Friday, July 01, 2022



Labour fucks us on copyright again

Last night the government concluded a free trade agreement with the European Union. I'm pretty meh about FTAs, largely because they seem to be a backdoor for pro-corporate irregulation than actual trade now, so I wasn't enthusiastic to begin with (though on the plus side this one does at least make the Paris climate agreement legally enforceable, meaning that if farmers don't cut their emissions they can be cut out of the market). And then I read the bit in the "key outcomes" summary about copyright:

New Zealand has agreed to extend copyright term by 20 years for authors, performers and producers. New Zealand will also extend the protection it gives to digital locks (technological protection measures) to include preventing a person undertaking an act to circumvent those locks other than in limited circumstances. New Zealand will have four years from entry into force of the Agreement to implement these changes to the Copyright Act 1994.
Labour had already sold us out on term extension in their FTA with the UK, but at least that had a 15 year transition period. Now we'll have four. And with the FTA expected to enter into force around 2024, that means nothing will enter the public domain in New Zealand from 2028 or so. Immediate casualties will include Mary Scott (whose works would otherwise enter the public domain in NZ in 2030), Dennis Glover (2031), Bruce Mason (2033) and Ngaio Marsh (2033). They're literally going to be locking our culture away from us, forbidding the production of adaptations and derivative works for a further twenty years.

And they're doing this when the government admits there is no benefit to New Zealand from term extension, and that it does not further incentivise the creation of new works - the latter meaning that term extension violates the Bill of Rights Act. They're also doing it when MFAT and MBIE had told parliament back in April that they would "provide advice on mitigating factors that may guard against the potential harm of the copyright extension term". Against that backdrop, cutting a deal to do it even faster seems a lot like lying to Parliament to me.

Thursday, June 30, 2022



Drawn

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

  • Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill (Chlöe Swarbrick)

Swarbrick's bill implements a number of past recommendations from government agencies and advisory bodies which for some reason (cough big booze money cough) have remained unimplemented. One of these is to remove a special-purpose appeal chain over territorial alcohol policies, which is something I am wary of. OTOH, the way that appeal process works is by preventing the policies from ever coming into effect, which seems to frustrate the law, and general appeal rights such as judicial review remain. So this would mean that territorial authorities actually get to make a policy (which can then be judicially reviewed), rather than stopping them from doing so.

There were only 61 bills in the ballot today.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022



The police lied in an OIA response

Stuff has a story this morning about the police juking the domestic violence stats, downgrading family violence crimes to "incidents" so they don't have to be investigated (and so Bad Number doesn't Go Up). That's appalling in and of itself, for the human consequences, and for what it says about the police's attitude to victims, their job and to accountability. But there's another appalling thing buried well down in the story: the police lied in an OIA response:

It said it did not release the full report publicly in line with “standard practice”. The 33,000 number was left out of a summary provided to Stuff under the Official Information Act because it could have been “misinterpreted”, it said. It only decided to release the full text after the Ombudsman stepped in.
The difference can be seen in the screenshot below:

Stuff-Police-OIALie

The Ombudsman has apparently decided that releasing an intentionally misleading summary was wrong. But it raises other questions as well - namely whether protecting your institutional reputation is a "benefit", or whether depriving the public of information they are entitled to causes "loss". Because if either is true, the police staff responsible for this fraudulent release may in fact have committed the crime of altering, concealing, destroying, or reproducing documents with intent to deceive.

And if the answer to those questions is "no", we ought to be asking ourselves why lying in an OIA response is not a crime. It is in other countries, and the Ombudsman has recommended that we adopt similar provisions here. With agencies actually being caught lying in their responses, maybe the government should make that a priority? Because if agencies can just lie without consequences, the law means nothing, and public trust is dead.

Bigot schools are acting unlawfully

Earlier in the month we learned about institutionalised transphobia at Bethlehem College. The school is an "integrated school", meaning that it is state-funded while retaining a "special character". Stuff has now taken a look at several other similar schools, and found another three with institutionalised bigotry:

Three more state-funded Christian schools have been identified as having anti-queer policies, prompting advocates to call for a full-scale education inquiry into discrimination against the LGTBQI community.

[...]

The schools – Maranatha Christian School in Lower Hutt, Cornerstone Christian School in Palmerston North, and Matamata Christian School – say they only recognise marriage between a man and a woman, and only acknowledge two genders.

“Homosexual, lesbian or any other relationships or partnerships are seen as the outworking of mankind’s rebellious nature and therefore are not consistent with the school’s Special Christian Character,” Matamata Christian School says in its public statement of beliefs. “The term ‘gender’ is limited to the two separate and distinct sexes, the masculinity of the male and the femininity of the female.”

The bigotry is in the schools' official "statement of beliefs", which forms part of their integration agreement with the Ministry of Education. The problem is that it seems blatantly unlawful: both sex (which includes gender identity) and sexual orientation are prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act. While the Act allows "educational establishment[s] maintained wholly or principally for students of one sex, race, or religious belief, or for students with a particular disability, or for students in a particular age group" to discriminate on those grounds, there is no exemption for sexual orientation, or for sex or gender identity discrimination in co-ed schools. So, the schools are breaching the Human Rights Act.

Is the discrimination authorised by some other statute? It does not seem so. While the old Education Act 1989 authorised the Minister of Education to negotiate and approve integration agreements, which may "prescrib[e] the religious or philosophical instruction and observances that are to form part of the school programme after integration", no part of it authorises departure from the Human Rights Act (nothing in the new Education and Training Act 2020 seems to authorise it either). And insofar as an integration agreement actually contains clauses inconsistent with the Human Rights Act, they are void, and sections 3 and 19 of the BORA mean that they were beyond the power of the government to make anyway. Contracts must be consistent with the law, and the government cannot simply contract out of its legal obligations or ignore them when exercising its powers.

So what should happen? Pretty obviously, the schools should obey the law, cease discriminating against queer and trans students, and remove the offensive sections from their statements of belief. If they refuse, the Minister should exercise their powers under the Act, cancel the integration agreement, and refer them to the Human Rights Commission. The government should not be funding bigotry.

