Thursday, December 09, 2021



Why would we want to do that?

Back in September, Australia, the UK and the US announced the formation of a new military alliance: AUKUS. And now, Labour wants to join it:

Defence Minister Peeni Henare says the Government wants to benefit from the Aukus defence pact that will have Australia gain nuclear-powered submarines, and he has raised this with his Australian counterpart.

Henare, when announcing his defence priorities on Wednesday, said he had spoken several times with Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton about how New Zealand could participate in the new defence pact formed between Australia, the United Kingdom, and United States.

To ask the obvious question (because clearly the Minister hasn't): why the fuck would we want to do that?

AUKUS exists for one purpose: to threaten China. It's part of a hegemonic dick-waving game between the US (a failing power) and China (a rising one). Rather than contributing in any way to our security, it instead promotes insecurity, in the form of great-power competition. As a country which wants a peaceful world where we all get along, we shouldn't be touching it with a barge pole. Instead, we should be running as fast as we can to get away from those warmongering fuckwits before they start the fight they so obviously want.

As for supposed "technological benefits", the pandemic has shown us that, when it comes to funding, our national security policies are exactly arse-backwards. Its not ships and guns and expensive war-toys that keep us safe, but a (barely-) functioning health system. And in terms of other actual (rather than imagined, or desired) threats, what we need is a well-funded civil defence agency, not expensive and pointless spies. We should be reallocating resources towards the things which actually threaten us, rather than fantasies which don't.

But I guess the real problem here is that the existing defence and "security" apparatus is never going to recommend that, because it would mean they no longer existed.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021



Equality comes to Chile

Chile's legislature has voted overwhelmingly for equal marriage:

Lawmakers in Chile on Tuesday legalized same-sex marriage, a landmark victory for gay rights activists that underscores how profoundly the country’s politics and society have shifted in the past decade.

By overwhelming majorities in both chambers, lawmakers put the unions of same-sex couples on par with others, making Chile the 31st nation to allow gay marriage and taking a significant step toward consolidating it as the norm in Latin America.

Good. And on the latter front, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights rule in 2018 that countries must recognise same-sex marriage; hopefully the remaining countries will hurry up and implement it.

Failure to deliver

Remember the Welfare Expert Advisory Group? When it reported back in 2019, it found that the welfare system was "no longer fit for purpose and needs fundamental change". You'd think a "centre-left" government would be eager to fix things, but you'd be wrong: Labour has been dragging its feet like a farmer responding to climate change:

In February 2019, WEAG's experts delivered their report calling for complete reform of the welfare system. It provided 42 key recommendations and 126 detailed recommendations.

However in the second annual review, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has found progress to be "slow, patchy and piecemeal" with 22 key recommendations minimally or partially implemented.

CPAG researchers and report co-authors Caitlin Neuwelt-Kearns and Professor Emeritus Innes Asher warn at the pace the Government is moving, it could take "decades" to implement the proposed welfare reforms.

As with KiwiBuild, its basicly a long litany of non-delivery. The cost of this foot-dragging? More people in poverty, more kids in hospital, more blighted lives. But why would Ministers care about that, when they're paid $217,000 a year, plus expenses and slush fund?

Member's Day

Today is a member's day, the last one of the year. Unfortunately its dominated by local bills and late stages. First is the Palmerston North Reserves Empowering Amendment Bill, which is about letting the Palmerston North City Council sell the old bowling club on Fitzherbert Ave. They've already tried and failed to do this once before, and they're clearly hoping that people will have forgotten. Next there's another rerun, the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill, in which ECan - having refused to implement Māori wards - is seeking the power to let Ngāi Tahu appoint people to the council. This one has also been voted down in the past. In both cases, being local bills, they'll probably be sent to select committee.

After that, there's the third reading of the Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill, which is solely about changing the words said in court to imply that people who aren't guilty are. Then there's the committee stage of the Harmful Digital Communications (Unauthorised Posting of Intimate Visual Recording) Amendment Bill. If the House moves very quickly, it might continue the second reading of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill, but I doubt it'll get further than that. As its later stages all the way down, there won't be a ballot tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021



Time to ban anonymous donations

On Friday, the government began "consulting" on changes to electoral finance law, including a ban on anonymous donations. Given the subject, that's the sort of consultation you'd expect to be well-publicised to maximise public input, but apparently they forgot to do that bit, and we didn't learn about it until a sharp-eyed journalist bought it up at the PostCab press conference yesterday. Which I guess makes it one of those "consultations" where the government doesn't really want to hear from the plebs anyway.

Snark about transparency aside, the merits of the proposal actually look pretty good. The core idea is to increase transparency by aligning the disclosure threshold for party donations with that of candidate donations at $1500, while increasing reporting frequency to quarterly or six monthly (obviously, quarterly is better, and why piss about with half-measures?) There's also a move to improve disclosure around "in-kind" donations, such as those paintings Labour likes to auction, so that we get to know who is actually paying inflated prices for them. Another suggestion is to ban anonymous donations, presumably using the same mechanism as used for overseas donations. As Andrew Geddis points out, there's not really a lot of problems with someone giving $100 or $150 to a party without anyone knowing, but that's really an argument about where the threshhold should be; the principle that all non-minimal donations should be recorded is a good one, and the question is whether its rich people or real people who get to decide what "minimal" is (rich people have weird ideas about this, and seem to think that amounts that are more than what average people earn in a day or a week aren't important, which just shows how divorced from reality they are).

The one sticking point is the proposal to remove immediate reporting of large donations. The justification for this is that there will be more frequent reporting anyway, but seeing quickly who is buying our politicians has significant benefits, and there's a hell of a lot of difference between seeing in ten days (as we do at present) and seeing in three or six months. This is something where we resist change, and insist on additional transparency where there is a higher risk of corruption and undue influence.

Details on the consultation are here. There's also a briefing note with details of the proposed changes. Submissions are due by 25 January 2022, so there's no real hurry. Just remember not to forget to do it over the holidays.

Monday, December 06, 2021



The polluter doesn't change its spots

Over the weekend there seems to have been a bit of a campaign to paint Nationals' new leader Christopher Luxon as being somehow different from his predecessors on climate change (despite its total absence from his initial "big issues" list). For example, this piece in Stuff, talking up Luxon's time at Air New Zealand as somehow demonstrating a personal commitment to sustainability. So, what change have we actually seen? So far Luxon has:

  • said that farmers - our largest polluters - aren't villains. Their climate record tells a different story.
  • refused to countenance any drop in cow numbers in a Q&A interview, effectively saying he intends to do nothing about the problem.
  • Reappointed Scott Simpson as climate spokesperson, suggesting that the current policy of foot-dragging and pandering to deniers will continue.

These are not the actions of a leader who views reducing emissions as a priority. Rather, they're the actions of a leader trying desperately to protect polluters and continue the "business-as-usual" policies which are destroying the planet. The polluter party doesn't change its spots.

So when can believe National has changed on climate change? Obviously, when it actually does. When they stop advocating foot-dragging and denial, and start advocating effective policy - the complete shutdown of the fossil fuel industry and a massive cut in dairy herd sizes - then they might be acceptable. Until then, they're firmly on the side of those wanting to destroy the planet.

Friday, December 03, 2021



Incentives work again

Back in July the government introduced an incentive scheme for electric vehicles. So how's it going? While the official statistics aren't in yet, Stuff seems to have got them, and they look pretty good:

The November sales figures are in, and battery electric vehicles are closing in on the 1000-per-month registration milestone. That’s largely because Tesla received two big shipments over the course of two months, but it shows that Kiwis are increasingly looking to electric power.

There were 947 BEVs registered over the month, along with 432 plug-in hybrids and 1462 hybrids, meaning 17 per cent of the monthly new car fleet was electrified to some degree.

The EV fleet statistics track BEVs and plug-in hybrids, so the relevant number here is 1379. Which compares very nicely with the 1071 EVs registered last month, or the 652 on average in the first six months of the year. So it looks like the policy has basicly doubled uptake.

