Friday, April 30, 2021

Climate Change: The young win in Germany

Over the past few years there has been a spate of court cases over climate change, as young people have turned to the courts to protect the future. And in Germany, they've just won, with the constitutional court ruling that climate measures need to be strengthened to protect future generations:

In a groundbreaking ruling, the judges of the Karlsruhe court, Germany’s highest, said the government now had until the end of next year to improve its Climate Protection Act, passed in 2019, and to ensure it met 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goals more immediately.


The judges ruled that young people’s “fundamental rights to a human future” were threatened and that the law in its current state jeopardised their freedom because the goals set were too focused on dates too far in the future. It said that it was only possible to reduce the rise in average global temperatures to between 1.5C and 2C – as set out in the 2015 Paris agreement – with “more urgent and shorter term measures”.

“The challenged rules violate the freedoms of the complainants, some of whom are still very young,” the judges said in a statement. They added: “Virtually every freedom is potentially affected by these future emission reduction obligations because almost every area of human life is associated with the emission of greenhouse gases and is therefore threatened by drastic restrictions after 2030.”

Germany's Climate Protection Act is a Zero Carbon Act-style framework. As with New Zealand, the German government backloaded its emissions cuts to go soft on current polluters. Now the court has called bullshit on that, they're going to have to do something real.

Could such a ruling happen here? Probably not under the BORA - its not supreme law and can't overturn other laws. But there's certainly ample scope for review of interim budgets and targets under the Zero Carbon Act, and a challenge is virtually certain if the initial ones are not seen as ambitious enough.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

How bad are the police at the OIA?

Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission published their updated OIA statistics last month, showing that most public agencies were meeting the basic timeliness requirements of the Act. One of the weird features of these statistics is that the police regularly report amazing timeliness - 95.3% on time, from 36,440 requests! - which causes bitter laughter from anyone who ever actually requests information from them. Because the lived experience of people who request information from police national headquarters (PNHQ) is that requests are invariably late, usually by months, and you might as well just cut out the middle-plod and ask the Ombudsman directly. The suspicion is that this is because the police handle a huge number of routine law-enforcement related requests at a district level - insurance requests, for example - which they do well (because they are routine, accepted as part of the job, and part of the normal workflow), which hides their appalling performance when they get a non-routine request (say, a journalist, blogger, or researcher wanting something from PNHQ).

How could we prove this? My first thought was to get a sample of requests to PNHQ and compare their outcomes to the stats they report to the Public Service Commission. FYI, the public OIA request site, provided a source of data. The site has been used to make over a thousand requests to police, all of them through PNHQ. There's no reason to believe they are not a typical sample of such requests. So I spent two weeks worth of evenings hand-coding every request made to police using FYI in the 2019 and 2020 calendar years for timeliness and outcomes, with reasons for refusal. It painted an appalling picture: 34% and 36% on-time in 2019 and 2020 respectively, with dozens of requests apparently ignored and still outstanding, and median response times of 26 and 28 working days respectively. But was it representative? One of the requests via FYI was for the police's OIA training manuals, which included the user guide for their Information Request Tool, the software they now use to track all OIA and privacy requests. Which showed me I was doing it the hard way. Once I knew the right questions, I could just ask!

The released information shows that the initial suspicion is correct: the police's OIA stats are dominated by huge numbers of routine requests handled at district level. Some of these types - traffic crash reports (for insurance purposes) and speed camera requests (for deciding who is paying that fine) - have 100% on-time rates, which I guess tells you what the police care about. As for "real" OIA requests, sent to PNHQ, the stats are absolutely dismal:


[These numbers differ from those calculated from FYI data, slightly for 2019 and more seriously for 2020. From information on requests received, FYI was responsible for 10.6% and 8.3% of total requests received by police in 2019 and 2020 respectively, so the spreadsheet might not be entirely representative. Also, the police are really bad about received dates, and often try and scam extra time by basing their deadline on the date they bother to read their email rather than the date it was actually received]

These are appalling statistics. And they're completely hidden by Te Kawa Mataaho's rudimentary reporting, which turns the police's utter failure into success (the police seem to have boosted that "success" even further in 2019 via a change in what they chose to report. But that's another post).

So what can be done? The police are outside the usual oversight mechanisms for general OIA practice: they're not part of the public service, so TKM can't touch them, and the Ombudsman can only inquire into complaints about specific requests, and cannot review their general administrative practice as they do for other agencies. In theory the IPCA can inquiry into "any practice, policy, or procedure of the Police", but I suspect they'll be uninterested (I may try anyway). Which is how they get away with it: because there are no effective watchdogs on their performance.

But there is one immediate thing which can be done: the Public Service Commission can stop repeating the police's lies. Since they're reported seperately anyway, they can demand the police break out their stats by district and type, as they do above. This would allow the statistics to fulfil their purpose: to allow areas of weakness to be identified and targeted for improvement.

US policing is a crime against humanity

US Police kill around a thousand people a year. Roughly half of them are black, a rate three times that of their proportion of the population. US policing is racist and murderous. And that makes it a crime against humanity:

The systematic killing and maiming of unarmed African Americans by police amount to crimes against humanity that should be investigated and prosecuted under international law, an inquiry into US police brutality by leading human rights lawyers from around the globe has found.


In a devastating report running to 188 pages, human rights experts from 11 countries hold the US accountable for what they say is a long history of violations of international law that rise in some cases to the level of crimes against humanity.

They point to what they call “police murders” as well as “severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhuman acts” as systematic attacks on the Black community that meet the definition of such crimes.

They also call on the prosecutor of the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague to open an immediate investigation with a view to prosecutions.

But who to prosecute? Individual officers who commit these murders, obviously. The superiors who excuse, cover up, or merely look the other way on murder are also guilty, under the principle of command responsibility. But there's also the politicians who provide them with legal impunity, both at a state and federal level, all of whom have a legal duty to prevent crimes against humanity, and by conspicuously failing to do so (and in some cases, explicitly excusing and encouraging them) are effectively co-conspirators. This report should put them all on notice: either the US sorts its shit out, stops murdering black people and starts holding historic criminals accountable, or the international community will.

Will Labour condemn genocide in Xinjiang?

