Thursday, December 02, 2021

An embodiment of our problems

When Christopher Luxon was anointed leader of the National party, the first thing I did was look up how many houses he owned in Parliament's Register Of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests 2021. The answer is seven, suggesting that when it comes to housing, one of Aotearoa's big three policy problems, he is part of that problem, not part of a solution. And it gets worse:

Soaring house prices mean new National Party leader Christopher Luxon is effectively earning about $90,000 a week in capital gains on his seven properties, which give him the biggest property portfolio of any sitting MP.


Luxon’s properties – a family home in Remuera, a Waiheke Island bach, an apartment in Wellington, his electoral office and three investment properties in Onehunga – now have a combined value of $21.145 million.

Their value on paper has increased by $4.3m since the start of this year – and by $3m since June alone – but most of those gains, if realised, would fall outside the “bright-line test” and would therefore be untaxed.

Hickey noted that Luxon had theoretically earned even more this year from housing than the $4.2m he earned in his last year as chief executive of Air New Zealand.

That $90,000 a week is more than the median kiwi makes all year, and on an annual basis its 50% more than we earn in a lifetime (based on median hourly earnings). Of course, that median kiwi pays taxes on every dollar they earn; for Luxon, its all tax free. And as the icing on the cake, he doesn't even recognise that this is wrong.

This is a man who has absolutely nothing in common with the people he purports to represent and supposedly wants to lead. He might as well be a Martian for all he has in common with us. Instead, he's basicly an embodiment of two of our three biggest problems (and conspicuously silent on the third). Only a party whose MPs own three and a half houses each (and are thus similarly divorced from reality) could think he could win us over.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

More solar

The other day I posted about the renewable energy challenge if Aotearoa is to meet its climate change goals, arguing that we can do it. Today, Christchurch Airport has stepped up, providing another big chunk of what we need to get to a greener 2035, in the form of a 150MW solar farm:

Christchurch Airport is committing 400 hectares to create a renewable energy park with a solar farm that will generate enough to power 30,000 homes.

Kōwhai Park will be located on the airport's Harewood campus, with hopes it will help businesses to transition away from fossil fuels.

The park will scale up over the next 30 years with the first phase dedicated to a solar energy farm capable of generating 150 megawatts of electricity. That is about 20 percent of Christchurch's current residential electricity use.

The park will support future development of green fuel production for land and air transport, green data centres and green vertical farming.

The latter is interesting. Airlines are going to have to decarbonise, and they have a number of technological options available (electricity, hydrogen, and straight-out synthetic fuel are all on the table). But all of those options will need electricity, and the airport is basicly signalling that they're ready to provide it to help the transition.

When will we follow Barbados?

Barbados became a republic last night, ending nearly 400 years of British colonialism:

After 396 years, the sun has set on the British monarchy’s reign over the Caribbean island of Barbados, with a handover ceremony at midnight on Monday marking the birth of the world’s newest republic.

As the clock struck 12, the Royal Standard flag representing the Queen was lowered over a crowded Heroes Square in Bridgetown and Carol Roberts-Reifer, chief executive officer of the National Cultural Foundation, made the declaration of Barbados’ transition to its new constitutional status.

Guests in the square applauded as Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as president by the chief justice and took the oath of allegiance to her country. Hundreds of people lining Chamberlain Bridge in the capital cheered and a 21-gun salute was fired as the national anthem was played. Barbadian singer Rihanna also attended the ceremony and was declared a national hero.

Obviously, congratulations are in order. But Barbados also provides a model of how we could do it. They're a "twink republic": twink out old royalist terms ("Governor-General", "Crown") and replace them with republican ones ("President", "State"). The forms change, but the underlying structure remains the same, providing constitutional continuity and certainty. They even appointed their incumbent Governor-General as President, to ease concerns around political appointments and ensure norms around non-interference were continued.

This is the easiest pathway we could take to a republic. It avoids opening any cans of worms around relitigating constitutional norms (or rather, puts it off into the future when we can handle it without the distraction of a foreign monarch and her local personality cult), while making the change that really matters: ending the undemocratic institution of the foreign monarchy.

