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.

Are we China now?

I've just been reading a disturbing Twitter thread from lawyer Felix Geiringer about an apparent abuse of power by NZ Customs. Author Margie Thomson is launching a book tonight in Wellington. The details of the book are embargoed until after launch, but Nicky Hager wrote the forward and will be speaking at the launch. Given this, its a fair bet the book criticises a government agency in some way. So its highly disturbing to read that a person carrying its manuscript was stopped over the weekend by NZ Customs while entering New Zealand, detained and questioned in an effort to learn its title and content:

As Geiringer notes, Customs have some explaining to do. Because stopping critics of the government at the border and harassing them in an effort to learn about their criticism is the sort of bullshit you expect in despotisms like China, not in democratic New Zealand. Its a prima facie abuse of power, and it is difficult to see how it could possibly be a legitimate use of Customs' powers. Section 205 of the Customs and Excise Act allows detention and questioning about dutiable, prohibited, uncustomed, or forfeited goods or debt to the crown, and s208 allows it for public health or law enforcement purposes. But we don't ban books criticising the government here, and publishing something critical of a government agency or having your forward written by a critic of government power is not a criminal offence. So what was the lawful basis for this detention? And how did they know this person was carrying the manuscript so they could target them in this way?

I expect we'll hear more about this when the book is launched tonight. And no doubt there'll be some fascinating excavation of Customs' wrongdoing, and that of whichever agency put them up to this.

Climate Change: A national emergency?

Two weeks ago, Canterbury and Nelson declared climate change emergencies. There was speculation at the time that parliament would follow suit, and while there's nothing on the order paper, a press release from national suggests that the Greens are putting a motion. And naturally, National is opposing it:

The Green Party’s motion without debate on declaring a climate emergency in New Zealand goes against the bipartisan approach to climate change, National’s Climate Change spokesperson Todd Muller says.


“At first glance this looks like nothing more than political posturing and virtue signalling. This is especially true in light of the Minister’s recent comments that he anticipates emissions to continue to rise until the mid-2020’s.

Climate change is the most serious threat to New Zealand and our future. A declaration by Parliament of an emergency is signalling an intent to take it seriously and take real action to stop it and protect our lives. But National thinks that's "virtue signalling". Which is exactly what a party owned by polluters and climate criminals would say.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Climate Change: Will NZ meet its 2030 target?

At the Paris climate conference in 2015, New Zealand committed to a target of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% (from 2005) by 2030 - or an 11% cut from 1990 levels, in real units. But an article from NZ Energy and Environment Business Week points out that the Zero Carbon Bill RIS suggests we may not meet that target:

Officials have told ministers NZ is not on track to meet is current commitments under the Paris Agreement.


In the climate change legislation Regulatory Impact Assessment, Officials said: “NZ cannot rely on afforestation to deliver the necessary offsets over the next twelve years to meet its NDC, or on major innovations being market-ready and adopted (such as a methane vaccine or widespread adoption of electric or autonomous vehicles).

“Based on what we know from high-level indications of abatement potential, NZ’s transition pathway is highly likely to start more gradually – as opposed to continuing in a straight line from now to 2050 – and could accelerate in later decades if innovations come to fruition, likely bolstered if there are strong domestic signals that support transition.”


Despite there being some ways to reduce emissions, “these are expected on best estimates to be less than the abatement required to meet our NDC, leaving a gap between domestic budgets and our NDC in 2030”.

As a result, the advisers pushed for the ability to weaken targets to something that could be met. Whereas what it should result in is stronger policy so that we meet our commitments. Because obviously, how much we reduce emissions by depends on the policies we set, and those policies are not set in stone. If we exclude major polluters from the ETS, cap the price, and give away millions of tons of free credits, pretty obviously incentives to reduce emissions are lower than if we include all polluters, cap the number of credits at a level appropriate to our targets, and let the price rise. Likewise, if we let people import any shitty old car, no matter how dirty, and subsidise them through general taxation paying for roads (as opposed to making rail users pay for the tracks), then we will have higher emissions than if we set emissions standards for vehicles and fund rail fairly. And so on. You can tell similar stories around electricity (where fossil fuels are effectively subsidised by the ETS price cap), industrial emissions (where the inability of councils to consider climate change in resource consent decisions means they are effectively unregulated), and most obviously, agriculture. But if we change those policies, we change the incentives, and ultimately our emissions.

The Zero Carbon Bill isn't the bill to do that - its about setting a framework for budgets and accountability, not direct emissions reductions. But the government has mentioned an upcoming ETS bill, and hopefully this will make the required changes to properly set us on a downward path.

A good idea

The decline of the media has meant a decline in local government reporting, which in turn threatens a decline in our democracy. So the government is going to try and fix it, by funding it through NZ On Air:

Publicly funded reporters will be employed by news publishers around the country in a first-of-its-kind scheme unveiled today to address declines in local news coverage. It’s the result of a government-approved collaboration between RNZ, publishers and the government’s broadcasting funding agency.

Eight reporters will be recruited to report local news around the country under a new scheme created by the Newspaper Publishers Association, RNZ and the government's broadcasting funding agency New Zealand on Air (NZOA).

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) will generate news and content available to media outlets including RNZ, the country’s biggest newspaper publishers - Stuff, NZME and South Island publisher Allied Press - and small local publishers too.

One million dollars to fund the scheme comes from the $6m Joint Innovation Fund for RNZ and NZOA established by the government in last year’s Budget to create “more public media content for under-served audiences” including regional New Zealand.

It basicly means the government will be paying for private media organisations to employ journalists to report solely on local democracy issues: local government, DHBs, trusts, and council-controlled organisations. The content will then be syndicated, making it available to all. Its a good move to ensure that this vital public watchdog function isn't killed off by the rapacious venture capitalists who own much of our media, and the model has been tested already in the UK. But I'm wondering: if the print media continues its decline into farming clickbait, at what stage will the government need to step in and introduce a public ownership model to protect their vital democratic functions? We do it for broadcast media; is it time to do it for print and web as well?

