Saturday, December 14, 2019



Well, crap

UKanians went to the polls yesterday in early elections aimed at resolving the Brexit impasse. And they certainly have, delivering a huge majority to the Tories, and (barring internal rebellions of the sort which delayed Brexit) giving them the power to do whatever they want. And thanks to the UK's unfair electoral system, they got all that on just 44% of the vote...

But the Tories aren't the only beneficiaries of that unfair system. In Scotland, the SNP won just under half the vote, but 80% of the seats. Meanwhile, the LibDems got 11% of the vote nationwide, but only 2% of the seats, while the Greens and Brexit parties - small but notable minority votes which could easily be accommodated in a legislature as large as the UK's - were left with nothing. Its all the worse because the rest of the UK's elections - for its devolved legislatures and the European Parliament - use one form or another of proportional representation, so UK votes know what they're missing out on.

So what are the Tories planning? Bexit, obviously, which is bad enough. Undermining judicial review rights (which saw their illegal prorogation cancelled) and the Human Rights Act (their version of the BORA). A pogrom against Travellers. The UK voted for that, and now they're going to get it, but it is nothing good, and UKanians should get out while they can. The Scots are ahead of the game already, with a demand for another independence referendum, which Boris Johnson has already refused. But the more they refuse, the greater the pressure will be for a vote (because a. that's the democratic solution; and b. Scotland doesn't like London telling them how to run their lives). And in London doesn't let them hold a binding, legal referendum, they may simply go Catalonian and hold a non-binding, illegal one, and dare London to try and stop it or ignore the result.

Thursday, December 12, 2019



Today's secrecy legislation

Introducing legislation which shits on the public's right to know seems to have become a daily occurrence for this government. Today's example is the Infrastructure Funding and Financing Bill. The bill establishes a framework for the establishment of "special purpose vehicles" (SPVs) to hide debt from local government balance sheets fund infrastructure such as roads and sewers in "high-growth" councils. SPVs will collect and spend public money in the form of an "infrastructure levy" collected through the local rating system, and will exercise local government powers in their specific areas to enable construction. But they will not be subject to the Official Information Act or LGOIMA, instead having minimal "bespoke disclosure and reporting obligations" which basicly amount to publishing an annual report.

(There's also a statutory Monitor to keep an eye on such entities, but as they must be a government agency, they should be covered).

Local bodies collecting rates and exercising statutory powers to acquire land and construct infrastructure are rightly subject to the transparency provisions of the LGOIMA. The same should apply to these "special purpose vehicles". Otherwise we're effectively seeing a transfer of local government powers into some secret, unaccountable netherworld. And that should not be acceptable to anyone.

Encryption, passwords, and self-incrimination

The University of Waikato and New Zealand Law Foundation have released a report today on the law around encryption in New Zealand. There's stuff in there about principles and values, and how proposed government policies to provide for "lawful access" by creating backdoors would destroy the trust which makes encryption work (and, given the availability of encryption, simply push people to use systems they can trust, without such backdoors). But they also find that the existing law around searches, under which people can be required to provide passwords or keys to enable government searches, on pain of imprisonment, fails to respect fundamental human rights, specifically the right against self-incrimination.

New Zealand law takes a broad view of self-incrimination, defining it as anything "reasonably likely to lead to, or increase the likelihood of, the prosecution of a person for a criminal offence". But if the police want to access your data because they think there is evidence there that you have committed a crime, then by definition assisting them increases your likelihood of prosecution and is self-incriminating. Unfortunately, the law as written does not include sufficient guidance to protect this right; there's a generalised right in the Evidence Act, but insufficient protections in the search clauses themselves. Which in turn effectively allows the government to force people to incriminate themselves, in contravention of legal norms and international human rights standards. As a result,

[t]he researchers recommend that the right or privilege against self-incrimination should be more strongly recognised in computer searches, and that persons suspected or charged with a crime should not be forced to disclose their passwords. While providers have a responsibility to assist the police in search or surveillance operations if it is within their existing technical capabilities, such assistance should not involve any act that would undermine the information security of their products and services or compromise the privacy of their clients as a whole.
Meanwhile, if the government ever asks you for your passwords, I recommend refusing. They'll threaten you with jail or a fine, but if the alternative is incriminating yourself (and by definition they are asking you to do so), then you should refuse to do so.

You can read the full report here.

Drawn

A ballot for two Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Insurance (Prompt Settlement of Claims for Uninhabitable Residential Property) Bill (Stuart Smith)
  • Social Security (Exemption for Ex Gratia and Compensation Payments) Amendment Bill (Willow-Jean Prime)

Neither bill seems likely to be particularly controversial.

