conservatives were refused a misleading logo (it said "vote", and would have been right next to their circle on the ballot box, so likely to be viewed as a ballot-paper instruction). Which really does invite the question: what is it with bigots and deception?

A real mayoral race

Last local body elections, the race for Palmerston North mayor was pretty boring - basicly being the incumbent rugby meathead vs the convicted child-beater. As a result, 1500 people (including myself) simply left that part of the ballot paper blank (vs less than 300 for the council elections). The good news is that this time, we have some actual competition. And the race has had a surprising last-minute entry from the Green Party:

The Greens have put action on climate change centre stage for Palmerston North's mayoral election, endorsing activist Teanau Tuiono as their candidate.

The party two months ago chose incumbent councillor Brent Barrett and newcomer Renee Dingwall as council candidates, pitching Tuiono for mayor on Friday, the day nominations close.


[Tuiono] said he would stand up to tackle climate change, putting in place a local plan to prepare for the changes expected, and do what was possible to reduce effects on the environment.

This is good, both for electoral competition, and because its good to see a candidate focusing on what is really the only policy issue in town. Yes, Palmerston North is 10m above sea-level, so things have to get pretty bad before we're going to be drowned. But climate change is also going to mean floods and severe weather, which local authorities need to prepare for. More importantly, there's the need to reduce emissions to stop all that from happening, and that's something which requires leadership at all levels.

(Its also good to see the Greens running strong local body campaigns, and hopefully it'll pay off both in elected councillors and in a higher general election vote. Though, there's no-one running for Horizons carrying the Green banner, which is odd given that they decide both water quality and air pollution - which will mean CO2 if the government keeps its promises and puts climate change back in the RMA.

But its not all good news: because this time, we have not one, but two convicted child abusers running for mayor (child-beater Ross Barber is back, and he's joined by convicted child sex abuser Maruna "donut man" Engu). I guess Palmerston North is really living up to its reputation for quality mayoral candidates...

New Fisk

If Chinese tanks take Hong Kong, who'll be surprised? Land grabs are happening everywhere – and we're all complicit

Climate Change: Fuck Australia

The Pacific is on the front line of climate change, and if we don't cut emissions quickly, some countries are literally going to be underwater. Because of this, small Pacific states had tried to use this week's Pacific Islands Forum meeting to get Pacific countries to agree to ending coal use. Australia sabotaged it:

Australia has stymied efforts by small island states to get Pacific-wide consensus on their declaration for stronger action on climate change.

Regional leaders, including Australia and New Zealand, held 12-hour talks in the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu for this year's Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), eventually reaching an agreement on a statement on climate change and a communique early this morning.

They could not reach agreement on the Tuvalu Declaration made by smaller Pacific countries, instead drafting a separate Kainaki II Declaration, with different terms on coal use and emissions reduction.

The finished communique comes with a qualification that means the leaders do not support all of the declaration from the smaller nations.

So Australia's attitude is that the Pacific can drown before they will stop using coal (oh, and if climate refugees come to Australia, they'll put them in a concentration camp). That's not really being a good neighbour. Its certainly not being decent human beings. But Australia hasn't been either for a long time, has it?

Which is just another reason to not buy Australian - because if you do, you're effectively funding coal burning and the drowning of the Pacific.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Nazis, prisons and mail

Everyone was outraged yesterday to learn that the Christchurch shooting accused had been able to send mail from prison to his Nazi fans, apparently pushing more hate. "How could this possibly happen", people asked. Simple: because New Zealand is a civilised country, and so we let prisoners send and receive mail.

The right of prisoners to send and receive mail is stated very clearly in the Corrections Act: "A prisoner may send and receive as much mail as the prisoner wishes". In fact the law goes further, because the Corrections Regulations state that the prison must pay for postage for up to three standard letters per week (plus another three to prison inspectors or the Ombudsman). We do this for simple and obvious reasons: firstly, simple freedom of speech, which prisoners retain despite being in prison. Secondly, because communication with the outside world helps prisoners maintain their social relationships, and that's one of the key drivers of reoffending (in that if they don't have any beyond the prison walls, they tend to reoffend). For the same reason, we let prisoners make phone calls (I have no idea if they're allowed to receive email, but they should be allowed to do that too, given the way social relationships have all moved online).

This right isn't a blank cheque. Mail is monitored. It may be opened and read. Incoming or outgoing mail (or items in it) can be withheld for various reasons, including consent, court orders, and preventing the commission of further offences. In particular, it can be withheld if it appears to "promote or encourage the commission of an offence, or involve, or facilitate the commission or possible commission of, an offence". The letter in question may fall into that category. So, the first lesson here is Corrections fucked up. Because the letter was marked as having been screened, and they let it through.

Corrections' immediate response to publicly fucking up is to ban the prisoner from sending or receiving any more mail. Which I guess protects them from fucking up again, but it is simply illegal. The right to send or receive mail is not a privilege that can be withheld, but a minimum entitlement specified in law. It can be withheld only under narrow, legally defined circumstances. The closest one is probably s69(2) - that there is an emergency in the prison, a threat to the prison's security or to someone's health or safety. But I think even the latter is pushing shit uphill, and in any case the ban must be for no more time than is reasonable in the circumstances. And in this case, the amount of time that is reasonable in the circumstances is zero, because the correct response to Corrections failing to screen mail properly is not to ban someone from sending anything, but to do their fucking job properly.

The longer-term response is the real problem. Firstly, because the government is apparently reviewing the law and threatening to change it, and that law exists for good reasons. If they move to amend it, it'll be a perfect example of hard cases making bad law, and long-term interests around rehabilitation being threatened by the short-term ones of politicians around re-election.

(While we're on politicians, journalists are badgering both the Minister and Corrections for details of what mail has been sent. But its a criminal offence to tell them, and indeed, a criminal offence for the prison manager to tell anyone higher up the food chain, and in particular, the Minister. And if they've done the latter, then they need to be prosecuted - because prison officers, like police, must obey the law, and must be held strictly accountable when they do not, to prevent the whole institution from going rotten).

