Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Potemkin review

Nitrates are a serious public health threat, posing a risk of death for babies and a long-term risk of bowel cancer for adults. Farmers are currently spewing them into the water table via fertiliser and dirty dairying, poisoning drinking water across Canterbury and threatening the drinking water of our second-largest city. The government was apparently worried enough about this to set up a working group to study the problem. And then they secretly buried it:

An official information act request showed a working group that was supposed to be looking at nitrates in water only met twice in 18 months and was recently disbanded, with little to show for its efforts.

After months of pressure from councils and environmental groups and amidst mounting international evidence of a link between nitrates in drinking water and bowel cancer, then Minister of Health David Clark asked for a working group to be set up.

Chaired by the Ministry of Health's chief science advisor, professor Ian Town, it met for the first time in August 2019 and undertook to review nitrate levels and provide advice to affected communities about the health risk.

Funders would also be told about the urgent need for New Zealand research to match that coming from overseas.

But following a second meeting in December of that year, the work of the working group - which was supposed to meet every three months - stopped altogether.

A question from RNZ this month uncovered the group had recently been disbanded.

The government is using the pandemic as an excuse, but with the government refusing to set a bottom-line limit on nitrate pollution, it looks like the whole thing was a scam, a Potemkin review to distract the public. Because obviously, we couldn't let the fact they were killing people threaten dairy industry profits, could we?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

MFAT has no conscience

RNZ reports that hot on the heels of approving weapons exports to saudi Arabia, MFAT was also approving weapons exports to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia's partner in committing war crimes in Yemen:

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) approved export permits for military equipment that was sent to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a key partner in Saudi Arabia's military intervention in Yemen, in 2018 and 2019.

Experts say the information heightens concerns that New Zealand may have contributed to war crimes in Yemen following revelations last month that similar exports were approved for Saudi Arabia. It comes as MFAT reviews its export controls regime to ensure it's fit for purpose.

Since 2015, 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. In February, a UN expert group urged states "who continue to supply arms to review their positions in line with the requirements of international law".

Despite its ongoing review, MFAT has staunchly defended the approval of export permits for weapons sent to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Which really makes you wonder what the fuck is wrong with them. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are engaged in a war and committing war crimes. Any weapons supply prolongs the war and so contributes to the crimes. Banning weapons exports to them ought to be a no-brainer, regardless of whether the exported weapons will be used in that way or not. We're supposed to be a peaceful nation committed to peace and disarmament, for fucks sake; it would be nice if MFAT actually represented that official policy, rather than a money-grubbing, sociopathic domestic weapons industry.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Challenging climate change in the courts

One of the innovations of the Zero Carbon Act was a clause specifically allowing public bodies (or bodies performing public functions) to consider climate change targets and reduction plans in their decision-making. It was phrased as a "permissive consideration": they didn't have to. But as we've seen from the Thames-Coromandel District Council case, failing to do so may itself be found to be irrational and result in a decision being overturned. The intent of the clause was to allow NGOs to challenge government decision-making, and hold the government to its targets and plans. And its about to get its first test, with a legal challenge to a major Auckland road project:

Auckland councillor Chris Darby says a legal challenge against the $1.4 billion Mill Road project by climate change advocates All Aboard Aotearoa is a sign of what's to come.

The group applied for a judicial review of the Waka Kotahi NZTA-led project in the High Court in Wellington on Thursday.

The 21.5km proposed Mill Rd arterial route, which would provide an alternative road between Manukau and Drury, would run parallel to and east of State Highway 1. Construction was expected to start next year and be completed by 2028.


Lawyers for Climate Action's Jenny Cooper said with nine years left to halve New Zealand emissions as required under the Paris Agreement and Zero Carbon Act, the government must stop building and financing more roads.

Waka Kotahi NZTA should have at least as much of a duty as a local council to consider climate change, so the challenge is likely to hinge on whether they seriously considered the project's impact on emissions. Whichever way it goes it will be precedent-setting, establishing the ground rules for such challenges in the future. And if its unsuccessful, we can expect a member's bill to shift that permissive consideration to a mandatory one in short order, and intense pressure on he government to back it.

Another climate strike

School Strike 4 Climate has announced another climate strike for April 9th, and invited everyone to join them in standing up against climate change. As before there will be events all over the country, and you can find yours on their strike map.

Personally, I'm nervous about protesting during a pandemic, even in level one. But this is important. If you think its worth the risk, and can psychologically stand a crowd, please turn out. The strength of government action may depend on how big a public showing we make.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Juking the stats

When Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission introduced its OIA statistics in 2017, one of the concerns was that agencies would start managing to what was measured, rather than obeying the law. In particular, the focus on raw timeliness and the lack of statistics on average and median response time and extensions would lead to agencies unlawfully extending requests to avoid them being classed as late. So internal administrative failures would be covered by extensions for "consultations", and delays would become routine.

I've just experienced exactly this behaviour from the Ministry of Education: a request - ironicly, for information about OIA statistics - was extended for five working days for "consultations" yesterday. They then responded today, after one working day, and admitted that the delay was because "further consultations were required to finalise the decision on your request. The consultation required was with senior decision makers". Which is basicly an admission that this extension was due to internal administrative failure, unnecessary and unlawful.

In their response, the Ministry helpfully pointed me at their answers to parliamentary estimates hearings as a source of statistics. The OIA stuff starts on page 96,and makes it crystal clear what is going on:


The Ministry now answers around 40% of requests outside the statutory 20 working day timeframe. They report a 23 working day average response time, but also that over 99% of their requests are "on-time". And the reason for that is because almost all of those late requests - 299 in 2019/20 - were extended.