ACT is planning to introduce a motion to parliament condemning genocide in Xinjiang:

The ACT party will ask Parliament to debate a motion declaring China’s oppression of the Uyghur minority an act of “genocide”, a move that could compel the Labour Government to consider symbolically admonishing Beijing for the abuses.

The motion, similar to that passed in both the United Kingdom and Canadian parliaments, will ask MPs to vote on whether the human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region of China amount to genocide, and whether they should call upon the Government to “act to fulfil its obligation” under United Nations conventions.

The Chinese government's actions have been found to be genocidal by US think tanks and the US government. Human Rights Watch documents pervasive crimes against humanity, including enslavement, torture, mass incarceration, family separation and enforced disappearances, but they stop short of calling it "genocide" because they feel they cannot document the necessary intent. From my POV, its pretty clear: China is engaging in an ethnicity-based sterilisation campaign. And that makes it genocide.

Will a motion from the NZ parliament make a difference? As with the declaration of a climate emergency, that depends on whether we actually act on it. But I expect the government to vote for this (or make such a declaration itself), and to start imposing sanctions. Sadly, I expect them to make excuses, just as past governments have over this issue, or war, or pretty much anything. While Labour loves to celebrate its past of taking bold stands for an independent, moral foreign policy (e.g. over nuclear testing under Kirk, and the nuclear ban under Lange), those days are long gone.

(As for the Greens, I take it as a given they will support it, and if they don't, they're going to have some pretty serious explaining to do).

White privilege in action

Three weeks ago the Māori Party was rightly referred to the police for prosecution for failing to declare over $320,000 in donations just before the last election. The Electoral Commission commented at the time that they were also looking at an undeclared donation to the National Party (from a real estate speculator, no less), but hadn't made a decision yet. But today they finally have, and surprise, surprise, the National Party won't be referred for prosecution:

The Electorate Commission has issued National with a warning over its failure to declare a donation from real estate mogul Garth Barfoot.

It has opted not to refer the matter to the police – as it did for several larger late declarations from the Māori Party.

National declared the cumulative $35,000 in donations over 2020 from Barfoot on March 31, months after it should have been declared.

Electoral law dictates that any donation over $30,000 – including a series of donations within one year – must be declared within 10 working days.

So, just to make that crystal clear: the Māori party gets prosecuted, the white party doesn't. Its a perfect example of our racist justice system in action, what happens every day on the street as public policy. The Electoral Commission will of course have its reasons - the current one seems to be that its unfair to prosecute National for not reading their email despite a statutory duty to monitor donations - but so do the police who give a pass to white people while sticking the cuffs on brown ones every day. With police, who gets excuses and who gets handcuffs form a pattern which is only explainable by pervasive racism. Sadly, it looks like the Electoral Commission's decisions also fall into that pattern.

I'm not saying this to excuse the Māori Party: I think they need to be prosecuted. But so do National. Donations fraud is a serious crime against our democracy, which undermines faith in our political system - and that's true regardless of the predominant skin colour in the party committing it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Kicking English nukes out of Scotland?

Scotland is going to the polls on Thursday in parliamentary elections which look likely to be won by the SNP. The most obvious outcome is likely to be another independence referendum and the potential breakup of the UK. But there's something else at stake: the UK's nuclear weapons:

Trident could be forced to the US or possibly France if Scotland became independent because there is no alternative port immediately available elsewhere in the UK, according to a retired admiral responsible for Britain’s nuclear policy.

Unless Scotland were to agree to lease back the Faslane submarine base to the rest of the UK, continuing Trident would probably require the help of an allied country or the nuclear deterrent would have to be halted completely, the expert said.


“A Scottish secession would therefore generate fundamental operational and fiscal issues for the UK’s nuclear deterrent,” Gower wrote, because Faslane base, the warhead loading site at Coulport, and nearby testing ranges are all based in Scotland or Scottish waters.

Which is England's problem, not Scotland's. Whether to play host to nuclear weapons is ultimately a decision for the Scottish people. They're currently denied that right and forced to host English nukes by the Westminster government (which seems oddly reluctant to base them in England - a prime example of how Westminster treats the rest of the UK like colonies rather than partners). If they vote for independence then kick out these immoral weapons, then England only has itself to blame. And as someone from a country which is already nuclear-free, I'm hoping they do just that.

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Wellington bus lockout

Wellington bus drivers are striking today for a new collective employment agreement after two years of failed negotiations. But from tomorrow, they'll be locked out indefinitely as Australian-owned "NZ" Bus trues to cut their pay and conditions. What's really shocking here is that the Greater Wellington Regional Council has offered to top up their contract to enable them to pass on a living wage to their workers, and they've simply refused, in favour of expensive union-busting instead. Which means they're basicly refusing to perform their contract, voluntarily. Hopefully GWRC will be applying some tough penalties here. Though given that they fined the company more than 17,000 times for non-performance in 2019, and they are still cancelling more than 200 services a week, it seems that the contractual fines are insufficient incentives to perform, and maybe GWRC should be looking at stripping it entirely.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to contribute to the strike fund, details are here.

Climate Change: Letting the world burn

US President Joe Biden is holding a virtual climate change summit today, during which he has pledged to cut America's emissions by 50% (from 2005 levels) by the end of the decade. Its an ambitious pledge, and other countries were expected to follow suit. So what did New Zealand offer? Nothing:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced no new climate initiatives while speaking at a global climate summit early this morning – a move that will disappoint local activists.

It was hoped Ardern might lift the ambition of the country’s Paris Agreement pledge. She said work was underway to adjust this target, also known as a Nationally Determined Contribution.

“We will lift our ambition because we must,” she told the meeting. But unlike other nations, she did not make a firm commitment during the event.

So much for "my generation's nuclear-free moment". So much for rising to the challenge and using ambitious commitments to drive ambitious policy. So much even for doing our bit. Instead, the New Zealand government seems to be perfectly happy if the world burns. I expected that attitude from Donald Trump, but it is simply unacceptable from our government.

We don't need mass-surveillance to pay for the roads

Stuff reports that the government is considering replacing fuel-taxes and road-user charges with mass surveillance:

Fuel taxes and road user charges could eventually be abolished as part of a Government review into the way it collects about $4 billion a year from road users.