Member's day

Today is a Member's Day, and it looks like its back to local legislation for a while. First up is the committee stage of the highly controversial Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill, which would allow unelected appointees (and a disproportionate number of them, at that) on ECan. This was something Ngai Tāhu got used to under National's dictatorship, but there's a world of difference between appointing iwi representatives to an unelected body, and appointing them to an elected one. It might be a good way of recognising the Treaty relationship, but I'd want to see a much bigger constitutional conversation about it before proceeding.

Following that, there's the rather boring Palmerston North Reserves Empowering Amendment Bill, which is about letting my local council sell a former reserve (which they have deliberately neglected) to property developers so it can become another motel on Fitzherbert Ave. I oppose this, but the best way of dealing with it is to vote some arseholes out in October, so the council never uses the powers the bill grants.

After that, we have some first readings. First is some National-style law-and-order bullshit from Greg O'Connor, in the form of the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill. Like a lot of law-and-order bullshit, it contravenes the Bill of Rights Act. Labour will vote it through anyway, because O'Connor is one of theirs. Which is about the level of "protection" Parliament gives to our human rights, and shows why we need a much stronger constitutional protection framework. Then its the first reading of Damien Smith's Overseas Investment (Exempt Investment from OECD Countries) Amendment Bill, which is about gutting overseas investment protections for people from rich, overwhelmingly white countries (which sounds very ACT, doesn't it?). If the House moves quickly I expect it to make a start on Chris Baillie's Repeal of Good Friday and Easter Sunday as Restricted Trading Days (Shop Trading and Sale of Alcohol) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for at least two bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022



The police still suck at the OIA

Last year, sparked by the contrast between the official OIA statistics police reported to PSC, and their actual performance experienced and seen over FYI, I asked some questions about their numbers - and discovered that their official statistics were a lie. Once you remove the routine traffic crash reports and speed camera requests, which the police do not treat or track as OIAs (except for the purposes of reporting a big number to TKM-PSC) then their performance was dismal: 42.5% on time rather than the reported 95.3%.

I thought I'd do a followup on this, so I asked for calendar-year 2021 statistics to extend the existing dataset. The response shows that while their performance has improved, it is still unacceptably low, with only 76.8% of OIA requests processed by PNHQ completed on time (this compares to 42.5% in 2020 and 35.8% in 2019).

I also did a followup on a previous request (which I don't think I'd published) about the proportion of requests marked as "high organizational impact" (HOI). Requests marked in this way require extra scrutiny from legal and media teams, signoff by the police executive, and are notified to the Minister. The earlier results showed that the number of HOI requests was small but growing, making up 1.1% of requests in 2019 and 10.2% in 2020. This year, that number has exploded, with 32% of requests to PNHQ marked this way. And the resulting extra scrutiny has an effect on timeliness, with HOI requests being more likely to be late (63.8% on time vs 83% for non-HOI requests). This appalling performance is actually an improvement on last year (when only 30% of HOI requests were on-time), but HOI requests are still responsible for just over half of all late requests (231 late of 450 total).

In a normal organisation, the Ombudsman would be taking a pretty close look at why so many requests were being tagged in this way, and why it led to so many delays. But the Ombudsman cannot scrutinise police outside the context of a specific OIA complaint, so while they can notice individual problems (like this one, they can't do the usual practice investigation and examine the system as a whole. While it is within the functions of the IPCA, they are neither funded for or interested in general practice investigations. The Ombudsman pointed out that this was a problem in their submission on the OIA consultation back in 2019. The government has done nothing to fix it over the last three years. As a result, our most-request agency remains functionally immune from proper oversight, and continues to laugh at the law. The consequences of those arrangements can be seen in the statistics above.

Still digging

Over the weekend, the US Supreme Court followed through on its threat, and overturned Roe v. Wade, effectively outlawing abortion in much of the United States. People were outraged, in America and around the world. And in Aotearoa, this meant a lot of sudden questions for the National Party, which is led by a fundamentalist anti-abortionist, stuffed with fundamentalist anti-abortionist MPs, and which tends to take its lead from whatever crack the US Republicans are smoking this week. While National's fundy backbenchers celebrated the imposition of forced birth in America, Christopher Luxon desperately tried to backpedal on his past views and reassure the public that National had no intention of changing the law. Except that today, he's doubling down on being anti-abortion:

When asked about his views on Monday, he told Newshub he still has a pro-life stance.

"I acknowledge I have a pro-life stance at a personal level," he said. "Simon has his own views as do others in our Caucus. They should be free to express that but in this case, it was actually being misinterpreted as the National Party position and therefore it wasn't appropriate."

When asked what he thought about people who chose to have an abortion, Luxon reiterated his pro-life stance.

"As I said I have a pro-life stance. It's a very difficult and a very agonising decision," he said.

He is yet to clarify whether he still believes abortion is tantamount to murder despite Newshub asking early Monday morning.

Which rather casts doubt on all those prior "reassurances", doesn't it? But the real problem for Luxon is that, given that US conservatives have literally perjured themselves to gain power to impose theocracy, we just can't trust anything he says. Sure, Luxon says he won't change anything - but so did Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. And we know how that turned out. We should not make the same mistake here.

Monday, June 27, 2022



Two steps forward, one step back

The government is finally moving to improve transparency over party finances, lowering the donation disclosure threshold to $5,000. This is a good move, though it doesn't go as far as it should. And of course, there's a nasty twist:

The rules for larger donations are also changing. Presently parties must report all donations from a single donor that exceed $30,000 within 10 working days of receipt. Now the threshold will reduce to $20,000 – but these donations only have to be declared within 10 days during an election year.
...which means that in two years out of three, we won't be able to quickly see who is attempting to buy our political parties, instead learning about it after the policies have already been sold. This is a significant backwards step, despite the lowering of the trigger point, and its absolutely tone-deaf when the public has been consistently demanding more transparency. Heckuva job, guys. If you wanted to give the impression of a corrupt party with something dirty to hide, you're going the right way about it.

(If you want to see who's been buying our politicians recently, you can just look here).