Were these extensions necessary? My experience suggests not. But beyond that, the extension clause of the OIA was intended to cover unusual or extraordinary circumstances, not routine slackness and administrative failure. When an agency is extending 40% of its requests, it suggests that it is abusing the law, juking the stats to make itself look good. It gets away with it because the published stats are poor enough to let them hide it (and no-one, not even MPs, looks at estimates hearing documents), hardly anyone complains about extensions, and when they do complain the Ombudsman resolves it informally rather than actually investigating (or closes it because the information has been released by the time they get round to it, making an investigation "unnecessary"). And because agencies get away with it, they keep doing it, and so you get a 23-day average response time, which is prima facie evidence of serious illegality.

How can we fix this? Better stats would make it more obvious (and I'll try and do some digging through estimates documents to get a better picture). But also: if your OIA request is extended for "consultations", complain. Because nothing will change unless you do.


A ballot for four member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Crimes (Robbery) Amendment Bill (Erica Stanford)
  • Synthetic Urine (Prohibition on Importation, Supply and Acquisition to Pass a Workplace Drug Test) Bill (Matt Doocey)
  • Biosecurity (Information for Incoming Passengers) Amendment Bill (Steph Lewis)
  • Secondhand Dealers and Pawnbrokers (Electronic Records) Amendment Bill (Andrew Bayly)

There were only 54 bills in the ballot this morning. Labour is slacking.

Today's bad OIA story

Back in 2017 Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission (or SSC as it used to be known) began to publish OIA statistics. The problem is that they're pretty shit, giving information only on timeliness and complaint numbers, when other countries give a full range of information on response times, extensions, transfers, and outcomes. In recognition of this, TKM-PSC has produced guidance on what statistics should be collected, in the hope of expanding the available data-set. I'm eager for better statistics (you can't manage what you don't measure, and there are suggestions that the current system encourages managing to timeliness - that is, unnecessary extensions or unjustified refusals to avoid lateness), so last month I asked 34 core government agencies how they were doing against TKM-PSC's criteria.

Responses to these requests were due yesterday. 27 agencies responded on time. Four issued purported extensions for "consultations" (I say "purported" because there's no evidence that these consultations were "necessary" - the legal requirement - and in at least one case the agency admitted it was purely because of their failure to manage their workload properly). And three didn't even bother to respond at all. I have a zero-tolerance policy for OIA bullshit, and a somewhat naive belief that findings of illegality might change agency behaviour, so each of these has resulted in a complaint to the Ombudsman.

That's a damning statistic right there: fully 20% of requests for easily accessible, uncontroversial information about what statistics were collected required Ombudsman's complaints. This isn't how the Act is meant to work, but its where we are now. Poor leadership from successive governments and public service commissioners has allowed a culture of non-compliance to fester, grow, and become routine. And the government has no intention of fixing it any time soon.

(As for the results themselves, that'll have to wait until I have the full data-set).

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

No freedom of speech in Poland

In a functioning democracy, calling a politician a moron is practically a human right. Debate is expected to be robust, and this includes assessing the personal characteristics of public figures. But not in Poland:

A Polish writer faces a possible prison sentence for insulting President Andrzej Duda by calling him a “moron” over comments the latter made about Joe Biden’s US election victory.

Jakub Żulczyk, the screenwriter behind the popular TV series Blinded by the Lights and Belfer, said prosecutors had charged him under an article in the criminal code for insulting the head of state in a Facebook post.

“I am, I suspect, the first writer in this country in a very long time to be tried for what he wrote,” he said on Facebook.

Poland has become increasingly authoritarian over the past few years, as the Law and Justice party has dug its claws in, but this is a new low, and suggests they may be heading in the same direction as Hungary and Spain.

Climate Change: What the world will see

At the moment the Climate Change Commission is collecting submissions on its advice to the government on our first long-term emissions budgets. These are supposed to result in emissions reducing, but as Lawyers for Climate Action has explained, the Commission is using scam accounting, cooking the books to produce reductions when really there are none. But every year we are required to produce an Inventory Report for the UNFCCC, using proper, internationally-accepted accounting methods. And this is what the world is going to see:


Pretty obviously, that's not a reduction. And in a world where major markets are starting to impose border carbon adjustments and punish climate criminals, it is likely to have unpleasant consequences.

Climate Change: A warning shot

Lawyers for Climate Action has fired a warning shot at the Climate Change Commission, alleging that its carbon budget advice is unlawful:

In its submission to the commission’s draft advice on meeting the country’s role in curbing global warming, the lawyers said its methods make future carbon “budgets” look more ambitious than they are.

“Aotearoa’s international reputation and brand will be at risk if we fail to adopt budgets and policies consistent with doing our fair share to keep global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Jenny Cooper QC, LCANZI’s president.

The lawyers group said it believed the country's emissions over the decade should be set at 400 million tonnes, far lower than the 628 million tonne level recommended by the commission in its draft advice released in late January.

“This is a fundamental error that must be fixed before the advice is finalised – failing this, the advice will be unlawful, in our opinion,” said Cooper.

There are two core problems: firstly, the Commission is using ETS accounting (which uses "averaging" to hide commercial forestry emissions) rather than the GHGI accounting used in our ETS inventory and by which our performance will be judged internationally. The problem here is that the law requires they use "net accounting emissions" which are defined as those reported in the inventory. That's not just illegal - it also hides that their (cooked books) budgets will in fact see our emissions continue to increase in 2030, rather than decreasing as required.

Secondly, when calculating what our new Paris target should be, the Commission makes a straight-out mathematical error, using a gross emissions figure as its baseline, when the IPCC expresses the required reductions as a proportion of net emissions. The Commission attempts to justify this because of the Kyoto gross-net accounting scam, but the IPCC was very clear that that's not what they were talking about (and they would have demanded higher reductions from a gross baseline).