The European elections

The European Union went to the polls last week to elect members of the European Parliament. This was actually staged as a series of national-level elections, starting on Thursday (because the UK are barbaric and refuse to run their elections on a sensible day), and wrapping up on Sunday with most EU nations voting. Results are coming in, and they're interesting.

In the UK, EU elections (like everything else) were a proxy for Brexit, and predictably the new Brexit Party is leading the poll. While it has stepped into the place of the old UKIP, it has also gained votes from the Conservatives. Meanwhile, UK Labour's refusal to take a solid position on the primary political issue of the day has seen it bleed votes to the Liberal Democrats, while concern over climate change has boosted the Green vote. The result is a slaughter for the political establishment: Labour has apparently been pushed into third, while the Conservatives are trailing in fifth place, behind the Greens, and have lost almost all their seats. European elections aren't the same as elections to Westminster, but it should be worrying the establishment parties, and if there's anything like this flow of votes in the next parliamentary elections, the UK's unfair electoral system will turn it into a massacre.

In Germany, in more bad news for political establishments, the Social Democrats were pushed into third place by the Greens. This was likely a result of the SDP's collaboration in a grand coalition, but also part of a Europe-wide Green surge. The Greens also came second in Finland, and third in France and Ireland.

Spain has another headache, with both exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and jailed ERC leader Oriol Junqueras elected on different lists. The Spanish establishment will no doubt try and stop them from taking their seats, but this will put Catalan independence on the European political stage.

The longstanding grand coalition between the European People's Party and the Social Democrats has lost its majority, which means they'll need to put together another arrangement - either bringing another grouping in, or finding a completely new coalition (and there are plenty of possibilities). unfortunately I don't know enough about EU politics to know what's likely.

Friday, May 24, 2019

New Fisk

The evidence we were never meant to see about the Douma ‘gas’ attack

Journalism is not espionage

The US has charged Wikileaks editor Julian Assange with espionage

Julian Assange could face decades in a US prison after being charged with violating the Espionage Act by publishing classified information through WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors announced 17 additional charges against Assange for publishing hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


“Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries,” the justice department said in a statement. Officials said the publication of secret files by WikiLeaks was “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States”.

The WikiLeaks founder faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison in the US if convicted of all the charges against him.

No matter what you think of Assange, this is a threat to freedom of the press around the world. The core of these charges is that Assange received and republished information the US considered to be secret. And that is the basic job of every real journalist everywhere. As the saying goes, news is what someone doesn't want you to print. Everything else is public relations.

Countless US-based journalists reporting on foreign affairs, America's wars, and its military-espionage-industrial complex have done exactly what Assange has done. With these charges, the US government has labelled them all as criminals. And that is downright dangerous.

The good news: the US-UK extradition treaty specifically forbids extradition for offences of a political character. And "espionage" is by its nature political, recognised in international law as covered by this exception. So the US has just handed Assange a slam-dunk argument to avoid extradition, and while UK ministers (as good little US vassals) may be willing to sign the papers, I have confidence that the UK judiciary will not let them. If the US wants to prosecute Assange for this, they will have to kidnap him. Sadly, given the current state of the world, that's not something which can be ruled out...

Climate Change: Strike!

Tens of thousands of students are skipping school today to strike for the climate. If you don't understand what this is about, you haven't been reading the news. The planet is burning, and their future is at risk. So, they're standing up for that future, and demanding change.

But don't take it from me. The Spinoff has given space to some of the students to explain why they're striking (again). And they've included a helpful list of demands:

  • That the government acknowledges the magnitude of the climate crisis by declaring a climate emergency. This move will set the narrative for the urgent pace at which we need to act on climate change, but must uphold our democratic systems and obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
  • That all parties in parliament support passing an ambitious zero carbon act into law that puts into place a legally enforceable plan to get to carbon zero by 2040.
  • That the government ceases all new exploration and extraction of fossil fuels, including not granting extensions on existing permits.
  • That the government invests in building a renewable and regenerative economy now. This includes immediate investment in retraining and the provision of alternative jobs in clean, sustainable industries that do not harm the ecosystems on which we depend for survival.
These are the changes we need to make if we as a species are to survive this. And while that 2040 target will be tough, does anyone really think with the way things are going that zero by 2050 will be enough? The selfish old will be going "I don't care, I'll be dead". But if you or people you care about expect to live more than 30 more years, if you have children, friends or relatives with children, or you're just not a sociopathic arsehole, you need to care about this. This is about the world we leave to future generations. And if we want their lives to be as good as our own, or just not completely fucking miserable, then we need real action, now. If you see striking students today, show your support. And if you want to get involved, the international school strike movement is calling for a global general strike for the climate on September 20. Mark the date, and be prepared to stand up for a future.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Climate Change: Submit!

The Environment Committee has called for submissions on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill. To submit, fill out the online form by Tuesday, 16 July 2019.

This is an important bill, and I urge everyone to submit on it. Farmers and other polluters certainly will be, so if you want a habitable planet, its important to make your voice heard. And while the fix may be in on this bill (it all having been pre-negotiated with NZFirst), at the least you will be helping pile up ammunition for future toughening.

As for what to say, I'd suggest supporting the general framework for the bill, demanding tougher methane targets so farmers are actually pulling their weight like the rest of us, urging the replacement of s5ZK with one which requires government agencies to take targets into account in decision-making, and removal of the odious secrecy clause. You should put all that in your own words, because if you just copy and paste it, the select committee will consider it a form submission and ignore it.

Again, the polluters will be out in force, trying to convince the government to let them drag their feet some more and destroy the world for private profit. Don't let them get away with it. Speak up, or drown.

Destiny's Child

Back in 2003, Destiny Church theocrat Brian Tamaki founded a political party, Destiny New Zealand, to rail against modern society. In the 2005 election, it gained just 0.62% of the vote. But Tamaki is undeterred, so he's trying again:

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki has announced he and his wife Hannah Tamaki will lead a new political party - Coalition New Zealand.

"You're going to see politics with teeth," Tamaki said at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

"Labour has been taking us in the wrong direction our freedom is endangered due to harmful politics coming from the government."