Wednesday, June 22, 2022



Treasury is ignoring long covid

I've read some bad stuff about long covid recently, and Marc Daalder's recent Newsroom piece about what endemic covid means for Aotearoa got me wondering about whether the government was thinking about it. Mass-disability due to long covid has obvious implications for health and welfare spending, as well as for the economy in general, as it will mean more people unable to work or working with lower productivity. A sensible covid policy would be including these long-term costs in its decision-making about covid control.

So is the government doing that? Sadly, the answer appears to be "no". I asked both Treasury and the Ministry of Health for any advice or assessment of the impact of long covid on New Zealand. And Treasury - the government's chief economic advisor, who run the cost-benefit analsis ruler over every policy - hasn't been thinking about it at all.

(Ministry of Health's response isn't due until mid-July, but I'd expect their focus to be more on the health system rather than broader economic effects).

This isn't very reassuring. This is a huge potential cost to our society, as well as a huge impact on people's lives. And the government's chief economic advisor is apparently blind to it. Which means they'll be systematically under-estimating the benefits of covid control (in reducing those costs), and likely doing less to control covid than they would if those costs were included. And that is not a recipe for good policy, or for trust in government.

A perfect example

Last year, a stranded kiwi criticised the MIQ system. Covid Minister Chris Hipkins responded by doxxing and defaming her. Now, he's been forced to apologise for that:

Minister Chris Hipkins has admitted he released incorrect and personal information about journalist Charlotte Bellis, after she criticised the managed isolation system.

[...]

Under mounting public pressure, Hipkins, who was Covid-19 minister at the time, cast doubt on Bellis’ story with a claim she had been offered consular assistance twice since early December 2021 but had not responded to the offers.

It’s understood Hipkins’ public apology was a request of Bellis’ lawyers. After Hipkins admitted fault privately to Bellis in March, her lawyers sought an apology instead of pursuing a legal settlement for defamation and a privacy breach.

Good, but obviously it would be better if Ministers weren't bullies, and didn't abuse their positions to obtain and release personal information about their critics. And obviously it would be better if the Prime Minister held her Ministers to account when they misbehaved liek this.

Its also worth noting that if Hipkins' department, Te Kawa Mataaho - Public Service Commission - had their way, he would have enjoyed legal impunity for this "proactive release". Which makes Hipkins, like Paula Bennett, a perfect example of why we should never allow that to happen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022



Why the Ombudsman should not oversee Oranga Tamariki

Last week the Social Services and Community Committee reported back on the Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People's Commission Bill. The bill attracted an unprecedented three minority reports and universal opposition from other parties, but Labour is going to ram it through anyway. Among other things, the bill would make the Ombudsman the sole agency able to hear complaints against Oranga Tamariki - a move criticised by submitters as they are not child-focused and lack specialist skills. But there are other reasons to oppose this move - after all, just look at how they handle the OIA jurisdiction, where they:

The core idea here isn't about getting justice for complainants - instead, its about managing caseload and taking the path of least resistance. The results of this approach can be seen in the general contempt successive governments have had for the OIA, and their utter lack of fear about behaving unlawfully. If they take the same approach with Oranga Tamariki, the results will obviously be much, much worse.

Monday, June 20, 2022



One country at a time

Something I missed: the Central African Republic has abolished the death penalty:

The National Assembly of the Central African Republic (CAR) passed a law abolishing the death penalty in the CAR on May 27, 2022. Once CAR President Touadéra promulgates the bill, the CAR will become the 24th abolitionist state in Africa and the 110th in the world.
So that makes three countries so far this year (the others are Papua New Guinea and Malaysia). And it looks like Zambia won't be far behind.

An admission of guilt

Stuff reports that the National Party opposes greater transparency for political donations because it might have a "chilling effect" on donors:

National says officials have underestimated “the aversion of donors to being publicly identified”.

The party says only a “small fraction” of donors who currently give between $1,500 and $15,000 would still be prepared to do so if their privacy were not protected. The submission points to recent electoral returns, which showed only 14 donors giving amounts of more than $15,000 to the National Party in 2020, and 25 to the Labour Party.

“The chilling effect ... will have a significant impact on parties' ability to support candidates, meet regulatory requirements, and run effective election campaigns, with no alternative funding mechanism proposed or in-place to make up for this loss of income,” the party argues.

Think about this for a minute. The purpose of donation transparency is to prevent donors from buying influence, and parties from selling it. If we can see who is donating, then we can judge whether any sudden change in policy or intra-coalition advocacy - like a party suddenly pushing for an exemption in the interests of a large donor, say - is corrupt or not, and we can punish parties who fail basic political hygiene at the ballot box. The National Party saying that increased transparency will deter donors is basicly saying that this sort of corrupt secret influence is exactly what donors are seeking. Its an admission of guilt. And that makes their opposition an excellent reason to demand full transparency - so we can see exactly what they're selling, and who to. And if that means that rich donors donate less, and therefore have less influence over policy, then that seems to be a benefit, not a drawback.

[Also, where the hell does the Ministry of Justice get off by refusing to proactively release the submissions? Submissions to public consultations are ordinarily released, and there needs to be an exceptional reason to withhold information on why is attempt to influence policy and why. But then, they tried this as well with the 2019 public consultation on the OIA. It seems like MoJ has an appetite for secrecy...]

Friday, June 17, 2022



Labour: $1 million a year is "too much" for transparency

Back in 2018 the government proposed an OIA review. After a ludicrious attempt to do it in secret, they finally held a public consultation, which made a clear case for reform. They then sat on it for a year, before announcing out of the blue that they planned to rewrite the Act. And then, less than six months later, they shitcanned it, because years of austerity have meant that the Ministry of Justice is so under-resourced that it can no longer walk and chew gum at the same time, and Labour would rather they focused their efforts on giving them a four year term.

So what would it have cost? How much is "too much" for this government to pay for transparency? After a year-long battle, the Ministry has finally released all the documents unredacted: the draft cabinet paper, and rejected budget bid (other documents and redacted versions can be seen here). The budget bid makes it clear that a full review by the Ministry of Justice would have cost less than $4 million over four years - $1 million a year. Which is pocket change on a government scale - but apparently too much for Labour to pay. Which shows you just how little they value being "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had"...

