Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Still taking the piss

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled on the pillage of swamp kauri, stating clearly that export was forbidden unless it had been clearly turned into a finished product. But less than a month later, MPI was again approving minimally carved logs for export, pretending they were "finished products" so the pillagers could make a quick buck:

A Supreme Court judgment has placed Te Uru Rākau, the Ministry for Primary Industry forestry arm in the role of deciding what’s art and what’s a log.

Te Uru Rākau's call is a swamp kauri log with light carvings, similar to those found inadequate as to be considered a finished product, and a paua shell-dotted resin inlay is a genuine sculpture.


The decision to call an item exported in December, barely a month after the Supreme's Courts judgment, a sculpture has shocked the Northland Environmental Protection Society’s Fiona Furrell.

“I feel this Ministry is making a mockery of the Supreme Court ruling.”

And she's right. The "products" MPI is approving are no different from the raw logs the Supreme Court ruled were illegal. Which is not the sort of behaviour I'd expect from a government agency. But I guess that's what happens when you let yourself be completely captured by the industry you are supposed to be regulating.

"My generation's nuclear-free moment"?

When she was running for election, Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear-free moment". It was meant to convey a sense of both the scale and moral imperitive of the challenge. So how is her government meeting that challenge? By subsidising oil drilling:

The Government has extended an income tax exemption for oil rigs for another five years until 2024, despite leading a worldwide push not to subsidise fossil fuel companies.

It says the tax break is necessary to stop the oil rigs and seismic vehicles "churning" in and out of New Zealand waters every 183 days to escape all tax liability, and means that they will still pay other taxes to the Government.

Revenue Minister Stuart Nash simply told Stuff the decision was "the right thing to do" when asked on his way into caucus.

The explicit justification for the policy is that without it, less oil exploration would take place. Which is exactly what we need to happen if we are to prevent the destruction of the global climate. But it seems that the government would rather have the climate destroyed than have oil companies angry at it. So much for the nuclear-free moment...

"The most transparent government ever"?

In its Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, the government promised to "Test the merits of undertaking a review of the Official Information Act 1982 and provide and publish advice to Government". Originally, they planned to do this in secret, but when that was exposed, moved to public consultation. So how's it going? Sadly, it doesn't seem to be a priority:

A decision on whether to review 40-year-old Official Information laws has been quietly pushed back.

In March, Justice Ministry officials asked the public for feedback on how freedom of information legislation is working, with a view to carrying out a review.

A decision was due to be made by Justice Minister Andrew Little in June.

But documents published by the Ministry and the State Services Commission show that has been delayed until September.

"The most transparent government ever"? Yeah, right. And remember, this is a review of whether to have a review.

Meanwhile, I have been working my way through the submissions - which you can read here - and a number of themes have emerged. There is a strong strand of public servants complaining about Ministers and "no surprises" management pressuring them to make unlawful withholding decisions. There is strong demand from requesters for criminal penalties for intentionally and unlawfully thwarting requests - something supported by those public servants, and by the Ombudsman, who see it as giving them something to point to to resist Ministerial demands. There is widespread dissatisfaction from both sides with the slowness of the Ombudsman's review process, and from requesters about its one-sided nature. Almost all of the experts given followup interviews supported a full review (though some from the Law Commission wanted the government to implement their previous one), and none of them supported impunity for proactive release (which Ministry of Justice has been using this process to push). Any honest reading of these submisisons would find that the OIA should be reviewed. The question is whether "the most transparent government ever" wants to do that, or whether they want to retain the status quo. Hmmm, I wonder...

Monday, July 22, 2019

About time

In the wake of the March 15 mass-murder, the government moved swiftly to ban semi-automatic firearms, weapons for which there is really no case for being allowed to own in New Zealand. and now, it has announced phase two of its gun control plans: a national firearms register, and tighter licensing restrictions:

The government is to establish a firearms register and make major changes to the licensing regime, in the second phase of gun law reforms.


