Friday, May 07, 2021


On Wednesday, the government froze public service pay for three years in a vicious attack on the very workers who have kept the country alive during the pandemic for the last year. Meanwhile, today they've re-announced their new system of "Fair pay Agreements", allowing unions to negotiate basic terms and conditions for entire industries. Its a fairly incoherent agenda, but I guess they think workers should get a better deal unless they work for the government.

But it does suggest a solution to Hipkins and Robertson's austerity-driven ratfuckery: the PSA should seek to negotiate a fair pay agreement for the entire state sector, including as a minimum term and condition an annual cost-of-living adjustment of the CPI + n% (where n can be variable depending on current pay, to deliver more to people at the bottom), plus additional regional allowances for public servants in Auckland and Wellington to offset the costs of the government's housing crisis. And if Hipkins and Robertson refuse, they can use it as an excuse for the public-sector-wide strike those fuckers so richly deserve.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Punishing our saviours again

Last year public servants saved our lives, working overtime in the middle of a pandemic to stand up a response which kept out Covid and kept kiwis alive and employed. The government rewarded them with a pay freeze. And now they're extending that for another three years:

Public servants earning more than $60,000 will only be offered pay increases under select circumstances for the next three years, Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

There will be no pay increases for those earning more than $100,000 or senior leaders, while those earning less than $60,000 – about a quarter of the sector – will still see pay increases.

The move extends a measure brought in last year, set to expire next month.

This is unjust, and in the middle of a housing crisis which has seen the price of houses in Wellington jump 25% in a year, cruel. But its also stupid. Public servants already have a strong culture of switching jobs or quitting to work as contractors to get a pay rise, destroying institutional memory and agency capability in the process. And Hipkins has just hit the accelerator on that merry-go-round in the name of mindless austerity. The long-term consequences are unlikely to be good. But since when have politicians cared about the long-term?

Samoa's dodgy dissolution

Samoa's tied elections took a turn for the worse last night, with the O le Ao o le Malo purporting to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections in what looks awfully like a self-coup. The "justification" for this was the uncertainty created by the hung parliament - a situation the O le Ao o le Malo had created themselves two weeks ago when they controversially appointed an extra MP under a dubious interpretation of the constitution's women's quota clause. That appointment had been challenged in court, and if the legal process had been allowed to take its course, would have worked itself out (as would the uncertainty created by the massive number of electoral petitions, most of which tend to be rapidly dismissed). But the O le Ao o le Malo also questioned the impartiality and independence of the courts, suggesting that he does not trust them to rule the "right" way. In any case, dissolving parliament because no government can be formed before it has even had a chance to sit and vote on the matter seems grossly premature, and gives the impression that this is a desperate attempt by the HRPP to retain power in the face of an electorate which has rejected them.

What will happen next? It is unclear at the moment whether the dissolution will be challenged in court, or even if it can be. But if the HRPP is allowed to get away with this, this may be remembered as the day they took the mask off, and Samoa's de facto one party state became a legal reality.

12,000 unemployed under Labour

The quarterly labour market statistics have been released, and once again outperformed expectations, with unemployment dropping to 4.7%. So there are now 135,000 unemployed, 12,000 more than when Labour took office. Its not all good news though: the underutilisation rate is up, suggesting that more jobs are part-time. Still, compared to what was expected to occur due to the pandemic, its amazing.

Labour refuses to condemn genocide in Xinjiang

But they will condemn "possible severe human rights abuses".

What a pack of snivelling, grovelling chickenshits. Refusing to call the crime what it is for fear of offending the criminal. But maybe this is Labour's "kindness"? Fuck the poor. Fuck the kids. Fuck immigrants. But be kind to génocidaires.

But for all their grovelling, it is unlikely to be enough to satisfy prickly China, and we'll likely suffer those "trade consequences" anyway. Which makes you wonder why they're bothering. But I guess cowardice and a refusal to stand up for anything is just in their nature now.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

The Greens worry about morality, Labour worries about trade

The Greens have done what was expected of them, and agreed to back ACT's motion on genocide in Xinjiang tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Labour Party is worrying about trade:

Trade Minister Damien O'Connor has warned a parliamentary debate on whether Beijing is committing genocide in Xinjiang would damage trade with China.

Parliamentarians were set to decide on Tuesday morning whether their parties would back a motion in Parliament to label the human rights abuses of the Uyghur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region of China as an act of "genocide".

Senior ministers in the Labour Government have cautioned the use of the genocide label outside the definition prescribed by the United Nations. National Party leader Judith Collins said the Government should release what information it had on abuses in Xinjiang to MPs, to allow them to decide.

“Clearly the Chinese Government wouldn't like something like that ... I have no doubt it would have some impact [with trade]. That's hardly rocket science,” O’Connor said to reporters, on the way into a Labour caucus meeting on Tuesday .

Its not rocket science, and yet its also irrelevant. Genocide is being committed in Xinjiang. Its a crime under international law, and just fundamentally immoral. When that is happening, worrying that you might offend someone by calling them on their crimes is fundamentally missing the point.

But isn't it so very Labour? Make a lot of noise about their principles ("kindness", "my generation's nuclear free moment", Norman Kirk and David Lange), and then when they are actually tested, turn into whining, snivelling cravens?

Labour adopts NZ First's racism

New Zealand First were a nasty pack of racists. One of the ideas they pushed was that immigrants - which in NZ First-ese means "non-white people", not those lovely people from the UK or South Africa - are coming here to steal the pensions of "hardworking" (white) New Zealanders by the dirty deceitful trick of becoming New Zealanders themselves. They constantly had member's bills in the ballot to stop this - one of which was voted down in 2015. They're out of Parliament now, but it seems that their racism has found a new home, in the Labour Party. Because their latest bill on the topic - the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income (Fair Residency) Amendment Bill - was drawn and sent to select committee just before the 2020 election. And the Labour Party has apparently decided to back it, with a select committee report recommending its passage. The only party on the committee which opposed its passage was the Greens.

