Thursday, December 03, 2020



Conflicted

Parliament passed the government's new top tax rate this morning. But as expected, National and ACT objected to it. And they particularly objected to the IRD's new power - not the one subject of a section 7 report by the Attorney-General - to require new information from trusts. So what did they say?

ACT leader David Seymour took issue with the Commissioner of Inland Revenue's expanded new powers to look into people's finances. He said the law change should have gone through a select committee process given the implications.

[...]

National MP Nicola Willis took a similar view.

The problem here is that they both have a clear conflict of interest on this issue. Looking at Parliament's Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests shows that David Seymour has three trusts, while Willis has one. David Parker, who decided against advice not to raise the trust rate to eliminate evasion, also has one. In fact the only person in this debate without a steaming conflict of interest is Chloe Swarbrick. Meanwhile, those MPs with trusts who are objecting to basic measures to enforce the tax system and prevent cheating are inviting an obvious question: what are they trying to hide?

An important public purpose?

It seems that Labour can't even pass a tax bill without intruding on human rights. The Taxation (Income Tax Rate and Other Amendments) Bill - currently going through the House under all-stages urgency - has attracted a negative report from the Attorney-General warning that it is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. The problem? Section 33, which inserts a provision allowing IRD to demand "any information that the Commissioner considers relevant for a purpose relating to the development of policy for the improvement or reform of the tax system".

The Attorney-General notes that this is apparently inconsistent with both the right to freedom of speech and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Their solution is to add a clause, similar to those in the Statistics Act, stating that no information gained using this power may be used as evidence in a prosecution (it is unclear whether it would prohibit it from being the subject of a second demand under the IRDs existing power to demand evidence for enforcement purposes). That might fix the narrow legal problem the Attorney-General has highlighted, but I think there's a bigger underlying one - namely, is it really reasonable that IRD be able to seize documents on pain of prosecution simply to do its policy homework? Is allowing government agencies to forcibly outsource their policy development in this way really "an important public purpose"?

I don't think it is, sorry. Which means that the proposed fix doesn't address the underlying issue. Instead, the only way of doing that is to remove the clause from the Bill entirely.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020



Climate Change: Hurry up and wait

Parliament is currently debating the declaration of a climate emergency. As part of this, the government is announcing that the public service will be carbon neutral by 2025. Which is fine, but on a similar scale to electric buses. Sure, it'll help (because every little bit helps). But its somewhat short of the scale of action we need to be taking. And it doesn't help that the government has already announced this policy, then failed to implement it. Supposedly they're resourcing it this time, and that This Time Will Be Different. But its not exactly inspiring, and the government has pretty much worn out any expectation of good faith on this.

The declaration is supposed to show that the government is taking this issue seriously. The "action" they've announced doesn't. In part that's because they're waiting on the process set by the Zero Carbon Act, the budgets and recommended reduction plans which will be released for consideration in May. But there's no reason they can't pre-empt that, and surely they could have come up with something more than this. Its not as if they don't have a pile of policy from last term waiting to go now Winston is no longer blocking the way. But instead, we've got a "hurry up and wait". Its an urgent problem, but we're not getting any real policy for half a year (plus however long it takes to implement it, so 2022). And that's assuming the government follows the Climate Change Commission's recommendations, rather than watering them down so the people destroying our country and our planet can keep on making their money.

And on the third hand, if they do that, this declaration will be great ammunition for the judicial review.

Climate Change: Wellington fails

nzclimatechangepolicy

Last year, Wellington City Council declared a climate emergency and committed to reducing emissions by 43% by 2030, as an interim step towards a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. So how are they going to get there? According to their own plans, they're not:

Last year, Wellington City Council (WCC) announced a bold new series of targets to guide its path towards net zero emissions by 2050. The centrepiece was a pledge to reduce emissions by 43 percent (from 2001 levels) by the end of the decade and then continue to progressively reduce emissions from there.

More than a year later, on August 6, the council launched its implementation plan, a roadmap on how to actually achieve the 2030 target. No press release accompanied the debut of the plan - perhaps because it promises only a 14 percent reduction by 2030, able to be increased to 24 percent if central government curbs the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity and fosters greater uptake of electric vehicles.

Even with the aid of central government, however, WCC expects Wellington will emit 200,000 more tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in 2030 than it has promised.

Its the usual story of New Zealand climate change policy: bold targets followed by inadequate action. Politicians keep doing this, because we keep letting them get away with it. And meanwhile, the temperature keeps on rising. Another story on Newsroom today says that 1740 Wellington properties will have to be abandoned due to sea-level rise within 20 years (and will become uninsurable, unsellable, and valueless long before that). That's the price of these politicians' inaction, their preference for easy PR rather than doing the hard work of actual policy. As for how to change it, we have one real lever on politicians: throw the bums out! And that's clearly what Wellingtonians need to do to their entire council unless they step up and come up with a credible plan to meet their targets.

Meanwhile, Parliament will be declaring a climate emergency today. The parallels ought to be obvious.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020



Raise trust taxes too!

The government today will introduce a bill to create a new top tax rate for those earning over $180,000 a year. This is good, but there are concerns that a large number of those affected will cheat, and funnel their income through trusts and other vehicles in order to evade taxes. And weirdly, the government is not planning to close this obvious loophole:

Revenue Minister David Parker says the Government will be watching trusts closely to see if people are using them to dodge the new 39 per cent income tax rate.

At present, income from trusts is subject to a tax rate of 33 per cent – the same rate that applies to income earned in the top tax bracket.

But the Government will this week pass legislation lifting the top income tax rate to 39 per cent. Opening a gap between the income tax rate and the trust rate creates an incentive to funnel income through a trust to reduce the amount of tax paid.

Parker said that if there was evidence of this, the Government could increase the trust rate to 39 per cent as well.

So they won't close the stable door until after the rich have rorted. Why not? Apparently, "there are legitimate reasons for people to use trusts". Like what? Because what they primarily seem to be used for is tax evasion, avoiding asset tests, hiding assets from bankruptcy or divorce, and other criminal or rich person stuff. And if they're basicly only used by criminals and rich people, why should they have a tax advantage which is an open invitation to evasion?

But I forget: while normal people don't have trusts, MP's have a lot of them. As with housing, normal people would recognise that as a conflict of interest. And as with housing, it seems a little weird that our "representatives" don't.

Climate Change: Europe must defend itself in court

The European Court of Human Rights has fast-tracked a case by young climate change activists challenging whether European states are doing enough on climate change. And now, 33 countries are going to have to defend their policies in court:

In a sign of the urgency of the climate crisis, the court will announce on Monday that it has green-lighted the crowdfunded case, which was filed two months ago. It has already confirmed it will be treated as a priority, which means the process will be fast-tracked.

The states – the EU27 plus Norway, Russia, Switzerland, the UK, Turkey and Ukraine – are obliged to respond by 23 February to the complaints of the plaintiffs, who say governments are moving too slowly to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are destabilising the climate.

If the defendant countries fail to convince the Strasbourg-based judges, lawyers say they will be legally bound to take more ambitious steps and to address the contribution they – and multinational companies headquartered in their jurisdictions – make to overseas emissions through trade, deforestation and extractive industries.

This is pretty significant case, with potentially huge consequences: every European country could be forced to rewrite its climate policies and make deeper cuts as a result. Which in turn could have a significant effect on global emissions, while setting a precedent for future accountability. And the mere act of having to front up and defend themselves in court should force these countries to consider the impact of their policies and whether they are doing enough.

Its not the only case. Three weeks ago a French court ordered its government to show it was taking sufficient action to stay within its carbon budgets. Which probably doesn't bode well for their performance before the ECHR.

In New Zealand, our Zero Carbon Act was built for cases like this. If the Minister sets an emissions budget which is too generous, or a reduction plan which is too weak, they can be judicially reviewed. And if they go against the advice of the Climate Change Commission in doing so, its likely to go against them. Which is one way of making sure they actually do something.

