Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Oh Canada

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, they repealed the clause which would have made it illegal for anyone else in the world to talk about climate change.

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

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

Australia should be suspended from the Pacific Forum

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

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

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

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

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

Winning the battle on feebates

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

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

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

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

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

Dead white males

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

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

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

A matter of consistency

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 16, 2019

Not destined to be

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

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

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

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

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

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

A real mayoral race

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

New Fisk

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

Climate Change: Fuck Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Nazis, prisons and mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good start

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

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

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

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

Against facial recognition

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

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

However, police are interested in it.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Drowning our taonga

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

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

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

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

Data Ventures: StatsNZ plays startup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Climate Change: Say no to carbon cheats

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

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


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

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

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

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

Strike for a future on September 27

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

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


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

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

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

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

We need to clean up local body politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 12, 2019


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reminder

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

Since then - crickets.

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