Monday, September 30, 2019



A cheating, polluting industry

Back in 2016, the International Maritime Organisation reached an agreement to reduce air pollution from shipping, specifically sulphur dioxide pollution which causes acid rain and lung disease. The agreement comes into force on January 1 2020. So has the shipping industry actually reduced pollution? Of course not. Instead, they've cheated:

Global shipping companies have spent millions rigging vessels with “cheat devices” that circumvent new environmental legislation by dumping pollution into the sea instead of the air, The Independent can reveal.

More than £9.7m [sic] has been spent on the devices, known as open-loop scrubbers, which extract sulphur from the exhaust fumes of ships that run on heavy fuel oil.

[...]

However, the sulphur emitted by the ships is simply re-routed from the exhaust and expelled into the water around the ships, which not only greatly increases the volume of pollutants being pumped into the sea, but also increases carbon dioxide emissions.

The change could have a devastating effect on wildlife in British waters and around the world, experts have warned.

As the article notes, the shipping industry has spent almost £10 billion on these devices (yes, they say "m" above; they're clear it is billion further down). Imagine what that amount of money could have done to research and fast-track low-emissions shipping technologies. Instead, its been spent to dump pollution elsewhere and making their ships less efficient, all to achieve technical compliance rather than actually cleaning their act up.

There's a solution for this, of course: countries can ban the use of such devices in their waters (and ban their fitting on ships carrying their flag). And since the IMO has clearly failed, that is what is going to have to happen. Hopefully New Zealand will be acting on this soon.

Climate Change: The future comes to Nelson

The moon is at perigee at the moment, which means Nelson got a soggy glimpse of its future:

Nelson has been inundated with seawater during a 4.6 metre king tide.

A king tide flooded several streets near the CBD and encroached houses in the low-lying Monaco area early in the afternoon.

[...]

King tide inundation is not an uncommon occurrence around Nelson, with Wakatu Square carpark flooding early last year in a 4.5m tide event.


Look at the photos. Now imagine them with an extra half-metre (by 2050) or 1.2 metres (by 2100). Those homes and businesses pictured would be flooded. That's nelson's future, its everyone's future, unless we both cut emissions to zero and start drawing down carbon rapidly.

Climate Change: Missing in action

On Friday, I joined 170,000 other New Zealanders and struck for the climate. Palmerston North's protest was an uplifting experience, with lots of adults turning out to support the kids. There's no headcount, but the back of the packed column was still coming round the corner while the front was waiting at the Fitzherbert lights, and its certainly the largest protest I've seen in Palmerston North.

On a national scale, the strikes were the largest protest in a generation, and one of the largest ever. In Wellington, 40,000 marched on Parliament - the only comparable protest I can think of is the foreshore and seabed hikoi. In Auckland, 80,000 marched. And that is simply enormous.

So what has been the response? Climate Change Minister James Shaw was crystal clear: we hear you and we need to do more (the Green Party was even clearer in accepting the strike's demands). Senior Labour MPs Grant Robertson and Andrew Little took a similar line (the Prime Minister was overseas at the time, so gets a pass on this one). As for the opposition? Simon Bridges? Nothing until today, when he's retweeting opposition to the strike. Climate change spokesperson Scott Simpson? Nothing. "Blue-green" Paula Bennett? Nothing. The closest I've seen to a response is agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller complaining about what the strikers were saying about farming. Instead, its wall-to-wall with their petty dispute with the Speaker over misleading use of Parliamentary footage. The biggest protest in a generation, and the opposition has basicly thrown a dead cat on the table to try and distract from the fact that they have nothing useful to say.

But a protest this large - 3.5% of the country - is not something politicians can ignore for long, at least not if they want to gain or retain power. Because for every person who marched, there were many more who agreed but stayed home. National is facing an energised voting bloc who will vote for the climate, and that bloc is only likely to grow. Either they need to accept the need for change, and credibly promise real policy (starting by supporting the Zero Carbon Bill and demanding tougher targets), or they'll end up not just on the wrong side of history, but the wrong side of the electorate.

Friday, September 27, 2019



On strike for the climate

strike-closedsign-2color-green

Today is the day of the (NZ branch) of the global climate strike. Schoolkids will be turning out all over the country to strike for a future, and I'll be joining them. I hope you will too. This is too important to sit on the sidelines; our whole future depends on the government taking strong action to cut emissions and draw down carbon from the atmosphere. And the more people who turn out, the greater the pressure to do what is necessary. So, do your bit, and join the climate strike today.

(Normal bloggage may resume late afternoon, once Palmerston North's protest is over. Or maybe I'll just take the whole day off and be back on Monday. We'll see how the news goes).

Thursday, September 26, 2019



Climate Change: Why I'm striking tomorrow

Tomorrow is the NZ leg of the global climate strike. Thousands of school students will be walking out of school to demand government action on climate change. They've asked adults to join them. And I'll be doing so.

Why? Because we're cooking the planet. Humanity has spewed enough carbon into the atmosphere to raise CO2 levels to 408.7 ppm, incresing temperatures by 1.1 Celsius since pre-industrial times. And if we keep doing what we're doing, that will be over 500 ppm by 2050, and 750ppm by 2100, resulting in a temperature increase of 3 degrees or more. And the effects of that are catastrophic: war, famine, disease and death - the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And the more we emit, the worse it will get.

I have no children, so I don't have an animal cruelty metaphor in this fight. Except I do, because this shit will be coming down the pipeline during my expected lifetime. Hell, its already begun to happen. Climate change is going to make my life worse, has already seen me living in a shittier, crueller world. Even if I didn't give a rat's arse about future generations, that's a reason to fight it.

How do we fight it? We cut emissions to zero as quickly as possible, while planting a shitton of trees to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. We have the technology to do this. Old industries are going to have to die as part of this transition. Fuck them, they're killing us. The idea of endless, cancerous "growth" is going to have to die as well. But if we want things to stay the same - if we want the sort of lifestyle we have at present, or some semblance thereof - then things are going to have to change.

How do we get that change, the policy to make it happen? By turning out tomorrow, and the next time, and the next, in greater and greater numbers, until the chickenshits in the Beehive get the message that their political careers and ministerial limos and fat salaries are on the line, and we're not voting for them unless they fix this. And actually fix it, rather than lying about it while pandering to the dairy industry and the fossil fuel industry and the rest of the polluting scum who fund them. We need to threaten them with democratic oblivion until they understand that lip-service isn't enough.

So, I'll be at my local school strike tomorrow, to support the kids and protect their future and my own. I hope you'll be doing the same. We can do this. But only if enough of us stand up for a future.

Climate Change: Where the bloody hell are we?

The South Australian Parliament has declared a climate emergency:

A motion declaring Australia is facing a climate emergency has passed the upper house of the South Australian parliament.

Moved by Greens MP Mark Parnell, the motion also recognises that climate change is already costing lives and destroying vital ecosystems around the world.


Which raises the usual question: where the bloody hell are we? Surely if the Prime Minister thinks climate change is "my generation's nuclear free moment", her government would be declaring a climate emergency immediately?

(And speaking of South Australia, they're expecting to have 100% renewable electricity within a decade, with an ambitious plan to run on wind, solar and hydrogen. Meanwhile, we're desperately trying to come up with excuses to keep dirty gas in the mix, in a desperate attempt to be cheap. Which puts us to shame again.)

Improving participation in government

The government is currently considering whether to hold another review of the OIA, and will supposedly have a decision by the end of the month. Meanwhile, writing in Stuff, open government advocate Andrew Ecclestone argues that any review should go back to first principles, and enable greater participation in government:

People don't often ask what the purposes of the OIA are, but the framers of the law, the Danks Committee, intended they should be its guiding spirit. Their powerful opening statement said: "The case for more openness in government is compelling. It rests on the democratic principles of encouraging participation in public affairs and ensuring the accountability of those in office."