(That cost is for an internal review by MoJ. As I've said before, they're probably not the best people to do it, as they lack both independence and credibility on the topic. By way of comparison, the Law Commission's 2012 review cost something like $2.6 million over three years (Their 2010 Statement of Intent says they had a total budget for advice of $3.5 million, with an expectation of 3-5 reports to parliament each year). So, an independent, external review would be no more expensive, and possibly cheaper, even allowing for inflation. But then Kibblewhite wouldn't be able to strap the chicken...)

Its also worth noting that - as an unredacted email states - this was a confidence and supply issue, to meet the commitment in the Labour - Greens 2017 confidence and supply agreement to "Strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information". But after dragging their feet on it for years, it got dumped the moment the political situation changes (unlike the promises made to NZ First around climate change, capital gains taxes, waka jumping etc, which are apparently fixed and immutable). So again, that tells us how much is "too much" for Labour to keep its promises: $1 million a year. Future cooperation partners should take this as a warning.

Thursday, June 16, 2022



Another referendum in Scotland?

The Scottish government has announced plans for another independence referendum:

Nicola Sturgeon plans to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence in October next year if her government secures the legal approval to stage it.

Angus Robertson, the Scottish government’s constitution secretary, said that provided ample time to pass the necessary legislation, set out the Scottish National party’s case and stage a campaign.

The case for Scotland being allowed to decide its own future is clear - its their country, after all, and decisions about it should be made in Edinburgh, not Westminster. But we know how this will go: the Tories in London will refuse to permit any democratic vote. And support for independence will rise accordingly.

Something is wrong in Tauranga

On Monday, Stuff reported that queer-supporting students at a Tauranga "Christian" school were subjected to chants of "kill the gays". This morning, a building hosting queer and trans groups was burned down in an apparent arson attack:

A building used by Gender Dynamix – an organisation that aims to meet the mental health needs of the transgender and nonbinary community of the Bay of Plenty – has been targetted by a ‘suspicious’ fire.

The fire broke out at the building, which is also the home of advocacy and support service Rainbow Youth, at Tauranga’s Historic Village complex in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Police were called at around 12:45am to the premises on 17th Avenue following a report of a fire.

“It's being treated as suspicious,” confirmed a police spokesperson.

Homophobic harassment, followed by an apparent anti-gay hate crime. Something is very wrong in Tauranga, and it seems like the entire city is being infected by hate and bigotry (see also: their racist museum). I guess we just have to hope that the police catch those responsible. Meanwhile, if you'd like to help Rainbow Youth recover from this, they have a GiveALittle here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022



Proactive release: The documents

Back in April, Stuff was leaked a consultation copy of a cabinet paper on changes to proactive release policy. The full paper - The next steps in the public release of official information - was eventually released, but in the interim I filed an OIA request seeking information on the paper and the consultations which informed its development. Given that proactive publication had featured heavily in past Open Government Partnership "consultations" (just look at how often it comes up in the 2018 ideas list), I was particularly interested in learning whether they had bothered to discuss it with OGP stakeholders, or their handpicked Expert Advisory Panel. I got the response back yesterday, with several hundred pages of emails. The summary:

  • There was no consultation with OGP stakeholders. Which just strengthens the perception that the government's "engagement" and "co-design" over the OGP is a box-ticking exercise which goes nowhere, and that they think "open government" is something they do to us, rather than with us. It also makes it clear that the Public Service Act's statutory obligation to "foster a culture of open government" means precisely nothing in practice.
  • We were meant to have proper statistics: when the full cabinet paper was released, I commented on how the reporting regime for proactively released cabinet papers was broken, reporting only on numbers released, without providing the number lodged as a point of comparison. However, the original draft - then titled Progressing our commitment to open government - included proper reporting:
    This data would be supplemented with information from the Cabinet Office on the number of papers lodged during the same reference period and reported by the Commission to the Minister for the Public Service. I would expect to release the information. Because of the time lag between the lodging, consideration of papers and their publication, the two sets of data would not be directly comparable but would give an indication of the proportion of papers being released, and trends in the numbers made publicly available.
    This provision was removed in late April, apparently at the behest of one of Hipkins' ministerial advisors (a political appointee, not a public servant), who was "not sure how useful" it was for Cabinet Office to provide a denominator against which performance could be assessed. The decision was made in the wake of an embarrassing series of written parliamentary questions which revealed that the government was failing to meet its existing proactive release obligations, but I'm sure that had nothing to do with it...
  • Hipkins pushed for real change, but shot himself in the foot: In July 2021 the paper was rewritten by Hipkins and David Choat, his ministerial adviser. The second draft included some changes - most notably, a proposal for a central portal for proactive release of Cabinet material:
    I also recommend the Cabinet Office be tasked with creating a single portal for the publication of all proactively released Cabinet papers. Where supporting material is released on department or agency websites, links should also be provided to that information.
    This idea has been floating round in NZ open government circles for years, and would be a game changer for transparency. In consultation, other agencies loved it, and I think the public would too. DPMC, OTOH, hated the idea. Their feedback is a masterpiece of bureaucratic obstructionism, going from "we don't need this anyway" through "if we do need it, its not our responsibility" through "if it is our responsibility, then we would need a lot of money", before settling on "if you want it, you can do it". But its clear that they are hostile to the idea of being involved in releasing information, saying "The role of the Cabinet Office is to support executive decision-making... it is not our role to disclose Cabinet material... it is also not the role of Cabinet Office to assess what should be released or to make redactions". [This is clearly legally wrong. Cabinet material is official information, which they hold, so it is absolutely their job to disclose it, to assess what should be released and make redactions if necessary].

    It would be easy to conclude from this that DPMC hates transparency, and they do (just look at their response to requests for cabinet agendas). But there's another reason for their hostility to the idea, and that is that they simply weren't consulted about it. This is clear from an email between TKM/PSC policy analysts a week before the draft went out, in which they disclaim all responsibility for that bit. Whoops. You might think though that a minister with responsibility for open government might be able to make decisions and direct public resources to implement them. But apparently, they can't.