In Barbados, the shift was seen explicitly as ending colonialism and restoring the dignity of Barbadians. The obvious question for Aotearoa is when we are going to follow them, join the future, and live in dignity?

Something is missing from this picture

Yesterday the National Party picked a new leader, who seems indistinguishable from the last-but-one. Today, Stuff has an article exploring where he stands on the "big issues", which looks at "faith and politics", "identity and housing", "three Waters and He Puapua", and "health and social investment". What's missing? Just climate change - our biggest environmental problem which is going to shape all of those other issues.

That's quite the omission. And given Stuff's declaration that they will treat climate change like the emergency that it is, I'd have expected them to have asked about it. Did they forget, or did Luxon refuse to answer? And if the latter, isn't that pretty newsworthy?

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The "most open and transparent government ever" again

According to the Prime Minister and other Ministers, the decision to open up Auckland and allow Covid to spread was made on the basis of "eroding social licence". The phrase repeatedly appears in Cabinet Papers on the subject, particularly in the 4 October review of alert level settings which caused the whole shitshow. But while this phrase is apparently crucial to government decision-making, the Prime Minister and a bunch of other senior Ministers claim not to know what it means.

If taken seriously, this should cast serious doubt on their decision-making on such matters. But its clearly not meant to be taken seriously. Instead, it's a casual "fuck you" response from the self-proclaimed "most open and transparent government ever", and an example of their obsession with secrecy and reluctance to release anything if they can possibly contrive an excuse not to.

I mean really, would it have killed them to just point at a dictionary? And would it really have taken them 16 working days to do so?

Monday, November 29, 2021

Climate Change: We can do it!

RNZ reports on the other story to come out of the government's emissions budget Cabinet paper: the scale of the changes we need to make:

The massive scale of the nationwide changes needed quickly to cut climate gas emissions is laid bare in newly-released government documents.


The number of cyclists needs to increase by half in three years and by 340 percent by 2035, while public transport use needs to go up 60 percent and 210 percent over the same timeframes.

In three years, the amount of electricity generated from wind and solar needs to increase 106 percent and 180 percent respectively.

By 2035, wind will have to have increased 360 percent, while solar will need to increase 2200 percent to make up the 6 percent share of total energy needed.

While I can't talk about cyclists (which sounds like a job for the transport experts at Greater Auckland), I can run the numbers on renewable energy. And they're quite promising.

First, solar. According to MBIE's electricity statistics, this is estimated to generate 159 GWh a year (estimate because they don't actually know how many rooftop solar installations there are). 180% of that is 286 GWh, which is about 70% of the 400 GWh of new solar plants announced earlier this year by Lodestone Energy. All of which are meant to be up and running by the end of 2023. So, we'll beat the expected first budget target, and if the industry can sustain that pace, then we might make the 2035 one (and on that front, its only likely to get cheaper and easier).

As for wind, according to Wikipedia we have 817.7 MW of installed generation (this excludes Turitea, which is half-built; including the northern half would take it to 936.7). So we basicly need another GW of new generation installed by 2025, which is a big ask. The good news is that there's already 416 MW (including the unbuilt part of Turitea) of that in the construction pipeline for the next two years. So the market is already going to provide about 40% of what we need. What about the other 60%?

The good news is that there's plenty of projects consented and waiting to go. And one of them - Castle Hill - would solve the whole problem in one hit (for the next budget period). But Genesis doesn't want to build it, because it would reduce the need for Huntly and so drive power prices and profits down. The government could solve that by using its majority ownership of Genesis to force them to do, by paying them to do it, or just by buying the project and doing it themselves. The latter option would cost ~$1.6 billion, which is a hell of a lot of money. But its less than three years of the social cost of the 4 million tons of carbon the electricity industry emits every year. In other words, if the government took its own $150/ton carbon price seriously, it would spend that money directly to reduce emissions and avoid incurring it.

In the longer term, we need to quadruple the amount of wind power in Aotearoa. The market clearly is not going to provide that by itself. But the government can, and should, step in to address this market failure, using tax and ETS revenues to pay for it. At its own social cost, its cost-effective to do so.

