Friday, July 31, 2020


So, the Hit and Run inquiry has reported back, and found some appalling shit at NZDF and NZSIS. And while they quibble a few of the details - the name of a dead child - they basicly uphold Hager and Stephenson's version of events. The SAS went to those villages. Civilians were killed. A man was beaten by NZ soldiers and then handed over to the Afghans and tortured. And then, to cap it all off, NZDF misled the people of New Zealand and its own Minister about this, in a shoddy effort to protect the reputation of a unit of professional killers.

I have not read the full report yet. But a few things which stand out from the media coverage:

  • The inquiry exonerates the killings as collateral damage in a "legitimate" military operation. An establishment inquiry which didn't even talk to the victims was never going to do anything else. Meanwhile, while they play legal games over the laws of war, the key fact - NZDF killed civilians - is swept under the carpet. But we should neither forget nor accept it.
  • A number of SAS and NZDF officers are named as having misled Ministers and the public, or as effectively looking the other way on past deceit. Which obviously undermines the principle of civilian control of the military, striking at the heart of our democracy. These people need to be held accountable, dishonourably discharged and stripped of their honours, pour encourager les autres. Careers need to end over this, otherwise there is no incentive for NZDF not to do it again in future.
  • The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has found a sucking moral void at the senior levels of the SIS, whose response to credible reports of torture raised with them by their subordinates was to use the "intelligence" and say nothing about how it was acquired. These people also need to be held accountable for their failure to uphold kiwi values. They need to be fired, stripped of their security clearances, and never work in government again. Because someone who looks the other way on torture is unfit to be a human being, let alone a public servant in a position of trust.
  • Wayne Mapp's extraordinary admission that he just "forgot" about civilian casualties is absolutely damning, and shows that he should never have been a Minister. But it also highlights a problem with a culture of secrecy and oral-only briefings which enabled this to occur. NZDF and SIS love the mystique of "too important to commit to paper", but if something is important enough to tell the Minister, it is important enough to write down and give to them so they don't forget about it in future. And if an agency doesn't want to write it down - that is, document it for future investigation, not to mention comply with their legal obligations under the Public Records Act - Ministers should immediately assume manipulation and start asking pointy questions. The problem, of course, is that Ministers often are willing to collude in poor record-keeping (AKA "crime") if it keeps their names off controversial material. Which is why we need robust, independent random audits, and a few prosecutions, again pour encourager les autres. Because if we let agencies and Ministers disappear stuff down the memory hole this way, they get away with e.g. killing children, and we all lose.
  • Pretty obviously, NZDF would find it a lot harder to kill children if we weren't constantly involved in other people's wars. The best way to stop it from happening again is to not fight such wars. And the best way of doing that is to make them incapable of doing so. Take their toys away, and disestablish the SAS, and we'll be a lot safer.

Will any of this happen? Not if NZDF can help it. But to point out the obvious, there's an election coming up. We should demand candidates hold NZDF and SIS accountable for their actions. If they refuse, we should vote for someone who will.

Places to go, people to see

While there's news today, I'm off to Wellington to attend Armageddon on the weekend. Normal bloggage will resume on Monday.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Close Motunui too

Low methanol prices and unclear gas supply are threatening the future of foreign nultinational polluter Methanex's Traranki methanol production facilities:

A long term “softening” in methanol demand could have a considerable impact on Taranaki if it contributed to methanol producer Methanex quitting the region, New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young has warned.

Methanex has recently cut production at its Taranaki plants because of a weakening in methanol prices and a tightening supply of natural gas, industry news service Business Desk has reported.

Production at the plants is understood to be at 85 per cent, or 1.9m tonnes annually for 2020.

Cue the local National MP whining about jobs and exports. But as with Tiwai Point, its worth asking: is Methanex actually worth anything to New Zealand? And as with Tiwai Point, the answer is "no".

According to this article from last year, Methanex directly employs "270 staff through four sites - Motonui [sic], Waitara Valley, and Port Taranaki - and a small team in Auckland". These are high-paying jobs, with base salaries of $100,000. In addition, it indirectly supports 700 jobs for maintance contractors. So, call it a thousand jobs all up for a nice round number.

What do these jobs cost us? As noted above, Methanex is currently producing 1.9 million tons of methanol a year. As a highly-emissions intensive industrial activity, it is entitled to a carbon subsidy on 90% of its production, of 0.7854 tons of carbon per ton of methanol. In addition, because export of methanol is considered a "removal activity", it gets another 1.375 tons of carbon for each ton of methanol it exports. That gives a total carbon subsidy of 2.01 tons of carbon per ton of production, or 3.825 million tons. And plugging in the current carbon price of $33.60, it turns out we're subsidising them by $128.5 million a year. For a thousand jobs, that works out to $128,500 each, every year (and that amount is only going to go up, as carbon prices increase).

As with Tiwai Point, it appears the economic "benefit" of having Methanex in Taranaki actually boils down to "carbon subsidies". And as with Tiwai Point, it seems we'd be better off if we just let it die, and instead invested those subsidies for a decade in retraining and the creation of clean replacement industries which would provide good jobs without destroying the planet.


A ballot for two Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Adverse Weather-affected Timber Recovery on Conservation Lands Bill (Maureen Pugh)
  • Accident Compensation (Notice of Decisions) Amendment Bill (Paulo Garcia)

(These were incidentally bills 3 and 2. Which sounds like someone didn't shake the biscuit tin very well...)

Both these bills will be voted on by the next Parliament. And in the case of Pugh's dirty piece of environmental pillage, hopefully voted down.

And that was the last ballot for the term. With a new parliament, there'll be a different balance of parties, and different ballot dynamics. Which will hopefully mean less of the law and order bullshit we've seen this term.

Rediscovering their principles

Back at the beginning of this government, the Greens made a foolish decision to support the Electoral Integrity Act - demanded by Winston Peters to keep his own backbench in line as part of his coalition deal with Labour - as an act of good faith within the coalition. It compromised their principles and pissed off a lot of their supporters (including me), and in exchange they got nothing. Having depended on their good faith to get his protection racket through, Winston then merrily shat on and thwarted the Greens' agenda for the rest of the term.

So last night, when the Electoral (Integrity Repeal) Amendment Bill, it was time for a bit of utu. The Greens happily voted for it to go to select committee, leaving it for the next Parliament (hopefully without Winston) to decide. And Winston predictably hit the roof:

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has called the Green Party “unstable and untrustworthy” after the party banded together with National to start an attempted repeal of the waka jumping law.

Well, maybe if he'd responded to their act of good faith in kind, and treated his partners with some respect, rather than publicly shitting on them at every opportunity, they'd have gritted their teeth and voted differently? But bluntly, this government is over - it has four sitting days left to run. And in the unlikely event that NZ First is back in Parliament next term and in a coalition relationship with the Greens, it is very clearly going to be a different one.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Kindness wins after all

Last week, after Judith Collins announced that National would be cruel and vicious to kiwis caught overseas by the pandemic, and rob them at the border if they returned home, Labour looked like it was falling all over itself to cry "me too". But now, it looks like kindness has triumphed after all: there will be border fees, but only for people who leave New Zealand after the law passes, and for some people on temporary visas (basicly "essential" workers; families of returning kiwis will be exempt). This is a position that there's widespread support for - frankly, if you leave NZ now to go on holiday or some money-grubbing business junket, then you're not just a fool who is risking your own life, but someone who is deliberately choosing to endanger us all by potentially bringing the disease back with you. Deterring such stupidity is reasonable. But charging kiwis caught overseas was never just, fair, or reasonable, and I'm glad the government has backed away from it.