Is it enough? Not yet. RNZ recently reported on the scale of change required to meet our climate budgets, and the immediate goal for EVs was 10% of new light vehicles by 2025. Currently we seem to be sitting on ~8% (from the Stuff article), which isn't quite there yet. But the stick side of the incentive - a fee for dirty vehicles - doesn't kick in until next year, and that should change things a bit. So while we can't mark this one as "achieved" yet, it at least looks like a real possibility.

The real challenge will be in the next budget period, when we'll need 62% of all light vehicles entering NZ to be electric. By that stage the prices should have crossed over - meaning EVs will be cheaper than dirty vehicles - and car buyers will be staring down the barrel of a ban on new fossil imports (meaning potentially a lack of spares and possible problems with fuel availability for fossil cars in the long term). But it still looks like a very intimidating target.

Thursday, December 02, 2021



An embodiment of our problems

When Christopher Luxon was anointed leader of the National party, the first thing I did was look up how many houses he owned in Parliament's Register Of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests 2021. The answer is seven, suggesting that when it comes to housing, one of Aotearoa's big three policy problems, he is part of that problem, not part of a solution. And it gets worse:

Soaring house prices mean new National Party leader Christopher Luxon is effectively earning about $90,000 a week in capital gains on his seven properties, which give him the biggest property portfolio of any sitting MP.

[...]

Luxon’s properties – a family home in Remuera, a Waiheke Island bach, an apartment in Wellington, his electoral office and three investment properties in Onehunga – now have a combined value of $21.145 million.

Their value on paper has increased by $4.3m since the start of this year – and by $3m since June alone – but most of those gains, if realised, would fall outside the “bright-line test” and would therefore be untaxed.

Hickey noted that Luxon had theoretically earned even more this year from housing than the $4.2m he earned in his last year as chief executive of Air New Zealand.

That $90,000 a week is more than the median kiwi makes all year, and on an annual basis its 50% more than we earn in a lifetime (based on median hourly earnings). Of course, that median kiwi pays taxes on every dollar they earn; for Luxon, its all tax free. And as the icing on the cake, he doesn't even recognise that this is wrong.

This is a man who has absolutely nothing in common with the people he purports to represent and supposedly wants to lead. He might as well be a Martian for all he has in common with us. Instead, he's basicly an embodiment of two of our three biggest problems (and conspicuously silent on the third). Only a party whose MPs own three and a half houses each (and are thus similarly divorced from reality) could think he could win us over.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021



More solar

The other day I posted about the renewable energy challenge if Aotearoa is to meet its climate change goals, arguing that we can do it. Today, Christchurch Airport has stepped up, providing another big chunk of what we need to get to a greener 2035, in the form of a 150MW solar farm:

Christchurch Airport is committing 400 hectares to create a renewable energy park with a solar farm that will generate enough to power 30,000 homes.

Kōwhai Park will be located on the airport's Harewood campus, with hopes it will help businesses to transition away from fossil fuels.

The park will scale up over the next 30 years with the first phase dedicated to a solar energy farm capable of generating 150 megawatts of electricity. That is about 20 percent of Christchurch's current residential electricity use.

The park will support future development of green fuel production for land and air transport, green data centres and green vertical farming.

The latter is interesting. Airlines are going to have to decarbonise, and they have a number of technological options available (electricity, hydrogen, and straight-out synthetic fuel are all on the table). But all of those options will need electricity, and the airport is basicly signalling that they're ready to provide it to help the transition.

When will we follow Barbados?

Barbados became a republic last night, ending nearly 400 years of British colonialism:

After 396 years, the sun has set on the British monarchy’s reign over the Caribbean island of Barbados, with a handover ceremony at midnight on Monday marking the birth of the world’s newest republic.

As the clock struck 12, the Royal Standard flag representing the Queen was lowered over a crowded Heroes Square in Bridgetown and Carol Roberts-Reifer, chief executive officer of the National Cultural Foundation, made the declaration of Barbados’ transition to its new constitutional status.

Guests in the square applauded as Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as president by the chief justice and took the oath of allegiance to her country. Hundreds of people lining Chamberlain Bridge in the capital cheered and a 21-gun salute was fired as the national anthem was played. Barbadian singer Rihanna also attended the ceremony and was declared a national hero.

Obviously, congratulations are in order. But Barbados also provides a model of how we could do it. They're a "twink republic": twink out old royalist terms ("Governor-General", "Crown") and replace them with republican ones ("President", "State"). The forms change, but the underlying structure remains the same, providing constitutional continuity and certainty. They even appointed their incumbent Governor-General as President, to ease concerns around political appointments and ensure norms around non-interference were continued.

This is the easiest pathway we could take to a republic. It avoids opening any cans of worms around relitigating constitutional norms (or rather, puts it off into the future when we can handle it without the distraction of a foreign monarch and her local personality cult), while making the change that really matters: ending the undemocratic institution of the foreign monarchy.

In Barbados, the shift was seen explicitly as ending colonialism and restoring the dignity of Barbadians. The obvious question for Aotearoa is when we are going to follow them, join the future, and live in dignity?

Something is missing from this picture

Yesterday the National Party picked a new leader, who seems indistinguishable from the last-but-one. Today, Stuff has an article exploring where he stands on the "big issues", which looks at "faith and politics", "identity and housing", "three Waters and He Puapua", and "health and social investment". What's missing? Just climate change - our biggest environmental problem which is going to shape all of those other issues.

That's quite the omission. And given Stuff's declaration that they will treat climate change like the emergency that it is, I'd have expected them to have asked about it. Did they forget, or did Luxon refuse to answer? And if the latter, isn't that pretty newsworthy?

Tuesday, November 30, 2021



The "most open and transparent government ever" again

According to the Prime Minister and other Ministers, the decision to open up Auckland and allow Covid to spread was made on the basis of "eroding social licence". The phrase repeatedly appears in Cabinet Papers on the subject, particularly in the 4 October review of alert level settings which caused the whole shitshow. But while this phrase is apparently crucial to government decision-making, the Prime Minister and a bunch of other senior Ministers claim not to know what it means.

If taken seriously, this should cast serious doubt on their decision-making on such matters. But its clearly not meant to be taken seriously. Instead, it's a casual "fuck you" response from the self-proclaimed "most open and transparent government ever", and an example of their obsession with secrecy and reluctance to release anything if they can possibly contrive an excuse not to.

I mean really, would it have killed them to just point at a dictionary? And would it really have taken them 16 working days to do so?

Monday, November 29, 2021



Climate Change: We can do it!

RNZ reports on the other story to come out of the government's emissions budget Cabinet paper: the scale of the changes we need to make:

The massive scale of the nationwide changes needed quickly to cut climate gas emissions is laid bare in newly-released government documents.

[...]

The number of cyclists needs to increase by half in three years and by 340 percent by 2035, while public transport use needs to go up 60 percent and 210 percent over the same timeframes.

In three years, the amount of electricity generated from wind and solar needs to increase 106 percent and 180 percent respectively.

By 2035, wind will have to have increased 360 percent, while solar will need to increase 2200 percent to make up the 6 percent share of total energy needed.

While I can't talk about cyclists (which sounds like a job for the transport experts at Greater Auckland), I can run the numbers on renewable energy. And they're quite promising.

First, solar. According to MBIE's electricity statistics, this is estimated to generate 159 GWh a year (estimate because they don't actually know how many rooftop solar installations there are). 180% of that is 286 GWh, which is about 70% of the 400 GWh of new solar plants announced earlier this year by Lodestone Energy. All of which are meant to be up and running by the end of 2023. So, we'll beat the expected first budget target, and if the industry can sustain that pace, then we might make the 2035 one (and on that front, its only likely to get cheaper and easier).

As for wind, according to Wikipedia we have 817.7 MW of installed generation (this excludes Turitea, which is half-built; including the northern half would take it to 936.7). So we basicly need another GW of new generation installed by 2025, which is a big ask. The good news is that there's already 416 MW (including the unbuilt part of Turitea) of that in the construction pipeline for the next two years. So the market is already going to provide about 40% of what we need. What about the other 60%?

