Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween


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

Climate Change: Disclosing the risks

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

MPI fails again

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

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

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

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

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

[Emphasis added]

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

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A partial release

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: California burning

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019


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

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


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

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

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

New Fisk

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

"The most transparent government ever" again

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: The problem of free allocation

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

Climate Change: Another history lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit has broken the UK's democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Fisk

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

Climate Change: You cannot compromise with physics

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Climate Change: More hidden "features"

Apart from the agriculture sellout, today's ETS bill contains a few other unpleasant hidden features. Firstly, there's another secrecy clause (s30GF), requiring the auction monitor to "keep confidential all information that comes into its knowledge when performing its functions or exercising its powers". This echoes the existing secrecy clause applying to the EPA, and so will also override the Official Information Act. But as with that clause, it seems like overkill: existing OIA withholding grounds already protect any legitimate interest in confidentiality, while the clause goes well beyond them in declaring everything done by an agency to be secret. Not even the SIS or GCSB has such protection - but no doubt, based on these examples, they'll be demanding it. Meanwhile, I can't fail to notice that this just keeps happening: virtually every significant bill has a clause chipping away at transparency in one way or another with no justification for it whatsoever. The image is of a government which is now actively hostile to the public's right to know.

Worse, the bill doesn't just continue pollution subsidies - it undoes all the progress that has been made so far on removing them. At present, the ETS awarded polluters a 90% or 60% free allocation in 2012, dropping by 1% per year after that (so in 2020, the free allocation rate would be 82% or 52%, depending on whether an industry claims to be highly or moderately exposed). The new bill resets the base year to 2020, with a 90% or 60% free allocation, dropping after that. So polluters will get a higher subsidy than they did before the bill passed, effectively reversing the incentive to reduce emissions. Worse, it appear that after the law has changed, polluters will be able to claim for the free allocation they didn't get for the previous year, and the EPA could give them back up to four years. So its a recipe for windfall profits for our worst polluters.

I'd hope we can get both of these changed at select committee. But if the Zero Carbon Bill is anything to go by, the government will just give the finger to us again. Which means that if we want a better law, we will need a better government.

Still paying for the BMR

Back in 2004, a group of inmates at Auckland Prison took the Department of Corrections to court, alleging that the Department's "Behaviour management Regime" (BMR) amounted to cruel, degarding and inhuman treatment. When they won damages in 2004, the then-Labour government responded by passing (with the assistance of the Greens, who they then screwed over) the excreable Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act, which attempted to prevent and deter such awards. But the victims weren't deterred, and went on to win hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But that's not all - because the original claiments weren't the only victims of the BMR. 72 others have since lodged claims, and yesterday, the first of them won their case:

The first six of 72 prisoners unlawfully held in solitary confinement 20 years ago will finally be paid out by the government.


The first six have been offered $87,500 to be shared among all of them.

Assuming similar offers are made for the remaining 66, a final payout would exceed $1 million.

It has taken fifteen years, apparently because Corrections has refused to consider settlement until now. Meanwhile, none of the Corrections managers who oversaw the BMR faced any employment consequences, despite costing their department more than a million dollars fifteen years ago. And with the amount of time that has passed, there seems absolutely no hope of them being held accountable now.

Update: Clarified that the current payments are settlements. The obvious question is why Corrections waited 15 years to make an offer - and how much they wasted on legal fees in the interim.

Climate Change: Ending ETS fraud

The government released its changes to the ETS today, in the form of the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading Reform) Amendment Bill. Apart from the agriculture sellout, most of the changes had been previously announced, and are largely technical. But there's one big surprise hidden in it: the cancellation of all fraudulent climate "credits".

For those unaware of the issue: the Kyoto Protocol's international trading regime allowed the issue of fraudulent credits by Russian and Ukrainian criminals, where "credit" was claimed for doing nothing, or for burning coal. New Zealand polluters bought tens of millions of these units, flooding the market and driving the price down to almost nothing. They then used them to "pay" their ETS obligations, usually while receiving good New Zealand units as pollution subsidies. That fraud ended in 2015, when the government stopped accepting Kyoto units for ETS obligations - but there's an unknown amount lurking around in the ETS, undermining the system. The bill will end that, by immediately ending the ability to transfer Kyoto units into New Zealand units, and ending the ability to transfer New Zealand units overseas. Then, in 2020, it will cancel all historic approved units, with no compensation. The net effect: anyone holding fraud units when the bill passes will lose the pittance they paid for them.

There are two obvious problems with this: the bill will take six months to a year to pass, so fraud-holders have that much time to try and flick their bullshit "credits" on to a new sucker - it really needed to be done in all-stages urgency, like an excise tax increase, to prevent polluters gaming the system. And it doesn't address the position of the biggest fraudster of them all: the New Zealand government, which used over a hundred million tons of fraud to "meet" its Kyoto obligations, while claiming a similarly-sized "surplus" (in good Kyoto AAU, of course), which it plans to use to "meet" its 2020 target. Still, its a welcome step forward. Now, we just need to make everyone who used one of these bullshit units hand over a good one to make up for their fraud...

The Greens should not support tyranny

Last week, the government introduced an odious bill to allow it to apply "control orders" - effectively a bail regime - on suspected terrorists entering New Zealand, without the need for prosecution or evidence. But National refused to support it (because, naturally, it wasn't tyrannical enough), meaning the bill looked doomed. But now the Greens have ridden to the government's rescue, and agreed to support it in exchange for "concessions":

The Green Party has negotiated important civil liberties changes in the proposed Terrorism Suppression Bill which will now establish human rights and process safeguards.

“We’ve ensured that foreign convictions and deportations won’t be accepted without proper scrutiny and we’ve ended the use of secret evidence without an advocate,” said Golriz Ghahraman, Green Party spokesperson for Justice.