But its also worth noting that this victory belongs fairly and squarely to the Greens. Winston wanted to charge everyone. Jacinda Ardern - who supposedly wanted to govern with kindness - initially wanted to do the same. By standing firm and denying a majority for such viciousness, the Greens have given us a better, kinder policy.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the last of the Parliamentary term. First up is the second reading of Ginny Andersen's Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No 2), which should go through easily. Second is Jacqui Dean's Local Government (Customer Focus) Amendment Bill, which adds random management-speak to the Local Government Act. Third is David Carter's Electoral (Integrity Repeal) Amendment Bill, which does exactly what it says on the label. This bill is a dilemma for the Greens, who supported Winston's protection scheme in violation of their principles to get along in coalition (and then got nothing for it). Hopefully we'll see them rediscover their principles, and vote it to select committee so the next Parliament can decide whether it still wants this law (also, it would be a nice parting "fuck you" to Winston, and payback for all the times he has abused their generosity in being good team players). Finally, there's the final stages of the joint Crimes (Definition of Female Genital Mutilation) Amendment Bill, which has broad cross-party support and will be whizzed through everything in one debate.

There should be a final ballot for one bill tomorrow, and that will be it for the term, as far as Member's Bills go.

A once-in-a-generation change

Back in 2019, the government asked for a comprehensive, independent review of the Resource Management Act and associated legislation. That review has now reported back and recommended a complete repeal and re-enactment. Despite the headlines, this is not a "scrapping" - we're still going to have a resource management law, with planning and consenting functions. But who does what, and what legislation its in, will change.

The actual report is over 500 pages long, so it will take time for everyone to digest. But looking at the consenting chapter, all those RMA-haters who complain about "red tape" and process (AKA local democracy) are unlikely to be happy. There will still be planning rules forbidding them from doing whatever they want. If they want to do things, they will still need to submit information on what they want to do and its environmental impacts to local councils. If their proposal is controversial or has significant impacts, they will still have to be publicly notified and seek submissions. They will still have to pay attention to Māori interests. The big thing that will change is that plans will be clearer (well, that's the intention anyway) about what is allowed and what is not, public notification requirements will be specified in advance, and a Māori voice will be built into the system. Oh, and "existing use" rights (e.g. old irrigation consents) can be rolled back and there'll be new attention paid to cumulative effects. This isn't a relaxation by any measure.

Oh, and the panel told the government firmly that they need to sort out water ownership with Māori, and that the current fudge (where the government sticks its fingers in its ears and says endlessly "no-one owns water" while ignoring the entire history of this country) is fucking everything up and that the government needs to reach a settlement ASAP.

The last time any government took this sort of look at planning legislation was in ~1990, and its what gave us the RMA. If acted upon, this report is likely to change our planning regime for a generation. The next Parliament will be doing this, so think about that when you vote.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Interfering with the watchdog

Britain's spy agencies are supposedly overseen by various watchdogs, including the investigatory powers tribunal. But it turns out that MI6 at least has contempt for those watchdogs, and attempted to interfere with the operations of the tribunal by concealing evidence from its judges:

MI6 has been accused of “inappropriate interference” after two of its officers allegedly asked a chief clerk at the investigatory powers tribunal to conceal secret material relating to the agency from its presiding judges.

The spy agency was forced to apologise after the incident, which took place in relation to a court case about whether fellow agency MI5 can authorise informants to participate in murder, torture or other serious crimes.

The embarrassing episode occurred in March 2019 but can only be reported now after a special hearing on Monday of the tribunal, which oversees complaints against British intelligence.

The two spies had rung the tribunal secretary and according to her claimed that “various inspection reports” about MI6 had been provided in error to the tribunal and said they had unspecified concerns in relation to the material.

They then allegedly tried to ask the official if she would in effect conceal them from the tribunal’s president, Lord Justice Singh, or its other presiding members, who are all senior judges and lawyers.

The spies have been forced to apologise. But it makes it clear that Britain's "watchdogs" normally only see what the spies let them see. Which makes you wonder how they can do their job properly at all.

No extradition to tyrannies

Last month, China imposed a new "national security law" on Hong Kong. The law imposes a penalty of life imprisonment for secession, subversion, and "colluding with foreign forces" - which basicly means peacefully advocating for democracy or independence. It has been used to crush peaceful protests and interpreted by the government as outlawing attempting to win democratic elections. In other words, it effectively ends Hong Kong's already limited democracy.

Oh, and its extraterritorial, applying to anyone in the world. People in New Zealand who support Hong Kong independence, or just the right of all peoples to peacefully and democraticly determine their futures, are now criminals in China. And the Chinese regime could seek their extradition, because we have an extradition treaty with Hong Kong (we don't have one with China, for obvious reasons: its a tyranny, with the death penalty and no legal protections for the accused. Hong Kong's courts were, until last month, independent).

So I'm glad to hear that that treaty has now been suspended. It is inappropriate to extradite to tyrannies. And thanks to China's actions, Hong Kong now falls into that category. Unfortunately, this means that people who have committed non-political crimes may escape justice. But that's the price you pay for being a tyranny, I guess.

China will no doubt get shitty about this and punish us. But that's the price of having principles. And democracy and the rule of law are not principles New Zealanders are generally willing to surrender.

A tight timeline

The bad news: Jacinda Ardern still wants to bill exiled kiwis for returning home. The good news: it would require a law change, which the Greens won't back, so she'll need to go grovelling to National. The other good news: she's running out of time to do it.

This is the second-to-last sitting week before the election. The government basicly has six days to pass everything it wants done before then. They can get more time with urgency, but that just means they get this Friday as well. And a lot of that time will be eaten by stuff they need to get done before then, notably the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill (due to come into force on 30 September), the Veterans’ Support Amendment Bill (No 2) (due to come into force on 1 October) and the renewal of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act (which must be done by August 11). Plus there's a bunch of appropriations stuff to get through. The government could do it, but they'd need to use all-stages urgency, which is hardly going to help the legitimacy of the law. Alternatively, they could introduce it under urgency and send it to select committee for the next Parliament to pick up. Which means no billing until maybe December.

As for whether they will, Gerry Brownlee is asking them in Question Time today. So I guess we'll know by three o'clock what is going on. Unless the government tries to lie and dissemble to the people whose votes it needs. Which would be stupid, but the habit of trying not to answer anything in Question Time is deeply ingrained, and it may be difficult for them to break.

(And again: if you are a kiwi overseas and you don't like this idea, enrol so you can vote to punish the fuckers planning it. Your vote is a weapon. use it.)

Monday, July 27, 2020

A necessary challenge

Today a full bench of the High Court is hearing Andrew Borrowdale's challenge to the legality of the COVID-19 lockdown. That lockdown ended two months ago, so the point seems moot - but it was never about ending it. Instead, as Andrew Geddis points out, its about a key principle of our system of government: the rule of law. Our government must at all times obey the law and only exercise its powers within that framework. While it is happening after the fact, this challenge is a way of ensuring that that was done, an important check and balance. If it succeeds, there's no practical relief that can be granted (except to those actually convicted of breaking lockdown, who would have their convictions reversed and fines repaid). But we would still benefit from seeing better laws and processes in future. And if it fails, we get reassurance, which is worth something in itself.

So far, some of what the government has argued - that its orders were just "advice" - has been the sort of thing you expect to see on a Tui billboard. But the actual key point I think is going to be whether the Health Act actually allowed what was ordered. And on that front, the passage of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act suggests the government doesn't really believe that it did. But I guess we'll find out in three days - or however long it takes the court to make a considered decision.

Filling the policy void

So far, this has been a relatively policy-free election campaign. The government has been trying to keep a low profile, on the basis that anything they say will only piss someone off, so better to say as little as possible. When its not knifing its leader, National has promised roads, roads, and more roads, but nothing else. NZ First has made empty noises about Tiwai Point, but not actually said what they'd do. Nobody cares about ACT. But the Greens have stepped up to fill the policy void. We'd already had two hefty announcements from them, on wealth taxes and energy policy. And now they've released a 50-page policy document of their priorities in government, intended as a starting point for future coalition arrangements.

The actual policies are short, with the crunchy detail presumably to be provided in other documents as necessary. At the same time, its clear what they want to do, and it shows a coherent direction to their party. And there's a lot here that Labour should like, if it wants to do things beyond sitting on their arses and collecting their salaries next term. More sick leave. Default / opt-out union membership. Job creation and investment. Tackling poverty and the housing crisis. Plus of course climate change and decarbonisation - the big challenge we need to meet if we are to have a future.

