Monday, September 28, 2020



Racism loses in Switzerland

Over in Switzerland, the racist "People's Party" tried to have a Brexit-style referendum on ending freedom of movement with the EU, so they could stop the "flood" of foreigners. But the Swiss people said No:

Swiss voters have resoundingly rejected an attempt to tear up the country’s agreement with the EU on the free movement of people, in a referendum that echoed the Brexit vote.

The largest party in the Swiss parliament, the rightwing, anti-immigration Swiss People’s party (SVP), called the referendum, arguing that the country must be allowed to set its own limit on the number of foreigners coming in to work.

However, the initiative – opposed by government, parliament, unions, employer organisations and all other political parties because it would put Switzerland’s overall relations with the EU in jeopardy – was rejected by 61.7% of voters, final results showed.

The EU had made it clear that freedom of movement was indivisible from the rest of their relationship, and that ending it would also mean ending trade, research and transport treaties, just as for the UK. Swiss voters clearly value those. And hopefully, it'll mean a fall in the fortunes of the People's Party as well.

International Right To Know Day

Today, 28 September, is International Right To Know Day (or, as the UN puts it, the "International Day for Universal Access to Information"). The Ombudsman is celebrating with a poll showing that while most people don't know about their freedom of information rights, those that use them mostly get what they ask for. Meanwhile, here's the reality of freedom of information in New Zealand:

  • Agencies lie about proactive release: Two weeks ago, the Electoral Commission told me that their advice on the shifting of the election date would be proactively released "in the next week". It still hasn't been, and they haven't responded to the query I sent them about it.
  • Agencies abuse eligibility to deter requests: The police have been doing this for a long time, despite being repeatedly told not to by the Ombudsman. Now the Ministry of Health is following suit, adopting a policy that any request made via the FYI platform is by default ineligible, and demands people expose their private information on the web, or shift the request out of the public view.
  • Secrecy is expanding: Secrecy clauses, exempting certain agencies or types of information from the OIA, keep appearing in legislation and keep being passed. Sometimes, these are driven by a distrust of transparency. Mostly, they're driven by dysfunctional agencies distrusting each other, and making us pay the price for their dysfunction.
  • Major agencies are still cloaked in secrecy: The Official Information Act does not apply to Parliament, or the Governor-General. Overseas jurisdictions happily include their equivalents.
  • Parliament is uninterested in reform: Despite being some of the heaviest users of the OIA, MPs have taken no real measures to fix it to prevent or reduce abuses. They made no substantive reforms in response to the Law Commission's review of the Act in 2012, or to its review in 1997, or in response to repeated requests by the Open Government partnership's independent reviewers in recent years. In fact, they have made no substantive changes since 1987, despite well-reported and well-known problems with the OIA regime. While the current government has promised to "re-write" the Act if re-elected, it won't tell us what it wants to do, or even commit to a public consultation process. And given how they planned to run their previous review - in secrecy, with handpicked experts and stovepiped results - we can't have any real confidence they're not planning to make things worse.
So, while we have some things to celebrate, we also have a lot that needs fixing. Here's my suggestions for where we need to start.

One way or another, we're paying for this

Back in July, when foreign polluters (and archaeological criminals) Rio Tinto announced they planned to close Tiwai Point, I was dancing on its grave. Why? Because the carbon subsidies alone were more than enough to fund alternative jobs - or even just to pay everyone dependent on it a reasonable wage to do something else with their lives. Plus of course there's the flow-on effect of releasing 13% of the country's electricity supply, meaning lower prices and an easy push to shift South Island industry off coal. So naturally, political parties lined up to insist this would not happen - and now Labour has joined them:

Labour would negotiate to extend the life of the Tiwai Point Aluminium smelter by three to five years if elected, it says.

Party leader Jacinda Ardern and energy spokesperson Megan Woods announced the plan today, with negotiations focused on establishing a fair price for the transmission costs paid to Transpower by the smelter.

The party said it would require work on remediation, maintaining employment, and working with the government on future use of the site as conditions for the pricing, and would maintain the government's stance - in place since 2013 - of not directly subsidising the smelter's owner Rio Tinto.

And no doubt there will be a free pony too. Which we will all pay for. Because while the government is ruling out direct subsidies, they're very carefully not ruling out indirect ones. Like picking up the tab for their waste in Mataura. Or giving them more free carbon credits. Or just by subsidising Transpower instead (since they've promised that lower costs for Tiwai won't mean higher costs for everyone else). But we'll be giving them money one way or another, which is exactly what Rio Tinto wanted when they threatened closure in an election year. And meanwhile, the promises of a transition away from their dirty, rent-seeking business model will be forgotten in the interim, nothing will be done, so when they stick their hand out again in three years time, the government will have no option but to give them more.

But I guess its just another example of Labour's real underlying philosophy: the time is never right for change.

Friday, September 25, 2020



Predatory delay

Farmers are whining again about being expected to clean up their act:

Canterbury farmers want politicians to stop painting them as climate change villains, listen to their needs and allow them more time to boost environmental standards.

[...]

“The targets are necessary for the environment, but do we need to achieve everything in the next two years? Probably not.

“Slowing things down a little would be good for farmers, and for the whole economy generally as we come through this recession.”

This is pure predatory delay: demanding "just a bit more time" so you can keep on polluting (and then demand "just a bit more time" again). But farmers have already had 15 years of "just a bit more time" - first as an exemption from even paying for researching emissions reductions during the "fart tax" fiasco, then in the form of an exemption from the ETS, which has been extended and extended and extended. If they were smart, they would have used that time to change their practices and prepare for the day when they will inevitably have to pay the full costs of their emissions. If they haven't, they have no-one to blame but themselves. And its a similar story on water: strong signals that they need to change, with repeated delays in following through. They've had more than enough time to adapt on both, and its time they finally did.

As for being painted as climate change villains, this is an industry which has repeatedly spewed climate denial while publicly and vigorously opposing any action. Perhaps the public would have a different view of them if they hadn't done that. But as it stands, it seems they have only themselves to blame. And if they want a better reputation, they need to start with actual change, not just petulant whining.

Thursday, September 24, 2020



This is not what accountability looks like

When someone commits trespass, assault with a weapon, and kidnapping, you'd expect them to be prosecuted, right? But apparently the rules are different if you wear a blue uniform:

A police investigation has found officers in Northland trespassed on a man's property, then unlawfully pepper sprayed him and arrested him.

"Police found that the use of OC spray against the complainant was unlawful, because the officer was trespassing at the time; he should have left the property immediately instead of using force against the complainant."

The officers then left and came back with their supervising officer and unlawfully arrested the man for assaulting police.

"The arrest was found to be unlawful because officers were trespassing when the alleged assault occurred, and were therefore not acting in the lawful execution of their duty at the time.

The fact that these purported uses of power were unlawful makes each of them a criminal offence. But rather than being publicly prosecuted, the officers involved were dealt with by a "confidential employment process". So we have no idea if they were charged, or even fired. They could still be with the police, waiting to trespass, assault, and kidnap someone else.

This is deeply unsatisfactory. Public confidence in the police requires public accountability for their actions. And that means we have a right to know what the police did about this, so we can judge whether it was sufficient, or whether the institution itself needs to be held accountable for inaction. Of course, the latter is precisely what the police wish to avoid. But by covering this up, they have once again undermined the public trust they depend on to do their work, and encouraged people to view them as just another gang with a fancier uniform.

The coming US shitshow

Today President Trump once again refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the US election. Coincidentally, The Atlantic has a long article on exactly what that means, from voter suppression by armed thugs in the name of "ballot security", to refusing to allow the vote to be counted, all the way to getting Republican state governments to over-rule the voters and simply appoint Trump electors themselves - effectively using the electoral college to overturn the will of the people. And you can probably bet that whatever they've thought of, Trump and his Republican cronies will do worse, and harder.

Reading it, I get the impression that US democracy is basicly doomed. Not just because one political faction is open about not wanting people to vote and not respecting the results if they do, but ultimately because both factions view democracy as a game to be litigated, rather than the bedrock of their legitimacy. And things there are going to have to change in a major way before they can be said to be safely democratic again.

