Monday, October 19, 2020



The Greens and Labour

With an absolute majority, Labour can govern in its own right, and doesn't need partners. But while unnecessary, they're a nice-to-have, both as backup and for PR reasons. Ardern has talked about "consensus", and there are obvious benefits for her of having government policy endorsed by as many parties as possible. At the same time, that's not hugely valuable, and nowhere near as valuable as votes to get something over the line, so the price Labour would be willing to pay is probably rather low. So should the Greens be rushing to sign up?

I'm doubtful, for two reasons. Firstly, as we saw last term, being in government has a cost. Being a good team player means not criticising your political partners, and in particular, not spending the next three years reminding Labour's supporters and voters generally of what the government could or should be doing. Which is fine, if you're actually getting real policy out of it. But its not something you give away for nothing, or next-to-nothing (which is what the Greens arguably got last term). Secondly, as noted above, I think the price Labour is willing to pay will be low. They don't need the Greens, and while they could be used as rhetorical cover for increasing the ambition of their lowballed centrist policy promises, the numbers simply make such excuses laughable. So the net result of the Greens in government would be Green Ministers implementing and overseeing Labour policy. And as someone who thinks that status quo Labour policy is the problem, I don't think that's worth shit, and certainly not worth surrendering the rhetorical power of opposition for. I'm not interested in a Green Party which gags itself for other people's benefit. So I'd favour a loose arrangement of (un-needed) confidence and supply in exchange for consultation on key issues and a few select-committee chairs, at best - friends, not partners.

Of course, all of that changes if Labour is willing to offer substantial policy concessions on climate change, inequality, and housing. But I don't think that's likely, and TBH if the concessions moved too far from Labour's platform then it would make the Greens party to an 80's / 90's style political deceit. But ultimately, the decision is one for the Greens' members.

Sunday, October 18, 2020



The unexpected result

The people have spoken, and its a Labour majority government. This wasn't meant to happen under MMP, and in fact its exactly what the system was designed to prevent: no majority governments, no elected dictatorships, unless we really, really want it (which at the time seemed unlikely on 40 years of voting patterns). And then it turned out that we did really, really want it.

Its obviously not the result I wanted (I wanted Labour beholden to the Greens so we would see actual progress on climate change, inequality and housing, rather than status quo waffle and bullshit). But its what we've got. And Labour earned it - they campaigned hard, convinced people they deserved power. While they've achieved this majority with slightly less than 50% of the vote, its not really a consequence of this year's record wasted vote (more on that later); 49.1% would have given a majority under almost all MMP elections. And they might yet shrink the difference to rounding error on the specials.

Meanwhile, the Greens have broken the junior partner curse and avoided elimination despite being in government, and Chloe Swarbrick has won Auckland Central in her own right, sticking it to the rich lawyer Labour put up against her. Winston is out, and hopefully gone for good. And the Māori Party is back, though so far with just a single MP. I'm particularly pleased with that - they are an essential voice in our politics, and one whose absence has been noticable in the last term. Hopefully we'll see more of them in the future.

At 7.7%, the wasted vote was a record high, and this again shows the problems of the 5% threshold. Labour has said they want to lower it, and nothing is now stopping them from doing so. Unfortunately, they've said they want to do it by eliminating the "electorate lifeboat", which would actually increase disproportionality. So I'm hoping the Māori Party will make the case that it is essential to protecting Māori representation, and convince them otherwise.

As for policy, Labour can basicly do what it wants. But this means that they now own the problems of climate change, inequality, and housing, and have no-one else to blame if they fail to take any convincing action on them. Hopefully that will sharpen their minds a bit. And if they waste the mandate they've been given, we'll be judging them on it in three years time.

Friday, October 16, 2020



Big changes do stick

In one of her last pre-election interviews, Jacinda Ardern tries to defend her policy of doing nothing while in government:

Ardern reflected on large changes made by Helen Clark’s government – particularly in education and welfare – that were still part of the system now, saying they prove smaller changes can become large over time.

“They got criticised for not being bold enough and not being transformational enough, but they are examples of policies that they bought in and made part of our system that we haven't lost,” Ardern says.

“So I think that probably in some ways, demonstrates that those things that actually over time do make a difference.”

[...]

“The idea that you can only make change with large jarring lurches – those are the kind of changes that are unravelled.”

...which might sound reasonable, if you ignore the fact that her government is still enacting the core policies of the NeoLiberal fourth Labour Government (and its National successor), which were imposed in exactly such a lurch. Low taxes for the rich, poverty benefit levels and service cuts for the poor, user pays, mass student debt, the Employment Contracts Act, privatisation, public service managerialism, central bank independence, austerity, inflation and surplus fetishism - the list just goes on. Like Clark, Ardern's government has ameliorated some of the worst features, but has basicly done nothing to roll back the core. So I'd say that that definitely hasn't unravelled. And looking back further, the radical changes made by the First Labour Government (state housing, the welfare state) also stuck, at least until Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley started dismantling them. Why did those changes stick? Because the governments which enacted them made them the status quo, entrenching them in the minds of the elites or the people respectively, so that changing them became "unthinkable".

