Thursday, June 17, 2021



Australia needs a Bill of Rights Act

Australia is one of the few western democracies not to have legal protection for fundamental human rights. The closest they come is recognising an implied right to freedom of political communication (but not other forms of freedom of expression) from the "representative government" clauses of their constitution. But some of the LNP's newly-appointed conservative judges don't think even that exists:

Freedom of speech may not be guaranteed by the Australian constitution, according to a conservative judge newly appointed to the high court.

In his judgment of a challenge to Australia’s foreign influence transparency scheme, Justice Simon Steward said freedom of political communication implied in the constitution may not exist and was not “settled law”.

The opinion could be seen as a shift towards more conservative legal interpretations after the former attorney general Christian Porter was lobbied to appoint more restrained, “black letter” judges to the court.

While the decision of one justice is unlikely to prompt more than 25 years of legal thinking to be overturned, it marks Steward as the most conservative high court judge since Dyson Heydon, who declared in 2013 that the implied freedom of speech was a “noble and idealistic enterprise which has failed, is failing, and will go on failing”.

This is one opinion of five in a case which ultimately upheld the government's foreign influence transparency law, but its still troubling. And with the LNP's continued American-style attempts at court-stacking, and the tendency of both parties to enact ever-more tyrannical legislation, Australians may wake up one day to learn that the only human right actually (weakly) legally recognised has been removed by judicial fiat.

The answer of course is formal recognition. Australia needs a proper Bill of Rights Act, to affirm and protect human rights. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be on either major political party's agenda.

Fallout

Last week I revealed how the Police had lied to the public over their "emissions-free fleet" strategy. Stuff's Henry Cooke has done the obvious followup of asking the Minister what she thinks about it, and it seems she is not happy:

Police Minister Poto Williams says she is disappointed with police after the Ombudsman found the agency had misled the public about a plan for cleaner cop cars.

[...]

“While I am disappointed that it appears the Official Information Act was not sufficiently adhered to in this instance, police have advised me that they are undertaking work to look the way it responds to OIAs can be improved, in terms of both timeliness and in the quality of responses,” Williams said.

“Recruitment is underway to double the size of the OIA team.”

Asked if she was upset with Coster misleading media, Williams said she had “already expressed her disappointment.”

“I have not discussed this with the Commissioner - but have not ruled out doing so in the future."

The increased resourcing is good news. The Police have been getting adverse Ombudsman's findings about their OIA practices for years, without it changing anything. Now, finally, they've turned into an embarrassment for the Minister, so they're going to be fixed. As for Coster, he lied to the public. Ministers used to get sacked for that. Why should we hold chief executives to a lesser standard?

Wednesday, June 16, 2021



Let it die

The fishing industry is complaining in the Herald about their "labour shortage" and lamenting the fact that Young People These Days for some reason don't want to work for six weeks at a time doing hard, dangerous work on a boat in the middle of nowhere, and never seeing their loved ones (or acquiring any). Funny that. People expect more from their work and more from their lives now, and industries which don't support and enable that are obviously going to have trouble attracting workers. They can counteract that to a certain extent with money, but even then they're only going to get temporary staff, not people who want to make a career of it.

In which case, maybe we should just accept the reality. People don't want to do these jobs anymore. So maybe the industry should shrink to match the available workforce, rather than whining piteously for more people to exploit and abuse.

More bigotry in Hungary

Last year Hungary ended legal recognition of trans people and banned gay people from adopting children. Now, they've followed that up with a Russian-style "propaganda law", banning "promotion" of homosexuality in schools or on TV:

Hungary’s parliament has passed a law banning gay people from featuring in school educational materials or TV shows for under-18s, as Viktor Orbán’s ruling party intensified its campaign against LGBT rights.

The national assembly passed the legislation by 157 votes to one, after MPs in the ruling Fidesz party ignored a last-minute plea by one of Europe’s leading human rights officials to abandon the plan as “an affront against the rights and identities of LGBTI persons”.

[...]

The Hungarian legislation outlaws sharing information with under-18s that the government considers to be promoting homosexuality or gender change.

There's an obvious parallel with the UK's infamous and now-repealed Section 28. While it was never tested in court, one of the reasons for its repeal (besides basic decency) was that it was believed to be inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Council of Europe seems to think Hungary's law is the same, describing it as "run[ning] counter to international and European human rights standards". Hopefully this time there will be a legal challenge, and this institutional homophobia will be outlawed forever in Europe.

Institutionally corrupt

Over thirty years ago private investigator Daniel Morgan was murdered in London. The UK police repeatedly fucked up the investigation so obviously and blatantly that the government was forced to call a public inquiry. Now, after years of obstruction, it has finally reported back, finding the police to be "institutionally corrupt":

The Metropolitan police have been described as “institutionally corrupt” and its commissioner, Cressida Dick, personally censured for obstruction by an independent inquiry set up to review the murder of the private detective Daniel Morgan.

The findings of an independent panel inquiring into Morgan’s killing in 1987 triggered calls from his brother, Alastair, for Dick to consider her position, and denounced the actions of Britain’s biggest police force.

The panel’s findings were a victory for the 34-year long struggle for justice by the Morgan family during which they said they endured being “lied to, fobbed off, bullied [and] degraded” by those institutions they believed they had the right to rely on.

But within hours the Met rejected the report’s key findings, and dismissed Morgan’s call for Dick to consider stepping down. The two people who could oust the Commissioner – the home secretary and London mayor – let it be known she still enjoyed their “full confidence”.

So what's the point of an inquiry then? But of course, we already know the answer to that: to distract the public and make them think the government cares, while in reality giving it more time in which to bury the truth and ensure nothing changes. That key finding might as well apply to the entire UK government.

Meanwhile there's this bit:

Concealing or denying failings, for the sake of the organisation’s public image, is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit. In the panel’s view, this constitutes a form of institutional corruption.
There's a New Zealand body that this obviously applies to. And maybe we should be clearer about calling it what it is to discourage them from doing it in future.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021



Inaction speaks louder than words

One of the good things the government has done is implement a proactive release policy, requiring most cabinet papers to be published within 30 working days of a decision being made. Its not a perfect policy (note "most", but also they get to redact them however they want, without oversight), but its a significant advance, especially compared to backwards regimes which still keep Cabinet material secret (and then wheel stuff through the Cabinet room on tea trolleys so they can claim it is "Cabinet material"). According to the original Cabinet paper, the policy was meant to be reviewed by December 2019. But as Newsroom reports, that just hasn't happened:

More than 18 months on from that deadline, that review has still not been completed. Work on a single point of access for the proactively released material, mentioned in the paper, also does not seem to have been meaningfully progressed.

Speaking to Newsroom, Hipkins said there was no particular reason for the report’s delay but there had been “ongoing reviews” about the effectiveness of the proactive releases and where to head next. The proactive release of Cabinet papers was working well, as was that of ministerial diaries – although there were some ministers who “need to be chased from time to time” to meet the required deadlines.

["ongoing reviews"? To the OIA!]

Hipkins says he's pro-open government, and I've heard that from TKM-PSC as well. But actions - or rather, inaction - speaks louder than words. If this is actually a government priority, then maybe they should start acting like it. I would love to see progress on this, not just more material and a central repository, but also a legal framework obligating release, release of cabinet agendas and ministerial briefing lists so we can see what is not being released, and extending the Ombudsman's OIA jurisdiction so we can challenge those decisions. In other words, legal rights, not grace and favour. That would be a massive advance in transparency, and a great legacy for a pro-open government minister.

Monday, June 14, 2021



A long-overdue apology

The New Zealand government is going to formally apologise for the "dawn raids" which targeted Pacific peoples in the 1970's. Good. Terrorising people on the basis of their race was wrong and something which should be a lasting shame to New Zealand. But there's another wrong they need to apologise for, and that is Muldoon's law stripping Samoans of their New Zealand citizenship. This law was immoral, racist, and wrong; it needs to be repealed, people's citizenship restored, the victims compensated, and measures put in place to allow their descendents to claim citizenship by descent should they choose to do so.

