Thursday, February 21, 2019



For a capital gains tax

The Tax Working Group has reported back, and (as expected) recommended taxing capital income. And they make the point that this is fundamentally about fairness:

The Tax Working Group has confirmed its support for a broad-based tax on capital gains, suggesting handing back much of the $8.3 billion it might raise over five years through income tax cuts for almost all workers.

Some have criticised the proposed tax as "envy tax", but working group chairman Sir Michael Cullen said it was wrong that wage-earners were taxed on their full income while "you can earn income from gains on assets and not be taxed at all".


At the moment we have a situation where ordinary New Zealanders are taxed on every dollar they earn, while the rich are not. And that is simply wrong. Income should be treated equally and taxed no matter what the source - and that means taxing capital income. If it has the side effect of removing distortions in our economy - the housing bubble, or farmers farming for capital gains - then that is a bonus, but fundamentally it is about fairness and making the leeches pay their fair share for once.

As for what to do with it, the Working Group recommends recycling the revenue into a broad income tax cut, by raising the lowest threshold. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But we don't just need to shift the tax burden back onto the rich where it belongs - we also need to end the cycle of underinvestment in and by government. Our health and education systems are tottering due to lack of money, and there are countless necessary things the government "can't afford", so we should take this opportunity to reset the size of the state and fund it properly for once. Kiwis expect decent public services. And the government should use the tax system to raise enough revenue to meet that expectation. Doing it by taxing capital income has the advantage that most people will never notice the cost - but we'll all see the benefit.

Their own fault

Another day, another employer whining about "worker shortages". This time, its Wellington's public transport operators, NZ Bus and Transdev:

Six Wellington train services have been scrapped indefinitely, while bus commuters can expect cancellations for at least the next six months as an "unprecedented" driver shortage continues to wreak havoc on the capital's public transport system.

[...]

Many of Tranzdev's drivers had left to join KiwiRail, which paid more and was expanding its operations, [Transdev chief operating officer Mike] Fenton said. It also gave drivers a change from driving electric trains.

Metlink spokeswoman Emily Liddell said Tranzdev expected to lose 12 per cent of its 100-plus drivers this year, up from its average annual turnover of 3.5 per cent.

[...]

Meanwhile, NZ Bus, which has been cancelling up to 30 buses a day in the morning peak in recent days, said it was 20 drivers short and was struggling to attract any applicants at all.


According to a Radio New Zealand report, NZ Bus wants the government to declare a skills shortage, allowing them to bring in foreign drivers. But once again, this "shortage" is a shortage at the price employers want to pay. Transdev pays less than KiwiRail (and less than Australian operators). NZBus lowballed their contract bid and took their profit margin out of their workers' wages - with the result that most of them simply left and those that remained went on strike. So its not really surprising that people no longer want to work for them. As for the solution, it seems obvious: better pay and conditions. But that might mean the operators make lower profits, so its apparently completely off the table, and instead they're asking for a regulatory subsidy.

As for how to force this, both companies now seem to be in breach of their contract, and unwilling to deliver the services they are contracted to provide. GWRC needs to make it clear to them that either they deliver those services or be replaced. They should not tolerate lowball operators destroying public infrastructure with low wages.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019



A vested interest

Why are National squealing so loudly about a capital gains tax? Look at how many houses they own, says Newsroom. Their article details the blatant conflict of interest of most National MPs, who are loaded with hoarded houses and business investments - all of which would be subject to a capital gains tax. So it seems a bit... self-interested of them to be speaking out against it, neh?

Unfortunately, what's obvious to the public is not obvious to Parliament: its Standing Orders define financial interests only in terms of benefits (rather than avoided costs). Further, they explicitly exclude "any interest held by a member or any other person as one of a class of persons who belong to a profession, vocation, or other calling, or who hold public offices or an interest held in common with the public", and do not require interests declared in the Register of Pecuniary Interests to be specifically declared to the House before voting. The net result: Standing Orders think it is fine for MPs to vote to keep taxes on themselves low, despite the fact that they could be benefitting by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from the vote.

There's a word for this: corruption. And our parliament has institutionalised it.

More dirty dairying

Another Waikato farmer has been convicted of dirty dairying:

Nagra Farms Limited and director Naginder Singh received five convictions each from Judge Melanie Harland in the Hamilton District Court on Monday.

The Waikato farming company that supplied Fonterra has been fined $116,000 for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment.

At the time of the offending, in late 2017 and early 2018, the firm owned five Fonterra-supply farms at Gordonton, near Hamilton. Offending was identified on two of the farms by Waikato Regional Council staff inspecting the farm's effluent systems for compliance with environmental regulations, Waikato Regional Council said in a statement.

A farm manager on one of the farms, Nikolai van den Einden, was also convicted for breaches of the Resource Management Act. He was sentenced to 12 months' supervision and ordered to attend a dairy effluent management course.


Two farms out of five failing to handle their shit properly suggests that the farmer simply didn't care about it. Hopefully the fine an convictions will help change their mind, as well as put other farmers on notice to clean their act up.

Climate change: Local governments in denial

Thames is on the front line of climate change. The town already suffers from coastal flooding, and in the event of even modest sea-level rise, half of it will be underwater every spring. And just this week they were in the news for (finally) sticking a flood warning notice on a coastal development they should never have allowed in the first place. So its a bit shocking to see this morning's news that the local council is refusing to sign up to a local government climate change declaration:

A push to get local authorities to sign up to a declaration on climate change is "politically charged and driven", the Thames-Coromandel mayor says.

Fifty-five councils have signed up to the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration. It states there is an urgent need to address the threats of climate change.

It states councils will commit to plans to reduce greenhouse gases, promote walking, public transport, increase resource efficiency, and commit to renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Yesterday members of the public presented to the Thames Coromandel District Council meeting, urging it to sign up to the declaration. It will be voted on by councillors at a later meeting.

However, mayor Sandra Goudie said she did not support it and most other councillors were cautious.


Goudie refuses to give a straight answer on whether she recognises climate change is happening - which sounds like the weaseling of a Denier not wanting to admit it. And meanwhile, the waters keep rising. And no doubt, having stuck her fingers in her ears and refused to do anything, she'll expect the rest of the country to bail her shitty little council out of the problem exacerbated by their own stupidity.

Goudie isn't alone. According to Radio New Zealand, 23 local authorities plus the West Coast Regional Council have refused to sign up to the declaration. And by refusing to act, they are imposing long-term costs on their residents, and potentially on the rest of the New Zealand as well. The good news is that there are local body elections coming up in October. If you want action on climate change, you should vote accordingly.

(The Denier councils are the Far North, Whangarei, Kaipara, Thames-Coromandel, Otorohanga, Taupo, Opotiki, Wairoa, Stratford, South Taranaki, Manawatu, Tararua, Horowhenua, Buller, Westland, Hurunui, Ashburton, Timaru, Mackenzie, Waimate, Waitaki, and Queenstown-Lakes districts, Hamilton City, and the West Coast Regional Council).

Tuesday, February 19, 2019



New Fisk

The West is encouraging a vicious war between Sunnis and Shias — that's the real truth about Iran and Saudi Arabia

They can't take it with them when they go

Simon Bridges, leader of the party of the rich, is spreading the usual scare stories about how taxing capital income will see people leaving New Zealand. Its supposed to suggest that the tax will be ineffective, that people will leave the country to avoid it. Except that most of these assets - investment properties, farms, small businesses - are immobile. So whether they sell up when they move, or keep their assets and remain as foreign absentee landlords, it doesn't matter: the asset is still here and can still be taxed, regardless of who owns it or which foreign country they hide in. They simply can't take it with them when they go. Which is why Bridges and his rich masters are so upset by the idea: finally, they won't be able to hide, and will have to pay their fair share.

