Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Hiding their dirty laundry

The government is trying to "reform" Oranga Tamariki, and has a bill before the House to do so: the Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People’s Commission Bill. Submissions on the Bill close next Wednesday, and children's rights campaigners are horrified by it - and in particular by the way it will replace the statutorily independent Children's Commissioner with a subservient Children and Young Person's Commission. I guess fierce and independent advocacy is not what the government thinks children - particularly children in its care, and who may be abused there - need.

My interest in the bill is mostly on its multiple secrecy clauses. I've been able to excavate some of the policy background to these using the OIA, and they seem even less justifiable as a result. The first of these excludes non-investigation-related communications with the Ombudsman about Oranga Tamariki issues from the OIA (communications around formal investigations are already exempt). What situation is this supposed to prevent? The Ombudsman helpfully provided one:


Note that the underlying situation, whatever is going wrong, would still be OIA-able; the amendment is aimed at making it harder to find by preventing journalists and advocacy groups from taking the shortcut of "so, what has the Ombudsman asked you to fix" (with the obvious followup of "and have you actually fixed it?"): this is about hiding dirty laundry, not about actually fixing anything. And the primary drivers here are the Ombudsman's preference for quick, informal resolution, and the desire of agencies to avoid embarrassment and public oversight. Its about bureaucratic arse-covering and a chummy desire to get along by covering for each other, not child-welfare. For the Ombudsman to be advocating for secrecy for such reasons is frankly disgusting, and calls into question their fitness to oversee the official information system.

Bluntly, if agencies are reluctant to cooperate with the Ombudsman, then the Ombudsman has the necessary powers to deal with that, and the solution is for them to start fucking using them (also to publicise non-cooperation to encourage compliance). Its a criminal offence not to cooperate with an Ombudsman's investigation or refuse their request for information, and those provisions should be used. The Ombudsman is not there to "get along" with government agencies; they are there to police them, and it is time they started acting like it.

Then there's the new secrecy clause for the Children and Young Person's Commission. The official reason for this is to enable children to engage with the Commission:


Which sounds like a good reason, but falls apart when you stop to think about it. If a child makes a complaint to the police, the details will be fully subject to the OIA. There may be good reason to withhold them ("maintenance of the law" if it is being prosecuted, plus obviously privacy), but the presumption is that the information is subject to the law. And that's fine, because the privacy interests of children are very strong, and the OIA provides sufficient protection. Does the government think the new Commission will fail to apply OIA withholding grounds sufficiently vigorously to protect children, or that the Ombudsman will ignore the strong privacy interest of children in deciding any complaint? Its a ridiculous idea. So who and what does the secrecy clause actually protect? The agencies being complained about. And they seem to be unworthy of any protection whatsoever; in fact, there is a strong public interest in poor government behaviour being exposed. And once again, if this is a question of "engagement", the Commission will have the required powers to force disclosure. But I guess the whole point is that the new, subservient Commission isn't really meant to inquire into anything...

One of the purposes of transparency is to make it easier for the public to find and correct abuses by government. The new secrecy laws in this bill work directly against that. And when the welfare of children is on the line, the consequences can be horrific. The government is currently conducting an inquiry into decades of abuse in care. Changing the law to make it easier for the government to hide its dirty laundry seems like a recipe for another such inquiry in a few decades' time.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Climate Change: Still making the same mistake

Last year it became clear that the government's ETS price control policy was a mistake, resulting in huge public costs for tiny, tiny benefits. The problem was clear well in advance, and while it couldn't be avoided in 2021 without urgent legislation, James Shaw could have used the opportunity of a required annual change in regulations to stop it from happening in 2022. But he didn't. Why not? Ministry for the Environment has just "proactively" released the regulatory impact statement on the 2021 Updates to NZ ETS unit limit and price control settings regulations, and while its heavily redacted, the answer seems to boil down to them just not wanting to think about it.