Of course, being able to do any of it would require them to have some leverage, and that's looking unlikely on current polling as labour won't need them. But hopefully that will change, and we'll see a truly progressive government next term, rather than a bunch of essentially status quo managers.

This is dangerous for our democracy

I hardly ever comment on polls, because horse-race politics is superficial and boring and most changes are statistically meaningless and so unworthy of attention (let alone the excitement they provoke amongst mathematically illiterate political journalists desperate to fill airtime). But we've now had two polls in a row showing Labour receiving significantly more than 50% of the vote. If these polls are remotely accurate and nothing changes, this would allow Labour to govern alone. And as an MMP-era voter, I find that deeply unsettling, a return to the unbridled power of first-past-the post (and all the arrogance it implied).

Coalition government is a valuable check and balance in our MMP-era constitution. It ensures that policy has to be scrutinised by outside eyes before passage. Its endorsement by an outside (if allied) party adds legitimacy, while also hopefully improving quality. And of course there's the ultimate check and balance: having someone to pull the plug if the government goes off the rails. No MMP coalition partner has had to do that yet, but anyone who remembers Robert Muldoon and Roger Douglas should acknowledge its basic necessity. Majority government removes both those safeguards.

In 2002, we had a similar situation: a dominant government polling over 50% and a hapless opposition. Back then, voters responded by fleeing to the minor parties, who saw their fortunes increase significantly. And the result was a government which lacked a majority, but could do whatever it wanted by choosing the appropriate partner (or, more usually, two or even all three of them). But since then, our minor parties have suffered an ecological collapse. United Future is gone, and NZ First looks likely to follow. On current polling, we look likely to have a four-party Parliament after September - the smallest ever in the MMP era. And while the number of registered parties has picked up a little since last election - we will have 18, once the current three in train are processed - apart from the Māori Party there's nothing there that looks remotely likely to replace the ones we've lost. While fundamentalist christians, racists and conspiracy theorists love to start political parties, voters don't like to vote for them. Those with coherent ideologies seem too narrow to get the 5% necessary to enter Parliament, and are denied the access to capture public attention anyway (both Labour and National not wanting a return of the worm). Basicly, our political system is becoming narrower, while barriers to political competition remain high or are getting higher. And this is not healthy.

And yet, a majority of voters say they want coalition governments, and even major party voters don't want unbridled power (except National of course). In which case, maybe they should actually vote for that?

Reported back

The Finance and Expenditure Committee has reported back on its inquiry into the operation of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020. As you'd expect, they find that the law was "necessary and appropriate", but would like to see a permanent replacement providing for health emergency powers as the Health Act is showing its age. They recommend a number of minor changes to be put in such legislation (which would be a long-term project, not something happening any time soon), including limits on who may be appointed as an enforcement officer, a Treaty clause, privacy protection and limits on entry into marae. On one of the big controversial issues - warrantless entry powers - they uphold the powers, on the basis of similar clauses in other laws (alternatively: old authoritarian legislation we haven't repealed yet). Though they do also say elsewhere they want better guidance on the "likely to contravene" standard which ultimately underlies those powers as it is is likely to allow police to order people to cease lawful activities (and to kick in their door to do so). But we're not going to see any immediate legislative change as a result; its all for that long-term bill.

The National Party has a minority report saying that the inquiry was a waste of time, but also should have been given to the Epidemic Response Committee where they had a majority. Its another example of their constant wrecking behaviour on this issue, which is turning the public off them.

Friday, July 24, 2020

This is how you deal with criminal fishers

In October 2018, Sealord's fishing boat Ocean Dawn repeatedly bottom-trawled in a Benthic Protection Area on the Chatham Rise. It was a crime which devastated a pristine marine environment. And today, they've been properly punished for it:

Sealord has today been ordered to forfeit a $24 million fishing vessel for bottom trawling in a protected area.

The company was also ordered to pay a $24,000 fine in Nelson District Court for trawling in a Benthic Protected Area.


In addition to the vessel Ocean Dawn being forfeit, the proceeds from the sale of the entire catch taken in the five offending trawls is also forfeit which amounts to $1,12294.13.

The captain and first mate were also convicted and fined. Hopefully it means they won't work in the industry again.

There will no doubt be appeals, but hopefully this penalty will stick. And its absolutely appropriate for a company which repeatedly violated a reserve. Hopefully it means that the fishing industry will get the message that this sort of criminality is not acceptable. And hopefully they'll start handing down similar penalties for catch fraud as well.

A victory for women

Last night, the Equal Pay Amendment Act 2020 was passed unanimously by Parliament. The Act updates the 1972 Equal Pay Act to create a bargaining framework for equal pay claims and hopefully avoid the need to take them to court. It doesn't go far enough - there's no pay transparency clause, for example - but should still be a massive improvement on the status quo,and can do down as something this government has actually achieved (I guess Winston didn't feel he could be that regressive and reactionary). And since it comes into force the day after it is signed, hopefully we'll see some quick improvement in the gender-pay gap.

Doing the right thing

The New Zealand government has done the right thing and granted journalist Behrouz Boochani refugee status:

Eight months after arriving in New Zealand, acclaimed author Behrouz Boochani has been granted refugee status.

The Kurdish-Iranian writer joins a small group of successful applicants – with almost two thirds of asylum claims rejected last year.

Gaining refugee status means he can stay in New Zealand indefinitely and can apply for a resident’s visa.

Peter Dutton will probably lose his shit over this, but fuck him, he deserves to be in The Hague. Protecting victims of concentration camps is exactly what refugee status is for, and if Australia has forgotten that, so much the worse for them. But Boochani is not the only victim of Australian cruelty; we should grant refugee status to everyone in the camps on Manus and Nauru and bring them here for safe lives in New Zealand. And if Australia doesn't like that, then fuck them.

And in the meantime, remember: don't buy Australian.

Thursday, July 23, 2020


A ballot for five Member's Bills was held today and the following bills were drawn:

  • Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill (No 2) (Shane Reti)
  • Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill (Louisa Wall)
  • Lawyers and Conveyancers (Employed Lawyers Providing Free Legal Services) Amendment Bill (Sarah Dowie)
  • Companies (Limited Partnerships Identical Names Prohibition) Amendment Bill (Gerry Brownlee)
  • Corrections (School Notification of Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill (Matt Doocey)

I'll leave comment on the medicinal cannabis bill to the serious drug policy commentators. But Wall's bill will correct the mess David Seymour managed to make of abortion decriminalisation earlier in the year. I look forward to it passing.

None of these bills will be voted on before the election. Instead, it'll be for the next Parliament to decide on them. and hopefully that will be a Parliament with a strong majority against law-and-order bullshit.

Another environmental crime

A farmer in Te Anau has slashed and burned 800 hectares of native forest:

A Te Anau farmer accused of slashing and burning down 800 hectares of native forest in two years has been served with an interim court order to stop.

Southland District Council says Peter Chartres caused irreparable damage to flora and fauna when he cleared mānuka on his property to make room for pasture - ignoring an abatement notice in 2015 and multiple warnings he needed resource consent to clear trees older than 20 years.

Chartres denies he has done anything wrong and plans to oppose a permanent court order the council is applying for.

800 hectares of native forest isn't just a loss of native habitat and biodiversity - its a loss of carbon as well. Using the look-up tables, 800 hectares of indigenous forest of at least 20 years of age is at least 126,960 tons of carbon, worth at least $4.2 million at current prices (I wonder if he paid for it, or committed carbon fraud?). But its worse in the long-term, because at peak native forest soaks up well over a thousand tons per hectare. Which means this orc's destruction spree cost us at least 800,000 tons of long-term carbon storage, enough to soak up 1% of one year's emissions.

A court order is a good start. But acting without resource consent and ignoring an abatement notice is an actual crime, punishable by 2 years in jail and a fine of up to $300,000. This orc should be prosecuted. Or are farmers above the law?

