Friday, September 18, 2020



Why we need cameras on boats

In case anyone needed further convincing, there's another example today of why we need cameras on fishing boats: reported seabird bycatch doubled during a camera trial:

Commercial fishers operating off Auckland's coast around vulnerable seabirds are twice as likely to report accidentally capturing them when cameras are on board.

That's according to a trial where bottom-longline fishers voluntarily carried cameras on their boats to see how practices affected the nationally vulnerable black petrel - the species most at risk from commercial fisheries in New Zealand.

A Fisheries NZ report on the trial, over 2016/2017, found seabird captures on the pilot fleet, operating in the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty, was around twice as high when the vessels had cameras on board than when they were without cameras.

It is highly unlikely that these boats were accidentally catching seabirds twice as often only when cameras were on board. Instead, it seems more likely that they were always catching this many, and simply not reporting it. Which is a crime, and something we should be trying to prosecute them for.

Opportunistic looting

The National Party has spent the last six months acting horrified at the cost of supporting people through the pandemic and banging on about how the debt must be repaid. So what was their economic policy released today? Massive tax-cuts for the rich, of course!

National has walked back on its controversial debt target, promising big tax cuts and a much looser debt target in its alternative budget.

[...]

The big sweetener is a temporary tax cut. This is achieved by lifting each of the tax thresholds on December 1. The 10.5 per cent threshold would rise from $14,000 to $20,000, with the 17.5 per cent threshold lifting to income between $20,001 and $64,000.

The 30 per cent threshold would apply to income between $64,001 and $90,000 and the 33 per cent threshold would apply to income above that.

But these cuts would be temporary, expiring before the next election, so its hard to see them as anything other than an shady election bribe. And naturally, the biggest beneficiaries will be those on the highest incomes, with someone on $90,000 getting over seven times as much as someone on $30,000. Meanwhile, they'll be paying for it with massive cuts to public services, slashing the health system which has saved us all during the pandemic. And they have the gall to call this "Responsible economic management". Its not. Instead, its just more opportunistic looting by National for the benefit of its rich cronies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020



Barbados to become a republic

Barbados is planning to remove the queen as head of state and become a republic in time for the 55th anniversary of its independence in 2021:

Barbados has announced its intention to remove the Queen as its head of state and become a republic by November 2021.

[...]

Reading the speech, governor-general Dame Sandra Mason said: “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind. Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state.

“This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.

“Hence, Barbados will take the next logical step toward full sovereignty and become a republic by the time we celebrate our 55th anniversary of independence.”

This was actually recommended by a constitutional review over 20 years ago, but never implemented. Now, they're finally doing it. Meanwhile, NZ is doing nothing, and continuing under a feudal constitution which embeds inequality and vests titular authority in a foreigner on the other side of the world. We should really do something about that, and not just leave it until the current incumbent dies.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020



A flaw in our electoral transparency regime

A key part of our electoral funding regime is a requirement for some transparency around donations, on the basis that if we can find out who has bought our politicians (typically after we have voted for them) then everything is alright. There are a lot of problems with that regime - it needs to be more transparent, with lower declaration thresholds and realtime disclosure so voters are fully informed - but last week we were reminded of another one: it simply does not apply to unregistered parties. And this has turned into a quarter of a million dollar problem:

More than $255,000 in donations have been made to a political party that never registered, a loophole in electoral laws that a political expert says is “unprecedented”.

The New Zealand Public Party has come under fire by former members and staffers who allege up to $100,000 in koha collected at events, and kept in a tin under leader Billy Te Kahika’s bed, is unaccounted for.

Complaints were laid to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the Electoral Commission about missing donations however no investigations are resulting from the complaints.

The Electoral Commission said because NZPP never registered as a party it has no obligation to report donations.

The prevailing assumption has been that parties would register if they possibly could in order to contest the party vote, thus bringing them under the transparency regime, while those that did not register would be small. That held for 25 years, but quarter of a million dollars is a hell of a lot of money - more than some registered parties declare - and certainly enough that we want to know where it is coming from and what the people giving it want in exchange. And the fact that this is outside the disclosure regime also invites similar games in the future around unregistered component parties being used to launder donations and hide funding sources from the public.

As for how to fix it, separating registration for the party vote from registering for transparency seems to be an obvious solution. The requirement for 500 members works for the former, as it establishes a minimal level of credibility while not being too onerous. We could have a much lower requirement for the latter (with broadcasting funding being the encouragement), and a legal requirement for parties contesting more than, say, 10 electorates to register or submit donation and spending returns as if they were registered. This would avoid interfering with the normal unregistered parties (which typically run two or three candidates, and the "party" is really just a name to put next to them on the ballot paper), while ensuring we have transparency over groups potentially spending significant amounts of money.

Climate Change: Carbon prices must rise

When Parliament introduced the Emissions Trading Scheme, it was worried that carbon prices might get too high. So it introduced a "fixed price option", allowing polluters to pay the government $25 in the place of surrendering credits. The result was predictable: after we were thrown out of international carbon markets and the supply of low-price Russian fraud was cut off, prices spiked to the cap, and then everyone started just paying it, creating a huge stockpile of credits which can be used in future. Meanwhile, the artificially low price meant that some abatement options which might otherwise have happened, didn't - so we polluted more than we needed to.