Ardern could do that on inequality and on climate change. She is the most gifted politician in a generation, and in an enviable political position. If she doesn't choose to, it is not because it cannot be done, but because she does not want to. At the end of the day, given the perfect platform to advocate for Labour's policy and values, she can't be bothered even to make the argument. She's rather sit there and collect her fat half million a year pay packet to defend and further entrench the unjust, unsustainable, immoral status quo. And no matter how many terms she wins, no matter how rich she gets, that makes her a failure as a Prime Minister. And if climate change gets really bad, future generations may even judge her to be a criminal.

Climate Change: Planning to fail

Last year, the government passed the Zero Carbon Act, setting short-term and long-term goals for carbon reduction. And they're already saying that they will fail to meet them:

Environment Minister David Parker says we’ll need to buy carbon units from other countries to achieve our 2030 emissions target, though this may clash with the Zero Carbon Act.

The country has set itself both international and domestic goals. Internationally, we have pledged to cut emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

On the domestic front, the Zero Carbon Act also requires the country's biogenic methane emissions to be 10 per cent lower than 2017 levels, by the end of the decade. We’ll also need to be on the path towards zero net carbon emissions by 2050. It also instructs that “emissions budgets must be met, as far as possible, through domestic emissions reductions and domestic removals”.

Asked during an environmental election panel debate if he supports the international 2030 target, the Labour Party minister said he does: “But it’s impossible to meet with New Zealand-only emissions reductions”.

Bullshit. Its "impossible to meet" because the government has refused to enact policy to meet it, most notably by continuing to exempt agriculture from the ETS until 2025, and subsidising it by 95% when it comes in, meaning that farmers will face no effective price signal to drive reductions. This was purely a matter of political choice. And the person who made that choice was David Parker.

We could make a different choice. We could bring agriculture into the ETS next year, and make farmers pay for 100% of their emissions, like us plebs do for our electricity and fuel. But the fact that farmers would have to change farming practices or reduce output is taken as a reason not to do it. We can't have effective policy because it might be effective.

Meanwhile, the planet warms, the seas rise, and the land burns. And our politicians are choosing to do that, to keep doing that, rather than choosing to stop it. Isn't it time we got better politicians, to make better, smarter choices?

Corrected: An earlier version of Stuff's story portrayed this as being about the domestic methane reduction target under the Zero Carbon Act, but Stuff has now corrected it to clarify that it is about the international Paris target. The same critique still applies: it is "impossible" only because the government has decided not to do anything about it.

Another issue Labour is ignoring its voters over

Jacinda Ardern is trying to rule out even discussing a wealth tax if she gets re-elected. But if she gets re-elected, it will be by voters who support one. A Newshub poll shows that nearly half of all voters - and 60% of labour supporters - support a wealth tax:

The Newshub-Reid Research poll asked voters if Labour should have gone further in taxing the wealthiest New Zealanders.

Opinion was split, but more voters - 48.7 percent - said yes while 43 percent said no and 8 percent didn't know.

A majority of Labour's own voters - nearly 60 percent - wanted them to go further, while a third of National voters think so too.

(There's a Herald poll from a few days ago which shows majority support, but Twitter being down means I can't find it).

As with climate change, Labour is ignoring its voters on this issue, preferring to chase soft centre voters with inoffensive mush. But if you treat your voters with contempt like this, they may go somewhere else - and that late rise in polling for the Greens suggests that that may be happening.

Again, this is a pretty funny thing for a "Labour" party to want to die in a ditch over. But their opposition is also hugely wasteful. Its hard to see a better time than now, when people recognise the need for solidarity and the government clearly needs revenue to pay for the pandemic, to make the rich pay. And its certainly not going to be easier in some far-off future when politics has returned to normal. Again, its hard to escape the conclusion that Labour politicians - all of whom are paid at least $180,000 a year, and if not already rich, probably hope to be - aren't really interested in properly representing their supporters at all, but just exploit them to support the unjust status quo.

Thursday, October 15, 2020



A flaw in our electoral transparency regime II

Last month, we learned there was a flaw in our electoral transparency regime, with the New Zealand Public Party receiving a quarter of a million dollars in donations which will never have to be decalred. And now its got worse,as it turns out they're also explicitly soliciting donations from rich foreign anti-vaxers:

1 NEWS has discovered the party led by Jami-Lee Ross and Billy Te Kahika has a bank account that isn't covered by the electoral law.

The account belongs to a component party with donors from both New Zealand and overseas.

Ross and Te Kahika have been campaigning online and gaining traction with well-known American anti-vaccine activists.

Now there is an allegation that Advance New Zealand is taking money from the movement to help discredit New Zealand's Covid-19 response.