Crucially, they put public participation ahead of accountability of ministers and officials. The Labour Party's vision for public services happily reinforces that, saying they should enable 'an active participatory democracy'.

This is vital, since 'accountability' means the public can gain access to information after decisions have been taken, but 'participation' means earlier disclosure that allows the public to influence those decisions before they are taken.


We've all seen government "consultations" which were a stitch-up, a box-ticking exercise on decisions made long before. And currently the Act is used to protect this, particularly with s9(2)(f)(iv), the "confidential advice" clause, which exists specifically to protect the "right" of the government "to take advice and to deliberate on it, in private, and without fear of premature disclosure" - that is, to make decisions in secret, and present them to us dirty peasants as a fait accompli, cutting us out of the process completely. And there's a perfect example of this on this very issue, with the Ministry of Justice using it to withhold the analysis of submissions on the OIA review, preventing the public from seeing it and judging for itself whether a review is necessary. (You can also look at most "consultation" or select committee processes, where seeking information to enable participation in them runs straight into this wall of secrecy. Its almost as if they don't want you to be able to make an informed contribution and properly critique their position...)

The OIA is meant to exist to enable participation. In practice, it is used to stop it. A review should look at that, and how to reverse it. That will no doubt make the Sir Humphries in Thorndon deeply uncomfortable. But its our government, not theirs.

Climate Change: Meh

The "big news" from New York is that Jacinda Ardern has agreed to start working on a climate change-related trade deal with four other small countries:

New Zealand will lead a five-way trade talks with Norway, Iceland, Costa Rica and Fiji to try to use trade to combat climate change by slashing fossil-fuel subsidies and abolishing tariffs on environmental goods.

[...]

Called the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS), the agreement plans remove tariffs on environmental goods, make new commitments on environmental services, establish concrete commitments to end fossil-fule subsidies and introduce an "eco-labelling programme".

So far there is little detail, with negotiations expected to start in March 2020.

Meh. Yes, this is welcome, every little bit helps, and if larger countries (which actually use them) sign up, ending fossil fuel subsidies could help a lot. But with only five countries signing up, and all of them small, this is very small potatoes indeed. And if this is as ambitious as the leaders of the five supposedly most ambitious countries can get, its really not very ambitious at all - just a restatement of former principles.

If these five "high ambition" countries wanted to actually lead, they'd be drafting a fossil-fuel non-proliferation treaty instead. Instead, they've chosen to take the easy bits of that regime, without the actual meaningful commitment.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019



Who to vote for in Palmerston North

My local body voting papers arrived yesterday, meaning that I need to decide who I'm voting for. So, here's my triennial acidic take on Palmerston North local body politics. This time, my decision has been helped by a number of policy scorecards, primarily climate related, including:

While many of my friends have used policy local, I haven't looked at it.

Mayor

This year we have a real mayoral race, with six candidates, of whom four are "serious" (meaning: not convicted paedophiles or clinicly insane). Of the four, I'll be giving my first preference to the Greens' Teanau Tuiono. After that, its a coin-toss between Hussein Kikhounga-N'got and "independent Labour" Andy Asquith, which means vote for the non-white dude. Incumbent Grant Smith hasn't been a terrible mayor, but since he's a rugby meathead and I'm still holding a grudge over his position on stadiums vs social housing, he won't be getting a preference. Neither will either of the two candidates with serious criminal convictions and obvious mental health issues.

City Council

There are 27 candidates chasing 15 spots, but fortunately there's an easy way to cull the field: don't vote for dead white males (especially those called "John"); don't vote for real estate agents or property developers; don't vote for anyone who promises to "keep rates low" or who talks publicly about their imaginary friends; don't vote for climate change deniers or foot-draggers. And that leaves about eight candidates worth considering. Of those, my top votes go to the Green candidates (with Rene Dingwell first on age and gender grounds, and also because she's a gamer. Sorry Brent), followed by the (not Labour, honest) Aleisha Rutherford. After that, Kikhounga-N'got and the Labour candidates (yes, I'm voting for them. Climate change is trumping the desire to punish the party for its general chickenshittedness on everything). Bottom preferences to Atif Rahim and Tangi Utikere as not being dead white men, real estate agents, or various sorts of disturbing.

Horizons

Seven candidates, but very few worth voting for. Chris Teo-Sherrell is good, and Wiremu Kingi Te Awe Awe is a good advocate for the river. Fiona Gordon scores well, so might be worth a vote, but is running a joint campaign with anti-fluoride activist Rachel Keedwell, so I'm suspicious (Keedwell is great on everything else, but being anti-fluoride means she will not get my vote). Of the rest, Dowds is a climate change procrastinator, Naylor corrupt and a former national MP, and Cleland scores poorly on climate change scorecards. as a side-note, Horizons should really be using STV, rather than an unfair voting system which allows a plurality to dominate everything.

DHB

Is just a blame-sink for central government, so a waste of my time. If anyone has a list of anti-vaxxers, anti-abortionists and anti-fluoride nutters to avoid, I'll link to it, but I'm likely to give this whole section a miss.

Growing a backbone

Its been a good day for democratic checks and balances. First, the UK Supreme Court overturned Boris Johnson's unlawful prorogation of parliament, allowing it to return. And second, the US Democrats have finally grown a backbone and begun an impeachment investigation against Donald Trump:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the US House of Representatives would begin a formal impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, setting the stage for an extraordinary constitutional clash over allegations that the president sought the help of a foreign country to harm a political rival.

“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution,” Pelosi said in a formal address in Washington on Tuesday evening. “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”


The only thing surprising about this is that it has taken so long, and that is down to democratic spinelessness. Fortunately, that cuts both ways, and being criticised by their voters and the prospect of primary challenges against collaborators seems to have focused their mind. They're doing it for the wrong reason, but at least they're finally doing the right thing. And while there is no chance of impeachment being passed by the Republican Senate, accountability for that failure will rest clearly on them, not on the Democrats.

Now, if only they'd grow a backbone and do what their voters want on policy...

Time to tax ghost houses

Another interesting result from the census: Auckland - which has high rates of homelessness - has 40,000 empty houses

The high number of vacant properties in Auckland's CBD is being blamed on investors who are holding on to "lock-and-leave" apartments despite chronic housing shortages in the city.

The 2018 census showed that the number of vacant Auckland houses had risen 18 per cent to 40,000. That compares to a 0.1 per cent increase in the previous census period.

[...]

[Auckland Council chief economist David Norman said] "We also know apartments are more popular among investors," he said. "And it's possible that part of that is genuinely a bigger share of apartments bought as investments that aren't being rented out to tenants."

Auckland Councillor Chris Darby said he knew of several "lock-and-leave" apartments in the city, also known as "ghost houses".

The 2013 census found there were over 20,000 homeless people in Auckland, most temporarily sharing dwellings. Given the housing bubble and rising rents, that number is almost certainly higher now. Meanwhile, at standard household sizes, those 40,000 empty houses could provide homes for over a hundred thousand people.

...which shows that our housing crisis is a distribution crisis. The rich hoard houses, while the poor are left homeless. As for the solution, its obvious: we should follow Vancouver's example and tax those empty houses, to provide an incentive for them to be rented out or sold to someone who will live in them. Houses should be homes, not investments.

Member's Day: End of Life Choice, part 4

Today is a Member's Day, where we'll hopefully see the end of the long-running committee stage of David Seymour's End of Life Choice bill. But first up there's a local bill, the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Amendment Bill, which is tidying up an inconsistency between charity law and the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Act 2008. Which is boring as hell, and should whizz through (its the sort of thing which should be in a Statutes Amendment Bill), but it could be used as a filibuster.

