Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Another attack on te reo

The new white supremacist government made attacking te reo a key part of its platform, promising to rename government agencies and force them to "communicate primarily in English" (which they already do). But today they've gone further, by trying to cut the pay of public servants who speak te reo:

The government is trying to figure out how to stop any more public servants getting extra pay for being proficient in te reo Māori.

But it concedes it cannot dump existing allowances.

"I will ... ask for advice on how we could stop these bonuses being negotiated into future collective agreements," the Public Service Minister Nicola Willis told RNZ.

These allowances exist for a good reason: speaking te reo is a skill which is in demand in the public service. And the reason it is in demand is because public sector agencies owe specific legal duties to (for example) support the crown-Māori relationship and use te reo to promote public services and make them accessible to Māori. Both of those duties require that agencies maintain capacity, which means staff with the appropriate skills, and - as with any other skill - that needs to be paid for. And, as the article notes, they're in collective agreements, and the PSA has indicated they're going to fight for the rights of their members to be recognised for their skills. So, the government is going to have trouble implementing its white supremacist agenda. But the fact they even blurted this, when it wasn't in either coalition agreement, suggests they're going all-in on it, and that the elimination of te reo from public life is a goal they wholeheartedly embrace.

Climate Change: Failed again

There was another ETS auction this morning. and like all the other ones this year, it failed to clear - meaning that 23 million tons of carbon (15 million ordinary units plus 8 million in the cost containment reserve) went up in smoke. Or rather, they didn't. Being unsold at the end of the year, the units are scrapped, so no-one will be able to burn that carbon.

This is a great result for the environment, and it has the effect of rebalancing the ETS by accident. In 2021 and 2022 Labour's cheap carbon policy resulted in it dumping 14 million tons of extra carbon into the environment. That's gone now. And all because they destroyed confidence in the market by ignoring the Climate Commission and trying to keep carbon cheap, resulting in low bids and auctions which didn't clear.

It's also a problem for the government, which was relying on the revenue from the auction. But that doesn't really matter now. Under Labour, that revenue would have been spent on further decarbonisation, and its loss would have slowed decarbonisation. But National was just going to use it to fund tax cuts for landlords, so fuck them.

Looking forward, next year has a much lower carbon budget - 14.1 million tons, plus 7.7 million in a high-priced, two-tiered CCR which should never trigger. So we might finally see the system working properly to provide strong incentives for decarbonisation, like it was supposed to. But I'm sure National, ACT and NZ First will find some way of fucking it up. The last thing they want is actually effective climate policy, because then their donors and cronies might have to change what they do or go out of business.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023


When this government came to power, it did so on an explicitly white supremacist platform. Undermining the Waitangi Tribunal, removing Māori representation in local government, over-riding the courts which had tried to make their foreshore and seabed legislation work, eradicating te reo from public life, and ultimately trying to repudiate Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This agenda is highly controversial, to say the least, and this morning it resulted in the expected pushback, with nationwide protests against the racist government. They were organised at short notice, but a respectable size for all that, and the message was clear: if the government continues with its racist agenda, there will be more.

Meanwhile, in parliament there was pushback of a different sort, with te Pāti Māori MPs swearing their own oath first before doing the legally-required one. Its worth comparing the two. Here's what Tākuta Ferris went for (other te Pāti Māori MPs used similar language):

I, Takuta Ferris, swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to our mokopuna according to tikanga Māori. I will perform my functions and duties and exercise my powers in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
And here's the legal oath of allegiance, set out in unmodernised 70-year old legislation - which is itself cribbed from legislation 150 years old:
I, [specify], swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her [or His] Majesty [specify the name of the reigning Sovereign, as thus: Queen Elizabeth the Second], Her [or His] heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
One of these sounds a hell of a lot more like modern Aotearoa and a hell of a lot more in tune with kiwi values than the other, and it wasn't the one full of archaic feudal bullshit. And while many people would prefer an affirmation with references to other parts of the constitution, its still likely to look a hell of a lot more like Ferris' than the legal one. Which tells us just how archaic and out-of-date key parts of our legislative framework are. Its long past time we changed them.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Climate Change: Fossils

When the new government promised to allow new offshore oil and gas exploration, they were warned that there would be international criticism and reputational damage. Naturally, they arrogantly denied any possibility that that would happen. And then they finally turned up at COP, to criticism from Palau, and a "fossil of the day" award. And that's just the first few days!