Secondly, the Minister has told Corrections "this can not happen again". Which means that every prisoner's mail is now going to be subject to the "front page of the Dom-Post" test by overenthusiastic Corrections officers, resulting in more stuff being unlawfully withheld for an essentially political purpose of "avoiding embarrassing the Minister". Corrections, being natural arseholes, will have no problem with that whatsoever. But its both illegal and stupid, in that it undermines long-term rehabilitation (and remember: we're not barbarians, so everyone in a New Zealand prison eventually gets out. Everyone. Yes, even the Nazi shooting accused, if he is convicted). Fortunately, this is probably self-correcting, because prisoners can complain to the Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman will force Corrections to obey the law. And if that fails, Arthur Taylor will sue them and win.

A good start

If we are to avoid dangerous anthropogenic climate change, we need to rapidly decarbonise our transport fleet. The good news: its starting to happen:

The number of electric vehicles on New Zealand's roads have nearly tripled in the past two years.

There are currently 15,453 registered electric vehicles (EVs), up from 5,363 in October 2017.

That's an annual increase of 70%. But we have a long, long way to go: EVs only make up 2% of quarterly vehicle registrations, and at current rates it'll be a decade before its even 25%. There are doubts whether that rate will continue, but if the technology matures and cheapens over that time, and an "electric car" just becomes a "car", then it will. But if we want it to remain high, we will need policy. The government's feebate scheme will help, when it kicks in - and it will certainly help reduce the dirtiness of the fossil fuel fleet. The just-announced support for EV trials and charging stations will help too. But in the long run, we need to push people towards EVs, by calling time on fossil fuel vehicles - both new imports and re-registrations. Unfortunately, our government is too chickenshit to do that.

Against facial recognition

Yesterday, we learned that Auckland Transport wanted to turn Auckland into a surveillance state, with an extra 8,000 cameras equipped with facial recognition technology. Today, we learned that the police want to use those cameras:

The new cameras are capable of facial recognition but Auckland Transport (AT) said this function was not used.

However, police are interested in it.

"Police does not currently have the ability to run facial recognition off live CCTV cameras," a police spokesperson said in a statement.

"However, we would always be open to using new and developing technologies in the future, balanced against relevant legislation."

Or, to put it another way: they're open to engaging in mass-surveillance and spying on innocent members of the public going about their daily business, in the hope of catching a few criminals. Except that its a forlorn hope, because facial recognition has false positive rates between 81% and 96%. Meaning that if they try and make an arrest based on a "match", they'll be harassing an innocent person four times out of five, or 24 times out of 25. Which may work fine in a police state like China, but imagine what it does to the police's social licence in New Zealand.

Using facial recognition cameras is mass surveillance. Instead of encouraging Auckland Transport, we should be outlawing this intrusive technology and the tracking it enables and entails.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Drowning our taonga

The government has announced plans to move the Treaty of Waitangi and other taonga to a new site. Great news! So where are they going? Right next to the old one:

The new plan will see a new 22,000-square-metre archive built on the former site of Defence House - the former Defence Force headquarters demolished after the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake - to home the documents.

Huh. Isn't that close to the pre-colonial shoreline? I wonder how it looks on the Wellington City Council's interactive climate flooding map, with their expected sea-level rise of 1.5 metres?

So basicly, the government plans to move everything to a site which will be on the beach within 80 years, and subject to erosion and flooding. I don't think that's a good idea. Instead, the government should be seeking to minimise its climate risk. And that means taking this opportunity to move the archives out of Thorndon, to somewhere well above sea-level. Like Karori.

Data Ventures: StatsNZ plays startup

Back in June, StatsNZ went public about a project to track population data on an hourly level by using people's cellphones. It wasn't as bad as it initially looked - they were receiving no individual data, only counts by suburb - but there was still a huge consent problem, so I sent off an OIA to try and find out more. Thanks to commercial sensitivity redactions, the OIA wasn't very informative about that (it basicly boils down to StatsNZ is trusting cellphone providers' clickwrap licences, which does not meet the ethical standard I expect from a government agency). But it was quite informative about Data Ventures, the StatsNZ subsidiary responsible. And what it shows is unsettling.

Here's StatsNZ's initial pitch to the Minister of Statistics about Data Ventures, and here's their "strategy session" to define what they want to do:

Revenue is top of the list, but it won't come from selling Stats' (or rather, our) data. Instead, they'll be providing commercial data analysis services. But they tell the Minister they'll be using this revenue to fund social good ventures, so its a bit confused there. More confusing is their talk of "providing [a] new reputation for stats" as "disruptive" - they use this word a lot. Basicly, it sounds like a bunch of public servants playing at startups with government money - and its an impression confirmed by their monthly reports, which are all about sales pitches and innovation shows and grovelling for grants (frequently from other government agencies) to get a "longer runway". This is not the culture of the public service, and it makes me wonder what the hell is going on over there. And when they talk about wanting to "infect the organisation" with their values, well, that's a worry. And maybe the sort of thing the State Services Commission needs to be looking at.

But most worrying is this bit, from their pitch to the Minister:

All data acquired and created by Data Ventures is fed to Stats NZ for noncommercial benefits, such as improving existing data and statistical outputs.

In other words, they're going to use these contracts to hoover up private data for government use. There's no evidence they've done this yet - Data Ventures is still in its early days, and has only just delivered its first product - but that's one of the goals. And its a concern, because inevitably that data is going to end up in the Integrated Data Infrastructure, Stats' big brother pile of everything government has ever learned about you, where it will be mined for future "insights" (meaning: ways to cut funds somewhere or interfere in your life).

StatsNZ has a huge social licence problem at the moment, with using data collected for one purpose for something completely different without any sort of consent. Feeding private data into the IDI on the basis of commercial clickwrap licences is just going to add to that. And this is dangerous, because it undermines trust, and StatsNZ is an organisation we need to be able to trust. Maybe they should focus a bit more on that, rather than all the cool things they can do with Really Big Databases full of stolen data.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Climate Change: Say no to carbon cheats

The Environment Committee is currently hearing submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill, and Stuff is reporting on the submissions. Today, they're covering yesterday they heard from "NZ" Steel:

NZ Steel has told MPs it may be forced to close with the loss of thousands of jobs if changes aren't made to the Climate Change Response Bill which is being considered by Parliament.


But NZ Steel said in a submission to Parliament's Environment select committee that by failing to adequately recognise the issue of "competitiveness", the legislation could kill the industry.

"There is a very real prospect ... we may set up policy decisions that could result in the closure of steel-making in New Zealand," it warned.

