Friday, April 09, 2021



Overturning racism in Palmerston North

The Palmerston North City Council has voted for Māori wards:

Palmerston North Māori will be guaranteed one or two seats on the city council from 2022, and this time, there is nothing opponents can do about it.

The council decided by an 11-5 vote at its monthly meeting this week to take advantage of the recently-enacted Local Electoral Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies Amendment Act that removes the ability of 5 per cent of voters to demand a binding poll on the subject.

The council’s earlier decision in 2017 was overturned by a poll, preventing it from having Māori wards for the 2022 and 2025 elections.

Good. People's right to effective democratic representation should not be subject to a racist veto, and I'm glad to see that the overwhelming majority of the council agrees. As for the opponents - councillors Baty, Hapeta, Findlay, Meehan and Petrenas (basicly the dead white "keep rates low" brigade and a failed National candidate) - I look forward to them being de-elected next local body election.

Totally out of touch

Kids are striking for the climate today, demanding a decent, liveable future. Meanwhile, the National Party, the reliable servant of the farm lobby and other polluting businesses, is calling for action to be delayed:

National has written to Climate Change Minister James Shaw calling for him to extend the report-back time on the Climate Change Commission Report, National’s Climate Change spokesperson Stuart Smith says.

“We all want an Emissions Reduction Plan that addresses the environmental challenges we face in New Zealand, but in order to do this we must allow submitters and the Commission enough time to reflect and respond to issues raised,” says Mr Smith.

When the Commission reports back, the government is legally required to respond with an action plan, so a delayed report-back means delayed action. Talk about tone-deaf. But National has always opposed action on this issue, has always supported killing the planet for profit. And they're making it crystal clear to an entire generation of future voters.

Striking for a future again

Today tens of thousands of schoolkids have walked out of school to strike for a future free from climate change. And tens of thousands of older New Zealanders have joined them. Their demands are clear: eliminate fossil fuels, implement 100% renewable energy with a just transition, and support our Pacific neighbours by ensuring our climate actions are aligned with the 1.5 degree Paris goal. This is, bluntly, the minimum we need to do to have a decent future, one where we don't have a billion premature deaths and make some of the most heavily populated parts of the planet uninhabitable.

The government will point to the Zero Carbon Act framework and say "we've got this", but they haven't. The targets set by the Act are inadequate, as are the international goals they have chosen. We have less than a decade to turn this problem around, and the government is basicly doing the minimum. And when we have the pandemic response demonstrating what a government can do when it really wants to fix something, what prioritising something actually looks like, it makes it look like they don't really care about this, that saving the world just isn't a priority for them.

When she was running for election, Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear-free moment". The strikers today want her to live up to that and make it true. Otherwise, well, its not going to be long before they can vote (and they have plenty of friends who already can), and they'll toss her in the dumpster of history if they don't get what they want.

Thursday, April 08, 2021



Climate Change: Doing the minimum again

Back in February the Climate Change Commission recommended a ban on new coal-fired boilers, and a phase out of existing ones by 2037. And today, the government has said they will implement that policy, and backed it up with funding to help transition some of our large pollution sources:

Coal-fired boilers used by heavy industry will soon be a thing of the past.

The government has announced a ban new low and medium temperature boilers from the end of this year and plans on phasing out existing ones by 2037.

An option proposed is to also prohibit other new fossil fuel boilers where suitable alternative technology exists and it is economically viable, the government said.

It was the first step taken in response to recommendations from the Climate Commission, and would reduce carbon emissions within the first three years equivalent to removing 49,000 cars from the roads.

Which is good, and helps, but at the same time: 2037 is not "soon", and it reinforces the sense that the government is just doing the minimum, complying with the Commission's recommendations rather than looking for ways they can go beyond them. In this case, they should be looking at a much faster phase-out - surely ten years is more than enough time for everyone with a dirty coal-fired boiler to replace it - combined with restrictions on new gas installations, and ultimately, a ban on mining and importing coal (with a revocation of existing consents). We also need to keep in mind that fossil fuels kill, and getting rid of them is a public health necessity as well as a climate change one. But instead, the government just seems to be dragging its feet.