What are its policies? They don't say. Instead its all about "poor decision making" and "spin" and standing up for the "silent majority" (all 0.62% of them). But no doubt they'll add something in due course. In the meantime, it looks like just another ego-trip.

Meanwhile, the bigot party niche is looking increasingly crowded, with Coalition New Zealand, the New Conservatives, and Alfred Ngaro's planned handmaid party. So many parties fighting over so small a chunk of the vote! By party count, bigots are some of the most well-represented people in New Zealand. Sadly, our unfair MMP threshold prevents them from ever gaining parliamentary representation.

The UK has no friends left

Back in February, the International Court of Justice ruled that UK had violated international law in its ethnic cleansing of the Chagos Islands, and ordered that they be handed back to Mauritius. Today the UN General Assembly voted on a followup motion to that ruling, to condemn the UK's illegal occupation of the Chagos - and the UK found itself without any friends:

The United Nations general assembly has overwhelmingly backed a motion condemning Britain’s occupation of the remote Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

The 116-6 vote left the UK diplomatically isolated and was also a measure of severely diminished US clout on the world stage. Washington had campaigned vigorously at the UN and directly in talks with national capitals around the world in defence of the UK’s continued control of the archipelago, where there is a US military base at Diego Garcia.

The vote was in support of a motion setting a six-month deadline for Britain to withdraw from the Chagos island chain and for the islands to be reunified with neighbouring Mauritius. It endorsed an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February, calling on the UK to relinquish its hold on the territory in order to complete the process of decolonisation.

The US, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives backed the UK in the vote and 56 countries abstained, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland and Romania. Other European allies including Austria, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland voted for the UK to relinquish sovereignty.

The UK was desperate to avoid having single-figure support, but in the end all it could muster was a collection of militarists, racists, and outright fascists. Which is what happens if you behave like a rogue state.

As for New Zealand, sadly we abstained rather than vote to uphold international law. So much for our commitment to decolonisation and a law-governed international environment.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Let Fonterra die

Fonterra is complaining that the offshore oil exploration ban could impede its plans to switch from coal to gas. Basicly, they're worried about future gas supplies and whether they can switch to a fuel which may no longer be available. So, they claim they'll just have to stick to dirty old coal, just like they do at present. Of course, this ignore the likelihood that it will get more expensive as carbon prices rise, or the possibility that it too may one day be banned, let alone the possibility of simply cutting production to reduce emissions (which, if you believe farmer wailing about forestry conversions and methane targets, is likely anyway). And meanwhile, their competitor Synlait is going clean, using heat pumps and biomass rather than coal.

So why doesn't Fonterra follow suit? I don't know - maybe their farmer-shareholders should ask them, given that the future survival of the company depends on it. Meanwhile, the public is justified in concluding that they're just dirty environmental vandals who hate change.

If companies want to survive in a climate change world, they need to go clean. It's that simple. If Fonterra won't, and persists in clinging to dirty technology, then the best thing that can happen is for it to die and for its place to be taken by a cleaner competitor.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. While it was originally expected to be the second reading of David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill, National's bigots have successfully filibustered the past few Member's Days, so that now looks like it won't happen until June. Instead, we have the third reading of the Gore District Council (Otama Rural Water Supply) Bill, followed by the third reading of Simeon Brown's Psychoactive Substances (Increasing Penalty for Supply and Distribution) Amendment Bill and the committee stage of Kieran McAnulty's Employment Relations (Triangular Employment) Amendment Bill. Depending on how the filibuster goes, the House might also make a start on the second reading of Hamish Walker's KiwiSaver (Foster Parents Opting in for Children in their Care) Amendment Bill, but is unlikely to get further. There will be no ballot tomorrow.

Climate Change: We are not prepared for this

A couple of years ago the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment warned us of a "slow-moving red zone" due to sea-level rise. According to their estimates, tens of thousands of homes and billions of dollars of infrastructure were at risk. The PCE's warning was based on sea-level rise of up to a metre by 2100 (with storm surges above that line). But there's bad news: we may now be looking at twice that:

Previous predictions for rising sea levels might be incorrect, according to a new study.

The study - published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - found sea levels may rise by 2 metres by 2100.

These findings contradict the original prediction by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report in 2013, which suggested there will be a rise of just under a metre by the year 2100.

"For 2100, the ice sheet contribution is very likely in the range of 7-178cm but once you add in the glaciers and ice caps outside the ice sheets and thermal expansion of the seas, you tip well over two metres," lead author Professor Jonathan Bamber told the BBC.

Globally, this means whole countries disappear, and more than 180 million people displaced. In New Zealand? Well, we just don't know, because the PCE's maps, designed to highlight problem areas, only go to 1.5m. But even from them, we can get an idea of the scale of the problem: whole communities will be going under. Central Lower Hutt will be on the beach. The cost of this will be enormous. Local Government New Zealand estimates a cost of between $8 and $14 billion for pipes and roads alone, and that's not even considering people's homes or the disruption and stress.

Avoiding those costs is a question of planning. But MfE's Coastal Hazards and Climate Change guidance for local government suggests councils use a worst-case scenario of 1.05 metres by 2100. Clearly we need some better estimates, otherwise a lot of people are going to end up carrying the can for poor council decision-making, while greedy developers laugh all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

This is not acceptable in a democracy

Last week, ACT leader David Seymour called Green MP Golriz Ghahraman "a real menace to freedom in this country" over her views on hate speech. He said this in an environment where Ghahraman regularly receives death threats. And now, thanks to him, she needs a police escort:

Green GP Golriz Ghahraman is now accompanied by a police escort at all times following a series of death threats.

The MP has seen a significant escalation in threats of violence following comments by ACT MP David Seymour, a source told Stuff.

Seymour told radio host Sean Plunket that: "Golriz Ghahraman is a real menace to freedom in this country" in a Magic Talk segment on hate speech.

A Green party source said there had been a jump in disturbing threats to the Auckland-based MP since the comments last weekend.