The good news is that there's plenty of projects consented and waiting to go. And one of them - Castle Hill - would solve the whole problem in one hit (for the next budget period). But Genesis doesn't want to build it, because it would reduce the need for Huntly and so drive power prices and profits down. The government could solve that by using its majority ownership of Genesis to force them to do, by paying them to do it, or just by buying the project and doing it themselves. The latter option would cost ~$1.6 billion, which is a hell of a lot of money. But its less than three years of the social cost of the 4 million tons of carbon the electricity industry emits every year. In other words, if the government took its own $150/ton carbon price seriously, it would spend that money directly to reduce emissions and avoid incurring it.

In the longer term, we need to quadruple the amount of wind power in Aotearoa. The market clearly is not going to provide that by itself. But the government can, and should, step in to address this market failure, using tax and ETS revenues to pay for it. At its own social cost, its cost-effective to do so.

As for the how, until recently New Zealand had a publicly-listed company whose sole purpose was to build more windfarms (ironicly, it got bought by one of the big gentailers to add to its portfolio). The government should establish a new SOE for this purpose. This would also give it direct leverage on the electricity market, letting it counteract the more sociopathic impulses of the major gentailers. The problem, as with so many other things, is to get them to start seeing it as an investment, which saves them money in the long-term, rather than as a short-term cost.

Climate Change: Cold feet?

Ministry for the Environment has dumped more cabinet papers related to its recent initial consultation on the emissions reduction plan. The key document is an August cabinet paper on Emissions Budgets for 2022-2025, 2026-2030 and 2031-2035, which made the dubious in-principle decision to increase the first period's emissions budget (which I've talked about here). That's a worrying sign that the government is getting cold feet, but there's worse. After talking about how hard its going to be to meet the first budget, the paper contains a section on borrowing, noting that the power to borrow 1% from the next budget "could provide a reasonably significant buffer". Worse, there is a large, almost entirely redacted section on "offshore mitigation", presumably discussing whether the pandemic can be used as an excuse to abandon ambitious domestic cuts and simply buy some foreign fraud, as we're planning to do for our Paris NDC.

That seems like a very dubious idea, legally speaking. As the paper notes, offshore mitigation may only be used if there is a significant change of circumstance that affects either the considerations on which the relevant budget was based, or the ability to meet the relevant budget domestically. On the first point, the Climate Change Commission made its recommendations during and against the backdrop of the pandemic, so its hard to argue its a change of circumstances that wasn't considered. More importantly, it reduced emissions by 4.5%. I think it would be very hard to argue that something which reduced emissions makes it harder to meet a budget by domestic cuts. Instead, it would look like a government grasping for excuses for its refusal to enact sufficient policy.

(And possibly the redacted section says exactly that. But as its redacted, we don't know, and from the context, it seems reasonable to assume the worst. After all, if they'd dismissed the option, there'd be no pending decision, and it wouldn't be redacted...)

Using borrowing or foreign fraud to "meet" the first emissions budget would make a mockery of the entire Zero Carbon Act process and destroy its credibility from the outset. Unfortunately, it looks like the government is heading that way, or at least seriously considering it. While the Zero Carbon Act was supposed to force politicians to think long term, it looks like their usual short-term thinking is reasserting itself.

Friday, November 26, 2021



The cost of optimism

Yesterday the National Party imploded in a messy knife-fight that cost it its leader and probably one of the contenders. So naturally, the government has taken the opportunity to do a dump of its pandemic advice, including the Cabinet papers on its controversial decisions to repeatedly lower the Auckland alert level. Stuff has a breakdown here, focusing on the shift from level 4 to level 3. The paper on that is here, and it shows that while the outbreak appeared to be under control (with R down to ~0.5), the government took an appropriately cautious approach, delaying the shift for a week to make sure.

The next paper, from 20 September, is the final check on that decision. It states that "the Director-General [of health] is confident that the outbreak in the Auckland region is contained", but then goes on to note that there are two sub-clusters of concern, and that

continued identification of cases in unknown contacts in these sub-clusters suggests that their edges may not yet be contained.
Or, to put it another way, "not really". Despite this, Bloomfield recommended that Auckland move down to level 3. The effect of this was to spike R to 0.9, causing a long tail of cases. Not disaster, but it sowed the seeds.

The real problem is in the next review, on 4 October. This opens cautiously, with a note that the Auckland outbreak "continues to be of concern" and that "there is a need for a high degree of caution". It then goes on to talk about that thing that politicians always talk about when they're going to fuck you: "balance". Apparently, there was "evidence of eroding social license for heightened restrictions". Skipping ahead, this turns out to be that "sentiment has changed from ‘neutral’ and ‘joy’ to ‘neutral’ and ‘sad’" - more people were picking the frowny face that the happy one in the polling they were doing - and that while national support for anti-covid measures remains high, "there is less support for lockdowns in Auckland". Despite this,

Aucklanders when compared to the rest of New Zealand, are more consistently compliant, significantly so with staying home if sick and using the COVID-19 Tracer App.
Which seems like a pretty weak case.

Meanwhile, on the public health front - the thing this anecdata is meant to "balance" against - things look bad. Contact-tracing wasn't working because of who the virus had infected, and the modelling was absolutely horrible, warning that

By early November, daily reported cases may approach or exceed the outbreak’s earlier peaks in August and results suggest that almost all Alert Level 2 simulations are not contained over the course of October and November.
And that's with a caveat of huge downside risks due to stochastic effects (basicly, the virus spreading to highly connected, non-compliant groups). Bloomfield also notes that the Aucklnad public health workforce is burned out, and that "New Zealand would struggle to respond" if there was another significant outbreak within the next two months. Despite that, he goes on to breezily say:
Auckland can move down one step to a modified Alert Level 3
The kicker: they knew they'd fucked up within a week. The very next paper - on 11 October - says that R has jumped to between 1.2 and 1.3, that "The Auckland outbreak is not contained", and that "Outbreak modelling will begin to explore downside scenarios under which hospital capacity may be reached." Whoops!

And the rest is history. The modelling turned out to be wildly overoptimistic, with August case numbers reached within two weeks of the decision, and horror days with 250 cases. Vaccine uptake meanwhile came nowhere close to their assumptions. We're now facing daily deaths, all as the result of an over-optimistic "balancing" exercise comparing solid public health data to anecdote. If we had an opposition less crap, the government should expect some serious accountability for this at the next election.

Update: Apparently, the document dump was signalled to the media on Monday.

Thursday, November 25, 2021



Now Labour wants secret trials

Today, the government introduced the Security Information in Proceedings Legislation Bill to the House. The Bill would allow the government to use classified information in civil or criminal proceedings and keep it secret from the other party. So people suing the government for human rights abuses could lose, and defendants could be found guilty, on the basis of secret "evidence" which they have had no opportunity to challenge or rebut. Oh, there'll be a "special advocate" procedure (a pre-vetted, security cleared and hence cooperative lawyer, paid by the government and hence working for them, and forbidden to communicate with the person who isn't really their client unless the government gets to review every word), but that system has been found to be fundamentally unjust by the UK Supreme Court (and our own Court of Appeal is currently expressing deep suspicion about its use in a passport case). In the UK, not even the special advocates believe the system is fair. It was bullshit when they did it to Ahmed Zaoui, and it is bullshit now.

What sort of trials could the government use this in? I previously compiled a little list when National introduced this bullshit to workplace safety legislation, and I guess we could add human rights claims over the SAS's actions in Afghanistan and privacy claims over police abuse of power as obvious examples. As for criminal cases, the obvious application is terrorism cases, and its worth noting that the bill would have allowed the use of secret evidence against the Urewera 17.

The core problem for the government is that where secret evidence is used, verdicts are simply not credible. Oh, the court and the government can say someone is guilty, but in a secret trial where no-one is actually allowed to see the evidence, there's no reason to believe them. And the result will undermine the entire justice system.