Drawn

A ballot for three members bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Income Tax (Adjustment of Taxable Income Ranges) Amendment Bill (Simon Bridges)
  • Regulatory Standards Bill (David Seymour)
  • Human Rights (Disability Assist Dogs Non-Discrimination) Amendment Bill (Ricardo Menéndez March)

The first two - tax cuts and shitter laws - will fail at first reading. The third should at least get to select committee, if not further.

There were only 52 bills in ballot today, which means a lot of MPs are still slacking. If anyone needs any ideas, there's a whole website full of them right here.

Protecting journalists

Back in 2014, the police raided and searched journalist Nicky Hager's home over his book Dirty Politics, seizing his journalistic work in an effort to identify his sources to please their political masters in the National party. The raid - and much of the police's related investigative work - was later ruled to be illegal, with a judge ruling that police had deceived the court by omission by failing to inform the judge issuing the search warrant that Hager was a journalist and the information sought was journalistic work-product. The police ended up paying substantial damages. Now, Labour MP Louisa Wall has a bill in the ballot to stop such an abuse of power from happening ever again.

The Protection of Journalists’ Sources Bill would firstly modify the Evidence Act so that investigative journalists as well as beat reporters would be explicitly protected from being quizzed in court about their sources. Secondly, it would make numerous changes to the Search and Surveillance Act to impose procedural safeguards for journalists, requiring warrants and production orders against them or which attempt to identify their sources to be issued by judges, explicitly requiring police to inform judges when they target journalists or sources, and requiring journalists to be notified of any production order (e.g. for phone, bank or travel records) against them or their sources so it can be challenged. It would also impose a general duty on everyone exercising powers under the Search and Surveillance Act, from judges and issuing officers down to the plods enforcing a search warrant to protect journalistic privilege. All of which creates opportunities for an invasion of privilege to be challenged and overturned.

The one thing that is missing is a change to the definition of "news activity" in the Privacy Act 2020 to ensure that investigative journalists are also protected under that Act and close the loophole exploited by the police and GCSB to access David Fisher's work on Kim Dotcom. Its an omnibus bill, and this would absolutely be consistent with its purpose.

This bill is desperately needed, and the sooner it is drawn from the ballot, the better. Alternatively, it seems like it would be a great opportunity for opposition MPs to show their commitment to freedom of the press by signing up to support it.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021



One way of fixing it

How can we stop the Ministry of Health censoring and sanitising vital mental health statistics to make themselves (and Ministers) look good? Legislate for annual reporting:

Green Party mental health spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick says the Ministry of Health should be legally required to produce a wide range of mental health statistics, after concerns were raised about a routine mental health report released years late and with significantly less data than it once had.

[...]

“It’s evident that right now there is a big problem,” Swarbrick said.

“Right there is not a legislative requirement for them to report that high quality and transparent data. Which shows us that we need to establish that legislative requirement.”

And she has the backing of former Statistics Minister James Shaw, which should help.

The government does exactly this over environmental statistics, and after National shitcanned The Social Report, Labour put up a member's bill to require statutory reporting of social statistics as well (I wonder what happened to that...?) But will Labour pass it? Or will they insist on retaining the power to lie and fudge to hide their own failures?

Correction: Shaw is the former Minister of Statistics. The current Minister is David Clark.

Self-interested arse covering

In 1997 the Law Commission reviewed the OIA. In the process, they identified a problem: decisions to transfer a request could not be investigated by the Ombudsman under the Act. They also identified a workaround: transfer decisions by agencies subject to the Ombudsmen Act could be investigated under that Act, but the Ombudsmen Act doesn't apply to Ministers, so there was still a hole. They recommended that it be fixed by amending s28 of the OIA to explicit include transfer decisions as a grounds of complaint. Successive governments did nothing.

In 2012 the Law Commission did another review of the OIA. They noted that the problem had not been fixed over the past 15 years, and reiterated their earlier recommendation. Successive governments again did nothing.