It is illegal for a registered party to receive a foreign donation of more than $50. But the Public Party isn't a registered party, so it can collect as much foreign money as it likes. And while there are limits on how much of that money it could pass on to Advance New Zealand (which is registered), or to its leader (who is a candidate), there are certainly no limits on spending it to promote themselves, or to run negative advertising against other parties or candidates. And that seems to be a bit of a gap - and one we should fill at the first opportunity.

As for how to do it, separating the transparency regime from registration to contest the party vote is the obvious solution. All parties registered for the party vote should have to declare everything, as at present - but so should all of their component parties, and any party running more than a small (three? five?) number of candidates. That way the real plankton parties are left alone, but unregistered parties can't be used as a source of dark money to corrupt our elections.

"Entirely separate"

When two people whose identities we all know but cannot say publicly due to name suppression were charged with "Obtaining by Deception" over routing donations to NZ First through the NZ First Foundation, Winston Peters claimed his party had been exonerated because "The Foundation is an entirely separate entity from the New Zealand First Party". In which case, maybe he'd like to explain why the latter is being briefed on its financials and treating the money as their own?

NZ First leader Winston Peters and high-ranking MPs were briefed about the NZ First Foundation's expenses and activities one year before it first made headlines, Stuff can reveal, contradicting Peters' consistent claims the foundation had nothing to do with his political party.

Stuff has seen an internal party report that, according to a source familiar with the matter, was presented to Peters in November 2018.

[...]

The report referenced money in NZ First Party’s Kiwibank account as well as money in the Foundation's ASB bank account. It totalled expenses incurred by the ASB account and classed them as party costs.

Which sounds a lot like this entity isn't "separate" at all, but effectively owned and controlled by the party. Which makes you wonder how long the two people charged will stick it out facing seven years for obtaining by deception before rolling on Winston to get two years for a corrupt electoral practice?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020



Where do the parties stand on open government?

The election is in less than a week, so I thought I'd take a quick look at where the parties stand on open government, freedom of information, and the OIA. The short answer is that most of them don't. While Andrew Little has "promised" to rewrite the OIA, there's no mention of it (or of open government) in their manifesto. Its a similar story with National, though Justice Spokesperson Simon Bridges has said by email that "personally I am open to OIA reform to modernise and improve this important law. Of course the devil is in the detail". Neither ACT or NZ First mention the issue in their election policy documents. The exception to this dismal trend is the Greens, who devote a full page in their democracy policy to freedom of information, in which they promise:

  • Proactive publication of Cabinet decisions
  • Criminal offences for obstructing or delaying OIA requests
  • narrower withholding grounds, including Ministerial approval for hiding behind "national security"
  • publication of all responses on a centralised website
  • expanding the OIA's coverage to include Parliament and other currently excluded agencies

There's nothing novel or groundbreaking here, but its clear they have at least been paying attention to the issue, and think it is important enough to mention. Which puts them well ahead of the other parties.

I don't expect open government to be anyone's killer issue in this election - its not like its climate change. At the same time, I would expect parties to say at least something about it, even if its just "yay, transparency good". The fact that so many of them can't even be bothered doing that is disappointing, but its also hugely short-sighted. To point out the obvious, political parties are some of the major beneficiaries of open government, and it is essential for oppositions to be able to do their job of holding governments to account. The fact that they don't have policy on it suggests that they're not really thinking about their jobs at all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020



Time is slipping by for the fruit industry to improve wages

The covid-19 pandemic has meant a lot of changes for New Zealand. Lockdowns, social distancing, a massive shift to working from home and the death of tourism for a start. But the sensible and necessary border closure has also completely cut off the supply of cheap, migrant labour - and business which have been effectively subsidised by it are screaming. Today, it's the fruit and vegetable industry, who warn that "time is slipping by" for their harvest:

A group of 14 growers have issued a joint warning that some fruit and vegetables could rot unharvested this summer because of a shortage of people to pick them.

This could reduce the supply of produce and push up prices.

The warning came from farmers at the front line of the looming picker shortage, such as growers of some vegetables, strawberries, stone fruit, cherries and watermelons.

Their preferred solution is of course to open the borders so they can blackbird some peons from the Pacific Islands to labour in their fields under conditions that amount to indentured servitude - exposing us all to the possibility of an outbreak in the process (because while some of these countries are covid-free, do you really trust their testing and border regimes? We don't even trust Australia at the moment). But obviously, there's another solution: improve pay and conditions so they can attract kiwi workers. And the fact that they are not willing to do this, but would rather whine and cry for a government subsidy, tells us everything we need to know.

(And yes, migrant labour is a subsidy. The fact that kiwis won't take these jobs at the pay and conditions they are offering tells us that).

In a market economy, crops rotting in the fields are a clear market message to pay your workers more. If growers choose to ignore that message, then they have no-one to blame but themselves.