This bill should not pass. If it does pass, there needs to be a legal challenge to declare it inconsistent with the bill of Rights Act immediately. We cannot allow this English tyranny to further infect our justice system.

A transformative government in Germany

Back in September Germans went to the polls, and handed the politicians a tough job, with no easy majorities for anyone. The Social Democrats, Free Democrats, and Greens agreed to work together in a "traffic light" coalition, but given their political differences (its basicly ACT/Greens/Labour), expectations for real change were low. But amazingly, they seem to have reached an agreement for an actual transformative government with big changes. Making Germany carbon-neutral by 2045 (rather than 2050), phasing out coal by 2030 (rather than 2038) and gas by 2040, legalising recreational cannabis, lowering the voting age to 16, and a significantly increased minimum wage. Its the sort of program that even a red-green German government could be proud of.

Meanwhile, compare this to New Zealand, where the ostensibly progressive Labour party won an unthinkable majority government in 2020 and are in a position to do anything they want, and are choosing to do... nothing. Instead, it seems they want to keep things exactly the same for as long as possible. Looking at Germany, I think we're getting a raw deal here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021



Climate Change: Taking us for a ride

Agricultural emissions has been an oozing sore in our climate change policy for over a decade. Exempted from the ETS in 2008, farmers were meant to be brought in and start paying for their emissions in 2012. Of course, National put a stop to that, and exempted them forever. When Labour won power in 2017, it looked like there might be progress, but of course they chickened out, announcing instead that farmers would be given more time to develop their own pricing system under the he waka e noa partnership. At the time, this seemed like a bad idea: the people the government was calling its "partners" had denied and dragged their feet at every turn, and there was no reason to believe that this wouldn't turn out to be more of the same. And that's exactly what has happened. Because he waka e noa has presented the first glimpses of its grand plan for pricing farm emissions, with a discussion document on pricing options. And its clear from this that they're just taking us for a ride again.

The short version of the farmers' emissions pricing scheme is that rather than participating in the ETS and paying the market rate for carbon, they would instead pay a levy, with separate prices for short-lived and long-lived gases. The levy would be set by Ministers, so the aim here is clearly that it will be set artificially low to provide a continued subsidy (and their "Factors to consider in setting or updating levy rates" explicitly lists international competitiveness, so its pretty explicit). But not content with that, or the subsidy of 95% free allocation, they also want to include a pile of "offsets" using dodgy accounting, claiming credit for forests which already exists, or "forests" which aren't, in an effort to make us pay them for this bullshit. So, basicly a scam from start to finish.

As for the emissions impact, the discussion document has this to say:

Initial modelling suggests these prices would lead to reductions in total agricultural emissions of less than 1% reduction in both CH4 and N2O below 2017 level
And given that they have every incentive to overstate that figure, I think we can assume that the impact will be to increase emissions rather than reduce them.

This discussion document, presenting a pricing scheme which will not reduce emissions, shows us that farmers are not engaging in this process in good faith. Instead, as predicted, it was just more predatory delay. They seem to think urban Aotearoa - the 85% of us who live in cities, and who pay the full price of every ton of carbon we produce - have infinite patience for their bullshit. We need to show them they are wrong.

He waka e noa has failed. It was a waste of time. They were just taking us for a ride. The government should recognise that, and immediately implement the Climate Change Response Act's "backstop provision", and bring agriculture into the ETS at the producer level. Then, it should repeal the overly-generous free allocation provisions, which would see farmers receive pollution subsidies for the next century, and replace them with either full price exposure or a very short - five years maximum - phase out. Because farmers have had twenty years to get used to the idea of paying for their pollution, and it has been nearly a decade since it was supposed to happen. If they haven't made the necessary changes to reduce their emissions by now, then that seems to be a very poor business decision that we shouldn't insulate them from. And if it means that the most inveterate polluters go bankrupt and cease polluting, then good - that is what the policy is supposed to achieve, and the quicker it happens, the better.

Climate Change: An industry in denial

Over the past few years it has become clear that coal has no future in Aotearoa. Rising carbon prices, a ban on new boilers and a legislated phase-out for existing infrastructure are going to drive it out of the market. To reinforce this, the government signed up for an anti-coal pledge at COP26 in Glasgow (though they did this without any new policy commitments, of course). But despite all this, the coal industry simply isn't getting the message:

However, both Bathurst Resources and New Vale and Ohai Coal say they will not be changing long-term strategies as a result of the international commitments.

Bathurst Resources chief executive Richard Tacon said it was still working to continue to supply coal to customers until 2037, a timeframe that had been decided upon by larger industries in consultation with the Government.

[...]

The New Vale mine had more than 20 years of life left and employed 42 people, and as long as it remained profitable mining would continue, he said.

It had not begun planning for the eventual phase-out of coal, he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen. At the end of the day, they haven’t got a replacement for coal ... there’s a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.

This is the sound of an industry in deep, deep denial about its lack of a future. And that denial and refusal to shut down is going to lead to more coal being burned and higher emissions. So what can we do about it? I think the answer is to bring the policy forward and kill it faster. We need an immediate legislative ban on new coal infrastructure, and the phase-out needs to be brought forward to 2030 (or earlier, if we think we can get away with it). It also needs to be coupled with amendments to the Crown Minerals Act and RMA to ban new exploration permits and phase out all existing mining permits and resources consents for coal mining. Again, 2030 seems like an appropriate date to use. The market isn't going to kill this dirty, polluting industry by itself, so we need government to put a legislative stake through its heart.

The "most open and transparent government ever" again

The government is about to pass new vaccination mandate legislation under urgency. So obviously, they'd want to ensure it gets the best possible scrutiny in the limited time available by releasing the supporting policy documents, right? Of course not:

On the eve of legislation to enable vaccination passes being rushed through Parliament under urgency, the Minister has said it will not publish the relevant policy papers until ‘late January 2022.’

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties had today finally received a response (PDF) from the Government to its 9 October request for information about the introduction of vaccination certificates. The Minister for Covid-19 Response – also the Minister for Open Government – Chris Hipkins has refused to provide the information requested.

[...]

“I have made the decision to proactively release all decision making documents relating to COVID-19 vaccination certificates, including the above, on the Unite against COVID-19 website (see: covid19.govt.nz). I intend to publish this information by late January 2022.”

The Council’s chairman, Thomas Beagle, described the Minister’s response as “a disgraceful affront to open government and Aotearoa New Zealand’s democracy. It is unacceptable that MPs and the public won’t be able to read these crucial policy documents before considering the legislation to impose the vaccination certificate system.”

This certainly shows the lie behind the government's claims to be "the most open and transparent government ever". Its also an example of how the government is increasingly abusing the proactive publication clause of the OIA to keep information secret and undermine the entire OIA regime. The purpose of the OIA is to promote accountability and participation, and this requires people getting information when they want it, not when it suits the government to release it. But increasingly, the government is using the existence of proactive publication policies to refuse requests and dole out information when it is too late to inform participation, while redacting it to suit themselves, or refusing to release it entirely (as there is no legislation covering withholding information from proactive release). And this basicly subverts the Act, undermines its purposes, and takes us back to the bad old days of the 1970's.

An obvious solution to this is to repeal s18(d) of the OIA. While this would be administratively inconvenient, it is clear that Ministers and officials cannot be trusted to behave reasonably or apply the law in good faith, so we need to remove the slightest excuse they have for secrecy. And if they whinge about it, they have no-one to blame but themselves.

Monday, November 22, 2021



Game over for the HRPP

Since its election loss earlier this year, Samoa's Human Rights Protection Party has been pinning its hopes on the upcoming by-elections to regain power. That was a pretty forlorn hope - with 18 seats, they would have had to win all seven by-elections and have two additional women appointed to gain a majority - but now it is over. The Supreme Court ruled today that the HRPP's candidate for Falealupo was ineligible, meaning that the FAST candidate will be elected unopposed and the government will have 27 seats. And that means that the HRPP cannot win a majority now even if they win every remaining by-election and have the maximum number of women appointed (which, as one of their candidates is a woman, would be one).