I expect the House to sit late tonight for personal votes. Again, there will be no ballot.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019



That for your royal prerogative!

The UK Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament was unlawful:

In a unanimous verdict, the court has ruled that Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament can be examined by judges, overturning the ruling of the high court in London.

[...]

Then, giving the court’s judgment on whether the decision to suspend parliament was legal, Hale said: “This court has … concluded that the prime minister’s advice to Her Majesty [ to suspend parliament] was unlawful, void and of no effect. This means that the Order in Council to which it led was also unlawful, void and of no effect should be quashed.

“This means that when the royal commissioners walked into the House of Lords [to prorogue parliament] it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper. The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued.”


It is now up to the UK parliament to decide what to do next. Which is as it should be. In the Westminster system, the elected legislature is supreme, and the executive ultimately subordinate to it. Fortunately, this time parliament hasn't had to cut anybody's head off to prove it.

Meanwhile, if the prorogation was unlawful, then the attempt to prorogue constitutes an unlawful interference with parliament's business. And that's the very definition of contempt, and Boris Johnson and his clique should be held accountable for it.

Climate Change: Another reason to strike on Friday

ClimateStrikeCartoon
[With apologies to Murray Ball. Again]

This Friday, thousands of school students all over New Zealand will be striking for government action on climate change. Thousands of adults will be joining them. But Winston Peters thinks they should all stay in school and that they can learn about climate change by "seeing what the Government is doing".

Well, they've watched, and they've seen, and I doubt they're impressed. Because what the government is doing is dragging its feet, chickening out, and grovelling to the sacred cow. The same old bullshit, in other words. And that bullshit is destroying their future. And that's not something they - or anyone - should passively accept.

But hey, if you think the government's actions are adequate to meet this challenge, by all means, stay home. If you don't, or you want them to do more, sooner, and more equitably, if you want them to make farmers pay their fucking way for once, then we'll see you on Friday.

Climate Change: Chickening out

While the Prime Minister is making caring noises at the climate summit in New York, promising to "lead the way" on sustainable food production and pretending to be ambitious on emissions cuts, the government she leads is chickening out on making farmers pay even 5% of their emissions:

The Government's plan to make farmers pay for their emissions is on shaky ground after Labour, the Greens, and NZ First have failed to agree on proposals.

A draft scheme went to the environment, energy and climate cabinet committee, but failed to make it through after ministers could not agree on it.

It has now stalled at the cabinet committee stage, while ministers work to agree on a plan.


The membership of the committee is here. And its pretty easy to see who the roadblocks are. Apart from Peters and Jones from NZ First, there's also Labour's Damien O'Connor and Stuart Nash, MPs who have never felt that farmers should pay their way. But unless they do, there will be no incentive for them to make the changes necessary to reduce emissions. Which makes it the usual "policy":
nzclimatechangepolicy

Agriculture is responsible for ~50% of our greenhouse gas emissions. We can not meaningfully reduce total emissions without reducing agricultural ones. And if we're using a price-based measure for the rest of our emissions - if the 86% of us who live in cities are paying for every gram of carbon emitted by our electricity, our transport, and our consumer goods - then it is only fair that farmers pay that price too. Anything less is both unfair, and not politically sustainable.

Monday, September 23, 2019



Climate Change: Vote for the climate

Local body voting papers went in the post on Friday, and should be arriving over the course of this week (mine arrived today). And if you care about climate change, I urge you to vote. While local government seems irrelevant and out of touch (like a whine of old white dudes promising to "focus on fundamentals" and "keep rates low"), local authorities, and especially regional councils, are on the front line of the fight against climate change. While central government is doing the big stuff, like setting national targets and national level policies like the ETS and EV feebate scheme, what local government does on this matters. They're the ones who decide if your local school or dairy factory gets to run on goal or natural gas, or has to use electricity. They're the ones who decide whether we can build the wind and solar farms we need to decarbonise our energy supply. They're the ones who set limits on nitrogen, effectively deciding the level of dairy farming and fertiliser use, and therefore agricultural emissions. And they're the ones who are going to be deciding whether we're all going to be buying out rich wankers who "invested" in coastal property, in the full knowledge that it would wash away in 50 years, or we're going to leave them to carry their own can for once.

As for knowing who to vote for, there are a few people able to help. The Spinoff has compiled a list of the climate deniers, fudgers, and prevaricators running in our local elections, which tells you who to avoid. Stuff has quizzed local body candidates around the country, and presents their answers in the voting climate. And Generation Zero and the Common Climate Network are working on climate scorecards for the major cities, which will be going up this week (note: they're not up yet).

If we want change, we need to make it happen. So, vote, and vote for candidates who promise real action on climate change. And avoid voting for climate change deniers, foot-draggers, or people who foolishly aren't interested in the giant train heading down the tracks towards us. instead, vote those fuckers off the island, and into the sea where they belong.

Climate Change: We must do more

Like many people, my submission on the Zero Carbon Bill urged more ambitious targets. And if the select committee was in any doubt, they're needed:

An assessment backed by the world’s major climate science bodies has found commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions must be at least tripled and increased by up to fivefold if the world is to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The report, launched as leaders gather at a UN climate action summit in New York on Monday, says current plans would lead to a rise in average global temperatures of between 2.9C and 3.4C by 2100, a shift likely to bring catastrophic change across the globe.

Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation, the United in Science report says it is still possible to reduce the gap and keep global heating to a safe level, but it would require an urgent shift in commitments and action.


In other words, we must cut deeper and sooner than the slack timetable set by the bill. Developed nations need to end coal use by 2030 (the majority world gets another decade). With the shift in energy prices, that looks perfectly doable, even profitable, but we need to push it along. In New Zealand, it means setting a clear end-date on coal and gas, both extraction and use, while pushing industry to use electricity rather than combustion for heat. And it means setting a target pathway, and so an ETS pathway, which will provide clear incentives for that to happen, and removing the roadblocks which are preventing that shift (chiefly the ETS price cap, but also the ban on considering climate change in the RMA). And we need to do it now.

And if the government is thinking of dragging its feet, hopefully the climate strike on Friday will help focus their minds.

Cracking down on mining

NZ Energy and Environment Business Week reports (in Scoop) that the government is finally moving on reforming the Crown Minerals Act, including banning mining on conservation land and repealing the hated Anadarko Amendment:

The Government is planning to change the Crown Minerals Act’s purpose from “promoting” mining in light of changing priorities including environmental concerns.

A Cabinet paper seeking agreement to the terms of reference for the Crown Minerals Act Review, shows the Government’s priorities in the review include whether the purpose of the law should more closely reflect “wellbeing” principles. It also wants to make changes to land access provisions to take into account the Government’s proposal to ban mining on conservation land. The paper also discusses ending the Block Offer process for oil and gas exploration.

[...]

Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods told ministers that issues proposed to be in-scope of Tranche Two (Tranche One was the decision to ban new oil and gas exploration permits outside onshore Taranaki) included; the fundamental role of the CMA and the purpose statement; Land access arrangements; Non-interference provisions; Liability and financial assurance; Iwi engagement and community participation and Petroleum permitting.


"Land access arrangements" means access to government, including conservation, land. "Non-interference provisions" means the Anadarko Amendment, which criminalises protest at sea against the oil and gas industry. These changes are welcome and necessary, especially meeting the government's promise to ban further mining in the conservation estate. But in the long term, the change to the purpose also looks vital. Because it has become clear that mining is neither socially not environmentally responsible. The fossil fuel mining industry is currently threatening to make the Earth uninhabitable. Other forms of mining are environmentally destructive while bringing little benefit to communities. The industry needs much tighter regulation - and a few outright bans e.g. on fossil fuels - to come even close to sustainability.

Friday, September 20, 2019



Climate Change: Strike!

