Friday, May 29, 2020



A victory for freedom of information in Australia

Australia's High Court has ruled that the "palace letters" between the queen and then-Governor-General John Kerr are public records rather than private papers:

Historian Jenny Hocking has won her High Court bid to access the letters exchanged between then governor-general Sir John Kerr and the Queen around the time of the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

Until now, the National Archives of Australia had refused to release the documents, known as the "Palace letters", saying they were private papers.

But Professor Hocking told the High Court correspondence between a governor-general and a monarch was the property of the Commonwealth, and not private.

In a majority ruling, the High Court agreed with Professor Hocking, and found the letters to be Commonwealth records.


Weirdly, this wasn't on the basis of the "pub test": that the communications of the Governor-General and foreign monarch about whether to roll the Prime Minister are so obviously official in nature that of course they're an official record. Instead, they decide it simply on the basis of property. Commonwealth records are records that are the property of (certain parts of) the Australian Government, which includes the Governor-General's official secretary. The letters were held by the official secretary as part of their official duties, and submitted by them to the Archives. And that fact alone demonstrates they were Commonwealth property and therefore a Commonwealth record. Additionally, the fact that it was deposited by the official secretary means it was deposited by a Commonwealth institution, not a private institution, so private access arrangements simply do not apply.

Hopefully this means Professor Hocking will now receive access to the records. As for whether there's actually anything interesting in them, that remains to be seen.

Labour's Muldoonism

Labour's talk of gutting the RMA to push through "shovel ready" projects to boost employment after the pandemic predictably has every half-arsed pipe-dream crawling out of the woodwork demanding special treatment. Today, it's the West Coast inbreds, who are demanding a host of laws be rescinded so they can dig and dam and plunder and profit by destroying our natural heritage. But the article on that also has more details on the legislation itself, and they're pretty frightening:

Some large, Government-led projects — such as roads — would be individually listed in the legislation as going through the fast-track process. This would likely include six larger transport projects already on the books, awaiting resource consents.

More Government-led projects — specifically those led by the Transport Agency (NZTA) and KiwiRail — would be able to “occur as of right”, effectively a standing consent to do things like road and rail maintenance. This could also be extended to local authorities, the Cabinet paper states.

The final piece is a fast-track consenting process for all other projects. A public or private project could apply to the Environment Minister to go through this process, who must then decide whether the project meets a list of criteria, including whether it would have a “significant public benefit”. The minister can reject the application for any reason.

If approved, the project would be referred to an expert panel, led by an Environment Court Judge, to receive consent. A project referred to a panel would be expected to receive consent, the Cabinet paper says.


Which has more than an echo of the piggy cackle about it. Applications to the Minister, reference to an "independent" panel, and the Minister as effective decision-maker looks a lot like Muldoon's National Development Act, which was used to ram through numerous environmental atrocities and treaty breaches. Except that the NDA gave people affected by a development a statutory right to be heard, which the new legislation seems particularly aimed at preventing. Meanwhile, legislating certain projects for the fast-track - which as noted has an expectation of consent - is basicly the government saying "this project is consented, fuck you", exactly as Muldoon did over the Clyde Dam.

As for some projects not needing consent at all, this has been done before after the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes, but that's not exactly a good model: in Kaikōura it led to an occupation when the recovery authority tried to ram a road through an urupā. And the reason they ended up in that situation is because the government didn't need to listen to the public or hear any evidence before deciding what to do, and as a result either had no fucking idea of the actual impacts of its project, or decided it could run roughshod over the local iwi. And the result was entirely predictable. When you ignore people, when you don't even bother to hear the evidence, your decision isn't just bad, it's also illegitimate. And as we've seen in Kaikōura and Ihumātao, if people can't express their opposition through the planning process, they'll do it on the ground instead.

New Zealand's environmental movement was born in opposition to legislation like this and the bad and illegitimate decisions it enabled. It is absolutely shameful then that our primary environmentalist party, the Greens, will be supporting it with their votes.