The NZDF procured torture

Last week the Hit and Run inquiry reported back, and the report is currently sitting on Andrew Little's desk. Meanwhile, one of the subjects of the inquiry - Taliab commander Qari Miraj - has spoken out about what happened to him at the hands of the SAS. he gives an account his his detention and beating at the hands of SAS soldiers, which is backed by SAS witnesses. There's more there about how he was tortured by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) and how he was beaten and electrocuted by them. And then there's this bit:

Miraj has told Stuff, New Zealand and Afghan NDS personnel were “working jointly” during the period he was tortured. He said on one occasion four New Zealand personnel – two of them with weapons – came to his cell with NDS officers and took him to another room to question him. Two of the New Zealanders were carrying intelligence reports about him.

He believed New Zealanders and the NDS were sharing reports.

Miraj said no New Zealand personnel were present when he was being tortured. However, he said it was “a hundred per cent” clear from questions he was asked under interrogation by the NDS that questions had been given to them by New Zealanders.

Asked if he believed that New Zealand personnel were using NDS interrogators to extract information from him that could be used in the hunt for other insurgents involved in the attack on the PRT convoy, Miraj said: “Exactly, exactly.”

This has creepy echoes of MI6's collusion in torture - essentially, hand someone to a foreign intelligence agency in the full knowledge they would be tortured, provide questions, stay out of the room themselves, but get the answers and in some cases even interview the victim when they had been "softened up" (for a graphic example see the case of Abu Zubaydah). And in the end, NZDF - who were aware of the torture - were given Miraj’s "confession".

Its unclear how much of this was put before the inquiry. For obvious reasons, they didn't interview Miraj, and so relied on NZDF accounts of what they did to him and what they knew (some of which are damning enough). But if it turns out that NZDF misled the inquiry about this, then heads should roll. but that's the least of it. Because pretty obviously, providing the questions for a torture session (and being given the answers) is conspiracy or procuring acts of torture, which a crime under New Zealand and international law. Those involved should be prosecuted. And if the New Zealand government refuses, Then they should join the NZDF and SIS in the dock in The Hague.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Now we get to find out how racist New Plymouth is

Last night, the New Plymouth District Council approved the creation of a Māori ward to ensure that Māori would have a voice in their local government. Its the second time they've tried to do this - an earlier attempt in 2015 was overturned by a racist referendum. And predictably, there are already racist councillors pushing for a repeat. So I guess now we'll get to find out if New Plymouth residents are still as racist as they were in 2015, or if they've learned better.

Meanwhile, the situation where proper, Treaty-required democratic representation for tangata whenua is subject to a racist veto is morally untenable. we do not require it for any other electoral boundary decision, and we should not require it for this one. The government needs to repeal the provisions of the Local Electoral Act allowing such referenda immediately.

Corruption on the ice

While everyone is looking at the blood on the tiles this morning from Iain Lees-Galloway's political demise, there's a real story which needs our attention: Winston Peters gave two rich friends a taxpayer-funded trip to Antarctica:

oreign Minister Winston Peters directed Antarctica New Zealand to give two highly-prized spots on a trip to the icy continent to two women closely linked to one of South East Asia's richest families.

Bee Lin Chew and her daughter Su Arn Kwek, who are dual Malaysian-New Zealand citizens, travelled to Scott Base, at taxpayer expense, in February after Antarctica New Zealand scrambled to make room for them at the insistence of Peters' office.

Emails released under the Official Information Act show Antarctica New Zealand pushing back at the request to include Chew and Kwek, as only one spot was available and that was supposed to be for a government minister.

Tax payer-funded Antarctica New Zealand initially warned that science programmes or essential staff may have to be cut to make room for the women. But it ultimately managed to fulfill the request without disruption to the programme and in line with the "firmly held" views from Peters' office.

There's no information on how much this cost, but the answer is likely to be substantial, both in the imputed cost of the seats and associated training, and the opportunity cost of not being able to fill them with scientists. These are not things you can just buy, time on the ice is horribly limited (and thus incredibly valuable). And here the Minister is dispensing it as a political favour in a clear abuse of office. The obvious question is whether there was a donation involved, and Chew explicitly denies this (though at the same time highlights how politically connected she is). But equally obviously, the donation or kickback didn't need to come from her. Winston says it was a favour to his "old friend" Philip Burdon, so I guess we need to ask what he was getting (or expects to get) in return? Cosying up for the post-retirement corporate directorships?

And regardless: even if simply done as a political favour, this is a corrupt abuse of office, and Winston needs to be held accountable for it. But of course, given the coalition dynamics, he won't. And thus the rot will be allowed to fester and spread. Unless of course we vote him and his party out in September.

Member's Day

This morning is a special Member's Day, held in an extended sitting as a catch-up for time lost to urgency during the pandemic. That's a good principle for Parliament to adopt, and I'd like to see it happen more often. Too often in the past we've seen governments casually use urgency to steal members' time, a practice which displays contempt for both MPs and Parliament. Establishing a practice that that doesn't happen, or if it does then the time must be made up, would be a valuable change and a limit on the power of government.

As for the business, unfortunately its practically all "law and order" bullshit. First up is the Committee Stage of Darroch Ball's Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill. Then there's the First Reading of Stuart Smith's Insurance (Prompt Settlement of Claims for Uninhabitable Residential Property) Bill, which is designed ot fix some of the mess Gerry Brownlee left in Christchurch. Following that is Brett Hudson's Arms (Firearms Prohibition Orders) Amendment Bill (No 2), which NZ First has suddenly decided ot back in a desperate play for the vicious vote. Then its Darroch Ball again with the Oranga Tamariki (Youth Justice Demerit Points) Amendment Bill, which is ultimately about trying to stick young people in jail (because NZ First hates them). If the House moves quickly it might make it to Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki's District Court (Protection of Judgment Debtors with Disabilities) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for three or four bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

This is not normal

The peaceful and orderly transfer of power through elections is an absolute bedrock of democratic systems. If the government is voted out, they go - no ifs, no buts. But that doesn't seem to be the case in America anymore:

Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by 15% among registered voters nationally and holds a 20-point lead when it comes to who Americans trust to handle the coronavirus pandemic, according to a major poll out on Sunday.

In the same ABC News/Washington Post poll, Biden led by two points in March and 10 points in May. Now, among respondents who said they will certainly vote in November, Biden leads by 11%.

Fox News also released a poll on Sunday. It put Biden ahead on coronavirus, race relations and the economy and eight points up nationally.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday recorded at the White House on Friday, Trump said “I’m not losing, because those are fake polls” and refused to say if he would accept the result if Biden won in November.

“I have to see,” Trump said. “I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”

The mere fact that the question is being asked shows that US democracy is deeply sick - its just not something which is ever asked in a normal, functioning democracy. But the fact that the President feels he can equivocate, and that his party is not immediately and publicly disavowing his comments, is worse. And it shows that the US is now longer the "world's greatest democracy" (if it every was). Instead, it seems to be tottering on the brink of dictatorship.

Monday, July 20, 2020

For a Matariki holiday

Last week the Republican Movement's petition to Make Matariki a public holiday officially closed. Meanwhile, driven by a much larger ActionStation petition, Stuff has come out in support:

Today, Stuff is launching a campaign to make Matariki a public holiday from 2021.


The law says public holidays exist to observe days of “national, religious, or cultural significance”, but most of our holidays aren’t expressly Kiwi.

We’re overdue the creation of a unifying holiday that honours Aotearoa’s past and celebrates New Zealand’s future. Matariki is that holiday.

They're agnostic as to whether it should be a new holiday or replace foreign monarch's fake birthday (with which it frequently aligns), but they want it to be a holiday, and they want it to happen by next year. That's perfectly a doable legislative timetable; the question is whether the politicians are keen.

So much for "kindness"


Over the weekend, National leader Judith Collins announced that her party would bill exiled kiwis $3,000 to return to their own country if elected. Its a cruel and vicious policy of questionable legality which entrenches socioeconomic barriers and sends a clear message that poor kiwis are not welcome home. So naturally, Labour fell all over themselves to say "me too".

