Tuesday, November 19, 2019



A corrupt practice

Last week RNZ broke the news on NZ First's mysterious "foundation" and its dodgy-looking loans. The arrangement seemed to be designed to evade the transparency requirements of the Electoral Act, by laundering donations. But now Stuff has acquired some of their financial records, and it gone from dodgy to outright criminal:

Almost half a million dollars in political donations appear to have been hidden inside a secret slush fund controlled by a coterie of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters' trusted advisers.

The secretive New Zealand First Foundation collected donations from wealthy donors and used the money to finance election campaigns, pay for an MP's legal advice, advertising, fund a $5000 day at the Wellington races and even pay an IRD bill.

[...]

Stuff has seen records for the foundation that suggest there have been breaches of the Electoral Act and that the foundation is being used to obscure political donations to the NZ First Party.

Donors to the foundation are primary industry leaders, wealthy investors and multi-millionaires.

One legal commentator, public law expert Graeme Edgeler who also saw the records, believes there would be different consequences under the Electoral Act depending on whether the party and foundation are separate entities or connected.

In either scenario, Edgeler concluded the Electoral Act had likely been broken.


The big offence here is making a false electoral donation return - a corrupt practice if done knowingly, but merely an illegal practice if the result of negligence and other people's lies. And with that on the line, you can see why their party president suddenly quit rather than sign the financial statements.

Stuff appears to have evidence that funds were given to the foundation as "donations", and then used to directly pay party expenses. Some of these donations were split up to avoid the declaration threshold - suggesting a belief they were going to a political party (not to mention corrupt intent on the donor's part). Which suggests other criminal offences as well. But because politicians write the law to suit themselves, there's an extraordinarily short time window for prosecution, and many of the offences may not be able to be prosecuted. Still, the Electoral Commission needs to investigate, and bring charges if it finds anything. Anything less would simply be a betrayal of our democracy.

Monday, November 18, 2019



Corruption as usual

Next year is an election year, and Labour needs money to fund its campaign. So naturally, they're selling access:

Labour is charging wealthy business figures $1500-a-head to lunch with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at its annual conference later this month.

[...]

On the weekend beginning November 29th, around 800 delegates will gather at the Whanganui War Memorial Centre, for the convention.

Also on the guest list are a select number of business guests, who will spend the day at a business conference and lunch with Ardern.

Eight MPs will give presentations and all MPs are invited. Stuff understands Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi are expected to attend.


Officially, they're all attending in a "personal capacity" of course. But the only reason anyone is interested in talking to them is because they hold public office. They are exploiting that office for party profit. Their "excuse" that they're only selling themselves a little compared to the previous government is unacceptable. What they are doing is corrupt and wrong, and any politician who engages in it should be prosecuted for soliciting a bribe.

Fairer rentals

Yesterday the government announced its changes to tenancy laws, including an end to no-cause evictions, limits on rent increases, and anonyminity for tenants who defend their rights against bad landlords (sadly necessary because landlords are scum who maintain blacklists of "uppity" tenants). They're all good moves, and have resulted in the usual squeals from landleeches, who think it will be the end of the world if they are required to treat people with basic fairness and dignity. And they're making the usual threats of people "leaving the industry", which they seem to think is a Bad Thing. Its not. Every house owned by a landleech is a hoarded house. If they sell, then those hoarded houses will end up in the hands of people who want to use them as homes, not investments - pushing house prices lower in the process. And I don't see how society loses at all by that.

Another NZDF coverup

In 2003 New Zealand sent a Provincial Reconstruction Team to Afghanistan to support America's doomed war there. While there, they conducted regular weapons practice on local firing ranges, littering the landscape with unexploded ammunition. These ranges weren't secure - they're on land used by locals for animal herding - so the inevitable tragedies occurred. And re-occurred. And kept occurring. And NZDF did... nothing:

Seven children were killed in an explosion caused by a device left behind on a New Zealand firing range in Afghanistan, a Stuff Circuit investigation has revealed.

The children are among 17 civilians killed or injured in incidents connected to unexploded ordnance on New Zealand's firing ranges.

[...]

The Defence Force refused to be interviewed, but in a statement said it "takes its responsibility to ensure areas used by New Zealand forces are free of unexploded ordnance very seriously".

Defence was in talks with the Afghan government to clear the ranges, and had set aside $10 million to do so, the statement said.

But locals point out it is now six years since New Zealand left Afghanistan and question why the work hasn't been carried out already.


NZDF's statement is the usual arse-covering, saying their negligence was all within the rules, and trying to point at the finger at others (again: so much for the supposed military ethos of taking responsibility). But as the article points out, the clearance was clearly inadequate, and there was a spike in injuries and deaths after NZDF had used the ranges. And frankly, its their responsibility, our responsibility, and they have failed. Its also appalling that we're only learning about this now, and it just smacks of the institutional behaviour currently under examination in the Operation Burnham inquiry: keep the public in the dark, shuffle everything under the carpet, and deny, deny, deny (next they'll no doubt be attacking the journalists as well). If NZDF is wondering why people don't trust them, and look at them as liars and criminals, then they simply need to look in the mirror.

As for what to do about it, there needs to be an immediate cleanup, and compensation for the victims. Anything less is simply failing our responsibilities.

A loss for the Greens

Green MP Gareth Hughes has announced he will retire at the election. Its understandable - he's been there ten years, and wants to actually see his children grow up rather than miss it while drowning in the toxic parliamentary sewer. But his departure is also a huge loss for the Greens, stripping them of parliamentary experience and energy.

Hughes has also made it clear that one of the reasons for his departure is frustration at the failure of this government to rise to the challenges we face and be transformational. That was always a doomed hope, and not just because of NZ First: Labour is an establishment party, so it reflexively supports the status quo, no matter how unjust, unequal, and unsustainable it is. And yet, the need for transformation to deal with climate change and inequality is clear. Sadly, convincing our sclerotic establishment of that is simply banging your head against a brick wall. That's useful in the long-term - it wears down the wall, so that eventually, someday, your successors can smash it - but frustrating and pointless in the short-term. And its perfectly understandable that people don't want to waste their time doing that, especially when they have better things to do with their lives.

Friday, November 15, 2019



New Fisk

Michael Lynk’s UN report on Israeli settlements speaks the truth – but the world refuses to listen

Unacceptable

That's the only response to the findings of the Ombudsman's investigation into LGOIMA practices at the Christchurch City Council:

My investigation identified serious concerns about the Council’s leadership and culture, and its commitment to openness and transparency. In particular, Council staff raised concerns with me about various methods employed by some members of the Executive Leadership Team to keep negative information about the Council from the public and/or elected members. These methods allegedly included manipulating or removing information from reports, project reporting not occurring, staff being told not to record information or to keep information in draft form. This has caused a perception to develop among staff that some members of the Executive Leadership Team wished to manipulate any messaging about the Council that might be negative.

The then-Chief Executive was in total denial about this, refusing to see any problem. The good news is that they've now left the job, and their replacement seems a lot more interested in transparency. Still, the Ombudsman has taken the unusual step for a practice investigation of issuing a formal recommendation to prevent this from happening again, which the council has accepted. Its a huge change from the previous situation, where the chief executive tried to ignore formal recommendations and had to be taken to court.

Which I guess shows how one rotten person at the top can undermine transparency in an entire organisation, and how important it is to keep an eye on them to stop that from happening.

This is what corruption looks like

NZ First seems to be nakedly trying to enrich itself from public office:

A powerful New Zealand First figure helped establish a forestry company that then pushed for money from two key funding streams controlled by a New Zealand First Minister.

An RNZ investigation has found Brian Henry, lawyer for Winston Peters and judicial officer for the New Zealand First party, became a founding director of NZ Future Forest Products in March.