They want the committee to remove restrictions on foreign carbon credits, allowing them to meet their carbon costs from international markets. Of course they do. Because before the government outlawed the use of such credits, "NZ" Steel (actually foreign owned by Aussie polluters Bluescope) were one of the biggest carbon cheats in the country. The scam was simple: the government gave them hundreds of thousands of tons of valuable NZ units as a pollution subsidy, but instead of using them, they banked or sold them, paying instead in fraudulent Ukranian "credits" which had no environmental benefit whatsoever. And they scammed us for millions by doing so: NZ units traded for $4.20 at the time ($25 now), while Ukranian credits cost a tenth of that. If they banked those credits for use now - effectively paying off all their previous obligations with fraud - then they're sitting on tens of millions of dollars of fraudulent profits.

Naturally, they want to start this scam again. We should refuse. Instead, we should be cutting their pollution subsidy - currently 1.4 million tons a year - and demanding they stand on their own feet. And if they close, good riddance - they emit 2.5 tons of CO2 per ton of steel, against an international benchmark of 2 tons CO2 per ton of steel, so shutting them down is a net environmental gain.

Strike for a future on September 27

Students are striking against climate change on September 27. And this time, they're asking everyone to join them:

Students are taking to the streets, beaches and parks on 27 September, and we're inviting everyone to join us. That's right, this is an intergenerational issue, and you're all invited to put pressure on politicians worldwide to pass bills which will take action to reduce the impacts of climate change.


On 24 May, we walked out of school alongside hundreds of thousands of students around the globe. We won't sit and watch our futures disintegrate, and we invite you to join us to strengthen our movement. That's you, reading this column; that's the next person you talk to; that's the waiter who gives you your coffee and the woman sitting in front of you in the car/bus/train, it really is everyone.

Climate change isn't just a youth problem, even though it'll hit us the hardest. It's everyone's problem. Everyone has a responsibility to act, in both practical ways and through joining the strike movement on 27 September.

I'll be joining them. I hope you will too. As the article says, pressuring politicians is one of the most powerful things you can do to stop climate change. Sure, you can eat less meat, not fly, use public transport or an electric car, and all of that by everyone adds up. But real change needs policy, and that needs politicians to get the message that if they don't do something about this, they will be de-elected and replaced with someone who will. And that needs people making their anger and demands known.

As the article makes clear, this matters to all of us. If you want a future, strike for the climate on September 27.

We need to clean up local body politics

Peter McKenzie has a piece on Newsroom this morning about how local body politics is awash with property developer cash. 70% of all the donations in the 2016 Wellington mayoral election came from property developers. And its pretty obvious what they want in exchange:

That’s particularly important in local government, according to Rashbrooke. “Local government is pretty weak in New Zealand. The one thing they have huge influence over is urban planning - what to build, and where, and with what restrictions.” It’s the kind of decision-making that can have a huge impact on a property developer, says Chapple. “It benefits the donors because the Wellington City Council is making decisions under the regional plan that greatly affect their bottom line.”

It’s the kind of decision-making which will have a huge impact on Cassells’ bottom line in particular. Cassels and his companies have been the driving force behind the controversial $500 million Shelly Bay development in southern Wellington. The Shelly Bay development has had to secure approval from Wellington City Council (WCC) at multiple points over the past five years, including to secure Special Housing Area status in 2015 and to purchase or lease WCC land in Shelly Bay in 2017. After a lengthy court battle, the Shelly Bay development is still trying to get approval to proceed.

Cassels made no identifiable donations to candidates in the 2013 WCC elections; he only began to do so after the Shelly Bay development started making its way through the council approval process.

There's a name for this: corruption. And its not just a Wellington problem. Back in 2007, newly elected Palmerston North Mayor pushed through a private plan change for the benefit of a trust run by one of his donors. It was later revealed that another trust run by that same donor had bankrolled 95% of his campaign. Naylor pinky-promised he wouldn't vote on issues affecting his donors again, but it didn't matter - the donor had already got what they wanted. The nexus of power and poor oversight around local government and zoning decisions invites corruption - just as it does in Australia.

What to do about it? There are obvious measures. Greater transparency - down to $50 or $100, rolling disclosure so we can see who is being bought and when, a cap on individual donations to limit the power of the rich and encourage fundraising from small donors. There's also just outright public funding (used in Canada) or "Democracy vouchers" (used in Seattle), where everyone can assign money to a candidate of their choice. To that, I'd chuck in outlawing local body members from discussing or voting on issues where donor's interests may be impacted - making such donations effectively self-defeating.

Politicians will complain, but ultimately this is a question of who we want our local body politicians to work for: us, or property developers. Of whether we want our local government to be honest, or corrupt. And the answer to those questions ought to be obvious.

Monday, August 12, 2019


The Justice Committee has called for submissions on the Electoral Amendment Bill. The bill makes a number of technical changes to electoral administration, and while these are good, it could do so much more. Obvious things to demand in your submission:

  • Greater transparency around donations, including lower the donation disclosure threshold to $1500 and requiring rolling disclosure so we can see who is buying our politicians as it happens;
  • Removing the 5% threshold, or at least accepting the Electoral Commission recommendation to lower it to 4%;
  • Restoring voting rights for prisoners to remove an ongoing breach of the Treaty of Waitangi and the BORA.
Submissions are due by Friday, 20 September 2019 and can be made at the link above.


When the Justice Committee reported back on the Administration of Justice (Reform of Contempt of Court) Bill, free speech advocates breathed a sigh of relief. As originally introduced, the Bill reitered the ancient offence of "scandalising the court" - basicly, a special sedition law protecting judges from criticism. The select committee, following practice overseas, removed it. But now, thanks to an amendment introduced out of the blue at the committee stage, its back:

The Government is pushing to protect the integrity of the judiciary by limiting free speech and making it illegal to publish fake news about the courts, also known as "scandalising the court".

And it has taken aim at National MP Nick Smith, using his contempt of court conviction from 2004 as a reason for justifying the move.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said a new clause in the Contempt of Court bill, currently awaiting its third reading in Parliament, is a justified limitation on free speech to protect the administration of justice.

Really? The law imposes a penalty of up to 6 months imprisonment for making a "false accusation" about a court or a judge. The basis for it is that judges are important people doing an important job and therefore public confidence in them shouldn't be undermined by false accusations. But politicians and public sector CEOs are also important people doing an important job. Does Little think people making false accusations and undermining public confidence in them should also be thrown in jail?