And then Labour wonders why people have such contempt for them. 46 MPs and not a backbone or shred of decency among them. Because if it goes further than charging people who voluntarily leave now to take a holiday in a plague-pit - something we really don't want people to be doing - this is simply indecent and immoral. These people are kiwis. This is their home. They have a right to return. It is that simple.

(And reminder: if you are a kiwi overseas, you can enrol and vote. If you don't want the government to treat you like this, then vote for one which won't.)

Out-greening the Greens

Over the weekend the Māori Party released their climate change policy. The headline promises? Immediately end new onshore oil and gas exploration permits, withdraw all existing permits within five years, and decommission the sites by 2030. In other words, end oil and gas in New Zealand in just a few years. Which leaves the Greens' promise of merely sunsetting coal in 2030, and gas in 2035 in the dust.

But is it doable? That's an interesting question. Wikipedia has a nice and relatively up-to-date summary of energy in New Zealand, and we extract about 200PJ of natural gas a year. But we use half of it as chemical feedstock (for methanol, but also urea fertiliser), and only about 80PJ of it gets directly used for heating (60PJ in industry, and the rest in small businesses and homes), with the remaining 20PJ being burned for electricity. Ending gas means replacing all of that with renewable generation. On a headline level it would mean increasing our electricity generation by two thirds, and all in the North Island. But its a little bit easier than that because replacing gas for heating means heat pumps, which are about three times as efficient as gas. Still: decarbonising our energy supply is going to mean a huge increase in electricity generation, on the order of 45%. In addition, we'd need to replace every industrial gas boiler in the country with an electrical one. While we could almost certainly do that in five years, it would mean the sort of crash-building / upgrade programme you only see in wartime.

And on the gripping hand: at current consumption, and assuming no further exploited discoveries, we have only ten years of gas left. So, we're going to have to do all that anyway. Throwing Methanex out of the country boosts that to twenty years, but the writing for gas is on the wall, and industrial operators need to be planning to switch to electricity anyway if they want to stay in business. The Greens timeline for a 15-year phaseout is right in the middle of that 10 - 20 year lifespan, so its a zero-cost "get people to do what they were going to have to do anyway" policy, basicly a baseline of minimum effort.

The question then is one of timelines. How fast can we do this? What will it take? What can we do to push it faster? The Māori Party's policy is valuable because it gets us to actually think about what we need to do, rather than having change happen in the indefinite future. Decarbonisation means big changes. And whether we're trying to make those changes in five years or fifteen, its best if we start now rather than later. Because the latter invites us to put it off and put it off and then suddenly its all too hard and nothing changes at all.

As for concrete, definite ways of pushing this change: both parties talk about support for upgrades, but the big change we need to make (and need to make for electrified transport too) is to massively increase our renewable electricity supply. We know that the electricity companies aren't going to do it, because they want high prices. And that market failure is a perfect case for the government to step in. As for how, establishing a new SOE with the sole purpose of building as much renewable electricity generation as quickly as possible and crashing prices is the obvious mechanism. And to get them started, they could compulsory acquire the constented windfarm projects the electricity companies are currently sitting on, and actually build them before those consents expire. Or do we want to leave saving the world to a market which sees more profit in letting it burn?

Ending tenure review

Something I missed: the government has introduced a Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill. Its primary purpose is to immediately end tenure review, with any review discontinued if a substantive proposal has not yet been put to a leaseholder. According to LINZ, there are currently zero substantive proposals waiting for a decision, so hopefully this means the process is stopped dead in its tracks. It would also replace the lax scheme for consenting activities (which has seen proposals to clear or irrigate crown land rubberstamped) with one mirroring the RMA hierarchy of permitted, discretionary and prohibited activities, and apply a formal decision-making process to them. Both of which are a huge improvement over the status quo.

There is a minor secrecy problem in new s22E, in that proactive publication requirements can be ignored if the Chef Executive is satisfied that good reason would exist under the OIA for withholding. Which echoes the clause in the new Overseas Investment Amendment Bill (No 3) I blogged about earlier in the month. Its not that this is a bad idea, but the lack of oversight is problematic, and introduces unknown unknowns (we don't know how much is being withheld, and therefore how much transparency we're actually getting). And it has the same solutions: automatic review, and publication of the fact that something has been withheld so that we know how much we're not being allowed to see.

Friday, July 17, 2020

The OIA rewrite demands genuine consultation

Back on Tuesday, open government expert Andrew Ecclestone wrote an op-ed in Stuff about the government's planned OIA-rewrite. In addition to pushing for the usual changes - no conclusive withholding grounds, enforceable proactive disclosure requirements, and the replacement of the Ombudsman with a dedicated Information Commissioner - he also argues strongly for a full and public consultation process:

But there are also significant risks. Little suggested that legislation might be introduced without prior public consultation. Any concerns could be expressed in submissions to a select committee.

This would be dangerous and unwise. Last year’s consultation contained no statement of the Government’s approach to our right to know. That was understandable when the question was “Should we have a review?” But to embark on major changes to our rights without a prior explanation of the Government’s values and intentions would be contrary to the DPMC guidance on policy making. It would also run counter to the OIA’s participative purposes, and our membership of the Open Government Partnership.


Finally, the idea that the public has a genuine opportunity to persuade MPs to improve government bills through select committee submissions is not borne out by the experience of many people and civil society organisations. The introduction of a bill without prior public deliberation, and opportunities for ministers to hear from those outside government, will not only result in missed opportunities but also increase political and media friction, and diminish public trust in government.

The latter point ties in neatly to a series of recent posts on Pundit by economist Brian Easton. Genuine consultation requires a genuine effort, sufficient time, sufficient information, meaningful discussion, and an open mind on the part of the decider. And this is never met by a select committee process, for the simple fact that the major policy decisions have already been made and set in stone before they even begin. Genuine consultation means consultation when a policy is being shaped, not afterwards.

Fundamentally the OIA is our Act, our way of keeping an eye on government. And like any other part of our constitution, we should be consulted on what it says. The usual process of the government deciding what it wants to do, then presenting it to Parliament to be rubberstamped (or at most, tweaked) by a whipped select committee is simply inappropriate here.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

It (mostly) doesn't matter who wins an electorate

There's an election coming up, so naturally over on The Standard there's the usual post demanding $GreenCandidate stand aside in $Electorate to boost the chances of $LabourPartyCandiate. This time you can fill in the variables as "Chlöe Swarbrick", "Auckland Central", and "Helen White", but you see the same thing from the Labour Party every election. In every case, the idea is that if they don't, $NationalCandidate (TBA, in this case) might win. And in almost every case, its complete bullshit.

To point out the obvious: New Zealand has had MMP since 1996. And in MMP, it is the party vote that matters, not who wins electorates. Outside edge cases where a victory by particular candidate would ensure the place of a party in Parliament (like Epsom, or, say, Auckland Central if the Greens won it), it doesn't actually matter who wins a particular electorate. In most cases, its just a matter of career advancement, ego-boosting, and job security for the candidates involved. And while that obviously matters a great deal to the hacks involved, who live and die by such nonsense, it is absolutely irrelevant to the rest of us. Outside those edge-cases (which are few and far between), those advocate one candidate stand aside - and sacrifice their chances to boost the party vote - to prevent "vote splitting" are trapped in the electoral mindset of First past the Post, an electoral system which has been dead and buried for 24 years.

Auckland Central isn't an edge case for anyone other than the Greens (who will almost certainly make it over the 5% threshhold anyway). Electorate victory essentially doesn't matter there, and certainly doesn't matter more to anyone else than them. So, they should go hard, and fight to win the seat. If they do, great - it makes them that much more secure in Parliament. If not, the outcome in Auckland Central will not matter to the overall electoral outcome. And it certainly won't matter if someone wearing a blue tie beats someone wearing a red tie, except to the people concerned and their respective hacks and hangers-on.

The orcs lose again

The orcs in the mining industry have just been handed two defeats in a row in their battle to despoil our environment. Their idea was to rip the top off a mountain on the West Coast to dig an open cast coal mine. But most of the land they want to use is a reserve, and the rest is managed by the Department of Conservation. Two weeks ago, the High Court upheld Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage's refusal to allow them to despoil conservation land. And yesterday, the Supreme Court backed the Court of Appeal's ruling that reserves are not for mining. Meaning that the Buller District Council must manage the land to protect its scenic, biological and natural features. Which should absolutely forbid digging it up and turning it into a giant hole in the ground.