“We’ve been clear from the start about our key concerns. Our position in Government has allowed us to negotiate and get agreement from the Minister. We’re now comfortable voting for the Bill at first reading while we continue work to improve it as it progresses.

Essentially, Labour threatened to back down to National, and the Greens obediently rolled over and wagged their tail in order to stop the bill form being worse. But firstly, this isn't a matter of better or worse, but of right and wrong, and a law which allows punishment without prosecution, punishment on a civil standard of proof, or the use of secret "evidence", even with a "special advocate", is fundamentally wrong and unjust, and something the Greens should never support. It violates fundamental international human rights standards, and again, that is something the Greens should never support. Because the great lesson of the "war on terror" is that if you allow human rights to be eroded in the name of "security", you suddenly find them being eroded across the board. It is the Greens' job to stand against that erosion and make a principled argument for human rights. If arsehole parties pass bad legislation, then that's on them. But if the Greens compromise to enable that to happen, it makes it so much harder to repeal it later.

(At this stage I should point out that the Greens' "concession" of a special advocate is a) exactly the same system which was rejected by the UK supreme court in 2009 as fundamentally unjust, effectively overturning their control order regime as security agencies were unwilling to have their "evidence" scrutinised in public where people could laugh at it; and b) liable to be shortly overturned by the government's planned legislation to allow secret evidence in all trials, so not a "concession" at all. And again, if the Law Commission believe they are acceptable, then so much the worse for the Law Commission).

Secondly, we've been here before. Back in 2005, the Greens supported the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act for identical reasons, in exchange for "concessions". I supported that compromise at the time, and I was a fool to do so, because those concessions were all swiftly overturned the moment the government could get the numbers. The Greens should not allow themselves to be fooled again.

Climate Change: Chickening out on agriculture

As expected, the government has chickened out on agricultural emissions. Given the option to put farmers in the ETS and make them properly pay for their pollution like the rest of us, they have instead decided to threaten them with it, in the hope that this will cause climate-change denying industry groups to come up with a scientifically robust on-farm emissions pricing scheme within five years. Which is about as likely a prospect as the UK Conservative Party coming up with an effective plan for Brexit.

Because the central problem here is that the industry groups the government is calling its "partners" are fundamentally opposed to farmers taking any responsibility for their pollution. They have denied and dragged their feet every step of the way, opposed paying for research to reduce their emissions, opposed best practice when its been proven to do so, opposed farmers doing anything different from what they do now. There's no indication that they have changed their views or will suddenly start acting in good faith. Instead, what it gives them an incentive to do is wait for a change of government, then push for the "backstop" to be repealed, so the free ride - which has been going on for 16 years already - can continue forever. And meanwhile, the 86% of us who live in cities are paying for every gram of carbon we emit.

But while the government is pandering to a tiny noisy rural elite, the rest of us need to confront the facts. Agriculture is responsible for ~50% of our emissions. We can not meaningfully reduce our emissions unless we also reduce those from agriculture. Anything which delays doing that is effectively a recipe for failure, and any government which condones such a delay is selling our future. It is that simple.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Close Tiwai Point

Tiwai Point's electricity contract is up for renewal. And as usual, they're sticking their hand out, demanding a government subsidy, and threatening to close if they don't get one:

The owners of the aluminium smelter said on Wednesday that there were seeking talks with the Government amid a strategic review which could see the operation closed.

Rio Tinto said it would "will conduct a strategic review of its interest in New Zealand's Aluminium Smelter [NZAS] at Tiwai Point, to determine the operation's ongoing viability and competitive position".

This would include talks with the Government and electricity suppliers.

Meridian Energy, which supplies electricity to the smelter, said the review options included closure.

But in a statement, a spokesman for Woods described the review as "a commercial process by a commercial operator" and signalled there should not be an expectation of a bail out.

Good. Because the best thing this polluter can do is close. That's not just because I don't think the government should subsidise unprofitable businesses (and Tiwai Point gets not just a direct financial subsidy courtesy of John Key, but also a ~$70 million a year carbon subsidy, for about five times its actual emissions) - but also because Tiwai Point uses 13% of the country's entire electricity supply (for which it pays a sweetheart rate, effectively being subsidised by all of Meridian's other customers). The primary consequence of that heavy baseload use is to force the use of dirty thermal generation at peak times, causing over 2 million tons a year of avoidable carbon dioxide emissions - 5% of the country's total. And because electricity prices are set by the marginal generator, this drives up prices for everyone. If Tiwai Point shuts down, we free up that renewable generation, drive thermal electricity out of the market, and get lower prices for everyone - a prospect which has worried speculators in electricity companies so much that it has wiped $2 billion off their value today.

Closing Tiwai Point will give us the near-100% renewable electricity system we want. It would give certainty around electricity investment, ending the perverse disincentive that limits new renewables. It would lower emissions, and lower prices for everyone. And it would free up a huge chunk of renewable electricity for other uses - such as electrifying the South Island's dirty coal-fired dairy factories, or cracking hydrogen for industrial use. The sooner it happens, the better.

ACT: Backed by Nazis

So, it turns out that the ACT Party - which previously called itself "the liberal party" - is financed by Nazis:

ACT Party leader David Seymour says his party will not return a donation from Mike Allen, a Christchurch businessman who sells mock "Make America Great Again" hats to fund advertising for far-right Facebook pages and who threatened in a since-deleted Facebook post to "destroy mosque after mosque till I am taken out".

Allen asked Seymour to sign the hat and then auctioned it off on TradeMe in August, originally to raise funds for the Kidsline charity.

Seymour told Newsroom that he worried the auction would politicise the charity, which he supports as a local MP, and asked Allen to change the recipient of the funds to ACT.

Seymour is refusing to return the donation, and outraged that anyone would think badly of ACT over this. But this isn't an innocent donation by a stranger - Seymour enabled and solicited it from a known racist. And we are perfectly entitled to judge him and his party on that. If he doesn't want that judgement, the answer is simple: don't work with Nazis.

