Thursday, October 21, 2021



Barbados elects its first president

Barbados will officially become a republic at the end of November, and today they took an important step along the way: electing their first president. To make things easy on themselves in the transition, they simply elected their current Governor-General to the role:

Governor General Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first President.

Mason secured the support of all members of the House of Assembly and all but one Senator during a joint sitting of the legislature chambers on Wednesday.

Opposition Senator, Caswell Franklyn, walked out of the sitting after objecting to Mason's nomination as Barbados' first President on Independence Day, November 30.

Meanwhile, New Zealand had the spectacle of watching a kiwi being forced to swear allegiance to a foreign monarch to be her local representative. "Our" effective head of state doesn't actually work for us. And that's a good reason to follow Barbados' path, ditch the monarchy, and finally be truly independent.

Labour's sneaky copyright deal

The big news this morning is that the government has reached an in-principle FTA with the UK, with the usual benefits for farmers (and therefore incentives to increase emissions). The wisdom of making an agreement with a government which literally admitted last week that it makes agreements in bad faith with no intention to stick to them is highly questionable. But there's another reason to oppose this: Because Labour has sneakily screwed the rest of us:

New Zealand has also agreed to bolster its copyright laws. Performer and artists' rights will be expanded, and a further 20 years added to copyright terms. This means, for instance, an artist can expect to retain copyright of their work for 70 years after their death, instead of the current 50 years.
What this means in practice: major works expected to come out of copyright in the next decade, like Tolkien, Wodehouse, and Christie (to name a few high-profile foreign examples) or James K Baxter and Bruce Mason (the obvious local ones) won't. This not only robs us of the wider use of those works, but also of the opportunity to build on them (which is part of what culture is: building on what has gone before). That's a real cultural cost, effectively a theft from our society. In terms of financial costs, the government looked at the question of an extended copyright term when the US was trying to foist it on us as part of the TPPA and found it would come at significant cost:
However, New Zealand is a significant net importer of copyright works so extending the copyright term is likely to come at a significant net cost. Any missed royalties to New Zealand copyright holders as a result of the phase-in are likely to be dwarfed by the savings to New Zealand consumers and second-generation creators as a result of lower royalty payments to overseas copyright holders.
The costs were so bad that when MBIE started reviewing copyright a few years later - a process which is still supposed to be ongoing - it took extending the term off the table from the outset as "we do not consider that extending the copyright term would bring net benefits to New Zealand" and said that it "would need to become aware of compelling evidence to the contrary to have us reconsider this position". I guess the new "compelling evidence" was that "Boris asked for it".

We should never agree to any trade deal which extends copyright terms, or otherwise introduces US copyright bullshit. And if that's the cost of an agreement with the (double-dealing, dishonest UK), we should tell them to fuck off.

Drawn

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

  • Education and Training (Freedom of Expression) Amendment Bill (James McDowall)
  • Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Bill (Deborah Russell)
  • Financial Professional Services Trading Advice Transparency Bill (Barbara Kuriger)
  • Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill (Ian McKelvie)
  • Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill (Greg O’Connor)
So, mostly boring, apart from Deborah Russell's bill, which will be a definite improvement. National's Melissa Lee had a bill in the ballot today to protect contact tracing data, but it wasn't drawn. This is a complex area of policy, and the bill probably needs work, but a select committee process would have ironed out any bugs.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021



Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and there's an interesting bill up for debate for once. But they'll have to get through a lot of boring stuff first. First up is Simeon Brown's Arms (Firearms Prohibition Orders) Amendment Bill (No 2), which should go quickly as it has been overtaken by government policy. Next is Maureen Pugh's Freedom Camping (Infringement Offences and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, which should be voted down after receiving a negative BORA vet. Following that is Ginny Andersen's Crimes (Child Exploitation Offences) Amendment Bill, which as a Labour bill will go to select committee. Then there's the main event, Louisa Wall's Protection of Journalists’ Sources Bill, which I'm looking forward to - the bill will be a significant improvement on the status quo and help prevent future abuses of power like the Hager raid. Finally, if the House moves quickly it may make a start on Rachel Boyack's Plain Language Bill. There will be a ballot for at least two bills tomorrow.

Justice for Brazil?

Brazil has been one of the countries worst-hit by the pandemic, with over 21 million confirmed cases and 600,000 deaths. Much of the blame for that can be squarely laid at the feet of its president, Jair Bolsonaro, who put the economy first and let the disease spread unchecked, while opposing mask-wearing and vaccination and denying the disease was serious. Hundreds of thousands died as a result of his choices. And now, Brazil's Senate says he should be prosecuted for it:

The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, should face murder charges for his role in the country’s “stratospheric” coronavirus death toll, a draft report from a senate inquiry into Brazil’s Covid crisis has recommended.

The 1,078-page document, published by Brazilian media on Tuesday afternoon, is not due to be voted on by the commission until next week and could yet be modified by senators.

But the draft text paints a devastating portrait of the neglect, incompetence and anti-scientific denialism many believe has defined the Bolsonaro administration’s response to a public health emergency that has killed more than 600,000 Brazilians.

Bolsonaro’s “deliberate and conscious” decision to delay buying Covid vaccines needlessly condemned thousands of citizens to early graves, the report claims.

