Wednesday, June 19, 2019

New Fisk

Egyptian democracy died yesterday in a prison cage alongside Morsi

Good riddance

Another major oil company has given up exploring in New Zealand:

Chevron and Norwegian oil giant Equinor have opted to abandon their joint exploration efforts off the east coast of the North Island.

The two firms have applied to surrender three permits they were granted in December 2014. The acreage covers more than 25,000 square-kilometres of ocean – roughly a quarter of the country's active exploration portfolio – and stretches from south-east of Turakirae Head on the southern Wairarapa coast, north towards Hawke's Bay.

The permits were granted for 15-year terms. Chevron said the decision not to proceed with the next five-year stage of their work programmes was based on the firms' broader portfolio considerations and not "policy or regulatory concerns."

"Broader portfolio considerations" being polluter for "its more profitable to explore for oil elsewhere'. At the same time, this is exactly the result we want from the ban: the withdrawl of the oil industry from New Zealand, and the slow expiry or surrender of its permits.

The area covered by the three permits can be seen in the map below (modied from NZPAM's permit maps):

The one remaining permit on the East coast of the North Island is owned by OMV - the only foreign climate criminal still exploring for oil in New Zealand. They've just sent a massive oil rig to New Zealand to drill in their other permits (including off the South Island). If you'd like to tell them to fuck off, you can do so here.

(The next permits to watch are 38602, which expires at the end of July, and 38479, which expires in September. They're both small, but every bit helps, and their expiry will put more ocean off-limits to the oil industry).

An invitation to corruption

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hired a lobbyist to set up her government in 2017, she assured us that everything was above board and any conflicts of interest would be managed. She lied:

The lobbyist who served as the prime minister’s closest adviser during the early days of the coalition government appears to have failed to comply with commitments he made to disclose conflicts of interest on an ongoing basis, according to documents released to The Spinoff under the Official Information Act.


The prime minister recently told parliament that the potential conflicts of interests were managed because Thompson was subject to codes of conduct and signed a declaration about conflicts of interest.

But documents show Thompson’s initial disclosure to Ministerial Services didn’t identify the firm’s clients and suggest that Thompson failed to comply with the undertakings he had made in the declaration to keep Ministerial Services informed on an ongoing basis about potential conflicts of interest, raising questions about a breach of government rules around conduct in the public service.

Effectively Ardern and Ministerial Services left it entirely up to Thompson to identify any problems, and he didn't. Which simply isn't good enough. With the integrity of our government and political system on the line, I'd expect something a little more proactive - like forcing him to identify his clients, and then firewalling him from anything to do with anything they might be interested in (such as appointments to agencies they lobby). While there's no evidence he behaved corruptly in the role (because we don't know who his clients were), ignorance isn't a good enough standard. Our government must not only be honest - it must be seen to be so. And Thompson's appointment and behaviour simply fails that test.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Climate Change: Ireland will ban fossil fuelled cars

If humanity is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid making the Earth uninhabitable, we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Transport is a key emitter, so this means we need to stop using fossil fuelled vehicles. A number of countries have already committed to do this, and Ireland has become the latest:

The Irish government plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, as part of a major new strategy to protect the environment.

The aim is to ensure that all new cars and vans on Irish roads in 11 years' time are electric vehicles.


The hope is that by the time the petrol and diesel vehicle ban is introduced in 2030 there will be 950,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads.

The government is set to invest in a "nationwide" charging network to power the new vehicles.

At least one recharging point will be required at new non-residential buildings with more than 10 parking spaces by 2025.

Banning new imports is only the start - you also need to get legacy vehicles off the roads. Ireland plans to no longer issue registrations for fossil fuelled vehicles from 2045 - a window which gives plenty of time to make the switch. The question is whether it is fast enough, but its a plan, which can be sped up as required.

So, what's New Zealand's plan? Oh yes - let the market sort it out. Heckuva job the government is doing there.

The whitewash becomes a farce

The government's Operation Burnham whitewash has become a farce, with the SAS's victims refusing to participate any further:

Afghani villagers are turning their backs on a Government inquiry into allegations six civilians were killed and a further 15 injured in a botched New Zealand SAS raid.

Human rights lawyer Rodney Harrison QC said the villagers did not want to take any further part in the inquiry.

Harrison told a press conference on Tuesday the villagers were "completely disillusioned" by the process that has heard the vast majority of evidence behind closed doors.


Harrison said a key reason the villagers wanted to pull out was the inquiry's decision to hear evidence without them or their lawyers being present.

I don't blame them. With secret "evidence", an initial refusal to even hear from the the victims, and an ongoing refusal to allow them to participate as anything other than show-ponies, the "inquiry" was very obviously shaping up to be a whitewash aimed at publicly exonerating NZDF and defending their reputation. Continued participation simply lends credibility to this abusive process. Better to walk away and pursue justice through the courts than have anything to do with it.

Meanwhile, the public should be asking what the point of an "inquiry" which refuses to hear from victims is, and what is wrong with our political and judicial establishment that they think that that is acceptable, useful, or remotely credible.

Monday, June 17, 2019

New Fisk

No one is innocent in the Gulf of Oman debacle – but Trump’s ‘evidence’ of Iran’s role is dodgy at best
An Isis killer and an unlikely hero have heaved open the cracks in Lebanese politics

Climate Change: Advice it was right to ignore

A story on Scoop from NZ Energy and Environment Business Week about how the government had "ignored advice" when setting its methane target caught my eye last night. The story is based on a week-old press release from National climate denial spokesperson Todd Muller, and highlights the difference between the recommendations of the Climate Change Chief Executives Board - a collection of public sector CEOs - and the government's final position on methane targets. Reading the actual paper, the CEOs noted that the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change had recommended cuts to methane emissions of between 22 and 47% by 2050 were required to stabilise the climate and avoid more than 1.5 degrees of warming. Despite this, they then recommended a lower target. Their reasoning?

In respect of the range presented for the biogenic methane target, 22% represents the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s assessment of the reduction in livestock methane emissions required by 2050 below 2016 levels to prevent additional warming from these emissions. 35% represents the midpoint of the range for agricultural methane set out in the IPCC special report. Analysis suggests that this range of emissions reductions is feasible.

The range reflects the differing views of departments on the trade-offs involved in the target decision, and that specific targets have not been tested with the agriculture sector.

[Emphasis added]

So, despite everything that is happening, despite the planet literally catching fire in front of us, public sector CEOs are still recommending doing as little as possible to solve the crisis, due to (economic) trade-offs. Which is unsurprising, really: its the same narrow circle of thought that got us into this mess, and the same advice they've been giving for decades, and changing their minds now would mean implicitly admitting they were wrong. And so public sector arse covering means doubling down on failure rather than admit error.

But snark at our failed public sector "leadership" aside, what this really is is a case of the government deciding to listen to the IPCC - the acknowledged international experts in the field - rather than a bunch of business managers. And that's a perfectly reasonable decision. When it conflicts with the IPCC, the advice of the NZ public service is most definitely advice that should be ignored.


New Zealand's spy agencies are supposedly subject to the rigorous oversight of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, an independent watchdog appointed to keep an eye on them and ensure they don't break the law again. But that watchdog depends entirely on the agencies they are overseeing for the information required to oversee them - and it turns out that they are simply refusing to provide it [paywalled]:

The watchdog for New Zealand's spy agencies was thwarted for months when trying to see secret emails about a controversial NZSAS raid in Afghanistan - and says she is prepared to use a legal summons if they continue to frustrate her legal duty.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn was eventually given access to "several tens of thousands of emails" - then discovered another 115,000 were apparently overlooked.

Gwyn was given an explanation as to how the emails were missed but has now sought independent advice to establish if more might be missing.