To "fix" this, last year the government raised the cap to $35 from 1 January. And you'll never guess what has happened: prices are once again at the cap (in just nine months), so polluters will be paying it and stockpiling credits for later, compromising all future carbon budgets.

What this tells us is that the government is consistently setting its price cap too low. Even the $50 cap which will supposedly apply next year (in the form of a trigger point for the government flooding the market with credits which it does not have and blowing the carbon budget) is probably too low. If we want the ETS to actually work, we need to remove the cap, and let the market set the price. This will mean some polluters will be unable to pay the new price, while dirty farmers will face more competition from trees. But that's the fucking point. Market mechanisms work by making some behaviour - polluting - less profitable than other behaviour - not polluting. It allows clean producers to outcompete dirty ones. By artificially capping the price, the government is preventing that process from working, and thus hamstringing our climate change response. And all to protect dirty, outdated producers who could not compete if they paid the true price of their activities.

Carbon prices need to rise. Until that happens, we're never going to get anywhere. It is that simple.

Climate Change: Disclosure

The government will finally be requiring large New Zealand companies to disclose their climate change risks:

New Zealand finance companies will be made to report on climate change risk, Climate Change Minister James Shaw has announced.

The policy will force around 200 large financial organisations in New Zealand to disclose how exposed their business and investments are to climate-change related risk.

Any bank, credit union, building society, investment scheme, insurer, or Crown Financial Institution with more than $1b in assets will be required to either disclose this risk or explain why it has not.

These 200 or so institutions will cover 90 per cent of the assets controlled in New Zealand, and includes large crown investors like ACC and the NZ Super Fund.

Its a good, if minor policy - partly because it will help make these companies aware themselves of the risks they face, and therefore get them taking steps to manage it, and partly because it will let investors in those companies do the same. And the result should be direct financial pressure to reduce climate change risks by reducing emissions, divesting from polluters, and moving facilities away from at-risk areas. Obviously, its not sufficient, but its a good backing for the ETS.

Climate Change: No nonsense

ACT is pushing a "no-nonsense climate change plan". What does it involve? Repealing the Zero Carbon Act and Emissions Trading Scheme, reversing the fossil-fuel exploration ban, and allowing mining on conservation land. In other words, repealing any policy which might actually reduce emissions. Which is the very definition of nonsensical.

So what would an actual "no nonsense" plan look like? Our main problem is agriculture (90% of which is exported), and everything else - electricity, industrial gas use, even transport - is really tinkering around the edges. So while I'd ban new fossil fuel development and use, sunset existing fossil fuel infrastructure, drive industrial electrification and uptake of EVs, and invest heavily in renewable electricity to power it all cleanly, the real carbon reduction policy comes down to one thing: massively reducing cow numbers. We can do that with water policy, we can do it with stocking limits and resource consent conditions, but the easiest way is just to remove the ETS price cap, let carbon prices rise as high as they want, and let the market do the work of planting trees to drive farmers off the land.

This is already happening. Farmers are complaining that it is twice as profitable for them to plant trees than farm sheep or beef. That is the market sending them a signal, and if they are too stupid to listen, then they deserve to go bankrupt. In which case, their land will likely be bought by someone for trees, on the basis that profitable uses will drive out unprofitable ones.

This does mean that we get pine monoculture, which is suboptimal. All things being equal, I would prefer to see native forest restored. But any tree which gets rid of a cow is a good tree. And even if they all burn down in a decade or two, that's however many years of avoided agricultural emissions, which is the real benefit - and the real point. The aim of New Zealand climate change policy must be to reverse land use away from agriculture. Any drawdown from the atmosphere is just a bonus.

Monday, September 14, 2020



A bill to criminalise wage theft

Wage theft is a problem in New Zealand, with a widespread practice of forcing employees to work without pay, and regular cases of underpayment and exploitation. One reason why its such a widespread problem is impunity: rather than a crime, wage theft is merely a tort, dealt with by the Employment Tribunal (at the employee's expense) rather than the police - apparently it not being theft if rich people do it. There is an obvious fix for this: make it a crime. Now lawyer Graeme Edgeler has drafted a bill for an easy fix: making the existing crime of "theft by person in special relationship" (or, as police frequently and tellingly call it, "theft as a servant") apply to case of wage theft:

It would be nice if some MP would take this up and put it in the ballot. It would be better if a party did it, and made it official policy. Apparently, there's a party out there which claims to stand for workers. I wonder what they think of it?

More timid bullshit from Labour

Over the weekend, Labour released its welfare policy: an increase in benefit abatement thresholds. And that's it. Faced with clear evidence of ongoing hardship among beneficiaries and a call from its on Welfare Expert Advisory Group to raise core benefits by between 12 percent and 47 percent, Labour's response is to tinker around the edges. Its not bad as such - while tiny and pathetic, this change will improve lives - but its just so much less than what is needed.

