Friday, August 31, 2018

The Horizons by-election

Horizons, my local regional council, is having a by-election after someone died mid-term. There's only a small number of candidates running compared to the regular election, and almost all of them are at least paying lip-service to the interests of urban voters and say they want to clean up the river. So who are the options?

Given this lineup, I think my choice is clear.

Mushrooming the Minister

Ministers are supposed to be able to rely on public servants to give advice on the areas they request so they can make good decisions. Normally here the concern is public servants being too timid about telling Ministers things they don't want to hear. But Newsroom reports a case of the opposite in DoC: a department censoring information the Minister had specifically asked for, in an apparent attempt to mushroom them:

In January, Eugenie Sage asked for a Department of Conservation (DOC) briefing on biodiversity values in the Mackenzie. She specifically wanted it to come from Christchurch ecologist Nick Head, one of the country’s foremost experts on the Mackenzie.

Head, who left the department in June and is pursuing a personal grievance claim, provided the two-page briefing to his bosses on January 24. But emails released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act show that DOC’s principal Mackenzie adviser, Jeremy Severinsen, deleted several key passages before it was sent to the Minister’s office.

It’s clear from the DOC emails that those passages related to Crown lease properties in the Mackenzie going through tenure review, their ecological values, and how they might help form a drylands park.

According to Forest & Bird, the censored advice showed that past tenure review decisions had undermined the environment and compromised the possibility of a drylands park. It is unclear if Severinsen was involved in those decisions, or simply covering up for people who were, but either way, it doesn't look good. While there's obviously a process of curation and quality control over anything that goes before a Minister, this seems to go a bit beyond that. And in the context of DoC's internal culture war, it looks decidedly dubious.

I can't imagine Sage, or any other Minister, putting up with this sort of behaviour, and i expect there'll be some pointed words directed at DoC's Chief Executive to ensure it does not happen again.

New Fisk

Lebanon is on a tightrope, balancing Saudi, Iranian and Western interests – its position is precarious

There should be no place for bullies in our Parliament

Yesterday Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri was stood down over a "staffing matter" - which allegedly involved not just a toxic work environment, but her shoving a staff member. While being a bullying thug is clearly a way to get ahead in a political party, it is not behaviour we should tolerate in a Minister or in our Parliament. If the allegations are substantiated, Whaitiri should resign - not just as a Minister, but as an MP.


"Collateral Murder" leaker Chelsea Manning has been granted a special direction to apply for a work visa, effectively making her entry into New Zealand a formality. Good. Quite apart from showing a suitable respect for free expression, Manning is a hero whose leaks exposed war crimes and dubious decision-making by the powerful. While the party of the powerful (or rather, the party of toadying to the powerful) dislike this, New Zealand should welcome her.

Meanwhile, it seems that Australia intends to make the opposite decision and refuse her entry. Which is I think another example of how our countries are drifting apart. New Zealand is a much more liberal country than Australia, and a much more free one. Meanwhile, Australia, with its security laws and domestic religious oppression really seems to be trying to turn into a tyrannical shithole like the UK.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Climate change: No free ride for methane

Back in June, the government released a discussion document on its proposed Zero Carbon Bill, where they attempted to back away from actually reducing emissions to zero by giving farmers (and their methane-spewing cows) a free ride. It was a concession which made no sense economically - the cost of ambition is basicly zero. And now, a report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment shows that simply letting farmers maintain their current level of warming will require them to cut methane emissions by 10 - 22% by 2050:

New Zealand would need to reduce livestock methane emissions by up to 22 per cent by 2050 to stop any additional global warming, official research shows.


The release from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment throws a wrench into an emerging consensus across the country that "stabilising" NZ's short-lived methane emissions at current levels could be a viable option to stop warming.

It suggests that actual "stabilisation" would still require a reduction in livestock or the success of new methods to lower emissions, such as special feeds, vaccines or tweaking livestock breeding.

Of course, none of those new methods exist, largely because farmers refused point blank to pay for the research to develop them (they infamously drove a tractor up Parliament steps rather than pay their own way). And thanks chiefly to denier foot-dragging, we cannot wait any longer to develop them before reducing emissions. Which will mean we will have to reduce cow numbers. This will have significant benefits to nitrous oxide emissions and water quality, but its their least-preferred solution.

Its also worth noting that this assumes that farmers are entitled to continue to destroy the atmosphere exactly as much as they were doing in 2016 - a proposition I think many kiwis would disagree with. We have already emitted too much, and we need to reduce warming, not just hold it stable. And that will require an even further reduction in cow numbers. Given the lag-times involved and the significant environmental damage cows do to other parts of the environment, the quicker we do it, the better.

Online elections cannot be trusted

Local body elections are next year. And sadly, a group of councils are insisting on running unsafe, online votes:

Nine local bodies should know by Christmas whether online voting can be trialled in their elections next year.

The councils are seeking proposals from providers but the big question is whether legislation will be passed in time for the October 2019 poll.

The nine hope to jointly trial online voting alongside the traditional postal poll, with time tight to agree on a system without knowing exactly when Parliament would give the OK.


Auckland Council is joined by Gisborne District, Hamilton City, Matamata-Piako District, Tauranga, Palmerston North and Wellington cities along with the Marlborough and Selwyn District Councils.

If they continue with this plan, the net result will be that the election "results" in those areas simply cannot be trusted, because there is simply no safe way to run an online poll. Ballot secrecy directly contradicts security, while the fact that voting will happen in a remote location allows both credential harvesting and direct intimidation (oh, plus the spies want the system to be backdoored and vulnerable to anyone who wants to manipulate the vote). None of that matters for a Stuff poll, but when we're talking about who runs our towns and cities - and potentially our country - the risks are simply too great. Our democracy is too important to be left to such insecure methods. We should insist on paper ballots, and vote out any councillor who supports this madness.

The opposite of security

The GCSB's current motto on its website is "If New Zealand has secrets worth stealing, then they're worth protecting". Now, the GCSB and their Five Eyes masters wants to make it radically easier for people to steal those very secrets they claim to exist to protect. How? By backdooring the encryption which protects our networks, our filesystems, our financial transactions, everything:

Ministers from the Five Eyes grouping of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom have agreed to new measures to combat global threats, including seeking access to encrypted data and communications.


Among them was agreement that there was an urgent need for law enforcement agencies to gain access to encrypted data and communications, subject to conditions.

"The inability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to lawfully access encrypted data and communications poses challenges to law enforcement agencies' efforts to protect our communities.

"Therefore, we agreed to the urgent need for law enforcement to gain targeted access to data, subject to strict safeguards, legal limitations, and respective domestic consultations.

"We have agreed to a Statement of Principles on Access to Evidence and Encryption that sets out a framework for discussion with industry on resolving the challenges to lawful access posed by encryption, while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms," the communique said.

But while that statement uses the language of "lawful access" and makes much of judicial oversight, fundamentally such access requires that those systems contain vulnerabilities. But as we've already seen, security agencies don't seem to care much for the law when they can hide behind secrecy, and vulnerabilities don't just get used by the (self-proclaimed) "good guys". There are already cases of security flaws kept secret by spy agencies being exploited by criminals, and that's just an ordinary operating system vulnerability. And secrecy is no defence: there's an entire ecosystem of people out there searching for holes in our systems to use. If a vulnerability exists, they will eventually find it, and when they find it, they will exploit it. And where the vulnerability is in something critical, like say the encryption which protects your online credit card transactions or the algorithm which identifies you as the author of a digital contract and makes it binding, then the consequences could be devastating.

Organisations like GCSB ostensibly exist to protect us from that. Instead, they seem to be more interested in building themselves a global surveillance state. And that is not protecting us. Deliberately introducing security vulnerabilities into critical systems is not "security" - instead its the opposite.