Today is the first day of the global climate strike. Led by schoolkids, people all around the world are going to protest to demand action on climate change. New Zealand isn't doing it till next Friday (join us!), but if you want to get active early, there's plenty to do in Wellington over the next week, starting with a climate assembly at the Aro Valley Community Centre at 17:30 tonight. And there'll be plenty to do after that as well. (There may be other stuff happening elsewhere in the country, but I haven't been paying attention to that).

In a democracy, a protest is a threat: a threat to de-elect politicians and make them get real jobs if they don't give in. The bigger the numbers, the bigger the threat. So, please turn up next Friday. The more people who demand action, the greater the push for the government to act, and the stronger its hand against its regressive coalition partner. And who knows: if there are enough people, maybe even National will stop and consider whether denial, foot-dragging, and pandering to polluters is a sensible strategy for political survival.

And in the meantime, the photos from Australia are pretty inspiring. I hope Scott Morrison and the rest of his coal-clique are thinking hard about their future.

Climate Change: Squandering our opportunity?

The Herald has a story today about the 400 MW of wind power currently under construction. Good news, right? Except that none of it is being driven by policy (instead, its about replacing Contact Energy's Taranaki Combined Cycle gas-fired power plant, due to shut down in 2022), and most of the 1800 MW of consented wind projects waiting to be built will expire within the next five years:

"Nothing has changed in the last couple of years to encourage people to buy EVs or for industries to start to electrify," England says.

"There's been no policy or regulation, or no government influence to enable that, and unless there is, we're not going to see demand growth."

[...]

This month, the Government was again talking up the country's "abundant" consented wind and geothermal options. But in the absence of demand growth — and with the current transmission pricing regime still disadvantaging South Island projects after a decade of debate — little has been built.

And those remaining options are fast expiring, or being made irrelevant by newer, larger wind turbines that can operate at less windy, so-called tier-2 sites. Most of the country's remaining consented wind projects — potentially more than 1800MW of capacity — will lapse within five years.


EV policy is just being sorted out - finally - but won't kick in for a few years yet. As for pushing industry to electrify rather than rely on coal or gas, that would require both regulation and a significant rise in carbon prices. And the government is refusing to let the latter happen for the next two years at least.

With the amount of wind power we have consented, we have a golden opportunity to massively decarbonise our energy system. And government foot-dragging is threatening to squander it. Its disappointing to say the least, and future generations are going to be paying the price for their slackness.

How do we turn this around? Immediate, urgent legislation to double the ETS fixed price option would be a good start, along with removing the RMA restriction on considering greenhouse gas emissions (highlighted again on Newsroom this morning). But the government also needs to keep those windfarm consents live so they can be built. Thanks to National's privatisations, they can no longer simply instruct SOEs to do it, so they need another option. Creating a new SOE to acquire those consents, build the windfarms, and flood the market with cheap, renewable electricity to drive Huntly out of business seems like a workable solution.

New Fisk

As Netanyahu’s power in the Middle East wanes, Trump has to find his own way to deal with Iran

Challenging the voting age in court

The Make It 16 campaign to lower the voting age is launching this afternoon, and they have already announced plans to challenge the law in court:

The campaign, named "Make it 16" will launch at Parliament on Friday, with plans to take their case to the High Court, testing the rights of 16 and 17-year-olds to be able to vote in elections.

[...]

"If a person is over 16 then it is unlawful for any businesses or organisations to discriminate against them based on their age.

"Politicians ... are allowing discriminatory laws to stay in place and we are going to challenge that through the court system."

The campaign will argue the current voting age of 18 was "unjustified age discrimination" and that the High Court should declare it inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.


Which sounds good, but almost certainly doomed to failure. Not because the court will find the age limit to be a "justified limitation" (which would require it to assess the merits and whether this was the minimum necessary intervention), but because it won't even get to that stage. Why not? Because the age-limit is hard-coded into the "electoral rights" clause of the BORA, and its very hard to find the BORA inconsistent with itself.

If we want to solve this, we need to legislate for it. Speaking of which, its the last day to submit on the Electoral Amendment Bill. Have you made a submission yet? While its a reserved provision requiring a referendum or supermajority to change, using your submission to demand a lower voting age is a good way to get politicians to start caring.

Thursday, September 19, 2019



An increasingly shoddy coverup

The Operation Burnham inquiry continued to question senior NZDF staff today, and their shoddy coverup over their knowledge of civilian casualties continue to fall apart. If you recall, first, we were asked to believe that it was all a series of "mistakes and errors": a senior officer with multiple degrees "misinterpreted" an acronym which he never misinterpreted anywhere else. Then of course there was the report itself, which NZDF categorically swore it didn't have, only to admit that they'd had it all along. But they claimed to have no idea who read it. But it turns out they were lying about that too:

However, the inquiry's chairman, Sir Terence Arnold, on Thursday morning raised the possibility of a second register – asking the Defence Force to get a copy immediately.

A barrister assisting the inquiry, Lucila van Dam, said they had not been aware of the existence of the alternative log.

The inquiry was told it took about 15 minutes to find the file and heard the entry said the ISAF report had been checked in on September 1, 2011 by the director of special operations.


It sounds like the inquiry should be asking some pointed questions about why there was even a second register in the first place, and why they weren't told about it earlier. And it sounds like they should be putting the former director of special operations on the stand to ask him some questions about the report and who he informed about it. Of course, he's described as having "a high level of integrity" by a former defence force chief - and if so, I'd expect him to answer. But sadly, given how other people similarly described have fared in this inquiry, I'm beginning to think that NZDF has a different definition of "integrity" to the rest of us.

Meanwhile, the standard of shit NZDF is expecting us to believe is becoming truly outrageous. And with every further piece of bullshit, the alternative explanation becomes more and more compelling: NZDF lied, and lied all along, to protect their reputation.

Climate Change: How to save the world

If we are to avoid making the earth uninhabitable, we need to rapidly decarbonise our civilisation, and cut emissions to zero as quickly as possible. This seems like an impossible task, but its not. Pushing hard on a few technologies and trends will let us halve emissions in a decade:

Greenhouse gas emissions could be halved in the next decade if a small number of current technologies and behavioural trends are ramped up and adopted more widely, researchers have found, saying strong civil society movements are needed to drive such change.

Solar and wind power, now cheaper than fossil fuels in many regions, must be scaled up rapidly to replace coal-fired generation, and this alone could halve emissions from electricity generation by 2030, according to the Exponential Roadmap report from an international group of experts.

If the rapid uptake of electric vehicles in some parts of the world could be sustained, the vehicles could make up 90% of the market by 2030, vastly reducing emissions from transport, it said.

Avoiding deforestation and improving land management could reduce emissions by the equivalent of about 9bn tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, according to the report, but contradictory subsidies, poor planning and vested interests could stop this from happening.

And when laid out like that, it doesn't look that hard. To steal a line from Jacinda Ardern, we can do this. We can save the world. But to do it, we need our governments to fucking listen to us, rather than the poisoners and polluters in the economic status quo who would rather see everything burn than their profits decrease. And that means you need to get out on the street next Friday (or tomorrow if you're not in New Zealand) as part of the climate strike, and threaten them with torches and pitchforks until they do.

A further attack on transparency

The Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2) had part of its committee stage yesterday. its a generally tedious bill about the nitty-gritty of local government reorganisation. But it includes a clause making the Local Government Commission subject to the Ombudsmen Act, and hence the OIA. Great! Except of course there's a nasty twist: while being generally subject to the OIA, the Commission will have its own little secrecy clause, temporarily exempting from the OIA (until the investigation, review etc is finalised) assorted classes of information:

(a) the consideration of any matter under section 31:
(aa) a reorganisation investigation under Part 1 of Schedule 3:
(ab) the review of a local authority-led reorganisation application under clause 22C of Schedule 3:
(b) the resolution of a dispute under section 31H by the Commission under this Act or another enactment:
(c) the determination of an appeal or objection under section 19R of the Local Electoral Act 2001.