Bullying their critics

Over the past month we've heard some horrific stories about bullying in the police. The police's response? Try to bully people into silence:

The police have told a whistleblower to retract his statements to RNZ about being bullied or face legal action.

The demand came just hours after Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced a review into how complaints of bullying are dealt with.


In a letter sent to his lawyer, the police said Mr Woodward had breached confidential settlement agreements from 2014 and 2017.

"Your client, John Woodward, has been speaking with the media (Ben Strang of RNZ) regarding his employment with Police," the letter reads.

The letter states that under the agreement, both parties agreed to only talk positively or in a neutral manner when speaking about each other to third parties.

Which I think both proves the point, and shows the danger of confidential settlements: they are used to cover up abuses, silence victims, and sweep bad behaviour under the carpet while allowing perpetrators to bully and victimise again. The idea that a government agency is using them - and using them in this way, to publicly bully and silence critics - is simply unacceptable. The Prime Minister needs to step in, and make it clear that no public agency - including the police - will be allowed to enforce such settlements.

Member's Day: End of Life Choice, part 5

Today is a Member's Day, which should see the final part of the committee stage of David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill. The big question today is the referendum clause: will it be necessary, or can the bill pass without it? While the majorities for his amendments during the committee stage suggest the latter, David Seymour may not want to take the chance.

Once that is done, the House will move to the committee stage of Todd Muller's (frightfully boring) Companies (Clarification of Dividend Rules in Companies) Amendment Bill, and then to the second reading of Ian McKelvie's Dog Control (Category 1 Offences) Amendment Bill. There's two more second readings stacked up, so we're unlikely to be getting a ballot before the holidays.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Canada's electoral system is broken

Canadians went to the polls today in parliamentary elections, and appear to have re-elected blackface wearer Justin Trudeau. Unfortunately, they use first-past-the-post, and they've provided a perfect demonstration of how unfair this system is:

PartySeats% Seats% Vote
Bloc Québécois329.5%7.7%
New Democratic Party247.1%15.9%
Green Party30.9%6.5%

[Results from Elections Canada]

Yes, the Liberals got fewer votes than the Conservatives, but about 30% more seats. Meanwhile the Bloc got 50% more seats than the NDP on half the vote, while the Greens a sixth of the seats they were entitled to. While I don't like the Canadian Conservative party, I think they will be well-justified in feeling cheated. Not that they'd come out ahead in coalition talks, given that no other party likes them, but the Liberals are going to have a much easier time of support negotiations than they should.

Results like this make it clear: Canada needs a fair electoral. It needs proportional representation, so that every vote counts.

A prediction

There was another police chase in Christchurch this morning, resulting in a crash which killed one person and injured five more. Because someone died, the chase is being investigated by the Independent Police Conduct Authority. And based on previous reports by the IPCA, we know how it will go: the IPCA will find that the chase should never have been initiated, or should have been broken off, as it posed too great a risk to public safety. It may recommend changes to police chase procedure, or a presumption against chasing. And the police will ignore them, and keep on chasing people like rabid dogs, and killing them as a result. And this will continue until the politicians step in, and either lay down the law to the police to prevent them from imposing a de facto death sentence for fleeing, or enable the IPCA to directly prosecute police officers who kill.

Climate Change: The Zero Carbon Bill

Just a month ago we saw the biggest protest in a generation as people marched to demand stronger action on climate change. A core demand of the protesters was to strengthen the Zero Carbon Bill's target to net-zero by 2040. So what is the government's response? Judging by the Environment Committee's report on the bill released yesterday, its crystal clear: "fuck you". The target has not been strengthened, and the government is still aiming for net zero (except for methane) by 2050. Which, given the way the news is going, simply means we'll be back in five years to strengthen it. Meanwhile, if you marched in the climate strike, if you want stronger targets, the message is clear: to get them, we need to march to the ballot box. Fortunately we'll have a chance to do that next year.

As for the rest of the bill, its pretty much the same as when it went into committee, with only technical changes. The methane target is still the same (so farmers still get a free ride), there's a slightly stronger emphasis on domestic emissions reduction and against "offshore mitigation" (AKA fraudulent "credits"), and a requirement for the Climate Change Commission to review whether to include international aviation and shipping emissions in the target. One win is on whether agencies must consider climate change targets in public decisions. While the committee retained the present permissive language as opposed to making it mandatory, they have struck out the clause saying that a failure to consider climate change does not invalidate decisions, in order to "enable common law to develop". Which is their way of saying "please take us to court". We'll just have to do it for irrationality / unreasonableness rather than having a slam-dunk of illegality available.

Its mixed news on transparency. The good news is that the government has admitted its overbroad drafting, and reversed its application of the existing secrecy clause to all the Climate Change Commission's functions, instead limiting it to information passed on by the EPA. The bad news is that they've introduced a new mini-Official Secrets Act in s5ZV to cover information obtained by the Commission under its information-gathering powers. Like the similar clause in the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission/Te Waihanga Act, these powers apply almost entirely to public bodies already covered by OIA / LGOIMA, insofar as they don't, the information would be protected by existing withholding grounds. The basic effect will be to make presumptively public information secret. Given the way these clauses keep being inserted, it is clear that the government does not trust the OIA, and is chipping away at it at every turn. Which is another reason for us to march to the ballot box.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Sophistry and bullshit

I spent some time reading the Regulatory Impact Statement and Bill of Rights Act advice for the government's odious control order scheme today. I am not impressed with either of them. Starting with the RIS, it is built on some pretty questionable assumptions. For example:

Unless individuals have been convicted of an offence in New Zealand or overseas, there is very little agencies can do to monitor the activities and movements of an individual who poses a terrorism risk to the community.