A new low in American "democracy"

Every US election, we're used to seeing long lines of voters, and reading stories of widespread gerrymandering and voter suppression (including things like flyers falsely telling people their assigned polling place (!) has moved or that voting will be on a different day, and robocalls threatening that people will be arrested at polling places). But American "democracy" seems to have hit a new low this week, with California Republicans setting up fake "ballot dropboxes" so they can literally steal people's postal votes:

California authorities have launched a criminal investigation into unauthorized ballot boxes that the Republican party has placed in several counties, with authorities warning that these set-ups are illegal.

The boxes have appeared in Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange counties at locations including political party offices, campaign headquarters and churches, according to the California secretary of state. The GOP admitted Monday that it owned the boxes and defended the practice.

As for what happens to ballots deposited in these fake dropboxes, who knows? But it probably involves an incinerator, at least for all those voting Democrat.

I'm equally horrified and boggled by this. How could anyone living in even a nominally democratic state possibly think that this was an acceptable political tactic? But then, the whole problem is that there is one party in America which thinks that the USA should not be even nominally democratic, that people shouldn't be allowed to vote (or vote for anyone other than them), and are willing to do almost anything to achieve that. The only difference between them and post-Soviet dictators like Putin and Lukashenko, who hold fake elections and fix the results, is what they think they can publicly get away with. And in the US, sadly, that seems to be anything short of storming polling places with armed goons and beating voters in the streets (though we may yet see that from Trump's militias this election cycle).

Hopefully, the people responsible for this attack on democracy will end up in jail. But they're part of a wider problem, which the US needs to deal with. If the Democrats manage to overcome Republican cheating and fraud to win power (as the polls suggest they will in a fair vote), then they will need to legislate to ensure free and fair elections nationwide. Otherwise, US claims to "democracy" will continue to be an increasingly bad joke.

Monday, October 12, 2020



Marching to the ballot boxes

2020advancevote-1

Today's advance voting statistics are out, showing that 450,000 people voted over the weekend, bringing the total advance vote to 1.15 million - just 90,000 shy of the 2017 total. So its likely that by the end of today, more people will have advance voted than did in the whole 2017 election - and we will still have four days to go! on a modest assumption of 100,000 votes per day - which has been exceeded pretty much every day so far - we would have 1.65 million advance votes. And if we see similar last-week turnout to 2017, we could be looking at 2 million - 60% turnout, and up to 75% of the total votes cast, all before election day.

Its unclear at this stage whether this is going to mean much higher turnout, or whether it is just people getting in early. But either way: kiwis are marching to the ballot boxes, and its great to see.

A funny thing for Labour to die in a ditch over

Over the weekend, National unveiled its latest desperate effort to try and gain some attention: campaigning hard against a wealth tax. Its a Green Party policy, so its a funny thing for national to campaign against (alternatively, I guess it shows who their true opponents are). But even funnier is Labour's response, with Jacinda Ardern saying that it would not even be discussed in coalition negotiations. Yes, the "worker's party" is ruling out even having a conversation on taxing the unearned wealth of the ultra-rich. Obviously, that's not how MMP works - as James Shaw has pointed out, the Greens expect to negotiate in good faith, and that will include discussing taxing wealth. But if we take this seriously, Ardern is effectively saying that Labour would rather not be in government, or would rather not have Green support for its policies and would instead prefer to negotiate everything on a case-by-case basis (with all the delay that entails), than even talk about taxing wealth. Which seems like a pretty funny thing for a "Labour" party to want to die in a ditch over.

Meanwhile, the message is clear: Labour is only going to enact this policy if they are forced to by a strong Green Party. So if you want a wealth tax, vote Green.

Friday, October 09, 2020



Another call for OIA reform

A collection of top-level environmental and human rights NGOs is calling for reform of the Official Information Act:

The Child Poverty Action Group, Greenpeace, Forest and Bird, JustSpeak, New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International are calling for a comprehensive, independent review of the Official Information Act 1982 (the OIA) following growing concern that it’s not fit for purpose.

[...]

Amnesty International Campaigns Director Lisa Woods says it is a crucial piece of legislation.

“It is a vital tool for holding government to account, and is sometimes the only tool available to bring to light concerning actions by those in government. However, there are serious problems with the OIA, and this is preventing the Act from doing what it was designed to do – make government more transparent.”

(Amnesty's interest is unsurprising, given their experiences with Operation Burnham. It turns out that anyone who has to use the OIA for any length of time gets radicalised towards reform...)

While the government has promised to "rewrite" the Act, they've said nothing about what they plan to do, and their past behaviour in this area is hardly encouraging. Which is why we need a public, independent review: to ensure that any change reflects the views of the public and users of the Act, rather than bureaucrats and politicians who naturally seek secrecy and unaccountability. As for the sorts of changes we need to make, I've taken a first stab at it here.

The advice on moving the election date

When the Prime Minister moved the election date back in August, I immediately lodged OIA requests with the Electoral Commission and Ministry of Justice for any advice they'd given. Both refused, on the basis that the information would be proactively released. That's finally happened, a mere three weeks after the Electoral Commission said it would, and you can read both agencies' advice here.