Climate Change: The return of feebate

The government has resurrected its feebate policy to lower transport emissions, taxing dirty vehicles to subsidise clean ones. Good. We've known for a long time that passive measures such as fuel economy ratings and up-front labelling of lifetime costs weren't enough, and neither was the ETS (which adds just a couple of cents a litre - a "signal" lost in the market's noise). More active measures are required. Feebate is a good one, a perfect application of the "polluter pays" principle. And because the polluters are paying, it will cost the government next to nothing.

But won't it just free up space in the ETS cap, resulting in no real reduction in emissions? Economic purists keep saying this, and its predicated on the idea that the ETS works. Reality is already telling us that it doesn't, at least not at current prices. Partly this is because, contrary to economists assumptions, actual people are not perfectly omniscient rational cost-benefit calculators able to asses the long-term costs and benefits of every purchase decision and factor in the potential for rising carbon prices and climate apocalypse on their future selves. Partly its because the ETS is so full of subsidies - including a "cost containment reserve" which just hands out extra permits if polluters pollute too much and prices get "too high" - as to make it useless. And partly its because the government is internally valuing carbon at $150 a ton, roughly four times the current ETS prices, and policy looks very different at that price. But mostly, its because nobody cares about purism anymore. Those fuckers have led us down the garden path for the last thirty years, stopping all practical policy in pursuit of their "perfect system", which when finally implemented, turns out not to work at all in practice. People who are serious about solving this problem - rather than defending a theological position - recognise we need to throw the kitchen sink at it. And that's what the government is doing. That said, to avoid any possibility of this happening, we should rip the estimated savings out of the ETS budget in advance, just to make sure that reductions in transport emissions don't just see Huntly burn more coal. But I suspect that the purists' response would be "not like that!" Which tells you that they're not really about emissions reductions at all, but delay and denial.

And speaking of the kitchen sink: obviously, this is only part of a solution to transport emissions. We need more. The good news is that the government seems to be doing it, with the first steps towards pushing the massive mode shift to public and active transport, plus a biofuels requirement to reduce the emissions of the fossil vehicles still on the road. There are obvious components missing: an e-bike policy to push the mode-shift, and a scrappage scheme to get rid of older, dirtier vehicles. But those look quite economic at $150 a ton, and I think they'll come quite quickly.

Government for sale again

When the National Party ran a "Cabinet Club", selling personal access to Cabinet Ministers in exchange for large donations, I called it Government for Sale. Now the Labour party is doing the same thing:

The Labour Party is selling tickets to a “business conference" featuring the prime minister and finance minister for more than $2000 apiece.

An invite to the “Labour Party Business Conference” was emailed out by Labour Party president Claire Szabo to businesses in recent days, with tickets costing $1795 plus GST.

Those who attend the conference are promised “interactive” policy sessions with Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson, Environment Minister David Parker, Transport Minister Michael Wood, and Local Government minister Nanaia Mahuta, as well as “networking drinks” at the end of the day.

These high-powered ministers are all listed as the Labour Party spokespeople for these roles, rather than as ministers. This keeps the invite and the event within the rules set out in the Cabinet manual for such party fundraisers.

Those rules were of course written by politicians, for politicians, so playing the hat game and claiming "its within the rules" is not even worth the usual eye-roll. The reality of the situation is that the only reason people are willing to pay so much to speak with them is that they are Ministers, and that Labour is selling access, just like National did. The only difference is that they're cheaper: two thousand dollars instead of ten.

Friday, June 11, 2021



The police lied to Parliament

Earlier today I blogged about the Ombudsman's final opinion on an OIA request for the police's "emissions-free fleet" strategy, in which the Ombudsman found that there never was such a strategy, and that the police repeatedly lied in an effort to hide that fact. But it turns out that I'm not the only person they lied to. They also lied to Parliament.

The proof is in their response to their 2019/20 annual review questionnaire, specifically question 112 (p 70) in which they say:

Police is currently developing a 10-Year Fleet Strategy (2020-30), which will include a roadmap to reducing C02 emissions and improving sustainability across the Police Fleet over the next decade.
According to the document properties, this document was compiled on 23 February, shortly before their annual review hearings began. At this stage, according to the Ombudsman's final opinion, the police had "realised... that there was no 10-year plan", and had extended (and were about to refuse) the request "to buy more time to try and get its internal organisational reality to match its public statement". But I guess no-one passed that on to the poor schmucks preparing for the annual review, because the lie made it in anyway.

"Deliberately attempting to mislead the House or a committee (by way of statement, evidence, or petition)" is a textbook example of contempt. There's an obvious question here about whether the lie was deliberate, and the select committee should look into it. But the charitable answer suggests an organisation so incompetent and dysfunctional that one part doesn't know what the other is doing, and where people at the top lie to the public and everyone just obediently repeats it and tries to bury any evidence to the contrary. And that seems like something the select committee might want to look into as well.

There was never an "emissions-free fleet" strategy

Last month, I did a post about my efforts to excavate the Police's "emissions-free fleet" strategy, and how my OIA request had been extended "for consultations", whizzed past its extended deadline, then refused as it would "soon be publicly available". My complaint to the Ombudsman gained an attempted explanation from police, which boiled down to "it is still under development and no we're not going to give it to you".

The Ombudsman has now sent me their final opinion, which is one of the most damning I've seen. In addition to finding the police's actions to be unlawful, they also find that there was never an "emissions-free fleet" strategy, and that the police adopted a strategy of deceit in an effort to hide that fact:

Police explained that, at the time of [the] request, it did not actually have what one would consider a ‘plan’ for an emissions-free fleet. It did have a goal or aspiration for such a fleet, but not much more than this. Work towards this plan was at a very early stage and the only relevant document was a 13-page power-point presentation.

Police realised the disparity between its public statement and the internal organisational reality soon into the 20 working day period. Police initially thought it might be able to develop the aspiration into a plan relatively quickly. This was the reason for the extension, as well as the section 18(d) refusal.

[...]

In this case, it does not appear that consultations were necessary to make a decision on the request. Police realised early on that there was no 10-year plan. As soon as this occurred, Police was in a position to make a decision on the request. Section 18(e) has obvious applicability. Police have explained that the consultations in this case were essentially for the purpose of creating information to match Police’s public statements; not for the purpose of making a decision on the request.

[...]

To justify an 18(d) refusal, the agency must be reasonably certain that the requested information will be published in the near future. This is plainly not the case here. Police knew that requested information did not exist at the time of request. Essentially, it appears to me that Police used section 18(d), as well as the 22 January extension, to buy more time to try and get its internal organisational reality to match its public statement.

[Emphasis added, and I've redacted my name because I'm a very private person. As for that 13-page power-point presentation? It's laughable, the sort of thing a marketing department puts together. it has inconsistent numbers and no effort even to cost them, let alone any further analysis. Its not a "plan" so much as putting "have a plan" on your wall-planner.]

So, essentially the Commissioner lied to the public, then police staff lied to me repeatedly in an effort to hide that lie. The Ombudsman is sadly too polite to say this explicitly, or to say that it is unacceptable. And he needed to, lest people get the idea it is remotely acceptable. Because pretty obviously, the whole OIA system breaks down if agencies lie like this.

But do the police accept they were lying? Hell, no! After the Ombudsman had released a provisional opinion, they sent me a pissy little letter (with a copy of that laughable powerpoint presentation), saying:

Police accept the substantive findings of the Ombudsman in this case; however Police believes it is not a fair representation to find Police did not have a plan at the time of the request, as there was both a clear intent and a draft plan underdevelopment.
In which case, why didn't they just give me what they had at the time? Because it would have exposed the yawning gap between what the Commissioner had told the public, and how little they were doing. Their May 3 letter said that release "could impact... the public's trust and confidence in Police" - and they're right, because that powerpoint makes them look like muppets. But I suggest that their decision to lie and obfuscate has a far greater impact, and not just on trust in confidence in their OIA handling, but in other areas as well. After all, if they're willing to lie and obfuscate and make up the law as they go along in this area to avoid mere embarrassment, it really makes you wonder what else they're willing to do in e.g. criminal matters where the stakes are that much higher.