Don't ask, don't tell

Since the government announced its pandemic wage subsidy, there have been regular stories about companies taking it and then sacking or refusing to pay their workers - essentially committing fraud. But how often does this happen? The Minister just doesn't want to know:

Government ministers are not receiving up to date figures on breaches of the $10 billion wage subsidy scheme, and one Minister's office says "it's not something we're interested in".

The government is monitoring how much money is paid out in the wage subsidy and leave payment schemes, but the number of complaints, audits and money paid back is only being provided in quarterly reports.

The Ministry of Social Development refused to provide up-to-date auditing numbers, instead treating RNZ enquiries as an Official Information Act request.

The office of Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Social Development, said that information would only be available at the end of June.

A member of her office said "it's not something we're interested in".


Why aren't they interested? Pretty obviously, its a case of "don't ask, don't tell": the Minister avoiding having to act by purposefully remaining ignorant. Whether this is appropriate governance in the public interest, or an appropriate attitude to serious crime by employers is left as an exercise for the reader.

Thursday, May 28, 2020



Chickening out on clean rivers

The government released its Action for Healthy Waterways package today, ostensibly with the goal of cleaning up our rivers and making them swimmable within a generation. Doing that, of course, requires confronting the cow in the room: the dairy industry which causes most of the pollution. But while they've imposed some limits, including restrictions on dairy conversions, in the end they chickenshitted it again, setting a fertiliser limit which is far too high, and delaying setting bottom lines for nitrogen and phosphorus for another year. The latter in particular has gone down like a cup of cold cowshit with environmental groups, because it is the core of the problem, not to mention a public health hazard. But instead of controlling it, the government's "plan" is that farmers should be allowed to continue poisoning the public for at least another year.

This isn't acceptable. Kiwis deserve clean rivers and water which doesn't give us cancer. And if this government won't protect us from polluting farmers, we should get another one which will.

Austerity threatens our lives again

Public health specialists perform a vital role protecting us from disease, and they've just literally saved tens of thousands of kiwi lives from the pandemic. But it turns out that they are grossly underfunded and understaffed, and the government isn't doing anything about it:

The number of doctors in public health units confronting the pandemic is in crisis, but there is no sign of a plan to fix the situation.

The funding for training registrars to become public health specialists is so limited applicants have had to be turned away.

[...]

Des Gorman led attempts to identify then fix the shortages while heading the Government's Health Workforce unit until last year (when the unit, having had its staff numbers chopped, was rolled up into the Ministry of Health).

"It was profoundly frustrating," Gorman, a Professor of Medicine at Auckland University, said.

"We had no support from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

"We had little or no support from the district health boards and we received quite strong opposition from some of the more established medical colleges because they quickly worked out that if more money was going to go to public health and palliative care, that might mean less money for them."


Artificial scarcity of funding due to government-imposed austerity is the key driver here. And it is directly threatening our ability to identify, track and contain epidemic disease - in other words, all our lives. While they've had a one-off funding bump due to the pandemic, long-term funding is still at austerity levels, $50 million below what it was a decade ago. And that is simply not good enough.

This is what failure looks like

Remember KiwiBuild? Previously the government's flagship policy, it was supposed to build thousands of new homes every year for kiwi families. But instead of flooding the market, we've got a pathetic dribble:

The Government's former flagship housing policy is so far behind schedule it will take more than 400 years to reach its initial target of 100,000 homes. It had hoped to reach the target in 10 years.

Initially, the Government had been hoping the rate of building would increase over time as KiwiBuild ramped up, with 1,000 homes built in the first year, 5,000 in the second, and 10,000 in the third, but the rate of building is slowing.

[...]

The number of KiwiBuild homes built to date stood at 393 at the end of March, equating to roughly 19 homes built each month since the scheme began in June 2018.

At that rate it would take 436 years to complete the remaining 99,607 houses that remain from the 100,000 target.