Overall, it looks like the Commission, whether deliberately or because it is taking its numbers from MfE, is simply perpetuating Aotearoa's long-term uber-policy of trying to "solve" climate change by accounting scams, rather than actually reducing emissions. But that's not what the public was promised, and (more importantly) its not what the law requires. Sadly, this view that its all just a matter of finding a "better" way of measuring, which hides our true emissions, is well-entrenched in the government. So, we can expect the budgets that eventually emerge from this process to go to court, and given the stakes, all the way to the Supreme Court - just as it did in the UK.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, though a fairly boring one. First up is the third reading of Ginny Andersen's Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No 2). This will be followed by the first readings of Chris Bishop's Lawyers and Conveyancers (Employed Lawyers Providing Free Legal Services) Amendment Bill and Chris Penk's Companies (Limited Partnerships Identical Names Prohibition) Amendment Bill. If the House moves fast, it may make a start on Matt Doocey's Corrections (School Notification of Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for two or three bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The SIS's training problem

Yesterday the SIS released its review of its decision-making prior to the Christchurch terrorist attack. The review was intended to exonerate the SIS from claims that it was looking the other way on violent white supremacists and to argue for greater powers and a higher budget, and of course the SIS got exactly what it paid for. But along the way they admitted some disturbing things. For example: The internal SIS view of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) is a threat to national security:


(Section 6(a) of the OIA allows information to be withheld when release would "prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand or the international relations of the Government of New Zealand", though strictly speaking it does not apply to proactive releases like this).

But on the very next page, the Inspector-General tells us what those views are:


I'd thought that this might be a problem with older staff used to doing whatever they wanted pre-Intelligence and security Act, and having trouble making the adjustment to a tighter legal regime. But it turns out that its the opposite problem: on p128 the report says it is "particularly among newer or more junior staff". But further back, it says that SIS's staff has grown by 50% since 2017, on p49 it says a large number of new investigative staff were hire in 2018, and on p59 that at the time of the attacks, half of SIS's investigators had less than ones year's experience. In other words, the staff who distrust IGIS and feel that oversight "create[s] uncertainty, or impose[s] ambiguous or unworkable demands" were specifically trained within the new legal environment. And given their views of that environment, you really have to wonder about the quality of that training, and the attitudes their superiors are inculcating through it. Maybe that's something the Inspector-General should look into?

A self-undermining policy

New Zealand has a housing crisis. It can only be fixed by causing house prices to drop. The basic recipe for this is twofold: build houses to increase supply, and repress speculators to drive them from the market. So how does this morning's housing package measure up?

On the supply-side, there's a higher debt-limit for Kāinga Ora and money for council infrastructure. The former should help them build ~4000 extra houses (which go on the government's books as an asset, so the debt doesn't matter), while the latter will reduce barriers to house-building (where local government rightly wants someone to pay for the extra sewers and roads in new subdivision), though it is effectively a subsidy to property-developer profits. On the demand-side, there's some solid landlord-lynching, with an extension of the bright-line test (a capital gains tax by any other name) and the removal of tax deductibility. The latter is important, since the deductability rule encourages risky borrowing and effectively subsidises landlords to outbid actual home-buyers. Removing it should make a huge difference.

All of this sounds good, and landlords are squealing. But then there's the downside: raising income and price caps for first-home buyers to get government assistance. Which means the government will be throwing more money at the housing market bonfire it is supposedly trying to put out.

If this seems self-undermining, its because it is. Because at the end of the day, Jacinda Ardern does not want house prices to drop. And until that changes, we're never going to see a real solution to turning houses back into homes rather than house-shaped gold-bars for hoarders to stash.

(Meanwhile, if we're keen on bright-line tests as a substitute for capital gains taxes, how about sticking one on financial investments? Or is directly targeting wealth something beyond the pale for a "Labour" government?)

Monday, March 22, 2021

Now prosecute them

When Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis was first confronted with Corrections' abuse and torture of Mihi Bassett, he tried to deny the court ruling and undermine the judiciary. Now, he's been forced to admit and personally apologise for it:

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has directed the Department of Corrections to conduct an urgent overhaul and review of women's prisons.

The minister has written to written to Corrections chief executive Jeremy Lightfoot demanding an urgent overhaul of the maximum security classification for women and development of management plans for women, and a review of all women's prisons.

Corrections confirmed its officials had met with three women to acknowledge and apologise for the way they were managed at Auckland Women's Prison, following preliminary findings of an investigation by the independent Corrections Inspectorate.

Davis, who also apologised to the women, said he wanted and expected better from Corrections.

If he wants better, here's an obvious solution: prosecute and sack those responsible for Bassett's treatment. Because some of what was done by corrections officers appears to be criminal: offences of ill-treatment or neglect of child or vulnerable adult, assault with a weapon, and arguably torture. The people responsible need to be held to account. And if they're not, its clear that the New Zealand government condones this sort of cruelty and abuse in its prisons.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Open Government: Ending the farce?

The government is currently consulting in a new action plan for the Open Government Partnership. These are meant to be co-created with civil society, but in the past they've been anything but, with the entire process directed by the Public Service Commission to rubber-stamp a pre-decided set of business-as-usual "commitments". And now it seems like the NGOs who are being asked to spend their valuable time on this every two years to provide a prop for the government's pre-determined agenda have had enough: they've written to Public Services Minister Chris Hipkins demanding changes:

Last week, TINZ convened a meeting of ten civil society organisations with an interest in open government to discuss a collective response to the consultation, an approach found to be successful in other countries working on their National Action Plans.

