Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A hole in the OIA

Back in 2016, the then-National government did a dodgy deal in which NZ Post - a state-owned enterprise - sold 45% of Kiwibank to the Superannuation fund and ACC, both crown entities. The effect of the deal was to "allow the state-owned enterprise to repay debt [and] pay a special dividend to the government" - effectively plundering the savings of those crown entities for some quick cash. But it had another effect as well: to remove Kiwbank from the coverage of the Official Information Act.

Previously, Kiwibank had been covered by the OIA as a related company of a state enterprise. But the definition of this in s2(1A) of the Act is very specific: to be included, a company must be wholly controlled by one or more state-owned enterprises. If there is any ownership by non-SOEs, then it is no longer covered, even if the other owners are also government entities or wholly government-owned.

This shouldn't be the case. Where local government is concerned, we apply a strict principle: (local) government control means transparency. With a few exceptions, if something is majority controlled by one or more local governments, it is a "council-controlled organisation", and CCOs are subject to the LGOIMA. But for some reason we don't apply this scheme to companies with an identical ownership structure, but a central rather than local government owner. That needs to change. Kiwibank is government-controlled, and so should be subject to the OIA. And so should every other government-controlled company or organisation.

Monday, December 21, 2020

More racism from police

A decade ago, the police were abusing their power to coerce DNA samples from young Māori. Today, they're abusing their power to coerce photographs:

Police in Wairarapa have admitted to illegally taking photos of youths after RNZ alerted them to multiple reports of officers stopping and photographing young Māori on the street.

Whānau describe their sons walking alone in broad daylight, when police have approached and insisted they take their picture.

Its the usual story: people minding their own business being "asked" for a photograph by uniformed cops, with an explicit threat that if they didn't agrees they'd be arrested. In such circumstances, police claims that these photographs are given by consent are meaningless, especially as they are targeting young people who legally cannot consent to being questioned without a parent, caregiver, lawyer, or other adult present. As for the police's "justification" the law they cite - s214 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, which sets out the strong presumption against arresting children and young people - seems to be of dubious applicability. Instead, it just looks like outright racism: treating all young Māori as criminal suspects, regardless of whether there is any evidence or not. And that is simply not something we should tolerate from the police.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Tax cuts for the rich don't work

For the past fifty years, right-wing parties, backed by NeoLiberal think-tanks, have aggressively pushed for tax cuts for the rich. The supposed justification for this is that they will encourage the righ to work harder, leading to economic growth and higher employment. They were wrong. A new study shows what we knew all along: there are no benefits to these tax cuts. All they do is redistribute wealth upwards and drive up inequality, making our societies worse off:

Major reforms reducing taxes on the rich lead to higher income inequality but do not have any significant effect on economic growth or unemployment, according to new research by LSE and King’s College London.


The paper, published by LSE’s International Inequalities Institute, uses data from 18 OECD countries, including the UK and the US, over the last five decades. The Economic Consequences of Major Tax Cuts for the Rich, by David Hope and Julian Limberg, shows that the last 50 years were a period of falling taxes on the rich in the advanced economies. Major tax cuts were spread across countries and throughout the observation period but were particularly clustered in the late 1980s.

It states: “Our results show that…major tax cuts for the rich increase the top 1% share of pre-tax national income in the years following the reform. The magnitude of the effect is sizeable; on average, each major reform leads to a rise in top 1% share of pre-tax national income of 0.8 percentage points. The results also show that economic performance, as measured by real GDP per capita and the unemployment rate, is not significantly affected by major tax cuts for the rich. The estimated effects for these variables are statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

The New Zealand Finance Ministers who pursued such cuts - Roger Douglas and Bill English among them - should hang their heads in shame. They made us a worse society. The only people they benefited were their rich donors and cronies. But then, that was always, the point, wasn't it? The supporters of tax cuts were never arguing in good faith. They were only ever seeking a public excuse for selfishness, while the billionaires who fund them laughed all the way to the bank.