The SIS and GCSB had been quibbling over the Inspector-General's powers. But the law is crystal clear on that: they must be given access to all security records that they consider to be relevant, and "security record" is defined in the broadest possible terms. Which makes you wonder why the spies were trying this on. What were they trying to hide from the public's watchdog? And even the most charitable interpretation - a mix of incompetence and obsessive secrecy - doesn't exactly give confidence.

The spy agencies have highly intrusive powers. It is vital that those powers are kept in check. If the spies aren't going to cooperate with that, then I think we need to reconsider what we let them do.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Why hasn't New Zealand been building more wind farms?

New Zealand needs to decarbonise its electricity supply, while also increasing it to cope with the extra demand from electric vehicles. Wind energy is an obvious solution for this: we have an excellent wind resource, and its cheaper than fossil fuels. Yet we haven't been building it. Why not? One reason is that demand has been decreasing lately, so we haven't needed to. But an article on Newsroom also offers another reason:

Without storage wind electricity producers will accept prices given to them. For companies with fossil fuel plants this drives down the price their fossil-fuelled electricity can demand, as well as not making them much money.

For electricity companies who have gas or other non-hydro facilities, wind risks driving their profits down.

“That’s my theory why no one was doing it. You would need a new company to come in and build it whereas if an existing company built a wind farm it would be eating into its profits.”

Our two biggest electricity gentailers are Genesis and Contact. They're also the two with the highest investment in fossil fuels: Genesis owns Huntly (which it infamously is reneging on shutting down or going coal free), and Contact owns the Stratford power station in Taranaki. So they have no incentive to build wind farms, and unsurprisingly, they haven't. Instead, its all been built by Mercury and Meridian, who are exclusively renewable. Even then though they don't want to build too much, because everyone gets paid the price of the marginal supply, and if that's fossil, then they get more money than if its wind or hydro. Once again, the invisible hand of the market is figuring out ways to screw us (and the planet) rather than making life better.

As for how to fix it, the solution is obvious: a generation-focused SOE with the specific purpose of building wind plants to expand supply and drive fossil fuels out of the market. Basicly, a "KiwiWind". The more renewables we have, the less coal and gas gets burned, and that in turn drives up the price (because the fixed costs of the generator must be recouped over less time), which provides stronger financial incentives for industrial users to avoid high spot prices by changing demand patterns. We don't need much to set up a virtuous cycle here - maybe 500 MW of generation to monster the market and exile coal and gas to dry year / dead of winter backup. And that's not that expensive: wind energy costs ~$1.5 million / MW of installed generation, so we're talking about $750 million over five years, or an investment of about $150 million a year. Its not peanuts, but its not huge either, and if they do the maths right, pays for itself through electricity sales.

If the government is serious about its renewables target, and doesn't want to just leave it to the market, it needs to invest to make it happen. If they fail to do this, we can draw our own conclusions about their seriousness.

Strikes work

When teachers demanded more time and more money to do their jobs, Education Minister Chris Hipkins was adamant: there was no more money and they should expect disappointment. No, after a joint strike and facing five weeks of rolling stoppages, he's suddenly found an extra quarter of a billion dollars to provide an offer the PPTA likes:

The government has announced a new deal aimed at breaking the deadlock with teachers, which Education Minister Chris Hipkins says unions will recommend to their members.

Mr Hipkins said a key element of the revised deal is a unified base salary scale for all primary, secondary and area school teachers and will restore parity between primary and secondary school teachers.

"I'm now confident this will draw the matter to a close," Mr Hipkins said.

The offer also includes a lump sum payment of $1500 for union members and a new top step salary rate of $90,000.

Whether this is enough for teachers is up to them. But they would never have forced Hipkins to the table if they hadn't stood up for their rights and gone on strike. Strikes work! Which is why its so obscene that the "Labour" government wants to continue to deny that right to film workers so Hollywood can keep them in serfdom.

Equality comes to Ecuador

Ecuador's Constitutional Court has legalised same-sex marriage:

Ecuador's highest court has approved same-sex marriage in a landmark ruling in the traditionally Catholic country.

The vote at the nine-member Constitutional Court came as they ruled on the lawsuits by two same-sex couples who wanted to get married.

Five voted in favour, arguing all people were equal. Four said the issue had to be debated in parliament.

Interestingly, Ecuador's constitution has an explicit bigot amendment restricting marriage to opposite genders. The Constitutional Court has effectively over-ruled that. Its an interesting development, which suggests that where there are existing anti-discrimination clauses or binding international agreements (in this case the American Convention on Human Rights), such clauses might not be as useful as bigots think.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Climate Change: National commits to failure

National released a policy document on the primary sector today, in which they commit to ensuring farmers do not have to do anything to reduce emissions:

On climate change, National recommends farmers remain outside the ETS, while critics such as Greenpeace have charged dairying in particular has so far been given a free pass for climate pollution.

National said it had concerns with the proposed methane target of 24-47 per cent reduction by 2050, recently set by the Coalition Government.

"In our view it is exactly the sort of decision the newly formed scientific Climate Commission should provide advice on, rather than politicians cherry picking numbers."

Remaining outside the ETS means that farmers face absolutely no incentive to reduce their emissions. Not facing any target does the same. And the result will be that emissions will continue to rise, making it impossible for us to meet any credible climate change target. Its basicly a commitment to burn the planet so their dirty, polluting supporters can keep on profiting for a few more years. But its also a commitment to unfairness, for the majority of us who live in cities and who pay for our emissions already to subsidise a tiny rural minority so they can keep on polluting. It is neither moral nor sensible.

As for the contention that farmers don't have any way to reduce emissions, sure they do: they can reduce their herd sizes. That's not the end of the world, and there's some evidence its more profitable (in that farmers don't have to waste money on fertiliser and supplementary feed to support higher intensity). If they don't want to do that, then they deserve to go out of business.

Climate Change: Time to fix the RMA

OMV's application for resource consent for drilling offshore exploration wells has highlighted a major flaw in our environmental legislation. Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, is our most pressing environmental threat. But the EPA, which is deciding the application, is specifically forbidden from considering "the effects on climate change of discharging greenhouse gases into the air". And their legislation echoes a wider problem with the RMA, where local authorities are told they must have regard to the effects of climate change when carrying out their functions - except when it comes to deciding on greenhouse gas emissions. It is, as gareth Hughes points out, a ludicrous situation. The good news is that the government may be planning to fix it.

Last year, the government announced a two-step process for RMA reform Buried in the Cabinet paper on the issue (in paragraphs 83 - 87) was a note that this was a priority for change:

Addressing climate change is a high priority for this Government. There could be significant benefits in elevating the importance of climate change within the RMA framework, so that decision-makers are able to fully consider both the effects of climate change on development (adaptation), and the effects of development on climate change (mitigation).

I am therefore proposing to reconsider the role of the RMA in relation to climate change in Stage 2 of the review of the RMA. This will provide the best opportunity for any changes to be carefully worked through.

We have these absurd provisions due to past governments saying "we will deal with climate change nationally" (and then refusing to deal with it in any meaningful way). There's now a greater awareness that price-based measures like the ETS are not the only way, and that they need to be backed up with other policies to reduce or limit emissions. The RMA is a useful tool to do that, and it is long past time we started using it. The Greens have promised that they'll be working to get their coalition partners to support restoring climate change management to the RMA; if we want emissions to reduce, we need to back them up on this.

Farmers are still poisoning Canterbury

In 2018, ECan decided to "solve" the problem of farmers poisoning the water with nitrates by raising nitrate limits so they could make the problem disappear. Of course, this didn't fix anything. Instead, its still getting worse:

In Canterbury, polluting nitrates were on the and risk maps the regional council was relying on were out of date, Forest and Bird said.