As for the idea that an exodus would be some sort of loss to New Zealand, I doubt it. Someone who flees the country to avoid paying their fair share is someone we were better off without. Let Australia have them - they'll fit right in with the corrupt arseholes over the Tasman.

But while a capital gains tax is a great idea, its not enough: we should be going further, and taxing the wealth of the ultrarich directly, as suggested in the US by Elizabeth Warren. The rich have leeched off our government and society for too long. Time to make them pay their way.

"More ambitious"?

Newsroom reports on the OGP IRM report into our last Open Government Partnership Action Plan. They highlight the IRM' assessment of progress as "marginal" and their criticism that the "commitments" were chosen so they "would get completed in that time so they would not be recorded as not completed". And then State Services Minister Chris Hipkins tries to pretend that things have changed:

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins, who absorbed Curran’s open government responsibility, told Newsroom he agreed with Booth about the scope of the “utterly unambitious plan” under the last government, saying the follow-up plan for 2018 to 2020 was more ambitious but there was room to do even more.

“Rather than taking the new plan as being the ultimate end state, I’m going to push hard to go even further and faster.”

[...]

“I don’t think anyone’s taken their foot off the accelerator - in fact, quite the opposite.”


Except when you look at their latest OGP Action Plan - completed last year under Labour - its the same problem: business-as-usual commitments, chosen to ensure completion. Most of the commitments were well underway before the plan began, and many have completion dates within six months of announcement, and some announced their completion shortly afterwards. Which tells you that they were existing work shoved under the OGP brand for "quick wins" (even the very welcome proactive release of cabinet material falls into this category: despite saying work would begin in October 2018, it had actually begun back in February). Meanwhile, ideas which would result in transformative change and a real opening of government - like OIA reform, real protection for whistleblowers, and public registers of company beneficial ownership - have been ignored. So you really have to wonder where the Minister is getting his information from, and whether letting the change-averse SSC filter everything on the topic for him is a good idea.

Monday, February 18, 2019



Unlawful

That's the view of a UK House of Lords committee on the country's arms sales to Saudi Arabia:

The UK is on “the wrong side of the law” by sanctioning arms exports to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen and should suspend some of the export licences, an all-party Lords committee has said.

The report by the international relations select committee says ministers are not making independent checks to see if arms supplied by the UK are being used in breach of the law, but is instead relying on inadequate investigations by the Saudis, its allies in the war.

It describes the humanitarian plight of Yemenis as “unconscionable”.


Or, to put it a little more accurately: the UK is providing the weapons used to commit war crimes in Yemen, and it should stop. The problem is that the British government regards arms sales to war criminals as the country's core business, so they will probably simply ignore this, just as they have ignored blatant corruption in those sales. The solution is to charge the Ministers approving these sales as accessories to the crimes committed, and drag them in chains to The Hague.

Climate change: The threat of methane

More climate change bad news: methane may fry us:

Dramatic rises in atmospheric methane are threatening to derail plans to hold global temperature rises to 2C, scientists have warned.

In a paper published this month by the American Geophysical Union, researchers say sharp rises in levels of methane – which is a powerful greenhouse gas – have strengthened over the past four years. Urgent action is now required to halt further increases in methane in the atmosphere, to avoid triggering enhanced global warming and temperature rises well beyond 2C.

“What we are now witnessing is extremely worrying,” said one of the paper’s lead authors, Professor Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London. “It is particularly alarming because we are still not sure why atmospheric methane levels are rising across the planet.”


...and meanwhile, our government continues to exclude agricultural methane from the ETS, and it is unclear whether they will even include it in climate change targets under the Zero Carbon Bill. But if they fail to do so, then they will effectively condemn us to being fried.

The 1080 referendum question

The Clerk of the House has determined the final form of the question for the proposed citizen's inititated referendum on 1080:

Should New Zealand stop using all cruel and inhumane poisons, such as 1080, brodifacoum, and PAPP, to kill wildlife, because these toxic substances inflict intense and prolonged, unjustifiable suffering on all animals, including native birds, pets, and livestock?

It's a perfect example of the sort of shit, leading questions we get under the CIR Act. Everything from the "because" simply has no place in a referendum question (instead it rightly belongs in campaign material for the referendum's promoters). What's scary is that its actually a better question than the one originally proposed (in that it is at least structurally clear), but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the CIR Act.

The referendum's promoters now have a year to get the approximately 367,000 signatures they need to force a poll. If they manage it, then we might end up having a fourth referendum to vote on at the 2020 election. Personally, though, I won't be signing it.

Friday, February 15, 2019



Why is Labour subsidising bad employers?

The government has declared a seasonal labour shortage for Hawke's Bay, effectively subsidising employers with cheap migrant labour. But why do they have a labour shortage? Perhaps those same employers' attitude to wages have something to do with it...

Fruit may be left on trees and businesses face closure as steep rises in the minimum wage hit labour-intensive industries such as horticulture.

Many exporters were facing higher costs due to employment law changes and the minimum wage lifting to $17.70 an hour on April 1, an increase of $1.20, a survey of 400 exporters by ExportNZ has found.

Businesses with 75 to 120 staff said the minimum wage increase would add an extra $120,000 to $800,000 to wage costs a year.


This "labour shortage" is a shortage of labour at the price employers are willing to pay. The solution is for them to offer better pay and conditions to attract the people they need. Instead, a "Labour" government has given them a regulatory subsidy to stop them from having to increase wages.

Bad employers shouldn't be subsidised. If they can't make a profit when paying decent wages to their workers, they don't deserve to be in business. It is that simple.

Not one hectare more!

Yesterday the government announced that it was ending the farmer's rort of high country tenure review, under which over 350,000 hectares of public land has been corruptly privatised for next to nothing (and then frequently flicked on for 500 times more than farmers paid for it). But while this will protect most of the high country, there are still 30 leases in the process. The Minister has said these will be decided on a "case-by-case basis". But what should this mean?

Simple: it should mean not one hectare more. This is public land, and it should stay public. Unless the government has a binding contract, it should simply walk away from negotiations.

Can they do this? Largely, yes. The Crown Pastoral Land Act allows any tenure review to be discontinued at any time. If things have advanced further in the process, to a preliminary proposal, then that can be ended too - the language is discretionary: the Commissioner of Crown Lands may publicly notify a preliminary proposal, and (after consultation) may make a substantive proposal. It is only when the substantive proposal is accepted by a leaseholder that the language changes to "must" and imposes "an irrevocable authority to and obligation on the Commissioner to take the appropriate actions required".

How many leases are in this situation? According to LINZ's tenure review statistics (last updated in December), 8 properties have accepted substantive proposals (some as far back as 2016). So, we're stuck with those, unless we legislate. As for the rest, 8 preliminary proposals have been advertised for public submissions, 17 are currently being consulted on with leaseholders, and one is being explored. All of those processes can be stopped dead, and they should be. We should not surrender a single hectare more of public land to farmers.

Mad dogs

Last night the police were asked to help a mentally ill person in Hawke's Bay. They were meant to help him. Instead, they killed him:

A man - who police had been trying to locate because of fears for his safety - has been killed after crashing into a truck while fleeing officers in Hawke's Bay.

Police had been trying to find the man most of Thursday after concerns were raised about his welfare.

Police located his vehicle on State Highway 5 at Eskdale at 9.40pm last night, and signalled for him to stop.

He did not and a pursuit was initiated.

"After a short period of time, the vehicle crossed the centre line and collided with an oncoming truck," said Hawke's Bay Acting Area Commander Inspector Jeanette Park.

"The driver of that vehicle — a silver Mitsubishi stationwagon — died at the scene."


