Friday, June 25, 2021



The economics of cleaning up Glenbrook

A couple of weeks ago I did a post on the economics of killing Huntly, essentially about how the government's internal carbon price of $150 / ton made a strong economic case for them to fund windfarms to put all coal and gas-fired power plants out of business. At the time, I did some thinking about the Glenbrook steel mill as well, and a new update on green steel production in Europe has prodded me into finally putting it in a post.

The Glenbrook steel mill is one of New Zealand's dirtiest emitters, producing over 1.6 million tons of CO2 a year. The cost to the government is even higher: weirdly, we subsidise it by 2.1 million tons a year. At the government's internal valuation, that's worth $315 million a year.

According to Bluescope Steel's 2020 annual report (p 66), the total value of their New Zealand assets - including Glenbrook, Pacific Steel (which processes some of Glenbrook's output), and the Waikato North Head ironsans mine - is $625 million. Its unclear if this is US or Australian dollars, but we're basicly in the ballpark of being able to buy the entire operation and shut it down for two years worth of subsidy. The mill employs 1400 people, so the effective carbon subsidy we are paying for these jobs is $225,000 per worker per year. We could buy it, kill it, pay everyone involved a quarter of a million dollars to find something else to do, and still be better off within four years. And because Glenbrook is one of the dirtiest steel plants in the world, producing over 2.5 tons of CO2 per ton of steel rather than the usual 2, the world would be better off even if we shut it down and moved to importing steel from overseas (so if BlueScope "threatens" to do so, we should be welcoming the move).

That's a pretty compelling case for shutting it down. But there's an alternative: modernising the plant to use hydrogen and electricity, rather than coal and natural gas. For a ballpark of the costs, the Swedish project is spending US$3 billion (~NZ$4.25 billion) to make a plant producing 5 million tons of clean steel a year. Glenbrook produces ~600,000 tons a year, so assuming the cost downscales (it won't, but its fine for a ballpark calculation), we could do this for around half a billion NZ dollars - or two years carbon subsidy. We'd also need a hydrogen production plant, and ~100MW of renewable generation to power it, but from the Huntly case, that's ~$300 million, or another years subsidy. So for a similar price to the kill price we could clean up the plant, keep the jobs, avoid social disruption, and make the global environment better off by helping to lead the way on clean steel production. And that seems like a pretty good deal to me. The problem is likely to be convincing BlueScope - but then, if they threaten to shut down in response to high carbon prices (which they are), offering cleanup funding in exchange for equity seems like an obvious move.

The government's hate speech proposals

Today the government released its proposals to criminalise hate speech. There's a full discussion document here, but the key change is to replace the current clause in the Human Rights Act with a wider one: The law would change so that a person who intentionally incites, stirs up, maintains or normalises hatred against any specific group of people based on a characteristic listed in Proposal One, would break the law if they did so by being threatening, abusive or insulting, including by inciting violence When I first read this in a news story this morning, I was worried by the presence of the word "insulting", because merely insulting people shouldn't be a criminal offence. But the first clause makes all the difference: this isn't about preventing offence, but about preventing hatred and social exclusion. As I noted when discussing the Human Rights Commission's initial report on the issue, laws against hate speech are about protecting people's right to participate in society and be themselves. Public insults and expressions of hatred can interfere with people's use of public space. If you can't go about your everyday business without being insulted and harassed, then that seems to be the sort of interference the law should protect against.

Exactly which characteristics will be protected is still up in the air, but it is going to be wider than the current grounds of "colour, race, or ethnic or national origins", and I'd expect it to at least include religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Religion is likely to be the most controversial of these: we don't want to re-establish blasphemous libel by the back door, or give a licence to religious fanatics to silence others (as they have attempted in the past). But I don't think it will be too difficult to craft appropriate legislation if the clear focus on the problem being inciting hatred and discrimination and preventing participation is maintained.

Also in the proposal: explicitly including gender expression and gender identity as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act. The government already considers these to be covered by the ban on discrimination on the basis of sex, but given the rise in anti-trans bigotry, has now come round to the position that this needs to be stated explicitly. The protection is something we should all welcome, and should make it crystal clear that this bigotry is unacceptable.