Using the council's own data, the environmental group created its own map, which it said showed an increasing number of private wells had nitrate levels above the safe standard for drinking water.

Forest and Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen said the last time the regional council, Environment Canterbury (ECan), updated its risk map for drinking water wells nearly 1.5 years ago.

She said analysis done on test results since then showed an increase in the number of wells where it was unsafe to drink the water due to nitrate levels, in Hurunui, Ashburton and possibly Selwyn.

This is a direct threat to human health. As the article points out, high nitrate concentrations have been linked to colorectal cancer. Failing to control nitrates means more people will die. But ECan apparently doesn't care about that. Instead, they're still grovelling to the sacred cow, and perfectly willing to kill people to keep dairy farmers in business.

Googling OIA requesters violates the Privacy Act

I saw an interesting article from FOIMan - a UK-based fredom of information site - on the subject of agencies googling requesters. This is apparently a common practice, but their short advice is "don't": its not just creepy and intimidating, it also almost certainly violates UK privacy legislation:

what’s your lawful basis? An individual’s FOI request, their identity, biographical information about them is personal data. You need a lawful basis to justify the handling of personal data – including searching for information about someone online. I presume you’ve completed a legitimate interest assessment and successfully justified how your need to know whether or not someone is a journalist outweighs the rights and freedoms of requesters? Even if you decide that you do have such a basis, are you otherwise complying with the requirements of the GDPR? Are you telling requesters that if they make a request it will result in the council looking them up online?

I'm aware anecdotally that New Zealand agencies also do this. But New Zealand has similar legislation, and the same logic applies here. Privacy Principle 1 requires that agencies only collect information "for a lawful purpose connected with a function or activity of the agency". And its difficult to imagine a lawful purpose for digitally spying on a requester in this way. Their motives or how they may use the requested information are not relevant to how a request should be processed. Their political views and whether they may be a journalist or a critic of the government explicitly are not. Requests should be processed without regard to such factors (sadly, as we all know, they are not). The fact that information about a requester is publicly available doesn't change that in the slightest: there must be a lawful purpose for collection before the question of public availability is even considered.

So, next time you get an OIA request, don't google them. Don't be curious - be professional instead.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

New Fisk

While the world watches Donald Trump, it’s missing what’s really going on with US foreign policy
Bloated bodies in the Nile show Sudan protesters were right to fear the arrival of Saudi and UAE money

Britain's criminal spies

Last month, we learned that MI5 had "compliance issues" around its data storage, and is retaining information for longer than necessary in violation of the law. But it turns out that its worse than that: they've been obtaining spy warrants on the basis of false information:

MI5 has lost control of its data storage operations and has been obtaining surveillance warrants on the basis of information it knows to be false, the high court has heard.

The security agency has been accused of “extraordinary and persistent illegality” in a legal challenge brought by the human rights organisation Liberty.

The failures have been identified by the official watchdog, the investigatory powers commissioner, Lord Justice Fulford, and admitted in outline by the home secretary, Sajid Javid.


In written submissions, Jaffey said: “Fulford’s generic warrant decision notes that warrants were issued to MI5 on a basis that MI5 knew to be incorrect and the judicial commissioners [the watchdogs] were given false information.”

There's more here, but the short version is that MI5 has never complied with the Investigatory Powers Act, and the "safeguards" the government promised when enacting it were bypassed by deceit. Which ought to be a warning to every democracy about granting powers to spies. Meanwhile, the IPC has said that until MI5 improves its data handling, applications for spy warrants will not be approved. Hopefully that will provide them with an incentive to sort their shit out.

(In NZ, sadly, the government response to this sort of issue would be to change the law to retrospectively legalise this criminal behaviour, while allowing the spies to do whatever they want).

Botswana decriminalises homosexuality

Botswana's High Court has ruled that colonial laws outlawing homosexuality are unconstitutional:

High court judges in Botswana have ruled that laws criminalising same-sex relations are unconstitutional and should be struck down, in a major victory for gay rights campaigners in Africa.

Jubilant activists in the packed courtroom cheered the unanimous decision, which came a month after a setback in Kenya when a court rejected an attempt to repeal similar colonial-era laws.

“Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalised,” Justice Michael Leburu said as he delivered the judgment. “Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement. It is an important attribute of one’s personality.”


“A democratic nation is one that embraces tolerance, diversity, and open-mindedness … societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity … The state cannot be a sheriff in people’s bedrooms,” Leburu said.

Good. And hopefully this ruling will be echoed in other countries suffering under the homophobic legacy of British colonialism.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Another industry no-one wants to be a part of

We see regular stories from farmers and orchards complaining that no-one wants to work long hours in terrible conditions for poor pay in their shitty industry. And now, its fishers. But in the process, they neatly explain why:

"It's a hard existence. There is a reasonable amount of risk, they're away from home on a small vessel, living conditions aren't necessarily fantastic, and their ability to enjoy some of the other things in life, like play rugby, tends to become quite difficult.

"I just don't think younger people are prepared to make that commitment."

Or, to put it another way: if you are crew on a fishing boat, you don't get to have a life, or friends, or a partner. There's just a job, which pays the princely sum of $50,000 a year. Which you can get on land, without the danger or the long hours or the shit working conditions which stop you from having a life.

So yeah, its not surprising at all that no-one wants to work for them. And that's without considering the industry's reputation for being full of criminals and using slave labour. Like farming, its an industry that no-one who is not already part of their cult would ever want to be a part of.

Climate Change: A climate emergency in Auckland

New Zealand's largest city has just declared a climate emergency. And its not just a symbolic move:

While the declaration is largely symbolic, it signals the start of a more urgent and focussed approach by councillors to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The council separately agreed to seek public views on an "action framework" that could lead to costed initiatives in next year's budget.

That framework is here. It proposes specific actions to reduce emissions and increase resiliance to climate change. If you live in Auckland, I suggest you read and submit on it.

Meanwhile, Auckland's declaration again raises the question: when will Parliament follow? If you'd like to urge MPs to declare a climate emergency, there's a petition to do so here. Sign it and share it.


New Zealand troops are coming home from Iraq next year. Good. Their mission there was never moral, and seems to have involved directly assisting the Iraqi army in a murderous war, as well as assisting the US with mass biometric surveillance and doing fuck knows what out in the desert. And all to support a corrupt, torturing regime which turned out to be little better than the one the US overthrew. The big problem with the withdrawal is that it isn't happening quick enough. To point out the obvious, the US seems to be gearing up for a war with Iran, and Iraq will likely be a major battlefield in that. In which case I hope NZDF has an emergency evacuation plan to get our people out if that looks like kicking off. Or is their plan to drag their feet, in th hope of being "unavoidably" involved in order to suck up to the US?

The OIA and Parliamentary Privilege

Immediately after being elected in 2017, the government started playing bullshit games over answers to written parliamentary questions. Since those games seemed to be systematic, I asked the likely culprit - Chris Hipkins - whether he'd given advice to other Ministers on how to answer questions, and if so, for copies of that advice. The request was refused, so I complained to the Ombudsman. And in the process of that complaint, the Minister's office tried to deny the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman over the matter, citing Parliamentary Privilege. Written questions are a proceeding in Parliament,and so could not be questioned before any court or tribunal - including the Ombudsman. While I eventually got a ruling, there was a lot of uncertainty about the interaction of the OIA and the 2014 Parliamentary Privilege Act, so I asked the Ombudsman and the Speaker to publish some guidelines on the issue so we would all know where we stood. The guidelines are now online here. The short version:

Official information cannot be withheld just because it constitutes parliamentary proceedings.

The PPA does not provide a reason for withholding such information. Releasing it under the OIA would not be ‘contrary to’ the PPA. Nor would it ‘derogate’ from the PPA.