Faced with a ruling like this, you'd think the orcs would slink away and give up. But weirdly, they have announced their intention to ask the Buller District Council for access again. I guess when your business model depends on digging holes in the ground, you have a hard time understanding when people say it can't and won't happen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Climate Change: Fudging the numbers

Supposedly the struggle against climate change is one of this government's priorities. But how can we assess whether government policies and targets are enough to meet that challenge? Are our policies working? Are our targets enough? On the latter question, whether or not they are consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees is the obvious baseline. And an assessment by the Ministry for the Environment in February - quietly proactively released this month - shows that we are not doing enough.

Titled Scientific analysis of compatibility of the NDC with 1.5 degrees, the report is absolutely brutal in its initial assessment:

Considering all gases together as CO2-equivalent, New Zealand's NDC is not consistent with pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot [less than 0.1°C - I/S], but is consistent with pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C with no, limited or high overshoot [more than 0.1°C, but declining by 2100 - I/S], or 2°C.
Basicly, we plan to emit too much carbon, with an NDC (Paris target) 2021-2030 budget of 601 MtCO2-e, against an NDC-compatible target of 516 Mt. Note that our 2021-2025 budget has now been set at 354 Mt, meaning either they're expecting to cut emissions by 30% over the second half of this decade to meet the NDC, or the Paris "target" is a lie, a promise the government has no intention of keeping.

But instead of saying "this means we are not doing enough, we need a stronger target", they adopt the approach typical of New Zealand for the last decade, and ask "what if we measured it differently?" So they split up gases, as done in the Zero Carbon Act. But even then they can't make it fit: our 10% legislated methane reduction is less than the lower limit of the -11% to -30% Paris-compatible methane reduction pathway (meaning it is not enough), while the implied carbon budget of 290 Mt is higher than the 252 Mt 1.5°C-compatible budget (and again, meeting it implies a 20% cut in the CO2 budget in the second half of this decade). So in the end they throw budgets out the window, decide to assess it at a point in time, and engage in a DPF-like exercise of choosing their base-years to get the result they want. Which is a level of intellectual dishonesty unworthy of the New Zealand public service, and misses the point that you can't actually fudge the numbers on the climate.

Reading this report, it is clear that a) we are not going to meet our Paris target; and b) our current policy pathway commits us to overshoot, or much higher and more dangerous levels of warming. It is also clear that the government just doesn't want to know about it, and would rather try and fudge the numbers than do what is necessary.

So much for the "nuclear-free moment".

Is democracy now illegal in Hong Kong?

Over the weekend half a million Hongkongers queued to vote in an opposition primary to choose candidates for upcoming Legislative Council elections. But the Chinese regime is now saying that its illegal.

Late on Monday Beijing’s top representatives in Hong Kong labelled the primaries “illegal” and accused organisers of colluding with foreign powers in a “serious provocation” of Hong Kong’s electoral system and to seize the private data of voters.

“The goal of organiser Benny Tai and the opposition camp is to seize the ruling power of Hong Kong and ... carry out a Hong Kong version of ‘colour revolution’,” said a spokesman for the Liaison Office, whose chief is also in charge of implementing the national security laws.

The statement came in support of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, who said that democrats coordinating to win a majority and veto the government’s budget could be against the anti-sedition laws, and would be be investigated.

“If this so-called ‘primary’ election’s purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering what they call a ‘35+’ [majority seats] with the objective of objecting to, resisting every policy initiative of the Hong Kong SAR government, then it may fall into the category of subverting the state power, which is now one of the four types of offences under the new national security law,” Lam told media late on Monday.

And translating that from TyrantSpeak, "seize the ruling power of Hong Kong" means "getting elected", while "subverting the state power" means "refusing to pass legislation".

Hong Kong's basic law still allows elections. Its Legislative Council is still allowed to pass (or refuse to pass) laws. The regime is saying that the opposition using legal means to peacefully and democraticly bring about change is a crime. But if that's the case, you have to wonder why they bother with the charade of elections at all.

All milk should be carbon neutral

With carbon prices rising, farmers have been squealing about farmland being converted (or rather, restored) to forest for carbon farming. And meanwhile, Fooodstuffs has started selling carbon-neutral milk:

Carbon-neutral milk – where the product's greenhouse gases are offset by carbon credits – is coming to a supermarket fridge near you.

The just-launched New World, Pak’nSave and Four Square brand, Simply Milk, costs a little extra. A 2-litre bottle from New World will set you back $4.00, compared to the Value brand bottle at $3.38.

For the extra 62 cents, you’ll be contributing to native reforestation in Kaikoura, a hydro power plant in India and energy-efficient cook stoves in Bangladesh. The certified carbon credits are provided by Toitū Envirocare.

Which sounds good, and it will certainly let people vote with their wallets. At the same time, Foodstuffs is overcharging. As the article points out, each bottle of milk creates 2.1 kg of carbon-dioxide-equivalent of direct farm, transport and processing emissions, which they offset at 4c / kg (or $40 / ton). And if you stick that on a value bottle of milk (because that is literally what this is: value milk with a different label, a higher price, and a spreadsheet behind the scenes to track how much they need to offset), Foodstuffs seems to be charging an extra 54 cents. And they're doing it because they have decided that offsetting your emissions is a premium product, to be used for extracting profit, rather than a basic obligation in a warming world. Shouldn't they be doing this for all their milk instead? Shouldn't Fonterra be doing it, and building carbon neutrality right into the base of the supply chain?

Still, its a start, and I'll buy it to try and send the market a signal to offset more. But I'm still annoyed that they're being so greedy about it.

Running on cruelty


Like everyone else, I was shocked when Todd Muller resigned as Leader of the National Party yesterday morning - and even more shocked when National picked Judith Collins to replace him. Sure, this is about desperation and salvaging as many seats as they can, but still. In case we've forgotten, Collins is a politician who has spent her career carefully cultivating a reputation for cruelty and viciousness. Crushing cars. Posing with guns. "Joking" about prison rape. She was neck-deep in dirty politics with Cameron Slater, and from that we learned that she was focused on revenge and "giving back double". By choosing her as leader, the National Party has basicly said "this is what we stand for": cruelty, viciousness, and sleaze. And they're pitting this against a Prime Minister who stands for kindness.

That's going to be one hell of a clash of values at the ballot box. And I guess we're going to find out just how many kiwis are vicious, cruel monsters.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Time for another dismissal?

The "palace letters" between Australia's then Governor-General John Kerr and the Queen were released today by the Australian Archives. From the bits I caught of the original press conference, they didn't sound so bad. But now people have had time to go through them properly, and they show an appalling story of plotting and foreign interference in Australia's politics. Kerr was plotting with Windsor to rid himself of Gough Whitlam for months - and it was the Queen's private secretary who first suggested dismissing him by monarchical fiat:

What is pivotal throughout these letters is that the Queen, through her private secretary, engages with Kerr on these inherently political matters, even advising him on the powers of the Senate and, critically, the existence and potential use of the contentious and contested reserve powers to dismiss the government.

Let’s take just one example, from the first glimpse at the letters, Charteris’ letter to Kerr of November 4, 1975, on the reserve powers: "Those powers do exist … but to use them is a heavy responsibility … I think you are playing the 'Vice-Regal' hand with skill and wisdom. Your interest in the situation has been demonstrated, and so has your impartiality. The fact that you have the powers is recognised, but it is also clear that you will only use them in the last resort and then only for constitutional and not for political reasons."

Charteris followed this up the next day with the clearest suggestion that the reserve powers may need to be used which, Charteris wrote, "places you in what is, perhaps, an unenviable, but is certainly a very honourable position. If you do, as you will, what the constitution dictates, you cannot possible [sic] do the Monarchy any avoidable harm. The chances are you will do it good". He ends with a reference to the "discretion left to a governor-general". These critical letters provided Kerr with the advice and comfort he needed to feel secure that the Palace accepted the existence and potential use of the reserve powers as he moved towards dismissing the Whitlam government.

