Friday, September 23, 2022

Who to vote for in Palmerston North (2022)

My local body voting papers arrived earlier in the week, so its time for the usual post in which I try and work out who I'm voting for. Essential tools for this have been Vote Climate, which looks at climate and public transport policy;, which gives a more general overview, and FACT's roundup of media coverage of misinformation-linked candidates, which is an effective veto list (because I am not voting for rioters who want to spread disease and "make New Zealand ungovernable"). Policy-wise, I'm interested in climate change, public transport, and housing, and very uninterested in asset-stripping and under-investing in infrastructure (typically described as "keeping rates low") or in shit on the streets (so being opposed to Three Waters is a no-no). On top of that, I want a council which looks like Aotearoa, rather than a bunch of dead white males, so my general preference is to vote for women over men, young people over old ones, and anyone rather than a 65-year-old pakeha male called "John". Where does that leave me? Read on...


Not much choice here this time. I don't especially like the incumbent, and refused to preference him last time, but there are only four candidates. One of whom of which is a diagnosed delusional psychotic and convicted child-beater, and another of whom is an anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist who participated in the parliament riot. Which leaves Hussein Kikihounga-Ngot as the default anti-incumbent candidate. Unfortunately, he rates terribly on climate change, and his Herald interview makes it clear that he opposes three waters. Smith meanwhile identifies climate as the top priority. Shit, I'm going to have to vote for him, and grit my teeth to give Ngot a second preference because at least he's not actually insane. If only the Greens would run someone for mayor again, so I could feel enthusiastic about a candidate...

City Council

The opposite problem from mayor - 33 candidates chasing 13 positions, which is almost too much choice. Fortunately its easy to winnow the field. And I have clear choices at the top of the ballot - two Green and two Labour candidates who endorse each other for top preferences (because they understand STV). My real question there is whether there's anyone I want to put between those groups, either a a strong candidate or a "fuck you" to a party which has betrayed us, and who I put after them. At the other end of the ballot, Sam Walmsley, James Candish, and Dion Jensen are all VFF anti-vaxers, as is Mel Butler (check her Facebook page) and Murray Wellington (check his blurb), so they're all off the list. Nathan Wilson and Bruno Petrenas are climate-change deniers (or were in 2019). Les Fugle is a property developer who ignores resource consent requirements and whose solution to his legal battles with the council is to try and get elected to it (so: inherently conflicted). Jacinta Fraser and William Wood are both in the real estate industry, so are also inherently conflicted (and Wood has other flaws). Zakk Rokkanno promises to Do His Own Research on everything, and thinks that "cancel culture" is the biggest issue facing Palmerston North (which is a screaming red flag if ever I saw one). And once I've eliminated the overlapping "Keep Rates Low" and "anti-three waters" groups, as well as the stealth-Nats, religious fundamentalists from freaky anti-vaxx churches, and former soldiers (which seems to correlate with some scary stuff), I'm left with a very short list: the Green and Labour candidates, Rachel Bowen, Manjit Chawla, Atif Rahim (who is pro-three wasters), and Rhia Taonui. If I feel a need to pad, I might give a pity preference to Orphee Mickalad, who is good other than his opposition to three waters, and to Patrick Handcock, who is good but a former police officer and ACAB.


Again not much choice here: five candidates for four positions. In previous years I've voted for Wiremu Te Awe Awe and Fiona Gordon as good environmental candidates, and I'll do so again. I've been reluctant to support Rachel Keedwell despite her environmental credentials because she was once an anti-fluoride campaigner, but regional councils no longer have any say over that, and she's been very clearly pro-vaccination, so I think I can vote for her. New candidate Bal Ghimire seems pretty inspiring. Former corrupt PN mayor and National MP Jono Naylor does not. Horizons still uses the archaic and unfair bloc vote system, and Naylor will be the one not getting my tick.

With the elimination of DHB's I don't need to waste time on that this year. I guess there's some benefit to centralisation after all.

Voting closes at noon on 8 October. They're using DX mail this year rather than NZ Post, so make sure you get the right box, or use the drop boxes at the council or mobile library. There's a map of drop-off points on the council website to help you find the nearest one.

Still striking for a future

In 2017, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said that climate change was "my generation's nuclear-free moment" and promised action. In 2019 and 2021 school students walked out of classrooms to demand she deliver. And today, they walked out again, because she still hasn't.

The strikes are smaller today, because the movement has lost momentum due to covid. But everyone should be supporting them. The students' basic demand for a liveable future isn't just about their future, but ours as well. We're already experiencing the leading edge of the burning apocalyptic hellscape our elders have left us, and if you're under 80 you can expect to experience it getting worse and worse and worse. On top of the drumbeat of cyclones, droughts and floods, We've already seen megafires in Australia and the US, and megafloods in Pakistan. we haven't yet had out first city-scale wet-bulb event, but we all know its only a matter of time. Unless we stop it. Unless we make our governments stop it, with policy to quickly eliminate fossil fuels, decarbonise the economy, and remediate the damage that has already been done.

This demand for a liveable future is both just and achievable. We have the technology and the knowledge to get there. What stands in our way is a handful of billionaires, who would rather burn the earth than let things change. Our job is to make our governments work for us and not them. Protest is part of that. And if the government refuses to listen, and continues to support the destructive status quo, we should vote them out on their arses and get another one which will.

Fuck the economy

Stuff reports that bank economists are saying that 50,000 people need to be thrown out of work to control inflation:

The current labour market was “very, very tight”, [ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner] said, and bringing down inflation required “some spare capacity” in the labour market.

It was a hard thing for the Reserve Bank to talk about, she said.

“It’s a difficult thing for them to talk about. To beat inflation, they require some people to lose their jobs. That’s a comms challenge right there,” she said.

Unemployment had not been this low since the 1980s, [head of private wealth at Craigs Investment Partners Mark] Lister said.

“You’ve got to cause some pain. You’ve got to create some unemployment,” he said.

The right's Big Lie has always been that what is good for the economy is good for everyone, and what is bad for it is bad for everyone. But if you've lived through the 80's, or the 90's, or the GFC, or Covid, you know that that simply isn't true. What's "good for the economy" only ever means what is good for the rich. Meanwhile, it tends to be very, very bad for everyone else. But if the price of protecting the value of the rich's hoarded wealth and stopping it from evaporating is to throw 50,000 people out of work and 50,000 families on the breadline, then I say "fuck the economy". Let it burn. We shouldn't pay to protect their privilege. And the politicians elected by our votes shouldn't try and make us (not if they want to keep their jobs).

And while we're at it, do you know what's deflationary, but doesn't throw 50,000 people out of work or cause a recession? Taxing rich people. Wealth taxes. Highly progressive income taxes. A windfall tax on excessive bank profits. But for some reason, we won't see economists pushing for those solutions. Which simply underlines how much of the profession are simply ideological mercenaries for the rich, who exist solely to wage class warfare against everyone else.

Labour: From disappointment to deceit

In the 1980's and 1990's, Aotearoa faced a succession of governments who brazenly lied to the public, promising one thing to get elected, then doing something completely different in office. As revenge, we inflicted MMP on politicians, to saddle them with coalition partners and deprive them of the absolute majorities which enabled this deceitful behaviour. And the politicians seemed to learn their lesson, avoiding such blatant public betrayals for a generation. But 25 years on, it seems the current government has forgotten that lesson. The combination of a previously-unheard of majority government with a legacy FPP party with a legacy FPP institutional culture has returned to the old ways of lying and deceit.

What lies? "My generation's nuclear-free moment". "The most open and transparent government ever". "No mines on conservation land". Change. These are all promises the government made, things it campaigned on, which the public therefore expected it to deliver. And instead of what was promised, we've got foot-dragging, pretended helplessness and more gas permits; more secrecy, more mines, and the status quo. Single-majority government has stripped them of any excuse for this failure - now they can no longer blame a hostile coalition partner, it is clear that Labour's failure to deliver is not due to practical inability, but to its own unwillingness. They've moved from being a government of disappointment to a government of active deceit.