Finally, the lesson in all of this: always complain. If an agency extends "for consultations", ask who they are consulting and why it could not be completed during the legislated timeframe. If they refuse because material will "soon be publicly available", ask them when and where. And if their answers to either are not completely satisfactory (or they just ghost you, as agencies are often want to do), go straight to the Ombudsman. The OIA system depends on your complaints to discipline agencies and ensure they behave lawfully. So play your part, and complain.

The economics of killing Huntly

RNZ reports that Genesis Energy's use of coal has spiked over the past few years, as they use to burn it rather than pay for gas:

New Zealand has significantly increased its use of coal in recent years, despite its status as the worst, most polluting fossil fuel on the planet.

In the first three months of this year, the same amount of coal was used to generate electricity as in all of 2016 and 2017 combined. Coal generated 10.35 petajoules from January to March, slightly under the 10.52 petajoules in all of 2016 and 2017, according to MBIE's Quarterly Energy Statistics, released yesterday.

10.35 PJ is just under a million tons of CO2, in three months. And that was in summer, when load should be low. For winter, they've cut a deal with Methanex so they can burn gas, but that's not exactly a clean fuel either.

How much is this costing is? The government is meant to internally value carbon at $150 a ton. So Huntly burning coal for a single quarter costs us ~$140 million. A quarter. Gas isn't as harmful as coal, so its carbon value is only ~$100 million a quarter. And when you start adding that up, its doesn't take long before you're talking Real Money.

(Gensis will be paying some of this cost - ~$40 a ton - through the ETS. But that's a tiny fraction of the social cost of the damage it is causing, and it shows the scale of the effective subsidy we are giving it to pollute)

What could we do with this money? Well, a standard-sized windfarm costs ~$300 million. If Huntly burns coal half the time and gas the other half, you can basicly buy one and half windfarms every year to reduce its emissions. You need about seven to replace it completely, so its economic for the government to completely replace Huntly with wind over five years. And that is exactly what they should do: establish a special purpose SOE solely to build renewables, with the explicit purpose of driving fossil fuels out of the market permanently (and as a bonus, they get a revenue-generating asset). Alternatively, they could just pay existing power companies to bring forward construction of already-consented projects, or to plan and build new ones (which is a good idea, given that a whole bunch of consents will expire in the next few years). And from next year, they'll have a dedicated pot of money from ETS revenues to fund it.

But its also worth remembering that Huntly isn't the only villain here - there are a pile of gas power stations too. And exactly the same logic applies to them: it is economicly worthwhile for the government to replace them in a fairly short timeframe; the only question is exactly how short.

Thursday, June 10, 2021



Another sign of MBIE's captivity

When the government asks the public to conserve electricity, its usually because we're on the edge of a supply crisis, and its necessary to ensure our own lights will stay on. And when it does that, people generally buy into it, because they can see the reason. But last month, MBIE pushed for a conservation campaign not to keep the lights on, but to protect large energy users' profits:

Officials last month advised the Government to consider asking consumers to conserve electricity as one of two options to keep a lid on soaring wholesale electricity prices, documents released under the Official Information Act show.

[...]

MBIE advised Woods consider two options to bring wholesale prices down.

One was to encourage the country’s largest gas user, Methanex, to cut back production to free-up more gas for electricity generation.

Methanex has subsequently done that by agreeing to suspend production at its Motunui facility for almost three months, but Woods’ spokeswoman said there had been no intervention by the minister.

The other option MBIE advised Woods consider was “facilitating electricity demand reductions from mass market consumers” who are on fixed-price contracts and not exposed to spot market prices.

In other words, we should suffer to keep electricity prices low for big users, like good little peasants. Fortunately, Woods said "no", and I'm glad of it, because this would have been an abuse of the public trust which endangered cooperation in times of actual need. But the fact the suggestion was even made tells us whose interests MBIE serves, and who it really works for - and it isn't us. Instead, they've been captured by the group they're meant to regulate, and are basicly just lobbyists for them. In which case, why are we paying for them again?

A republic is demographicly irresistable

Via New Zealand Republic: younger kiwis support a republic (where "younger" is basicly "people under 50"):

NZRepublicPoll

There's a bit more on NewsHub here.

This is basicly like the support graph for Scottish independence, which seems to have become demographicly irresistable. Sadly, Jacinda Ardern - who implicitly claims to be the voice of generational change in New Zealand politics - is pushing the Olds' position of "no change", which is going to become increasingly unsustainable. But if she's not going to push for this, then maybe younger New Zealand should get a Prime Minister who will?

Good riddance to the Tasman Mill

Last night Norske Skog announced it will close the Tasman Mill at the end of the month, with the loss of 160 jobs. Good. This mill is a major source of emissions, and in 2019 we subsidised it to the tune of 238342 tons - meaning it was about 0.3% of 2019 national emissions. Which were being produced by 0.006% of our workforce. In other words, a disproportionately dirty facility whose emissions outweigh its benefits, and which we are well rid of.

But what about those workers? Well, at today's prices that emissions subsidy is worth $9.6 million a year. The government could spend say, five years worth of it on creating new, low-emissions employment in Kawerau to give them something better to do, or just devolve it to them (at ~$60,000 a year or as a lump sum) to help them retrain and move. That's what a just transition for these high-polluting industries would look like, and it would leave everyone better off. Not least because the government has put itself on the hook to subsidise these polluters for the next 40 years, so paying to shut them down is a massive fiscal saving.

(Other policy implications: the government should immediately rip 1 million tons from the Climate Commission's 2022-25 emissions budget, and 1.25 million tons from future budgets, to lock in this saving and ensure no-one else emits in their place. Because they were being subsidised for 90% of their emissions, there's less of a need to cut the ETS auction amount - just shutting off the flow of free credits has the same effect on the system. Though if Norske Skog has a significant amount of credits banked, there should be an adjustment to make sure they sell them).

So what major emitters does that leave? Marsden Point is shutting down and turning into a tank farm. Motunui is going to run out of gas pretty quickly. Tiwai Point says it will leave in 2024 (but who knows), and the Huntly power station will go if Tiwai goes (or if we build a bunch of wind and solar farms, so get on it). Which leaves the Glenbrook steel mill, which we subsidise by 2.1 million tons of carbon (~$85 million) a year. The quicker we kill it, the better.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021



Climate Change: Scammed

Reading the Climate Change Commission's final advice, the obvious question is why their budgets are so much higher than those proposed in their draft (by about half a year's emissions over 14 years)? Simple: we're being baseline-scammed. The draft report set its budget based on 2018 emissions:

2018baseline

But the final report calculates them from the new, higher 2019 base:

2019baseline

The difference is 5.7 million tons a year - an 8% increase. And they've basicly just carried this through to the 2035 budget (though the pathway we use to get there is slightly different). Not that they're honest enough to admit it, instead saying that the difference is "primarily due to increases in historic emissions estimated in New Zealand's Greenhouse Gas Inventory and increases in projected emissions under the Current Policy Reference case". None of which would matter if they'd used honest, 1990 Kyoto numbers in the first place.

Baseline scamming is the oldest trick in the climate-delay book. Want to pollute more, while hiding the fact you are doing so? Use a later, higher baseline! (See also: New Zealand's Paris target, which uses a 2005 baseline to hide how weak it is against internationally-reportable 1990 numbers). This rewards failure, delays action, and is fundamentally dishonest. Its use by the Climate Change Commission undermines trust in the entire Zero Carbon Act regime, which was meant to bring honesty to climate change policy. But if they're willing to nakedly scam us like this, why should we trust their reporting, their monitoring, or their future recommendations?

A mini-Official Secrets Act for the Reserve Bank

The Finance and Expenditure Committee has reported back on the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Bill. Part of the bill is a new confidentiality clause, restricting publication or disclosure of information obtained using the bank's information-gathering powers. The first-reading version was actually good, with explicit recognition of the OIA. So naturally, the Labour-dominated committee reversed that, to specifically limit the application of the OIA:

The Bank may make information or data to which this section applies available under the Official Information Act 1982 only if 1 or more grounds under subsection (2) apply.
The scary thing is that this is actually an improvement on the current law, which excludes the OIA entirely.