Naturally there's no assessment of this in the bill's Regulatory Impact Statement. According to the RIS, the Ombudsman was not consulted, and they did not submit on the bill (probably because they didn't notice it at the time). However, according to the summary of submissions [p 36], several groups submitted against this clause and in defence of transparency. Their submissions were ignored.

But looking at it from first principles, there seems to be little reason for secrecy. Take ground (a), which refers to the function of the Local Government Commission to:
consider, report on, and make recommendations to the Minister and any relevant local authority on matters relating to a local authority or local government considered appropriate by the Commission [or] referred to the Commission by the Minister

Why would this need to be inherently secret? More importantly, why would it need so much secrecy as to exempt it entirely from the definition of "official information" - a legal trick not even granted to national security information held by the SIS or GCSB? Insofar as such a report is "actively under consideration", advice (but not facts) relating to such an investigation could be legitimately withheld under s9(2)(f)(iv) (unless outweighed by the public interest, of course). And similar questions arise naturally from the clauses relating to local government reorganisation.

What about dispute resolution? Again, insofar as it relates to a private dispute between local government officials, s9(2)(a) provides all the protection that is needed. Alternatively, if the Commission is viewed as a mediator similar to the Human Rights Commission, s87 Human Rights Act provides strong protection for mediation-related information, but does not exempt it from the definition of "official information", and allows it to be released with consent.

As for exempting appeals over local body electoral boundaries, its worth noting that there is no such protection for the Representation Commission when deciding appeals against general electoral boundaries. There's simply no reason whatsoever for such secrecy.

The bill was drafted by the previous government, so this one isn't Labour's fault. But it highlights the disturbing trend, which Labour has allowed to continue, of agencies being granted any request for secrecy, and being given their own mini-Official Secrets Acts to exempt information they want to hide from the public sphere. And sadly, the legislative process includes no safeguards against this whatsoever. Again, the government needs to think about transparency and open government when designing legislation, just as they do about human rights, the Treaty, and gender equality. And it is simply shameful that they do not.

It is not too late for the government - or the opposition - to fix this, but putting up an SOP to strike s19 from the bill. It'll be interesting to see whether anyone does, or whether our political elite is happy with this growing trend of secrecy.

Ihumātao and Treaty settlements

Yesterday Ihumātao's mana whenua reached a consensus that they would like their land back, and asked the government to negotiate with Fletcher's for its return. The government's response? Try and undermine that consensus, while talking about how doing anything would undermine existing Treaty settlements. The first is just more bad faith, an attempt to keep Māori fighting themselves so dispossession can continue. As for the second, its simply a convenient excuse for inaction and for continuing injustice. Here's why.

First, keep in mind what the settlements are for: pretty much the entire country. There's a graphic here on Stuff which rams home the scale of loss, how much land was taken. While some was sold in commercial transactions, these were typically one-sided, and frequently the crown didn't bother to live up to its side of the bargain anyway. In other cases, land was legally confiscated, or simply stolen as "survey costs". The government has admitted that all of this was wrong, which is why it is settling. But it is not returning everything it took, plus 180 years of rent and interest. Instead, it returns a tiny fraction of its value, typically less than five percent.

Iwi accept these one-sided "settlements" because its basicly that or nothing. As Morgan Godfrey points out, by doing so, they are being extraordinarily generous, effectively making an enormous gift to New Zealand. But we shouldn't pretend that the government is really providing just compensation for what it stole, or that the low value of settlements is not in and of itself a severe and ongoing breach of the Treaty.

The government calls these settlements "full and final", and writes that both into the settlement deed and the law. We also shouldn't pretend that that means anything. Given their utter inadequacy compared to the harm done, their one-sided nature, their "take it or leave it" "negotiations", these settlements are only "full and final" by Māori goodwill - and whether they stick or not is a political question for each generation. If a new generation of Māori decides that their elders sold them out by accepting less than what was owed, then the government is simply going to have to deal with that, and make good. Because no person with a shred of conscience could consider what has been provided anything like just compensation for what was stolen - and until just compensation is paid, the wrong remains.

Looking at Ihumātao, the government makes much of the fact that Te Kawerau a Maki settled their claims in 2014. That settlement was for $6.5 million. That's around 20% of the (SHA-inflated) cost of Ihumātao, and if you look at the government acknowledgements in their settlement legislation, vastly more than that was stolen. Pretending that the redress was remotely adequate is simply unconscionable.

Which brings us back to goodwill. If the government wants to maintain that goodwill, and not reopen everything, then returning Ihumātao and/or protecting it would seem to be a good way to do that. On the flip side, the longer they refuse to do so, the more this builds, the more likely it is that Māori will start to demand actual compensation, rather than the modern-day beads and blankets they have been given. And I suspect the government really wouldn't like that.

Protecting our history

Its Suffrage Day, the 126th anniversary of women winning the right to vote (but not stand in elections) in New Zealand. And to celebrate, the government has bought Kate Sheppard's house in Christchurch:

The government has bought Kate Sheppard's former home in Christchurch for more than $4 million.

The Ilam villa will be used as an educational centre for university research projects and school history trips, and made available for public access and events.

It was bought for $4.5 million at the start of September and it will be managed by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga in partnership with the University of Canterbury.


Which is fair enough. Alongside the Treaty House at Waitangi, its one of our most important historical monuments, and something we should preserve as part of our national story. At the same time, it raises an obvious question: if the government can buy Kate Sheppard's house, what it stopping it from buying Ihumātao?

Climate Change: Ostracising the coal-burners

The UN climate summit is happening in new York next week, and unlike previous years, coal-burners and denier-states are not being invited to speak:

Leading economies such as Japan and Australia will not be invited to speak at next week’s crunch UN climate change summit, as their continued support for coal clashes with the demands of the organisation’s secretary-general as he sounds the alarm on climate change.

Coal has emerged as a key issue ahead of Monday’s meeting in New York, where 63 countries are expected to speak, according to a draft schedule seen by the Financial Times.

In letters and conversations with heads of state, António Guterres, UN secretary-general, has demanded that countries attending the summit stop building new coal power stations, reduce fossil fuel subsidies, and commit to net zero emissions by 2050 — demands that have not gone down well in all quarters.


Countries which won't make such commitments, like Japan, or outright denier-states like Australia, the USA, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, are being excluded. Which is a good move. If we want to build a global platform for action, the first step is to sideline the coal-burners and deniers, to stop them from wrecking things. The next step is to link environmental performance to trade and other relationships, and move from ostracising them at climate conferences to ostracising them generally. Because when CO2 concentrations are this high and rising, these states are literally trying to end life on earth, making them hostis humani generis, the common enemy of all humanity. And they need to be treated as such.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019



I'm glad I don't live in Auckland

Just when I was thinking that Palmerston North's mayoral race (which includes a convicted child molester / public wanker and a convicted child beater) was the worst in the country, Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere opened his mouth:

Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere is being slammed for using the words "sieg heil" during a heated political debate with Phil Goff.

A 20 second edited excerpt of the conversation circulating on Twitter shows Tamihere responding to Goff's comment about enjoying Auckland for its multiculturalism with the words "I say sieg heil to that".

"I love this city for its diversity and we won't put up with the sort of nonsense that we get from racists coming into this country to tell us that multiculturalism doesn't work," Goff says.

Host Martyn Bradbury then asks Tamihere what he wishes for the grandchildren of Auckland to which he replies "I say sieg heil to that".


Tamihere has a long history of scumbaggery, from abandoning his cats, to talking about "front bums", to homophobia, and (directly relevant to this) saying he is "sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed". So all I can do is urge Aucklanders to use their vote wisely, and vote him off the island.