As for the how, until recently New Zealand had a publicly-listed company whose sole purpose was to build more windfarms (ironicly, it got bought by one of the big gentailers to add to its portfolio). The government should establish a new SOE for this purpose. This would also give it direct leverage on the electricity market, letting it counteract the more sociopathic impulses of the major gentailers. The problem, as with so many other things, is to get them to start seeing it as an investment, which saves them money in the long-term, rather than as a short-term cost.

Climate Change: Cold feet?

Ministry for the Environment has dumped more cabinet papers related to its recent initial consultation on the emissions reduction plan. The key document is an August cabinet paper on Emissions Budgets for 2022-2025, 2026-2030 and 2031-2035, which made the dubious in-principle decision to increase the first period's emissions budget (which I've talked about here). That's a worrying sign that the government is getting cold feet, but there's worse. After talking about how hard its going to be to meet the first budget, the paper contains a section on borrowing, noting that the power to borrow 1% from the next budget "could provide a reasonably significant buffer". Worse, there is a large, almost entirely redacted section on "offshore mitigation", presumably discussing whether the pandemic can be used as an excuse to abandon ambitious domestic cuts and simply buy some foreign fraud, as we're planning to do for our Paris NDC.

That seems like a very dubious idea, legally speaking. As the paper notes, offshore mitigation may only be used if there is a significant change of circumstance that affects either the considerations on which the relevant budget was based, or the ability to meet the relevant budget domestically. On the first point, the Climate Change Commission made its recommendations during and against the backdrop of the pandemic, so its hard to argue its a change of circumstances that wasn't considered. More importantly, it reduced emissions by 4.5%. I think it would be very hard to argue that something which reduced emissions makes it harder to meet a budget by domestic cuts. Instead, it would look like a government grasping for excuses for its refusal to enact sufficient policy.

(And possibly the redacted section says exactly that. But as its redacted, we don't know, and from the context, it seems reasonable to assume the worst. After all, if they'd dismissed the option, there'd be no pending decision, and it wouldn't be redacted...)

Using borrowing or foreign fraud to "meet" the first emissions budget would make a mockery of the entire Zero Carbon Act process and destroy its credibility from the outset. Unfortunately, it looks like the government is heading that way, or at least seriously considering it. While the Zero Carbon Act was supposed to force politicians to think long term, it looks like their usual short-term thinking is reasserting itself.

Friday, November 26, 2021

The cost of optimism

Yesterday the National Party imploded in a messy knife-fight that cost it its leader and probably one of the contenders. So naturally, the government has taken the opportunity to do a dump of its pandemic advice, including the Cabinet papers on its controversial decisions to repeatedly lower the Auckland alert level. Stuff has a breakdown here, focusing on the shift from level 4 to level 3. The paper on that is here, and it shows that while the outbreak appeared to be under control (with R down to ~0.5), the government took an appropriately cautious approach, delaying the shift for a week to make sure.

The next paper, from 20 September, is the final check on that decision. It states that "the Director-General [of health] is confident that the outbreak in the Auckland region is contained", but then goes on to note that there are two sub-clusters of concern, and that

continued identification of cases in unknown contacts in these sub-clusters suggests that their edges may not yet be contained.
Or, to put it another way, "not really". Despite this, Bloomfield recommended that Auckland move down to level 3. The effect of this was to spike R to 0.9, causing a long tail of cases. Not disaster, but it sowed the seeds.

The real problem is in the next review, on 4 October. This opens cautiously, with a note that the Auckland outbreak "continues to be of concern" and that "there is a need for a high degree of caution". It then goes on to talk about that thing that politicians always talk about when they're going to fuck you: "balance". Apparently, there was "evidence of eroding social license for heightened restrictions". Skipping ahead, this turns out to be that "sentiment has changed from ‘neutral’ and ‘joy’ to ‘neutral’ and ‘sad’" - more people were picking the frowny face that the happy one in the polling they were doing - and that while national support for anti-covid measures remains high, "there is less support for lockdowns in Auckland". Despite this,

Aucklanders when compared to the rest of New Zealand, are more consistently compliant, significantly so with staying home if sick and using the COVID-19 Tracer App.
Which seems like a pretty weak case.