(Oh, but they want a four-year term, so they can not do the things they've promised, but for longer!)

Which is why my reaction to Peter Dunne's Newsroom column arguing that Labour must make a bold, unpredictable move if it wants to win the next election was a bitter "they could try keeping their promises". And why I just laughed at Ardern's claim that she would make New Zealand's position clear if Russian diplomats confronted her at the UN. Unless she actually punches a Russian diplomat in the face or throws a purple dildo at them on the floor of the General Assembly, this is just another meaningless pleasant lie to be forgotten the moment the news cycle shifts. This government no longer means anything it says, and after years of disappointment and betrayal, we can no longer place any faith in anything it promises. Its the political equivalent of cash upfront now: either they deliver instantly, or its bullshit.

As for what can be done about it, one part of a solution is no more majority governments, because they enable this behaviour. But beyond that, Labour badly needs an electoral lesson. We need to take their majority off them, and saddle them with a coalition partner who will force them to actually do what they say they will do. Which, in the case of the promises they have broken, means the Greens and/or Te Pati Māori. And the best thing about this solution is that Labour will absolutely hate it.

Update: And when I posted this, I hadn't even seen Labour's latest: an explicit refusal to do something they promised to do. Why should we believe they are anything other than arrogant, self-entitled liars now?

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Hoist by his own petard

In 2017, in response to being criticised by anonymous bloggers, then-Samoan Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi restored the archaic colonial offence of criminal libel to Samoa's statute book, ramming it through parliament in under an hour. Now, he's being prosecuted under his own law [paywalled]:

Police have perused a file on a defamation complaint against the Opposition Leader and forwarded it to the Attorney General’s Office for review, as it has recommended the veteran politician be charged.


Police Commissioner Auapaau Logoitino Filipo said the investigation has been completed and referred to the Attorney General’s Office for review, when contacted by the Samoa Observer on Wednesday.

He confirmed that there are recommendations to press charges but it is subject to a review by the Attorney General’s Office.

But enjoyment at seeing a failed tyrant hoist by his own petard aside, this is bullshit. Defamation should not be a criminal offence. And that's even clearer when you look at what Tuila'epa is accused of:
Tuilaepa had accused Olo of ignoring Government policy and Treasury Instructions on the purchase of Government official vehicles when making purchases in Australia.

He claimed the Minister could have bought the vehicle locally at a discount price.

"Politician criticises other politician and accuses them of lying" is not something that should ever be any business of police. Samoa's new government should repeal Tuila'epa's law.


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

  • Oranga Tamariki (Repeal of Section 7AA) Amendment Bill (Karen Chhour)
  • Employment Relations (Restraint of Trade) Amendment Bill (Helen White)
  • Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Cellar Door Tasting) Amendment Bill (Stuart Smith)

So its ACT racism (s7AA is a treaty clause), a nice little minor improvement in worker's rights, and a regulatory subsidy for wineries. Hopefully something more interesting will be drawn next time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

One country at a time

Equatorial Guinea has abolished the death penalty:

Equatorial Guinea has abolished the death penalty, according to a new criminal code signed by veteran President Teodoro Obiang, adding to a growing list of African countries seeking to extinguish a vestige of colonial rule.

The West African oil-producing country of 1.4 million people is no stranger to political violence. Campaign groups have accused the government of torture, arbitrary detentions and sham trials during Obiang's 43 years in power.

Yet the world's longest-serving president appears willing to move with other African countries that have ended the practice. The last execution took place eight years ago, according to Amnesty International.

The new penal law, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, is dated Aug. 17 but was officially published over the weekend. It will come into force in 90 days, the document said.

Equatorial Guinea is the third country this year to fully abolish the death penalty. And hopefully Zambia won't be far behind.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. First up are two committee stages: Rachel Boyack's Plain Language Bill and Steph Lewis' Biosecurity (Information for Incoming Passengers) Amendment Bill. Once they're out of the way, the House will move on to the first readings of Damien Smith's Overseas Investment (Exempt Investment from OECD Countries) Amendment Bill, Golriz Ghahraman's Electoral (Strengthening Democracy) Amendment Bill, and Jacqui Dean's Increased Penalties for Breach of Biosecurity Bill. If the House moves quickly it might make a start on Duncan Webb's Companies (Directors Duties) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for two bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

This seems like a process we can have confidence in

Yesterday, National leader Christopher Luxon announced that the National caucus had voted to readmit MP Sam Uffindell - who had got together with his mates to beat a fellow student with bed-legs in the middle of the night in a cruel and pre-meditated attack while at school - after an "independent" investigation. Today, it turns out that the MPs weren't actually allowed to read the investigation report or even an executive summary:

National MPs met to discuss Sam Uffindell’s future with their caucus, but they were not given the report – or even its executive summary – discussing his conduct and allegations of bullying.

Nevertheless, the embattled MP’s caucus colleagues defended Uffindell on Tuesday and said they had faith he was “reformed”.

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said Maria Dew’s report had “vindicated” Uffindell, but he said he hadn’t seen her report or its executive summary.

National is also refusing to release the terms of reference which guided the investigation.

Obviously this is a process we can all have confidence in: there's a report that supposedly says he's cleared, but no-one is allowed to see it, or even see the terms of reference to ensure the chicken wasn't strapped. Such secret "evidence" is simply laughable, and Luxon and the National Party are insulting the public by expecting us to just take their word for it. If they expect us to believe this was a truly independent investigation which explored all relevant issues, they need to show us the evidence.

But beyond the laughable process, this also says something rather disturbing about how much trust Luxon and National's senior leadership have in their own caucus - namely, none at all. And if they don't trust their MPs to read a report, how can they expect us to trust them to run the country?

Climate Change: James Shaw pretends to be helpless

RNZ this morning reports that Climate Change Minister James Shaw is open to another look at climate change rules to ensure that the Zero Carbon Act and its statutory target can actually be legally enforced:

"If the temperature threshold is the point of the entire legislation, then surely it should be part of the actual decision."

If court action revealed that climate change legislation was not protecting citizens effectively then it was worth reconsidering it, Shaw said.

Changes were not being actively investigated, and they were waiting on judgements to land.

The law in question is s5ZN of the Climate Change Response Act, which allows (but does not require) decision-makers to consider climate change targets in decisions. But it might not actually need to change, because s5ZO allows the "responsible Minister" - presumably the Minister for Climate Change - to issue guidance to departments on when and how to do that, including what to take into account. I was curious about whether the Minister had issued such guidance, or whether there was any under development, so I filed an OIA request with the Minister. The answer? Of course not:
I have not issued guidance under s5ZO of the Climate Change Response Act 2002 (CCRA) to date in my capacity as Minister of Climate Change.
If the Minister actually wants the law to be effective, maybe he should? And if he doesn't, then all his hand-wringing just smells like more insincere pretend helplessness...

Friday, September 16, 2022

Hungary is no longer a democracy

Since his election in 2010, Viktor Orbán has shifted Hungary sharply away from democracy and the rule of law, changing the constitution to stack the electoral system and the courts against his opponents, while dismantling the independent media. And now, the European Parliament has recognised the truth: that one of its members is no longer a democracy:

Hungary can no longer be considered a full democracy, the European parliament has said in a powerful symbolic vote against Viktor Orbán’s government.

In a resolution backed by 81% of MEPs present to vote, the parliament stated that Hungary had become a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”, citing a breakdown in democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law.

While the vote has no practical effect, it heightens pressure on EU authorities in Brussels not to disburse billions in EU cash to Hungary that is being withheld over concerns about corruption.

Democracy is supposed to be a foundation of the EU, and its appalling that Hungary has been allowed to diverge this far from European principles before the Parliament has stepped in. And along with Poland, it shows that the EU needs effective mechanisms to sanction its own members to ensure their conformity with European law.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Shouldn't we make them pay for it?