I guess its another example of how Labour is "bringing kindness back": by making older immigrants second-class citizens and raising the risk that they'll spend their final years in poverty, in order to pander to the myths of racist old people. Which doesn't actually seem very "kind" at all.

The police's "emissions-free fleet" strategy

Last year, just as the government was announcing plans for a carbon-neutral public service, the police announced they were buying new petrol-powered patrol cars. But they weren't ignoring the government's requirements, with Police Commissioner Andrew Coster quoted as saying "we are committed to reducing our carbon emissions and have outlined a 10-year plan to an emissions-free fleet."

He was lying.

I was curious about the plan, so I tried to request it under the OIA. In what has become a typical experience of requests from police, my request was extended "for consultations" ("between internal workgroups" to boot), then whizzed past its extended deadline, before being ultimately refused under s18(d) as it would "soon be publicly available". Naturally I complained to the Ombudsman, who has begun an investigation. And as part of this, today I received an attempt at an explanation from police. That "10-year plan to an emissions-free fleet" they big-noted about to the media in an effort to make it look like they were working with government policy rather than against it? It turns out it is only being developed. Worse, its not even very well-developed, and that development has been paused. Can I have the work that's been done so far? Of course not:

We are therefore unable to release a strategy that is under development, which could impact both the public's trust and confidence in Police and set unrealistic expectations with the public.
None of this is actually a lawful reason to withhold anything under the OIA, and I've made it clear that I expect the draft work to be released. But the police's willingness to simply make up the law to suit themselves in this area does not inspire confidence about the lawfulness of their behaviour in e.g. criminal matters.

Meanwhile, the lesson to journalists is clear: when the police refer to any report or strategy in public, ask for it. Because at least some of the time, they're lying, presenting unfinished work as complete to make themselves look good. Which is dishonest and unbefitting any New Zealand public agency.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Climate Change: Cut methane now

Farmers are our biggest source of climate pollution, being responsible for 48% of our emissions. Three quarters of their emissions come from methane, caused by burping cows and rotting cowshit. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but short-lived; its impact on global temperature over 20 years is 84 times higher than that of carbon dioxide (its impact when averaged over a century is "just" 28 times higher). Which means that if your goal is to reduce temperature and climate change impacts, the biggest short-term benefits come from cutting methane.

How big are those benefits? On Newsroom, Rod Oram reports on a UNEP/NOAA report which suggests they are staggering:

“The benefits that would come from reducing human-caused methane by 40-45 percent by 2030, a level consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal to keep warming to 1.5°C, are also quantified and they’re enormous. It would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by the 2040s and, each year from 2030 onward, prevent more than 250,000 premature deaths, more than 750,000 asthma-related hospital visits, more than 70 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and more than 25 million tonnes of crop losses globally.”

The Climate & Clean Air Coalition’s website lays out multiple ways to reduce methane from agriculture, fossil fuels and waste management. In agriculture, for example “rapid and large scale implementation of improved livestock feeding strategies” could reduce methane emissions from animals by 20 percent by 2030; and “full implementation of intermittent aeration of continually flooded rice paddies (known as alternate wetting and drying cultivation) could reduce emission from rice production by over 30 percent.”

In New Zealand, 90% of our methane is agricultural. So we could achieve this cut by halving cow numbers. Farmers act as if this would be apocalyptic, but it would merely reduce them back to where they were thirty years ago, before cows started completely destroying our landscape and our rivers. Which also both shows the clear environmental benefits of doing so, and highlights that we would be reversing an apocalypse, not causing one.

(There would also be economic benefits. According to SwissRe the difference between 1.5 and 3 degrees of warming is 10% of GDP. Which is more than the entire agricultural sector).

This goes well beyond what has been proposed by the Climate Change Commission - a 45% cut in methane is at the upper end of their 2050 target, which they seem to have no intention of meeting (can't offend the farmers after all). But it is what's necessary to mitigate this crisis. And any government which doesn't sign up for it is basicly committed to letting coastal New Zealand drown.

Government of kindness?

Remember John Campbell's "Feed the kids" campaign? Free school lunches are one of the most effective education policy interventions we can make, boosting attendance and improving learning outcomes. Currently the government funds them for the 25% of children living in the poorest areas of New Zealand. But poor kids whose schools aren't in South Auckland or Aranui or Highbury miss out. Newshub is pushing again for the programme to be expanded so that everyone gets fed. Jacinda Ardern's answer? No:

But despite overwhelming evidence free lunches work to keep students in school and learning, the Government won't commit to making it universal.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show although she, in principle, supports universal free school lunches, it's "a matter of prioritisation".

"I don't have a problem with unlimited lunches. I think that would be great... But I have to prioritise, and it is quite costly to roll out and I have to ask the question 'is that the next step for us?'"

The Government hasn't costed what it would take to provide free lunches across Aotearoa, but Ardern says the current program costs "hundreds of millions".

The current cost is $220 million to feed 200,000 children. According to Wikipedia there are around 760,000 schoolkids in New Zealand. So, quadruple it, and we're talking around $850 million. This is serious government money, but to put it in context, its less than the cost of a single road in Auckland - or just one of the gold-plated anti-submarine warfare aircraft the government is buying to prop up the American weapons industry.

Decisions on spending at this level are fundamentally about priorities. And Jacinda Ardern, who promised to "bring kindness back", would rather have pollution-boosting roads and war-toys for the generals than well-fed, well-educated kids. I guess she just has a different definition of "kindness" to the rest of us.