And I'm once again thankful for our electoral system, where elections are run by a central, neutral, independent body rather than partisan local hacks with an interest in putting the thumb on the scales; where there is widespread public understanding (fostered by that neutral body) of the count process, so that everyone knows that nothing is final until the special votes come in; and that politicians accept and respect the judgement of the people, rather than trying to litigate or game it. The idea that a Prime Minister would say (repeatedly) before an election that they would refuse to accept the result if it went against them is both unthinkable here - and a guaranteed way to ensure that it does. That's something we should all be glad of - and something we all need to protect.

A moral void

That's the only way to describe the SIS, who - like their British counterparts - decided to look the other way on child abuse:

The SIS knew a young woman was being sexually abused by her father but failed to lodge a complaint with the police, effectively allowing the abuse to continue for years, a former spy says.

The ex-SIS agent said he was involved in a covert operation in the late 1980s and early 1990s that involved entering a home where evidence of the abuse was found.

He took numerous photographs showing sexual abuse was occurring.

The former agent said he was rebuffed when he told his supervisor at the time that the SIS should involve the police.

It was the mid-1990s before the police talked to the victim and it wasn't until years later that the man was convicted for sex crimes, including rape, against his daughter.

Sure, like the embassy break-ins, it was a long time ago, and the SIS was different then. The problem is that when the whistleblower went to the Inspector-General about it, the SIS threatened to prosecute them. Which seems to be a perfect illustration of the mindset of hostility to whistleblowing and oversight discussed here - not to mention perversion of the course of justice. And that suggests that, when it comes down to it, nothing has really changed after all, that "security" bullshit still trumps any sense of ethics within the organisation. And that being the case, we should defund it and shut it down permanently.

This is bullshit

On March 13, three plainclothes police officers kicked in Breonna Taylor's door under a no-knock warrant targeting another person. When a person inside reasonably assumed they were home invaders and (this being America) started shooting, they shot up the place and everyone around them - killing Taylor. Today, one of them has finally been charged - but not for killing her:

A police officer has been charged over the narcotics raid that resulted in the fatal shooting of a black woman at her home in the US state of Kentucky.

Breonna Taylor, 26, a hospital worker, was shot multiple times as officers stormed her home on 13 March.

Brett Hankison has been charged, not with Ms Taylor's death, but with "wanton endangerment" for firing into a neighbour's apartment in Louisville.

Two other officers who were involved have not been charged.

So why aren't they being charged with manslaughter, or murder given the depraved indifference required for the "wanton endangerment" charge? Apparently, because in America, "self-defence" means you get to kill everyone around you, whether they are an actual threat or not. Trained police officers acting in the course of their duties apparently cannot be expected to distinguish between those breaking the law, and those who are merely bystanders, and must be allowed to murder who they please, with no oversight.

This is bullshit. And it shows that America's "justice" system is fundamentally incapable of providing justice against even the footsoldiers of those in power. And that being the case, I'm not sure why people should even pretend to engage with it, rather than seeking justice by other means.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020



Climate Change: China steps up

China has increased its climate change ambition, and set a target to be carbon-neutral by 2060:

China will reach carbon neutrality before 2060 and ensure its greenhouse gas emissions peak in the next decade, Xi Jinping has told the UN general assembly.

“China will scale up its intended nationally determined contributions [under the Paris climate agreement] by adopting more vigorous policies and measures,” the Chinese president said, calling for a “green recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic.

The unexpectedly forthright commitment will give fresh impetus to the UN’s efforts to galvanise action on the climate crisis, which has been flagging as the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the world’s societies and economies this year.

Its a decade later than the 2050 date set by most industrialised countries (including New Zealand), but that's what "common but differentiated responsibilities" means. Historically, China was less industrialised, and polluted less; while they've pretty much caught up, an extra decade to sort out their mess recognises that.

And now the USA really has no excuse whatsoever not to adopt a climate neutrality target. If they refuse to, then they are the common enemy of all humanity, and we should treat them as such.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020



Climate Change: Moving faster

Back in 2017, the UK announced that it would ban the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles by 2040. Its a basic climate change measure, aimed at reducing emissions by shifting the vehicle fleet to cleaner technologies. Now, in the wake of the pandemic, they're planning to bring it forward to 2030:

The UK is poised to bring forward its ban on new fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030 to help speed up the rollout of electric vehicles across British roads.

[...]

The government has previously consulted on plans to bring forward the deadline on sales of new polluting vehicles from 2040 to 2035. It is now expected to take a more ambitious stance following assurances that the UK’s infrastructure will be ready to cope with the shift to electric cars.

The decision to end the sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 would put the UK ahead of France, which has a 2040 ban in the pipeline, and in line with Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. Norway will bring in a ban in 2025.

Meanwhile, New Zealand doesn't even have an electric vehicle policy, instead relying on the market (and a patheticly low capped carbon price) to drive the shift. And so, as the rest of the world electrifies, we're going to get the dirty fossil fuel vehicles they're dumping. Its a perfect example of what is wrong with climate change policy in this country: the government is unwilling to do anything which might disrupt the dirty, unsustainable status quo.

The Australian courts have had enough of refugee detention

For the past decade, Australia has had a racist, anti-refugee policy. Those claiming refugee status are imprisoned without trial and left to rot in the hope they would "voluntarily" return to be tortured and murdered. When the courts have granted them visas, the government has immediately revoked them on racial "character" grounds, so they never leave detention. Now, the Australian courts have finally had enough of this bullshit:

A Syrian man who has spent the last six years locked up in Australian detention centres after his visa was revoked is free after a landmark legal ruling.

Lawyers for the man, who has lived in Australia since he was 13, successfully argued that he was being held unlawfully because nothing had happened on his case for a year, and no attempt had been made to return him to his war-ravaged homeland.

His solicitor Alison Battison said it was the first time in Australian legal history that someone has been freed from detention under the ancient writ of habeas corpus, which puts the onus on the state to prove a valid reason for imprisoning someone.

As in New Zealand, the courts have ruled that the purpose of detention is to enable a decision or deportation. If there is no decision or deportation process, then the detention serves no purpose and is illegal. The twist in this case is that, because the Australia government has refused to even consider granting a visa, the courts have said that it doesn't matter: the man is free, they can't detain him for immigration purposes, and if they try and arrest him for being unlawfully in the country then that will be contempt of court. The next step is of course a civil claim for damages for false imprisonment, as well as multiple cases applying the same logic to every other long-term immigration detainee.

How will the Australian government respond? Based on their past behaviour, probably with more tyranny. But removing habeas corpus rights is a big step, even for a racist tyrant like Peter Dutton. And hopefully the Australian Senate will refuse to go along with any such attempt.

This is not kind

New Zealand has a serious homelessness problem, due to skyrocketing rents and a lack of state houses. One of the ways we stick a band-aid on it is to put people up in motels. Previously, they were charged full commercial rates, saddled with odious debt due to the government's failure to provide the services it promised. When public outrage over that cruel policy grew too much, the then-National government was forced to provide emergency housing for free. Which then exposed that the crisis was much bigger than they thought, as demand grew without the threat of eternal debt-slavery to WINZ. Now, the Labour government - one which was supposed to "bring kindness back" - is returning to the policy of charging people for the government's failure:

Now the Labour-led government is pushing ahead with a plan to charge families like hers 25 percent of their income for staying in these emergency motels.

The change was announced in February, set to come into place in March, but was delayed due to Covid-19.

Now it will come into effect on October 19 - two days after the election.

The Government argues it is a question of fairness along with a much-needed incentive to get people out of emergency housing and into private, transitional or social housing.

While income-related, this is still a fundamentally flawed policy, in that no amount of money can incentivise people to find homes that (due to government policy failure) don't exist. Instead, what it will incentivise them to do is not apply for assistance to avoid debt. And that I suspect is the point: discourage applications, get the statistics "back under control", and make the problem "go away" - by sweeping it under the carpet. But in reality, the people deterred from applying will still be living in cars or garages, not the warm, safe homes the government is meant to be providing for them.

This isn't "kindness" - its exactly the same NeoLiberal viciousness practised by National. And we should not accept it. These people need homes. It is the government's job to provide them. If the government can't, then it - rather than its victims - should pay the financial penalty for that failure. It is that simple.

