Friday, March 05, 2021



More evidence that UBIs work

The report is back on another Universal Basic Income trial, this time in the USA. And as with the others, it shows that this policy works:

After getting $500 per month for two years without rules on how to spend it, 125 people in California paid off debt, got full-time jobs and reported lower rates of anxiety and depression, according to a study released Wednesday.

[...]

When the program started in February 2019, 28% of the people slated to get the free money had full-time jobs. One year later, 40% of those people had full-time jobs. A control group of people who did not get the money saw a 5 percentage point increase in full-time employment over that same time period.

“These numbers were incredible. I hardly believed them myself," said Stacia West, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee who analyzed the data along with Amy Castro Baker, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

$500 a month is fairly low, but its also clearly enough to make a big difference to people's lives and wellbeing. The article has a caution that the limited duration of the experiment - two years - may mean it doesn't properly capture employment effects, as people may not quit their jobs if the money only lasts two years. The answer to that, of course, is longer experiments. And it would be nice to see such an experiment in New Zealand.

Thursday, March 04, 2021



Labour's organic secrecy

Over the past few years there's been a growing trend for bespoke secrecy clauses in legislation, excluding specific types of information (or even whole agencies) from the coverage of the Official Information Act. These pop up in all sorts of unusual places, sometimes when introduced, sometimes put there by select committees. The latest one was inserted by the Primary Production Committee into the new Organic Products Bill, and requires that:

Information collected from or provided by an operator or a recognised entity for the purposes of this Act must not be used for other purposes by the relevant Ministry or other department as defined in section 5 of the Public Service Act 2020—
(a) without the express permission of the operator or recognised entity; or
(b) unless expressly authorised by this Act.
According to the select committee report, this is because "The bill as introduced does not explicitly regulate the use of personal information provided by people seeking organic approval or recognition." Well, no, because that's already regulated by the Privacy Act. But even more stupidly, the bill requires MPI to publish the personal information the committee supposedly wants to protect in a public register, and make it available on the internet. So what's the point of this clause again?

As for where this came from, there's no mention of privacy concerns or concerns around use of collected information in MPI's summary of submissions (and you'd think if a lot of submitters were expressing concern on those grounds, they'd mention it). There is however a submitter comment on s44 (the duty to keep records) that there "needs to be intellectual property rights protection if these records are requested". So basicly, business doesn't trust the government with their commercial information, and/or does not understand that it is already protected (subject to countervailing public interest) by the OIA's "commercial sensitivity" clauses.

MPI recommended no change, but the committee seems to have over-ruled them and inserted a poorly-drafted, unnecessary clause which tramples on constitutional legislation. And worst of all, because Parliament is exempt from the OIA - "privilege", doncha know? - we'll never know who was responsible or what their reasoning was. The justification for an official decision made by MPs in the course of their duty is eternally secret. And that's just not acceptable.

This needs to be fixed. I assume there'll be an SOP for this bill, and it needs to either remove this entire clause, or insert a subsection (c) saying that nothing in it limits the Official Information Act. Otherwise, we've set a precedent creating exactly the "commercial Alsatia beyond the reach of statute' the courts warned us about all those years ago.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021



A sensible idea from National

Having spent most of the pandemic alternately calling for mass-death by relaxing lockdowns "for the economy", and for those who breach lockdowns to face harsher and harsher punishments, the National Party has finally made a useful contribution by calling for people told to self-isolate to be paid directly:

The National Party is calling on the Government to boost its Covid-19 leave scheme so that it covers 100 per cent of any lost wages for most workers and is paid directly to employees.

Currently, employees who cannot work and self-isolate at home are eligible for a maximum of $1176 for the entire two-week period, if they work full time.

The scheme would allow workers to claim up to twice the rate of ‘average ordinary time weekly earnings’, which was $1289 in the December quarter. That would mean the maximum amount that could be claimed would be $2578 per week, or $5156 for a fortnight in self-isolation.

It would bypass employers who currently have to apply for the money. National is pitching the policy as a small price to pay, compared to the significant costs of level 3 lockdowns.

Cutting employers completely out of the loop seems to be the obvious thing to do. It removes an immediate source of pressure to spread disease, and avoids all the stupidity of people not getting paid because their moron employer can't be bothered applying for them. Obviously, the administrative burden to the government of having to pay people directly is higher, but they are, in theory, already dealing with them, and this allows the admin to be built into the existing process. "OK, you need to stay home, please give me your bank account details so we can pay you".

Hopefully, this will be adopted by the government. Otherwise, we should all be asking very pointy questions why it hasn't been.

Time for a new Ombudsman

The Ombudsman is supposed to be our core watchdog on administrative decision-making. Their central job is to review decisions by public agencies to ensure they are fair and reasonable and followed a proper process. So its more than a little embarrassing that they've been called to account by the courts for violating exactly those principles:

The High Court has quashed a decision made by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier on the grounds that emails he sent to Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard showed he did not have an open mind on an issue he was considering.

And the court has strongly suggested that reconsideration of the matter – about the use of the name Ombudsman by a dispute resolution service – be delegated to a temporary Ombudsman.

[...]

Grice said it was not improper in principle for the Chief Ombudsman to ask the Speaker to consider a move to better protect the name "Ombudsman" or to discuss the legislation.

But the timing and content of the emails "provide evidence which weighs heavily toward the fact that the Chief Ombudsman had closed his mind and was not amenable to persuasion".

Given their role, and their past experience as a judge, you'd expect Boshier of all people to have a proper decision-making process, and to avoid any display of partiality or predetermination. The fact that he didn't immediately calls all his other decisions into question. After all, if he fucked it up so blatantly in this case, what other decisions has he predetermined or been unfair on? What similar procedural deficiencies has he overlooked because he does it too? He's failed to abide by the principles his office is supposed to embody and enforce, and I think there's really only one appropriate response: he should resign.

(As for the underlying dispute - whether a private company gets to pass itself off as an ombudsman - I happen to agree with Boshier, and think Parliament should legislate if necessary to protect the name. But that doesn't excuse his improper process, or make his position any more tenable).

Tuesday, March 02, 2021



A toxic organisation

Back in 2019, following media revelations that bullying was widespread within the police, the Independent Police Conduct Authority announced that it would be investigating the issue. Today, they reported back, and found the police to be a completely toxic organisation:

An independent report into police culture has described a “boy’s club” within the senior ranks that has presided over an “atmosphere of fear and acquiescence”, which “marginalised and ostracised” those who challenged the status quo.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority report, published on Tuesday, was based on interviews with about 220 current and former police staff, revealing a police culture in which staff, including senior staff, fear to speak up and a significant minority report abusive behaviour.

Reports include female staff being called “bitches”, physical intimidation, and officers refusing to respond to calls for backup when staff felt they were at risk in the field.

The latter basicly means police trying to kill one another. That's how toxic they are. The report also found "cliques, nepotism and cronyism" dictating promotions, and (if you read the RNZ version) HR not wanting to know about the problem, blaming the victim, and concealing or not keeping records of complaints (which sounds like a Public Records Act violation, and immediately invites the question of how widespread that culture is).

This obviously isn't good for the staff, but its probably not good for policing, or the public. Work doesn't get done efficiently in such environments, but also, this toxic environment will flow out to their interactions with the public. Which is basicly what we see every day.

(I'm also wondering where the hell the Police Association was in all of this. But I suspect the answer is "part of the problem"...)

Stunningly, the report makes no recommendations. So here's an obvious one: fire the bullies. Seriously. Just fire them. They're a toxic influence, clearly incorrigible, and things will not get better until they and their bullshit mindset are out of the organisation. Given the identified problems of "macho culture", a "boys club", and "alpha males" with "limited emotional intelligence", for bonus points fire them and replace them all with women. They make better managers anyway.