Yesterday a new report from Environment Southland found widespread environmental contamination at the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter. Both the soil and groundwater has been contaminated with fluoride and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and the stormwater drains are full of heavy metals. Worse, this is just what we know - the data is incomplete, and they don't really know whether it has contaminated the harbour. Today, Environment Southland put a cost on the cleanup: a staggering $1 billion. Which leads to the obvious questions: shouldn't we make the company responsible for this mess pay to clean it up, as we've done for the oil industry? And if they don't want to, why should we let them operate in Aotearoa at all?

Sweden falls to the Nazis

Swedes went to the polls over the weekend, and after a tight count, appear to have elected a Nazi-coalition government. The right-bloc has a three-seat majority, and the neo-Nazi Sweden Democrats are the largest party within that bloc. And to gain power of course the "moderate" centre-right parties are willing to snuggle up with them to form a government. Oh, they won't have them in Cabinet - that would be going too far (for the moment) - but they're willing to rely on their support, and pay whatever policy price is required to get it. Which means Sweden is going to become a lot more racist, to keep the rich rich.

How racist? Well, the SD campaigned on a "repatriation express", basicly advocating the ethnic cleansing of "non-European" immigrants to make Sweden white again. That's what the Moderates, Liberals, and Christian Democrats have signed up for. Not that the Social Democrats are blameless here - because when confronted with such explicit racism, they followed the path of other spineless centre-left parties (e.g. UK Labour) and tried to compete with it. Which is obviously a losing proposition - the Nazis will always be more racist, and trying to pander to them alienates your non-racist supporters.

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way - there are other coalition combinations possible which exclude the Nazis (though none without the Social Democrats). But that would require the centre-right to share power and moderate their policies leftwards rather than rightwards. And I guess they'd rather just be racist.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

We need tougher penalties for electoral donation fraud

Writing in Stuff, Max Rashbrooke Lisa Marriott examine the dismal history of election donation fraud in Aotearoa, and conclude that there are no real consequences for it. Prosecutions are rare, and the penalties derisory:

It looks awfully like one law for the rich and one for the poor. At one end of the justice system, people can be fined or jailed for relatively minor crimes such as the driving offence of “wheel-spinning”, where no injury is caused. But there seem to be few legal consequences for breaking the laws around donations to political parties, something which typically involves the rich and powerful.


Meanwhile, the penalties in the act are often relatively minor, at least from the point of view of wealthy individuals. Admittedly, a party secretary convicted of any corrupt practice faces a prison term of up to two years, or a fine of up to $100,000.

But wilfully misleading the Electoral Commission attracts a maximum fine of just $2000 – and many other offences similarly have maximum fines of $1000 to $2000. This is roughly the same maximum penalty that applies for tagging a tree.

They suggest greater penalties, and greater powers for the Electoral Commission to investigate the prosecute offences. I agree. You can get seven years for stealing a TV set; stealing an election seems rather more serious. The problem of course is that one of these crimes is committed by poor people, while the other is committed exclusively by rich people and politicians, who write the laws to suit themselves.

Wellington's user-pays "democracy"

In the face of a rising tide of climate protest, governments are cracking down. In the UK, the only-partly-elected government has effectivley banned protests, just like they did in the eighteenth century. In Wellington, they're more subtle, simply imposing unaffordable costs for "traffic management fees":

Wellington City Council left school strikers scrambling to raise $5000 for private traffic management services because the students wanted to march against Government climate inaction.

School Strike 4 Climate Wellington – a group of school-aged students – planned to walk to Parliament next Friday, but did not have the money or options to raise the cash. The council covered the costs for two previous marches.

The council’s actions infringe on their civil right to protest, the students argue.

But the council says it covered the costs twice before and explained to the strikers in June that it wouldn’t fund a third march.

It is of course perfectly legal to march without paying vig to the council's cronies (the council of course doesn't charge people itself - that would be too obvious. Instead, they demand protesters pay Fulton-Hogan, effectively giving them a private taxation right over democracy). But the council threatened a bunch of schoolkids with unspecified legal consequences if they exercised that right, and so as a result there won't be a march. Whether the Council's actions are consistent with the right to freedom of assembly afirmed in the BORA, or with its own climate emergency declaration is left as an exercise for the reader.

Meanwhile, if I was in Wellington, I'd be asking candidates for council what they think about this, and what they're going to do to protect democratic rights if they're elected. And if they support the council's decision, vote the bums out.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Labour abandons us to covid

Today, the government has taken its long-signalled decision to repeal virtually all covid restrictions. From midnight tonight, there won't be traffic lights or mask requirements, and isolation rules will be further weakened. The few remaining vaccination requirements will disappear in a couple of weaks. Essentially, the virus will be free to spread, and the government will do nothing to stop it.

The government is selling this as "taking back control". What it actually does is make things more uncertain. Under the (weakened) traffic light system, and the stronger level system which preceded it, we knew what to do to stay safe. If covid numbers went up, the level would (in theory) change, telling us all to work from home and avoid public places and keep to our bubbles. And if they went down - way further down than at present - then the opposite would happen, and we could go out and see each other. Now, we've got nothing. We're on our own. And if covid numbers rise and you don't feel safe, you need to persuade your boss yourself that you need to work from home, without a traffic light to point to. With no masking requirements, you need to work out yourself whether any particular setting is safe, based on how many doorknob-lickers there are. And if you want to enforce a masking or vaccine requirement on your business or event, good luck with that, because the government isn't setting a standard and won't back you up anymore. We're on our own.

As for Labour, they've just abandoned us and walked away in the middle of a once-in-a-century public health crisis. Its as if they responded to the Christchurch earthquakes by repealing all building standards and the EQC system. They've basicly surrendered to the Parliament rioters and become quislings for the virus. And even if you don't share that harsh view, I think its legitimate to ask: if government won't step up and protect people during a public health crisis, what the fuck is it for?

No freedom of speech in the UK

In the eighteenth century, the British government waged a campaign of repression against those calling for democracy and an end to the monarchy. Over two hundred years later, nothing has really changed:

A woman was arrested holding an anti-monarchy sign in Edinburgh today, before the Queen’s cortege arrived in the city.


She held a sign saying ‘f*** imperialism, abolish monarchy’.

Officers appeared behind her and took her away, prompting the crowd to applaud.

The police are saying there was "a breach of the peace". But peacefully holding a sign is not a breach of the peace, and in a free and democratic society citizens are expected to have tolerance for the views of others and their right to protest. But then, the whole problem here is that the UK is not a "free and democratic society" - it is a monarchy, a hereditary dictatorship in fancy dress. If UKanians want to be free, they need to fix that.

Friday, September 09, 2022

Bring on the republic

When I was a child, the foreign monarch visited New Zealand. They marched us all out from school and had us stand by the side of a road to watch a car go past, and it was absurd and boring and meaningless, pretty much like the monarchy itself. For most of my adult life, Aotearoa has been sleepwalking towards a republic, with every recent Prime Minister saying its "inevitable", but never doing anything to make it happen. The conventional wisdom, spouted by most politicians, has been that the time for change was when the incumbent died, and not before.

Well, that just happened. And once the body is buried, its time for politicians to fulfil their promise and let us make the move.

Obviously, such a change would need to be endorsed by a referendum, so the process will take a couple of years. As for the nuts and bolts, Dean Knight helpfully provided a guide for the minimal reform - which changes nothing while changing everything - in his 2020 paper A Republic for New Zealand: A Possible Blueprint in the Tradition of Minimalist Reform. That would rid us of the foreign monarchy and replace the appointed Governor-General with a government-nominated, Parliament-endorsed Head of State, clearing away the royalist baggage without the distraction of other issues, and leaving us free to decide what other changes we might want to make later.

The archaic ideology of monarchy is completely at odds with the values of modern, democratic Aotearoa. And now the incumbent is dead, it is finally time for us to move on.