Monday, November 30, 2020



Labour finally does the right thing

The government has finally introduced a bill to double sick leave entitlements to ten days a year. Good. But its worth remembering that despite a global pandemic raging, Jacinda Ardern originally ruled this out, just as she has ruled out wealth taxes or a capital gains tax. Its unclear whether this was because of real opposition, or just because she didn't want the public jumping the gun on a planned election policy, but either way, the perception is that she had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this, and then did the absolutelt minimum she thought she could get away with. Which again makes me wonder why the "Labour" Party is so reluctant to support workers rights, and what they actually stand for, if its not labour.

The wrong conclusion

Back in September, we learned (thanks to a whistleblower) that the SIS had looked the other way on child abuse. Today, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security released their report on the issue. Their verdict is basicly the Scottish one: "not proven". Why? Because there are no records showing the question of passing the information on was ever considered. The SIS's "internal review" took that as somehow exonerating them: effectively a "we have no idea what happened, but we're sure we did the right thing". The IGIS concludes the opposite: that they did not tell the police. But the lack of records of any consideration and the lack of any legal obligation or policy on the issue means they refuse to conclude that it was improper:

At a distance of some decades, with the limited information available, I do not find myself in a position to reach a firm conclusion that the Service acted improperly by not informing the Police of what it learned in this instance. A Service officer proposed, with good reason, that the Police should be contacted. More senior staff in the Service were entitled to make a decision. The information was not passed on. I find that questionable, but in the absence of any recorded reasoning and considering all the circumstances I cannot be sure it lacked a proper foundation.
Nowdays, the Public Records Act means public agencies have a positive obligation to create and maintain records, so if something like this had happened after 2005, the lack of records of a potentially significant decision would imply that it was never considered (or alternatively, that a crime had been committed). Back then, there was no such obligation, so the IGIS is giving them the benefit of the doubt. I'm not sure that they should. They note that this was a serious decision requiring serious consideration, and that at the time such consideration generated a paper trail. The absence of such a paper trail suggests strongly that there was no such consideration. And that is exactly the impropriety complained about.

The good news is that the SIS now has a police on when to pass information to the police, so there's a standard for them to be judged against (even if its one they wrote themselves, in secret). The IGIS will also be reviewing information sharing between the SIS, GCSB, and police. So maybe they'll be stopping this from happening in future.

Blaming anyone but themselves

Labour is increasingly under pressure over its refusal to implement a wealth tax or similar solution to end house hoarding. Their answer? Blame the public:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is putting some onus on the public for the housing crisis, saying the Government had tried taxation to ease the soaring market three times without public support.

[...]

However, Ardern this morning told TVNZ1's Breakfast that "the appetite for some of these policies also needs to come from the public".

"We've tried three times now to do things that specifically sit in that taxation category and there hasn't been wide support for that," she said.

Oh really? In 2019, the public supported a capital gains tax by 44 to 35 percent. And just before the election, 48.7 percent of kiwis thought Labour should be taxing the wealthy more versus 43 percent who disagreed. While neither of these is majority support, its the majority of those who care enough to have an opinion, which is as good as you get. And they're both numbers the government could easily have worked with. Instead, they chose not to, out of chickenshittedness and a desire to grovel to the rich. And rather than own that decision, they're now seeking to blame anyone but themselves. And isn't that so very, very Labour?

But snark about Labour cowardice aside, the other way of looking at this is that Ardern is telling the public "make me". And so we should. The question is how many Labour MPs we have to threaten to turn into democratic roadkill along the way.

Friday, November 27, 2020



The secret advice on Labour's RMA "fast-track"

Back in June, Labour steamrolled the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill into law, using urgency and a sham select committee process which left too little time for submitters to respond effectively. The law created a separate "fast-track" process for resource consents for "shovel-ready" projects, which cuts the public out of environmental decision-making while creating a nexus for corruption. Ostensibly, this is to prop up the economy and support jobs in the wake of the pandemic. But advice released under the Official Information Act suggests it might not in fact be all that effective.

(The pathway to learning this is sadly typical. I requested the advice in May, the day the government announced it would be introducing legislation. Ministry for the Environment gave themselves an extension for "consultation", which ensured that it would not arrive until after the law had passed, incidentally preventing it from informing anyone's submissions. They then withheld a bunch of it as "confidential", so I complained to the Ombudsman. They released some more two weeks ago, but still withheld the really interesting stuff withheld as "still under consideration", despite the fact that the law it related to was passed months beforehand. So I went back to the Ombudsman, who clearly told them that their decision-making didn't pass the laugh test, so here we are...)

The interesting document is here. Paragraphs 9 through 19 were originally redacted. As for why, its not because they were "under consideration" - again, the law had passed, so the decisions had been made - because they basicly completely undercut the case for the law. MfE thought that the number of developments wanting to use the mechanism "may be relatively small. The far bigger determinant for major projects proceeding or not is money, especially for public infrastructure". They had no estimate of whether a Ministerial rubberstamp would actually be any faster than the usual process. Instead, they thought that the existing "call-in" process could be used just as effectively. Or, judging by that comment about money, just funding stuff. They had no idea whether the law would be effective. And they had no idea whether the system would be used by private developers because they hadn't asked.

Reading this, its hard to escape the conclusion that the government panicked and surrendered to the worst demands of the "rip up the RMA" brigade in a desperate effort to be seen to be Doing Something. Despite advice saying that that was all it would be. So in the end, it might not be that harmful to our environment. The damage done to our democracy, OTOH, and to institutional protections against corruption, is far more severe.

And meanwhile, the danger this law was supposed to mitigate, a huge Covid-recession, seems not to have eventuated. Which seems to make the entire thing unnecessary. In which case, we might as well repeal it, before it actually does do some damage. Changing that "second" to a "first" - or to "six months" - should do the trick.

Climate Change: Calling us on our bullshit

Under Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand is - rhetorically at least - pretending to be a leader on climate change. Meanwhile, our emissions keep going up and up, with the second-highest percentage increase among Annex I countries. And now, our friends are finally calling us on our bullshit:

New Zealand's attendance at a summit of high-profile, high-ambition global leaders on climate change is in doubt.

The Sprint to Glasgow meeting is scheduled for December 12, the five-year anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement. Hosted by the United Kingdom, it is intended to gather together the countries most intent on tackling climate change in the lead-up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year.

While the final list of attendees has yet to be determined, Newsroom understands New Zealand may be excluded over concerns it is not doing enough to reduce emissions.

Talk isn't enough. The government actually needs to act. But while it has established a framework under the Zero Carbon Act, it has shied away from any real action to reduce emissions or hold polluters accountable, and committed to not requiring our biggest polluters - farmers - to do anything until after 2025. Which is a pretty lax attitude for something Ardern has called "my generations nuclear-free moment".

Next week, Parliament will declare that climate change is an emergency. The government needs to start acting like it. We no longer have time for their foot-dragging and their lies. They need to either start reducing emissions, or resign and yield power to someone who will.

Labour sells out kiwis

So, Labour has given in to the whining from farmers, and will be allowing 2,000 RSE workers into the country to pick their fruit, though with tighter conditions: they'll have to be paid a living wage and employers must pay for their quarantine. Which sounds good, until you remember that the employers control their workers' accomodation (described by some workers as "“camps”, “prisons” and “reservations”", which is what you get when people are literally forbidden from living in normal houses) and get to deduct its costs, so are in a perfect position to claw back the headline increase through increased charges. So while it might raise wages across the horticultural sector, the actual RSE workers probably won't see the benefit. But hey, this prick will have more peasants to abuse.

But the real cost here is the quarantine spaces. They're a highly limited and contested resource, and the government is saying that they're going to use them to subsidise courgette-guy's bottom line. Every couple of days I see stories in the news about kiwis trapped overseas, separated from their loved ones and forced to wait out there risking death in the plaguelands because they can't get one of those over-subscribed MIQ spaces. And "kind" Jacinda has just said they need to wait longer so this guy can get his courgettes picked. Meanwhile, MIQ workers - who are already quitting because of the conditions - will be expected to risk their lives not so kiwis can return to their families, but for the horticulture industry's bottom line. I wonder how many of them will be willing to do that?