This is the first ballot since April, and there were 83 bills in the biscuit tin today, making it the largest ever.

Bougainville votes for independence

Earlier in the month, Bougainvilleans went to the polls in a landmark referendum to decide on whether they would remain part of Papua New Guinea or become independent. Yesterday, the results came in, with over 97% support for independence. The referendum wasn't binding - instead it means negotiations with the PNG government - but as part of the peace agreement which ended the civil war on the island, you'd expect it to be respected (and you'd expect New Zealand, which helped broker that agreement, to push for that). So hopefully in a few years time the Pacific will have a new nation.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019



Reviewing the whitewash

Back in 2015, then Ombudsman Beverley Wakem conducted a review of the OIA, Not a game of hide and seek. The "review" was a whitewash, which found no need for legislative change, and instead criticised the media and requesters - which destroyed Wakem's reputation, and undermined that of the Office of the Ombudsman in general. But it did recommend some minor practice improvements around how agencies internally handled requests. Now, the current Ombudsman is doing a followup investigation into the agencies the report was originally based on, to see if anything has changed:

The Chief Ombudsman is launching a new inquiry into whether central government agencies have addressed any weaknesses identified in a landmark investigation five years ago.

Peter Boshier told Parliament’s Government Administration Committee this morning that ‘now is the right time’ to revisit the 12 representative agencies involved in Not a game of hide and seek, the Ombudsman’s 2015 investigation into Official Information Act compliance and practice.

[...]

Published in December 2015, Not a game of hide and seek was initiated by former Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem, in response to growing concerns that some agencies or Ministers were ‘gaming’ the OIA. The investigation found that while agencies overall met the required standards, there were definite improvements to be made.

“I really have to find out about what has changed since the original report was published,” Mr Boshier says.


The agencies being surveyed are ACC; Department of Corrections; Ministry of Education; Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Justice; New Zealand Customs Service; NZDF; New Zealand Transport Agency; Ministry of Social Development; Ministry of Transport; State Services Commission. If you've requested anything from them in the last 12 months, then there's a survey here you can fill out. The Ombudsman will use the results to find out what needs to be investigated further.

The results should be interesting. But what will happen if, as expected, nothing has really changed? More slaps with the wet bus-ticket?

Climate Change: Accountability?

We've known about climate change for over forty years now,and it has been a major political issue for twenty. And yet fossil fuel companies have kept polluting with impunity, while government have looked the other way and twiddled their thumbs and refused to do anything because "the economy", or just because its too hard. And one of the reasons for this is that none of those involved fear being held accountable for it in any way. Its not as if they're ever going to go to jail for burning the planet, right?

Wrong:

The world’s most polluting companies could be sued for their contributions to global warming, a major human rights inquiry has found in what has been described as a “landmark victory for climate justice”.

The head of a Philippines Commission on Human Rights panel, which has been investigating climate change for three years, revealed its conclusions on Monday that major fossil fuel firms may be held legally responsible for the impacts of their carbon emissions.

[...]

The commission was tasked in 2016 by Greenpeace South-East Asia and other local environmental groups whether 47 of the world’s biggest fossil fuel firms – including Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and Total – were violating the rights of Filipino citizens. It held hearings in Manila, New York and London where it heard from scientists, lawyers and people who had suffered from climate-related disasters.

Its final report, which has yet to be published, will say that these companies have clear legal and moral responsibilities to act, which includes shifting away from fossil fuels and investing in cleaner energy sources.


The next step is to drag the fuckers into court for their ongoing global human rights violations. Because climate change is not some abstract, impersonal force. It is the result of decisions by individuals. Like the slogan says, the planet is not dying, it is being killed - and those responsible have names and addresses. And it is time we put them on trial and held them accountable for it.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day - which is weird, because there was one just last week. But by agreement of the Business Committee, the House has devoted this morning to Member's business, presumably because they're not expecting to do so next week. And they're motoring through it: so far they have done the committee stage of Chlöe Swarbrick's Election Access Fund Bill, passed Ian McKelvie's Dog Control (Category 1 Offences) Amendment Bill, voted down Rino Tirikatene's Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill (NZ First uniting with fellow racists National on this), and sent Darroch Ball's Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill to select committee. They're currently debating Ginny Andersen's Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No 2), which seems like it has cross-party support so far, and it looks like they'll even make a start on Melissa Lee's Broadcasting (New Zealand on Air and Te Māngai Pāho Reporting Requirements) Amendment Bill. Which means we might even get a ballot tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019