There's an obvious comparison here with their pathetic tax policy, and it highlights just how timid Labour - the most popular government for a generation - is. Jack Tame hits the hits the nail on the head when he says that Ardern has always taken the safe option:

What's the bravest thing Labour and the Prime Minister have done during their first term in Government? What was the last truly difficult issue for which you saw Jacinda Ardern make a public stand? As Labour leader and Prime Minister, has she ever backed a big policy where the majority of voters weren't on her side? Maybe gun reform ... maybe? No, I don't think so. The heavy lifting on that was done in the days after a massacre when public support was greater than it might have otherwise been.

The truth is, this is an historically popular PM but at many or most of the difficult political crossroads of the last three years, she and her party have chosen the safe option. The popular option as opposed to what might actually be in the greater interests of our society. Ardern ruled out changes to superannuation for as long as she remains leader, despite previously supporting it. As Prime Minister, she chose not to publicly fight for a Capital Gains Tax. And I know the structure of this Government has meant she had to get New Zealand First over the line in Cabinet. But there's nothing that stops a Prime Minister from using her popularity to really try and sell a difficult policy to the public, if he or she thinks it's the right thing to do.

Or just say "we'll see what the people think at the election".

Ardern's popularity and competence could be leveraged to sell left-wing policy. And given the crisis we are in and the obvious, public failure of NeoLiberalism, it would be largely pushing on an open door. People can see that New Zealand is broken, with rampant inequality, rotting infrastructure, and a housing crisis fucking over a whole generation. And we know that it didn't used to be this way - that we used to tax the rich, fund the health and education systems, and build enough state houses to keep rents under control. We just want what we used to have. But for Labour, that's apparently too much, too "risky" now. But by offering nothing, promising that their policy will be effectively identical to that of the opposition and that a vote won't produce change, they risk de-legitimising our entire political system, as has effectively happened in the UK and the USA.

Labour is probably happy with that. They'll keep collecting their huge salaries and perks regardless. The rest of us shouldn't be. Meanwhile, the message they are sending is clear: if you want change, vote for someone else.

Friday, September 11, 2020



The UK wants climate action

Back in 2019, six select committees of the UK Parliament established a Citizen's Assembly to investigate how to respond to climate change. The Assembly's deliberations were forced online by the pandemic, but it has finally reported back, and overwhelmingly supports strong action:

Taxes that increase as people fly further and more often should be introduced to help cut carbon, the UK’s first citizens’ assembly on climate change has recommended.

The final report from Climate Assembly UK also supports a ban on sales of new gas boilers and new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2030-2035 to help Britain meet its legal goal to cut emissions to “net zero” by mid-century.

The recommendations for tackling climate change from the citizens’ assembly also include voluntary reductions in meat and dairy from diets, and planting and managing forests to help soak up excess carbon emissions.

The question now is whether the UK government will listen, or whether the frequent-flying, SUV-driving establishment will refuse to accept any limits on their pollution.

Meanwhile, it would be good to see such an exercise here, to help inform our carbon budgeting process. Or do we want to be less democratic than Britain?

Underwhelming

Transport is our second biggest polluter after agriculture, making up 17% of our national emissions. Cars and trucks emit 15 million tons of CO2 every year. So, if we're serious about tackling climate change, we need to eliminate this entirely. Public transport and better urban design will be a key part of that, but the best, easiest thing we can do to make a start is to push hard to drive uptake of electric vehicles, forcing dirty fossil-fuelled cars off the road. Which means feebate schemes and a phaseout timeline for fossil-fuelled cars (which means a date for an import ban and a date for a registration ban outside of museums).

The government has already flubbed this, with a business-as-usual energy policy that does nothing new for EVs. So what's National's answer? Sadly, even worse. They're set a target for EV numbers which is barely more than business-as-usual projections (so, not really a target at all then), while their chief policy to drive uptake is to let EVs drive in bus lanes while exempting them from road user charges (that is, from paying for the damage they cause to the roads). Both policies obviously only work if EV numbers remain low - that is, if they are ineffective - while the bus lane proposal actually means slowing down public transport, which actively makes things worse.

This is not the policy of a party which is serious about reducing emissions and tackling climate change. But then, we already knew that about National, didn't we?

Stewardship land is conservation land

The Greens' greatest disappointment while in government this term has been the failure to implement a ban on mining on conservation land. Promised by Jacinda Ardern immediately after gaining power, it had long been assumed that the problem was NZ First (who have a long history of environmental vandalism). But it turns out that the real problem all along was Labour, who are refusing to commit to a ban and playing semantics over "stewardship land" and "conservation land":

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked on Thursday why the Government has continued approving mining on conservation land since 2017, despite promising it wouldn't happen when she took office.

"One of the things we have been working through, and has taken a little bit of time to work through, has been the difference between conservation and stewardship land," Ardern said.

"We have large amounts of land that are technically under stewardship land where these applications often apply and that's been one of the things as a Government we've been trying to resolve."