How did this happen? The committee is "concerned that confidential information could be released under [the OIA]". But delving into the advice, it appears that the Reserve Bank in their initial briefing (p 21) thought the initial clause thought that it already did, saying "The confidentiality provision has the effect of limiting the availability of information under the OIA" (despite the clause saying the opposite). But their later departmental report recommends a "clarification" as:

The policy intent behind this provision is that information would only be available under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) if it could otherwise be released under this confidentiality provision. This ensures that information that is compulsorily acquired from financial institutions is appropriately protected. The provisions in the Bill are based on section 135 of the Insurance (Prudential Supervision) Act 2010, which had the same policy intent. Engagement with the Office of the Ombudsman suggests that amendments to this drafting would be desirable to more clearly give effect to this policy intent.
Both the bank and the committee believe that ousting the OIA is necessary to protect this information. But why does it need to be protected? The initial briefing says the RBNZ asks banks about their credit card rates or the amount they have loaned out to do things like help set monetary policy. Obviously, there are interests around bank regulation, commercial prejudice, confidentiality, and potential economic damage if this information is released. But the OIA already has provisions protecting those interests, in sections 6(e), 9(2)(b), 9(2)(ba), and 9(2)(d). The problem here is that neither the RBNZ or the government (or apparently the Ombudsman) trust the OIA to do its job. So instead, they want to give the bank its own mini-Official Secrets Act instead.

This control-freakery is unnecessary and undemocratic. But isn't it so very, very Labour?

Climate Change: Committing to failure again

The Climate Change Commission released its final advice to the government today, and the media is full of reports about how "ambitious" it is. Bullshit. Because when you look at the budgets - the only thing in the entire document that actually matters and has legal weight - they tell a different story: Weaker1

Row 1 is what they recommended in the draft. Row 2 is what they're currently recommending (row 3 is for compatibility with future numbers). That's right, they've increased the amounts we are allowed to emit in every period, by almost half a year's net emissions. This isn't "ambition" - its backsliding.

The report is full of stuff about how we need to move to walking cities, and to EVs, and do away with coal (though not completely - BlueScope, one of our worst polluters, will not be expected to change its current dirty methods of steel production one iota). None of that matters. All it does is determine the distribution of who is expected to change and who is not. And because they've increased the amount we are allowed to emit, a crash switch by us to walking and cycling to reduce emissions simply makes space for polluters like BlueScope to pollute more.

To give a more concrete example: the Marsden Point refinery is one of our biggest polluters, emitting close to a million tons of CO2 a year. Its big enough that the possibility of it shutting down is included in the Commission's sensitivity analysis. Its owners announced shutdown plans last week. This ought to be good news, but the Commission will allow 2022-25 emissions to increase by twice the amount that that shutdown will save.

(The sensitivity analysis really shows us who the climate villains are: Tiwai Point, Glenbrook, and Motunui. Tiwai also has a nasty effect of discouraging investment in renewable generation, which again suggests the need for the government to step in and build what the market is afraid to).

Finally, last week Climate Change Commission chair Rod Carr warned that we had no wiggle room on climate policy, and that if we did not cut emissions, other countries would impose trade barriers and sanctions to force us to do so. His lax budgets have firmly set us on the second pathway. And honestly, that might be the best path: successive governments have shown no inclination to do what is necessary, and despite all its proud rhetoric about "my generation's nuclear-free moment", Ardern's government is no different. We need emissions to drop, and drop quickly. If our own government won't cut our dirty coal, dirty steel, and dirty milk, then maybe other governments will have to do it for them.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the first since the Budget. Unfortunately it looks like most of the time will be taken up with boring committee stages. First up is Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki's District Court (Protection of Judgment Debtors with Disabilities) Amendment Bill, followed by Louise Upston's Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill. The latter is complicated enough that under the usual "one hour per part" rule, it should burn the entire day. In the unlikely event that it doesn't, then the House will vote down Nick Smith's Electoral (Integrity Repeal) Amendment Bill (because Labour is afraid of its backbench, and like Samoa's HRPP, wishes to prevent political competition), before moving on to Andrew Bayly's racist New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Fair Residency) Amendment Bill (which Labour has decided to vote for because they want to be NZ First). There will be no ballot tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021



Self-inflicted "poverty"

Nurses are going on strike tomorrow in pursuit of better pay and higher staffing levels. So why isn't the "Labour" government paying them properly? Apparently, they're pleading poverty:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the nurses’ union wanted a 17 per cent pay increase for all nurses, but the Government is strapped for cash.

[...]

Ardern, speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, said the Government was financially constrained due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Firstly, any "financial constraint" the government is suffering is entirely self-inflicted by their refusal to tax the rich fairly. But secondly, its a bit hard to believe Ardern, when her own Finance Minister is gloating about how much money they have. But then, its been clear for a long time that when the government says it has "no money", it has no money for you. Meanwhile, it has plenty of money to subsidise the rich with artificially low tax rates, and plenty of money for subsidising polluting farmers with free water and emissions, and plenty of money for US warmongering. The government has chosen what it wants, and we should hold it accountable for that choice.

Surrendered II

Good news on the climate front: OMV's surrender of its exploration permits in the Great South Basin, announced last December, has finally gone through. But there's other good news as well: from the sudden hole in NZPAM's permit map, they've also surrendered a pair of permits - 51906 (Matuku) and 60091 (Te Whatu) - off Taranaki.

This shows the value of the government's offshore exploration ban in strangling the fossil fuel industry. There are now only five active offshore exploration permits: five off Taranaki, and two off Raglan. And every permit surrendered makes it that much harder for this criminal industry to spread costs to drill the rest, meaning an increasing chance that they too will be abandoned and surrendered. But that's not enough: we need to stop extracting from existing wells as well. Its time to give the market certainty to invest in a fossil-free future and build the renewable generation necessary to electrify industry. And the way to do that is to set a firm sunset date on fossil fuel extraction.

How much is the Greens' reputation worth?

$54,000, apparently:

The Green Party says it won’t return two five-figure donations from a woman convicted of animal neglect which required several horses to be put down.

Three weeks before being sentenced in the District Court for animal neglect described by the SPCA as amongst the worst it had ever seen, Lindsay Fraser donated $29,000 to the Green Party’s 2020 election campaign. She had also donated $24,970 a year earlier, making her one of the party’s biggest donors.

The Green Party has campaigned strongly on animal welfare in recent years. During the 2020 election it described itself as “the leading voice in Parliament” on animal welfare and promised to strengthen Aotearoa’s animal welfare standards.

Green Party co-convenor Penny Leach said: “Unfortunately, we cannot predict that donors may be sentenced for animal welfare charges after they have donated. The awful news was made known to our team when we were contacted by a journalist.”

Fraser had name suppression, which meant the Greens didn't know about her crimes at the time. But the case was fairly high-profile when suppression was relaxed, and I'm surprised that no-one in the party noticed. Now its been publicly pointed out to them, they have absolutely no excuse. While I don't think they can be blamed for accepting the donation, choosing to retain it now that the facts are known is absolutely on them. While they're right to say they can't just donate it to the SPCA - they're an incorporated society, and incorporated societies can only spend money for the purpose for which they are established - they can certainly return it. And if they refuse to do so, knowing the crimes the donor committed, their supporters are perfectly entitled to conclude that they support those crimes, or are at least willing to turn a blind eye to them for money. And I doubt many of them would find that acceptable.

Friday, June 04, 2021



Climate Change: Dereliction of duty

Before the pandemic, air travel was one of the fastest growing causes of greenhouse gas emissions. Fully half of those emissions are caused by a global elite of super-emitting frequent flyers, so the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's proposal in February to discourage it with distance-related departue taxes seems like an excellent idea. But Tourism Minister Stuart Nash seems to have killed the idea. Why? Apparently, its just all too hard:

The MBIE briefing, sent the day before Upton’s report was made public, said such a departure tax might be difficult to apply given how many international visitors transit through Australia. “Therefore a majority of this tax would be single tier and fail to fully account for the distance travelled to international visitor’s [sic] end destinations.