Why the repeated and long-term inaction? Well, from a Minister's point of view it is perhaps convenient if you can "transfer" a request to an agency who does not hold the information being sought and which therefore cannot answer, and it is especially convenient if that decision can never be reviewed and you can never be called on your bullshit. So its just self-interested arse-covering from those at the top.

(I have an example of exactly this sort of shitfuckery from Chris Hipkins, who transferred a request for advice about his chosen extension date for the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 - a date which seems to be a clear violation of Parliamentary intent - to the Ministry of Health, who turned around and said "the Ministry of Health... has limited involvement in this as the decision on timing sits with Hon Chris Hipkins". Sadly, they were too chickenshit to send it straight back to him, despite the requirements of s14(b)(ii)).

As for what we can do about it: Graeme Edgeler has drafted a bill to fix the complaint provisions, allowing transfer decisions (and various other decisions recommended by the Law Commission) to be reviewed by the Ombudsman. You can read it here. It would be nice if some MP picked it up and put it in the ballot, and like the bill extending the OIA to cover parliamentary undersecretaries, would seem to be a slam-dunk for actually getting passed.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, though with no particularly controversial bills up, it is likely to be a pretty boring one. First up is Maureen Pugh's Adverse Weather-affected Timber Recovery on Conservation Lands Bill, an attempt to sidestep the Forests (West Coast Accord) Act 2000 and allow the effective mining of wood on conservation land. Fortunately, its unlikely to pass (and if it does, then Labour will have gone full Orc). Second is Paulo Garcia's Accident Compensation (Notice of Decisions) Amendment Bill, which despite the title is actually about allowing employers to challenge ACC decisions to cover an injury (thereby robbing their worker of compensation and treatment) on the basis that it might make their claim history look bad. Third is Todd Muller's Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Bill, which seems uncontroversial and should go to select committee. This is followed by Matt Doocey's Policing (Killing a Police Dog) Amendment Bill, which is just more "law and order" viciousness. Finally, the House should at least make a start on Terisa Ngobi's Holidays (Parent-Teacher Interview Leave) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for four new bills tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021



We should not subsidise a criminal industry

Fishing is a criminal and environmentally destructive industry which ignores the law while corrupting our democracy. Last year, their addiction to foreign slave-labour saw them bring Covid into the country. So naturally, they're expecting us to pay for an advertising campaign to recruit more people:

Taxpayers are being asked to stump up for half the cost of a TV ad campaign to attract more people to the fishing sector.

The details are revealed in correspondence between Sealord and the Ministry for Primary Industries on steps taken to encourage New Zealanders into the industry.

It was all part of an agreement the sector signed with the government in return for being allowed to bring in 570 fishers from Russia and Ukraine, signed by Sealord, Independent, Aurora, Sanford and Maruha.

What next? Government-funded ads to recruit people to a career as tax-cheats and money launderers?

But I guess this is just another example of the corrupt relationship between the fishing industry and this government. Even after the departure of Shane Jones and Winston Peters, it is still getting what it pays for.

Hostile to transparency

Stuff had an appalling story on Sunday about the Ministry of Health's attempts to hide unflattering mental health statistics and sanitise a regular report. The report came out last week, and showed a massive increase in the use of "seclusion", a practice which has been condemned by the UN Committee Against Torture. But Stuff had requested the drafts and related correspondence, showing a two year battle by Ministry of Health staff to remove data which made them look bad. And this continued even after the Director-General of Health approved publication:

Half a year before the report was finally released health director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield approved it to be published, but one of his deputies wanted to delay it further and put a “risk lens” over it.

Another official noted there was no legal requirement the report be produced and suggested shortening it. A third noted the huge amount of “data and negative statistics” which she said was presented without enough context.

But the team responsible for creating it fought for their corner, saying they were doing nothing that hadn’t been done for years – publishing annual and comparable data on how much mental health services are used in New Zealand.

Reading the whole story, it shows an outright hostility to transparency among many of the Ministry of Health's senior management team. Whether this is consistent with the Public Service Act's principle of open government is left as an exercise for the reader.