Fuck that. Those quarantine spaces belong to kiwis. And we shouldn't be giving them to businesses until every kiwi who wants to return is home. As for the fruit, let it rot. No-one is going to starve if they don't get their christmas cherries or their fancy wine. Kiwi lives are more important than exporters' profits.

Thursday, November 26, 2020



Climate Change: An emergency

Some good news today: Parliament will declare a climate emergency next week:

The Government has revealed plans to pass a climate change emergency motion in Parliament next week.

An attempt was made to pass one last term but NZ First opposed it.

The motion itself would have no practical effect on laws or the running of the country, but would instead symbolically signal that the Government and the House saw climate change as an emergency.

Which is great, but it needs to be backed by solid action - and in New Zealand, that means action on agricultural emissions. James Shaw, the Climate Change Minister, is making some noises that it will be more than symbolic, but from Jacinda Ardern's statement about how farmers will have more influence on Labour this term because they won some rural seats, I'm not hopeful. But maybe for once Labour will prove me wrong.

NZDF should not be allowed to handle this in-house

Yesterday we learned that an NZDF soldier with links to Nazi groups has been charged with espionage (along other things) and will be prosecuted via court-martial. Whether the charges are justified is for a court to determine, but it seems deeply inappropriate to use a military court for this. The vast majority of the offences - and the most serious - are against civil, not military law, and while the Court Martial has jurisdiction, it is normal for ordinary crimes by soldiers to be tried in ordinary courts (as evidenced by the litany of drunken assaults and drug dealing in the pages of the Manawatu Standard). While espionage is an extraordinary offence, it is not a military one, and the same standard should apply. In addition, a civil court will have more experience in dealing with the other offences (possession of an objectionable publication, accessing a computer system for a dishonest purpose), and is therefore less likely to fuck it up. But ultimately, it comes down to trust: civil courts are seen as more trustworthy than military ones, and less susceptible to the institutional arse-covering behaviour so recently displayed by NZDF over Operation Burnham.

Some of the charges are purely military, and the military can handle those. But they shouldn't be allowed to handle serious criminal offences against the people of New Zealand in-house. These charges should be tried in an open, civilian court, so that we can all see that justice is done.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020



Taking the piss

While the borders are closed, employers can still get visas for "essential" workers. But some of the jobs deemed "essential" don't seem to be:

Applications were approved for 633 different jobs ranging from low skilled roles including taxi driver, cafe worker and cleaner, through to highly skilled jobs such as paediatrician, aircraft engineer and chemical engineer.

The visa approvals come at the same time as many New Zealanders are finding themselves out of work as a result of Covid-19’s impact on businesses and the economy.

Taxi drivers, cafe workers and cleaners. And the longer list includes things like bank workers, accounts clerks, call centre operators and bus drivers (and that's just the first few pages). As with the shortage of rural agricultural workers, its hard to escape the conclusion that the reason no kiwis are available to fill these roles is because we won't accept the terrible pay and conditions offered, and the problem isn't so much a "skills shortage" as a shortage of people willing to work for the wages these cheapskates are prepared to pay.

These employers are simply taking the piss and looking for a licence for exploitation: someone they can threaten to deport if they don't accept whatever shit is offered. And the government is aiding and abetting them in this by giving them access to migrant labour, which is functioning purely as a regulatory subsidy. Its time that stopped. Outside of a few areas of genuine shortage, if you can't find workers in a market economy, then the answer is to offer more. And if employers aren't willing to do that, then they deserve to go bankrupt.

A Parliament that sounds like Aotearoa

I'm watching the swearing in of MPs today on Parliament TV, and pleased to hear the linguistic diversity in our Parliament. In addition to a good number of MPs doing their oaths or affirmations in Te Reo, there's also been Samoan, Tongan, Dutch, Korean, plus (as best as I can guess) Arabic, Chinese, and Hindi, and no doubt others where I wasn't paying attention. MMP gave us a Parliament that looks like Aotearoa; now we've got one that sounds like it too. Unfortunately, a quirk of procedure means that anything not in English or Te Reo isn't legal, and must be done separately afterwards. Which is pretty obviously something we need to fix. These are all languages of Aotearoa, and it is bizarre that they cannot be used for this basic administrative act. Our law should reflect modern Aotearoa, not the colonial New Zealand of the 1950's.

(As for the ritual grovelling to the foreign monarch, its distasteful and demeaning and needs to change too. Our politicians should serve the people and the country who elected them, not some unelected inbred on the other side of the world who claims their "authority" by divine right).

Tuesday, November 24, 2020



Reading the room

It looks like the government has finally read the room on the housing crisis, with Finance Minister grant Robertson writing to the Reserve Bank to tell them to start looking at controlling house prices:

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has told Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr that it’s time to think about out of control house prices.

Robertson has written to Orr telling him that “housing price instability is harmful to our aims of reduced inequality and poverty, and is also likely to negatively impact the Government’s aim of creating a more productive and inclusive economy”.

He wants the bank to think about the ways it and the Government can work together to achieve “sustained moderation in house prices that we have both sought”.

His letter suggests this could include asking the governor to consider stability of house prices when it makes monetary policy decisions, including decisions about interest rates.

This is something that Ardern was ruling out just last week, despite it being the way the Reserve Bank Act is meant to operate. But I guess she's finally picked up on the public anger over this. The prospect of people without wealthy parents being locked out of home ownership forever and the creation of an English-style landed gentry is deeply at odds with most kiwis' perception of how our country should be, and we expect the government to fix it. Ardern's staunch refusal to do so and her successive ruling out of any effective policy measure was making people angrier and angrier. But while this is a start, the government needs to go further, from "trying not to make the problem any worse" to actually solving it with mass house-building and wealth taxes. And if they don't, they'll be out on their arses next election.

Monday, November 23, 2020



Ardern's crocodile tears won't fix the housing crisis

People are getting very grumpy at the government's refusal to act on the housing crisis. Jacinda Ardern's response? To tell everyone she cares:

Jacinda Ardern says one of the things that sets her Government apart from the National Party is Labour's concern over skyrocketing house prices.

The median house price in Aotearoa recently hit $750,000, and in Auckland it's soared past $1 million.

In an interview with The AM Show on Monday, Ardern said she "has concerns" about New Zealand's housing market.

"I don't want to see this ongoing escalation that is making it increasingly difficult to get first home buyers into houses, and that is something we're concerned about - and that's a different view to the previous Government."

That's nice. But as long as Ardern is ruling out any effective policy to address the problem - wealth taxes, capital gains taxes, mass house-building to flood the market - then its just crocodile tears. And coming from someone with a $2 million house, its simply insulting.

Friday, November 20, 2020



Good riddance

Australian polluter Beach Energy has announced that it is cancelling plans to drill off Dunedin next year. The exploration permit in question, 38264, has a "drill or drop" requirement and has to drill an exploratory well by October 2021. But more importantly, it expires in November 2021. PEPANZ, the polluter lobby group, is hoping the permit can be extended, but that would be illegal. While the Minister can waive the drill or drop requirement on application, both sections 35(4) and 36(4) of the Crown Minerals Act make it clear that petroleum exploration permits can only be extended under s35A, for the purposes of appraising a discovery. As there has been no discovery, there can't be an extension, so this permit is basicly toast. And good riddance to it. If we are to save the world, we need to give up fossil fuels and decarbonise. Stopping exploration and leaving stuff in the ground is an important part of that process.

As for PEPANZ, the less offshore exploration there is, the less reason there is for them to exist. So hopefully it'll be good riddance to them soon as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2020



Obvious questions for the NZDF

Today the Brereton report on war crimes by the Australian SAS was released, finding that Australian SAS troops had murdered 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners of war, with various actions taken to cover up the crimes. A special prosecutor will be appointed, and 25 soldiers have been referred for prosecution. Additionally, an entire squadron of the SAS will be disbanded and struck off the army list so there will be a permanent reminder - "2 squadron: struck off for war crimes".