Its a perfect example of what is wrong with police pursuit policy. Rather than exercising any judgement - which in this case would have been to back off and try to contact them later - the police behaved like mad dogs in pursuit of a small furry animal. And the results were as predictable as they are tragic: they killed the person they were trying to protect.

The police have to stop killing people. This policy has to change. As for how, The Side Eye shows us the alternative, and it is a lot safer and more humane. The problem is that our police force is not interested in safety or humanity. All they want to do is kill.

Thursday, February 14, 2019



The law means nothing

Disposing of public records without authorisation is a crime. Destroying them to prevent their release under the OIA is an aggravating factor in that crime. But when push comes to shove, it seems that the Chief Archivist isn't actually interested in enforcing the law:

Archives New Zealand has decided not to prosecute the former chairman of RNZ Richard Griffin over a voicemail left on his phone by former government minister Clare Curran a year ago.

Ms Curran called Mr Griffin after it was revealed he and the RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson had misled the committee over the nature of a meeting between the former head of news Carol Hirschfeld and Ms Curran.

In the voicemail, she urged Mr Griffin to write to the committee to correct the record as soon as possible but Mr Griffin took that to mean she would rather he wrote than turned up in person.

He subsequently refused to hand over the voicemail despite formal requests for it.

Chief Archivist Richard Foy said the matter did not meet the threshold for prosecution.


I guess it was all just too hard. But with this decision, the Chief Archivist has sent a clear message to Ministers and officials that its perfectly OK to illegally dispose of or even destroy public records to thwart an OIA request, and that they will face no penalty for doing so - undermining our entire system of transparency. And from the public servant responsible for protecting that system, that is simply unacceptable.

As for Griffin, with this sort of approach to public records and accountability to parliament, he is unfit to ever work in government again.

"The most transparent government ever" - again

Remember when Labour promised to be "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had"? How's that working out?

Like this:

at present, there are 172 written questions that have not received a final reply. Many of the replies were due in December, but one was due in May last year. It appears that written questions are not working as they were supposed to as an accountability mechanism, so I intend to award the Opposition 10 additional supplementary questions each day until the end of this sitting block or until all the questions due last year have received their final replies—whichever comes first. I will review the situation again in the next sitting period.

And if you read down, you'll get to see Labour trying to blame the Speaker for their inability to run their ministerial offices properly.

Ministers playing bullshit games over written questions has been a theme of this government right from the beginning. And they have been repeatedly called up on it by the Speaker. In the process, they make work for themselves and bring parliament and the political process into contempt. But that's what happens when you have a government of childish, petty control-freaks. As for the solution, incentives matter: Ministers play these bullshit games because there is no real personal penalty for doing so. So, instead of pissing about with being read the riot act by the Speaker and additional questions, we should simply make it clear that answering these questions properly is part of their job, and if they don't do it, they won't be paid. Then if they want to engage in bullshit, they can do it on their own dime, without the public giving them a fat salary and a free car. Simple.

The end of tenure review?

High country tenure review is organised corruption, which has seen the privatisation of huge swathes of our country. Hundreds of millions of dollars of public land has been effectively given to farmers for free, and then flicked on for enormous profits. But now, finally, it looks like the process will end:

The Government is about to scrap tenure review.

Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage won’t confirm the move, but Newsroom has been told by multiple sources that the controversial process, dubbed “organised corruption” by opponents, is finished. What’s unclear is how Sage intends to deal with two crucial elements: whether the 40 properties already within the process will be allowed to continue; and what clamps might be placed on the powerful Commissioner of Crown Lands.

Using Sage’s previous comments as a guide, it could be expected that those properties at the “substantive proposal” stage of the process, at least, will go on. That is likely to upset opponents of a massive dairy development at Simons Pass Station, in the Mackenzie Basin.

An official announcement may be made by Sage as early as this weekend. It’s expected to be bundled with promises of tougher management of South Island high country leases. That will include more scrutiny of discretionary consents to farmers and better monitoring of their effects.


Good. But obviously, I'd prefer it if they just stopped it dead and walked away entirely. This is public land, and should be kept in public ownership, and the fact that a previous corrupt government opened negotiations on a corrupt transaction does not give any right for that transaction to continue. As for the long-term, we need to end the pastoral lease rort entirely, and start charging these parasites commercial terms rather than subsidising their environmentally destructive lifestyles. But one step at a time...

Wednesday, February 13, 2019



New Fisk

We’ve seen the west’s approach to Venezuela before – in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, need I go on?

A good question

The government is currently waiting to formally consider and release the advice from its Tax Working Group, which is widely expected to recommend a capital gains tax. But Green co-leader James Shaw has pre-empted it by asking whether they deserve to be re-elected if they don't implement one:

Green Party co-leader James Shaw has pushed out the boat on a capital gains tax (CGT), asking whether the Government "deserves" to be re-elected if it doesn't implement one.

[...]

"The Green Party have long been calling for this fundamental imbalance to be addressed. Every expert group in living memory has agreed with us. But no government has been bold enough to actually do it," Shaw said.

"If we want to reduce the wealth gap, to fix the housing crisis and to build a more productive, high-wage economy, we need to tax income from capital the same way as we tax income from work."

Shaw rubbished discussion of whether such a tax would be politically palatable, saying it was needed.

"The last question we should be asking ourselves is, 'can we be re-elected if we do this?' The only question we should be asking ourselves is, 'do we deserve to be re-elected if we don't?'"


And its a good question. This government was elected on a platform of reducing inequality. Fairly taxing capital income is fundamental to that, and (despite scaremongering from the rich) an increasing proportion of New Zealand society recognises that fact: it is simply not just that the poor are taxed and the rich are not. If Labour fails to fix this, then they simply will not deserve to be re-elected. It is that simple.

Basic humanity in Australia?

Australia's anti-refugee policy is based on cruelty. According to the Australian government, refugees claiming their rights under international law are a "threat", which can only be deterred by imprisoning them without trial forever in concentration camps, neglecting them, allowing them to be sexually abused and tortured by their guards, and denying them basic medical and psychological care until they either die of preventable diseases, or kill themselves. It is a monstrous, vicious, inhumane, criminal policy, for which its architects and implementers should be facing justice in The Hague. But now, there's a tiny crack, with the Australian parliament voting to allow its victims to be transferred to Australia to receive medical treatment:

Australian MPs have passed a landmark bill with an opposition amendment making it easier for sick refugees held offshore to be treated in the country.

This is the first time in decades a government has lost a vote on its own legislation in the lower house.

The move is a blow for Prime Minister Scott Morrison's minority government's highly controversial immigration policy.

[...]

Doctors will now have the power to recommend transfers for refugees on Nauru and Manus to Australia for treatment. However, the immigration minister could ask an independent panel to review the medical assessment, and would have some authority to overrule it.

Previously, doctors had reported that their medical transfer recommendation were ignored by authorities.

Refugee lawyers thus had to apply for court orders to bring ill people to Australia. There were 44 medical transfers achieved through court battles.


The way the Australian government is acting, you would think this was the end of the world. They have such an inflated view of their own country that they seriously think people will sign up to be tortured in a concentration camp for five years simply so they can set foot on Australian soil to receive treatment in a hospital. But what it is is showing some basic humanity which has long been missing from Australian refugee policy. The Australian government wants its victims to die quietly. The Australian parliament has said that that is simply not acceptable, and recognised that they have a duty of care. But while its a step forward, it also invites the basic question: what is so wrong with Australia and its politics that they had to pass this law, rather than behaving in a lawful and humane manner in the first place?