The company immediately began its bid for money from the Provincial Growth Fund and also sought funding from the One Billion Trees programme - both overseen by New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones.

The Billion Trees funding bid was rejected by officials at Te Uru Rākau, Forestry New Zealand, on 22 August.

Less than a week after that rejection, Future Forest Products appointed the partner of New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters as a director of the company.

[...]

Ms Trotman was made the fourth director of the forestry company on 27 August, when the company bid for at least $1 million from the Provincial Growth Fund was still live.

They were turned down for that as well, fortunately, but its more than a little disturbing that they tried, and got the Deputy Prime Minister's partner on board for it. What's also disturbing is that the ultimate ownership of this company is unknown, hidden behind a "limited partnership" designed (by National) to give secrecy. Is it more politicians? NZ First's mysterious foundation? Or the Deputy Prime Minister himself? We simply don't know, and thanks to National's love of corrupt foreign money, we can't. But here we see how the foreign money laundering regime can potentially be used to cover up domestic corruption. Its a perfect example of why we need a public beneficial ownership register, to ensure that the rich and corrupt can't hide their dodgy financial dealings.

Escape from Manus Island

Behrouz Boochani is an award winning author and journalist. He is also a refugee, who for the past six years has been detained in Australia's offshore gulag on Manus Island, and in Papua New Guinea. But last night, with the cooperation of the WORD Christchurch festival and Amnesty International, he finally escaped to New Zealand. As for what he was escaping from, The Guardian has the litany of horrors:

Over the six years he was held on Manus Island and in Port Moresby, Boochani witnessed friends shot, stabbed and murdered by guards on Manus Island, saw others die through medical neglect, and watched others descend into mental anguish and suicide.

He was twice tortured for several days in the notorious Chauka solitary confinement block, in the now-demolished Manus detention centre. He was jailed for eight days for reporting on a hunger strike in the centre, which was put down by force by PNG police.


This is basicly nazi stuff. And its our "closest friend" Australia doing it. But countries who run concentration camps, who deliberately leave people to die, who torture, can never be our friends. Which is why you should never buy Australian.

As for Boochani, he will be appearing at the WORD festival in Christchurch tonight, and plans to enjoy his freedom in New Zealand. While he has no plans to apply for asylum here, that could (and should) change if the US withdraws its acceptance. Because what's clear is that he has been persecuted by Australia and its PNG patsies, and would suffer further persecution of returned there. Which gives him a slam-dunk case for refugee status in New Zealand should he need it.

Thursday, November 14, 2019



Climate Change: We need more trees, not less

Farmers held a hate-march on Parliament today, complete with MAGA hats, gun-nut signs, and gendered insults. While supposedly about a grab-bag of issues - including, weirdly, mental health - it was clear that the protest was about one thing, and one thing only: climate change. And specifically, forestry "destroying" rural communities. They want the latter to stop, with land-use restrictions to prevent sales for forestry.

Think about that for a moment. If at any other time a Labour government proposed preventing farmers selling their land to the highest bidder or putting it to the most profitable use, these rednecks would be screaming "communism!" Now they're demanding it, to protect their unsustainable, unprofitable way of life.

But the blunt fact is that these conversions happen because they are a more profitable use for the land than existing uses. Now that carbon costs are internalised in the non-agricultural economy, the market has shifted, and these farmers are on the short end. And the best thing that can happen, both economically and for emissions, is for them to be planted out.

Cows emit greenhouse gases. Trees absorb them. Any tree, anywhere, is better than a cow. So the faster this transition in rural land use happens, the better, for us, and for the planet. It is that simple.

The IGIS annual report: Dead letters and secret law

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security released their annual report today, and I've been busy reading through it. In amongst the usual review of what they've been doing all year, there's a few interesting bits. For example, a discussion on "agency retention and disposal of information", which points out that the clause of the Intelligence and Security Act which requires the destruction of "irrelevant" information is basicly a dead letter:

The application of s103 is more problematic, because judging when information collected for intelligence purposes is no longer relevant is not straightforward. If s103 means that information may only be retained so long as it is necessary, rather than merely desirable, to keep it, that is still a difficult test to apply in practice. The practical effect of s103 remains under discussion between our office and the agencies.

Reading between the lines, it appears that the current test for keeping irrelevant information - that is, information about people of no interest to the spies whatsoever, with no justification for retantion - seems to be whether it is "desirable" (that is, whether the spies feel like it, or feel they may be able to use it, somehow, in the future, despite no apparent use today). Which is a long way from what we were told when the law was passed, and basicly renders the clause meaningless. And that in turn creates an incentive for over-collection and mass-storage, just in case information becomes useful in future.

There's worse. One of the key safeguards in the Act is that any collection of intelligence about a New Zealander requires a Type 1 warrant, with enhanced safeguards. But (as mentioned in the IGIS's earlier report on warrants) the spies have been playing language games over anticipated "incidental" collection of New Zealanders' communications under less stringent, foreign intelligence Type 2 warrants - and they now have a legal opinion from the Solicitor-General backing up their view that this is OK. Which is part of the legal process and the back and forth of oversight, but as the IGIS points out, government agencies are bound to follow such opinions, so where they are issued, they are for all practical purposes the law. Which then raises a significant issue of there being a body of effectively secret law, shielded by legal professional privilege, which may differ significantly from the public understanding. Even more disturbingly, the spy agencies have "come close" to trying to use legal privilege to prevent the Inspector-General from stating their position on the law - effectively trying to keep it completely secret from the public.

But in a democratic society, the very idea of "secret law" is a nonsense. The law is, by definition, public. The government has to tell you what it is. And they should do exactly that with their interpretations of the spy laws. Otherwise, there will always be public suspicion that they mean one thing to the public, and something very different to the spies. And that is simply not sustainable in a democracy.

(If someone has the appetite for an OIA shitfight, there's a past Ombudsman's opinion supporting openness for such internal interpretive advice, so it may be worth trying to request it.

A referendum on bigotry

The End of Life Choice Bill passed its third reading last night, 69 - 51. Thanks to a compromise with NZ First - which looks to have been necessary on the final numbers - the commencement of the bill will be subject to a referendum.

Given the ugliness of the "debate" over the bill, which saw bigots equating the terminally ill being able to choose to die on their own terms when they are ready for it - something they already do illegally - with the mass murder of the old and disabled, it is likely to be a very ugly campaign. The same tiny clique of well-funded fundamentalist nutjobs who have opposed gay rights, women's rights, equal marriage, and pretty much any progress in this country forever are going to spew hate into our political system for months, because that is all they know how to do. And the biggest effect of it is likely to be to make people turn off, walk away and not vote.

I urge people not to do that. We simply can not let the bigots win, on this, or on anything. Instead, we have to crush them at the ballot box. This won't change their minds - bigots are incapable of learning - but it should teach them not to inflict themselves on us in this way, and go back to just bothering MPs instead.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019



Irony

Since 2013, the Australian government has detained refugees without trial in Pacific gulags, where they are abused, tortured, and driven to suicide. The policy is not just an abuse of human rights and possible crime against humanity; it has also had a corrosive effect on the states Australia uses as hosts. Nauru in particular has turned into a dictatorship, banning the media, evicting the opposition from parliament, and ending freedom of speech in an effort to stop criticism of the flow of Australian gulag money. And now, some of the victims of that regime are applying for asylum in Australia:

A former Nauruan politician is seeking political asylum in Australia as a retrial of anti-Government protestors kicks off in the island nation today.

Squire Jeremiah is a member of the so-called Nauru 19, a group of former opposition MPs and their supporters who were charged with rioting and disrupting the legislature over protests outside the nation's Parliament in 2015.

Mr Jeremiah and his cousin, Rutherford Jeremiah, fled to Australia in September.

He says the Government is determined to have them convicted.