“MBIE also acknowledges that it may be difficult to justify spending this departure tax revenue (which is collected by travellers departing New Zealand) on providing a source of climate finance for Pacific Nations, who may also choose to apply similar levies.”

Asked if the departure tax was under active consideration by the Tourism Minister or his Cabinet colleagues, Nash’s press secretary wrote: “I replied to an email from you about the PCE proposal on 4 March, i.e. the Minister of Tourism has publicly stated he is not a fan and that an international visitor levy (on arrivals) was already in place.”

As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment notes, this is an exceptionally weak argument, and its not as if MBIE has any better ideas to deal with the problem. But then, perhaps the real problem is that they don't want to deal with it. Like NZPAM (also part of MBIE) and MPI, they've been captured by the industry they're meant to be regulating, and by their own self-interest. After all, if we have fewer tourists, we'd need fewer MBIE staff to handle them...

But what's really shocking in all this is that the departure tax - a climate change measure - was apparently never put before the Climate Change Minister, and he doesn't seem to think its his problem. It absolutely is. And while international aviation may be a small source of emissions compared to the big problems of cows and cars, it all adds up, and as the article notes, we need to be pulling every lever we have to reduce emissions. Ignoring this is simply dereliction of duty. And when the government has declared a climate emergency, that is simply not acceptable.

This is obscene

We all know multinational corporations cheat on their taxes, using complicated legal arrangements to funnel money through different jurisdictions to avoid paying anything to support the societies that host them. How obscene are such arrangements? This obscene:

An Irish subsidiary of Microsoft made a profit of $315bn (£222bn) last year but paid no corporation tax as it is “resident” for tax purposes in Bermuda.

The profit generated by Microsoft Round Island One is equal to nearly three-quarters of Ireland’s gross domestic product – even though the company has no employees.

The subsidiary, which collects licence fees for the use of copyrighted Microsoft software around the world, recorded an annual profit of $314.7bn in the year to the end of June 2020, according to accounts filed at the Irish Companies Registration Office.

The company’s profits jumped from just under $10bn in the previous year and compare with Ireland’s 2020 GDP of €357bn ($433bn).

Three-quarters of a country's GDP, not a cent in tax. Multinationals are simply parasites.

To use another comparison: Ireland's 2020 government spending was ~105 billion Euros (~US$127 billion). If they taxed this single corporation at the usual Irish rate of 12.5%, it would provide ~US$39 billion - or just under a third of all government spending. Not taxing them means Irish people are paying more and/or getting worse government services than they would if Microsoft paid their fair share. I'd expect them to be pretty angry about that.

This shows the need for international cooperation to stop tax-cheating, with a global minimum corporate tax, and a financial blockade of tax havens and money laundries until they join the system. Until we do that, these parasites are going to keep robbing us blind.

The change we need to see

Two big transport announcements from the government this morning: first, they're killing Mill Road, another bloated superhighway with a terrible BCR. Secondly, Auckland will get a second harbour bridge for bikes and pedestrians. The net effect: fewer cars, more bikes in Auckland.

This is the sort of change we need to see. Transport is New Zealand's second-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions after agriculture. Reducing it means decarbonisation, switching to EVs. But it also means "mode shift" - ditching cars entirely for other methods of transport. Bikes and walking are a vital part of that, but to get people doing it, we need to actually provide the infrastructure. We also need to make driving suck more, to push people away from it. This decision will do both.

The amusing bit is that this is all about increased costs, and the big driver of those is... higher house prices. Waka Kotahi couldn't afford to buy out all the people they'd have to move for their road at current inflated rates. So the government which has refused to tackle the housing crisis has been hoist by its own petard. Maybe this means the trucking industry will start pushing for cheaper houses...?

Thursday, June 03, 2021



Climate Change: No wiggle room

Farmers are constantly whining at the thought of having to take even minimal measures to reduce emissions. But according to Climate Commissioner Rod Carr they no longer have any choice:

Dr Carr told hundreds of people - including farmers - at an agricultural climate change conference in Wellington today that for the agricultural sector there would be no way to wriggle out of slashing emissions.

He said in the past there had been a mindset in the agricultural sector that it should get exemptions because it was such an export powerhouse, but New Zealand's trading partners were increasingly making decisions based on the climate impact of products.

He said foreign regulators would not take kindly to exporters not pulling their weight, and this, combined with changing international consumers preferences, posed a much greater threat to business than local regulations.

Basicly, farmers can cut emissions in New Zealand, or their products can be border taxed and subjected to consumer boycotts by other countries. The former at least means they have some control over the process. Unfortunately, from the RNZ story, it seems that too many of them are still in deep, deep denial about this. But their whining about "financial sustainability" and being forced out of business misses the fact that this is now the point: we want dirty polluters who won't change to go under. The question is how many other people they take down with them.

An accomplice to war crimes

That's the only way to describe MFAT, who are merrily approving weapons exports to help the United Arab Emirates' ongoing crimes against humanity in Yemen:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade approved the export of weapons systems sent to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) despite officials warning they could be used in Yemen.

Since 2016, at least seven export permits have been approved for military equipment sent by New Zealand companies to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are accused of war crimes over their military intervention in Yemen.

At least 100,000 people have died in Yemen's civil war, which has also displaced millions and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

As the story makes clear, this is not a matter of ignorance. MFAT knows the weapons will be used in Yemen, which makes their export both a violation of our export control regime. And they know that what is happening in Yemen is a crime against humanity. But they seem willing to ignore both to enrich the immoral weapons industry (and in fact seem to see that, rather than enforcing international law, as their major role).

This is not acceptable, either legally or politically. And MFAT needs to be held to account for it.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021



This is what institutional racism looks like

Last month, a man was arrested for threatening to kill National MP Simeon Brown. Over the weekend a second man was arrested on the same charge. This is appropriate: threatening to kill is a criminal offence, and threatening to kill an elected representative an offence against democracy. But it appears that not all MPs receive equal protection under the law:

The complaint comes after a YouTube video posted last weekend made specific threats towards Māori Party leaders Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi, and Māori people in general.

Ngarewa-Packer said the party lodged a complaint on Monday and didn't hear back till Wednesday.

Although the video had now been taken down, there were grave concerns for the leaders.

The contents of the video were hateful and racist, referencing violence towards Māori and "civil war".

From the RNZ verison of the story, the police were trying to minimise the threats, calling it a mental health issue. Which seems like a clear-cut case of institutional racism. And its exactly the sort of failure which led to 51 people being murdered in Christchurch.

We should not tolerate parties which tolerate this

In the wake of National MP Nick Smith's resignation on Monday night, people have finally been talking about what a scumbag he was. Newshub reports that his behaviour was an open secret around Parliament, something everyone knew about but no-one talked about, with people saying (anonymously, for fear of repurcussions):

  • "Smith was notorious for that red mist"
  • "One of the most difficult assholes I've ever worked for"
  • "I have no fond memories of that guy"
  • "He was prone to bouts of extreme verbal anger towards other ministers and staff. It was out of the ordinary even then. But we didn't complain because we were Gen Xers. We should have"
Meanwhile Stuff reports that the complaint which led to his resignation was not lodged by his immediate victim, but by "another National Party staffer who recorded the incident and made a complaint". Which suggests that Smith's behaviour was so toxic that his own staff were habitually recording him to document it. Which raises the obvious question: why do parties put up with this? Because as Smith shows, abusive MPs are a PR bomb waiting to go off, and when they do it damages both the party (who are rightly suspected of covering up and/or condoning abuse) and our political system as a whole. They're simply bad politics. So why not downlist, de-select, or otherwise show them the door to remove the risk?