Steve Maharey's crony appointment

The previous government was notorious for cronyism, running fake appointment processes for form's sake before shoehorning their preferred cronies in at the last minute. That was pretty blatantly corrupt, but in less than a year the new government has managed to surpass them, with the appointment of former Labour MP Steve Maharey as chair of Pharmac. When Maharey was appointed, I submitted the usual OIA request seeking details on the process. The released documents show cronyism so naked that I have not seen it before in New Zealand.

How bad is it? First, Health Minister David Clark received advice to reappoint the existing board chair Stuart McLauchlan to manage Pharmac through upcoming changes, or at least temporarily reappoint him so a proper process to find a replacement could be run:

This advice was ignored. Which would be fine if Clark had then run a proper appointment process to appoint someone on merit. Instead, he simply shoulder-tapped Maharey, on the basis of "skills and experience which are well known to the Minister of Health".

No position description, no application, no interviews, nothing. Just $48,000 a year for knowing the right person. Its cronyism, pure and simple. Then, in the Cabinet paper formalising the appointment, Clark has the gall to say this:

The SSC Board Appointment and Induction Guidelines require that a position description is completed and strongly suggest that a wide pool of candidates be sought by a variety of methods (including advertisement, nominations from state-sector agencies etc) in order to get the broadest possible pool of high-talent candidates. They also assume that candidates will be short-listed, interviewed, and generally assessed on merit. Whether Clark actually did that, or misled his Cabinet colleagues, is left as an exercise for the reader.

What is clear is that this process undermines the concept of merit-based appointments in the public sector. The way to get a job under Labour is not to be good at it, but to be buddies with the Minister. This is not how our government is meant to work. But it also diminishes Maharey, in that he's not obviously unsuitable for the role, and if he'd been appointed by the previous government or by an independent, transparent and merit-based process, no questions would have been asked. Instead, the method of his appointment taints him, and he'll forever show up on Google as a crony. Those seeking government appointments might want to think about that.

As for how to fix this, I've said it before: if we want to eliminate cronyism, we must remove the power of Ministers to dispense patronage in this manner. We already do that for state sector chief executive positions by using an independent panel and we should do it for boards as well. As with CEOs, if Ministers want to override the recommendation they have received, then they should be required to publicly notify that fact - a mechanism which ensures that it hardly ever happens. If we do this, our public sector would be better for it, and appointments would be free of the taint of cronyism or the suspicion they had been purchased through donations.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Who do they work for again?

When NZDF learned that they had contaminated water at their bases with illegal PFAS firefighting foams, they initially tried hiding the fact from the public and their Minister. But they did tell someone: Australia:

The Defence Force told the Australian military it had contaminated water at its bases months before it alerted the New Zealand public for the first time, emails released under the Official Information Act show.

The newly released emails also show Defence gave the Australians a heads up, including about investigations at Devonport, before it told the government.

Defence told the New Zealand public about the contamination with long-lasting and damaging PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam, in early December last year.

It told the Defence Minister last August.

But two months before that, in June 2017, its Environmental Services unit emailed the Australian Defence Force saying it was "about time" they conferred about the contamination.

Which really makes you wonder who NZDF thinks they work for: the people who pay their wages, or a foreign power whose values are increasingly hostile to our own.

But in addition to raising questions about their loyalties, this release has also exposed the level of utter incompetence at NZDF. They have an environmental services unit and a gaggle of outside consultants to advise them. But despite that, they apparently didn't know that the foam was illegal until 2017 - when they found out from the media. Someone there really wasn't doing their job. And now the environment is going to pay the price for their muppetry.

The EPA loses again

Yesterday was a good day for the environment. Not only was the Waimea Dam project dumped, the EPA's decision to grant Trans-Tasman Resources consent to lay waste to 65 square kilometres of seabed was overturned and the issue sent back for reconsideration:

The judge ruled incorrect interpretation of legal terms around protecting the ocean environment "may well have influenced" the outcome of the seabed mining consent.

It was found the decision-making committee's (DMC) conditions either was or contributed to an "adaptive management approach", which was not permitted in an area governed by the EEZ Act, and labelled a "suck it and see" method by appellants.

Adaptive management is allowing an activity with uncertain effects and continually assessing it - any unanticipated effects must be able to be managed by changing or stopping the activity.

The judge ruled that the interpretation was "inconsistent with the purpose of the Act" in protecting the environment from pollution and with the obligation to favour caution and environmental protection if the information available was inadequate.

The error "may well have" influenced the outcome of the consent application, it was ruled.

The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act requires a precautionary approach where information about effects is uncertain, but permits adaptive management where that may lead to better information. But - and importantly - it is not permitted for discharge consents (such as e.g. dumping 7000 tons of processed sand an hour on the seabed), and for non-discharge consents, is a lot stricter than just "let it happen with a few routine monitoring conditions which we will ignore". National's rubberstampers on the EPA decision-making committee seem to have ignored this, and they've quite rightly been pulled up on it by the court.

As for what happens now, Trans-Tasman will almost certainly appeal. Pollution and environmental destruction is their business, and this is all or nothing, so they'll throw millions at lawyers in an effort to win the right to pollute and destroy, while whining piteously about "chilling effects" and the need for a law change to let them do whatever they want without any restrictions whatsoever. I can't imagine the current government doing that, but National would. So if we want to protect our oceans, we need to keep the orcs out of power.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Good riddance

The Tasman District Council has voted to kill the controversial Waimea Dam project. Good. On top of the general problem of irrigation dams driving intensification and pollution, this one would have required legislation to steal land from a protected forest park, undermining both the Conservation Act and the rule of law. But in the end, it sounds like it was the escalating costs that killed it, and hopefully now the council will turn its attentions to living within its ecological means.

Compare and contrast

Bridges backs free speech for far-right writers banned from Auckland Council venues, New Zealand Herald, 9 July 2018:

National leader Simon Bridges says two Canadian far-right writers should be able to come to New Zealand and speak, even if people disagree with their views.

Bridges was commenting today on a decision by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to ban controversial pair Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux from using Auckland Council-owned venues for their New Zealand tour.


Bridges told TVNZ's Breakfast show today he strongly disagreed with the pair's views but freedom of speech was important.

"I disagree strongly with what these activists are saying but I think it's a dangerous thing to say 'because we don't like what you're saying we won't let you in'.

National wants Chelsea Manning barred from New Zealand, Stuff, 28 August 2018:
National is calling on the Government to bar ex-US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning from visiting the country next month.

Former Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the "convicted felon" should not be allowed to earn money talking about her crimes, and it would "not enhance" New Zealand's relationship with the US.

Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified American diplomatic and military documents, has two speaking events scheduled in early September.

The obvious conclusion: National doesn't really support free speech. Instead, they support Nazis. Good to have that out in the open.

Why isn't this farmer in jail?

What's the penalty for bulldozing 70 hectares of protected riverbank without resource consent? A slap with a wet bus ticket:

A $34,000 fine handed down to a North Canterbury farmer should serve as a warning to others farming near braided rivers.

Jan Scott Rutherford also faces additional costs of remediating land after he cleared about 70 hectares of the braided Waiau River, which despite being on his property title, was not permitted under the Resource Management Act. He did so despite knowing he did not have a resource consent in place.

Rutherford, who was sentenced on August 15, pleaded guilty to six charges relating to offending including excavating or disturbing the Waiau riverbed; damaging, destroying or removing plants and plant and animal habitat; and discharge to water.

And for that he got a fine of less than $500 per hectare he destroyed. Some "warning".