  • The government wanted to give impunity to Paula Bennett, again: Huge chunks of the early drafts are redacted as "confidential advice". But an unredacted header gives the subject as "Exploring changes to the OIA to facilitate proactive release", while an unredacted footnote shows that at least one of these changes relates to section 48 of the OIA: the immunity clause. This has been a long-standing fetish of the public service, and in recent years they've tried to divert every move to amend or reform the OIA to include extending s48 to cover proactive release (and their arses). The reason we shouldn't do it can be summed up in two words: Paula Bennett. Because immunity for proactive release means impunity for Ministerial doxxing, and that's something most kiwis would find absolutely unacceptable. Fortunately this attempt seems to have been killed at the final hurdle, and it was removed in rewrites in late April. But given the desire of bureaucrats to cover their arses regardless of consequences, no doubt it'll be back.
  • The SIS views transparency as a security threat: Yes, really. In their feedback they express concerns about the "mosaic effect", "when multiple agencies release single pieces of information which, on their own, are innocuous, but when viewed together could amount to information that is harmful to New Zealand or its interests". A large amount is redacted, but according to a later summary they are concerned about ineligible people reading proactive releases. Which sounds like another good reason to get rid of the OIA's outdated eligibility clause, and align it with the more modern LGOIMA. It also makes you wonder what they think of FYI...
Looking at this, there's both good policy gutted and bad policy dumped, with a side order of inter-agency squabbling. But the thing that strikes me most is that the government, which is supposed to be committed to consultation and co-creation via the OGP, constructed this entire policy in a vacuum, without asking anyone outside their closed circle about it. As mentioned above, this shows that they think open government is something they do to us rather than with or for us. But apart from the arrogance and insularity of this undemocratic attitude, in this case it also resulted in worse policy, because there was no external pressure to drive change and force reluctant agencies to get on board, or to stop them from making mistakes. And that's a tragedy for all of us.

Monday, June 13, 2022



The stench of corruption

A company gives a large amount of money to a political party because they are concerned about law changes which might affect their business model. And lo and behold, the changes are dumped, and a special exemption written into the law to protect them. Its the sort of thing we expect to happen in the United States. But according to testimony in the New Zealand First Foundation trial, it happened right here in Aotearoa:

An apartments developer worried a ban on foreign investors could kill its business donated more than $150,000 to the New Zealand First Party when it went into government with Labour after the 2017 election.

Various entities of Conrad Properties gave the party's fundraising foundation $155,000 in payments each under the $15,000 Electoral Commission public declaration threshold between April 2018 and January 2019.

Conrad Properties group founder Robert Holden gave evidence in the High Court trial in which two men face charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office of obtaining by deception through the New Zealand First Foundation.

[...]

Holden, who the court heard lives in Bermuda, became aware of reports the Labour Party wanted to restrict foreign investment in residential real estate. He believed this "would have been the death knell for our business" and realised Conrad would need to "engage with the government to explain why this would be detrimental".

"Engagement" apparently meaning "secretly give piles of cash", in a way which if it had been given directly to the party, would arguably have been a crime (in fact, the willingness of NZ First donors to admit arguably criminal evasion of donation laws in this trial has been shocking).

The article goes on to note that a few months after Holden began his donations, David Parker announced changes which gave him exactly what he wanted, which were then implemented by the select committee examining the bill. Which smells pretty bad. And I think Parker (and Labour members of the committee) need to front up and answer some questions about whether NZ First lobbied for those changes. Because from here, it looks like policy was purchased via the government's coalition partner. And that is simply corrupt.

Friday, June 10, 2022



One country at a time

Malaysia will abolish the death penalty:

The government has agreed to abolish the mandatory death penalty, giving judges discretion in sentencing.

Law minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the decision was reached following the presentation of a report on substitute sentences for the mandatory death penalty, which he presented at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.

Obviously, this will need some time to implement, but its good news. Its a major inroad into Asia - one of the holdout regions on the death penalty - and hopefully other countries will soon follow.

Deeply conflicted

The Petitions Committee has reported back on a petition to introduce a capital gains tax on residential property, with a response that basicly boils down to "fuck off, we're not interested". Which is sadly unsurprising. According to the current Register of Members' Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests, the eight members of the committee collectively own 17 homes, with a majority owning more than one. The chair, Jacqui Dean, owns five. But none of them seems to have recused themselves, despite this obvious conflict of interest.

This is the problem: the body we need to fix house hoarding is comprised of house hoarders, who are financially invested in the current status quo, in protecting their own unearned capital gains, and ensuring they can continue to gain tax-free income (to add insult to injury, they get subsidised by a housing allowance for doing so). By any objective measure, they are deeply conflicted. I don't know how to fix it, but the continued toleration of this conflict and refusal to enact any solution undermines the integrity and legitimacy of parliament.

Thursday, June 09, 2022



There needs to be accountability for this

Yesterday the Supreme Court quashed Alan Hall's conviction for murder, declaring it was a miscarriage of justice. In doing so, the Chief Justice found that "such departures from accepted standards must either be the result of extreme incompetence or of a deliberate and wrongful strategy to secure conviction" - effectively, that the police stitched up an innocent man.

To their credit, the Solicitor-General has responded appropriately to this, announcing an investigation into all crown lawyers involved. Given the length of time that has elapsed, many of them may have moved on, but you would hope there will be some declaration of how this happened, and how crown law failed to prevent it. And you'd hope that anyone still employed or alive found to have failed in their duty or knowingly misled the court will be fired, struck off, or prosecuted accordingly.

But given the nature of the misconduct - coercive and oppressive interviews and doctoring of witness statements - you'd expect the bulk of the blame would lie with the police. And you'd expect after such a declaration from the Chief Justice, the Independent Police Conduct Authority would be rapidly putting together an investigation of their own. So are they? Of course not:

Police declined to speak and the Police Association was not commenting on the case.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority and Justice Minister Kris Faafoi did not respond to RNZ's questions on Wednesday.