Attendees expressed general disappointment with New Zealand’s progress on open government since it joined the OGP in 2014. The feeling was that the first three action plans were unsuccessful in both ambition and delivery. The group agreed that there was a high risk of NAP4 delivering the same inadequate result, unless there were changes in the approach to the development of the plan.

The letter is quite explicit: "without a change to the process, we have serious concerns about the value of engaging with the consultation." In other words, they're threatening to walk. As someone who gave up wasting my time on this long ago, I'm surprised it has taken them so long.

So what do they want in order to stay involved? Essentially, proper co-creation, where civil society ideas are adopted and implementation resourced by the government, rather than the current bullshit where the government decides everything in advance and does as little as possible because "there is no new money for this". In practice, this means extending the co-creation period so it is aligned with the budget cycle, allowing things to be resourced in Budget 2022.

Hopefully Hipkins will agree. If not, the government can look forward to its cheap international PR win going up in smoke.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Ministry of Justice advice on an OIA review

On Tuesday we learned that the planned review of the OIA had been delayed because the Ministry of Justice was too busy with other things. Exactly what those other things were was of course secret, but it made it clear that increased transparency simply wasn't part of the government's agenda. The core documents on this have been posted by Andrew Ecclestone, and I've spent some time reviewing them. The core one is a briefing from the Ministry of Justice entitled Official Information Act 1982 - report back on targeted engagement and next steps, in which the Ministry summarizes the public submissions and agrees that a review is necessary. The highlights:

  • the Ministry downplays the problems with the Act as a problem of perception, not necessarily of reality. Which is not a good place to start from.
  • The list of issues suggested for review includes several core problems, including enforcement, scope, oversight, and proactive release. But it also includes one area which seems explicitly aimed at reducing transparency: withholding grounds, where the focus seems to be on "increas[ing] certainty" around the "free and frank advice" clause. The Secretary of Justice's published views make it clear that he thinks there should be more secrecy in this area, and the mention of addressing the issue through improved proactive disclosure suggests the plan is to keep pre-decision advice secret, and only let us know about things once decisions have already been made and it is a fait accompli. Stopping the cries of dirty peasants from bothering the professionals in the ivory halls of government probably sounds great to some of those professionals, but a key purpose of the OIA is to enable greater public participation "in the making and administration of laws and policies". Locking us out of the process by keeping everything secret until it is already decided runs directly counter to that purpose.
  • There's also a push to make it easier to declare requests "vexatious". You have only to read the submission summary (or the submissions themselves) to see that some public servants seem to regard any question (or at least, any awkward or troublesome or time-consuming question) as "vexatious", and that is precisely why the bar has been set so high. It should not be lowered. Answering awkward questions from awkward people is part of the job, get over it.
  • The Ministry assumes throughout all this that it is the appropriate body to conduct a review. I don't think that's true. As an agency, they're stunningly uninterested in the OIA. Just look at their website: huge pages on constitutional law and human rights, nothing on OIA policy. The extent of their "interest" seems to be maintaining the Directory of Official Information and the charging guidelines. They don't even bother getting consulted on secrecy clauses in legislation, which you'd expect an agency active in this area to do. Plus of course there's the Kibblewhite factor: an agency led by a chief executive who publicly advocates for greater secrecy is hardly going to be trusted by requesters to rewrite the Act.
On the final point, it is perhaps fortunate that the Ministry of Justice is now "too busy" to do this work. But that provides a perfect excuse to take the job off them and give it to someone else - ideally, an independent, neutral body untainted by the interests of the public service.

Finally, the government's decision to have a review on whether to have a review, then ignore the result and not have a review when it is overwhelmingly supported by submitters seems to violate the commitment in our OGP National Action Plan. Yes, strictly speaking all they committed to was to "test the merits" of a review (which they have done), and to "provide and publish advice to Government" (which they've done half of). But the natural implication is that if the merits supported it, they would proceed to the next step, and to fail to do so smacks of bad faith. It certainly doesn't inspire confidence in the other OGP commitments, or in the process they are asking people to participate in.

More secrecy from Labour

Today, while browsing bills currently seeking select committee submissions, I noticed the Commerce Amendment Bill. Officially about improving competition law, its the latest in a long series of Labour bills with clauses potentially restricting freedom of information.

The problem area is s32, which inserts two new clauses into the Commerce Act to allow the Commerce Commission to share information with other government agencies. But new s99AA(2)(b) says they can only do so when "appropriate protections are or will be in place for the purpose of maintaining the confidentiality of anything provided (in particular, information that is personal information within the meaning of the Privacy Act 2020)", while new section 99AB allows them to impose conditions on the receiving agency requiring confidentiality and restricting access.

On the face of it, this is good: public agencies sharing private or confidential information with each other should of course ensure it is properly protected. The problem is the interface with the Official Information Act. Such confidentiality agreements may allow the government to withhold information under s9(2)(ba)(ii) of the OIA, essentially because of a contract it has made with itself, while in theory the Commerce Commission could impose a "no release" requirement and then argue that (because they are enabled by statute) release would be "contrary to an enactment".

This does not seem to be the policy intent. The departmental disclosure statement and regulatory impact statement talk mainly about privacy and lack of explicit legal power, insofar as they mention this section at all (though the RIS foes highlight "information of a confidential nature" which needs to be protected). The obvious answer is to insert a specific clause saying "this section does not limit the Official Information Act", to ensure that the public's right to access public information is not affected.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

How to fix the housing crisis

To those of us outside the moneyed political class, fixing the housing crisis seems pretty obvious: build houses to increase supply, repress speculators to decrease demand. Today the Greens are proposing exactly that, with Julie Anne Genter pushing for a mass house-building programme through Kāinga Ora, combined with extending the "bright-line" test indefinitely to turn it into a de facto capital gains tax, and various measures to stop speculators leveraging their existing investments to get more. They're also pushing to end the supply of cheap money from the Reserve Bank, with a switch to direct economic stimulus from the government rather than disguised stimulus from low interest rates.