Firstly, the part of the RIS on "CCR initial trigger price level" starts out by effectively admitting that they got it wrong. They had apparently been assuming that carbon prices would just trickle on somewhere around $25 - $30 / ton, as if they'd never made any changes to the ETS. Instead,

NZU price movement since 2020 has been significant and somewhat unexpected. The risk of the CCR being activated at a $50 price trigger in 2021 was considered low at the time it was set. There is now a material likelihood of the CCR being triggered in 2021 and 2022, given recent NZU price trajectory (see figure 2).
This was woefully optimistic: when they said it, carbon was right on the edge of the $50/ton trigger price, and exceeded it within a couple of weeks. The market trend was obvious to all, and competent advice would have examined a broad range of higher trigger points in response, or even questioned the advisability of trying to control prices in this way in the first place. Instead, MfE stuck to its "low carbon prices" policy and recommended three options: $50, $60, and the Climate Commission's recommendation of $70 (which is what they settled on). Why didn't they go higher?
Options above the Commission’s recommendation are also not considered. A $100 trigger price option was assessed in 2020 and not recommended. They would risk very high auction clearing prices, which are well-above the abatement costs the Commission has forecast to meet their recommendations for the first emissions budget.[REDACTION] it could impose significant and unnecessary costs on businesses and households at this time. Options above the Commission’s recommendation would not effectively achieve cost containment in the NZ ETS.
...which is basicly what they said about a $70/ton trigger point last year. They do note that "[t]he acceptability of an emissions price around $70 has changed since the CCR trigger price was set last year", but they don't seem to consider that this has also changed the acceptability of higher prices as well. But as they note, this is all about "cost containment", keeping carbon prices low. And when the ETS works by making carbon prices high, they're basicly undermining their own policy. Its the same mistake they've made all along: trying to have a carbon price to lower emissions, while simultaneously trying to keep it as low as possible to avoid lowering emissions. And as ought to be clear by now, that policy is both immoral and untenable.

Incidentally, much of this briefing, including figures on expected outcomes, is redacted. Unusually, no reason is given for the redactions, meaning that their lawfulness cannot be assumed and that they may simply have been made to avoid embarassment over a very public and expensive mistake which is about to be repeated. But that's the problem with proactive release: with no legal framework and no oversight, its basicly the government telling us what it wants us to hear, at a time convenient for them. Which isn't exactly democratic.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Climate Change: Here we go again

Last year the government turned the ETS into a farce, flooding the market with 7 million tons of extra pollution in a failed and counterproductive effort to keep carbon prices low. Using the government's internal carbon price of $150/ton, the social cost of this was just over a billion dollars (about a third of which was offset by auction revenues). The social "benefit" it produced was just $15 million. The government had a chance to fix this, by raising the cost-containment reserve trigger price - the price at which it floods the market - significantly, or just by abolishing the system entirely and setting the CCR amount to zero. They didn't. And now, predictably, it looks set to happen again.

This year's CCR trigger price is $70/ton. According to Commtrade, the carbon spot price is already $70.75, having risen by about a dollar yesterday. The auction price usually tracks the spot-market price, so if it stays at this level or rises, then we can expect the CCR to be triggered again at the first auction in March. Which means another 7 million tons of pollution allowed under the ETS, and another billion dollars down the drain.

The obvious question is: when is the government going to fix this? Or are they just going to keep pissing money down the drain while allowing more pollution in a desperate effort to undermine their own policy?

One country at a time

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister has announced that he intends to abolish the death penalty:

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape says his government is doing away with the death penalty and those now on death row will instead serve life sentences without parole.

Marape told members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church holding their 33rd synod in Port Moresby that PNG was a Christian nation and the death penalty was out of place.

"The Bible says thou shall not kill and the government has removed, by policy, the clause on the death penalty," PNG newspaper The National on Wednesday quoted him as saying.

This is good news - things had seemed to be going in the other direction in PNG, with a move just last year to finally allow executions. But an announcement isn't law, and PNG's death row prisoners will only be safe from execution when legislation is passed.