This isn't good enough. We're looking at a police failure on the scale of Arthur Allan Thomas, and there needs to be accountability for it. If the police and their captive "oversight" body won't do it, then we need the Thomas solution: an independent, external inquiry to get to the bottom of things, and make sure it can never happen again.

Drawn

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

  • Electoral (Right to Switch Rolls Freely) Amendment Bill (Rawiri Waititi)
  • Customs and Excise (Child Sex Offender Register Information Sharing) Amendment Bill (Erica Stanford)

The first is also covered in Golriz Ghahraman's electoral bill currently before the house, so it looks like its going to be solidly on the agenda and Labour is going to have to take a position on it. The second is just more "tough on crime" bullshit, and a waste of everybody's time.

There were 64 bills in today's ballot.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022



The "R" word

The world is currently going through a surge of inflation - some of it due to the ongoing breakdown in the global supply chain, some of it due to disruptions to oil and food supply due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but much of it due to pure corporate profiteering. And in Canada, the leader of the left-wing NDP has suggested a solution: taxing and redistributing those excess profits:

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says the Liberal government should respond to the rising inflation crisis by taxing excess corporate profits and redistributing the money directly to Canadians, with “ordinary families” receiving as much as $1,000.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Singh said: “We see clearly that corporations are making these massive profits, they’re making record-setting profits, and their record-setting profits are directly contributing to the cost of living going up.”

If companies were just increasing their prices to meet rising costs “then their profits would be similar to previous years. But they’re not,” Singh said.

This seems to be a fair and effective way of ameliorating the problem. So, how about it Labour? Or is "redistribution" a dirty word for you?

Climate Change: A scam from start to finish

The He Waka Eke Noa report has finally been released, and it shows that the entire project was a scam from start to finish. The scam starts with the title, which translates as "we are all in this together". But the whole purpose of the policy is to ensure that farmers are not in this with the rest of us, to protect them from paying the full price of their pollution (unlike urban kiwis, who pay for every gram of CO2 we emit). "You will carry us" ("ma koutou matou e kawe" according to Google Translate) seems like it would be more accurate.

So what are the farmers proposing?

  • artificially low carbon prices, with subsidies continuing for a century;
  • levies set by a captured industry body to ensure they do not reflect actual ETS costs;
  • bullshit "offsets" which are not recognised under international carbon accounting rules, to give farmers "credit" for stuff that makes no difference or that they were doing anyway. To add insult to injury, these are overweighted, with 75% - 90% discount on offsets vs a 95% discount on pollution - meaning this bullshit"sequestration" counts for 2 - 5 times as much as pollution. The net effect is to ensure that no-one will pay anything anyway.
  • Enormous administration costs due to the need to calculate and verify all that bullshit, which massively outweigh revenue from the scheme for the first decade (so there will be no money for science for at least that long);
  • inbuilt predatory delay, via dependence on software which will not be ready by the 2025 implementation deadline.
  • more wishful thinking about technological magic bullets, when we need to cut emissions now.

This is not a good faith effort to come up with an appropriate emissions-pricing system. Instead it is just more of the usual: denial, delay, special pleading and demands for subsidies. The core mechanism is a levy per head of stock and per kg of fertiliser. But given the administration costs, it seems massively easier simply to price both via the ETS at the producer level. That also handles most of the "sequestration" options, like land conversion, reducing stock numbers, or using less fertiliser, and some of those that aren't (like urease inhibitors or methane flaring) seem like they could be handled efficiently with specific, direct-to-farmer payments with less administrative overhead. But then farmers wouldn't have the feeling of control - something they seem to be willing to waste $150 million on.

Meanwhile, the Climate Change Commission has also released its Advice on Agricultural Assistance, in which they shitcan HWEN's proposed price subsidy mechanism of low price and proportional discounts. They also find that the risk of "emissions leakage" in the agricultural sector is low, and that the only justification for such assistance is to avoid financial hardship. But bluntly, the purpose of a price-based mechanism is to force polluters out of business, and assistance undermines that. I want dirty farmers to go out of business. The assistance we should be providing is for changing land use or retraining so they can learn to do something better with their lives, not subsidising them to continue destroying the planet.

So, the upshot is that farmers have wasted two years of precious time on this bullshit, during which they have emitted another 80 million tons of pollution. And this after twenty years of procrastination and unchecked pollution. It is time we said "enough", and made them pay their way. Put them in the ETS, with no subsidies, and let the market take its course.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and first up is the second reading of the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill. Like the recent Rotorua bill, this is going to be controversial, as it ditches the principle of fully-elected local bodies in favour of iwi appointments (and disproportionate ones at that). But unlike the Rotorua bill, Labour backs it. This may be their idea of what the Treaty partnership looks like, but given the blatant clash with democratic principles, it is likely to be deeply uncomfortable to most kiwis.

Following that will be the first readings of Joseph Mooney's Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill (an attempt to rewrite Māori land law, which I am not qualified to judge), Barbara Kuriger's Financial Professional Services Trading Advice Transparency Bill, and Ian McKelvie's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly it may make a start on Greg O’Connor's Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill (which is more "tough on crime" bullshit). There should be a ballot for three or four new bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022



Climate Change: Taking the challenge seriously

Back in 2017, then-opposition leader Jacinda Ardern declared climate change to be "my generation's nuclear-free moment". Since then the government she leads has passed the Zero Carbon Act, legislating a net-zero (except for methane) 2050 target and strengthening our interim 2030 target. But that target has been rated as "insufficient" compared to our fair share of emissions. We're simply a foot-dragger, whining and pleading to keep on polluting.

Meanwhile, Finland is showing us what we need to do:

Finland has passed arguably the world’s most ambitious climate target into law. It aims to be the first developed country to reach net zero, in 2035, and net negative – absorbing more CO2 than it emits – by 2040.

According to Net Zero Tracker, only South Sudan has a more ambitious net zero date than 2035 and, as a developing country, its 2030 target is highly dependent on international finance.

