Monday, November 30, 2020

Labour finally does the right thing

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

The wrong conclusion

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

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

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

Blaming anyone but themselves

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: Calling us on our bullshit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour sells out kiwis

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Climate Change: An emergency

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

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

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

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

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

NZDF should not be allowed to handle this in-house

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Taking the piss

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

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

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

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

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

A Parliament that sounds like Aotearoa

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Reading the room

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2020

Good riddance

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Obvious questions for the NZDF

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

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

Keeping Rates Low

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Climate Change: The problem of air travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

The obvious question

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: Time to phase out fossil vehicles

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

This is not a solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even the banks can see which way the wind is blowing

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

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


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

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


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

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

Monday, November 16, 2020

A cringe, not a crouch

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2020

No accountability means no confidence II

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

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

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

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

Bad Faith

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Empty hand-wringing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: The first test

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A failure to assist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Labour's "kindness" extends only to the rich

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

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


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

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

ACT is right: We should keep the one seat rule

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 09, 2020

Let them rot

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 06, 2020

Places to go, people to be

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

Thursday, November 05, 2020

America's sick "democracy"

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

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

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

25,000 unemployed under Labour

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

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

A headache for the government

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 02, 2020

Another funny thing to die in a ditch over

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

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

A threat to our security

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

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

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

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