Billionaires aren't essential

RNZ reported yesterday that several of the billionaire backers of Moneyboat have been unable to enter Aotearoa to watch their lawyers fight, because they haven't been able to get a quarantine slot. Boo hoo. Those slots rightly belong to returning kiwis, and so I'm not sad at all to see foreign billionaires being made to wait their turn. But what really stinks is that they were allowed to apply at all. That's because their Moneyboat teams said they were "essential workers", which is pure bullshit. Billionaires aren't essential in any way. Like tapeworms, they're purely parasitic. They're contributing no useful skills to their teams, or to Aotearoa. They're simply coming here as tourists. In normal times, that's fine. But now, they're taking spaces which rightly belong to kiwis. They should be told to fuck off, and if they want to take their stupid boats with them so we don't have to subsidise them any more, so much the better.

Good riddance

OMV is quitting the Great South Basin and surrendering its permit:

Austrian oil giant OMV, which had a permit to explore the Great South Basin for oil and gas but failed to find anything when it dropped test wells earlier this year, this week announced it would no longer search for gas and oil in the area.


BusinessDesk reported OMV and its partners, Beach Energy and Mitsui & Co, had surrendered two major offshore permits, including its permit in the 16,715sqkm Great South Basin.

It meant New Zealand would be left with about 36,000sqkm of exploration areas, about a third of the size it was before the Government declared an end to offshore exploration permits in April 2018.

While the ODT version of the story is vague, according to BusinessDesk the other permit being surrendered is off the coast of Wairarapa. Combined with the news that Beach Energy had cancelled drilling in the Canterbury Basin - meaning it cannot meet its permit terms before expiry - this means that all the big East Coast permits will be gone. The only surviving ones will be Clipper (52717) and Toroa (55794), both operated by NZOG. Both have "drill or drop" provisions requiring a commitment to drill a well to be made by April 2022 (and a well to be drilled by 2023), so if we're lucky, they'll both be gone soon.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A good first step

The government has finally accepted the inevitable and purchased Ihumātao from Fletcher Building, apparently with the aim of eventual return to iwi. Good. It shouldn't have taken them this long, but I guess that's what happens when you have Winston Peters in your government. Now he's gone, there can be progress. As for how much progress, the people whose views actually matter here are the Kaitiaki, the people actually occupying the land. They're cautiously welcoming the deal, but pointedly not mentioning the government's plan to put housing on the site, so it could all still fall apart. Still, its a good first step, and shows the government is at least trying to find a solution, rather than sticking its fingers in its ears and pretending that there is no problem...

...except on the Treaty, of course. The government is saying the purchase and return is part of a "non-Treaty process", and the agreement includes a clause saying that it isn't a Treaty settlement. Which is exactly as meaningful as its clauses saying that Treaty settlements are "full and final": not at all. Yes, the government wants to pretend its not setting a precedent, and not upset its long-running scam of offering Māori a tiny fraction of what was stolen from them and relying on exhaustion and goodwill to make it stick. But we all know they are, and that the door is open for those settlements to be revisited. And we should welcome that. Because no person with a shred of conscience could consider what has been provided anything like just compensation for what was stolen - and until just compensation is paid, the wrong remains.

Delivering last term's promises

The government will raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour from 1 April. Good. Not only will this help people on the bottom by giving them an immediate pay rise - it will also help ratchet up wages for everyone else as well. But let's not forget that this is last term's promise, agreed in their coalition agreement with New Zealand First - so Labour is simply doing what it said it would in 2017. As for this term, they've promised further increases, but nothing specific. That's probably something we can trust them on, but the lack of any specific target means that there's no accountability for whether they're meeting even their own expectations - or for whether those expectations are, as in other sectors, too low.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

BIM day

The government has proactively released its Briefings to Incoming Ministers (BIMs), so like every other politics geek in Aotearoa, I've spent the morning skimming them. And there's some interesting stuff buried in there. For example:

  • Despite Andrew Little's pre-election "promise" to rewrite the Official Information Act, this isn't part of Ministry of Justice's agenda, with only a brief mention that a review could be considered (MoJ BIM, p 9). There's a commitment to consider a review in the government's OGP national action plan, but I guess they've just decided not to bother.
  • The main climate change BIM doesn't include any actual detail, as that will be in a sector-specific briefing (which can be OIA'd, and should eventually show up here). But there's one from MFAT which highlights the government's desire to "meet" our Paris targets by using foreign "credits" rather than actual emissions reductions, and thinks somehow that Aotearoa can be a "champion" for the UK's initiatives at COP26 next year, as if we have any credibility on this issue (we don't). There's also an A3 from MBIE which reminds us that despite all the government's talk of action in February and May, we're not actually getting budgets and a reduction plan until late next year.
  • Meanwhile, the Transport BIM has bad news: they've been too optimistic in their projections of road transport emissions, which they now expect to keep climbing after 2024. They are also stressing the urgency of action to get policies and reduction sin place in time for the 2030 Paris target, and pushing an ambitious Clean Car Standard and feebates as a first step (EECA is pushing a similar line). There's also a section on cycling and micro-mobility which they say has "latent demand" and a huge amount of potential to reduce traffic and emissions. But apparently local bodies aren't taking up available funding at the moment.
  • The Forestry BIM meanwhile talks up the potential of trees to soak up carbon, and think that expected afforestation will be able to soak up 26% - 51% of projected 2050 emissions. But that's based on ludicrously low carbon prices ($60 in 2050? It's $38 ATM, and will hit $50 early next year after the cap rises. Which incidentally means we're likely to blow our carbon budget before it is legally even set, as the cost-containment reserve activates to ensure the market doesn't work properly). There's also a report on the billion trees program: 258 million trees have been planted, suggesting we're capable of meeting the target. Except that the money runs out in June, and who knows if the new Minister will want to continue Shane Jones' pet project? (its also a dodgy target, and most of it is BAU. I'd like to see a target which is additional, not normal activity).
And that's just the immediate stuff I've noticed in areas I'm highly interested in. And now I need to work out what to OIA to fill in the gaps...

Monday, December 14, 2020


Nelson has been Keeping Rates Low, and now the bill has come due:

Underfunding of running costs for Nelson-Tasman's sewerage system is a key reason for it seeking a big increase in its budget, an officer says.

A multi-year business plan presented to the Nelson Regional Sewerage Business Unit, which has representatives from Nelson and Tasman councils, has come under fire for its proposed big increases in capital and operational spending.

The increases have been labelled “unsustainable” by the Nelson City Council's group manager of infrastructure Alec Louverdis. The proposed operational costs would work out to an increase of $611,000 in 2021-22, equivalent to a one per cent increase in Nelson rates, he said.

As Wellington is also rather messily demonstrating, Keeping Rates Low by skimping on maintenance is an illusory "saving". All it does is push the bill into the future, while increasing it with a side order of shit in the streets. As for calling the cost of fixing it "unsustainable", its unsustainable not to.

Nelson City Council and its ratepayers need to grow the fuck up. Unlike the enormous dam they're subsidising for farmers, this isn't a luxury. If they want to live in the 21st century (or even the 20th), they need to pay for it.

Climate Change: Calling us on our bullshit

Over the weekend, countries which are serious about climate change got together virtually at the international Climate Ambition Summit 2020. But New Zealand pointedly was not invited:

New Zealand was noticeably absent from the massive international Climate Ambition Summit 2020 on Saturday night.

Australia also didn't speak at the virtual event, hosted by the United Nations, the UK and France.

Some reports have suggested our poor record has put us offside with some of the better-performing countries.

I guess the rest of the world has finally noticed the yawning gap between our words and our actions, and called us on our bullshit. And just to back that up, we've been publicly criticised by Greta Thunberg as well. So much for Ardern's "nuclear-free moment"...

