Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A hole in the OIA

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2020

More racism from police

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2020

Tax cuts for the rich don't work

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

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


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

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

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

Billionaires aren't essential

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

Good riddance

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A good first step

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

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

Delivering last term's promises

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

BIM day

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: Calling us on our bullshit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2020

That's the point

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: Not doing our bit

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

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

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

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


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

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

This is simply police corruption

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Climate Change: A warning shot

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Against a new counterterrorism agency

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

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

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

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

Farmers earn their reputation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A moral void II

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 07, 2020

Film subsidies are not worthwhile

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 04, 2020

Overthrowing democracy in Tauranga

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: Denmark ends fossil fuels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: Reducing transport emissions

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

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

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

Thursday, December 03, 2020


Parliament passed the government's new top tax rate this morning. But as expected, National and ACT objected to it. And they particularly objected to the IRD's new power - not the one subject of a section 7 report by the Attorney-General - to require new information from trusts. So what did they say?

ACT leader David Seymour took issue with the Commissioner of Inland Revenue's expanded new powers to look into people's finances. He said the law change should have gone through a select committee process given the implications.


National MP Nicola Willis took a similar view.

The problem here is that they both have a clear conflict of interest on this issue. Looking at Parliament's Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests shows that David Seymour has three trusts, while Willis has one. David Parker, who decided against advice not to raise the trust rate to eliminate evasion, also has one. In fact the only person in this debate without a steaming conflict of interest is Chloe Swarbrick. Meanwhile, those MPs with trusts who are objecting to basic measures to enforce the tax system and prevent cheating are inviting an obvious question: what are they trying to hide?

An important public purpose?

It seems that Labour can't even pass a tax bill without intruding on human rights. The Taxation (Income Tax Rate and Other Amendments) Bill - currently going through the House under all-stages urgency - has attracted a negative report from the Attorney-General warning that it is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. The problem? Section 33, which inserts a provision allowing IRD to demand "any information that the Commissioner considers relevant for a purpose relating to the development of policy for the improvement or reform of the tax system".

The Attorney-General notes that this is apparently inconsistent with both the right to freedom of speech and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Their solution is to add a clause, similar to those in the Statistics Act, stating that no information gained using this power may be used as evidence in a prosecution (it is unclear whether it would prohibit it from being the subject of a second demand under the IRDs existing power to demand evidence for enforcement purposes). That might fix the narrow legal problem the Attorney-General has highlighted, but I think there's a bigger underlying one - namely, is it really reasonable that IRD be able to seize documents on pain of prosecution simply to do its policy homework? Is allowing government agencies to forcibly outsource their policy development in this way really "an important public purpose"?

I don't think it is, sorry. Which means that the proposed fix doesn't address the underlying issue. Instead, the only way of doing that is to remove the clause from the Bill entirely.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Climate Change: Hurry up and wait

Parliament is currently debating the declaration of a climate emergency. As part of this, the government is announcing that the public service will be carbon neutral by 2025. Which is fine, but on a similar scale to electric buses. Sure, it'll help (because every little bit helps). But its somewhat short of the scale of action we need to be taking. And it doesn't help that the government has already announced this policy, then failed to implement it. Supposedly they're resourcing it this time, and that This Time Will Be Different. But its not exactly inspiring, and the government has pretty much worn out any expectation of good faith on this.

The declaration is supposed to show that the government is taking this issue seriously. The "action" they've announced doesn't. In part that's because they're waiting on the process set by the Zero Carbon Act, the budgets and recommended reduction plans which will be released for consideration in May. But there's no reason they can't pre-empt that, and surely they could have come up with something more than this. Its not as if they don't have a pile of policy from last term waiting to go now Winston is no longer blocking the way. But instead, we've got a "hurry up and wait". Its an urgent problem, but we're not getting any real policy for half a year (plus however long it takes to implement it, so 2022). And that's assuming the government follows the Climate Change Commission's recommendations, rather than watering them down so the people destroying our country and our planet can keep on making their money.

And on the third hand, if they do that, this declaration will be great ammunition for the judicial review.

Climate Change: Wellington fails


Last year, Wellington City Council declared a climate emergency and committed to reducing emissions by 43% by 2030, as an interim step towards a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. So how are they going to get there? According to their own plans, they're not:

Last year, Wellington City Council (WCC) announced a bold new series of targets to guide its path towards net zero emissions by 2050. The centrepiece was a pledge to reduce emissions by 43 percent (from 2001 levels) by the end of the decade and then continue to progressively reduce emissions from there.