Meanwhile, on the public health front - the thing this anecdata is meant to "balance" against - things look bad. Contact-tracing wasn't working because of who the virus had infected, and the modelling was absolutely horrible, warning that

By early November, daily reported cases may approach or exceed the outbreak’s earlier peaks in August and results suggest that almost all Alert Level 2 simulations are not contained over the course of October and November.
And that's with a caveat of huge downside risks due to stochastic effects (basicly, the virus spreading to highly connected, non-compliant groups). Bloomfield also notes that the Aucklnad public health workforce is burned out, and that "New Zealand would struggle to respond" if there was another significant outbreak within the next two months. Despite that, he goes on to breezily say:
Auckland can move down one step to a modified Alert Level 3
The kicker: they knew they'd fucked up within a week. The very next paper - on 11 October - says that R has jumped to between 1.2 and 1.3, that "The Auckland outbreak is not contained", and that "Outbreak modelling will begin to explore downside scenarios under which hospital capacity may be reached." Whoops!

And the rest is history. The modelling turned out to be wildly overoptimistic, with August case numbers reached within two weeks of the decision, and horror days with 250 cases. Vaccine uptake meanwhile came nowhere close to their assumptions. We're now facing daily deaths, all as the result of an over-optimistic "balancing" exercise comparing solid public health data to anecdote. If we had an opposition less crap, the government should expect some serious accountability for this at the next election.

Update: Apparently, the document dump was signalled to the media on Monday.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Now Labour wants secret trials

Today, the government introduced the Security Information in Proceedings Legislation Bill to the House. The Bill would allow the government to use classified information in civil or criminal proceedings and keep it secret from the other party. So people suing the government for human rights abuses could lose, and defendants could be found guilty, on the basis of secret "evidence" which they have had no opportunity to challenge or rebut. Oh, there'll be a "special advocate" procedure (a pre-vetted, security cleared and hence cooperative lawyer, paid by the government and hence working for them, and forbidden to communicate with the person who isn't really their client unless the government gets to review every word), but that system has been found to be fundamentally unjust by the UK Supreme Court (and our own Court of Appeal is currently expressing deep suspicion about its use in a passport case). In the UK, not even the special advocates believe the system is fair. It was bullshit when they did it to Ahmed Zaoui, and it is bullshit now.

What sort of trials could the government use this in? I previously compiled a little list when National introduced this bullshit to workplace safety legislation, and I guess we could add human rights claims over the SAS's actions in Afghanistan and privacy claims over police abuse of power as obvious examples. As for criminal cases, the obvious application is terrorism cases, and its worth noting that the bill would have allowed the use of secret evidence against the Urewera 17.

The core problem for the government is that where secret evidence is used, verdicts are simply not credible. Oh, the court and the government can say someone is guilty, but in a secret trial where no-one is actually allowed to see the evidence, there's no reason to believe them. And the result will undermine the entire justice system.

This bill should not pass. If it does pass, there needs to be a legal challenge to declare it inconsistent with the bill of Rights Act immediately. We cannot allow this English tyranny to further infect our justice system.

A transformative government in Germany

Back in September Germans went to the polls, and handed the politicians a tough job, with no easy majorities for anyone. The Social Democrats, Free Democrats, and Greens agreed to work together in a "traffic light" coalition, but given their political differences (its basicly ACT/Greens/Labour), expectations for real change were low. But amazingly, they seem to have reached an agreement for an actual transformative government with big changes. Making Germany carbon-neutral by 2045 (rather than 2050), phasing out coal by 2030 (rather than 2038) and gas by 2040, legalising recreational cannabis, lowering the voting age to 16, and a significantly increased minimum wage. Its the sort of program that even a red-green German government could be proud of.

