Monday, August 31, 2020

Climate Change: This government is a failure

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Greens are supposed to be better than this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

If you want clean water, don't vote National

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

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

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

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

Another criminal industry

Another day, another whine from an industry dependent on cheap foreign labour. This time its farm contractors, who are arguing that unless they get to bring in potentially infected foreigners, the crops will rot in the fields. But some of their "arguments" seem to be more admissions of criminal intent:

Other knock-on effects included health and safety issues, a shortage of animal feed for next winter, mental health concerns and even possible environmental problems.

Using less than competent people to operate the machinery along with the probable fatigue that would come with working long hours because of understaffing, was dangerous. Contractors were experiencing significant stress and anxiety because of the problem, he said.

So basicly they're threatening to use untrained staff, and work them for such long hours that accidents become more likely. Both are straight out violations of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, and in particular an employers primary duty of care (e.g. to ensure safe systems of work, provision of training, and safe conditions of work). Violating that duty is punishable by a fine of $500,000 - or $1.5 million if it exposes people to risk of death or serious injury (as accidents with agricultural machinery do). In other words, they are saying that their industry are criminals, and that WorkSafe should commence an immediate, sector-wide investigation to identify unsafe conduct and practices so that they can be improved.

As for the "danger" that food will go unharvested, New Zealand exports over 90% of its agricultural produce. The only "danger" here is to the bottom lines of greedy farmers, and it is long past time they were forced to clean up their act, hire kiwis, and adopt safe labour practices.

The Make It 16 case


The Make It 16 campaign is in court this week, arguing that the voting age is unjustifiably discriminatory and breaches the Bill of Rights Act. I think that is pushing shit uphill - the BORA hard-codes the age-limit (just as it hard codes 16 years as the age over which discrimination is de facto unjustifiable), so they're effectively asking the court to find the BORA inconsistent with itself. But in some ways the point isn't to win, but to make the argument, in one of the most public forums available. And if the court says "yes, its shit, but we can't", then that's a victory because it places implicit pressure on the government to fix it. Not that fixing it is easy: the Electoral Act clauses governing the voting age are entrenched, meaning that reform requires either a 75% majority in Parliament, or a referendum. But I think the government has a moral obligation to make the effort.

The arguments in favour of lowering the voting age are compelling. There is simply no moral argument for excluding people old enough to express their interests from voting, and you cannot call yourself a democrat if you think there is. There are also significant turnout benefits, with a better chance of building a lifelong habit of voting if you start younger. And for those who think that young people are too frivolous, irresponsible or uneducated to vote, maybe they should be looking at Boomers...

Another reason to increase sick leave

The pandemic has shown the utter inadequacy of our current sick leave provisions, with workers not having enough leave to cope with any real illness and facing significant economic pressure to work while sick and thereby spread disease (not helped by cheapskate employers wanting to Keep Staff Costs Low). And yet, faced with an obvious threat to public health, the government has refused to contemplate increasing it. Part of their excuse is a leave subsidy scheme for businesses, which should in theory cover the costs of pandemic-related leave. The problem? Major employers are refusing to use it:

Some companies are not applying for the Government sick leave subsidy, and instead forcing workers to use their own leave for Covid-19 related requirements, First Union says.

First Union secretary for transport, logistics and manufacturing, Jared Abbott said Fletcher Building, supermarket companies Foodstuffs and Countdown and Lion had told staff that they must use their sick leave or annual leave if they could not work while waiting for a Covid-19 test result.

The union was worried people with little or no available leave would put off being tested because they could not afford the time off work, Abbott said.

And as the article explains, this means their workers are stuck with the same old inadequate provision and economic pressure to infect their co-workers and customers. Meaning that these employers are a direct threat to public health. And since the current voluntary subsidy isn't getting them to do the right thing, the government really has no other alternative: legislate for an immediate increase in sick leave.

(And while its at it, it should insert a provision in the Holidays Act enabling increases by Ministerial direction whenever an epidemic notice is in effect. Because that seems to have been an obvious gap in the Epidemic Preparedness Act scheme).

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Coal kills

We know that coal-fired electricity is killing the planet. But its also killing people. How many? Between 400 and 1,300 Australians every year:

Terrible as they were, the bushfire smoke clouds were temporary (although they will probably become a regular affliction as climate change worsens). Pollution from burning carbon-based fuels, which affects the air we breathe every day, has a much greater cumulative effect. This is the central theme of a study published today (25 August) by Greenpeace Australia. The study, entitled, 'Lethal Power: How Burning Coal is Killing People in Australia', was written by Aidan Farrow, Andreas Anhäuser and Lauri Myllyvirta.

'Lethal Power' estimates that pollution from coal-burning power stations is responsible for somewhere between 400 and 1,300 premature deaths in Australia each year, as well as around 15,000 asthma attacks and 400 cases of low birth weight in babies. The upper end of the estimate for premature deaths is equal to the loss of life from road crashes and far greater than from homicide, not to mention widely publicised dangers like terrorism and shark attacks.

This is a staggering death toll - between one and three times that of the Australian bushfires. And that's every single year. Maybe Australia should stop killing its own people, and get off this toxic fuel?

(Meanwhile, coal power is fortunately rare in New Zealand. But now I'm wondering how many people in Huntly Genesis Energy stochasticly murders).

This is corrupt and should be prosecuted

Newsroom has a major scoop this morning about a corrupt scheme to milk MSD of emergency housing money by subletting houses from landlords without their knowledge. To add insult to injury, some of the houses were uninhabitable, lacking ovens, smoke alarms, or other basic requirements - and it ended up pulling houses out of the normal rental market, making homes in South Auckland even harder to find. And when it ended, the property managers kicked everybody out overnight, creating an even bigger problem.

The full details are in the article, but Harcourts Otahuhu seems to have been a nexus for the scheme. And the bit that really caught my attention is this:

Another curious thing she found was other properties on Harcourts Otahuhu's rent roll had been rented out to Zainulabidin (Zain) Syed. [a motel owner already exploiting MSD]


Parker alleged there was an arrangement between Harcourts Otahuhu, Syed and other investors to find and buy houses, or simply move MSD clients into properties on the firm's books.

Tenancy agreements attached to many of the houses Syed and others rented off Harcourts Otahuhu contained subclauses preventing subletting.

She alleged many of the landlords weren't informed their houses had been sublet to social housing tenants.

Obviously, that's a breach of tenancy law. But its also potentially a crime. If Harcourts Otahuhu received anything for this (e.g. higher commissions from higher rents), then that's a pecuniary interest which they had to disclose to the landlords, with failure to do so punishable by seven years imprisonment. If Harcourts corruptly agreed to accept this or any other payment, that's another seven years. And if Syed offered such inducements or suggested that landlords not be told or not be given the full amount, he's in the gun as well. At the very least, its deceptive conduct under the REINZ property management code of practice, and should lead to Harcourts Otahuhu's licence being pulled.

But will any of this happen? I guess that would require the government to stand up for public probity and for basic standards of honesty in the rental market. And to be honest, I'm not holding my breath for that.

And most obviously: none of this would have happened if the government had sufficient state housing in the first place, or just handled emergency provision themselves rather than trying to subcontract an essential service. Because when you contract out at inflated rates, you create space and incentives for exactly this sort of corruption to grow. Public provision prevents that, and gives us a more honest society. And we're all better off from that (except for corrupt property managers, of course).