Monday, March 01, 2021



Climate Change: Even dodgier accounting

Last year, Beef and Lamb New Zealand produced a bought-and-paid-for report claiming that their industry was already carbon neutral, so didn't need to do anything to reduce emissions. The report was full of obviously dodgy accounting - basicly, it didn't bother to follow international carbon accounting rules, because they would have given the "wrong" result. But it turns out that accounting was even dodgier than I thought:

Government scientists have busted research claims that our meat farms are close to carbon-neutral.

[...]

The ministry report found several faults with the industry study, which was authored by AUT researchers and peer-reviewed. Firstly, it didn’t account for the trees being chopped down each year.

Since more than 11,000 hectares of farmland are deforested, harvested or cleared each year on average, the ministry report factored this into its calculations.

The Beef + Lamb-backed research also significantly overestimated how much carbon was absorbed by native and exotic shrubs and scrubland, the report concluded.

Basicly the entire thing was an exercise in intellectual dishonesty, which ought to be an embarrassment to its authors. And it really doesn't bode well for the farming industry's promise to develop methods to measure and price emissions themselves under the He Waka Eke Noa – Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership. Rather than engaging in good faith, it looks like they're clinging to the same old denier-industry tactics used previously. And if that's the case, the government should pull the plug on the partnership, bring farmers into the ETS without any subsidies, and force them to pay the full cost of their pollution like the rest of us do.

Why are we paying for MPI again?

Last year, the government chickened out on clean rivers, setting "water standards" that failed to properly control poisonous nitrates. So who was to blame? MPI:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) opposed introducing a tough bottom line for nitrogen levels in rivers over concerns the economic impact would outweigh the environmental benefit, documents show.

MPI repeatedly clashed with the Ministry for the Environment (MfE), even though scientific experts said a Dissolved Organic Nitrogen (DIN) level of 1 mg/L was the best way to protect rivers.

Emails obtained under the Official Information Act show MPI staff wanted the economic cost of introducing a bottom line pushed more prominently in a cabinet paper about nitrogen level options put to ministers in May 2020.

It's the first time MPI's influence on the issue has been revealed.

Its another example of how MPI has been totally captured by the industries it is supposed to regulate, and works to undermine public interest regulation rather than for it. In this case, they were basicly just being a mouthpiece for polluter lobbyists DairyNZ, who opposed any form of nitrogen regulation "because it disagreed with the science" (which sounds a lot like their position on climate change not that many years ago). But if this is all MPI is going to do, then we might as well just fire them all, and let DairyNZ do its own lobbying, rather than spending tens of millions a year to pay public servants to do it for them.

Also worth noting: given recent information linking nitrates to bowel cancer, this decision will have a body count. This decision is more stochastic murder, and MPI and its staff need to be held accountable for it.

More tyranny in the UK

Since the pandemic began, the UK government has restricted protests in an effort to contain the plague. But of course, they're plotting to make these restrictions permanent:

Concern over the government’s limitation of the right to protest during lockdown continues to mount after it emerged that the home secretary, Priti Patel, is eager to grant police greater powers to control demonstrations once the Covid restrictions are lifted.

In a letter to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) Patel wrote that although she appreciates protest is “a cornerstone of our democracy” she wanted to know how the Home Office could help police ensure protests in the future do not impact on “the rights of others to go about their daily business”.

The point of protest is to tell people something they don't want to hear. Naturally, the targets feel inconvenienced by this. But that is part of living in a free society. Unfortunately, it is now crystal clear that the British establishment (and the Tories in particular) do not want to live in such a society anymore. But if they'd like to live in a society like Hong Kong, maybe they should just move there instead?

Friday, February 26, 2021



The central problem with housing policy

We've had a housing crisis for the past decade, and successive governments have done nothing to solve it. Why not? Bernard Hickey gets it right when he says its all about protecting the rich:

The Government is reluctant to push down house prices fearing they'll loses the support of those who already own property, according to Bernard Hickey.

The economic and political commentator says the Government should tax capital and wealth and invest significantly in infrastructure in our major cities to combat the housing crisis, he told Breakfast.

[...]

Hickey said the economy would survive if there was a significant dip of 30 to 40 per cent in house prices to improve affordability, but it would mean a certain election defeat for Jacinda Ardern and Labour if they oversaw such a drop.

[...]

“If we saw a house price fall of 30 per cent, it’s not going to get me or anyone else elected but it wouldn’t kill the economy, we have to have a debate about what we really want, do we want affordable housing or do we want just a chunk of the population to be really, really rich?"

The Labour government has clearly opted for the latter. The sight of a Labour government protecting the rich while its own voters are consigned to lives of rent-slavery to make those people even richer ought to fill that party's supporters with fury. What is Labour for, if not to solve problems like this?

If Labour doesn't fix this, they deserve to get de-elected at the next election. It is that simple. The question is whether they'll rise to the challenge, or just try and terrorise their voters into supporting them out of fear again. Sadly, given their past practice, I expect it'll be the latter.

Thursday, February 25, 2021



A failure of enforcement

Yesterday, Silver Fern Farms was fined $337,000 over a potentially lethal ammonia leak. Today RNZ reports that they've subcontracted some of their waste business to Whanganui's Tasman Tanning, which has an appalling environmental record:

Tasman Tanning's plant in Whanganui was already the country's leader in breaching trade wastewater consents before it took on the new work, which is likely to increase the waste it produces.

[...]

An RNZ investigation revealed the Tasman Tanning plant in Whanganui clocked up 570 fat, sulphide and chromium breaches over the past year.

This meant the sludge from the city's wastewater treatment plant was so contaminated with chromium, a toxic heavy metal, it had to be stored instead of being sent to landfill.

Some of the Whanganui breaches resulted in faecal bacteria from the city's wastewater treatment plant entering the ocean.

Which invites the obvious question: how does a company which breaches its resources consents more than once a day even still have them? Why hasn't the Council done something to stop them? While they've complained about an inability to issue fines without going to court, there are mechanisms available: notably, they can issue an abatement notice for violating the consent. Then, when it is breached, prosecute (because breaching an abatement notice is a criminal offence), and start imposing fines that way (councils get to keep fines for RMA breaches if they prosecute). Seek enforcement orders to force mitigation, and when they are breached, seek an order cancelling the consent under s314(1)(e).

Alternatively, if they don't want to go the full way with prosecution, they can issue an abatement notice, then simply start issuing infringement notices. Breaching an abatement notice is an infringement offence, with a $750 fine per offence. And again, the Council gets to keep it. And at over $400,000 a year, you'd hope that would provide an incentive for this polluter to comply (and if not, it establishes a track record of violations to justify cancellation).

A council which doesn't do this when faced with persistent non-compliance are a) chickenshits; and b) ought to be voted out on their arses for not doing their jobs. Because enforcing the law is their job, and if they refuse to do it, they're as bad as the environmental criminals they're corruptly protecting.

Give the Rangitata back

Back in 2018, National's unelected Canterbury dictatorship issued a resource consent to take water from the Rangitata river for irrigation, in violation of its Water Conservation Order. Now, after two years of legal battles, the company has "voluntarily" surrendered it:

An irrigation company's decision to relinquish its consent to take extra water from the Rangitata River when in high flow has been hailed as a “gift to New Zealand” by anglers.

Rangitata Diversion Race Management Ltd (RDRML) was awarded the consent to take an extra 10 cumecs in water when the river was flowing 110 cumecs or higher by an Environment Canterbury-appointed independent panel in 2018.

However, appeals by Fish and Game, Ngāi Tahu and Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua to the Environment Court had delayed the consent's implementation.

RDRML chief executive Tony McCormick confirmed on Tuesday it had decided to relinquish the consent, describing it as "positive news" and adding they would make a further statement later.

Good. The consent would have undermined the river's ecosystem by lowering "flushing flows" and allowing excess sediment to build up, harming aquatic life. Surrendering it means at least things aren't going to get any worse. But it should only be the first stage. Currently, irrigators take over 70% of the river's total median annual flow: of the 74 m/s median annual flow at Klondyke, the Rangitata Diversion Race takes 30.7 m/s, Rangitata Water takes another 20 m/s, and a large dairy farm 1.5 m/s (figures from DoC). Which doesn't leave an awful lot of river left by the time it reaches the sea (though some of it is used for electricity generation and ends up in the Rakaia instead).