Obviously, there are a hell of a lot of ways this can go wrong yet, and a hell of a lot of ways for the ADF to sabotage the process, but for the moment it looks like Australia is taking this seriously and that a real attempt will be made at justice. And hopefully Australians will be disgusted enough to force them to stick to it. Meanwhile, it ought to be causing disquiet on this side of the Tasman, because of the close links between the New Zealand and Australian militaries. Did the NZ and Australian SAS ever work together in Afghanistan? Were NZ troops implicated in or witnesses to any of this? Were they contaminated by the toxic murder culture which was allowed to grow unchecked in Australian units? NZDF ought to be reviewing every incident of cooperation and every death to make sure they weren't. Unfortunately, given their attitude to the Operation Burnham inquiry, I expect their fingers will be firmly stuck in their ears. They won't want to look, because what you don't know can't hurt your career (or anyone else's). The question is whether the Minister will make them check - and whether the public will make them. Because the big lesson from the Burnham inquiry is that we can't trust the public statements of the NZDF, and that only forced scrutiny has any chance of getting the truth.

Keeping Rates Low

For decades, the Wellington City Council has been Keeping rates Low, skimping on infrastructure maintenance to pander to elderly property-owners. The result? Shit on the streets:

Wastewater crews are working to fix a drain that is causing human faeces to pour onto a street in central Wellington.

Wellington Water was told of the spillage on Hopper Street near Mt Cook just after 8am.

The manhole in the middle of the road is bubbling up and overflowing with sewage, which is running down the street and into the gutter.

Obviously this isn't as big as January's poomageddon. But its the same underlying problem: a council trying to be cheap. But as with any maintenance issue, that just means dumping costs on others. At some stage, Wellington residents need to accept that if they want a functioning city, they actually need to pay for it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020



Climate Change: The problem of air travel

Until the pandemic, air travel was one of the fastest growing causes of greenhouse gas emissions. And its obscenely unequal, with just 1% of the world's population causing 50% of the problem:

Frequent-flying “‘super emitters” who represent just 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to a study.

Airlines produced a billion tonnes of CO2 and benefited from a $100bn (£75bn) subsidy by not paying for the climate damage they caused, the researchers estimated. The analysis draws together data to give the clearest global picture of the impact of frequent fliers.

Only 11% of the world’s population took a flight in 2018 and 4% flew abroad. US air passengers have by far the biggest carbon footprint among rich countries. Its aviation emissions are bigger than the next 10 countries combined, including the UK, Japan, Germany and Australia, the study reports.

The researchers said the study showed that an elite group enjoying frequent flights had a big impact on the climate crisis that affected everyone.

So how do we stop this? Taxing the fuck out of it, for a start. But the really rich aren't price sensitive like us plebs, and also tend to travel privately to avoid having to mingle with the peasants, which in turn results in far higher emissions than cattle class. So banning private jets needs to be part of any solution. We cannot let a handful of billionaires destroy the world for their own convenience.

The obvious question

Stuff reports that housing speculators aren't paying their taxes:

Speculators are making millions in an overheated housing market but as many as one in four didn’t pay the tax they owed on properties flipped last year, IRD figures reveal.

Of the 1701 property sales subject to the bright-line test in 2019 – a form of capital gains tax – just 1285 have paid up.

That’s a compliance rate of just 75 per cent, meaning one in every four speculators the tax applied to, hasn’t paid yet.

This is tax evasion. Tax evasion is a crime. So why aren't these people being prosecuted for it?

Climate Change: Time to phase out fossil vehicles

Back in February, the UK announced that it was bringing forward its fossil-fuel vehicle phase out from 2040 to 2035. Now, they're about to bring it forward again, to 2030. Which has caused Climate Change Minister James Shaw to suggest that we follow them:

Climate Change Minister James Shaw wants to see a new petrol and diesel car ban, to kick in at the same time as the UK’s ban.

During an interview with Stuff on his second-term priorities, Shaw said he’d recommend the policy to new Transport Minister Michael Wood as an “anti-dumping measure” as well as for environmental reasons.

[...]

Shaw, the Green Party co-leader, is concerned about the fate of the UK’s cars after the UK ban, considering most of the world drives on the right. “If we let those into New Zealand, we’re stuffed. We’ll have no chance of being able to reduce our transport emissions, which are the fastest-growing sector,” he said.

Then-Associate transport Minister Julie Anne Genter proposed a 2035 phase out date back in 2018. The government chickened out, preferring a timid and unambitious "clean car standard" (now the centre-piece of Labour's transport policy) and a feebate scheme (which they also then chickened out on). But its worth revisiting that. Because even according to the cost-benefit analysis which strapped the chicken every way it could against EVs, a 2035 cutoff still had a BCR of 1.26, and NPV net benefits of $2.25 billion. Looking at it again with updated figures on EV vs fossil costs would probably push that higher.

Its also worth remembering that, as with a thermal generation ban, this is largely a case of pushing the market in a direction it is already going in anyway, to make it go faster. The Ministry of Transport's Vehicle fleet emissions model already projects that 70% of new and 93% of used car imports will be electric by 2035, with the takeoff point really happening in 2025 and utes lagging by about 5 years. So this is about pushing things faster, ensuring we adopt clean technology as it becomes available, rather than dragging our feet. Fifteen years is plenty of time for that to happen; ten seems ambitious. Though if enough other countries go for 2030 cutoffs, then it probably won't seem so ambitious afterall.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020



This is not a solution

Anger over the housing crisis and the betrayal of the kiwi dream has reached high enough levels that the Prime Minister feels she has to (be seen to) do something about it. Her solution? Subsidising property sellers:

While facing questions this morning, Ardern revealed the Government was looking into adjusting the thresholds around the home-start grants to make it easier for first-time buyers to get into the market.

The home-start grant enables first-time buyers access to $5000, or $10,000 as a couple, towards their first property.

There are a number of restrictions at the moment – including an earning limit of $85,000 per person, or $130,000 for a couple.

Ardern wouldn't say which areas of the eligibility requirements might be shifted, but she was clear that the Government was exploring making some changes.

But like the accommodation supplement, which sees the government effectively subsidising landlords, this subsidy is one that flows straight into the pockets of people on the other end of the transaction - in this case, the seller. So effectively Ardern's solution is to subsidise property speculators. And its hard to see how this won't simply lead to prices rising even further. And then rise further, as that price rise gives property owners more paper wealth, which they can then leverage for further speculation, and on and on it goes. But I guess it looks like a good solution if you already own a $2 million house.

Any real solution to the housing crisis means attacking wealth - either directly, by taxing it, or indirectly, by devaluing it (which is what mass house-building would do). Anything which doesn't attack wealth is not a solution. If Ardern is unwilling to attack wealth, she should resign and make space for someone who is.

Even the banks can see which way the wind is blowing

Jacinda Ardern has famously ruled out taxing wealth in any way, saying "not as long as I'm Prime Minister". Meanwhile, Westpac is saying that its inevitable:

Rising public anger about growing inequality is likely to force the imposition of a capital gains or wealth tax in the next few years, according to the chief economist of Westpac.

[...]

"By mid-2021 we expect house price inflation will be 15 percent, roughly the same as 2016," Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens said.

"The political and social fallout will be just as intense as it was back then."

[...]

"My pick is that some form of tax on wealth, land or capital gains will get over the line in the mid-2020s, when societal dissatisfaction with rising wealth inequality reaches boiling point," Stephens said.

The government really would be pushing on an open door here. But Labour is now constitutionally incapable of taking such opportunities, and by making it a personal promise, Ardern can't back down without losing face and admitting she was wrong (something politicians are highly averse to doing). Which means the only effective way forward is to get a new Prime Minister - something which will take another couple of elections and a lot more suffering and misery. And all of that suffering and misery will be able to be laid at the feet of Jacinda Ardern, who is kind only to the rich.

Monday, November 16, 2020



A cringe, not a crouch

Over the weekend, Stuff's Henry Cooke identified the big problem with Labour: they're stuck permanently in defensive mode. And so they are unwilling to take political "risks" over things like housing, even when people are clamouring for action. Cooke's suggestion is that Labour needs to get out of its "defensive crouch". IMHO its more like a cringe than a crouch. Labour acts like a party which is perpetually afraid of what it purports to believe in - or rather, afraid that rich people might criticise them for it. Oddly, they never seem to care about the view of the poor people they depend on for votes, either taking them for granted or relying on bullying to stifle criticism. And they've been this way for so long - there are posts on this blog criticising this attitude from the middle years of the Clark administration - that it just seems ingrained. Whole generations of MPs and staffers have come and gone (and come and gone on to become MPs, Ministers, and even Prime Minister) with this mindset, so it really seems to be all the party is now. They're chickenshits all the way down.