A second piece of legislation will now set up a national register, which is expected to take about five years to capture the estimated 250,000 licence holders in New Zealand.

Gun owners will be required to sign up to the register when they get a licence, get one renewed, or when they buy or sell firearms.

If a licence holder is not on the register after five years, they will have to proactively sign up.

Licenses will need to be renewed every five years, and there will be much tighter character requirements. Dealers will face tougher restrictions too. The changes should make kiwis a lot safer, with a minimal impact on legitimate gun owners. As for the gun industry, they'll no doubt scream bloody murder about it. And by doing so, they'll make the case for even tighter regulation in future.

Petty fools with fragile egos

Local body politicians are concerned that the hostile online environment might deter people from running, and want British-style laws to prevent "online attacks". So what sorts of attacks are they concerned about? Death threats (illegal under the Crimes Act)? Sustained online harassment campaigns(illegal under the Harmful Digital Communications Act)? Defamation (a simple tort)? None of the above:

Mr Cull said criticism was part and parcel of public life, but there should be limits.

"If you didn't allow it you wouldn't have a functioning democracy, but I think that too often it's playing the man and not the ball.

"We need to stick to issues."

Marlborough District councillor Cynthia Brooks, who was stepping down this year after two terms, said a lot of criticism stemmed from a lack of awareness.

It was especially noticeable every time there was a story on councillor attendances at meetings.

"Criticism". "Playing the man and not the ball". "A lack of awareness". And they call us "snowflakes". The first are simply a basic part of public life. The other has a very obvious recourse of more transparency about the job and what it entails. Neither seems to remotely reach the threshold required to justify any regulation of speech.

(RNZ also quotes a younger candidate, one used to social media, about curation. Which seems to be a much more mature attitude than that of the older, experienced politicians. Its the internet, you don't have to see anything you don't want to, and you'll almost certainly be much happier if you don't.)

There are real problems online with hate speech, threats, and serious online bullying. That's why we have the (flawed) HDCA. That's why we're having a conversation about hate speech. These petty fools and their fragile little egos aren't helping that. And no doubt, they'd use this post as an example of the "abuse" they face online.


When allegations emerged that civilians had been killed during an SAS raid in Afghanistan, NZDF was absolutely unequivocal in its denials, both the Ministers and the public. Since then, we've learned that they were well aware that there were reports that people had been killed. Whether they knowingly lied to us to protect their reputation is one of the central questions the inquiry is supposed to answer. And the inquiry is sufficiently uncomfortable about the evidence it has that rather than doing it all behind closed doors, it is going to force NZDF to face public cross-examination about its honesty:

The Inquiry into Operation Burnham issued an order for NZ Defence Force to appear during five days of public hearings and explain discrepancies which have emerged in its evidence.


The discrepancy was such the Inquiry said evidence about what NZDF knew, and what it then relayed to the Beehive, should be examined in public hearings.

The Inquiry said NZDF "made firm statements publicly that no civilian casualties occurred" and went on to support ministers making similar statements.

"These actions were taken despite the repeated allegations of civilian casualties in the media and elsewhere from immediately after the Operation until the present.

"Given that the statements of NZDF and ministers were made publicly, the Inquiry considers that they should be explained publicly."

Good. Though it will be interesting to see whether it is just the current NZDF leadership, or those who were in charge at the time (including former Governor-General Lt General Jerry Mateparae) who will face questioning. And it will also be interesting to see whether they answer, or try to hide behind another wall of bullshit.

Meanwhile, if you read the briefing to the Prime Minister in that article, their description of Operation Burnham claims that NZ troops were actively opposed by "a large number of armed insurgents, operating in small groups" who "attempted to outflank the force and fire on it from high ground". Which doesn't seem to fit with any description of what happened at all. Were NZDF talking up their raid to make themselves seem more heroic as well? And if they do such things, how can any of us trust them about anything?

New Fisk

At Cologne’s Gestapo museum, visitors are drawing modern parallels – can we really say they’re being simplistic?