All of this sounds good, and looks like a serious response. Unfortunately, the Greens aren't the government. But Labour will apparently be releasing their plans next week, so we'll see whether they're remotely serious or not.

Labour should have fixed this long ago

Back in 2017 the government promised that there would be no new mines on conservation land. They then did nothing for three years, supposedly because of opposition from NZ First, but they still haven't done anything about it despite having won an absolute majority. Meanwhile, a mining company wants to dig up a World Heritage Area:

Kokiri Lime Company Limited have applied for 40-year consents to quarry approximately 30ha of primarily mature native forest within Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. The planned quarry includes 15ha of conservation land, 1ha of which been quarried before.
World Heritage Sites are meant to be legally protected from desecration. But ours aren't. Back in 2017 Labour put up a member's bill to add them to Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act (basicly forbidding all mining), but the then-National government voted it down. Sadly, Labour didn't take the opportunity to pass such a ban last term, and haven't made any noises about doing it now they have a majority. And so we have greedy corporations still trying to dig them up.

The government should have fixed this long ago. Their failure to do so is now looking like a deliberate refusal, almost as if they don't really care about conservation at all...

We need a parliamentary commissioner for human rights

The structure of our Bill of Rights Act is a little weird. Unlike the US (or Samoa, for that matter), the Act isn't supreme, and legislation can't be struck down for being inconsistent with it. Instead, Parliament is supreme, and so we let it violate our rights at will - but only if it actually knows what its doing first. To ensure this, Section 7 of the BORA requires the Attorney-General to report to the House on any bill which appears to be inconsistent with our rights and freedoms. The problem, which ought to have been obvious to a lawyer as experienced as Geoffrey Palmer, is that the Attorney-General is part of the government, and so inherently conflicted over government legislation, as are the government lawyers who actually do the work. The result is that a lot of BORA advice is substandard, as the government either ignores inconsistencies, or pretends they're "justified limitations" and so don't need to be raised with Parliament. The latest dodge - as seen in Andrew Little's control order legislation - is to say that the law will be interpreted through the lens of the BORA, and so any apparent inconsistency will disappear the moment it hits a courtroom (what happens before then apparently not mattering in the slightest). All of which makes a mockery of the idea that Parliament is a serious guardian of our human rights.

(Of course, you get a completely different attitude where opposition member's bills are concerned. There, the slightest inconsistency is highlighted and brought to the attention of the House. Which they should be, but it makes the partiality of the government's advice on its own bills all the more glaring).

Shadow Attorney-General Chris Penk thinks the solution to this is for the opposition to issue its own section 7 reports. While I expect they'll be every bit as partial as the government's ones, but in the opposite direction - a lawyer being someone who says what you pay them to say - this certainly isn't going to hurt. Competition may force the government to better justify its position, rather than being propped up by the artificial authority of office, and voters will be able to judge for themselves who is credible and who is not.

But if the goal is actual impartial legal advice to the House, so it can fulfil its duty of properly scrutinising legislation and engaging with and fixing any threat to rights and freedoms, then its obvious that parliament should use its own lawyer, rather than rely on one who works for someone else. In other words, we need to take the job of advising the House away from the inherently conflicted and partisan Attorney-General, and give it to a properly-funded Officer of Parliament. We could also task them with reviewing old law for consistency, and reporting to the House when the courts make a declaration of inconsistency with recommendations on how to remedy it.

This would cost a few million - the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment costs $4 million a year - but it would be worth it. And hopefully someone will take the idea and put it in a bill.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Really not a priority

Before the election, then-Justice Minister Andrew Little was saying that transparency was a priority and promising to rewrite the OIA. But after the election, the entire project was shoved on the back-burner. Why? Because apparently the Ministry of Justice has too many other, more important things to do:

The promised review of the Official Information Act (OIA) is one of eight projects deferred by an overloaded Ministry of Justice policy team, documents show.

The papers show ministry officials recommended in September 2019 that the government review the law that governs Kiwis’ access to official information.

The officials noted a “problem with how the OIA is perceived as working” and recommended nine areas for review, including considering new enforcement tools and a new oversight role, such as an information commissioner.


Somewhere in that prioritisation process, the OIA review moved from promise to “potential project” and it was not included in the policy work programme for 2021-2023.

Instead, it was listed as one of eight projects “paused or deferred until resources become available”. The other seven affected projects were redacted.

So what's causing this need to prioritise? Typically, the government won't say. But immediately after being elected, the government started talking about a four-year term, a major constitutional change squarely within the purview of the Ministry of Justice. So its hard to escape the conclusion that measures to improve accountability, which have been delayed or deferred for over a decade, are being shunted aside in favour of a measure to reduce it.

Meanwhile, Stuff notes in passing that the documents were released two weeks late, with no reason given for the delay. Which I think tells us everything we need to know about how highly Labour prioritises transparency.

Fox investigates henhouse

Over the last couple of weeks we've been reminded that the police are racist when deciding who is "suspicious" and needs to be photographed and databased, racist when deciding who is innocent and "not a serious threat", and racist when deciding whether to beat, tase, shoot or bite suspects. But never fear! They're investigating themselves to get to the bottom of their "unconscious bias"!

Police are investigating whether they have unconscious bias against Māori, but won't say it is an inquiry into racism.

Police have launched a long-term research project with Te Puna Haumaru NZ Institute for Security and Crime Science at the University of Waikato, looking at how to ensure everyone is getting fair treatment.

Titled "Understanding Policing Delivery", the study will focus on examining where bias may exist within police policies, processes, and practices, according to a media statement.