But on housing, on inequality, on climate change, and so many other issues, people can see that there is a problem and are demanding action. Offering a solution is pushing on an open door, and Labour could win lasting popularity and set the direction of policy for a generation by doing so. Instead, it looks like their inherent chickenshittery will squander this opportunity for change. And that's not just wasteful - it means they're going to be remembered as the party which allowed a foreign class system to re-establish itself in New Zealand, which let kids starve while its MP's hoarded investment properties, and which let the planet burn.

Friday, November 13, 2020



No accountability means no confidence II

A little over a month ago, we saw two Independent Police Conduct Authority reports on egregious police behaviour which seemed criminal (and certainly would have been if you or I had done the same things). In one, a police officer trespassed on a man's property, then assaulted him with pepper spray before unlawfully arresting him. In the other, two police officers pursued a fleeing vehicle like rabid dogs, driving the wrong way up a one-way street at high speed after disobeying orders to abandon the pursuit. The car they were pursuing crashed head-on into another vehicle, injuring two innocent people. In both cases, the IPCA reported that the officers had been subjected to a "confidential employment process", but the outcome of that process was not reported. In other words, three police officers had engaged in unlawful, arguably criminal behaviour, and we were left with no idea of whether there had been any accountability for it at all.

I was curious about this, so I filed an OIA request seeking information on the outcomes of that process: whether they were fired, demoted, formally warned, removed from some duties, subjected to internal disciplinary charges (if applicable) or prosecution. Yesterday the police responded - late, as always - refusing my request under s9(2)(a) (privacy). According to the Police, the fact that their actions were reported on by the IPCA, and that the IPCA knows the outcome of the employment process is enough transparency for accountability. Pretty obviously, I disagree. This just looks like police protecting their own, as usual.

The case is off to the Ombudsman, of course. The guidance on public interest is full of examples of agencies - including the police - being forced to release the outcomes of employment processes in order to ensure accountability. As the Ombudsman says there, disclosure of such information provides an incentive for agencies and their staff to engage in proper and lawful conduct, and helps restore public trust and confidence when they don't. Sadly, the police seem to have forgotten that (just as they seem to have forgotten the need for warrants, limitations on use of force, or the law against dangerous driving in these cases). I expect that the Ombudsman will remind them.

[The police's actual response will be posted as soon as I can get DocumentCloud working again]

Bad Faith

How terrible is police compliance with the Official Information Act? Just look at today's OIA story. Way back in march, someone used FYI, the public OIA request system, to ask them for information on the "NZ Police Air Support Unit Expansion project". On 21 April, the last possible day, they extended the deadline until mid-June. Then, in mid-June, they said the information would be publicly release. In October, they said the response would be ready "in a week or two". And finally, yesterday, they refused it on numerous grounds, including free and frank advice, negotiations, and an alleged (but unsupported) allegation of "improper purpose".

What's wrong with this? Firstly, the decision to refuse on the basis that information would be publicly release requires that the agency must be reasonably certain that the requested information will be published in the near future. That requirement suggests that there should be a pre-existing intention to publish before the request was made, and that in turn suggests that a refusal on this basis should be able to be communicated rapidly. It should not take even 20 working days to get a response that information is going to be publicly released, let alone 50. Here, the response suggests public release is in fact being used to frustrate the purposes of the Act and withhold information.

Secondly, the timeframe: the Act requires public release to be "soon", which the Ombudsman interprets roughly as "within two months". The police took over four. That in itself is an illegal delay.

Thirdly, a refusal on the basis of anticipated public release implies that that release will actually happen. An agency cannot just change their mind and issue a new refusal citing other grounds. That is both an illegally late decision, and suggests that the original decision to release was made in bad faith, purely to secure a delay. Neither is acceptable.

Wouldn't it be nice if the police, an agency supposedly dedicated to upholding the law, actually obeyed it for once?

Thursday, November 12, 2020



Empty hand-wringing

This morning, we learned that house prices have risen nearly 20% in the past year, locking more people out of the housing market and further entrenching the growing class divide between those with wealthy parents and those without. And of course, Jacinda Ardern is deeply concerned:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she wants to ensure first home buyers can get into the market after it was revealed this morning that house prices have increased nearly 20 percent.

House prices have increased 19.8 percent year-on-year with the median now at $725,000.

Ardern this afternoon said figures show an increase in first-time buyers in the market since 2017, but that investors in the market had remained the same.

"Obviously we want to ensure our first home buyers can get into the market that is something that is top of mind for us..."

If only there were some policy levers she could pull that would discourage hoarders and speculators from flooding the property market and crowding out actual people. Oh wait, that's right - they've all ready been taken off the table by... Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern caused this problem. And we deserve more from her on it than empty hand-wringing and sympathetic noises. The problem is that she's deeply invested in it: her Auckland home - worth $1.7 million in mid-2017 - is now likely worth over $2 million, and producing more than a backbench MP's salary in tax-free capital gains every year. Which looks like one hell of a conflict of interest, and perhaps explains her lack of interest in finding any solution.

Climate Change: The first test

Last year, Parliament passed the Zero Carbon Act, a framework which effectively outsourced climate change policy to an independent commission, in a shame-based model designed to ensure the government did what was recommended. The Commission will be making recommendations on New Zealand's Paris target, the methane target, and the first budget cycle in February. And Climate Change Minister James Shaw thinks they're going to be pretty tough:

Speaking at the EDS Climate Change and Business conference in Auckland, Shaw said that, based on what he knew of the science, it seemed likely the commission would recommend changing the target, which currently gives the country a total allowance of 600 million tonnes of greenhouse gases between now and 2030.

[...]

As well as advising the Government on its 2030 Paris target, the climate change commission will recommend a series of domestic emissions budgets.

Shaw said he anticipated the commission’s reports would be “pretty shocking to a lot of people. The constraints will be extraordinary, when you think about what is required to stay inside 1.5C.”

For its third big recommendation, the commission will suggest a firmer 2050 target for methane.

All of this is good, but the question is, will the government listen? Shaw says he is "absolutely committed" to following the Commission's advice. But is Labour? On the one hand, they may be eager for an excuse to increase their ambition on climate change, especially after lowballing it in their election campaign. But OTOH, real action is going to mean disrupting their precious status quo, and threaten the re-election chances of their new backbenchers in rural seats. And while their cooperation agreement with the Greens commits them to "achieving the purpose and goals of the Zero Carbon Act", as we saw last term these promises are effectively meaningless, and the Greens have no way of enforcing them without leverage in the House.

Which means that the Commission's recommendations are going to be the first real test of Labour-Green cooperation. Hopefully Labour will do the right thing. But if they don't, then the "cooperation agreement" will be a dead letter not six months after it was signed, and the Greens will need to decide whether to continue with a farce.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020



A failure to assist

Stuff today has a piece on The anatomy of an OIA fail, on their efforts to get immunisation rates by suburb. It is not a pretty story:

"We're concerned about the usefulness of such a project and not keen to proceed,’’ Health Ministry senior adviser Bonnie Jones emailed a colleague.

Extracting the information I’d asked for was possible, the colleague responded, but would require "a fair bit of work".

So they refused my request, as too time-consuming to collate. When another Stuff journalist, Talia Shadwell, asked, the communications simply went dead. Michelle Duff was later told the information didn't even exist.

But when New Zealand Herald data editor Chris Knox asked, one week after Duff, the information magically became available. Even then, some data was withheld despite top ministry staff admitting there was no legal basis to do so.

All of this is illegal. The first is just a blatant case of an agency - or a particular manager- deciding they don't want to give out information for PR reasons, and concocting a reason to refuse. The latter cases are a clear and willing refusal to obey the duty to assist: it was clear in each case what the requesters were asking for, but again the agency - or particular managers - decided they didn't want to, so pretended they didn't understand. And even when the information was released, it had deletions for no lawful purpose.