So, the HRPP are not just going to regain power next week. They lost. Now they'd better get used to that fact.

Good riddance

Its official: the Marsden Point refinery, source of more than 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, will be closing down from April:

Refining NZ has confirmed its decision to close the Marsden Point oil refinery, which will shut down in April.

The company announced on Monday that its board had signed off on its transition to a business that will instead help distribute pre-refined fuels imported from overseas.

The closure will result in the loss of 240 of the company’s 310 jobs, though some of the displaced workers will be kept on for up to two years, a spokeswoman said.

The refinery was exempt from the ETS until recently, meaning we were effectively paying $300,000 a year for those jobs in carbon costs alone. Which is another way of saying that the social costs of this facility were enormous, and we are much better off without it. That's not to say we should abandon them - that subsidy would help a lot towards establishing clean new industries for them to work in, and the site and its consents could be used for biofuel or green hydrogen production (keeping in mind that hydrogen is a chemical feedstock, not a fuel, so would need to be paired with other chemical facilities to use it). But as for petroleum refining, its over in Aotearoa, and good riddance to it.

As for those worried about "security of supply", they should all be pushing for electrifying transport as quickly as possible. Because we make our electrons domesticly and cleanly, rather than importing them from unstable parts of the world in a way which is a constant risk of environmental disaster. Dependence on imported energy has simply given us instability and risk. This is an opportunity to free ourselves of that forever.

Friday, November 19, 2021



A good problem to have

Norway is the global success story on electric car uptake, with early policy and a well-signalled 2025 cutoff point for fossil vehicles resulting in 77% of new cars being EV's. But now they have a problem: not enough dirty cars to tax:

Norway’s electric dream has been credited to a series of tax breaks and other financial carrots that mean brands like Tesla can compete on price with combustion engines. But these incentives—and their success—have created a unique predicament: Norway is running out of dirty cars to tax.

It’s quite a big problem. The previous government—a center-right coalition that was replaced by a center-left minority government in October—estimated that the popularity of EVs was creating a 19.2 billion Norwegian krone ($2.32 billion) hole in the country’s annual revenue. While EVs might be great news for the environment, their rapid success in Norway is now forcing some serious fiscal consternation.

New Zealand will eventually face this problem too. Currently we pay for roads through hypothecated petrol taxes and road-user-charges (RUCs). But EV's don't use petrol, and are currently exempt from RUCs, so if policy is successful in promoting uptake, we're eventually going to have a funding gap like Norway's. Which will mean moving to new ways of funding roads - an electricity price surcharge, through registration fees, increased use of toll roads, or just through general taxation (RUCs are probably too easy to cheat on to be used for all cars). Still, that's a good problem to have - because it means transport emissions will be being crushed (and maybe we'll also see a sufficient mode-shift to make the required funding lower anyway).

Thursday, November 18, 2021



Another OIA horror-story

NewsHub reports on another OIA horror story, a simple request for information on the supply and distribution of PPE which required the intervention of the Ombudsman to get a response. And reading the article, it seems to be the usual story of an overly-secretive agency abusing the process to hide information it does not want revealed (the supply of PPE was later subject to a damning Auditor-General's report, which might have been avoided if transparency and the resulting embarrassment and accountability had caused the problems to be corrected earlier). And key to this abuse is our old friend, extensions:

The final determination of the Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, who investigated Newshub's complaint, also appears to point to manipulation of the process.

When the Ministry initially said it needed to extend the timeframe to respond, Boshier found the Ministry had already drafted its response.

"There was not a substantial amount of information to be searched through or collated. Further, the only 'consultations' that have been identified to me are internal ones," he said.

Boshier found workload pressures at the Ministry were "not a reason" to drag out the OIA process which was determined to be "unreasonable".

Which both echoes the findings about the SIS/GCSB (suggesting a pervasive problem across government), and is also a reminder of why you should always complain about extensions. Because clearly agencies cannot be relied upon to apply the law in good faith, making constant scrutiny by the Ombudsman necessary.

The article cites the Chief Ombudsman has having serious concerns about whether the OIA is being complied with. If that's the case, maybe he should stop pissing about with early resolution and negotiated discontinuances (which is what happened here), and start issuing binding final opinions and bring them to the direct attention of Parliament. Because its clear that the current system of belated slaps on the wrist with a wet bus ticket is completely ineffective.

Bribing for convictions

Imagine that you've been arrested and are facing criminal charges. Now imagine that the government tries to bribe your lawyer to encourage you to plead guilty. It's obviously corrupt and a complete mockery of justice. But that's exactly what the New Zealand Government wants to do:

The Criminal Process Improvement Programme, developed by Police, Corrections and the Ministry of Justice, seeks to streamline the court process.

The Ministry of Justice says court delays were a problem even before the pandemic, with an average of nearly four court 'events' required between charges being laid and a plea being entered.

The new policy, to be piloted at Hamilton District Court in early December, with Gisborne and Manukau to follow, offers financial incentives to duty lawyers - who are on hand at courts to provide free legal services for people who don't have a lawyer.

The scheme will pay duty lawyers a 'higher duties allowance' of $50 for a plea, $90 for a plea and sentencing on the same day, $50 for sentencing and $90 for a bail application.

The Law Society and other legal groups are very clear that this is a conflict of interest which incentivises quick guilty pleas. It also means that no-one should trust advice from a duty solicitor, since they're so obvious compromised by their position. But the government doesn't care. A fast process is apparently more important to them than a just one, and they don't mind committing bribery to get it.

How does Labour expect to get away with this?

Yesterday's decision by the government to open the Auckland border in December was, like all their other recent decisions, immediately panned by public health experts. The polite version, on Stuff, is that Covid will "travel for summer" with Aucklanders, leading to outbreaks. Newsroom's Marc Daalder cuts through the crap and tells us what that really means: people will die at home in an entirely avoidable pandemic, which will hit the most vulnerable hardest:

Baker worries about a scenario where the white, wealthy and vaccinated parts of the country remain immune to Covid-19 - and maybe don't even notice as it ravages Māori, poor and unvaccinated communities like Kawerau or Murupara.

[...]

Then there's Baker's nightmare scenario - one where the inequities of the outbreaks remain but where even highly-vaccinated populations are threatened by Delta.

[...]

"I'm just not sure if we're ready to see 10 to 20 deaths a day, because we could easily be in that situation by January or February," Baker said. "That's adding about 10 percent to our annual mortality."

I've been wondering how Labour expects to politically get away with this. Non-Aucklanders outnumber Aucklanders more than two to one, and having the government deliberately spread a pandemic to uninfected regions is the sort of thing voters are likely to feel strongly about (as a non-Aucklander, I certainly feel strongly about it). Is it just mindless optimism, a refusal to recognise the huge risks in their decision (which clashes violently with all their previous rhetoric about "an abundance of caution")? Are they really expecting voters to forget dead relatives and a mountain of corpses come election time? Or are they just going to point to stuff like this, say (accurately) "National would have killed more of you, who else are you going to vote for?", and rely in their usual fashion on the old political duopoly to return them to power?

But even if they get away with it, there'll be a price to pay. While I'm not qualified to speak for Māori, I would not expect them to be happy with being thrown under the bus by Labour. Meanwhile, the political duopoly supporting mass-death is unlikely to enhance its legitimacy, or that of the political system as a whole. In the 1980's and early 1990's repeated betrayals by that duopoly led to mass disenchantment with the political system and reform aimed at breaking it - and those betrayals didn't come with an obvious, explicit bodycount. If the political status quo chooses mass death over keeping us alive, then when this is over we need to rid ourselves of that rotten system, and the rotten parties in it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021



The annual litany of lawlessness

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has published their 2021 Annual Report, and its the usual litany of lawlessness and failure from the spy agencies. There are the usual examples of the SIS and GSCB simply failing to comply with statutory requirements and adopting self-serving legal interpretations 9whcih the IGIS disagrees with). And then there's this:

Section 220 of the ISA specifies that information obtained by or disclosed to the Service for a security clearance assessment may be used only for the purposes of that assessment, another clearance assessment, or counter-intelligence. Counter-intelligence is defined as intelligence activities carried out to identify and counteract the threat, or potential threat, of unauthorised disclosure of official information by a person who holds or has held a security clearance.