No confidence without transparency

On Tuesday, RNZ published a major story about the police killing of Shargin Stephens, which suggested that the police had engaged in a sustained campaign of their harassment against their victim, then lied to the IPCA about it, as well as manipulating evidence of the killing. The allegations are serious and deserve a full investigation. Now the Coroner has banned all future coverage of the story. Why? We're not allowed to know:

[The Coroner] said the reasons for his decision were set out in a separate minute but a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said that document was covered by the prohibition order so could not be released.
So any investigation of this police killing, or any decision on whether there even is an investigation, will be held in secret, with no reasons given. If they wanted to give the impression of a system protecting itself and its agents from scrutiny and accountability, they couldn't have done a better job. The problem is that, as with other secret trials, the public has no reason whatsoever to place any confidence in the verdict, and if the Coroner refuses to investigate, or clears the police in secret, it will just look like a corrupt stitch-up, and the smell will never go away.

We all know the saying: "justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done". Open justice isn't just about providing easy copy for the media; it is about ensuring public confidence in the outcome. Without transparency, there can be no confidence, and there will always be the suspicion that there was never any justice at all.

Thursday, June 24, 2021



Climate Change: Killing coal locally

If we are to avoid dangerous levels of climate change and making huge chunks of the Earth uninhabitable, we need to end fossil fuel use as quickly as possible. The International Energy Agency has recommended an immediate end to fossil fuel development. An obvious way to do this is by national policy, but that doesn't seem to be happening. But a group in Nelson is trying to do it locally as well:

A group of concerned citizens is calling on Nelson City Council and Tasman District Council to work with central government and industry to end coal use in Nelson Tasman by 2025.

[...]

The group calls on Nelson City Council and Tasman District Council to work with central government and industry toward three goals:

1. Prohibit new resource consents for coal use or mining, effectively immediately.

2. End all existing consents for coal use or mining by 2025.

3. Ensure adequate monitoring of all current coal users according to the conditions of the relevant resource consent.

How would they do that? By amending the appropriate RMA planning documents to make mining and burning coal prohibited activities. Ending existing consents will be harder, and may require legislation from central government, but if there is any provision for consents to be reviewed, that may be able to be used. The third is of course something local authorities should be doing anyway; if they're not, they're not doing their jobs properly.

This strategy isn't something that should be limited to Nelson and Tasman, however. All regional councils regulate coal burning through their air quality plans, so all of them can be pressured to shut down pollution at source. Mining is controlled by district councils (and mostly rural ones at that), but they can be pressured to. So, if your local authority is currently reconsidering its plans, get together with friends, and start applying pressure.

We need to fix the ETS again

The Emissions Trading Scheme is one of the government's key tools for driving reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. By putting a price on carbon, businesses face an incentive to reduce emissions, either by cleaning up or shutting down. Or at least, that's the theory. In practice, exemptions, subsidies, persistent low carbon prices, and just the irrationality of our business leaders and their preference for complaining rather than investment prevents it from functioning properly. It has certainly got better since Labour's last round of fixes, which have seen carbon prices rise. But its still broken.

One of the ways it is broken is the "cost containment reserve". Basicly, if the carbon price gets "too high", the government floods the market, rewarding polluters for their failure to keep emissions within the cap by allowing them to pollute more. The justification for this is to prevent social damage from a sudden spike in carbon prices, and you can see that that might apply if current prices, say, tripled over a very short space of time. But the actual price they've set is a mere $50 a ton, barely higher than the current price of $43.50. Worse, based on the results of yesterday's quarterly ETS auction - which saw the government sell carbon at $41.70, over $5 a ton higher than it did in March - it might not be too long before that price is exceeded. If this trend continues, we can expect the cost containment reserve to be triggered in December.

Having this happen would blow the carbon budget. Having it happen in the first year of ETS auctions suggests that the system is (still) a joke, a pretence of action designed to continue to reward polluters.