Bolsonaro is an extreme case, but he's not the only leader whose deliberate choices or depraved indifference caused mass-death (Boris Johnson is another good example). And these people should be held accountable for those choices, through criminal prosecution under domestic or international law. Its not like its a foreign concept in our constitutional tradition - Charles I was tried and executed for exactly this (his chosen means of causing mass-death being war).

So hopefully Brazil will follow through, and charge and try Bolsonaro. Even if a trial results in an acquittal, it would set a useful precedent for political accountability, and hopefully make politicians more cautious before choosing mass death over saving lives.

Monday, October 18, 2021



The Entrust election

Auckland is holding elections for EnTrust, its local electricity trust. Entrust is important - it owns electricity and gas-supplier Vector, and so the decisions it makes around energy infrastructure could make a significant difference to greenhouse gas emissions. But the elections have traditionally been ignored, so its run by CitRats climate change deniers who focus infrastructure spending on their own neighbourhoods and leave the rest of Auckland to rot.

But this time round, there's a bunch of people who want to change that:

A new grouping of climate activists, venture fund leaders, consultants and an urban designer, seeks to control the trust which owns most of lines company Vector, in a shake-up of the traditionally low-polling election.

None of the five-strong team with the banner More for You, Better for Climate have political backgrounds, and they hope to end the centre-right Communities and Residents’ (C&R) dominance of Entrust.

The group sees Vector as an under-performing player in the transition to a low-carbon economy, and one that could deliver big benefits to Aucklanders in reducing energy poverty, and cutting spending on fossil fuels.

More for you, Better for Climate hopes to tap into advocacy and younger networks to broaden participation in October’s three-yearly election, which in 2018 drew a turnout of only 12.4 per cent.

They're promising to increase distributions, but also to push Vector to drive decarbonisation, using solar panels, batteries, and EV charging stations. And its that push for change, to destroy the high-carbon status quo, which is the important part. So if you live in Auckland, and care about the climate, I urge you to vote for them, and throw the CitRats out.

And if you don't live in Auckland? You'll get your turn soon enough. Because EnTrust isn't alone - most of Aotearoa's local lines companies are owned by similar local trusts. You can find your one here. And if MFYBFC is successful, then the obvious step is to try and replicate that success elsewhere. Kapiti / Horowhenua, King Country, Marlborough, Northland, Waitaki, and the West Coast are all having elections next year, some as early as April. So if MFYBFC is successful, we should hopefully see similar tickets emerge in those places too.

(In Palmerston North, the Central Energy Trust sold out in 2001, and now its just a self-perpetuating oligarchy sitting on a pile of cash which they dole out as community grants. So no elections here, unfortunately).

Argentina returns the favour

In the early 2000s, Argentinian victims of the Dirty War, denied justice due to a local amnesty, sought justice in Spanish courts, who obligingly convicted agents of that country's dictatorship of crimes against humanity under Spain's "universal jurisdiction" law. But Argentina wasn't the only country with a repressive dictatorship which engaged in crimes against humanity and then wrote itself an amnesty: Spain was like that too! And now, Argentina's courts are returning the favour, indicting a former Spanish Minister forf murder for their role in the Franco regime's crimes:

An Argentinian judge investigating cases that happened during the Franco dictatorship in Spain has indicted a former Spanish minister on four counts of homicide.

Judge Maria Servini de Cubria, sitting in Buenos Aires, issued the ruling against Rodolfo Martín Villa, 87, interior minister between 1976 and 1979.

The judge wrote that she considered Martín Villa “the prima facie perpetrator criminally responsible for the crime of aggravated homicide, repeated on at least four occasions, of which Pedro María Martínez Ocio, Romualdo Barroso Chaparro, Francisco Aznar Clemente and Germán Rodríguez Saíz were victims”.

This is good: the crimes of the Franco regime are still unaddressed, thanks to their self-serving amnesty, and it has allowed fascist attitudes to persist throughout their government. In Argentina, international trials helped open the door for rejection of the amnesty and for justice to be delivered at home. And hopefully the same will happen with Spain.

Climate Change: A good move, but not enough

The government has announced that it will quadruple climate aid to developing nations, from $300 million to $1.3 billion over four years. This is good: "climate finance" - aid to developing nations to decarbonise and offset the damage caused by rich-country emissions - is going to be a flashpoint at COP26, thanks to rich countries' effectively reneging on their previous promises, and it looks like we'll at least be doing our bit there. And unlike some countries, Aotearoa will probably actually pay it, rather than announce funding which mysteriously never arrives.

At the same time, what really matters is actual emissions cuts, and on that front we're a foot-dragger, with a weak target (one which relies on buying "offsets" from other countries to boot), and constantly special pleading to protect our dirty agricultural industry. The emissions reduction consultation last week effectively abandoned ambition, allowing higher emissions while ignoring agriculture. If we want to actually do our bit, we need to do better than this, with strong commitments for real emissions cuts, including a 30% reduction in agricultural methane by 2030. Shaw has said he will be taking a stronger target to Glasgow, but given Labour's past performance, I'm not expecting anything other than the usual disappointment.

Friday, October 15, 2021



Climate Change: Another legal victory

Across the world climate change activists have been going to court, seeking to make their governments act to protect future generations. And hot on the heels of victories in the Netherlands and Germany, there's been another one in France:

A French court has ordered the government to make up for its failure to meet its own greenhouse gas reduction targets, saying it needed to “repair” the emissions overshoots.