And he's right. Nauru has conducted a campaign of persecution against these people, and then when the courts finally ruled it was illegal, abolished them. Now, they've bought in a Fijian judge, whose claim to fame is purportedly legalising a coup, to hear the trial. As the former chief justice says, this is simply an abuse of the judicial process.

The irony here: Australia's anti-refugee policies in the Pacific are now creating refugees in the Pacific. Its appropriate that they clean up their mess, and give sanctuary to those who they are having persecuted. If not, New Zealand should offer to help.

Another captured agency

Last month, Greenpeace head Russel Norman surrendered his speaking slot at an EPA conference to student climate activist Sorcha Carr, who told the EPA exactly what she thought of them. It was a bold move, which confronted both regulators and polluters (or, as the EPA calls them, "stakeholders") with the voices they were ignoring. The EPA's reaction was astounding:

“[EPA CEO] Allan Freeth publicly chastised her [the student] for lack of ‘politeness’ and the inappropriateness of the speech – seemingly more concerned about the offence caused to other ‘invited guests’. From what I witnessed, I believe he was particularly acknowledging a rep from the oil and gas industry, who not only shouted at Sorcha during and after her speech, but immediately stormed out and accosted senior EPA staff to express his outrage at the ‘ridiculousness’, inappropriateness and ‘bad taste’ of her speech.”

The event was described as an annual update where central and local government, industry and community groups were invited to hear what the EPA had been doing and an opportunity for the EPA to understand "what is of concern and interest to our stakeholders". Norman was a guest speaker.

Freeth later sent a letter to attendees apologising for “a person’s poor and disrespectful behaviour”. He was referring to either Norman or Carr, not the oil industry representative who spoke over Carr.


What this shows is a regulatory agency which is completely and totally captured by the industry it purports to regulate. It shares their values, and their sense of offence at being confronted with a message they do not want to hear. And by doing so, it has ceased to be a neutral, professional public service agency, and has effectively become an industry lobby group within government.

Such unprofessional and corrupt conduct should not be tolerated. Freeth needs to resign or be sacked. As for the EPA, if they are this captured and this compromised, they need to be disbanded. Raze it to the ground and start again from a clean slate, because clearly they're no fucking good to anyone but the polluters they protect.

NZ First's dodgy loans

The core principle supposedly underlying New Zealand's electoral finance regime is transparency: parties can accept large donations from rich people wanting to buy policy, but only if they tell the public they've been bought. Most parties abide by this, so we know that TOP was wholly-owned by Gareth Morgan, and that ACT is basicly the pawn of a couple of rich arseholes in Auckland. The exception to this is NZ First, which has never declared a single donation by anyone, ever. They do however declare lots of "loans":

Records show New Zealand First has disclosed three loans from the New Zealand First Foundation. In 2017, it received $73,000. Then in 2018, it received a separate loan of $76,622, in what the Electoral Commission says was a loan executed to "replace the first loan". In 2019, it received another loan for $44,923.

Those giving money to the foundation are able to remain anonymous because under electoral law, loans are not subject to the same disclosure requirements as donations.

Both of the foundation's trustees refused to answer any questions about what the foundation did and how it operated, and New Zealand First's party secretary, Liz Witehira, said she knew nothing about it.

"I don't know and I don't need to know," Mrs Witehira told RNZ.


The natural suspicion here is that they are simply laundering their donations. And of course, its all "within the rules". But when those rules were written by self-interested politicians for their own benefit, that doesn't fly very far with the public. Electoral law expert Andrew Geddis says that this isn't the level of transparency we expect to see from a political party, and he's right. As for how to stop it, we busted trusts on donations, requiring the true contributors to be identified; clearly we need to do this for non-commercial "loans" as well.

But that's just plugging the current loophole, and dodgy politicians wanting to hide their corrupt dealings will soon find (or create) another. So in the long-term, we need to insist on total transparency, with every non-trivial donation disclosable, while shifting to public funding to get the rich out of politics. The rich have their outsized influence because the parties need their money. Remove that need, and politicians might actually start working for voters for a change.

Member's Day: The choice on End of Life Choice

Today is a Member's Day, probably the second-to-last one of the year, and its a big one, with the Third Reading of David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill. last Member's Day it was reported back from committee, after MPs voted narrowly to make it subject to a (rules TBA) referendum. This week, we get to see if enough of them are happy with that compromise. Polling from Stuff suggests they are, and that the bill will pass comfortably with 70 votes. Its a two-hour debate, so we should find out just before 6pm.

After that, the House will move on to the third reading of Todd Muller's Companies (Clarification of Dividend Rules in Companies) Amendment Bill and the second reading of Ian McKelvie's Dog Control (Category 1 Offences) Amendment Bill. Neither of these should be especially contentious, so I expect they'll make a start on the second reading of Rino Tirikatene's Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill as well. There is unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow, and looking at the order paper, there probably won't be one till next year.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019



Contemptuous

The Referendums Framework Bill was due back from select committee today. But there's no report on it. Instead, the bill has been bounced back to the House under Standing order 295(3) because the Committee didn't bother to produce one.

They probably tried. But given the membership of the committee (which includes 4 National MPs), and National's opposition to the bill, they couldn't pass one. Oddly though they couldn't even produce a "we could not agree, but let's fix the typos" report which is usual in such circumstances.

The net result: if you submitted on this bill, congratulations: you wasted your time. I'm not especially annoyed about this personally, because my submission was a lightweight thing done at the last minute. But if I'd put actual work into it - and many submitters will have - I'd be feeling pretty pissed off right now. This failure to report treats submitters with contempt. And it is another perfect example of how MPs earn their reputation and the contempt the public holds them in.

Meanwhile, each member of this Committee is paid $160,000 a year (plus $16,000 a year slush fund). We're paying them to not do their jobs. Maybe we should be looking at some mechanism to dock their pay for this sort of bullshit in future.

New Fisk

Only ‘believers’ can sell their soul to the devil and expect justice

Climate Change: What happens next?

Now the Zero Carbon Bill is law, what's next? Obviously, the ETS changes currently before select committee are going to be the next battleground. But we're also going to get a good idea of where we're going, and if the progress the Zero Carbon Act promises is good enough, during the Act's first budget process next year.

Under the Act (s5U), the Minister must ensure there are emissions budgets for the 2022-25, 2025-30, and 2031-35 periods in place by 31 December 2021. But they don't get to just make them up: the Climate Change Commission must advise the Minister on the budgets in advance, with a legislated deadline of 2021 (they must also provide advice on the first emissions reduction plan, basicly what they recommend doing to achieve the targets in the budget). And before they do that, they must make their advice public, and run a public submissions process on it. Meaning that we are likely to be seeing those preliminary budgets sometime around the middle of next year (unless they go early to try and get it all in before the election).

So, before the middle of next year we are going to find out how the Commission thinks we should get to a net-zero by 2050 target: whether it will allow business as usual to continue for "just a little bit" (inviting failure), whether it will recommend immediately going for a straight linear cut (which basicly means slicing ~17% off net emissions every five years), or whether it will aim for going harder so as to make it easier to meet a stronger target if we need to. We'll also see whether that pathway is consistent with the government's (weak) international promise of a 30% cut by 2030 (which isn't enough to meet the 1.5 degree Paris target). And we'll see from its methane targets where in the (again, weak) 24 - 47% target range it is aiming for.

And more importantly, when the report lands on the Minister's desk, we'll see whether any of it means shit. There's an election between now and then, and National has already promised to gut the Act if they win; I doubt they'll be willing to accept strong budgets and plans. And even if the current government stays in power, there's the danger that NZ First will refuse to accept the outcome of the scheme they have supposedly signed up for, and demand any budgets and plan be watered down to protect polluters. Of course, there's the prospect of judicial review, but that's not guaranteed to force a Minister to accept the expert advice.

