Friday, January 15, 2021



100 Days 4 Action

School Strike 4 Climate is holding a "100 Days 4 Action" rally outside Parliament on the 26th:

The Youth of NZ will be standing up for climate action once again on January 26th outside of Parliament for School Strike 4 Climate NZ’s 100 Days 4 Action campaign rally.

“We believe it is vital to hold our new Labour-led government to account from the get-go. Like many, we have seen countless promises on policy, actions and goals in the past year - but we often question ourselves, what will they deliver? We are demanding real transformative action during this newly sworn-in government's first 100 days. It is time for real change, to protect our people, whenua & planet, for good.” Says SS4C NZ Coordinator and Media Representative, Ethan Reille

[...]

School Strike 4 Climate NZ will meet outside parliament at 12:00pm on January 26th. We plan to chant, advocate and present the demands we have collated from the voices of the public. We invite the public to arrive at 12:30pm approx, where we then aim to present our demands to Labour MP, Ginny Anderson and other representatives of the Government at 12:45 pm. Then we will finish with an open mic session, catered for the public, to allow all voices to be heard, while there is an opportunity.

The Climate Commission will present its draft emissions budgets and reduction plans on February 1st, so its important to speak up and demand action. That said, things are not exactly normal ATM. So, if you go, stay safe, wear a mask, scan in everywhere, and wash your hands.

Thursday, January 14, 2021



Paying the BluffGeld

So, Rio Tinto has supposedly reached a deal with Meridian and Contact to give them cheaper electricity prices and keep the Tiwai Point smelter open. Down south, they're celebrating. But the rest of us shouldn't be. I've argued before that the best thing this foreign polluter can do is close. It uses 12% of our total electricity generation, effectively making it responsible for that entire sector's carbon emissions, while receiving huge carbon subsidies (latest figures: 1.7 million tons in 2019, worth $65 million at today's prices if they're getting an equivalent amount this year, a huge whack of their annual "profit", and enough for us to pay every worker there $65,000 a year for the rest of their lives to find something else to do). Added to that, their constant threats of closure to extort ever-more-favourable terms from governments who want it to close, but not on their watch, plays havoc with our electricity market, deterring renewables investment as no-one can be sure whether there will be a glut in three or four years time. The smelter seems to exist solely as a machine for extorting subsidies from the New Zealand government - subsidies paid by you and me, in the form of higher taxes and electricity prices. And our chickenshit politicians keep falling for it, and paying the BluffGeld, to avoid the horrific situation of us not having to pay them anymore.

Rio Tinto says this deal "mak[es] the smelter economically viable and competitive over the next four years." Naturally it expires in 2024, just after the next election, so next election time we can expect them to be claiming that the smelter is economically unviable and uncompetititve and asking for another subsidy. And I expect our chickenshit politicians to roll over and pay them off again, dooming us to higher emissions and more expensive electricity. Because once you pay the DaneGeld, you never get rid of the Dane.

Impeached again

The US House of Representatives has just impeached Donald Trump, giving him the dubious honour of being the only US President to be impeached twice. Ten Republicans voted for impeachement, making it the most bipartisan impeachment ever.

The question now is whether the Senate will rise to the occasion, and vote to convict, or let Trump get away with it. Because that's what not convicting him means: letting a President get away with attempting a coup against the constitution he was supposed to uphold. And doing that effectively means issuing a standing invitation to anyone else to try and do it in future. If the US constitution is to mean anything, if its vaunted "checks and balances" are to mean anything, if the US system of government is to survive, then Trump needs to be removed from office immediately, before he can do any more damage. After what he has done, he cannot be allowed to simply leave the White House peacefully at the end of his term; he must be thrown out, repudiated, as a warning to others.