Democracy on trial

Twelve Catalan political leaders went on trial in Madrid today. Their crime? Advocating peacefully for an independent Catalonia and organising a referendum on the issue. The Spanish government calls this "sedition" and "rebellion". But what it really is is democracy. In a democratic state with freedom of expression, people can and should be allowed to advocate for independence. And in a democratic state, when people peacefully demand independence, it is entirely right and proper for them to vote on it. Spain attempted to crush that vote with brute force - and failed. Now they are attempting to crush its advocates. But in a democratic state, democracy should not be a crime. If Spain thinks it is, then it shows that that country is not a democracy, and not a fit member of the civilised world. Democratic countries should condemn this political trial, and demand that Catalans get what they have demanded all along: a free, fair and binding referendum on their independence.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019



Open Government: Marginal

That's the verdict of the Open Government Partnership's Independent Reporting Mechanism on New Zealand's OGP progress for the last two years:

Although this report reflects high commitment completion, change in government practice stood as marginal overall. Notably, the government’s early efforts to improve access to legislation could provide major efficiencies for lawyers and the public. In future action plans, the government could fully reform the Official Information Act and add open government performance to public sector chief executives’ contracts and to the new well-being indicators.

Which is what you expect when the "commitments" are all business-as-usual tinkering round the edges, rather than anything which might actually change things. And with similarly business-as-usual "commitments" (some of which were already completed before they were announced) in the 2018 - 2020 action plan, it looks like we'll have a similar level of thumb-twiddling in future.

The IRM's full report is here.

Climate change: Our future is burning

Like many, I've spent the last week watching the Nelson fire in horrified fascination as the Australian-style spectacle of a huge long-lasting fire threatening an urban area played out. But while it looks like we were lucky this time, the bad news is that climate change means such fires are significantly more likely in future:

Parts of the country with low or moderate fire risk are likely to see dramatic increases in danger as climate change occurs.

[...]

Scion fire scientist Grant Pearce said the organisation, a Crown Research Institute, had studied climate change and its impact on fire risk.

Research in 2011 looked at 21 weather stations across the country and what the projected change in conditions - temperature, humidity, windspeed, and rainfall - would mean for fire danger.

It said drier conditions expected with climate change were "likely to result in significantly greater risk of large and damaging wildfires that threaten life and property, and economic and environmental sustainability. Longer fire seasons, increasing population and associated demographic impacts, changing land use and changes in vegetation cover are expected to exacerbate these risks."


The accompanying risk maps show serious fire risks in parts of the country that have never had them before, which means a real risk of rural firefighters facing something they're not equipped to handle. And it will probably end up costing lives, as it does in Australia. Which is another reason why we need to cut our emissions now: because people are going to burn to death if we don't.

Good riddance

Murray McCully's sordid Saudi sheep bribe is finally over:

The controversial Saudi sheep deal been shut down, which the Government says will save about $1 million.

[...]

But Trade Minister David Parker said the deal has now been axed.

"We're not spending any more money on its installation or delivery," Parker told 1 NEWS.

"We have managed to bring it to an end, saving the last million dollars or so. But I'm afraid the other $10 million that has already been spent has been flushed down the drain by the prior Government."


Good riddance. The sheep deal was dodgy on so many levels - a Minister lied to Cabinet and the New Zealand public, fearmongering over a lawsuit which didn't exist in order to pay a bribe in the hope of influencing a foreign government. That's not how our government is supposed to work, and its not how we're supposed to do business. And it makes me very glad that its architect, Murray McCully, a deceitful micro-managing control-freak, is out of our politics for good.

Friday, February 08, 2019



Climate change: A step in the right direction

Some good news on climate change from Australia: for the first time, a court has refused permission for a new coal mine, explicitly on the basis of climate change:

The controversial Rocky Hill coalmine in the Hunter Valley will not go ahead after a landmark ruling in the land and environment court on Friday that cited the impact it would have had on climate change.

Chief judge Brian Preston dismissed an appeal by Gloucester Resources, which was seeking to overturn a New South Wales government decision to reject an open-cut mine because of its impact on the town of Gloucester, north of Newcastle.

[...]

In his judgment, Preston explicitly cited the project’s potential impact on climate change, writing that an open-cut coalmine in the Gloucester Valley “would be in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

“Wrong place because an open cut coal mine in this scenic and cultural landscape, proximate to many people’s homes and farms, will cause significant planning, amenity, visual and social impacts,” he wrote.

“Wrong time because the GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions. These dire consequences should be avoided. The project should be refused.”


If humanity is to avoid the worst of climate change, we need to stop burning coal, and this decision is exactly what is needed to push Australia down that path. Meanwhile in New Zealand our consent authorities are specifically forbidden to consider the effects of climate change when considering direct discharges of greenhouse gases, which suggests they're even more strongly forbidden from considering the indirect damage caused by extracting fossil fuels. It would be good if the current government changed that.

Thursday, February 07, 2019



Climate Change: Breaching the threshold

Last year the IPCC warned us that the Paris Agreement target of limiting climate change to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels was a line in the sand for our species and that if we miss it, we will face catastrophe. Today, the UK Met Office is warning that we could breach that target for the first time within the next five years:

Global warming could temporarily hit 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the first time between now and 2023, according to a long-term forecast by the Met Office.

Meteorologists said there was a 10% chance of a year in which the average temperature rise exceeds 1.5C, which is the lowest of the two Paris agreement targets set for the end of the century.

Until now, the hottest year on record was 2016, when the planet warmed 1.11C above pre-industrial levels, but the long-term trend is upward.

Man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are adding 0.2C of warming each decade but the incline of temperature charts is jagged due to natural variation: hotter El Niño years zig above the average, while cooler La Ninã years zag below.

In the five-year forecast released on Wednesday, the Met Office highlights the first possibility of a natural El Niño combining with global warming to exceed the 1.5C mark.


The Paris target is a long-term average, so a single year above it doesn't mean disaster. But it would be a foretaste of things to come, and a warning that we need to radically change direction. And if we don't do that, things are going to get pretty unpleasant.

Two-faced criminals

Last year, in a desperate attempt to regain social licence, the fishing industry ran an expensive series of TV ads assuring us that they had nothing to hide. Meanwhile, they were furiously lobbying the Minister to oppose video monitoring of fishing boats:

At the same time as the seafood industry was placing adverts on television last year proclaiming it had "nothing to hide", it was writing to the minister, Stuart Nash, expressing its "overwhelming opposition" to the idea of cameras on board its boats to monitor what they were up to.

The letter, released under the Official Information Act, said its purpose was to "dismiss any suggestion that the 'New Zealand Seafood industry' supports the current proposal".

For the removal of any doubt the words "do not support" were underlined.

Some of the signatories were redacted but amongst those still visible are managers at Talley's, Sealord, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen and Te Ohu Kai Moana, representing Māori fishing interests.

Forest and Bird spokesperson Karen Baird said it was a case of them saying one thing publicly while working towards a quite different outcome behind the scenes.


So I guess they do have something to hide after all. But what could it be? The illegal dumping of less-valuable fish? The criminal doctoring of records to understate catches? Or maybe the failure to report catching and killing endangered species? The problem here is that the fishing industry is pervasively criminal. They need to be treated as such, and monitored and prosecuted until they change their behaviour. Instead, our government - bought and paid for by Talley's - is doing the exact opposite.

6,000 employed under Labour

The labour market statistics have been released, showing that unemployment has risen to 4.3%. All up there are 120,000 unemployed - only 6,000 fewer than when the government took office. But buried in that there's worse news: underemployment is up, from 11.8% in 2017 to 12.1% today. Which insofar as it reflects people who want jobs being unable to get them, is bad news, especially for a Labour-led government.

The government needs to turn this around. Reducing unemployment is their key deliverable. And if they don't deliver on it, then people will rightly ask what the point of them is.