The target was set based on analysis by a group of independent economists from the Finnish climate change panel. They worked out what Finland’s fair share was of the 420 GT of carbon dioxide that the world can emit and still have a two-thirds chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

The panel based this fair share on Finland’s share of the global population, its ability to pay to reduce emissions and its historic responsiblity for causing climate change. It is believed to be the first target to have been set in this way.

(The target had been previously announced when the governing coalition formed in 2019, but now it has finally been legislated).

This is what taking climate change seriously looks like. This is what we would be doing if Ardern actually thought it was a "nuclear-free moment". It would mean the end of "business as usual" and massive changes to Aotearoa's economy - not just the decarbonisation of electricity supply we already seem to be on track for, but a massive drop in the dairy herd (the dirtiest, least-productive part of our economy), the end of the polluting tourism industry, the reforestation of much of the country, and a massive change in how we live in cities. Which sounds hugely disruptive, and it will be. But so is flooding Petone, South Dunedin, and central Wellington, while letting the whole east coast dry up and blow away - which is what we're already on track for. This sort of target is what we actually need to do to survive, and anything less is actively endangering us. And if the current government thinks survival is "too disruptive" (which they also seem to do with Covid), then we need a better one.

Thursday, June 02, 2022



Giving the finger to the watchdog

The Independent Police Conduct Authority released another damning report today, on a case where police unlawfully arrested and set an attack dog on a young person, putting them in hospital. The summary echoes a number of recent themes in IPCA reports: police ignoring the law limiting the arrest of young people (which includes a specific clause on bail breaches), the unlawful arrest meaning that all subsequent use of force was also unlawful. It also has the usual police response of refusing to prosecute their own. If you or I had set an attack dog on someone and put them in hospital, we would unquestionably be prosecuted for it and looking at 7 - 14 years for wounding with intent. The police refusing to prosecute their own where their behaviour has been found to be unlawful is simply corrupt, and it makes them look like a uniformed gang who serve themselves and not the public.

And then I read the full report, and it is even worse. The initial incident which bought the victim to the officer's attention reads like a classic racist traffic stop. After that incident, the officer followed the victim to a home, where they bullied another young person into "consenting" to an unlawful search. When the victim fled their uniformed stalker, the officer "armed himself with a Glock pistol" before getting his dog. That particular decision goes completely unexamined by the IPCA, and it should have been, because it seems completely unnecessary to deal with a fleeing young person (it also does not seem to meet the requirements of the police firearms policy, which you'd think the IPCA would be concerned about). The IPCA also found that the use of an attack dog to pursue and bite someone for something so trivial would not have been justified even had the arrest been lawful (meaning the officer would still have been criminally liable for that illegal use of force), and that the officer behaved unprofessionally towards the victim and witnesses (the witness testimony also suggests strongly that the attack dog was used as revenge by the officer, which is also something the IPCA doesn't examine, preferring instead to focus on the bad language).

And after all this, the police just gave the IPCA the finger, like they always do. Again, it is clear that our police "oversight" system is fundamentally broken, if not an outright fraud on the public. It needs to be fixed. And until it is, this corruption of the police holding themselves above the law will continue.

Wednesday, June 01, 2022



More police corruption

Stuff reports that the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a pair of police prosecutors acted "unprofessionally" in discussing a prosecution with a colleague who was a defendant in the case:

“The defendant had approached the prosecution staff to discuss aspects of his case and in doing so the officers failed to recognise the conflict of interest arising from the relationship between the prosecution and the defendant,” the IPCA said.

The investigation found the two officers “acted unprofessionally and exercised poor judgement” in meeting with the defendant.

Both officers received an “employment outcome” for their actions.

A police spokesperson declined to say where the staff were working at the time of the incident.

Firstly, we should call this what it is - not merely "unprofessional", but corrupt, an example of police looking out for each other and not the public. That needs to be taken seriously, and rooted out. Minimising such behaviour is not going to help in that. Secondly, note that the police's approach is to cover it up, refusing even to say which district has a problem with corrupt prosecutors. And that is simply not acceptable. To point out the obvious, this prevents us from seeing a pattern (as there seems to be with police brutality in Hāwera), or really knowing how widespread the problem might be. And that too seems self-serving and corrupt, the police putting their own interests ahead of accountability to the public. Which I guess tells us that the problem isn't only with these prosecutors, and goes all the way to PNHQ.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022



Enforcing the OIA

One of the most appalling things about the current Official Information Act regime is how it is enforced. Or rather, how it is not enforced. Complaints about delays - agencies not responding within the statutory time limit - are one of the most common types of complaint. And yet, for the past five years, the Ombudsman's approach has been to essentially refuse to investigate them unless forced to, giving delinquent agencies extra time to respond, and then refusing to make a formal finding of lateness against agencies if they do. This is done in the name of "early resolution" - clearing complaints off the books as quickly as possible, to avoid an embarassing backlog. But now, that approach is going to change:

Explaining his change of approach, Boshier told Newsroom he was “increasingly concerned about the delays requesters reportedly experience when seeking a decision on a request for official information and a growing perception that OIA performance is declining”.

“Delays in responding to requests can create suspicion and distrust and I simply cannot allow the act to be manipulated or undermined, either deliberately or inadvertently, by any agency or minister that is subject to it.”

While he would still try to resolve complaints informally and at the lowest possible level, from July a tougher approach would apply if the statutory time limits were not being met.

“I intend to make formal findings and recommendations in these cases and report them to the relevant government ministers and publicly to Parliament.”

Good. Because one of the problems with the current approach is that agencies face no pressure to improve. And so you get shit like this, where agencies say "we're not able to meet the due date, fuck you" (the police are notorious for doing this, as a quick browse of their responses on FYI will show). There's no consequences for breaking the law, and no shame for the agency or pressure on the Minister, so no incentive to do better. Hopefully the Ombudsman's new approach will change that.