All of which is a long way of saying that we will have no idea whether this thing will work until 2022. In the interim, we should assume it won't, that the politicians will continue to drag their feet just like they always have, and keep up the pressure.

Monday, November 11, 2019



Climate Change: Thank Winston

The Zero Carbon Act is inadequate, with a weak methane target designed to give farmers a free ride. But it turns out it could have been worse: Climate Change Minister James Shaw was so desperate to get National on board, he wanted to gut that target, and leave it in the hands of the Climate Change Commission. And we have Winston to thank for stopping him:

Shaw negotiated with the party over many months and was very keen to get bipartisan support for the landmark climate change law.

The minister is generally of the opinion that if the Commission were to set the target it would not be much different to the one the range the bill sets, which is based on the overall goal to limit the temperature climbing by 1.5C by 2050.

Talks between Shaw and National leader Simon Bridges restarted in recent weeks, and it's understood Shaw was receptive to removing the target - but wouldn't be able to get that to Cabinet thanks to opposition from NZ First.

It's understood NZ First have generally rejected the idea of the Commission setting the target, as it believes that politicians need to own the decision.


The problem here is that while the Commission might have recommended a similar target, they could simply be over-ruled by the Minister. And with National planning to gut the law anyway, they could have simply removed the provision and left us with no methane target at all. Thanks to Winston, they will have to explicitly own that decision, and pay for it at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, this shows the dangers of compromise for compromise's sake. A compromise for failure is not worth making. A compromise for failure means we all drown. And by supporting such a compromise, Shaw has shown that meeting basic targets is not a bottom line for him, and that he can no longer be trusted on this issue.

This is not what armed police are for

Last month, the police announced a trial of specialist roaming armed units, which would drive round (poor, brown) areas in armoured SUVs, armed to the teeth. When they announced the trial, they told us it was about having armed police "ready to attend major incidents at any time if needed". What it actually means is armed police doing traffic stops:

Residents and politicians fear new armed police teams are being used for lower-risk responses and "preventative patrolling" after an arrest in suburban Hamilton over the weekend.

Video footage shows police from the newly formed Armed Response Teams pulling over a car linked to a dishonesty crime on a suburban Hamilton road.

The footage showed two officers, at least one with a Glock pistol, talking to a man sitting in a car on the side of the road. No other police cars or officers can be seen.

Police later said the stop was entirely appropriate, and resulted in the man being arrested without incident for "breaching conditions".


Basicly they're sitting by the side of the road running number plates and looking for people to pull over and point guns at - exactly the sort of shit you get in America. It is not what armed police are for in New Zealand, and it is likely only a matter of time before some twitchy, hyped-up cop machine-guns someone.

Spain's failed electoral gamble

Spain went to the polls today in the second elections this year, after the Socialists (who had come to power in a confidence vote, then gone to the polls in April) rejected the offer of a coalition with the left-wing PoDemos, and instead decided to gamble n a better outcome by forcing Spaniards to vote again. Judging from the results, that gamble has failed; the Socialists have lost a few seats, PoDemos have lost a lot more, and the "centrist" (but actually right wing) Citizens, who the Socialists saw as a better coalition partner, were wiped out. Instead, the big winners have been the Popular Party (which was founded by fascists), and the misogynistic, Islamophobic Vox (actual fascists). And the reason for that can be laid squarely at the feet of the Socialists, and their decision to run on a hate campaign against Catalonia.

Meanwhile, in Catalonia, pro-independence parties won more seats than ever before, and again saw off the Socialists to be the largest party. Despite the wishes of the Spanish parties, Catalans are not simply going to go away. If they want a government which doesn't involve fascists or the children of fascists, they need to actually sit down and talk. Sadly, I expect they'll try and beat people into submission instead.

The astroturf party

National has finally rolled out its "BlueGreen" astroturf party, fronted by an array of former nats and people who were dumped by the Greens for not being Green enough. Its initial pitch is described by Stuff as "very business-friendly", and its priorities are what you'd expect: conservation, predator-free funding, a "war on weeds". But what does it have to say about climate change, the biggest environmental problem facing the country and the planet? Nothing useful:

"We will work with rather than against our farmers and industry.

"We are not prophets of doom. We are an optimistic party."

He said New Zealand should "lead where we can" on climate change but not "suffer serious economic consequences as a result of that".

He supported agriculture going into the Emissions Trading Scheme at some point in the future, saying farmers had to be protected.


So this is basicly a climate inaction party - just like their backers. They're about watering the garden while the planet burns.

National hopes that this sort of greenwash will win enough votes from the Greens to either provide them with a new coalition handpuppet to replace David Seymour, or (their preferred option) drive both parties below the 5% threshold, removing the environmental voice from Parliament and restoring FPP by default. But either would require Green voters to like the policies on offer. And to be honest, I don't think this is going to fool anyone.

Friday, November 08, 2019



New Fisk

Everything you were told about the Syrian war was wrong – until now

Climate Change: As predicted

Yesterday, when National voted for the Zero Carbon Bill, I predicted they'd gut it the moment they regained power, just as they had done to the ETS. And indeed, they have explicitly promised to do exactly that within their first hundred days in office. What would their amendments do? Abandon the Paris Agreement 1.5 degree target. Get the Commission to review the use of forest sinks, so the Minister can ban them and protect inefficient farmers from market forces. Remove the (weak) statutory methane target and instead have it set after a review by the Commission - allowing the Minister to weaken it still further. Oh, and let the government give up because its too late to do anything - clearly National's preferred position on climate change. So, what was the point of trying to compromise again?

The government wanted "political consensus" and policy durability. They have failed, and they were always going to. National simply has too strong a denier streak for them to ever accept effective policy on this issue. The only way that is ever going to happen is if the government simply enacts strong policy, makes it reality, and dares them to repeal it - just as they did with the anti-nuclear law.

Thursday, November 07, 2019



Climate Change: Passed

The Zero Carbon Bill has just passed its third reading, uanimously. In the end, National supported it - but we all know they'll turn around and gut it the moment they regain power. Meanwhile, I guess ACT's David Seymour didn't even bother to show up.

I am on record as saying the targets in the bill are inadequate. I stand by that. They were fine for 2008 when the bill was drafted, but a decade of inaction means we have to cut faster and deeper than we would have needed to if we'd acted back then. And with the way the news is going, I think that parliament will be back to shave at least a decade off that target. And the sooner it does it, the better.

Unfortunately, thanks to Green co-leader James Shaw's commitment to "bipartisanship" - making concessions to National in the foolish belief that they will not be reversed the moment the balance of power shifts - that may not be possible. At least, it may not be posisble with him. This is his bill, his deal. As with the agriculture sellout, if we want better policy, he has to go.

Earlier in the week I heard someone quote Jacinda Ardern about how she wanted the bill to settle the issue, and how she didn't want to see any more school-strikes or tractors driving up Parliament steps. Farmers are planning to do exactly that on November 14, and the next global climate strike is on November 29. So, it looks like she will have both by the end of the month. Which is what you get for selling out: you don't please your opponents, while angering your supporters. And if that sellout costs her her government in the end, then that's the judgement of the voters on her compromises.

Justice for Bomber

When the Police were trying to cover up for the National Party over Dirty Politics, they went all-in with their abuses of power. They illegally search Nicky Hager's house, violating his journalistic privilege and invading his privacy. They unlawfully acquired Hager's bank records. They did the same to left-wing blogger Martyn "Bomber" Bradbury, telling his bank he was suspected of "computer fraud" in order to obtain his records. The bank subsequently cut off his accounts, and the resulting stress caused significant hardship. But now, the Police have admitted wrongdoing, apologised, and paid damages:

An apology has been made by police to blogger Martyn "Bomber" Bradbury after officers investigating the identity of the hacker Rawshark used a loophole in the Privacy Act to unlawfully access his private information.