However, neither Article 9 nor the PPA prevent the Ombudsman from carrying out their investigative role under the OIA, in relation to complaints about the withholding of information that constitutes parliamentary proceedings.

The Speaker of the House has said he does not see a general conflict arising from the Ombudsman performing the duties of that office, including conducting investigations into the withholding of official information that may also be a proceeding of the House

So Chris Hipkins' attempt to undermine the OIA failed. As for the specific request? Well, that failed too, as advice on answering questions is immediate and informal and so needs to be protected as "free and frank" to prevent Ministers and their officials from refusing to document it. Or, to put it another way: the threat that Ministers and officials may behave unprofessionally justifies protecting them when they behave unprofessionally. As someone who believes in accountability, I find this logic utterly perverse. Unmentioned in the summary in the guide is that parliament also supposedly holds itself to account. But given that those same bullshit games are continuing, how about that actually happens, rather than the theoretical possibility being used to protect the powerful?

Correction: The Minister's office did not try to invoke Parliamentary Privilege over this issue, or deny the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman considered the matter as a general issue on his own initiative. The issue had arisen in another complaint I had also made, and I had confused the two.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Climate Change: End pollution subsidies now

When National gutted the ETS in 2009, one of the ways they did it was to hand out huge subsidies to big polluters. Now the climate crisis is here, but the polluters want their subsidies to continue:

The latest climate pleaders to Government are seven of our largest manufacturers. Under the auspices of Business New Zealand, Fonterra, NZ Steel, Rio Tinto, NZ Refining, Golden Bay Cement, Methanex and Pan Pac Forest Products are arguing for more subsidies and an even easier ride in the Emissions Trading System than they have enjoyed over the past decade.


The seven big industrial emitters are the prime beneficiaries of a decade-old fudge of policies designed to minimise the impact of the ETS on companies that are emissions intensive and trade exposed, or EITE for short.

From the companies’ perspective, the policies were a triumph. The ETS has been essentially meaningless to them. The reductions they have made in energy use and emissions would have been good business practice and commercially beneficial anyway.

The highly favourable treatment they have received has come at a considerable cost to many other businesses and the country at large. In 2017, 82 emitters out of the 300 companies with direct obligations in the ETS qualified for free credits under the EITE rules. They received 5.6 million free credits, equal to 20 percent of the 28.6m units all companies surrendered to meet obligations.

This isn't just a huge financial cost and distortion to the ETS - it also means those polluters have no incentive to reduce their emissions (in fact, its the opposite: the more they pollute, the bigger the subsidy). And this in turn has significantly reduced the effectiveness of the scheme. When a huge chunk of the market just gets handed free credits, it reduces the value for everyone.

As for what to do about it, the answer is clear: we need to end these subsidies now. These polluters have had a decade of special treatment, and that's a decade too long. And if they can't survive without this government subsidy, they deserve to go out of business and be replaced by more efficient producers who can.

Will NZ Post sabotage local body elections?

School board of trustees elections were held last week. Unfortunately, NZ Post seems to have sabotaged them:

Voting in the triennial elections for most school boards closed at noon on Friday, June 7.

But Ponsonby Primary School principal Dr Anne Malcolm said most of her parents did not receive their voting papers until about 2pm on Thursday, giving them less than 24 hours to read the candidates' statements and get their votes in.

She put the blame squarely on "NZ Post inefficiency".

"They sent the voting papers out on Monday May 27," she said.

"It took 11 days for NZ Post to get mail into our letterboxes in the centre of Auckland, from Wellington, which is absolutely abhorrent."

NZ Post says its delivery time for standard mail is three days. Clearly, that's bullshit. And in this case, institutions who relied on it in good faith to run an election are paying the price. That stinks, but its going to get worse. Because, to point out the obvious, local body elections are being held later this year - and they run on a postal vote. According to the Electoral Commission, voting papers will be sent out from September 20, with polling closing at midday on October 12 - meaning there is just 3 weeks for voting. From NZ Post's observed performance, that's probably enough time for people to get their ballot papers - but possibly not enough time for them to be returned by post, especially if people take time to consider their votes. Which means that if you want your vote to count, you will need to physically drop it off at your local council, rather than trusting it to the mail.

NZ Posts shitness now seems to be posing a real threat to our democracy. Perhaps Parliament (through the Justice Committee?) might want to look into that, and see what can be done to fix it?

Friday, June 07, 2019

Time for some accountability

The Herald (paywalled) reports that the GCSB called the Beehive to try and stop the government from announcing the Budget had been "hacked". Why? Because it was false, and they'd told Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf so. But instead, he lied to his Minister, and the public, in a pathetic and easily disproven exercise in arse-covering - and in the process caused his Minister to repeat his lies.

Once upon a time, before NeoLiberalism destroyed public service ethics, a chief executive would have offered to resign for this sort of thing. Makhlouf hasn't. That position is looking unsustainable. Ministers may tolerate chief executives lying to the public on their behalf - but lying to them is another matter entirely. Especially when the lies cause the Minister to put their foot in it.

As for what to do about it, the SSC has begun an investigation, but that investigation can have only one credible outcome: Makhlouf must be fired. Anything less and the entire system of accountability between Ministers and the public service breaks down.

And again: we pay public sector chief executives the big bucks because (they tell us) they are accountable and responsible and can be fired when they fuck up. We should get what we paid for. And if the buck doesn't actually stop there, then we shouldn't be giving it to them in the first place.

Getting what they paid for again

Our fishing industry is pervasively criminal, with widespread under-reporting, dumping, and other illegal behaviour. The most effective way of stopping this crime is to put cameras on fishing boats to watch catches as they are brought aboard, enabling under-reporting, dumping nad high-grading to be detected, punished, and deterred. But thanks to a corrupt Minister who has been openly bought by the fishing industry, we're not getting that. Instead, we're getting another bullshit trial scheme:

Commercial fishing vessels deemed at risk of encountering endangered Māui dolphins will be required to operate with on-board cameras, the prime minister has announced.

Jacinda Ardern said just over $17 million had been set aside in the Budget for the purchase, installation and maintenance of the cameras, which will be required from November 1.

The new camera requirement will affect a small fraction of the more than 1000 commercial fishing boats in the country.

...all of which already carry human observers. So, we'll be watching the people who are already watched, while the huge hive of criminal activity elsewhere goes unmonitored and unpunished. And we'll be paying for it, rather than the criminal fishers.

This is bullshit. And its another example of the fishing industry getting what it paid for: a PR stunt rather than real action to clean them up.

Climate Change: National still peddling denial

One of the core ideas underlying the Zero Carbon Act is the idea of policy durability: that in order to be effective, climate change policy has to survive multiple changes of government. As a result, the Bill has been watered down and weakened in an effort to gain the support of the National Party. National is still peddling denial. In a speech to the Federated Farmers Taranaki agm in Stratford on May 24, National's climate change spokesperson Todd Muller made all the expected complaints about methane targets being "ridiculous". But he goes further than that. A lot further:

“The view, expressed particularly from Left of Centre, that somehow climate science is a locked box, and we know what the impacts are, is a complete nonsense.

“I’ve been overseas twice now and sat in audiences where hundreds of scientists have debated the interaction between gases, the other particles in the atmosphere, the ocean and their view of those interactions. If you’re not a scientist, this stuff gets eye-watering very quickly.

“The point is, this stuff is not conclusive.”

In public, National has been pretending that they're on board about climate change, that they recognise that it is an existential threat and that they need to be part of a solution. But in private, to their supporters, they're peddling the same old bullshit they were twenty years ago when they shitcanned the first attempt at an ETS, fifteen years ago when they opposed the carbon tax, a decade ago when they first opposed then gutted the current ETS: that the science isn't settled, that the climate isn't changing, that it's all just a big left lie.