Seymour is basicly trying to get one of his political opponents murdered. But I guess that's what ACT, the "party of freedom" stands for now: the "freedom" of racists to threaten and even murder anyone they want.

Needless to say, this ought to be completely unacceptable in a democracy. And if you live in Epsom, and you voted for this racist thug, I hope you're really proud of yourself.

A toxic workplace

The report of the Independent External Review into Bullying and Harassment in the New Zealand Parliamentary Workplace was released today, and it paints a picture of a toxic workplace where bullying is rife. MP's bully staff, MP's bully each other, Parliamentary Services' HR department is useless and compromised, and its basicly a perpetual torrent of stress and shit. And no-one does anything about it because of the power imbalances and political sensitivities which mean no-one can complain, let alone get justice. And this is all widely known within the building, which makes it surprising that anybody is willing to work there at all.

What to do about it? The independent reviewer recommends a bunch of changes to staff contracts and conditions, which is all good. More importantly, they have recommended that Parliament establish an Independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Conduct to investigate abuses by MPs. Which would be great if it happens, but given those sensitivities, I just can't imagine MPs ever voting for that.

Speaking of MP's, this bit is particularly quoteworthy:

“There’s a majority of absolutely lovely MPs and Ministers who are real people people and who would be excellent leaders anywhere. They are just awesome. Then there’s the few who are various shades of shits...and everyone knows who they are, and no one ever challenges least not obviously or effectively.”

It was very common for respondents to mention the names of a small number of Members they saw as ‘repeat offenders’. As one put it: “Everyone will give you the same list. It’s well known but there’s a conspiracy of silence about these few.”

The report of course refuses to name those MPs, meaning that the independent reviewer is effectively part of this conspiracy of silence as well. Which is not acceptable. Naming names is the first step towards accountability, and that needs to happen if anything is to change.

There's also some interesting stuff about demographics. Pointing out that many member-support staff are "twenty-something year-old staff members in what may be their first job out of university", the report goes on to say:
This has several consequential effects. One of the more concerning is the fact that some young staff members appeared to me to believe that some of the negative aspects of the parliamentary workplace were normal. Some described emerging from their employment experience at Parliament cynical and with a high tolerance for poor behaviour. When young professionals in their first jobs see or experience bad behaviour by leaders it risks them replicating those behaviours.

And at this point that its worth noting that both of the publicly-identified parliamentary bullies (Jami-Lee Ross and Meka Whaitiri) previously served as member-support staff, meaning their bullying behaviour may have been institutionalised into them. Its rather like intergenerational child-abuse: today's abusive MP's were normalised to abusive habits by their past exposure to a toxic, abusive institution.

So what can we do about it? Apart from demanding an independent commissioner, this bit has a hint:
I did form an impression of demographic differences among Members in their attitudes to peer to peer bullying and harassment, regardless of Party. Newer or younger Members tended to express low tolerance for poor conduct from colleagues, while longer tenured Members tended to say something like, in the words of one: “I’ve just got used to it as being part of what this place is all about. It’s not a place for the faint hearted.”

So one obvious way of improving parliament's culture would be for us to vote out the time-servers who are institutionalised to and help normalise it. While its not sufficient, it might at least allow some change to take place.

Climate Change: More emergencies

Last week, ECan declared a climate change emergency, becoming the first local authority in New Zealand to do so. They were swiftly followed by Nelson, and Christchurch looks like it will follow suit this week. And from a report on Friday, Parliament might do it as well:

Canterbury and Nelson have moved into a state of "climate emergency" - and Parliament could soon vote to make the declaration.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw agrees global warming has created an emergency, and applauded Environment Canterbury (ECan) and Nelson City councillors for taking the step.

And he revealed some MPs are in discussions about taking a similar stance on a national level.

That would require MPs to approve a motion in Parliament, as they have done in Britain and Ireland in the last few months.

All of which is great, but we need this to be more than empty symbolism. Instead, these declarations need to include language stating that climate change will be considered in all future policymaking - or, in the case of the government, legislative teeth to make that happen. And with the Zero Carbon Bill having its first reading this afternoon, there's an obvious way to do that: remove the existing s5ZK (which allows but does not require agencies to take climate changes into account) and replace it with one that requires them to do so.

NZDF's secret rules of engagement

There's been another dump of documents from the Operation Burnham "inquiry", this time about rules of engagement. In the past, NZDF has refused to release these due to "national security", on the odd theory that if it were publicly known that their soldiers could only shoot at people who were actively participating in hostilities, their enemies might somehow game the system and avoid being shot by not doing that. Which would be a Bad Thing, somehow. But now they're public (give or take redactions around specific weapon approvals), and they say exactly what people thought they said. Which really invites the question of why they were secret in the first place. But I guess NZDF's idea of secrecy is like US patent law: it can apply to things which are obvious, if not public domain.

If you read them closely, though, there's an unpleasant twist: the rules of engagement only allow use of force to defend themselves, "designated persons" or "designated property" against "hostile acts" (being use of force against NZDF, "designated persons" or "designated property"). Those "designated persons" definitions basicly boil down to the occupying forces and their Afghan government allies and their stuff. It does not in any way include Afghan civilians - the people our government told us the NZDF were in Afghanistan to protect. Protecting them may be covered in some circumstances under the "achieve the mission" clause, but at most, they're an afterthought. The important lives in NZDF's rules of engagement are those of Americans and their vassals, not the actual people whose country they're in and who they're supposedly there to help.

And then there's the mission, which is stated in another document as "to maintain stability, defeat the insurgency, assist the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) and enhance the reputation of the NZDF and GONZ" (emphasis added). Pretty obviously, one of these things is not like the others. In NZDF's own words, the SAS were sent to Afghanistan to make them and the National Party look good to America. Which is basicly the core critique of Hager's Other People's Wars. No wonder they wanted to keep it secret.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Australia votes for the same old shit

Australians went to the polls over the weekend, and have apparently re-elected the shit party to government. It was unexpected, but I guess that's what happens when you have a media landscape utterly dominated by a highly partisan monopoly. Meanwhile, thanks to the country's unfair electoral system, the government will enjoy an artificial (near?) majority, while a party which won 10% of the vote will have less than 1% of the seats.