Meanwhile, compare this to New Zealand, where the ostensibly progressive Labour party won an unthinkable majority government in 2020 and are in a position to do anything they want, and are choosing to do... nothing. Instead, it seems they want to keep things exactly the same for as long as possible. Looking at Germany, I think we're getting a raw deal here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Climate Change: Taking us for a ride

Agricultural emissions has been an oozing sore in our climate change policy for over a decade. Exempted from the ETS in 2008, farmers were meant to be brought in and start paying for their emissions in 2012. Of course, National put a stop to that, and exempted them forever. When Labour won power in 2017, it looked like there might be progress, but of course they chickened out, announcing instead that farmers would be given more time to develop their own pricing system under the he waka e noa partnership. At the time, this seemed like a bad idea: the people the government was calling its "partners" had denied and dragged their feet at every turn, and there was no reason to believe that this wouldn't turn out to be more of the same. And that's exactly what has happened. Because he waka e noa has presented the first glimpses of its grand plan for pricing farm emissions, with a discussion document on pricing options. And its clear from this that they're just taking us for a ride again.

The short version of the farmers' emissions pricing scheme is that rather than participating in the ETS and paying the market rate for carbon, they would instead pay a levy, with separate prices for short-lived and long-lived gases. The levy would be set by Ministers, so the aim here is clearly that it will be set artificially low to provide a continued subsidy (and their "Factors to consider in setting or updating levy rates" explicitly lists international competitiveness, so its pretty explicit). But not content with that, or the subsidy of 95% free allocation, they also want to include a pile of "offsets" using dodgy accounting, claiming credit for forests which already exists, or "forests" which aren't, in an effort to make us pay them for this bullshit. So, basicly a scam from start to finish.

As for the emissions impact, the discussion document has this to say:

Initial modelling suggests these prices would lead to reductions in total agricultural emissions of less than 1% reduction in both CH4 and N2O below 2017 level
And given that they have every incentive to overstate that figure, I think we can assume that the impact will be to increase emissions rather than reduce them.

This discussion document, presenting a pricing scheme which will not reduce emissions, shows us that farmers are not engaging in this process in good faith. Instead, as predicted, it was just more predatory delay. They seem to think urban Aotearoa - the 85% of us who live in cities, and who pay the full price of every ton of carbon we produce - have infinite patience for their bullshit. We need to show them they are wrong.

He waka e noa has failed. It was a waste of time. They were just taking us for a ride. The government should recognise that, and immediately implement the Climate Change Response Act's "backstop provision", and bring agriculture into the ETS at the producer level. Then, it should repeal the overly-generous free allocation provisions, which would see farmers receive pollution subsidies for the next century, and replace them with either full price exposure or a very short - five years maximum - phase out. Because farmers have had twenty years to get used to the idea of paying for their pollution, and it has been nearly a decade since it was supposed to happen. If they haven't made the necessary changes to reduce their emissions by now, then that seems to be a very poor business decision that we shouldn't insulate them from. And if it means that the most inveterate polluters go bankrupt and cease polluting, then good - that is what the policy is supposed to achieve, and the quicker it happens, the better.

Climate Change: An industry in denial

Over the past few years it has become clear that coal has no future in Aotearoa. Rising carbon prices, a ban on new boilers and a legislated phase-out for existing infrastructure are going to drive it out of the market. To reinforce this, the government signed up for an anti-coal pledge at COP26 in Glasgow (though they did this without any new policy commitments, of course). But despite all this, the coal industry simply isn't getting the message:

However, both Bathurst Resources and New Vale and Ohai Coal say they will not be changing long-term strategies as a result of the international commitments.

Bathurst Resources chief executive Richard Tacon said it was still working to continue to supply coal to customers until 2037, a timeframe that had been decided upon by larger industries in consultation with the Government.


The New Vale mine had more than 20 years of life left and employed 42 people, and as long as it remained profitable mining would continue, he said.

It had not begun planning for the eventual phase-out of coal, he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen. At the end of the day, they haven’t got a replacement for coal ... there’s a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.