The problem: stewardship land is conservation land. It's right there in the interpretation clause: "stewardship area means a conservation area..." (that is not subject to specific protections). And while not subject to specific, high-level protections like a reserve or national park, the fact that it is a "conservation area" means it is held for "conservation purposes", meaning "the preservation and protection of natural and historic resources for the purpose of maintaining their intrinsic values, providing for their appreciation and recreational enjoyment by the public, and safeguarding the options of future generations". And just for additional emphasis, there's a specific clause requiring stewardship land to be "managed that its natural and historic resources are protected". A mining ban is absolutely consistent with this. Or, to turn it around, allowing mining on stewardship land is prima facie inconsistent with it, and can only be done where the stewardship land has no natural or historic resources to protect.

What these word games show is that Labour is two-faced on conservation, and won't stick even to its clear commitments. Which isn't really surprising. After all, remember how they handled the offshore gas exploration ban: make a big announcement, then immediately undermine it by extending permits where-ever possible. This is just more of the same. They want the green cred for making the announcement, but don't actually want to follow through with actual meaningful policy (see also: "my generation's nuclear free moment"). And if wondering why the Greens might not want to be in government with them, shit like this is why.

The price of Green co-operation just went up

If they get into Parliament, everyone expects the Greens to form a coalition with Labour. But James Shaw has said that that might not be the case, and that they might instead choose to sit on the cross-benches:

The Greens are prepared to forego a coalition or confidence and supply arrangement and sit on the crossbenches if post-election talks do not go their way.

Co-leader James Shaw made the comments on Thursday, saying the only post-election deal that was off the table completely was one which would give National power.

However, he said if the Greens held the balance of power it was "always a possibility" that it would walk away from negotiations with Labour if they could not get the gains they wanted.

If there was no coalition or confidence and supply agreement, that would force a minority Labour government to seek the Greens' support for legislation on a case-by-case basis. He wouldn't say what the Greens' bottom lines in those talks were, but said a "wealth tax" was a "top priority".

Labour people, who see being government as essential to delivering change (which then somehow never arrives) are boggled by this. But for the Greens, its worth considering. Because unlike Labour, they're in politics to actually change things, and they have a long history of doing so from opposition (just look at all the Green policies Labour and National have been forced to adopt as the Greens have won the argument with the public). And while being in government in theory gives you greater capacity to do that, the past three years have delivered a bitter lesson that its not all its cracked up to be, that being a Minister isn't worth shit if your proposals are consistently vetoed by your "partners", while core coalition commitments are ignored. Compared with that, just sitting there, delivering confidence and supply and support on a narrow range of agreed policies while holding the government to ransom on everything else (and vetoing anything contrary to your values) seems kindof attractive. After all, it worked for Winston in Cabinet; the Greens would simply be being honest about the relationship.

Of course, its not up to Shaw: decisions on support arrangements are ultimately in the hands of the Green membership. Who have no interest in who gets a Ministerial salary or free limo rides, and who Labour has just taught to be highly sceptical of the benefits of being in government. So, if Labour wants to persuade them that This Time Will Be Different, that they really are a trustworthy partner, they are going to have to be very persuasive indeed, and commit to actual change. Because if all they want to do is more status quo bullshit, they can do that without a Green fig-leaf, and take the blame themselves.

(And of course the entire discussion could be academic, in that the Greens might not make it back into Parliament. In which case them's the breaks. I'm confident the movement will survive a term out, and would just switch to an activist / protest track to pursue change instead).

Thursday, September 10, 2020



Labour on energy: Business as usual

Labour has released its energy policy, and its basicly business as usual: bring forward the 100% renewable target to 2030, build pumped storage if the business case stacks up, restore the thermal ban and clean car standard (but not the feebate scheme), and spread a bit of money around to help push industrial electrification. Which is all stuff they're doing now - or in the case of the clean car standard, wanted to do but were thwarted by Winston. Its not bad as such - Labour has been on a pretty good trajectory on energy policy - but at the same time its just business as usual, which doesn't seem nearly enough. The world is literally burning down around us, and our government needs to show some fucking urgency.

So what's missing? Just look at the Green policy to see the gaps. Labour isn't interested in pushing mass solarisation (which is a no-brainer at current prices, and would help lower power prices for everyone), they won't set a deadline to phase out coal and gas industrial heat, and while they are saying smurfy, positive things about electric vehicles, they're not doing anything to actually drive uptake. Sure, they're not being actively harmful, they're not pushing coal or promising to burn dolphins for fuel or anything. But in the current circumstances, anything less than maximum effort is a betrayal of the future. This policy is not good enough. Labour needs to do better.

Climate Change: Overshoot

California is burning down again. In Oregon, the city of Medford - a town the size of Palmerston North - has had to be evacuated due to the fires. In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Rene has become the earliest "R"-storm to form since records began, beating the previous record by 10 days. The Thwaites Glacier is melting from below. If this sounds bad, its because it is: we look to be on track to exceed the 1.5 degree safe limit as early as 2024:

The Paris climate agreement seeks to limit global warming to 1.5℃ this century. A new report by the World Meteorological Organisation warns this limit may be exceeded by 2024 – and the risk is growing.

This first overshoot beyond 1.5℃ would be temporary, likely aided by a major climate anomaly such as an El NiƱo weather pattern. However, it casts new doubt on whether Earth’s climate can be permanently stabilised at 1.5℃ warming.