The government's excuse is that this is just a matter of timing: the Climate Change Commission will be setting budgets in February, and we'll see real action after that. Except of course there's no reason they couldn't have started implementing policy already. After all, its not as if the Commission is going to tell us to emit more carbon, is it? Or that we're doing too much? But as Marc Daalder pointed out on Newsroom, the latter seems to be the government's real fear: that we'll somehow end up doing too much and create a better, greener world for nothing. But if you look at the state of the world - alternatively on fire and flooding, and in danger of being washed into the sea - that's a nonsensical worry. What we should be worrying about is that we will do too little. And sadly, our foot-dragging government looks to be setting itself up for just that.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

That's the point

Farmers are whining that new freshwater rules designed to stop them shitting in rivers or polluting the water table with nitrogen will mean they make less money:

Farm profitability across the Ashburton District is expected to decline 83 percent per year due to the government's freshwater reforms, a new report states.

The desktop report, requested by the council, notes dairy farming takes place on nearly a third of the district's agricultural land and would be the hardest hit financially.

"The regulations will challenge existing farming systems with a number of established farm practices needing to change, and new technology and innovation adoption will be required."

It conservatively estimated that farm profitability would collectively decline more than $57 million, while farm expenditure would fall by about $140 million.

Essentially, they'll have to have fewer animals, and that will mean lower profits. But that's the point. Clean farmers will continue to make money. Dirty farmers will have to either change or go out of business. If they choose to do the latter rather than downsize their operation to one that lives within our environmental means, well, whose fault is that?

Climate Change: Not doing our bit

There have been a number of stories recently about how New Zealand is not doing its bit on climate change, that despite all our talk and targets, we haven't actually reduced emissions, and are actually one of the dirtiest polluters per capita in the world. And this is beginning to have diplomatic consequences. But there's another way we're not doing our bit: climate finance. A core part of the Paris Agreement was that rich counties would fund adaptation and emissions reduction in poorer ones, to help them along. As noted here, this was the key to the whole deal. But New Zealand isn't doing that either:

New Zealand is not living up to its climate change promises when it comes to helping fund poorer countries adapt to a warming world, a report by Oxfam has found.

A new report says the country’s climate finance has “stagnated” in recent years putting it far behind comparative countries in per capita terms.

According to the report, Standing With The Frontlines, New Zealand ranks 21st out of 23 highly developed countries in total finance provided between 2017 and 2018 in per capita terms. That equates to each citizen donating NZ$10.60 per capita per year in climate finance, or just under NZ$51m per year in total.


The highest-contributing countries per capita far outstrip New Zealand with contributions between US$40 and US$96 per person. Even similar sized countries, such as Ireland and Denmark make contributions of US$14 and US$27 per person, respectively.

Yes, New Zealand is small. But if we want bigger economies to do their bit, we need to do ours, and that means coughing up our share. And until we do, we're just a dirty climate criminal, no better than Trump's America.

This is simply police corruption

There's an appalling report from the Independent Police Conduct Authority out today, about an Unjustified entry and use of force during [a] search in Whangarei. The short version is that a group of police invaded someone's home without a warrant, assaulted them, used pepper spray to torture them, kidnapped them, and stole their property. They then refused to take a complaint about it, and lied about it to the IPCA. The IPCA is pretty scathing, calling the search and arrest unlawful, all uses of force assault, the "seizure" of a cellphone (being used to record events) unlawful, and saying straight out that police officers lied to them. But despite all this, the police steadfastly refuse to prosecute their own, saying only that they "acknowledged the findings" and that things "could have been handled differently". Sure. But if any of us had done anything like that, the police would be down on us like a ton of bricks. Whereas police officers who commit crimes - and these are crimes - get a pat on the back and full cover from police national headquarters.

It is time to call this intentional harbouring of criminals what it is: corruption. When the police refuse to prosecute their own, it is corrupt. When they downplay the criminal behaviour of their mates, it is corrupt. When they turn a blind eye to their own wrongdoing, it is corrupt. No money changes hands, but it is still corrupt. Mateocracy isn't any better because it relies on favours and friendship rather than outright bribes.