Coming from his boss, "these powers exist, but its up to you to use them" is another way of saying "you should use them". It sounds like Australia needs another dismissal: of its interfering foreign monarch.

Another Australian war crime

Ten days ago we learned that the Australian government was attempting to prosecute Australian journalists for exposing Australian war crimes in Afghanisatan. Meanwhile, today we have news of another war crime - a massacre of civilians by Australian special forces:

Australian special forces killed up to 10 unarmed Afghan civilians during a 2012 raid in Kandahar Province, ABC Investigations can reveal.

The raid is believed to be the worst one-day death toll uncovered to date of alleged unlawful killings by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Afghan witnesses and Australian sources have told the ABC that the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) operation left a number of Taliban dead.

But both say civilians were also shot during the frenzied raid, including a group of unarmed villagers near a tractor.

This isn't just an accident - the killing is described as a "mass-shooting" of obvious civilians. SAS troops were reportedly unhappy about it. But in the usual way of the ADF, the entire thing was covered up and swept under the carpet. Now, hopefully, there'll be some justice for the dead.

If you give the police a warrantless search power, they will abuse it

In the months following the Christchurch massacre, the police acquired a sudden interest in nazis and gun "enthusiasts" (both of which they had previously been ignoring because they were white), and started kicking in doors around Christchurch and seizing firearms, using warrantless search provisions in the Search and Surveillance Act 2012. Now, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has ruled that three of those searches were illegal:

In relation to two of those searches, Police relied on the provisions of section 18 of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012. This gives Police the power to enter and search a place where they suspect an offence against the Arms Act 1983 has been committed and the person is incapable of having proper control of the firearm(s) or may kill or cause injury to someone. The Authority found in these two cases those circumstances did not exist when the searches were conducted therefore, they were unlawful.

The third case related to Police entering a house where they relied on section 14 of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012. This provides the power to enter and search without warrant in circumstances where it is believed an offence is being or is about to be committed, or there is risk to life or safety that requires an emergency response. Again, the Authority found those circumstances did not exist at the time therefore the entry into the house was unlawful.

The full report is here, and the police behaviour is... dubious (and in the third case, outrageous). Obviously, these people were a legitimate subject of concern. But the police could not even be bothered building a tissue of a case to justify a search. As a result of that, they've been forced to apologise, and will no doubt be paying compensation to these nazis. If you're upset about that, you should direct your ire at the useless police who didn't do their job properly, rather than their (fairly repugnant) victims.

Meanwhile, this obviously raises the question of how else police use their warrantless powers, and what further scrutiny we should subject them to. Every use of a warrantless power must be internally reported, and agencies are required to issue statistics on their use, but clearly we need someone reviewing actual reports for abuse and dubious patterns. Because the police clearly cannot be trusted to use these powers appropriately, and we should not let them endanger prosecutions with this lazy approach.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Our dirty Parliament

The Serious Fraud Office has announced that it is investigating the Labour Party over donations it received in 2017. Which means the three largest parties in Parliament are all now either being investigated or prosecuted for donation fraud. The only parties who aren't are the Greens and ACT.

As with the other parties, if Labour has broken the law, then those responsible should be prosecuted, and if convicted, punished. We can not permit corruption to take root in our political system. And personally, I'll be voting to drive it out.

Saving lives II

Three months on, and looking at the state of the world - 13 million cases, 560,000 dead, and both rising - it is clear that New Zealand's lockdown saved lives. But it didn't just save us from the pandemic and prevent future deaths - it also significantly reduced our background death rate and saved over 500 lives:

Health experts have been surprised by a lower number of deaths throughout the country over the lockdown period.

During alert levels 3 and 4, public health experts found 548 fewer people died compared to the same period last year.

Otago University epidemiologists discovered the number of deaths dropped most noticeably near the end of level 4.

Cause-of-death data isn't available yet, but there are a few obvious ones: fewer respiratory illnesses reducing the background death rate from flu, less air pollution, and fewer road deaths. The scary thing is that some of these benefits can be captured without locking down the entire economy. If people were able to stay home when sick rather than being forced to go to work, we'd have less respiratory illness and fewer dead grandparents. If we used electric cars and public transport more, we'd have less air pollution. There are policy changes we can make today to bring about those outcomes. And we should do it. Saving our lives is worth it.

The Greens' energy policy

Yesterday the Greens released their second big election policy - on energy. The short version is "more solar, less coal". They'd stick solar panels and batteries in every state house, and network them together to form a virtual power plant. They'd use grants to fund rooftop solar installations just as they did for insulation. They'd ban new thermal generation and coal-fired boilers, and sunset existing ones. And they'd throw money at training and community grants to push things even further.

Looking at the solar part of the equation, its a no-brainer. While people complain about clouds and latitude, it turns out that New Zealand's solar resource is better than southern Germany or the south of France - parts of Europe with high solar uptake. Its already cheaper than coal in those places, and since coal is our marginal generator and sets our electricity prices, that means that it is probably cheaper than coal here as well. So why aren't people installing it already? The same problem as insulation: lack of information and capital costs. And that suggests the same solution: grants, and a public campaign to normalise it, followed eventually by building standards which require it (because really, if you're building a new house, why wouldn't you put solar panels on the roof? Its the cheapest time to do it). The virtual power plant idea also means that this will gradually lower power prices for everyone, not just the households with solar panels. And with batteries as the default, its going to make it much easier to smooth demand and cope with all the electric cars they'll no doubt be pushing in their transport policy.

The community energy projects fund is also a good idea. We're already seeing solar panels pop up on schools, and there are multiple companies offering finance to help them do it quicker (essentially they front the capital and its paid for by a long-term electricity supply contract). Weirdly this sort of arrangement doesn't seem to be being used much for things other than schools, which looks to be a case of market failure, and government funding or financing is a way of fixing that failure.

In terms of paying for it, the important thing to remember is that this is an investment, which generates ongoing revenue and savings. Those benefits accrue primarily to individuals rather than the state, but the government should still see substantial benefits in the form of lower health and welfare costs and better social outcomes for state housing tenants. I guess we can work out how that stacks up against a negative BCR road.

On coal, what they're suggesting is pretty conservative, and was actually floated late last year in an MBIE discussion document on Accelerating renewable energy and energy efficiency [PDF]. Transpower and the Climate Change Commission have also been doing work in this area, looking at why businesses aren't electrifying even when it is profitable to do so. And the answer seems to be a mix of ETS subsidies, having no clue about their energy costs, conservatism and stupidity. Announcing a phase-out is a way to actually get them off their arses and force them to change. They go further than MBIE in applying the phase-out to gas (which MBIE thought would be required in the future, but too expensive now, so the Greens have taken them at their word and given gas a few more years), and of course they couple it with support to help cover the costs. As for the thermal ban, its another no-brainer, especially after the Tiwai shutdown, and will ensure that once Huntly and the rest close, these dirty fuels will be out of our energy supply for good.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The law rhymes

Everyone is paying attention today to the Supreme Court ruling that the President is not above the law and that Trump's tax returns can be given to a New York grand jury investigating him. But the Supreme Court decided another, far more important case yesterday, and effectively restored Native American sovereignty over half of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma used to be "Indian Territory". In the 1830s the USA ethnicly cleansed the eastern US of indigenous people and death-marched them to the west, dumping the survivors on the (then) border. Naturally, it signed treaties, promising that they would be left free to govern themselves, particularly in matters of criminal law. Then, in the early twentieth century, white people decided they wanted that land too, so they turned Oklahoma into a state. A bit over a century later, that state arrested, prosecuted, and purportedly convicted a child molester and a murderer. Naturally, they challenged their convictions. Their ultimate challenge was to assert that the state lacked jurisdiction, because they were members of a particular Native American tribe and their crimes had been committed on tribal land: when Congress turned Oklahoma into a state, it didn't extinguish tribal sovereignty over criminal law. And the Supreme Court looked at the law, and said "yep":

Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.