They won't, of course. The Republicans control the Senate, and I expect nothing but cowardice and venality from them. The party which once stood up to Nixon is no longer interested in defending US democracy, especially from their own efforts to undermine it. The good news is that the House's motion may stop Trump from pardoning himself and anyone involved in his insurrection. So its done some good, at least.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021



The Twitter Purge

In the wake of Donald Trump's incitement of an assault on the US capitol, Twitter finally enforced its terms of service and suspended his account. They've since followed that up with action against prominent QAnon accounts and Trumpers, including in New Zealand. I'm not unhappy with this: Trump regularly violated Twitter's TOS, and the surprising thing is that he wasn't banned sooner. Likewise the NZ accounts highlighted are ones with long histories of violations and suspensions. At the same time, I'm a little bit uncomfortable about the amount of power a handful of US-based dotcoms now have over the global conversation. And while at the moment they're using it against violent extremists, you don't have to think too hard to see how this power could be abused to stifle criticism, interfere in elections, and undermine democracy to the advantage of these dotcoms' billionaire owners.

Many people will argue that Twitter is a private company, so can do what it likes. This isn't government censorship, after all. But private power is still power, and therefore needs to be regulated and controlled to prevent abuse. That's why we have a Human Rights Act, which prevents private bodies using their private power for discriminatory purposes. And its why our Bill of Rights Act applies to anyone performing a public function - a clause which has been regularly used to review and overturn the decisions of private broadcasters on who may participate in election debates. As for what we should be doing about this particular form of power, the Spinoff article quotes the NZ Council for Civil Liberties' Thomas Beagle as suggesting mandatory transparency and appeal processes. That would seem to be a good start.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021



One way of fixing it

Yesterday we had the unseemly sight of a landleech threatening to keep his houses empty in response to better tenancy laws. Meanwhile in Catalonia they have a solution for that: nationalisation:

Barcelona is deploying a new weapon in its quest to increase the city’s available rental housing: the power to force the sale of empty properties.

This week, the city’s housing department wrote to 14 companies that collectively own 194 empty apartments, warning that if they haven’t found a tenant within the next month, the city could take possession of these properties, with compensation at half their market value. These units would then be rented out by the city as public housing to lower-income tenants, while the companies in question could also face possible fines of between €90,000 and €900,000 ($103,000 and $1,003,000), according to Spanish news outlets.

That would certainly be one way of fixing the "ghost house" problem, and it would certainly incentivise landleeches to fill their properties. Even fines would be a start on that. Ultimately, we need a mass state house building program to increase supply and crush the market. But in the interim, measures like this may help ensure our housing stock is actually used as intended: as homes, rather than sources of tax-free capital gains.

Thursday, January 07, 2021



The end of US democracy?

When I went to bed last night, I was expecting today to be eventful. A lot of pouting in Congress as last-ditch Trumpers staged bad-faith "objections" to a democratic election, maybe some rioting on the streets of Washington DC from angry Trump supporters. But I wasn't expecting anything like an armed invasion of the US Capitol, forcing the evacuation of Congress in the middle of the count.

People are calling this an attempted coup, sedition, insurrection, terrorism. Whether it is or not ultimately depends on how the US responds to it: with prosecutions or pardons, impeachment or immunity ("for if it prosper, none dare call it Treason...") But Trump incited this, and it is clear that he approves of it (and was still approving of it just quarter of an hour ago). If American democracy is to survive, he needs to be impeached for it, immediately. Because if inciting your armed supporters to storm Congress to disrupt the certification of an election isn't a "high crime and misdemeanour", what the fuck is?

Tuesday, January 05, 2021



A dangerous decision for journalism

Last night, a British court ruled that Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US. Unfortunately, its not because all he is "guilty" of is journalism, or because the offence the US wants to charge him with - espionage - is of an inherently political nature; instead the judge accepted all the US's arguments that exposing US war crimes is a crime, and accused Assange of violating the UK's draconian Official Secrets Act to boot. Instead, Assange has been saved by his poor mental health: he's likely to kill himself in US custody, and the US wouldn't be able to prevent it. If it saves him from extradition to the US to face persecution and continuing mental torture in a US supermax, that's good. But its no victory for journalism, or the right of citizens to hold their governments to account. But then, did we really expect justice on that front from a British court anyway?