This is the sound of an industry in deep, deep denial about its lack of a future. And that denial and refusal to shut down is going to lead to more coal being burned and higher emissions. So what can we do about it? I think the answer is to bring the policy forward and kill it faster. We need an immediate legislative ban on new coal infrastructure, and the phase-out needs to be brought forward to 2030 (or earlier, if we think we can get away with it). It also needs to be coupled with amendments to the Crown Minerals Act and RMA to ban new exploration permits and phase out all existing mining permits and resources consents for coal mining. Again, 2030 seems like an appropriate date to use. The market isn't going to kill this dirty, polluting industry by itself, so we need government to put a legislative stake through its heart.

The "most open and transparent government ever" again

The government is about to pass new vaccination mandate legislation under urgency. So obviously, they'd want to ensure it gets the best possible scrutiny in the limited time available by releasing the supporting policy documents, right? Of course not:

On the eve of legislation to enable vaccination passes being rushed through Parliament under urgency, the Minister has said it will not publish the relevant policy papers until ‘late January 2022.’

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties had today finally received a response (PDF) from the Government to its 9 October request for information about the introduction of vaccination certificates. The Minister for Covid-19 Response – also the Minister for Open Government – Chris Hipkins has refused to provide the information requested.


“I have made the decision to proactively release all decision making documents relating to COVID-19 vaccination certificates, including the above, on the Unite against COVID-19 website (see: I intend to publish this information by late January 2022.”

The Council’s chairman, Thomas Beagle, described the Minister’s response as “a disgraceful affront to open government and Aotearoa New Zealand’s democracy. It is unacceptable that MPs and the public won’t be able to read these crucial policy documents before considering the legislation to impose the vaccination certificate system.”

This certainly shows the lie behind the government's claims to be "the most open and transparent government ever". Its also an example of how the government is increasingly abusing the proactive publication clause of the OIA to keep information secret and undermine the entire OIA regime. The purpose of the OIA is to promote accountability and participation, and this requires people getting information when they want it, not when it suits the government to release it. But increasingly, the government is using the existence of proactive publication policies to refuse requests and dole out information when it is too late to inform participation, while redacting it to suit themselves, or refusing to release it entirely (as there is no legislation covering withholding information from proactive release). And this basicly subverts the Act, undermines its purposes, and takes us back to the bad old days of the 1970's.

An obvious solution to this is to repeal s18(d) of the OIA. While this would be administratively inconvenient, it is clear that Ministers and officials cannot be trusted to behave reasonably or apply the law in good faith, so we need to remove the slightest excuse they have for secrecy. And if they whinge about it, they have no-one to blame but themselves.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Game over for the HRPP

Since its election loss earlier this year, Samoa's Human Rights Protection Party has been pinning its hopes on the upcoming by-elections to regain power. That was a pretty forlorn hope - with 18 seats, they would have had to win all seven by-elections and have two additional women appointed to gain a majority - but now it is over. The Supreme Court ruled today that the HRPP's candidate for Falealupo was ineligible, meaning that the FAST candidate will be elected unopposed and the government will have 27 seats. And that means that the HRPP cannot win a majority now even if they win every remaining by-election and have the maximum number of women appointed (which, as one of their candidates is a woman, would be one).

So, the HRPP are not just going to regain power next week. They lost. Now they'd better get used to that fact.

Good riddance

Its official: the Marsden Point refinery, source of more than 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, will be closing down from April:

Refining NZ has confirmed its decision to close the Marsden Point oil refinery, which will shut down in April.

The company announced on Monday that its board had signed off on its transition to a business that will instead help distribute pre-refined fuels imported from overseas.

The closure will result in the loss of 240 of the company’s 310 jobs, though some of the displaced workers will be kept on for up to two years, a spokeswoman said.

The refinery was exempt from the ETS until recently, meaning we were effectively paying $300,000 a year for those jobs in carbon costs alone. Which is another way of saying that the social costs of this facility were enormous, and we are much better off without it. That's not to say we should abandon them - that subsidy would help a lot towards establishing clean new industries for them to work in, and the site and its consents could be used for biofuel or green hydrogen production (keeping in mind that hydrogen is a chemical feedstock, not a fuel, so would need to be paired with other chemical facilities to use it). But as for petroleum refining, its over in Aotearoa, and good riddance to it.