[...]

A letter to Bradbury from police said: "Police apologise for the stress and other psychological harm caused to you by virtue of your involvement in this investigation."Police accept that you were not involved in 'computer fraud' and that you were not involved in the hack of Mr Slater's accounts.

"Police have also agreed to pay damages as part of the settlement of your claim, and to destroy the information received from the banks."


Good. And given the harm caused, I hope the settlement is substantial. But as with Hager, damages don't seem like enough. The Police broke the law. The officers who planned and oversaw that deliberate and vindictive lawbreaking need to be fired.

Britain's climate tyranny was unlawful

Last month, in response to a wave of protests by Extinction Rebellion, the British government purported to ban their protests from the whole of London. It was a significant interference with the freedoms of expression and assembly, and another sign of the country's decline into tyranny. But now, a court has declared the "ban" unlawful:

Mr Justice Dingemans and Mr Justice Chamberlain said the Met’s section 14 order that XR “must now cease their protests within London” was unlawful because it went beyond the powers granted to police by the Public Order Act 1986.

In a judicial review ruling handed down on Wednesday morning, the judges said the Met had been wrong to define Extinction Rebellion’s two-week long “autumn uprising” as a single public assembly on which it could impose the order.

“Separate gatherings, separated both in time and by many miles, even if coordinated under the umbrella of one body, are not a public assembly under the meaning of section 14(1) of the 1986 act,” Dingemans said.

“The XR autumn uprising intended to be held from 14 to 19 October was not therefore a public assembly … therefore the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because there was no power to impose it.”


Hundreds of people were arrested for breaching the "ban". Now, they're looking at suing the police for damages. I hope they do, and I hope they win, because institutions need to be dealt a financial bloody nose when they overstep the mark, to provide a strong incentive not to do it again. But there needs to be harsher consequences than that. The commissioner of the metropolitan police signed an unlawful order which significantly interfered with the freedoms they were supposed to protect. They need to be fired, with no pension, pour encourager les autres. There should be no mercy for tyranny by government officials.

More crime from the spies

Last year, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security reported on significant problems with the intelligence warrant system. While they were unwilling to declare any warrant "irregular" (meaning unlawful) due to the recent law change, they were also not willing to give the system a clean bill of health. Now, they've done a followup report, and while there have been improvements in several areas, they have also for the first time reported that a number of warrants did not meet the statutory criteria under the Intelligence and Security Act 2017:

As noted above (paragraph 10) the Inspector-General reached the view this year that one of the Bureau’s Type 2 warrants was irregular for a lack of sufficient operational detail in the application and a consequently inadequate demonstration of necessity and proportionality. We have since found that another Bureau Type 2 warrant was irregular for deficiency of information on one of the activities for which authorisation was sought. The Bureau is working to address the issues raised by this warrant.

Late last year we formally advised NZSIS that activity under one of its Type 1 warrants was irregular, as it involved a privacy intrusion beyond what was articulated in the warrant application. The Service did not agree...


The Inspector-General says they will be doing more work to bring the agencies into compliance, but shouldn't they be doing more? Because, to point out the obvious, the effect of a lawful warrant is to authorise things like the use of interception devices or the unauthorised access of a computer system, both of which are crimes. If the warrant wasn't lawful, then the activities conducted appear to be criminal. Shouldn't the spies therefore be being prosecuted? Or does the law simply not apply to them like it applies to the rest of us? And shouldn't the agencies be paying damages to the victims of their criminal interference with privacy? Instead, it seems like secrecy will let them just get away with it. With the result that no-one will be held to account, and that there is no incentive not to repeat such behaviour in the future.

This shows the toothlessness of our "watchdog". Yes, they've got quite a bark on them. But like the IPCA, nothing ever results (except perhaps law changes retrospectively legalising the spies' crimes). And that means that their net effect is to provide a veneer of accountability to unaccountable criminal agencies. Until they can prosecute people - and actually do so - they're a sham, and a waste of everyone's time.

Meanwhile, we should remember: spy Minister Andrew little approved these warrants, despite their unlawfulness. Which shows that he is aimply unfit for his position. And it should also cause severe questions about trusting this Minister and these agencies with any more powers, like the control orders they're currently trying to ram through Parliament.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019



11,000 employed under Labour

The labour market statistics have been released, and unemployment has risen to 4.2%. There are 115,000 unemployed - 11,000 fewer than when Labour took office. In that time the minimum wage has gone up by $2 an hour, which shows that the right's fears about increases causing unemployment are simply false. Instead, it seems to boost living standards quite healthily. Why did National oppose that?

Boycott this democratic fraud

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has called for submissions on Andrew Little's tyrannical Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill. Normally I encourage participation in the democratic process. I am not doing so in this case. Instead, I encourage all of you to boycott this submissions process, and to post publicly or email your MP to say that you are doing so and why. Why? Because the submission period is less than a week: until November 10. And people may remember that we've been here before.

Last time the government tried to ram through legislation on this topic - John Key's Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill, I encouraged people in good faith to submit on it. Several did. I found out afterwards that the committee didn't even bother reading the submissions, and that the entire process was simply a stitch-up. I and the people I had encouraged to submit had wasted our time and might as well have not bothered.

In short: a submission period this short is simply a fraud, designed to lend a veneer of democracy to tyranny. I refuse to participate in it, or lend my reputation to perpetrate it. They fooled me once, but I won't be fooled again.

Is there anything useful you can do as an alternative? Not at the moment. Like I said, its a stitch up, and it will be rammed through no matter what we think. The most we can do is express our anger, our disgust, and our distrust of a system which acts like this. But remember this at election time. We need to take our democracy back. And that means de-selecting or de-electing every MP who supports this bill. They will no longer protect our rights, so they all need to go.

Climate Change: Ban private jets

Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and within it, one of the fastest sources is elite travel: billionaires flitting around the world in their private jets, spewing excessive pollution into the atmosphere just so they can avoid mixing with us dirty peasants. But in the UK, the Labour party has a plan to deal with this source of unnecessary pollution, by banning private jets from UK airports:

Labour is exploring plans to ban private jets from UK airports from as early as 2025 should it win the election, in the party’s latest broadside against the super-rich.

After a report revealed carbon emissions from the sector equivalent to 450,000 cars each year, Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said that billionaire users of private fossil fuel aircraft were damaging the climate and the party would consider a ban.

He tweeted on Monday: “The multi-millionaires & billionaires who travel by private jet are doing profound damage to the climate, and it’s the rest of us who’ll suffer the consequences. A phase-out date for the use of fossil fuel private jets is a sensible proposal.”


Sounds like a good idea. The average private jet journey emits ten times as much as flying economy class, and 150 times as much as using high speed rail. And it serves no useful purpose whatsoever. If billionaires want to keep doing this, then let them lead the investment in zero-emissions flight, and do something good for humanity for once.

Climate Change: Untold Suffering

That's what we face if we don't stop climate change, according to a warning from 11,000 scientists:

The world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society, according to a stark warning from more than 11,000 scientists.

“We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”

There is no time to lose, the scientists say: “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”

The statement is published in the journal BioScience on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate conference, which was held in Geneva in 1979. The statement was a collaboration of dozens of scientists and endorsed by further 11,000 from 153 nations. The scientists say the urgent changes needed include ending population growth, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, halting forest destruction and slashing meat eating.