Tuesday, December 22, 2020



A hole in the OIA

Back in 2016, the then-National government did a dodgy deal in which NZ Post - a state-owned enterprise - sold 45% of Kiwibank to the Superannuation fund and ACC, both crown entities. The effect of the deal was to "allow the state-owned enterprise to repay debt [and] pay a special dividend to the government" - effectively plundering the savings of those crown entities for some quick cash. But it had another effect as well: to remove Kiwbank from the coverage of the Official Information Act.

Previously, Kiwibank had been covered by the OIA as a related company of a state enterprise. But the definition of this in s2(1A) of the Act is very specific: to be included, a company must be wholly controlled by one or more state-owned enterprises. If there is any ownership by non-SOEs, then it is no longer covered, even if the other owners are also government entities or wholly government-owned.

This shouldn't be the case. Where local government is concerned, we apply a strict principle: (local) government control means transparency. With a few exceptions, if something is majority controlled by one or more local governments, it is a "council-controlled organisation", and CCOs are subject to the LGOIMA. But for some reason we don't apply this scheme to companies with an identical ownership structure, but a central rather than local government owner. That needs to change. Kiwibank is government-controlled, and so should be subject to the OIA. And so should every other government-controlled company or organisation.

Monday, December 21, 2020



More racism from police

A decade ago, the police were abusing their power to coerce DNA samples from young Māori. Today, they're abusing their power to coerce photographs:

Police in Wairarapa have admitted to illegally taking photos of youths after RNZ alerted them to multiple reports of officers stopping and photographing young Māori on the street.

Whānau describe their sons walking alone in broad daylight, when police have approached and insisted they take their picture.

Its the usual story: people minding their own business being "asked" for a photograph by uniformed cops, with an explicit threat that if they didn't agrees they'd be arrested. In such circumstances, police claims that these photographs are given by consent are meaningless, especially as they are targeting young people who legally cannot consent to being questioned without a parent, caregiver, lawyer, or other adult present. As for the police's "justification" the law they cite - s214 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, which sets out the strong presumption against arresting children and young people - seems to be of dubious applicability. Instead, it just looks like outright racism: treating all young Māori as criminal suspects, regardless of whether there is any evidence or not. And that is simply not something we should tolerate from the police.

Friday, December 18, 2020



Tax cuts for the rich don't work

For the past fifty years, right-wing parties, backed by NeoLiberal think-tanks, have aggressively pushed for tax cuts for the rich. The supposed justification for this is that they will encourage the righ to work harder, leading to economic growth and higher employment. They were wrong. A new study shows what we knew all along: there are no benefits to these tax cuts. All they do is redistribute wealth upwards and drive up inequality, making our societies worse off:

Major reforms reducing taxes on the rich lead to higher income inequality but do not have any significant effect on economic growth or unemployment, according to new research by LSE and King’s College London.

[...]

The paper, published by LSE’s International Inequalities Institute, uses data from 18 OECD countries, including the UK and the US, over the last five decades. The Economic Consequences of Major Tax Cuts for the Rich, by David Hope and Julian Limberg, shows that the last 50 years were a period of falling taxes on the rich in the advanced economies. Major tax cuts were spread across countries and throughout the observation period but were particularly clustered in the late 1980s.

It states: “Our results show that…major tax cuts for the rich increase the top 1% share of pre-tax national income in the years following the reform. The magnitude of the effect is sizeable; on average, each major reform leads to a rise in top 1% share of pre-tax national income of 0.8 percentage points. The results also show that economic performance, as measured by real GDP per capita and the unemployment rate, is not significantly affected by major tax cuts for the rich. The estimated effects for these variables are statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

The New Zealand Finance Ministers who pursued such cuts - Roger Douglas and Bill English among them - should hang their heads in shame. They made us a worse society. The only people they benefited were their rich donors and cronies. But then, that was always, the point, wasn't it? The supporters of tax cuts were never arguing in good faith. They were only ever seeking a public excuse for selfishness, while the billionaires who fund them laughed all the way to the bank.