Sadly, the answer seems to be that the main parties are staffed by bullies and run by bullies. Judith Collins is out there this morning defending Smith, saying he was under "tremendous stress" and suggesting that recording his outburst was illegal (which is getting pretty DARVO). But then, she's a bully herself. As for Labour, Meka Whaitiri (who allegedly assaulted a staff member) is not just still in Parliament, but has been reappointed to Cabinet. So Labour supports bullying as well. Voters should not. And we should make that clear at the ballot box.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021



NZDF gives the finger to the Burnham inquiry

Last year, the inquiry into Operation Burnham reported back, finding (among other things) that SAS and NZDF officers had deceived Ministers and the public, and that NZ soldiers had assaulted a prisoner. So will anyone ever be held accountable for that? Of course not:

Two soldiers at the centre of the Operation Burnham inquiry have escaped punishment by the Defence Force, including a Special Air Service soldier who assaulted an Afghan detainee.

Former SAS commander Brigadier Chris Parsons would not face disciplinary action after he had committed an “administrative failing” in a report, Chief of Defence Air Marshall Kevin Short said in a statement.

The SAS soldier that was found to have punched a detainee, who was not named throughout the inquiry, would not be censured because the matter was not properly investigated at the time, he said.

[That "administrative failing" was deliberately misleading the Defence Minister about whether the Operation Burnham raid had killed civilians, and then doctoring records to cover it up].

This is basicly NZDF saying "fuck you" to the entire inquiry, and to the public concern which led to it. They've been clear throughout this entire debacle that they don't think anyone did anything wrong, and now they're using their own coverup and years of delay as an excuse to ensure that those responsible are never held accountable. Rather than being dishonourably discharged and stripped of their honours as they deserve, the criminals at the heart of this will continue to serve, and by their presence continue to corrupt our defence force. And NZDF's senior leadership is perfectly happy with that.

That being the case, I think we need to admit that NZDF as an institution is unsalvageable. They are committed to unaccountability and deceit. And since all they actually do in practice is drag us into other people's wars, maybe we should just do away with the entire organisation, and replace it with a civilian civil defence and foreign aid corps, freeing it up to focus on its core - and valued - competencies: rescuing lost trampers, sandbagging stopbanks to limit flooding, and rebuilding schools after tropical cyclones.

Climate Change is already killing us

One of the big risks from climate change is that it will make large chunks of the planet uninhabitable due to heat and humidity, and if you've read The Ministry for the Future you'll be aware of how it can lead to death on a massive scale. But there's also going to be a constant trickle of deaths just from warmer temperatures. And this is already happening:

More than a third of all heat-related deaths around the world between 1991 and 2018 can be attributed to human-induced global heating, research has found.

[...]

The researchers examined past weather conditions simulated under scenarios with and without emissions triggered by human activity – allowing them to separate the warming and related health impact linked with human activity from natural trends.

Overall, they found 37% of all heat-related deaths in the locations studied were attributable to human activity – but the largest climate change-induced contributions (more than 50%) were in southern and western Asia (Iran and Kuwait), south-east Asia (the Philippines and Thailand) and Central and South America.

They don't give an actual bodycount (and they note that their data is incomplete and missing some of the potentially most interesting data points), but it shows the danger we are already in, and how those pushing for inaction are literally killing us. They're basicly stochastic murderers, and we should treat them as such.

Monday, May 31, 2021



Good riddance to a climate criminal

Nick Smith has announced his retirement from Parliament to beat a news story on his bullying. Good. As the announcement makes clear, his "employment issue" is about him being a bullying arsehole, and people like that should have no place in our Parliament. But beyond that, he's also a climate criminal, having fought tooth and nail for over twenty years to prevent action on climate change. He opposed carbon pricing in opposition, and gutted the ETS as Climate Change Minister. The floods the South Island is experiencing today? His actions - or rather, his deliberate inaction - helped cause them. And one day, he should be held responsible for that in court.

The cost of cheapness

Last week, in the wake of the budget, Stuff's Thomas Coughlan had a rather pointy article about how the government systematically mismanages public finances, by only measuring the cost of doing things and ignoring the cost of not doing them. Job-creation, which reduces welfare spending and increases taxes? Cost. Child-poverty, which has enormous long-term benefits for health, crime, education and other social statistics, leading to big savings across the board? Cost. Fixing climate change, reducing the likelihood of enormous floods in future? Cost. And we're receiving a rather graphic demonstration of this right now, with the ongoing ransomware attack on Waikato DHB, which has basicly disabled it for two weeks. Because of course there was a proposal to upgrade DHB IT security to reduce the risk of such attacks, which of course was shitcanned on cost grounds:

The Ministry of Health abandoned an effort to secure all district health board computer systems citing budget constraints.

The Government also has not followed through on its Cyber Security Strategy 2019 which promised annual reports around cybersecurity breaches.

[...]

Stuff has seen messages between IT industry vendors showing high-ranked Ministry of Health technology personnel discussing a more advanced cybersecurity system with the industry in 2019. Conversations ended because the department said it had no approved budget to pay for the proposed system.

Obviously IT security is imperfect, and there's no guarantee that this would have protected Waikato DHB against the current attack. But in the current context, it looks like an awful mistake. And what drove this mistake was exactly what Coughlan wrote about: the government seeing everything as a cost. As for the cost of their cheapness, well, the people of Waikato get to pay that, while Ministry of Health executives laugh all the way to the bank.

Denmark's traitorous spies

Denmark has been spying on Germany for the NSA:

Denmark's secret service helped the US National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a European media investigation published on Sunday revealed.

The disclosure that the US had been spying on its allies first started coming to light in 2013, but it is only now that journalists have gained access to reports detailing the support given to the NSA by the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (FE).

The report showed that Germany's close ally and neighbor cooperated with US spying operations that targeted the chancellor and president.

The then chancellor candidate for the German center-left socialist party (SPD), Peer Steinbrück, was also a target, the new report disclosed.

As the article notes, we'd known they were cooperating with the Americans to spy within the EU since 2013. What's new is the targets, which are explosive. And its not just Germany that was targetted: the article says they also spied on politicians in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and France.

The good news is that the Danish government sacked the entire leadership of the FE last year over this. But the fact it even happened is highly disturbing, and really makes you wonder who the EU's spy agencies are really loyal to: their own European governments, or their American "allies". And of course it raises similar questions about who our spies are really working for, and how many of our friends they're spying on for America.

Thursday, May 27, 2021



Climate Change: A duty of care

Hot on the heels of last night's decision in the Netherlands that the right to life requires Shell to reduce emissions, an Australian court has ruled that ministers owe young people a duty of care over climate change:

The federal court of Australia has found the environment minister, Sussan Ley, has a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis in a judgment hailed by lawyers and teenagers who brought the case as a world first.

Eight teenagers and an octogenarian nun had sought an injunction to prevent Ley approving a proposal by Whitehaven Coal to expand the Vickery coalmine in northern New South Wales, arguing the minister had a common law duty of care to protect younger people against future harm from climate change.

Justice Mordecai Bromberg found the minister had a duty of care to not act in a way that would cause future harm to younger people. But he did not grant the injunction as he was not satisfied the minister would breach her duty of care.

In other words, the decision hadn't been made yet. But the strong implication of the last bit is that if the Minister approves the project (especially without strong consideration of climate change impacts and how they may be mitigated), the decision will be overturned.

New Zealand has both an enforceable right to life in the BORA, and similar common law to Australia on the duty of care. So while not precedent here, both cases could be persuasive to New Zealand courts, and provide further weight to the Zero Carbon Act's "permissive considerations" clause. But we won't really know that until its argued.

Poisoning the well in Samoa

Samoa's Court of Appeal (which is actually the other half of its Supreme Court) will be hearing the appeal on the women's quota on Monday, with a decision due on Wednesday or Thursday. The decision would end any pretended uncertainty about the constitutionality of parliament or who has a majority, and the caretaker regime has apparently promised to respect it. So its quite surprising to see their Attorney-General attempting to have all the judges disqualified:

The office also applied for the disqualification of the presiding judges, “given their potential conflicts of interest and potential favouritism”, a press release from the attorney-general said.

“All four cases between FAST [party] and the Government all went against the Government and favoured FAST ... there is now substantive evidence before our office that is questioning the appearance of impartiality and integrity of the judiciary presiding over this matter,” the attorney-general said.