This was a deliberate, pre-meditated offence for commercial gain. The law allows a penalty of up to two years imprisonment for such offences, and its exactly this sort of offence which seems to merit it. Or, to put it another way: if deliberate, pre-meditated and widespread environmental destruction for profit isn't bad enough to warrant the prison time or community work the law contemplates, what is?

New Fisk

Israel is building another 1,000 homes on Palestinian land. Where's the outrage?

A backdoor to environmental destruction

Next week Parliament is likely to vote on Nick Smith's mini-Muldoonist bill to seize land from a protected conservation area to build an irrigation dam. Smith's spin is that this is a one-off, but as Forest & Bird points out, there's a very real risk of setting a precedent for using Parliament as a backdoor to bypass the RMA and Conservation Acts:

[E]nvironmental lobby group Forest & Bird warns the bill might set a “moral” precedent, allowing a developmental back door for schemes, particularly those for water storage schemes, like the Waimea Dam, that are contrary to the Conservation Act.

“It just seems that everybody’s looking at ways that they can get around the Conservation Act for water storage schemes,” Forest & Bird solicitor Sally Gepp, of Nelson, says.

“The really concerning thing is, if this goes through then why just this one? Why not any other one? So all the other potentially damaging impacts on conservation land, which are not allowed under the Conservation Act, could potentially be facilitated by local bills. All you need is a willing local MP, who can put it forward and then get the votes in Parliament.”

Constitutionally, of course, Parliament can do what it likes. But that doesn't mean it should. Using legislation to bypass the law and the courts is obviously corrosive to the rule of law, and to the extent that it is successful, encourages developers to try that path rather than obeying the law. And as we've seen in Australia, having MP's involved in big-money development decisions is an invitation to corruption. There's no suggestion that that is what is happening in this case - Smith is just an orc, who is happy to destroy even our most protected areas so someone can make a buck - but "donations", kickbacks, and outright fees for legislation is the future behaviour that this invites. And every MP who votes for this bill is voting for that as well.

Monday, August 27, 2018

A start on fixing tenancy laws

The government has released its first discussion paper on fixing tenancy laws, proposing an end to no-cause evictions, increasing notice periods when evicting for cause, a ban on rent-bidding, limiting rent increases to once a year, and a process for negotiating simple issues like pets or minor alterations. Good. Our current tenancy laws deprive renters of both stability and dignity, and with National's property bubble consigning an entire generation to renting for life, its an issue that desperately needs to be fixed. While the government could do more, this is at least a start, which tackles some of the core issues.

Naturally, landleeches are squealing, and crying that these changes protect "bad tenants". As usual, they're lying: there's nothing here that restricts the ability of landlords to remove tenants who damage properties or fail to pay rent. What these proposals do do is restrict the ability of landlords to bleed their tenants dry while denying them security and dignity. If landleeches oppose that, well, fuck them: the quicker such people are out of the industry, the better. And that will at least allow their hoarded houses to be bought by people who view them as homes, rather than financial investments...

Friday, August 24, 2018

Places to go, people to be

While its probably going to be an exciting day politically, there'll be nothing from me - I'm off to Christchurch to participate in their annual larp convention. Normal bloggage should resume on Monday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Police violence is contagious

The Intercept has a great piece of research today about police violence in Chicago, which shows that police violence is contagious

From 1972 to 1991, a Chicago detective named Jon Burge led a group of police officers in torturing confessions out of suspects. They called themselves the “Midnight Crew,” and their behavior eventually resulted in the jailing of Burge and the creation of a reparations council to pay the victims. More recently, the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force was found to have planted evidence, assaulted innocent citizens, and committed overtime fraud.

Many of the most egregious examples of police misconduct arise from tightly knit groups of officers like these. That’s no accident. Recently released data from the Chicago police department shows that misconduct spreads from officer to officer like an infectious disease. And the same behavior that leads cops to violate the rules often predicts whether they will participate in a shooting.

Its part of a long-series about the Chicago Police Department, based on statistical analysis of complaints, shootings, and use of force reports. And it basicly shows that bad cops are an infectious disease who corrupt everyone around them, leading to worse and worse abuses. In Chicago, that means torture and murder, as well as unjustified use of force and racism. Which suggests that their employer needs to treat them like an infectious disease, and quarantine them as quickly as possible to prevent them infecting others and harming the public with their criminal behaviour.

Sadly, we'll never see this sort of analysis in New Zealand. The Independent Police Conduct Authority redacts all names from its reports, even when complaints are upheld, and is not subject to the Official Information Act. The Police are subject to the OIA, but I expect they'd fight tooth and nail to protect the privacy of officers who have been subject to complaints or used force, assuming they can even find the underlying data (because, conveniently, they have extremely poor record keeping in all sorts of places you'd expect them to track). Which is a shame, because to point out the obvious, we've had several networks of bad cops - Shipton, Schollum and Rickards and all their enablers being the most obvious - and being able to perform this sort of analysis, either internally or externally, would help identify problem cops and allow them to be removed from duty. But as we've seen time and time again, the last people the police want policed is themselves, and they're opposed to any meaningful oversight. Which means that in New Zealand, this contagious disease will be left to fester.

New Fisk

Uri Avnery, the Israeli optimist who played chess with Yasser Arafat, has died – he was one of my few Middle East heroes

Time to end feedlots

Our usual picture of New Zealand farming is of animals in a field somewhere, eating grass - a natural environment, where the animals get to exhibit their natural behaviours. But on Monday, SAFE exposed the beef industry's dirty secret: we have American-style feedlots in New Zealand:

The Five Star Beef Limited feedlot in Ashburton is New Zealand's biggest and has been running since 1991.

The cattle spend six months grazing, eating grass, before being moved to the feedlot where they are locked in square, uncovered pens, given vaccination to prevent disease and fed grains, for anywhere from two and a half, to eight months.

Animal welfare group SAFE has serious concerns about both animal welfare and the environmental impact of having nearly 20,000 cattle confined.

Feedlots are an environmental and animal welfare disaster. The animals are confined, fed an unusual diet which causes them health problems, and unable to exhibit their natural behaviours - its basicly battery farming for cows. Environmentally, all those cows leads to a lot of shit and piss, which pollutes the local water table or goes straight into the nearest river. I suspect the Environment Minister is not the only one struggling to see how this is legal. And its effect on New Zealand farming's international reputation - which is built on that image of animals in green fields - is catastrophic. But rather than recognise this, and move to fix it, Federated Farmers is instead attacking the messenger. But while "militant vegan" may be horrifying and instantly discrediting in the eyes of rural hicks, to urban voters its about as persuasive as calling someone a "pretty little communist", and it says more about the mindset of the accuser than the accused. If they were looking to defend their social licence for cruelty and pollution, I think that's likely to backfire.

If feedlots aren't legal, then the RMA and Animal Welfare Act need to be rigorously enforced. If they are, then those laws need to be strengthened. Because like dirty dairying, this is not a type of farming that New Zealanders find acceptable. The farmers who use them need to stop, or the public will make them.

Meanwhile, if you don't want to support their type of farming, you can get a list of feedlot beef stockists from the wayback machine here.

Monday, August 20, 2018


MP's are rightly well-paid, as a defence against corruption. But their high pay and the fact that they get a pay increase year after year no matter what they do puts them on a different planet from most New Zealanders, and is frankly offensive when they are trying to deny pay rises to others in our society. So now, Jacinda Ardern has said "enough" and frozen their pay:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the Government will freeze MPs' salaries and allowances for a year.

The Remuneration Authority recently recommended an incease of about three percent for the coming year, which Ms Ardern said did not feel right.

Urgent legislation will have to be passed in order for the freeze to take effect before the Remuneration Authority's increase comes into force.