After two years, they were supposed to deliver 6,000 homes. They've done just over 5% of that, and now have a delivery date which is further in the future than pakeha have been in this country. As for why, relying on the private sector for construction was part of the problem, but the fundamental issue is that the government simply wasn't willing to fund it, wasn't willing to borrow to invest in New Zealand. Which makes the whole "policy" a fraud from start to finish. Which doesn't bode well for their new promises of increased state house building...

The government has managed to get this right in the past. But they did it by being willing to actually put the public's money where their mouth was and pay for it. Until that happens, nothing will change.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020



NZ First's policy of starving migrants

While the government has dealt with the pandemic spectacularly well, it hasn't been perfect. One big flaw in its response has been its treatment of temporary migrants. The government has the power to extend social welfare benefits to temporary migrants during a pandemic, and the Epidemic Response Act clearly expects that that will happen. But that power has not been exercised. The reason? NZ First, who views the pandemic as an opportunity to force migrant workers to return home:

NZ First MP Shane Jones sympathised with the plight of many migrants, but said he believed the Government should pay for their flights home and not let those trapped outside back in.

"There is a humanitarian duty upon me as a minister. Something akin to having a Christian disposition towards the struggle that a lot of the migrants find themselves in right now.

"My overarching feeling is that they should go home. And if it's possible for us to assist them to go home then that to me is a very Christian thing to do.


The result is people living on the street and going hungry. Most New Zealanders will be deeply ashamed of that. But Shane Jones probably sees it as a bonus in his racist campaign to cleanse the country of those he sees as "undesirable".

Equality comes to Costa Rica

Costa Rica has become the first country in Central America to recognise same-sex marriage:

The first same-sex weddings have taken place in Costa Rica, the first Central American country to equalise its marriage legislation.

A lesbian couple became the first to tie the knot in a ceremony that took place just after the new law came into effect at midnight.

The wedding was shown on national TV.

President Carlos Alvarado said the law change meant Costa Rica now recognised the rights lesbian and gay people had always deserved.


As in other countries, this change was made by the courts: in 2018 Costa Rica's Supreme Court implemented a ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and declared provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. They gave the legislature 18 months to fix the law. They didn't, so the ban was abolished.

Lining their own pockets

There's a new twist in the Winston Peters secret donation story. It appears that a significant chunk of NZ First's secret laundered donations goes straight into the pockets of the people administering the scheme:

Tens of thousands in donor's funds given to the New Zealand First Foundation were spent paying expenses, wages and bills for people closely associated with the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

The foundation, which has bankrolled NZ First using secret donations from rich business people, spent more than $130,000 on a company run by Brian Henry - the personal lawyer and close friend of Peters.

Documents obtained by RNZ show that between January 2018 and July 2019, the foundation took in $224,000 in donations from supporters - and overall, spent at least $368,000.

Of that, at least $137,000 of foundation funds were spent on a company called QComms.

Company office records show the sole director and shareholder of QComms is Brian Henry, who is a trustee of the foundation and the judicial officer of the New Zealand First party.


The money laundry paid Henry's daughter's rent and expenses, as well as John Thorn, the former NZ First official who wrote the memo suggesting setting it up. It also paid for air travel for Winston's partner Jan Trotman, who at the time was in business with Henry in a dodgy forestry scheme which attempted to extract money from the Provincial Growth partnership. No doubt there'll be reasons for all of this, but at the least it shows that Winston's money laundry is an orgy of nepotism and self-dealing by NZ First insiders. Which just makes it look personally corrupt as well as institutionally dodgy.

Meanwhile the SFO has promised to have a decision on whether to lay charges before the election. The sooner that happens, the better. Voters need to know what the situation is long before the voting period starts, so they can decide whether they want this party back in Parliament again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020



Climate Change: Still not serious

New National Party leader Todd Muller has been interviewed about his policies, and has promised to restart offshore fossil fuel exploration if elected:

The Bay of Plenty MP rolled former leader Simon Bridges last week, but says the party has not changed its stance on previous promises.

"That is absolutely National Party policy," Mr Muller told TVNZ1's Q+A with Jack Tame, when asked about the Government's 2018 policy to stop issuing new offshore oil and gas exploration permits.