A constitution party?

New Zealand has a new political party - the New Zealand Constitution Party. Unfortunately, it seems like their reasons for wanting a codified constitution are a little dubious:

Warren established his political party - the New Zealand Constitution Party - on Waitangi Day.

He said New Zealand's rapid population increase is one reason it should be taken seriously.

"In the next 10 years, our population will double. In 10-20 years, it will quadruple and there is no way we can have a constitution that will serve the people when there are so many voices demanding minority rights," Warren said.

"In 179 years, for example, New Zealand has never adopted the Treaty of Waitangi. We can't agree on that. We are going to have difficulty agreeing on any other constitutional issue."


Which sounds an awful lot like "we need to nail down a constitution now and make it difficult to amend to stop those filthy foreigners from having a say". But there's worse - from their press release (so far only on YourNZ), they're also pushing "family values", oppose immigration, and have a purpose of "strengthen[ing] NZ's constitutional monarchy". So basicly monarchist bigots then. Which sounds like a party to stay away from.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019



Getting what they paid for

A political party makes strong promises to regulate a destructive industry and prevent it from engaging in widespread criminal behaviour. They are elected to government. But their coalition partner includes an MP who was paid $10,000 by that industry. That MP argues from within government against regulation, and successfully prevents the government from enacting meaningful reform.

If this happened in Africa, or the Pacific Islands, we'd call it what it is: corruption. But it has happened here. The industry is the fishing industry. And the MP is Shane Jones, who took $10,000 from Talleys in 2017 in addition to large donations in the past, and has claimed responsibility for preventing any independent review of the fisheries industry. The government has recently shitcanned plans to use video cameras on fishing boats, and announced plans to lower criminal penalties when fishers break the law - and there is a suspicion that Jones is behind both of these moves too. So it looks like Talleys is very definitely getting what they paid for.

So how do we stop this? Fundamentally, we need to remove the ability of corporations to buy favourable treatment with large political donations. And that means moving to publicly funded political parties. Its either that, or allowing corruption to continue unchecked.

Climate change: Now panic and freak out

A couple of years ago David Wallace-Wells published a piece in New York magazine called "The Uninhabitable Earth" on the impacts of climate change. Its about to become a book, and the Guardian has an excerpt. Which is as terrifying as you'd expect. The consequences of even the best-case scenario (2 degrees) are hugely disruptive. The consequences of the worse - and more likely, if we keep going the way we're going - scenarios are are even worse. Drought, famine, disease, and war are all coming, and the costs and disruption from this are going to be enormous. And as Wallace-Wells says in the accompanying interview, we should be freaking out over this - and acting on that fear:

The short answer is yes [we should freak out]. We should not sit back and feel complacent that the world beyond us will figure this out without political pressure. We cannot continue on the path we are on and believe our future will be secure and stable. We need to dramatically change our climate policy globally. That was the very clear message of the UN report. You are right that, in a certain way, it was written soberly, but it is also the case that it was saying we need mobilisation on the scale that we saw in the second world war in Europe and the US – and that is not a keep-calm message. It is saying we have to light the fuse and get going.

...to go back to the second world war analogy, we did not mobilise in that way because we were optimistic about the future. We mobilised in that way out of fear, because we thought nazism was an existential threat. And climate change is obviously an existential threat and it is naive to imagine we could respond to it without some people being scared.


"Mobilising" requires concerted government action. Which means the most important thing you can do is vote: vote for parties which take the problem seriously. Don't vote for parties which peddle bullshit and pretend life can go on unchanged. There is a huge range of outcomes between the best and worst scenarios, between hugely disruptive and uncomfortable, and absolutely apocalyptic. Our votes will determine where we end up. They'll also determine who pays: the poor, with their lives, or the rich, by giving up their excessive, polluting lifestyle. And on that front, there's really only one moral choice.

And if you want to actually apply some direct pressure, you might want to look at Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa.

Monday, February 04, 2019



OIA advice

Do you use the Official Information Act/ Following a discussion on Twitter on Friday, Mark Hanna of Honest Universe has started a public document of OIA advice. Its open to anyone for suggestions, so if you think there's anything missing, you can add to it.

New Fisk

As the UN jabs nervously at the truth about Khashoggi, remember how often journalists’ deaths are brushed aside

Chapple and Anderson on electoral donations

Newsroom has a piece by VUW's Dr Simon Chapple and Thomas Anderson on reform of electoral donation laws, in which they argue for greater consistency and transparency. Donations to local government candidates are handled under a different and laxer regime to those to parties and candidates in general elections, and this seems odd and in need of fixing. But there's also a call for disclosure thresholds to be much lower, and for them to be the same for candidate and party donations:

there seems to be no reasonable justification for the Electoral Act setting different and arbitrary public anonymity thresholds for donations to candidates (which can be made anonymously below $1500) and for party donations (which can be made anonymously below $15,000 – ten times more than for candidates). Why is privacy in terms of party donations more highly valued than for candidate donations? In both cases, one has information on a person’s possible vote, arguably an equal privacy violation. The sensible thing would be to set the same anonymity dollar threshold for both candidates and parties.

In addition, donations can be made by organisations – businesses, NGOs, unions, etc – who cannot vote and hence have no voting privacy to violate. There is no reason in such cases not to publicly disclose even the smallest donations.


And they're completely right on this. There's no sensible reason why a donation to a candidate should have to be declared, while an identical donation to a party gets to remain anonymous. In both cases, the donor is trying to buy influence, and the public deserves to know about it. Of course, we all know the real reason: because our political parties write the law to suit themselves and their donors.

Sucking us dryer

Cloud Ocean Water is sucking water out of Christchurch's aquifers for export, without paying a cent for it. Their existing water consents already pose a long-term threat to Christchurch's water supply. And now they're planning to take even more:

Cloud Ocean Water has bought land for a second bottling plant across the road from a factory it is developing on the site of a former wool scour.

The China-owned company could be eyeing up billions more litres of water from beneath Christchurch to bottle and sell overseas as part of a major expansion of its operations in Belfast.

At least eight bores with permission to take drinking water are on or next to the new site.

If it gains consent to use them, it could have access to another 7.5 billion litres of the city's water – five times what it can already take – for export each year.


If the consents are granted, Cloud Ocean will be using one eighth of all Christchurch's water - for free. And they'll be getting $9 billion a year retail for it. If you need an argument for pricing water, then that's it right there.

But more importantly, the greed of foreign water bottlers should not come before the needs of Christchurch's residents. The people of Christchurch should not have to go thirsty or face water restrictions because their water is being stolen for export. It is that simple.

Friday, February 01, 2019



Appalling

Parliament is a toxic hellhole of a workplace, for MPs and staff alike. But its especially a toxic workplace for women MPs. And the perpetrators are often their fellow MPs:

A damning new survey from inside Parliament shows more than half of women MPs have been the targets of sexism and harassment while doing their jobs – much of it from other MPs.

Fifty-three per cent of the MPs who took part in the study said they had suffered "psychological violence" during their term in office.

The vast majority – 86 per cent – either did not know who to go to for help or decided to simply put up with the abuse.

In two cases, the MPs said sexist behaviour had convinced them not to seek re-election.

The report, released to Stuff by a cross-party group of women MPs, told of inappropriate touching at public meetings, death and rape threats from constituents, and sexist and humiliating comments in work environments, including Select Committee meetings.

Other MPs were commonly the perpetrators of sexist remarks, which were collated under the heading of "psychological violence". This was defined in the survey as "remarks, gestures and images of a sexist or humiliating sexual nature made against you and threats and/or mobbing".