But don't take it from me. Here's Geoffrey Palmer, basicly the architect of the BORA, on the subject (quoted on Scoop because the NZLJ is behind a corporate paywall):
This new offence amounts to a statutory libel on a judge or a court. The judiciary are part of the system of government, although independent from Parliament and the Executive. False statements made in attacks upon the government are no longer punishable under the criminal law of libel and slander and sedition. Why should it be any different for the judiciary and the system of justice than for the political arms of government? ... These provisions in the Bill seem to be bringing back an approach to speech that has recently been rejected by the Parliament.

And to that I'd add: if the confidence of the public in judicial institutions rests solely on the threat of jail - that is, on terror - then they deserve neither our confidence or our protection. The fairness, impartiality and competence of our courts and judges should speak for itself, and it usually does (usually). The real threat to public confidence is not wild accusations on websites no-one pays attention to - but laws such as this.

This bill should be recalled to committee and this clause removed before it is allowed to pass. Laws which protect the powerful and punish their critics have no place on our statute books.

A reminder

Eighteen months ago, the government promised to strengthen the Bill of Rights Act, by explicitly affirming the power of the courts to issue declarations of inconsistency and requiring Parliament to formally respond to them.

Since then - crickets.

Which raises the obvious question: are they actually going to do this, or is it something - like restoring voting rights to prisoners - which is "not a priority" for them?

Fix the OIA

Back in March, the Ministry of Justice conducted a public consultation exercise on whether to hold a review of the Official Information Act. 285 people submitted on it. Now, Stuff has trawled through those submissions, and the case for reform is strong:

The Justice Ministry asked Kiwis what they thought was wrong with the OIA, to help them decide if the act needs an overhaul. The 290 submissions reveal what appears to be a broken process.

Those who use the act to seek information highlight delays, excessive deletions, overuse of vague withholding grounds, political interference and an ombudsman appeal process made ineffective by sometimes years-long waits.

On the other side, officials who respond to OIA questions say requests are unwieldy and unfocused and they need more reasons to withhold information, not fewer.

The only common ground seems to be support for more information to be proactively released, the idea of an independent agency such as an Information Commission to help with training and prevent political interference and penalties for failing to comply.

So will the government act? So far, they've been dragging their feet. A decision is due "by September", so I guess we'll know whether they're lying to us in the next three weeks.

National's prisoner voting ban breaches the Treaty

National's prisoner voting ban has gone down as one of the worst laws in New Zealand history. Passed after a farcical debate (including this farcial speech from ACT MP Hilary Calvert), it has subsequently been found to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act by the High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court. And now the Waitangi Tribunal has weighed in, with a formal finding that the law and how it was passed breaches the Treaty of Waitangi:

The Tribunal found that the manner in which Crown officials offered support and advice to the Law and Order Select Committee before the 2010 law change failed to provide sufficient information about the specific effect the legislation would have on Māori, as well as on Crown rights and obligations under the Treaty.

By failing to provide adequate advice, the tribunal said the Crown had failed to actively protect Māori rights.

Additionally, they found that being unable to vote had the potential to affect Māori prisoners beyond their time in prison, impacting their whanau and their community.

The law has a hugely disproportionate impact on Māori, with 11.4 times more Māori than Pakeha disenfranchised in 2018. Effectively its a magnifier for racism in the justice system - and one that is completely without justification. The government could identify no purpose whatsoever for the policy, and none was identified by Parliament when they shamefully passed it.

The Tribunal has asked the government to urgently repeal the law and allow prisoners to vote in 2020, and to their credit, they're actually looking at it (having previously said it was "not a priority". Which tells you what they think of the courts and Bill of Rights Act). But they've also recommended that the government establish a system to provide a proper Treaty impact analysis of all bills before the House. That is something worth doing in and of itself, and it needs to be an independent statutory reporting function, similar to that of the Attorney-General under the BORA, so that the House cannot pretend that it has not been informed. That would be a worthwhile reform in and of itself, to ensure that Parliament upholds its Treaty obligations. Sadly, I think they'll be as eager for it as they are for any other constraint on their power.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Climate Change: Chickening out on a fossil-fuel vehicle cutoff

When the government announced its timid and unambitious vehicle "feebate" policy, my first question was why they hadn't coupled it with announcing a cutoff date for fossil fuel vehicle imports. Such a policy would turn off the tap of transport emissions, while providing lead time for us to electrify the vehicle fleet within the normal upgrade cycle. The feebate advice noted this had been proposed and rejected, and someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask for the advice about it. The advice shows that Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter proposed a 2035 cutoff last year, but that it did not make it to Cabinet. Sadly, its completely silent on why not, but I think we can all guess.

The released advice (such as it is) also includes a cost-benefit analysis. This straps the chicken every way it can, with lowball carbon prices, arbitrary costs for "welfare impact" of people not buying the car they want (which end up making up the majority of "costs"), and most astoundingly, a "business-as-usual" emissions case which assumes that a 50% by 2050 target will be met (quite how is unclear, and assuming targets will be met when assessing policy designed to meet those targets seems to be getting things arse-backwards). But even then, it shows a BCR of 1.26, and NPV net benefits of $2.25 billion - which is hugely better than most of National's roads. So, this policy would have been beneficial, and it would have been effective at turning off the carbon tap. It is a disgrace that it was not implemented.

Climate Change: The cost of sea-level rise

We've had some grim projections about sea-level rise in the last week, with Wellington Regional Council notifying storm surge risks for a 1m sea-level rise, and Wellington City Council expecting 1.5m by the end of the century. How much is all this going to cost us? A shit-ton:

Every 10cm of sea level rise puts several thousand more New Zealanders in a position they might rather avoid: living in an area that could be flooded by an extreme storm.

Modelling has found that each added 10cm puts at risk another 7,000 New Zealand buildings, worth an estimated $2.48b to replace, 133km of roads and 10km of railway line.

To put this in context, seas have already risen almost 20cm globally since pre-industrial times and 1m of sea level rise is considered a middling projection for 2100.

A metre means $25 billion. Wellington's expected 1.5m means ~$38 billion. The latter is roughly the cost of the Christchurch rebuild, or about 40% of a years government spending, which is a staggering amount. And the way things are going, we'll probably find out that these were conservative estimates.