When enacted, Tonga will be the only (independent) holdout in the South Pacific. So I guess we can expect the pressure to go on them to make Oceania a death-penalty-free zone.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Guantanamo: Twenty years of shame

Today (US time) is the 20th anniversary of the opening of America's gulag at Guantanamo Bay. The US has kept people imprisoned without trial - sometimes without even charges - for twenty years now. Most of those kidnapped by the US have since died or been released, but 39 remain (18 of them cleared for release). Ironicly, one of the "reasons" for their continued detention is to protect "classified information", specifically information about how the US tortured them: to stop them from telling their stories. Human rights abuse is being used to "justify" further abuse.

I was wondering what to write about this, so looked back. Here's what I wrote ten years ago. The only thing that has changed since then has been the numbers.

As for what needs to happen: the prisoners should be released, and those responsible for their detention, from the Presidents and politicians who set it up and kept it open, the military officers who supervise it and run its kangaroo "courts", down to the lowliest guard, need to be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Anything less, and we're just inviting them to do it again.

Undermining the offshore exploration ban

Back in 2018, in what they trumpeted as a victory for the environment, the government banned new offshore oil exploration permits. But the victory was short-lived: two-faced Labour immediately started to undermine it, extending permits and changing conditions to try and keep the industry they had "banned" alive. And there's been another prime example of this two-faced behaviour already this year.

Permit 60092 is one of the largest offshore exploration permits remaining, covering a huge chunk of seabed west of Taranaki. While it doesn't expire until 2028, it had a "drill or drop" provision requiring owners OMV to drill an exploration well by 1 January 2022. That hasn't happened, partly because of the pandemic, and partly because in April 2020 OMV announced it was indefinitely postponing all exploration plans in Taranaki. So you'd expect the permit to have expired, and for there to be one less exploration permit sullying our waters, right?

Wrong! Because sometime between January 4, when I first checked, and today, NZPAM did the dirty on us, and changed that condition. OMV's new "drill or drop" date is April 2024, with a fallback of April 2028 - after the permit has expired.

It is unclear why this has been done - as usual there has been no public statement. And you'd expect a pretty compelling reason to change conditions when the permit holder has publicly announced they're giving up. But neither OMV, NZPAM, or the government has provided one (I guess we'll see what comes out via the OIA). Absent a reason, it just looks like the government is undermining its own climate change policies, and effectively lying to us about its intention to end the offshore oil industry, again.

(You can check the conditions on this permit here, and you can see what permits are still in force here).

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Climate Change: Famers finally paying the price

It's official: 2021 was Aotearoa's hottest year on record. And the climate chaos is now affecting milk production:

Challenging pasture growing conditions have prompted Fonterra to revise its forecast milk collections to 1.5 billion kilograms of milk solids for the year to May 31, a reduction of 25 million kilograms on its opening forecast.

Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell said varied weather and challenging growing conditions across many parts of the country earlier in the season resulted in actual milk collections down on the same time last year.

“We were expecting conditions to improve over the Christmas-New Year period, but this has not eventuated,” Hurrell said.

Basicly, its been too hot and too dry. Which is I guess one way of fixing it: you can't grow cows without water, so in the long term dairy emissions should reduce. But farmers seem to be incredibly thick about recognising they are destroying their own livelihoods, and in any case, thanks to past pollution, we no longer have a long term. We need to cut dairy emissions now, through water restrictions, consent restrictions, and directly capping and cutting the number of cows to a manageable level. Waiting for farmers to pollute themselves out of existence simply means letting them take us with them.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Climate Change: A decision with no integrity

Back in November, the government introduced a new, "more ambitious" 2030 climate change target, which turned out to not be very ambitious at all. Quite apart from the funny accounting, the target will be met primarily through "international mitigation" (rather than, say, cuts to agricultural emissions). back in November, the Herald gave the commonly accepted version of this: "New Zealand paying money to other countries to reduce their emissions and counting those reductions as our own". But as we may recall from Kyoto, that meant fraud. So what does the government think it means now? Unfortunately, the actual details are hidden in another, unreleased Cabinet paper (so transparent!). But what Shaw says in the NDC paper is not good:

My proposed approach to accessing offshore mitigation is outlined in the accompanying paper Progressing international cooperation to reduce emissions and complement domestic action. This sets out a proposal for investment in offshore mitigation that prioritises sustainable development outcomes and resilience in the Asia-Pacific region.