Four NGOs backed by a petition signed by 2.3 million people took the French state to court in 2019 in what they called “the case of the century”, asking the judges to rule on the government’s alleged climate target shortcomings between 2015 and 2018.

The Paris administrative court on Thursday found France emitted 15m tonnes of CO2-equivalent beyond its targets over that period.

It ordered the prime minister, Jean Castex, and his government to take measures “to repair the damage” caused by the failure to compensate for the excess emissions.

The court gave a deadline of 31 December 2022 to set things right, leaving the methods to achieve this up to the government.

The obvious method is for France to emit 15 million tons less next year, or buy 15 millions tons of EU-ETS credits and shred them. At current prices the latter would cost them around 900 million Euro. Which means that the court-ordered penalties for failure of 78 million Euro every six months are an order of magnitude too small to provide an incentive.

Note that Aotearoa's climate law specifically forbids this. Our government refuses to be accountable under the law if it fails to meet its obligations. Which is effectively a declaration of criminal intent.

Thursday, October 14, 2021



Climate Change: UKanians supports cuts

The Guardian reports a study on emissions reduction policy from the UK, which found that UKanians overwhelmingly support stronger action than their government:

The UK public backs a carbon tax on polluting industries, higher levies on flying and grants for heat pumps in order to tackle the climate crisis, according to the biggest analysis of policy preferences ever published.

Almost 22,000 people chose their favoured mix of policies to hit the government’s 2030 target for emissions cuts. A speed limit of 60mph on motorways and a campaign to reduce meat eating by 10% were also among the most popular measures, all of which had between 77% and 94% public support.

The public went further than the government, choosing to surpass the current carbon target by 3%. Age, location and political leaning made little difference to the policy choices, the researchers found, with an “overwhelming consensus” for strong and fair climate action.

The policy mix was chosen through an online calculator which let users tweak the settings on six main policies with an explicit goal of meeting or exceeding the UK's stated climate target. There's an aspect of push-polling here, both in the policies chosen (why those, and not others?) and in the stated aim, though it also says upfront that some people may not agree with that goal, and it certainly gives data on policy preferences from among the policies on offer.

This seems like something that could be done in Aotearoa as part of the required consultations for our emissions reduction plan (though even with the delay, its probably too late to do it for this budget). There are obvious variables that can be tweaked - ETS unit supply, bringing agriculture in, stocking limits, EV uptake - and there's a good domestic example from the Transport 2030 Auckland emissions calculator. And it would certainly give useful feedback on what rough sort of policy mix people preferred, as well as showing people how easy or hard some types of cuts are.

Labour's 2023 election manifesto

This morning Health Minister Andrew Little effectively unveiled Labour's 2023 election manifesto: 5,000 cases a week in Auckland alone:

Thousands of people will be infected with Covid-19 every week even with vaccination levels at 90 per cent, and hospitals face being overwhelmed once restrictions are eased and borders opened, the Government says.

Modelling showed there could be up to 5200 Covid cases a week – just in the Auckland and Northland region - at 90 per cent vaccination rates, Ministry of Health chief medical officer Andrew Connolly said on Thursday. The figure doesn’t include the rest of the country south of the Bombay Hills.

[...]

Between 0.2 and 0.4 per cent of Delta patients will be sick enough to need to stay in the intensive care unit, while the others may need a “short, sharp burst” of hospital-level care with special masks to give high doses of oxygen, he said.

Plus an unstated level of long Covid and deaths. And thanks to the structural racism of our vaccination rollout and health system, most of that burden will fall on Labour's core voters in South Auckland.

This is a nightmare scenario, completely unacceptable to the New Zealand public. But instead of treating it as a warning, something to be avoided, Labour are running headlong into it, promising to open borders and make it happen if vaccination levels are "high enough". Whereas the message I take from this is that 90% isn't high enough, and that we can't even think about opening up until we have much higher coverage (and/or the rest of the world gets their outbreaks under control).

In political terms, Covid is the biggest political game in town ATM, so this is basicly what Labour will be running on in 2023: not "keeping us safe" (as they ran on in 2020) but "5,000 cases a week". Which is a pretty bold political play. Ditto effectively promising to kill their own core voters in South Auckland. But the core problem now is that Labour's Covid policy is no longer being driven by the ethic of keeping everyone alive, but one of pandering to the big business death cult. And I don't think that's going to be seen as acceptable by voters.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021



Climate Change: Abandoning ambition

When Labour was first elected to power in 2017, they promised us "[an] ambitious plan to take real action on climate change". Four years and a lot of foot-dragging later, they've finally released that plan. And its not what was promised.

Where to begin? Firstly, they've taken the Climate Change Commission's budget (which had already been weakened) and weakened it further, giving themselves an additional two million tons of pollution in the 2022-25 period. The "justification" for this is that the latest Afforestation and Deforestation Intentions Survey showed that "landowners and forest managers [plan] to increase afforestation and decrease deforestation". That's right - they're planning to raise the budget because people are planting too many trees and soaking up too much carbon.