The even scarier thing is that the amount of carbon we have put into the atmosphere means we are already committed to at least a half-metre by 2100, and more after that (because warming and sea-level rise doesn't just stop after then). So we're going to be paying at least half a shit-ton. The challenge is to ensure we don't have to pay the rest of it.

New Fisk

As India and Pakistan – and America and Iran – go toe-to-toe, now is the time to recall the scorched corpses of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


The Abortion Legislation Committee has called for submissions on the Abortion Legislation Bill. I urge everyone who wants reform to submit - the bigots certainly will be, and they've monopolised this conversation for too long. As for what to put in your submission, I'd suggest listening to health professionals, and pushing or "option A", which would require removing new section 11, and amending new section 10 to remove any reference to a time limit. While its not in the bill, expressing opposition to a referendum on a fundamental human rights issue may also help focus the minds of MPs on opposing NZ First's SOP when it comes up.

Submissions can be made at the link above and are due by Thursday, 19 September 2019.

Climate Change: Don't starve

Since scientists started studying climate change, they have warned that it will reduce food production. And now, its happening:

The climate crisis is damaging the ability of the land to sustain humanity, with cascading risks becoming increasingly severe as global temperatures rise, according to a landmark UN report compiled by some of the world’s top scientists.

Global heating is increasing droughts, soil erosion and wildfires while diminishing crop yields in the tropics and thawing permafrost near the poles, says the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Further heating will lead to unprecedented climate conditions at lower latitudes, with potential growth in hunger, migration and conflict and increased damage to the great northern forests.

Our food crops require a specific environmental range - so much moisture, this much heat. Outside that range, they produce less, or just die. And our CO2 emissions are taking the climate in our food-growing regions further and further outside that range. Ironicly, a lot of those emissions are driven by food production itself - deforestation to clear land for agriculture, nitrous oxide from fertiliser, methane from cows and rice paddies. But regardless of the source, the net result is the same: an increased risk of famine, and all the associated disruption it causes.

Somewhat predictably, the media is focusing on the recommendation that rich, western consumers with choices eat a bit less meat - something which is neither particularly hard, nor the end of the world, but which has an outsized impact on emissions and heating. But that's not enough. Food production is responsible for between 23 and 37% of global emissions, and food is essential, so we can only reduce those emissions so far. Avoiding a collapse in global food supplies means solving the climate crisis, which in turn requires the rapid decarbonisation of the economy while planting forests to offset (and ultimately draw down) what we can't cut. And that requires policy change on a national and international level. So the most important individual action you can take is to vote for that change, and to vote out politicians, parties, and governments who oppose it.

Thursday, August 08, 2019


The Abortion Legislation Bill just passed its first reading, 94-23. Its a far bigger margin than I expected, even allowing for the Winston factor, and it reflects the overwhelming support there is in this country for reform. but that support isn't a new thing - it has existed for literally decades. Which invites the question: why has it taken our chickenshit politicians so long to get around to this?


The Justice Committee has called for submissions on the Referendums Framework Bill. The Bill does what it says on the label - establishes a framework for referenda. Things you may want to address in your submission:

  • Whether the bill should apply only at the 2020 election, or whether it should establish a permanent framework to enable the government to consult voters more often;
  • Whether Cabinet should set referendum questions, or whether they should require the approval of Parliament;
Submissions can be made online at the link above, and are due by 16 September 2019.

Time to repeal the Anadarko Amendment

The Thompson and Clark / MBIE spying scandal continues to result in fallout, this time in the form of a report on the implementation of MBIE's "Operation Exploration", its internal operation to enforce the infamous Anadarko Amendment which criminalised protests against the oil industry. MBIE's enforcement operation was tainted by the involvement of Thompson and Clark, and so after SSC told government agencies not to work with private spies, the entire operation was reviewed. The full report is here, but the key findings are:

  • MBIE's risk model treated democratic protest as an imminent, severe threat - basicly as piracy or terrorism. This led to a focus on spying on protest groups. MBIE staff interviewed for the report admitted that the risk was "overblown".
  • MBIE's plan for reducing risk i.e. protest focused on boosting the social licence of the oil industry - basicly, conducting and disseminating oil industry propaganda.
  • MBIE staff believed the Anadarko Amendment was "not a deterrent to interference, but a motivator for some organised protest entities, increasing the likelihood of on-the-water protest actions". The entire thing was counter-productive anyway.

The report recommends reforming the governance of "Operation Exploration", because that was its terms of reference. Instead, it would be much easier to simply repeal the Anadarko Amendment, ending both its direct affront to democracy and its encouragement of anti-democratic behaviour by the state.


So, Winston Peters is defending his last-minute demand for a referendum on abortion by claiming he was "blindsided" by the bill. Really? The bill is a government bill. It has been working through the cabinet approval process since December last year. As part of that process, NZ First was consulted, given the chance to negotiate amendments, and agreed to the bill. And here's a report from May on that [paywalled; depaywall script]:

Justice Minister Andrew Little confirmed he expected to be able to make an announcement in the next few weeks, after reaching agreement with NZ First this week.


NZ First minister Tracey Martin confirmed that on Tuesday this week, the party's caucus had agreed to the reform going to Cabinet. "It's now finalised, and the Cabinet paper is on its way up to Cabinet."

The Government's response to a Law Commission paper on abortion reform is now almost six months overdue, partly because NZ First has baulked at treating it as a government measure, given it was a conscience vote.

Martin said she had taken the precaution of getting the NZ First caucus to agree to it to make sure it was not gazumped at the last moment, as had happened to Labour's plans to repeal the "three strikes" legislation.

And here's a further report from last month, in which Andrew Little talks about "very helpful" discussions with NZ First.

This bill was consulted on. It was approved by the NZ First caucus. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide who is acting in bad faith here.

Waikato's dirty farmers

Five years ago, the Waikato Regional Council ended aerial monitoring of dairy farms, ostensibly because it caused stress to the poor sensitive little farmers. What were they stressed about? Being caught breaking the law, of course:

Waikato's dairy farmers again delivered a grim record of environmental compliance for the region.

The return to aerial monitoring has revealed the extent of dirty diarying.