This will require work to identify and develop options and partners for this cooperation. We can leverage New Zealand’s experience and networks for example, New Zealand’s support for the Global Research Alliance to identify options for reducing developing countries’ agricultural emissions and carbon accounting assistance provided to developing countries to meet the REDD+ qualifying criteria, to help identify viable options for high integrity forestry projects.

[Emphasis added]

What is "REDD+"? The paper helpfully defines it in a footnote: "REDD+ refers to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest degradation in developing countries, also known as avoided deforestation". Its the sort of "credit" businesses buy the greenwash their reputations. As for their environmental integrity, a (heavily redacted - again, much transparency, so open) briefing on feasibility considerations of a more ambitious NDC has this to say:

Our understanding is that no country is using REDD+ as a source of mitigation under Article 6 [of the Paris agreement]. REDD+ use for Article 6 is a contentious issue due to challenges around environmental integrity including avoiding double counting and ensuring additionality.
...which is basicly policy-speak for "this is bullshit, and other countries won't accept it". How bullshit? Avoided deforestation credits used in Australia are considered "hot air", with 20% of them "junk". The avoided deforestation schemes used by airlines are "flawed" and "not fit for purpose". California's scheme lets people claim "credits" for land that was never going to be logged. And so on. Discouraging deforestation is great, but making it a centrepiece of our climate strategy is a mistake on a similar level to allowing international credits into the ETS in the first place: a decision with no integrity, and an invitation to fraud.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Bring back traffic cops

Stuff has a story about the holiday road toll, and police saying they are "disappointed" and "frustrated" that it is so high. Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Herald pointed out why it is so high: because police haven't been doing their job:

[F]or a couple of years now, police enforcement of the road rules hasn't been nearly so prominent, especially in cities. And guess what? Not counting the lockdowns, deaths and serious injuries on Auckland roads are up.

Why haven't the police been doing their job? They were funded to carry out 800,000 breath tests in Auckland in 2020 but did only half that. International best practice suggests they should be doing 60,000 hours of mobile speed camera surveillance. But they committed to only 30,000 and ended up doing just 16,800.

In the year to July, that translated into 681 speeding tickets. Not even two a day.

This negligence kills. In the three years to 2017, when there was a 33 per cent drop in alcohol breath tests, deaths and serious injuries (known as DSIs) on Auckland roads rose sharply.

After that year, the police strengthened their enforcement of drink driving, speed and other road rules, and the rates began to fall.

Road deaths are strongly correlated to the level of police enforcement. So when the police stop doing their job, people die. And in this case, the blame lies squarely on the police: they're funded to do the work, and they take the money, but they'd rather spend the time doing other things. And that latter bit is crystal clear from the police's response to the Herald, where they downplay enforcement and spew crap like "Road safety is everyone's responsibility" (which sounds like the sort of line you'd hear from a tobacco lobbyist or climate change denier).

So what's the solution? Traffic enforcement needs to be done. The police don't want to do it. So we should take the job off them, and give it to a new, standalone agency instead.

We've done this before: until 1992, traffic enforcement was the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport's Traffic Safety Service, which did all the things the police are supposed to do but don't: catch speeding drivers, run checkpoints, conduct checks for warrants of fitness and so on. we should recreate that agency. Apart from the obvious benefits - it would actually do what we paid it to do, and we wouldn't have to worry about road safety being deprioritised because its not "real crime" - there would also be a huge co-benefit of taking road-safety enforcement powers off the police. Which would mean they wouldn't be able to abuse them anymore. No more unlawful "traffic safety" roadblocks to gather intelligence. No more using traffic stops for racial harassment. And we could break the police's violent, aggressive, and lawless pursuit culture by removing its main excuse. And that latter alone will make the roads safer for everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

The police kill again

On Monday, the Police put a man in a coma during an arrest. Today, he died. The cause?