What does this mean for policy durability? Pretty obviously, there can be no meaningful consensus with a party which doesn't even accept the reality of the problem, and which continues to put the interests of its polluting supporters above the survival of humanity. There's no point even talking to such people. Everyone interested in climate change policy learned long ago that engaging with deniers is a waste of time. You just block them and move on.

But its also a mistaken view of "durability" to base it on National's attitudes now. What realisticly matters is the attitude of the National Party in 2023, or 2026. And there's likely to be a lot of change between now and then, both from them and the public. When you look at durable policy in New Zealand, it isn't durable because the major parties sat down and negotiated it from the outset. Instead, the party in government made it durable: they legislated, and carried the public with them to such a degree that the other major party was forced to sign up to it to have any hope of getting elected. The classic example of this is the anti-nuclear policy: hugely controversial, National hated it, but it was so popular with the public that they were forced to promise to retain it, and they didn't dare go back on that even when they had a huge artificial FPP majority by which they could impose their will (and then, 20 years later, even hinting that they wanted to repeal it was pure political poison for them).

On climate change, there's the advantage that reality will win the public for you. The climate crisis is very obviously here, and getting worse by the day. Does anyone really think that the news over even the next three or six years is going to support weaker action? Does anyone really think that with fire and flood and homes washing into the sea, people are going to support a softer line on the fuckers causing it all? Does anyone really think this is all just going to go away?

Which is why worrying about "consensus" with Denier National is unnecessary. Instead, the government should legislate the strongest bill NZ First will allow them to - and dare National to oppose it. If they do, paint them truthfully as the party of denial, delay, and do nothing, and voters will do the rest.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Not a good international citizen

I've spent the afternoon crafting a brief submission to Parliament on the International Treaty Examination of The War Crimes Amendments to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The government wants to ratify a treaty amendment which would make the use of chemical or biological weapons, expanding bullets or blinding lasers in "non-international armed conflict" (you know, the sort NZDF is in in Afghanistan) a war crime. That's good! Except there's a twist. Here's what the national interest assessment says about expanding bullets:

New Zealand could make an interpretative declaration upon ratification to clarify that the prohibition on expanding bullets in non-international armed conflict does not extend to situations where they are used by police or armed forces in law enforcement and counter-terrorism operations where the intent of the use is to avoid incidental civilian injury or damage.

Expanding bullets were one of the first things banned in international armed conflict, and they were banned for a reason: because they cause horrific and inhumane injuries. Banning them in non-international armed conflict - which is most wars nowdays - is a no-brainer extension of that principle. But instead of accepting that, New Zealand seems to be trying to weasel out of it with American-style interpretation games. And this is simply dishonest and wrong. Its like signing a treaty guaranteeing people unqualified ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries, and other treasures, but "interpreted" "unqualified" to mean "we can take it whenever we want": deceitful and two-faced. But its also stupid, in that other parties may not accept New Zealand's perverse "interpretation" allowing banned weapons to be used, which means that New Zealand police and soldiers who actually use them in any circumstances which could be considered a non-international armed conflict (like, say, Afghanistan) would still be exposed to prosecution. And insofar as New Zealand politicians and officials tried to shield them, they would be in the dock too as accessories.

This is not being a "good international citizen", Its being a cheat trying to excuse war crimes. And that is simply not acceptable.

Climate Change: Chile going carbon neutral

New Zealand is currently in the process of enacting legislation to set us on a pathway to carbon neutrality (except for cows) by 2050. Meanwhile, Chile - not a country we think of as being especially rich - is going the whole way:

Chile vowed to go carbon neutral by 2050 on Tuesday, in a plan hailed by experts as one of the most ambitious yet for a coal-dependent economy.

The host of the next UN climate talks in December president Sebastian Piñera pledged to close eight of the country’s 28 coal-fired plants by 2024.

The move would slash the share of coal within the electricity grid from 40% to 20% in five years, with a view to phasing out the fuel completely by 2040.

Chilean farmers are going to be carbon neutral. So why shouldn't New Zealand ones be the same? What makes them deserving of special treatment, either with respect to other New Zealanders, or the rest of the world? The answer is "nothing": their special target is just a subsidy to a privileged parasitical minority who have lived off us for far too long already.

New Fisk

The final punishment of Julian Assange reminds journalists their job is to uncover what the state keeps hidden
We fought for liberty, freedom and independence on D-Day. But what happened to these promises in the Middle East?

Climate Change: An existential threat

How bad is the threat of climate change? Existential risk to civilisation bad:

A new climate report co-authored by a former fossil fuel executive has painted a bleak outlook for the future of human civilisation - including nuclear war.

Existential climate-related security risk: A scenario approach, published by Australian thinktank Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, suggests climate warnings from the likes of the UN are downplaying the sheer chaos that could erupt by 2050 as the world warms.

If emissions don't start to fall until 2030 - behind the goal set by the 2015 Paris Agreement - the authors say the world could warm 3C by 2050 "due to the activation of a number of carbon-cycle feedbacks". This could result in sea levels rising 0.5m by 2050, 3m by 2100 as ice sheets and permafrost melt, and up to 25m in the longer-term.

"Thirty-five percent of the global land area, and 55 percent of the global population, are subject to more than 20 days a year of lethal heat conditions, beyond the threshold of human survivability," by 2050, the report says."

And what this means is famine, war, and death on a massive scale. Some countries will simply cease to exist. Others, facing starvation or water shortages or just not enough space, will go to war to secure those resources. And the pressure from that could push us into nuclear war. But even if we manage to keep the lid on that particular horror, the loss of farmland and the uninhabitability of major population areas is likely to mean a major population crash, and that's really not going to be pleasant.

As for 25m of sea-level rise, Floodmap shows us what that means for New Zealand: practically every major city will be underwater. Palmerston North will be a beach town. Hamilton, Rotorua, Taupo and Queenstown will be OK, and that's where we'll all have to live. I guess it'll be getting crowded then.

If we don't want this to happen, we need to act like this is an actual crisis, and reduce our emissions as quickly as possible. As for the foot-draggers who want to delay action so they can make a bit more money by destroying the world, we should treat them like they're trying to kill us. Because that is, in fact, what they're doing.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

No press freedom in Australia II

Yesterday the Australian government raided a journalist for revealing its plans to spy on Australian citizens. Today, they're raiding the ABC for revealing that war crimes were committed by Australian soldiers:

Australian Federal Police officers are raiding the ABC's Sydney headquarters over a series of 2017 stories known as The Afghan Files.

The stories, by ABC investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, revealed allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

The search warrant names Oakes, Clark and ABC's director of News Gaven Morris.

The message is clear: the Australian government regards revealing its crimes and planned crimes as a crime. And again, that's not the sort of behaviour usually seen in a democracy. Tyrannies raid journalists, not democracies.

Climate Change: Try not to fly

How are people reducing their ecological impact to deal with climate change? In Sweden, they're giving up flying:

The number of Swedes taking the train for domestic journeys has risen as plane journeys inside the country have fallen, reflecting rapidly growing public concern about the climate crisis.

“Flygskam”, or flight shame, the feeling of being embarrassed or ashamed to take the plane because of the environmental impact, has become a social media buzzword along with the hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken, which translates as #stayontheground.

Echoing the schoolgirl climate activist Greta Thunberg’s refusal to fly because of the harm to the environment, a survey published last week by Swedish Railways (SJ) found 37% of respondents chose to travel by rail instead of air, compared with 26% last autumn and 20% in early 2018.

Its relatively easy in Sweden, because they have a decent rail network, with 200km/h links between most major cities, and scheduled services which actually use them. But its still a substantial shift towards flying only when necessary, or not flying at all.