Thursday, September 08, 2022

The police piss on the law again

In 2020, RNZ ran a story about police in Wairarapa coercing photographs from young Māori. it turned out this was a more widespread practice, and eventually the Privacy Commissioner and Independent Police Conduct Authority began an investigation. Their report was released today, exposing illegality, systematic racism, and widespread ignorance among police officers of the limits on their behaviour. Not only were police coercing "voluntary" photographs from young Māori on the street - they were also coercing "voluntary" additional sets of photographs and fingerprints when they arrested someone in an explicit attempt to evade statutory limitations on retaining that information - a practice so obviously illegal that the Privacy Commissioner was forced to issue a compliance notice forbidding it. There are other disturbing practices - including photographing people at traffic stops and videoing people who are videoing them in an explicit effort to deter such scrutiny - all of which shows a widespread disregard for the Privacy Act's requirement that collection of personal information have a lawful purpose. There's also a passing comment about widespread ignorance among officers of the core BORA provisions relating to search, seizure, and freedom from arbitrary detention. All of which says that the police have a significant practice, culture and training problem

So are the police going to fix it? Of course not. They've treated the report with the same contempt they treat other IPCA reports, refusing to accept some findings because it would "present significant challenges to our staff being able to carry out their duties successfully". Because apparently, they're unable to enforce the law unless they routinely and systematically break it.

This isn't good enough. Oversight bodies are there for a reason, and the agencies they oversee need to listen to them. And if the police won't do that voluntarily, then its time to give the IPCA compliance notice powers like those enjoyed by the Privacy Commissioner, as well as leadership willing to use them. Because we cannot tolerate the police pissing on the law like this.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

OIA stats and public sector leadership

Te Kawa Mataaho / Public Service Commission has released its half-year OIA statistics today. Last year they received some harsh media coverage calling them "close to useless" due to various rorts, and in response this set includes information on extensions, transfers, and response times. Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes is trumpeting that the average response time across all agencies other than police and NZDF was 12.5 working days, and saying that this shows that everything is fine and "the use of extensions, transfers and refusals [is] not a factor". It doesn't. Instead, the focus on the average performance is being used to obscure some rather significant failures.

Firstly, the good news: three quarters of the 32 core agencies met the expected standard of handling 95% of requests on-time (and two of the ones which didn't had a single late request). Some of these agencies are doing very well: seven of them had median response times of less than ten working days. And three agencies - Corrections, MPI, and Customs - had a median response time of only two days. Which is genuinely good, but also suggests that these agencies have a large number of routine, standardised requests which are processed quickly, and that the performance for "real" OIAs sent to their head office may be different. And that's actually supported by MPI's data, where the two day median is combined with a 15.4 day average, suggesting a bimodal distribution where roughly 2/3rds of their requests are routine and quickly processed, while the rest take the full 20 working days or longer (Ministry of Health shows a similar pattern, combining a six working day median / eight working day average with an on-time rate of only 90%, which works out pretty nicely if you assume all late requests take only 21 days).

Secondly, two of the top performing agencies - Customs (average 5.7 days) and Ministry of Health (average 8 days) are two of the busiest in the public sector, and largely determine the low overall average response time. Meanwhile, ten agencies - including major media request targets such as MBIE, DPMC, MSD and Ministry for the Environment - have average response times of more than 20 working days, while 12 have a median response time of 20 or more days (Oranga Tamariki's is 21, FFS). Which is a clear sign that they're treating the OIA's 20 working day time limit as a target rather than a limit, and pissing on the requirement to respond as soon as reasonably practicable.

As noted in that Stuff article above, long response times don't necessarily mean requests are late, as agencies can extend. And contrary to Hughes, there is clear evidence that some agencies are rorting the system to juke their stats. Sorting the table by extension percentage shows us that a typical agency extends less than 20% of requests. Meanwhile, six agencies are extending more than a quarter of requests, including MfE, which extends more than half, MFAT (44%), and DPMC (34%). These agencies are rorters, and now we can all see it (the spies are also in this category, and have recently been spanked for it by the Ombudsman).

Astonishingly, two of the worst extension rorters - the spies and DPMC - are also the worst performers for (legal) timeliness. MBIE is also a poor performer, with only 91% on time. As for non-public service departments, the police claimed a 98% on-time rate by rorting their stats, while NZDF was late almost 50% of the time and refused to provide response time statistics. Which sounds like they have contempt for the law and are in severe need of a practice investigation by the Ombudsman.

All of which explains the derision Hughes' sunny proclamation was met with from journalists and requesters. There's a story in his new, improved statistics, but he's simply not interested in telling it. Which also means that he's not interested in improving OIA performance, and is content to let the rorters juke the stats without penalty. Whether this is fulfilling his statutory duty to provide leadership and promote transparency and accountability in the public service is left as an exercise for the reader.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

A corrupt abuse of power

There's an election on, so the government uses its websites to host advertising for its members, explicitly promoting their re-election. Russia? Thailand? Some other corrupt, authoritarian state? No, its South Auckland's corrupt liquor trust:

A South Auckland licensing trust's decision to help promote candidates in this year's local body elections was ill-advised, but not illegal, according to Auckland electoral officer Dale Ofsoske.

Nick Smale recently complained to Ofsoske about social media posts by the Wiri Licensing Trust endorsing the Manurewa Action Team - a political ticket running in the election for the trust, council and local boards.

"In my opinion, this is a blatant misuse of public resources squarely aimed at influencing the election. It influences not just the licensing trust election, but the council election too," Smale said.


But Smale said he understood there was nothing he could do about it because it involved a licensing trust.

Ofsoske confirmed his suspicions in a response to questions from Local Democracy Reporting.

So apparently while its obviously unfair and an abuse of power, its not actually illegal for a local body - or a liquor licensing trust - to use their control of public resources to put their thumb on the scales to secure their own members' re-election. Which seems like a significant omission. Fortunately, there's an opportunity to remedy it: there's a Local Government Electoral Legislation Bill which is currently open for submissions. Parliament could include an explicit ban on such abuses, which would hopefully prevent them in future.

(Of course the real solution to the constant abuses of power by licensing trusts is to vote to end their monopoly, then dissolve them. But they'll fight tooth and nail against that, and spend as much public money as they can get away with resisting that fate).

Monday, September 05, 2022

Labour doesn't want to protect journalists after all

Last year, in response to several highly-publicised abuses by police, then-Labour MP Louisa Wall put a bill to protect journalists' sources in the ballot. It was lucky enough to get drawn, was given a first reading in October and sent to select committee. Today, the committee reported back. But rather than the usual amendments and recommendation to pass or not pass, they had this to say:

We received a letter from the member in charge of the bill on 20 August 2022 informing us of her intention to withdraw the bill. The member told us that there are insurmountable drafting issues with the bill, and that the bill would not achieve its intended policy outcome. In accordance with the member’s wishes, we therefore do not recommend that the bill proceed.
What are these "insurmountable drafting issues"? The Ministry of Justice's Departmental Report on the bill goes over the issues, which basicly boil down to the definition of "journalist" and associated questions around the scope of the bill, the proposed requirement to seek a production order for some information before seeking a search warrant, procedural requirements around production orders and search warrants, and the imposition of a general duty to protect the rights of journalists. That same report also included multiple solutions to all those problems, though it would require the bill's sponsor to make some choices (some of which might have been "this section doesn't work, ditch it"). The same report includes as a giant piece of fearmongering the consequences on non-police search powers, but those would also seem to largely be addressed if the core issues were, and by a few minor technical amendments.

But all that would have been work. And rather than do that work, or make those choices, the bill's sponsor (now Ingrid Leary, after Labour forced Wall out of Parliament) just decided to dump it. Which I guess tells us how much - or how little - Labour really cares about protecting journalists.

As for the solution, hopefully we'll see a tweaked version of this bill put back in the ballot by a Green MP. Because unlike Labour, they would actually care about it.