The police are meant to enforce the law. They need to start by enforcing it on themselves. Until they do, they don't have the moral standing to tell anyone else what to do. It is that simple.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Climate Change: A warning shot

Last year, the Thames-Coromandel District Council refused to sign the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration, with Mayor Sandra Goudie calling it "politically charged and driven". So, climate change activists took them to court. And yesterday, the High Court ruled that the Council must reconsider its decision:

The High Court has quashed a decision by the Thames-Coromandel District Council for its mayor not to sign a declaration of climate emergency endorsed by more than 60 other cities and districts.

Justice Matthew Palmer has ordered the council to reconsider its April 2019 decision not to approve Mayor Sandra Goudie signing the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration.


Justice Palmer agreed, finding the council relied on one fear raised in a report by the Mayor that signing the declaration could create legal obligations on the council for climate change action when it also had to analyse wider issues and consider consulting the public.

"The council did not do the analysis or consider consultation with the district, as required by law."

That's a victory, though its still open to the Council to do the analysis and decide not to sign. But the bigger victory is that the Judge ruled that decisions about climate change deserve the highest level of scrutiny, similar to human rights decisions. And that is going to matter. The Zero Carbon Act, passed in November last year, enables court challenges if decision-makers fail to take climate change into consideration where they should have. More importantly, it relies on judicial review to hold the government to account over its decisions on budgets and reduction plans. And the court has effectively just issued a warning shot, saying that those decisions are going to be subjected to the highest level of scrutiny (and the lowest level of deference) is challenged. And hopefully, that will encourage the government to do the right thing in May when the first budgets are decided, and make a challenge unnecessary.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Against a new counterterrorism agency

So, the report of the inquiry into the Christchurch massacre has finally been released, and (of course) exonerated the spies and the police from any blame for their failures. Meanwhile, it is recommending the creation of a new, specialist counter-terrorism agency. So as usual, the spies will be given even more money and power, despite a massive display of incompetence which saw 51 people killed. That'll teach them to do their jobs properly!

The report has an entire section devoted to how our spy agencies look for terrorists. I've spent the afternoon reading it, and it is a dismal litany of incompetence and mismanagement. We have a whole bunch of "national security" agencies - SIS, GCSB, NAB, Police - but no-one is really in charge. Despite multiple bodies designed to do the job - an oversight board, a Cabinet officials committee, a unit within DPMC - there's no co-ordination, and little awareness of who is doing what. No-one sets priorities for them. No-one knows who is responsible for what. No-one even checks up to ensure they do what they're supposed to: SSC, Treasury, and the Auditor-General (who monitor everyone else) say "secret spy-stuff, not my problem", while the statutory Intelligence and Security Committee is a captured joke. Its quite telling that they didn't even know who was in charge of counter-terrorism. They're all little classified silos, doing their own thing, resistant to oversight and sharing information only on a limited "need-to-know" basis, with no standards, no performance-monitoring, and no accountability. And we shovel hundreds of millions of dollars a year at them. With this sort of structure, its no wonder that all we get is failure.

And of course, they were all resolutely looking the other way, focusing on the "threat" of Islamist terrorism, because that's what their foreign partners were looking at. Oh, the inquiry found a handful of reports - out of literally hundreds - which mentioned the possibility of white supremacist domestic terrorism in passing, but they were ignored. As was a more specific 2011 report from CTAG on Availability of Firearms in New Zealand to Terrorists, Violent Extremists and Acutely Disaffected Persons, which highlighted the huge problems with our gun laws and the vetting regime. As the report notes, "this assessment was not well received by some public sector agencies" (because it was seen as intruding on their patch), and when the government asked the Police if they needed law changes in this area, they said no as gun crime wasn't a problem (Meanwhile, they were sticking a small arsenal in every police car because gun crime was a problem). The SIS only started wanting to look at white supremacy in 2018, when their foreign "allies" started to - a classic example of our cargo cult intelligence mindset. And of course they'd barely begun the job when the massacre happened.