Meanwhile, in more evidence of the government's denier trend, yesterday they refused to sign the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, which would have committed us to work with other countries to triple renewable energy and double the rate of energy efficiency improvements. These are global targets, with a big "national circumstances" clause - which for us includes the fact that ~90% of our electricity generation is already renewable. Many of the specific commitments are things like easier permitting, which are strongly aligned with the new government's program. So you'd think signing up for it would be a no-brainer, what MFAT calls an easy win: a reputational boost with no downside (and supporting global collective action as well). But apparently not. The hostility of the new government to anything "green" is such that they won't even sign up for the easiest, most obvious, least-cost action. Instead, they'd rather shred our international reputation and risk trade sanctions with a purely ideological call to keep on drilling in the face of global apocalypse. And then they wonder why people think they're fossils...

Thursday, November 30, 2023


Henry Kissinger is finally dead. Good fucking riddance. While Americans loved him, he was a war criminal, responsible for most of the atrocities of the final quarter of the twentieth century. Cambodia. Bangladesh. Chile. East Timor. All Kissinger. Because of these crimes, Americans revere him as a "statesman" (which says rather a lot about Americans). I prefer Anthony Bourdain's view: Kissinger deserved to face trial in The Hague, just like Milošević. Now he's dead, well, Milošević's corpse was staked. I wonder how Kissinger's victims will finally take revenge?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

National's giveaway politics

We already know that national plans to boost smoking rates to collect more tobacco tax so they can give huge tax-cuts to mega-landlords. But this morning that policy got even more obscene - because it turns out that the tax cut is retrospective:

Residential landlords will be able to claim back tax that they paid under the previous Government, the National-Act coalition deal indicates.

Such a retrospective law changes would be “highly unusual and unorthodox,” says one tax expert. Retrospective law-making is generally frowned upon.

And it’s one more oddity in all the toing-and-froing by lawmakers over the residential landlords’ tax break.

Today, CTU economist Craig Renney releases a report concluding the lost revenue cost of accelerating the restoration of interest deductibility will be about $900 million for the new Government – that’s on top of National’s original $2.1b costings, and a new hole in its tax package.

It is unclear whether landlords will be required to give a retrospective rent cut to their tenants, but... probably not.

This is a perfect example of National's giveaway politics, and how lobbying for such giveaways, whether financial or regulatory, is the true business of New Zealand "business". Landlords are getting a giveaway. The fossil fuel industry is getting a giveaway. The cancer industry is getting a giveaway. Farmers and polluters are getting a giveaway. Shitty foreign "gig economy" businesses are getting a giveaway. Seabed miners are expecting one. Even favoured charities are getting one. Meanwhile, actual people who need help or government services like housing, health, and education get nothing. The problem for National is that the latter vote, while businesses don't. But maybe they'll try and "fix" that too?

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

National's murderous smoking policy

One of the big underlying problems in our political system is the prevalence of short-term thinking, most usually seen in the periodic massive infrastructure failures at a local government level caused by them skimping on maintenance to Keep Rates Low. But the new government has given us a new example, with their unexpected plans to repeal smokefree legislation. While being blamed on Winston - a guy named after a brand of cancer-sticks - National likes it because they need the money to fund their promised handouts to landlords. But as Bernard Hickey points out, that extra revenue has a cost, and it is enormous:

But the cost to the taxpayers and citizens in purely financial terms, let alone the estimated loss of 580,000 Health Adjusted Life Years (HALYs), is set to surpass $10 billion. For every dollar in tax cuts delivered to landlords and salary earners by pushing tobacco taxes back up, Treasury has estimated health and lost productivity costs of up to 20 dollars.