The latest effluent compliance statistics from the Waikato Regional Council show significant non-compliance continued to be a problem with 13 per cent (121 farms) of the 936 farms monitored during the 2018-19 season falling into that category.

Of the farms monitored, 497 (53 per cent) were categorised as as 'high risk', due to previous significant non-compliance or past issues with effluent storage.

Twenty farmers are now being prosecuted, and another 45 have been issued abatement notices. Others have been warned or issued infringements. And hopefully all of that will force them to clean up their act. But it speaks volumes about the honesty of the industry that their kneejerk response to environmental problems is to oppose monitoring and enforcement, rather than own their problems and correct them. Like the fishing industry, it seems that a significant proportion of dairy farmers are simply criminals. And we should treat them like that, until they prove otherwise.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Abortion reform has the numbers

The Abortion Legislation Bill will have its first reading tomorrow, and while NZ First is making noises about a referendum, it appears the bill will pass regardless of what they think:

The Government's abortion bill will pass its first hurdle with an overwhelming majority, with or without NZ First's support.

Stuff has spoken with a majority of Parliament's 120 MPs, 67 of whom said they would support or be likely to support the Bill at its first reading on Thursday.

Just seven said they would vote against it, with another four indicating they would be likely to vote against. Another 12 were still deciding, alongside NZ First's nine MPs who are refusing to confirm their position.

Overall they're expecting the bill to pass with at least 73 votes. NZ First's votes are not needed. Which means their last-minute demands for a referendum can be safely ignored.

Standing up for kiwi values

Last week, the ongoing democracy protests in Hong Kong saw a pro-Hong Kong student assaulted at the University of Auckland. The Chinese consulate in Auckland followed this up with a press release "express[ing] its appreciation to the students for their spontaneous patriotism" - effectively condoning the assault and inciting further violence in New Zealand. Now, MFAT has told the Chinese government that this is not acceptable:

The Government has rebuked China over its recent comments and actions where it sought to suppress freedom of speech and voiced support for violent opposition to Hong Kong protestors in New Zealand.

On Monday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials met with Chinese Government representatives in New Zealand to reiterate that freedom of expression would be upheld and maintained, which included on university campuses.

This is a significant move for a Government that has largely spoken generally about foreign interference and about democratic principles, while avoiding specifically mentioning China’s behaviour in recent years under an emboldened president.

Good. In China they might beat people for peacefully expressing their views, but that is not how we do things in New Zealand, and trying to incite such actions goes well beyond diplomatic norms. Arguably, its a crime, which makes the Consul-General party to any further assaults. And if there are further assaults, we should hold Chinese diplomatic staff responsible for their incitement, declare them persona non-grata, and deport them.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Climate Change: The double benefit of forestry conversions

Rural communities are wailing about forestry conversions "taking land out of production" and putting it into locking up carbon. Its driven purely by economics: there's more money and lower costs in carbon than in sheep or beef, and if carbon prices rise, there'll be more net money than dairy even. But while they're all worrying about the threat to their rural lifestyle, there's an obvious benefit too:

Tararua District mayor Tracey Collis has seen 13 farms in her district sell in the past year. Everyday she is contacted by a worried constituent.


Collis estimates the sales represent 47,500 sheep and 20,500 cattle gone.

And at 2 tons CO2-equivalent per beef cow and 300 kg per sheep, that's over 55,000 tons of emissions we won't have to worry about every year. Better, as it is methane, the effect is even more significant, because methane is a hugely-powerful (but short-lived) greenhouse gas, and exactly the gas we need to focus on cutting. The carbon price of those avoided emissions is already $1.375 million, and if prices are allowed to rise, it won't be too long before their value exceeds the $1.7 million annual economic activity of the farms they have displaced. In other words, simply shutting down those farms is likely to be more beneficial to the local economy than letting them continue to operate. And that's without even considering the value of the carbon stored.

Looked at like this, the message is clear: the sooner marginal farms shut down and are converted to trees, the better off we'll all be.

A referendum on abortion?

This week, the government introduced its (underwhelming) Abortion Legislation Bill. And despite having negotiated the text of the bill through the coalition process, Winston Peters is now suggesting that he will demand a referendum on it:

NZ First leader Winston Peters has hinted that his party may only support the Government's abortion changes if they go to a binding referendum.

This last-minute positioning - after months of negotiation with Labour - has angered Justice Minister Andrew Little, who said any such position would be completely new to him.

Peters on Tuesday refused to clarify how his party would vote on the bill, which is up for its first reading on Thursday, or whether it would be a party-position or up to individual MPs.

NZ First MP Clayton Mitchell had suggested to media that the way NZ First considered the issue should go to the public.

This is a vile idea. Abortion is a matter of fundamental rights, and like marriage equality or torture or freedom of religion is simply not something we should be having referenda on. What part of "her body, her choice" remotely suggests you or I getting a vote about it? The whole point of law reform is to get other people out of that decision entirely.

The good news is that the bill is a conscience vote, and I don't think there's a majority there for a referendum. And if he tries throwing his weight around within the coalition over this, the Prime Minister should call his bluff and call an election on the issue.

People power wins the night

Last night the police dramatically incresed their numbers at Ihumātao, shoving over protestors and threatening them with arrest. Despite police talk about the need to maintain "public order" and prevent a "breach of the peace", there appeared to be absolutely no justification for this: the protest camp is, was, and always has been orderly and peaceful. The only people not being peaceful were the police.

The good news is that it ended happily: the protesters put out the call, people showed up, and the police were forced to leave, their dirty midnight attempt at eviction a failure. People power won.

Questions now need to be asked, not only of the police, but also of the Prime Minister. Does her commitment that the protesters will be allowed to remain mean nothing? Is she dealing in bad faith here? At the moment, it looks like she is - and her continual attempts to imply that the protesters are somehow violent only adds to this perception. She is going to pay a price for that at the ballot box next year.

17,000 employed under Labour

The labour market statistics have been released, and unemployment has dropped again to 3.9%, the lowest level in 11 years. There are currently 109,000 people looking for work - 17,000 fewer than when Labour took office.