But while its a devastating blow for anyone who valued human rights or wanted action on climate change, there's a slight silver lining. Firstly, the government is unlikely to be much stronger in the House of Representatives than it is now, while in the Senate (which is elected under STV, and so roughly proportional), it will need the support of either Labor or the Greens to pass anything. Which means that while all the current bad shit will continue, it might not be able to get up to much worse shit unless supported by those arseholes in the shit-lite party (which sadly happens with disturbing regularity on anything human-rights related). Of course, there's all sorts of ways a government can do shit without needing to legislate (like approving coal mines, or bombing places), and those will continue, but big policy change is probably off the table, just as it has been for the last six years. Which in turn means the government will probably stick to knifing one another simply to have something to do, until frustration causes them to call another election.

(Thanks to Juice Media's Honest Government Ad on preferential voting for their characterisation of the parties).

Genesis clings to coal

Back in 2015, SOE Genesis Energy committed to shutting down the last two coal-fired units at its Huntly power-plant by December 2018. Last year they pushed back that commitment to 2030. And now, they're weakening it still further:

The country's largest power company, Genesis Energy, is easing off its plan to stop using coal completely by 2030.


In February last year, Genesis announced an ambitious target to rid of the coal-fired units at Huntly, but chief executive Marc England is now wavering on that goal.

"Our intent is to remove coal by 2030 if we can."

Whether they can depends on the investment decisions they make now. The fact that they're weakening their target suggests that they have no intention of making the necessary decisions to meet it. Kindof like the New Zealand government's climate change targets for the past 20 years, really. But we can no longer afford to piss about; if Genesis won't commit to eliminating coal, the government must do it for them, by banning mining and imports. And if that is inconvenient for Genesis, well, they should have planned for a better future then.

Equality (finally) comes to Taiwan

Back in 2017, Taiwan's highest court ruled that violated “the people’s freedom of marriage” and “the people’s right to equality”, and gave the legislature to enact a marriage equality law. And over the weekend, just one week before the deadline expired, they finally did it:

Taiwan has legalised same-sex marriage, the first of any Asian state, with the passage of legislation giving gay couples the right to marry.

Lawmakers on Friday comfortably passed part of a bill that would allow gay couples to enter into “exclusive permanent unions” and apply for marriage registration with government agencies.

Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who campaigned on a platform of marriage equality, tweeted after the vote: “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

The government had a gun to its head, in that if they hadn't legislated, a court order would have come into effect allowing same-sex marriage. And while the current president supports equality, in the interim they have had a bigot referendum which sought to restrict marriage rights and permanently exclude gay couples. The law tries to dance a line between the court order and the referendum. Whether it manages that successfully will I guess be decided by the courts.

Ignoring the Ombudsman

Back in 2017, after then-Transport Minister Simon Bridges had been caught red-handed unlawfully interfering with an OIA request about Auckland rail upgrades, the Ombudsman recommended that government agencies develop formal protocols with Ministers to limit Ministerial interference. So how's that workign out? Sadly, its not:

Ministers and government agencies have ignored the Ombudsman's plea for signed agreements outlawing political meddling in Official Information Act (OIA) responses.

Two years after the Ombudsman urged agencies to agree terms to avoid "perceptions of impropriety", none of the 30 departments surveyed have done so. Two have agreements in the pipelines.


While Boshier found KiwiRail did not act "contrary to the law", its OIA process was "less than ideal". As a result, he drafted a model agreement, promising ministers "will not provide inappropriate input, such as raising irrelevant considerations (like political embarrassment)".

However, a Stuff survey of 32 agencies found none yet had a signed agreement with their minister. Internal Affairs is finalising an agreement and the Ministry for Primary Industries is working with the Ombudsman to improve its OIA process, including a signed protocol.

KiwiRail still has no agreement and sends all OIA requests to shareholding ministers and transport-related ones to the Transport Minister.

Which suggests that Ministers still want to unlawfully interfere in requests, and agencies are unwilling to stand up to them. As for what to do about it, we need a statutory requirement for such agreements, and criminal penalties for interference. But what Minister is going to vote for that?

Friday, May 17, 2019

Climate Change: Tweaking the ETS

Climate Change Minister James Shaw has announced the latest decisions in the government's programme to tweak the Emissions Trading Scheme to make it actually discourage pollution rather than subsidise it. There's a commitment to begin auctioning units from late next year, and to remove the price cap from then (or from 2022 at the latest). There are also plans to increase penalties for non-compliance, ensuring that polluters who refuse to engage with the scheme can be properly punished. But one of the biggest change sis around transparency, with a commitment to publish totals of emissions and removals for every ETS participant. This isn't actually as intrusive as it seems: because our ETS sets the "point of obligation" at a very high level, there are only about 300 mandatory participants (plus 2150 voluntary ones, mostly forestry companies), and we'll be seeing effectively how much oil, gas and coal is being imported and mined rather than how much individual companies are using. On the other hand, it will allow us to identify highly-polluting industrial users, as well as deforesters.

On the price cap, the government has committed to keeping it at $25 for this year. And while they plan to remove it next year if everything goes well, they haven't committed to a particular level in the interim. Which given that the price cap both harms the market and poses a financial risk to the government, suggests an obvious fix: legislate for a separate, higher cap to apply from next year until it is removed. Doubling it to $50, and increasing it by $25 a year until the 2022 deadline should give room for the market to find its level, while avoiding the current problem of prices being up against the cap. But that would mean they'd have to progress the legislation quickly to get it in place by next year, which seems unlikely, given that it hasn't even been introduced yet. Though a quick raise in the future carbon price caps seems like the sort of thing which could legitimately be done under urgency, given the time-sensitivity.

Neither socially not environmentally responsible

Dunedin will play host to the New Zealand Minerals Forum at the end of the month, where the companies who dig up New Zealand and destroy our natural environment for private profit will conspire on how to pillage more effectively while avoiding being held responsible for the damage they do. The forum will be held at the Dunedin Centre, which is operated by Dunedin City Council-owned Dunedin Venues. And this has raised a few eyebrows:

Protesters are already planning to make their voices heard at the event, and yesterday Wise Response environmental group chairman Sir Alan Mark questioned Dunedin Venues' actions.