Meanwhile, this sort of attitude from Ministry of Health management makes me wonder about their handling of OIA requests. FYI has seen a significant increase in the number of requests has sought to deter by challenging eligibility, so it seems that this hostile attitude has trickled down. Apparently the Ombudsman last did a practice review of the Ministry's OIA handling back in 2015; maybe its time they did another one?

(Oh, and to add insult to injury, Jacinda Ardern has said in question time that the Ministry of Health's handling of this is an example of how Labour is the "most transparent and accountable government ever". I guess its not just the Ministry which is hostile to transparency then...)

Send it back to Australia II

Another unpleasant surprise at Tiwai Point: in addition to the declared stockpiles of toxic waste, they may have tens of thousands of tons secretly buried in the early 1990's to avoid the RMA:

Investigators are looking into claims highly toxic waste has been buried in unmapped sites at Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

[...]

"Former staff of the smelter report burying of spent cell linings [containing cyanide and toxic fluoride] or contaminated material in various parts of the Tiwai site," said the report into "key matters" for cleaning up the huge site next to conservation land once the smelter shuts in 2024.

Waste burial reportedly went on "particularly prior" to the Resource Management Act's enactment in 1991, by which stage tens of thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste had already been produced.

The report followed this with a warning: "It is likely that a number of unmapped or unconsented contaminated sites exist as a result of these uncontrolled activities."

The company claims not to know anything about it. Of course they don't: it was 30 years ago, management doesn't stick around that long, and any documents will no doubt have been shredded or buried. So it sounds like the EPA and the local council will have to go over the site with ground-penetrating radar to find these dumps. Fortunately they have a search power which enables them to do that. As for what happens when they find it, its Rio Tinto's waste, and it is their absolute responsibility to ensure it is disposed of safely. And if they don't want to do that, they can take it back to Australia with them when they fuck off.

Afraid of a trans-Tasman bubble

This morning the government is deciding on the start-date for a trans-Tasman travel bubble. Note the way that that's phrased: the existence of such a bubble is taken as a given, and the only question is how to implement it. Obviously, we're going to have to re-open the borders eventually, and Australia is the natural first step for that. But now (or the supposed date of mid-April) just seems to be far too soon. The moment we open this bubble, we expose ourselves to the risk that someone could catch Covid in Australia and bring it back here. At the moment, MIQ means such cases are firewalled at the border. Without that protection, it means community transmission, and then lockdown when we notice it.

How big is that risk? Australia's border seems pretty leaky, and they've had a couple of lockdowns already this year (Brisbane has just come out of one). But compounding that risk is the fact that their government is only committed to suppression, not elimination. Which means we'd be effectively adopting that goal too. And I'm not sure that's been made entirely clear to the public.

Can this risk be handled with the usual precautions of pre-flight testing and masks on planes? The regular flow of positive cases at the border suggests not. And I just think of French Polynesia, which opened its borders with exactly these "precautions" and got a pandemic which infected 7% of the population and killed one person in 2000 - about a hundred times our death rate - and which has only just been got under control.

So when do I think it would be safe for the borders to open? When we're all vaccinated. Which is exactly the approach being taken by the Pacific countries we're bubbling with. on the current timeline, that means waiting another six months or so. We've survived isolation for a year; we can wait a little longer until its actually safe to get back together.

Thursday, April 01, 2021



This is on Ardern

So, corporate pillager Ron Brierley has plead guilty to possession of child pornography, and there are obvious calls for him to be stripped of his feudal honour (awarded in the 80's for services to his own banak balance). When faced with such calls in the past, the government has hidden behind the foreign monarch, saying that they're her honours, so its up to her whether people keep them. But this is, quite frankly, bullshit.

New Zealand honours may be awarded by the foreign monarch, but they're awarded on the advice of our government right here in New Zealand. There's a special unit in DPMC which considers nominations, makes shortlists, and sends them to Cabinet for confirmation (and of course for the politicians to shoehorn their donors and cronies in). And they're quite explicit that honours can be removed "on the advice of the Prime Minister and with the approval of the Sovereign". There are guidelines for when this should happen, one of which is when it would bring the honours system into disrepute. Which you'd think possession of child pornography certainly would (as well as a whole lot of other things, like defrauding investors and severe corporate malfeasance; that's certainly the standard which the UK applies).