[...]

In the past year the Service was confronted with the question of whether a candidate’s disclosure of information about criminal behaviour was serious enough to be reported to the Police, despite the rule in the ISA. In a particular case the Service decided quickly in favour of sharing the information. On learning of this I was not persuaded, on the facts, that it had been necessary for the Service to report it before receiving advice from Crown Law on the scope for doing so. The Service subsequently proposed an interpretation of s 220 ISA that would allow disclosure to the Police, in the particular circumstances and more generally. I did not agree with that reading; nor, ultimately, did the Solicitor-General.

[Link added]

Or, to put it another way: the SIS knowingly and deliberately broke the law, basicly because they felt like it. As usual there are no criminal penalties for doing so, so there are no real consequences for them other than having it mentioned in an annual report. Which raises the obvious question: if they would so casually violate the clear legal prohibition of s220 (and it is a clear legal prohibition, with no room for interpretation in the direction they wanted), what does that say about their approach to other equally clear legal prohibitions in the Intelligence and security Act, or elsewhere in the law?

Tuesday, November 16, 2021



Even lobbyists support lobbyist controls

Parliament's continued failure to regulate lobbyists has created an ongoing sore in our political system, raising suspicions of privileged access to power and the wealthy buying policy. Writing in the Herald, lobbyist Neale Jones defends his industry - and its a welcome surprise to see that even he supports basic controls such as a lobbyist register:

The first is a lobbyist register. These are common around the world and provide greater transparency about who is advocating to politicians and when. Nearly a decade ago, then Green MP Holly Walker put forward a Bill that would do exactly that, but it was abandoned when MPs feared it could create a "chilling effect" on public debate by capturing cases such as a food bank making a complaint to an MP about a constituent who needed a benefit.

Instead, Parliament could simply adopt the Australian model, which only captures lobbying by third party organisations such as public affairs firms and lawyers.

The Australian model has problems - it does not regulate contact between lobbyists and public servants, and there is no real oversight. Canada's Lobbying Act is a better model. But the important thing here is that the principle of transparency has been accepted; the only question is where exactly we draw the line on it. Jones also supports a ban on "revolving door" appointments, to prevent politicians from using their inside knowledge and connections to subvert the political process, and greater transparency around political donations.

Jones says explicitly that none of this would harm his business, which is true for anyone engaged in open, honest representation on behalf of others. But it would help give us confidence that our political system was functioning properly, and that policy wasn't for sale. A decade ago Labour supported Holly Walker's Lobbying Disclosure Bill. There are plenty of Labour backbenchers without a bill in the ballot, and they could do a lot worse than reintroducing it so it can finally be passed.

A racist decision which came back to bite us

When the government was first starting its covid vaccination campaign, public health experts advised them to vaccinate South Auckland first, to protect a particularly vulnerable community living and working on the (then-) frontline. We know the government didn't listen, but now it turns out that they never even considered it:

As vaccination rates for Māori and Pacific peoples in South Auckland continue to lag behind the rest of the city, public health experts are disappointed to learn the government never discussed their advice to prioritise the whole region. Documents released under the Official Information Act reveal no plan was presented to cabinet detailing the need to prioritise vaccination for all South Aucklanders, despite public advice from a range of health experts calling for this approach. Eight months later, Auckland is in its 90th day of lockdown, while vaccination rates in South Auckland particularly among Māori and Pacific peoples, continue to languish behind the rest of the city.
And of course cases are now concentrated in the vulnerable communities early vaccination would have protected.

So why didn't Cabinet do the right thing? It basicly boils down to pandering to racists and a desire to avoid Brash-like squealing if they put the need to Māori and Pasifika-dominated frontline neighbourhoods ahead of rich white old people desperate to shove themselves to front of the queue like always. You have only to look at the outbreak we have now and the growth of a violent antivax movement to how that decision has come back to bite us in the arse.

Friday, November 12, 2021



Climate Change: Killing our biggest polluters

Last month the Environmental protection Agency released its first ETS Participant Emissions report required by the Climate Change Response Act. Newsroom has put together a graph of our largest polluters, to find that just 15 companies are responsible for three quarters of our emissions:

NZtoppolluters

The obvious question for climate change policy is how do we kill those polluting companies and destroy the business models which cause their pollution. Here's some suggestions:

  • We can kill Fonterra and Open Country Dairy by cutting the size of the dairy industry. Making them pay the full price of their emissions should help (especially if you believe farmers' claims that doing so will make them all go bankrupt), but we also need to directly cut cow numbers by legislation and the RMA. Phasing out coal and gas and forcing electrification for low-temperature heat will also help, but its the cut in cow numbers that will really make a difference. (Farmers can avoid the economic impact of this by exporting higher-value products, rather than a low-value bulk commodity).
  • We can kill Z Energy, BP, and Mobil by electrifying cars and investing in public and active transport. We can kill their residual aviation fuel business by requiring that all flights to and from NZ use sustainable aviation fuels, which can be made from air, water and sunshine with existing technology.
  • we can kill Silver Fern Farms, Alliance, Affco, and ANZCO by the same methods as used for Fonterra, and by further encouraging the conversion of low value hill country (currently used for sheep and beef farming) to forestry. native forests are ideal, but any tree is better than a sheep.
  • We can kill The Todd Corporation and OMV by ending oil and gas exploration and extraction. We can also kill their market by banning new domestic and commercial gas connections, and forcing the electrification of low-temperature industrial heat.
  • We can kill New Zealand Steel just by buying it and shutting it down (and its already cost-effective to do so). Alternatively, for a similar cost, we could convert it to hydrogen-based, green steel production.
  • We can kill Genesis Energy (or rather, its emissions) by mass investment in renewable generation to replace Huntly, its most polluting power plant. As with Glenbrook, it is already cost-effective to do this.
  • We can kill Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Ravensdown by banning nitrogen-based fertilisers, as recommended by the Climate Change Commission. The proposed changes to the dairy and meat industries above should also kill most of their market anyway.
Some of these measures are long-term, but some can be done in less than a decade and will result in significant reductions. Some are also already cost-effective at the government's internal carbon price, which means we should be asking why the government isn't doing them already. But what this list shows is that cutting emissions is not "too hard". We know what to do. We have the technology. And its mostly just a matter of forcing polluting companies to adopt it. The market won't do that by itself, and that's why we need government.

Climate Change: Will NZ end fossil fuels?

Good news: New Zealand apparently signed up with other countries to set an end date for fossil fuels:

A group of countries at the COP26 climate summit have committed to setting an end date for oil and gas exploration and extraction.

The alliance is led by Costa Rica and Denmark, and includes Ireland, France and Greenland.

New Zealand has joined the alliance as an associate member, as has the US state of California.

Aotearoa cannot have core status because of the ongoing provision of on-shore drilling permits, especially in Taranaki.

This sounds good, except just yesterday we had the unpleasant sight of James Shaw saying that the UN's call for countries to come back with more ambitious climate pledges next year somehow didn't apply to us - a statement which saw him win a well-deserved Fossil of the Day. So it's unclear if this is a real commitment, or just more PR from a duplicitous, fossil fuel-addicted government.

But what if it was real? It would mean we'd need to legislate to immediately stop issuing new exploration, prospecting and mining permits for fossils fuels, and to sunset existing permits (and the sooner, the better). There's a stab at what such legislation would look like here. Any MP serious about ending the fossil fuel industry in Aotearoa is welcome to put it in the ballot.