Worse, this water is used for dairy farms, which fundamentally change the nature of the Canterbury plains while spewing methane into the air and shit and poisonous nitrates into the river and the water table, destroying the climate, making rivers unswimmable, and endangering public health. If we want to protect our environment and ourselves, we need to scale this back. And the easiest way to do that is give the river back: remove or massively scale back those consents, and let the rivers flow.

The rich should pay their fair share

New Zealand is supposed to have a progressive tax system, which taxes people according to their ability to pay. But it turns out that the rich are cheating:

The wealthiest New Zealanders pay just 12 per cent of their total income in tax on average, according to research from Inland Revenue and Treasury, Stuff can reveal.

The same research found 42 per cent of the wealthiest New Zealanders were paying lower tax rates than the lowest tax rate paid by people who earn their money from an ordinary job or a benefit.

That compares with an effective tax rate of about 16-18 per cent on New Zealanders earning the median income from salaries and wages of $55,000-$60,000.

[...]

According to Treasury, a full 42 per cent of High Wealth Individuals (HWIs) pay less than 10 per cent of their total income in tax.

That is lower than the lowest income tax rate which is 10.5 per cent, which income earners pay on income up to $14,000.

How do they do it? Largely, because most of their income is from untaxed sources like capital gains, or pretaxed sources like corporate profits. The report highlights that the top 1% own an estimated 11% of all housing wealth, and 70% of New Zealand companies. Which highlights the need both to tax these untaxed capital gains, and to make sure that its not just housing, but corporate wealth which gets taxed. Otherwise, we'll continue to see a situation where us plebs pay tax, while the ultra-rich don't. And that is simply not socially sustainable any more.

(Its also absurd that information on how much the wealthy have hoarded is so lacking that the government needs to turn to the NBR rich list to estimate it. And now its been used for that, I wonder of the rich will cease their annual gloating?)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021



One way of fixing the OIA

I've just lodged my fourth complaint to the Ombudsman for deemed refusal of an OIA request by police this year. That brings their total to four for four - every request I have sent them has not been answered within the legal timeframe, even when they extend it to give themselves more time (when they do respond, these complaints usually expand to challenge their grounds for refusal as well). And this is not an unusual experience with this agency (you can also look at FYI to see the litany of delay there).

The Police are the worst of the worst, but there's a general problem with lateness in OIA requests, and a lack of incentive to obey timelines. So how can we fix this? One suggestion is to follow Mexico's example. Article 53 of its Federal Transparency Aand Access To Public Government Information Law provides that:

Lack of response to a request for access within the time limit indicated in Article 44 will be understood as an acceptance of the request, and the agency or entity is still required to provide access to the information within a time period no greater than ten working days, covering all costs generated by the reproduction of the responsive material, except when the Institute determines that the documents in question are classified or confidential.
Or, to put it another way, if they're late, they can't refuse, except on certain highly restricted grounds.

This seems entirely consistent with the OIA's purposes and the principle of availability, that information shall be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it. After all, if you can't find good reason to withhold within the statutory time limit, then it clearly doesn't exist and the information should be released. It would provide a strong incentive for timely decision-making, or for extending complicated requests. As for the danger of incentivising quick refusals, this would simply mean that complaints over lateness would be replaced with substantive ones (and insofar as rushed decisions tend to be bad ones, see them quickly overturned).

Unfortunately, with the government pushing back its OIA review, it doesn't seem like we'll get a chance to push for such a reform any time soon. Unless some MP wishes to put it in a member's bill...?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021



One state at a time

Virginia has voted to abolish the death penalty:

State lawmakers gave final approval on Monday to a bill that will end capital punishment in Virginia, a dramatic turnaround for a state that has executed more people than any other.

The legislation repealing the death penalty now heads to the Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, who has said he will sign the measure into law, making Virginia the 23rd state to stop executions.

[...]

Both the house and senate approved repeal bills earlier this month. On Monday, the senate approved the house bill, advancing it to Northam. The house was expected to vote on the senate version later in the day.

Hopefully the bill will be signed quickly, bringing an end to executions. And hopefully the federal government will follow soon.

A captive Minister

Yesterday a New Zealand Judge issued a formal finding that the Department of Corrections had treated prisoners in a cruel, degrading and inhumane manner, illegally detaining them, using excessive force, denying them basic necessities unless they performed degrading rituals of submission first. Some of the conduct appears to be criminal: offences of Ill-treatment or neglect of child or vulnerable adult, assault with a weapon, and arguably torture appear to have been committed. So what's the Minister's response? A full investigation? Sackings? Prosecutions? Of course not. Instead, he's chosen to deny the court ruling and undermine the judiciary:

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis is not taking a judge's ruling that inmates at Auckland Women's Prison were treated in a "degrading" and "inhumane" way at face value, and wants more information.

Manukau District Court Judge David McNaughton made the stinging ruling when assessing whether inmate Mihi Bassett should have her sentence extended for arson at the prison in 2019.

[...]

[The Judge] said the women's evidence was "powerful and compelling" and he had no reason to doubt it.

But Kelvin Davis said these were still allegations and he had asked Corrections for their side of the story.

...which has already been presented in court, and found to be unreliable. But I guess Davis doesn't care about court rulings, or the rule of law in New Zealand. He has clearly been totally captured by his department, and is afraid to enforce even basic standards on them. Which is exactly how these abuses happen: cowardly Ministers unwilling to hold their lawless agencies to account.

Meanwhile, you also have to wonder where the Ombudsman was. They are officially responsible for monitoring New Zealand's prisons under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. And if they were doing their job properly, basic issues like unlawful detention, the illegal use of pepper spray, and ritual humiliation of prisoners would be detected and ended. But the Ombudsman apparently has never conducted a monitoring visit to Auckland Women's Prison. If they had, then maybe this woman wouldn't have been abused and tortured.

Update: The Ombudsman has in fact conducted an inspection of Auckland Women's Prison - back in 2013/14. Which seems like quite a while ago.

Climate sea-lioning

The Herald reports that there is a "storm brewing for the Climate Change Commission". The "problem"? Polluters are unhappy with its economic projections saying that action will not be as costly as they have previously claimed:

Last week a coalition of over a dozen New Zealand business and industry groups - including heavyweight exporters DairyNZ and the Meat Industry Association, Federated Farmers, mining group Straterra, the Motor Industry Association, the New Zealand Initiative, and BusinessNZ - penned a formal letter to Rod Carr, chair of the Climate Change Commission.

"We are pleased that the commission has, in response to requests, begun to release the models and underlying data that supports the commission's findings," it said.

"However, to constructively contribute submissions so that the commission is as well-informed as possible, we must be able to thoroughly review and comment on data and models which will influence major decisions about the future of our economy and society."

"Given the delay in the release of crucial modelling data (not all of which is out yet)," the letter asked for an extension of the March 14th deadline for submissions by at least two weeks.

The members of this "coalition" reads like a who's who of climate denial in New Zealand, and I'm shocked that they are being taken seriously by the Herald. These organisations long ago surrendered any pretence of good faith on this issue, and you'd expect that to be recognised by any professional journalists. As for their tactics, its basicly sea-lioning: "show us the models!", "show us the models under the models!", "Prove that 1+2=2!" We saw exactly this shit from the (now defunct) New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, and as in that case the purpose is purely doubt-mongering and delay, a naked attempt to undermine action and preserve their pollution-based profits.

As noted above, these organisations are not acting in good faith on this issue, and the Commission, the government, the media, and the public should treat them accordingly and ignore them.

Monday, February 22, 2021



The end of offshore exploration?

The Otago Daily Times reports that following Beech Energy's surrender of its South Island exploration permits, the end of offshore oil exploration in the South Island may be on the horizon:

The end of offshore exploration for gas and oil in the South Island is on the horizon.