Climate Change: Emergency measures

Over the past few months, we've seen a number of local authorities respond to public pressure over climate change by declaring a climate emergency. So what should they do next? Writing in The Spinoff, Sarah Thomson has some suggestions. Most of urban New Zealand's emissions come from transport and energy use, so local authorities should be trying to minimise those in the long-term, by planning for more compact and efficient cities. This means growing up, not out, ending urban sprawl, and giving the streets back to the people rather than cars. It also means using district plans to require efficient buildings, and local body policy to encourage uptake of solar panels - and councils doing that for the huge number of buildings they manage. One obvious thing missing is also to require large developments like shopping malls and parking buildings to install EV fast-chargers, to push the rapid uptake of greener vehicles.

Most of this is focused on city councils. But there's a huge role for regional councils as well. Most importantly, boosting public transport, so it can be a reliable replacement for cars for more people. Also, regional councils have control over air and water quality, so using those rules to drive electrification of industry and force destocking of dairy farms is vital. They're up against the RMA, which bans councils from explicitly regulating climate change, on this, but many councils already heavily regulate coal to prevent air pollution, and an increasing number are restricting nitrates to protect waterways. Pushing harder on that, and regulating natural gas to prevent NOx (which leads to smog) and leaks (which are straight-out contaminant discharges) is vital.

Of course, it can't all be done by local government. But they're one tool, and we should get them doing everything they can. Because otherwise, they'll be doing more of this instead.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Unfit to govern

This week, in the wake of National's opposition to even talking about reducing agricultural emissions and Simon Bridges' refusal to recognise that there is a climate emergency, I've been saying that National is unfit to govern. And it looks like the Herald's Simon Wilson agrees [paywalled / depaywall script]:

The past two weeks have in my opinion exposed the biggest climate change problem in this country. Cows? Nope. Cars? Nope. I believe it's the National Party.

This would be laughable if it wasn't for the pain it will cause. And not just environmental pain: in my view National's position on climate change will undermine our economy and damage us socially. Delays now will lead to crisis management later and the people worst affected will include farmers, coastal dwellers and the poor.

As long as National holds to this position, to me it demonstrates it is unfit to govern.

As he points out, National pretends to care, but opposes and undermines every effort to actually do something, and even promises to go backwards by reintroducing offshore drilling. And in the face of our biggest policy challenge, one which threatens to drown whole suburbs and push the entire farming sector into perpetual drought, that's simply not good enough. People should vote accordingly.

Make it 16


Something I missed: not only did Youth MPs declare a climate emergency; they also launched a campaign to lower the voting age to 16:

Youth Parliament week in Parliament has seen the establishment of Make it 16, a campaign to lower the voting age in New Zealand.

“Make it 16 is a non-partisan, youth-led campaign advocating for more people’s voices to count in our democracy” says Oli Morphew, age 14, National Spokesperson for Make it 16. “We welcome anyone who wants a fairer and stronger democracy to join our campaign”.

Youth MPs representing all parliamentary parties have signed on to Make it 16.

As I noted earlier in the week, I find the arguments for a lower voting age compelling. Its basic democracy: teenagers have interests, they're clearly capable of expressing them, and so they should be able to vote. I look forward to seeing where this campaign goes, and to supporting it in future.

You can read more about the campaign on The Spinoff.

More police misconduct

Why do so many people mistrust the police? Because they pull shit like this:

The police are flouting the rules on breath testing, carrying out tests in people's homes to catch them out sometimes up to two hours after they were last seen driving, a Dunedin lawyer says.

Dunedin barrister Marie Taylor-Cyphers said in many cases the supporting evidential paperwork claimed the tests were taken roadside, though officers would later concede on the stand that was not the case.

She was concerned police were taking advantage of a naive public to catch them out.

"The breath testing very commonly occurs in private residences, in people's homes, most commonly in their lounges - this happens all the time," she said.