One option being considered is to replace the taxes with a GPS tracking system on cars, which could effectively toll drivers for how often they used the road. The National Party pledged to support a similar idea at the 2020 election.

...which of course means tracking everyone, everywhere. Which ought to be a policy red-line.

The problem driving this is that the government is trying to shift drivers to EVs (which don't pay petrol taxes and are presently exempt from RUCs), and to shift people away from driving at all. So it needs to find some way of paying for the roads when its major revenue sources will be shrinking. But there's lots of ways to do that which don't require mass-surveillance. For example, we could just get everyone to use RUCs, and increase the rate as required as people drive less. If that's too fiddly, we could bill it with the WOF, or just apply a flat charge on the annual registration fee. Or, we could ditch the whole user-pays roads assumption entirely for light vehicles, treat roads as a public utility, and pay for them through general taxation. Which would have the advantage of ending the rort where businesses get to claim their RUCs - essentially, a tax - as a tax-deductible business expense.

Trucks are the complicating factor, because they do all the damage (not to mention create all the demand for super-highways), and it seems unfair that the rest of us should subsidise them. So some hybrid system which distinguishes between light and heavy vehicles seems appropriate. But there's plenty of options, none of which need mass-surveillance.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Putting the Five Eyes in their place

Earlier in the week Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta gave a speech on NZ-China relations, in which she said that while New Zealand would criticise China, we were "uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes" beyond being a security alliance. This has predictably drawn outrage from Australia and the UK, who are upset with our perceived lack of support for their agenda, but it seems perfectly reasonable. Our agenda is not their agenda, and their agenda is not really one New Zealand should be a part of. As someone who thinks that all the Five Eyes does is get us involved in other people's wars (and war crimes) while pushing domestic surveillance and tyranny, Mahuta's speech is welcome, and hopefully it means a reduction of their influence in future.

At the same time, we should remember that the Five Eyes has already metastasised well beyond its original signals intelligence focus. There's a whole cluster of bodies around it focused on military "interoperability" between the parties, aimed at making it easier to be vassals in America's wars. And since around 2009 it has grown again into other areas, primarily aimed at aligning domestic policy. There's a Five Country Conference on immigration, which is about increasing surveillance and shutting down freedom of movement internationally, and a Quintet of Attorneys-General which is about pushing "anti-terrorism" laws, domestic surveillance, internet censorship and banning encryption. New Zealand participates fully in both of these. If we are to take Mahuta's words seriously, that should stop. Or is she a liar?

Why do we tolerate this?

This week Nicky Hager has been going after Thompson and Clark Investigations, New Zealand's most immoral private investigation firm, with stories on how they spied for the Exclusive Brethren and employ former SIS agents. Today's revelation is that that agent was spying on school-children for the oil industry:

School children from the group School Strike 4 Climate joined a peaceful protest against the oil-exploration company OMV in New Plymouth a year ago, only weeks after unprecedented numbers joined their 27 September school strike marches around New Zealand. Public concern about climate change had never been so great. These were peaceful, democratic protests.

But a two-year investigation has found that they and other climate change groups were targets of the private investigation firm Thompson and Clark, paid by clients from the oil and gas industry.

The investigation reveals that a major focus of Thompson and Clark in 2019 and 2020 – years of storms, floods, forest fires and marching school children – was monitoring and helping to counter citizen groups concerned about climate change.

Spying on the environmental movement is the core business of this evil company. But spying on schoolkids is a new low even for them. The core client they're doing this for is Austrian-owned OMV, which is basicly paying a former NZ spy to disrupt and undermine our democracy. I guess he has prior experience.

The protest groups TCIL is spying on for its foreign polluter clients are part of our democratic fabric, and by spying on them TCIL is actively undermining our democracy. As noted when the government was caught using this private stasi a few years ago, this sort of spying undermines people's trust in one another and impedes their exercise of their political rights (which is the point). Why do we tolerate this? What possible public good does it serve? We do not let the government do it. So why should we let someone abuse their fellow citizens as a business?

Private investigation firms are required to be licensed, but the licensing conditions are remarkably weak (basicly it boils down to "not having been convicted of a crime", which seems like a very low bar). Its time they were strengthened to include a requirement that licence-holders not spy on political parties or protest groups, or engage in anti-democratic activity. Put the stasi out of business, and our democracy will be better for it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Deadlock in Samoa

Samoa's independent "kingmaker", Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio, has finally made his decision, joining the opposition FAST Party. But this doesn't mean they'll be the government, because last night Samoa's electoral commission suddenly decided to create another (HRPP) MP, creating a 26-26 deadlock. The reason for this is that Samoa has a quota for female MPs: a minimum of 10% of parliament must be women. Five women were elected out of 51, giving 9.8%. As the electoral commission points out, 9.8% is less than 10%, so they had to elect another one (specifically Ali'imalemanu Alofa Tuuau, the highest-polling unsuccessful female candidate). That's certainly a legitimate interpretation of the law, but its not what they were saying just a couple of weeks ago, when five women out of 51 was deemed OK, and it looks awfully like the HRPP desperately trying to retain power. If they'd been clear about how the quota would be applied before the results were in, this perception could have been avoided.

Of course, its not over yet: there's still the usual round of election petitions and private prosecutions, plus party hopping before parliament sits. Samoan elections usually see a couple of MPs unseated during this phase, so the final winner will likely be decided by the courts.

Ending the DHB scam

This morning the government announced a major shakeup for the health system, abolishing DHBs and centralising control under a single entity. I don't know enough about health policy to comment on whether this is a good idea or not, but it doesn't bode well that the government is spinning this as being about efficiency and doing more with less rather than committing to properly funding health. But one thing I do welcome is the end of the sham of elected DHBs. As I've noted before, while elected, they have no power or independence, with all decisions effectively made by how much money the Ministry of Health parcels out from Wellington. Their real purpose is to serve as a blame sink for the Minister, someone they can point the finger at and blame (for being "inefficient" or running a deficit) to avoid accepting responsibility for inadequate funding. Their abolition will restore a measure of honesty to the health system, and allow everyone to see where responsibility lies: with the Minister in Wellington.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Serves them right

Back in December, the government purchased Ihumatāo. Officially the purchase was for a housing project, but whether any houses actually get built (and who will own them) is subject to negotiation. And now, the Auditor-General has ruled the purchase unlawful:

The deal struck by the government and Fletcher Building to buy the disputed land at Ihumātao is "unlawful" unless it is validated by Parliament, the Auditor General says.