Monday, August 24, 2020

Europe's freedom of information treaty

Back in 2009, the Council of Europe negotiated the Tromsø Convention, or more formally, the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents. It is the first binding international treaty to recognise a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities (the Aarhus Convention only applies to environmental information). And now, eleven years after it was negotiated and signed, it is finally entering into force on 1 December 2020.

The Convention binds its parties to minimum principles on freedom of information. Parties must guarantee everyone to official documents held by public authorities on request. It lays out what is acceptable as a withholding ground, and requires all withholding grounds to be balanced against the public interest. It also requires parties to treat requesters equally, permit anonymous requests, and limits charges to actual costs of reproduction and delivery (so no charging for decision-making time). All of this is backed by public reporting and monitoring by a group of specialists.

How does this compare to our Official Information Act? Firstly, it is narrower, applying only to "documents" (defined as "information recorded in any form", so including digital materials and audio recordings) rather than "information" (which includes things which are unrecorded - such as oral briefings and memories in the heads of public servants). Our list of withholding grounds is broadly compatible, with only 9(2)(k) (to prevent improper gain or advantage) not obviously covered. However, the general public interest test would mean significant changes to the ways we handle requests currently subject to withholding under s6. The reason its worth looking at is because the Convention is technically open to non-European parties by invitation, and formal, regular, international scrutiny of our official information regime is likely to be beneficial, in exactly the same way that it is for human rights. Now that it is entering into force, I think it would be worth the government seeing if they could obtain such an invitation, in order to subject themselves to this scrutiny.

Update: clarified the difference between "documents" and "information".

This is fine

Monsoons Cause Havoc in India as Climate Change Alters Rainfall Patterns, Voice of America, 14 August 2020:

Searching through the rubble of a tea plantation that collapsed after heavy rains lashed India's southern Kerala state last week, rescuers counted 55 casualties. The resulting landslide buried homes of several workers in the hillside's debris – several children were among the victims.

It was the latest monsoon-related disaster that has taken at least 150 lives in India, where environmentalists say climate change has altered the pattern of the monsoon season – it now brings short, intense bursts of rain instead of the steady showers that historically rejuvenated soil from June to September.

In the north and east of the country, an estimated 8 million grappled with a trail of destruction as swollen rivers inundated vast swaths of farmland and villages, destroying thatched homes and crops in two of India's poorest states, Assam and Bihar.

In just a week, wildfires burn 1 million acres in California, AP, 23 August 2020:
Weary firefighters in California raced Saturday to slow the spread of wildfires that burned nearly one million acres statewide in a week and destroyed hundreds of homes ahead an expected weather change that could bring more lightning strikes like the ones that sparked many of the blazes.


Two clusters of wildfires in the San Francisco Bay Area grew to become the second- and third-largest wildfires in recent state history by size. Light winds and cooler and more humid nighttime weather helped fire crews make progress on those fires and a third group of fires south of San Francisco ahead of the forecast of warm, dry weather, erratic wind gusts and lightning, state fire officials said.

Twin hurricanes threaten the Caribbean and US Gulf Coast, RNZ, 24 August 2020:
Coastal residents in low-lying areas of Louisiana and Cuba were evacuating on Sunday, while roads turned to rivers in Haiti's capital city, as twin hurricanes threatened the Caribbean and US Gulf Coast.

Marco, which strengthened to a hurricane on Sunday and is forecast to hit the Louisiana coast on Monday, will be followed by Tropical Storm Laura, now over the Dominican Republic and expected to travel across Hispaniola and Cuba and strengthen to a hurricane before striking the Gulf Coast on Thursday.


Back-to-back hurricanes arriving at the US coast within days "could result in a prolonged period of hazardous weather," National Hurricane Center forecaster Stacy Stewart warned on Sunday.

(The last is worse than reported, because they're currently on track to hit exactly the same patch of coast, just days apart).

Again, the planet is on fire, and our pollution is the cause. We need to stop it. Until we do, we are going to see more of these sorts of disasters.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Another abusive prorogation in Canada

Something from a few days ago: Canada is showing us exactly how not to do Westminster democracy, with another abuse of prorogation powers to suspend Parliament and kill a corruption investigation:

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is facing accusations that his decision to prorogue parliament is little more than an attempt to cover up an ethics scandal – and walk away from his duties during a pivotal moment in the pandemic.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trudeau asked Julie Payette, governor general, to prematurely end the current parliamentary session. He vowed to resume on 23 September with a speech from the throne, followed by a confidence vote.

The move to “reset” the government because of Covid comes amid committee investigations into the WE charity affair, in which Trudeau and former finance minister Bill Morneau face accusations of an improper financial relationship with the international development organization. Both men have apologized for not recusing themselves amid apparent conflicts of interest.

Prorogation will suspend all government business, including the investigation.

This isn't the first time this sort of abuse has happened. Back in 2008 then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued parliament to prevent the opposition from voting out his minority government, then did it again a year later to impede an investigation into Canada's collaboration with foreign torturers. Trudeau of course promised to end such abuses. But as usual, he lied.

So how do you stop it? We simply don't do this sort of thing in New Zealand. And partly that's because we've just got out of the habit, and moved away from this monarchical business of the monarch summoning Parliament every year in favour of the House controlling its own calendar, and away from monarchist ceremony (in the form of an archaic "speech from the throne") every time the government wants to make a major policy announcement in favour of the Prime Minister simply making a Ministerial statement or calling a press conference and telling us (or maybe, a mini-budget). Similarly, we don't need it - as Trudeau claims is the case in Canada - in order to hold a confidence vote: there are several scheduled throughout the year as part of the regular budget process, and the government can hold one whenever it wants. We don't even need it now to bring back Parliament during an adjournment in an emergency: the Speaker can do that themselves. The only time the Governor-General ever summons Parliament now is after elections, or in the never-happened-yet case of an emergency after it has been dissolved, and both of those are governed by statute - that is, by Parliament. Canada could learn from this, and adopt similar arrangements. And their constitution would probably be a lot healthier for it.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

This should be a no-brainer

The Greens are calling for sick-leave to be doubled to ten days:

The Green Party is calling for paid sick leave to increase from five to ten days, to ensure people can stay home when unwell to keep all of us safe.

Green Party Workplace Relations Spokesperson Jan Logie said today:

“We all have an incredibly important role to play in keeping COVID-19 out of our communities, and that includes staying home when unwell.


“The Ministry of Health has rightfully set very firm guidelines for people to stay home if they’re sick. However, the Government must ensure people are able to do so without worrying about paying the bills.

This should be a complete no-brainer, a basic workplace safety issue whose necessity has been highlighted by the pandemic (and it doesn't help that we're at the bottom end of the international league tables for this, with Australians getting twice as much sick leave as kiwis). But when the CTU raised it back in June, Jacinda Ardern was quick to squash it. which invites the question: why does the Labour Party oppose basic worker's rights? And if they do, isn't their name false advertising?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

"Justified but unlawful"

That is the finding of the High Court on the first nine days of New Zealand's lockdown, when we were all "ordered" to stay in our bubbles by the Prime Minister on television. Which is fairly unsurprising. We've known since Fitzgerald v Muldoon that you can't legislate by press release, and that the Prime Minister saying something doesn't give it legal effect. In this case, the order was eventually given legal effect, in the form of formal orders issued under the Health Act (the legality of which the court has upheld: it turns out that the Health Act quarantine power really does apply to everyone in the country all at once). But for those first few days, until those orders were issued, the lockdown order was unlawful and had no legal effect, which meant that it also breached our freedoms of association and movement (because justified limitations must be prescribed by law). At the same time, it was also a justified and proportionate health response, and this was recognised when the legality of the subsequent orders was upheld. So basicly the government's problem here is failing to do its paperwork properly. Which is understandable given the speed at which things were happening, but does actually matter when you're a government.