Climate Change: A history lesson

Why is New Zealand climate change policy so crap? The Herald this morning has a long article on the twists and turns of climate change policy in New Zealand [paywalled / depaywall script], which shows where we've been. The short version is that the government first began worrying about this way back in 1988, and then basicly did nothing for twenty years until it passed the ETS. Why did it do nothing, and let emissions grow and grow and grow? While the Herald glosses over the middle bit, the blame can squarely be sheeted home to these clowns:
NatsFarttax
[National MPs with cow at anti-climate change policy protest, September 2003. Image stolen from Stuff]

National was in government during the crucial period in the 1990's when we'd become aware of the threat. So what did they do about it? First, they set an ambitious target of a 20% reduction in emissions by 2000, but of course they imposed no policies to make it happen, and actively worked to prevent the RMA from being used to control emissions. They threatened business with a carbon tax if they didn't start reducing emissions by 1997, but (of course) didn't follow through. They then worked up a full plan for an emissions trading scheme, which was supposed to be imposed in 1999 - but didn't follow through on that. And they lost power, and suddenly went full Denier, opposing any efforts to price emissions (a policy they had supported in government), or even to make farmers contribute to the cost of the research required to let them reduce agricultural methane. Possibly this was just them revealing their true colours, or possibly it was just the usual hypocrisy and opportunism of opposition politics in our political system. But either way, it limited the government's scope for action, and delayed the ETS by another five years. And then, when it finally passed in 2008, the first thing National did when elected to power was gut it.

With this background, the idea that National should be taken seriously as a "partner" with whom the government should seek consensus on climate change is ludicrous. There's no good faith there, no commitment to action. Instead - and it is quite clear from their public statements on the issue - the only consensus they will support is one for inaction, for not doing enough, for failure. And a consensus for failure is simply not worth pursuing, even if you are stupid enough to think they'll stick to it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019



Contempt

Back in June, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that that country's continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful. So you'd expect that the UK government stopped approving them, right?

Of course not:

The government has apologised for breaching a court ruling against the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the Yemen conflict.

International trade secretary Liz Truss admitted the government approved two licences for military equipment which could be used in Yemen.

This is despite the government freezing new arms licences for Saudi Arabia in June after the Court of Appeal ruled that it was “unlawful” for the government to license weapons exports without assessing whether there was an “historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law” by the Saudi-led coalition.


An apology isn't enough. The Minister has clearly acted in breach of the court ruling, and they should be prosecuted for contempt, just like anyone else would be.

Covering up the cover-up

Yesterday NZDF officials were put on the stand about the lies they had told over Operation Burnham, making implausible claims that it was all a big mistake. But along the way, we learned they had already been put on the spot about it by a previous Defence Minister, who had effectively accused them of a cover up. And outrageously, they attempted to hide this from the public:

A note made as the Defence Minister raked senior military officials over the coals shows concern the SAS were being shielded of allegations of civilian deaths.

The Defence Force attempted to suppress public discussion of the note, written by the military's chief of staff, at a public hearing for the Operation Burnham inquiry.

The note, from the 2014 meeting with Jonathan Coleman, defence minister at the time, read: "SF [special forces] are not fallible ... No question of their core skills, but political judgment, lack of insight and confused desirability of their actions having a certain shielding ... SAS credibility at risk".

[...]

Lawyer for the Defence Force, Paul Radich QC, argued the note should be suppressed due to it revealing "free and frank" advice from the Government minister.


Which is both a perfect example of how the "free and frank advice" clause of the OIA is abused, and of NZDF's attitude to this whole affair. Their first response to bad news is to cover it up, not because there is any "national security" or other public interest at stake, but merely because it is embarrassing to them and damaging to their reputation. But if the Defence Minister has criticised the military for attempting a coverup, that seems like the sort of thing the public has an absolute right to know.

NZDF should be ashamed. But more than that, they need to be held responsible for their coverups.

Not as important as they think they are

Farmers have been whining a lot lately, about the methane targets in the Zero Carbon Bill, about Canterbury's proposed nitrogen limits, and about the government's new proposals to stop them from shitting in our lakes and rivers. These policies are "throwing farmers under the tractor", they will force farmers off the land and "end farming as we know it" (something which needs to happen, as its clear to everyone but farmers that "farming as we (or rather, they) know it" is simply not ecologically sustainable). And of course that will be Bad For New Zealand, because farmers are the "backbone of the economy".

Except it turns out they're not:

New Zealand's new fresh water regulation rules will have no major impacts on the national economy, according to an independent report just out.

The report by independent economic consultancy New Zealand Institute of Economic Research shows that dairying represents about 3% of national GDP and is behind tourism in export earnings.

The study, commissioned by Forest & Bird, Greenpeace, and Fish and Game, found the impact on national GDP of the proposed reforms were unlikely to be major, stating that: “Due to the relatively small size of the dairy industry, the impacts of the government reforms are unlikely to be major at the national level, and not felt for many years due to the long lead in times proposed.”


Farmer whining assumes that they can not or will not do anything to improve their environmental performance. However, as the report points out, they have plenty of time, plenty of options and the regulations will force them to innovate and adopt better practices. Which means that if they choose not to and are forced out of business, that's really on them.

Monday, September 16, 2019



Climate Change: Trees, aviation, and offsets

With crunch time for new Zealand climate policy approaching, most of the New Zealand media have got on board with a global reporting effort to cover the issue. There's one strand of stories today about polling and what it shows about changing public attitudes to the crisis, but the strand I'm most interested in is the one about trees.

First in that is an excellent in-depth piece by Charlie Mitchell in Stuff about what trees can and can't do to address the climate change crisis. It looks at the different carbon uptake of pine vs native forest, and in passing mentions how much carbon we've got locked up in our existing native forests: 6.5 billion tons of CO2-equivalent, or about 80 years of emissions. That's on one-third of our total land area, but it give an idea of what serious native reforestation can do, and how important its going to be for eventual drawdown: sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere and undoing the damage we've done. But the downside is that its going to take a thousand years to do it. Pine is less efficient in the long-run - 800 tons stored per hectare on good land, rather than 1300 to 1700 - and its a monoculture, with all the problems that entails, but it can do it in thirty years rather than a thousand. And because we only have thirty years, or less, and certainly not a thousand, then if we're serious about solving this problem we're going to have to shoot some cows and plant trees in their place (or, less violently, remove the ETS price cap, let carbon price rise, and let the market do the equivalent - something that is already happening to sheep and beef farming even at current carbon prices).

(Its actually not an either / or choice. We can apparently use pine as a nursery crop for native forest in the same way we currently use gorse. So that might let us combine short and long-term solutions. But low-value, high emissions farming is doomed either way the moment we stop subsidising it through the ETS)

The second piece is from the ODT, about the problem with offsetting. Unfortunately there's an embarrassing problem with it, derived from this paper, which overestimates by a factor of 250 the area needed to soak up aviation emissions (short version: they calculated it using the 3 tons / hectare annually absorbed by regenerating native bush, rather than the 800 tons / hectare sequestered in total by pine. Alternatively, you could view it as a perpetual offset for aviation for the next few centuries, but neither the authors or the ODT piece talks about it like that). But mistakes aside, there is a good underlying point in there: international aviation emissions are large (7.89 megatons CO2-equivalent in 2005 for international tourists coming to New Zealand, and 3.95 megatons for kiwis travelling internationally), they are not counted in anyone's national accounts, and they are increasing. And if we're serious about climate change, we need to do something about them.

As for what that something needs to be, the article points out that international air travel is highly concentrated among the wealthy:

"The vast majority of the world population has never stepped on to an airplane. So, the growth in aviation is mainly among people who have a longstanding habit of flying.

"This huge environmental impact is basically arising from long-standing habits of the rich, or nouveau riche, who fly more and more."