"In our view, the intent of the Ministry, and the intent of Ministers, was to establish a new appropriation that would provide authority for the purchase of the land at Ihumātao.

"However, because the Ministry did not seek the correct approvals, the expenditure was incurred without appropriation and without authority to use Imprest Supply. For these reasons, the payment is unlawful until validated by Parliament."

That validation will no doubt be forthcoming (there's a standard bill to validate all the irregular expenditure in the Budget next month), but the government will pay a political price. And they deserve to. This problem is entirely of Labour's own making, born of their unwillingness to admit that the deal was about restoring stolen property. If they'd admitted that, they would have taken the money from the right box, and everything would be fine. But they were worried about offending racists (who were always going to be offended), and about the "danger" of reopening Treaty settlements (which the government says are "full and final", but which aren't really), so they tried to finesse it. And now they have egg on their faces, and it serves them right. But hopefully validation will force them to admit the real purpose of the purchase, and that in turn will let them give the land back to its true owners, without all of the accompanying bullshit.

An inappropriate gag

The government is planning to reform the health system. But in the leadup, they've issued new guidance for DHB members, gagging them from criticising the government:

A new code of conduct banning health board members from making “political comment” may have been timed to dull criticism of imminent changes to the health system, an expert says.

The code of conduct for board members of Crown enterprises was published on the State Services Commission website on March 18 and came into force on Monday.

Responsibilities in the code included acting in a “politically impartial manner” both as a board member and in a private capacity.

Members must also consult with the board chair on any “proposal to make political comment or to undertake any significant political activity”.

All of which would be perfectly reasonable if DHB members were unelected public servants, like the members of the Public Service Commission or a Crown Entity board. But they're not. Over half of each DHB is elected, there (supposedly) to represent the public. I have deep doubts about that democracy, whether its real or appropriate when in reality all decisions are effectively predetermined by what services the Ministry of Health contracts them to provide and how much money they are given for it. But for the time being they're elected representatives, and so political comment is literally their job, just as it is for local authority members. And this sort of gag order is simply completely inappropriate. Its like trying to gag MP's. But then, control-freak Labour is so afraid of criticism they'd probably try that if they thought they could get away with it...

Monday, April 19, 2021

Peter Dutton supports war crimes

During their time in Afghanistan Australian special forces committed war crimes, murdering 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners of war and working together to cover it up. This was not a case of a few sociopaths killing in secret, but of utterly corrupt units who knew of, tolerated, and in some cases celebrated war crimes. As a result, when the Australian Defence Force finally acknowledged this last year, they stripped the relevant units of uit citations for their complicity. Now Australia's Defence Minister Peter Dutton wants them to be given back:

Today, Dutton told Nine Radio the decision would be reversed given the vast majority of ADF personnel did nothing wrong.

"Those people deserve our recognition, our praise, our honour, because many of them have lost mates," he said.

"Families this Anzac Day should proudly wear that medal in honour of their loved one who passed away in the service of this country."

But as the Brereton report makes clear, these people helped cover up war crimes, either actively or passively. And that should not be acceptable. By restoring these medals, Dutton - a man who has run concentration camps where torture, murder and rapes happened, and who is due his own trip to The Hague over them - is saying that it is acceptable. Which sounds an awful lot like war criminals covering for each other - just like they did in Afghanistan.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Climate Change: Admitting it

Climate Change Minister James Shaw has admitted that the government is not doing enough on climate change:

Appearing on Breakfast alongside Greenpeace director and former Green Party leader Russel Norman, the current Greens co-leader was asked: “Are you as Government living up to promise of delivery implicit in those remarkable words from the Prime Minister?”

“Only with caveat that it takes awhile for policies to have an effect. The latest emissions numbers that we’ve got don’t show the effect of any of the policies we put in place in the last term. Those will start to show up in subsequent years,” he said.

“Even then, I would have to agree with you, no, we are a long way off track and it does require every minister to be a Climate Change Minister, not just me.


“[The increase in emissions] is clearly taking us in the wrong direction and it’s making it harder for us in the long run to reduce our emissions, because we’ve got to take account of the fact that everything has gone into the atmosphere already."

At least he's not trying to lie to us, unlike previous governments (A Labour minister would simply have given us spin and bullshit). But it invites the obvious question: what is he going to do about it? Sure, there's the Zero Carbon Act process we're going through this year, but the Commission doesn't look like its doing enough, and ultimately the decision is going to be made by the Labour Party, not Shaw. If they refuse to do what's necessary, will he call them on it?

Thursday, April 15, 2021


A ballot for one member's bill was held today, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Land Transport (Vehicles Responding to Electrical Emergency) Amendment Bill (Simeon Brown)

Its an absolutely thrilling piece of legislation which would require the Minister to make road rules allowing electricians to use flashing lights when responding to an emergency. Which seems to pose some serious public accountability problems. But I guess National is fine with having random sparkies hooning to rugby games.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Getting out

Twenty years after it invaded, the US is finally leaving Afghanistan. What's surprising is that it took them so long - its been clear for over a decade that their presence there was pointless and just pissing people off. But imperial pride leads to exactly this sort of stupidity.

Their invasion has achieved nothing. When the US invaded, Afghanistan was a failed state, riven by civil war. And when they leave, Afghanistan will still be a failed state, riven by civil war. While Al Qaeda is gone, it was simply replaced by other terrorist factions elsewhere. Those have since declined, but the continued occupation of Afghanistan didn't have anything to do with that. Instead, it was just an effort by the US to avoid admitting defeat.

The good news is that to the extent that US occupation and torture are drivers of terrorism, any decrease in the US footprint will probably make the world a safer place. Now, if only they'd do that elsewhere.

(And meanwhile, there are still 40 prisoners languishing in Guantanamo. Only two have been convicted in the US's kangaroo court "military commission", another seven have been charged but never tried, and three more might be charged. As for the rest, they have never been charged with any crime, and are basicly being indefinitely detained without trial by the US. This continued injustice is a suppurating sore, and it needs to end immediately).