Obviously its harder in New Zealand, due to our shit-to-nonexistent rail service and Cook Strait in the middle. But we already have a no-fly movement in New Zealand. And following The Spinoff's advice to talk about what you're doing to normalise it, I'll break the "don't talk about my life" rule for once. Yes, I still fly. But not much. A couple of years ago, I decided I'd cap my discretionary air travel at two return domestic trips a year. I offset, of course (and Air New Zealand's scheme is pretty good), but the most effective offset is not to emit in the first place. If there's something unavoidable, like a wedding or a funeral, then I fly to that if I have to, and double the offset for every extra flight I make (fortunately those are few and far between). So, no flying to Auckland every couple of months for larps, no ducking over the Tasman for a weekend to raid restraunts, no international holidays and no larp-tour of Europe for me. It's not as environmentally friendly as it could be, but its a start, and I'm hoping to wind it down as my obligations elsewhere decrease.

Odious secrecy II

Last month, when the government released its Zero Carbon Bill, I highlighted how it contained an odious expansion of secrecy which throw a veil over practically all decisions made by the Independent Climate Change Commission. I wanted to see how this particular atrocity came about, so I sent an OIA to the Minister seeking all advice and communications on the drafting of this particular clause. I got the response back yesterday, and I was appalled. The short version is that there's not really any advice, and the Minister apparently has no fucking idea how this part of his bill works, or even what it actually says.

In his response, the Minister says:

Clause 10 of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill requires the Commission to keep information confidential and allows otherwise confidential information to be disclosed to the Commission. The intent of the Government was that, for the purpose of accessing relevant information under the CCRA, the Commission should be treated as though it were an administrating agency and be subject to equivalent obligations of confidentiality.

This provision may be relevant for the Commission in providing advice about the settings of the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS). Cabinet has agreed that this will be a regular function of the Commission. It will be brought into operation by proposed legislative changes to improve the scheme.

The only substantive piece of "advice" on this is two paragraphs of a Cabinet paper:
The Commission will require access to government-held information in order to fulfil its functions. The provisions of the Bill will need to balance access to this information with the need to safeguard legally privileged or personal information. Where appropriate, it will also have statutory provisions to allow it to access information that it might not otherwise be able to gain, for instance under the CCRA.

I propose that, for the purpose of accessing relevant information under the CCRA, the Commission should be treated as though it were an administrating agency. It will also be subject to equivalent obligations of confidentiality.

[Emphasis added]

Where to begin on this? Firstly, the Bill at present only has powers (in s5ZV) to obtain information from government entities, about how they will be affected by climate change, how they plan to deal with it, and what progress they are making on those plans. Every single one of those agencies is already covered by the OIA, so as a matter of principle, their information should be open. It shouldn't become secret simply because another government agency has asked for it. But that is the effect of this bill (more on this below). Secondly, the Bill at present has no powers for the Climate Change Commission to gain information from non-government agencies. Those powers might be coming in the ETS legislation, but even if they are, as I noted earlier the Official Information Act already contains protections for legally privileged and personal information, as well as information that is "commercially sensitive" or which has been compelled by an enactment. These protections are more than sufficient to safeguard the interests the Minister claims to be concerned about. If he believes they are not, then he needs to make a much better case than this for bypassing them.

But even if you agree with the Minister that the OIA is not sufficient for protecting these interests, the Bill goes a lot further than that. Once amended, the secrecy clause will apply to "the Climate Change Commission, in respect of the performance of its functions or exercise of its powers under Parts 1A to 1C... at the time during which, and any time after which, those functions are performed or those powers are exercised" and require it (with certain specified exceptions) to "keep confidential all information that comes into the person’s knowledge when performing any function or exercising any power under the relevant Part of this Act". So what functions are exercised under parts 1A to 1C? Its all neatly summarised in s5J on the Commission's functions:

And under the bill as drafted, all of this will be required to be kept confidential. The setting of targets, the advice to Ministers about budgets, their assessment of whether the Minister is actually meeting those budgets, all secret. And while some of it may be required by law to be published or tabled in the House, the internal advice and correspondence (which is where all the dirt is) will all be secret.

With its target and budget setting powers and apparent control over the ETS, the Climate Change Commission is intended to be the driver of climate change policy. I've said before that climate change is our most important policy challenge, and that everything else is basicly just rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. The effect of this Bill would be to make be to make everything said and done by the most important agency dealing with that challenge a secret. All of it. Its as if they decided to exempt everything done by Treasury from the OIA - that's the policy effect here. And its not just an attack on transparency, its also woefully shortsighted. To point out the obvious, the Greens expect this law to last, and for other parties to oversee it when they are in government. But it will be pretty hard to hold those future governments to account if everything the primary advice agency does is legally secret.

From the Minister's response, this is not what he intended. In which case, he needs to amend the Bill to fix it. Otherwise that secrecy is going to come back to bite him.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

No press freedom in Australia

Last year, Australian journalist Annika Smethurst broke the news that the government was plotting to allow the Australian Signals Directorate - their equivalent of the GCSB - to spy on Australian citizens and hack their computers. The plans were shelved as a result, but last month the Australian government was re-elected and took a sharp turn to the right. So today, they're raiding her house for exposing what they were doing:

Federal police officers are raiding the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst over a story about a secret government plan to spy on Australians.

Ms Smethurst, the political editor for News Corp Sunday titles including The Sunday Telegraph, was at home preparing to leave for work this morning when several Australian Federal Police officers arrived with a warrant from an ACT magistrate giving them authority to search her home, computer and mobile phone.

Ms Smethurst complied with the warrant and is presently waiting for the raid to be completed. She has declined to answer questions apart from confirming her identity.

This is highly disturbing. Smethurst's story was in the public interest, a basic part of the democratic business of holding the government to account. That's not something which should attract a police response in a democracy. In fact, the sorts of countries where it does attract a police response are tyrannies. Is Australia saying it is one of those now?

A victory for press freedom in the UK

In 2017, journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey released the documentary No Stone Unturned. The documentary investigated the 1994 Loughinisland massacre in which six people were murdered by the Ulster Volunteer Force, a crime for which no-one has ever been brought to justice. It named the main suspects (including a British soldier), and explored the possibility of police collusion in the murders. But rather than acting on the new information to bring the murderers to justice, the Northern Ireland Police raided the journalists' homes and arrested them on suspicion of stealing confidential documents.

Last week, in a decision reminiscent of our own one on the Hager case, a judge threw out the police's search warrant and ordered that the journalists' documents be returned. And today, the police finally dropped all charges:

Police in England and Northern Ireland have dropped a controversial investigation into journalists who made a documentary about a Troubles atrocity, following a public outcry and a stinging rebuke from judges.

The Durham constabulary and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) announced on Monday night that they were no longer investigating Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey over their work on No Stone Unturned, a film about the murder of six Catholics in Loughinisland, County Down, in 1994.

The journalists were immediately released from police bail and, on Tuesday can retrieve computers, files, phones and other material that had been seized.

Its a victory for press freedom in the UK. But now the police have been told they can not persecute people for trying to hold them to account, maybe they'll do their actual job and find the murderers? Or should we just take this entire debacle as their collective admission of guilt?

Austerity is mass-murder

NeoLiberal austerity is a cruel policy which robs the state of its ability to help people. In the UK, it is also mass-murder:

More than 130,000 deaths in the UK since 2012 could have been prevented if improvements in public health policy had not stalled as a direct result of austerity cuts, according to a hard-hitting analysis to be published this week.

The study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank finds that, after two decades in which preventable diseases were reduced as a result of spending on better education and prevention, there has been a seven-year “perfect storm” in which state provision has been pared back because of budget cuts, while harmful behaviours among people of all ages have increased.