The ban did not extend to current permits.


Muller is supposed to be one of the good guys on climate change in the National Party. Instead, this shows that he and the party are still not serious about climate action. After all, if you won't take the mildest of measures to decarbonise the economy - phasing out the supply of dirty gas over decades - then what hope is there that you'll move on carbon-free transport, or raising carbon prices, or on confronting the giant cow in the room?

But I guess it just goes to show: you can change the bald white man in charge, but underneath its the same dirty old National Party, clinging to the past and trying to destroy the future.

Monday, May 25, 2020



A weird reappointment

A couple of weeks ago, Parliament reappointed Peter Boshier as Chief Ombudsman for another five years. There's nothing weird about the reappointment - it was recommended by the Officers of Parliament Committee, and Boshier is generally recognised as having done a good job in office (though at the same time, having a government Minister praise your performance as an Ombudsman suggests you're not kicking enough arse - they're not meant to like you). No, what's weird is the term. Boshier requested, and the Officers of Parliament Committee recommended, a three-year reappointment, after which Boshier "would want to discuss and engage with the committee about future plans at that time". Why? Because like judges, Ombudsmen are forcibly retired when they get too old - in this case, at age 72. Boshier was born in 1952, so he will hit mandatory retirement in 2024, a year before his new term as Ombudsman ends.

This doesn't make the appointment illegal, just unusual. There's obvious questions about why the House wasn't told about this issue before voting, or why the term was raised - presumably with Boshier's agreement - from the committee's recommendation. Is the government planning to raise the age limits mid-term? Or were they just not paying attention?

Labour doesn't care about the already poor

The government has announced another income support scheme for people affected by the economic aftershocks of the pandemic: a $490 a week tax-free payment for the newly unemployed, which you can get even if you have a working partner. Which is great, because its supporting people who need help, but at the same time the fact that it is double the unemployment benefit, which does not allow a working partner (and indeed, WINZ will hire PIs to peer in your bedroom window at night to see if you're sleeping with anyone who "should" be economicly supporting you because love is an economic transaction to them) kindof stinks. To ask the obvious question: what about the already poor? Don't they deserve this level of support too? Or does Labour not care about them?

But I think we all know Labour's answers to those questions, don't we? While they talk about "kindness" and "wellbeing", when push comes to shove, they're happy with existing inequalities, happy even to exacerbate them, happy with the underclass Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson created, happy with the status quo and all its injustices. Because doing anything about any of those problems would mean them having to pay more tax on their $180K+ salaries, or on their property portfolios or family trusts, and that seems to be something which is simply unthinkable to them now.

The Green list

The Greens have released their party list, and it contains a few surprises. The one that's getting all the news is that the membership are clearly fans of Chlöe Swarbrick, and she has worked hard to earn that. But they've also favoured incumbent protection over new blood, and in the process abandoned their traditional practice of alternating male and female candidates on the list. Which means that on current polling, they'd elect a caucus with only one man - which while its a reversal of the situation in certain other parties, isn't exactly good in a party committed to equality.

I've done the usual list below:

2020 RankName2017 RankDifference
1Marama Davidson2+1
2James Shaw1-1
3Chlöe Swarbrick7+4
4Julie Anne Genter3-1
5Jan Logie6+1
6Eugenie Sage4-2
7Golriz Ghahraman8+1
8Teanau Tuiono16+7
9Dr. Elizabeth Kerekere19+10
10Ricardo Menéndez March21+11
11Steve Abel----
12Teall Crossen15+3
13Scott Willis----
14Kyle MacDonald----
15Lourdes Vano----
16John Ranta----
17Lawrence Xu-Nan----
18Luke Wijohn----
19Kaya Sparke----
20Jack Brazil----
21James Crow----
22Elliot Blyth----
23Richard McIntosh----
24Gerrie Ligtenberg----

Friday, May 22, 2020



The new leader of the National party!