Earlier, police said the initial information indicated that during the arrest, both the officer and the man fell to the ground, with the man hitting his head.
Given the phrasing, I think we can interpret this as the police officer did something to cause it (which police PR is trying to minimise), rather than it being a case of two tragicly-placed banana skins.

When one of us peasants does something which intentionally or negligently causes death, its a crime. So, will the police be held to the same standard they enforce on the rest of us? Or they corruptly excuse their own, as usual?

Climate Change: Dragging their feet again

In June 2020 the government finally took some concrete action on climate change, repealing an odious provision in the RMA which prevented local authorities from considering it in resource consent decisions. It was a good move, which meant that big polluters like the Huntly power station or Glenbrook steel mill or Methanex's methanol plants could be forced to adopt new technology to reduce their emissions, or to offset them with native forest, or even denied resource consent altogether if it was not practical to do so. Of course, implementation was delayed until the end of this year, but now the government has decided that that's too soon to start cutting emissions, and delayed it by the maximum amount possible, until November 2022:

The government has quietly delayed by a year a deadline for councils to consider climate gas emissions when deciding whether to grant consents.


Changes to the Resource Management Act slated for the end of the year would have made regional councils take climate emissions into account when making rules and giving permission for businesses to use industrial fossil fuel boilers.

Cabinet has now agreed to delay that until 30 November 2022, subject to final Cabinet approval.

In an email update to submitters, the Environment Ministry says the reason for the delay is to give time to work out how to treat greenhouse gas emissions that do not come from industrial heat processes while work is still being doing to complete the RMA reforms underway.

James Shaw is right: this fails to show the urgency we need in cutting emissions. Instead, despite having declared a climate emergency, Labour is pursuing the same old Augustinian climate policy: they want to cut emissions, but not just yet.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Labour's racist covid policy

For the past two weeks the Waitangi Tribunal has been hearing evidence on the government's Covid-19 response and its effect on Māori. This morning they released their urgent report [PDF], which is absolutely damning. In it, they find that the government's decisions to not prioritise Māori for vaccination and to move to the new "traffic light" framework when many Māori had been left behind in the vaccination race ignored scientific advice from officials and public health experts and violated its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi and put Māori at risk.

The government's excuse for all of this is that they were worried about public reaction and a "racist backlash" - effectively by the ghost of Don Brash. The Tribunal is particularly scathing of this:

The Crown has a Treaty duty to adopt rational, scientific, equitable policy choices for Maaori. It has a moral and ethical duty to defend them against unreasonable public backlash. It cannot simply find ways of avoiding these duties by coming up with less equitable alternatives; it must make those choices that sustain Maaori well-being, and then explain and defend them as long and as vocally as is required. Failing to perform these duties for the sake of political convenience does not reflect the Treaty partnership and, in fact, threatens the fundamental basis for it.
The question now is what the government is going to do to fix this. They've already agreed to set up a new state-Māori liaison group, Ngā Mana Whakahaere o Covid-19, and to prioritise vaccination for Māori children, and that sounds like a good start. The question is whether they'll actually deliver. But if they don't, then they'll be inviting an electoral backlash from Māori in 2023.

Monday, December 20, 2021

The left wins in Chile

Chileans went to the polls for the second round of presidential elections today, and elected left-wing former student leader Gabriel Boric. Which is great news, not only for the obvious reasons, but also because his opponent (and front-runner after the first round last month) was José Antonio Kast, a homophobic racist who supports the Pinochet dictatorship and whose father was an actual Nazi. If he'd won, it would likely have turned back the clock on the last decade of social and democratic progress (not to mention potentially have messed with the ongoing process of reforming their Pinochet-era constitution to be more democratic). With Boric's election, Chile seems to have dodged that bullet.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Justice for the "hooded men"?