Despite the promises made in Paris, we've kept polluting, pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere, driving temperatures higher and higher. We are already beginning to pay the price for that, in fire, flood, storms, and death. And that price is going to get higher the longer we can continue.

We can still stop this. It requires sustained global action to cut emissions and decarbonise our economies. We have the technology to do this. What we need is the policies to make us use that technology. We have an election next month, and that is our chance to make that happen. Or would you rather wait around to burn and drown and die of heatstroke?

Says it all

What's wrong with Labour? The end of yesterday's RNZ health debate says it all:

Do you have private health insurance?

Reti: "I do."

Hipkins: "Yes, I do."

Hipkins is Minister of Health. But it turns out that he won't be waiting in the queue with the rest of us plebs if he gets sick. He is literally not in the same boat as the rest of us (something we already knew from his nearly three hundred thousand dollar a year Ministerial salary). He clearly has no faith in the system he administers. So why should we have faith in him, or trust him to make that system work, when he refuses to risk suffering for its failures?

And while we're at it, Hipkins is also Minister of Education. Does he send his kids to private schools too?

Wednesday, September 09, 2020



If not now, when?

I'm grappling with my sheer fucking anger over Labour's pathetic tax policy. Yes, it utterly contradicts their pretence of being a "centre-left" party and shows that they have no interest whatsoever in fixing any of the problems facing New Zealand. Yes, its self-inflicted helplessness, which will allow them to cry "we have no money" for another three years in response to every call to fix our rotting schools and hospitals. But more than that, its the sheer wasted opportunity.

The government keeps telling us we are living in an unprecedented, once-in-a-hundred-years crisis. It has compared that crisis to a world war, and they're not wrong in that. And like the world wars, it is borrowing tens of billions of dollars to pay for it, in this case by keeping us all afloat and housed and fed. In the past, these sorts of crises has led to the conscription of wealth: the First World War saw the top income tax rate rise from 6.67% (income taxes not really being a thing then) to 43.75%, while the second saw it increase to 90%. And these increases were widely supported because people recognised the crisis, understood the need to pay for it, and knew we were all in it together.

In his speech announcing the policy, Grant Robertson said it was about all of us "pitching in". Except we're not. Backbench MPs, some of the highest earners in the country, will not pay a cent more in tax. So, in this unprecedented, once-in-a-hundred-years crisis, we clearly are not all in it together. The poor will continue to pay taxes on every dollar we earn, just as we always have. But most of the rich won't be expected to contribute anything extra, and they certainly won't be expected to pay anything on their untaxed wealth, land, or capital gains. And its telling that backbench MPs, some of the highest earners in the country, won't pay a cent more under Labour's policy. Because perish the thought that the political elite contribute in any way to the country.

Like climate change, its a massive disjoint between rhetoric and policy. But its also a huge wasted opportunity. The public understands we are in a crisis, we know it comes with huge costs, and we understand the need for shared sacrifice. Which means this is also an unprecedented opportunity to reshape New Zealand, to start undoing the damage done by 30 years of NeoLiberalism, to put us on a sounder, more equal footing. Labour is wasting this opportunity, claiming that the time isn't right for change. But if not now, when?

Is that it?

Labour announced its tax policy today: a new top tax rate of 39% on income over $180,000. And that's it. No intermediate rate between the current top rate of 33% at $70,000 and the new one. No land tax. No wealth tax. Nothing (in fact worse than nothing, because they are explicitly ruling out anything else, while proposing tax levels lower than those proposed by Don Brash). A perfect moment to use the current crisis to tackle inequality and rebalance New Zealand society, wasted.

But then, that's the modern Labour Party, isn't it? A bunch of rich pricks all paid at least $160,000 a year, sitting on investment properties and hidden wealth in trusts, pretending to care about people poorer than them in a cynical effort to gain power. But when you look at what they actually do, as opposed to what they merely say, it turns out that what they're about is protecting and profiting from the unjust status quo.

If you want a fairer New Zealand, you need to vote for people who actually support one. And based on current policy, the only party who fits that criteria is the Greens. As for Labour, they are the problem, not the solution - a complete waste of political space. Don't vote for them.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020



Climate Change: Reviewing overallocation

Back in February, Stuff revealed that the government was planning to review industrial allocations under the Emissions Trading Scheme, due to concerns it was over-subsidising pollution and causing windfall gains for polluters. Now, it looks like that work is finally going ahead. Late last month, the government issued calls for the provision of data for four subsidised industries: cement, cardboard, lime, and cucumbers. Basicly, every major producer in these industries will be required to tell the government how much money it made and how much it polluted for the 2016-19 period. The results will be used to calculate new, and hopefully lower, allocation factors under the ETS, or to reclassify these industries from high to moderately trade-exposed, or to remove their subsidies entirely. Though it doesn't affect a lot of firms - according to the latest ETS allocations, there's only one producer of cardboard, one of cement, two of lime, and about ten for cucumbers receiving subsidies.

(Reading the briefing note on this, Shaw had originally proposed looking at iron and steelmaking, which means sticking it to BlueScope. For some reason, he changed his mind and decided to look at "protein meal" producers (freezing works), before going for lime instead. Sadly, no reason is given for the change).