So wouldn't a new agency fix all that? Not really. All it will do is create another silo, staffed by the same people, with the same institutional culture, getting its priorities from the same foreign "allies", and making exactly the same mistakes. The police get their fair share of blame in the above, but I can't help but feel that treating this as a law-enforcement problem, rather than a spy one, would result in better outcomes for everyone.

Farmers earn their reputation

Farmers feel New Zealand has turned its back on them, Stuff, 13 September 2019:

A young Wairarapa farmer's voice starts to crack when he talks about the pressure the sector is feeling from the Government and the wider New Zealand public.

Masterton sheep and beef farmer Sully Alsop fully supports an open letter written to Government leaders by an agricultural consultancy firm saying farmer morale was at an all time low.

"You feel like the country's turned their back on you. When you introduce yourself and say 'Hi, I'm Sully, I'm a farmer', they treat you like you're a leper like 'way to ruin the environment'," he said.

Farmers launch nationwide petition against freshwater rules, Stuff, 3 December 2020:

The group that organised more than 100 tractors to be driven through Gore’s main street in protest of new freshwater rules are now taking their protest across the country.

Groundswell NZ has launched an online petition calling for a rewrite of the essential freshwater rules, which came into force in September.

Here's a suggestion: if they don't want to be treated as dirty environmental vandals hellbent on shitting in every river in Aotearoa, maybe they should stop acting like it? Because at the moment, it seems like they are earning their poor reputation fair and square.

A moral void II

Last month, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security reported back on the appalling case of the SIS looking the other way on child abuse. They excused the SIS, in part because of a convenient lack of records, and in part because "it did not perceive the full scale and nature of the crimes of which the offender was later convicted... it did not recognise the full gravity of the situationor the particular crimes being committed". But it turns out that was wrong: the SIS burgled this man's house specifically to obtain evidence of sexual abuse:

The spies who broke into the suburban house in West Auckland had their target under surveillance so they knew he wouldn't be home. They knew how to defeat the locks and where the burglar alarm was.

They knew what their spymasters wanted and they delivered it: photographic evidence that the man they were targeting was inflicting horrific sexual abuse on his own daughter.

Which raises the obvious question: why were they looking for this, if not to report it to the police? For leverage? But then, that's the very problem complained of: an agency with absolutely no sense of morality.

Meanwhile, the IGIS's characterization of events looks decidedly misleading in light of this. Which raises another question: did the SIS bullshit them, or did they bullshit us? And either way, what is the point of the office, if their reports are just an exercise in deceiving the public to minimise SIS crimes?

Monday, December 07, 2020

Film subsidies are not worthwhile

Stuff has a piece on the spiralling cost of film subsidies, which have grown to more than 5% of the government's new operating allowance. And the opportunity costs of that are significant:

But by 2019, the scheme already required topping up. An extra $155m was approved for the rest of that year. This year, the Government approved a further $206m.

To put that in perspective, the money paid out to a handful of Hollywood films this year is only marginally more expensive than increasing benefits.

Upping benefits by $25 a week for people on jobseeker and emergency benefits is estimated to cost $283.6m this year. Upping benefits for sole parent support cost just $104m this year – half the amount set aside for film grants.

Or, to put it another way: we could have increased benefits by another $15 a week. Instead, the government chose to shovel money at the world's third richest man, Jeff Bezos, for his Lord of the Rings TV show, to help him make even more money. Which seems to be a pretty weird set of priorities for a "Labour" government, or a New Zealand one.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Overthrowing democracy in Tauranga

Back in 2010, the then-National government overthrew the elected government of Canterbury to impose a dictatorship. Now, Labour is going to do it to Tauranga. The reson for this is that the council is "dysfunctional". But so was the previous Labour - NZ First government, and that wasn't taken as an excuse to overthrow them and replace them with unelected dictators.