This will be a popular decision, because MPs have worked hard to make themselves despised by the public. But its also not unjustified. As I noted above, they are literally not in the same boat as the rest of us, and that's something they need to look long and hard at. As for how they should proceed, indexing their pay to the median wage, so they do no better than everybody else, seems like a good idea. And it sets some solid incentives for them to boost everybody's living standards, rather than just their own.

Small victories

The Greens had their annual conference over the weekend, and after some jousing over the waka-jumping law, were able to announce some small victories for the environment. The first is a proposal to put protection of water into the Overseas Investment Act - effectively, the law change Eugenie Sage needed to refuse the Otakiri Springs water bottling plant. The second is a proposal to extend the waste levy and to introduce mandatory product stewardship schemes for tyres, e-waste, and synthetic greenhouse gases, requiring the companies who import or produce these products to clean up their own mess. There's consultation to be done first - in the latter case, as a statutory requirement - but I think we can be confident that they'll actually make it into actual policy. As for the impact, stopping foreign water bottlers from pillaging our water and forcing some polluters to clean up their own messes are relatively minor things, but still welcome and worth doing. And hopefully they'll establish some useful policy directions which can be built on later.

"As soon as reasonably practicable"

How quickly are agencies required to respond to Official Information Act requests? The law is very clear: "as reasonably practicable". While there's a 20-day limit, this is a backstop. When they're actually meant to respond is "immediately".

So do agencies do this? Of course not. And thanks to a long series of requests filed using FYI, the public OIA request website, Mark Hanna has the statistics to prove it. Pretty much every agency investigated showed a huge spike in their responses at the 20-day limit, and usually responded on the day a request was due. In other words, they weren't responding as reasonably practicable as required by law, but instead treated the 20 day limit as a target.

Some of this is due to explicit game-playing to delay release, as admitted by John Key. Some of it can be explained by overworked public servants having to prioritise their workflows and so not dealing with requests until they have to. But either way, it is not acceptable. The law says that requests must be dealt with "as reasonably practicable". And clearly, that law is being ignored.

As for what to do about it, Hanna suggests better reporting on timeliness, so that agencies can be held to the "as reasonably practicable" standard. That's a good idea, since we can't manage what we don't measure. But I'd also add that we need a culture shift within the public service to make handling public requests for information a priority. That can only come from the top, from Chief Executives and Ministers, and it must be backed by funding, so that OIA staff have time to handle things quickly, rather than having to juggle requests and so process them in deadline order. Sadly, despite all its talk in opposition, and even appointing a "Minister for Open Government", Labour seems uninterested in displaying this sort of leadership on transparency issues.

Nauru is farming refugees

World Vision has launched a campaign to get the New Zealand government to resettle refugees from Australia's concentration camp on Nauru in New Zealand:

World Vision national director Grant Bayldon said they were asking Ardern to make the offer directly to Nauru, rather than Australia.

"While there remains an obligation on Australia under international law, it doesn't look like they are going to do the right thing any time soon."

Another element of the campaign was that they were asking for the evacuation of children and their families to be prioritised, Bayldon said.

They should be brought to safety in New Zealand before Universal Children's Day in November, he said.

"These vulnerable people seeking refuge and asylum should be resettled in New Zealand as part of an emergency intake over and above our refugee quota," he said.

Of course we should do this - its the humanitarian thing to do. But I suspect Nauru's response will be a firm "no". And the reason for that is that being Australia's concentration camp is big business for the Pacific despotism. Australia pays Nauru by the prisoner, and releasing any of them has a direct impact on the government books. Last year's budget took a 10% hit from "uncertainty surrounding the number of refugees who will be resettled in the United States" and another 5% due to less tax from foreign concentration camp workers. Once you include the families, rescuing these 120 children would likely have a similar financial impact. The Nauruan government just isn't going to want to give that up.

Of course, refusing to release people because you'll lose money is morally reprehensible. But "morally reprehensible" pretty much describes the Nauruan government these days. In addition to the crime of running a concentration camp, they've jailed the opposition, undermined the judiciary, and banned foreign journalists. So I expect Baron Waqa and his cronies to reject any offer of resettlement New Zealand makes. The only way they'll surrender any of their refugee cash cows is if Australia cuts off the funding.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Labour supports Muldoonism

Last month, National's Nick Smith pushed a Muldoonist bill aiming to force the Department of Conservation to surrender part of a protected forest park so farmers in his electorate can build a dam for irrigation. Sadly, it seems that Labour has decided to support it:

However, the Labour Party caucus has agreed to support the legislation while Shane Jones, of NZ First, this week said the social and economic benefits of the dam were large. Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith, who is sponsoring the local bill, in July said he had secured support for it from all 56 National MPs.

The local bill seeks to gain an inundation easement over 9.67 hectares of conservation land in the Mount Richmond State Forest Park needed for the creation of the reservoir for the proposed dam in the Lee Valley. The bill would also secure a right to construct the dam on Crown riverbed.

[Green Party co-leader Marama] Davidson said the Green Party believed that conservation land should be protected for its innate values and that the transfer of conservation land "for use as part of a dam cannot be reconciled with the fundamental commitment to protect it for conservation".

The Green Party caucus was listening to the concerns of environmentalists "and the local community, and will not support the upcoming Waimea dam-enabling legislation".

So, when it comes to a choice between conservation and farmers, Labour chooses farmers. Its good to know which side they're on, and that they cannot be relied upon to protect the environment. And hopefully, the Greens will be taking that into account when considering their support for government legislation in the future.

New Fisk

A US trade war with Turkey over a little known pastor? Don't believe a word of it


The 2017 election delivered a tight result, with National feeling cheated because they no longer held a majority. So naturally, they've been trying to persuade NZ First MPs to switch sides:

National leader Simon Bridges has tried to talk New Zealand First MPs, including Ron Mark, into leaving the party, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has claimed.


"The leader of the National Party Simon Bridges has been talking to members of my caucus about how they might jump the ship and stay on, doing a deal with them. This is how bad and how rotten it is," Peters said.

He named Defence Minister and New Zealand First MP Ron Mark as a target of Bridges' approaches.

"He's been witnessed saying 'look come on Ron, let's just do a deal. You can have Wairarapa'. In short he was talking about dumping his local MP called [Alastair] Scott. So, you know, pretty bad stuff."

Mark did not return a call for comment but in a text message said "Wow, how did you find out about that."

This is completely unsurprising. National is just four seats from government, and if NZ First has refused as a party to work with them, they'll naturally try shifting individual MPs and buying their loyalty with electorate deals. Its dirty, but that's what desperate Tories when denied what they think is their "natural" place. At the same time, its no justification for anti-party-hopping legislation. If a party cannot maintain the loyalty of its MPs, then that's on them, and our democracy shouldn't be undermined because Winston Peters feels insecure and inadequate.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A contempt of Parliament?

Today in the sparring over the waka-jumping bill, Nick Smith reminded everyone of something we'd forgotten about: NZ First's dubious attempts to coerce their Members of Parliament:

NZ First leader Winston Peters has defended a clause in the party's constitution which hold MPs liable for a $300,000 penalty if they resign.

The clause states that every member who is elected as a New Zealand First list MP or constituency MP, must sign a "resignation obligation contract" which imposes a "liability for liquidated damages in the sum of $300,000" if they resign or are expelled from caucus or the party.

Peters said a lot of time and money was put on the line and "no one is entitled to jeopardise it and just walk off without any regard to the proportionality of the vote at election time, that's why it's important".


National MP Nick Smith asked Justice Minister Andrew Little in Parliament whether the Government supported MPs being subjected to legally binding contracts requiring them to pay $300,000 if they fell out with their party.

Little said he had no knowledge of such an arrangement and it sounded hypothetical.