There's also a briefing on the review itself, which suggests there will be a full review of industrial allocation (good), starting with a review of the Electricity Allocation Factor, which massively overestimated the amount of carbon in our electricity. Unfortunately, there's no indication of when this will start.

Meanwhile, two of the major polluters highlighted in the original news report - Refining NZ and BlueScope Steel - look like they're going to be shutting down or moving to ticket-clipping import operations, which is good news from an emissions POV. And insofar as it causes emissions leakage - unlikely in the case of BlueScope as their facility is one of the dirtiest steelmakers in the world - we can always load the extra carbon cost onto their imports and make them pay that way. In fact, I'm surprised we don't do that already for imported refined petroleum, in order to ensure a level playing-field.

Parliament's dereliction of duty on human rights

Last month, I submitted on the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill, arguing that while it was a step forward, Parliament had been a poor guardian of our human rights and that the bill needed to be stronger. Today, we have another example, in the Attorney-General's report of serious human rights problems with the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill, which violates the rights not to be subject to unreasonable search and seizure; not to be arbitrarily detained; and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The problems are fixable, and the select committee will almost certainly (mostly) fix them as a result of this report. So isn't this the system working as designed? No. Because the bill passed its first reading on 6 August, while the Attorney-General didn't report on it until 2 September - meaning that MPs voting on the first reading were deprived of crucial information on the bill they were voting on. Which is not how the BORA is meant to work.

But this wasn't just a fuckup: it was also illegal, because s7 of the BORA requires the Attorney-General to report on apparent inconsistencies when a Bill is introduced (in this case, on 30 July), not a month later after it has already passed its first reading. And this being a government bill, there was really no excuse for the failure. We can speculate about the reasons - internal dysfunction, a cynical abuse of power (an inviting interpretation given that Parker delivered a negative BORA vet against a member's bill on the same grounds just two years ago), but ultimately its irrelevant. What matters is that once again, the "safeguards" built into the BORA to ensure that the House takes our human rights seriously have been pissed on, and once again Parliament has shown itself to be derelict in its duty to protect our human rights. And the only credible response to their consistent refusal to do their job properly is to take it off them and give it to someone who will: the courts.

Finally, in the past Ministers have typically responded to negative BORA vets with a contemptuous response, effectively saying that they don't care. Sadly, it seems that the Greens' Julie Anne Genter has joined this vicious little club:

Genter said last year more than 100 people died in crashes where the driver was later found to have drugs in their system.

She said she was comfortable with the legislation cutting across the Bill of Rights if it saves lives.

Literally the first part of the Greens' human rights policy, in bold Green H3 lettering right at the top of the page, is "Legislation should always uphold human rights". Followed by "The Bill of Rights Act should bind the government". But I guess Genter cares about that as much as James Shaw cares about their Education policy calling for the defunding of private schools. Again, we expect better from the Greens. Genter is not Crusher Collins. So take off that Ministerial hat, and be better.

Correction: The second part of this post relied on Julie Anne Genter's words as reported by RNZ. I have been informed that Genter was misrepresented, and RNZ has now updated its story. She is now quoted as saying:

Genter said last year more than 100 people died in crashes where the driver was later found to have drugs in their system.

"Ultimately both random drug driving testing and the existing breath testing regime will push up against some of the rights under the Bill of Rights because we are asking a large number of innocent drivers to go through a mandatory test.

"Our ultimate goal is to balance those rights with people's rights to be safe on the road and protected from people who choose to drive while impaired."

Which seems like a much more appropriate view, and one which is consistent with Green Party policy. I apologise for comparing her to Judith Collins.

Monday, September 07, 2020



Recognising who we are now

Labour have pledged to make Matariki a public holiday if re-elected. Good. As I said last year when New Zealand Republic launched their petition campaign on the topic, Matariki is a day indigenous to New Zealand, and making it a holiday would recognise who are now: our own place, not a British colony. So this is a policy I wholeheartedly support.

At the same time, though, its not exactly a policy which targets the big issues facing us, is it? I want to know what Labour plans to do about climate change, inequality, housing, and water. And if their answer is just the status quo with an extra public holiday, then I'm just not interested.

National is on the side of landlords

Last year, the government finally established the healthy home standards required by the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act. Landlords would be required to provide homes actually fit for a dog to live in, with heating, insulation, and airflow. And now, National is promising to tear them up:

Landlords should wait to see if National wins October's election before spending money refitting their rentals up to new heating standards, a lobby group for property owners says.

The comments by the NZ Property Investors Federation have been labelled "deeply disappointing" by the Labour Party and questioned by the Real Estate Institute and the NZ Green Building Council.

The advice comes after National under new leader Judith Collins confirmed to the Herald it would tear up new Healthy Homes standards recently brought in by the Labour-led Government.

Instead, National says it will give tenants a "choice" to live in an unhealthy home. Which is basicly the "choice" they have now, the "choice" which literally kills children and hospitalises 30,000 people a year. But hey, its only poor kids dying, so why does National care? Especially when their landlord friends are making so much money by renting them uninhabitable ratholes?