"In some cases there's very clear evidence that the police reference in their case that they can see that the person's got a glass of whisky or a gin and tonic in their hand when the police enter their home."

This happens by "consent": a person with a gun and a uniform "asks" to enter and "asks" to perform a breath test, relying on people's fear or respect for their uniform and position to gain compliance. And they get away with it because people don't challenge them - its just easier and cheaper to take the ticket or plead guilty than to mount a defence. They get a conviction, their stats look good, maybe they get a bonus for meeting their KPIs. And meanwhile, someone has their life ruined because of police intrusion.

As for what to do about it: just don't talk to the police. If they ask to "talk" to you, refuse (or at least, refuse unless you have a lawyer present). If they "ask" to enter your home or perform a search, ask if they have a warrant. And if they quibble, ask for their badge number, and issue a trespass notice. Make it clear that in this country, policing happens by consent - and when they abuse that consent for any, it gets withdrawn by all.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

There are solutions for this

The Herald reports that the housing shortage / bubble has hit a new level:

New Zealand is short of 130,000 homes, the tally having risen lately by 30,000, two economists say.

Jarrod Kerr and Jeremy Couchman, Kiwibank economists said: "This time last year we showed a shortage of 100,000 homes across New Zealand. Our population growth has outstripped housing supply again. We're now short 130,000 homes."

Residential building consents had hit multi-decade highs, they acknowledged, but it was not enough to keep pace with demand.

The shortage could get worse: "If things continue the way they are, the shortage will balloon to 150,000 this time next year."

There is of course a solution for this: the government could leverage its ability to borrow money a absurdly cheap rates to fund a massive house-building scheme, of social houses or of houses for sale. Not the pissing-about levels its been doing with KiwiBuild, but tens of thousands of houses a year. Or, it could leverage that same ability to fund 100% mortgages for first-home builders, or work on some sort of shared-equity scheme. In many of these solutions the scheme pays for itself, through sales, rents, or loan repayments (which can then simply be financialised and shifted off the government's books to a bank).

The problem is that all of these solutions - and indeed, any action to eliminate this shortage - would lower property values for homeowners, including MPs (who have extensive property portfolios themselves). Or it would lower expectations that they would rise endlessly. And so its apparently off the table. A supposedly "centre-left" government refuses to help those in need or solve a pressing social problem because the rich - including its own MPs - might whine.

But that's Labour for you now: putting the "right" in "centre-left". The days of Michael Joseph savage are clearly long gone.

Fonterra finally gets it

Milk producer Fonterra is one of New Zealand's biggest coal-users, using it to power all its South Island (and a few of its North Island) dairy factories. They'd previously "committed" to not building any new coal boilers after 2030. Now, they've brought that forward as part of a plan to cut emissions by 30% by 2030, and to net-zero by 2050. They're also planning to impose farm environment plans on their suppliers from 2025, which suggests they will be required to follow better practice to reduce methane emissions and clean up waterways, or have their milk refused.

All of this is good and welcome, but Fonterra needs to go further and rule out new natural gas plants as well. It's pretty much required by their 2050 target, but they should make it explicit. The planet can't afford gas any more than it can afford coal, and the sooner businesses accept that and commit to electrification, the better.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

We should not subsidise fertiliser emissions

Yesterday the government released its discussion document on action on agricultural emissions. As sadly usual, it proposed enormous subsidies for farm emissions, including for nitrogen-based fertiliser.

This is a huge mistake. In addition to being one of the chief drivers of dairy intensification and freshwater pollution - things we want to stamp out - nitrogen-based fertilise ris in the ETS because it decomposes to nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is a potent and long-lived greenhouse gas, between 268 and 298 times worse than carbon dioxide, depending on what timescale you measure it over. Both farmers and the Independent Climate Change Commission are arguing that we should focus on long-lived gases, as they pose the greatest threat in the long-term. I don't think we have a long-term to average over anymore (in the long-term, we are dead, to riff on Keynes), but even with a short-term focus, reducing nitrous oxide is a hugely effective way of reducing warming, and one of the highest-impact things we can do to save the climate, to save ourselves.