So, the obvious question is "when is Ardern going to give that advice"? Or does she think a self-confessed child pornographer is a fit recipient for a New Zealand honour?

(And, for the curious: New Zealand has stripped a knighthood in the past, from Cook Islands Prime Minister Albert Henry, for electoral fraud. Here's the New Zealand Gazette notice for it. Muldoon was able to do the right thing then, Ardern should be able to do the right thing now).

Update: Well, that was quick. I'd barely finished writing this when news broke that Ardern was doing her job, and moving to strip Brierly of his feudal honour. Good. And now do the others please? (Better yet, abolish the lot, because feudalism belongs in fantasy novels, not democracies like New Zealand).

Wednesday, March 31, 2021



A Potemkin review

Nitrates are a serious public health threat, posing a risk of death for babies and a long-term risk of bowel cancer for adults. Farmers are currently spewing them into the water table via fertiliser and dirty dairying, poisoning drinking water across Canterbury and threatening the drinking water of our second-largest city. The government was apparently worried enough about this to set up a working group to study the problem. And then they secretly buried it:

An official information act request showed a working group that was supposed to be looking at nitrates in water only met twice in 18 months and was recently disbanded, with little to show for its efforts.

After months of pressure from councils and environmental groups and amidst mounting international evidence of a link between nitrates in drinking water and bowel cancer, then Minister of Health David Clark asked for a working group to be set up.

Chaired by the Ministry of Health's chief science advisor, professor Ian Town, it met for the first time in August 2019 and undertook to review nitrate levels and provide advice to affected communities about the health risk.

Funders would also be told about the urgent need for New Zealand research to match that coming from overseas.

But following a second meeting in December of that year, the work of the working group - which was supposed to meet every three months - stopped altogether.

A question from RNZ this month uncovered the group had recently been disbanded.

The government is using the pandemic as an excuse, but with the government refusing to set a bottom-line limit on nitrate pollution, it looks like the whole thing was a scam, a Potemkin review to distract the public. Because obviously, we couldn't let the fact they were killing people threaten dairy industry profits, could we?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021



MFAT has no conscience

RNZ reports that hot on the heels of approving weapons exports to saudi Arabia, MFAT was also approving weapons exports to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia's partner in committing war crimes in Yemen:

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) approved export permits for military equipment that was sent to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a key partner in Saudi Arabia's military intervention in Yemen, in 2018 and 2019.

Experts say the information heightens concerns that New Zealand may have contributed to war crimes in Yemen following revelations last month that similar exports were approved for Saudi Arabia. It comes as MFAT reviews its export controls regime to ensure it's fit for purpose.

Since 2015, at least 100,000 people have died in Yemen's civil war, which has also displaced millions and pushed the country to the brink of famine. In February, a UN expert group urged states "who continue to supply arms to review their positions in line with the requirements of international law".

Despite its ongoing review, MFAT has staunchly defended the approval of export permits for weapons sent to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Which really makes you wonder what the fuck is wrong with them. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are engaged in a war and committing war crimes. Any weapons supply prolongs the war and so contributes to the crimes. Banning weapons exports to them ought to be a no-brainer, regardless of whether the exported weapons will be used in that way or not. We're supposed to be a peaceful nation committed to peace and disarmament, for fucks sake; it would be nice if MFAT actually represented that official policy, rather than a money-grubbing, sociopathic domestic weapons industry.

Monday, March 29, 2021



Challenging climate change in the courts

One of the innovations of the Zero Carbon Act was a clause specifically allowing public bodies (or bodies performing public functions) to consider climate change targets and reduction plans in their decision-making. It was phrased as a "permissive consideration": they didn't have to. But as we've seen from the Thames-Coromandel District Council case, failing to do so may itself be found to be irrational and result in a decision being overturned. The intent of the clause was to allow NGOs to challenge government decision-making, and hold the government to its targets and plans. And its about to get its first test, with a legal challenge to a major Auckland road project:

Auckland councillor Chris Darby says a legal challenge against the $1.4 billion Mill Road project by climate change advocates All Aboard Aotearoa is a sign of what's to come.