The fact they won't even call it racism tells us everything we need to know about how honest this "investigation" is. And we can probably expect it to be as successful as every other time police have investigated themselves for wrongdoing: a complete whitewash. If we want to stamp out police racism, we don't need an internal investigation: we need an independent, external one. And we need to follow it up by firing racist police, because they're a real and ongoing threat to public confidence in their organisation.

Earning their reputation again

Farmers complain about the rest of New Zealand thinking they're environmental vandals. And then they do stuff like this:

A farmer in Maruia, on the South Island's West Coast, is threatening to burn 80ha of native bush on his property and turn it into pasture in a bid to raise its value and save his farm.

The land is likely to be classed as a significant natural area (SNA) under new biodiversity rules in regional and district plans.


"If I have to, I'll burn it now to save my farm. I've got a valuer coming out this week, and if they don't value it the same as the rest of the farm, I'll have to look at getting rid of most of it, just to get our equity up."

With attitudes like this, it seems like that reputation is well-earned, and the industry needs tighter regulation to prevent it from behaving in this manner.

Labour needs to act on modern slavery

A group of New Zealand's largest companies are pushing for modern slavery legislation in New Zealand:

A coalition of 85 businesses and organisations has asked the government to launch a promised inquiry into whether a modern slavery act is needed in New Zealand.

The campaign is aimed at finding any instances of "modern slavery" in New Zealand, but also testing the integrity and transparency of supply chains used by local businesses.

A joint letter from the group said other countries have already enacted laws against modern slavery and New Zealand needs to act on a draft action plan it has already drawn up.

(That "draft" action plan was suddenly released today, very obviously in response to this media coverage. Of course, it promises no real action, instead saying they are "palnning" a review. Which I think tells you exactly how little the "Labour" Party cares about eliminating this scourge...)

A modern slavery act on the Australian model would require major businesses to report on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, and actions to address those risks. But that's only part of the solution. The other half, as highlighted in Stuff's version of the story, is prohibiting goods made by slave or forced labour from being imported. And that's actually the easiest bit, because the 2017 Customs and Excise Act handles most import prohibitions by Order-in-Council rather than primary legislation, so the government can literally do it with the flick of a pen. And they did exactly that in 2019, when they banned imports of goods made by prison labour. So why haven't they done this for goods made by slave and forced labour? Too afraid of offending China?

Monday, March 15, 2021

A really shitty reason

Two years ago today, a white supremacist murdered 51 people at two Christchurch mosques. In addition to the deaths and injuries, survivors were left traumatised by what they had seen. Jacinda Ardern, who has built her political brand on kindness, is refusing to help them. Why not? Because then she might have to be kind to others too:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she can’t expand access to cover all those traumatised at the March 15 terror attacks without expanding access more widely.

Currently ACC covers those with direct physical injuries but not those with mental health injuries that are not work-related or the result of sexual abuse.

That means those who were traumatised at either of the Christchurch mosques two years ago where a terrorist killed 51 Muslim worshippers, are not eligible for direct payments for mental health trauma.

As reasons go, this is a really, really shitty one. What would be so bad about helping other victims of trauma? Does she think its not real? Does she think that it doesn't fuck up people's lives every bit as much as a physical injury? Or is she just looking for ways to Keep Taxes Low, the rich sweet, and the status quo intact, so she doesn't have to actually do anything with the power we gave her?

Friday, March 12, 2021

The deadline for fossil fuels

The spate of gas exploration permit surrenders off the South Island has given hope that this toxic, destructive industry might be on the way out. So how long before the oil and gas industry disappears from New Zealand? I've spent some time looking at NZPAM's permit map, looking at expiry dates and conditions and collecting the data into a spreadsheet here. The headline date is that the last offshore exploration permit will expire on 30 March 2030, with the last onshore one just a few days later in April (though the government is still granting onshore permits). But expiry dates are just the upper limit. Most exploration permits have a "drill or drop" provision, where the polluters are required to drill an exploration well by a particular date or surrender the permit. And just under half of them are due by 1 April 2022. Many of these are marked as "change pending", so that date might not be fixed, but: a big chunk of the industry could disappear very quickly if OMV can't get a rig in in the next year.

Mining will take longer, as mining permits tend to be granted for longer periods, but even then almost all will have expired by 2036. The policy question is how we can bring that date forward and leave the gas in the ground. Destroying their market by requiring industrial electrification and rapidly phasing out thermal generation seems like a good start. But ultimately, we need legislation like that proposed by Te Paati Māori to ban extraction and revoke permits and consents. The question is exactly when.

Climate Change: Auckland fails

Last year, the Auckland Council passed a climate change plan, setting goals of halving emissions by 2030, and net-zero by 2050. You'd expect their future plans and policies to be consistent with this, but no: their new transport plan promises to increase emissions rather than reduce them:

While Transport Minister Michael Wood has hailed new investment in Auckland's transport network as "turning around transport emissions rising in Auckland", the programme will actually lead to increased emissions over the next decade when examined in isolation.

That's because it fails to keep up with expected population growth.

The investment of an extra $3 billion for active and public transport builds on $28 billion in local and central government spending announced for the city in 2018, called the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) 2021-2031. While the older plan would have seen emissions from transport in Auckland rise 9 percent by 2031, the new cash for green initiatives pushes that increase down to 6 percent. On a per capita basis, emissions will indeed fall 13 percent - but emissions reduction targets are based on total emissions, not per capita.

So, I guess Lawyers for Climate Action will be taking them to court after all...

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Climate Change: The EU moves on border adjustment

The European Parliament has voted to support a border carbon tax, forcing imports from polluter countries to pay the full cost of their carbon emissions:

On Wednesday, Parliament adopted a resolution on a WTO-compatible EU carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) with 444 votes for, 70 against and 181 abstentions.