This drop in unemployment has been combined with workers getting their biggest payrises in a decade, thanks to a big increase in the minimum wage and several large government settlements. We're also seeing unions able to effectively fight for workers' rights and win. And the longer it continues, the better.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Government of disappointment

Today's abortion reform announcement is just the latest in a long line of disappointing decisions or outright failures from the Labour government. The 90-day law. KiwiBuild. A capital gains tax. Climate change. Every time they make one of those decisions, we hope for better next time. No repeal of the 90-day law? At least they'll build some houses. No mass house building programme? At least they'll give us a capital gains tax. No capital gains tax? At least they recognise climate change is "my generation's nuclear free moment". Chickenshit on climate change? At least they'll deliver on abortion. But I think we need to admit it: this is a government which is not going to deliver. It is not going to meet expectations. Instead, their central policy is disappointment. Disappointment at their failure, disappointment at their cowardice, disappointment at what they could have done - but chose not to fight for.

That's the central problem, and its been apparent for a while: Labour doesn't fight. You can argue about why that is - the coalition, Labour's internal conservatives, its fear that someone might call them "progressive" or "liberal" or "socialist" and its belief that those are dirty words rather than ones to wear with pride - but to be honest, I don't actually care. I am not a member of the Labour Party, and it is not my responsibility to solve their problems. All I am interested in is results. And looking at those, this government is a failure. It promised change, and it has delivered the status quo. It promised hope, and it has dashed those hopes, every time.

This government is just one disappointment after another. And the obvious question that needs asking is why would anyone vote for that?

No doubt this will attract an angry storm from Labour hacks and apparatchiks, presenting Simon Bridges as a cross between Satan and the Christchurch shooter, and crying angrily that if people don't vote Labour, they'll get National. Which I guess is Labour's answer: we should vote for them (and protect those apparatchiks' jobs) out of fear. This ugly behavious just makes them look like an abusive, controlling partner, and it just results in the same question: why would anyone vote for that?

Labour chickens out on abortion

When she was standing for office, Jacinda Ardern promised she would take abortion out of the Crimes Act. Labour followed up on that by referring the issue to the Law Commission, which duly produced a series of options. Health professionals were crystal clear in supporting complete decriminalisation. But instead of that, Labour has taken the most conservative option, then made it worse, imposing a test for women to access an abortion after 20 weeks. Such abortions are almost always performed for medical reasons, and so should be a health issue, but instead Labour is going to make women continue to endure the wagging finger of society if they need proper medical care.

While the bill is obviously an improvement on the status quo, the additional test is simply bullshit, and another example of Labour chickening out. They promised to listen to medical professionals, and they haven't. While a technical delivery on their promise, its a substantive failure.

The bill will get its first reading this week, and go to select committee. While this is a conscience issue, the select committee will reflect the government's agreed position with its coalition partner, so we won't see substantive policy change there. If we want that, then someone will have to try and amend the bill at the committee stage to remove this odious provision and make abortion a purely medical decision. The question is whether Labour MPs will support that, or whether they will refuse to in order to avoid upsetting their bigot rump and their conservative coalition partner.

A stillborn policy

The Greens used their party conference over the weekend to push for a rent-to-own scheme, where people would be able to work towards home ownership by renting from the government. Its a sensible policy, and one which could make a real difference to home ownership rates. But its also basicly stillborn. Why? Because the first step is "the government builds a home", or works with an NGO to do so. Which means (quite sensibly, because its a long-term investment) "the government borrows money to build a home". And that is something that Labour, the Greens' coalition partner, has basicly ruled out.

Its the same reason why KiwiBuild failed: because Labour is too chickenshit to use the government's balance sheet to achieve its goals. It doesn't matter that its an investment in an asset, or that money is basicly free at the moment, or that the debt will be repaid by rents and the eventual sale of the asset - Labour just won't do it. They're too afraid of being called "socialist" or something. Or of being called financially profligate, even though the right will call them that no matter what they do. Michael Joseph Savage wasn't afraid to do it, and he made New Zealand a better place as a result. But now that Labour is just a collection of apparatchiks chasing jobs, their risk-aversion makes them incapable of delivering meaningful change. Which means that as long as the Greens are saddled with Labour, they'll be incapable of delivering change either.

Friday, August 02, 2019


Back in April, the Remuneration Commission allowed local authorities to pay childcare costs for councillors and community board members. It promised to be a significant step forward for local democracy, which would enable parents and would-be parents (as opposed to grandparents) to stand for council. But councils have to vote to adopt it, and the Hurunui District Council has refused:

A North Canterbury councillor at the forefront of a campaign for childcare subsidies for elected officials says she is disappointed her fellow councillors chose to vote against the policy.

The Remuneration Authority introduced a childcare option after Hurunui District councillor Julia McLean and Nelson City councillor Matt Lawrey raised the issue three years ago. The policy allows councillors and community boards to claim back up to $6000 a year, plus GST, to cover childcare costs so they can attend meetings or events on behalf of the council.


McLean was the only councillor absent from last month's Hurunui council meeting, at which it was agreed unanimously to reject a childcare allowance for the district's councillors.

Its a disappointing move, and invites the question: why does Hurunui hate parents? Why does it think they should have no say in local government?

Local government has a real problem with gerontocracy, which distorts policy in all sorts of ways (notably on climate change, but its also why local elections are an endless parade of cookie-cutter pensioners promising to "keep rates low"). It desperately needs to be more representative. But I guess if there's one thing you can rely on from political establishments, its that they will fight tooth and nail to lock out everybody else and prevent proper representation. And that is exactly what is going on here.

New Fisk

Lies and buffoonery: How Boris Johnson’s fantasy world casts dark shadows in the Middle East

Climate Change: Wellington expects to go under

What will climate change do to our capital city? The Wellington City Council has updated its projections, ditching its optimistic 0.6m estimate for sea-level rise in favour of a more realistic 1.5m. And the result is devastating:

Wellington City Council has unofficially ditched an optimistic sea-level rise scenario in favour of one that could see much of the central city and low-lying suburbs under water.


Under the new scenario, also outlined in the 2013 report, areas in line for "inundation" include much of the area around Westpac stadium, swathes through the central city, as well as lower parts of Oriental Bay, Evans Bay, Kilbirnie, Shelly Bay, Seatoun, and the South Coast bays.

It will mean that without massive mitigation measures - as extreme as reclaiming Wellington harbour east of a line between Freyberg Pool and CentrePort - the Harbour Quays will be in the inundation zone. It is here Wellington's $6.4 billion Let's Get Wellington Moving has its preferred route for mass-transit.