None is this is legal or acceptable. So why do government agencies keep doing it? Because there are no penalties. The Act contains no legal penalties for non-compliance - not even having to pay for the Ombudsman's investigation - while no staff member ever faces employment consequences for illegal secrecy. That needs to change. The Ombudsman has recommended criminal penalties for willing refusals (something which would empower staff to stand up to Ministers and senior managers). But there also needs to be employment consequences. After all, these people are not doing their jobs properly. And at the very least, that seems like the sort of thing worthy of a formal warning, retraining, and (if repeated), sacking.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020



Labour's "kindness" extends only to the rich

Yesterday, over fifty charitable and community groups released an open letter calling for the government to raise benefits before christmas, arguing that it would decrease poverty, reduce health costs, and lead to better outcomes for children. The "government of kindness"'s response? Yeah, nah:

Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference (skip to 27 mins in the video) yesterday, Jacinda Ardern said that she had considered it, but said “this is not going to be an issue that gets resolved within one week or one month or indeed one term”...

[...]

From Ardern’s perspective, making such changes would be “substantial”, and “would have a knock on effect on budgets into the future.” She agreed with the premise of a question around improving the lives of beneficiaries also having positive flow-on effects on matters like improved health outcomes, but reiterated that it was a change that couldn’t be made at this time, on top of existing boosts in support.

Meanwhile, Labour has ruled out a wealth tax, a capital gains tax, or any increase in taxation beyond their derisory re-imposition of a (low) top tax rate on people who earn more than backbench Labour MP's. The message is clear: their "kindness" extends only to rich people, who will be exempted from paying their fair share of the costs of the pandemic (or society in general). As for poor kids, they can keep on starving. Which once again invites the question: what is Labour for, exactly, if they're not going to ever deliver anything?

ACT is right: We should keep the one seat rule

Shortly after being elected, Labour announced plans to implement the Electoral Commission's proposals to make electoral system less representative, by abolishing the one-seat rule. Yesterday, ACT's David Seymour issued a press release opposing this, pointing out the value of the rule: it makes Parliament more representative. And that doesn't just benefit ACT voters:

“Labour is unlikely to benefit from the full representation rule, and so it wants it gone. Multiple parties have benefited in recent elections: the Māori Party (2014, 2020), ACT (2008) and New Zealand First (1999). In each case the party won a seat and got its full representation from the Party Vote.
Seymour's list is incomplete: the Progressive Coalition (2002), United Future (2005) also gained full representation under this rule (as did ACT in 2005). And it made our Parliament a better, more representative place as a result.

Of course, ACT's opposition is driven by self-interest: they're a small party and they've benefited from the rule. But so is Labour's desire to eliminate it: they're a big party, and want to strangle any chance of political competitors rising up to challenge them (and in particular, nobble parties which oppose them). So we should look at it from first principles. What do we want from our electoral system? It's in the name: Proportional representation. The full representation rule helps ensure that. And that's why we need to keep it. As for the idea that lowering the threshold to 4% will compensate, firstly, the Electoral Commission's 2012 review is clear that it does not, and that average disproportionality would increase; and secondly, the 1986 Royal Commission recommended it with a 4% threshold. So Labour's proposal represents a rollback from what we were promised nearly 40 years ago.

(According to the Electoral Commission report, the 1986 Royal Commission also thought the one-seat rule was necessary for Māori representation. And its value on that front has been proven in this election. Which may be what saves it: Labour's Māori caucus are unlikely to want to have to explain to their voters why they have made it harder for them to get full representation, or be roadkill for a Māori Party whose only path to full representation would lie in rolling right over them).

The one-seat rule does lead to unfairness. It is unfair that the Māori Party gets full representation while the NZ First, TOP, and New Conservative parties, all of whom got more votes, do not. But that is not the fault of the one-seat rule, but of the threshold. And the way to remove that unfairness is to eliminate it entirely, and let voters, not politicians, choose who we are represented by.

Monday, November 09, 2020



Let them rot

Another farmer is complaining about leaving crops to rot because they can't get cheap foreign workers to pick them. So why can't he get kiwi workers? Just look at the conditions:

With their focus on the short work period, the RSE staff worked the two-to-three month picking season with seven-day working weeks and working days that begin at dawn and finish on dark.

Hiring local staff meant juggling domestic and lifestyle responsibilities, and often social issues stemming from areas where regular work hadn't existed for decades. The working days were shorter which meant fewer courgettes got picked.

Heap said the productivity differences between RSE workers and local workers was enormous. He needed at least two New Zealanders to do the work of one RSE worker, and the churn of local workers was huge.

Basicly, these are Victorian working conditions, the sort of shit Samuel Parnell threw people off a wharf to end. As for "domestic responsibilities", he's basicly saying that workers having lives and families is a problem for him. Clearly, what he wants is a compliant, disposable peasantry, one he can ship in when he needs work done then ship out or just abandon when he doesn't, and he's surprised we're refusing to endanger ourselves by letting him do that in a pandemic. But what surprises me is that we let him do it in the first place. It ought to be a baseline in our society that workers are well-paid, well-treated, and able to have lives outside of work. And if denying those basic rights is the price of cheap courgettes, I say "let them rot".

Friday, November 06, 2020



Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today, as I'm off to Wellington for a weekend of larp. Normal bloggage will resume Monday or Tuesday.

Thursday, November 05, 2020



America's sick "democracy"

Like everyone else, I spent yesterday glued to the internets, doomscrolling the disaster of the US election. As I write, the outcome is still undetermined - while it looks like Biden will win, margins in key states are close, and the US's decrepit (and in some cases, intentionally sabotaged) election administration means a slow count (which, predictably, Trump is now trying to disrupt). And yet, from the popular vote, the result is clear: Biden leads by over three million votes. In any normal democracy, that would settle it without question. The only reason this is in any doubt is because of the racist gerrymander of the electoral college.

The flaws in American "democracy" are naked: gerrymandering, voter suppression, partisan electoral administration and the electoral college. These flaws undermine the legitimacy of the entire system. Unfortunately, it looks like the Democrats failed to win the Senate, so they are not going to be able to fix them - or anything else. On past Republican behaviour, Biden is going to face at least two years of obstruction, maybe more. And that's without even thinking about the Supreme Court (which a Democratic Senate could have fixed temporarily). The question is, how long can this structurally dysfunctional and illegitimate system totter on for, before enough people grow sick enough of it to demand real change?

Wednesday, November 04, 2020



25,000 unemployed under Labour

The labour market statistics have been released, and unemployment has spiked to 151,000 - 25,000 more than when the government took office. There is an obvious reason for this, of course - the pandemic. And we're nowhere near the unemployment peak according to the modelling. The government's job is to keep that peak as low as possible, and as short as possible - to flatten that curve too. And unlike National, who during the GFC just left it all to the market, Labour will actually have some interest in doing that.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020



A headache for the government

For decades, the government has elided its Treaty obligations over water by claiming that no-one owns it (except, in practice, farmers). But last year, the Waitangi Tribunal ruled that water is a taonga, and it belongs to Māori, and invited iwi to bring a test case to prove it in court. The New Zealand Maori Council have already taken up that suggestion. And now, Ngāi Tahu is seeking to establish their rights over most of the South Island's water:

South Island iwi Ngāi Tahu is taking the Crown to court, seeking “rangatiratanga” over all freshwater in its takiwā (area).

The case would seek to establish “shared authority” with the Crown over policy and practice.

Te Rūnanga o Ngā Tahu kaiwhakehaere (chairwoman) Lisa Tumahai said the case against the Crown, lodged in the High Court in Christchurch on Monday, came after generations of being excluded from kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of waterways.

“For too long, governments have talked about addressing these issues but have made piecemeal progress,” said Tumahai. “That is not enough. Now is the time to act.”