A drill or drop deadline for the last active exploration permit in the South expires in March 2022.

New Zealand Oil and Gas (NZOG) chief executive Andrew Jefferies is not optimistic about the future of the Toroa permit in the Great South Basin, which the company is likely to surrender.

"I very much doubt that the folks of Southland will see a rig over the horizon in the current regulatory settings," Mr Jefferies said.

Good. Because its been clear for a decade that if we are to survive, the oil industry has to die. Killing development before it starts is the best way of doing this. It kills the emissions pipeline while ensuring that resources aren't waste don stranded assets.

But its not enough to end exploration of the South Island - there are also still permits off Taranaki. Some of those have "drill or drop" provisions in the next few years, and hopefully the government will actually enforce them, rather than see this toxic, destructive industry continue.

The first test of control orders

Over the weekend we learned that Turkey plans to deport a New Zealand woman and her children who had fled Syria after previously joing the Islamic State. Which means that Andrew Little's tyrannical Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Act 2019 - rammed through under all-stages urgency on the basis of an outright lie that we were about to be flooded with returning terrorists - will probably get its first test. So how will it work?

The woman is a "relevant person" in terms of the Act. Despite not being convicted of any crime, merely being deported on an allegation of terrorism means she qualifies. Which means a court will be able to make various orders restricting her rights. The sticking point for the government is likely to be that the court may only make these orders if she "poses a real risk of engaging in terrorism-related activities", and even then, only those orders which are "necessary and appropriate" to prevent such activities. As so far this person's "support for terrorism" seems to consist solely of being married to the wrong person and living in the wrong place, this may be a difficult bar for the government to meet.

(No doubt the SIS will talk up the threat she poses to justify their abuse of our democracy. But we only have to remember the Ahmed Zaoui case to see how appallingly low their standard of "evidence" is, and how unconvincing it was the moment it encountered the reality check of an actual judge, even with a one-sided procedure designed to prevent it from being challenged. They may find themselves in a similar situation this time, resulting in a similar outcome).

Finally, there's also the absurdity of a law which imposes mandatory name suppression on a person whose identity has already been widely reported and will continue to be available online even if an order is made. Hopefully the court will decide to permit publication rather than promote the absurd position that the entire country must pretend to not know what we already know.

An open door waiting to be pushed on

While it has made a lot of noise about inequality, Labour has resolutely avoided reversing the 1990 benefit cuts and improving living standards for the poorest in our society. Meanwhile, 70% of kiwis think they should:

A survey has found seven out of 10 New Zealanders believe the government should increase income support for those on low wages or not in paid work.

The UMR poll was commissioned by a group of more than 40 organisations, including unions, social service providers, and kaupapa Māori groups.

It found approval for increasing income support was largely consistent across salary groups, age ranges, renters and owners; and across the political spectrum.

There was a majority of support by voters for the four major parties, led by Greens' supporters at 89 percent in favour.

This is the sort of level of support that normally makes something non-controversial, except for the freaks (see also: strengthening gun laws after Christchurch, or keeping the borders closed during a pandemic). It represents a historic opportunity for Labour to reverse a huge injustice and make us a better society. But knowing Labour, they'll probably squander it, for fear of upsetting the 26% who disagree, who would never vote for them anyway.

Thursday, February 18, 2021



Facebook vs Australia

The Australian government is currently working on a law requiring major internet platforms to pay media companies for the content they use. The threat of regulation has been at lest partially successful, with Google agreeing a deal with Seven West Media. Facebook, OTOH, has decided to play hardball:

Australians are being blocked from accessing news in their Facebook feeds, in a dramatic escalation of the social media giant's stand-off with the federal government.

Australians waking up this morning found they were blocked from receiving news from publishers' pages, including news organisations like the ABC.

The social media giant said it made the move in response to the government's proposed media bargaining laws, which would force major tech giants to pay Australian news outlets for their content.

Facebook's censorship goes much wider than the news organisations they would have to pay; they're also censoring unions, NGOs, politicians, and government agencies, including vital public health-related announcements in the middle of a pandemic. Its a naked display of market power, clearly intended to coerce Australia into renouncing its policy and deter other countries from adopting it: "do what we want, or we'll gag you".

This underlines all the concerns people had about the Twitter purge (which at least had justification as a long-belated enforcement of that platforms terms of service). These platforms now control our online lives, giving them an enormous amount of power. And that power clearly needs to be regulated to prevent exactly this sort of abuse. Given their reaction today, Facebook's response to such regulation is likely to be to threaten to withdraw service. Which means that any credible regulation is going to have to be a multilateral effort, backed by enough countries to ensure that they will be destroying a huge chunk of their market if they do so.

But it also shows that when Facebook said it was "too hard" for them to regulate Nazis and terrorists off their platform, they were lying. Facebook clearly can exercise an enormous degree of control over what can be posted, when they want to. And the fact that they're currently exercise such control for their own political purposes shows that they are effectively a publisher, which publishes by discretion. And the response to that should be obvious: repeal their common carrier defence, and make them liable for everything they choose to publish.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021



Climate Change: The quicker the better

The Marsden Point oil refinery lost $200 million last year, and its owners are saying it will speed their decision to shut it down and move to being an import business:

The country's only fuel refinery at Marsden Point could exit the refinery business as early as next year.

Refining NZ has been reviewing its future options which include quitting the refinery operations and converting to becoming an import terminal only.

Speaking on Wednesday after booking an annual loss of $198.2 million, chief executive Naomi James said the Government’s move towards greener transport gave the refinery’s review impetus.

‘’I think at a point in time you would always be looking at this ... but it takes a number of years on the Government's forecasts, on the Climate Change Commission forecasts, for current fuel demand to shift significantly.'’

Good. Currently Marsden Point emits roughly 580,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year (and gets subsidised to do so), so the sooner it shuts down the better. Imported petrol still has those emissions embodied in it, but importing fuel attracts ETS obligations, and emissions factors can always be updated to include that (if they don't already). As for Refining NZ, its good for them: with the sudden push for transport electrification, they're looking at having a huge stranded asset, so the quicker they dump it, the better.

An American solution

On Monday, the US Congress failed to hold former President Donald Trump accountable for inciting an attempted coup against the US constitution. So now someone is doing it privately, in the traditional American way: suing him:

Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the former president’s personal lawyer, have been accused of conspiring to incite the violent riot at the US Capitol, in a legal action filed under a historic law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

The lawsuit was brought on Tuesday by the Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and the eminent civil rights organisation the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

[...]

The suit alleges that Trump, Giuliani and the extremist groups the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers conspired to incite the attack on the Capitol with the goal of preventing Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election.

It argues that they therefore violated a law often referred to as the Ku Klux Klan Act, passed in 1871 in response to Klan violence and intimidation preventing members of Congress in the Reconstruction south from carrying out their constitutional duties. The NAACP, founded in 1909, says the statute was designed to protect against conspiracies.

Well, that's one way of fixing it. But if this is a crime, shouldn't the federal government be prosecuting them, rather than leaving it to a private suit? Or is the US system now so dysfunctional that it is incapable of protecting itself from attempted coups?

Woodhouse lets the mask slip

The media this morning was full of hopeful stories about how the current lockdown may have been a "false alarm" and an over-reaction and how it would all be over soon (I bet those journalists and editors all feel pretty stupid now). But along the way, National's Michael Woodhouse let the mask slip:

National's Michael Woodhouse said on Tuesday the country was “running out of patience with alert level rises.”

“At some point a Government, probably this Government, will have to take the tough decision to say, ‘Covid is endemic on this planet, and we need to take different steps,’ but in the meantime, while we pursue an elimination strategy, the Government has got to get it right,” Woodhouse said.

"Endemic". "Tough decision". "Different steps". We all know what that means: let people die so rich people can make money! And this man used to be involved in hospital administration. I wonder if he applied the same attitude there?