Clearly, its not: its part of NZ First's constitution. And, as Andrew Geddis explained last time this came up, its clearly unenforceable: no court will touch a contract which purports to determine whether someone is an MP, and any attempt to enforce such a contract (that is, to financially punish someone for being an MP) would be a clear contempt of Parliament. But while the clause may be unenforceable, like a lot of other illegal contracts, it still may be treated as binding by its victims and influence their behaviour. So its worth asking: insofar as it threatens MPs in the course of their official duties, is the rule itself also a contempt? Hopefully the Privileges Committee will give us an answer.

More pillage

Back in 2014, the then-National government rammed through the West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Act 2014. The Act was an act of pure pillage, using the excuse of a strong storm to undermine the Forests (West Coast Accord) Act 2000 and allow National's donors and cronies to loot native timber from the conservation estate. The one good thing about the Act is that it is scheduled to expire next year. But naturally, National wants to extend it:

National MP Maureen Pugh is hoping to introduce a bill to Parliament soon on behalf of the West Coast Regional Council which would allow the Director-General of the Department of Conservation to authorise the removal of some windblown trees on conservation land following bad weather.

"I have been working with the West Coast Regional Council since the Government blocked my motion to have my Members Bill on this topic introduced to Parliament in April," Pugh said.

It is similar to legislation implemented by the former National government in 2014, opposed then by Labour and the Greens, after Cyclone Ita flattened large swathes of native forest in the region.

Worse, according to that article it has the support Shane Jones, and therefore probably NZ First. Which is odd as they opposed the 2014 version. But now they're promoting themselves as the champions of rural pillagers I guess.

This is the issue where the Greens should put their foot down, because it strikes at the very idea of conservation in New Zealand. These trees are on conservation land, and conservation land is for conserving, not for mining. But it also shows the gulf in mindset between the pillagers and the rest of New Zealand. As with its characterisation of rivers as "water flowing out to sea", National is characterising these trees as "waste". What they actually are is the nutrient cycle in action, and vital for the health of those forests. Removing them will actively undermine conservation. This bill needs to be opposed, both in the House and in the forests themselves.

A bit rich

So, the Education Minister thinks teachers are demanding too much money:

The Education Minister says teachers' demand for a 16 percent pay rise over two years outstrips what others in the workforce are receiving.


Chris Hipkins told Morning Report he expected there to be compromise.

"If they're going to hold fast to 16 percent over two years or eight percent a year, that's way out of kilter with what everybody else in the economy is receiving and I think I would be looking for some movement from their side on that as well," he said.

Which is a bit rich coming from a man currently paid ~$250,000 a year, and who for the past decade has enjoyed an MP's salary of at least $120,000. Another example of how the necessary evil of MP's high pay distorts their perceptions.

The blunt fact is that teachers have been underpaid and exploited for years and need to catch up. And this necessarily requires pay increases that are "out of kilter" with what everyone else is getting - or else they don't get anywhere. As for the solution, Hipkins can either pay up, or learn to teach his own fucking kids.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

More Australian racism

How vile is Australian politics? A federal Senator has called for a "final solution" to immigration, and called for a return to the white Australia policy:

An Australian crossbench senator has invoked the term “the final solution” in an inflammatory speech calling for a plebiscite asking voters whether they want to end all immigration by Muslims and non-English speaking people “from the third world”.

Fraser Anning, formerly of the far-right Pauline Hanson One Nation party, and now a member of the Katter’s Australia party, used his maiden speech in the Senate to call for “a plebiscite to allow the Australian people to decide whether they want wholesale non-English speaking immigrants from the third world, and particularly whether they want any Muslims”.


Anning also invoked the white Australia policy, suggesting Australians may want “to return to the predominately European immigration policy of the pre-Whitlam consensus”. The white Australia policy, which restricted non-European immigration, ran from 1901 until it began to be dismantled in the late 1960s.

The speech has been condemned by government ministers, but it all seems a bit two-faced when that government has been fearmongering about "immigrant gangs" and is putting refugees in Pacific concentration camps and letting them die of preventable diseases in an effort to psychologically torture them into renouncing their claims to refugee status. The blunt fact is that Anning's vile politics are simply an extension of the government's.

Teachers deserve a raise

Primary and intermediate school teachers are on strike today in effort to get higher pay and better conditions. Good on them. Teachers are massively underpaid for the work they do, and there's been an exodus from the profession as a result. Unless the government does something serious to improve things, they're going to find themselves with an even bigger shortage in coming years.

The government is of course pleading poverty and saying that the strike is "too early" - which is a bit rich coming from Ministers paid (respectively) quarter of a million and half a million a year. To point out the obvious, teachers are as deserving of nurses of a pay rise. But I guess Labour, "the worker's party", would rather spend $2.3 billion on pointless war toys than ensure the proper education of the nation's kids: something which will make far more of a difference to our wellbeing than searching for mythical submarines from non-existent enemies ever will.

During their time in office, National ran down our public infrastructure with cruel austerity. That included not just the physical infrastructure of hospitals and schools, but the human infrastructure, the people who staff them. The coalition government was elected to reverse that. If Jacinda Ardern wants to keep her half a million a year, she needs to deliver on that core promise. Alternatively, she can see disappointed voters kick her out in 2020. Her choice.


A farmer illegally digs up a reserve, destroying native vegetation, in order to plant pasture to make the land they lease seem more attractive to foreign buyers. You'd hope that in New Zealand, such actions would lead to charges under the RMA and Reserves Act. Instead, LINZ just retrospectively approves them:

Just as the country’s second-biggest Crown pastoral lease was being touted for sale, riverside reserve land on the farm was converted to pasture without permission to boost its prospects.


As the marketing campaign launched, a roughly 100ha block of Mt White was fenced, and some of it cleared of indigenous plants and put into pasture. Half of the area to be cleared was on a freehold title owned by Mt White, but the other 50ha was reserve land. Government officials didn’t know about the work until two months later, when Mt White sought retrospective permission.

The 50ha of reserve land – about two-thirds the size of Auckland Domain – is part of the 1000ha Riversdale Flats reserve, an area earmarked for inclusion in a national park since 1901. Despite the fact Mt White borders the Arthur’s Pass National Park, the reserve is part of the Mt White lease. Its care, therefore, is in the hands of the lessee, with Government oversight.

The Crown land manager, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), retrospectively approved Mt White’s reserve land work – against advice from the Department of Conservation (DOC) and without punishment of the lessee.

Worse, LINZ then turned around and granted permission to this criminal leaseholder to destroy another thousand hectares of the high country, turning native bush and endangered bird habitat into farmland.

This isn't good enough. LINZ is supposed to act as a guardian of crown land, and prevent it from being destroyed in this way. Instead, they just seem to be rubber-stamping everything. Like MPI, they seem to have been captured by the people they are supposed to be regulating.

Crown pastoral leases are a rort which needs to end. But until they do, is it too much to ask that the public's representatives actually enforce the public's rights, and prevent leaseholders from destroying the environment they are temporarily occupying? And if they're not willing to, they should be sacked and replaced by someone who will.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

And more cronyism

Labour's cronyism continues. Last week, it was appointing MP's partners to a charity trust. This week, they've appointed former Labour MP Margaret Wilson as deputy chair of the Waikato DHB.

As with many crony appointments, its not so much an issue of qualification as of preference. If Wilson had applied like a normal person and been appointed by the previous government, her appointment would have been unobjectionable. But the fact that its a Labour government appointing one of their own immediately calls both the process and the outcome into doubt. If the government wants people to have confidence in its appointments, it needs a better process which is transparent, merit-based, and does not allow Ministers or MPs to shuffle their friends in and bypass the usual process.