So rather than subsidising farmers to produce this gas, we should instead be making them pay the full price of the emissions it causes - and removing the artificial cap on ETS prices so that the price can increase to its natural level. Farmers will no doubt complain that if they have to pay the full cost, they'll have to stop using it. Good. That's the fucking point. If there are high-value uses which justify the emissions cost, then they'll be able to afford to keep using it (or they'll make out like bandits by switching to alternatives). But for low-value uses, like fertilising marginal grass to grow cows and pollute rivers, we are all better off if people stop doing that.

The Youth Parliament votes for a future

Back in May, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick tried to put a motion to have parliament declare a climate emergency. National denied leave, and have since made it clear that they oppose any such motion. But today, the Youth Parliament did what the "responsible" adults refused to:

Simon Bridges will probably dismiss this as "irresponsible yoof" or some such bullshit. But who's being "irresponsible": the people voting to take the biggest policy challenge to face our country (and our species) seriously? Or the people who stuff farmer and oil company money in their ears and try and pretend it doesn't exist?

Time for a people's review of the OIA

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice conducted a public consultation exercise on whether to hold a review of the Official Information Act (this replaced their previous plans to hold a secret consultation with handpicked people). 285 people submitted on it, but their submissions disappeared into a black hole, as the Minister put back a decision. So, someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to request them. As a result, you can read them all here.

There's over 600 pages of documents there, including comments from a number of government agencies. It'll take a while to digest. But since the Minister is sitting on his hands, one obvious thing those of us who want to fix the OIA could do is go through them, identify the primary issues raised, and how to fix them - effectively to conduct a people's review of the Act, with recommendations reflecting the will of submitters rather than the public service elite.

Climate Change: National isn't serious II

The planet is burning. The ice-caps are melting. People are dying of heat waves, storms are getting more intense, huge areas are catching fire every year, and cities are running out of water. We seeing a climate-related disaster every week. So what does National party leader Simon Bridges think of all this? Here's what he said about it this morning:

I don't believe there is a climate emergency.

And that's the problem, right there. We have a huge, global problem, and the leader of our major opposition party refuses to accept that it exists.

National simply isn't serious about climate change. And until they are, until they advocate the sort of emissions reductions we need, and the sort of policies we need to get them, they are unfit for office. If you're wondering what personal action you can take on climate change, here's an obvious one: vote out National, and vote only for parties who will actually do something.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Putting agriculture in the ETS

The Interim Climate Change Committee's report on Action on agricultural emissions: Evidence, analysis and recommendations was finally released today, and as you might guess from the title, it is recommending that we actually act, rather than let farmers keep on polluting. While the headlines are focussing on the long-term plan for a farm-level levy system in 2025, the report actually recommends that agricultural and fertiliser emissions be brought into the ETS at the processor level as soon as possible. Which is a crude way of doing it, which obviously ignores all the things individual farmers can do to reduce their emissions, but its fail-safe, in that we get a price signal ASAP, rather than allowing it to be endlessly delayed by design questions and political cold feet (which was the story of the ETS: proposed in 1995, implementation dragged out until 2008, and arguably not properly implemented yet).

So, that's the good news: the ICCC has recommended action which will see farmers at least partly paying their way from next year. They'll have enormous free allocation, of course - apparently we can't expect New Zealand's tough, independent farmers to stand on their own two feet and pay the full cost of their pollution, unlike us weak city-folk who already pay the full cost of petrol and electricity - but there will at least be a marginal price signal. And even at the producer-level, that will shift the profitability of various actions, and maybe provide Fonterra with an incentive to start pushing its farmers to adopt best-practice to minimise their bills. With fertiliser, there will be a direct incentive to use less, just as there is for petrol.