What does this mean in practice? Anyone prosecuted in those first few days for breaching lockdown has an easy appeal. Apparently that is unlikely to affect many people, but it still matters. There's no issue of potential liability for business closures because, unlike the instruction to stay at home except for essential travel, they actually had an order legally closing all premises. But the chief effect is to remind the government that we are not a monarchy, and that the Prime Minister cannot purportedly order us around from a podium like a King. When they want us to do something, they actually need to pass a law or use some other effective legal instrument. And hopefully in future they'll remember that.

Reviewing colonialism

Auckland Council is finally reviewing the future of its colonial statues:

A review of colonial-era monuments is underway to determine whether they should be removed, given their link to racial inequality in New Zealand’s past. The move comes after three monuments were vandalised in June, including a statue of former prime minister Sir George Grey in Albert Park which lost its finger and nose. Auckland Council will engage with local iwi before deciding on whether to keep the statues later in the year.
Hopefully the review will see them removed and replaced with monuments that celebrate the New Zealand we have become, rather than the one we were. Its not like we're short of options: The Spinoff has lists of both Māori and Pakeha who we could be celebrating. And if not, well, I guess people will just have to keep chipping away at it.

No Member's Day

When Parliament unexpectedly resumed, I was expecting today to be a Member's Day. The last one was on the 29th of July, and as every second Wednesday is given to Member's bills, the regular Parliamentary calendar would have seen today given to Member's business. Unfortunately, it is not to be: the Business Committee determination governing the unexpected sitting says that there will be "no further members’ days in this sitting period." As for what they're doing instead, that's unclear. Yesterday, the House sat for Ministerial statements and Question Time, plus a Covid-19 order authorisation motion, then rose at 16:00 despite there being bills on the Order Paper. If the government isn't going to use this bonus time, should backbenchers have the opportunity to? Or are they all going to collect their $180K salaries for doing nothing for the next few weeks?

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

OIA charging: Who charges for OIA requests in 2020?

Back in 2016, in response to a new OIA charging policy from the Reserve Bank and a push by then-Ombudsman Beverley Wakem for more agencies to charge, I conducted a survey of OIA charging practice. This confirmed the anecdata that in core government agencies charging for OIA requests was so rare as to be virtually non-existent (peripheral agencies and local government are a different story), and many agencies have implicit policies against charging. One of the purposes of the survey was to establish a baseline for further work, so we could see if this changed.

I've just completed another survey asking identical questions of each public service department seeking information on the number of requests they received, the number of times the demanded charges, the number of times they paid, and the amount collected. Responses were due back on Friday, and are collected here. The short version:

  • Out of more than 9,752 requests made to 30 responding agencies, only 4 attracted charges, a rate of 0.04%. This is slightly lower than the 2016 result of 0.05% (excluding Customs, which has since stopped charging). Note "More than": one agency provided information on the number of charges, but not on the number of requests.
  • One agency - MBIE - refused to provide information on the number of requests received, on the basis that different statistics would be released next month by the SSC. Appallingly, they took the full 20 working days to do so, which seems inconsistent with the OIA's "as soon as reasonably practicable" standard.
  • Two agencies - MBIE and Treasury - claimed that they had no idea how often they charged, and that they would have to look through every OIA request to find out. Interestingly, both were able to tell me four years ago. Treasury accepted that this is something they should be tracking, and they are investigating doing so.
  • One agency - the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development - did not respond at all, despite the request being sent to the main contact address listed on their website. A followup sent to their specific OIA address has produced a rapid promise to respond as quickly as possible, so it seems they have an internal administrative problem with passing on requests.
  • 25% (versus 30% in 2016) of agencies responded more or less immediately, within 5 working days of the request.
  • 40% (versus 30% in 2016) of agencies took over 15 working days to respond to a simple request for statistics which should be immediately available if they were tracking their requests properly. Both of these numbers are worse than last time, and raise questions about both these agency's commitment to the OIA's "as soon as reasonably practicable" standard, and about the performance trend of the government overall.
What can we conclude from this? The level of charging for OIA requests rightly remains practically non-existent, and Wakem's push to increase the rate of charging has failed. Agencies continue to recognise that charges are a barrier, and are rightly reluctant to impose them. That is a Good Thing, but what we don't know is the rate of requests declined for requiring "substantial collation and research" when a charge could instead have been requested. So in order to really assess the outcome, we need better, outcomes-based OIA statistics from SSC. Which would incidentally allow us to investigate a number of other issues - for example, the rate of extensions, and whether requests are being refused in order to meet timeliness targets.

Secondly, while its a sample of only 32 requests, the time histogram is troubling, and lends support to Mark Hanna's work suggesting that a number of agencies are treating the 20 working day maximum as a target, and ignoring the "as soon as reasonably practicable" standard. This is something that desperately needs to improve, and I'd like to see a work programme from the Ombudsman, SSC and Ministry of Justice to do so.

Monday, August 17, 2020


Its official: the 2020 election has been delayed until October 17. Which, given the difficulties of campaigning in Auckland at the moment, seems fair and reasonable. The change has taken place entirely within existing laws and constitutional conventions, and apparently after consultation with other parties (who didn't necessarily agree, but their views were sought). The downside is that, being closer to the US election, there's more chance of our vote being affected by American cray (which will be even more intense than usual). And of course while we hope to have the current Covid cluster under control by then, another one could spring up. In which case the amendments to the Electoral Act for voting during disasters will spring into action, and we'll get to see how they work.

Parliament will now resume on Tuesday, though it has a pretty light Order Paper. Most of its business will likely be accountability - I expect an urgent debate on the current outbreak - and any necessary Covid legislation. We'll also get another Member's Day, which should see Ginny Andersen's miscarriage leave bill advance. But having done the usual end-of-term rush to clear away business, there's now less for them to do unless another crisis happens. A bunch of retired MPs will now have to come back to work as well, which they will no doubt hate. But at least with current border restrictions, they are unlikely to have fled the country.

On the plus side, another month worth of 17 year olds will now get to vote. If you know anyone in this category, get them to enrol here.

Killing oil exploration

If we are to avoid dangerous levels of climate change and making the Earth uninhabitable, we cannot burn even a fraction of the fossil fuels we have discovered, and there's just no point looking for new oil we can't burn. And now, finally, the oil industry seems to be getting that message:

As the coronavirus ravages economies and cripples demand, European oil majors have made some uncomfortable admissions in recent months: oil and gas worth billions of dollars might never be pumped out of the ground.

With the crisis also hastening a global shift to cleaner energy, fossil fuels will likely be cheaper than expected in the coming decades, while emitting the carbon they contain will get more expensive. These two simple assumptions mean that tapping some fields no longer makes economic sense. BP Plc said on Aug. 4 that it would no longer do any exploration in new countries.