Some defence!

Yesterday Forest & Bird released a report into dirty dairying, showing that some regional councils have been turning a blind eye to pollution. Several regional councils have since tried to quibble over the results - results base don information they provided. For example, here's my local council, Horizons, trying to claim that it doesn't deserve its "D" grade:

According to the information given to Forest and Bird by the council, there was enforcement action against only 31 per cent of the 26 farms found to have serious non-compliance problems.


But Horizons chief executive Michael McCartney said Forest and Bird's information was incomplete, party due to the questions asked by the group.

Other groups often went to the council after compiling a report to check if the numbers were right, but Forest and Bird did not, he said.

Horizons strategy and regulation group manager Dr Nic Peet said the council had at least given an abatement notice to every seriously non-compliant farm.

As noted above, the report is based on information sourced via LGOIMA, so here Horizons is effectively saying that they gave false information in response to a LGOIMA request. Some defence! As for their suggestions that people should check numbers with them, requesters are entitled to believe that information they receive in response to a LGOIMA request is accurate. And if its not, that's on the agency who provided it, not requesters who subsequently publish it.

What the Haumaha inquiry is about

From the moment it was revealed that new Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha was a rape-apologist, it was clear that he had to be fired - and that outcome only looks more likely with the new revelations about his bullying and apparent attempt to pervert an internal inquiry. And now, the Prime Minister has given the first hint that that's what's going to happen:

Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha could be replaced depending on the outcome of an inquiry into his appointment, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Ardern said on Tuesday she was frustrated at the handling of Haumaha's appointment and wants the matter addressed quickly.

"But I also want to get it right and that's why we have an independent person assisting us," Ardern said.

Ardern is being dishonest here, in that whether Haumaha was a suitable candidate is explicitly outside the scope of the inquiry. She can and should sack him today if she wanted. The inquiry is about whether the appointment panel was both adequately informed and adequately informed the Minister about Haumaha's background - not whether Haumaha should be sacked, but whether Police Commissioner Mike Bush should be as well.

Climate change: Fixing the ETS

The big problem in New Zealand climate change policy is that our key emissions control mechanism - the emissions trading scheme - is unfit for purpose. Stacked with subsidies to reward polluters, and flooded with fraudulent foreign "credits" in its initial term, it failed to do anything meaningful to reduce emissions. We need to fix it if we want to actually do anything about this problem (as opposed to twiddling our thumbs while the waters rise).

The good news is that James Shaw has been working on it, and has released a consultation document on its initial proposals. These include:

  • Announcing unit supplies five years in advance, and auctioning units rather than handing them out as pollution subsidies, with the option of putting the revenue into specific climate-change policies rather than general funding.
  • Limiting the number of international units that can be used, if New Zealand is ever allowed back into international carbon markets (and that's a big if).
  • Replacing the current fixed-price option (which will become a de facto carbon tax in a few years as prices rise) with additional auctions from a "reserve" - though its unclear whether this will form part of the official carbon budget, or result in it being blown.

Of these, the latter is the most controversial. The government's aim is to avoid sudden price shocks causing pain to business, but giving polluters the right to pollute more if they're polluting too much simply encourages pollution. Pre-banking the units is one option (and removing units from supply is more than justified given the banking enabled by the use of fraudulent credits in the past), but then that creates a pile of emissions credits which future governments will be tempted to spend for political favour. If you look at the electricity market, then when the spot price gets too high for too long, some companies just shut down production temporarily. And honestly, I don't see why carbon should be any different: the market will be sending a clear signal that we can no longer afford those people's pollution and that they should find something less polluting to do.

Of course, this is all technical stuff, about system design. None of it addresses the cow in the room: whether our biggest polluters, farmers, will have to pay their way like everybody else. And until the ETS includes agriculture, it will remain fundamentally broken.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Racist of the year

Apparently the "New Zealander of the year" award has been turned into "racist of the year" with the nomination of Don Brash:

Former National Party leader and Reserve Bank governor Don Brash has been nominated for New Zealander of the Year.

Dr Brash spoke at a University of Auckland debate last week on free speech. Massey University had previously cancelled his speaking event because of Facebook threats.

He has been nominated, along with fashion designer Annah Stretton, Team New Zealand's Peter Burling, former Green MP Sue Kedgley and mental health advocate Mike King.

Who next? Bob Jones? Kyle Chapman? Maybe people could nominate some sex offenders and bigots as well?

There have to be better people out there than Brash, and better reasons to nominate than being a tired old racist crank. Who's done great things for human rights, the environment, women's' rights or worker's rights in the last year? Nominate them instead.

Time to end the pastoral lease rort

Stuff had a story yesterday of another South Island farmer whining about the government imposing access over "his" leased high country land. In this case, the Commissioner of Crown Lands had imposed an easement to allow a nearby camping ground to access its water pipes and tanks, formalising a 50 year old status quo, and compensated the leaseholder as required by law. Its entirely within the terms of the lease; the problem is that the farmer has mistaken their right of temporary occupancy for real ownership, just like foreign sexual harasser Matt Lauer.

But underlying this is a bigger problem: the entire crown pastoral lease system is a giant rort. Under the lease system, farmers are practically given South Island land. They have leases on 33 year terms, permanently renewable, and they pay average rents of less than a dollar per hectare per year. While I can't find Totara Peak Station in LINZ's database, Black Forest on the other side of the lake from them pays $1830 a year for 7942 hectares - or 23 cents a hectare. If you apply that rate to Totara peak's reported 4900 hectares, then the whining farmer was probably given two years' rent as compensation. Which seems overly generous given the footprint involved - surely it should be compensated at the same rate that he is paying?

And of course, these nominal rents are a hidden subsidy to our "subsidy free", "independent" farmers, which should be removed just on principle.

As for what to do about it, the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 needs to be replaced. The new law needs to start from the position that high country land is public land, held for public purposes, and that farmers are just temporary occupants. It needs to have much shorter terms, and the power for the government to remove land from the lease or impose easements (with an appropriate reduction in rent) where it is needed for public purposes such as conservation, recreation, or public access. And above all, it needs to impose commercial rents, and remove the corrupt process of tenure review, which has seen farmers handed millions for giving up the rights of their dollar-a-hectare leases.

Obviously, shifting to the new system will require a transition period. It could be done as leases expire, but in the case of leases which have not changed hands, then it could be done much quicker. People who have recently purchased a lease have a legitimate expectation about its terms. People who have leached off the public for decades already have had more than enough time. And if they don't like the new terms, they're welcome to move their polluting farming operation elsewhere.

Turning a blind eye to pollution

The Resource Management Act is our key defence against environmental pollution. But in order to be effective, we need regional councils to enforce it - not just by denying resource consents for polluting activities, but also by ensuring that polluters keep within the terms of their consents. Sadly, where the polluters are dairy farmers, it seems regional councils are reluctant to do their job:

Regional councils are letting dairy farmers get away with breaking their own rules, according to a report just released by Forest and Bird.

The group found that between July 2016 and June 2017, there were 425 cases of serious non-compliance. But despite this, some councils did not take any formal enforcement action such as an infringement notice, an abatement notice or prosecution.

Forest and Bird has compiled official information gathered from all the councils over the 12-month period to illustrate the state of monitoring and enforcement on the dairy sector across the country.

The group said some regional councils were failing even the basics of managing the significant environmental risks posed by dairy effluent.

Of the hundreds of cases of non-compliance, for 29 farms this was the third year they were seriously non-compliant. In one case, a Northland farm received four abatement notices and eight infringements notices but was not prosecuted.

Its the equivalent of the police catching a burglar red-handed multiple times but continually refusing to prosecute. And its an appropriate comparison because violating the RMA is a crime, punishable by up to two years in prison. But apparently farmers are above the law.