The group applied for a judicial review of the Waka Kotahi NZTA-led project in the High Court in Wellington on Thursday.

The 21.5km proposed Mill Rd arterial route, which would provide an alternative road between Manukau and Drury, would run parallel to and east of State Highway 1. Construction was expected to start next year and be completed by 2028.

[...]

Lawyers for Climate Action's Jenny Cooper said with nine years left to halve New Zealand emissions as required under the Paris Agreement and Zero Carbon Act, the government must stop building and financing more roads.

Waka Kotahi NZTA should have at least as much of a duty as a local council to consider climate change, so the challenge is likely to hinge on whether they seriously considered the project's impact on emissions. Whichever way it goes it will be precedent-setting, establishing the ground rules for such challenges in the future. And if its unsuccessful, we can expect a member's bill to shift that permissive consideration to a mandatory one in short order, and intense pressure on he government to back it.

Another climate strike

School Strike 4 Climate has announced another climate strike for April 9th, and invited everyone to join them in standing up against climate change. As before there will be events all over the country, and you can find yours on their strike map.

Personally, I'm nervous about protesting during a pandemic, even in level one. But this is important. If you think its worth the risk, and can psychologically stand a crowd, please turn out. The strength of government action may depend on how big a public showing we make.

Thursday, March 25, 2021



Juking the stats

When Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission introduced its OIA statistics in 2017, one of the concerns was that agencies would start managing to what was measured, rather than obeying the law. In particular, the focus on raw timeliness and the lack of statistics on average and median response time and extensions would lead to agencies unlawfully extending requests to avoid them being classed as late. So internal administrative failures would be covered by extensions for "consultations", and delays would become routine.

I've just experienced exactly this behaviour from the Ministry of Education: a request - ironicly, for information about OIA statistics - was extended for five working days for "consultations" yesterday. They then responded today, after one working day, and admitted that the delay was because "further consultations were required to finalise the decision on your request. The consultation required was with senior decision makers". Which is basicly an admission that this extension was due to internal administrative failure, unnecessary and unlawful.

In their response, the Ministry helpfully pointed me at their answers to parliamentary estimates hearings as a source of statistics. The OIA stuff starts on page 96,and makes it crystal clear what is going on:

MoEJukingTheStats

The Ministry now answers around 40% of requests outside the statutory 20 working day timeframe. They report a 23 working day average response time, but also that over 99% of their requests are "on-time". And the reason for that is because almost all of those late requests - 299 in 2019/20 - were extended.

Were these extensions necessary? My experience suggests not. But beyond that, the extension clause of the OIA was intended to cover unusual or extraordinary circumstances, not routine slackness and administrative failure. When an agency is extending 40% of its requests, it suggests that it is abusing the law, juking the stats to make itself look good. It gets away with it because the published stats are poor enough to let them hide it (and no-one, not even MPs, looks at estimates hearing documents), hardly anyone complains about extensions, and when they do complain the Ombudsman resolves it informally rather than actually investigating (or closes it because the information has been released by the time they get round to it, making an investigation "unnecessary"). And because agencies get away with it, they keep doing it, and so you get a 23-day average response time, which is prima facie evidence of serious illegality.

How can we fix this? Better stats would make it more obvious (and I'll try and do some digging through estimates documents to get a better picture). But also: if your OIA request is extended for "consultations", complain. Because nothing will change unless you do.

Drawn

A ballot for four member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Crimes (Robbery) Amendment Bill (Erica Stanford)
  • Synthetic Urine (Prohibition on Importation, Supply and Acquisition to Pass a Workplace Drug Test) Bill (Matt Doocey)
  • Biosecurity (Information for Incoming Passengers) Amendment Bill (Steph Lewis)
  • Secondhand Dealers and Pawnbrokers (Electronic Records) Amendment Bill (Andrew Bayly)

There were only 54 bills in the ballot this morning. Labour is slacking.