Why wait?

The government has announced that it will ban the export of livestock by sea. Huzzah! A vile, cruel and unconscionable trade will be ended! But there's a catch: the ban won't kick in until 2023, giving farmers two ful years to continue to profit from extreme animal cruelty.

But why wait? This ban doesn't require legislation. The export of live animals for slaughter is already banned under the Animal Welfare (Export of Livestock for Slaughter) Regulations 2016 (which extended a ban which had been in place since 2008), and this regulation could simply be extended. The enabling clause in the Animal welfare Act makes it very clear that export regulations "may prohibit, either absolutely or conditionally, any specified type of exportation of animals", so there's no question of legality. There is a consultation requirement, but that doesn't take two years, and neither does drafting and passing a regulation. So again, why wait? Its hard to see this as anything other than deliberate foot-dragging by a government that still wants to pander to a particularly cruel and vicious industry.

An unexpected Member's Day

Today is unexpectedly a Member's Day - the Business Committee granted it early in the year, to make up for time list to government business. First up is a two-hour debate on the budget policy statement, with questions to Ministers, replacing the general debate. Then its the second reading of Darroch Ball's Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill, which has now been adopted by Mark Mitchell. The select committee essentially called this stupid and arbitrary, so I don't expect it to progress. The House will then wrap up the first reading of Matt Doocey's Policing (Killing a Police Dog) Amendment Bill, and then make a start on Terisa Ngobi's Holidays (Parent-Teacher Interview Leave) Amendment Bill. Which means there should be a ballot for one bill tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Climate Change: The latest inventory

The annual inventory report [PDF] of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions has been released, showing a significant increase in emissions: NZemissions2019

(Note that this is UNFCCC accounting, not the weird fudged figures the Climate Change Commission is using).

Emissions increased by almost 2 million tons in 2019, from 80.6 MT to 82.3 MT. Poking around in the Emissions Tracker, this is almost entirely due to energy sector emissions, in particular electricity generation, chemicals, and food production (AKA Fonterra). The good news is that all these sectors are covered by the ETS, and the removal of the carbon price cap in 2019 saw prices rise by 50% in 2020. We will hopefully see the effects of that increase in future inventories; if not, we can only conclude that carbon prices need to be higher (and pollution subsidies lower) to produce real reductions.

(Note that there is a two-year lag in emissions reporting, so this data is for 2019. We won't see the full impact of the pandemic on emissions until next year).

The IPCA should not have to repeat itself

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has ruled that the police detained a woman unlawfully and breached the Privacy Act when they used a fake traffic stop for intelligence gathering:

Police have been found to have unlawfully detained a Māori woman and taken photos of her and her partner at a road checkpoint, breaching the Privacy Act, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found.

The report said mid-morning on 16 November 2019 police set up a road checkpoint near a 'fight night' event in Ruakākā, Northland where they knew a large number of gang members would be. Not all attendees had gang affiliations.

Officers took photos of a number of gang members or associates, for the purposes of intelligence-gathering, while they were legally driving to an event. The IPCA said it appears this had happened on multiple other occasions.

Officers thought they were legally able to take the photos, and were not instructed to tell the subjects of the purpose of taking the images.

That last bit is bullshit. The IPCA told the police very firmly back in 2018 (in a case over using a fake traffic stop to spy on a euthanasia advocacy group) that this tactic was illegal and that powers under the Land Transport Act could only be used for the purposes of that Act (the full ruling is here; weirdly today's report doesn't seem to mention this). Somehow, that message hasn't gotten through. And police command needs to be held accountable for that. The IPCA simply should not have to repeat itself like this.

Also troubling: the police reportedly lied in their response to an OIA request from the victim for the photos that were taken of her. I hope the Ombudsman has something to say about this, because obviously it cuts right to the heart of the Act if we can no longer believe the responses we receive from the government.

Meanwhile, as the victim was unlawfully detained, I'd hope the police will be paying compensation. And not just to her, but to everyone they have abused in this manner.

Climate Change: Still the climate arson party

Stuff reports that National is refusing to back the Climate Change Commission's recommendations, which is apparently a Bad Thing:

The National Party says it can’t support the Climate Change Commission’s draft plan to cut New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions unless changes are made.

If National maintains this position when the Government puts its response to the commission’s final advice to a vote in Parliament later this year, it could shatter a bipartisan consensus on climate change that has lasted for just two years.


In a submission to the commission on its draft emissions reduction plan, Smith said National’s chief objections included a lack of transparency from the commission about the modelling of the economic effects of emissions reduction, and a lack of detail around the more than 70 policies it suggested could be implemented to curb emissions.

But firstly, there was never any "consensus" on climate change: while they didn't vote against it, National opposed the Zero Carbon Act, and explicitly promised to gut it and abandon the 1.5 degree Paris target if ever elected again. They pretended to cooperate, used that pretence to extract concessions on agricultural targets, then explicitly repudiated them the instant they were passed. Secondly, unpacking their "objections", what they boil down to is "emissions reduction would be too expensive", which is the same drum they've been banging for the past thirty years.

In other words, National is still not serious on this issue, and have nothing to offer on it. Any pretence of "cooperation" is simply an exercise in bad faith aimed at further weakening and delaying action. Their message to the climate strikers and everyone concerned about this is "fuck you, and fuck your future". And its time the government stood up for us gave that message right back to them. They have a majority; its time they actually used it to pass some effective policy, rather than wasting their time seeking "consensus" with bad faith actors who are fundamentally opposed to doing anything.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Change coming to Samoa?

Samoans went to the polls on Friday, and delivered a stinging blow to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi one-party state. Pre-election Malielegaoi's Human Rights Protection Party had controlled 44 of 49 seats in Parliament, while using restrictive standing orders to prevent there from even being a recognised opposition in Parliament. But voters clearly wanted something different, and left Malielegaoi with a hung parliament, tied 25-25 with the new opposition FAST party (led by his former deputy Fiame Naomi Mata'afa), with one independent holding the balance of power. Which means this may be the first time in nearly 40 years that power in Samoa has changed hands as the result of an election.