In a letter to the Otago Daily Times, he asked whether Dunedin Venues had complied with its own policy, set out in its statement of intent, to "exhibit a sense of social and environmental responsibility".

The council also had a policy on achieving net zero carbon emissions in the city by 2050, and the company was supposed to bring any potential conflicts with policies to the council's attention, he said.

Councillors appeared to be unaware of the situation when the event was made public.

An obvious question here is whether Dunedin Venues would rent their venues to the tobacco industry. Because that's the level the mining industry is on in terms of social and environmental responsibility. Except that where the tobacco industry merely profits by literally selling cancer, and has caused a public health crisis which has killed millions, the mining industry profits by destroying the planet, and threatens to make the earth uninhabitable. No company with a real commitment to social and environmental responsibility should have anything to do with them. And no individual should either.

New Fisk

From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, western states are all too happy to avoid culpability for war crimes
In Iraq, the ghosts provide the glue of unity in a story of survival

Time to get out of Iraq

Cabinet will be considering whether to pull out of Iraq this month. Meanwhile, thanks to the US openly threatening war with Iran, other countries with military forces there are withdrawing them:

Germany and the Netherlands have suspended their military training programmes in Iraq because of a perceived security threat in the wake of rising US-Iranian tensions in the region.

The announcements came after the US embassy in Baghdad ordered all but emergency staff to leave Iraq. No details of the supposed security threat were provided.

A German defence ministry spokesman, Jens Flosdorff, said that by pausing its small-scale training missions north of Baghdad and the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, Germany was “orienting itself toward our partner countries, which have taken this step”.

However, Flosdorff said the move was not a response to a “concrete threat” but rather to a general security situation being viewed as more tense.

New Zealand should follow their lead. Besides exposing kiwi troops to danger, staying in Iraq alongside the US while it threatens Iran is effectively expressing support for US warmongering. And that's not something our country should do.

A handmaid party?

Earlier in the year, National helped failed Green leadership candidate Vernon Tava set up a "teal" astroturf party, sustainablenz. It seems to have sunk without a trace, without even registering a logo with the Electoral Commission, let alone applying for party registration (which are things it would have done if there had been a rush of people discovering a party which finally represented their views). So, they're turning to a new plan: trying to tap the bigot vote:

The coalition lifeline that National will need if it's to have a chance at the next election looks set to come in the form of a Christian party led by one of its own, former Cabinet Minister Alfred Ngaro.

Talk within the party's been rife for weeks now with Ngaro's plan being well received and with the possibility of National standing aside, possibly in the Botany seat, where it has the strongest party vote by far.

Jami-Lee Ross's departure would let National gift an electorate to its new vassal without having to throw a sitting MP under the bus. But religious politics has a toxic reputation in New Zealand for all sorts of reasons: misogyny and homophobia, historic religious parties being dominated by fringe loonies (which in one case the public only discovered after they'd been elected), and Graham Capill, combined with a strong social consensus that religion is a private matter and a desire not to be like the US. So while its a natural fit for National - just look at the way they vote on gay rights, women's rights, and death with dignity - a "handmaid party" is also risky. Because voters are influenced by who a party's friends are (National's 2014 and 2017 election advertising infamously relied on this), and if a party's path to power is to crawl into bed with the religious right, then a fair number of people will be turned off by this, and vote accordingly.

And on the griping hand: National has no friends, and has effectively destroyed its previous coalition partners, so all it can do is gamble and hope.

Correction (17/5/19): Thanks to a 2014 amendment to the Electoral act, unregistered parties can no longer register logos with the Electoral Commission. I hadn't noticed.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

UK spies are not above the law

In a major decision, the UK Supreme Court has ruled that that country's spies are not above the law:

Government security decisions will in future be open to challenge in the courts after judges ruled that a secretive intelligence tribunal could not be exempt from legal action.

By a 4-3 majority, supreme court justices declared that the extent of GCHQ’s powers to hack into internet services should be subject to judicial review.

The judgment, in effect integrating the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT) into the existing hierarchy of court appeals, was welcomed by human rights groups as a victory for the rule of law.

The UK parliament had put a purported ouster clause in the law forbidding judicial review, but the court found that “[i]t is ultimately for the courts, not the legislature, to determine the limits set by the rule of law to the power to exclude review.” Given the powers in question and the implications for human rights, they read down the purported ouster clause and effectively voided it.

Of course, that still leaves the main problem that in order to review a decision, you need to know about it in the first place. Which highlights the importance of leaks in ensuring intelligence agencies behave lawfully. But now at least the decisions of the IPT will not be final, preventing it from colluding with or being captured by the spy agencies it is supposed to oversee.

(Meanwhile, in New Zealand, decisions by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and security cannot be challenged in court. But its is effectively a parallel jurisdiction, with a clause stating explicitly that IGIS looking at a case does not affect the jurisdiction of the courts or the police. Meaning that if you don't get justice from IGIS, you can always seek judicial review of a spy agency's decision directly).

Climate Change: A climate emergency in Canterbury

ECan has just declared a climate emergency, becoming the first local authority in New Zealand to do so. But what does it mean? Their declaration included this:

Environment Canterbury declares a climate emergency and commits to continue to:
  • robustly and visibly incorporate climate change considerations into Council work programmes and decisions
  • provide strong local government leadership in the face of climate change, including working with regional partners to ensure a collaborative response
  • advocate strongly for greater Central Government leadership and action on climate change
  • increase the visibility of our climate change work
  • lead by example in monitoring and reducing Council’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The first is the most important part: if they're serious about this, then it means considering climate change in every decision they make. Public transport? Its about climate change. Irrigation and dairy intensification? Climate change. They need to alter their regional plans and policies to ensure that activities which reduce emissions are encouraged, while those which increase them - such as dairy farming - are limited and discouraged. And I look forward to them doing that.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa for achieving this. Hopefully, it will be the first council of many.