The oil industry was already grappling with the energy transition, copious supply and signs of peak demand as Covid-19 began to spread. The pandemic will likely bring forward that peak and discourage exploration, according to Rystad Energy AS. The consultant expects about 10% of the world’s recoverable oil resources—some 125 billion barrels—to become obsolete.

In this context, it looks like the move to ban offshore exploration in New Zealand was prescient and cost-free, something the industry was going to do itself in just a few short years. And hopefully this trend will also help kill onshore exploration in New Zealand as well, and let us move on with sunsetting this toxic and destructive industry in favour of clean alternatives.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Where else but Queensland?

How corrupt is Queensland? Yesterday they actually tried to ban journalists from exposing political corruption during election campaigns. Fortunately, today they changed their minds:

A day after introducing laws that would ban journalists from reporting corruption allegations during elections, the State Government has withdrawn the proposal in a spectacular backflip.

Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath proposed changes to the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) Act in state parliament yesterday that would carry a six-month jail term for people who published CCC allegations about political candidates during an election period.

But this morning, Ms D'Ath released a statement announcing the laws would be withdrawn.

Queensland has had five state politicians convicted of corruption offences, not to mention Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen who was forced to resign as the result of a corruption inquiry. Its political system is institutionally corrupt and rotten to the core, with a nexus between property developers and politicians affecting all levels of government in the state. It is so obvious and blatant that the state government was forced to ban donations from developers in 2017 (which of course they simply try and circumvent). Yesterday's move therefore simply seems like a corrupt political system trying to protect itself from entirely justified public outrage and accountability. And D'Ath's repeated characterisation of corruption allegations as "baseless" and "being used to score political points" makes it clear that she is part of the problem.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

More dirty dairying

The Waikato Regional Council is actually enforcing the RMA for once:

Three Waikato farmers have been fined a total of $116,100 for illegally discharging farm effluent.


Gerard Wolvers from South Waikato, who has farmed for nearly 50 years, was convicted on three charges after an unknown amount of effluent ended up in a stream.

The discharges happened over two days in April 2018 and were reported to the council by a member of the public.

An estimated 3-400,000 litres of effluent had been pumped into a paddock where it formed a flow path across farmland.

Wolvers was fined $61,600.

The other two were fined $28,000 and $26,500 respectively. But these sorts of offences are happening with depressing regularity (here's an example prosecuted yesterday), so maybe the fines need to increase, so its not just a cost of doing business?

There is no corruption in New Zealand

A corrupt public sector manager abuses their office to funnel public money to companies set up by himself and a friend. America? Australia? No, its New Zealand:

Consultancy firm Deloitte has delivered a damning report on the New Zealand Transport Agency that says it failed to follow its own processes, had un-managed conflicts of interests, operated on unsigned contracts, and paid out money for services for which it hadn't contracted.

The end result was a near-useless App developed by a contact of an NZTA manager that cost the taxpayer $198,000, and a more lucrative contract that saw the same company reap $1.5m in fees from civil contractors.

Newsroom understands NZTA's Zero Harm Manager Martin McMullan and his "friend" Martin Riding - they're referred to as 'ZHM' and 'Person A' in the text - are the two people at the centre of events within the report.

The article lays out how they set up a series of companies, which were immediately given money for app development without any competitive process (though in one case they set up a retrospective tender, which was open for all of four days, rather than the usual 25). Person A was also allowed to write one-sided contracts giving them ownership of any intellectual property in what would normally be work for hire. And to top it all off, it was all well outside NZTA's normal operational scope: these apps were to boost workplace safety by roading contractors on state highways, something you'd think would normally be the responsibility of, say, WorkSafe.

It's all a gross violation of government procurement policy, but its also nakedly corrupt, an abuse of public office by ZHM to enrich their mate. Which invites the question: why aren't they being prosecuted?

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Showing us who they are

What's National's first move under lockdown? Call for elections to be delayed:

National leader Judith Collins is demanding Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern delay the September election after the discovery of Covid-19 community transmission cases in Auckland. A clearly frustrated Collins on Wednesday afternoon said she was directly asking Ardern to shift the election to November, or instead call back MPs to Parliament so they can vote on pushing polling day into 2021.
Obviously, Collins wants all the time she can get to have Brownlee spread conspiracy theories. But its also quite revealing that her instinctive reaction is to try and abrogate our democracy for her own advantage. The National Party is showing us exactly who they are: instinctive authoritarians who think only of themselves, who will happily try and sabotage a critical public health response if they think it helps them (see also: Michelle Boag). People should remember that at the ballot box.

Its not the pay, its the conditions

Another rural business is complaining about being unable to find staff, despite offering "high" pay. So what do they want people to do?

“There’s also a perception that contractors work from sunrise to sunset but that’s not accurate, either,” Hawker said.

“Health and safety is our biggest concern – it’s a dangerous industry already without people getting fatigued.”

Waipounamu’s contractors average 60 to 80 hours over a six-day week, earning in the “mid- to high-20s” an hour.

And that's the problem right there: expecting one person to do the work of two. Throw in the fact that its in the middle of nowhere, so you've got no life, and that its dangerous, and you'd basicly have to offer oil rig or fly-in, fly-out wages to attract anyone who isn't stuck there already. If this business wants staff, they need to fundamentally change the working conditions in their industry to a more human pattern. And if they don't, the crops deserve to rot.

Here we go again

So, the inevitable has happened and we have Covid in the community again. So now we have to do it all again to try and get it back under control. And already the usual suspects are whining, pretending that they don't know what the plan is when really they simply do not like the idea that we will all lock down for as long as necessary. But sadly, what this crisis has revealed is that there are some kiwis who would rather we face mass deaths than see any disruption to their money-grubbing or loss of profit. Which is another reason why we need to tax these parasites out of existence.

But what its also revealed is that we can do this. Lockdowns work, and people understand that. So, we all stay at home and wash our hands, and we'll beat this again, just like we did back in April. If we're lucky, it's a limited outbreak, it'll be tracked down and isolated, and this won't last too long. If it has spread further, then it will take longer.

As for what it means for the election, it depends on how serious the outbreak is. The dissolution of parliament has been delayed until Monday while the government works that out, but if its a limited outbreak, then things will proceed as normal - there's a bit of wiggle-room in the statutory timeline. Otherwise, Parliament expires in October, which would mean a November or December election. But obviously, if this goes on for any length of time, there are going to be limits on the ability of MPs to campaign in person and hold public meetings, which obviously isn't ideal. As for the voting itself, Andrew Geddis covers that here. We have a functioning government which has planned for this contingency, so our democracy will continue despite the virus.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Defamation law is a threat to democracy. Let's get rid of it

Back in June, Newsroom published a well-investigated piece about how the Department of Conservation had waived rehabilitation requirements for a mining company. Now, one of the company's directors - specifically David Wong-Tung, who just happens to be Judith Collins' husband and the director of environmental pillagers Oravida - is threatening to sue them for defamation. The purpose of the threat is clearly to silence criticism of their cosy deal with DoC, making it a perfect example of a SLAPP. This is obviously outrageous, and Wong-Tung deserves all the reputational damage that comes from it being publicised. But its also worth asking: do we need defamation law anyway?