Still, at least voters know now, so we can hold Woodhouse accountable at the ballot box for his murderous views.

Ending our unjust war

Nearly twenty years after they first arrived, the last New Zealand troops will finally be leaving Afghanistan in May:

New Zealand troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by May 2021.

The current deployment consists of six Defence Force personnel - three deployed to the Afghanistan National Army Officer Academy, and three deployed to the NATO Resolute Support Mission Headquarters.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said after 20 years it was time for the New Zealand Defence Force to leave Afghanistan.

Good. As I pointed out when combat troops came home in 2013, our presence in Afghanistan achieved nothing, other than propping up a corrupt torturing theocracy (to which we can add "misogynistic"). And the cost of that was Operation Burnham, spying on and threatening to murder journalists, decorating a child-murdering war criminal, $300 million (plus however more has been spent since 2013), countless dead Afghans and ten kiwi lives. It wasn't worth it, it was never worth it, and I'm glad it is finally over.

And now it is, we need to turn our attention to preventing it from ever happening again. And one obvious step is to forbid the deployment of New Zealand soldiers overseas without Parliamentary debate and explicit authorisation. This doesn't protect us from politicians herding us into a war, but it does ensure they do so openly rather than in secret, allowing us to hold them to account at the ballot box for it.

Monday, February 15, 2021



More solar

A group of solar panel installers has applied for resource consent for a new PV solar farm in Northland:

A massive 12ha solar panel farm – enough to power 2750 homes – is planned for the top of Northland, in what would be the largest of its kind in the country.

Far North Solar Farm, a company of New Zealand and Australian solar installers, has applied for resource consent for the 16 megawatt solar farm at Pukenui.

The site is on the Far North’s Te Aupōuri peninsular, a narrow landmass at risk of drought, where intensive avocado farming has raised concerns by locals worried about spray-drift and the demand for water.

While Stuff is calling it "New Zealand's largest solar farm", there are much larger ones planned: Refining NZ gained resource consent for a 26MW farm in 2019, and Genesis is planning a 300MW farm in Waikato. But it all helps, and every Joule we generate from the sun is coal and gas we don't have to burn and water we can store.

MFAT's blocked nose

Last week, the public was appalled to learn that our national airline had been helping saudi Arabia commit war crimes in Yemen by servicing their military equipment. Jacinda Ardern was right that this sort of deal doesn't pass the sniff test. Meanwhile, her own Ministry of Foreign Affairs was approving weapons exports to Saudi Arabia:

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Ministry granted export permits for military equipment that was sent to Saudi Arabia's forces in 2016 and 2018, raising concerns the government may have breached its human rights obligations.

[...]

[Documents obtained under the Official Information Act] showed that in May 2016, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) approved a permit for military simulation training equipment to be sent to Saudi ground forces. In December that year, sign-off was also given for hand-held computers, radios and range-finding binoculars bound for the Saudi Navy.

The exporter, whose identity has been kept secret by MFAT, applied for an extension to its December permit after that shipment was delayed, the documents showed. This was granted in May 2018. The quantity and value of the equipment exported was also withheld.

While there are no specific international prohibitions on exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia, when MFAT considers an export permit it must assess whether there are any serious violations of humanitarian law. Waikato University international law professor Al Gillespie said officials may have breached this obligation.

I guess MFAT must just have a blocked nose - probably from constantly inhaling bullshit from promoting dairy exports. But this is just as unacceptable to the public as Air New Zealand's support for war criminals. Hopefully rather than making excuses the Minister will immediately put a stop to it (and if the weapons industry doesn't like that, they're welcome to fuck off to the UK, where they'd clearly fit in much better).

Catalans vote for independence again

Catalonia went to the polls today in elections forced on them by the Spanish judiciary (first, by removing the elected president from office, breaking the governing coalition, then by ruling that the elections had to proceed in spite of the pandemic). And for the first time, pro-independence parties have won over 50% of the vote:

Pro-independence parties have won more than 50% of the vote in the 2021 Catalan election, the first time they have managed to do so.

In what will be a major boost to supporters of Catalan independence, a combined total of 51.24% voters (with 97% votes counted) chose Esquerra (ERC), Junts per Catalunya, CUP and smaller pro-independence parties in Sunday's ballot.

The independence camp has won a majority of seats in previous elections, for example in 2017 when they accounted for 70 of 135 seats, but this time they also surpassed 50% of votes cast.

They've also retained their parliamentary majority, so it looks like the new government will be much the same as the old one. Meanwhile, the Socialists have been cut out of power, while the Citizens - previously the largest party - got slaughtered. The bad news is that openly fascist Vox has entered the Catalan Parliament for the first time, as Citizens and People's party voters decided to vote for the real thing rather than the imitators. Which at least makes it clear what is really driving opposition to independence.

A failed state

After Donald Trump incited a Nazi mob to storm the US capital in an attempt to disrupt the electoral college vote count and murder his political opponents, the US had a chance to save itself and its democracy. And yesterday, they failed, with the Senate voting to acquit Trump on charges of insurrection. Faced with a clear threat to democracy and the constitutional order, Republican Senators chickened out, worrying about funding and primary threats rather than the fact that a bunch of them only narrowly escaped being lynched by Trump's mob. And by letting Trump get away with an attempted coup, they sent an open invitation to the next wannabe-dictator to have a go.

The upshot is that the US is now a failed state, unable to institutionally protect itself. Its vaunted system of "checks and balances" means nothing. But while the temptation is to revel in the arrogant hegemon's fall, this is bad for everyone else too. Firstly, because the US tends to export its politics to other democracies, which means exporting violence and instability. And secondly, because they have nuclear weapons. And the thought of the latter eventually falling into the hands of a Trumpist American dictator by violence ought to scare the hell out of everyone else, and focus their minds on how to contain the US and limit its ability to do harm.

Friday, February 12, 2021



We should be welcoming climate tariffs, not condemning them

The UK apparently wants to put border carbon adjustments, AKA "climate tariffs", onto the G7 agenda as a means of encouraging countries to adopt strong climate policies and meet their emissions reduction targets. But Labour's Trade Minister Damien O'Connor is worried about this:

Carbon tariffs proposed by the United Kingdom and European Union are “ad hoc” interventions which may fall foul of World Trade Organisation rules, the trade minister says.

The UK, EU, and United States have proposed tariffs on trade from countries which have weaker climate regimes, in a bid to encourage greater climate action and protect domestic industries subjected to comparatively higher carbon taxing.

[...]

It remains unclear how such tariffs could affect New Zealand’s trade. Trade Minister Damien O’Connor​ said such “ad hoc” trade interventions appeared a long way off, and he had not yet considered joining Australia in protest.

He suggested such trade tariffs would not fit within World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.

(Trade experts believe border carbon adjustments to equalise carbon prices are legal under WTO rules).

O'Connor is making National-like noises about how such interventions must be "based in science". But the rationale is pretty clear: border carbon adjustments help prevent "carbon leakage" (polluting industries relocating to countries with lax climate policy), while providing a strong incentive for countries to adopt strong policies and meet their targets. Australia opposes them for the simple reason that they are climate criminals, opposed to any action. But as a country which supposedly has policy and supposedly is worried about leakage, we should be encouraging this (and adopting such tariffs ourselves). The only reason O'Connor wouldn't is if he thinks that New Zealand is one of the delinquent countries which will be targeted - that is, if he has no faith in his own government's climate policy. But if that's the case, maybe he should focus on improving that policy, rather than trying to continue to profit by refusing to do our bit?

Thursday, February 11, 2021



Earning their reputation again

Farmers complain about being seen as environmental vandals. Meanwhile, down in Southland, they're doing this:

Southland farmers will consider holding more tractor protests, not applying for resource consents, and not paying regional council rates to protest against new freshwater rules introduced by the Government last year.

A farmer’s group called Groundswell will host a meeting in Gore on Thursday to come up with an action plan to protest against the rules.

[...]