Thursday, November 11, 2021



Good riddance

After four years of dragging its feet, the government has finally introduced legislation to repeal the shameful "three strikes' law

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi is pushing ahead with moves to repeal the "three strikes" law, saying it is an anomaly in the justice system that has led to "absurd and perverse" outcomes.

The law currently requires judges to impose the maximum sentence for offenders who commit a third serious, violent crime.

Faafoi this morning said the government would introduce the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill, as promised in the lead-up to the election, with a first reading expected next week.

Good. This law was manifestly unjust, and led to disproportionate sentences. While one of these was recently overturned by the Supreme Court, that still saw a mentally ill man serve five years in prison for an offence the court said he should have been imprisoned for only six months for. But while the bill will repeal the law and prevent any more such sentences, it won't allow re-sentencing of those already victimised under it. That needs to be corrected. Or is the government not actually interested in justice?

Climate Change: Support for native forests

While the ETS has many, many flaws, one way it is working properly is encouraging displacement of unproductive agriculture by carbon farming. On current carbon prices - and indeed, anything over ~$20 / ton - its is more profitable to plant trees and collect carbon credits than farm sheep and beef cattle in much of the country. This change is one we should welcome - it reduces emissions, while replacing less profitable economic activity with a more profitable one - but it has led to a lot of angst from old farmers worried about land being taken out of production and communities being destroyed.

The trees planted are mostly pine, because that's what is used for forestry, and because it soaks up a lot of carbon. The Climate Change Commission doesn't like this, and would rather see more native forests (which soak up more carbon because they are longer-lived, and have greater biodiversity benefits as well). But movement in that direction is thwarted by the low rates of carbon absorbtion recognised in MPI's Carbon look-up Tables. Those values are based on regenerating indigenous shrubland, which is a low-cost way of restoring native forest and what people were doing in 2008 when the tables were calculated. But now work has been done on planted native forest, showing that carbon uptake is significantly higher, and comparable to pine after 50 years. They recommend that the look-up tables be updated to include an option for planted native forest.

This seems to be a good idea, and likely to help drive the change the Climate Commission wants. Pine will still be more profitable in the short-term (especially if harvested), but native forests will soak up farm more carbon (and therefore produce far more income from credits) in the long-term. And they can be planted on land unsuitable for forestry. While the work will no doubt need to be checked, and there's a process to follow to update the regulations, the sooner that process starts, the better.

Protected

The Health Committee has reported back on the COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2), and decided to finally protect contact tracing information:

We recommend amending the bill by inserting clause 25A to include a provision as new section 34A, to clarify the privacy of contact tracing data. Information created or provided by members of the public through QR scans and paper-based forms for contact tracing purposes could only be used for public health purposes and could not be used by any person or organisation for any other purpose.

We also recommend inserting an offence for intentionally failing to comply with section 34A(1). An individual who was convicted would be liable for a prison term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding $12,000. For any other person, the fine could not exceed $15,000.

Good. While it hasn't happened here yet, police overseas had abused people's trust by using contact-tracing information collected for public health purposes in criminal investigations. In other cases, companies have abused them for marketing purposes. Both obviously create a disincentive for people for people to scan or sign in. Protecting this information will ensure trust in the system and encourage people to comply with this unfortunately necessary public health measure.

(Contact-tracing information collected by the Ministry of Health was already protected, but that didn't cover the records on people's phones or on sign-in sheets at businesses).

Wednesday, November 10, 2021



The police are identity thieves

RNZ this morning had another shocking story of police abusing their power to invade privacy and engage in online identity theft:

Police are trying to assume the online identities of suspects and defendants by taking over their social media and email accounts to gather information.

Defence lawyers concerned about their young and vulnerable clients alerted RNZ to a form the police are using, titled 'Consent to Assume Online Internet Identity'.

The form asks people to sign away their social media and email accounts, allowing the police to "take control of and use my internet online identities".

Those signing the document are asked to provide the passwords so that police can access the accounts and use the information stored on them.

[...]

Those signing the form "relinquish all present and future claims to the use of these accounts" and are told police will change their passwords so they no longer have access.

As with the police's acquisition of private personal information from banks, there's no statutory basis for this. And while they're claiming it is by "consent", the fact that they are focusing on young and vulnerable people to trawl and database their contacts and communications and impersonate them to their friends tells you everything you need to know. We saw exactly these tactics from police when they forced young people to "consent" to having their DNA taken, or to be photographed children for their racist databases, and the "consent" is about as meaningful here as it was then. Given the inherent imbalance of power with someone who can simply stick you in a cell, there can be no legal consent where police are involved unless you have a lawyer present.

I'll be filing an OIA to find out how widespread this tactic is, but I expect that, as with production orders, they conveniently won't know. Because if you don't want something managed, the best way is not to measure it.

Climate Change: Suing for a future

Back in May, the International Energy Agency, traditionally a pro drilling and digging organisation, called time on fossil fuels, saying that exploration must stop immediately and no new projects can be approved if we are to avoid burning the planet. Despite this, in June Energy Minister Megan Woods approved two more permits for oil exploration in Taranaki. Its an irrational decision completely at odds with the international advice on how to meet our climate change obligations. And now, a group of students are going to court to get it overturned:

Students are taking the Government to court for approving new oil and gas exploration.

A major energy report by the International Energy Agency says exploration permits must end immediately to keep global heating inside 1.5 degrees Celsius, yet the Government this year granted new onshore permits, saying it was fulfilling a promise made when it banned offshore exploration.

Students for Climate Solutions served Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods​ with the lawsuit, as the UN climate summit continued in Glasgow.

[...]

The lawsuit alleges the minister “erred in law” by granting oil and gas permits to Greymouth Gas Turangi and Riverside Energy.

The group hopes the court will declare the decision to grant the permits unlawful and quash them. In addition, they are asking the court to declare the minister acted unreasonably.

From the sound of it it looks like this will be relying on the Zero Carbon Act's clause allowing decision-makers to consider climate change. NZPAM's advice to the Minister to approve the permits purported to consider climate change, but actually took the piss, claiming that as any oil found would likely be burned offshore it wouldn't count and that our 2050 greenhouse gas target has nothing to do with emissions anyway. Which might sound fine to an agency totally captured by the fossil fuel industry, but to the rest of us makes it sound like NZPAM has been huffing their captors' product. Hopefully this poor quality advice will see the permits overturned; if not, at least it will raise the cost to the government and the industry of trying to drill further, while hopefully delaying any exploration until the politicians can just ban it.

Member's Day: Return of the second reading

Today is a Member's Day, and unlike the last month or so, where they have focuse don first readings, this one will be entirely given over to second and later readings. First up is the third reading of Andrew Bayly's shameful and racist New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Fair Residency) Amendment Bill, which is aimed at locking migrants out of superannuation. Second will be Todd Muller's Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Bill, which is pretty uncontroversial. Third is Louisa Wall's Harmful Digital Communications (Unauthorised Posting of Intimate Visual Recording) Amendment Bill, and if the House moves quickly it might make a start on Wall's Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill. With the focus on later stages, there is unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021



Farmers are killing us

A society is offered a choice: they can have prosperity (for some), but 40 people a year will be sacrificed to please the cow-god. No, its not a bad fantasy story - its what farmers are actually doing to us:

Up to 100 cases of bowel cancer, and 41 deaths, may be caused by nitrate-contaminated drinking water each year - with around 800,000 Kiwis exposed to levels that international studies deem a risk, new research finds.

The risk of nitrate contamination in the country's drinking water supplies has come under the spotlight over recent years, with some researchers suggesting the current maximum level of 11.3 milligrams of nitrate-nitrogen per litre (mg/l) is set far too high.

Nitrate leaching – much of which stems from urine patches in dairy farms - has increased substantially since 1990 and many groundwater sites continue to degrade.

This is a significant public health hazard, and one we were never offered a choice on. Its also easy to eliminate, by limiting stock numbers and banning the application of nitrogen-based fertilisers. Doing so would save up to 40 lives a year, as well as millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. So, are we going to keep killing people to please the cow-god, or finally say "no"?