In its recent advice to the government, the Climate Change Commission had some recommendations on this:

The NZ ETS cost containment reserve trigger price should be set well above expected market prices. An initial step up in value, to mitigate risks that it will be triggered and add to the NZU stockpile, should be followed by annual increases to give a trajectory that allows for prices of at least $140 in 2030.
The government needs to act on this immediately. An immediate increase to $75 or $100 a ton, with scheduled increases of $10 a year, will give space for the market to operate properly and breathing room to see where the price will land. Unfortunately, the government has tied its hands: s30GB(5)(a) says that the Minister can only recommend an increase in the trigger price if it has already been triggered. We should not have to wait for disaster to happen in order to prevent it. Instead, the government should follow the advice of the Commission, and legislate urgently to maintain the integrity of the ETS, and of our environment.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021



End parliamentary secrecy

The Herald last night revealed that a National MP appears to be a thief:

A National Party MP faced allegations of inappropriate spending of taxpayer money – allegations the MP is refusing to front on and which Parliamentary Service refuses to discuss under the cone of silence that protects MPs.

Sources inside the National Party have told NZME that a staff member of the MP flagged a concern in the last term of Parliament, alleging items of furniture were bought out of the MP's taxpayer funds but did not appear in the office.

The items of furniture are understood to include a television.

The allegation was that the items went to the MP's home rather than their office.

It is also understood the cost of a sofa the MP bought for the office at Parliament was also questioned, and the MP was told to return it.

(The Whanganui Chronicle has since outed the MP as Harete Hipango, who is not popular with her National colleagues. Which explains why they're shanking her through the media...)

It is entirely appropriate that we pay to outfit MPs' offices. It is not acceptable for MPs to abuse this to line their own pockets. But a key problem here seems to be secrecy: Parliamentary Services simply won't talk, and is not covered by the Official Information Act, so can't be forced to. And as we see here, that lack of transparency leads to a lack of accountability and an apparent abuse of public money.

There is an easy fix for this: make Parliament subject to the OIA. That's what they did in the UK, and the result was the exposure of abuse, followed by many of the abusers being driven from office. But maybe that's exactly what our politicians are afraid of?

Pardoned

Four years ago, the Spanish government jailed nine Catalan leaders for the "crime" of advocating peacefully for independence. Now, it has pardoned them:

Spain’s prime minister has called for a new “era of dialogue and understanding” as his Socialist-led government pardoned nine Catalan independence leaders for their roles in the illegal, failed push for regional secession four years ago that plunged the country into its gravest political crisis in decades.

[...]

The beneficiaries of the pardons are: the former regional vice-president, Oriol Junqueras; the former regional government spokesperson, Jordi Turull; the former Catalan foreign affairs minister, Raül Romeva; the former regional territorial minister, Josep Rull; the former employment minister, Dolors Bassa; the former regional interior minister, Joaquim Forn; the former speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and the two influential civil society leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart.

All were found guilty of crimes including sedition and misuse of public funds and sentenced to terms of between nine and 13 years by Spain’s supreme court in October 2019. They were also banned from holding public office for periods matching their prison sentences.

But while the pardon will mean Spain's victims are released from jail, they will still be banned from office, so people will be banned from election for peacefully advocating their political views. The pardons can also be reversed if the victims "reoffend", which suggests that Spain's intention is for ongoing persecution, rather than an actual step forward. As for the recipients, Jordi Cuixart has said straight-out "we will persist". Spain is continuing judicial persecution in Catalonia, and this is so blatant that it has been condemned by the Council of Europe. If they want a new era of dialogue and understanding, then they need to offer more: a complete amnesty, compensation for their victims, and a referendum. And if they don't surrender the first two, their victims will get it from the ECHR instead.

Time to outlaw ecocide

We live in a time of historic ecological crisis, with the Earth on the verge of dangerous levels of anthropogenic climate change, threatening the ecology, food supplies, world peace, and the habitability of some of the most densely-populated parts of the planet. And while this is going on, some people are trying to actually make it worse for their own profit. Now, a group of laywers and diplomats are working to make that a crime in international law:

Legal experts from across the globe have drawn up a “historic” definition of ecocide, intended to be adopted by the international criminal court to prosecute the most egregious offences against the environment.

The draft law, unveiled on Tuesday, defines ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.