The resolution underlines that the EU’s increased ambition on climate change must not lead to ‘carbon leakage’ as global climate efforts will not benefit if EU production is just moved to non-EU countries that have less ambitious emissions rules.

MEPs therefore support to put a carbon price on certain goods imported from outside the EU, if these countries are not ambitious enough about climate change. This would create a global level playing field as well as an incentive for both EU and non-EU industries to decarbonise in line with the Paris Agreement objectives.

Initially the tax will apply to sectors covered under the European ETS (energy generation and energy-intensive industries like cement, steel, aluminium, oil refinery, paper, glass, chemicals and fertilisers), and will involve imports from countries without an equivalent mechanism paying the EU carbon price at the border. Coverage will expand as the ETS expands. This will pose no problems for New Zealand - our ETS covers more than the EU one does - but Australia is squealing (they're also squealing because the EU has said there will be no free trade agreement until Australia acts on climate change).

This is a move we should encourage. Domestic action keep s being undermined by the potential for pollution to shelter behind climate cheats, but the solution isn't to weaken action, but to punish the cheats and prevent those businesses from gaining any advantage. I'm glad the EU has finally recognised this. The obvious question is why aren't we doing the same?

A clear violation of Parliamentary intent

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 includes significant powers required for the government to manage the pandemic, including powers to make orders imposing significant restrictions on individual liberty, to enter homes, and close public places. These powers are necessary and justifiable, but also deeply uncomfortable in a democratic society. Parliament expressed our discomfort and a desire that the powers be retained for no longer than was absolutely necessary by requiring that the law be frequently debated and renewed. They required this to happen every 90 days, with the wiggle room of allowing Parliament to set a different period if required. In the debate on this clause (which was suggested by National), Attorney-General David Parker made it clear that it was solely to accommodate the Parliamentary calendar: "Parliament can choose a longer period if it wants, and it might want to do that around the time of the election if there was risk that Parliament wouldn't be resitting within that 90-day period". So I'm a little shocked to see that in Government Notice of Motion #1 on today's Order Paper the government is planning to extend it by nine months, until 31 December.

This makes an absolutely mockery of the law. Nine months is not 90 days, and there's no conceivable interruption of the Parliamentary calendar which would justify such a long extension. Instead, it seems to be being done solely because the government simply cannot be bothered to renew it regularly - a clear violation of Parliament's intent (not to mention a clear sign of Labour's arrogance now that it has an absolute majority, and a clear sign that their "promises" are meaningless and not to be relied on).

I have no problem with the law being renewed at present. It may well need to be kept in force until the end of the year. But that renewal should happen as intended, with frequent and regular Parliamentary oversight. Parliament explicitly rejected the idea of the government having a blank cheque on this, and Labour should abide by that decision, rather than trying to sneakily and dishonestly undermine it.


A ballot for three Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Bill (Todd Muller)
  • Policing (Killing a Police Dog) Amendment Bill (Matt Doocey)
  • Holidays (Parent-Teacher Interview Leave) Amendment Bill (Terisa Ngobi)
So, nothing especially exciting this time. There were only 54 bills in the ballot today, compared to the almost 80 pre-election.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The necessary ban

Te Paati Māori has put forward a member's bill to ban seabed mining. The ban would work by forbidding all mining activity and cancelling all existing and pending permits and consents under the Crown Minerals Act, EEZ Act, and RMA, with no compensation. While aimed at Trans Tasman Resources Ltd's plans to pillage the seabed off Taranaki, the bill actually goes a lot further: it would immediately ban all offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction if enacted. Which wouldn't just force OMV to surrender its plans to drill off Taranaki; it would also shut down existing gas fields. This is because of the bill's definition of "prohibited activity", which relies on the definition of "Crown-owned mineral", which includes petroleum.

This is something we need to do. But I'm not sure that a guillotine is the best way to do it. A planned shutdown is better than an unplanned one, and gives us time to prepare and establish alternatives (notably, electrifying industries which currently rely on gas, and replacing the dirty Huntly power plant with clean alternatives). What we need to be doing for offshore - and onshore - gas is setting a date for their phaseout: 2030 at the latest, earlier if possible. What this bill is useful for is showing us how that phaseout can be done legislatively, and starting the debate on when that date should be.


The last oil exploration permit off the South Island has been surrendered:

New Zealand Oil & Gas (NZOG) has dropped its final exploration permit, marking the end of an era for an industry which is once again limited entirely to Taranaki.

On Wednesday morning Wellington-headquartered NZOG told the NZX that it had decided to relinquish to the Crown Petroleum Exploration Permit 55794, a roughly 5000 square kilometre permit also known as Toroa, which lies in waters hundreds of kilometres south of Balclutha, to the east of Stewart Island.

While it is not unusual for permits to be returned to the Crown, Toroa was the latest in a string of permits in the area to be relinquished in the Great Southern Basin and Canterbury Basin.

An MBIE official confirmed that assuming all of the surrender applications are accepted, New Zealand will have no exploration permits in any area outside the Taranaki Basin, where all of New Zealand's oil and gas exploration is based.