There should be no place in our Parliament for this behaviour. All MPs deserve a safe workplace which is free of harassment and abuse. It is the duty of both the Speaker and their parties to provide it. Sharp, pointy questions need to be asked of both why they are not, and why they continue to tolerate abusive arseholes in their parties, rather than publicly naming and shaming them under parliamentary privilege and kicking them out on their arses. But part of the problem seems to be that party infrastructures are deeply sexist and hostile to women - so much so that some MPs refused to fill out the survey for fear of demotion or deselection.

The fact that women are leaving Parliament because of this abuse tells us that it is a problem for our democracy. We want a Parliament that looks like New Zealand, which represents everyone. That's not going to happen when its full of sexist arseholes who make it a hostile environment for others. The only way of fixing it is for those arseholes to be forced out and replaced by better people. Any party which doesn't say straight up what they're doing to do that simply is not worthy of your vote.

Thursday, January 31, 2019



Will NZ join the EITI now?

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is an international organisation to promote transparency and reduce corruption around mining. In the past, the New Zealand government has been reluctant to join, seeing no value in membership other than the possibility of silencing critics. But the organisation has just nominated former Prime Minister (and UNDP head) Helen Clark as its chair. Which raises the obvious question: will New Zealand be joining now? Has MBIE even bothered to look at it since 2014?

Farmers should not be allowed to poison people

Poisoning people is a crime. If I poisoned someone's drinking water supply, and they got sick or died, I would be going to jail. But the law is apparently different for North Canterbury farmers. Down there, they are being allowed to knowingly poison people's drinking water supplies with nitrate, which poses a risk of death for babies and a long-term risk of bowel cancer for adults. Why? Because they would lose money of they had to stop:

A large North Canterbury irrigation scheme is being allowed to exceed recommended levels of nitrate in the water, potentially for years.

That's despite the known risk that it could cause blue baby syndrome.

The Amuri Irrigation Company's (AIC) scheme covers about 28,000 hectares in Hurunui and Waiau and mainly irrigates pasture.

The regional council is letting the scheme have excessive nitrate levels because Amuri is transitioning into a more efficient irrigation system.

But health officials and environmental advocates argue that's not good enough.


All they have to do is monitor people's wells, and warn them if they turn out to be poisoning them. And that's simply not good enough. The economic interests of farmers should not trump the health and safety of their neighbours and the general public. As for ECan, which allowed this consent, its another example of how National's dictatorship and subsequent rural gerrymander has endangered people's lives as well as the environment - and why they need to be voted out on their arses in October.

Climate Change: The cost of inaction

Stuff reports that local authorities want the government to pay billions of dollars to replace infrastructure threatened by climate change:

Local councils are facing a $5-8 billion bill to replace vital infrastructure lost to climate change in the next half-century - and they want a national war chest to pay for it.

For the first time, environment and engineering researchers have calculated the cost of replacing pipes, roads and buildings destroyed by sea-level rise.

The data is included in a new Local Government New Zealand report which spells out a dire warning about the country's ability to fund repairs. The organisation is now calling on the Government to create a national climate change adaptation fund to help meet the costs.


$8 billion is over 5% of GDP, and it is literally the cost of doing nothing. We will have to pay it because past governments have dragged their feet on climate change and climate change adaptation - not just allowing our emissions to increase and our planet to warm and the oceans to rise, but also refusing to set limits on coastal development. Meaning that stuff got built in places it shouldn't have, and is now threatened and will need to be rebuilt elsewhere, all because of government inaction.

But hey, at least farmers don't have to pay for their polluting cows, right?

Making work for themselves

Speaking of the Minister of Justice, I've been trawling through his answers to parliamentary written questions (in the hope that some useful opposition Minister might have asked a basic question about briefings received which might suggest documents worth investigating), and noticed a series of questions from Gerry Brownlee seeking information about how the Minister's OIA requests are tracked as well as basic timeliness statistics. Its the usual story of unhelpful, bullshit "answers", but he eventually admits he uses "a spreadsheet" and then a database with "several thousand fields" which must be kept secret to protect the Minister and requesters from malignant hackers (hint: you can request this spreadsheet, and I've done so in the past). But despite all this record-keeping, the Minister is apparently unable to answer basic questions about timeliness, including average and maximum response times, or even how many requests are answered within statutory timeframes (all of which should be standardised reports or functions in any well-designed system). Meanwhile, his associate Minister, who presumably uses the same system, is able to provide at least some of this data (though is still incapable or unwilling to work out the average of 26 numbers).

(Poking around, Brownlee seems to have asked the same series of ten questions seeking basic OIA data to every Minister and associate Minister. Basic OIA data which agencies are required to publish, but Ministers are not).

The government complains regularly about the opposition "flooding" them with written questions. But here, an opposition MP was forced to send twenty-one questions seeking information which, thanks to government obfuscation and denial, could have been answered in one or two, and which arguably should have been proactively published anyway. Its a perfect example of how Ministers make work for themselves by obsessively playing bullshit games over secrecy. And our ability to hold them accountable suffers as a result.

As for what to do about it, the broad answer is for Ministers to grow the fuck up and be transparent. But on the specific issue, they have decided to hold agencies accountable for their OIA performance by requiring them to publish statistics, and they should hold themselves to the same standard. As for how to do it, its surely not beyond the wit of Ministerial Services to have a standardised application or spreadsheet format with inbuilt reports for Ministerial staff to use. But that would require Ministers committed to opennness and accountability, rather than wasting everyone's time playing bullshit political games simply to frustrate the opposition and the public.

The government's secret OIA plans II

You may recall that back in September we learned that the government was secretly planning to review the OIA, planning to consult a hand-picked, secret group of lawyers, bloggers and commentators in a "targeted consultation" on quasi-constitutional legislation. The details of who they plan to consult and when are of course secret (whether they should be released or not is currently before the Ombudsman). But thanks to Justice Minister Andrew Little being forced to reconsider his OIA decisions, now at least we know what the options are.

The details are in this table, which was redacted (along with various mentions of the number of options under consideration) from Little's previous release. It shows us that Little was advised both of the public feedback on the 2016-2018 Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, and on the views of academics, commentators and OIA experts, both of which supported extension of the OIA to Parliament, the establishment of a specialist Information Authority, and legislative support for proactive release. As for the options under consideration, they are:

  • A full public review of official information legislation (which could target areas that would benefit from further public engagement, such as the establishment of an Information Commissioner);
  • Reconsidering the Law Commission's 2012 recommendations;
  • "targeted reforms" to address specific Law Commission recommendations (AKA cherry-picking the ones the government likes, while ignoring the rest); and
  • Legislative amendments to support proactive release (which assumedly includes the push to extend s48 to grant immunity to Ministers and officials who abuse their control of official information to dox their political enemies).
what the officials actually think of these options is withheld as "confidential", but based on the focus on targeted engagement, it seems they are pursuing one of the middle two. And again, this is all being done in secret. Which, when you consider that this is our primary transparency legislation, is simply obscene. If the government doesn't want to talk about major reforms, it can simply say so. But if it is going to make changes to quasi-constitutional legislation which affects our ability to participate in government and hold them to account, it must do so openly and in public, rather than using stovepiped insiders to present us with a fait accompli.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019



Time for Aotearoa-New Zealand

NewsHub reports that there is a petition before Parliament for a referendum on adding Aotearoa to our country's official name:

A Kiwi man has launched a petition to add Aotearoa to our country's official name.

If accepted, it would require Parliament to pass legislation requiring a referendum on whether the official name of New Zealand should change to include the Māori name.

"Official documents of national identity, birth and citizenship certificates, passports and money-notes have Aotearoa and New Zealand together as the names of the country," Danny Tahau Jobe's petition states.

"Only 'New Zealand' has official status. Both names together will officially confirm/enhance nationhood and uniqueness in the world."