These are only preliminary results of course, and the final count could shift things a bit. Not to mention the usual series of electoral petitions, private prosecutions for bribery, and party-hopping (which is strictly illegal during the parliamentary term, but entirely legal between its dissolution and when it sits - something exploited in the past by the HRPP to buy support and retain power). But even then, to go from utter domination to a bare tie is a stinging rebuke, which in a normal democracy would result in some sort of change. And whoever comes out as the winner is likely to have a tiny majority, and be highly vulnerable to MPs rebelling, forcing a by-election, or just dying of old age. Which is going to be rather different from the current situation of the PM decides something and everyone has to back it or be sacked from parliament by him.

The Māori Party's hidden donations

Something I missed on Friday: the Māori Party has been referred to police over failure to disclose donations over $30,000. Looking at the updated return of large donations, this is about $320,000 donated to them by three donors - John Tamihere, the National Urban Māori Authority, and Aotearoa Te Kahu Limited Partnership - between June and August 2020, right in the leadup to last year's election when there is the highest interest in public disclosure.

Failing to file a s210C return on time (or within 15 working days of the deadline) without reasonable excuse is a corrupt practice, punishable by two years imprisonment and/or a $100,000 fine (sadly, the donations aren't forfeit). In the past the police (as opposed to the SFO) have generally refused to enforce the law (its not "real" crime, you see, unlike someone smoking a joint or walking while brown). But given the party involved and the police's culture of racism and subservience to power, maybe we might finally see the law enforced this time, though for entirely the wrong reasons.

I want the law enforced - donations fraud is a serious crime against our democracy, which undermines faith in our political system. But I want it enforced against everyone, powerful and powerless alike, and for the right reasons. The police's culture and past practice contaminates their actions in this case, and its just another argument of taking prosecution of electoral offences off them and giving it directly to the Electoral Commission.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Overturning racism in Palmerston North

The Palmerston North City Council has voted for Māori wards:

Palmerston North Māori will be guaranteed one or two seats on the city council from 2022, and this time, there is nothing opponents can do about it.

The council decided by an 11-5 vote at its monthly meeting this week to take advantage of the recently-enacted Local Electoral Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies Amendment Act that removes the ability of 5 per cent of voters to demand a binding poll on the subject.

The council’s earlier decision in 2017 was overturned by a poll, preventing it from having Māori wards for the 2022 and 2025 elections.

Good. People's right to effective democratic representation should not be subject to a racist veto, and I'm glad to see that the overwhelming majority of the council agrees. As for the opponents - councillors Baty, Hapeta, Findlay, Meehan and Petrenas (basicly the dead white "keep rates low" brigade and a failed National candidate) - I look forward to them being de-elected next local body election.

Totally out of touch

Kids are striking for the climate today, demanding a decent, liveable future. Meanwhile, the National Party, the reliable servant of the farm lobby and other polluting businesses, is calling for action to be delayed:

National has written to Climate Change Minister James Shaw calling for him to extend the report-back time on the Climate Change Commission Report, National’s Climate Change spokesperson Stuart Smith says.

“We all want an Emissions Reduction Plan that addresses the environmental challenges we face in New Zealand, but in order to do this we must allow submitters and the Commission enough time to reflect and respond to issues raised,” says Mr Smith.

When the Commission reports back, the government is legally required to respond with an action plan, so a delayed report-back means delayed action. Talk about tone-deaf. But National has always opposed action on this issue, has always supported killing the planet for profit. And they're making it crystal clear to an entire generation of future voters.

Striking for a future again

Today tens of thousands of schoolkids have walked out of school to strike for a future free from climate change. And tens of thousands of older New Zealanders have joined them. Their demands are clear: eliminate fossil fuels, implement 100% renewable energy with a just transition, and support our Pacific neighbours by ensuring our climate actions are aligned with the 1.5 degree Paris goal. This is, bluntly, the minimum we need to do to have a decent future, one where we don't have a billion premature deaths and make some of the most heavily populated parts of the planet uninhabitable.

The government will point to the Zero Carbon Act framework and say "we've got this", but they haven't. The targets set by the Act are inadequate, as are the international goals they have chosen. We have less than a decade to turn this problem around, and the government is basicly doing the minimum. And when we have the pandemic response demonstrating what a government can do when it really wants to fix something, what prioritising something actually looks like, it makes it look like they don't really care about this, that saving the world just isn't a priority for them.

When she was running for election, Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear-free moment". The strikers today want her to live up to that and make it true. Otherwise, well, its not going to be long before they can vote (and they have plenty of friends who already can), and they'll toss her in the dumpster of history if they don't get what they want.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Climate Change: Doing the minimum again

Back in February the Climate Change Commission recommended a ban on new coal-fired boilers, and a phase out of existing ones by 2037. And today, the government has said they will implement that policy, and backed it up with funding to help transition some of our large pollution sources:

Coal-fired boilers used by heavy industry will soon be a thing of the past.

The government has announced a ban new low and medium temperature boilers from the end of this year and plans on phasing out existing ones by 2037.

An option proposed is to also prohibit other new fossil fuel boilers where suitable alternative technology exists and it is economically viable, the government said.

It was the first step taken in response to recommendations from the Climate Commission, and would reduce carbon emissions within the first three years equivalent to removing 49,000 cars from the roads.

Which is good, and helps, but at the same time: 2037 is not "soon", and it reinforces the sense that the government is just doing the minimum, complying with the Commission's recommendations rather than looking for ways they can go beyond them. In this case, they should be looking at a much faster phase-out - surely ten years is more than enough time for everyone with a dirty coal-fired boiler to replace it - combined with restrictions on new gas installations, and ultimately, a ban on mining and importing coal (with a revocation of existing consents). We also need to keep in mind that fossil fuels kill, and getting rid of them is a public health necessity as well as a climate change one. But instead, the government just seems to be dragging its feet.


A ballot for three members bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Income Tax (Adjustment of Taxable Income Ranges) Amendment Bill (Simon Bridges)
  • Regulatory Standards Bill (David Seymour)
  • Human Rights (Disability Assist Dogs Non-Discrimination) Amendment Bill (Ricardo Menéndez March)

The first two - tax cuts and shitter laws - will fail at first reading. The third should at least get to select committee, if not further.