Friday, September 02, 2022

Still against a four year term

Newsroom has a piece on Labour's local government review, which will apparently recommend a reduction in the voting age and a move to a four-year term. Which (because of the need for alignment with general election rules) tells us Labour has pre-determined the outcome of its electoral act review as well (of course they did). As for the merits, the same arguments that apply to central government apply to local government on both issues: a lower voting age is good, because young people have interests, and are affected by local government decisions. And a longer term is bad, because it reduces accountability and voter control. Look at your current local government: do you really want them to have another year of impunity before facing the electorate? And if you do, why not just vote for them at the next election, without surrendering control or accountability?

The primary "argument" for longer terms is that they would let government "get more done", either by insulating them from electoral pressure (an explicitly anti-democratic argument) or just by giving them more time to consider policy and bed in change. And it occurs to me that the best argument against this is this Labour government. They were elected with an absolute majority, giving them the power to do anything they wanted. But look at how little they've done. Look at what they've chosen not to do. Can anyone really argue with a straight face that they'd "get more done" if they were less accountable to the electorate? That the real barrier to them acting on inequality or housing or climate change has been lack of time, rather than lack of interest? Really?

Labour didn't rule out a capital gains tax because they lacked time to implement one. They ruled it out because it is not in their class-interest as highly-paid, wealthy property owners. They haven't dragged their feet on climate change because of lack of time - they're doing it to protect the status quo. And they haven't refused to reverse the 1990 benefit cuts or cancel WINZ debt because of lack of time. They've ruled those things out because at the end of the day they don't care and don't want to be seen as being nice to the poors.

Rather than "getting more done", if given a longer term, this government would just sit on its arse collecting its inflated salaries, while making excuses for its political choices and trying to gaslight us into thinking that everything is great. And laughing at us all the while for being fool enough to make them less accountable.

(And on the flip side, if they were a government which did things? Yeah, we want an opportunity to vote that shit out as quickly as possible, because we might not like it. Just think of what Roger Douglas or Ruth Richardson could have done with an extra year... Aren't you glad voters could nobble them when we did?)

As mentioned above, if you like a government and think it deserves more time to implement its policy programme, vote for them at the next election. But don't surrender control or allow them to be less accountable. Because that will lead to worse, less responsive, and more arrogant government, while benefitting no-one but the politicians.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Member's morning

Today is an extended sitting of Parliament devoted to Member's business: Member's Morning! So far the House has already dealt with the third reading of the Palmerston North Reserves Empowering Amendment Bill, and is currently working on the second reading of Rachel Boyack's Plain Language Bill. After that they should move on to Damien Smith's Overseas Investment (Exempt Investment from OECD Countries) Amendment Bill, and if they get through that in time they should make a start on Golriz Ghahraman's Electoral (Strengthening Democracy) Amendment Bill, but probably won't get far enough to vote on it. There will be no ballot.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Time to expand transparency

Since the unpleasant discovery that the government's health-sector centralisation has led to greater secrecy, there's been a lot of calls for greater transparency. Weirdly though these have been limited to the health sector, and primarily aimed at restoring the degree of transparency over health decision-making we had before. Which seems rather limited. So, I'd like to ask a provocative question: why shouldn't all government board meetings be open by default, rather than secret by default?

The discussion around Te Whatu Ora has reminded us of the benefits of openness, and we already have an established and well-tested model from local government and DHBs. This sets transparency as the baseline, while allowing secrecy where legitimate withholding grounds exist. The same arguments for using it for local government apply equally strongly (if not more so) to central government. So why not do it?

Largely, I think the government's answer is tradition. They've never done things that way, and see no reason to change. And of course central government business is so much more important than local government, so therefore naturally more secret. But on the first point, "tradition" is a bad reason to do anything - as we've seen in countless other policy areas, being traditional doesn't make something right, or a good idea. As for the second, bigger decisions which affect more people is actually an argument for more transparency, not less.

Democratic government is an act of constantly justifying your decisions to the public. Transparency by default makes that easier, not harder. It lets us see that decisions are well-grounded, that views have been taken into account, alternatives considered, and options tested. The need to withstand outside scrutiny is a good check on policy and helps catch mistakes. And this in turn increases public trust and the legitimacy of government decision-making. These are positive benefits, both for government and our democracy. And we should claim those benefits for central as well as local government, and expand their application as far as they can go.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Climate Change: Labour's policy of murder

Floods in Pakistan have killed more than a thousand people this week and displaced 50 million, and put a third of the country underwater. Locally, Nelson has been devastated by floods. Meanwhile, the latest ice-loss data from Greenland says we're looking at at least 27cm (and maybe as much as 78cm) of sea level rise by the end of the century from Greenland alone. And while this is going on, Labour has quietly extended a fossil fuel mining permit, increasing future greenhouse gas emissions for another 13 years.

The permit is number 38159 ("Surrey"), held by Greymouth Petroleum. It expired on April 4. But its owners applied for and were granted an extension until 2035. According to MBIE, the permit produced 65,000 barrels of oil in 2021 (which means about 32,500 tons of CO2). If that rate of production continues, then the government's decision has just allowed an extra 420,000 tons of CO2 to enter the atmosphere - all of which was completely avoidable. I wonder how those 50 million displaced Pakistanis feel about that? Or the people of Nelson?

But Surrey isn't the only permit. There are two more permits (53803 and 55491) which have also recently expired, and where the owners have also applied for extensions. And based on their current behaviour, it looks like Labour will grant them. Its clear from this that they have no intention of enforcing the Crown Minerals Act against polluters, and no intention of allowing even a gradual shutdown. Instead, they're going to protect the status quo, and let them keep polluting forever. And in the current situation, this is simply a policy of murder.

Monday, August 29, 2022

More labour "transparency"

Back in June, Labour passed the Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) Act 2022, restructuring and centralising the health system. One of the consequences of this? Reduced transparency:

The new national health organisation is being accused of secrecy and spin - and keeping too much behind closed doors.

Before Te Whatu Ora was created in July, the 20 district health boards it replaced held monthly meetings, with open agendas, that anyone could attend.

But Te Whatu Ora releases only a brief summary of its board meeting agendas - and no media or public are allowed in.

All the new bodies are subject to the OIA via the Ombudsmen Act, but the old open meeting provisions (based on LGOIMA) weren't replicated. Its easy to see how: DHBs evolved from local health boards, so the LGOIMA provisions were adapted. But central government doesn't think about that, and doesn't view opennness as a core responsibility (despite a clear requirement in the Public Service Act to do so). And the result is that we've lost opennness that we had before. Labour's centralisation has resulted in more secrecy (which sounds like a good reason to oppose it in general). Having board chair Rob Campbell saying he opposed transparency because he’s not interested in providing “occupational therapy for journalists” just makes it clear how contemptuous Labour is of the open government it promised, and how deeply ugly and undemocratic their attitudes to transparency are.

As for how to fix it, the Pae Ora Act could be amended to include the old open meeting provisions for this agency. Alternatively, a broader Open Government Meetings law could be drafted up, to apply those provisions to all Crown Entity and inter-departmental boards and other entities. People like Campbell would probably shit themselves in rage at that suggestion. And that in itself sounds like a very good reason to do it.

A failed state

People being told to drink sewage sounds like a headline from the early nineteenth century, before the public health revolution, or from a failed state, where it has collapsed. But its actually from modern England:

British people need to be “less squeamish” about drinking water derived from sewage, the boss of the Environment Agency has said.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Sir James Bevan outlined measures the government, water companies and ordinary people should be taking to avoid severe droughts.

He said: “Part of the solution will be to reprocess the water that results from sewage treatment and turn it back into drinking water – perfectly safe and healthy, but not something many people fancy.”

Bevan admitted the move would be “unpopular” and reactions on social media have been mixed but he said there was a need to “change how we think about water”.