I've supported the idea of a national name change for a long time: our national identity has changed since the days of Muldoon (let alone the days of Holyoake), and referring to NZ as Aotearoa is second nature to many New Zealanders. Formally changing our name would be a positive expression of our new national identity and a recognition of this place's unique Maori heritage. As for the process, a national name change requires legislation (as noted in the select committee report the last time this came before the House), and a referendum is the appropriate way to decide such issues. I urge people to sign the petition.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019



New Fisk

Why American figures like Michelle Alexander are breaking their silence on Israel

Getting the problem backwards

So, former Green MP Kennedy Graham (who viciously betrayed Metiria Turei last election) is backing National's astroturf "Blue Green" party idea. How unsurprising. And he cites the usual reason of the need for an environmental party to work with both sides of the house:

He said to have sustainability built into the Parliament in the long term, an environmentally focused party would - unlike the Green Party - need to work with both sides.

"It can work, obviously, with the left and right - and should, and will have to."

"If you listen to Vernon Tava - and I support this - you have government and you have opposition and if a political party says it's only going to work with one side of that house, then you're not going to get a long-term binding genuine consensus.

"That is required in any country - including New Zealand - for effective long-term or even medium term sustainability: You need environmental philosophy to be placed in the centre and to be working with both left and right."


But this gets things exactly backwards. The problem isn't that the Greens won't work with National - they have done so in the past and have signalled their willingness to do so again. The problem is that National won't work with the Greens. On environmental fundamentals - climate change, rivers, mining - National is utterly opposed to sustainability and Green policy. And that will be the same whether that policy comes from the existing Green Party, or some imaginary "centrist" vehicle.

Until National changes and really accepts sustainability, no green party worthy of the name can support them as a government. And anyone who tells you differently is either a fool, or trying to sell you something.

Climate Change: (Local) government in denial

Just when you thought the reality of climate change was settled in New Zealand, the West Coast Regional Council reminds you that some people are not interested in facts:

The West Coast Regional Council wants more scientific evidence to prove human-driven climate change is happening before it will commit to reducing emissions.

The council does not support the government's Zero Carbon Bill and is the only regional council in the country to reject it.

In its submission, the council said if West Coasters were to commit to emissions targets, "the evidence proving anthropogenic climate change must be presented and proven beyond reasonable doubt".


I guess the West Coast really is a decade behind the rest of New Zealand.

Its easy to understand why they've taken this position: the West Coast's economy is based on coal mining, dairy farming and forestry - all things we need to stop doing if we are to stop climate change. Its a perfect example of Upton Sinclair's comment that "it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it". But meanwhile, while the coal miners and dairy farmers on the council cover their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears and deny reality, Granity keeps washing away and the tropical cyclones keep coming and the costs keep mounting. And the council keeps sticking its hand out for money to clean up these messes rather than taking basic steps to minimise the risk.

As for what to do about it, that's up to West Coasters. There are local government elections later this year, and West Coasters can decide whether they want to be represented by climate change deniers or not. But if they decide they do, then they shouldn't expect a lot of sympathy from the rest of New Zealand next time the climate bites them.

Monday, January 28, 2019



Fooling no-one

Fresh water is one of our biggest environmental challenges, and over 80% of us want to see the government take stronger action to protect our waterways and ensure we can all swim in our lakes and rivers. So what do National's proposed astroturf "BlueGreens" think about it? Predictably, they're backing polluters:

A rejected Green Party leadership hopeful planning to form a rival environmental party says New Zealand might not need stricter rules on protecting its waterways.

Vernon Tava, who unsuccessfully ran for the party's co-leadership in 2015, is in talks to set up a "centrist" green party that - unlike the present Green Party - could work with National.

[...]

"We've got a lot of rules… the councils' policies, the regional plans, the district plans, RMA requirements, national policy standards, national environmental standards that are tough, but they're not enforced.

"A big part of our problem in New Zealand is actually not the rules themselves, it's the lack of enforcement."


Tava is wrong. Yes, enforcement is a problem, but fundamentally the problem is that the limits in place are inadequate to begin with. We have too many farmers sucking our rivers dry, and too many cows shitting in them, all perfectly legally. If we want to protect our waterways and make them swimmable, then we need to tighten those limits, reclaim that water for the rivers, and cut the number of cows. But I guess someone angling to be astroturf cover for a party which is the biggest support of the polluting dairy industry just can't advocate for something like that. So why would anyone who wants to protect rivers vote for him? And is he really stupid enough to think he's fooling anyone?

Climate Change: The Winston problem

When Labour became government, they promised to have a Zero Carbon Bill introduced to Parliament by October 2018. But despite a round of public consultation attracting 15,000 submissions, that hasn't happened yet. Why not? Because of NZ First:

NZ First is slowing progress on the Government's proposed climate change legislation, leading to a missed deadline for an announcement.

A source close to the situation told Stuff the party has been more intransigent on the issue than the National Party, which Climate Change Minister James Shaw is working with separately to make sure his Zero Carbon Act gets some level of bipartisan support.

An announcement on the policy was planned for before the end of 2018, but no announcement or draft bill has been forthcoming, despite the Ministry for the Environment planning to have the bill in Select Committee by February, according to its website.


The core problem is that NZ First's MPs are mostly climate deniers, or at the very least foot-draggers, who don't want to "disadvantage" agriculture by making it responsible for the mess it makes. So, the same old story of destroying the planet for profit and for the comfort of those unwilling to change. Meanwhile, in a taste of things to come, we have a killer heat-wave hitting the country, which will not be good for either agriculture (who tend to go bankrupt in droughts) or NZ First's mostly elderly supporters (who die much more easily in heat waves). And as the climate warms, we're going to see more of these, which means more droughts, and more dead old people. But I guess NZ First doesn't really care about that.

Post-Brexit tyranny

Brexit is just 60 days away, and it now looks like it is going to result in an instant tyranny, with the British government planning to declare martial law to deal with "civil disobediance":

Brexit planners are examining the possibility of martial law in Britain in the event of a "no-deal" Brexit, it has emerged.

Whitehall officials are looking at how to use powers available under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to stop civil disobedience after the UK leaves the EU.

According to a report in The Sunday Times, the legislation gives ministers the power to impose curfews, travel bans, confiscate property and deploy the armed forces.

A source told the newspaper: "The over-riding theme in all the no-deal planning is civil disobedience and the fear that it will lead to death in the event of food and medical shortages."

Even more worringly, the same military the government plans to use against the people is stockpiling ammunition - something militaries only do if they're planning to actually start shooting people.

All of which should be worrying for a supposedly democratic country like the UK. Democracies don't declare martial law to deal with civil disobedience - tyrannies do. But I guess its clear now which category the UK government sees itself as belonging to.

An astroturf party?

National has no friends, leaving them with an obvious problem in the MMP coalition game next election. Their solution? To simply create one:

Talk of a new centrist green political party which could potentially partner with National in a future government coalition is starting to become more than just speculation.

It is understood preliminary discussions among interested parties have already been held on creating a party that combines economic and environmental credentials, filling a demand not already taken up by existing political parties.

It is also understood former Green Party leadership contender and one-time National candidate hopeful Vernon Tava is the front-runner to lead the party.

One political commentator said financial backing would not be an issue because the business sector would support the formation of such a party.


The problem: if they do, then its a clear signal that the party isn't really green. Because National's policies of supporting the dairy, oil and trucking industries, sucking the rivers dry, and dragging their feet on climate change in the name of "balance" with economic growth are inherently anti-environment, and any environmentally-minded voter can see that. Which makes their "BlueGreen" astroturf idea laughable - the only people it convinces are people who don't understand environmental issues at all. But like Colin Craig, Kim Dotcom and Gareth Morgan, they probably think they can simply throw money at the problem and buy the votes they need, with a fallback of hoping to buy enough votes away from the actual Green Party to drive them out of Parliament - a deeply undemocratic goal. But unlike National, I think environmentally-minded voters are smart enough not to fall for it.