There is a very weak argument here. Yes, forests have lower soil carbon than grassland (however, they have much, much higher above-ground carbon). How much? The numbers are in table 6.3.2 of the 2019 Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The difference, which will be released over a number of years, is 14 tons / hectare. If we ignore the fact that this will be compensated entirely within the first three years of growth, and apply that number to the government's budget increase of two million tons means it would allow over 140,000 hectares of afforestation. How much extra afforestation does the survey project in the first five years? Looking at the table on p9, and subtracting off the Climate Commission's baseline of 25,400 hectares a year [p72] gives a total of 26,200 hectares. So even if we accept their "afforestation is bad!" argument and count only one side of the ledger while ignoring the other - which we shouldn't - their numbers don't add up. They're giving themselves five times as much carbon as they need! (Alternatively, they're ignoring the Climate Commission's base case, which means their numbers still don't add up).

Another point worth noting here is that forest owners aren't the only people with intentions. This year the Tasman Mill - 250,000 tons of pollution a year - has closed, while the Marsden Point oil refinery has announced plans to shut down. The Emissions Reduction Plan (footnote, p 12) estimates the impact of that at 2.5 million tons of carbon over the first budget period, which combined with the million tons over four years from the Tasman Mill more than offsets any piffling concerns about soil carbon from trees. But like I said, they're looking at one side of the ledger but not the other. The over-riding concern here I think is to give themselves a high first budget so it will be met, so they can declare the policy a success. But the overall impact is to abandon ambition and push the problem out and leave it for future governments. Which is what they've done all along.

Secondly, as has been widely reported, the plan basicly ignores agriculture. This is our biggest source of pollution, and a source of methane, a gas we need to cut immediately to limit heating. And the government's "plan" for doing this is to rely on the He Waka Eke Noa partnership (which is all about delaying action), and of course that old staple "research" (which is also about delaying action). There are real policies they could pursue here: stocking limits, a shrinking cap on cow numbers (enabled by data from the NAIT system), even limiting low-value dairy exports. Instead, they're just going to let them keep on polluting as if there is no problem, while the rest of the country pays for it. And that alone means it is not a credible plan.

There are apparently some good suggestions in there for transport, but given the above issues, there seems little point in engaging with them. We cannot reduce our emissions unless we do something about agriculture. As long as we continue to ignore the giant cow in the room, then we will continue to fail.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021



The Data and Statistics Bill and the OIA

The government introduced a new Data and Statistics Bill today to modernise and replace the 45-year old Statistics Act. Part of the Bill re-enacts the existing confidentiality regime (with one exception), which while a secrecy clause isn't an especially controversial one. Another part is aimed at removing "outdated" (inconvenient) limits on the use of data, which seems to be all about freeing the IDI to extract "value" from correlating people's personal information. One of the clauses here allows Statistics to pass on personal information collected from one agency to another agency, which raises serious concerns about consent-laundering and information being used for purposes other than those consented to by the individuals who provided it (which may in turn result in increased reluctance to provide information at all where it can be avoided). But the clause I'm most concerned about is that it makes a direct amendment to the Official Information Act, to exclude from the definition of "official information"

information provided to the Government Statistician solely for research by or on behalf of an individual or [non-public-sector] organisation
What's this clause for? The explanatory note doesn't say. What information is it intended to protect? That's not clear either. It may be intended to protect census information, or information provided by other agencies for research purposes, and there's obviously a case to be made there given the sensitivity of such information. But Statistics doesn't make that case, or offer any explanation of what this is intended to do, or why the existing confidentiality regime (which currently protects things like census data from disclosure under the OIA) is considered insufficient. And that's simply not good enough. The OIA is constitutional legislation. Amending it in a substantive manner - and excluding information from its reach is certainly substantive - or otherwise limiting or over-riding it deserves to be treated as more than an afterthought.

Monday, October 11, 2021



Climate Change: Real action requires government

Over the weekend someone pointed me at a journal article on "The Poverty of Theory: Public Problems, Instrument Choice, and the Climate Emergency". Its a US law journal article, so is a) very long; and b) half footnotes (different disciplines have different norms), but the core idea is that the focus on emissions trading as an (ideologically) perfect solution for climate change causes us to view the problem in a particular way: as one merely of prices. This narrowed view in turn prevents us from pursuing other options (because they're not as good at fixing prices, according to the strapped-chicken models NeoLiberal economists use), and prevent us from seeing the problem in other ways.

Aotearoa has a particularly virulent strain of this disease. The NeoLiberal takeover in the 80's meant that when the government started looking at what is now our biggest environmental problem (and arguably our biggest problem, period, if we can get past Covid), it fixated early on the inherent framing of prices and so on an ETS. Which it then dithered and dragged its feet on (including a sidetrek into a carbon tax) for fifteen years, before finally enacting the broken, rorted, pork-larded system we suffer under at present. Which still doesn't include our biggest polluter, agriculture. On the way, these fanatics systematically undermined and ruled out any other policies which could have addressed the problem - such as pollution limits under the RMA, or efficiency standards for vehicles, or prohibitions on particularly polluting forms of technology - because they would be less "efficient" than the ideal system which at the time existed only in their imaginations. And while the government has finally moved away from this extremism and begun adopting a balanced, European-style model where an ETS is one policy of many, those fanatics are still screaming "heresy" and "apostate!" from the sidelines.

But its the framing issue which is most interesting. Emissions trading is rooted in an ideological view that government is bad and its job is merely to create and regulate markets, which should be left to get on with whatever it is they do (creating inequality and corruption and destroying the planet, mostly). But this isn't at all how Kiwis think of our government - we think its there to solve our problems, whatever they are. Likewise, very few people outside the NeoLiberal cult think that climate change is merely a problem of prices. Instead, its a problem of too much carbon, of inappropriate technology and land use, of capitalism, an immediate and existential threat to human civilisation. And each of these framings suggests different ways of solving the problem: limit carbon; use regulation and government investment to shift to clean technology; destroy (or regulate to within an inch of its life) capitalism to remove the cancerous growth imperative; and use a war footing to do all of the above, because this isn't something we can piss about on anymore. And all of that requires government, not just a market.