Ngāi Tahu is quite clear that they are not interested in conventional property rights. Instead, they are seeking the regulatory power to protect their waterways. But even that is likely to be explosive. Canterbury is the most irrigated area in New Zealand, and ground zero for most of Aotearoa's water problems. And the greedy farmers who profit from sucking the rivers dry and filling them with shit (while poisoning the groundwater with toxic nitrates) are likely to go apeshit at the thought of getting a single drop less. So its going to be a real headache for the government, who are eventually going to have to sort this out with a settlement or legislation. And then there's the prospect of National and/or ACT running a racist hate campaign over it...

Monday, November 02, 2020



Another funny thing to die in a ditch over

Jacinda Ardern has ruled out spending her carefully hoarded political capital on supporting a wealth tax, drug reform, or even real action on climate change (which was "my generation's nuclear-free moment" just three years ago). So what is she willing to spend it on? A four year Parliamentary term: making herself and her successors less accountable to us.

Its an unpopular proposition - unlike wealth taxes or action on climate change - the two previous referenda on the issue have been defeated by almost 70% opposition each time, and any future referendum is likely to have the same result. So of course, she has been talking up the possibility of politicians conspiring to do it via a supermajority, rather than taking it to the people. Fortunately, National has now shitcanned that idea, so if she wants it to happen, she will have to ask us, and risk the humiliation of defeat. Hopefully that prospect will deter it, as it has deterred her predecessors. If not, well, it seems like a pretty funny thing for a Labour politician to want to die in a ditch over.

A threat to our security

Back in June and July, RNZ broke the story that the SIS had collaborated with foreign intelligence agencies to burgle the embassies of friendly nations in the 1980's. The burglaries violated international (and arguably New Zealand) law. And now at least one of them is looking at taking legal action over it:

Iran is threatening legal action against New Zealand after learning the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), in a joint operation with the CIA, broke into its Wellington embassy to plant bugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

India has also hit back at an SIS operation that occurred during the same era, demanding New Zealand's foreign ministry investigate an SIS break-in where code books were photographed and passed on to Britain's MI6.

From the article, it is clear that these raids - carried out at the behest of foreign powers - have damaged our relations with these countries. Which is ironic, given that the usual definitions of "national security" include concerns about international relations. I guess it turns out that the SIS was the real threat to our national security all along.

Saturday, October 31, 2020



Something I hope to be wrong on

So, the Greens went ahead and approved the deal with Labour. As I said earlier, I think its a mistake, which binds Green Ministers to implement Labour policy while effectively gagging them from criticising it. And on climate change - the only policy that matters - that's not a mistake the planet can afford to make.

Hopefully I'm wrong. Hopefully Labour will show some actual ambition and improve its policies. But based on their underwhelming election policies and the text of the "cooperation agreement", James Shaw's main job for the next three years will be selling climate change inaction. He'll be a quisling for the status quo, a collaborator in human extinction. And by extension, so will the Green Party. There will be no Parliamentary voice calling for the urgent, radical change we need to save the planet. Labour will have silenced them. Which means we need to look to extra-Parliamentary voices, like Extinction Rebellion, and 350, and Greenpeace if we want someone to stand up for a future.

Why am I so pessimistic? Because I actually read Labour's climate change policies, which are basicly PR bullshit which completely ignore our core problems of agricultural emissions and fossil transport. I believe Labour will try to implement the policies it campaigned on - a view backed by the fact that that is all the cooperation agreement commits to - and that Jacinda Ardern would not lie to the New Zealand public on this. I also think Labour's new rural backbench are going to want to keep their seats, so they'll have even more reasons than usual to keep pandering to farmers, our biggest greenhouse polluters.

Again, I hope to be wrong, and I guess we'll find out in May, when the Climate Change Commission presents its first three budgets and its first emissions reduction plan. As Minister, Shaw will be able to back the Commission and push for ambitious reductions, and Labour could accept the advice of its independent Commission as it effectively promised to do when it passed the Act. But Labour could just say "no" and gut those recommendations in favour of its weak, status quo policy - in which case the Zero Carbon Act will be a dead letter and the Green Party won't be able to say anything about it.

Green party members are obviously a lot more optimistic about labour's policies and intentions than I am. All I can say is that I hope they're right.

A gag order, not a partnership

The Green Party are currently voting on whether to accept the "cooperation agreement" Labour has offered them. So what's in it? Fortunately it leaked, and the core part is that the Greens promise not to oppose on confidence and supply (which is meaningless), and get two Ministers outside Cabinet, including the climate change portfolio. But there's no specific policy concessions, and instead there's just a vague agreement to work towards "common goals" such as:

Achieving the purpose and goals of the Zero Carbon Act through decarbonising public transport, decarbonising the public sector, increasing the uptake of zero-emission vehicles, introducing clean car standards, and supporting the use of renewable energy for industrial heat.
Meanwhile, the Greens are bound by no surprises and good faith on their public statements and parliamentary activities (and of course their Ministers are bound by Cabinet collective responsibility). Looking at this, its not a partnership - its a gag order, designed purely to silence the Greens on their most important subject (and Labour's greatest area of vulnerability).

In theory, being climate change minister isn't entirely valueless: they're the interface with the Climate Change Commission with responsibility for approving budgets and plans. Except that in reality, all of those approvals are subject to Cabinet confirmation, so there's no actual power there. The Act is meant to work by shame: the Commission is independent, and its recommendations public, so a government which doesn't do as instructed immediately needs to justify itself to the public. The question is, would that process work better with a Green Minister bound and gagged inside the tent to ask Labour nicely to do the right thing, or an angry and vocal Green Party willing to roast them alive if they don't. And the very way I've phrased that makes it clear what I think the answer is. The Greens should reject this deal, and instead commit to holding Labour to account on climate change. If labour wants an actual partnership, then they can always offer one further down the line.

Friday, October 30, 2020



Bugger

Preliminary referendum results are out, showing that cannabis legalisation was defeated, 46.1% to 53.1%. There's a gap of almost 170,000 votes, and its highly unlikely that the specials will be that disproportionate (OTOH, they're probably a different electoral population, swinging younger and more liberal on this issue, but that's probably too big a gap to make up). The government has already indicated that it will "respect the result" of the referendum and that "recreational cannabis use will remain illegal in New Zealand", so we'll see the olds' pointless "war on drugs" and empowering of gangs continue for another three years at least.

(Oh, and Ardern has finally revealed that she voted "yes". So she wants to be on the right side of her voters, but at the same time was too chickenshit to come out and say it when it might have made a difference. Labour's lack of moral courage and its unwillingness to stand for anything or actually lead and convince us to follow strikes again!)

On the plus side, Death With Dignity passed in a landslide, so that will automatically become legal in November next year.

Thursday, October 29, 2020



We need more state houses

How bad is the housing crisis? This bad:

For the first time over 20,000 households are on the Government’s waitlist for public housing.

By the end of August 20,385 eligible households were on the waitlist for state or social housing, with over 18,000 ranked as “priority A” – the most needy.

This compared to 19,438 the month before and 13,167 in August 2019. The waitlist has more than trebled since 2017.

And from that trend, its only going to get worse.

The government has promised to build 18,000 new houses by 2024. Which means they are committing to not solve this problem (and to not solve it slowly, so that people will be left homeless for years and years). And on an essential like housing, that is simply not acceptable.

As for why they are committing to not solving this, part of the answer is almost certainly Labour's continuing commitment to austerity: having ruled out a wealth tax, capital gains tax, or any meaningful tax increase, they "have no money", and of course couldn't possibly borrow at negative interest rates to fund vital infrastructure. But part of it is also likely to be a desire not to "disrupt" the market. Because if everyone who needed a home had one, there wouldn't be massive competition for too few houses, rents and house prices would drop, and rich people would lose some of their paper wealth. To which most people would say "boo fucking hoo", but as is clear from their tax policy, rich people are who Labour represent now.

A contempt of Parliament?

Back in July, Professor Anne-Marie Brady warned Parliament about foreign interference in New Zealand elections. Now, her employer is attempting to punish her for it:

Canterbury University China expert Professor Anne-Marie Brady has been gagged by her employer while a review into her research proceeds.

The review conducted by two academics and two members of the university’s council began in August after Brady’s paper – Holding a Pen in One Hand and Gripping a Gun in the Other – sparked complaints from two New Zealand universities and several individual academics.