Billionaires aren't essential

RNZ reported yesterday that several of the billionaire backers of Moneyboat have been unable to enter Aotearoa to watch their lawyers fight, because they haven't been able to get a quarantine slot. Boo hoo. Those slots rightly belong to returning kiwis, and so I'm not sad at all to see foreign billionaires being made to wait their turn. But what really stinks is that they were allowed to apply at all. That's because their Moneyboat teams said they were "essential workers", which is pure bullshit. Billionaires aren't essential in any way. Like tapeworms, they're purely parasitic. They're contributing no useful skills to their teams, or to Aotearoa. They're simply coming here as tourists. In normal times, that's fine. But now, they're taking spaces which rightly belong to kiwis. They should be told to fuck off, and if they want to take their stupid boats with them so we don't have to subsidise them any more, so much the better.

Good riddance

OMV is quitting the Great South Basin and surrendering its permit:

Austrian oil giant OMV, which had a permit to explore the Great South Basin for oil and gas but failed to find anything when it dropped test wells earlier this year, this week announced it would no longer search for gas and oil in the area.

[...]

BusinessDesk reported OMV and its partners, Beach Energy and Mitsui & Co, had surrendered two major offshore permits, including its permit in the 16,715sqkm Great South Basin.

It meant New Zealand would be left with about 36,000sqkm of exploration areas, about a third of the size it was before the Government declared an end to offshore exploration permits in April 2018.

While the ODT version of the story is vague, according to BusinessDesk the other permit being surrendered is off the coast of Wairarapa. Combined with the news that Beach Energy had cancelled drilling in the Canterbury Basin - meaning it cannot meet its permit terms before expiry - this means that all the big East Coast permits will be gone. The only surviving ones will be Clipper (52717) and Toroa (55794), both operated by NZOG. Both have "drill or drop" provisions requiring a commitment to drill a well to be made by April 2022 (and a well to be drilled by 2023), so if we're lucky, they'll both be gone soon.

Thursday, December 17, 2020



A good first step

The government has finally accepted the inevitable and purchased Ihumātao from Fletcher Building, apparently with the aim of eventual return to iwi. Good. It shouldn't have taken them this long, but I guess that's what happens when you have Winston Peters in your government. Now he's gone, there can be progress. As for how much progress, the people whose views actually matter here are the Kaitiaki, the people actually occupying the land. They're cautiously welcoming the deal, but pointedly not mentioning the government's plan to put housing on the site, so it could all still fall apart. Still, its a good first step, and shows the government is at least trying to find a solution, rather than sticking its fingers in its ears and pretending that there is no problem...

...except on the Treaty, of course. The government is saying the purchase and return is part of a "non-Treaty process", and the agreement includes a clause saying that it isn't a Treaty settlement. Which is exactly as meaningful as its clauses saying that Treaty settlements are "full and final": not at all. Yes, the government wants to pretend its not setting a precedent, and not upset its long-running scam of offering Māori a tiny fraction of what was stolen from them and relying on exhaustion and goodwill to make it stick. But we all know they are, and that the door is open for those settlements to be revisited. And we should welcome that. Because no person with a shred of conscience could consider what has been provided anything like just compensation for what was stolen - and until just compensation is paid, the wrong remains.

Delivering last term's promises

The government will raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour from 1 April. Good. Not only will this help people on the bottom by giving them an immediate pay rise - it will also help ratchet up wages for everyone else as well. But let's not forget that this is last term's promise, agreed in their coalition agreement with New Zealand First - so Labour is simply doing what it said it would in 2017. As for this term, they've promised further increases, but nothing specific. That's probably something we can trust them on, but the lack of any specific target means that there's no accountability for whether they're meeting even their own expectations - or for whether those expectations are, as in other sectors, too low.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020



BIM day

The government has proactively released its Briefings to Incoming Ministers (BIMs), so like every other politics geek in Aotearoa, I've spent the morning skimming them. And there's some interesting stuff buried in there. For example:

  • Despite Andrew Little's pre-election "promise" to rewrite the Official Information Act, this isn't part of Ministry of Justice's agenda, with only a brief mention that a review could be considered (MoJ BIM, p 9). There's a commitment to consider a review in the government's OGP national action plan, but I guess they've just decided not to bother.
  • The main climate change BIM doesn't include any actual detail, as that will be in a sector-specific briefing (which can be OIA'd, and should eventually show up here). But there's one from MFAT which highlights the government's desire to "meet" our Paris targets by using foreign "credits" rather than actual emissions reductions, and thinks somehow that Aotearoa can be a "champion" for the UK's initiatives at COP26 next year, as if we have any credibility on this issue (we don't). There's also an A3 from MBIE which reminds us that despite all the government's talk of action in February and May, we're not actually getting budgets and a reduction plan until late next year.
  • Meanwhile, the Transport BIM has bad news: they've been too optimistic in their projections of road transport emissions, which they now expect to keep climbing after 2024. They are also stressing the urgency of action to get policies and reduction sin place in time for the 2030 Paris target, and pushing an ambitious Clean Car Standard and feebates as a first step (EECA is pushing a similar line). There's also a section on cycling and micro-mobility which they say has "latent demand" and a huge amount of potential to reduce traffic and emissions. But apparently local bodies aren't taking up available funding at the moment.
  • The Forestry BIM meanwhile talks up the potential of trees to soak up carbon, and think that expected afforestation will be able to soak up 26% - 51% of projected 2050 emissions. But that's based on ludicrously low carbon prices ($60 in 2050? It's $38 ATM, and will hit $50 early next year after the cap rises. Which incidentally means we're likely to blow our carbon budget before it is legally even set, as the cost-containment reserve activates to ensure the market doesn't work properly). There's also a report on the billion trees program: 258 million trees have been planted, suggesting we're capable of meeting the target. Except that the money runs out in June, and who knows if the new Minister will want to continue Shane Jones' pet project? (its also a dodgy target, and most of it is BAU. I'd like to see a target which is additional, not normal activity).
And that's just the immediate stuff I've noticed in areas I'm highly interested in. And now I need to work out what to OIA to fill in the gaps...

Monday, December 14, 2020



"Unsustainable"

Nelson has been Keeping Rates Low, and now the bill has come due:

Underfunding of running costs for Nelson-Tasman's sewerage system is a key reason for it seeking a big increase in its budget, an officer says.

A multi-year business plan presented to the Nelson Regional Sewerage Business Unit, which has representatives from Nelson and Tasman councils, has come under fire for its proposed big increases in capital and operational spending.

The increases have been labelled “unsustainable” by the Nelson City Council's group manager of infrastructure Alec Louverdis. The proposed operational costs would work out to an increase of $611,000 in 2021-22, equivalent to a one per cent increase in Nelson rates, he said.

As Wellington is also rather messily demonstrating, Keeping Rates Low by skimping on maintenance is an illusory "saving". All it does is push the bill into the future, while increasing it with a side order of shit in the streets. As for calling the cost of fixing it "unsustainable", its unsustainable not to.

Nelson City Council and its ratepayers need to grow the fuck up. Unlike the enormous dam they're subsidising for farmers, this isn't a luxury. If they want to live in the 21st century (or even the 20th), they need to pay for it.

Climate Change: Calling us on our bullshit

Over the weekend, countries which are serious about climate change got together virtually at the international Climate Ambition Summit 2020. But New Zealand pointedly was not invited:

New Zealand was noticeably absent from the massive international Climate Ambition Summit 2020 on Saturday night.

Australia also didn't speak at the virtual event, hosted by the United Nations, the UK and France.

Some reports have suggested our poor record has put us offside with some of the better-performing countries.

I guess the rest of the world has finally noticed the yawning gap between our words and our actions, and called us on our bullshit. And just to back that up, we've been publicly criticised by Greta Thunberg as well. So much for Ardern's "nuclear-free moment"...