If there is no change to current settings, and high-risk returnees reside in the community, the Government can surveil a limited number of returnees (for the Police to do this a court issued warrant would be required). However, surveillance provides no capacity to impose any conditions or restrictions on individuals, or to support individuals in seeking counselling or other reintegration support services.

So, apparently we need to gut our human rights standards because the police and SIS can not surveil an estimated "1-2 people per year", and because they believe they cannot provide reintegration services unless someone has been convicted of a crime. Which is ridiculous, and if true, makes you wonder what we are paying these agencies hundreds of millions a year for. Instead, it reads like the police are going "waaah! Don't wanna do work! Don't wanna!" when faced with task of surveilling suspected terrorists. Instead, they'd rather compromise our protection of basic human rights because they are lazy.

It gets worse. While its not in that section, this is essentially the government's "problem definition":
Currently, the courts can impose restrictions that would limit potential terrorist activity once a person has been charged or convicted, either as part of bail conditions, by sentencing or via parole conditions. These options are not available where the individual has not committed a crime under New Zealand law or when a prosecution for an offence is not a viable or proportionate option (eg prosecution test under the Solicitor-General’s guidelines is not met).

To put that in plain English, the problem the government is seeking to solve is that some people haven't committed a crime (or if they have, they would not be prosecuted for it). But it wants to punish them anyway. This is the very definition of arbitrary punishment, and precisely what the BORA is supposed to protect against. And sadly, the BORA advice is essentially sophistry to disguise that fact. "It's a civil order, so its not a punishment". "A 12 hour a day curfew (with a penalty of a year in jail if you break it) isn't detention". "The courts have to observe the BORA, so none of the restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, expression or movement we explicitly say they should make are really restrictions". Sophistry and bullshit all the way down, which debases the BORA oversight regime. But it gets worse, because in the section on the impact on the right to natural justice (raised by the bill's explicit use of a term disclosable supporting information, which "alludes to" the potential use of secret evidence by police), they say that this is impossible:
the Bill does not establish the architecture for any "closed material procedure" whereby the Court would be entitled to consider evidence that has not been disclosed. We doubt the Court would be able to conduct such a procedure in its inherent jurisdiction, therefore there is unlikely to be any material that a Court would rule is "not disposable [sic] supporting information".

Meanwhile, the RIS is saying that the bill is proceeding in tandem with "proposals to protect the use of national security information in court proceedings" (something which has been on the SIS's wishlist for years) and that this "will improve the processes for applying fora control order". So, there will be secret evidence, with all that implies for the right to natural justice, its just that Crown law will pretend there will not be for the purposes of the BORA assessment. Again, this simply makes them look like liars, trying to tell two different stories. I know a lawyer is someone who tells you what you pay them to say (sorry, Graeme), but this really is disgraceful.

Meanwhile, they're also misleading the politicians who will be voting on this law, omitting the sorry history of the UK's control order regime (which was basicly overturned repeatedly by the courts on human rights grounds). You'd think that would be helpful in assessing this sort of legislation, but I guess the Ministry of Justice thinks MPs just don't need to know. Which is just he sort of shoddy and unprofessional job we've seen in the past on terrorism legislation.

If this is the case for the law, its a terrible one. And if Parliament accepts it and votes for it, they're a terrible Parliament, and just a rubber-stamp for tyranny.

New Fisk

I don't blame the Lebanese rioters setting Beirut alight – they are hungry, poor and furious
Trump’s disgrace in the Middle East is the death of an empire. Vladimir Putin is Caesar now

Punishing the young

We all know that NZ First is a party of and for old people who hate the young. But they've topped their previous pedophobia with a proposal that all young people be forced to do 100 hours community work:

NZ First wants all young people to do 100 hours of community service between the ages of 15-19, even if they haven't committed a crime.

The party voted to investigate the policy at its conference in Christchurch, although it has to be backed by MPs before being formally adopted.

On Saturday party members gathered for the party's convention and debated policy, known as remits.

It appears the remit was mistakenly placed in the Law and Order section of the debate, rather than a debate on youth affairs.

Community work is a criminal sentence, so NZ First are basicly suggesting that young people be punished without trial, for the "crime" of being young. And its not a trivial sentence - googling around, its the sort of punishment given to people who burgle police stations, serial fraudsters, assault, or biting a police officer.

What's wrong with this? Where do we start? It's punishment without trial, punishment without there even being a criminal offence, and its obviously discriminatory on the basis of age (though, thanks to the way our BORA is written, that wouldn't apply if they only did it to under-16's). Supposedly it will help young people "reconnect" with society, but I doubt anyone will want to connect with any society that regards them as inherently criminal and inherently in need of punishment. What it will encourage is civil disobedience. After all, what's the worst the government will do if you refuse to do your bullshit pedophobic community service? Tell you to do more?

Friday, October 18, 2019

Why do we need control orders again?

On Wednesday, the government was loudly telling us that it needed to legislate to allow it to impose "control orders" - effectively a parole regime, but imposed without charge, prosecution, conviction or real evidence - on suspected terrorists because they couldn't be prosecuted for their supposed crimes. Today, it turns out that that's not the case:

A warrant to arrest the man called the "bumbling Jihadi" - New Zealand-born man Mark Taylor - has been issued in Wellington District Court.

A charge sheet under the name Muhammad Abdul Rahman Hamza Omar John Daniel was filed in Wellington with a date showing he was due to appear before a registrar on Friday.


The charging document shows a Hamilton address and the charge is that between 11 June 2014 and 24 April 2015 at Raqqa, Syria he threatened to do grievous bodily harm to New Zealand police officers and soldiers

The charge is from the Crimes Act and carries a seven year maximum jail term.

(While the threats were made in Syria, the threatened assaults would have had to have happened in New Zealand, which seems to establish jurisdiction)

So why do we need control orders again?