Good landlords don't oppose these regulations. The ones who do are sociopathic monsters and stochastic murderers who wish to profit from killing. And National has made it clear they are firmly on the side of the latter. They're morally monsters, who deserve nothing but contempt. Don't vote for them.

Climate Change: Not walking the talk

The government talks a big game on climate change. According to Jacinda Ardern, it is "my generation's nuclear-free moment", which implies they will take strong action. But when actually in power, this government has been a failure, backing away from strong action in favour of the same old policies of delay and pandering to polluters. And its not just the big stuff: the "my generatiton's nuclear-free moment" government can't even be bothered to measure how much it is emitting:

Stuff asked nearly 50 central Government agencies to supply information relating to their annual greenhouse gas footprint.

Only eight were able to give complete, up-to-date data.

Stuff also asked the agencies if they had offsetting policies for staff and contractors, and whether the agency had, or was in the process of developing, an emissions reduction plan. The vast majority of agencies said no to both.

As they say, "you can't manage what you don't measure". The government's refusal to effectively measure its emissions makes it more difficult to reduce them, makes it more difficult to act. It also prevents them from offsetting them, which I guess to the bean-counters in Treasury is a way of saving money. But it also means there's no financial pressure to avoid or reduce polluting activities. So they've just shuffled the whole thing under the carpet.

And it didn't have to be this way. Back in 2007 the Clark government introduced the idea of the "Carbon Neutral Public Service" - getting the public service to report and reduce its emissions. Environmental vandals National axed it the moment they took power, of course - but weirdly this basic, obvious measure wasn't reinstated by Labour in 2017 (and if the Greens pushed them on it and failed, they haven't spoken up about it). Which shows how little the Ardern government really cares about the key issue of our times. Oh, they'll talk a big game when trying to convince people to vote for them, but in reality its just the same old business-as-usual - they're happy for us to all burn and drown provided Fonterra keeps making money for a few more years. We - and the planet - deserve better than that.

Friday, September 04, 2020



More bullshit half-measures

After dragging its feet for three years, the government has finally announced a plan to put cameras on fishing boats. Unfortunately, its a little underwhelming:

Minister of Fisheries Stuart Nash has announced a large cash investment from the Government to roll out cameras on commercial fishing vessels.

Nash made the announcement on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning, saying between $40 million and $60 million will used to pay for the cameras. The funding will be rolled out by the end of 2021.

[...]

Nash said by the end of 2024 there will be 345 cameras installed - about 84 per cent of the inshore fleet.

According to Greenpeace, there are ~1500 registered fishing boats. So we're actually looking at cameras on 20% of the fleet, a mere 11 years after trials began. And when you consider the pervasive criminality of the fishing industry - how widespread high-grading, under-reporting, and dumping is, it just looks like more bullshit half measures, a PR solution designed to look like the government is doing something, rather than real action. But then, that's what you get from Labour on everything.

What would real regulation look like? Cameras and observers on every boat to stop fishers from cheating. Cuts to quota to ensure fisheries are truly sustainable. And actual prosecutions, with jail time and boat seizures and post-conviction profit forfeiture, to drive those who will not obey the law out of the industry permanently. Because "business as usual" for fishers is actually a serious crime, and the government should treat it as such.

Thursday, September 03, 2020



There's a name for this...

The Labour Party is rorting its Parliamentary expenses to steal from the public again:

The Labour Party’s Hutt South wing has been running an apparently unusual subletting “arrangement” in which it gets cheap rent on office space off a local union, sublets the rooms to its local list MP Ginny Andersen, and then bills parliament at mark up, pocketing the difference.

Rent for MPs’ offices are paid in bulk by Parliamentary Service. Accounts seen by Stuff for the Labour Party’s Hutt South wing, home to Andersen, show a sublease arrangement where Parliament pays the local Labour Party significantly more in rent than the Labour Party actually pays the original landlord, the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union (NZPFU).

Accounts seen by Stuff appear to show $6000 of public money going into a Labour Party account for “rent” in 2019, but with only a quarter of that money, $1500 a year, actually going to the building’s owner.

Of course, this is "within the rules", because self-serving politicians wrote them. But any normal person can recognise this for what it is: theft. If Labour is being charged only $1500 a year in rent by its landlord, that is all it should receive from Parliament. Claiming anything more is simply fraudulent. And if the rules allow that, then so much the worse for the rules.

When you are in a hole, stop digging

Just when it looked like James Shaw had apologised for his private school funding scandal and might be able to move on, the Greens have leaked footage from their crisis meeting in an effort to throw some of the blame back on Labour:

A leaked video of last week's Green Party crisis call shows James Shaw claimed the controversial Green School funding was given "verbal sign-off" by Minister of Education Chris Hipkins.

The comments contradict Hipkins who's repeatedly stated he did not back the proposal.

RNZ has been sent footage of the Friday night Zoom meeting in which Shaw sought to assuage party members who were furious at his advocacy for a nearly $12 million funding package for the private Green School in Taranaki.

In the video clip, Shaw tells members that Hipkins "wasn't intimately involved in the decision" but gave it tacit approval in a conversation.