The big news is that the Commission recommended a full two month delay, until 21 November - as an October date "would not allow sufficient time for the Commission to revise all existing arrangements for voting places, staff and election communications". That seems to have been ignored, and very quickly the advice fixes on October. Reading the other documents, there are perhaps some reasons for that - less hassle with spending caps and the regulated period (and, while something that the Ministry of Justice could not advise on, less disruption to the parties' campaign plans). But nowhere are the reasons for the decision actually documented in this release: it is as if it happened by magic. So, either the full advice wasn't released, or it wasn't documented (in violation of the Public Records Act). Either way, this "proactive release" does not tell the full story, and is less than open.

Where Trumpism leads

Back in April, when midwest US states were going into lockdown in an effort to limit the spread of the pandemic, US President Donald Trump, and tweeted calls for their "liberation". Militia armed with assault rifles subsequently stormed the state legislature in a "protest". And now we've seen where Trump's tweets ultimately lead: to full-on terrorism:

Six people have been been charged with a plot to kidnap the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, that involves links to a rightwing militia group, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced.

Additionally another seven people were charged with plotting to target law enforcement and attack the state capitol building. The state attorney general, Dana Nessel, announced additional charges under Michigan’s anti-terrorism law. Seven men, all in custody, are linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen.

They are suspected of attempting to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to “target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war”. They also planned and trained for an operation to attack the Michigan capitol building and to kidnap government officials, including the governor, Nessel said.

Whitmer had been specifically targeted by Trump, including just hours before the charges were announced. Which looks an awful lot like incitement. And while I doubt the FBI would be able to make a case stick even if they were willing, the American people have an obvious solution: voting the inciter-in-chief out of office.

Thursday, October 08, 2020



Climate Change: Dodgy accounting

Since climate change first became an issue, farmers have been desperately trying to avoid taking responsibility for their emissions - first by outright denial, then by delay, then by various outrageous claims about how we should give them carbon credits for the grass their cows eat. Their latest tactic? Claim they're already carbon neutral:

New Zealand sheep and beef farms are already offsetting the majority of agricultural emissions, new research from Auckland University of Technology shows.

The study led by Bradley Case, a senior lecturer in the university’s applied ecology department, estimates that the woody vegetation on the country’s sheep and beef farms offsets between 63 per cent and 118 per cent of their on-farm agricultural emissions.

The research was funded by Beef and Lamb New Zealand and peer reviewed by chief scientist at Landcare Research, Fiona Carswell and senior ecologist at the University of Canterbury, Adam Forbes.

If the mid-point in the report’s range is used, on average the woody vegetation on sheep and beef farms is absorbing about 90 per cent of these emissions, meaning they are close to being carbon neutral.

If you're in a hurry, "funded by Beef and Lamb New Zealand" really tells you everything you need to know here. And if they really believed this, they'd be demanding the government add them to the ETS so they could start raking in the credits. Again, the fact that they're not tells you something doesn't add up. As for what doesn't add up, the short answer is "everything, because they're not following the agreed rules".

First, under internationally agreed carbon accounting rules, forests which existed before 1990 are incorporated into each country's emissions baseline: they were there, doing whatever they do, so they don't count unless you cut them down. Changes in forest coverage after 1990, whether new forests planted or old ones cut down, represent a change in carbon flows, so do count. Strike one for Beef and Lamb New Zealand is that their report doesn't distinguish between the two - and deliberately so: they chose not to use the LUM dataset which classifies every forest in NZ into these categories for carbon accounting purposes, instead choosing to use a combination of other databases which did not include carbon-accounting types. They were happy to use LUCAS data for how much carbon was being stored however...

Second, those same rules include a definition of "forest": at least one hectare in area, at least 30m wide, at least 30% tree crown coverage from species at least 5m tall at maturity (these rules are also included in the Climate Change Response Act, for obvious reasons). There's some quibbles around temporary changes and regenerating forest, but basicly a forest has to be a decent chunk of actual trees. There are trees in my back yard, but it is not a "forest" for carbon accounting purposes. There may be trees in a farm paddock, but unless they meet the above criteria, it too is not a "forest". Strike two for Beef and Lamb New Zealand is that they don't make this distinction, counting things like scrub and shelter-belts. And they basicly admit this:

Some common farm woody vegetation features are too small to meet criteria for inclusion in LUCAS and are not reported on in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Burrows and colleagues (2018) provide a comprehensive literature review of available reference carbon stock value and sequestration rate information for non ETS land on farms including; wetlands, riparian strips, pole plantings, shelterbelts, and other retired land that is not eligible for ETS.
So what Beef and Lamb New Zealand's claim basicly boils down to is "we're carbon neutral, if you count all this stuff which doesn't count". In other words, they're not carbon neutral at all, and this is just another attempt to blow smoke - just more predatory delay.