NatLineup
One of these MPs is the new leader of the National party. Can you pick which? (Source: Office of the Clerk/Parliamentary Service)

National has chosen its new leader, and as expected, it is an old bald white man. Totally representative of modern New Zealand, then. But its not like they had much else to work with, the alternative being the hired killer (no, not Judith Collins, the real one). Which given that they're the biggest opposition in New Zealand history, with 55 MPs, is really kindof scary. You have to work hard as a party to have that little talent in that many people. But I guess selecting only old bald white men will do that...

Labour is still underfunding our health system

Last week, an article on Newsroom made it clear how the funder / provider split - a core part of our public service - was used to enable underfunding. The government holds the purse strings, but dumps responsibility for its decisions on providers, so they get the blame for poor service. The article was crystal clear: "In both health and education, central government has abdicated responsibility and accountability... using the funder-provider split as cover for withdrawing resources". And there's a perfect example of how this works in practice today's RNZ piece about Canterbury DHB's new useless building. The DHB had asked for half a billion dollars for two new hospital towers to replace old, earthquake damaged wards. Th government gave them a third of that, allowing them to build one building which would be half-empty:

Canterbury DHB has revealed it asked for $438m to rebuild its strained hospital but has had no choice but to settle for a third of that.

[...]

Board chair Sir John Hansen acknowledged the truncated five-storey Tower 3 won't keep pace with rising demand on beds but said that's all the government would pay for.

"The simple reality was, we could accept the $150m one or nothing."

That is only enough money to fit two floors out as wards, so three floors would be empty shells.


So Cantabrians will have to use old, run down hospital buildings for another decade, and their hospital won't be able to keep up with demand. But none of that is the Minister's problem. He can sit in his office, issuing press releases about how much money he's spending, and from the top of the tree it's all smiling monkeys looking up.

Isn't it time we ended this scam, and made the arsehole at the top actually responsible for their decisions?

Thursday, May 21, 2020



Microcopter money in Palmerston?

The government is reportedly looking at "helicopter money" - giving cash directly to people to spend - as a way of stimulating the economy in the wake of the pandemic. But its not just central government: Palmerston North City Council is looking at the same thing, though on a much smaller scale:

Palmerston North ratepayers could be in line to get a $10 voucher to spend in shops in the central city.

Mayor Grant Smith and councillors have included investigation of the scheme in the city recovery plan, and will debate whether to go ahead with it next Wednesday.

[...]

People would be able to redeem their vouchers while shopping at central city retailers, although it was yet to be decided whether that would include supermarkets, which had continued to trade throughout the lockdown.

The scheme could cost the council up to $300,000 if everyone redeemed their vouchers. The source of the funding has yet to be decided.


$300,000 is not a lot of money as far as stimulus goes, more of a micro-copter than a helicopter, and focusing on ratepayers means a big chunk of it will go straight to landleeches rather than people. The push for contactless payment may mean that businesses may be reluctant to accept vouchers (in the same way they are reluctant to accept cash), and there won't be much of a multiplier effect as its illegal to include these vouchers even as a bonus to people's wages. Though in theory business owners could respend it, and the more they do, the better it would work.

Is this really the purpose of local government? Sure - its there to promote "the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being" of their communities. Economic stimulus falls squarely within that purpose, just as local economic development does. So, if the city council wants to buy people a coffee (because that's what it works out to per resident), I'm not going to object.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020



Submit!

The Finance and Expenditure Committee is holding an inquiry into the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 which was rushed through Parliament last week, and has called for submissions. Written submissions are due by Sunday, 28 June 2020, but if you wan tto make an oral submission, you will need to do so by 7 June. You can either submit online through the form above, or by posting dead trees to:

Committee Secretariat
Finance and Expenditure Committee
Parliament Buildings
Wellington
The Act provides a legal framework for necessary public health measures for the lockdown, but it also grants police some highly intrusive powers, without any in-built framework to protect human rights. These aspects have been opposed by both the Human Rights Commission and the NZ Council for Civil Liberties. Hopefully, this post-legislative scrutiny will provide a chance to correct any excesses.