"He did, sort of, give at least a verbal sign-off to the project," Shaw said.

I understand Shaw providing the context of his fuckup to his members, and I understand some people in the Greens being angry at Hipkins for so publicly throwing Shaw under a bus when the news first emerged. What I don't understand is anyone thinking that this excuses Shaw's poor judgement in any way, or somehow takes the blame off him. Sure, Hipkins did his best to screw the Greens: that's his job, he's the enemy! (and any Green supporter who doesn't understand that Labour is an enemy has not been paying attention). But it wasn't Hipkins who was bound by a party policy of opposition to private schools, for example. And it wasn't Hipkins who was digging in his heels on something contrary to party policy, while surrendering utterly on core policy issues.

By shopping this around to the media, the Greens have just kept Shaw's mistake in the public eye, while undermining the sincerity of his apology to his voters. It makes them look dirty and insincere as well as being sellouts. And as a party which trades on its reputation for integrity and doing politics differently, they really can't afford that at the moment.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020



This is how you do green stimulus

While James Shaw is wasting public money on private schools in the name of "creating jobs", the Australia state of Victoria is showing us how it should be done:

Clean energy projects will receive a Victorian government funding boost in the hope of driving the state's battered economy out of the coronavirus downturn and avoiding a slump in wind and solar investment.

Victorian Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio is preparing to brief 300 investors on Wednesday about the launch of a formal process to test interest in building 600 megawatts of renewable energy capacity statewide, which she said would drive down prices and create new jobs at a critical time.

It comes amid calls around the world for "green recoveries" – economic rescue packages targeting investments in clean energy that would tackle global warming as well as stimulate growth. Under the Victorian program, the government would award contracts to buy power from project developers at a fixed price, giving them the revenue certainty to secure debt and proceed with projects in a volatile market.

This isn't just creating jobs - its building something of lasting benefit which makes life better for everyone (rather than a handful of foreign rich kids). We should be doing the same. And that's the case even with the departure of Tiwai Point - because electrification of transport and industry means we're going to need more electricity in the long term, and the quicker we can drive dirty thermal generation out of the market, the better.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020



If only he had fought this hard for actual Green policy

James Shaw's private school funding scandal just keeps getting worse and worse. Today we learned that the school was unregistered, and that Shaw had been personally lobbied by the owners (making the whole thing look like dodgy pork). And his strong advocacy involved refusing to sign off on the $3 billion infrastructure package unless it was included:

Newshub has obtained an email that went to Government ministers and the Treasury from Shaw's office and it included a stark ultimatum.

"Minister Shaw won't sign this briefing until the Green School in Taranaki is incorporated."

The email said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister.

"Minister Shaw has also discussed this one with Minister Hipkins.

"Sorry to be the spanner-in-the-works, but if we can get the project included, he'll sign everything this afternoon," the email said.

I understand strong advocacy for projects you believe in. I understand ignoring Treasury advice - they're operating in a backward paradigm and incapable of recognising the benefits sometimes. And if Shaw had advocated this hard for wind farms, or solar panels, or hydrogen cracking, or improved EV infrastructure, or trialling clean ways of making steel, I'd be applauding, because that is what he is meant to do. But picking a private school for the kids of foreign millionaires as the cause you want to die in a ditch for seems like a weird choice. And I just wish he'd fought this hard for actual Green policy, like a tougher Zero Carbon Act, or including agriculture in the ETS, or a capital gains tax, rather than a fucking subsidy to the rich which does absolutely nothing for the environment while actively undermining social justice. But I guess that's what happens when the party's leadership goes to managers rather than activists.

This is why we need a wealth tax

The Household Economic Survey shows that wealth inequality is out of control:

The extent of wealth inequality in supposedly egalitarian New Zealand has been laid bare by figures showing the wealthiest individuals have over NZ$140bn (US$93bn) stashed away in trusts – and overall have nearly 70 times more assets than the typical Kiwi.

The new data, drawn from the 2017-18 Household Economic Survey, are likely to underestimate true inequality, as the ultra-wealthy are generally reluctant to take part in such surveys.

The data show that New Zealand’s wealthiest 1% of adults – around 38,000 people – have $141bn in trusts. Another 150,000 or so people, rounding out the rest of the wealthiest 5%, have trusts worth a further $122bn.

[...]

Overall, the wealthiest 10% have 59% of all the country’s assets, and the middle classes around 39%. That leaves the poorest half of the country with just 2%.

This is simply not the sort of country we want to be. And its not just undesirable, but also dangerous, given how wealth is leveraged into political power, which is in turn leveraged to protect wealth. As for how to fix it, the answer is wealth taxes to prevent excessive accumulation of wealth, and inheritance taxes to prevent the wealthy from passing on too much (obviously with trust-busting and beneficial ownership provisions to prevent the wealthy from hiding their assets). And it seems easy enough to set the thresholds so it doesn't impact the middle class - basicly, people who own their own homes and not much else - at all.

We've done this before, in the 1890's, when we used a land tax to strangle New Zealand's incipient rural aristocracy and preserve us as a middle-class country without such parasites. We can - and should - do it again.