As for those worried about "security of supply", they should all be pushing for electrifying transport as quickly as possible. Because we make our electrons domesticly and cleanly, rather than importing them from unstable parts of the world in a way which is a constant risk of environmental disaster. Dependence on imported energy has simply given us instability and risk. This is an opportunity to free ourselves of that forever.

Friday, November 19, 2021

A good problem to have

Norway is the global success story on electric car uptake, with early policy and a well-signalled 2025 cutoff point for fossil vehicles resulting in 77% of new cars being EV's. But now they have a problem: not enough dirty cars to tax:

Norway’s electric dream has been credited to a series of tax breaks and other financial carrots that mean brands like Tesla can compete on price with combustion engines. But these incentives—and their success—have created a unique predicament: Norway is running out of dirty cars to tax.

It’s quite a big problem. The previous government—a center-right coalition that was replaced by a center-left minority government in October—estimated that the popularity of EVs was creating a 19.2 billion Norwegian krone ($2.32 billion) hole in the country’s annual revenue. While EVs might be great news for the environment, their rapid success in Norway is now forcing some serious fiscal consternation.

New Zealand will eventually face this problem too. Currently we pay for roads through hypothecated petrol taxes and road-user-charges (RUCs). But EV's don't use petrol, and are currently exempt from RUCs, so if policy is successful in promoting uptake, we're eventually going to have a funding gap like Norway's. Which will mean moving to new ways of funding roads - an electricity price surcharge, through registration fees, increased use of toll roads, or just through general taxation (RUCs are probably too easy to cheat on to be used for all cars). Still, that's a good problem to have - because it means transport emissions will be being crushed (and maybe we'll also see a sufficient mode-shift to make the required funding lower anyway).

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Another OIA horror-story

NewsHub reports on another OIA horror story, a simple request for information on the supply and distribution of PPE which required the intervention of the Ombudsman to get a response. And reading the article, it seems to be the usual story of an overly-secretive agency abusing the process to hide information it does not want revealed (the supply of PPE was later subject to a damning Auditor-General's report, which might have been avoided if transparency and the resulting embarrassment and accountability had caused the problems to be corrected earlier). And key to this abuse is our old friend, extensions:

The final determination of the Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, who investigated Newshub's complaint, also appears to point to manipulation of the process.

When the Ministry initially said it needed to extend the timeframe to respond, Boshier found the Ministry had already drafted its response.

"There was not a substantial amount of information to be searched through or collated. Further, the only 'consultations' that have been identified to me are internal ones," he said.

Boshier found workload pressures at the Ministry were "not a reason" to drag out the OIA process which was determined to be "unreasonable".

Which both echoes the findings about the SIS/GCSB (suggesting a pervasive problem across government), and is also a reminder of why you should always complain about extensions. Because clearly agencies cannot be relied upon to apply the law in good faith, making constant scrutiny by the Ombudsman necessary.

The article cites the Chief Ombudsman has having serious concerns about whether the OIA is being complied with. If that's the case, maybe he should stop pissing about with early resolution and negotiated discontinuances (which is what happened here), and start issuing binding final opinions and bring them to the direct attention of Parliament. Because its clear that the current system of belated slaps on the wrist with a wet bus ticket is completely ineffective.

Bribing for convictions

Imagine that you've been arrested and are facing criminal charges. Now imagine that the government tries to bribe your lawyer to encourage you to plead guilty. It's obviously corrupt and a complete mockery of justice. But that's exactly what the New Zealand Government wants to do:

The Criminal Process Improvement Programme, developed by Police, Corrections and the Ministry of Justice, seeks to streamline the court process.

The Ministry of Justice says court delays were a problem even before the pandemic, with an average of nearly four court 'events' required between charges being laid and a plea being entered.

The new policy, to be piloted at Hamilton District Court in early December, with Gisborne and Manukau to follow, offers financial incentives to duty lawyers - who are on hand at courts to provide free legal services for people who don't have a lawyer.

The scheme will pay duty lawyers a 'higher duties allowance' of $50 for a plea, $90 for a plea and sentencing on the same day, $50 for sentencing and $90 for a bail application.