Monday, September 21, 2020



Climate Change: Climate injustice

Who's causing our skyrocketing emissions? As with most of our other problems, It's the rich:

The wealthiest 1% of the world’s population were responsible for the emission of more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorer half of the world from 1990 to 2015, according to new research.

Carbon dioxide emissions rose by 60% over the 25-year period, but the increase in emissions from the richest 1% was three times greater than the increase in emissions from the poorest half.

[...]

“The global carbon budget has been squandered to expand the consumption of the already rich, rather than to improve humanity,” he told the Guardian. “A finite amount of carbon can be added to the atmosphere if we want to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We need to ensure that carbon is used for the best.”

The richest 10% of the global population, comprising about 630 million people, were responsible for about 52% of global emissions over the 25-year period, the study showed.

When it comes to a question of improving life for the poor, or enabling the 1% to take frivolous holidays, the answer is a no-brainer. Which is why we need policies like frequent flyer taxes and SUV tariffs to crack down on this conspicuous and destructive over-consumption. We simply shouldn't allow the rich to burn the planet for their own entertainment.

But this also shows the obligation on those of us in the global 10% - which includes most middle-class kiwis - to do what we can to limit our emissions, and to lobby our governments to enact strict policies and strong emissions cuts. We are responsible for this problem. Therefore we have a responsibility to help solve it.

Good riddance

The border closure and resulting lack of foreign slave-workers is driving the fishing industry out of business:

One fishing company is effectively out of business while others are bracing for large financial hits as the deepwater New Zealand industry, unable to get skilled foreign workers into the country, have begun tying up vessels.

At least three New Zealand-flagged big autonomous trawler reefer (BATM) deepwater vessels associated with Canterbury-based Independent fisheries have been tied up at Lyttleton as it repatriated its Russian and Ukranian crew following the end of their visa periods.

Nelson-based fishing company Sealord is likely to follow suit by October 1 with its Ukrainian and Russian crews of Meridian and Profesor Aleksandrov heading home after working in New Zealand since November.

Good riddance: fishing is a criminal and environmentally destructive industry which ignores the law while corrupting our democracy. Its reliant on foreign workers because (like farming) it is an industry no-one wants to be a part of, with low pay and appalling conditions - basicly, you don't get to have a life, or a family, and the wages come nowhere near compensating for that. We shouldn't shed a single tear over it, and if we're lucky, these troubles will kill off some of the current players and allow them to be replaced by more ethical and sustainable competitors.

Friday, September 18, 2020



Why we need cameras on boats

In case anyone needed further convincing, there's another example today of why we need cameras on fishing boats: reported seabird bycatch doubled during a camera trial:

Commercial fishers operating off Auckland's coast around vulnerable seabirds are twice as likely to report accidentally capturing them when cameras are on board.

That's according to a trial where bottom-longline fishers voluntarily carried cameras on their boats to see how practices affected the nationally vulnerable black petrel - the species most at risk from commercial fisheries in New Zealand.

A Fisheries NZ report on the trial, over 2016/2017, found seabird captures on the pilot fleet, operating in the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty, was around twice as high when the vessels had cameras on board than when they were without cameras.

It is highly unlikely that these boats were accidentally catching seabirds twice as often only when cameras were on board. Instead, it seems more likely that they were always catching this many, and simply not reporting it. Which is a crime, and something we should be trying to prosecute them for.

Opportunistic looting

The National Party has spent the last six months acting horrified at the cost of supporting people through the pandemic and banging on about how the debt must be repaid. So what was their economic policy released today? Massive tax-cuts for the rich, of course!

National has walked back on its controversial debt target, promising big tax cuts and a much looser debt target in its alternative budget.

[...]

The big sweetener is a temporary tax cut. This is achieved by lifting each of the tax thresholds on December 1. The 10.5 per cent threshold would rise from $14,000 to $20,000, with the 17.5 per cent threshold lifting to income between $20,001 and $64,000.

The 30 per cent threshold would apply to income between $64,001 and $90,000 and the 33 per cent threshold would apply to income above that.

But these cuts would be temporary, expiring before the next election, so its hard to see them as anything other than an shady election bribe. And naturally, the biggest beneficiaries will be those on the highest incomes, with someone on $90,000 getting over seven times as much as someone on $30,000. Meanwhile, they'll be paying for it with massive cuts to public services, slashing the health system which has saved us all during the pandemic. And they have the gall to call this "Responsible economic management". Its not. Instead, its just more opportunistic looting by National for the benefit of its rich cronies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020



Barbados to become a republic

Barbados is planning to remove the queen as head of state and become a republic in time for the 55th anniversary of its independence in 2021:

Barbados has announced its intention to remove the Queen as its head of state and become a republic by November 2021.

[...]

Reading the speech, governor-general Dame Sandra Mason said: “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind. Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state.

“This is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.

“Hence, Barbados will take the next logical step toward full sovereignty and become a republic by the time we celebrate our 55th anniversary of independence.”

This was actually recommended by a constitutional review over 20 years ago, but never implemented. Now, they're finally doing it. Meanwhile, NZ is doing nothing, and continuing under a feudal constitution which embeds inequality and vests titular authority in a foreigner on the other side of the world. We should really do something about that, and not just leave it until the current incumbent dies.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020



A flaw in our electoral transparency regime

A key part of our electoral funding regime is a requirement for some transparency around donations, on the basis that if we can find out who has bought our politicians (typically after we have voted for them) then everything is alright. There are a lot of problems with that regime - it needs to be more transparent, with lower declaration thresholds and realtime disclosure so voters are fully informed - but last week we were reminded of another one: it simply does not apply to unregistered parties. And this has turned into a quarter of a million dollar problem:

More than $255,000 in donations have been made to a political party that never registered, a loophole in electoral laws that a political expert says is “unprecedented”.

The New Zealand Public Party has come under fire by former members and staffers who allege up to $100,000 in koha collected at events, and kept in a tin under leader Billy Te Kahika’s bed, is unaccounted for.

Complaints were laid to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the Electoral Commission about missing donations however no investigations are resulting from the complaints.

The Electoral Commission said because NZPP never registered as a party it has no obligation to report donations.

The prevailing assumption has been that parties would register if they possibly could in order to contest the party vote, thus bringing them under the transparency regime, while those that did not register would be small. That held for 25 years, but quarter of a million dollars is a hell of a lot of money - more than some registered parties declare - and certainly enough that we want to know where it is coming from and what the people giving it want in exchange. And the fact that this is outside the disclosure regime also invites similar games in the future around unregistered component parties being used to launder donations and hide funding sources from the public.

As for how to fix it, separating registration for the party vote from registering for transparency seems to be an obvious solution. The requirement for 500 members works for the former, as it establishes a minimal level of credibility while not being too onerous. We could have a much lower requirement for the latter (with broadcasting funding being the encouragement), and a legal requirement for parties contesting more than, say, 10 electorates to register or submit donation and spending returns as if they were registered. This would avoid interfering with the normal unregistered parties (which typically run two or three candidates, and the "party" is really just a name to put next to them on the ballot paper), while ensuring we have transparency over groups potentially spending significant amounts of money.

Climate Change: Carbon prices must rise

When Parliament introduced the Emissions Trading Scheme, it was worried that carbon prices might get too high. So it introduced a "fixed price option", allowing polluters to pay the government $25 in the place of surrendering credits. The result was predictable: after we were thrown out of international carbon markets and the supply of low-price Russian fraud was cut off, prices spiked to the cap, and then everyone started just paying it, creating a huge stockpile of credits which can be used in future. Meanwhile, the artificially low price meant that some abatement options which might otherwise have happened, didn't - so we polluted more than we needed to.

To "fix" this, last year the government raised the cap to $35 from 1 January. And you'll never guess what has happened: prices are once again at the cap (in just nine months), so polluters will be paying it and stockpiling credits for later, compromising all future carbon budgets.