Climate Change: Not doing our bit

Last month the US and EU announced they would push an agreement to cut methane emissions by 30% (from 2020 levels) by 2030 at the upcoming climate change conference in Glasgow. The good news is that New Zealand is looking at joining it. The bad news is that that won't actually result in any emissions cuts:

New Zealand is “actively considering” joining other countries in a pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 – despite intending cuts of only 10-12 per cent at this point.

Countries are allowed to join the pledge even if they don’t plan on meeting the 30 per cent target themselves, because the goal is collective, not individual, the European Commission has confirmed.

So we're going to sign up for the PR, but let other countries do the heavy lifting, while claiming we're special and shouldn't have to. It's thirty years of climate change policy in miniature. But with the world getting hotter and hotter, we need more than excuses. Given methane's massively disproportionate impact on heating - 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over twenty years, and 110 time more powerful over ten - the best way to stop temperatures from rising and the planet from burning is to cut it as deeply and as quickly as possible. And that means cutting cows.

Friday, October 08, 2021



Repeal this unjust law

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled on National's unjust "three strikes" law, and found that the sentence it required was (in the case in question) so disproportionate as to "shock the conscience" and violate the Bill of Rights Act ban on disproportionately severe treatment or punishment:

The Supreme Court has rejected a seven-year prison sentence for a mentally ill man convicted in 2018 of trying to kiss a stranger on a Wellington street without her permission - describing the man's maximum sentence as one that "shocks the conscience".

Daniel Clinton Fitzgerald's sentence - which has attracted plenty of attention over the years because of its reliance on the controversial three-strikes law - will now return to the High Court for him to be sentenced "in accordance with ordinary sentencing principles, taking into account his significant mental health issues".

This is good, and it sets limits around the use of the law in future. And hopefully the victim of this injustice will finally receive the care they need and be compensated for the excessive sentence they have already served. But the government needs to go further. It has already promised to repeal this unjust law twice, in 2017 (when it was thwarted by NZ First) and in 2020 (when it was free of them). Now it needs to follow through. Laws requiring disproportionate sentences have no place on our statute books, and the sooner it is repealed, the better.

Climate Change: Preparing for the flood

The Christchurch City Council has published new "coastal hazards" data, indicating which places are under threat from sea-level rise. And its not good news:

Parts of Christchurch and Banks Peninsula are likely to become unhabitable [sic] as the city council figures out how to adapt to sea level rise.

From Friday, residents will be able to see how their individual properties could be affected by rising sea levels using a new online tool launched by the Christchurch City Council.

[...]

About 25,000 properties in coastal and low-lying areas across the city and Banks Peninsula are at risk of flooding or erosion due to predicted sea level rise over the next 120 years, according to the assessment.

You can view the interactive map here. While it doesn't cover the central city area (which is also under threat), it makes it crystal clear that Christchurch is going to be a very different place in a hundred years, and a lot of its current coastal areas will simply be gone. Even looking at the 30-year timetable, to 2050, there are significant areas of Sumner and New Brighton facing regular inundation. And that's assuming we don't get any tipping point events (which can't be ruled out).

And Christchurch is just one example. Cities all over Aotearoa face this problem, and will need to prepare. The best way of preparing is to end coastal development, so we're not building anything new simply to be washed away. And we'll need to follow that up with other planning changes to ensure that people eventually move out of these areas and to higher ground. Unfortunately, what's likely to happen is what happened in Christchurch five years ago when the council last tried to deal with this threat: rich coastal property owners threatening legal action so as to bully the council into suppressing this information (thus preserving their inflated and artificially high property values, while giving them time to find a sucker to dump the mess on).

Thursday, October 07, 2021



Climate Change: More dishonesty over the CCR

Last month the Emissions Trading Scheme turned into a farce, when the government flooded the market with credits in a failed and wasteful attempt to Keep Carbon Prices Low. When I asked about the background of this policy Climate Change Minister James Shaw sent me one of the most egregious "fuck you" responses to an OIA request I have ever seen:

I am withholding the remaining eight documents including the titles under section 18(d) of the Act because the information is or will soon be publicly available.
Another OIA later, and the titles have finally been released, and you can read the documents themselves here. So what didn't Shaw want me to see? Probably the advice in this paper that, having given assurances that any release of credits from the cost-containment reserve would be backed by emissions reductions elsewhere, actually the government doesn't think it needs to do that after all:

NoBackingCCR

This is strictly, legally true. It is also exactly the sort of self-serving, "within the rules" bullshit that brings politicians into disrepute, undermines the credibility of our climate change policy, and which Shaw was supposed to put an end to in this area. Its especially dishonest and self-serving because the reason we don't have an emissions budget for 2021 is because the government legislated that there wouldn't be one. Meanwhile, the 7 million tons of pollution they have just allowed are real, and will be emitted at some stage over the lifetime of the ETS. So if the government wants the system to have any credibility, it needs to back them, ideally by ripping the full 7 million tons straight out of the 2022 and 2023 budgets. And if they can't do that by regulation, they should do it by legislation, at the same time as they abolish their failed price cap policy entirely.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021



Climate Change: The CCR was a huge waste of money II

Last month, in the wake of the September carbon auction, I talked about how the government's policy of flooding the market with a "cost containment reserve" of an extra 7 million tons of pollution in an effort to keep carbon costs low was a huge waste of money. Ministry for the Environment has now released their auction monitoring report, so we can see exactly how big a waste of money it was. The "interim clearing price" - pre-CCR - was $57 / ton. The final clearing price - post-CCR - was $53.85. So the government's flooding of the market saved polluters all of $3.15 a ton, or (when multiplied by the original auction volume of 4.75 million tons) just under $15 million.