The Stop Ecocide Foundation initiative comes amid concerns that not enough is being done to tackle the climate and ecological crisis.

If adopted by the ICC’s members, it would become just the fifth offence the court prosecutes – alongside war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression – and the first new international crime since the 1940s when Nazi leaders were prosecuted at the Nuremberg trials.

This is something New Zealand should support. The environment needs protecting, and those who have worked to destroy it need to be punished. And for grave crimes of ecocide, an international venue is appropriate where national governments refuse to act. As for the definition, "wanton acts committed with knowledge" would seem to cover most fossil fuel executives and those profiting from deforestation, which seems entirely appropriate.

But beyond supporting this as a change in international law, New Zealand should also take steps to criminalise it in domestic law as well. Ecocide is a crime even if the international community refuses to recognise it. And it is time we treated it as such.

A slight relaxation of secrecy

The government has introduced a new Crown Minerals (Decommissioning and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. The bill is one of the products of the 2019-20 consultation on the Crown Minerals Act, and mostly addresses the problem of forcing oil companies to clean up their own mess, but it makes a number of other minor changes as well. Sadly, it does not repeal National's corrupt Anadarko Amendment, which attempted to outlaw protests against Big Oil, though it does introduce an infringement regime, so protestors might just get a ticket rather than a criminal conviction (which is still obviously bullshit, but less onerous). But it does make a minor amendment to the Act's secrecy regime, by allowing MBIE to proactively publish permit holder records and reports collected under s90. which given the scheme of the secrecy clause - which includes the usual permission to disclose information in performance of a function under the Act - makes you wonder why information collected under s90 is still included in it. After all, if the chief executive can publish it online whenever that want, what possible justification could there be for shielding it from the OIA?

Tuesday, June 22, 2021



An attack on parliamentary privilege

Today the Speaker referred the High Court judgement in Staples v Freeman to the Privileges Committee. Its not surprising. The court in its decision finds that a speech by Winston Peters in Parliament was defamatory. That seems to violate s11 of the Parliamentary Privilege Act 2014, which prohibits the courts from questioning or establishing facts on the basis of proceedings in Parliament. While it notes that Peters is protected by parliamentary privilege, it claims that "those who republish these statements outside Parliament, including Mr Peters, are not protected". This seems to ignore s17 and s19 of the Act, which protect broadcasts and fair reporting of parliamentary proceedings. It then assigns damages against the defendant for Peters' speech and a subsequent rebroadcast by Campbell Live, on the basis that the speech was effectively incited by the defendant. Again, this seems to violate the protections of parliamentary privilege. The decision was made after an undefended hearing, so privilege was never argued, but you'd still expect the judge to be aware of and appropriately cautious of it.

Parliamentary privilege exists so MPs can do their jobs. Holding their sources liable for what MP's say in parliament (and for subsequent reporting of those proceedings) seems to pose a pretty direct threat to that. To point out the obvious, no-one is going to expose wrongdoing to an MP if the cost is being bankrupted for doing so. So Parliament is right to be concerned. It is unclear whether they can intervene and appeal this decision; if not, or if it is upheld by the courts, I expect them to legislate immediately to overturn it.

The problem of police dishonesty

RNZ has a major story this morning about the police killing of Shargin Stephens in Rotorua in 2016. The "Independent" Police Conduct Authority of course cleared police of any wrong-doing, and found police actions "reasonable" and the killing justified. The police are now using that finding to prevent a coronial inquest into their actions. But RNZ's investigation has found that the police lied to the IPCA to blacken their victims name and paint him as "uncooperative" with bail checks, while also hiding the past involvement of his killers in what appears to be a sustained campaign of harassment. The investigation also raises questions about edited tasercam footage, where significant moments just before the killing appear to have been deleted. These alone should justify an independent investigation.

The problem of course is that the police, who have been shown already to have lied, may just lie to that as well. Though unlike the derisory penalties for lying to the IPCA, lying to the Coroner is actually perjury, punishable by 7 year's jail.