What this tells us is that the government is consistently setting its price cap too low. Even the $50 cap which will supposedly apply next year (in the form of a trigger point for the government flooding the market with credits which it does not have and blowing the carbon budget) is probably too low. If we want the ETS to actually work, we need to remove the cap, and let the market set the price. This will mean some polluters will be unable to pay the new price, while dirty farmers will face more competition from trees. But that's the fucking point. Market mechanisms work by making some behaviour - polluting - less profitable than other behaviour - not polluting. It allows clean producers to outcompete dirty ones. By artificially capping the price, the government is preventing that process from working, and thus hamstringing our climate change response. And all to protect dirty, outdated producers who could not compete if they paid the true price of their activities.

Carbon prices need to rise. Until that happens, we're never going to get anywhere. It is that simple.

Climate Change: Disclosure

The government will finally be requiring large New Zealand companies to disclose their climate change risks:

New Zealand finance companies will be made to report on climate change risk, Climate Change Minister James Shaw has announced.

The policy will force around 200 large financial organisations in New Zealand to disclose how exposed their business and investments are to climate-change related risk.

Any bank, credit union, building society, investment scheme, insurer, or Crown Financial Institution with more than $1b in assets will be required to either disclose this risk or explain why it has not.

These 200 or so institutions will cover 90 per cent of the assets controlled in New Zealand, and includes large crown investors like ACC and the NZ Super Fund.

Its a good, if minor policy - partly because it will help make these companies aware themselves of the risks they face, and therefore get them taking steps to manage it, and partly because it will let investors in those companies do the same. And the result should be direct financial pressure to reduce climate change risks by reducing emissions, divesting from polluters, and moving facilities away from at-risk areas. Obviously, its not sufficient, but its a good backing for the ETS.

Climate Change: No nonsense

ACT is pushing a "no-nonsense climate change plan". What does it involve? Repealing the Zero Carbon Act and Emissions Trading Scheme, reversing the fossil-fuel exploration ban, and allowing mining on conservation land. In other words, repealing any policy which might actually reduce emissions. Which is the very definition of nonsensical.

So what would an actual "no nonsense" plan look like? Our main problem is agriculture (90% of which is exported), and everything else - electricity, industrial gas use, even transport - is really tinkering around the edges. So while I'd ban new fossil fuel development and use, sunset existing fossil fuel infrastructure, drive industrial electrification and uptake of EVs, and invest heavily in renewable electricity to power it all cleanly, the real carbon reduction policy comes down to one thing: massively reducing cow numbers. We can do that with water policy, we can do it with stocking limits and resource consent conditions, but the easiest way is just to remove the ETS price cap, let carbon prices rise as high as they want, and let the market do the work of planting trees to drive farmers off the land.

This is already happening. Farmers are complaining that it is twice as profitable for them to plant trees than farm sheep or beef. That is the market sending them a signal, and if they are too stupid to listen, then they deserve to go bankrupt. In which case, their land will likely be bought by someone for trees, on the basis that profitable uses will drive out unprofitable ones.

This does mean that we get pine monoculture, which is suboptimal. All things being equal, I would prefer to see native forest restored. But any tree which gets rid of a cow is a good tree. And even if they all burn down in a decade or two, that's however many years of avoided agricultural emissions, which is the real benefit - and the real point. The aim of New Zealand climate change policy must be to reverse land use away from agriculture. Any drawdown from the atmosphere is just a bonus.

Monday, September 14, 2020



A bill to criminalise wage theft

Wage theft is a problem in New Zealand, with a widespread practice of forcing employees to work without pay, and regular cases of underpayment and exploitation. One reason why its such a widespread problem is impunity: rather than a crime, wage theft is merely a tort, dealt with by the Employment Tribunal (at the employee's expense) rather than the police - apparently it not being theft if rich people do it. There is an obvious fix for this: make it a crime. Now lawyer Graeme Edgeler has drafted a bill for an easy fix: making the existing crime of "theft by person in special relationship" (or, as police frequently and tellingly call it, "theft as a servant") apply to case of wage theft:

It would be nice if some MP would take this up and put it in the ballot. It would be better if a party did it, and made it official policy. Apparently, there's a party out there which claims to stand for workers. I wonder what they think of it?

More timid bullshit from Labour

Over the weekend, Labour released its welfare policy: an increase in benefit abatement thresholds. And that's it. Faced with clear evidence of ongoing hardship among beneficiaries and a call from its on Welfare Expert Advisory Group to raise core benefits by between 12 percent and 47 percent, Labour's response is to tinker around the edges. Its not bad as such - while tiny and pathetic, this change will improve lives - but its just so much less than what is needed.

There's an obvious comparison here with their pathetic tax policy, and it highlights just how timid Labour - the most popular government for a generation - is. Jack Tame hits the hits the nail on the head when he says that Ardern has always taken the safe option:

What's the bravest thing Labour and the Prime Minister have done during their first term in Government? What was the last truly difficult issue for which you saw Jacinda Ardern make a public stand? As Labour leader and Prime Minister, has she ever backed a big policy where the majority of voters weren't on her side? Maybe gun reform ... maybe? No, I don't think so. The heavy lifting on that was done in the days after a massacre when public support was greater than it might have otherwise been.

The truth is, this is an historically popular PM but at many or most of the difficult political crossroads of the last three years, she and her party have chosen the safe option. The popular option as opposed to what might actually be in the greater interests of our society. Ardern ruled out changes to superannuation for as long as she remains leader, despite previously supporting it. As Prime Minister, she chose not to publicly fight for a Capital Gains Tax. And I know the structure of this Government has meant she had to get New Zealand First over the line in Cabinet. But there's nothing that stops a Prime Minister from using her popularity to really try and sell a difficult policy to the public, if he or she thinks it's the right thing to do.

Or just say "we'll see what the people think at the election".

Ardern's popularity and competence could be leveraged to sell left-wing policy. And given the crisis we are in and the obvious, public failure of NeoLiberalism, it would be largely pushing on an open door. People can see that New Zealand is broken, with rampant inequality, rotting infrastructure, and a housing crisis fucking over a whole generation. And we know that it didn't used to be this way - that we used to tax the rich, fund the health and education systems, and build enough state houses to keep rents under control. We just want what we used to have. But for Labour, that's apparently too much, too "risky" now. But by offering nothing, promising that their policy will be effectively identical to that of the opposition and that a vote won't produce change, they risk de-legitimising our entire political system, as has effectively happened in the UK and the USA.

Labour is probably happy with that. They'll keep collecting their huge salaries and perks regardless. The rest of us shouldn't be. Meanwhile, the message they are sending is clear: if you want change, vote for someone else.

Friday, September 11, 2020



The UK wants climate action

Back in 2019, six select committees of the UK Parliament established a Citizen's Assembly to investigate how to respond to climate change. The Assembly's deliberations were forced online by the pandemic, but it has finally reported back, and overwhelmingly supports strong action:

Taxes that increase as people fly further and more often should be introduced to help cut carbon, the UK’s first citizens’ assembly on climate change has recommended.

The final report from Climate Assembly UK also supports a ban on sales of new gas boilers and new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2030-2035 to help Britain meet its legal goal to cut emissions to “net zero” by mid-century.

The recommendations for tackling climate change from the citizens’ assembly also include voluntary reductions in meat and dairy from diets, and planting and managing forests to help soak up excess carbon emissions.

The question now is whether the UK government will listen, or whether the frequent-flying, SUV-driving establishment will refuse to accept any limits on their pollution.

Meanwhile, it would be good to see such an exercise here, to help inform our carbon budgeting process. Or do we want to be less democratic than Britain?

Underwhelming

Transport is our second biggest polluter after agriculture, making up 17% of our national emissions. Cars and trucks emit 15 million tons of CO2 every year. So, if we're serious about tackling climate change, we need to eliminate this entirely. Public transport and better urban design will be a key part of that, but the best, easiest thing we can do to make a start is to push hard to drive uptake of electric vehicles, forcing dirty fossil-fuelled cars off the road. Which means feebate schemes and a phaseout timeline for fossil-fuelled cars (which means a date for an import ban and a date for a registration ban outside of museums).

The government has already flubbed this, with a business-as-usual energy policy that does nothing new for EVs. So what's National's answer? Sadly, even worse. They're set a target for EV numbers which is barely more than business-as-usual projections (so, not really a target at all then), while their chief policy to drive uptake is to let EVs drive in bus lanes while exempting them from road user charges (that is, from paying for the damage they cause to the roads). Both policies obviously only work if EV numbers remain low - that is, if they are ineffective - while the bus lane proposal actually means slowing down public transport, which actively makes things worse.