(If this sounds familiar, its because we've seen it before, in a different context, in Ngati Apa v Attorney-General, AKA the foreshore and seabed case. Like history, the law rhymes).

But while its ostensibly about criminal law and a particular tribe - the Muscogee (Creek) Nation - the decision goes wider. Because the Muscogee aren't the only nation covered by this particular set of treaties, and it raises the question of what else Congress didn't extinguish when it forced statehood upon them. And this affects the entire eastern half of Oklahoma.

Unlike New Zealand, the US has a long history of overlapping jurisdictions and tribal law. Even if their treaties have mostly been repeatedly broken and over-ridden and ignored by the federal government, there's enough of a remnant that they actually have the tools to deal with this in a just and respectful manner if they want to. The question now is whether they will, or whether they'll lose their shit at the idea that a indigenous person somewhere has some rights, and legislate to take them away like we did.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Labour lied about control orders

Remember the government's tyrannical Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill? Remember how it was rammed through Parliament, with a four-day submission period and a select committee process that was a democratic fraud? At the time, the government gave the impression that there was an urgent need for this legislation, that a horde of kiwi terrorists were about to return from the Syria, and so they needed the law passed immediately to deal with that threat. But it turns out that it wasn't. In a response to an OIA request, the Police said that the law has never been used, that this was "not unexpected" and that they expect the number of orders "will be low, and possibly zero, for the forseeable future". In other words, we were had. The government lied to us and abused the democratic process. Again. And by doing so, they did more to undermine our democracy and our way of life than any terrorist ever has or could.

Dancing on Tiwai's grave

This morning, after years of threats and demands for subsidies, Rio Tinto announced that it would be closing the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter. Good. Because as I've argued before, the best thing this foreign polluter can do is close. Doing so will free up 12% of our electricity supply, not to mention $70 million ($90 million at today's carbon prices) a year in carbon subsidies. The latter is $70,000 per direct job, which shows you where Tiwai's economic "benefit" really came from.

As for what to do next, Rio Tinto has been threatening this for years, and I would hope that the government has been using that time productively to come up with a rescue plan if they followed through. They have a billion dollar regional growth fund, plus a $20 billion pandemic contingency, plus the effective annual cost of those carbon subsidies. Which gives them a lot of scope for investment to replace those smelter jobs. Data centres and hydrogen production are two of the obvious answers, though the latter also means finding things to use the hydrogen (which means chemical manufacture, until there's demand for it as a transport fuel). But they've also suddenly got a huge amount of electricity in the South Island to help power a recovery, and things like industrial electrification (getting coal out of the milk) and electrifying South Island rail are suddenly possible. And of course its a ready-made power source to power the shift to electric vehicles we need to make.

In terms of flow-on effects, Huntly is now dead (or rather relegated to dry-year backup, which is basicly the same thing), as are the coal mines which supply it. We shouldn't mourn that either - it was dirty and inefficient and meant higher prices for everyone. But the government will eventually need a rescue package for them too. But its death makes it a hell of a lot easier to shift to a cleaner, greener economy. And the quicker we do so, the better.

A transparency agenda

On Tuesday, after two years of pissing about, Justice Minister Andrew Little promised to rewrite the Official Information Act. It is unclear whether this was a government promise, or a Labour Party election promise - and Little played stupid games rather than giving a straight answer when asked directly. But given current polling, and the fact that no-one is likely to seriously oppose such a policy, its likely to happen. Which raises the question: what do we want from a rewrite? So, in the hope of starting a conversation on the topic, here's my stab at an initial answer:

  1. One Act, covering both central and local government.
  2. A clear, principles-based test for coverage (as used in the Public Records Act), rather than the current system of scheduling agencies individually. Expansion to cover currently excluded agencies, including Parliament and the Governor-General.
  3. No conclusive withholding grounds. All withholding grounds should be subject to the public interest test. "Constitutional" grounds should be re-examined and ideally repealed.
  4. Enforcement by an independent Information Commissioner on the UK model, rather than the Ombudsman.
  5. Criminal penalties for egregious breaches, on the Canadian model.
There are other changes, but these are my top five. Hopefully others can suggest better ones.

As for the reasons, 1 and 4 were recommended by the Law Commission, and on the latter we can also add the fact that the Ombudsman's mediation approach is simply not suitable for what is essentially an enforcement role. 2 was also (mostly) recommended by the Law Commission, though I've gone further in applying it to the Governor-General (because they are supposed to work for us, and therefore they should be subject to the Act).

As for 3: the OIA was the ultimate outcome of the Danks Report, which was a good, solid principled look at transparency. But it was written in 1980 - 40 years ago - and its primary author was born over a century ago. They were on the cutting edge of liberalism and transparency for 1980, the crest of a wave which had been opening up New Zealand since the 1960's. But at the same time, they were products of and operating within an authoritarian culture, where government was top-down and separate, something done to us rather than by us. And it shows. It shows when they assume that some reasons for secrecy (such as "international relations" or "economic interests") are absolute and shouldn't be balanced against the public interest in disclosure. These reasons may be strong, but the idea that they're absolute just smacks of an outdated ideology which says that matters of "high policy" are for kings and ministers, not dirty peasants. And it shows when they say that government "needs... to be able to take advice and to deliberate on it, in private, and without fear of premature disclosure", or when they just assume that everything to do with the monarchy is secret and that Executive Council deliberations are and ought to be protected by a medieval oath. Forty years on, we're entitled to ask "really?", and assess those authoritarian assumptions against the Act's goals of improving accountability and participation. And to modern eyes, I think we will find them wanting.

...which also highlights the real need: a proper process. The Act needs a full, independent review, equivalent in scope to the Danks Report, and with full public participation. Because its our Act, covering our government. So we should have a real say in shaping it.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Good riddance

Privacy-invading MP Hamish Walker has announced that he will not stand for re-election. Good riddance. He has clearly shown that he is unfit to be an MP, and the sooner he fucks off, the better.

A good question

On Twitter today, lawyer Felix Geiringer asked a good question: why are MP's exempt from the Privacy Act? The Act imposes its obligations on "agencies", and s8 of the 2020 Act states that this term

does not include... a member of Parliament in their official capacity

The 1993 Act, which the 2020 Act replaces, included the same exclusion in its interpretation clause.

But why? In its 2011 Review of the Privacy Act 1993 (R123), the Law Commission basicly says "Parliamentary privilege". Requiring MPs to obey the Privacy Principles in their offices might interfere with their freedom of speech in the House, or with the confidentiality of people's communications with MPs (for example, if they communicate with an MP about someone else). But IMHO the first of these is already covered by the English Bill of Rights Act 1688, while the second could easily be handled by exclusions. The fact that Parliament didn't want to consider options those tells us what this is really about: self-interest by MPs, and setting themselves up as being above the same laws that apply to the rest of us. But if this week has taught us anything, its that we need to be protected from them. Exempting abusive, bullying arseholes from the law means we get bullied and abused. And that is simply not acceptable. This exemption should be removed. MPs should not be above the law.


That's the only way to describe last night's admissions by National MP Hamish Walker and former party president Michelle Boag that they were responsible for leaking the names of Covid-19 patients to the media. How could anyone possibly think that was a good idea? But I guess I'd forgotten what a pack of egotistical narcissists and abusive arseholes the National party is.

Both of them are basicly finished. Boag resigned from the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (previously NZ's most trusted charity), and from Nikki Kaye's campaign. Walker is likely to be de-selected this afternoon. And hopefully people will remember the complete lack of judgement displayed by both and never hire them for any position of trust ever again. But I am still appalled that this happened, appalled that Boag is such a sociopath to think that its OK to abuse the trust placed in her to solicit private medical information for the purposes of leaking it, appalled that Walker would then shop it round to try and cover up his own racism, and appalled that Muller ran a party where they could both think that was OK. Because this isn't just a problem of two individuals - its a problem of a lack of moral leadership in the National Party (and that's been lacking for a while).

Hopefully this has just cost National any chance of election victory. Because who would trust a party to run a country if they do things like this?