Bullshitting the Minister

On Monday, the Hit and Run inquiry heard from NZDF's former director of special operations, who claimed that the defence Minister knew everything about the Operation Burnham raid. Today, the inquiry heard from that (former) Minister - and it turns out that he didn't know nearly as much as NZDF claimed:

Mapp – who the Minister of Defence from 2008 until late 2011 – on Friday told the inquiry he had been briefed about the report in the Beehive in September 2011.

"I now have a fragmentary memory of being told … that there was no evidence of civilian casualties but that it was possible that civilian casualties may have been caused during Operation Burnham," he said.

But he said because there had been no detailed evidence to confirm the deaths, he had never passed the information on to former Prime Minister Sir John Key's office.

"I was not left with any reason to think I had to take further action … I thought, on the basis of what I've been told, I can't take this matter any further, because there was no actual evidence," Mapp said.

Which sounds like Jim Blackwell, the former director of special operations, bullshitted the Minister, minimising the contents of the report, and then lied the inquiry about it afterwards in an effort to cover his own arse. But it also sounds like Mapp failed to exercise proper supervision of his agency, in that they (correctly) thought they could do this without getting caught.

There's a lesson in this: Ministers should never trust anything NZDF ever says to them, because they demonstrably will lie and obfuscate and exaggerate to cover their arses and get their way. That's not a basis for a healthy relationship, but what else can Ministers do when an agency has been caught doing this?

We need to bring the police under control

The last decade has seen a trend of increasing weapons availability to police. Assault rifles. Tasers on every hip. Guns in cars. And following the march 15 massacre, pistols on every hip, all over the country. At the same time, its also seen an increase in the abuse of force: the police routinely present firearms at unarmed people, taser people in the back without justification, and have shot more people in the last 10 years than the previous 40. We're getting near-daily reports from the Independent Police Conduct Authority of police using force unlawfully or displaying poor judgement with fatal consequences. And the police's response to all of this is to escalate it some more:

Special police vehicles carrying trained armed officers will routinely patrol Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury in a police trial that hopes to cut down response times to serious incidents involving firearms.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush is expected to make the announcement in Counties Manukau this morning.


The vehicles will be manned by armed offenders squad (AOS) members who would be ready to attend major incidents at any time if needed.

It is understood to be similar to what has been rolled out in the UK, where armed response vehicles have been adapted to accommodate specialist equipment.

So "our" police are going to be rolling through our poorest, brownest neighbourhoods (of course) in armoured black SUVs (of course), suited up in stormtrooper suits and carrying assault rifles, looking for trouble. This isn't a democratic police force under any recognisable version of the Peelian Principles - it is an army of occupation, or a death squad. Its not policing by consent anymore - its naked repression by paramilitary force. And the inevitable consequence of armed, hyped-up police going looking for people to shoot is that they will shoot people, without justification - just like they do in America. We desperately need to bring the police back under control, before that happens.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

We need to take guns off police

Today's IPCA report of police criminality: a police officer unalwfully tasered a fleeing suspect who posed no threat to anyone:

The police watchdog has found an officer unlawfully tasered an Auckland man who broke his ankle jumping off a balcony to escape arrest.


To avoid arrest, the man jumped over his apartment balcony's railing onto the concrete about four metres below and broke his ankle, the IPCA said.

The arresting officer fired his taser at him twice, missing the first time, unaware the man had broken his ankle, it said.

The authority has ruled it was unlawful of the officer to use the taser to carry out the arrest or prevent the man's escape.

"The Authority is not satisfied that the officer fired the Taser to defend himself or others, because the man had just run away from the officers and his partner, removing any imminent threat the officer believed he posed to them.

"Nor did the man pose an immediate danger to anyone else after he jumped from the balcony. Additionally, the officer was not justified in using the Taser to prevent the man's escape."

There's the obvious question here: why isn't this cop in court for assault with a weapon? Because if you or I did anything like this, that's where we'd be, and the law surely must apply to those who enforce it as well as those it is enforced upon. But also, its a perfect demonstration of why we need to take guns off police except for specialist units: because they clearly cannot be trusted to use them appropriately or lawfully. Instead, they're behaving like Americans. It is time to take their toys away.

"Bringing kindness back"

"Auckland City Mission: 10% of Kiwis experiencing food insecurity", RNZ, 16 October 2019:

About half a million people are experiencing food insecurity, according to new research from the Auckland City Mission.

Food insecurity, or food poverty, is defined as not having enough appropriate food.

The City Mission said over the last few years, demand for food has continually and dramatically increased.

It said information about food insecurity in New Zealand was outdated and sparse, but its research estimates about 10 percent of the population is experiencing food insecurity.

"'We are in deep trouble': Dire lack of state housing creates a new homeless", New Zealand Herald, 17 October 2019:
The future demand for state houses will outstrip the Government's build targets by almost double, a Herald analysis has found.

The dire shortfall is expected to force thousands more into homelessness, including increasing numbers of low-income working parents and retiring baby boomers who don't own property and can't afford escalating rents.

Commentators and officials fear the housing undersupply has now grown to the point it may be irreversible, with some predicting a new reality where living in caravan parks or motels is normal.

"Govt won't make financial hardship grounds for MSD debt write-off", RNZ, 17 October 2019:
The government has no plans to change the rules to allow debt write-offs for beneficiaries struggling to pay back loans to cover basic living costs.

More than $500 million is owed to the Ministry for Social Development for recoverable hardship assistance and grants - up more than $100 million on what it was four years ago.

The loans are used to cover essentials like school uniforms, power bills and car repairs, but there have been growing calls for the government to reconsider how it treats this debt.


But Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said she's not looking at making changes to make serious financial hardship a ground for debt write-offs.

When this government was elected, Jacinda Ardern promised to "bring kindness back". Kindness to whom? Because looking at the above, its certainly not those in desperate need. Instead, while sitting on a $7.5 billion surplus, Ardern is leaving them hungry, homeless, and in permanent debt-slavery to WINZ, all to avoid troubling rich people like herself.