But I think this is part of a bigger problem: a culture of reflexive dishonesty among police. They lie to the IPCA, they lie to the public, they lie to Parliament, to protect themselves and their "reputation", seeming to think public trust can be maintained by deceit. It has the opposite effect. And yet, they keep doing it. So maybe its time for another inquiry into police culture, aimed at stamping out this culture of dishonesty, so we can have a police force capable of performing its basic functions with integrity, rather than what seems to be little more than a gang with better uniforms.

Against the militarization of space

RocketLab is a cool company. Its right there in the title: "rocket". As someone who loves space exploration and the knowledge it brings, I love the fact that they're launching from New Zealand, and I love the fact that they're planning to send probes to the Moon and Venus (and now Mars) to learn more about those places. But like many kiwis, I'm also deeply uncomfortable with their work for the US military and the use of New Zealand to launch payloads which aren't just for technological research, but which are actively part of the US military intelligence system and part of its kill chain. Fortunately, the Greens are now speaking up for us, and pushing a members bill to ensure that New Zealand isn't used as a launchpad for weaponising space:

The Green Party has drafted a member's bill that would stop companies like Rocket Lab launching "military hardware" into space.

Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono​, the party’s security and intelligence spokesman, announced the proposed legisation and attended a protest outside Rocket Lab’s Auckland headquarters on Monday.

Tuiono said, in a statement, that New Zealand’s space industry should not be “used by military actors to launch weaponry”, and the existing Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill had “so many gaps and grey areas”.

“Foreign military powers are literally launching rockets through it ... Launches from Mahia have carried at least 13 payloads for US military or intelligence agencies.

“The Government has a responsibility to make sure technologies sent into orbit from New Zealand soil do not assist other countries' armies to wage war.”

The bill is here, and bans any launch of "military hardware", defined as "weapons, equipment, machinery, or any other thing intended for use for military purposes by any armed force, paramilitary force, police force, or militia". A lot hangs on that term "military purposes", but it would seem to obviously include communications and intelligence collection, not just weapons. Note that there's no exclusion for New Zealand; NZDF is treated the same as the CIA. Which is fair enough: space should be used for peaceful purposes for the benefit of all humanity, not as a military base. And while other countries have based plenty of military hardware in space already, we can refuse to be part of the problem, and encourage other countries to join us in that commitment.

Monday, June 21, 2021



Incompatible regimes

The Official Information Act is our core transparency legislation. But its only covers central government. Local authorities are covered by the parallel Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, which duplicates most of the OIA's provisions, and adds in some stuff about local authority meetings as well. Since the government has been talking about (but not doing) OIA reform, I asked the Department of Internal Affairs whether there'd been any advice on reforming LGOIMA. Their response is here (released docs are here. The short answer is "not really", but its still interesting.

First there's some advice on changes in the 2015 Statutes Amendment Bill, including a change to the Act's purpose clause from "provide for" to "increase progressively" (as used in the OIA). Interestingly, the advice claims that "increase progressively" includes and is stronger than "provide for". Which is interesting in light of the "provided for" language of some older secrecy clauses.

Second, there's the embarrassing incident of the Local Government Regulatory Systems Amendment Act 2019, which changed the defintiion of "working day" in LGOIMA to make it inconsistent with the OIA. Astonishingly, the Department did not bother to consult the Ombudsman about this, who learned of the changes after the fact and was not happy about it. You could see this as a problem with DIA - who on past evidence just don't seem to think about transparency very much at all - but its also symptomatic of a wider problem within the public service, where each agency works within its own little silo, and doesn't stop to think about whether they should be fiddling with quasi-constitutional legislation. One document on the upcoming Statutes Amendment Bill has been withheld, and I'm wondering if they're planning to fix this, or if there are other alignments they need to make.

Thirdly, as part of the above, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta met with the Chief Ombudsman in July 2019 to discuss the issue. Also on her agenda was the Law Commission's 2012 recommendation to merge the OIA and LGOIMA, which Internal Affairs seemed keen to progress. While they did not provide any notes from the meeting, the cover letter for the request says "no decisions were made on these options and this work was not progressed". Which given that the Ministry of Justice had at the time just finished consulting on whether to have an OIA review and what shoudl be in it, suggests a huge missed opportunity for real reform.