The government values carbon internally at $150 / ton. So the social cost of that extra 7 million tons of pollution they have allowed is $1.05 billion. Or about 70 times more than the amount of money they saved, a benefit-cost ratio of 0.014. Which is even worse than the proverbial Auckland motorway, previously the rule-of-thumb for "waste of money".

While carbon prices have now settled at $64.50, that's just short of the 2022 CCR trigger price of $70/ton. So there's every chance that this tremendous polluting waste will be repeated next year. And possibly the year after that. The policy conclusion is simple: the CCR must be repealed.

Climate Change: Not keeping their promises

One of the big steps forward in climate change policy was when cabinet started demanding climate change assessments of policy, so when they built that road or changed energy or farm policy, they'd know what they were doing and be able to make an informed decision (and if not, one that could be legally challenged). So are they keeping to this promise? Of course not:

Cabinet granted $390 million to support more than 8,800 international flights, without getting an assessment of how much the policy would heat the climate.

[...]

A Cabinet circular says a CIPA disclosure is required for proposals likely to create at least 0.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) within the first ten years – a threshold one expert on aviation’s climate impact said was likely to have been crossed in this case.

Asked why a CIPA wasn’t done, Woods responded with an emailed statement saying Covid-19 had pushed the number of weekly flights down by three-quarters from pre-pandemic levels, that air freight was being carried more efficiently now than it was pre-Covid (because with few passengers, airlines can carry the same amount of products on fewer flights), and that over the last 18 months, airlines had largely retired their older, less efficient aircraft.

When Stuff suggested to a spokesperson for Wood that the intention of a CIPA was to compare the climate impact of a policy with the real-world situation if the policy isn’t adopted (not to compare the impact of a policy with the pre-pandemic situation), the spokesperson re-iterated that a CIPA was not needed because aviation emissions were down on pre-pandemic conditions.

The decision to keep planes flying to Aotearoa during the pandemic is probably a good one. Those planes carry kiwis home and help deliver vaccines and other vital supplies after all. But the excuse for not carrying out a climate change assessment is particularly weak, and smacks of either an agency which just doesn't get it, or a Minister wanting to avoid the inevitable bad headline over how many millions of tons of pollution he has enabled. And the delivery of that excuse is just the usual dishonest spin. This falls well below the standard of governance we should expect on this issue.

A useful ruling

As readers may be aware, I (and everyone else) have been having a growing problem with OIA extensions for "consultations". They're being used by agencies to juke the stats, scam extra time, and cover up administrative failure. So I've taken up complaining about them. And last night, I got a very useful ruling from the Ombudsman:

As Mr O’Neill explained in the provisional opinion, consultation on a request for official information is distinct from the decision on that request. The OIA requires a department, through its chief executive or an authorised officer or employee, to decide whether to grant a request. Employees of a department may be asked to gather information and form a proposed response to an OIA request and to put that before a decision-maker. In such cases, a department may put in place processes to ensure the quality of proposed responses and to keep others within the department informed about what might be released. However, an agreed review and sign-out process of this kind is not ‘consultation’. It is an extension of the decision-making process itself undertaken on the decision-maker’s behalf. Their actions cannot be regarded as separate from those of the decision-maker.
[Emphasis added]

Or, in short, "no, your ordinary decision-making process is not 'consultation', and you can't pretend it is to scam extra time".

I'm trying to get the Ombudsman to publish this decision as a case-note, so its more widely available (and in particular, available to agencies). In the meantime, the notification of it, with excerpt, is on DocumentCloud, so requesters can use it whenever an agency says "internal consultations" in future.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021



The electoral law review

This morning the government announced an "independent" review of electoral law, to look at "changes to the voting age, the three-year Parliamentary term, funding of political parties, overseas voting and Electoral Commission recommendations on MMP". My feelings about this are... complicated.

Firstly, an independent review of the voting age would be a very good thing, and would hopefully lead to a reduction. But linking it implicitly to a four-year term is really making it a shit sandwich, and casts doubt on the whole exercise. The government has made clear its enthusiasm to be less accountable to the people (which is what a four-year term means), so they're basicly saying this "review" will be of the strapped-chicken variety, with the reviewers carefully chosen to produce the outcome they want. As for the Electoral Commission recommendations, we've already had a review of those, so the government throwing them in is basicly a way of putting off doing anything about them (an outcome I don't mind, because those recommendations would make our parliament less representative, but its slimy and dishonest. OTOH Labour originally supported that package, though that was three leaders ago, so this suggests they've changed their mind. Still slimy and dishonest though, because there's obviously something they've changed it to, which they should be up-front about). As for overseas voting, its inclusion in the review is a clear signal that the government doesn't care about the pandemic's disenfranchisement of kiwis trapped overseas.