The government has the money to solve these problems. It chooses not to. And that's as close to a definition of "evil" as you can get.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

An odious bill

The government has decided that someone has done Something Bad. But despite their belief, there seems to be no evidence that they have actually broken the law. So the government's solution is to pass a retrospective law allowing them to be punished anyway, on a lower standard of proof.

If it was Russia or China doing this, we would have no qualms at all about condemning it as a tyrannical abuse of power and a violation of basic human rights. But its not Russia or China: it's New Zealand:

On Wednesday, Justice Minister Andrew Little introduced a new bill to to strengthen counter-terrorism laws and support the de-radicalisation of New Zealanders returning from overseas.

The need for law change was highlighted when it came to light that a case against Taylor, known as the "bumbling jihadi", would not necessarily be a slam dunk with much of the case dependent on proof.


The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill will now give the New Zealand Police the ability to apply to the High Court to impose control orders on New Zealanders who have engaged in terrorism related activities overseas.

The orders are effectively a bail regime, allowing someone's freedom of movement, assembly, association and expression to be restricted for up to six years. While imposed by a court, there's an implicit assumption that evidence will be secret (or rather "non-disclosable" to the accused), and it will be done on a civil rather than criminal standard of proof. Like asset forfeiture, its essentially a way to punish without prosecution or evidence (and to punish those acquitted by the courts), freeing the police from having to do their actual jobs properly. Except here, there'll be default permanent name suppression, so we won't be able to see who it is being applied to.

Terrorists who commit or plan murder and mayhem should (and can) be prosecuted for their crimes. But this odious bill is an attack on the rule of law and the fundamental principles of a free society. And it is proving once again that (in the words of the UK Supreme Court) the real threat to the life of the nation comes not from terrorism but from laws such as this.

National is now the party of climate arson

So, Judith Collins has done a Facebook rant about climate change, peddling the same shit National has been shovelling for the past twenty years: the impacts are overstated, there's no need to do anything about it, and its too hard anyway (oh, and its so unfair that people who peddle this bullshit get called on it). And according to Newshub, her views have the full backing of Simon Bridges:

National leader Simon Bridges said Collins is "right".

"This isn't an emergency, I don't think... We need practical, sensible actions, but we're not going to sit by and let our economy be ruined by radical, meaningless proposals... We're not going to see farm production go down the toilet."

So that's that: National is now the party of full-on climate arson, willing to burn the world - including New Zealand - for the profit of their farmer cronies. They've responded to the school strike, and the 170,000 people who marched, and the countless others who supported it, with a "fuck you, and fuck your future".

Which makes it crystal clear: if you want effective climate policy, if you want a future, don't vote for climate arsonists. Don't vote for National.

Passing the buck

Last month, NZDF's shoddy coverup of what it knew about civilian casualties in Operation Burnham began to fall apart, with the revelation that a report on the matter, which NZDF claimed not to have, had been sitting in an NZDF safe for the past nine years. Yesterday, the man responsible for putting it there was finally questioned on the issue, and adopted a new line: the Defence Minister knew everything. But oddly, the records which would prove (or disprove) this story had been deleted:

Blackwell's memory was questioned by lawyers. He had initially told a Defence Force lawyer he had no memory of the report, but recent media reporting had rekindled his recall.

He specifically remembered receiving the report by email, and speaking to [then-Defence Minister Wayne] Mapp. But his records, including emails, calendars and other operational documents had been deleted since he left the military.

Why emails and records from others who held this position were available to the inquiry was an open question.

How convenient. Meanwhile, its worth noting that none of this fits with Mapp's public statements on the issue that he found out about civilian casulaties from a 2014 TV documentary, and that he has absolutely no reason to lie about this. So on the face of it, it looks like another attempt at passing the buck by NZDF, another attempt to avoid accepting responsibility. And for an organisation which supposedly prides itself on integrity, that is simply contemptible.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A climate of tyranny

For the past week, Extinction Rebellion has been peacefully protesting in London to demand action on climate change. The British government's response? Ban their protests:

Police have banned Extinction Rebellion protests from continuing anywhere in London, as they moved in almost without warning to clear protesters who remained at the movement’s camp in Trafalgar Square.

The Metropolitan police issued a revised section 14 order on Monday night that said “any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion ‘Autumn Uprising’ ... must now cease their protests within London (MPS and City of London Police Areas)” by 9pm.

Almost immediately, officers moved into Trafalgar Square and demanded that protesters remove their tents. Most XR activists staying at the site had already decamped to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, south of the river, and only a few dozen tents, along with gazebos and other infrastructure, remained on the square.

Which speaks volumes about the intentions of the British government. Face with people raising the alarm about the biggest crisis facing humanity, the establishment's response is to gag them. Not only do they not want to know - they don't want anyone else to be told. They'd rather UKanians all drowned rather than face the inconvenience of admitting the problem and taking credible action on it. Which is a prime example of why that political establishment needs to be voted out on their arses.

Still, it could be worse: at least they're not just murdering them - the British establishment's instinctive response to protest. But if you're in XR in London, I guess its time to take off your "XR" badge, put on a "school strike" one, and keep on doing exactly what you're doing.

More disappointment

When they were running for election, Labour promised to overhaul the Employment Relations Act and introduce fair pay agreements to set basic pay and conditions on an industry level, preventing bad employers from undercutting good ones. They followed this up by establishing a working group, which reported back in January this year supporting the idea. But since then, there's been nothing. And understandably, the union movement would like the government to keep its promises:

The leader of the Council of Trade Unions is calling on the Government to make progress on fair pay agreements.

CTU president Richard Wagstaff said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern needed to fulfil her election promise to workers and introduce the collective agreements.

The union released a framework on fair pay agreements ahead of the organisation's annual conference, being held today.