Treasury estimated in 2021 that the changes in smoking laws and regulations designed to slash smoking rates would create $5.25 billion in health savings over time and $5.88 billion in extra income from productivity benefits. Reversing those changes would reimpose those costs.

So for a few hundred million a year in extra tobacco tax, National is going to stick us with 4000 - 9000 dead, and $11 billion in other costs. Apparently, this is what they call "fiscal responsibility". Instead, it just looks like cold-blooded murder.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Climate Change: Stopping oil

National is promising to bring back offshore oil and gas drilling. Naturally, the Greens have organised a petition campaign to try and stop them. You should sign it - every little bit helps, and as the struggle over mining conservation land showed, even National can be deterred if enough people take action.

That said, if the Greens and Te Pāti Māori are serious about killing this, there is one simple action they can take: promise that the ban will be immediately reinstated when they have influence over a future government, and that any permits granted will be immediately revoked as part of a wider move to sunset all fossil fuel permits. Offshore gas exploration is expensive and has long investment timeframes. Foreign companies need certainty to engage in it. Take away that certainty, and they won't do it. National has effectively deterred business decarbonisation in this way, by spewing climate denial and promising to roll-back action; its time we used it too to send a clear message: if you invest in pollution, you won't make money.

The stupidest of stupid reasons

One of the threats in the National - ACT - NZ First coalition agreements was to extend the term of Parliament to four years, reducing our opportunities to throw a bad government out. The justification? Apparently, the government thinks "elections are expensive".

This is the stupidest of stupid reasons for limiting our democracy, and it invites the natural question: if they're so expensive, why have them at all? Unfortunately, its not just shared by the business geniuses in national - ACT - NZ First, but also by the Ministry of Justice. Their advice to the independent electoral review panel on the issue included a list of advantages and disadvantages for various term lengths. "Election costs, both direct and indirect, are more frequently incurred" was listed as a disadvantage of a three-year term. "Longer period between election costs" was considered an advantage of a longer one. Because obviously, money is more important than democracy and accountability. The idea is expanded on in a specific topic paper, which notes that the "indirect costs" of elections may include "drops in business confidence". So, firstly, MoJ thinks business hating democracy is somehow important, and secondly, they think that NZ business confidence surveys somehow translate into real economic impacts (they do not. In fact, they're "uniquely useless in the world for predicting NZ GDP"). Which tells us rather a lot about the quality of analysis Ministry of Justice can produce these days, and should really make you worry about anything else they're giving advice on.

In reality, our elections are cheap: $180 million per election cycle. Moving to a four year term would save us all of $15 million a year, averaged over the long-term. On a government scale, that's pocket change. Anyone who treats this as a serious cost saving or a serious reason for doing something is trying to sell you something - in this case, less democracy, less accountability, and less control over our own government.

Friday, November 24, 2023

A cruel, vicious, nasty government

So, after weeks of negotiations, we finally have a government, with a three-party cabinet and a time-sharing deputy PM arrangement. Newsroom's Marc Daalder has put the various coalition documents online, and I've been reading through them. A few things stand out:

  • Luxon doesn't want to do any work, so he hasn't taken a policy portfolio. Which also tells us there's no serious policy agenda he wants to push, and nothing he really cares about beyond the job title and salary. Even Key took tourism. Luxon, who constantyl tells us that he used to run an airline, can't even be bothered with that.
  • Shane Jones is Minister of Regional Development again, which basicly makes him Minister for Pork. Given his other famous ministerial role, the jokes write themselves.
  • Judith Collins is Attorney-General, so she'll be telling us what the BORA means. I have no confidence that she will properly fulfil her duties under section 7 to advice Parliament whether legislation breaches our human rights.
  • The Ministers for Climate Change and the Environment are both outside Cabinet. Which shows us how important National thinks those issues are, despite their centrality to the government's agenda. So are Commerce and Tertiary Education (which tells us how they feel about monopoly-busting and students), and of course Women and Disability Issues.
  • The expected ultra-right policies are in there: 90-day trials for all workers, ending Fair Pay Agreements, no-cause evictions, landlord subsidies, viciousness and cruelty in the name of "law and order". Also the expected climate denial (restarting offshore drilling, weakening emissions targets for farmers), and the expected white supremacy around co-governance and Te Tiriti and trying to turn the clock back to the 1950's.
  • There's also some more disturbing stuff: "introduce a policy to allow state schools to become partnership schools" - so basicly school privatisation. "Investigate build and lease-back arrangements for new hospitals" - which means UK style PPPs (which were a disaster for everyone but the lenders). "Explore allowing home builders to opt out of needing a building consent provided they have long-term insurance for the building work" - an invitation to a second leaky homes crisis, which will require a permanent warning on the LIM of any house built under such an arrangement.
  • National has promised ACT it will send its weirdo "4 year term at random in exchange for vague, easily breakable promises of greater parliamentary scrutiny" bill to select committee, while also promising NZ First that they would support a bill providing for a binding referendum. Rimmer's bill requires one, so this could be the same promise, but it suggests that unaccountability is a bipartisan project and that someone maybe didn't understand someone else's policy agenda.
  • Guns will be back of course, and ACT wants to permanently undermine firearms policy by transferring it from police to DIA, where they will have direct ministerial control.
  • And then there's the cooker and culture war shit: making university funding contingent on accepting ACT-defined "free speech" (which means freedom for terfs and racists, and a ban on protests against them). "Restore balance to the Aotearoa New Zealand’s Histories curriculum" - so back to white supremacist history. A "National Interest Test" for "agreements from the UN". "Investigate the reopening of Marsden Point Refinery" (a weird fixation of the cookers, but its just a hole in the ground now and they'd need to build a new one). Requiring government agencies to be named and communicate primarily in English, and making English an official language, because What About White People?
  • ACT will get a "Treaty Principles Bill based on existing ACT policy" sent to select committee ASAP. Existing ACT policy is for a referendum, so they're going to be hugely divisive. And even if National takes the "only to select committee" out to avoid a referendum, the policy agenda makes it clear that they will be gutting Treaty rights and rolling back the clock in other ways, by gutting the Waitangi Tribunal, legislating to override the courts on the foreshore and seabed, and forcing racist local government referenda to remove Māori wards.

All up, this is not an agenda which inspires confidence. Its going to be a cruel, vicious, nasty three years.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Climate Change: The rich are killing us

When we think of the causes of climate change, we tend to think of cars, power plants, factories, or (in Aotearoa) fields of cows - dirty, sure, but its basicly the infrastructure of modern civilisation, things which produce benefits for a lot of people. Shutting it down overnight would create horrific problems, so the challenge is about cleaning it up as quickly as possible. But there's another cause, which doesn't benefit anyone: rich people:

The richest 1% of humanity is responsible for more carbon emissions than the poorest 66%, with dire consequences for vulnerable communities and global efforts to tackle the climate emergency, a report says.

The most comprehensive study of global climate inequality ever undertaken shows that this elite group, made up of 77 million people including billionaires, millionaires and those paid more than US$140,000 (£112,500) a year, accounted for 16% of all CO2 emissions in 2019 – enough to cause more than a million excess deaths due to heat, according to the report.

It gets worse: just 12 billionaires produce more emissions from their private planes, megayachts, and mansions, than 2.1 million homes. And those emissions kill nearly 4000 people a year - around 320 for each billionaire. This isn't so much a matter of "behind every great fortune is a great crime" as a great fortune is a great crime - and an ongoing one at that.