The reason they're being told to do this is that decades of failed privatisation has seen a quarter of England's drinking water leak away, while privatised water companies dump untreated sewage into lakes, rivers, and the ocean. But rather than order the polluters to fix these entirely avoidable problems, the government is protecting their profits by telling people to just drink shit. Its a perfect example of how privatisation and deregulation erode the state, and ultimately lead to collapse.

Climate Change: Labour's hopeless helplessness

Writing in the Herald, government minister Megan Woods asks what are we going to do about climate change? I don't know - what could the number four-ranked Minister in Cabinet and holder of the housing, energy and resources, building and construction, and other key ministerial portfolios possibly do to deal with this problem?

Well, for a start, she could stop handing out oil and gas exploration permits, and draw up a plan for the rapid and orderly shutdown of the fossil fuel industry in Aotearoa, to stop making things worse. She could also draw up a plan for the rapid electrification and cleanup or shutdown of polluting industries, to kill industrial emissions at source. And she could provide government funding for a rapid expansion of wind and solar generation, to drive polluting gas and coal completely out of the energy market.

She could ensure that all newly built houses are zero-energy and whereever possible have inbuilt solar generation, further reducing electricity demand. And she could impose stricter requirements on commercial and industrial buildings, while requiring older buildings to be rapidly retrofitted and upgraded.

She could ensure that the agencies under her control support rather than consistently opposing climate change action (MBIE is one of the worst offenders here, and Woods could end that with a sharp word to its CEO).

Most importantly, she could use her position as a top Minister in Labour's Cabinet to constantly push for stronger action, rather than consistently dragging her feet.

But all that would be hard work, and worse, mean change, upsetting the status quo and established interests, who might kick up a stink at the thought of having to change what they're doing to avoid destroying the world. So I guess its just much easier for her to wring her hands and say "what are we going to do" and spout twaddle about "lifting the conversation" - rather than thinking about all the things she can do. Its a perfect example of Labour's learned helplessness - and a perfect example of why they're absolutely hopeless in the face of our biggest challenge.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Labour's stalled Crown Minerals Act review

On Wednesday, the High Court ruled that the Zero Carbon Act isn't worth shit and that the government can continue to approve new fossil fuel exploration without having to consider climate change. The core of the problem is the Crown Minerals Act, and in particular its purpose: "to promote prospecting for, exploration for, and mining of Crown owned minerals for the benefit of New Zealand". This taints every decision made under the Act, while the decision criteria for permit applications rule out considering climate change.

The Greens have responded to the ruling by calling for a review of the Act. The government actually began a review of the Act in 2018, which (among other things) explicitly considered the purpose clause. Submissions on that part closed in January 2020, and according to the summary of submissions 81% of submitters wanted that purpose amended to remove the word "promote" (11% opposed that; they were from the mining industry plus a few shills like the Buller District Council). And since then... crickets. The only thing to come out of the review has been the law to shift decommissioning costs back onto miners (where they belong) - and that seems to have been primarily driven by the Tamarind bankruptcy. As for those who submitted on the review (and I was one of them), congratulations - you wasted your time. Again.

There's an obvious parallel here with Labour's OIA review. In both cases, the government promised change, announced a review, then stalled and buried it. And in both cases, the motive is clearly to protect the status quo and avoid making the change they promised. But that dishonesty and bad faith has a cost in public trust. And when Aotearoa has a problem with conspiracy theorists and disinformation, that seems like something the government should be trying to avoid.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Climate Change: The courts fail again

Last year, two-faced Labour, having declared a climate change emergency, approved further gas exploration in Taranaki. The decision was challenged by Students for Climate Solutions, using the Zero Carbon Act's "permissive consideration" clause. The purpose of this clause was to make all levels of government consider climate change in decision-making. But according to the court, it isn't worth shit:

Justice Francis Cooke agreed that, at least under Te Tiriti, climate impacts “can become relevant”. But it would be unlawful to place substantive weight on climate change, he concluded. Because these issues are being addressed in other ways, Cooke dismissed the judicial review.


Cooke also dismissed the argument that a section within the Zero Carbon Act allows or compels a minister to consider Aotearoa’s climate goals when making decisions relating to other legislation.

It states: “If they think fit, a person or body may, in exercising or performing a public function, power, or duty conferred on that person or body by or under law, take into account: the 2050 target, or an emissions budget, or an emissions reduction plan.”

Cooke thought Parliament would need to “more precisely” edit the Crown Minerals Act itself.

That looks like a ripe target for an appeal, and maybe Students for Climate Solutions will go down that path. But its not guaranteed to be successful. And effectively, what the judge is telling us is that Labour failed us when they refused to change that "may" to a "must", and that we need to pass Eugenie Sage's Crown Minerals (Prohibition of Mining) Amendment Bill (or something very much like it) as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Mallard and crony appointments

Writing in Stuff, Luke Malpass defends Trevor Mallard's impending corrupt crony appointment as ambassador to Ireland, saying that he will make a good ambassador. And I agree, he might - but that's not the point. The problem with Mallard's appointment isn't whether or not he is suited to it, but the way in which it has been (or will be) done.

Being an ambassador for Aotearoa is a public role. It should therefore be appointed on merit, rather than as an act of political patronage. That's been the norm in the normal public service for over a hundred years, and its still the norm today, but ambassadorships have been partly exempt - largely due to a lingering legacy of English monarchy which saw them as the personal representatives of the monarch rather than of the state ("partly" because most are appointed on merit, which makes the politicians and cronies parachuted in to certain jobs all the more glaring). Malpass tries to justify this as follows:

There is of course the broader question of political appointments to plumb [sic] diplomatic postings. But it is a practice as old as time and practised by both parties as a way for rewarding old hands and ex-speakers.
In 1912 the system of handing our core public service jobs as patronage was also "a practice as old as time and practised by both parties". That didn't make it right. And the same reasons which justify appointment on merit in the regular public service apply just as strongly to diplomatic postings: in a modern, democratic state, we want the best person for the job, not the biggest crony. No government job should be a "spoil" to be dispensed as an act of political patronage.

If Mallard is as suitable as Malpass suggests, he would have nothing to fear from an open, competitive appointment process, and being appointed that way would add significantly to the legitimacy of the appointment (not to mention public trust in government). Conversely, denying him that process means he will forever be tarred as a crony, his ability questioned because of the manner of his appointment. It does both us and him a disservice.

As for Malpass, maybe a political journalist working for a media agency supposedly in service of the public good should be asking that "broader question", rather than simply seeking to justify public corruption.

Parliament's ugly, outdated protocols

Today Trevor Mallard resigned as Speaker, so he could go off to a corruptly-appointed diplomatic sinecure as a retirement package. Which meant Parliament today began with a humiliating "order" from the Governor-General to elect a replacement. It was entirely ceremonial and unnecessary; our House has its own processes around this, and does not need to be "ordered" by the unelected representative of a foreign monarch to follow them. It can (and should) just elect someone and tell the Governor-General to lump it.

But this is a powerful reminder that many of our political protocols and ceremonies were inherited from an age of absolute monarchy, when power and legitimacy flowed downwards from a monarch supposedly appointed by a god. In modern Aotearoa, we recognise the reality that they flow upwards from the people. And we should change those outdated protocols and ceremonies to reflect that reality, rather than the archiac views of early seventeenth-century England.