These changes are achievable: we have the technology. Implementing it, however, requires political will. And that is what is lacking. Worldwide, our political establishments are deeply corrupt, in hock to the polluting industries which have caused this problem, afraid to change the status quo because their backers and funders will lose out (and yes, that means you, James Shaw and Jacinda Ardern, with your chickenshit targets and sellout to farmers). But with no more time for procrastination and fudging, they need to make a choice: act, or be utterly discredited. Because we are going to solve this problem. These industries are going to be destroyed, just as the massive horse industry was with the invention of the motor-car and the tractor, or candles by electric light. The only question for the politicians is whose side they're going to be on, and whether they want to be swept away with their polluter mates.

Meanwhile, the US has begun the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, signalling their refusal to take action. The rest of the world should respond with a blockade and trade sanctions. In the interim, you can start reducing American emissions by voting with your wallet and not buying American.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019



Good riddance

National MP and former Conservation Minister Maggie Barry will not seek re-election next year. Good riddance. Because in case anyone has forgotten, barry is a bullying thug who terrorised both public servants and fellow MPs. She is one of the people who makes Parliament a toxic workplace, and our country is well rid of her. The only sad thing is that she has been allowed to quit, rather than being dumped by voters as unfit for public office.

Now, if only Meka Whaitiri would do the same...

Climate Change: D-Day

The Zero Carbon Bill is back in the House today for its second reading. While this isn't the final stage, its still effectively D-Day for the bill. Because today, at around 5pm, is when we're going to find out if it has a majority, whether National will support it or retreat forever into being the party of climate arson, and whether NZ First will still be backing it, or whether they will be sabotaging it at the last minute.

While the framework established by the bill is good, the targets it sets are inadequate. They were fine for 2008, when the bill was drafted, but there's been a decade of unchecked emissions since, meaning we now need to cut deeper and faster if we are to stay within a safe carbon budget. I told the select committee in its hearings that with the way the news was going, the present targets would simply mean that they'd be back in five years time to strengthen them. And I think that that is exactly what will happen. Rather than delivering "certainty", this bill is simply another excuse for inadequate action. And we are all going to pay the price of that.

Winston is right

Winston Peters is in court today, suing a bunch of former Minister and civil servants over their pre-election leak of his superannuation repayment. He's characterised the leak as malicious, and said that it is repugnant that his information was passed on to Ministers to use for political advantage. And he's absolutely right. WINZ had a legal duty to protect his privacy. And instead of doing that, they handed private data about a past issue which had been resolved to their satisfaction and which they had decided was not worthy of prosecution or further action to Ministers to be used for a shoddy political smear. They absolutely deserve to be taken to the cleaners over this, and the one disappointment is that the government is protecting those involved, rather than letting them carry the can personally for their bad-faith actions.

As for former ministers Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett, by leaking the information (and even by not immediately sacking the "public service" crawlers provided it to them) they demonstrated that they are unethical shitbags. They deserve to be taken to the cleaners too - and personally, rather than being protected by the government. which just smacks of a cosy establishment pact to protect each other from the consequences of wrongdoing. And that's the point where I disagree with Matthew Hooton: yes, Bennett and Tolley clearly can't help themselves. But that doesn't mean we should excuse their shitbaggery. To the contrary, it signifies their need for punishment, to deter other would-be shitbags. But it also demonstrates their absolute unfitness for public office: because someone who would abuse people's private data in this way is absolutely unfit to have access to anything.

Meanwhile, WINZ seems to be in full-on victim-blaming mode, which is just irrelevant. Because the issue here isn't how the error happened in the first place - they've previously accepted it was not Winston's fault when they decided to deal with it with a simple repayment - but that they decided to leak it to Ministers. Their choice of "defence" strategy shows that they still suffer from a sick culture of hating the people they are meant to be assisting. The current government has promised to change that culture, and "bring kindness back". Clearly, they still have a lot of work to do on that front.

Monday, November 04, 2019



New Zealand should not fund bigotry

Two years ago, the Cook Islands government announced that it was planning to join the civilised world and decriminalise consensual homosexual sex between men. Now, they've reversed their position, and decided to criminalise lesbians into the bargain:

Two years ago, in a step welcomed by many people including the gay and lesbian communities, the Pacific nation's Parliament removed "indecent acts between men" and sodomy from a draft Crimes Bill.

On Saturday, select committee chairman Tingika Elikana said they would reinstate the clause.

In fact, in an unintended consequence of moves to make legislation gender-neutral, the anticipated effect of the bill will be to also criminalise sex between women, as well as between men.

The select committee's recommendation to Parliament would reinstate a penalty of up to five years' imprisonment, and a sentence of seven years' prison for consensual sodomy.


New Zealand currently provides $66.17 million a year to the Cook Islands in development assistance - about a quarter of their entire government budget. I doubt New Zealanders are very happy with the thought of their taxes supporting a foreign government to support bigotry and put gay people in jail. Respect for basic human rights should be a fundamental condition of any funding, and if the Cooks refuse to observe them, we should cut it entirely.

New Fisk

The new revolutions of the Middle East are not the same, but they all share this one fatal flaw

More tyranny in Australia

The boycott is a fundamental tool of protest. By choosing who we buy from, we can send a message, and hopefully change corporate behaviour. Historically, boycotts have been effective, for example over apartheid in South Africa and Israel, in forcing divestment from Myanmar, and in ending bus segregation in the USA. Which is probably why Australia's increasingly tyrannical government wants to ban them:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has accused environmental activists of "economic sabotage" and "indulgent and selfish practices" and says the government will look at legislation limiting potential damage to businesses.

Mr Morrison also said secondary boycotts were affecting small businesses providing services to industries such as mining companies, and the government would seek to protect them as they had farms in the wake of animal rights protests.

"We need to progress cautiously, but if it's not OK to have secondary boycotts being run by unions - and we got rid of those a long time ago - then it's not OK for environmental - not environmental, these are anarchist groups, and that's what they are - to be able to disrupt people's jobs and their livelihoods and to harass in the way that we've seen down in Melbourne, it's ugly and I don't think it's good for our country," Mr Morrison told radio station 3AW on Friday.


He also wants to crack down on protests, all to support Australia's dirty fossil fuel industry. Which sounds like another reason to boycott Australia until they start behaving like a civilised democracy again.

Friday, November 01, 2019



This government has a problem with secrecy

As introduced, the Zero Carbon Bill included an expansive secrecy clause, which would have covered virtually all decisions by the Climate Change Commission over our most important policy area. The Ministry for the Environment admitted this was a mistake (or as they put it, an "oversight"), and the select committee removed it. But at the same time, they introduced a new secrecy clause in s5ZV covering information requested by the Commission or the Minister about Adaptation.

How did they get here? Unfortunately the full advice isn't available yet (I have an OIA request in to get it, but they'll likely say "secret" again, just like they did with the original). But there's some clues in the supplementary advice given by MfE to the committee on the issue. The first thing to note is that this clause seems to have been proposed by MfE when proposing amendments to the bill. The committee expressed concern about it, and wanted to know why it went beyond the requirements of the OIA. MfE's response was to try and justify it:

The types of information that would be gathered through the adaptation reporting power may be highly sensitive in nature (e.g. trade secrets, privileged legal advice, financial information, etc.). Therefore, a mechanism to prevent public disclosure of this information is necessary. However, it is not proposed to be a blanket protection...
But first, they have proposed a blanket protection, which would forbid any disclosure whatsoever, ousting all other law. Second, almost all of the agencies from which information can be requested are public agencies, already covered by the OIA, so the effect of the clause is to make public information secret. Third, for the few edge cases which aren't already covered by the OIA, this evades the obvious question. What about the existing protections in the OIA? Here, MfE's advice has a section titled "Limitations of the Official Information Act 1982 to protect sensitive information", but they don't actually provide any. They say nothing about why the OIA is supposedly insufficient. Instead, they seem concerned about it limiting the ability of the government to use the information it has requested. Which is exactly the sorts of fundamental misunderstanding of the law which led them to propose the original secrecy clause. It's advice so bad, it comes close to misleading the committee, and thereby misleading parliament, and I am absolutely astonished it was accepted.