Dairy farmers are our worst polluters, and the law needs to be enforced on them. Those not complying with their consents need to be issued with abatement notices or prosecuted, with the provisions allowing for review of a consent applied. Until that happens, until they face actual consequences for their actions which make it unprofitable to pollute, they will continue destroying our rivers and poisoning our soil and groundwater. And that's just not acceptable.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Climate change: Fonterra ditches coal

Big news in the fight to lower New Zealand's emissions today, with Fonterra announcing that it is moving away from coal:

Fonterra today announced it is transitioning from coal to renewable energy at its Stirling site in Otago. The move will reduce Fonterra’s coal use by more than 9,700 tonnes per year –about the same weight as 122 Boeing 737-800’s.

With no gas or feasible alternatives available in the South Island, Fonterra has used coal in its plants to ensure it can process its highly perishable milk.

Reinforcing the shift toward renewable energy, Fonterra has also surrendered its Mangatangi coal mining permit, divested nearly 50% of land acquired for coal mining and will no longer mine coal.

The dairy industry is one of New Zealand's biggest coal users, so this is big news. While its starting with a single site, the goal is to shift to renewables for all sites, and eliminate emissions entirely by 2050. The problem now will be holding them to that commitment.

But while Fonterra's decision will make a difference, the real problem for our emissions remains their suppliers: dairy farmers. Agricultural emissions make up around 50% of our total, and the majority of them are from cows and cowpiss from dairy farming. If we want to reach a real net-zero target (as opposed to some bullshit "excluding methane" one), we will need to deal with the cow in the room, and force farmers to either reduce numbers, adopt more sustainable methods, or permanently offset their emissions within NZ.

New Fisk

On the anniversary of the end of the First World War, even photographs cannot speak of our true history

The bag-ban

The government has announced that it plans to phase out single-use plastic shopping bags using regulations under the Waste Minimisation Act. Good. They're a significant source of marine pollution, and while not the biggest, they're an easy place to start. Its also not that disruptive: the behaviour change to stop using plastic bags at the supermarket is relatively trivial, and once established, easy to maintain, at least for planned trips. There is a cost: those bags tend to get reused, and many end their lives as bin-liners, which will probably be replaced with purpose-bought bags which don't meet the ban criteria (thickness and handles). But those bags end up in landfill, not the ocean, so it should still achieve its goal.

Of course, bags aren't the only source of marine plastic. But this is a start, and will hopefully lead to the government looking to eliminate the others.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

This man should be fired

So, it turns out that in addition to being a rape-apologist, deputy police commissioner Wally Haumaha is also a workplace bully:

Three women working on a joint justice project walked out of Police National Headquarters and refused to return because of Wally Haumaha's alleged bullying behaviour towards them.

The policy analysts - two from the Justice Ministry, one from Corrections - were based at PNHQ in Wellington working in the Māori, Pacific, Ethnic Services division run by Haumaha, a superintendent at the time.


A number of alleged verbal bullying incidents, including a particularly heated exchange in which one of Haumaha's senior staff intervened, contributed to the three women leaving PNHQ in June 2016 feeling "devalued and disillusioned".

The three women told their managers, did not return to PNHQ, and continued working on the project from the Justice Ministry offices.

I've argued previously that Haumaha should be fired immediately to protect public confidence in the police. This adds more weight to that argument. But it also raises further questions about the appointment process, and what both the panel and Minister were told about Haumaha's past. There's supposed to be a government inquiry into that, though its been derailed by National's scandal-mongering (its as if they think that having tenuous links to NZ First is a bigger crime than being a rape-apologist). but the sooner that inquiry can begin, the sooner we can start rooting out the systematic problems in the police which allowed this appointment to happen, and prevent similar appointments from happening in future.

Tax cheats should be prosecuted

Newsroom reports that homeowners are cheating on their taxes by refusing to comply with the bright line test:

The bright-line test, a key part of both National and Labour’s strategy for addressing the housing crisis, is being flouted by as many as a third [sic] of the people who should be paying it.


An IRD submission to the Tax Working Group says that a review and audit of property sales in the 2016 tax year found just a third of sales where the bright-line test should have applied were compliant.

The IRD also noted that voluntary compliance appeared to be getting worse. It estimated that in the 2017 tax year as many as 2,625 sales that may be subject to the test had yet to file a return.

This represents a voluntary non-compliance rate of 71 percent, up from 66 percent in the previous year.

Its also a hell of a lot of crime. Not filing your required tax paperwork is an absolute liability offence, punishable by a $4,000 fine. Do it knowingly, and the fine goes up to $25,000. And doing it with the intent to avoid taxes is 5 years in jail.

IRD knows exactly who these people are, where they live, and how much they potentially owe. If they are flouting tax law, it is because IRD is letting them. Instead, they should prosecute these tax cheats. otherwise there's simply no incentive for them to fulfil their obligations.


A ballot for two Members' Bills was held this morning, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (Ginny Andersen)
  • Broadcasting (New Zealand on Air and Te Māngai Pāho Reporting Requirements) Amendment Bill (Melissa Lee)
Nothing terribly exciting, though Andersen's bill seems like a good idea which employers will hate and which will likely pass. Given the stuff National has in the ballot (e.g. eroding the right to silence), it could have been a lot worse. A full list of bills in today's ballot is here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Why is NZ First opposing youth rates repeal?

When they ran for election, Labour promised to repeal National's hated and unfair youth rates - the system where employers could pay someone less simply for being younger. But NZ First is apparently holding up the process:

Labour's pre-election policy of ditching youth rates within its first year in power appears to be on the back burner for now as it negotiates with its coalition partner New Zealand First.


The New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters, said pre-election policies were irrelevant as there was now a coalition agreement.

"That is our policy, detailed as it is, if you don't find it there then it won't be part of any committment."

Youth rates are not mentioned in the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement.

Winston is typically evasive on why exactly he is opposing repeal, and its particularly odd given that NZ First supported their repeal in 2003 and opposed their re-imposition in 2013. Which suggests that this has been delayed as part of coalition bargaining - or, more bluntly, its a policy shakedown. Winston didn't agree explicitly to pass this, so he wants something (and probably something cruel or stupid) in exchange. But while he's haggling, young people continue to be discriminated against in the most basic way in the workplace. But I guess they're simply not a priority for the pensioner party.

More cronyism

Oh look! More cronyism from Labour. This time they've appointed the partners of two former MPs to a charity trust:

The partners of two former Labour MPs have been controversially appointed to the South Island's largest charity – the $600 million Rata Foundation.

Jane Sherriff and Philippa Burns are the latest appointments to the 12–member board of the former Canterbury Community Trust, which distributes about $18m in grants each year.

Rata made $42m from its investments in the year to the end of March 2017 and spent about $4m on administration and expenses.

Sherriff is the partner of former Labour minister Clayton Cosgrove and Burns is the wife of Brendon Burns, who was Labour MP for Christchurch Central between 2008 and 2011 and stood for Kaikoura twice without success.

This sort of appointment just reeks of cronyism, and as a result the Minister has been forced to go into detail about the process used to appoint them. Which includes this bit:
After advice from the Department of Internal Affairs, he had sought nominations from community trusts and from the caucuses of the Coalition Government in March and April 2018.

And this is the problem in a nutshell. Its done for every significant appointment, and odds are, if the final appointee is party-affiliated, they entered the process not by applying like a normal person, but because their name was given directly to the Minister by a fellow MP. Which immediately makes their appointment a prima facie favour and act of political patronage rather than anything to do with merit.