Beneficiaries are treated worse than criminals

An investigation by the Privacy Commissioner has found that WINZ systematically misused its powers, conducting intrusive and illegal searches into beneficiaries' lives in violation of both the Social Security Act and Privacy Act. Searches like this:

“In one instance, a beneficiary described to us how MSD obtained, from a telecommunications company, an intimate picture shared by that individual with a sexual partner. The photograph was then produced at an interview by MSD investigators seeking an explanation for it.”

How do they get this information? Because WINZ has warrantless search powers, originally under s11 Social Security Act 1964, and now under Schedule 6 Social Security Act 2018. Originally these allowed WINZ to demand anyone to provide them with information, documents, and records. In 2018, the current government re-enacted this as part of the rewrite of social security legislation, and added a "duty to answer questions asked by MSD", requiring anyone to answer anything WINZ asked them about beneficiaries or their circumstances. Those familiar with law enforcement search powers may recognise these as akin to a production order and examination order respectively - powers for which the police require judicial approval and (in the latter case) high-level internal signoff. WINZ has no such safeguards on its powers. But despite this, the re-enactment and expansion of the law was found to be consistent with the right against unreasonable search and seizure by the Attorney-General at the time, Chris Finlayson. Sadly, he did not provide his reasoning on that. The select committee which reviewed the bill in 2016 didn't comment on it either, though it's unclear whether that was because they had bigger issues to comment on, or because intrusive search powers hidden away in a schedule didn't attract attention. But either way, Parliament voted for this, contrary to established principles that intrusive search powers require a warrant issued by a judge.

Are the powers intrusive? They are when exercised by police against drug dealers and murderers. And when someone gets to perve through your bank records or your text messages or your emails, or force you to answer questions on pain of punishment, then yes, its intrusive. These powers urgently need judicial surveillance - and if that's inconvenient to WINZ, then tough. It's inconvenient to the police too, to have to convince a judge they have reasonable grounds to suspect an offence has been committed - but we make them jump through that hoop because these powers are ripe for abuse, and we don't trust the gang in blue not abuse them. We should apply the same standard to WINZ as well. Unless, like Chris Finlayson, we're happy for beneficiaries to be treated worse than criminals.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Above the law

A big myth in this country is that we are all equal under the law. If someone commits a crime, they get prosecuted, regardless of who they are. We already know that that's a myth when it comes to race and to class - if you are poor and brown you are far more likely to be prosecuted than if you are rich and white, even when the underlying offence is exactly the same. But there's another group who also get special treatment: police officers:

An officer who sped through an 80km/h zone after a fleeing driver should have been charged, the police watchdog says.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigated the manner of driving by an officer after the pursuit was abandoned in Auckland in August 2017.

Its decision said the officer drove at more than 160km/h, despite the police helicopter being able to monitor the pursuit.

An employment investigation disciplined the officer for continuing the pursuit when the risk was too high.

The authority disagreed with a police decision and said a criminal investigation was warranted in the circumstances.

This is the second time this month this has happened, and it paints a picture of the police thinking they are above the law. But apart from being inherently wrong and outright corrupt, this refusal of the police to prosecute their own also incentivises illegal behaviour by police officers. And that is something we simply should not tolerate.

As for what to do about it, letting the IPCA bring prosecutions against police would be a good start. That way there's at least some chance of the public getting justice when the gang in blue violates the trust we place in them.

Britain wants its troops to commit war crimes

That's the only conclusion that can be drawn from its "vow" to introduce an amnesty for crimes committed by soldiers and to derogate from the ECHR:

The new defence secretary has promised to introduce an amnesty on historical prosecutions for military veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and anywhere else around the world – with the exception of Northern Ireland.

Penny Mordaunt will consult on proposals for a presumption against prosecution for offences committed more than 10 years ago and will say she supports plans to opt out of the European convention on human rights (ECHR) in future armed conflicts.

But the minister risks courting conflict with some on the right of her party, who want Northern Ireland to be included within any amnesty, following the prosecution of a former paratrooper for the murder of two people on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.

Both actions would send a clear signal to soldiers that they can commit all the war crimes they want, murder and torture with abandon, and the government will protect them. And it will enable them to avoid domestic punishment by allowing the military to drag out investigations (as they already do) to run out the clock on prosecution.

Derogating from the ECHR might not be as effective as they suppose though. Firstly, because the Convention does not permit any derogation from the right to life or the prohibitions on torture and slavery - which is where the UK's war crime problems are. And secondly, because such derogations most not be "inconsistent with its other obligations under international law" - such as the Geneva Conventions or Rome Statute of the Criminal Court. And indeed, as long as the UK remains a party to the latter, all an "amnesty" does is ensure that its war criminals are tried in The Hague rather than London, and that politicians get to join them in the dock as accessories who tried to protect them from international justice.

Climate Change: The Zero Carbon Bill and the ETS

One of the criticisms of the government's Zero Carbon Bill is that it is toothless: the independent Climate Change Commission can set budgets and advise on plans, but has no power to implement anything. Greenpeace for example wanted the Commission to have reserve bank-style powers over the ETS, allowing it to effectively set carbon prices and drive emissions reductions independently of the government-of-the-day. The Bill does not include such powers. But I've been reading the Bill's Regulatory Impact Statement, and interestingly, as late as January it did:

Every five years, the Commission will recommend emissions budgets (with a mandated government response) and advise on macro-level policy to meet the budgets set by the government, including an outlook for the NZ ETS unit supply settings.

Decision-making on the NZ ETS settings will remain with the elected government. However, the Commission would have an ‘Advisory-plus’ role, in which it will be required to recommend the technical NZ ETS settings annually (within the constraints of the set 2050 target and emissions budgets) and on the presumption that its recommendations will be given effect unless government provides otherwise and gives reasons for that decision.

The "advisory-plus" procedure is used elsewhere in the Bill in the setting of emissions budgets, and in our constitutional framework, it basicly means the advice will be followed, so its a fairly strong role. So what happened?