This is not the policy of a party which is serious about reducing emissions and tackling climate change. But then, we already knew that about National, didn't we?

Stewardship land is conservation land

The Greens' greatest disappointment while in government this term has been the failure to implement a ban on mining on conservation land. Promised by Jacinda Ardern immediately after gaining power, it had long been assumed that the problem was NZ First (who have a long history of environmental vandalism). But it turns out that the real problem all along was Labour, who are refusing to commit to a ban and playing semantics over "stewardship land" and "conservation land":

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked on Thursday why the Government has continued approving mining on conservation land since 2017, despite promising it wouldn't happen when she took office.

"One of the things we have been working through, and has taken a little bit of time to work through, has been the difference between conservation and stewardship land," Ardern said.

"We have large amounts of land that are technically under stewardship land where these applications often apply and that's been one of the things as a Government we've been trying to resolve."

The problem: stewardship land is conservation land. It's right there in the interpretation clause: "stewardship area means a conservation area..." (that is not subject to specific protections). And while not subject to specific, high-level protections like a reserve or national park, the fact that it is a "conservation area" means it is held for "conservation purposes", meaning "the preservation and protection of natural and historic resources for the purpose of maintaining their intrinsic values, providing for their appreciation and recreational enjoyment by the public, and safeguarding the options of future generations". And just for additional emphasis, there's a specific clause requiring stewardship land to be "managed that its natural and historic resources are protected". A mining ban is absolutely consistent with this. Or, to turn it around, allowing mining on stewardship land is prima facie inconsistent with it, and can only be done where the stewardship land has no natural or historic resources to protect.

What these word games show is that Labour is two-faced on conservation, and won't stick even to its clear commitments. Which isn't really surprising. After all, remember how they handled the offshore gas exploration ban: make a big announcement, then immediately undermine it by extending permits where-ever possible. This is just more of the same. They want the green cred for making the announcement, but don't actually want to follow through with actual meaningful policy (see also: "my generation's nuclear free moment"). And if wondering why the Greens might not want to be in government with them, shit like this is why.

The price of Green co-operation just went up

If they get into Parliament, everyone expects the Greens to form a coalition with Labour. But James Shaw has said that that might not be the case, and that they might instead choose to sit on the cross-benches:

The Greens are prepared to forego a coalition or confidence and supply arrangement and sit on the crossbenches if post-election talks do not go their way.

Co-leader James Shaw made the comments on Thursday, saying the only post-election deal that was off the table completely was one which would give National power.

However, he said if the Greens held the balance of power it was "always a possibility" that it would walk away from negotiations with Labour if they could not get the gains they wanted.

If there was no coalition or confidence and supply agreement, that would force a minority Labour government to seek the Greens' support for legislation on a case-by-case basis. He wouldn't say what the Greens' bottom lines in those talks were, but said a "wealth tax" was a "top priority".

Labour people, who see being government as essential to delivering change (which then somehow never arrives) are boggled by this. But for the Greens, its worth considering. Because unlike Labour, they're in politics to actually change things, and they have a long history of doing so from opposition (just look at all the Green policies Labour and National have been forced to adopt as the Greens have won the argument with the public). And while being in government in theory gives you greater capacity to do that, the past three years have delivered a bitter lesson that its not all its cracked up to be, that being a Minister isn't worth shit if your proposals are consistently vetoed by your "partners", while core coalition commitments are ignored. Compared with that, just sitting there, delivering confidence and supply and support on a narrow range of agreed policies while holding the government to ransom on everything else (and vetoing anything contrary to your values) seems kindof attractive. After all, it worked for Winston in Cabinet; the Greens would simply be being honest about the relationship.

Of course, its not up to Shaw: decisions on support arrangements are ultimately in the hands of the Green membership. Who have no interest in who gets a Ministerial salary or free limo rides, and who Labour has just taught to be highly sceptical of the benefits of being in government. So, if Labour wants to persuade them that This Time Will Be Different, that they really are a trustworthy partner, they are going to have to be very persuasive indeed, and commit to actual change. Because if all they want to do is more status quo bullshit, they can do that without a Green fig-leaf, and take the blame themselves.

(And of course the entire discussion could be academic, in that the Greens might not make it back into Parliament. In which case them's the breaks. I'm confident the movement will survive a term out, and would just switch to an activist / protest track to pursue change instead).

Thursday, September 10, 2020



Labour on energy: Business as usual

Labour has released its energy policy, and its basicly business as usual: bring forward the 100% renewable target to 2030, build pumped storage if the business case stacks up, restore the thermal ban and clean car standard (but not the feebate scheme), and spread a bit of money around to help push industrial electrification. Which is all stuff they're doing now - or in the case of the clean car standard, wanted to do but were thwarted by Winston. Its not bad as such - Labour has been on a pretty good trajectory on energy policy - but at the same time its just business as usual, which doesn't seem nearly enough. The world is literally burning down around us, and our government needs to show some fucking urgency.

So what's missing? Just look at the Green policy to see the gaps. Labour isn't interested in pushing mass solarisation (which is a no-brainer at current prices, and would help lower power prices for everyone), they won't set a deadline to phase out coal and gas industrial heat, and while they are saying smurfy, positive things about electric vehicles, they're not doing anything to actually drive uptake. Sure, they're not being actively harmful, they're not pushing coal or promising to burn dolphins for fuel or anything. But in the current circumstances, anything less than maximum effort is a betrayal of the future. This policy is not good enough. Labour needs to do better.

Climate Change: Overshoot

California is burning down again. In Oregon, the city of Medford - a town the size of Palmerston North - has had to be evacuated due to the fires. In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Rene has become the earliest "R"-storm to form since records began, beating the previous record by 10 days. The Thwaites Glacier is melting from below. If this sounds bad, its because it is: we look to be on track to exceed the 1.5 degree safe limit as early as 2024:

The Paris climate agreement seeks to limit global warming to 1.5℃ this century. A new report by the World Meteorological Organisation warns this limit may be exceeded by 2024 – and the risk is growing.

This first overshoot beyond 1.5℃ would be temporary, likely aided by a major climate anomaly such as an El Niño weather pattern. However, it casts new doubt on whether Earth’s climate can be permanently stabilised at 1.5℃ warming.

Despite the promises made in Paris, we've kept polluting, pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere, driving temperatures higher and higher. We are already beginning to pay the price for that, in fire, flood, storms, and death. And that price is going to get higher the longer we can continue.

We can still stop this. It requires sustained global action to cut emissions and decarbonise our economies. We have the technology to do this. What we need is the policies to make us use that technology. We have an election next month, and that is our chance to make that happen. Or would you rather wait around to burn and drown and die of heatstroke?

Says it all

What's wrong with Labour? The end of yesterday's RNZ health debate says it all:

Do you have private health insurance?

Reti: "I do."

Hipkins: "Yes, I do."

Hipkins is Minister of Health. But it turns out that he won't be waiting in the queue with the rest of us plebs if he gets sick. He is literally not in the same boat as the rest of us (something we already knew from his nearly three hundred thousand dollar a year Ministerial salary). He clearly has no faith in the system he administers. So why should we have faith in him, or trust him to make that system work, when he refuses to risk suffering for its failures?

And while we're at it, Hipkins is also Minister of Education. Does he send his kids to private schools too?

Wednesday, September 09, 2020



If not now, when?

I'm grappling with my sheer fucking anger over Labour's pathetic tax policy. Yes, it utterly contradicts their pretence of being a "centre-left" party and shows that they have no interest whatsoever in fixing any of the problems facing New Zealand. Yes, its self-inflicted helplessness, which will allow them to cry "we have no money" for another three years in response to every call to fix our rotting schools and hospitals. But more than that, its the sheer wasted opportunity.

The government keeps telling us we are living in an unprecedented, once-in-a-hundred-years crisis. It has compared that crisis to a world war, and they're not wrong in that. And like the world wars, it is borrowing tens of billions of dollars to pay for it, in this case by keeping us all afloat and housed and fed. In the past, these sorts of crises has led to the conscription of wealth: the First World War saw the top income tax rate rise from 6.67% (income taxes not really being a thing then) to 43.75%, while the second saw it increase to 90%. And these increases were widely supported because people recognised the crisis, understood the need to pay for it, and knew we were all in it together.