Alternatively, perhaps the regime lost all those cases because their arguments were weak and their position tenuous? But obviously, that can't be it...

The HRPP's solution is for the case to be heard by overseas judges, who they will appoint. Which will of course take time to recruit, leaving the regime in power. And since in the regime's opinion parliament cannot possibly be convened until this case has been heard, no-one will be able to vote them out. Its just a further example of their attempts to use process to frustrate both democracy and the courts. But its also a clear setup for them to refuse to accept any decision which does not go their way. Which is the real underlying problem here: a government which refuses to accept the judgement of the courts, or more importantly the judgement of the people.

Climate Change: A massive victory

Big oil is the big barrier to real action on climate change. But now a Dutch court has ordered Shell - one of the biggest oil companies in the world - to cut its emissions:

A court in the Hague has ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut its global carbon emissions by 45% by the end of 2030 compared with 2019 levels, in a landmark case brought by Friends of the Earth and over 17,000 co-plaintiffs.

The oil giant’s sustainability policy was found to be insufficiently “concrete” by the Dutch court in an unprecedented ruling that will have wide implications for the energy industry and other polluting multinationals.

The Anglo-Dutch company was told it had a duty of care and that the level of emission reductions of Shell and its suppliers and buyers should be brought into line with the Paris climate agreement.

Note "and buyers" - this isn't some pissy scope 1 emissions measure which only looks at how much they drive and how much paper they use. Instead, they're basicly being ordered to cut oil production, and on human rights grounds (climate change is accepted as a threat to the right to life). And the latter provides precedent for similar cases in jurisdictions which comply with UN human rights standards (which, for the time being, includes the UK, HQ of BP. The other oil majors are headquartered in the US, which has no enforceable right to life).

Shell will appeal, of course. And then they'll probably try some dubious restructure and pretend that this nullifies the court order. But if they want to do business anywhere in the EU (including dodging taxes and laundering money through EU jurisdictions), they're going to have to comply. And hopefully there will be similar cases against other oil companies forcing them to as well.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021



You can't manage what you don't measure: Improving OIA statistics

Back in 2017 the then-SSC published the first set of performance statistics on the Official Information Act. The statistics were crude: just the number of requests handled, the number and percent on-time, the number published on the agency's website, and the number of complaints and final views issued by the Ombudsman. But it immediately allowed some problems to be identified, and there was a commitment that:

Over time the information on performance that is gathered and published will increase to provide a more comprehensive picture of compliance with the letter and spirit of the Act.
That hasn't happened, and five years on, we're still using the same crude stats, with a crude focus on timeliness we were using in the beginning. Its not like they didn't think about it: in late 2017 they published agency guidance on Selection and Reporting of Official Information Act Statistics, encouraging agencies to collect and report additional statistics to give a better view of their performance. But there was no real followup: Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission does not even bother to monitor what statistics agencies collect. In September / October 2019 they cautiously proposed a limited expansion of statistics to include whether information was released (granted in full / granted in part / refused / publicly available), and possibly some information on extensions and transfers, but nothing has come of it. And in the meantime agencies have learned to juke the stats, with an increasing number of extensions for "consultations" to meet timeliness targets, or in the case of the police, packing the stats with a vast number of requests which are not legally OIAs to hide their utter failure to obey the law. And they are able to get away with this because of the crudeness of our statistics. And you only have to look at the UK, which publishes full annual statistics on timeliness, outcomes, and withholding grounds used, to see that we could be doing a lot, lot better.

So what could they do to produce immediate improvements? Back in February I used the OIA to survey core government agencies on what OIA statistics they collected, using their 2017 guidance as a template. The raw data (including links to responses) is here. The good news is that most government agencies already collect or report the information TKM-PSC proposed in 2019, and most also measure the time taken to process requests or to extend them. Which means that with a bit of leadership for TKM-PSC we should be able to get full UK-level stats on timeliness, extensions, and outcomes. Which would show us a bit more where agencies are falling down and how they're juking things.

So will they do it? Its literally their job, and I've been told by TKM-PSC staff that their Minister, Chris Hipkins, is fully committed to open government. If that's the case, then fixing this seems to be an obvious and easy way to show it. You can't manage what you don't measure. So start measuring this, and let public expectations start managing it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021



Climate Change: How the ETS keeps emissions high

Stuff reports today that Refining NZ has reached an in principle agreement to shut down the Marsden Point oil refinery and move to importing refined fuels. Which should be good for emissions - as best I can tell from Emissions Tracker, Marsden Point is responsible for 664,000 tons of CO2 (being the only liquid fuel refining facility in the country). Thanks to a past sweetheart deal, none of that is covered by the ETS, and they weren't scheduled to enter it until 2023. The shutdown is explictly driven by their desire to avoid ETS costs.

This is exactly what the ETS should be doing: polluters who can clean up, polluters who can't shut down. And in the case of Marsden Point, its a success. But Marsden Point is an exception, and with other major industrial polluters - Tiwai Point or Methanex, for example - their shutting down won't actually reduce emissions. Why? Because the permits they would have bought to cover their emissions will still be free to be bought by someone else, meaning they can be used to pollute now or in the future. While supposedly intended to reduce emissions, the ETS actually locks us onto a high emissions pathway, where pollution shutdowns don't reduce pollution.

(This might not be so much of a problem if that pathway was steep enough to push us towards a credible emissions reduction goal. But ours isn't. And because future ETS budgets are set five years in advance, we're basicly locked into a pathway which keeps prices low and emissions high, rather than the other way round).

How do we fix this? The obvious move is that we remove permits from the system whenever a major polluter shuts down, by immediately reducing future auction allocations accordingly. This would change the fixed cap in the ETS into a permanently sinking one, and mean shutdowns actually result in emissions reductions, rather than creating space for someone else to pollute instead.

Monday, May 24, 2021



Lessons from Samoa

Samoa's parliament was meant to meet this morning, on the last possible day following their elections in April, to swear in MPs, elect a Speaker, and demonstrate where confidence lies. Instead, the HRPP's former Speaker - who retired at the election and is no longer an MP - took the keys and locked the new parliament out of the building. This is expected to be used by the HRPP as "justification" for new elections: "parliament couldn't meet (because we stopped it), a government couldn't form (because we refused to recognise it), so time for the people to correct their error and endorse us again".

There are no doubt lawyers arguing in the Supreme Court right now to get an explicit order upholding the constitutional requirement that parliament meet today (or just to determine who is Speaker and how far their power under the Legislative Assembly Powers and Privileges Ordinance 1960 extends). Based on the court's previous rulings, there's some hope for a peaceful and democratic outcome. OTOH, with the former government simply refusing to accept the results of elections and nakedly defying court orders, that may be too much to hope for.

What lessons can we draw from this? People often say that New Zealand needs a written constitution (as if our Constitution Act and BORA and other legislation didn't exist), or at the least, that we should nail down more of the current "unwritten" powers in statute to prevent abuses. I support the latter position, because its always useful to know what the rules are. But that's exactly what Samoa did - their constitution eliminated the reserve powers, and specifically enumerated the head of states powers to call and dismiss parliament and the circumstances in which that could happen. And none of that helped. The problem in Samoa isn't that constitutional powers are unclear, giving scope for disagreement, but that the HRPP are wilfully ignoring them, and ignoring the courts when they do their duty to interpret the constitution.

What ultimately protects democracy is not just clear constitutions - that helps, but the USA is a perpetual counterexample - but politicians actually being democrats, and respecting democracy and the rule of law. Samoa's problem is that the HRPP, or at least its leadership, don't (and this has been clear for a while, with their constant attempts to prevent other parties from forming to challenge them, and to bring the judiciary under their thumb). Instead, Tuilaepa is basicly a Pacific Trump. And once that poison is in your system, you need to excise it quickly, before it infects everything. Hopefully Samoa is up to the job.