In both groups, their luxury emissions don't underlie global civilisation. They just benefit the 1%, at the cost of making all our lives worse. We can, and should, eliminate those emissions as quickly as possible, and doing so will have very little impact on the rest of us.

As for how to do it, the core problem is extreme concentration of wealth, so that's what we need to eliminate, by using wealth, inheritance, land, and capital gains taxes. And once we've seized that wealth, we should redeploy it, to speed the transition and eliminate emissions in the rest of our society. That way we'll all be better off.

Still chickenshits

After a month of watching Israel bomb hospitals and murder children and threaten starvation, ethnic cleansing, and nuclear strikes in revenge for a terrorist attack, Chris Hipkins finally seems to have discovered his conscience:

Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins has called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, saying "the violence and the killing has to stop".

He has stressed that he has made the announcement as Labour leader, not caretaker Prime Minister.

But Hipkins said it had become "untenable" for him to remain silent.

"It runs against Labour Party values to see the horrific scenes we are witnessing without calling for a ceasefire," he said.

Its good to see - better late than never – and likely to be popular. But at the same time it was rather undercut by (incorrect) reports yesterday that the US had brokered the ceasefire Hipkins was calling for. Leading to the suspicion that rather than actually standing up for "Labour Party values", Hipkins was just being a spineless little yes-man, going with the international flow, as usual.

Once upon a time the Labour Party had leaders who didn't have to wait for a month to do the right thing. We wouldn't have had this craven bullshit under David Lange, or Helen Clark (or, for the Boomers, Norman Kirk). But those days are clearly long gone. And Labour wonders why no-one believes in them anymore? Its because these days, they don't seem to believe in anything other than their own careers. They're chickenshits all the way down.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The cost of climate backsliding

When the UK opened a new coalmine last year, they were warned that it would damage their international reputation and give cover for other countries also wanting to destroy the Earth. And that's exactly what happened:

The UK’s decision to open a new coalmine in Cumbria was a “disaster” that encouraged other countries to press ahead with fossil fuels, and the continued expansion of North Sea oil and gas is likely to continue the harm, a former chief adviser to the government has said.

Other countries are using the UK as an excuse for pressing ahead with fossil fuel projects despite their climate commitments, according to Adair Turner, the first chair of the Committee on Climate Change and a former head of the CBI.

Lord Turner told the Guardian that he had “literally been involved in discussions” in China and India where UK decisions had been given as a reason for not moving faster on the climate.

“I can tell you that [the Cumbrian coalmine] was a disaster globally, and in China and India, where I was engaged in debates [on reducing greenhouse gas emissions], I have had people say ‘yeah, but you’re building a new coalmine in the UK’,” he said.

The application to Aotearoa should be obvious. The incoming National government wants to overturn the offshore gas exploration ban so its rich friends can destroy the world. There's even a live application for an offshore drilling permit, which chickenshit Labour hasn't rejected despite it now being a slam-dunk rejection (Labour having finally passed the Crown Minerals Amendment Bill, so the offshore drilling ban applies and the application cannot lawfully be granted). National's siding with the fossil criminals is already having diplomatic consequences; if they persist in this course, then they will not only ruin relations with our Pacific neighbours, but we'll also end up like the UK, with no credibility with the people we need to persuade if climate action is to be successful. And that prospect should worry all of us.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

This may fool Labour's backbench, but it won't fool voters

When Chris Hipkins put a wealth tax back on the table after losing the election, I called him weak, irresolute, and deceitful, and pointed out that no-one on either side could believe him on this issue. Today, in the Herald Thomas Coughlan has the inside dirt: that it was a short con to shore up Hipkins' leadership:

A compromise was reached within the Labour Party to quell dissent about the leadership of Chris Hipkins and allay concerns the party had abandoned its base.


Inside last week’s meeting, the dissenters wanted action on tax, saying it would be difficult to survive the next three years in opposition and fight another election campaign if Hipkins’ rule-out meant wealth and capital gains taxes were in deep freeze.