So, to give the committee the advice MfE didn't: the OIA already protects trade secrets, commercially sensitive financial information, and privileged legal advice. It also protects information where production has been required by law and it is important that it is supplied in future. While these protections are all subject to the public interest in disclosure, that interest is much lower for third-party information, and in practice these provisions are some of the strongest in the Act. Absent some compelling reason - which MfE simply hasn't provided - there seems no reason to believe these existing protections will be insufficient. The clause is unjustifiable and should be struck from the bill at the committee stage.

Meanwhile, it has become clear from both this and other cases where such clauses have been introduced that this government has a secrecy problem. They, or a clique of public servants, do not trust the Official Information Act and are trying to gradually oust its transparency regime by stealth, a bit at a time. And this is not something we should accept. Government business is public business. Government information is public information. It belongs to us, not them, and any politician who does not accept that deserves de-election.

Update: And then, not ten minutes after posting this, I find the "justification" in another report (on p 121 - 125). And it basicly boils down to private sector paranoia about the possibility of disclosure under the public interest clause, and a complete failure to conduct any actual analysis of how likely that is or when it might happen. It then suffers from the same problem of fundamental misunderstanding of the law and drafting failures as the earlier secrecy work: they think they're not creating blanket secrecy, but they are. And it really calls the competence of MfE's advisers in this area into question.

Thursday, October 31, 2019



Happy Halloween

Jack2019

Its Halloween, so its time for annual pumpkin trepanning and chocolate eating ritual.

Climate Change: Disclosing the risks

The climate crisis is going to mean some pretty big changes in our country, both from its impacts and the policies required to address them. Most obviously, whole suburbs are going to be underwater by 2100, meaning people and businesses are going to have to relocate to higher ground. But also, anything which uses fossil fuels is likely to attract significant costs, and may become a stranded asset. This is obviously going to affect business. And now, the government is going to force them to disclose those risks:

Listed New Zealand companies could soon be required by law to make any climate change-related risks to their businesses known to their shareholders.

[...]

Shaw said the law, if passed, would mean companies would be required to assess and report on any of their climate-related financial risks to shareholders.

For example, if an airport was built on a waterfront which would likely be affected by climate-change-induced sea level rises, the company that owns the airport would be required to provide appropriate information to its owners.

The law would also mean companies would have to disclose any risk of stranded assets – assets that may suffer from unexpected value write-downs – as a result of climate change to their shareholders.

For example, shareholders would need to be informed that an investment in a coal mine could lose them money, given the Government's policies to move to 100 per cent renewable energy.


The logic here is simple: shareholders don't like losing money, so forcing transparency on these risks will drive change. And at the least, it seems like providing some basic protection, to stop companies from lying to their owners about their viability. And once information is provided, it should result in businesses either cleaning up or being dumped.

MPI fails again

Yesterday a dairy company was fined $483,000 for repeatedly failing to report listeria in its facility. Its a serious fine for a serious crime: listeria is a serious disease, and they were effectively trying to kill people with it. But there's another story hidden in there, and its not a good one:

MPI's Director of Compliance Gary Orr said that from 2012 to 2016, the company deliberately and repeatedly failed to report positive listeria results that were taken from a floor at the company's factory in Avondale. During this period, the company also falsified official related records.

Orr said a total of 190 positive listeria results went unreported during this time.

"This was serious, systematic and sustained deception – there's no other way to describe it," he said.

"The company was regularly audited to ensure its manufacturing environment was in accordance with regulatory requirements but it lied about what the true situation was.


[Emphasis added]

So what were those "audits" doing again? Because clearly, it wasn't any sort of actual checks; MPI only found out about this from a whistleblower.

If a company can be "audited" for food quality for five years and this sort of thing not be noticed, then our "audit" system is broken, and does nothing at all to keep the public safe. Instead, all it does is deceive us. We need real audits, real safety checks, so we can be confident our food is safe. unfortunately, given its demonstrated incompetence and captive internal culture, I doubt we'll be able to get them from MPI.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019



A partial release

The Ombudsman has ruled on the issue of Julie-Anne Genter's letter to Phil Twyford on the "Let's Get Wellington Moving" policy, and forced the release of some information. The Ombudsman's statement is here. The key point: the letter was written in part in a Ministerial capacity, and was official information (so no hat-game). But:

“I found that withholding the full letter is necessary to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions during the policy process,” Mr Boshier says.

“However, the Associate Minister’s statements in the House on the matter waived the confidentiality of this exchange to some extent. This resulted in some speculation and confusion about the capacity in which the document was held, and what it said.”

“Therefore, I considered there to be an overriding public interest in the release of some information about the letter and its context, to inform public understanding and promote public trust and confidence.”


Genter and Twyford's summary of the letter - agreed with the Ombudsman - is here.

The decision that it is "free and frank" is unusual - normally internal coalition discussions are protected under the "confidential advice" clause rather than "free and frank". But the real shift is that answering questions in the House at least partly waives the protection of this clause. Which sets a clear incentive for the Opposition to question Ministers closely so they can one way or another get answers. And that can only be a Good Thing.

Climate Change: California burning

Its fire season in California, and the state is on fire again, with tens of thousands evacuated and millions without power as forests and homes burn. And its so bad now that some are asking whether parts of the state are now too dangerous to inhabit:

Three years in a row feels like – well, it starts to feel like the new, and impossible, normal. That’s what the local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, implied this morning when, in the middle of its account of the inferno, it included the following sentence: the fires had “intensified fears that parts of California had become almost too dangerous to inhabit”. Read that again: the local paper is on record stating that part of the state is now so risky that its citizens might have to leave.

If you're going to be evacuated every year, if your house burns down every three, you can't build any sort of life. And so places where that happens are just going to have to be abandoned, become places that people live in temporarily, rather than year-round. Its going to be a big change, but that's what we've done to ourselves.

California is where the future happens, but unfortunately our climate future is hostile. They're just seeing it before the rest of us. If you need a warning about why we need to cut emissions to zero and start drawdown, what is happening in California is it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019



Unstalled?

Last month, I reported that BORA reform was stalled. Documents released under the OIA showed that there had been no advice on the topic since a proposed Cabinet paper was withdrawn in April (it also revealed some rather frank comments suggesting that the entire proposal had been nothing more than a shoddy legal tactic to fool the Supreme Court). But now Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva has followed up on the issue - and the government says it is "back on track":

Delayed proposals to give New Zealand's unwritten constitution greater strength have kicked back into gear, with legislation giving courts the right to declare a law inconsistent with the Bill of Rights set to go to Parliament before the end of the year.

[...]

Speaking to Newsroom, Little denied that [it was a legal tactic] and said Cabinet was likely to sign off on a final policy next month, with the relevant legislation introduced to Parliament before the end of the year.

There had been "a fairly intense set of discussions in the last three or four months", with the bulk of debate concerned with the balance between the role of any new legislation and what should be dealt with through Parliament's standing orders.


Which is great, if true, and I look forward to seeing the bill. But there's only six sitting weeks until the end of the year, so he'll need to get a move on.

New Fisk

Trump may have claimed to kill al-Baghdadi, but he has brought Isis back to life
Hezbollah threatens the peaceful and non-sectarian protests in Lebanon

"The most transparent government ever" again

When Labour was elected, they promised that "this will be the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had". The reality:

Newly-released emails reveal Finance Minister Grant Robertson's staff tried to keep secret Treasury's criticism of a government proposal, but were unsuccessful.

Earlier this year, RNZ revealed Treasury had rubbished the so-called "feebate" scheme aimed at promoting electric cars, warning it would have virtually no effect on carbon emissions over two decades.