And the most obvious answer to this, as with any other public bad, is to tax the living fuck out of it to change that dirty, destructive habit. Whether this is done at a flat-rate or an escalating "frequent flyer levy" depends on your taste for intrusiveness, but either way, we need to tax it and end the effective ~$200 million subsidy to the tourist industry of letting them have their pollution for free. As an added bonus, we can then spend some of those taxes on soaking up the carbon emitted, but the primary goal has to be behaviour change. The best offset is to not emit in the first place.

Something to go to in Wellington

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Make It 16, the youth-led campaign to lower New Zealand's voting age, is holding an official campaign launch at Parliament this Friday from 16:30. If you'd like to attend, you can register using EventBrite here.

"Mistakes and errors"

Current and former NZDF top brass are being publicly grilled this week by the hit and run inquiry over their public responses to allegations of civilian casualties. Previously, they've claimed there were no casualties, a position which led them to lie to Ministers and to the public. Now, they're saying that position was all due to a series of unfortunate mistakes:

A critical report detailing possible civilian casualties in a SAS-led raid was overlooked and left in a Defence Force safe in a claimed accident.

The Defence Force's explanation for repeated denials of possible civilian deaths, a story of repeated errors and mistakes by senior military officials, has come during the first day of a week-long Operation Burnham inquiry hearing.


Among those "mistakes": that ISAF report into civilian casualties they swear they never had? It turns out they had it all along. And the SAS officer who sent the initial report on its contents "misinterpreted" it as clearing the unit and operation he led. Convenient, neh?

But even if you believe all that, NZDF then doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on those mistakes, apparently without ever checking the facts. At the very best, it makes them look like utter incompetents who shouldn't be trusted to run a children's birthday party, let alone an organisation which kills people. Less charitably, it just looks like yet another lie in an organised strategy of deceit. Whether they get away with it, well, I guess that's up to us.

Friday, September 13, 2019



New Fisk

John Bolton’s sacking delighted Iran – but the world is suffering under Trump and his fellow fragile tyrants

A sensible crackdown

The government has released its Arms Legislation Bill, containing the second tranche of changes to gun laws following the March 15 massacre. And it all looks quite sensible: a national gun register, higher penalties for illegal possession and dealing, tighter restrictions on arms dealers and shooting clubs, and a shorter licencing period. One interesting change is that all online sales will effectively need police approval, which will slow down the arms market on TradeMe.

The National party has indicated that they will oppose these changes, based on an earlier draft. Hopefully they'll change their mind on this. Otherwise, I guess they'll just be on the wrong side of history as usual.

California bans private prisons

Private prisons are a stain on humanity. Prison operators explicitly profit from human misery, then lobby for longer prisons terms so they can keep on profiting. And in the US, prison companies run not only local and state prisons, but also Donald Trump's immigration concentration camps. Faced with this moral outrage, California - once one of the heaviest users of private prisons - has banned them from operating within the state:

The private prison industry is set to be upended after California lawmakers passed a bill on Wednesday banning the facilities from operating in the state. The move will probably also close down four large immigration detention facilities that can hold up to 4,500 people at a time.

The legislation is being hailed as a major victory for criminal justice reform because it removes the profit motive from incarceration. It also marks a dramatic departure from California’s past, when private prisons were relied on to reduce crowding in state-run facilities.


Existing prisons get to keep running until their contracts expire, and then they will have to shut down. For state contractors, that means prisoners will be transferred back to state prisons. As for ICE, presumably they'll have to start running proper federal facilities again, rather than contracting them out to the lowest bidder.

(As for NZ, thanks to National we will have a private prison running in South Auckland until 2040, unless Parliament legislates to void their contract. The sooner that happens, the better).

Why PPPs are a bad idea

When National was in power, they were very keen on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) - basicly, using private companies to finance public infrastructure as a way of hiding debt from the public. They were keen on using them for everything - roads, schools, hospitals. But as the UK shows, that "service" of keeping debt off the government books is very, very expensive:

NHS hospital trusts are being crippled by the private finance initiative and will have to make another £55bn in payments by the time the last contract ends in 2050, a report reveals.

An initial £13bn of private sector-funded investment in new hospitals will end up costing the NHS in England a staggering £80bn by the time all contracts come to an end, the IPPR thinktank has found.

Some trusts are having to spend as much as one-sixth of their entire budget on repaying debts due as a result of the PFI scheme... The findings raised concerns that the diversion of such large sums at a time when many trusts are in the red and coping with the fast-rising demand for care. There are fears it could damage the quality of care and risk patient safety because trusts do not have funds to hire enough staff.


And the reason why is obvious: firstly, it costs the private sector more to borrow than the government (especially at the moment). And second, they're going to want a hefty profit margin. And together, this means that the UK government is ending up paying over six times more for stuff than it needs to, if it had been honest about its spending and debt.

So when Labour talks of being "open for business" for transport PPPs, this is what they're open for: screwing the public with dishonest accounting and massively inflated costs, while big companies laugh all the way to the bank with guaranteed profits. And that is something we should simply reject.

Thursday, September 12, 2019



The obvious question

The media is reporting that the (alleged) Labour party sexual assaulter has resigned from their job at Parliament, which means hopefully he won't be turning up there making people feel unsafe in future. Good. But as with everything about this scandal, it just raises other questions. Most significantly: why the fuck didn't this happen earlier?

As someone with a memory longer than a goldfish's, I can't help but remember the Francis report into bullying and harassment at Parliament, which highlighted parliamentary staff's unusual employment arrangements:

[The] agreement contains a what staff often refer to as a ‘breakdown clause’, in which either the Member or the staff Member can invoke a relationship breakdown, based on ‘loss of trust and confidence’ as a reason for termination.

In the event of termination on this basis, the clause allows for the staff member to exit immediately or by agreement, on payment of notice and three months’ salary.


Maybe its just me, but I'd have thought that being the subject of a live sexual assault complaint which threatens to turn your (not-technically) employing party's reputation into a toxic firestorm would be exactly the sort of thing which would cause a "loss of trust and confidence". And if they'd exercised this clause when this was first brought to the party's attention, Labour wouldn't be in nearly the mess that its in now. It could honestly say that it had acted to keep its staff and volunteers safe, that it had tried to do the right thing.

Instead, they protected this man (apparently because of his close party connections). And they deserve to reap the consequences.

This is why people hate property developers

Property developers think there is an "oversupply" of houses in Auckland:

High turnover rates and falling prices may be a sign that there are too many new houses going in to some parts of Auckland, commentators say.

[...]

Property developer David Whitburn said there was a "bit of an oversupply" in some of the areas on the outskirts of Auckland.

Some of the sales being recorded were the final stages of large developments being finished, he said.

"Pokeno in particular, I do see an oversupply there and downward price pressure."


Good. Because downward price pressure is exactly what we need. But as for an "oversupply", we still have homeless people, and prices and rents are still out of reach of an increasing number of New Zealanders. But property developers and real estate agents, who drive the media narrative on housing policy, don't actually want to fix this. They're benefitting from the status quo, hoarding houses and profiteering from our misery. And they will panic and squawk at anything which even hints at threatening it.

We don't just need to threaten that status quo, we need to crush it. The government needs to build houses, and keep building houses, until house prices crash and houses stand empty unable to be sold because everyone who wants one has one. Until that happens, we have an undersupply, not an oversupply.

Australia to Pacific: "Fuck you, you can all drown"

World leaders are meeting in New York in two weeks for the 2019 Climate Action Summit, where they are expected to announce new and more ambitious targets to stop the world from burning. But the Australian Prime Minister won't be there, despite being in the USA at the time:

Scott Morrison will not attend the UN climate action summit despite him being in America to visit the Trump administration at the time – deploying the foreign minister, Marise Payne, and the Australian ambassador for the environment, Patrick Suckling, instead.