Officially defamation laws protect people's reputations from false and malicious allegations. That's fine in theory, but in practice it is notoriously expensive to enforce, meaning that the law really only protects the reputations of the rich. At the same time, it is clearly and regularly abused by those same rich and their corporate fronts to stifle criticism. It is clearly therefore a threat to our democratic conversation.

What would happen if we repealed it? Obviously, people could say untrue things about rich people and hurt their feelings. But they can always make themselves feel better by rolling in their vast piles of cash. On the flip side, they would no longer be able to intimidate journalists and politicians into silence, threatening them with vast costs if they dared step out of line and report on their dubious activities. Given the balance of harm, it seems to me that our democracy would be better for repeal.

Submission: Parliament needs a better way to protect our human rights

On the last day, I've finally put together a submission on the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill:

  1. I support the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill and asked that it be passed with amendments.

  2. The bill is a response to the ruling of the Supreme Court in Taylor v. Attorney General, which found that the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Act 2010 was inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. In doing so, it agreed with the Attorney General when the law was passed, who found that it was "unjustifiably inconsistent with the electoral rights affirmed by s12 of the Bill of Rights Act".

  3. The conduct of the House in passing the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill in 2010 was disgraceful, as was its foot-dragging in response to a clear ruling from the Supreme Court that that law was inconsistent with the NZBORA. The conduct is perfectly captured by ACT MP Hilary Calvert's third reading speech, which reads in its entirety:
    "I rise to take a call on the third reading of the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill. I cannot pretend this bill is my favourite thing. Trevor Mallard leaving the House earlier, and not being able to vote while he was away, could count as a favourite thing. Perhaps popping a ping-pong ball in the mouth of the honourable member over there who all day keeps turning his head from side to side with his mouth open could count as my favourite thing. This bill is not my favourite thing. However, Act is supporting National on this bill."
    (Emphasis added)

  4. This speech displayed a casual attitude to human rights from Members of Parliament. It bought the House into contempt. More importantly, it showed that Parliament was unwilling to seriously perform its duties of scrutinising legislation and acting as a guardian of our human rights under NZBORA.

  5. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 currently respects the supremacy of Parliament, and MPs hide behind that phrase whenever their lawmaking decisions are questioned. But an assumption of the NZBORA is that Parliament will do its duty properly, not abuse its power, and pass laws which unjustifiably infringe upon our human rights only in exceptional circumstances, when - for lack of another way to say it - it is justified, and only after due consideration. Parliament's passage of the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill calls that assumption - and the legitimacy of Parliament to be the guardian of our human rights - into question.

  6. In the face of that question, the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill represents the bare minimum that Parliament can do, a grudging acceptance of wrongdoing. Declarations of inconsistency by the courts will now need to be reported to the House. But there is no suggestion that Parliament will treat them any more seriously than it treated the removal of prisoner voting rights in the first place. While I understand that there will be Standing Orders requiring such reports to be debated, fundamentally it will be within Parliament's power to ignore them, or to casually reject them as the 49th Parliament did the entire notion of human rights. And that seems to be insufficient both as a constitutional safeguard, and as a means of restoring Parliament's legitimacy.

  7. Fundamentally, this Bill needs to be stronger. What I would like to see in its place is a provision automatically revoking any law declared to be inconsistent with the NZBORA by the courts, unless affirmed within a short space of time by a majority or supermajority of Parliament, or clauses echoing s33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensuring that any over-ride of the NZBORA is explicit and temporary, as well as the entrenchment of the NZBORA to prevent casual meddling and implied repeal. These would be a better balance between Parliament and the courts in New Zealand's modern democracy, and better respect the public judgement about who is a fair and impartial guardian of our rights.

  8. I recognise that such provisions are well beyond the scope of this Bill, and any beyond the first would require public consultation. It would therefore be best to view this Bill as a temporary measure to enable such consultation. I therefore ask that the Bill be amended to include a statutory review clause, requiring the Attorney-General to establish a public and impartial panel within three years to review its operation and advise on what stronger measures should be taken to rebalance Parliament and the courts in this area.

  9. I do not wish to appear before the committee.

Climate Change: Mark the date

Students will be striking for the climate again on Friday, September 4:

Students in Wellington are gearing up to strike from school this September 4th, to protest inaction on climate change. Their demands? That Government invests in a green COVID-19 response; that there is a just transition provided for workers in unsustainable industries, with retraining and new job opportunities made available; and that all who are able to vote, do so with the climate crisis in mind.

“It is so important that the Government’s post-Covid spending is done with a green, sustainable future in mind,” says SS4C Wellington. “We are currently at a crossroads in history; the path we take now will determine whether we have secure futures, or whether our adult lives are marked by a climate crisis, a series of tipping points, and a runaway greenhouse effect beyond human control.”

So far there's a Wellington event in Civic Square , which will be marching on Parliament from noon. No doubt there will be other events around the country. I encourage everyone to show their support for the students. Climate change is the defining issue for the future, and we are going to have to deal with it if we want that future to be liveable. The school strike movement's demands for a green rebuild and a just transition away from fossil fuels are a way to do that. But to get there, we need to convince the politicians to do it, and the way to do that is with numbers. So, back the school strike, and help ensure a decent future for New Zealand and the world.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Supplementary Question on the OIA

NewsHub Nation has launched a new podcast, "Supplementary Question". Their inaugural episode is about the OIA, and asks "is our most important transparency law fit for purpose?" While they interviewed Justice Minister Andrew Little and Ombudsman Peter Boshier for this, there's not actually a lot of them in there, and most of the space is given to open government advocate Andrew Ecclestone talking about the need for reform. An important point he makes is that control over the flow of information is inherently about political power, and that overseas experiences shows newly-elected governments tend to be better at opening it up than second-term ones, because they still have strong memories of using freedom of information legislation to extract information rather than trying to block it. Which is something to remember when Andrew Little is promising to "rewrite" the Act (but being entirely non-specific about how).

In terms of clues about what Little is planning, he highlights a greater emphasis on proactive release. Which is good, but at the same time if done badly leaves the government holding all the cards, deciding what is released and when (and at the moment, appeal rights over proactively-released material are non-existent). We need to make sure that it is done well, with limited ability for the government to control timing or redactions for its own advantage. But again, we can only do that if we get a full public consultation process; Little's previously hinted-at plan of just writing the bill themselves in secret and letting us plebs comment on it at select committee isn't enough, as (as Ecclestone points out) the major policy decisions have been made and the government will not want the embarrassment of being seen to change its mind (that apparently being a Bad Thing in politics).

Why is HBRC still subsidising Ruataniwha?

Remember the Ruataniwha dam? The Hawke's Bay Regional Council wasted $14 million trying to push this environmental disaster through before the Supreme Court ruled that the land swap it relied on with DoC was illegal. At the end of it, they wrote off the money and sold the existing consents to a group of local businessmen. But now it turns out that they are still subsidising them:

A rural council in Hawke's Bay has agreed to relieve the financial stress of a controversial group that owns the rights to a failed dam project.


The intellectual property and consents were sold to Water Holdings Hawke's Bay.

The group recently asked the council to grant $58,000 to meet science charges - the costs of monitoring and managing consents.

At its latest meeting, all but one of the district councillors there voted to grant the fund.