The government's excuse is that this is just a matter of timing: the Climate Change Commission will be setting budgets in February, and we'll see real action after that. Except of course there's no reason they couldn't have started implementing policy already. After all, its not as if the Commission is going to tell us to emit more carbon, is it? Or that we're doing too much? But as Marc Daalder pointed out on Newsroom, the latter seems to be the government's real fear: that we'll somehow end up doing too much and create a better, greener world for nothing. But if you look at the state of the world - alternatively on fire and flooding, and in danger of being washed into the sea - that's a nonsensical worry. What we should be worrying about is that we will do too little. And sadly, our foot-dragging government looks to be setting itself up for just that.

Thursday, December 10, 2020



That's the point

Farmers are whining that new freshwater rules designed to stop them shitting in rivers or polluting the water table with nitrogen will mean they make less money:

Farm profitability across the Ashburton District is expected to decline 83 percent per year due to the government's freshwater reforms, a new report states.

The desktop report, requested by the council, notes dairy farming takes place on nearly a third of the district's agricultural land and would be the hardest hit financially.

"The regulations will challenge existing farming systems with a number of established farm practices needing to change, and new technology and innovation adoption will be required."

It conservatively estimated that farm profitability would collectively decline more than $57 million, while farm expenditure would fall by about $140 million.

Essentially, they'll have to have fewer animals, and that will mean lower profits. But that's the point. Clean farmers will continue to make money. Dirty farmers will have to either change or go out of business. If they choose to do the latter rather than downsize their operation to one that lives within our environmental means, well, whose fault is that?

Climate Change: Not doing our bit

There have been a number of stories recently about how New Zealand is not doing its bit on climate change, that despite all our talk and targets, we haven't actually reduced emissions, and are actually one of the dirtiest polluters per capita in the world. And this is beginning to have diplomatic consequences. But there's another way we're not doing our bit: climate finance. A core part of the Paris Agreement was that rich counties would fund adaptation and emissions reduction in poorer ones, to help them along. As noted here, this was the key to the whole deal. But New Zealand isn't doing that either:

New Zealand is not living up to its climate change promises when it comes to helping fund poorer countries adapt to a warming world, a report by Oxfam has found.

A new report says the country’s climate finance has “stagnated” in recent years putting it far behind comparative countries in per capita terms.

According to the report, Standing With The Frontlines, New Zealand ranks 21st out of 23 highly developed countries in total finance provided between 2017 and 2018 in per capita terms. That equates to each citizen donating NZ$10.60 per capita per year in climate finance, or just under NZ$51m per year in total.

[...]

The highest-contributing countries per capita far outstrip New Zealand with contributions between US$40 and US$96 per person. Even similar sized countries, such as Ireland and Denmark make contributions of US$14 and US$27 per person, respectively.

Yes, New Zealand is small. But if we want bigger economies to do their bit, we need to do ours, and that means coughing up our share. And until we do, we're just a dirty climate criminal, no better than Trump's America.

This is simply police corruption

There's an appalling report from the Independent Police Conduct Authority out today, about an Unjustified entry and use of force during [a] search in Whangarei. The short version is that a group of police invaded someone's home without a warrant, assaulted them, used pepper spray to torture them, kidnapped them, and stole their property. They then refused to take a complaint about it, and lied about it to the IPCA. The IPCA is pretty scathing, calling the search and arrest unlawful, all uses of force assault, the "seizure" of a cellphone (being used to record events) unlawful, and saying straight out that police officers lied to them. But despite all this, the police steadfastly refuse to prosecute their own, saying only that they "acknowledged the findings" and that things "could have been handled differently". Sure. But if any of us had done anything like that, the police would be down on us like a ton of bricks. Whereas police officers who commit crimes - and these are crimes - get a pat on the back and full cover from police national headquarters.

It is time to call this intentional harbouring of criminals what it is: corruption. When the police refuse to prosecute their own, it is corrupt. When they downplay the criminal behaviour of their mates, it is corrupt. When they turn a blind eye to their own wrongdoing, it is corrupt. No money changes hands, but it is still corrupt. Mateocracy isn't any better because it relies on favours and friendship rather than outright bribes.

The police are meant to enforce the law. They need to start by enforcing it on themselves. Until they do, they don't have the moral standing to tell anyone else what to do. It is that simple.