The old best-case scenario was almost-entirely limited to areas immediately beside the sea.

Wellington will basicly return to its pre-colonial shoreline. WCC has an interactive map here, and if you plug in 1.5m, you can see that the Beehive is beachfront property, with the new shoreline running along Thorndon Quay, Lambton Quay and Wakefield St. Parliament, Te Papa, the National Archives and the Green Parrot, along with a huge number of government agencies and private businesses, will all have to relocate. $6.5 billion of property will be at risk, and 2,000 residents displaced. And that's just in Wellington. Petone, Waiwhetu, Makara, Pauatahanui, and Kapiti are all going to be underwater as well.

Fonterra and the fossil fuel industry like to talk about the cost of climate change action, but the cost of inaction is having to relocate the entire CBD of our capital city (and others as well). And that's simply too much to risk.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Climate Change: NZ's subsidised polluters

Yesterday, the government announced that it planned to continue ETS pollution subsidies for our dirtiest industries until well beyond 2050, when we're supposed be carbon neutral. So who gets these subsidies, and how much are they?

The industrial subsidy scheme is laid out in s81 of the Climate Change Response Act 2002. Polluting industries get subsidised based on their production and an "allocative baseline" - basicly a certain amount of tons of carbon per ton of production. Highly polluting industries start at a 90% subsidy, while moderately polluting industries start at 60%. In both cases, this rate is reduced linearly at 1% each year after 2012, so they're currently getting 83% and 53% respectively. Which industries are highly-polluting and which are moderately-polluting, as well as the industry-specific subsidy rates are laid out in schedule 2 of the Climate Change (Eligible Industrial Activities) Regulations 2010.

So who gets these subsidies? It will come as no surprise to learn that they are mostly foreign-owned multinationals, and are frequently being subsidised to retain dirty production methods rather than upgrade to clean ones. Here's some highlights:

  • Aluminium smelting: There is just one aluminium smelter in New Zealand, at Tiwai Point. Its owned by Rio Tinto, a foreign multinational which makes nearly US$9 billion a year in profit. last year the smelter made an NZ$207 million profit. It produces 340,000 tons of aluminium a year, meaning that it received 2.86 million tons of carbon credits with a value of roughly $70 million. So, we're subsidising a profitable company by a third of their profit.

    What really stinks is that their direct reported emissions in 2017 (the latest year for which figures are available) were only 606,000 tons. So we're subsidising them roughly 4.7 times their actual emissions. This is supposedly as "compensation" for high electricity prices, but a) they don't pay those prices due to a sweetheart deal with Meridian (itself a subsidy); and b) their use of 13% of the country's entire electricity supply drives up prices for everyone else by forcing the use of expensive and dirty thermal generation to meet demand. So we're subsidising them $70 million a year to cause around 2 million tons of electricity sector emissions and drive up prices for everyone else. Whether this is a good deal for New Zealand is left as an exercise for the reader.

  • Iron and steel making: There are two steel-makers in New Zealand: New Zealand Steel at Glenbrook, and Pacific Steel in Auckland. Both are owned by Bluescope, an Australian multinational which made a $1.6 billion profit last year. According to the Stuff article on New Zealand's biggest polluters, Bluescope admitted receiving a subsidy of 1.4 million tons of carbon in 2017, or roughly $35 million a year. That same article noted that Glenbrook was particularly dirty, emitting roughly 2.5 tons of CO2 per ton of steel produced, vs an international benchmark of two tons. So why are we subsidising them? If we want global emissions to reduce, the best thing that can happen is for Glenbrook to shut down, and for its production to be replaced by a cleaner factory overseas.

  • Urea production: There is only one urea manufacturer in New Zealand: Ballance Agri-Nutrients runs a former Think Big plant at Kapuni, turning natural gas into nitrogen fertiliser which then pollutes our waterways. Unlike most of the rest of the polluters, they're actually New Zealand-owned, and made a profit of $71 million last year. According to their annual report, $6.6 million of that was "Government grants including NZ ETS credits". They have no direct emissions surrender obligation - urea production is not an ETS activity - so that's just a straight subsidy, as "compensation" for the ETS's effect on gas prices.

    Interestingly, Ballance has recently embarked on a joint venure to use a wind farm to supply hydrogen to its plant, as a replacement for natural gas. They're cleaning up their act. So why do we need to subsidise them for another 30 years again?

  • Methanol production: Again there is only one producer in New Zealand: Methanex, a Canadian-owned multinational with an annual profit of over half a billion dollars. It produced 1.6 million tons of methanol at its three plants in 2018, which means they would have received 1.06 million tons of carbon credits, worth $26.5 million. And again, there's no direct surrender obligation - this is solely due to the ETS effect on gas prices. But wait, it gets better! Because methanol is an "embedded product", Methanex is entitled to receive credits for any methanol it exports as a "removal activity" (importing methanol, however, does not attract ETS obligations because it is not an "obligation fuel"). Methanex exports 95% of its production, and is given 1.375 tons of carbon credits for every ton of methanol it exports, so that's another 2.1 million tons, worth another $52 million. So all up, we're giving this hugely profitable, foreign-owned company over $75 million a year to burn natural gas and destroy the global climate.

    Do we need to do this? As Methanex's annual report points out, its production facilities in Canada and Chile already attract carbon charges. It has other production facilities in the US, Trinidad and Egypt, but its probably only a matter of time before some or all of them start having to pay their way too. In their submissions on ETS reviews, Methanex argue that the marginal methanol producers are in China and make it from coal, which is dirtier than their natural gas method. But China has just introduced an ETS, and while it does not yet cover methanol production, it will inevitably be expanded to do so. Predicating policy on the idea that this will not happen in the next thirty years seems like a mistake. Its also worth pointing out that there are other ways of making methanol (biosynthesis, from corn ethanol, or direct air synthesis), but thse are currently priced out of the market by dirty production. The best way of forcing polluters to innovate and scale up these methods is to stop subsidising dirty ones.
These are just some of New Zealand's subsidised polluters. There's a lot more - maybe some enterprising journalist could look them up? - but this post is long enough already. But it should be obvious that the case for continuing these subsidies is very weak indeed. We should not be subsidising these companies to continue their dirty activities. Instead, we should be cutting these subsidies off in no more than a decade, forcing them to innovate and clean up their act or go out of business. It is that simple.