Water Holdings Hawke's Bay claims they deserve this subsidy because they are working "on behalf of the community". Bullshit. The Hawkes' Bay community has rejected this project - as have the courts. And if they're too poor to pay for the ongoing monitoring required to maintain the consents, the answer is obvious: surrender them.

The housing policy we need

For years we've had a housing crisis in New Zealand, driven by immigration-driven population growth and the market refusing to build enough houses (and enough of the right sort of houses) to meet it. As a result, people can't get homes, while Boomer landlords leech away their income and parasitical property managers gouge as much as they can. The housing crisis is also an inequality crisis, with those who got on the property ladder twenty years ago (an especially in Auckland) seeing their paper wealth increase, while those who didn't are locked into penury and prevented from saving by spiralling rents. The solution to all this is simple: build more state houses. Building more houses removes the shortage and crashes the price so they're affordable. Making a high proportion of these houses state or community houses cuts out private landlords and their property manager cossacks, and sets higher standards for the market as a whole. And a price-crash due to increased supply burns the paper wealth of the Boomers, eliminating their ability to leverage that wealth to make more.

And now, the Greens are offering that. The new housing policy they launched yesterday commits the government to building enough state houses to eliminate the waiting list in five years, and to backing community and iwi housing to drive private landlords out of the market. But more importantly, it would explicitly set an affordability target for Kāinga Ora to manage the housing supply, effectively telling it to build more houses whenever prices rise. In other words, a permanent check on shortage-driven bubbles. There's a lot of other stuff in there to like: higher standards for rental properties, licensing of property managers, strengthening the building code so new homes are fit for the future. But most importantly, they've got the big stuff right.

Will Labour agree to it if they're forced into coalition? The problem here is that Labour MPs own a lot of houses, and so are part of the problem. But at the end of the day, its the numbers in Parliament that will count. So if you're young and you hate your landlord or your property manager, vote Green.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Climate Change: The CDM problem

Back in the Kyoto era, the international climate change regime included a Clean Development Mechanism to fund emissions reduction projects in developing nations. Essentially someone would certify that a project - e.g. building a windfarm, or installing energy-efficient lightbulbs - would reduce emissions over and above "business-as-usual". The project would then get internationally recognised carbon credits, which could be sold on the international market, making it more profitable.

The CDM saw all sorts of fraud - factories built solely to produce hugely damaging hydroflurocarbons, so they could get credits for destroying their product - but there's a story on Inside Climate News today about the CDM working properly, and how that has turned into a disaster as well. The short version: there are a bunch of chemical factories in China, which make adipic acid, a chemical feedstock. A byproduct of the manufacture of adipic acid is nitrous oxide, a long-lived, hugely-damaging greenhouse gas 300 times as strong as carbon dioxide (in NZ we mostly see this from cow-piss and fertiliser). But there was a cheap way of destroying those emissions and turning them into harmless nitrogen and oxygen. The equipment was installed, the emissions were destroyed, the factories got credits, the CDM works!

Except that there were side-effects. These factories earned so much money from CDM credits that it effectively distorted the global adipic acid market. Clean factories which were built not to produce nitrous oxide from the beginning were driven out of business. Then, when Russian and Ukranian fraud crashed the price of carbon credits, the Chinese factories turned off their removal technology and went back to polluting. The world got five years abatement, and then a clean(ish) industry where emissions were the exception became a dirty one where they were the norm. These factories are still polluting today, producing the emissions of one and a half New Zealands. And there's no regulatory or price mechanism to stop them.

The lesson here is that while the CDM and equivalents can fund a transition to cleaner tech, it needs to be backed up with regulation or permanent price mechanisms to ensure that that tech continues to be used. China didn't do that, and we are all victims of their poor policy.

Want a reason to support STV?

As the classic MMP cartoon goes, just look at who is against it. Yesterday, the Hamilton City Council voted to use STV for its next two local body elections. The move was initially opposed by deputy mayor Geoff Taylor. The reason? Because a voting system which provided accurate representation and enabled the election of a diversity of voices around the council table discriminated against and marginalised old white men:

Taylor said while he had no issue with increased diversity around the council table, there was an unpleasant side effect:

“There’s an ugly undercurrent that pops up every so often ... the old while male privilege argument,” the deputy mayor declared. “I’m a white man in my 50s. Don’t presume to know me. You haven’t walked a mile in my shoes. You have no idea of what challenges I have had to overcome to be here or what sacrifices I’ve made. You might be surprised.

“I would urge you not to fall into that trap of glibly marginalising one sector of society. Is that not the one prejudice that we have been trying to get away from?”

Because when you're privileged, raising up other voices looks like "discrimination", I guess.

But people like Geoff Taylor is exactly the problem STV is meant to solve. New Zealand's local government is basicly a gerontocracy, and before the last elections there were more councillors named "John" than there councillors born after 1980. It is unrepresentative and undemocratic. STV will fix that, in the same way that MMP is fixing it on a national level. Hamilton's move is a move towards a better, more equal New Zealand. And if Taylor doesn't like that, voters can judge him on it in 2022.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Assessing Labour's term

Parliament has just begun the adjournment debate, signalling the effective end of this Parliament. So it seems like an appropriate time to assess Labour's term in office. Unfortunately, its a pretty dismal assessment. Labour campaigned on one thing: change. Not just a change in who got the top jobs and the fat salaries, but a change in direction on inequality, on housing, on worker's rights, on climate change. And in her adjournment debate speech, Ardern is talking up those aspirations again. But the sad fact is that when in office, Labour hasn't delivered change. Instead, it has run a status quo government which has maintained existing inequalities and failures. Winston gets some of the blame for that, but not all - on some big issues, Labour chose not to change things, ruling out a capital gains tax, retaining the Hobbit law under another name, continuing subsidies for polluters and farmers. And they look set to repeat this, offering nothing if re-elected. No policies, no change in direction, just the red team getting the big bucks and the perks of office for another three years. That might thrill Labour hacks and apparatchiks, but it doens't thrill me.

A year ago, I called them a government of disappointment, and despite them finally having ovaried up and passed abortion law reform, I stand by that. Once upon a time Labour governments changed things and made New Zealand a better country. The modern Labour Party seems to have given up any ambition of that, and seem content to preside over whatever ruins National leaves them.

The government's one saving grace is that Ardern is good in a crisis. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it over White Island, and we've seen it again with the pandemic: her instincts are good, and she is good at communicating what is necessary and bringing people with her. And in the middle of the biggest crisis we've faced for a century, that's useful, especially with the opposition working hard to make everyone think they are on the side of the virus. But we shouldn't pretend that she's good for anything else, or that the party she leads deserves re-election on its policy merits. The only policy achievements we've seen this term - the Zero Carbon Act, the Residential Tenancies Act, the half-measure of banning new fossil fuel exploration (which Labour immediately cheated on) - belong to the Greens. And the only way we will get anything other than the status quo from Labour next term is if the Greens can force them.

Climate Change: Still insufficient

Our climate change policies are insufficient to achieve our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, according to independent assessor Climate Action Tracker:

New Zealand won’t be carbon neutral by 2050 without much stronger policies, says an independent analysis by Climate Action Tracker.

The non-profit highlighted a lack of active policies for cutting methane, spurring electric vehicles and boosting renewable energy.