The paper outlined how universities, academics and businesses could be inadvertently helping the Chinese Community Party by collaborating with Chinese agencies in hi-tech research.

[...]

Brady, whose research into the Chinese Government’s efforts to influence Western democracies has won her international recognition, presented the paper as a supplementary submission to Parliament’s justice select committee earlier this year.

[Emphasis added]

If this paper had simply been published in a journal, this would just be an example of academics and universities dependent on Chinese funding trying to ruin the career of someone critical of their foreign patron. That's shitty enough, but the fact that the paper was presented as a submission to Parliament - and the review is explicitly about that submission - makes this far more serious. McGee is crystal clear about this: attempting to punish a parliamentary contribution in any way constitutes contempt of the House. The classic example is TVNZ, which told its chief executive that their evidence to a select committee was "misconduct"; they were fined and forced to apologise. If the University of Canterbury continues with its "review", they may find themselves in a similar situation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020



The Labour Party is still rorting us

Back in September, we learned that the Labour Party was rorting its Parliamentary expenses to steal from the public again, renting office space at a below-market rate from a union for $1500 a year, then subletting it to Parliamentary Services as an electorate office at a (significantly higher) below-market rate of $6000 a year, and pocketing the difference. Today, the Electoral Commission has cleared up one aspect of this, ruling that the subletting arrangement is a donation to the party which must be declared in future:

The Electoral Commission has ordered the Labour Party to declare the cheap rent it pays for its office in Petone as a donation.

The commission looked into the matter after a Stuff investigation found Labour had been paying well below market rent for the Wellington building in a deal stretching back as far as 1993.

Recently the party was paying as little as $1500 a year, well below the market rate for office space in Petone. A shop at 264 Jackson Street, just up the road from Hutt South MP Ginny Andersen’s office, is currently for lease at $18,200 a year.

Electoral Commission rules, published in the commission’s candidate’s handbook, say that goods and services received at a discounted rate are treated as donations.

But they've given up on any effort to force Labour to declare the donation for previous years, because its just "too hard" (apparently, they can't just pick an average figure and go with that). So the law once again means nothing, and political parties can break it with impunity, as usual. And meanwhile, the fundamental problem - Labour's outright theft of public money - goes unresolved. When will Parliamentary Services put a stop to it? Or are they happy for parties to steal from the public, rather than being reimbursed for their actual, reasonable, and necessary expenses?

Tuesday, October 27, 2020



Building a norm against nuclear weapons

Back in 2017, the UN General Assembly approved the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and New Zealand was one of the first countries to sign. Now, a 50th ratification is finally going to bring it into force:

Campaigners have hailed a "new chapter" after a key step by the United Nations towards banning nuclear arms.

Honduras has become the 50th country to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons so it will now come into force in 90 days' time.

New Zealand and many Pacific nations including Samoa, Fiji, Niue, Tuvalu, Cook Islands and Kiribati are among the signatories.

Some media outlets (in nuclear-armed states) are calling the Treaty "symbolic", but that's missing the point. Sure, nuclear-armed states and their NATO vassals have refused to sign. But the rest of the world has, and as with a landmine ban, the cluster bomb ban, and the chemical weapons ban, that will be enough to establish a norm that the possession (let alone use) of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, effectively defining the great powers and their lackeys as rogue states, and companies which support their nuclear weapons as criminal enterprises. The latter are the real weak point, because these multinationals are going to be forced to choose between supporting nuclear weapons programmes, or doing business with the rest of the world. But it should also increase the pressure on governments to disarm - which is an obligation they've already signed up for under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Change wins in Chile

This time last year, Chile was in rebellion against its government. Protests against a train fare increase turned into protests against inequality, and then, when the right-wing government deployed the military to crush them, into protests against the government and the dictator-imposed constitution. And the protestors won: half the cabinet was sacked, and the government was forced to concede a referendum on constitutional reform.

Yesterday, Chileans voted in that referendum. And they chose change:

Chile has voted overwhelmingly in favor of rewriting the country’s constitution to replace guiding principles imposed four decades ago under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Jubilant pro-reform supporters took to the streets of the capital Santiago and other cities to celebrate on Sunday night after exit polls showed that 78.24% of people had voted to approve a rewrite, while 21.76% rejected the change.

Voters also elected for the new constitution to be entirely drafted by a popularly elected body – meaning no active lawmakers can be involved in the process.

Of course, they still need to elect the constitutional assembly, and then actually write a new draft, and there's a lot of ways that process could go wrong, a lot of chances for the rich to put their thumb on the scales and prevent this democratic demand from being realised. But if they do that too obviously, Chile will be right back where it was last year, only with less chance for a peaceful solution.

Friday, October 23, 2020



Prosecute ICE

We knew that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement was a moral void: they run concentration camps, and forcibly separate children from their parents. And now they're outright torturing people:

US immigration officers allegedly tortured Cameroonian asylum seekers to force them to sign their own deportation orders, in what lawyers and activists describe as a brutal scramble to fly African migrants out of the country in the run-up to the elections.

Many of the Cameroonian migrants in a Mississippi detention centre refused to sign, fearing death at the hands of Cameroonian government forces responsible for widespread civilian killings, and because they had asylum hearings pending.

According to multiple accounts, detainees were threatened, choked, beaten, pepper-sprayed and threatened with more violence to make them sign. Several were put in handcuffs by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers, and their fingerprints were taken forcibly in place of a signature on documents called stipulated orders of removal, by which the asylum seekers waive their rights to further immigration hearings and accept deportation.

Torture for bureaucratic convenience is a new level of evil even for the US, and it shows how racist and corrupt this organisation has become. As for how to fix it, prosecuting everyone involved, from the political leaders and high-level managers who encourage these abuses down to the guards who actually do the dirty work would be a good start.

Thursday, October 22, 2020



Farmers earning their reputation again

New Zealand farmers routinely complain about the public viewing them as environmental vandals. At the same time, they're opposing basic environmental regulation:

Federated Farmers has asked that a wide-ranging plan change setting water use rules for South Canterbury remove all references to the protection of “indigenous fish”.

[...]

In its submission, Federated Farmers says there needs to be ‘’thorough analysis and discussion about the identification and value of these habitats, how widespread they are likely to become, what areas will be covered by them and what the impacts will be, especially economic impacts’’.

“Until this is done, Federated Farmers is opposed to all references to indigenous freshwater species habitat,’’ the submission says.

The underlying argument here is that we don't know enough to know what we need to protect. But if that's the case, then the precautionary principle suggests we should protect it all, then work out what doesn't need protecting. Leaving stuff unprotected is a recipe for environmental destruction and predatory delay.

The good news here is that the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management requires councils to protect the habitats of indigenous freshwater species, so they literally can't do what the farmers demand. Better, the "best information" clause requires that where information is uncertain, decision-makers must interpret it so as to give best effect to the NPS - that is, to habitat protection, via a hierarchy of values which places ecosystem health above economic development. So Federated Farmers should lose this argument, and if the Council illegally bows to their demands, the courts will correct them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020



Managing to the target

New Zealand's health system is chronicly underfunded, and so almost all DHBs run deficits. Last month, just before he bailed out Canterbury DHB, Health Minister Chris Hipkins was repeating the mantra that DHBs must live within their means and "have a credible plan to return to financial sustainability". But yesterday, he was shocked - shocked! - to learn that Auckland DHB had shut most of its Covid-19 testing centres and had none open on weekends:

Auckland's Covid community testing centres have been dramatically scaled back, with just six still operating - and none open on weekends.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins is investigating the change, saying testing must remain readily accessible.

There had been 20 dedicated community testing centres at the height of the latest Covid outbreak but most have been dropped now Auckland is at alert level 1.

[...]

In a statement, he said it was his "clear expectation" testing was readily available seven days a week.

Well, maybe he could pay for it then. Because ATM this just looks like a clear example of the DHB doing exactly what he told them to do: sacrifice health services to save money. The fact that they're doing this to essential services in the middle of a pandemic is obviously terrible, but if Hipkins doesn't want DHBs to manage to the target he set them, then he needs to set a different one.