In 1971 the British government explicitly approved a policy of torture in Northern Ireland. Fourteen people were tortured as a result, rounded up as part of a mass-internment campaign and subjected to the "five techniques". While the ECHR later ruled the "five techniques" were illegal and amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment, no-one has ever been held legally accountable or criminally responsible for their use. But that might be about to change, with the UK Supreme Court ruling that the Northern Irish police can't just look the other way on torture:

The UK supreme court has ruled that a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) decision in 2014 to discontinue an investigation into allegations of controversial interrogation techniques against the “hooded men” was unlawful.


Delivering his judgment on Wednesday, Lord Hodge referred to a 2014 RTÉ documentary about the hooded men case which referred to a British government memorandum, known as the “Rees Memo”, which “referred to the use of torture and to its approval by UK ministers”.

Following the broadcast, the PSNI considered whether there was sufficient evidence to warrant a new investigation, but concluded that there was not.

Lord Hodge said: “The court finds that the PSNI’s decision taken on October 17th, 2014 not to investigate further the allegation in the Rees Memo was based on a seriously flawed report, was therefore irrational, and falls to be quashed.”

The PSNI will now have to make an actual decision, and likely pursue an investigation, rather than just do their usual job of covering up British crimes. Unless of course Boris Johnson manages to pass his "amnesty" law to grant impunity to the torturers first. But that of course simply moves any case to international courts, while making Johnson and his government accomplices.

Climate Change: The Netherlands cuts cows

The way kiwi farmers complain, you'd think their situation of being a country's largest polluters was unique and special. But its not. The Netherlands also has a problem with too many polluting farm animals. But unlike New Zealand, they're actually doing something about it:

The Dutch government has unveiled a €25bn (£21bn) plan to radically reduce the number of livestock in the country as it struggles to contain an overload of animal manure.

A deal to buy out farmers to try to reduce levels of nitrogen pollution in the country had been mooted for some time, and was finally confirmed after the agreement of a new coalition government in the Netherlands earlier this week.

But the plan, the first of its kind in the world, faces a huge backlash from farmers who have staged big street protests in recent years over the prospect of tough regulation and farmer buyouts. They fear permanent damage to food production in the country if too many farmers are forced to quit.

“We don’t want the system to collapse,” said Utrecht dairy farmer Marije Klever, from the Dutch young farmers’ union. She said farmers would oppose any nonvoluntary measures.

“I am a land owner, so a critical question is whether the government are allowed to push farmers out of the land. It can’t be The Hague telling farmers they must go, you need an agreement.”

While being lauded internationally as the “tiny country that feeds the world” and the continent’s biggest meat exporter, the Netherlands has been struggling at home with a pollution crisis caused by an excess of farm animals.

Which all sounds very familiar. The difference is a court order saying they actually need to cut pollution nationwide and a government finally willing to act on it by paying farmers to fuck off or de-intensify. While initially voluntary, there's the threat of legislation if not enough farmers are willing to stop polluting.

New Zealand's dirty farmers also pretend to be a "tiny country that feeds the world". But as Dutch MP Tjeerd de Groot says, "We can’t be the tiny country that feeds the world if we shit ourselves". We need to clean up our pollution, both nitrogen and methane, before we drown in it. And we can only do that by cutting cows.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Climate Change: Funding the transition

Finance Minister Grant Robertson released his annual Budget Policy statement today, which included a $4.5 billion fund to fight climate change:

The cornerstone of this new focus will be a Climate Emergency Response Fund (CERF), made up of $4.5 billion in proceeds from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Half of the fund will go to capital expenditure and half to ongoing spending.

Already, some $840 million to fund the Government’s increased international climate aid commitments has been allocated from the CERF. That leaves about half a billion dollars a year for capital spending over the next four years and about $300 million for the operating costs of new schemes.