Despite capping emissions, reforming the Emissions Trading Scheme, and passing the Zero Carbon Act, the Government is well off track for meeting a climate goal of curbing heating below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5C (the goal of the Zero Carbon Act), the analysis says.

Our target under the Paris Agreement is rated “insufficient” – the same as last year. Climate Action Tracker says if all countries followed our example, the world would reach 3C hotter than pre-industrial levels.

That target is currently under review, but that doesn't mean that the government will strengthen it, and Labour has shown no appetite for protecting lives in the future at the cost of jobs now (or at least, not when it comes to climate change). But as with COVID-19, the best way of protecting the economy from climate change is to go hard and go early to decarbonise, thus getting in on the ground floor of the post-carbon economy while limiting the total damage we do to the atmosphere. Sadly, they've preferred to try fudging the numbers instead.

Parliament still doesn't care about our rogue military

It is the last sitting day of Parliament, and the last question time before the House is dissolved. So, are there any questions about the damning findings of the Hit and Run inquiry, and how the government plans to bring the military back under democratic control? Of course not.

NZDF killed a child, then lied to and misled Ministers about it, undermining the principle of democratic control. And through their actions, our representatives are saying that they're just fine with that, and that no questions need to be asked about it at all. If MPs are wondering why the public so often has contempt for them, this sort of collective conspiracy of silence is why. And we should judge them for it in September.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Unfit to govern

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 was extended today, until December 1st or the tenth sitting day following the resumption of Parliament after the election. It seems like a necessary extension. While we currently have eradicated the virus in New Zealand, it is still banging at the door, and its probably inevitable that it will get in at some stage, even with our current border protections. We need to have a good legal framework in place to allow us to impose lockdowns or other appropriate measures when that happens.

So naturally, the National Party voted against extension. Its as if they want people to think they are on the side of the virus. Though really, the reason is that they are irresponsible wreckers, who would have passed this law or something like it had they been in government, but feel they have to oppose it because Labour passed it. And that simply makes them unfit to govern.

(I opposed the search provisions of the law, which are overly intrusive, but the general framework is a necessary and proportionate response to this threat for the time being).

A slush fund

One of the government's key policies - extracted by NZ First as part of its coalition agreement - is the "Provincial Growth Fund": $1 billion a year spent on creating jobs in rural New Zealand. Yesterday the Auditor-General issued a report on the fund, finding that it lacks transparency, and that it is difficult to evaluate whether we're getting value for money for this spending. This is pretty damning - when the government spends money, we're entitled to know what it is spending it on, what it expects to get out of it, and whether that actually happens. And the Auditor-General found that that was not the case.

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones' response has simply been to deny the findings. Of course he would - he's the problem. Jones tours the provinces - especially Northland, the electorate he hopes to win in September - dispensing millions of dollars, and trying to make it look like its all his personal gift rather than the result of any competitive process (and in some cases, it is). And this is how he defends it:

“You win an election through an MMP process and associated with electoral victory are dividends, and one dividend arrived in the form of manifesto commitments, funded by putea in the form of the PGF [Provincial Growth Fund], endorsed by the Cabinet of New Zealand Government,” Jones said.
This is a simply corrupt attitude. Government money is not there to be dispensed to the government's supporters as a reward for their votes. Its the sort of shit I'd expect to see in a despotism, not in New Zealand. As for how to fix it, voting Jones out in September would be a good start.

Burning their social licence

The Warehouse, one of New Zealand's biggest retailers, has decided to stop selling coal. Good. Coal is a dirty, polluting fossil fuel, and the less of it we have out there, the better. Retailers choosing not to sell it sends a clear message that this is not a fuel we want in this country.

Of course, domestic coal use is only 1% of the total - the real villains here are the dairy, steel, and electricity industries. But their use is also being challenged, and they are being encouraged to move away from coal. And the Warehouse's move helps that struggle too, by de-legitimising coal as a fuel and undermining the industry's social licence. After all, if retailers won't sell it, then why should we allow people to burn it in their dirty, stinking factories?

But we need to go further, and cut off the supply, as we are doing for gas. If we are to avoid making the Earth uninhabitable, we cannot burn coal. It is that simple. And that means setting a timeline to cancel mining permits and resource consents and ban imports. And the sooner we do that, the easier it will be for people to make the switch.

15,000 employed under Labour

The labour market statistics have been released, and they show that unemployment actually dropped last quarter. All told, there are 111,000 unemployed - 15,000 fewer than when the government took office.

But before anyone thinks that the pandemic hasn't put people out of work, remember that this is for the June quarter, and the wage subsidy schemes are still operating. Essentially, this is how things look before the wave hits. And even then, "underutilisation" - people working less than they want - is up, while the number of people in the work force has dropped, which goes against recent trends. And the next stats will probably be worse.

Its also worth looking at what Labour has done over the last three years, and the answer is "not much". For all their talk about jobs, the floor for unemployment with their policy settings seems to be 4% (seen in September 2018, June 2019, and June 2020) - just half a percent lower than it was under National, and significantly higher than it was under Clark. For all their rhetoric, they're a status quo government pursuing status quo policies, uninterested in delivering real change.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Parliament doesn't care about our rogue military

On Friday the Hit and Run inquiry delivered a devastating report which found that NZDF had systematically misled Ministers over civilian deaths. The report called into question civilian control of the military (and indeed, military control of the military), a fundamental principle of our democracy. So you'd expect our politicians to be demanding accountability for it in Parliament today. But you'd be wrong. There are no questions about the inquiry or the response to it in Question Time. You'd get the impression the politicians just don't care that our soldiers killed a child and lied to them about it.

Or rather, they don't care to know about it, because it can only make them look bad. The killing and lies happened on National's watch, so they don't want to know. Labour is shit-scared of being accused of being anti-military, so they're not interested either. The Defence Minister is from NZ First, so they don't want questions. And the Greens gave all theirs to National (oops). But the net result of all this self-interested arse-covering is that a major challenge to our democracy from the military is being allowed to go completely unexamined.

This is not good enough. Our "representatives" are simply not doing their jobs. And because they're all not doing their jobs, we don't get to punish them for it at the election. If they wanted to give people the idea that they were just there to defend and cover up for the status quo, they couldn't really do any better.

Corruptly protecting their own

How corrupt are the New Zealand Police? This corrupt:

On 10 February 2019, Police attended a family harm incident. The suspect attempted to run the attending officers over in a driveway with his car, narrowly missing them, before fleeing the scene. A short pursuit followed, ending when the suspect stopped his car.

The arrest was captured on CCTV and the footage shows the suspect getting out of his car and lying face down on the ground with his hands behind his head. One of the officers is then seen firmly placing a foot on his head, kicking his body several times and punching him to the head before he is handcuffed and arrested.

The Police found the officer's use of force was excessive but decided not to charge him with a criminal offence as they did not believe it was in the public interest to do so.

The IPCA disagrees. They noted that the police officer was aggressive from the beginning, threatening the victim with a taser without justification, and that they then lied in their report about what they had done. Unfortunately, they don't get to make prosecution decisions - police do. And as usual, they use that power to protect their own, refusing to lay charges even when abuses of power are captured live on camera. And then, they wonder why nobody trusts them.