Climate Change: Ambition in Spain

While the world is currently struggling with the pandemic, we have another crisis to deal with as well: climate change. Fortunately, not everyone has forgotten about it, with Spain announcing ambitious plans to go net-zero by 2050:

Under the law, which still needs to be approved by Parliament, the government is pledging to make Spain’s electricity system 100% renewable by the middle of the century, ban all new coal, oil and gas extraction projects with immediate effect, end direct fossil fuel subsidies and make all new vehicles emission-free by 2040.

To reach its 2050 goal, the government has proposed interim targets through its national energy and climate plans to 2030.

By 2030, the government pledged to reduce emissions 23% from 1990 levels and double the proportion of renewable sources in total energy consumption to 35-42% — an objective it described as consistent with the EU bloc-wide target to cut emissions 50%-55% by 2030.


Its a very similar model to New Zealand and the UK, down to the independent panel to guide policy. But its a real net-zero target, not some bullshit "net-zero for everything but our biggest polluter", and its coupled with some actual legislated policy measures to make it happen, rather than just pushing it out into the never-never (again).

Meanwhile in New Zealand policy seems to be moving in the opposite direction, with the government planning to gut the RMA and pushing roads and "mangrove removal" - the destruction of coastal wetlands - as "shovel ready" employment strategies. Which tells us that Ardern's famous "nuclear-free moment" was nothing but a cynical marketing ploy from a politician who ultimately does not give a damn.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020



Disaster leisureism!

Now that the initial wave has passed, and we are (hopefully) safe in our national bubble, the government is thinking about how to keep the economy ticking over, and how to salvage the bits (like tourism) that are now useless. And for that particular industry, she has mentioned a great idea: more holidays!

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says more public holidays for Kiwis to experience New Zealand is among a number of things the Government is "actively considering" to encourage domestic tourism.

Ardern is in Rotorua meeting with key leaders to discuss the tourism industry's recovery.

She said her message to Kiwis was "to come and experience your own backyard" and experience the cultural offering.


But that requires that people have time and money. More public holidays - or more annual leave - would certainly help with the first bit. As for what public holidays we should have, Matariki and Suffrage Day are the obvious ones: both kiwi-as, both about who we are, and both well-timed with other holidays (and if you want Matariki to be a public holiday, there's even a Parliamentary petition for it here).

But also, once we have extra public holidays, it will become hard to take them away. So we may be able to use this disaster to fulfil the goal of giving people back a little more of their time, a little more of their lives that would otherwise be wasted by their employer. And that seems worthwhile to me.

Monday, May 18, 2020



Failing to protect the environment, again

From its name, you would think the Environmental protection Authority was there to protect the environment. But we've had another reminder that nothing could be further from the truth, with its decision to allow a toxic, burned-out Korean fishing boat to be dumped at sea:

The ship's owner, Dong Won NZ (DWNZ), applied for a non-notified consent to dump the trawler 25 nautical miles south-east of Otago Harbour.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) granted that precedent-setting request, on April 30.

Several agencies were approached by the EPA before the decision, including a letter from Environment Canterbury chair Bill Bayfield.

In that letter, obtained by Stuff, he wrote that while ECan had no statutory means to influence the EPA's decision, ''we feel duty bound to bring this to your attention''.

''It is our concern that the disposal of the vessel is being driven more by convenience and cost, than delivering preferred environmental outcomes,'' he wrote.


Ships have been deliberately sunk in New Zealand waters before - the HMNZS Wellington springs to mind - but they've been carefully stripped beforehand. And the reason for that is that ships are toxic waste, full of asbestos, heavy metals, oil, and PCBs. Dumping toxic waste is explicitly forbidden under the EEZ Act, and by the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter it purports to implement. But the EPA has decided to go ahead and allow it anyway, because it is cheaper for this toxic ship's foreign owners to pollute our waters than clean up their mess properly. Which is a disgusting abrogation of responsibility.

This foreign company should be required to take full responsibility for the toxic waste they have left in New Zealand. And if they don't want to pay for it, the New Zealand government should pursue them through the courts until they do. It is that simple.