Had progress been maintained at pre-2013 rates, around 131,000 lives could have been saved, the IPPR concludes. Despite promises made during the NHS’s 70th birthday celebrations last year to prioritise prevention, the UK is now only halfway up a table of OECD countries on its record for tackling preventable diseases.

That's 130,000 totally preventable deaths because Tories wanted to slash state spending to keep taxes on the rich low. Its simply murder on a colossal scale. And the Ministers responsible for it should be prosecuted for it.

Meanwhile, every time I see numbers like this, I'm left wondering: how many New Zealanders has austerity killed? How many people did Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson murder with their cuts? How many are still dying today because those cuts have never been reversed? Are there any studies? Or are we all looking the other way because Boomers got tax cuts and a housing bubble?

Climate Change: Left in the dust

The government's Zero Carbon Bill, which would establish a framework to drive New Zealand towards net-zero emissions of everything but methane by 2050, is currently in select committee. The government is spinning this as an ambitious plan to fight climate change. Meanwhile, Finland has just left us in the dust:

Finland will go carbon neutral by 2035, under a coalition deal published on Monday, setting one of the world’s earliest timelines for reaching that mark.

After more than a month of negotiations, five parties agreed on the goal championed by incoming Social Democrat prime minister Antti Rinne.

Rinne told reporters it was time to “invest in the future”, presenting the climate strategy as part of a package with increased welfare spending.

The new government said it would legislate the target and then review it in 2025.

That's an all-gases target, by 2035. And Finland has further to go than us: 40% of their electricity still comes from fossil fuels (including peat), and they have a huge paper industry which they're going to have to bring down to sustainable levels. They're goign to have to spend billions to phase out dirty systems and replace them with clean ones - but the government has committed to that (or to just regulating them out of existence and finding other jobs for unemployed peat cutters and forestry workers).

This is the sort of crash decarbonisation which is needed, and it is happening because the government - a broad coalition of five parties - has recognised that this is a crisis and is acting like it. Meanwhile, we're diddling around with a 2050 target with an enormous loophole for farmers. If you're looking for a demand to put in your submission to the select committee, then this is it: all gases carbon neutrality by 2035. Follow Finland, not farmers.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Climate Change: We need to tax jet fuel

Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. But as Stuff points out, jet fuel is exempt from taxes:

[A]lthough fuel prices have climbed steadily for the last quarter century, the jet fumes we spew into the skies are heavily subsidised.

That's because, unlike other types of fuel, airlines don't pay tax, apart from GST, on the aviation fuel they use on international routes.

It is legally exempt because of a 1944 global agreement.

The agreement is the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, but it doesn't require countries to exempt fuel they sell from tax. Instead, it requires that fuel on board planes and not unloaded not be subject to tax or duty (which is both convenient and sensible). But according to a 2012 UK parliament report, it became common practice to exempt aviation fuel to encourage the growth of air travel.

This isn't just unfair - airlines should pay their way, just like everybody else - its also stupid. Exempting jet fuel from carbon taxes or the ETS means airlines have no financial incentive to find lower-emissions fuels or alternative technologies. Which means the only way we can reduce emissions from them is reducing flights. There's already a "no fly" movement from those concerned about climate change, and reducing your air travel is being pitched as one of the most effective things you can personally do to save the climate. That's only likely to grow stronger as the climate crisis bites. And the tax exemption pushes us down that path rather than alternatives.

Like the internet, and not dying of plague, cheap and easy air travel is one of the great miracles of our age. It brings the world closer together, and that's a Good Thing. But this shortsighted policy means we are being forced to choose between that, and destroying the planet. And that's no choice at all.

How Australian

Something nasty was hidden in the details of yesterday's budget: the government will spend millions on stopping non-existent refugee boats:

Efforts to prevent boats of asylum seekers heading to New Zealand will receive $25 million in funding.

The initiative will have New Zealand work in other countries to prevent people smuggling ventures, and is part of a wider boost to immigration enforcement announced for Budget 2019 .

The Government says the focus on "Maritime Mass Arrival Prevention" is consistent with long-held policy. But talk of mass arrivals was a "dog whistle" to appear tough on migration, a refugee campaigner says.

Just to put this in context, on March 15 a racist arsehole murdered over 50 people because he thought they didn't belong here. And the government responds by spending millions to prevent refugees claiming asylum here - effectively pandering to that racist and his supporters. How Australian.

One state at a time

New Hampshire has abolished the death penalty:

New Hampshire, which hasn’t executed anyone in 80 years and has only one inmate on death row, has became the latest US state to abolish the death penalty when the state senate voted to override the governor’s veto.

“Now it’s up to us to stop this practice that is archaic, costly, discriminatory and final,” said New Hampshire state senator Melanie Levesque.

The senate vote came a week after the 400-member house voted by the narrowest possible margin to override Republican governor Chris Sununu’s veto of a bill to repeal capital punishment.

Good. Twenty US states have abolished the death penalty so far, and there are formal moratoriums (imposed by Governors, the courts, or state medical boards) in another eight. But the map of the death penalty looks like the map of everything else in the USA: its murderous red states vs anti-death penalty blue states. And it'll probably take a while to overcome that.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A deckchairs budget

The government has formally released its budget today, highlighted as being all about wellbeing. There's some valuable initiatives in there, including almost $2 billion for mental health, a move to index benefits to wages rather than inflation, and a $1 billion investment in rail infrastructure. All of this is great. At the same time, there's something huge missing from the budget: climate change.

Oh, it got a mention in the speech as part of environmental measures, and there's some token funding: a few million to manage the ETS and keep the independent climate change commission running, $50 million for trees, and a token boost of ~$11 million to research spending on agricultural greenhouse gases. But there's no major policy announcements on how the government is going to deal with it, and no major new initiatives to reduce emissions.

Climate change is the most important problem facing New Zealand. The Prime Minister called fighting it "my generation's nuclear free moment". Its the only policy that matters, and next to it everything else is deckchairs on the Titanic. But that's what we got: deckchairs. No money for a major decarbonisation of our electricity system. No money for a major decarbonisation of our transport system. No money, in short, to stop us poisoning the planet.

Governments show what they value with money. Jacinda Ardern's government has shown what it values today, and it is not the future. It is not what the Prime Minister says she values. And when we have so little time left, that is a huge wasted opportunity to move us towards a more sustainable path.

Arbitrary detention in Spain

Twelve Catalan politicians are currently on trial in Madrid on charges of "sedition" and "rebellion" over Catalonia's 2017 independence referendum. Many of them have been held without bail since their arrest almost two years ago. But now, a UN working group has concluded that their detention is arbitrary:

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council, has released an opinion on the pretrial detention of Catalan leaders Oriol Junqueras, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart concluding it to have been arbitrary and calling on the Spanish government to "adopt the necessary measures to remedy the situation [...] without delay". They go on to suggest that "the appropriate remedy would be to immediately release" the three.

The report finds that their imprisonment without bail violates international rules, including parts of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Besides being released, the group says the three should be "conceded the right [to] compensation" and that the government should "carry out an exhaustive and independent investigation [...] and adopt the appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of their rights".

Its unprecedented in modern Europe for a democratic state to be the subject of such a finding. But then, so is beating people and shooting rubber bullets at trying to vote. Naturally, Spain is outraged that the UN is calling it out for its undemocratic, authoritarian practices. And in doing so, the Spanish government sounds just like its fascist forebears.

The trial itself is expected to wrap up in a few weeks time, and we all know what to expect: convictions and long sentences for those who dared to stand up for democracy. Spain clearly thinks that that will make Catalans become good little subjects again. I doubt it. Instead, it will become another justification for independence: to escape Spanish injustice.