But then there's the report-back date: "late 2023" according to the government PR, with changes to be implemented for the 2026 election. Which means a) the government is ruling out a referendum on term-length at the 2023 election (and perhaps entirely, something which would be completely illegitimate); and b) they're perfectly happy for young people to be disenfranchised (and political parties to be corrupt) for another five years. "Transformative"? My arse.

Is it worth engaging with such an exercise in bad faith? Well, the presence of the voting age means I will have to - not doing so would betray young people. But the other stuff means I'm not going to feel happy about it. Participation takes time and energy, which is a limited resource. The government demanding it so it can launder its pre-determined policy and say it has had "public consultation" is just abusive. "Consultation" you were always going to ignore isn't (see also: any national security law with an "abbreviated" select committee process).

It is obvious from the above that I do not trust this process, and I do not trust politicians to make these decisions with party and self-interest corrupting the process entirely. So what process would I like to see? IMHO, the only truly independent review would be one carried out by appropriately supported, randomly-selected citizens: a citizen's jury.

Monday, October 04, 2021



Surrendering to the virus

So, having saved us from Covid for 18 months, our government has just surrendered to the virus, announcing a "transition plan" to loosen restrictions while Covid is still spreading in the community. This is exactly the sort of insanity which has led to outbreaks and mass death in the UK and NSW, and there's no reason to think it will end any differently here.

I'm just glad I don't live in Auckland (and glad that there will still be a hard border to slow the coming shitshow's spread to the rest of Aotearoa). But I'm also sorry for everyone who lives there. You deserved better than this. And you deserve a government which will keep you safe, rather than sacrificing your lives for a pack of greedy whiners.

I'm also personally fucked off, because when the PM told people to go out and get vaccinated 3 weeks ago, like thousands of people I did what was asked, moved up my appointment, and got jabbed with the six week spacing for maximum effectiveness. My second booking isn't for three weeks, and I won't be safe until two weeks after that, and the government has just said they'll let the virus rampage before then. Obviously, I'll be looking at moving that up. But it feels like a personal betrayal to have the government change its mind on something so vital like that.

(And there's a whole cohort in this situation, and under 12s who still can't be vaxxed at all, plus minorities with low uptake and high vulnerability. But waiting a bit longer to solve those problems was apparently too hard for the government, so it's "let her rip")

Meanwhile, I guess Aotearoa's days of being a "model Covid response" are over. The government has just decided to surrender to the virus, because they were sick of the whining from the Auckland business class. They've basicly become quislings for the virus, just like Boris Johnson and Gladys Berejiklian. And we'll be paying the price for their cowardice in deaths and long Covid.

We should not be outsourcing prosecutions

Radio New Zealand's Is This Justice? series takes a look at Crown solicitors today. These are a historical anachronism, a relic of a bygone era when the state was small and so outsourced prosecution to private law firms by way of regional monopoly. We spend $41 million a year on this. But there's no accountability for this core state function: there's no regular monitoring to ensure they comply with prosecution guidelines, performance reviews happen only every three or four years, and Crown Law says they're not subject to the OIA, so we're not allowed to know if they're happening at all. And of course the solicitors themselves are supposedly not subject to the OIA either, despite effectively being subcontractors.

This is a core state function, with significant consequences. The article has an unpleasant reminder of this when it points out that the Auckland crown solicitor has giant blown-up newspaper articles celebrating death penalty cases on their office wall (which is... ick). While we don't have the death penalty anymore, these people are making decisions about who will face the might of the state and who won't, which laws will be enforced and against whom, according to guidelines of course, but the article points out that the lawyers are overwhelmingly white (unmentioned: also rich, and mostly male), meaning a centre of racism in the justice system. It also points out that the current funding structure creates incentives for quick plea bargains (and to dump cases that look too hard, meaning "too expensive"), meaning potentially unjust decisions being made.

And of course David Parker isn't going to fix any of it, any more than he plans to stop New Zealand being a financial fence for tax cheats. But he should. Prosecution is a core state function. And it should be performed by state employees subject to full state performance monitoring and oversight, including the OIA.

The optimum way to do this is by the government withdrawing the crown warrants and establishing an agency (or just an arm of Crown law) to handle prosecutions. But if they don't, then an MP who wants to change things could force that by bringing a member's bill deleting the mention of "Crown solicitor" from the definition of "Crown prosecutor". Alternatively, Graeme Edgeler has a bill to handle the OIA problem here.

A financial fence

The International Coalition of Investigative Journalists released its latest look at the theft of the rich and famous overnight, it he form of the andora Papers. There's the usual assortment of billionaires, thieves, and oligarchs - increasingly overlapping categories - and the usual famous names (oh look! Tony Blair's a tax cheat!) And of course New Zealand has its usual role: a Moldovan oligarch who stole 12% of his country's GDP before fleeing used New Zealand to launder his ill-gotten gains, thanks to a low-oversight, tax-free part of our financial system. There's a name for this: effectively we were acting as a fence for stolen money. If someone had done that over, say, a television set or laptop, they'd be charged with receiving and face up to 7 years in jail. But when rich people and lawyers and accountants are involved, everyone just looks the other way. Only poor people commit crimes. Rich people pursue business opportunities.