But can't we change the rules so that stuff does count? That's one of the aims of the report: recognising farmers for "non-ETS-eligible woody vegetation elements on their farms". But those rules are set internationally, so good luck with that. And while it seems weird that our carbon modelling doesn't count every tree (like the ones in my backyard), there's some value in a model which underestimates sequestration and overestimates emissions when forests are cut down. "All models are wrong, but some are useful", as the saying goes - and erring on the side of caution seems to be very useful indeed in the face of the current crisis (and the repeated demonstration that all our other models seem to be under-estimating just how fast this thing is moving).

But can't we change it so they just count for the ETS? Not if we ever want to link our scheme with international markets - a core policy goal of the government (and to be blunt, what they're hoping for to hide their massive failure to reduce emissions). If we accept counterfeit "credits" into our ETS, then given their ability to be laundered into other forms of credit, we'd basicly turn our entire system into one of funny money which no-one would be able to trust (so, like Russia and Ukraine, but in reverse). So I don't really see that happening either.

So what should farmers do? Well, if they actually want to be carbon-neutral, they have an easy and obvious way of doing so: plant enough trees in big enough clumps to qualify under the accepted carbon-accounting rules. But that would mean changing what they do. And the whole thrust of everything their peak bodies are doing is an effort to avoid that. So I guess we'll just see more whining and special pleading instead.

As expected

cropped-20190714_makeit16_logo_v2-8

Back in August, the Make It 16 campaign went to court to argue that the current voting age is unjustifiably discriminatory and breaches the Bill of Rights Act. As expected, they lost, with the judge deciding that while prima facie discriminatory, it was a justified limitation and within the range of reasonable options for Parliament to choose. But reading the judgement, I'm left with the overwhelming impression that if the voting age were still 20 or 21 (and s12 BORA reflected that), the judge would have made exactly the same decision. And that's because they never bothered to do any assessment of the actual merits of any particular age - in part because the government just gave up on that:

The Attorney-General did not advance any factual arguments about the merits of any particular voting age, but rather submitted that the age of 18 is objectively reasonable.
But the whole point of the case is to ask "is it, though?" And it speaks volumes that when confronted with that question, the government refuses to answer it, and the courts refuse to inquire, and both basicly fall back on tradition: it should be this way because it is this way. Which is awfully 1890's of them.

But it does highlight the underlying truth: if we are to change this law, we need to kick some politicians. Currently the Greens are the only party supporting a lower voting age (Labour, as on everything else, spouting sometime-but-not-now-so-really-never bullshit). So vote accordingly.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020



Climate Change: PR bullshit from Labour

Climate change is our biggest and most pressing policy problem. We're seeing how bad things are getting overseas, with hurricanes, floods and fires, and this year new Zealand is getting the first real taste of it with a fire wiping the holiday community of Lake Ōhau village off the map. Last election, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recognised this, calling climate change "my generation's nuclear free moment" (though she then dragged her feet in government). So what's their policy now? PR bullshit:

Labour has pledged to decarbonise the public transport fleet by 2035 and continue with plans to ban some new coal-fired boilers if it wins the election.

The party is also keen to tip a tiny $6 million more a year into agricultural climate change research programmes.

The Government already proposed banning the new installation of low-heat and medium-heat coal-fired boilers for industrial heating late last year.

None of this is bad, but its just nowhere near the scale of the problem. We need to fully decarbonise our economy in the next three decades (and the faster, the better), including an agriculture sector which makes up half our emissions and which everyone says is really hard to reduce (by which they mean that it is really hard to reduce without affecting farmer profits. In fact its trivial to reduce: just shoot cows and plant trees on their corpses. But obviously, this policy is undesirable from an animal welfare perspective). But public transport makes up sweet fuck all of our transport emissions, while $6 million pays about two-dozen scientists. Its the most Labour thing ever: take a policy problem, stick a smiley-face badge on it to pretend you're doing something, while meanwhile completely ignoring the actual problem.

...Which is why we need the Greens in government, to hold them to ransom on this issue and force them to pursue actual policy, rather than this bullshit. We need radical and rapid transport decarbonisation via public transport and EVs, and de-intensification and de-stocking in the agricultural sector. And we need policy to drive those changes. Pretty obviously, we are not going to get that policy from Labour. If we don't want the planet to burn, if we don't want more Lake Ōhaus, we need the Greens.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020



In which two NZ judges seem to OK torture

Today's outrage from the Independent Police Conduct Authority: police unjustifiably using a taser and pepper spray on a passenger from a fleeing vehicle:

The incident took place just before midnight on 16 September 2017, when police pursued a fleeing driver through Auckland, according to an IPCA report.

The pursuit ended in the SkyCity carpark when the male driver ran from the scene while the female passenger stayed in the car.

An officer approached the car and aimed his Taser at the woman before pepper spraying her, the IPCA said.

A second officer then dragged her by the leg across the carpark floor where she was restrained by two officers.

One of the officers then used his Taser to intimidate the woman while she lay restrained on the ground. He held it near her head and asked for the identity of the driver.