The bad news? The government's discussion document isn't committed to this, and offers a "sector-government agreement" to support on-farm behaviour change as an alternative. I wonder which one farmers will vote for? But in addition to continuing to subsidise rural pollution, this is also not fail-safe, and instead provides a strong incentive for farmers to drag out and challenge the on-farm system so they can keep getting a free ride for as long as possible. Just as they've done with local government efforts to control nitrogen pollution.

I'd suggest submitting on the discussion document, but MfE's online submisison tool - "our preferred way to receive submissions" - requires a login with no apparent way to create an account (I guess they don't actually want to hear from people after all). You can however submit by email. As for what to put in there, try this:

  • Agriculture and fertiliser should be brought into the ETS at the producer level immediately.
  • There should be no free allocation for either. Farmers should pay for 100% of their emissions, just as people pay for 100% of their emissions from petrol and electricity. If the government insists on free allocation, it should be phased down linearly over a decade at most, so that farmers eventually pay the full costs of their emissions.
  • An on-farm emissions measurement system should be developed to allow the point of obligation to eventually be moved to the farm level to reward efficient producers, but that development should not delay the imposition of a price signal.
Farmers will complain that pricing with no free allocation will cause some of them to go out of business. Good. Driving inefficient, dirty producers out of business is the point of pricing schemes. Its a feature, not a bug. And the sooner it happens, the better.

Climate Change: National isn't serious

Agriculture is our biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for 48% of the total. It follows that meeting any credible emissions reduction target requires cutting agricultural emissions, most likely by having fewer cows. But National thinks people shouldn't be allowed to even discuss that option:

National's climate change spokesperson Todd Muller has criticised Te Papa museum for an exhibition he says is "biased and not science based".

The museum's Climate Converter interactive exhibition has an option labelled 'less dairying' as one way New Zealand can reduce its carbon footprint.

Mr Muller said that was a "kick in the guts" for rural families.

The Climate Converter allows users to pick a conservation option and watch the results on an animated mural.

Te Papa said it was based on a scientific report and the 'less dairy' option was one of 14 possible actions represented.

That report (from the Royal Society of New Zealand) is here. It looks at what our options are and the implications of various sorts of emissions reductions (an "emissions wedge" approach). It does this for every sector: electricity, transport, buildings, and of course agriculture. And because the Royal society doesn't believe in magic, or in hope as a policy, it focuses on things which actually work: like reducing the number of cows, rather than magic emissions-reduction vaccines which don't exist yet.

Todd Muller, the National Party, and Federated Farmers might not like that. But that's the scientific reality: if we are to reduce emissions significantly, we need fewer cows. Its that simple. And their refusal to consider this and opposition to people talking about it suggests strongly that they are not interested in significant emissions reductions. In other words, they are simply not serious about climate change, our biggest policy challenge. They're simply a pack of deniers and foot-draggers, unfit for government.

The UK commits fraud to deport people

How scummy is the UK Home Office? This scummy:

The Home Office lied to EU member states to remove victims of human trafficking and modern slavery in breach of European law, according to whistleblowers.

Legal experts have said the practice is “unthinkable” and “a disgraceful and illegal manipulation of the system”. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has urged the sources to contact Yvette Cooper, who chairs the home affairs select committee. “These are clearly serious allegations which must be properly investigated,” said Khan’s spokesperson.

Whistleblowers allege that, while operating as the third country unit, the now renamed Dublin cessation unit (DCU) regularly lied to other member states and manipulated the system by sending them “extra time” letters, falsely claiming asylum applicants had launched appeals. These letters remove the deadline – usually six months – after which someone seeking asylum can no longer be removed from the UK and sent to the EU country determined to be responsible for assessing their claim.

The practice, which started in 2013, apparently continued until at least December last year, the sources say.

The lesson here is that if you give immigration authorities a target for deportations, they will game the system to achieve it, including simply making shit up so they can throw people out and make them someone else's problem. You'd think that this would be a criminal fraud, especially given the consequences (detention and deportation). But I expect that the Home Office staff who falsified these documents will never be held accountable.