Status quo supports status quo

The Justice Committee has reported back on its Inquiry into the 2017 General Election and 2016 Local Elections, with a host of recommendations about how to improve our electoral systems. Some of their recommendations are already incorporate din the Electoral Amendment Bill currently before Parliament, but there's also a recommendation to give the Electoral Commission investigative powers, to have local body elections run by the Electoral Commission and standardise the voting system, and align local and national-level election donation and advertising regimes. On election funding, the major parties abuse the select committee report to sling shit at one another over their dodgy behaviour, while making only mild recommendations to investigate closing loopholes, rather than actually doing anything about them. But there is a helpful suggestion to introduce a generalised anti-avoidance clause in the donations regime, to replace all the specific (but functionally identical) offences.

On the negative side, there's the usual big party stitchups, so National and Labour agree that they should be allowed to see who has voted by being given access to master rolls during elections, and they agree that local body candidates who aren't from a "registered party" should be forbidden from claiming an affiliation they don't like (we can call this the Andy Asquith Amendment). Oh, and they want the spies to talk to political parties about candidates they think are a risk of foreign interference, which effectively involves them in the political process and invites them to leak and campaign by stealth against people they don't like (as they do in the UK). And meanwhile, on the voting age or further democratising MMP, its a "meh". Both parties like the status quo just how it is, and don't want to make it easier for people to have their views represented in Parliament, or allow other voices representation.

Overall, this review was a lost opportunity to improve our democracy, as usual. If we want real change, we need to change our entire political class.

The Greens abandon NeoLiberalism

Back in 2017, in order to make themselves "electable" in the eyes of rich people who oppose everything they stand for, the Greens signed up for NeoLiberalism, adopting a restrictive set of "Budget Responsibility Rules" which basicly prevented them from using government to make things better. Now, they're finally abandoning them:

The Green Party are ditching their commitment to the restrictive Budget Responsibility Rules, which set targets for lowering government debt and spending.

[...]

The most stringent rules include a commitment to reduce net core crown debt to less than 20 per cent of GDP within five years, and to keep government spending at or below 30 per cent of GDP.

These rules have caused serious upset within the Green Party base and caucus, with both female co-leadership candidates committing to get rid of them during the 2018 leadership race.

The rules went out for review earlier this year and the party's policy group have now decided to scrap them, replacing them with a new economic policy that promotes greater public spending.


Good. And now, they might be able to pursue some actual Green policy around inequality and underinvestment, rather than being tied to maintaining the unjust and broken status quo. A Green Party in government should mean change, not more of the fucking same.

Lying about a failed war

Since invading in 2001, the US has consistently claimed that their war in Afghanistan has been going well, even when it continued year after year after year. Of course, they were lying, and thanks to the Washington Post and the US Freedom of Information Act, we get to see just how big those lies were:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.

With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.


This was a war that cost a trillion dollars and at least 120,000 Afghan lives, plus ~3,000 or so invaders and occupiers. And they had no idea what they were even trying to achieve, let alone how to do it. The sheer folly and waste is appalling. And meanwhile, statistics were manipulated and lies told to keep the public in the dark about it.

There's an obvious parallel with the Pentagon Papers, which exposed similar folly and lies about the US's involvement in Vietnam. But they had to be leaked; here, they were obtained under the FOIA - though only after the Post had gone to court twice. You'd hope that this exposure would lead to some accountability, or at least some change - but the US political system is so utterly dysfunctional that that seems highly unlikely. They won't learn anything, and it'll be all aboard for the next endless war.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has blown at least $300 million and ten lives on this shitshow, a war our "allies" knew was a failure all along. And yet, we kept contributing year after year. I'm wondering now whether NZDF ever did a similar "lessons learned" exercise, or had any assessment of their actual progress, and if so, whether it was shared with the Ministers signing off on those continued deployments. And no matter what the answer to that is, its not going to look good for anyone.

Monday, December 09, 2019



Another bus lockout

Over the past year we've seen major bus problems in Hamilton and Wellington, as drivers have sought better wages and an end to the bullshit of split shifts, which basicly see them "married to the job". And now its Auckland's turn. When NZBus's drivers planned low-level strike action of not collecting fares, NZBus locked them out and cancelled all services:

Thousands of commuters in Auckland will have their ride home from work disrupted this evening as a third of the city's buses remain out of action due to a heated industrial dispute.

Drivers working for NZ Bus are asking for more pay and better working conditions, and the buses they drive are out of action until the dispute is settled.