More Labour secrecy

The government introduced a new bill reforming oversight of Oranga Tamariki today. The bill establishes an "Independent Monitor of Oranga Tamariki System" with oversight functions, expands the functions of the Ombudsman in investigating complaints, and replaces the existing Children's Commissioner with a full Children and Young People’s Commission. These all seem to be good changes, but like so many other recent Labour bills, it includes multiple secrecy clauses.

The first is a direct amendment to the Official Information Act removing communications between the Ombudsman and child-support agencies from the coverage of the OIA. Not just investigation-related communications - they're already exempt - but everything, no matter how trivial. So for example if Oranga Tamariki (or whatever succeeds it) proposes doing something, and the Ombudsman says "don't do that, it would be a bad idea", it would not be "official information" and would effectively be secret forever. We wouldn't even be able to ask how many times an agency had sought or received guidance to see whether the new monitoring functions were working effectively. The effect of this on the public accountability of Oranga Tamariki for the routinely terrible policy decisions it makes is left as an exercise for the reader.

The second is a non-standard secrecy clause binding the new Children and Young People’s Commission to eternal silence, effectively its own little version of the old Official Secrets Act. This is very clearly modelled on the Children's Commissioner's existing secrecy clause, which might sound OK, until you realise that the Commissioner and the Commisison have very different functions. Most importantly, the Commissioner had an investigative function, to "investigate any decision or recommendation made, or any act done or omitted... in respect of any child". That function has been split off, and now effectively belongs to the Ombudsman. Instead, the new Commission's functions are primarily advocacy and awareness-raising. They can inquire into "any systemic matter", but its clear from context that this is about policy and legislation. Their role in investigating individual complaints has been removed. Which seems to remove any justification for a secrecy clause, predicated as it was on a semi-judicial function and the privacy of children.

But more generally, when legislation is reviewed and re-enacted, this should be taken as an opportunity to review secrecy clauses and decide whether they are really necessary. For example, does the proposed Children and Young People’s Commission really need to provide absolute secrecy over "national security" and international relations, Tokelau, or Cabinet deliberations? Is that actually a necessary part of their functions? Or is it just mindless copy-paste legislation thoughtlessly repeating a clause originally drafted in 1962? And if the latter, shouldn't Parliament actually do its job, and think before it legislates?

Friday, November 05, 2021



Climate Change: We need to actually act on coal

Yesterday at COP in Glasgow, Aotearoa joined an international alliance to phase out coal-powered electricity generation. Which is obviously a great headline, which is what the government was after, but raises the obvious question: are we actually going to act on it?

The Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement commits its parties to "transition away from unabated coal power generation in the 2030s (or as soon as possible thereafter)". Which is an easy, business-as-usual pledge as far as New Zealand is concerned, given that Genesis, owners of the only coal-fired power station in New Zealand, have said they plan to transition Huntly to dry-year backup from 2025 and shut it down by 2030. It also commits us to immediately cease issuing permits for new coal-fired power plants, which the government has been promising to do (but hasn't done yet) for four years already. So if the government is actually serious about this, we'll hopefully see thermal ban legislation reintroduced and passed rapidly.

But that still leaves the question of the speed of the phase out. 2030 is a long way away, and every year we let Huntly keep burning coal means another 2 - 4 million tons of carbon in the atmosphere. At which stage its worth highlighting the first, and most important, commitment: "to rapidly scale up our deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures in our economies". If the government took this seriously, it would mean a crash program of building wind and solar generation to allow a quicker shutdown of Huntly and to displace other fossil generation from the market. Will they do it?

I think they'd be stupid not to. As I've argued here, the government's internal carbon price of $150/ton means it is cost-effective to build new generation to replace Huntly and other fossil generation on carbon grounds alone. There are also wider social benefits in the form of lower electricity prices for all, as fossil generation currently sets the electricity price, so displacing it out of the market will see that price set by cheaper renewables. And its not like we can rely on the market to solve this - a recent analysis from the Electricity Authority found that the big gentailers are refusing to build in order to "maximis[e] returns on their existing assets" - that is, keep prices high. This is an obvious market failure, and clear grounds for the government to step in build what the market won't. And if it hurts the existing dirty generators, then good.

Thursday, November 04, 2021



Naked corruption in the UK

A government politician is found to have engaged in corrupt behaviour and faces removal from parliament. But rather than punish them, the government shuts down the investigation process and places the investigator under review. Italy? Russia? No, Britain:

The Conservative MP Owen Paterson has escaped suspension from the Commons for 30 days, and a possible byelection, after the government intervened at the last minute to pause the process and review the watchdog that investigates wrongdoing in parliament.

The former cabinet minister was found to have committed an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules during meetings and conversations with the Food Standards Agency and the Department for International Development while he was being paid more than £100,000 by two firms – Randox and Lynn’s Country Foods.

However, an amendment to the motion to suspend him – proposed by the former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom – was backed by Boris Johnson, and whips told Tory MPs they should vote for it too.

[...]

The amendment means a new committee will be created, chaired by the Tory backbencher John Whittingdale, to look into changing the process under which MPs are investigated so that it is more considerate of “natural justice” by, for example, giving them the chance to appeal.

Its hard to see this as anything other than Westminster's culture of corruption - which had been put on hold after the parliamentary expenses scandal - reasserting itself, in a particularly vile fashion. And it speaks volumes that a quarter of the MPs voting to replace the Committee on Standards had been punished by it, which to outside eyes looks like a conflict of interest and naked revenge. And its another sign that Westminster is incapable of reforming itself and needs to be bulldozed into the Thames.

Climate Change: Hope from Glasgow

Among all the "blah blah blah", there's an actual hopeful point emerging from COP in Glasgow: for the first time, emissions pledges have us headed below two degrees:

The pledges on greenhouse gas emissions on the table at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow would limit global temperature rises to below 2C, the first time the world has been on such a trajectory, according to research.

Plans by India, the world’s third biggest emitter, have made a sizeable difference to the global temperature estimate, research by the University of Melbourne has found.

If its commitments and those of other nations at the talks are fulfilled, temperatures would probably rise by about 1.9C above pre-industrial levels. That would be lower than the 2C upper limit but higher than the 1.5C lower limit set out in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Of course, two degrees is still a disaster, which will see millions of avoidable deaths and millions more dislocated due to rising seas, famine, and ecosystem collapse. We need to flatten that curve even more, to get it below the safe(ish) threshold of 1.5 degrees. But this is a start, and it hopefully means we can use the Paris ratchet mechanism for deeper cuts in future. The question is if we can do it before its too late.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021



Climate Change: Freeloaders

Last night in Glasgow nearly a hundred countries pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030, and as expected New Zealand was among them. But will this result in any change in policy or increased emissions reductions? Of course not:

New Zealand has joined more than 100 countries pledging to reduce methane over the next decade.

Collectively, signatories to the pledge – officially launched Tuesday (Wednesday NZ time) – are aiming to reduce the greenhouse gas by 30 per cent by the end of the decade.

[...]

Climate Change Minister James Shaw​ confirmed that the Government would not introduce any new methane policies or targets as a result of the new initiative.

So we're planning to cut methane by 10%, or maybe 12%, around a third of what we've pledged. The government's excuse for this is that the target is "collective", across all parties. But think about what this means: we're signing up for something, with no intention of doing what is required, and instead we're expecting other countries to do the heavy lifting. We're freeloading off their efforts. Which makes it seem like the sole purpose in signing up in the first place was to generate positive "doing something" headlines for a government hoping that no-one would read the fine print (rather like their new emissions reduction target).

This is New Zealand's long-term climate change policy in a nutshell: sign up, do nothing, let emissions increase, use that increase as an excuse to do nothing in the future. We deserve better than that. We deserve a government which doesn't lie to us - and the world - to our faces. We deserve a government which will actually act and cut cow numbers. And we're clearly not going to get that from the current bunch.