Supposedly reforms after the last big leak in 2016 closed some of the loopholes which made this possible, requiring trustees to identify beneficial owners to IRD. But its still all very lax - people can just lie - and the big loophole, the trust's tax-free status, is still unplugged. Which means New Zealand is actively soliciting tax cheats to funnel their money through here, so local lawyers and accountants can clip the ticket on the way.

Does the "centre-left" Labour government have any plans to close this loophole, and prevent new Zealand being used to effectively steal from other countries? Of course not:

Closing a tax loophole that could be allowing global elites with foreign trusts in New Zealand to avoid paying tax is not a priority for the Government.

The Revenue Minister David Parker told 1News a small tax loophole for foreign trusts in New Zealand still exists, and acknowledged "the concern is that there could be some people who are paying no tax anywhere".

"We don't think it's a risk to the New Zealand revenue base it's a question as to whether there's a fairness to the tax system overall internationally."

There's no question at all: this loophole enables tax cheats, and allowing it to continue to exist encourages tax cheating. That is being a poor international citizen, and a poor neighbour. An ethical government would close it. You can draw your own conclusions about whether Labour fits into that category.

Friday, October 01, 2021



An armed police force would endanger the public

Last week, the police announced changes to weapons policy, which would see more police trained for Armed Offenders Squad work as an alternative to general arming. Today, we got to see why: because an internal report made it clear that more guns in the hands of police would make the public less safe:

More than 90 people could have been shot, 43 of whom would have been killed, if police officers had been armed during serious incidents over the past 11 years, a new report has estimated.

The report, first undertaken by police last year following the death of Constable Matthew Hunt, and reviewed again this year, concluded general arming of officers would increase the risks to public safety and the number of people shot.

It was inconclusive whether arming officers full-time would make officers safer and found routine arming could negatively impact the relationship between police and some members of the community.

“This would undermine New Zealand Police’s commitment to policing by consent, diversity in our workforce, and strong relationships with communities,” the report said.

Not mentioned: this is necessarily backwards-looking, and averaging over the past decade masks the real escalation in police firearms use since they put military-grade weapons in the boot of every police car. So, the actual body count would be even higher. [Corrected: paragraph 83 makes it clear they used shooting rates from 2019 and 2020].

Its good to see that police made the right decision here in rejecting general arming. But there's also stuff in that report which should raise significant public disquiet. For example, the formal finding that giving police greater access to pepper spray and tasers endangered the public for no benefit whatsoever [p29]:

The limited available research reviewed in this section suggests that officers are more likely to use CS sprays and TASERs (instead of lower-harm tactical options) on their shifts if they have access to them. Additionally, the use of these alternative tactical options does not seem to lead to a decrease in assaults against officers, potentially instead leading to an increase in these assaults. Thus, new tactical options brought in with the intention of improving officer safety, and that may make Police Officers feel safer in their work, may have unintended consequences which could lead to an escalation in harm.
[Original emphasis]

This is a disturbing finding, which suggests that we should be looking at removing these weapons, or shifting them from on belts to in gun safes in cars (or better, back in police stations) to improve public safety.

Its also interesting to look at what the police didn't ask, namely "would we be better off with lower levels of police arming?" Because we used to have that - not too many years ago guns were kept in police stations, for use by specialised units in real emergencies, not in every police car for use by every plod who feels threatened. How many fewer shootings and deaths would we have if we moved back to that model? What impact would it have on public safety? And if the finding is negative at present, given the (blatantly obvious) finding that guns use by criminals is driven by the availability of guns in the community, how many guns do we need to take out of circulation to get back there? Because the police - and certainly the Police Association - seem to act like an armed police force is some sort of goal. It shouldn't be. Instead, the goal should be an unarmed police force. Because that's the real sign that our communities are safe.

Facial recognition and secrecy

Stuff this morning has a detailed story about a trial of facial recognition technology at Wellington airport which went ahead despite being rejected by the Privacy Commissioner. As the details make clear, the trial was basicly spying for convenience:

Aviation Security went ahead with the trial of a new facial-recognition scanning tool at Wellington Airport, despite serious concerns from the Privacy Commissioner.

The secretive months-long trial, which is still ongoing, used cameras to scan the faces of passengers when they entered the queue for airport security and again when they went through the boarding gate.

[...]

Aviation Security (Avsec) started the trial in February 2021 as a way to count how many passengers were passing through security and how long they were spending in line, after Audit NZ found their manual process inadequate.

After the Privacy Commissioner argued strongly against the trial, AvSec sought separate legal advice on whether it breached privacy law, and followed that advice instead of the Commissioner's.

Yes, they were using facial recognition because they were simply too lazy to count people as they went through the gate.

The kicker: under the second secrecy clause in Labour's Civil Aviation Bill (currently before select committee) everything about this trial would have been secret. Why? Because the secrecy clause forbids disclosure of any information obtained when exercising "any function, duty, or power under civil aviation legislation". Not just sensitive information, not just information where there is "good reason" to withhold it, but any information. Effectively they will have their own little Official Secrets Act inserted in a clause at the end of their own bill, giving them total secrecy over everything they do. Their "justification" is that NZTA has one already, and they couldn't possibly be any less important then them.

As I noted above, this bill is currently before select committee. If you care about openness in this country, if you care about being able to hold government agencies to account, if you care about just being able to know what the government is doing in our name, I urge you to submit against it (and while you're doing that, make sure to oppose the other secrecy clause as well).