Good riddance. But the next step is to start getting rid of those off Taranaki. The good news is that one of these - permit 51906, owned by OMV - should be expiring in November. The rest however won't expire until 2027 or 2028. They're mostly owned by OMV, so its really just a matter of waiting for them to get the message that gas has no future in New Zealand, and that the (uncertain) future revenues won't offset the future cost of development. Hopefully the government's industrial electrification and no new connections policies will help convince them of that.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the first of the year. First up is the Girl Guides Association (New Zealand Branch) Incorporation Amendment Bill, a private bill to allow the Girl Guides to dispose of property held in trust. Next is the committee stage of Ginny Andersen's Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No 2), after which we're on to first readings. The House should get through Louisa Wall's Harmful Digital Communications (Unauthorised Posting of Intimate Visual Recording) Amendment Bill, Judith Collins' Unit Titles (Strengthening Body Corporate Governance and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, and Shane Reti's Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill (No 2), and if it moves quickly may be able to make a start on Louisa wall's Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill. Which should mean a ballot for two or three bills tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Climate Change: Heading for uninhabitability

A few years ago, David Wallace-Wells warned that climate change risked making a huge chunk of the planet literally uninhabitable. One of the mechanisms for this is the combination of heat and humidity, which if high enough can kill people outside of air-conditioned spaces. How bad does warming have to be for this to happen? Unfortunately, it looks like just 1.5 degrees will be enough to cook most of the tropics:

The climate crisis is pushing the planet’s tropical regions towards the limits of human livability, with rising heat and humidity threatening to plunge much of the world’s population into potentially lethal conditions, new research has found.

Should governments fail to curb global heating to 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, areas in the tropical band that stretches either side of the equator risk changing into a new environment that will hit “the limit of human adaptation”, the study warns.


The research team looked at various historical data and simulations to determine how wet-bulb temperature extremes will change as the planet continues to heat up, discovering that these extremes in the tropics increase at around the same rate as the tropical mean temperature.

This means that the world’s temperature increase will need to be limited to 1.5C to avoid risking areas of the tropics exceeding 35C in wet-bulb temperature...

40% of the world's population lives in the tropical belt, including pretty much all of Central America and south-east Asia, and most of Africa, India and Brazil. Closer to home, the area includes most of our Pacific neighbours: Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Niue, and most of the Cook Islands. For these countries, stopping climate change is literally a matter of national survival. And if we don't stop emissions, we are basicly murdering them.

The latest police racism

If you were wondering what the police are doing instead of tracking violent white supremacists plotting mass-murder, now we know: harassing Māori kids and photographing them for "intelligence":

Last year, RNZ reported that young Māori in Wairarapa had been stopped and photographed by police when they were walking along the street. RNZ can now reveal this was the tip of the iceberg. Across the country, police are approaching innocent young people, photographing them and collecting their personal details. Then, using a specially-designed mobile phone app, they are sending them to a national police database, which can be accessed by police staff in real time.
A police source tells them that this is all about collecting "intelligence", and that there is bureaucratic pressure on officers to collect as much as possible. Throw in police biases against youth, Māori and Pasifika, and you have a tool and a culture which enables and entrenches systematic racism. The data is retained indefinitely - no Privacy Act controls on police! - and naturally the police won't provide ethnicity data on who they're photographing.

And remember, these are kids who legally cannot consent to being questioned by police without a parent, caregiver, lawyer, or other adult present. So any claim that these photos and information are taken "by consent" is bullshit. There is an obvious power imbalance between police and young people, and as the article makes clear, it is abused to the hilt by police eager to make their targets and collect "intelligence".

This practice must end, and any "intelligence" sourced from it must be deleted. It is that simple.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Send it back to Australia

Surprise! There's another 75,000 tons of toxic waste at Tiwai Point!

The Bluff aluminium smelter has revealed it has another 75,000 tonnes of highly toxic hazardous waste stored in buildings at Tiwai Point - and does not have a solution what to do with it yet.

The company says all 181,000 tonnes of the waste - another 106,000 tonnes is on a concrete pad close to the beach - is safe and secure.

However, documents show that the storage building floors have cracked in the past and contaminants have had to be pumped out.

They also show that this followed the storage pad cracking, causing "severe" pollution of groundwater with cyanide, but that it was leaking for years before the company cottoned on.

Yes, they're poisoning the groundwater and the ocean. Meanwhile, they're dickering with the government over their cleanup liability for when they leave. But morally, that liability is total, and we should accept nothing less (and if our legislation doesn't reflect this yet, we should amend it to say so). As for this waste, Rio Tinto can take it back to Australia with them when they fuck off.

Still ignoring white supremacy

Two years ago, institutional racism in our police and intelligence services allowed a white supremacist to murder 51 people at two Christchurch mosques. In the wake of the attack, the police and spies promised they'd pay more attention to white supremacists. But just last week, a man was arrested after he threatened to bomb the Christchurch mosque on the second anniversary of the murders there. He was arrested not as the result of an intelligence-driven operation into violent white supremacy, but because anti-fascist researchers pointed out his public threats on 4chan to police. Which immediately invites the conclusion that nothing has changed, and that the police and spies are still ignoring white supremacy.

In the wake of the arrest, the spies were full of excuses, saying they can't monitor the “millions of pages of posts made online every day”. But no-one is asking them to. What we're asking them to do is pay attention to real, identified threats from terrorists who have already murdered 51 New Zealanders. Its fucking 4chan, for fucks sake! If they're not looking at that (and there is definite cause to do so), what the fuck are they doing? (The answer is probably still spying on Keith Locke and persecuting Ahmed Zaoui...) As for the police, they apparently have four counter-terrorism groups (the Strategic Intelligence Unit, Threat Assessment Unit, Police Terrorism Investigation and Intelligence Group, Special Investigation Group), all resolutely looking the other way.

Currently, we spend $108 million a year on the SIS, twice that on the GCSB, and an unknown amount on the police's various failures. And what we apparently get for that are organisations who do not do their fucking job, who consistently pursue fantasies rather than real threats, while ignoring stuff which is out there in public, right there under their noses if they care to look. And its hard to escape the conclusion that we could do a lot better by simply scrapping these agencies and firing all their staff and simply relying on public tips. It'd certainly be a hell of a lot cheaper.

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?