More than a year later, on August 6, the council launched its implementation plan, a roadmap on how to actually achieve the 2030 target. No press release accompanied the debut of the plan - perhaps because it promises only a 14 percent reduction by 2030, able to be increased to 24 percent if central government curbs the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity and fosters greater uptake of electric vehicles.

Even with the aid of central government, however, WCC expects Wellington will emit 200,000 more tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in 2030 than it has promised.

Its the usual story of New Zealand climate change policy: bold targets followed by inadequate action. Politicians keep doing this, because we keep letting them get away with it. And meanwhile, the temperature keeps on rising. Another story on Newsroom today says that 1740 Wellington properties will have to be abandoned due to sea-level rise within 20 years (and will become uninsurable, unsellable, and valueless long before that). That's the price of these politicians' inaction, their preference for easy PR rather than doing the hard work of actual policy. As for how to change it, we have one real lever on politicians: throw the bums out! And that's clearly what Wellingtonians need to do to their entire council unless they step up and come up with a credible plan to meet their targets.

Meanwhile, Parliament will be declaring a climate emergency today. The parallels ought to be obvious.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Raise trust taxes too!

The government today will introduce a bill to create a new top tax rate for those earning over $180,000 a year. This is good, but there are concerns that a large number of those affected will cheat, and funnel their income through trusts and other vehicles in order to evade taxes. And weirdly, the government is not planning to close this obvious loophole:

Revenue Minister David Parker says the Government will be watching trusts closely to see if people are using them to dodge the new 39 per cent income tax rate.

At present, income from trusts is subject to a tax rate of 33 per cent – the same rate that applies to income earned in the top tax bracket.

But the Government will this week pass legislation lifting the top income tax rate to 39 per cent. Opening a gap between the income tax rate and the trust rate creates an incentive to funnel income through a trust to reduce the amount of tax paid.

Parker said that if there was evidence of this, the Government could increase the trust rate to 39 per cent as well.

So they won't close the stable door until after the rich have rorted. Why not? Apparently, "there are legitimate reasons for people to use trusts". Like what? Because what they primarily seem to be used for is tax evasion, avoiding asset tests, hiding assets from bankruptcy or divorce, and other criminal or rich person stuff. And if they're basicly only used by criminals and rich people, why should they have a tax advantage which is an open invitation to evasion?

But I forget: while normal people don't have trusts, MP's have a lot of them. As with housing, normal people would recognise that as a conflict of interest. And as with housing, it seems a little weird that our "representatives" don't.

Climate Change: Europe must defend itself in court

The European Court of Human Rights has fast-tracked a case by young climate change activists challenging whether European states are doing enough on climate change. And now, 33 countries are going to have to defend their policies in court:

In a sign of the urgency of the climate crisis, the court will announce on Monday that it has green-lighted the crowdfunded case, which was filed two months ago. It has already confirmed it will be treated as a priority, which means the process will be fast-tracked.

The states – the EU27 plus Norway, Russia, Switzerland, the UK, Turkey and Ukraine – are obliged to respond by 23 February to the complaints of the plaintiffs, who say governments are moving too slowly to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are destabilising the climate.

If the defendant countries fail to convince the Strasbourg-based judges, lawyers say they will be legally bound to take more ambitious steps and to address the contribution they – and multinational companies headquartered in their jurisdictions – make to overseas emissions through trade, deforestation and extractive industries.

This is pretty significant case, with potentially huge consequences: every European country could be forced to rewrite its climate policies and make deeper cuts as a result. Which in turn could have a significant effect on global emissions, while setting a precedent for future accountability. And the mere act of having to front up and defend themselves in court should force these countries to consider the impact of their policies and whether they are doing enough.

Its not the only case. Three weeks ago a French court ordered its government to show it was taking sufficient action to stay within its carbon budgets. Which probably doesn't bode well for their performance before the ECHR.

In New Zealand, our Zero Carbon Act was built for cases like this. If the Minister sets an emissions budget which is too generous, or a reduction plan which is too weak, they can be judicially reviewed. And if they go against the advice of the Climate Change Commission in doing so, its likely to go against them. Which is one way of making sure they actually do something.