There were only 52 bills in ballot today, which means a lot of MPs are still slacking. If anyone needs any ideas, there's a whole website full of them right here.

Protecting journalists

Back in 2014, the police raided and searched journalist Nicky Hager's home over his book Dirty Politics, seizing his journalistic work in an effort to identify his sources to please their political masters in the National party. The raid - and much of the police's related investigative work - was later ruled to be illegal, with a judge ruling that police had deceived the court by omission by failing to inform the judge issuing the search warrant that Hager was a journalist and the information sought was journalistic work-product. The police ended up paying substantial damages. Now, Labour MP Louisa Wall has a bill in the ballot to stop such an abuse of power from happening ever again.

The Protection of Journalists’ Sources Bill would firstly modify the Evidence Act so that investigative journalists as well as beat reporters would be explicitly protected from being quizzed in court about their sources. Secondly, it would make numerous changes to the Search and Surveillance Act to impose procedural safeguards for journalists, requiring warrants and production orders against them or which attempt to identify their sources to be issued by judges, explicitly requiring police to inform judges when they target journalists or sources, and requiring journalists to be notified of any production order (e.g. for phone, bank or travel records) against them or their sources so it can be challenged. It would also impose a general duty on everyone exercising powers under the Search and Surveillance Act, from judges and issuing officers down to the plods enforcing a search warrant to protect journalistic privilege. All of which creates opportunities for an invasion of privilege to be challenged and overturned.

The one thing that is missing is a change to the definition of "news activity" in the Privacy Act 2020 to ensure that investigative journalists are also protected under that Act and close the loophole exploited by the police and GCSB to access David Fisher's work on Kim Dotcom. Its an omnibus bill, and this would absolutely be consistent with its purpose.

This bill is desperately needed, and the sooner it is drawn from the ballot, the better. Alternatively, it seems like it would be a great opportunity for opposition MPs to show their commitment to freedom of the press by signing up to support it.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

One way of fixing it

How can we stop the Ministry of Health censoring and sanitising vital mental health statistics to make themselves (and Ministers) look good? Legislate for annual reporting:

Green Party mental health spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick says the Ministry of Health should be legally required to produce a wide range of mental health statistics, after concerns were raised about a routine mental health report released years late and with significantly less data than it once had.


“It’s evident that right now there is a big problem,” Swarbrick said.

“Right there is not a legislative requirement for them to report that high quality and transparent data. Which shows us that we need to establish that legislative requirement.”

And she has the backing of former Statistics Minister James Shaw, which should help.

The government does exactly this over environmental statistics, and after National shitcanned The Social Report, Labour put up a member's bill to require statutory reporting of social statistics as well (I wonder what happened to that...?) But will Labour pass it? Or will they insist on retaining the power to lie and fudge to hide their own failures?

Correction: Shaw is the former Minister of Statistics. The current Minister is David Clark.

Self-interested arse covering

In 1997 the Law Commission reviewed the OIA. In the process, they identified a problem: decisions to transfer a request could not be investigated by the Ombudsman under the Act. They also identified a workaround: transfer decisions by agencies subject to the Ombudsmen Act could be investigated under that Act, but the Ombudsmen Act doesn't apply to Ministers, so there was still a hole. They recommended that it be fixed by amending s28 of the OIA to explicit include transfer decisions as a grounds of complaint. Successive governments did nothing.

In 2012 the Law Commission did another review of the OIA. They noted that the problem had not been fixed over the past 15 years, and reiterated their earlier recommendation. Successive governments again did nothing.

Why the repeated and long-term inaction? Well, from a Minister's point of view it is perhaps convenient if you can "transfer" a request to an agency who does not hold the information being sought and which therefore cannot answer, and it is especially convenient if that decision can never be reviewed and you can never be called on your bullshit. So its just self-interested arse-covering from those at the top.

(I have an example of exactly this sort of shitfuckery from Chris Hipkins, who transferred a request for advice about his chosen extension date for the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 - a date which seems to be a clear violation of Parliamentary intent - to the Ministry of Health, who turned around and said "the Ministry of Health... has limited involvement in this as the decision on timing sits with Hon Chris Hipkins". Sadly, they were too chickenshit to send it straight back to him, despite the requirements of s14(b)(ii)).

As for what we can do about it: Graeme Edgeler has drafted a bill to fix the complaint provisions, allowing transfer decisions (and various other decisions recommended by the Law Commission) to be reviewed by the Ombudsman. You can read it here. It would be nice if some MP picked it up and put it in the ballot, and like the bill extending the OIA to cover parliamentary undersecretaries, would seem to be a slam-dunk for actually getting passed.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, though with no particularly controversial bills up, it is likely to be a pretty boring one. First up is Maureen Pugh's Adverse Weather-affected Timber Recovery on Conservation Lands Bill, an attempt to sidestep the Forests (West Coast Accord) Act 2000 and allow the effective mining of wood on conservation land. Fortunately, its unlikely to pass (and if it does, then Labour will have gone full Orc). Second is Paulo Garcia's Accident Compensation (Notice of Decisions) Amendment Bill, which despite the title is actually about allowing employers to challenge ACC decisions to cover an injury (thereby robbing their worker of compensation and treatment) on the basis that it might make their claim history look bad. Third is Todd Muller's Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Bill, which seems uncontroversial and should go to select committee. This is followed by Matt Doocey's Policing (Killing a Police Dog) Amendment Bill, which is just more "law and order" viciousness. Finally, the House should at least make a start on Terisa Ngobi's Holidays (Parent-Teacher Interview Leave) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for four new bills tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

We should not subsidise a criminal industry

Fishing is a criminal and environmentally destructive industry which ignores the law while corrupting our democracy. Last year, their addiction to foreign slave-labour saw them bring Covid into the country. So naturally, they're expecting us to pay for an advertising campaign to recruit more people:

Taxpayers are being asked to stump up for half the cost of a TV ad campaign to attract more people to the fishing sector.

The details are revealed in correspondence between Sealord and the Ministry for Primary Industries on steps taken to encourage New Zealanders into the industry.

It was all part of an agreement the sector signed with the government in return for being allowed to bring in 570 fishers from Russia and Ukraine, signed by Sealord, Independent, Aurora, Sanford and Maruha.