[...]

A draft program for the summit, and a list of member states intending to present at the event, seen by Guardian Australia, did not include any reference to Australian participation. Morrison was asked by the Greens in question time on Wednesday whether he would attend the UN summit, and he said Australia would be represented at the event.

Asked by Guardian Australia to confirm whether the prime minister would be the Australian representative, and whether the government would offer any new commitments, a spokesman for Morrison said: “Australia has already outlined our policies to tackle climate change including cutting our emissions by 26-28% and investing directly into climate resilience projects through our regional partners”.


Morrison has also said that Australia is only setting climate change targets to 2030, and will not make commitments after that. Their message to the Pacific is crystal clear: "fuck you, you can all drown".

Implausible ignorance

Labour Party president Nigel Haworth resigned yesterday over the party's sexual assault scandal. But while that's good news, its unlikely to take away the stench of a coverup. Because according to Paula Bennett in Parliament yesterday, pretty much everyone in the Prime Minister's office was involved as well:

I have been told by the complainants that Jacinda Ardern's former chief of staff Mike Munro knew about the allegations, her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, knew about the allegations, and the director of her leader's office, Rob Salmond, knew about the allegations. I have been told by two victims who work in Parliament that they went to Rob Salmond around Christmas time and made a complaint about the alleged perpetrator.

The Prime Minister has constantly said her office did not receive complaints and, in fact, encouraged the victims to speak to their line managers. They did. They have told me they went to Rob Salmond and nothing was done, and we are expected to believe that none of these men in her own office told the Prime Minister about the allegations...


(Bennett also details the witch hunt that Campbell ran to try and silence the victims, and the alleged perpetrator's "deep alliances" with Grant Robertson and involvement in Labour leadership campaigns. There's enough shit to cover everyone, it seems)

So, in order to believe the Prime Minister's claims of ignorance, we're required to believe that none of her key staff - whose job is literally to keep her informed of political risks like e.g. a case of sexual assault by a well-connected member of her party on a young volunteer - told her. Despite her supposed clear instructions in the wake of the last Labour sexual assault case that she was to be informed. And that she had no idea what was going on in her own office. And to be honest, I simply find that implausible. But if it is the case, then pretty obviously every single one of those named senior staff members has violated the Prime Minister's trust and failed in their jobs. So if its actually true, I'd expect them all to be being fired about now. And if they're not, then we can assume the PM's claims of ignorance are just another shoddy lie by just another lying politician.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019



Yes, the SIS is subject to the Public Records Act

I understand there's some stuff going round about how the SIS "was removed from the list of public offices covered by the Public Records Act in 2017". The context of course being their records derived from US torture, which will be disposed of or sealed.

The good news is that its wrong. Yes, a clause in consequential amendments schedule of the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 repealed the explicit reference to the SIS from the list of public offices in the Public Records Act 2005. But that was because another clause in the Act itself added it to schedule 1 of the State sector Act 1988, making it a department of the Public Service. Which of course are the very first thing in the list of types of bodies that are public offices covered by the Public Records Act. So, they're covered. It might be next-to-impossible to ever see anything they have ever held, but at least it will be kept so historians in a hundred years can look it.

Climate Change: Australia in denial

Australia is burning down again, and meanwhile its natural disaster minister is denying climate change:

Australia’s minister responsible for drought and natural disasters, David Littleproud, has said that he doesn’t “know if climate change is manmade”.

Clarifying earlier comments that the question is “irrelevant” when considering the Coalition government’s response to intensifying bushfires, he told Guardian Australia he was unsure about the causes of the climate crisis but wanted to give the country the tools to adapt.

[...]

Littleproud’s position was supported by the Nationals deputy leader, Bridget McKenzie, the minister for resources and northern Australia, Matt Canavan, and the environment minister, Sussan Ley, all of who denied knowledge of or downplayed the link.


Its difficult to deal with a problem effectively if you deny it exists, or refuse to acknowledge its causes. The rampant climate denial at the top of the Australian political system is dooming Australians to higher costs and worse impacts.

Disgust

I have no special insights to offer on the Labour sexual assault coverup. All I have is disgust. Disgust that an organisation could fail its people so badly. Disgust that they punished the victims rather than the perpetrator. Disgust that its party hacks are apparently blaming the victims for demanding justice.

Charitably, we're expected to believe that the people Labour appointed to investigate a complaint of sexual assault are so incompetent that they had no idea that that was what the complaint was about, despite being told repeatedly and at lenth. And that they're total muppets who can't run a proper complaints process (well, OK, most organisations can't. But this is the Labour Party, not amateur hour at the local bingo club. They have lawyers and so on who can tell them how to do it properly). Uncharitably, it just looks like an institution trying to protect itself and one of its insiders by the usual tactics of minimising the complaint and trying to shuffle the whole thing under the carpet. This is natural behaviour for institutions, we are told - except institutions are made of people, and doing this in a case of sexual assault requires that those people be either sociopaths, or absolute garbage. And either way, the whole lot of them need to go.

Member's Day: End of Life Choice, part 3

Today is a Member's day, and David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill continues its slow crawl through its committee stage. They're spending the whole day on it today, though the first hour is likely to be spent on voting left over from last time. After that they'll move on to part 3 of the Bill, and then another round of long, boring personal votes. There's still a couple of weeks left of this, but the majority for change seems to be holding up, and the bill looks like it will get its third reading and become law in late October.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019



Will Horizons act on climate change?

Local body elections are coming up next month. And it looks like all Palmerston North candidates for Horizons (the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council) want to take action on climate change:

Climate change is set to be a key issue in Palmerston North for the next three years if those wanting to get on Horizons Regional Council have their way.

[...]

All seven [Palmerston North] candidates rated climate change as one of the top three issues the council would have to tackle.


Horizons also apparently has a new climate change strategy ready for the new council to consider. So will they act? Four councillors from Palmerston North plus one Green elected unopposed (!) in Whanganui only gives five, which isn't enough for a majority in a twelve-member council. We'd still need to see two more non-farmers elected in other parts of the region to have a majority for strong action. So, if you live in Horowhenua, Tararua, or Manawatū-Rangitikei, please vote for candidates who will act.

BORA reform is stalled

Eighteen months ago, the government promised to strengthen the Bill of Rights Act, by explicitly affirming the power of the courts to issue declarations of inconsistency and requiring Parliament to formally respond to them. So how's that going?

I was curious, so I asked for all advice about the proposal. You can read the response here. And the short version is that the proposal appears to be stalled. The documents leading to the announced in-principle decision suggested consultation with experts, with Cabinet approval by October 2018, and legislation in early 2019. But after that, everything stalled. There was a briefing on the outcome of Attorney-General v Taylor, in which the Supreme Court upheld its inherent jurisdiction to issue declarations of inconsistency, a briefing on options, and (in April) a draft Cabinet paper with the Attorney-General (both sadly withheld). But that paper does not appear to have been submitted to Cabinet.

As for why, who knows? Maybe Winston has vetoed an effective Bill of Rights Act, or maybe the government has just chickened out like they did over the capital gains tax. Alternatively, there's a screaming hint in the early briefing material, where they repeatedly push the idea that Crown law could mention an in-principle decision to allow declarations to the Supreme Court, and that "this could be viewed favourably by the Court... and could be relevant to the Court's deliberations". In other words, this was being pushed as a shoddy legal tactic, and now that that tactic has failed, the government sees no need to push it any further. Which is a pretty shitty way to do constitutional change.

Of course, that may not be the reason at all. But if the government insists on withholding information, then people are entitled to read between the lines and assume the worst. And if they don't want us to do that, they have an easy solution: front up and explain why an apparently serious proposal for real constitutional change has apparently been shitcanned.