They wanted them defrosted.

Hipkins, without putting up much of a fight, agreed to put both back on the table - an olive branch to the dissenters. This doesn’t guarantee either would be included in the party’s 2026 manifesto.

This has successfully fooled the Labour backbench - for now. But they're not who Hipkins actually needs to convince. It is voters who will determine his and his party's future, and we can see full well who actually supports fair taxation, and who is merely trying to scam us. Thanks to its past cowardice, Labour has a huge credibility problem on what is likely to be a key issue at the next election. And the longer they treat it as a PR scam, to be fudged and put off (while their pecuniary interest declarations tell us they have a direct financial interest in opposing it), the worse it is going to be for them.

Friday, November 10, 2023

A political solution in Catalonia?

Six years ago Catalans braved police batons and rubber bullets to vote overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum. The Spanish regime responded with a wave of persecution, dissolving the Catalan government and jailing its leaders for "sedition". The repression has continued to this day, with Catalan activists prosecuted for peacefully advocating that they be allowed to decide their own future. Earlier this week, a Spanish judge began investigating former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont for "terrorism" for his role in organising peaceful protests.

But now there finally seems to be an end. back in July, Spain went to the polls in inconclusive elections which left the Catalan parties holding the balance of power. In exchange for allowing a government in Madrid, they demanded an amnesty for all "crimes" committed in the course of the independence struggle. And it looks like they've finally got what they were asking for:

Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, is on the verge of securing another term in office after his socialist party won the support of Catalan separatists by offering a deeply controversial amnesty for those who took part in the illegal and failed push for regional independence six years ago.

The deal between the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) and the centre-right Junts (Together) comes after a week of tense negotiations and amid widespread concerns over the amnesty, which have led to street protests, dire warnings from conservative judges and questions from Brussels.

Speaking shortly after the agreement was announced on Thursday, the PSOE’s organisational secretary, Santos Cerdán, said the negotiations had yielded “a historic opportunity to resolve a conflict that could – and should – only be resolved politically”. He said the proposed amnesty bill would now be put before parliament, adding that a new, socialist-led government would offer a progressive alternative to an alliance between the conservative People’s party (PP) and the far-right Vox party.

The deal also includes self-determination negotiations.

Unfortunately, the PSOE is notorious for not delivering on its promises. Which is why Junts is playing hardball: they have offered nothing beyond support for the investiture vote (what we would term a one-off vote of confidence); if the amnesty law is not passed, they will vote down every piece of government legislation, and eventually, the government itself, sending Spain back to the polls.

No matter where you stand on Catalan independence, this is a step forward. As a democrat who believes Catalonia's future is a matter for Catalans, peacefully advocating for independence should never have been treated as a crime, and an amnesty is a recognition of that. As for people who think Catalonia belongs in Spain, you don't convince people with persecution and repression, so an amnesty allows the relationship to be rebuilt. And either way, making the issue one of politics and negotiation, as it should have been all along, is the only way to a peaceful, just, and democratic solution.

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Bullies all the way down

We've known for a while that Labour has a bullying problem. Meka Whaitiri. Gaurav Sharma. Kiri Allen. Shanan Halbert. Mostly, they bully their staff. But soon-to-be-former police minister Ginny Andersen has found a new victim: her volunteers:

Stuff understands she alleges Andersen “yelled” at the young woman and her brother, at the party’s Lower Hutt election night event, made them feel uncomfortable, pushed them to leave and was aggressive.

The mother alleges Andersen was angry she hadn’t knocked on enough doors during the campaign. Andersen lost her Hutt South seat to National’s Chris Bishop.

She goes on to list other alleged incidents over a three-year period, in which the volunteer was belittled, and shouted at for choosing a family trip over working for the MP.