The CERF will also bankroll efforts to adapt to the coming impacts of climate change in Budgets after 2022, in addition to reducing emissions.

Taking climate aid out of it suggests not all of the spending will be new (I'd expect top-ups to the clean car rebate scheme if it works and people buy fewer utes to come out of it as well). But that's still a big pile of cash. And you can do a hell of a lot with half a billion of capital funding a year. For example:
  • For $300 million a year, we could build a 150MW windfarm or solar plant every year to help decarbonise electricity generation and drive Huntly out of business;
  • For a one-off-cost of roughly $500 million, we could clean up Glenbrook and transition it to clean steel production;
  • For $50 million a year, we can scale up biofuel production to reduce transport emissions;
  • For $75 million a year, we can put solar panels on 10,000 state houses a year, reducing the power bills of the most vulnerable while expanding renewable generation capacity. Or we could run a subsidy scheme along the lines of the insulation subsidy for twice that many homes;
  • For $50 million a year, we can plant 2500 hectares of native forest as a permanent carbon sink, increasing biodiversity while returning carbon to the biosphere;
  • For $100 million a year, we could fund or subsidise 50,000 e-bikes a year to boost uptake and build towards giving free e-bikes to everyone (though arguably this should be funded from the same pool as the clean car rebate, by increasing fees on polluting utes).

There are other options where the costs are less obvious: funding rail transport or coastal shipping to get trucks off the roads, or funding the transmission line upgrades which are limiting industrial electrification, or building the network of EV charging stations. And there'll be all sorts of little things we can do as well. Many of the ideas above are already cost-effective at the government's internal carbon price, meaning they are a long-term saving for New Zealand which we should fund anyway. Having a dedicated pot of cash for these things means we can start actually doing it. Obviously, more money would be better, and allow a faster transition. But this is a good start, and hopefully when free allocations are cut and agriculture is bought into the ETS, we'll see more money to push things faster.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The police don't know how many times they steal people's online identities

Last month RNZ reported on a disturbing new police practice of identity theft, where they take over the social media and email accounts of suspects and defendants to gather information. While ostensibly done by "consent", they said the same about stealing kids' DNA or taking their photographs for future databasing. And the fact that they are focusing on young and vulnerable people really tells us everything we need to know about the ethics involved.

This is an invasive process, and its use to deceive others arguably constitutes a "search" under the Bill of Rights Act (the Law Commission certainly thought so in its Review of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012). So you'd expect the police to have some idea of how often they do it, right? Wrong. According to an OIA response,

Police do not hold statistics as to the use of this form and as such your request is refused pursuant to section 18(f) of the OIA as the information requested cannot be made available without substantial collation and research
There's also no approval process, and no formal guidance on when police can seek to assume an online identity. Its just completely unregulated, left to individual officers running investigations, with no oversight or monitoring whatsoever. Effectively, random plods are making up the law as they go along. Which does not seem like a good way to manage an invasive search power.

If we took steps to ban or regulate this practice, the police would no doubt claim it is a valuable investigative tool which should be left alone. But without even basic statistics on how often it is used, they simply have no empirical basis to make that claim. Without guidelines, they have no basis to claim that it is used only in circumstances where it is lawful and proportionate, and without an approvals process, they have no basis to claim that it is used only in those circumstances. In the absence of such things, given their past track record on such issues, we're entitled to deep, deep suspicion.

A law we should adopt

In Aotearoa, Ministers are supposed to be accountable for their Ministerial conduct, both to the Prime Minister and to Parliament. Once upon a time this meant that in cases of clear failure by themselves or their agency, a Minister would resign. Now, it simply means endless obfuscation and coverups while dumping the blame on public servants. This lack of accountability leads to poor decision-making, because there's no incentive not to (to put it in simple terms: they're never going to get fired, no matter what they do, so they have no reason to do their jobs properly).

Meanwhile, Denmark shows that things can be done differently: they actually jail Ministers who violate their Ministerial duties:

Denmark’s former immigration minister has been sentenced to two months in prison after a special court found her guilty of illegally separating several couples of asylum seekers where the woman was under 18.