"The Labour Party have pledged their commitment to fair pay agreements, but action is needed to turn the concept into reality."

And they're running out of time. It takes between 6 months to a year (depending on submissions and filibustering) for a bill to become law after being introduced to Parliament, and there's an election in a year. If a bill for fair pay isn't introduced by the holidays, then it will be clear that its just not going to happen this term. And that will add another policy to the long list of under-delivery for this government of disappointment, and make it that much harder to encourage its voters to turn out for it.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Spain is not a democracy

Two years ago Catalans braved police batons and rubber bullets to vote overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum. Today, Spain jailed nine politicians who organised and supported that referendum process for a combined total of a hundred years for "sedition", after a trial that was little more than a judicial lynching. Protests against the verdicts are already breaking out across Catalonia, but Spain has invaded with 1500 riot police to "keep order". So we'll probably see more scenes of peaceful protesters being beaten, gassed and shot for daring to express the view that a democratic society should resolve questions democraticly.

Because that, fundamentally, is what this is about. While Catalans are divided on independence, there has always been overwhelming support for the idea that as a democratic society they should be allowed to vote on it. Spain has responded to that idea with violence and brutality. It has treated Catalonia like a colonial possession, whose people must be kept in line by force, rather than as citizens of a democratic state. It has not behaved like a democracy, but like the fascist dictatorship it supposedly ended 40 years ago.

That treatment has unsurprisingly strengthened the desire for independence, as people seek to leave the country which mistreats them. When this mess began, Spain could have allowed a vote, and probably won it, and that result would have been accepted for a decade or more. Now, there's really only one outcome: independence. The question is how long it takes, and many people Spain murders trying to stop it.

UK Conservatives hate democracy

With an unfair voting system, uneven electorates and an un-elected upper house, the UK's "democracy" is barely worthy of the name. But now the government wants to make it worse:

The government has been accused of suppressing voters’ rights with the potential disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of people after plans to introduce compulsory photo ID for voters were leaked.

Reports that the Queen’s speech contains proposals to make showing ID such as driving licences or passports at the ballot box a requirement have been met anger by campaigners who say the move is a threat to democratic participation.

Ministers were accused of using a “sledgehammer to crack a nut” as the numbers of personation fraud during elections was tiny, critics said. Instead, voters were far more worried about low turnout, questionable donations and foreign interference, it was claimed.

Over 3.5 million UKanians do not have any form of photo ID, and 11 million don't have passports or driver's licences. And naturally, these are concentrated among poorer and browner UKanians - those least likely to vote Tory. So its not just an attack on democracy, its very specifically a US-style attempt to stack the electoral deck for the benefit of the party in power.

On the other hand, does it really matter what is in the government's programme? Its not as if they have a majority for anything any more. But on the gripping hand, it suggests the Tories are becoming increasingly anti-democratic, lusting to return to Jacob Rees-Mogg's C19th "utopia" when only the rich could vote and everyone else's voices were excluded. So they need to be thrown out of power so they remember who is really in charge: the people.

New Fisk

Trump and Erdogan have much in common – and the Kurds will be the tragic victims of their idiocy

What is wrong with our building industry?

Back in the 90's and early 2000's, the building industry was building leaky homes which should never have been granted consent. Now it turns out they've been building dodgy office blocks as well:

New imaging technology has revealed hundreds of major buildings nationwide have defective or missing concrete or reinforcing steel.

Concrete investigators say their scanning shows many buildings have not been constructed according to the plans.

They were "astounded" and "appalled", Jane Roach-Gray of Wellington company Concrete Structure Investigations said.


Critical structural parts were defective or missing in 1100 of the 1200 buildings they had scanned since 2016, Ms Roach-Gray said.

"The divide occurs between what's in the plans and what ends up in the structure," she said.

They can't name any of the buildings "for legal reasons" (meaning: fear of being sued if they told the truth about what's wrong with them), but the implication is clear: pretty much anything that has been built in the last 40 years has these problems. And some may be structurally unsound or outright unsafe as a result.

So how did this happen? One part is almost certainly the building industry's culture of lowballing contracts, which then encourages them to cut corners to turn a profit. But in theory, buildings are meant to be inspected, to ensure that that doesn't happen and that everything is built according to the plans. So there have obviously been some terrible failures there. Who's responsible for inspections? Those same territorial authorities who granted consents to leaky homes, and who are under relentless pressure from Boomers to Keep Rates Low. Except that skimping on this is a fool's strategy, because councils are legally liable for their failure to inspect, and in the case of leaky homes, that adds up to billions. They could now be on the hook for billions more.

Local bodies

Local body election results were released over the weekend, to joy or despair depending on where you live. In Auckland, Phil Goff trounced John Tamihere, who is muttering darkly about running for Parliament again (but which party would want him?) Wellington is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Weta Workshop, except Peter Jackson only bought the mayor rather than the councillors, who probably still will be reluctant to pay for his stupid vanity museum. Dunedin elected the country's first Green mayor. And in Canterbury, ECan voters got to vote for the first time in nine years, having had their democracy stolen by National - and promptly showed why National did it, by electing a council interested in cleaning up the rivers. So no doubt we'll see farmers agitating for a dictatorship again.

Meanwhile in Palmerston North the mayor easily retained his seat (damn), but our council now has two Greens, two Labour, and a few less Boomers. But turnout is still well below 2016, bucking the national trend; I'm wondering if it has something to do with voters being presented with a choice of politicians or a paedophile, and just throwing their hands up in disgust. Alternatively, maybe the postal system here is worse than elsewhere? Either way, from reports from other cities, it looks like having actual polling booths is a definite way to go to increase it in future.

Friday, October 11, 2019


The Ugandan government wants to murder gay people:

Uganda has announced plans to impose the death penalty on homosexuals.