Which also answers another question: we know from their public statements and leaked emails that Labour's MPs sure as shit aren't going to accept any responsibility for their election loss. So who are they going to blame instead? Their volunteers - the people who believe in the party as something other than just a means of career advancement, and who give up their time to it to help centrist careerists climb the pole and get $296,007 salaries.

The good news is that this particular aspect of the problem is probably self correcting, in that bullying volunteers eventually results in all but the careerists leaving and devoting their efforts elsewhere, leaving MPs to do their own doorknocking. But it also suggests that Labour's bullying problem is absolutely ingrained, part of the party's toxic culture. And if that's the case, its probably better to just burn the whole party down rather than continue to tolerate it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Women win in Ohio

Last year, the Republican Supreme Court overturned the longstanding Roe v. Wade precedent, allowing Republican states to state banning abortion. But that isn't turning out how the Republicans planned: voters in Kansas and Kentucky have already rejected state constitutional bans, while Ohio voters have just added abortion rights to their state constitution:

Ohio voters have added the right to access abortion care to the state's constitution, NBC News projects — another major political victory for abortion-rights advocates in the nearly 17 months since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

The passage of the Issue 1 ballot measure inserts language in the state constitution guaranteeing every person in Ohio the right “to one’s own reproductive medical treatment, including but not limited to abortion,” and barring the state from “burdening, penalizing or prohibiting” those rights — though it specifies that abortion will remain prohibited after the point a doctor judges a fetus would most likely survive birth, with exceptions to protect the woman’s life or health.

(They also voted to legalise marijuana, so they're ahead of Aotearoa on that...)

Somehow I don't think this was what Republicans had in mind when they said they wanted states - or voters - to decide. And it bodes well both for further referenda, and for overturning Republican political majorities.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Weak, irresolute, and deceitful

Back in July, then-Prime Minister Chris Hipkins put paid to any hope of a progressive Aotearoa, ruling out wealth, land, or capital gains taxes under any government he led. The decision arguably cost him the election, with voters in previously-safe labour electorates staying home because they had nothing to vote for. But of course now he's out of power, that decision has been reversed:

Asked about a potential wealth tax, Hipkins said the caucus had a brief conversation about tax.

"I have also been clear with the caucus - we lost and that means we start again, and that means everything comes back onto the table - and that includes a discussion around tax."

Hipkins said he was clear he was only setting Labour's tax policy for the next term of government, and any changes would only be after a mandate was sought, but Labour lost - so now everything was back on the table.

I guess its because he's no longer leading a government...

The problem, of course, is that in addition to being weak and lacking any conviction, Hipkins now gets to add "deceitful" to his list of vices. And no-one on either side of this debate will trust him on this. Those opposed to fairer taxation will simply see him as going back on his word, while those supporting it will be worried he'll go back on it again. As one of the latter, while I’m pleased to see Labour reverse its position, I don’t for an instant trust them to deliver. And it has unpleasant shades of Ardern conspicuously refusing to back cannabis decriminalisation, then saying she supported it after it had lost.

But this is Labour in a nutshell: lions in opposition, spineless worms in government. And so no policy they pronounce can be believed in. It might be different if the party actually stood for something, or if its policies were under the democratic control of its membership, but neither has been true for a long time. And so there's no reason for anybody who wants actual progress to waste their time with them.

Update: I went for that post title, and then I see his wriggling refusal to say whether Isrrael is breaching international law. Weak and irresolute indeed. Muldoon once called Rowling "a shiver looking for a spine to run up". I have no idea whether or not that was true of Rowling - but it certainly seems to be true of Hipkins.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Why nothing changes in OIA-land

If you've used the Official Information Act for any length of time, you will have had an agency egregiously violate the law: ignore your request, issue a bullshit extension for fictitious "consultations" on the last day (or even late), or misapply withholding grounds to keep information secret. The check on this is supposed to be the Ombudsman: you can complain about any OIA decision, and after a year or two, the Ombudsman will say whether it was correct or not, and possibly order information to be released or the agency to apologise. And apart from the delay, that's fine as far as it goes. But somehow, it never seems to change agency behaviour: all too frequently, you find the same agency pulling the same shit on your very next request.