There's a name for dispensing government positions as favours and rewards: its called cronyism and corruption. And its not acceptable in New Zealand. And if we want to stamp it out, the best way to do so would be to end this institution of suggesting people to the Minister, requiring everyone to apply up-front, be considered on their merits by an independent panel, and requiring the Minister to report to Parliament or publish a gazette notice whenever they disagree with its findings. This sort of process is used in the State Sector Act for appointing chief executives, and it has been largely successful in preventing crony appointments in the senior public service. But given our politicians established culture of cronyism, we clearly need to extend it further, to board appointments as well.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and one which should finally see the end of the ballot jogjam. But there's some other stuff to get through first before the House can get on to those first readings. First up is a local bill, the Gore District Council (Otama Rural Water Supply) Bill, which is about transferring ownership of a community-built water supply back to the community which built it. Next is the third reading of Jo Hayes' Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill, an uncontroversial piece of legislation which tightens protections against families forcing young people to marry. Next is the last ten minutes of Parmjeet Parmar's Patents (Advancement Patents) Amendment Bill, a corporate IP-grab which looks like it will be voted down, followed by Todd Muller's rather dull Companies (Clarification of Dividend Rules in Companies) Amendment Bill. The House should get on to Hamish Walker's KiwiSaver (Foster Parents Opting in for Children in their Care) Amendment Bill, and if they move really quickly, could even make a start on Rino Tirikatene's Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill.

There should be a ballot for one or two bills tomorrow. National has been good about putting bills in the ballot over the long break, and it will be interesting to see what new ideas Labour is offering up.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Climate Change: The danger of a hothouse

Killer heat-waves in Europe. Enormous fires in California and Greece. Historic floods in Japan. Climate change is here. But worse, we may be heading for the hothouse:

A domino-like cascade of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests could tilt the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be increasingly futile, a group of leading climate scientists has warned.

This grim prospect is sketched out in a journal paper that considers the combined consequences of 10 climate change processes, including the release of methane trapped in Siberian permafrost and the impact of melting ice in Greenland on the Antarctic.


Katherine Richardson from the University of Copenhagen, one of the authors, said the paper showed that climate action was not just a case of turning the knob on emissions, but of understanding how various factors interact at a global level.

“We note that the Earth has never in its history had a quasi-stable state that is around 2C warmer than the preindustrial and suggest that there is substantial risk that the system, itself, will ‘want’ to continue warming because of all of these other processes – even if we stop emissions,” she said. “This implies not only reducing emissions but much more.”

Positive feedback and non-linear effects are the biggest threat in the climate system, and not very well understood. The danger of a cascade shifting the climate to a new, much hotter state, is real, though we don't know the trigger points. Which suggests a precautionary approach is needed if we want to avoid catastrophe.

There's an easy solution for that

Today, the government finally settled pay talks with DHB nurses, giving them a significant pay rise and boosts to staffing. Meanwhile, another major employer of nurses - rest homes - are whining about it:

Rest homes say they are losing nurses to public hospitals at an alarming rate.

They are blaming higher wages being offered to hospital nurses, and say changes to immigration requirements are needed.


Chief executive Simon Wallace said nurses had always moved between the sectors but it was far more pronounced now, driven by pay rises being offered by district health boards in ongoing pay talks.

He said it was driving pressures in rest homes that received a 2 percent DHB funding boost this year.

There's an easy and obvious solution, of course: they could pay their nurses more. Its not as if these businesses can't afford to: Ryman healthcare made a profit of over $200 million last year, and Oceania made $77 million. But instead, they're demanding they be subsidised with migrant labour so they can avoid paying the going rate for staff. And the response of the government should be a firm "no".

A paranoid's veto

Don Brash was supposed to speak at Massey tomorrow as part of a series of talks organised by a student club. But given his views on te reo and Maori representation, and his support for visiting foreign Nazis, people were naturally planning to protest his presence. There's no suggestion that the protest would have involved anything other than some signs and shouting - the usual push and shove of democracy. But Massey has used it as an excuse to cancel the talk, citing "security" concerns:

Massey University has cancelled a booking made by a students’ politics club at which former politician and Hobson’s Pledge founder Dr Don Brash was invited to speak at the University’s Manawatū campus on Wednesday.

Club members had signed a venue and space use agreement form in which they agreed to manage the venue in accordance with the University’s Strategy, including recognising the values of a Te Tiriti o Waitangi-led organisation and ensuring its use would not adversely affect University operations, security, reputation or public safety.

The members later approached University management concerned about their ability to meet the agreement’s terms around security after becoming aware of social media posts suggesting the event could lead to violence.

The Univesity considered providing additional security for the event, but decided the risk of harm to students, staff and members of the public was too great, particularly at time of heightened tension over the issues around free speech and hate speech. Dr Brash was also a supporter of right-wing Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who were due to address a public meeting in Auckland.

So, according to Massey, a bit of shouting and sign-waving is "harm". This isn't a heckler's veto on speech - its a paranoid's veto, of assuming that any protest means a riot and public slaughter. It would be laughable, if it wasn't so dangerous to our democracy. Because if any speech which attracts protest is banned, then we simply can't publicly discuss controversial (or, given trolls, even uncontroversial) topics. Or basicly anything at all.

I don't like Don Brash, but our democracy deserves better than this, especially from our universities. Brash should be allowed to speak, and those who don't like him should be allowed to express their views. Absent a specific, credible threat of serious violence, there's no justification to do anything else.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Just wrong

A couple of years ago, Fonterra was publicly castigated for using its market power to unilaterally decide that it wouldn't pay its contractors for two months after invoicing - effectively, extorting a free loan from them. The problem is widespread amongst New Zealand businesses, and is a significant drag on the economy. But we'd expect the government to be better than that, right? Wrong:

The Ministry of Education is being blamed for a badly leaking Auckland high school and for changing contracts so that builders can wait up to twice as long as usual to get paid.

The construction industry is holding these up as examples of government behaviour that's undermining builders even as some go to the wall.


The Education Ministry is also facing criticism from builders who have complained that it has changed a contract so they can end up waiting a whole month longer for payment than before.

Contract mediator Peter Degerholm said a medium-sized contractor came to him, confused over a claim he expected would be paid on 20 June, but has been told would be paid on 20 July.

The payment delay clause was hard to decipher, Mr Degerholm said, but he advised the contractor this was what he had signed up for.

We expect the government to work hard to get value for money in its contracting. But late payment isn't about value-for-money - its fucking people over for the sake of it. There's no benefit whatsoever to the public in doing this, and insofar as it puts the survival of contractors at risk, significant negative effects. But more importantly than that, its just fucking wrong. When people do work, they shoudl be paid, on time. The government should be setting an example on this, not adopting dodgy foreign business practices whose sole purpose seems to be to screw people over.

Victim-blaming from NZDF

A woman reports a rape, and as a result she is threatened with prosecution. Saudi Arabia? Indonesia? No - this happened in the NZ army:

Military police told a rape complainant she faced a charge of wrongly being in a male barracks room after she told police she was taken there while too drunk to resist and then sexually assaulted.

The threat came after the woman made a complaint to NZ Police, saying she had been raped by an instructor who offered to help her back to her room but instead took her to his quarters.

Police were told by the woman that she did not want to be there, did not want to have sex and was unable to consent.

The incident happened two years ago but the alleged attacker was only stood down from his position this week.

This is simply appalling, and it shows the lie behind NZDF's "operation respect". When push comes to shove, they protect abusers while threatening victims. The incentive that sets is terrible, and it raises questions about how many crimes weren't reported as a result.

The good news is that the people who set that toxic culture and allowed it to fester have been suspended, as part of the army's probe into sexual misconduct at The Army Depot. Hopefully they'll all be out on their arses. Because this just isn't acceptable.