Inger Støjberg was sentenced on Monday to 60 days in jail over accusations that she violated the European convention on human rights by ordering the separation of couples, some of whom had children.

“Inger Støjberg is found guilty of a deliberate violation of the Ministerial Responsibility Act,” Denmark’s court of impeachment of the realm said in a statement.

The Ministerial Responsibility Act is a fairly simple law. It makes it a crime for a Minister to (bad Google translation):
intentionally or through gross negligence neglects the duties incumbent on him under the constitution or legislation in general or according to the nature of his position.
It also makes it a crime to mislead or conceal significant information from Parliament. Here's how the Danish civil servant's code describes it:
Ministers are not only politically accountable to the Folketing. Denmark is a country based on the rule of law where ministers have a legal responsibility for complying with the Ministerial Responsibility Act (Ministeransvarlighedsloven) and other legislation. The Ministerial Responsibility Act establishes among other things that ministers must not give the Folketing incorrect or misleading information and that during the Folketing’s consideration of a case they must not withhold information of essential importance to the Folketing’s assessment of the matter in hand.
This is a law we should adopt here. After all, aren't we meant to be a country based on the rule of law? And given the scale of the decisions they make, shouldn't Ministers be more accountable for them than simply having a sneering competition with their peers in the House? An NZ Ministerial Responsibility Act would provide an actual incentive, an extra reminder to Ministers that their decisions must be lawful at all times, as well as a useful tool should the worst happen. It seems worth having that backstop.

An unjustified limitation


Last year, the Make It 16 campaign took the government to court, arguing that the government's restriction of the right to vote to people over 18 was discriminatory and therefore a breach of the Bill of Rights Act. They lost, but only because the judge didn't actually engage with the question and fell back on tradition. Today, the Court of Appeal ruled on the inevitable appeal, and found that the voting age is discriminatory, and that the government had made no effort to justify it to the standard required. However, it declined to issue a formal Declaration of Inconsistency.

(Along the way they also held that the BORA's interpretation clause applies to the BORA itself, which is useful caselaw for the future).

This is a pretty big victory for Make It 16, and it puts the onus squarely on the government to either justify its voting age policy or repeal it (obviously I'd prefer the latter). The obvious vehicle for that is the upcoming electoral law review, though that won't see it fixed until the 2026 election at the earliest. A better path would be for the government to simply accept the ruling and legislate next year, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in 2023.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Labour chooses to be cruel to beneficiaries

RNZ reports that WINZ is systematically racist and misogynist about debt, with Māori being forced deeper into debt, and women and Māori forced to repay at a higher rate than men and Pākehā. From past statistics, most of this "debt" is due to benefits being too low in the first place (and almost all of the rest is due to WINZ fucking up and overpaying people), so its prima facie odious. Meanwhile, high repayment rates grind the poor deeper into poverty. Hardly any of it will ever be paid back. The obvious solution is simply to write it off. But is our "kind", "centre-left" government going to do anything about it? Of course not:

Ultimately, the Greens, Te Pāti Māori and Auckland Action Against Poverty all wanted a debt amnesty to wipe the slate clean.

Sepuloni said an amnesty would require a law change and was not something being considered.

Bullshit. Just to pick a few examples: at any time, Sepuloni could amend regulation 206 of the Social Security Regulations 2018 to specify that some things (for example, conditional benefits and recoverable grants) are not "debts to the crown". Or she could amend the Ministerial Direction on Debt Recovery to change the rate and method of recovery or allow recovery to be indefinitely deferred. Or, she could jointly give an authorisation with the Minister of Finance under regulation 207(3) to simply write debt off.

Again, the Minister can do this at any time, with the flick of a pen. So when she pretends to be helpless, she is lying. The government can end this cruelty whenever they want. They choose not to. They choose to further immiserate the poor and destitute, out of festering NeoLiberalism. And we should hold them accountable for that choice.