Groundswell spokesperson Bryce McKenzie said the options the group were considering to protest were ‘’bordering on civil unrest’’.

“How else do you get your message across? We’ve tried to get the message across and that hasn’t worked, so what else do you do? That’s what we now need to decide,’’ he said.

I may be missing the farmer-logic here, but promising "civil unrest" in response to environmental regulation does not a good way to sell yourself as an environmentally responsible industry, or to shake off a reputation for being environmentally destructive. Instead, it seems like a way to cement that reputation, and paint yourself as a problem industry which needs to be regulated more strongly. As for their protest tactics, if they refuse to apply for resource consent then their unconsented farming activities can be shut down (and they can be fined $10,000 a day for continuing without consent). If they refuse to pay rates, their property can be seized and sold to pay them. If farmers wish to be environmental delinquents, I think the public would welcome such outcomes.

Equality only for the privileged in the UK

The UK is a laggard on paid parental leave, offering only 6 weeks at 90% pay, followed by 33 weeks at less than the minimum wage (NZ isn't that hot either, BTW). But finally, some women are getting decent, paid leave: Ministers!

The government is facing a backlash over plans to change the law to give cabinet ministers six months’ maternity leave on full pay, allowing the attorney general, Suella Braverman, to keep her post after having her baby but excluding backbench MPs from similar rights.

Labour will back the move, but it has caused some disquiet among backbench MPs angry that the maternity rights will only apply to secretaries of state, and go further than those that apply to the general public.

Under existing laws, Braverman would have to resign if she wanted to take time off following the birth. MPs are entitled to take paid maternity leave but are not automatically guaranteed any cover, meaning in practice many do not take leave.

(One backbench MP is now threatening legal action over MPs being excluded)

Its great that UK Ministers are finally going to get paid maternity leave - its a matter of basic equality and removing an exclusionary policy. But it speaks volumes that they're hoarding it for themselves, and denying it to others. Don't backbench MPs also deserve to be able to keep their jobs if they become parents? Doesn't everybody else? Clearly, the Tories don't think so. This needs to be followed up with a similar extension to every woman. Otherwise, its just further entrenching existing privilege and inequality.

NZ spies support torture

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security released their annual report today, and in amongst all the usual bureaucracy, there's some rather startling revelations. The first, and most horrifying, is that New Zealand's spy agencies are refusing to accept IGIS recommendations from its Operation Burnham inquiry to adopt a more stringent standard limiting intelligence cooperation where it may contribute to torture and other human rights abuses:

Our second recommendation, that the agencies’ human rights test for information sharing should be more protective, has not been accepted by them at this time. The agencies’ position is that any change to the policy threshold at which they mitigate risks in information sharing should only occur after the current review of the Foreign Cooperation MPS, led by DPMC. However, we think the more precautionary approach could be adopted now.
IGIS has suggested the same standard used by Canada and the UK (aimed at eliminating past practices of outsourcing torture while pretending it was not happening), but the spy agencies are for some reason resisting this. They need to tell us why, because the natural conclusion is that they want that practice to continue, and that they support torture.

Similarly, there's this bit:

The second issue, also being considered in the Foreign Cooperation MPS review, is what obligations, if any, should be imposed on the agencies when they receive information which they reasonably believe may have been obtained from human rights abuses overseas, especially if there is no realistic risk their receipt of the information could contribute to any new or ongoing abuse. New Zealand law does not directly govern this, and the answer is more a question of public policy and propriety.
"No realistic risk [of] new or ongoing abuse" sounds a lot like "torture is OK if you murder the victim afterwards". And that is simply not a position we should accept. Our spy agencies should refuse to accept any information sourced from human rights abuses overseas, whether abuse is ongoing or not. This is the best way to give effect to the Convention Against Torture's obligation that information obtained by torture is not used as evidence (except as evidence that torture was committed). Otherwise we're simply inviting laundering, and by doing so, encouraging torture.

Together, these two sections paint a very troubling picture of the lack of ethics in our spy agencies. Opposition to torture is pretty fundamental to any decent ethical system (not to mention our government's policy), but it is clear that our spies do not share it, and want to quibble. "Can we, can we" is irritating when it comes from children. When it comes from grown adults about torture, it suggests they are amoral psychopaths, who are unfit for any role in an ethical public service.

There's other stuff in there. Two warrants to spy on New Zealanders were found to be "irregular" (that is, illegal), in both cases because the spy agencies basicly made no case for the spying. Which suggests they are still being far to slack in considering whether their activities are necessary and proportionate, and instead just invading people's privacy willy-nilly. On top of that, it appears neither agency is complying with the requirement in the Foreign Cooperation MPS that they refer all new foreign cooperation arrangements to Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, which suggests a continued resistance to Parliamentary oversight. Which invites the question of why Parliament is continuing to fund them, when they are refusing to comply with their most basic ethical, legal, and democratic obligations.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021



Fossil fuels kill

We need to dramatically reduce use of fossil fuels in order to reduce carbon emissions and prevent the planet from becoming uninhabitable. But there's another reason to do it as well: because fossil fuels are killing us:

Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for 8.7m deaths globally in 2018, a staggering one in five of all people who died that year, new research has found.

Countries with the most prodigious consumption of fossil fuels to power factories, homes and vehicles are suffering the highest death tolls, with the study finding more than one in 10 deaths in both the US and Europe were caused by the resulting pollution, along with nearly a third of deaths in eastern Asia, which includes China. Death rates in South America and Africa were significantly lower.

The enormous death toll is higher than previous estimates and surprised even the study’s researchers. “We were initially very hesitant when we obtained the results because they are astounding, but we are discovering more and more about the impact of this pollution,” said Eloise Marais, a geographer at University College London and a study co-author. “It’s pervasive. The more we look for impacts, the more we find.”

Eliminating fossil fuels and the air pollution they cause means 20% more of us live. It also means the rest of us lead healthier, better lives. Putting this dirty, toxic industry out of business really is a matter of our survival or theirs.

Another democratic sham

Yesterday the government introduced to Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, to fix the racist veto against Māori wards. The bill was introduced under urgency, but the government said it would be going to select committee. But apparently that doesn't mean it will get a proper select-committee process: the committee has now called for submissions, but only given people until 17:00 tomorrow to get them on. In other words, the entire select committee process is a sham and a democratic fraud.

I had been planning to encourage people to submit on this bill. Given the process used, I cannot in good faith encourage people to waste their time on it. As with other sham processes - Parker's RMA bulldozer, Little's tyrannical anti-terrorism law - it is simply an exercise in bad faith, designed to lend a veneer of democracy to an undemocratic process. We should not dignify it with our participation, or pretend that it is any form of meaningful "consultation".

I support this legislation. But not like this. While the timing is tight, there was time to have a normal select committee process. By choosing not to, Labour has made its contempt for the public crystal clear.

One mine at a time...

Bathurst Resources is closing its Malvern Hills coal mine:

A coal mine in rural Canterbury is set to close, despite owners applying for consent for expansion and increased coal extraction just last year.

The 52-hectare Bathurst Resources mine is situated in the Malvern Hills, about 20 kilometres west of Darfield.

Acting chief executive Russell Middleton said on Wednesday the company had “regrettably” decided to close the mine, which had been extracting about 100,000 tonnes of low-sulphur coal a year, largely suppling local food processors near the site.

“We have been working towards economic solutions for keeping the mine open with Environment Canterbury, Selwyn District Council and our customers, but these have not been successful.”