The check on that is meant to be Ministers. When the Ombudsman finishes an investigation, they issue a final opinion (most investigations never get to this stage, being resolved informally or just dumped long before then). And if that opinion is in the requester's favour - that the request should not have been refused, or the agency's decision was otherwise unreasonable or wrong - then they are legally required to report this to the relevant Minister. The theory here is that Ministers are responsible for their agencies, and will therefore take an interest in whether they are breaking the law or not. And if they receive too many formal notifications about illegal OIA violations from an agency, they will tell it to improve its behaviour - if only to get those annoying notifications to stop (and maybe avoid constant bad headlines in the Post).

Or at least, that's how government worked in 1982, when Ministerial responsibility still meant something, and hadn't been diluted by public sector managerialism. But does it work now? For the past month, I've been doing a little research project to find out. I used the Ombudsman's published complaints data for January - June 2023 to compile a list of completed complaints where the investigation was finalised, a final opinion was formed, and recommendations had been made. I then OIA'd the ministers responsible for the relevant agencies asking them for all advice and communications resulting from those notifications. The data (and links to all responses) is here. The headline results:

  • 49/56 (87.5%) notifications were simply ignored, generating no correspondence;
  • Only 5/56 notifications (9%) resulted in the minister's office showing any interest. 3 of those resulted in the Minister clearly seeking a detailed explanation and ensuring the agency complied with the Ombudsman's ruling. The other two were less clear;
  • In one case, an agency proactively contacted the Minister's office in an attempt to cover its arse and undermine the Ombudsman's ruling;
  • One ministerial office generated only internal correspondence in response to notification (which was a denial of responsibility).

I was pretty shocked by these results, so I asked the Ombudsman to comment on them. They responded that:

The Ombudsman’s recommendations carry weight. Under section 32 of the Official Information Act, there is a public duty for an agency to comply with them within 21 days. The Chief Ombudsman deals directly with the agency to confirm his recommendations are carried out.

As section 30 of the OIA makes clear, the Chief Ombudsman is required to keep the relevant Minister informed of his findings about an agency. It is up to individual ministers to decide whether any follow up action is required.

Unfortunately, those individual ministers simply do not seem to care. And so while all those "weighty" recommendations from the Ombudsman may produce remedies in individual cases, nothing actually changes.

What can be done? One option would be to apply the same theory of government at a higher level, by requiring the Ombudsman to notify Parliament - and in particular, the relevant select committee - of every final opinion. This would enable select committees to question ministers about their agency's failures, and hold them to account for their failure to remedy them. But that would require select committees to show the interest that ministers don't, and for ministers to care what select committees think. And I'm not sure that either is true – especially with inbuilt government majorities able to protect Ministers from accountability.

The other alternative is overseas-style judicialisation of the OIA: replace the Ombudsman with a UK-style Information Commissioner, with appeals heard by a special-purpose tribunal and then the courts. Which would mean that rather than just having a mass of individual rulings, we would have actual court orders, and binding legal precedent, which both the law-breaking agency and other agencies would be required to follow. That seems to be more likely to produce systemic change that a theory of government which in practice was abandoned over thirty years ago.

5,000 employed under Labour

The quarterly labour market statistics were released this morning, showing that unemployment had risen to 3.9%. So, at the end of their term, Labour had reduced unemployment by only 5,000 people compared to when they took office.

Of course, growth in the overall population and the workforce means the change is much more significant in percentage terms: a drop from 4.6% to 3.9%. Which I guess shows the problems of tracking this with absolute numbers.

(The December quarter stats, released next year, will cover the election period and interregnum, so I'm not really wanting to attribute it to either party. I'll start tracking National's tally with the 2024 March quarter).