The police are clearly not willing to enforce the law impartially. as for the solution, it is obvious: give the IPCA prosecution power, so they can do the job police refuse to of holding their own to account.

(And meanwhile, this practice of anonymity for violent, abusive police has to end. Why should they be protected from the reputational damage they deserve to suffer for their thuggery? And how many times has it hidden the fact that we have repeat offenders still wearing a badge? In the US, where police records are public, it has allowed abusers to be identified and driven out (if only because no-one will insure them anymore). We need to do this in New Zealand too.)

Some welcome improvements

Parliament's triennial Review of Standing Orders was released today, and it contains a number of welcome, if minor, improvements. The ones that caught my are:

  • A move to encourage "pre-legislative engagement" - the government consulting widely on legislation before it is introduced - by promising easier passage (e.g. with shorter debates). As for why this is necessary, see my comments on the government's proposed OIA rewrite: the select committee stage isn't really "consultation", as it is too late to make any meaningful change there. Encouraging pre-legislative engagement means a better chance of real consultation on bills, with real public input (rather than the sham we get at the moment). Though I'd expect select committees to be vigorous in demanding real consultation, and not reward the government for conducting a sham or box-ticking exercise.
  • A specialist petitions committee to effectively screen petitions to Parliament. The petitions committee would deal with most personal grievance petitions, while forwarding those requiring real investigation and detailed knowledge to subject-matter committees.
  • Automatic introduction of Members Bills with majority support. At present members can support bills, but it is pretty meaningless. This provision would make it meaningful, and the government would be prevented from abusing it by excluding the support of Ministers and Under-secretaries.

When adopted, these moves should give us a slightly better Parliament next term. Though it will be interesting to see whether the pre-engagement and automatic introduction provisions actually get used.

Monday, August 03, 2020

More British war crimes

In New Zealand, we've just had the report of the Hit and Run inquiry, which found that a New Zealand led raid had accidentally killed civilians, including a child. meanwhile, around the same time, the British SAS was conducting its own raids in Afghanistan, and theirs were a hell of a lot more suspicious. Civilians - all of them male, all of them "military-aged" (a military euphemism deliberately chosen to make people sound suspicious and cast doubt upon their civilian status) kept being shot and killed after being detained, supposedly after having grabbed weapons. But the stories were so eerily similar that even UK officers were forced to admit that this was probably a deliberate policy of murder:

An internal email requests a copy of the OPSUM within hours of the killings and asks: "Is this about [redacted] latest massacre!"

The reply includes a summary of the unlikely events in the official report and concludes by saying: "You couldn't MAKE IT UP!"

It looks as if the soldiers reading these reports had concerns that they were being falsified using near-identical cover stories.

A formal briefing note was passed up the chain of command by a senior member of the UK Special Forces, demanding an investigation to "put a stop to criminal behaviour". Naturally, the British Army dismissed it. Now they've been accused by a judge of withholding evidence from the courts - AKA perversion of the course of justice - and ordered to turn over evidence to their victims. As for the government, it plans to grant impunity to British soldiers for war crimes specifically to prevent people seeking justice through the courts. Its a classic case of the establishment protecting itself and its servants. But if people can't get justice through UK courts, they will simply have to seek it in The Hague. And by granting impunity, British Ministers will have given themselves a place in the dock next to their pet murderers.

Meanwhile, this is another reason why we should not let the NZDF cooperate with the UK or US militaries: because these sorts of habits spread. If we don't want kiwi soldiers to become murderers, we need to quarantine them from foreign killers to prevent memetic infection.

Climate Change: The risk assessment

In addition to establishing a process for setting emissions reductions plans, the Zero Carbon Act established a process for managing the risks of climate change. The first part of this is the preparation of regular risk assessments, looking at the risks to our economy, society, environment, and ecology. The first of these was released today, and it paints a pretty dire picture. We're looking at extreme risks to our drinking water supplies, to buildings near the coast, and to government finances from paying the repeated ongoing costs of disaster relief and social dislocation. We're also looking at significant risks to social cohesion and of increasing existing inequalities due to who will be impacted and who will pay. Plus, there's serious risks of maladaptation, of responding badly by failing to plan for worst cases or for the longer term. And we need to start doing something about these risks in the immediate future.

The next stage of this process will be to produce an adaptation plan, on how to address those risks. And there will be progress reporting against it, so governments will not be able to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend everything is fine. But pretty obviously, the best way of managing these risks is to reduce our emissions and decarbonise our society, and to work to make that a global policy. And equally obviously, our current policy settings are nowhere near doing that. So, if our government is to pass the laugh test, it needs to significantly strengthen our climate change policies and start decarbonisation. Otherwise it is literally just sitting there waiting for the flood and letting it happen.

You can read the full risk assessment here.

Amnesty International on transparency

Over on The spinoff, Amnesty International's Meg de Ronde has a response to Friday's release of the Hit and Run report. And in response to Attorney-General David Parker's claim that the government was being "transparent" by releasing the report, its titled "we shouldn’t have to work this hard to get transparency from our government". De Ronde points out that NZDF and the government in fact fought against transparency every step of the way, first opposing an inquiry, then ensuring it was held in secret, and all the while releasing as little information as possible and trying to discredit those who had exposed their crimes. And they have some pointy things to say about that culture of secrecy:

I have big concerns that if we don’t work hard, the current government and future governments will only pay lip service to the word transparency. My team and I are fighting constantly to get access to basic information about what the state is doing. The Official Information Act process is seemingly treated with disdain by many government departments and officials. We’ve had requests for basic information denied on spurious grounds or delayed for ridiculously long periods. Meanwhile, we don’t have access to data on the use of force by our police or on the lockdown hours in our prisons. It’s a waste of our time and resources. This information should be accessible.

A functioning freedom of information regime (or better, proactive disclosure) is a basic safety mechanism against government abuse. Our current regime was used to keep abuse hidden. The fact that that was legal represents a failure of the OIA regime, and correcting that failure should be the starting point for any reform.

Labour offers nothing

There's an election next month, so you'd be expecting political parties to be telling us what they stand for and what they'd do if they'd win. But while the Greens have given us a detailed policy platform, and National has talked about roads and austerity, Labour, currently leading the polls and on track to be a single party government, has said it has no plans to tell us what it will do if re-elected:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is warning voters not to expect any large-scale Labour policies this election, as her party's priority is the Covid-19 recovery.

Ardern, who is the Labour leader, was also critical of her opponents' plans for government debt, saying what National has proposed means tough austerity measures for the next generation.

Speaking to RNZ this morning, Ardern said voters should not expect a "large-scale range of policies" from Labour this election.

Obviously, their big policy is "not getting everyone killed". But they still need to provide more detail than that. Because, pretty obviously, our other problems haven't gone away just because there's a pandemic on. We still have a housing crisis and intolerable levels of inequality. We still have an environmental crisis, with farmers sucking us dry and filling our rivers with cowshit. And we still have a climate crisis, where we are literally making the planet uninhabitable for humanity. And any party with pretensions of being elected to power owes it to voters to explain what it is going to do about those crises. A party which doesn't is treating voters with contempt.

Labour's "no policies" strategy may make for a small political target and avoid pissing people off, but it also suggests they're not actually going to do anything. Instead of the change we need, we're going to get the same unjust, unequal, unsustainable status quo. And if that's all that's on offer, they do not deserve to be elected.