The bill, colloquially known as “Kill the Gays” in Uganda, was nullified five years ago on a technicality, but the government said on Thursday it plans to resurrect it within weeks.

The government said the legislation would curb a rise in “unnatural sex” in the east African nation.

The death penalty is barbaric enough. Seeking to apply it to private acts between consent adults is utterly mind-boggling. That's simply not the proper domain of the state, let alone of state murder.

Last time Uganda's bigoted government tried to push this law through, the international community responded with sanctions. Hopefully we will do the same again.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The SIS unlawfully spied on Nicky Hager

Back in 2011, journalist Nicky Hager published Other People's Wars, an expose on NZDF's activities over the previous decade of the "war on terror". NZDF didn't like this, and especially didn't like the fact that it was based on leaks from their own. So, they had the SIS investigate him for "espionage" in an effort to uncover and punish his sources. In the process, the SIS acquired two months of his phone metadata (more on that later). Now, the Acting Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has ruled that it their suspicions were absurd and the entire operation unlawful:

The Acting Inspector General of Intelligence and Security has upheld a complaint by investigative journalist Nicky Hager against the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service for unlawfully attempting to uncover his journalistic sources.


The SIS sought to justify this use of its powers against Mr Hager by claiming that it was investigating espionage. However, the Acting IGIS found that the SIS had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that any espionage had occurred.

In her report, the Acting IGIS wrote that, “NZSIS provided that assistance despite a lack of grounds for reasonable suspicion that any activity had occurred that was a matter of national "security'”. She also concluded that she had “been unable to find that the Service showed the kind of caution I consider proper, for an intelligence agency in a free and democratic society, about launching any investigation into a journalist's sources.”

The full report is here, and it is very interesting reading. Some highlights:
  • The ruling depending heavily on the definition of "security" in the old New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act 1969, which specifically referred to protection from "espionage". While the report does not include a timeline, presumably the complaint was in the system when the new Intelligence and Security Act 2017 was being drafted. Which explains why the government at the time was very keen not to define "national security": so the SIS could interpret it to mean whatever they wanted it to mean, and legitimise this behaviour. So once again, the spies have been allowed to rewrite the law to legalise their behaviour after being caught out.
  • The Inspector-General finds that, given its seriousness, imputing a motive of intending to prejudice the defence and security of New Zealand (a necessary requirement for espionage) requires some actual foundation, and neither SIS nor NZDF had anything of the sort. Along the way, they also pour scorn on the SIS's theory that any publication of classified information is communication with a foreign power and therefore criminal. That is simply not a construction supported by the law (so I guess we can expect the SIS to push for changes to that as well). Incidentally, that's the argument used by the SIS's foreign partners against publishing leaks, and its good to see that our oversight agencies think it is bullshit.
  • It is unclear from the report how the SIS acquired Hager's phone metadata. There are a number of options here: they could have acquired it using an intelligence warrant, or they could have acquired it simply by asking his phone company (Hager being a New Zealander and the government having denied mass-surveillance, presumably they didn't get it from the GCSB or their foreign "partners"). If they got it under warrant, then that warrant would have had to have been signed by the Minister - who at the time was none other than John Key, which given his role in Dirty Politics again raises the issue of government use of spies for persecution. OTOH, if his phone company provided it without any lawful authority to do so, then given the lack of any basis for the investigation, that seems like a violation of the Privacy Act, just as was committed by his bank when they provided information on request to the police. And hopefully he'll go after them as well, pour encourager les autres.
The Inspector-General has recommended that the SIS apologise. I'd go further: they invaded Hager's privacy, and should be paying damages. And I'd hope that the staff who approved this baseless and intrusive investigation will be facing employment consequences, assuming they're still around. We trust our spies with tremendous powers. We must hold them properly to account when they abuse them. Update: The complaint was not made until 2018, after the Intelligence and Security Act was law.

And they wonder why we think they're environmental vandals...

The Zero Carbon Bill is due back from select committee in two weeks, and will likely pass its final stages in November. So naturally, farmers are planning a hate-march against it. But they're not just demanding lower methane targets so they can keep on destroying the planet; they're also demanding that forestry be removed from the ETS to remove the incentive to draw down carbon by planting trees, plus an end to planned water quality targets and nitrate limits, which will directly reduce emissions.

Farmers call this "a fair go". What it actually is is a free ride, at the expense of urban New Zealand and the rest of the planet. That's our atmosphere they're polluting, our rivers they are poisoning. And they need to be made to stop or pay for the damage they are causing (which, if you believe them, amounts to the same thing).

Meanwhile, farmers are complaining about the public viewing them as environmental vandals. Well, if they don't want to be called that, maybe they should stop vandalising the environment, or loudly proclaiming their "right" to do so. Just a thought...

Climate Change: Paying the price in California

Last year, California burned. This year, to stop it happening again (or rather, to stop themselves from being found liable if it happens again), Pacific Gas and Electric is cutting power to half the state for a week:

Schools are closed. Traffic lights down. Tunnels dark. Businesses unopened. Hospitals running on generators.

Much of northern California is facing life without electricity or gas for as many as five to seven days, after the country’s largest utility company cut power to an unprecedented swath of the state as a preventive measure against wildfires.

The preventive power shutoffs by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) may affect up to 2.5m people by the end of the week. The first wave of shutoffs began on Wednesday to portions of 20 of the state’s 58 counties. PG&E is expected to shut off power to 10 more later in the day.

And that's the price of climate change: a huge chunk of one of the richest parts of the world where you can no longer get reliable electricity for fear of climate-change induced fires. And its a terrible price, because its not just a question of inconvenience - PG&E is basicly leaving anyone medically dependent on electricity to die (the expected cost of that presumably being lower than the expected cost of being found liable for another massive fire). And given the way the climate is going, this is likely to happen every year, until they find a way to stop their lines from causing fires (or until people adopt distributed generation to avoid disruption).