That advice was obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act, but fresh correspondence reveals Mr Robertson's office had tried to stop Treasury from releasing it.


And the reason for that is obvious: because it made the Minister look bad. Treasury pushed back against the Minister, but the Minister succeeded in having some of the advice redacted. Its a perfect example of how the "no surprises" policy is a recipe for Ministerial intervention in departmental OIA decisions - and of why we need to ensure that those decisions are made independently. Its also an example of how Labour's rhetoric on transparency fails to match reality. Because a Minister truly committed to transparency simply wouldn't be doing this. The fact that they are doing this, and routinely, tells us both that they are not committed to open government, and that they have something to hide.

Climate Change: The problem of free allocation

The government's new Emissions Trading Reform Bill would continue the existing system of free allocations. While it would accelerate phase-out rates, it would reset the base year for phase-out from 2012 to 2020, undoing all previous progress and potentially allowing polluters to claim a "refund". So who benefits from these pollution subsidies? Stuff has crunched the numbers, and discovered that 75% of them go to just four companies. And you can guess who they are:
NZCarbonCreditRecipients
[Image stolen from Stuff]

Three of those recipients are New Zealand subsidiaries of hugely profitable multinationals, companies which are in no need of a subsidy. It just seems to be a handout, a bribe to try and stop them from criticising the scheme or shutting down (which, ironicly, means bribing them to keep polluting - the exact opposite of what we need). The cost of the scheme has been relatively low so far, due to artificially low carbon prices. But if carbon prices rise as expected, then it could easily exceed a billion dollars a year by 2030. And that's a billion dollars a year we could spend on reducing emissions rather than maintaining them.

But the real problem is that, when combined with free pollution for agriculture, the free industrial allocation is basicly going to eat the entire 2030 carbon budget, leaving no room for anything else. Which, given that these polluters are only responsible for 6% of national emissions, suggests they are significantly over-allocated (again: bribes and handouts). So if nothing changes, what we're going to see in 2030 is these polluters making huge windfall profits from that over-allocation. And in some cases, they'll be making more money from carbon bribes than they do from their actual busines activity. For example, BlueScope Steel, the biggest recipient, made a profit of A$71.9 million last year, off revenue of A$463 million. In 2030, they'll be getting NZ$300 million worth of carbon credits a year. Tiwai Point made $207 million last year. In 2030, they'll be getting $260 million of carbon a year. Methanex's NZ plants produced 22% of its volume last year, or about US$125 million of their half-billion dollar profit. In 2030, they'll be getting NZ$165 million of carbon credits every year. In other words, these companies are going to go from producing products, with pollution and carbon credits as a side effect, to milking carbon credits, with products as a side effect. And the more they pollute, they more they'll get - the exact opposite of the incentive we need to set.

This is simple unsustainable, environmentally, financially, and politically. New Zealanders are not going to stomach seeing their tax dollars going to subsidise climate-destroying pollution by hugely profitable foreign multinationals. This system of free industrial allocation needs to be ended, and the sooner, the better.

Friday, October 25, 2019



Climate Change: Another history lesson

Yesterday the government introduced the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading Reform) Amendment Bill, which (among other things) would change the rules around the phasedown of free industrial allocations. While it increases the phaseout rate - so it will now take 40 or 30 years for pollution subsidies to be eliminated - it also resets the baseline from which they are phased out to 2020, destroying the last 8 years of progress (and in fact it looks like the government will have to pay polluters the additional credits they didn't get under the old scheme). Perhaps for this reason the Minister was hardly effusive in his praise, merely saying that it phases down allocation "in a measured and predictable way". Its a slight improvement over National's free allocations, but only a slight one. And compared to the cuts we need to make, the lack of ambition is glaring. But its even worse if you have a memory longer than a goldfish.

Because the ETS didn't start with National in 2009. It was originally passed in the dying days of the Labour - NZ First government in 2008. The original version also included free allocation for "trade exposed" (whiny) industrial polluters. That allocation was not 90% of current pollution, but 90% of 2005 pollution. And it phased out not in 40 years, but in 22 - ten years of 90%, then a linear phase out over 12 years to 2030.

The kicker: Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons thought that phase-out was too slow:

The Greens have always assessed this bill against the two criteria of effectiveness and fairness. Both effectiveness and fairness were further compromised by the Prime Minister’s announcement in May that phase-out of free allocations would be delayed for a further 5 years, and the entry of transport by 2 years.

She also called the exemption of agriculture until 2013 and its allocation of free credits afterwards - like industrial allocations, phased out by 2030 - "a huge subsidy". I wonder what she thinks of James Shaw's sellout yesterday?

But one thing is clear looking at this history: as the urgency of the crisis has increased, the ambition of our politicians has gone the other way. Rather than rising to the challenge, they have simply given up, treated it as something to be negotiated and compromised with. But you cannot compromise with physics, and if allowed to continue, their lack of ambition will doom us all.

Brexit has broken the UK's democracy

The fundamental rule of democracy is that we settle issues by voting (and if you don't get your way, you just keep pushing for another vote). But thanks to Brexit, a large majority of the UK population is now willing to accept political violence:

Voters on both sides of the Brexit divide believe that violence against MPs and members of the public is a “price worth paying” to secure their favoured outcome, a new study has found.

A majority of both Leave and Remain voters would be happy to accept attacks on politicians and violent protests in which members of the public are badly injured if it meant they got Brexit outcome they want, according to a new polls.

Researchers said they were “genuinely shocked” by the findings, which come amid concerns about threats against MPs.


71% of English Leave voters and 58% of Remainers think violence against MPs is now acceptable. They've already had one MP murdered over this, and you'd think that would be a red light. Instead, it seems to have incited public bloodlust. Meanwhile, 69% of Leavers and 59% of Remainers think injuring members of the public is a worthwhile price to pay (it is unclear if they asked the natural followup of "what about a member of your family?")

This is not a sign of a healthy democracy. Instead, it is a sign of own spiralling down into violence and authoritarianism. And no matter which way Brexit goes - and does anybody outside the UK even really care anymore? - the damage to the political system is going to last a long, long time.

New Fisk

The Lebanese uprising won’t change anything while sectarian elites cling to power

Climate Change: You cannot compromise with physics

This morning's media on yesterday's agriculture sellout is a perfect example of the problems of establishment game-focused political journalism. There are various articles praising the political cleverness of Shaw's deal, because it leaves National "stumped" and with nowhere to go, or celebrating compromise for compromise's sake. And meanwhile, in all of that bullshit, the urgency of the situation the policy is supposed to address has been lost.

So let's remind ourselves: the planet is warming like never before. We need to halve emissions by 2030 if we are to have an even chance of staying within the 1.5 degree limit, or cut them by 20% if we are to make the old 2 degree target. And contrary to Judith Collins' uninformed opinion, the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming is disastrous (the 4 degrees we are actually on track for is absolutely catastrophic).

Against this background, saying that agriculture, our biggest polluter, doesn't have to do anything until 2025 is committing to failure. And if we are to meet the emissions reduction targets necessary for human survival, it forces us towards policy paths that are extreme, like an actual cow-cull, rather than being able to reduce cow numbers by efficiency gains through the business cycle. We could afford to piss around like that in 2000, and maybe in 2008 (if we'd actually followed-through, rather than giving them a free ride). But now, we are out of time. You cannot compromise with physics, and anyone who thinks you can is trying to kill us.

So, no matter how many times Shaw and Ardern try to pull this act, when looked at against the policy background, this policy is a bad deal. It is inadequate, it is a failure, and it needs to be replaced as quickly as possible with real action.

The tragedy for the Greens is that, as The Spinoff notes, this is Shaw's deal. He owns it, which means he can't change it. If we want a better deal, we will need a different Minister, and a different Green Party co-leader.