Its the latest example of the problems with the contracting model, which sees bus companies making lowball bids, then gouging the profit out of their workers - and then simply refusing to perform the contract when the workers fight back. Contracting out undermines both pay and conditions, and the reliability of the service. As for the solution, its obvious: bring bus services back under the direct control of councils, to remove the incentives to lowball and gouge.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to donate to the union's strike fund, details are below:

Climate Change: Showing us how its done

The government has been congratulating itself over the passage of the Zero Carbon Act, which sets out long-term emissions targets. But those targets are insufficient. Meanwhile, Denmark is showing us how its done:

Denmark’s parliament adopted a new climate law on Friday, committing to reach 70% below its 1990 emissions in the next eleven years.

The law targets carbon neutrality by 2050 and includes a robust monitoring system. New legally-binding targets will be set every five years, with a ten-year perspective. The first of these will be set in 2020.

In what the government claims is a first for a national legislature, the new law also has a commitment to climate engagement internationally. This includes an ongoing obligation to deliver on international agreements, including climate finance to developing countries.

The government will need to provide an annual global report on the international effects of Danish climate action, as well as the effects of Danish imports and consumption. It will also need to provide a strategy for how its foreign, development and trade policy is driving international climate action.


Its both a broader law, and a more ambitious one. In particular, that 70% by 2030 target shows us what we should be doing. But instead of setting that sort of target, and backing it up with policies to match, our politicians sold us out to the dairy industry, sacrificing our future so 23,000 farming families could pretend their businesses were profitable for a few more years. And we should not tolerate that any longer.

New Fisk

When you follow the gun trail, you sometimes end up in unexpected places

Public sector dysfunction should not be allowed to undermine freedom of information

Another day, another piece of legislation with a secrecy clause. This time its the innocuous-seeming Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission Bill, which (after establishing a new body and making it subject to the OIA in three different ways) includes the rapidly-becoming-standard clauses enabling it to request information from other public agencies (subject to specified withholding grounds), combined with a generalised duty of secrecy. While there are exemptions to that duty, and advice on similar clauses suggest they may allow release under the OIA, that's by no means certain. Ombudsman's caselaw around such clauses suggests that the generalised duty of secrecy combined with s18(c)(i) OIA means that information subject to such a duty is not in fact "available to the public", and release is not "provided for", let alone required, by law. So the effect of such clauses is to expand secrecy, making public information secret.

Why do such clauses exist? They do not protect any public interest in protecting information which should properly be withheld from disclosure — the Official Information Act already does that! Instead, they exist because the public service does not trust itself, or each other. Advice on the similar provisions in the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission/Te Waihanga Act 2019 made clear that the primary concern driving such clauses was loss of trust from originating agencies if requested information was "mishandled" by being released to the public. Agencies such as SSC were concerned that there could be a loss of "business confidence" if private sector information was released (not an issue with the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission Bill), and a loss of "public confidence" if "sensitive information" was released against the wishes of the originating agency. Except that where the OIA is concerned, originating agencies are consulted as a matter of course, and release is weighed against the statutory withholding grounds in the Act. So what such clauses actually express is that, from the top down, public sector agencies do not trust one another to either consult each other, or do their jobs properly.

The public's right to access public information should not be undermined because of such institutional dysfunction.

Friday, December 06, 2019



New Fisk

Meet the controversial actor and businessman standing up against Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

Faafoi should be fired

Newshub last night reported that Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi had apparently promised to help out a mate with an immigration issue. While its normal for people to approach MPs for assistance in this area, when you're a Minister, the rules are different: as the Cabinet Manual says, Ministers must "at all times... behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards". And this means avoiding even the perception that family or associates are gaing advantage or special access. From the reports, Faafoi was very aware of this, saying that "If I deal with it directly, I will have a conflict of interest". He also repeatedly says that he "can't put anything in writing" and that "it can't be plastered over FB". Which is basicly an admission of guilt. If Ardern doesn't sack him, then it will be clear that it is not just NZ First Ministers she tolerates corruption from.

Thursday, December 05, 2019



Climate Change: The shameful reality

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

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

[...]

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

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


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

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

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

More secrecy

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 04, 2019



A "coincidence"

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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


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

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

Member's Day

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

Worse than I thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cannabis bill and the referendum

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

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

Climate Change: Alignment

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, December 03, 2019



More bad faith

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

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

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

This is bullshit, and our democracy deserves better

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

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

Reforming the Education Acts

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

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

Monday, December 02, 2019



Loosening the purse strings

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

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

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

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

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


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

Climate Change: How to get there

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

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

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

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

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

5. Plant enough trees to cover any emissions gaps.


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

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

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