Climate Change: "Freedom gas"

When the US invades and destroys a country, they call it "bringing freedom". So its probably natural that they'd start referring to methane, a dirty fuel which destroys the global climate and threatens to make the Earth uninhabitable, as "freedom gas":

America is the land of freedom, as any politician will be happy to tell you. What you don’t hear quite so often is that the stuff under the land is also apparently made of freedom as well. That is, at least according to a news release this week from the Department of Energy (DoE).

Mark W Menezes, the US undersecretary of energy, bestowed a peculiar honorific on our continent’s natural resources, dubbing it “freedom gas” in a release touting the DoE’s approval of increased exports of natural gas produced by a Freeport LNG terminal off the coast of Texas.

“Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy,” he said.


“With the US in another year of record-setting natural gas production, I am pleased that the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of US freedom to be exported to the world,” said Steven Winberg.

America has increasingly become a bad pardoy of itself, and this is more of the same. But where "freedom fries" were harmless, their "freedom gas" poses a direct threat to the lives and security of the entire world (including a hell of a lot of Americans). The best way of defending ourselves against that is to make it an economic dead-end as quickly as possible.

What a muppet show

So, it turns out that the Budget "hack" was performed using that nefarious, illegal hacking technique called "using the search engine". Police have concluded that it wasn't illegal and they will be taking no further action (because its using the fucking search engine). I'm surprised they didn't charge Treasury with wasting police time.

Meanwhile, Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf has presided over incompetence and smeared the opposition. We pay public sector CEOs the big bucks supposedly to take responsibility. We pay Makhlouf over $600,000 a year on that basis. So how about we get what we paid for? By running a muppet show, Makhlouf has fucked up his agency's biggest event of the year, and the centrepiece of the government's policies. It would be hard to imagine a more public screwup. But I forget: he's fucking off to Ireland. So I guess he's in DNGAF mode now. While SSC is looking into it, there's nothing they can really do to him now, so we'll get no accountability at all. I guess NeoLiberal public sector management theory didn't really think about that...

And then there's the next obvious question: how long has this flaw been lurking in Treasury's web servers? How many budgets have been googled in advance that way? Was market-sensitive information revealed, and did someone make money from it? Because that actually would be important.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Treasury owes us answers

Writing in The Spinoff, Danyl Mclauchlan argues that Treasury should tell us what actually happened. He's right. Budget data is supposed to be some of the most secure information held by the government. One way or another, it has been released to the public early. And there needs to be some accountability for that. It doesn't matter whether Treasury staff were total muppets, or if it was a real hack - either way there has been a failure on their part to safeguard crucial information. The only question is the degree of incompetence.

But conveniently, by referring the matter to the police Treasury has ensured that they can never do that. It might prejudice the police investigation, you see. OIA requests can be refused to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law, and anyone who actually tells anyone anything can be prosecuted. Accountability of course goes out the window - but neither Treasury nor their Minister has any interest in that (Ministers are rarely interested in incompetence in their own agencies, because it makes them look bad for allowing it). As for us, the public, we're the loser, stuck with an incompetent, arse-covering public agency which has just failed on one of its most important tasks.

Still, it could be worse: at least they haven't killed anyone. Unlike some other government failures.

Support the teachers

Teachers are on strike today, schools are closed across the country, and there are protests scheduled for practically every city. Why? Because after years of being overworked and underpaid, they've simply had enough. They want higher wages, a proper career path, and lighter workloads so they can actually teach. And they deserve all of the above.

They'll be marching on Parliament at noon, where no doubt the government will once again say they have no more money. Which is simply a politician's way of saying that they have other priorities - priorities which don't include paying teachers what they're worth, and which continue to take them for granted. But it looks like the teachers aren't swallowing that bullshit anymore. Because they're not just going on strike today - they have five weeks of rolling stoppages scheduled after this to keep the pressure on. If you think having to take care of your own kids today is "disruptive", you're going to be doing a lot more of it in the future unless the government pays up. So maybe you should contact your local Labour MP and ask them to make that happen.

Treasury, "hacking", and incentives

Overnight National's budget leak story exploded, with Treasury calling in police over allegations of computer crime. This morning Treasury doubled down on that, saying they had detected over 2000 attempts to access budget information in the last 48 hours. The implication is that this was 2000 hacking attempts (shock! panic!), but it could just as well be 2000 attempts to find budget documents at their usual URLs (like we all did last night after noticing that a cached version of Treasury's publication search showed 2019 budget documents).

National leader Simon Bridges is refusing to say how he got the documents, and quite sensibly too given the allegations that are being thrown around. The most likely scenario is that Treasury fucked up and left them lying around on their web-server for anyone to read, and National or one of its proxies noticed this and exploited it. Accessing unprotected data on a public web-server isn't "hacking" in any sense of the word - its just browsing. But unless some low-level Treasury IT prole directly admitted that they fucked up and resigned immediately, the bureaucratic incentive towards arse-covering and blame-avoidance pushes that to be reclassified as nefarious "hacking", and that incentive gets stronger the higher up the chain (and the further away from IT knowledge) you get. And so "obscurity still isn't security" transforms into "our security was hacked" in the same way that "a crock of shit which stinks" becomes "a powerful growth-promoting plan".

Unfortunately the natural instincts of power in New Zealand are to double down rather than admit a mistake, and to call in the police when embarrassed - just look at the tea tape, or Dirty Politics. With those, we saw police raiding newsrooms and journalist's homes. I'm wondering if we're going to see police raiding the opposition this time. Which would be highly damaging to our democracy. To point out the obvious, that's the sort of shit done in Australia, and worse places. Its not something we should tolerate here, and I would hope that the Speaker would resist any attempt to do so.

(Meanwhile, Steven Price has some interesting thoughts on the ethics and legality of National using the information, which is a completely different question to how it was acquired. Personally, I take an expansive view of public interest around accountability, and I would be loath to see the courts deciding whether politics is in the public interest because that way lies China. If people are unhappy with National's ethics over this, we have a ballot box and should use it accordingly).

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

This is what the destruction of social licence looks like

When the mining industry arranged its annual conference for Dunedin and booked the mayor to speak at it, they probably expected a nice quiet clubby meeting in which to plot the destruction of the planet for private profit. Instead, they've been blockaded by protesters and denounced to their faces by the mayor:

The mining industry was left in no doubt that Dunedin's council is not welcoming it here and is on notice to figure climate change strategies into their operations.


When Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull spoke he grabbed the immediate attention of the delegates.

"So to be clear, if you're promoting fossil fuel exploration, extraction and exploitation and especially its expansion, then understand you are at odds with this community and my council that represents it,'' he said.


"We don't have any right to trade in our children's and grandchildren's futures just to make a quick dollar now,'' he said to the silent audience.

He said the protestors outside, "however impolite and disrespectful'' were expressing the "overwhelming view of this community and my council''.

This is what the destruction of an industry's social licence looks like. The mining industry is neither socially nor environmentally responsible. A large part of Cull's city is going to be underwater thanks to the environmental destruction of this industry, and its clear he feels no need to pretend any longer that they are anything but climate criminals. And hopefully they'll get the same treatment next year, and the year after, and the year after that, wherever they go.

So much for the handmaid party

Its official: Alfred Ngaro has decided to stay with National, so the handmaid party will not be happening. I guess they figured out that entering the crowded religious loon market with a vehicle fundamentally compromised from the outset was unlikely to be successful, and more likely to result in a net loss of voters to our unfair MMP threshold. But also, the entrance of Destiny Church into that same market both threatened the success of the handmaids and made them redundant. Why take the risk and expense of establishing a spinoff party to be a coalition partner when someone else is willing to do it for you? Sure, Destiny may be more difficult to work with if elected, but that's a big "if", and National can cross that bridge if they come to it.