Thursday, May 20, 2021



Labour actually does something

So, against expectations, the Labour government has actually done something, reversing the 1991 benefit cuts with a significant increase to benefits to levels at least (and usually higher) than those recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (and yes, I checked). Its good, it corrects a historic wrong, and it will help - at least until landlords raise rents to steal it all for themselves. Which highlights the need for more work, especially around housing and renter's rights.

But before we get too carried away, they're also planning to shift unemployment benefits to an ACC-style "social insurance scheme" with a limited duration. I'm really not sure this is a good idea. While (short-term) rates will increase, there's the obvious question of what happens when the support period runs out and how it copes with long-term unemployment. It will also make the scheme subject to the same pressures as ACC around interest rates, and allow the right to perpetually scaremonger about how it is "going bankrupt" and use that as an excuse to cut rates or worse, privatise it (something they tried to do to ACC in the late 1990's). Direct government control and a pay as you go system means there is direct government responsibility, matching our social expectation that no-one in this country should go hungry or homeless. An insurance model seems to undermine that.

And then there's climate change, which Grant Robertson explicitly says is next year's problem. He blamed this on the timelines set by the Zero Carbon Act, but this is bullshit. Nothing stops the government from acting in advance of the Commission's recommendations, and starting work on cutting emissions now. Except of course their own propensity for foot-dragging and delay. This is not a problem we can afford to piss around on; instead we have to throw everything at it now, otherwise we won't have a future worth living in.

Update: So, there's $300 million for as-yet-undefined EV incentives. That's a start, but we're going to need a lot more than that to decarbonise within a decade like we need to.

Surrendered

Greymouth Petroleum has surrendered three oil exploration permits in central Taranaki. There's been no media coverage, but I noticed while doing a routine check of exploration permits that the map looked a little different, and checking with the permit spreadsheet pinned down the missing permits as 60097, 60098, and 60099. A query with NZPAM confirmed that they were surrendered on 16 May 2021. According to the 2015 block offer (when the permits were granted) he surrendered area totals 121 square kilometres. Map below:

GPpermits

(Meanwhile NZPAM is still showing the supposedly surrendered offshore South Island permits as still being active, so I'm not sure what's going on there)

Wednesday, May 19, 2021



Austerity kills transparency

Back in March, we learned that the promised review of the Official Information Act had been deferred indefinitely due to resource constraints: The Ministry of Justice had been told to do too much by their Minister, so it was dumped. At the time, I thought that this was due to policy changes after the election. But according to new documents released by the Ministry of Justice, the rot set in much earlier.

In September 2019, the Ministry recommended a review of the OIA. In November 2019 they followed this up with a budget bid for Budget 2020. This was clearly being progressed, and in February 2020 they got as far as drafting a Cabinet paper. But in the end, it was "never provided to the Minister or sent outside the Ministry of Justice". And unfortunately we don't know why, because there are no more documents, and the Ministry conveniently didn't take notes in apparent violation of the Public Records Act and Public Service Commission guidance.

The Cabinet paper has been withheld entirely as "free and frank advice" (which is naturally off to the Ombudsman), and large chunks of the budget bid are redacted as "confidential" despite this review being shitcanned. But in the bits they left in, there are explicit statements that the Ministry was unable to do the review without extra funding:

However due to resourcing constraints and an over-subscribed work programme the Ministry cannot commit to a review of the OIA in the next 2-3 years.
And:
Current funding for the Policy Group is insufficient to take on substantial new projects without trading off against other priorities. A review of the OIA is highly unlikely to proceed under these constraints because of its impact on other high priority Government and Ministerial projects.
In other words, Labour's ongoing austerity seems to have killed any effort to improve transparency. The Ministry took another go after the 2020 election, drafting a briefing in September 2020 in anticipation of a post-BIM discussion. In the end it was not finalised, after Kris Faafoi indicated his policy priorities did not include transparency.

Which is a shame, because the budget bid makes a clear case for reform, stating that "[w]ithout a review, ongoing concerns about compliance with the OIA and with the legislation itself are likely to remain unaddressed" and delivering a damning assessment of the current state of the law:

The OIA is 37 years old and has not substantially changed since enactment. It no longer reflects its operating environment or developments internationally. It is perceived as outdated and lacking in credibility.
And a year later, its even more so. It would be nice if the government finally decided to fix one of the foundations of our democracy.

Horizons supprts Māori wards

My regional council voted for Māori wards today:

“The time has come.”

Wiremu Te Awe Awe​, the first Māori elected to Horizons Regional Council, did not even try to hold back his joy as the council voted on Wednesday to have Māori wards for the 2022 election.

About 50 people from as far afield as Taumaranui and Horowhenua packed the council chamber for the extraordinary meeting, having earlier taken part in a hīkoi from Te Marae o Hine/The Square.

The decision was made after feedback was sought from those on the Māori roll, as well as iwi and hapu in the Horizons area.

Watching council after council vote this way, its amazing how quickly the tide has turned. Removing the racist veto has, as expected, freed councils to do the right thing and ensure Māori representation. And the councillors voting for it don't seem to fear de-election - they can sense how public opinion has turned. Its an example of how leadership by government can push positive change. And it really makes you wonder why Labour spends so much time being cowards and chickenshits.

Update: And just after I wrote this, Hamilton joined the club.

Climate Change: End fossil fuels now

When the government banned new offshore gas exploration permits, it was denounced as radical by the National party and their polluter cronies. But now the policy has had a powerful endorsement from an unlikely source: the International Energy Agency:

Exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must stop this year and no new coal-fired power stations can be built if the world is to stay within safe limits of global heating and meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, the world’s leading energy organisation has said.

In its strongest warning yet on the need to drastically scale back fossil fuels, the International Energy Agency (IEA) also called for no new fossil-fuel cars to be sold beyond 2035, and for global investment in energy to more than double from $2tn (£1.42tn) a year to $5tn (£3.54tn) The result would not be an economic burden, as some have claimed, but a net benefit to the economy.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director and one of the world’s foremost energy economists, told the Guardian: “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.”

The IEA are not what you'd think of as climate change activists. For years, they have predicted a future still dominated by coal and oil, underestimating the growth of renewable technologies and preferring to push for non-existent, magical carbon capture technology. So when they say "that's it, we need to turn off the tap" and predict a future runing on wind and solar, you'd expect governments to sit up and listen. ...including our government. Because while we've banned new offshore fossil fuel exploration permits, the existing ones will last for decades, and can still be converted into mining permits lasting for decades more. If we're serious about turning off this tap, we need to stop that, with legislation to revoke all exploration permits, prohibit new mining permits and resource consents, and sunset all existing mining permits and related consents. And we need to do this as quickly as possible. The Māori Party's anti-seabed mining legislation shows us the way to do this; will the government rise to the challenge?

Tuesday, May 18, 2021



Refugees do not belong in prison

We like to think that New Zealand is a better, kinder place than Australia. We welcome refugees, while racist Australia puts them in Pacific gulags where they are tortured and abused. Except its not true: New Zealand operates its own refugee detention system to discourage and punish those who dare to believe our rhetoric. And according to Amnesty International, it involves widespread human rights abuses:

Shocking allegations of rape, assault and attempted suicide have emerged from asylum seekers who Amnesty International argues are being unfairly detained in prisons by Immigration New Zealand (INZ).

The human rights organisation has released its first extensive report into the treatment of 12 of 86 detained people who sought asylum here between 2015 and 2020.

Amnesty International said at every stage there were failures to ensure basic rights to a fair process.

You can read the full report here. Refugees are unreasonably and unlawfully detained, not informed of the reason for their detention and denied access to lawyers, incarcerated with criminals for years, and abused. The courts, which are meant to protect human rights, rubber-stamp this. It violates the Bill of Rights Act and international human rights law. The underlying reason for detention - to deter claims and punish those who enter New Zealand unlawfully or without travel documents - violates the Refugee Convention.

This has to stop. Prison is an inherently dehumanising environment. Putting people who have been tortured, abused and persecuted there is simply cruel and vicious. But I guess this is another example of Jacinda Ardern's "kindness".

Refugees have no place in prison. If you'd like to tell the government that, you can send a message here.