That last bit is especially disturbing, and legally constitutes an act of torture under New Zealand and international law ("severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental... intentionally inflicted [for the purpose of] obtaining from that person or some other person information or a confession"; threatening physical torture is itself mental torture), which is a serious crime. Sadly the officer - not named in the article, but identified in the appeal judgement as Sean Matthew Doak - wasn't charged with that. But they were charged with "presenting a restricted weapon", tried, and convicted by a jury. They appealed, on the basis that "the direct and indirect consequences of the conviction, particularly the likelihood he will lose his job, are out of all proportion to the gravity of the offending" [emphasis added]. And the appeal judgement on that is fucking appalling, and reveal that parts of our judiciary are totally OK with police officers threatening torture:
CCTV footage produced at the trial revealed that Constable Doak approached X with a taser in hishand. He leaned down close to her head. It seems likely that he was attempting to obtain information from her regarding the identity and whereabouts of the driver. The Judge was satisfied this information was needed, given the risk the driver might convert another car and escape, thereby placing the public at further risk.
[Emphasis added]

Which is a pretty interesting interpretation of Article 2.2 of the Convention Against Torture ("No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture"), not to mention section 9 of the Bill of Rights Act. What we have here is basicly a judicial approval of a threat to torture, for a fucking traffic case.

It gets worse, because the appeal Judge backs it up, saying "Constable Doak rightly needed to ask who the driver was and where he had gone. That he did so in robust terms cannot be criticised in the circumstances." I wonder how they'd describe the police beating a "confession" out of someone in a cell? Because that is effectively what they've just okayed.

Back to the sentence. The trial judge was of course full of sympathy for the accused, saying that while losing their job was a predictable consequence of conviction, they "expressed the hope that through the exercise of sensible judgement on the part of the District Commander, Constable Doak would remain in the employment of the Police." They convicted him and discharged him without penalty. The appeal judge overturned that and replaced it with a discharge without conviction, on the basis that penalties for the police shouldn't be harsher than those for the public (public trust apparently counting for nothing), and that the employment decision was still one for police. So, a police officer threatens to torture someone, the judiciary is totally OK with that, and ensures they face no penalty whatsoever. Heckuva job they're doing there upholding the BORA and international law.

Meanwhile, I'm left with a pressing question: is Sean Matthew Doak still a police officer?

Monday, October 05, 2020



How I'm voting in the referenda

In addition to electing a government, we also have two referenda to vote on this election - one on legalising recreational cannabis, and one on euthanasia. I'm voting "yes" to both, and I encourage everyone else to do the same. Here's why.

On cannabis, it is patently obvious that decades of prohibition is ineffective and counterproductive. It is a colossal waste of police time and money, and a constant enabler of police racism. I agree with the Drug Foundation that the best way to minimise the harm - including the harm of over-policing - done by cannabis is to manage it as a health issue rather than a criminal one. And that means treating it like alcohol or tobacco, and taxing and regulating it rather than sticking people in jail. But underlying the empirical policy argument is the fact that I just don't care what consenting adults do to themselves in private, and that's the real reason I'm voting "yes".

On euthanasia (or "End of Life Choice" as we're calling it now), I laid out my reasons for supporting it back in 2013, when an earlier version of the bill was before Parliament: we are all going to die, some of us slowly and painfully and without dignity, and it is better that people control that process themselves and go out on their own terms if necessary than forcing them to suffer. That both respects human dignity and freedom, and minimises harm (including, again, the harm of over-policing, both in the form of prosecution of those who assist suicide, and the political oppression of those democratically advocating for a change in the law).

In both cases, I'm pleased that we're voting on actual legislation, though displeased that the government was too chickenshit to pass the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill first so our vote would actually be binding. All we have on that issue is a politicians' promise - which as we all know, isn't worth the hot air it was made with. Which is not exactly going to encourage voters to treat it seriously. I'll be interested to see if there is a difference in turnout between the referenda - and if the cannabis referendum has lower turnout, we will all know where the blame lies.

Friday, October 02, 2020



An unenthusiastic endorsement

Advance voting starts tomorrow (overseas voting has already begun), so if I'm goig to endorse anyone, I guess I should get it in before people have actually started ticking boxes. In previous years, I have encouraged people to vote for any party on the left, while enthusiasticly voting Green. This year its something different.

First, the Greens: they unquestionably have the best people and the best policies. I really want to see people like Marama Davidson and Chlöe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman back in Parliament, and I want them to be joined by Teanau Tuiono and Ricardo Menéndez March. And they're offering a wealth tax, real action on climate change and water, and really positive moves on inequality and housing. Against that, there's the fact that in government they've undermined climate action by backing down on agricultural emissions and pollution subsidies (James Shaw's support for the stupid "Green school" is comparatively minor, and he apologised, but it just highlights the leadership's values problem). But the thing I really can't forgive them for is their support for the government's odious "anti-terror" law, which runs contrary to their values, and to mine. Once upon a time, the Greens would have loudly and proudly opposed such tyranny. Under James Shaw, they supported it. When they did that, I asked to be removed from their mailing lists, and stopped donating to them, because I refuse to help fund a party which supports tyranny. And until they make good that mistake, I'm not giving them another cent.