In his speech announcing the policy, Grant Robertson said it was about all of us "pitching in". Except we're not. Backbench MPs, some of the highest earners in the country, will not pay a cent more in tax. So, in this unprecedented, once-in-a-hundred-years crisis, we clearly are not all in it together. The poor will continue to pay taxes on every dollar we earn, just as we always have. But most of the rich won't be expected to contribute anything extra, and they certainly won't be expected to pay anything on their untaxed wealth, land, or capital gains. And its telling that backbench MPs, some of the highest earners in the country, won't pay a cent more under Labour's policy. Because perish the thought that the political elite contribute in any way to the country.

Like climate change, its a massive disjoint between rhetoric and policy. But its also a huge wasted opportunity. The public understands we are in a crisis, we know it comes with huge costs, and we understand the need for shared sacrifice. Which means this is also an unprecedented opportunity to reshape New Zealand, to start undoing the damage done by 30 years of NeoLiberalism, to put us on a sounder, more equal footing. Labour is wasting this opportunity, claiming that the time isn't right for change. But if not now, when?

Is that it?

Labour announced its tax policy today: a new top tax rate of 39% on income over $180,000. And that's it. No intermediate rate between the current top rate of 33% at $70,000 and the new one. No land tax. No wealth tax. Nothing (in fact worse than nothing, because they are explicitly ruling out anything else, while proposing tax levels lower than those proposed by Don Brash). A perfect moment to use the current crisis to tackle inequality and rebalance New Zealand society, wasted.

But then, that's the modern Labour Party, isn't it? A bunch of rich pricks all paid at least $160,000 a year, sitting on investment properties and hidden wealth in trusts, pretending to care about people poorer than them in a cynical effort to gain power. But when you look at what they actually do, as opposed to what they merely say, it turns out that what they're about is protecting and profiting from the unjust status quo.

If you want a fairer New Zealand, you need to vote for people who actually support one. And based on current policy, the only party who fits that criteria is the Greens. As for Labour, they are the problem, not the solution - a complete waste of political space. Don't vote for them.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020



Climate Change: Reviewing overallocation

Back in February, Stuff revealed that the government was planning to review industrial allocations under the Emissions Trading Scheme, due to concerns it was over-subsidising pollution and causing windfall gains for polluters. Now, it looks like that work is finally going ahead. Late last month, the government issued calls for the provision of data for four subsidised industries: cement, cardboard, lime, and cucumbers. Basicly, every major producer in these industries will be required to tell the government how much money it made and how much it polluted for the 2016-19 period. The results will be used to calculate new, and hopefully lower, allocation factors under the ETS, or to reclassify these industries from high to moderately trade-exposed, or to remove their subsidies entirely. Though it doesn't affect a lot of firms - according to the latest ETS allocations, there's only one producer of cardboard, one of cement, two of lime, and about ten for cucumbers receiving subsidies.

(Reading the briefing note on this, Shaw had originally proposed looking at iron and steelmaking, which means sticking it to BlueScope. For some reason, he changed his mind and decided to look at "protein meal" producers (freezing works), before going for lime instead. Sadly, no reason is given for the change).

There's also a briefing on the review itself, which suggests there will be a full review of industrial allocation (good), starting with a review of the Electricity Allocation Factor, which massively overestimated the amount of carbon in our electricity. Unfortunately, there's no indication of when this will start.

Meanwhile, two of the major polluters highlighted in the original news report - Refining NZ and BlueScope Steel - look like they're going to be shutting down or moving to ticket-clipping import operations, which is good news from an emissions POV. And insofar as it causes emissions leakage - unlikely in the case of BlueScope as their facility is one of the dirtiest steelmakers in the world - we can always load the extra carbon cost onto their imports and make them pay that way. In fact, I'm surprised we don't do that already for imported refined petroleum, in order to ensure a level playing-field.

Parliament's dereliction of duty on human rights

Last month, I submitted on the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill, arguing that while it was a step forward, Parliament had been a poor guardian of our human rights and that the bill needed to be stronger. Today, we have another example, in the Attorney-General's report of serious human rights problems with the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill, which violates the rights not to be subject to unreasonable search and seizure; not to be arbitrarily detained; and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The problems are fixable, and the select committee will almost certainly (mostly) fix them as a result of this report. So isn't this the system working as designed? No. Because the bill passed its first reading on 6 August, while the Attorney-General didn't report on it until 2 September - meaning that MPs voting on the first reading were deprived of crucial information on the bill they were voting on. Which is not how the BORA is meant to work.

But this wasn't just a fuckup: it was also illegal, because s7 of the BORA requires the Attorney-General to report on apparent inconsistencies when a Bill is introduced (in this case, on 30 July), not a month later after it has already passed its first reading. And this being a government bill, there was really no excuse for the failure. We can speculate about the reasons - internal dysfunction, a cynical abuse of power (an inviting interpretation given that Parker delivered a negative BORA vet against a member's bill on the same grounds just two years ago), but ultimately its irrelevant. What matters is that once again, the "safeguards" built into the BORA to ensure that the House takes our human rights seriously have been pissed on, and once again Parliament has shown itself to be derelict in its duty to protect our human rights. And the only credible response to their consistent refusal to do their job properly is to take it off them and give it to someone who will: the courts.

Finally, in the past Ministers have typically responded to negative BORA vets with a contemptuous response, effectively saying that they don't care. Sadly, it seems that the Greens' Julie Anne Genter has joined this vicious little club:

Genter said last year more than 100 people died in crashes where the driver was later found to have drugs in their system.

She said she was comfortable with the legislation cutting across the Bill of Rights if it saves lives.

Literally the first part of the Greens' human rights policy, in bold Green H3 lettering right at the top of the page, is "Legislation should always uphold human rights". Followed by "The Bill of Rights Act should bind the government". But I guess Genter cares about that as much as James Shaw cares about their Education policy calling for the defunding of private schools. Again, we expect better from the Greens. Genter is not Crusher Collins. So take off that Ministerial hat, and be better.

Correction: The second part of this post relied on Julie Anne Genter's words as reported by RNZ. I have been informed that Genter was misrepresented, and RNZ has now updated its story. She is now quoted as saying:

Genter said last year more than 100 people died in crashes where the driver was later found to have drugs in their system.

"Ultimately both random drug driving testing and the existing breath testing regime will push up against some of the rights under the Bill of Rights because we are asking a large number of innocent drivers to go through a mandatory test.

"Our ultimate goal is to balance those rights with people's rights to be safe on the road and protected from people who choose to drive while impaired."

Which seems like a much more appropriate view, and one which is consistent with Green Party policy. I apologise for comparing her to Judith Collins.

Monday, September 07, 2020



Recognising who we are now

Labour have pledged to make Matariki a public holiday if re-elected. Good. As I said last year when New Zealand Republic launched their petition campaign on the topic, Matariki is a day indigenous to New Zealand, and making it a holiday would recognise who are now: our own place, not a British colony. So this is a policy I wholeheartedly support.

At the same time, though, its not exactly a policy which targets the big issues facing us, is it? I want to know what Labour plans to do about climate change, inequality, housing, and water. And if their answer is just the status quo with an extra public holiday, then I'm just not interested.

National is on the side of landlords

Last year, the government finally established the healthy home standards required by the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act. Landlords would be required to provide homes actually fit for a dog to live in, with heating, insulation, and airflow. And now, National is promising to tear them up:

Landlords should wait to see if National wins October's election before spending money refitting their rentals up to new heating standards, a lobby group for property owners says.

The comments by the NZ Property Investors Federation have been labelled "deeply disappointing" by the Labour Party and questioned by the Real Estate Institute and the NZ Green Building Council.

The advice comes after National under new leader Judith Collins confirmed to the Herald it would tear up new Healthy Homes standards recently brought in by the Labour-led Government.

Instead, National says it will give tenants a "choice" to live in an unhealthy home. Which is basicly the "choice" they have now, the "choice" which literally kills children and hospitalises 30,000 people a year. But hey, its only poor kids dying, so why does National care? Especially when their landlord friends are making so much money by renting them uninhabitable ratholes?