100,000 tons of coal means roughly 200,000 tons of emissions avoided every year. That's about a quarter of a percent of our total from this one facility - or about 10% of the cut we need to make to meet our 2025 budget. Which is a good start, and hopefully we'll see more. The question now is whether Fonterra will get the message, and stop burning coal at its dirty Darfield dairy factory, or whether it will try and cling to dirty, outdated technology.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021



Who to vote for in the PN by-election

Palmerston North is having a by-election next week, to fill the council seat left vacant by Tangi Utikere becoming an MP. The field this year is very different from previous years: it swings young, there's a refreshing lack of dead white males, no-one is openly a real-estate agent of property developer, everyone is talking about social housing and disability access and water quality and climate change, and literally no-one is promising to "keep rates low" (the closest anyone comes is Sarah Spillane talking about "fairness to ratepayers" around infrastructure costs and development contributions, but her interview suggests that's not about cuts (in fact she's very clear that services cost money and if we want them, we have to pay for them. Which has put her a few slots up my preference list).

(Also: Manawatu Access Radio has interviewed every candidate, which is good to see, and I found the interviews useful in ranking some of the candidates).

So who to vote for? Of the eleven candidates, two can be ruled out immediately: Ross Barber, who is a diagnosed delusional psychotic and convicted child-beater, and former NZ First MP (and now NZ First President and co-leader of the Sensible Sentencing Trust) Darroch Ball. We can also eliminate former National candidate William Wood for being a chickenshit on Māori wards: he opposed them at the 2020 election, and is now "firmly 'on the fence'" (so either too chickenshit to say he opposes them now, or too chickenshit to stand up to National Party HQ and say he supports them. Either way: chickenshit and a waste of space). We can also dump Nathan Wilson for being a climate change denier (he ran in 2019).

As for actual ranking, my usual algorithm is vote for the Green, rank women over men, and young people over older ones. Which means Vanessa Rozenberg gets ranked first, then former NZUSA president Nikita Skipper (she hates landlords, so she must be OK). After that I'm tossing up between Sarah Spillane and Orphee Mickalad: Mickalad ticks a lot of boxes (young, refugee, water, social housing), but he worked for Chester Borrows (who was pretty Not Evil for a Nat, but could be indicitive of general political alignment). As for Spillane, I was planning to rank her poorly because her pitch was so boring (and mentioned rates), but her interview is a lot better. After that there's three white dudes whose central pitch is basicly "governance and communications", two of whom say "I have four kids" like that's something to be proud of. If I had to rank them, I'd probably go for Stefan Speller just because he's younger, but honestly there's not a lot to choose between there (or if there is, they haven't told me).

Voting closes at noon on the 17th, and results will be announced on the 22nd.

Deceit or incompetence?

Former Air New Zealand CEO (and now National MP) Chris Luxon has said he doesn't remember anything about his company's war-crimes contract. Its a convenient memory loss, and strongly reminiscent of John Key's tactics when confronted with wrongdoing (first, implausibly deny knowledge; then, claim to be "relaxed" about it...), and pretty obviously we should be suspicious of such a self-serving claim, and about the integrity of the man making it. But if we take it seriously, then Luxon is in fact admitting something else: that he wasn't doing his job as CEO. Because avoiding involvement in war crimes is something any decent CEO should be keeping an eye on, and if this slipped past him, it means he simply wasn't doing his job properly. And either way, having demonstrated either deceit or incompetence, he's not someone who can ever be trusted in a Ministerial role. Or as a party leader.

A victory for international justice

Back in 2015, Palestine became a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In 2018, it complained to them about war crimes carried out on their territory by occupying Israeli forces. And now, the ICC has ruled that it has jurisdiction and can investigate:

The international criminal court has announced that it has jurisdiction in Palestine, clearing its chief prosecutor to investigate alleged atrocities despite fierce Israeli objections.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the ruling and said the country would “protect our citizens and soldiers in every way from legal persecution”.

[...]

Bensouda, a Gambian lawyer, has said she would investigate both the Israeli military as well as Palestinian armed groups, including the Gaza-based Hamas faction, which has been accused of “intentionally directing attacks against civilians”, according to her office.

Good. Both Israel and Hamas have carried out indiscriminate attacks against civilians. In addition, Israeli blockades deprive palestinians of the necessities of life, while its legal structure is essentially an apartheid regime. The only way these crimes against humanity will end is when their perpetrators are prosecuted and held to account. And the fact that the Israeli government is fighting so hard to stop that from happening tells us everything we need to know: they're guilty, and they know it.

Our national airline should not be complicit in war crimes

Since 2015 Saudi Arabia has been waging war on the people of Yemen. A key part of their war is a naval blockade, which has restricted food supplies, leading to the worst famine in a century. Its a war crime - and our national airline is helping them do it:

A 1 NEWS investigation has revealed that Air New Zealand's business unit, Gas Turbines, which specialises in servicing military marine engines and turbines, has been supporting the Saudi Navy.

The Saudi Navy has been blockading Yemen - stopping food and medicine getting through to the country.

[...]

Last week [Air New Zealand] finally issued a short statement saying Air New Zealand Gas Turbines had been carrying out work for the Saudi Navy through a third party contract.

"It is through a third party contract that work has recently been carried out on two engines and one power turbine module from vessels belonging to the Royal Saudi Navy.

"The Gas Turbines business has not contracted directly with the Royal Saudi Navy and will not be carrying out any further work of this nature."

While its good that they've stopped, this isn't good enough. It shouldn't need to be said, but: corporations should not help governments commit war crimes. And that especially goes for our part government-owned airline. We bailed them out to help them get through Covid. That's now looking like a mistake. At the least, it looks like the government should just make a formal takeover and bring Air New Zealand back under full public control. Because we clearly cannot trust the values of the private sector for our national airline.

Fixing Māori wards

Parliament is back today, and the government is planning to introduce new legislation on Māori wards under urgency. Its not clear at this stage whether this will be all-stages urgency, or simply to get it to select committee (obviously, I'd prefer the latter). So what does it actually say? The bill is online here, and reading it alongside the Local Electoral Act 2001 shows that it:

  • Removes the normal time-limit for the creation of Māori wards (under current law a council would have had to have passed a resolution by last November in order to have them at the next local body elections);
  • Makes any referenda on Māori wards non-binding;
  • Completely removes the ability of racists to force future referenda on Māori representation;
  • Ensures that no referendum can be held on a previous decision to create Māori wards.
In practice this means that councils can make a decision, racists can't veto them, and any scheduled referenda are cancelled. Which is entirely appropriate for something people should never have been voting on in the first place.

Friday, February 05, 2021



Who is in charge of our military?

The Defence Force is planning a 21-gun salute on Waitangi Day. But apparently this isn't a reminder of their colonial role in subjugating Māori; instead its a "traditional" celebration of the accession of their foreign monarch, which coincidentally falls on our national day.

Pretty obviously, someone needs to tell them to stop: guns have no place on Waitangi Day. You'd think that would be the job of defence Minister Peeni Henare. But apparently not:

The Minister of Defence's office referred Stuff to the New Zealand Defence Force as this was an “operational” matter.
Bullshit. Who NZDF celebrates is a matter of policy, and it is the Minister's job to decide that policy. If the Minister doesn't think so, then that raises questions of who is actually in charge of our military. And if the answer isn't "the Minister" (who is democratically elected and accountable to Parliament, and through them, to us), then maybe we shouldn't have a military at all.

Climate Change: Legal actions

The Auckland Council will soon be consulting on a Regional Land Transport Plan, setting their transport priorities (and funding) for the next decade. Obviously, this will have a huge impact on the city's emissions profile. And to make sure they think hard about that, Lawyers for Climate Action is threatening to take them to court if they get it wrong:

Climate change lobbyists are warning Auckland Council it could face legal action if its decisions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions fall short of promises made.

The message came from Lawyers for Climate Action during a presentation to the council’s planning committee on Thursday.

[...]

“We expect the RLTP to be entirely consistent [with emission reduction goals] otherwise someone is not listening – the failure of council to follow its own policies is something that would be open to the courts,” Winton said.

The Auckland Council passed a climate change plan last year, setting goals of halving emissions by 2030, and net-zero by 2050. Lawyers for Climate Action would be arguing that the transport plan must be consistent with that. Given the Council's explicit adoption of the national 2050 target, they could also potentially use the Zero Carbon Act as backup. But hopefully the Council will do the right thing and make a challenge unnecessary.