This is a pretty big call. Its one thing when a council requests such replacement. But doing it without such a request is undemocratic. It was undemocratic in Canterbury, and it is undemocratic here. If elected councillors spend all their time on petty disputes and behave like children, that ultimately is a problem for their voters to sort out, not central government. And voters are perfectly capable of it: look at what happened in Horowhenua when it had a similar problem last term. If the Minister thinks there is an absolutely irreconcilable problem, then she should exercise her powers under s258M of the Local Government Act, call an election, and let voters decide. She should not impose unelected dictators with an agenda no-one voted for. Again, see Canterbury for the manifest wrongs of that path.

(But voters could just vote for the same people again! Yes, they could. That's their choice, and if they do, it's its own punishment, just as it is for central government. Because like central government, local government is meant to be representative and democratic. Its not there just to be a manager for Wellington, and if Labour thinks it is, they deserve a kicking at the ballot box for it).

While I'm on this subject, this is altogether too easy. When National did it, it required a special Act of Parliament to overturn elections and oust elected councillors. But those powers were then inserted into the Local Government Act, and so now Nanaia Mahuta can do it just by writing a few letters. Given the gravity of the decision to suspend somewhere's local democracy, that seems far too trivial a process. Democracy deserves better than this, even shitty local democracy with its second-rate egos. These powers should be removed from the Local Government Act permanently.

Climate Change: Denmark ends fossil fuels

The Danish government has put an official end-date on fossil fuel extraction:

Denmark’s government on Thursday agreed with a majority in parliament to put and end to all oil and gas exploration and extraction in the North Sea by 2050 as well as cancel its latest licensing round.

The future of Denmark’s oil and gas operations in the North Sea has been a political issue after the Nordic country agreed last year on one of the world’s most ambitious climate targets of reducing emissions by 70% by 2030 and being climate neutral in 2050.

The deal agreed by lawmakers late on Thursday will cancel a planned eighth licensing round and any future tenders, while also making 2050 the last year in which to extract fossil fuels in the North Sea.

“We are now putting a final end to the fossil era,” Climate Minister Dan Joergensen said in a statement.

They'd already banned on-shore exploration, so this is basicly a total phase out. And the effect it has on discouraging investment may result in a shutdown a lot sooner.

This is something New Zealand needs to do. We've already banned offshore fossil fuel exploration. But we need to follow that up with an onshore ban, a ban on new fossil fuel mining permits, and a cutoff date for existing ones (most existing mining permits expire in the mid-2030s, but there are a few outliers). And we need to do the same for coal. The best way to stop fossil fuels is to turn off the tap at its source.

Climate Change: Reducing transport emissions

The Herald this morning has a piece on how to halve Auckland's transport emissions within a decade. Its based on an interactive web tool by the 1.5 project, which lets you play around with all the variables and experiment with different combinations. The Herald highlights one of the surprises in there: improved cycling infrastructure saves more than all the big public transport projects combined, at a faction of the cost: 375 kt CO2-e for cycling vs 300 kt CO2-e for all those multi-billion dollar projects. That's not an either-or thing, and there are obvious synergies between cycling and public transport (most obviously: its a way to get to the train station or busway, increasing the catchment area). But it does highlight a blind spot in our policy which we should focus more attention on. E-bike imports are expected to overtake new cars in a couple of years, and that seems to be something we should both encourage and plan for.

(One of the other things which pops out is how little difference Labour's promise of electric buses makes. Yes, its good. Yes, every little bit helps. But its simply not a credible policy for the scale of the problem).

Tinkering around, you can make decent savings by modestly decreasing the number of trips or trip length, or increasing car occupancy. But the core message is the thing we already know: the big savings come from increasing vehicle fuel efficiency and switching to electric vehicles. The clean car standard - which basicly means adopting EU regulations a decade late - gets us most of the way there by itself. Ditto mass uptake of EVs. Combined, they allow an almost 70% cut, which is the sort of thing that's necessary if we continue to allow farmers to shirk their responsibility and continue to pollute. So the policy problem is how to drive that. It looks like the clean car standard will happen next year, now Winston's handbrake has been removed. But if we really want to drive change in this area and push people hard into cleaner vehicles, we need feebates as well.

Thursday, December 03, 2020


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


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?