Good landlords don't oppose these regulations. The ones who do are sociopathic monsters and stochastic murderers who wish to profit from killing. And National has made it clear they are firmly on the side of the latter. They're morally monsters, who deserve nothing but contempt. Don't vote for them.

Climate Change: Not walking the talk

The government talks a big game on climate change. According to Jacinda Ardern, it is "my generation's nuclear-free moment", which implies they will take strong action. But when actually in power, this government has been a failure, backing away from strong action in favour of the same old policies of delay and pandering to polluters. And its not just the big stuff: the "my generatiton's nuclear-free moment" government can't even be bothered to measure how much it is emitting:

Stuff asked nearly 50 central Government agencies to supply information relating to their annual greenhouse gas footprint.

Only eight were able to give complete, up-to-date data.

Stuff also asked the agencies if they had offsetting policies for staff and contractors, and whether the agency had, or was in the process of developing, an emissions reduction plan. The vast majority of agencies said no to both.

As they say, "you can't manage what you don't measure". The government's refusal to effectively measure its emissions makes it more difficult to reduce them, makes it more difficult to act. It also prevents them from offsetting them, which I guess to the bean-counters in Treasury is a way of saving money. But it also means there's no financial pressure to avoid or reduce polluting activities. So they've just shuffled the whole thing under the carpet.

And it didn't have to be this way. Back in 2007 the Clark government introduced the idea of the "Carbon Neutral Public Service" - getting the public service to report and reduce its emissions. Environmental vandals National axed it the moment they took power, of course - but weirdly this basic, obvious measure wasn't reinstated by Labour in 2017 (and if the Greens pushed them on it and failed, they haven't spoken up about it). Which shows how little the Ardern government really cares about the key issue of our times. Oh, they'll talk a big game when trying to convince people to vote for them, but in reality its just the same old business-as-usual - they're happy for us to all burn and drown provided Fonterra keeps making money for a few more years. We - and the planet - deserve better than that.

Friday, September 04, 2020



More bullshit half-measures

After dragging its feet for three years, the government has finally announced a plan to put cameras on fishing boats. Unfortunately, its a little underwhelming:

Minister of Fisheries Stuart Nash has announced a large cash investment from the Government to roll out cameras on commercial fishing vessels.

Nash made the announcement on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning, saying between $40 million and $60 million will used to pay for the cameras. The funding will be rolled out by the end of 2021.

[...]

Nash said by the end of 2024 there will be 345 cameras installed - about 84 per cent of the inshore fleet.

According to Greenpeace, there are ~1500 registered fishing boats. So we're actually looking at cameras on 20% of the fleet, a mere 11 years after trials began. And when you consider the pervasive criminality of the fishing industry - how widespread high-grading, under-reporting, and dumping is, it just looks like more bullshit half measures, a PR solution designed to look like the government is doing something, rather than real action. But then, that's what you get from Labour on everything.

What would real regulation look like? Cameras and observers on every boat to stop fishers from cheating. Cuts to quota to ensure fisheries are truly sustainable. And actual prosecutions, with jail time and boat seizures and post-conviction profit forfeiture, to drive those who will not obey the law out of the industry permanently. Because "business as usual" for fishers is actually a serious crime, and the government should treat it as such.

Thursday, September 03, 2020



There's a name for this...

The Labour Party is rorting its Parliamentary expenses to steal from the public again:

The Labour Party’s Hutt South wing has been running an apparently unusual subletting “arrangement” in which it gets cheap rent on office space off a local union, sublets the rooms to its local list MP Ginny Andersen, and then bills parliament at mark up, pocketing the difference.

Rent for MPs’ offices are paid in bulk by Parliamentary Service. Accounts seen by Stuff for the Labour Party’s Hutt South wing, home to Andersen, show a sublease arrangement where Parliament pays the local Labour Party significantly more in rent than the Labour Party actually pays the original landlord, the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union (NZPFU).

Accounts seen by Stuff appear to show $6000 of public money going into a Labour Party account for “rent” in 2019, but with only a quarter of that money, $1500 a year, actually going to the building’s owner.

Of course, this is "within the rules", because self-serving politicians wrote them. But any normal person can recognise this for what it is: theft. If Labour is being charged only $1500 a year in rent by its landlord, that is all it should receive from Parliament. Claiming anything more is simply fraudulent. And if the rules allow that, then so much the worse for the rules.

When you are in a hole, stop digging

Just when it looked like James Shaw had apologised for his private school funding scandal and might be able to move on, the Greens have leaked footage from their crisis meeting in an effort to throw some of the blame back on Labour:

A leaked video of last week's Green Party crisis call shows James Shaw claimed the controversial Green School funding was given "verbal sign-off" by Minister of Education Chris Hipkins.

The comments contradict Hipkins who's repeatedly stated he did not back the proposal.

RNZ has been sent footage of the Friday night Zoom meeting in which Shaw sought to assuage party members who were furious at his advocacy for a nearly $12 million funding package for the private Green School in Taranaki.

In the video clip, Shaw tells members that Hipkins "wasn't intimately involved in the decision" but gave it tacit approval in a conversation.

"He did, sort of, give at least a verbal sign-off to the project," Shaw said.

I understand Shaw providing the context of his fuckup to his members, and I understand some people in the Greens being angry at Hipkins for so publicly throwing Shaw under a bus when the news first emerged. What I don't understand is anyone thinking that this excuses Shaw's poor judgement in any way, or somehow takes the blame off him. Sure, Hipkins did his best to screw the Greens: that's his job, he's the enemy! (and any Green supporter who doesn't understand that Labour is an enemy has not been paying attention). But it wasn't Hipkins who was bound by a party policy of opposition to private schools, for example. And it wasn't Hipkins who was digging in his heels on something contrary to party policy, while surrendering utterly on core policy issues.

By shopping this around to the media, the Greens have just kept Shaw's mistake in the public eye, while undermining the sincerity of his apology to his voters. It makes them look dirty and insincere as well as being sellouts. And as a party which trades on its reputation for integrity and doing politics differently, they really can't afford that at the moment.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020



This is how you do green stimulus

While James Shaw is wasting public money on private schools in the name of "creating jobs", the Australia state of Victoria is showing us how it should be done:

Clean energy projects will receive a Victorian government funding boost in the hope of driving the state's battered economy out of the coronavirus downturn and avoiding a slump in wind and solar investment.

Victorian Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio is preparing to brief 300 investors on Wednesday about the launch of a formal process to test interest in building 600 megawatts of renewable energy capacity statewide, which she said would drive down prices and create new jobs at a critical time.

It comes amid calls around the world for "green recoveries" – economic rescue packages targeting investments in clean energy that would tackle global warming as well as stimulate growth. Under the Victorian program, the government would award contracts to buy power from project developers at a fixed price, giving them the revenue certainty to secure debt and proceed with projects in a volatile market.

This isn't just creating jobs - its building something of lasting benefit which makes life better for everyone (rather than a handful of foreign rich kids). We should be doing the same. And that's the case even with the departure of Tiwai Point - because electrification of transport and industry means we're going to need more electricity in the long term, and the quicker we can drive dirty thermal generation out of the market, the better.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020



If only he had fought this hard for actual Green policy

James Shaw's private school funding scandal just keeps getting worse and worse. Today we learned that the school was unregistered, and that Shaw had been personally lobbied by the owners (making the whole thing look like dodgy pork). And his strong advocacy involved refusing to sign off on the $3 billion infrastructure package unless it was included:

Newshub has obtained an email that went to Government ministers and the Treasury from Shaw's office and it included a stark ultimatum.

"Minister Shaw won't sign this briefing until the Green School in Taranaki is incorporated."

The email said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister.

"Minister Shaw has also discussed this one with Minister Hipkins.

"Sorry to be the spanner-in-the-works, but if we can get the project included, he'll sign everything this afternoon," the email said.