Wellington City Council could be in for a similar challenge over Wellington airport's absurd expansion plans. While the Council isn't the direct decision-maker at present, it will eventually be making resource consent decisions on any expansion, and like Auckland has adopted a climate plan with a net-zero 2050 target. Which means any eventual resource consent could be challenged, unless it includes strict conditions limiting flights in order to reduce emissions (which would defeat the point of expansion). And hopefully Wellington airport will get that message, and reconsider until technological change makes flying moral again.

Thursday, February 04, 2021



Climate Change: A legal victory in France

A few years ago, people launched a series of high-profile court cases against governments over their inaction on climate change. Another one of these has just been successful, with a French court ruling that the French government has not done enough and is liable to damages for failing to meet its commitments:

A Paris court has convicted the French state of failing to address the climate crisis and not keeping its promises to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

In what has been hailed as a historic ruling, the court found the state guilty of “non-respect of its engagements” aimed at combating global warming.

[...]

The court ruled that compensation for “ecological damage” was admissible, and declared the state “should be held liable for part of this damage if it had failed to meet its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

It did not uphold a claim for symbolic compensation, saying compensation should be made “in kind”, with damages awarded “only if the reparation measures were impossible or insufficient”.

However, the court ruled that the applicants were entitled to seek compensation in kind for the “ecological damage caused by France’s failure to comply with the targets it had set for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It said this needed further investigation and gave the state two months to respond.

It awarded each organisation a symbolic €1 for “moral prejudice”, saying the state’s failure to honour its climate commitments was “detrimental to the collective interest”.

Which means France is now on the hook for its proportionate share of all the damage that will be caused by climate change. Hopefully that will sharpen their minds about actually doing something about it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021



18,000 unemployed under Labour

This quarter's Labour Market Statistics were expected to be a horror-show, as the effects of the pandemic bit and threw people out of work. Instead, there's been a slight decrease in unemployment, to 141,000 - 18,000 more than when Labour took office. So once again Labour's policy of trying to support everyone through the pandemic is working. And hopefully, that will continue.

Climate Change: Unimaginable?

The Climate Change Commission's report set out a vision of the future in which emissions had reached net zero by 2050. In order to do this, we'd stop burning coal and gas, switch to using EVs and public transport, and the land wouldn't be covered in cows. But many people's reaction has been to say that we can't possibly make such large changes in such a short time, that it is unimaginable. Really?

Its ironic that these are often older people. Because if we look back as far as the Commission is looking ahead - thirty years, to 1990 - we see a very different New Zealand. On a general level, it was a place where the internet was confined to university computer science departments, where if you wanted to buy something from overseas you had to put a "money order" in an envelope and use the post, and where we suffered under an unfair electoral system which gave huge majorities to parties which lost the popular vote. We were a nasty, pinched little country, full of homophobia and racism (OK...). Also, people could afford to buy a house. But looking specifically at climate change, we were still using CFCs and HFCs, we had no wind farms, and the land wasn't covered in cows. The changes since then - the restriction of ozone-depleting chemicals, the development of wind power, and the rise of mass dairy-conversions - have all been driven by policy (or its deliberate absence, in the case of the cows). I don't think its at all unimaginable that we can drive similar changes with different policies.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021



Good riddance to racist rubbish

The government plans to overturn the racist veto on Māori wards in local government:

The government is to introduce legislation to uphold council decisions to establish Māori wards, said Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta who made the announcement in New Plymouth today.

The first stage of the legislative reform would include immediate changes to establish transitional measures making the establishment of Māori wards easier ahead of the 2022 local elections.

Mahuta said the current system had a different set of rules for establishing Māori and general wards and that councils had asked for a law change.

[...]

The second stage would develop a permanent mechanism for local authorities to consider the establishment of Māori wards and constituencies.

Good. The current system is purely a racist roadblock. Councils do not need to face a referendum if they create a new ward, or even if they do away with them entirely and move to at-large election. So why should they have to when they create a Māori ward? (The answer, as we know, is racism). As Mahuta says, the process should be the same.

...which leaves me wondering why there needs to be a second stage. Because there is already a process for local authorities to change their ward structures (the council votes on it, with challenges heard by the Local Government Commission). Why not just use it?

Monday, February 01, 2021



Climate Change: Culling the herd

Yesterday the Climate Change Commission gave clear and unequivocal advice that livestock numbers would need to reduce by 15% in order to meet climate change and water quality targets. So how can we do that? In Stuff yesterday, Henry Cooke suggested one option:

The truth is New Zealand already has the technology it needs to greatly reduce its agricultural emissions and water pollution: rifles.
Obviously, that is unacceptable on animal welfare grounds. But its also unnecessary. We don't need to have a gigantic cow-cull or nationwide BBQ for the climate. Instead, as I pointed out a few years ago, we can just rely on attrition. The average dairy cow is killed after five years, so reducing herd sizes is just a matter of not replacing some of them when they go to the works. This allows us to make quite significant changes to herd numbers relatively rapidly, without requiring any real effort.

Obviously, we could make deeper cuts by the same method. The Climate Change Commission was committed to minimising economic impacts, so they assumed that meat and milk production would have to remain the same. The 15% cut is thus effectively the benefit of expected efficiency increases over the next 15 years. But there's no reason we need to retain such high levels of farm output, especially as it is essentially exported luxury food.

As for how to do that, directly regulating stocking limits under the RMA is one way, and necessary for dairy. But for sheep and beef, planting trees is already more profitable than those marginal industries (and carbon prices are now over $38, so its even more true now). So perhaps the best way is to follow the Climate Commission's advice, raise the ETS price cap to $70, and let the market take its course. Dirty, inefficient farmers will be displaced by trees. And the more that happens, the better.

Sunday, January 31, 2021



Climate Change: Cautiously optimistic

The Climate Change Commission's report was released this afternoon, recommending a stronger Paris target (though one "met" on paper only, by buying "reductions" in other countries, not by actually reducing emissions), emissions budgets for the next fifteen years, and a series of policies to meet them. The latter look quite sensible - and include things like a fossil vehicle and domestic gas phase out, strengthening the message that the gas industry has no future, as well as a reduction in cow numbers. And its pleasing to see from the government's press conference that their initial reaction is to basicly say "yes" and that they plan to adopt it all. "The Government will not hold back" is exactly the attitude we need. Though James Shaw was also quite explicit that the only way they think they can diverge from the advice is to strengthen it, because weakening it without evidence would simply be an invitation to be sued.

Unfortunately the reaction from National is to undermine the experts (who have already tested these policies; that's why they recommended them). So while I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll start seeing the policies we need, there's a high risk of them being reversed if climate-denier National ever gets back into power. So if we want to save the planet - and your grandkids' lives - we need to make sure that doesn't happen.

The sour note is the budgets. The Commission has done what the law demands, and set a downward path to net-zero (except for methane) in 2050. To make it easy to understand what we need to do now, they've expressed these against a 2018 baseline, rather than the 1990 baseline usually used. But when you put it back into the usual numbers (using 1990 emisisons of 63.591 MT, from here), there's a shock: their budgets amount to an emisisons increase of 6.5%, followed by cuts of 10% and 30%, which is miniscule compared to international efforts. Partly this is because the inaction of previous governments means we're starting from a very bad place. But the separate target for agricultural methane also means we're heading for a total cut of somewhere between 62% and 76%. So depending on what the final methane target is, we're doing a bit of backloading, but the Commission is right to say that technology change already in the pipeline means some sources are just going to fall off a cliff. So it might not be an unfair allocation.

It does highlight however just how weak our chosen target of "net zero for everything but cows" actually is. And when the UK is promising a cut of 68% by 2030, and there's an increasing trend of countries announcing they plan to be net-zero in all gases by 2050 or earlier, its clear that the shitty compromise in the Zero Carbon Act's target is unsustainable, and will need to be strengthened. The only question is how long it will take for the government to get the message.