What next? Government-funded ads to recruit people to a career as tax-cheats and money launderers?

But I guess this is just another example of the corrupt relationship between the fishing industry and this government. Even after the departure of Shane Jones and Winston Peters, it is still getting what it pays for.

Hostile to transparency

Stuff had an appalling story on Sunday about the Ministry of Health's attempts to hide unflattering mental health statistics and sanitise a regular report. The report came out last week, and showed a massive increase in the use of "seclusion", a practice which has been condemned by the UN Committee Against Torture. But Stuff had requested the drafts and related correspondence, showing a two year battle by Ministry of Health staff to remove data which made them look bad. And this continued even after the Director-General of Health approved publication:

Half a year before the report was finally released health director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield approved it to be published, but one of his deputies wanted to delay it further and put a “risk lens” over it.

Another official noted there was no legal requirement the report be produced and suggested shortening it. A third noted the huge amount of “data and negative statistics” which she said was presented without enough context.

But the team responsible for creating it fought for their corner, saying they were doing nothing that hadn’t been done for years – publishing annual and comparable data on how much mental health services are used in New Zealand.

Reading the whole story, it shows an outright hostility to transparency among many of the Ministry of Health's senior management team. Whether this is consistent with the Public Service Act's principle of open government is left as an exercise for the reader.

Meanwhile, this sort of attitude from Ministry of Health management makes me wonder about their handling of OIA requests. FYI has seen a significant increase in the number of requests has sought to deter by challenging eligibility, so it seems that this hostile attitude has trickled down. Apparently the Ombudsman last did a practice review of the Ministry's OIA handling back in 2015; maybe its time they did another one?

(Oh, and to add insult to injury, Jacinda Ardern has said in question time that the Ministry of Health's handling of this is an example of how Labour is the "most transparent and accountable government ever". I guess its not just the Ministry which is hostile to transparency then...)

Send it back to Australia II

Another unpleasant surprise at Tiwai Point: in addition to the declared stockpiles of toxic waste, they may have tens of thousands of tons secretly buried in the early 1990's to avoid the RMA:

Investigators are looking into claims highly toxic waste has been buried in unmapped sites at Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.


"Former staff of the smelter report burying of spent cell linings [containing cyanide and toxic fluoride] or contaminated material in various parts of the Tiwai site," said the report into "key matters" for cleaning up the huge site next to conservation land once the smelter shuts in 2024.

Waste burial reportedly went on "particularly prior" to the Resource Management Act's enactment in 1991, by which stage tens of thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste had already been produced.

The report followed this with a warning: "It is likely that a number of unmapped or unconsented contaminated sites exist as a result of these uncontrolled activities."

The company claims not to know anything about it. Of course they don't: it was 30 years ago, management doesn't stick around that long, and any documents will no doubt have been shredded or buried. So it sounds like the EPA and the local council will have to go over the site with ground-penetrating radar to find these dumps. Fortunately they have a search power which enables them to do that. As for what happens when they find it, its Rio Tinto's waste, and it is their absolute responsibility to ensure it is disposed of safely. And if they don't want to do that, they can take it back to Australia with them when they fuck off.

Afraid of a trans-Tasman bubble

This morning the government is deciding on the start-date for a trans-Tasman travel bubble. Note the way that that's phrased: the existence of such a bubble is taken as a given, and the only question is how to implement it. Obviously, we're going to have to re-open the borders eventually, and Australia is the natural first step for that. But now (or the supposed date of mid-April) just seems to be far too soon. The moment we open this bubble, we expose ourselves to the risk that someone could catch Covid in Australia and bring it back here. At the moment, MIQ means such cases are firewalled at the border. Without that protection, it means community transmission, and then lockdown when we notice it.

How big is that risk? Australia's border seems pretty leaky, and they've had a couple of lockdowns already this year (Brisbane has just come out of one). But compounding that risk is the fact that their government is only committed to suppression, not elimination. Which means we'd be effectively adopting that goal too. And I'm not sure that's been made entirely clear to the public.

Can this risk be handled with the usual precautions of pre-flight testing and masks on planes? The regular flow of positive cases at the border suggests not. And I just think of French Polynesia, which opened its borders with exactly these "precautions" and got a pandemic which infected 7% of the population and killed one person in 2000 - about a hundred times our death rate - and which has only just been got under control.

So when do I think it would be safe for the borders to open? When we're all vaccinated. Which is exactly the approach being taken by the Pacific countries we're bubbling with. on the current timeline, that means waiting another six months or so. We've survived isolation for a year; we can wait a little longer until its actually safe to get back together.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

This is on Ardern

So, corporate pillager Ron Brierley has plead guilty to possession of child pornography, and there are obvious calls for him to be stripped of his feudal honour (awarded in the 80's for services to his own banak balance). When faced with such calls in the past, the government has hidden behind the foreign monarch, saying that they're her honours, so its up to her whether people keep them. But this is, quite frankly, bullshit.

New Zealand honours may be awarded by the foreign monarch, but they're awarded on the advice of our government right here in New Zealand. There's a special unit in DPMC which considers nominations, makes shortlists, and sends them to Cabinet for confirmation (and of course for the politicians to shoehorn their donors and cronies in). And they're quite explicit that honours can be removed "on the advice of the Prime Minister and with the approval of the Sovereign". There are guidelines for when this should happen, one of which is when it would bring the honours system into disrepute. Which you'd think possession of child pornography certainly would (as well as a whole lot of other things, like defrauding investors and severe corporate malfeasance; that's certainly the standard which the UK applies).

So, the obvious question is "when is Ardern going to give that advice"? Or does she think a self-confessed child pornographer is a fit recipient for a New Zealand honour?

(And, for the curious: New Zealand has stripped a knighthood in the past, from Cook Islands Prime Minister Albert Henry, for electoral fraud. Here's the New Zealand Gazette notice for it. Muldoon was able to do the right thing then, Ardern should be able to do the right thing now).

Update: Well, that was quick. I'd barely finished writing this when news broke that Ardern was doing her job, and moving to strip Brierly of his feudal honour. Good. And now do the others please? (Better yet, abolish the lot, because feudalism belongs in fantasy novels, not democracies like New Zealand).