I understand strong advocacy for projects you believe in. I understand ignoring Treasury advice - they're operating in a backward paradigm and incapable of recognising the benefits sometimes. And if Shaw had advocated this hard for wind farms, or solar panels, or hydrogen cracking, or improved EV infrastructure, or trialling clean ways of making steel, I'd be applauding, because that is what he is meant to do. But picking a private school for the kids of foreign millionaires as the cause you want to die in a ditch for seems like a weird choice. And I just wish he'd fought this hard for actual Green policy, like a tougher Zero Carbon Act, or including agriculture in the ETS, or a capital gains tax, rather than a fucking subsidy to the rich which does absolutely nothing for the environment while actively undermining social justice. But I guess that's what happens when the party's leadership goes to managers rather than activists.

This is why we need a wealth tax

The Household Economic Survey shows that wealth inequality is out of control:

The extent of wealth inequality in supposedly egalitarian New Zealand has been laid bare by figures showing the wealthiest individuals have over NZ$140bn (US$93bn) stashed away in trusts – and overall have nearly 70 times more assets than the typical Kiwi.

The new data, drawn from the 2017-18 Household Economic Survey, are likely to underestimate true inequality, as the ultra-wealthy are generally reluctant to take part in such surveys.

The data show that New Zealand’s wealthiest 1% of adults – around 38,000 people – have $141bn in trusts. Another 150,000 or so people, rounding out the rest of the wealthiest 5%, have trusts worth a further $122bn.

[...]

Overall, the wealthiest 10% have 59% of all the country’s assets, and the middle classes around 39%. That leaves the poorest half of the country with just 2%.

This is simply not the sort of country we want to be. And its not just undesirable, but also dangerous, given how wealth is leveraged into political power, which is in turn leveraged to protect wealth. As for how to fix it, the answer is wealth taxes to prevent excessive accumulation of wealth, and inheritance taxes to prevent the wealthy from passing on too much (obviously with trust-busting and beneficial ownership provisions to prevent the wealthy from hiding their assets). And it seems easy enough to set the thresholds so it doesn't impact the middle class - basicly, people who own their own homes and not much else - at all.

We've done this before, in the 1890's, when we used a land tax to strangle New Zealand's incipient rural aristocracy and preserve us as a middle-class country without such parasites. We can - and should - do it again.

Monday, August 31, 2020



Climate Change: This government is a failure

Remember when Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear free moment"? Writing in The Spinoff, Greenpeace's Gen Toop reveals the dirty truth: that her government has failed to do anything about our largest climate polluter, the dairy industry:

After three years in power, Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw have both failed to bring in a single regulation to tackle the monstrous amount of climate pollution from industrial dairying. Despite all that climate rhetoric from this government, they have been scarcely different to previous governments when it comes to dealing with the giant cow in the room.

[...]

The only thing we’ve got is an unenforceable and weak agricultural emissions target in the Zero Carbon Act. But no plan for how to reach that target and no penalties for failing to do so.

We also got a somewhat surreal moment when the co-leader of the Green Party proudly announced that under his ministership the agriculture industry would continue to be fully excluded from the nation’s Emissions Trading Scheme for another two to five years.

That means that there are no rules and no price signals that would encourage the agricultural industry to reduce climate pollution.

And so their emissions continue to increase. Meanwhile, the rest of us are expected to decrease ours. Its not just terrible climate policy - its terribly unequal as well, protecting the (pollution-backed) wealth of ten thousand farming families at the expense of five million New Zealanders.

This isn't acceptable. The rest of us pay for every atom of carbon we emit. Agriculture must do the same. And if this means marginal farms go out of business and stop polluting, that's a success, not a failure.

If police think this is lawful and ethical, why did they try to hide it?

RNZ has a major scoop this morning: the New Zealand Police are trying to set up a live facial recognition system:

Police have been quietly setting up a $9 million facial recognition system that can take a live feed from CCTV cameras and identify people from it.

This would push New Zealand into new territory for tracking citizens.

It will be run by a non-police contractor - US firm Dataworks Plus - and collect 15,000 facial images a year, with that expected to expand up to 10-fold.

[...]

Both said they did not tell the public as these are mere upgrades, and neither did a Privacy Impact Assessment - though Internal Affairs told the Privacy Commissioner about NeoFace, while the police did not.

That last bit is a giant red flag. The Privacy Commisisoner has said explicitly that any use of facial recognition needs a high level of scrutiny, which for a government agency, effectively means their approval. Police deliberately avoided doing that. From the article, they also explicitly lied in earlier OIA responses, saying that the system was only about analysing static images in their database, while redacting information showing that it was intended to work with live video feeds. Why did they do this? The natural conclusion is that despite all their claims to be lawful and ethical, they know that this project is not. So instead they spent $9 million of public money on it, in secret, while lying to us about what they were doing. And that shows us that we have an unethical agency, completely out of control, which has complete contempt for the people it is supposed to serve.

Unmentioned in the article: this sort of use of facial recognition has recently been ruled unlawful in the UK, precisely because the police force using it ignored their privacy obligations and their obligations to not discriminate on the basis of race. And on this point, the New Zealand Police appear to be making exactly the same mistake:

The tender that Dataworks won for police here, does not mention "Māori" or "public" or "privacy" - in relation to specific safeguards on the public's privacy - a single time in scores of pages.
Which I guess is the usual level of care the police show for their legal obligations. As far as they're concerned, laws apply to other people, not to them.

Unsurprising

In utterly unsurprising news, research has shown that if you give one group of people twice as much money as another, they're better off:

People on the 12-week Covid income relief payment are faring better than those on the benefit, new survey data shows.

The University of Auckland, Child Poverty Action Group, Auckland Action Against Poverty and FIRST Union are collaborating on the survey to compare the experiences of people receiving different types of income support.

The Covid income relief payment provides $490 a week for people who have lost full-time work because of the pandemic, whereas some people on the jobseeker benefit get just $250.

It also seems that the government's miserly $25 a week increase to core benefits has had little effect, because it is so utterly inadequate to meet the problem (the problem being that benefit levels were set by taking a starvation level budget, cutting it by 25%, then letting it be eroded by inflation for 30 years). The clear conclusion is that benefit levels need to increase massively - as recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group. But will Labour MPs on $180,000 a year pay attention to this evidence when they have already ignored so much? Or is "kindness" something they want to talk about, but never actually practice?

Thursday, August 27, 2020



The Greens are supposed to be better than this

The Greens have ignored their own policies to funnel public money to a private school in Taranaki:

The Green Party has been caught bending its own party policy after a private school in Taranaki was given $11.7 million to fund an expansion programme.

The money comes from the Government’s $3 billion shovel-ready projects fund, and was announced in a press release from Greens co-leader James Shaw who said the grant to Green School New Zealand would help the school expand its roll from 120 students to 250, creating 200 jobs.

“Securing over 200 jobs will help direct more money into the parts of the economy where most people earn their livelihood. These are the parts of the economy that are sustained when public investment is directed at getting people into work and earning money that they then spend in their local communities,” Shaw said.

“The support we are providing will help Green School to meet growing demand from parents all over New Zealand, and the rest of the world, wanting to enrol their children. This will mean more families can take the opportunity to put down roots in Taranaki and contribute to the future growth of the region,” he said.

The Greens' education policy says that "Public funding for private schools should be phased out and transferred to public schools." This is a private school, providing exclusive education for the rich. Having "green" in the name and an ecological focus doesn't change that. This school should not be funded. Instead, the money should be used where it can do the most good: on public education. There are schools in Taranaki which are overcrowded, leaking and rotting, and they need this money far more than new-build, fancy education pods at a private school whose international market has basicly just disappeared completely.

Meanwhile, its I guess another example of how being in government has changed the Greens, how power has corrupted them. And that's not something we should welcome.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020



If you want clean water, don't vote National

This term, Labour has attempted to clean up our kales and rivers. Of course, they chickenshitted it, setting a fertiliser limit which is far too high, and delaying setting bottom lines for nitrogen and phosphorus for another year (and today, backing down on regulating winter grazing). But even that is too much for National:

National leader Judith Collins has told voters the Government’s freshwater regulations would be “gone by lunchtime” if she is elected in September.

She made the commitment not in a press release to announcement but in a live Q+A session on her Facebook page, in which she also accused the Government of “destroying the country”.

The message is clear: National is happy for our lakes and rivers to be sewers, and for farmers to poison Canterbury. So if you want clean rivers and safe, drinkable water, don't vote for National.