Failing the political hygiene test

Yesterday after having a show-trial outside Parliament, Bishop-Pope-Godking Brian Tamaki announced a new umbrella political party. Early members included the (christian theocrat) VisionNZ, and the (anti-democratic and white supremacist) New Nation Party, as well as the (anti-1080, antivax and "sovereign citizen") Outdoors & Freedom Party. Like Advance New Zealand, its basicly a coalition of conspiracy theorists, except with the added violence we saw at the parliament riot: a coalition of rioters. And this morning, National Party leader Christopher Luxon refused to rule out working with them:

National will not rule out working with the newly formed Freedoms NZ coalition party but its leader says he does not anticipate the party making it into Parliament.
Just to make it clear, these are people who want to overthrow our democracy and hang politicians. And Luxon is fine with that, or at least willing to accept it if it gets him the big office (maybe he thinks they won't hang him if he toadies enough?) Refusing to collaborate with political forces explicitly pursuing violence shouldn't be hard, and is a basic political hygiene test. But Luxon has failed even this low bar. He's a man with no morals whatsoever, and clearly unfit for any political office in Aotearoa.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Laughing at the Ombudsman

Back in June, the Ombudsman issued a formal opinion to Police criticising their consistent delay of OIA responses to allow Ministers to be informed under the "no surprises" policy. The Ombudsman found that this was unlawfully and unnecessarily delaying responses, and the police responded by stopping the practice. Which should be a success story: complaint made, practice improved, issue resolved. Except it isn't, because it turns out that having told the Ombudsman they'd stopped doing it, the police simply started delaying responses to please the Minister again:

Police told Stuff and Boshier that they had amended their practices and most requests were now notified to the minister at the same time as they are communicated to the requester.


However, information released to Stuff shows this is not the case. We requested the work logs for the last 50 requests to the agency (between June and August this year).

Just three were sent to the requester and Police Minister Chris Hipkins on the same day. There was a four-day gap in most instances (23), and a one-day delay in many others (12 requests). Six requests were stalled for three days, and four for two days.

In two instances, there was a five and six day hold-up.

And when we asked police, and the government, about the delays it appears they don’t agree with Boshier.

A spokesperson said: “In response to the Ombudsman’s advice, police initially changed its approach, but found that new approach inconsistent with the no surprises convention as more of the OIAs were considered as matters of significance to the Minister of Police than initially expected.

This is simply treating the Ombudsman and the law with contempt. The entire OIA enforcement regime is predicated on agencies following Ombudsman's recommendations (or, less formally, changing their practices so formal recommendations don't need to be made). Instead, we have an agency which just flat-out lies about what it is doing, and shows no shame about it. And we have a Minister who enables it, by making control-freak demands to be kept "informed" of (AKA to exercise an unlawful veto power over) every release, no matter how trivial. Together with today's story about the Ombudsman again telling Corrections that they can't video kids when they're in the shower - having made exactly the same "recommendation" to the same prison previously in 2016 and 2019 - it calls the entire chummy "good chap" model of oversight and enforcement into question.

So how can it be improved? Well, the Health and Safety at Work Act (and various other laws) let regulators accept "enforceable undertakings" to improve practice, which can later be enforced by a court. And the Privacy Act enables the Privacy Commissioner to issue formal compliance notices requiring specific remedial action where the Act has been breached, violation of which is a criminal offence. The primary reason the Ombudsman does not have these powers, in the OIA jurisdiction or any other, is that they are relatively recent innovations, and the Ombudsman's core legislation and mindset is from the 1970's and 1980's. It would not be especially difficult to splice them into the OIA or Ombudsmen Act, and it can be done without reopening cans of worms that we would rather keep closed. And in the face of consistent government non-compliance and outright contempt of its own oversight bodies, if the government refuses to do this, then someone should put up a private member's bill to do it.

KiwiBank's "new" ownership

This morning, the government announced that it was buying KiwiBank. From itself. Because two of its current government owners - ACC and the Cullen Fund - wanted to sell it to someone else. So they had to shuffle money from one part of the government balance sheet to another to dodge that bullet. But maybe it would have been better not to have had to dodge it in the first place, by not having government agencies which want to privatise and loot public property?

But there is an interesting question about the ownership model chosen. KiwiBank - via new corporate entity, Kiwi Group capital - will be a Schedule 4A company under the Public Finance Act. There are a bunch of these - Predator free 2050 and Green Investment Finance are ones you may have heard of - and its not an especially unusual form of government ownership. At the same time, there are at least two other models that could have been chosen: a Crown-Owned Company under the Crown Entities Act, or a standalone State Owned Enterprise. These each have slightly different obligations, and its no easier or harder to place things under one model than another (its all done with Orders in Council). So why choose one rather than the other? The major differences seem to be that while SOEs and Crocs must be fully government-owned, Schedule 4A companies only need majority ownership - making them easier to part-privatise, or pull National's scam of forcing other government entities to buy them, effectively raiding their dedicated funds for ready cash. SOE's are also subject to an obligation to be a successful business, meaning as profitable as non-government companies, and to "exhibit a sense of social responsibility" (all three however have good employer obligations, as you would expect, and all are subject to the OIA). SOE's are also subject to Treaty of Waitangi obligations, and to a special regime to enable the return of stolen land. It will be fascinating to see which of these differences the government thought was an advantage, and which a disadvantage, and why it chose the ownership model it did.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Labour and the "hat game"

Last night, soon-to-be-former Labour MP Gaurav Sharma made it clear that he wanted to be thrown out of the party. I don't actually care much about Labour's internal backbiting, but there was an interesting bit in his interview:

Another explosive claim from Dr Sharma is that he said the MP intake of 2020 were recently forced to attend a workshop ahead of election year where they were coached on how to handle information.

"One was obviously, shut up, don't talk about anything. Not about this, but anything. Don't say anything for which the Prime Minister has to stand up and do a media stand-up. But also, how not to get an OIA'd issue, so how to talk to somebody without having a track record of it so nobody could track it down the road."

Dr Sharma alleges staff in the Prime Minister's Office wear two employment hats and pick which one they're wearing when they receive information.

"They said the staffing arrangements are done in a way that some staff work part-time for Labour Leader's Office and part-time for Prime Minister's Office and when they want to prevent OIA, they just sort of make it that this is Labour Leader's problem, this is not the Prime Minister's office problem and then they can get away with it."

Combined with his earlier claim about advice from the PM's office to "not give anything in writing and do not expect anything in writing [as] Everything can be OIA’ed", its more evidence of Labour's ongoing information control-freakery and hostility to transparency. And people are already excavating to find the paper-trail on it.

The latter bit though is well known - the "hat game". And while its a problem, its also not as powerful as Labour seems to think it is. Why? Because the Ombudsman has ruled that information held by Ministers is official by default, and that overturning that presumption requires evidence that the information was received or held in a different capacity. So, if the Minister plays the hat game, complain. That way the Ombudsman will look at it, rather than the question just being left to a Minister's self-serving judgement.

(And obviously, if they try playing the hat game on their OIA workshops, then insofar as Ministers, parliamentary Undersecretaries and their staff are concerned, its a non-starter. Because keeping Ministerial records and handling OIA requests are explicitly Ministerial functions, so the information cannot be held in any capacity other than an official one...)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

NZDF, the OIA, and "national security"

Last month, peace activist Valerie Morse used FYI, the public OIA request system, to ask NZDF for information about the US "RIMPAC" exercise, including the rank of personnel seconded to a US ship for a command exercise. NZDF withheld the information under s6(a) of the Act "in order to avoid prejudice to the security or defence of New Zealand". Clearly, they regarded it as highly sensitive and dangerous information which would cause significant harm to New Zealand if it fell into the "wrong" hands. So sensitive and dangerous in fact that they then turned around and published it, as well as the names and photos of those staff, in their magazine Navy Today (p10). Which suggests strongly that there was never any prejudice to national security in the first place, and that this was just another example of NZDF's information control-freakery (as we saw so much of during the Operation Burnham inquiry).

Which is just another example of why you should always complain about "national security" refusals: because NZDF's decisions are clearly suspect and self-serving and need independent external review (in fact, this goes for every other reason they cite for refusal as well). The Ombudsman's review may be weak - like the courts, they tend to be overly deferential when the words "national security" are invoked - but it will in theory force NZDF to provide some specific justification, and might embarrass them into changing their practices slightly.