The Law Society and other legal groups are very clear that this is a conflict of interest which incentivises quick guilty pleas. It also means that no-one should trust advice from a duty solicitor, since they're so obvious compromised by their position. But the government doesn't care. A fast process is apparently more important to them than a just one, and they don't mind committing bribery to get it.

How does Labour expect to get away with this?

Yesterday's decision by the government to open the Auckland border in December was, like all their other recent decisions, immediately panned by public health experts. The polite version, on Stuff, is that Covid will "travel for summer" with Aucklanders, leading to outbreaks. Newsroom's Marc Daalder cuts through the crap and tells us what that really means: people will die at home in an entirely avoidable pandemic, which will hit the most vulnerable hardest:

Baker worries about a scenario where the white, wealthy and vaccinated parts of the country remain immune to Covid-19 - and maybe don't even notice as it ravages Māori, poor and unvaccinated communities like Kawerau or Murupara.


Then there's Baker's nightmare scenario - one where the inequities of the outbreaks remain but where even highly-vaccinated populations are threatened by Delta.


"I'm just not sure if we're ready to see 10 to 20 deaths a day, because we could easily be in that situation by January or February," Baker said. "That's adding about 10 percent to our annual mortality."

I've been wondering how Labour expects to politically get away with this. Non-Aucklanders outnumber Aucklanders more than two to one, and having the government deliberately spread a pandemic to uninfected regions is the sort of thing voters are likely to feel strongly about (as a non-Aucklander, I certainly feel strongly about it). Is it just mindless optimism, a refusal to recognise the huge risks in their decision (which clashes violently with all their previous rhetoric about "an abundance of caution")? Are they really expecting voters to forget dead relatives and a mountain of corpses come election time? Or are they just going to point to stuff like this, say (accurately) "National would have killed more of you, who else are you going to vote for?", and rely in their usual fashion on the old political duopoly to return them to power?

But even if they get away with it, there'll be a price to pay. While I'm not qualified to speak for Māori, I would not expect them to be happy with being thrown under the bus by Labour. Meanwhile, the political duopoly supporting mass-death is unlikely to enhance its legitimacy, or that of the political system as a whole. In the 1980's and early 1990's repeated betrayals by that duopoly led to mass disenchantment with the political system and reform aimed at breaking it - and those betrayals didn't come with an obvious, explicit bodycount. If the political status quo chooses mass death over keeping us alive, then when this is over we need to rid ourselves of that rotten system, and the rotten parties in it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The annual litany of lawlessness

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has published their 2021 Annual Report, and its the usual litany of lawlessness and failure from the spy agencies. There are the usual examples of the SIS and GSCB simply failing to comply with statutory requirements and adopting self-serving legal interpretations 9whcih the IGIS disagrees with). And then there's this:

Section 220 of the ISA specifies that information obtained by or disclosed to the Service for a security clearance assessment may be used only for the purposes of that assessment, another clearance assessment, or counter-intelligence. Counter-intelligence is defined as intelligence activities carried out to identify and counteract the threat, or potential threat, of unauthorised disclosure of official information by a person who holds or has held a security clearance.


In the past year the Service was confronted with the question of whether a candidate’s disclosure of information about criminal behaviour was serious enough to be reported to the Police, despite the rule in the ISA. In a particular case the Service decided quickly in favour of sharing the information. On learning of this I was not persuaded, on the facts, that it had been necessary for the Service to report it before receiving advice from Crown Law on the scope for doing so. The Service subsequently proposed an interpretation of s 220 ISA that would allow disclosure to the Police, in the particular circumstances and more generally. I did not agree with that reading; nor, ultimately, did the Solicitor-General.

[Link added]

Or, to put it another way: the SIS knowingly and deliberately broke the law, basicly because they felt like it. As usual there are no criminal penalties for doing so, so there are no real consequences for them other than having it mentioned in an annual report. Which raises the obvious question: if they would so casually violate the clear legal prohibition of s220 (and it is a clear legal prohibition, with no room for interpretation in the direction they wanted), what does that say about their approach to other equally clear legal prohibitions in the Intelligence and security Act, or elsewhere in the law?