Friday, January 25, 2019



Progress in Angola

Angola has decriminalised homosexuality and passed an anti-discrimination law:

Angola's parliament has decriminalised homosexuality, removing a notorious "vices against nature" provision in its penal code and banning discrimination against sexual orientation, in a reform hailed by rights watchdogs.

On Wednesday, 155 parliamentarians voted for Angola's first overhaul of the criminal statute books since independence, while seven abstained and one voted against.


The "vices against nature" law was a Portuguese colonial relic which apparently had never been used. Still, its good to have it off the books. Their anti-discrimination law OTOH makes discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation a criminal offence punishable by up to two years imprisonment. I'm not sure if that's the right approach, but it definitely puts the shoe on the other foot.

Hoist by her own petard

Sarah Dowie is a National MP. Back in 2015, she voted for National's Harmful Digital Communications Act, an overly-broad law which criminalised exposing corrupt politicians on the internet. Now, she's being investigated for possible prosecution under that law:

Police are investigating a text message, allegedly sent from the phone of National Party MP Sarah Dowie, to her former colleague and ex lover Jami-Lee Ross.

The police investigation is said to focus on whether the text message - which came after the break-up of their extra-marital relationship - constituted an incitement to self-harm, which is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Ross, 33, has previously named Invercargill MP Dowie, 43, as one of the women with whom he had an extra-marital relationship while National MP for Botany.

The text message included the words: "You deserve to die."


Which seems like a pretty clear-cut violation of s179(2) Crimes Act, which the HDCA amended in one of the few non-controversial parts of the law. But it may simply be causing harm by posting digital communication.

A lot depends on what exactly the police decide to charge her with. Because the "inciting suicide" offence carries a maximum penalty of three years, meaning that if Dowie is convicted, she would automatically lose her seat in Parliament. And if the Police don't charge her with that, its going to look like another case of them going soft on politicians, just as they have done in the past.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering: in this post, I've advocated that an MP be prosecuted for their apparent criminal activity, and should face the legal consequences of their actions if convicted. Which is the sort of thing which would cause anguish, anxiety, or feelings of insecurity to an ordinary reasonable person in their position. And I want it to cause that harm: I am relishing the irony of Dowie having voted for the law she may be convicted under, and I want MPs to think about that when voting for such laws in the future. But by doing so, have I committed a crime? If so, I think it would prove the point perfectly: that while cyber-bullying is a serious problem, this over-broad law goes too far in trying to prevent it.

That's the way to do it

For too long US politics has been in the hands of plutocrats and their servants, resulting in ever-declining tax-rates, soaring inequality, and a government incapable of meeting its citizens expectations. Now, US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has proposed a solution: a direct wealth tax:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will propose a new annual “wealth tax” on Americans with more than $50 million in assets, according to an economist advising her on the plan, as Democratic leaders vie for increasingly aggressive solutions to the nation’s soaring wealth inequality.

Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, two left-leaning economists at the University of California, Berkeley, have been advising Warren on a proposal to levy a 2 percent wealth tax on Americans with assets above $50 million, as well as a 3 percent wealth tax on those who have more than $1 billion, according to Saez.

The wealth tax would raise $2.75 trillion over a ten-year period from about 75,000 families, or less than 0.1 percent of U.S. households, Saez said.


And to prevent avoidance, there will also be a one-off wealth tax on those worth more than $50 million who renounce their US citizenship.

Of course, there's an election to win first. But there mere fact that Warren is suggesting this will help shift the political conversation and help focus it on ways to properly control the ultra-rich. And that, as the right has taught us, is how you win politics in the long term.

And of course, it inspires people outside the US as well. Because it raises an obvious question: why aren't we doing this here (with appropriately lower thresholds)? It seems like an excellent way to reduce inequality and re-fund government.

Thursday, January 24, 2019



Australia's sham anti-corruption body

Before christmas I was pleased to hear that the Australian government was planning to establish a federal anti-corruption commission. But it turns out that it was all a sham:

A former judge of Victoria’s highest court has attacked the Coalition’s proposal for an anti-corruption body, describing it as a sham designed to shield politicians and public servants from scrutiny.

Stephen Charles, a retired Victorian court of appeal judge, said there was simply “no justification” for the Coalition’s proposal to limit the commission’s powers when investigating the public sector. He said the proposal to not allow public hearings for public-sector cases – as opposed to investigations of law enforcement – made no sense. Nor did the proposed body’s narrow remit, the high burdens of proof needed to initiate an investigation, its inability to take public tip-offs and its lack of resources.

“We see this body, the [Commonwealth Integrity Commission], insofar as public servants and parliamentarians are concerned, as a sham,” he told Guardian Australia. “It’s not really an anti-corruption commission at all.

“It’s a body set up to shield parliamentarians and public servants.


Why would politicians want to set up a body designed to shield themselves from prosecution? I think the answer to that is pretty obvious, isn't it. The real question is why Australian voters tolerate a nakedly corrupt political establishment, rather than throwing them out on their arses.

Banning foreign donations

So, afte rewriting electoral law to reduce transparency over party funding, National's Nick Smith suddenly wants to ban foreign donations to prevent "foreign interference". It's pretty much a no-brainer, but what would it actually entail? At the moment, the law prohibits foreign donations above $1,500, but there are two obvious ways around it: making multiple "anonymous" donations below the $1,500 threshold, and using a New Zealand-based corporate shell to launder the donation. The first is easily fixed: reduce the threshold to a nominal level, and align it with the party and candidate disclosure thresholds, so that every non-trivial donation is publicly declared and subject to scrutiny. The latter would require effectively banning some or all corporate donations. There's a strong argument that the right to donate should be limited to natural persons - eligible voters - but people should also be able to do collectively what they are entitled to do individually, which suggests there should be some exemption for democratic, membership-based organisations such as incorporated societies and unions. while that is also potentially open to abuse, it seems a lot less so than at present, when anyone can set up a New Zealand company and use it to launder donations to whoever they wish.

Who'd have thunk it?

So, it turns out that the New Zealand Taxpayer's Union are simply a paid front for the cancer industry:

A right-wing lobbying group which has railed against cigarette tax increases and plain packaging laws in New Zealand counts a tobacco giant among its corporate funders.

The NZ Taxpayers’ Union has not disclosed its financial support from tobacco companies in its reports or press releases, with one public health academic calling on it to be more transparent about its donors.

The Guardian identified the relationship between the Taxpayers’ Union and British American Tobacco as part of its series on “the huge damage of the tobacco epidemic ... and the industry behind it”.

In an investigation into the ties between “free-market thinktanks” and the tobacco industry, the Taxpayers’ Union was identified as being supported by multinational firm British American Tobacco.

A British American Tobacco spokesman told Newsroom the company had been financially supporting the Taxpayers’ Union for three years, paying “a standard annual corporate membership fee”.

This is a basic conflict of interest, which could have been resolved by simply saying where their money was coming from. But that would have defeated the purpose: what British American Tobacco is paying for is "independence", the illusion that people who aren't paid by them advocate for their interests. And of course if they'd said "we take money from the cancer industry" on the bottom of a piece defending that industry's interests, everyone would have dismissed it for the hackery it is.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering: now that they've been exposed as intellectual mercenaries, will the New Zealand media continue to print the Taxpayer's Onion's PR? It will be an important test of whether they have even basic journalistic standards.