But its not like I can vote for Labour. They wrote that tyrannical law, and supported others besides. They also refuse to take credible action on climate change, have ruled out a wealth tax, and are trying to roll back their own freshwater policy to pander to farmers. On housing, Jacinda Ardern was asked straight out the other night if she wanted to see house prices drop, and she said "no", which tells us that she is completely uninterested in solving that problem. Their policy is uninspiring, and their backbench is stuffed with useless time-servers (and at least one outright fascist). So fuck them.

What about other options? On current polling I don't think the Māori Party will make it back (though their policy is good). TOP is arrogant, technocratic, and still has the lingering smell of their cat-hating founder. Sustainable New Zealand is explicitly a right-wing trojan horse. So I can't vote for any of those.

And on the gripping hand: the climate crisis is here, and we need to fix it. Having the Greens in government is the only way we have a hope in hell of doing that. So, I'm going to hold my nose, and vote for them as the lesser evil - and you should too. But they need to change. Because we deserve something better to vote for than a lesser evil.

No accountability means no confidence

Today's outrage from the Independent Police Conduct Authority: a police officer explicitly disregarded instructions from HQ to break off a pursuit, and chased a speeding vehicle the wrong way down a one-way street. The car they were pursuing eventually crashed, injuring two people. The officer's driving was found by the IPCA to be dangerous, which makes it arguably criminal (it certainly would be if you or I had done it). But despite an egregious violation of orders and policy and arguably criminal behaviour which contributed to two injuries, this officer might still have their badge:

In response to RNZ police reiterated the officer should have stopped, but refused to say what action was taken against him.

"The concerns raised in relation to police actions have been dealt with through an employment process," a police spokesperson said.

As with the other recent case of an officer who unlawfully repeatedly trespassed, then assaulted someone with pepper-spray before unlawfully arresting them, this is unsatisfactory. When the police misbehave, we have a right to know what was done about it. Public confidence in the police depends on it. Instead, by cloaking everything under a veil of secrecy, the police invite the suspicion that they are lax on policing their own, even in egregious cases such as this. And as a result, we can have no confidence in them whatsoever.

Thursday, October 01, 2020



Climate Change: Why won't Labour listen to its voters?

Jacinda Ardern came into office promising action on climate change, which she infamously called "my generation's nuclear-free moment". But while her government has enacted some useful climate change policy this term, its been under the handbrake of Winston Peters, who has vetoed policies like bringing agriculture into the ETS and the EV feebate scheme. But when running for re-election, Labour has not offered the action you'd expect them too, instead offering little more than the status quo, with business-as-usual energy and transport policies, and no push to limit agriculture, end pollution subsidies, or let carbon prices rise so the ETS can do its work. And this despite knowing that our policies are insufficient to meet our targets (meaning the government will have to buy credits on the international market, assuming it is allowed to), which are in turn insufficient to meet the Paris goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees (and the government agrees with this assessment). The gap is all the more inexplicable when you learn that only 30% of Labour voters agree with their current pathway, and nearly 60% of them want urgent, radical action now:

NZPartiesCC

[Graph stolen from Stuff]

The majority of Labour voters want their party to live up to its rhetoric on the most important issue of our age. So why won't Labour listen to them?

[Meanwhile, that graph shows just how regressive National and ACT are, and why we are well rid of NZ First. I'd be interested in seeing the age breakdown, but the natural suspicion is that its just a straight-out generational difference between those who expect to have to live with the consequences of climate change, and those that don't. Except as should be obvious, we are already living with the consequences, and its only going to get worse from here on].

Status quo politicians want less democracy

I didn't watch last night's debate, in part because I'd made up my mind how I was going to vote months ago, and in part because two status quo politicians desperately spamming pre-scripted soundbites and zingers while failing to be meaningfully different in any way bores the shit out of me. But I was unsurprised to hear that both the status quo politicians on stage wanted to extend the Parliamentary term to four years. Its received wisdom among the Wellington political establishment that three years "doesn't give a government enough time to get things done", and so obviously it should be extended. Henry Cooke has spent some time demolishing this argument in Stuff today, but I think it is missing the point. Because the length of our parliamentary term is not about whether a government can "get things done" - something which seems to be no problem whatsoever when they actually want to do something - but about democracy and accountability. And a four-year term would undermine both.

The only question you need to ask yourself on this is "would you have wanted Roger Douglas to have an extra year to wreck the country"? Ruth Richardson? Winston Peters, with his vetos and foot-dragging? (Feel free to insert your political hate figure of choice). A three year term lets us veto them, and throw them out of office or saddle them with a difficult coalition partner if we don't like what they're doing. It is our sole effective means of keeping the politicians accountable and under control. And we should not let them undermine it.