The best way of preventing such patterns of dubious decision-making becoming established would be for regular, random audits of past decisions. The Ombudsman can in theory do that already (except for police and Ministerial offices) using their existing Ombudsman Act inquiry powers. Weirdly, it does not seem to be part of the Ombudsman's irregular series of "practice reviews", which mostly look at policy rather than actual practice. Maybe that's something they should look at.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

"Economic stability"

Stuff reports that workers have had the biggest pay rise in more than 20 years. This should be great news - ordinary people are better off! But naturally, the Reserve Bank is there to ruin the party, hiking interest rates to throw people out of work. And they're pretty explicit about why:

"Production is being constrained by acute labour shortages, heightened by seasonal and Covid-19 related illnesses. In these circumstances, spending and investment continues to outstrip supply capacity, and wage pressures are heightened.
Yes, they have to tank the economy because ordinary people are making too much money. And then they wonder why people view the entire institution as scam to keep the rich rich and everyone else poor.

If the problem is too much money in the economy, the government could always tax it away, and do so in a way which reduces rather than exacerbates inequality. We could tax those windfall corporate profits, for example. Or just go all out and tax the rich properly. But apparently that's just not an option, so those least able to afford it get to carry the can so the rich can have "economic stability". Because it turns out that "economic stability" for the rich means instability and insecurity for everyone else.

Climate Change: Are the courts worth anything?

Activist Mike Smith has been in court for the last few days, as part of a case seeking to hold Fonterra, New Zealand Steel, and other large emitters accountable for the pollution they produce. Along the way, the case has raised serious questions about whether the courts are worth anything at all:

After Parliament failed to take effective action to cut emissions, the court is the public's last and best hope for protection, lawyers for green activist Mike Smith say.

Smith (Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Kahu) wants to convince the Supreme Court that his case against seven large fossil fuel users and suppliers deserves to proceed to a full hearing with expert evidence and witnesses.

But the polluters argue they have no relationship with Smith and no duty of care to him.

The full article expands on that last bit, but essentially the polluters are claiming that they have no obligations to the society they operate in, and no obligations not to harm us. Most of us would view that as being both monstrous and absurd. Still, its useful to have the polluters say it out loud, because it makes it clear what they think of us, and that they need to be regulated into less sociopathic views. As for the courts, the headline is right: if this case fails, then it is a failure of the law. If it is legal for a corporation to literally destroy human civilisation, then laws and courts are worthless.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Time to freeze rents

For the past few years Renters United has been calling for rent controls to stop gouging landlords. Now, that call has been taken up by the Human Rights Commission:

The Human Rights Commission/Te Kāhui Tika Tangata is calling for an immediate rent freeze and an increase to the accommodation supplement to give renters a reprieve during the cost-of-living crisis.

Too many New Zealanders are sacrificing their fundamental human rights to pay the rent, says chief commissioner Paul Hunt.

“We’re very concerned that some students, low-income or single-wage families are having to make trade-offs between the right to adequate food and the right to a decent home,” he said.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the government implemented a six-month freeze on rent increases to ease the pressure on renters. The commission is suggesting the government re-instate a temporary freeze.

This seems like a good idea. Currently the government is gradually building its way out of the housing shortage, and that's a long-term solution. But in the short-term, people are suffering as greedy Boomers gouge them for every cent they can, while rapacious property managers screw fees out of their captive market. Capping rents and controlling the rate at which they can increase will alleviate some of that suffering. Its what an actual left-wing government would do. The question is whether Labour is still interested in voters, or landlords.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Re-nationalising public transport

Back in 2013, the then-National government imposed the public transport operating model, requiring local authorities to contract out their bus services to the lowest bidder. Now, its being reversed:

The system that bus drivers and their union say has created the “race to the bottom” is on the out, Transport Minister Michael Wood announced on Monday.

A new “sustainable public transport framework” will replace the current policy and legislative framework for the planning, procurement, and delivery of bus and ferry public transport services, known as the “public transport operating model” (PTOM), which has been in place since 2013.

Good. The forced contracting-out under the PTOM has seen contractors lowball their bids, then try and screw a profit out of their workers by cutting pay and conditions. And the result has been regular industrial action and collapsing services because no-one wants to be a bus driver under those conditions. Not to mention councils and contractors blaming each other while the public wait in the rain for buses which do not come. Allowing councils to run their own services in-house should lead to better employment conditions and clear accountability for failure. But then, that's what the PTOM was intended to remove in the first place.

Absurd and offensive

RNZ had a piece this morning about Waka Kotahi's plans for smart speed cameras allowing things like point-to-point average speed tickets and so on. There are obvious privacy issues here, which waka Kotahi seems to have completely ignored, having signed a contract before they were even investigated, let alone addressed. But what actually caught my eye was that the information was that the information was obtained under the OIA, but

Waka Kotahi refuses to specify the total cost of the camera system and new tolling system, saying this was to protect "ministers, members of organisations, officers, and employees from improper pressure or harassment".
Which is a gross misuse of s9(2)(g)(ii). Why? Because that clause is basicly saying "we think the requester or someone they pass the information to is going to do something improper and illegal to one of our staff". According to the Ombudsman's guidelines, it requires the agency to identify a specific threat, to specific individuals, which will seriously interfere with them doing their jobs and be so likely and severe as to justify withholding. Basicly intimidation, death threats, and stabbing territory. These things sadly do happen, and where actual risks are identified, withholding is justified. But the claim that information about costs meets this threshold is as absurd as it is offensive (and that's even before we consider the public interest in accountability for the spending public money).

So what is Waka Kotahi actually worried about? Most likely criticism. But the Ombudsman is crystal clear that "ill considered or irritating criticism or unwanted publicity" does not meet the required threshold.

This is where transparency has descended to under "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had": absurd, offensive, and blatantly unlawful decisions from a government agency which clearly does not care about the law, or fear the Ombudsman. As for who is responsible, the answer is Labour. They're the government, they set the tone on transparency for government agencies. And the tone they set is one of paranoia, secrecy, and compulsive arse-covering. There's a mention in Gaurav Sharma's facebook rant about the PM's chief of staff telling him "do not give anything in writing and do not expect anything in writing. Everything can be OIA’ed." Which is wrong - party communications are clearly not "official information" and not subject to the Act - but its an example of how the government views transparency at the highest levels. The fish rots from the head. And Labour is clearly rotten.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Asleep at the wheel

A couple of months ago, in response to a Newsroom piece about what endemic covid means for Aotearoa, I asked Treasury and the Ministry of Health what advice they'd produced on the impacts of "long covid" on the economy and health system. Treasury responded quickly, admitting that they hadn't been thinking about it at all. And on Wednesday, after months of being dicked around by what is rapidly becoming one of Aotearoa's least transparent agencies, I got the response from Ministry of Health. They actually did have documents to give me, which showed that they had agreed a clinical definition of long covid and established a technical advisory group. As for anything about impacts on the health system, nope, they haven't been thinking about it either.

Which is frankly scary. As of today we've had 1.66 million reported cases of covid. Estimate of the reporting rate vary, from a half to two thirds, but (accidentally due to today's number) that means that between a half and two thirds of the whole country have already had it so far. And then it gets scary, because Ministry of Health says anywhere between 10% and "approximately half" of those people will have ongoing symptoms six months later, and a recent study had nearly 45% of them meeting the criteria for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Even at the low end, that means we're looking at something like 2.5% of the country becoming permanently disabled by this pandemic. So far. That's the sort of thing which might just have an impact on future health system demand (not to mention employment levels, welfare spending, and the entire economy). And the agencies responsible for worrying about such things are ignoring them. The government is basicly asleep at the wheel.

It would be one thing if they were too busy trying to save us all from covid to worry about the long-term effects. But they're not. They've moved from "keep it out, stamp it out" to "let it in and let it rip", to making us "live with it" in the name of "protecting the economy". Well, the cost of that - in addition to over 1700 deaths (so far) - is a pile of human misery and long-term costs. Which they apparently haven't even done the most basic ballpark assessment on before inflicting upon us.

Heckuva job. Really builds confidence in the government's decisions, doesn't it?