Boris Berlusconi

Remember Silvio Berlusconi? Whenever the Italian courts seemed to be catching up to his corrupt behaviour as Prime Minister, he would just change the law to get himself off the hook. Well, now there's a new contender for the "self-serving abuse of power" title: Boris Johnson:

Boris Johnson is to strip the Electoral Commission of the power to prosecute law-breaking, just weeks after it launched an investigation into his controversial flat refurbishment.

The watchdog has been threatened with curbs ever since it embarrassed senior Tory figures by fining Vote Leave for busting spending limits for the Brexit referendum.

Now ministers have announced that a new Elections Bill will remove its ability to prosecute criminal offences under electoral law – arguing it “wastes public money”.

This is nakedly self-serving and corrupt. But isn't that what the Tories have always been about? Preserving the privilege and status of the establishment, especially the status of being "above the law"?

Friday, June 18, 2021



Cleaning up the fishing industry

The government is finally cleaning up the fishing industry, with cameras on boats and an end to high-grading, with an easier penalties regime to enforce it. Good. Because as we've seen over the years, the fishing industry is pervasively criminal, routinely violating the law on discarding fish and reporting bycatch. We've known the solution for years - actual enforcement and monitoring - but the government has been too chicken to do it. Now that has finally changed, and we should all be glad of it. Though there is the obvious question of why they're not doing it faster, rather than allowing some fishers to continue their criminal habits for years to come.

Climate Change: Auckland fails II

Last year, the Auckland Council passed a climate change plan, setting goals of halving emissions by 2030, and net-zero by 2050. So you'd expect their new transport plan to be consistent with that goal, right? Wrong:

The 10-year transport plan for Auckland has emerged from consultation with small changes, and with carbon emissions due to fall by only 1 per cent by 2031.

The Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), which is grinding its way towards final sign-off next week, still faces a challenge from the All Aboard climate coalition, for its failure to make a sufficient dent in emissions.

A climate change analyst believes Auckland’s transport emissions need to fall by 64 per cent by 2031, if the city is to deliver its promise in its Climate Plan of halving carbon emissions by then.

It could be worse: the draft version was planning to increase emissions rather than reduce them. But as most of the savings in the new version come from the cancellation of the government's Mill Rd motorway project, it seems that the Auckland Council isn't really even trying. And they need to, because we need a massive mode shift away from cars and towards actie and public transport, and local authorities have primary responsibility for that.

But if the Council won't do its job, the Zero carbon Act now gives us the tool to force them to do it. And it sounds like All Aboard Aotearoa and Lawyers for Climate Action are going to use it.

Thursday, June 17, 2021



Australia needs a Bill of Rights Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fallout

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 16, 2021



Let it die

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

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

More bigotry in Hungary

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

Institutionally corrupt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile there's this bit:

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

Tuesday, June 15, 2021



Inaction speaks louder than words

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

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

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

["ongoing reviews"? To the OIA!]

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

Monday, June 14, 2021



A long-overdue apology

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

Climate Change: The return of feebate

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

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

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

Government for sale again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 11, 2021



The police lied to Parliament

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

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

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

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

There was never an "emissions-free fleet" strategy

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

The economics of killing Huntly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 10, 2021



Another sign of MBIE's captivity

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

A republic is demographicly irresistable

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

NZRepublicPoll

There's a bit more on NewsHub here.

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

Good riddance to the Tasman Mill

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 09, 2021



Climate Change: Scammed

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

2018baseline

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

2019baseline

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

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

A mini-Official Secrets Act for the Reserve Bank

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: Committing to failure again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Member's Day

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

Tuesday, June 08, 2021



Self-inflicted "poverty"

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

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

[...]

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

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

Surrendered II

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

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

How much is the Greens' reputation worth?

$54,000, apparently:

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 04, 2021



Climate Change: Dereliction of duty

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is obscene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The change we need to see

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

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

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

Thursday, June 03, 2021



Climate Change: No wiggle room

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

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

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

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

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

An accomplice to war crimes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 02, 2021



This is what institutional racism looks like

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

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

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

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

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

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

We should not tolerate parties which tolerate this

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 01, 2021



NZDF gives the finger to the Burnham inquiry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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