One obvious answer is "Winston". But this may in fact be a technical problem. The government is currently in the middle of tweaking the ETS - it has made some decisions around auctioning and removing the price cap, but not yet introduced legislation, while it is yet to make decisions on the removal of pollution subsidies. The RIS also points out "sequencing issues" with the establishment of the Commission and the setting of its first budget, which could require Parliament to set 2019 and 2020 ETS supplies in legislation. Given this, they may have decided to delay that bit, until they've worked out what they actually want to do. The problem is that with the planet burning, delay isn't something we have a lot of time for any more.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Netanyahu does a Berlusconi

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being prosecuted for corruption. So how is he planning to avoid it? A law granting him immunity would not survive judicial scrutiny. So, he plans to remove that scrutiny entirely:

The new far-reaching bill would allow the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and government ministers to essentially ignore any High Court of Justice ruling, Haaretz revealed, including the potential revocation of Mr Netanyahu’s immunity.

According to the left-leaning daily, the move is written into a “legal appendix” of the coalition agreement and government guidelines Mr Netanyahu is currently drawing up as he builds a new coalition government after winning the April general election.


Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist, author and expert on Mr Netanyahu, sounded the alarm.

“The implication of this law, if it passes, will be that the High Court will lose its powers of judicial review over government actions, in any field, the military occupation, state and religion, etc. All this to save Netanyahu from being put on trial,” he wrote on Twitter.

This overturns a key plank of Israel's constitution, and all to protect a corrupt politician. Its reminiscent of the antics of Silvio Berlusconi, who for years manipulated Italy's laws and undermined its constitution to keep himself out of jail. Its not the sort of thing that decent democracies do. But then, neither is apartheid.

Chipping away at the OIA

Last week I highlighted an odious secrecy clause in the government's Zero Carbon Bill, which unnecessarily exempted information from the Official Information Act, undermining transparency and accountability. The government's Equal Pay Amendment Bill is back from select committee today, and there's more of the same. The committee decided that it would be beneficial to require employers to lodge copies of equal pay settlements with MBIE "for statistical or analytical purposes". But in the process, they include a specific clause stating:

Nothing in the Official Information Act 1982 applies to copies of pay equity claim settlements delivered to the chief executive under subsection (1).

The purpose of this is to protect confidentiality - its someone's employment agreement after all, and private to the parties involved. Which is a reasonable goal - however, it is one which is already protected by the OIA, specifically s9(2)(ba)(i), which allows information to be withheld to
protect information which is subject to an obligation of confidence or which any person has been or could be compelled to provide under the authority of any enactment, where the making available of the information would be likely to prejudice the supply of similar information, or information from the same source, and it is in the public interest that such information should continue to be supplied

That clause is subject to a public interest test, but we've seen from the application of s9(2)(h) on legal advice that the OIA recognises different thresholds for public interest depending on the type of information. And if you look at the Ombudsman's guidelines on public interest, most of the usual reasons - transparency and accountability of government, participation, accountability for public expenditure - don't really apply (they would apply if the contract was one for a government agency, but then it could be requested from that agency directly). Meanwhile, the clause would forbid the government from providing information even if it had already been made publicly available elsewhere (meaning there was no harm in release), or for purposes which would advance the purpose of collection (e.g. independent academics analysing equal pay claims to see if government policy was successful).

This is overkill. It has been sprung by the select committee by surprise, with no opportunity for the public to comment on it (which ought to be a no-no when messing with a constitutional Act like the OIA). But it also seems to be part of a pattern. A disturbing picture is emerging of a government chipping away at the OIA, exempting information here, exempting information there, while undermining its principles. And that is not something we should accept. This clause must be removed from the Bill.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Climate Change: Shifting the ground

The UK's Climate Change Committee has recommended toughening their target to net zero emissions by 2050. And the change has the overwhelming support of the UK public:

A majority of voters would support radical action to slash greenhouse gases to nearly zero by 2050 at a cost of tens of billions of pounds, a new poll has found.

The public has thrown its weight overwhelmingly behind calls by the government’s independent climate change advisers to make a legally binding commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century.

The exclusive survey by BMG Research found 59 per cent of voters would support such action, with only 8 per cent opposing it and 34 per cent who had no view.

Why such overwhelming support? Firstly, its obvious to anyone who watches the news and the daily litany of things flooding, burning, melting, or otherwise being affected by rising temepratures and resulting changes in the weather that the climate crisis is here and we need to do something about it. And secondly, groups like Extinction Rebellion and the school strike movement have done an excellent job of activating people and telling them what they need to demand from their politicians. And as a result, the ground has shifted completely.

Will the same thing happen in New Zealand? Farmers and the political parties who pander to them may be about to find out...

New Fisk

‘Pity America, because of this crazy Trump!’ Here’s what Iran’s man in Iraq would say to Mike Pompeo


Why is MBIE so supportive of the oil industry, why do they come up with outrageous estimates of the value of the oil industry to New Zealand, and why do they see environmentalists as a threat to be suppressed by the likes of Thompson and Clark? Because they're staffed by former oil industry employees:

More than half the employees working in the government division tasked with regulating the petroleum industry have registered conflicts of interest.

Information released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act raises concerns about a “revolving door” between the oil and gas sector and the part of the Government tasked to regulate it.


Of the nine staff in the petroleum division at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), five registered real or perceived conflicts of interest. The information does not record which companies or relationships caused those conflicts of interest, but conceded that it did employ people who had worked in the sector.

As the article points out, industry experience is sometimes useful for MBIE in assessing compliance. But it comes with a mindset, and insofar as staff have "moved between industry and regulator depending on market forces", creates a real conflict of interest, in that staff may be unwilling to regulate either a past employer with whom they have good relations, or a future one from whom they hope to one day gain a job (see also: US banking and finance regulation). And both are toxic to our public service and our democracy.

As for what to do about it, end the revolving door: stop hiring from the oil industry, and ban public servants from working in the industry they have been regulating for a year or two post-employment. These are common policies used to prevent this sort of corruption and capture, and I am surprised we do not defend ourselves with them.