Monday, May 30, 2022



Long covid victims deserve support

Newsroom's Marc Daalder has an excellent piece this morning on long covid in New Zealand. Its currently affecting tens of thousands of kiwis, and with the government's "let it rip" strategy, that number is only going to increase (in the UK, where almost everyone has had covid, 3% of the population report suffering from long covid. The NZ government's best case scenario is 2% of all kiwis will get it). It can cause serious disability, with victims reporting severe pain, mobility issues, anxiety / depression, and 40 - 50 percent of them saying it interfered with usual activities (like going to work, or taking care of their kids). But is there government support? Of course not:

As it stands, there are relatively few options available to those with Long Covid. Crossan's support group is putting together resources for patients to take to their employers. But ACC has declined to cover the condition if it can't be proven that Covid-19 was caught in the workplace and Long Covid isn't considered a disability eligible for government support.
So, to make this clear, the government gave up on covid and let it spread unchecked, letting half the country get it. And now, when confronted with the long-term consequences of that stupid decision, its "fuck you, your problem".

This isn't "kind". It is immoral. Quite apart from general principles of welfare policy in NZ - under which disability support is clearly the government's responsibility - these people are disabled because of the government. They have this problem due to a clear and unquestionable failure of government policy. The government cannot simply walk away from that and abandon them. At least, not under any reasonable ethical standards.

The government needs to accept its responsibility here, and provide support. And if they don't, well, 2% is normally enough to shift elections, and people should vote for a government which will.

Friday, May 27, 2022



Is OIA handling under-resourced?

One of the most common excuses for OIA failures is under-resourcing. Government agencies sometimes claim that don't have the staff or the time to properly obey the law. Which might have worked as an excuse briefly when the OIA was new, but its been the law now for 40 years, and you'd expect them to have sorted their shit out long ago. More importantly, ministers and chief executives have a legal duty of stewardship, and are required to ensure that their agencies can properly perform their statutory functions. If they do not have the resources to perform those functions, then it is the responsibility of its chief executive to ask for them, and of the minister to ensure they get what they need.

But do they actually do this? I asked 34 government agencies - the 32 public service agencies scheduled in the Public Service Act, plus NZDF and the police - whether they had proposed budget initiatives seeking additional resources for OIA handling, information and records management, or ministerials for any of budgets 2018 - 2021 (OIA handling being what I was after, ministerials because OIAs are often done by an agency's ministerial team, and information and records management because these are important supporting technologies which enable requests to be processed). I did not ask internal transfers because I did not think of it at the time, but some agencies were either helpful or realised it would make them look good and provided that information anyway. I did not ask about budget 2022 because that part of the request would have been refused.

I received the final response yesterday, 41 working days after the requests were lodged. A summary of the responses can be viewed here. Of the 34 agencies:

  • 29 had not made any such budget bids and did not volunteer any other information (these are classed as "informative refusals" on the spreadsheet, and their specific comments are included as a note. The responses were largely template, and MBIE's is typical).
  • Four agencies - the Department of Conservation, Ministry of Pacific Peoples, Ministry of Health, and the Police - had allocated additional resources from baseline funding or by a formal internal transfer, but had not asked for additional resources via the budget process. In DoC's case, they'd actually done it twice within the relevant time period, and provided a full business case for each as well as an interesting look at how various other agencies resource OIA handling. It is possible some other agencies also provided resources this way; if they didn't take the opportunity to tell me about it, that's on them.
  • Only one agency raised a formal budget bid: Oranga Tamariki. And it was really about privacy requests, rather than the OIA.

So there you have it: fewer than one in eight agencies allocated additional resources to OIA handling, and only one raised a formal budget bid remotely connected to it (and that was really about privacy requests). The conclusion is that agency chief executives feel they are properly resourcing OIA handling - or perhaps that requests to ministers for additional resources would not be welcome. But regardless of the reason, the fact that they have not asked for more undercuts any claim to be "under-resourced". This myth is busted.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022



Climate Change: Cut methane now

When the government passed the Zero Carbon Act in 2019, it established a "split gas" target, with separate budgets for carbon dioxide and methane. The logic here was that farmers were a powerful lobby group the government didn't want to annoy methane was a short-lived gas, so we should focus our efforts on the long-term problem of carbon dioxide. But now we're out of time, and scientists are pointing out the obvious: we need to limit heating urgently, so we need to cut methane now:

Cutting methane sharply now is crucial, as focusing on carbon dioxide alone will not be enough to keep rising temperatures within livable limits, scientists have warned.

[...]

Cutting CO2 is still essential for the long term, but must be accompanied by strategies to reduce the levels of SLCPs. If not, then temperatures are likely to exceed 2C above pre-industrial levels, the upper limit set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, even if there are stiff cuts to CO2 emissions.

Dreyfus said sharp cuts to methane and other SLCPs [short-lived climate pollutants] could result in temperatures lower by 0.26C by 2050, which is almost four times greater than the benefit of pursuing CO2 cuts alone, which the scientists estimated would result in temperature cuts of 0.07C by 2050.

She said: “These non-CO2 targeted measures when combined with decarbonisation can provide net cooling by 2030, reduce the rate of warming from 2030 to 2050 by about 50%, roughly half of which comes from methane, significantly larger than decarbonisation alone over this timeframe.”

New Zealand is the 6th worst methane polluter per capita (or maybe the 5th, as Grenada's emissions in that table don't seem remotely close to its past inventory). The rest are all natural gas producers. We're punching well above our weight on destroying the global climate. Which means we have a greater obligation to fix it.

How can we fix it? Take a look at the emissions tracker: we emitted 34.272 million tons CO2-e worth of methane in 2019, and 20 million tons of that was from cows. Capping cow numbers and halving the herd would cut our methane by a third, our gross emissions by a seventh, and our net emissions by a quarter. And we can do it within the normal farm business cycle, in 3-5 years, just by not replacing animals when they go to the works.

Farmers are still clinging to business as usual, trying to pretend they can avoid the emissions cuts the rest of us have to make, still pushing research so they can keep on polluting. But that's just delay and denial. We are out of time, and they need to do their bit. Deep cuts to agricultural emissions are required. No climate policy without them can be considered credible. And any government which refuses to make them should be de-elected and replaced with one which will.

Monday, May 23, 2022



The Australian election

Australia went to the polls on Saturday, and while the preferences are still being counted, clearly voted for a change of government. Unfortunately, this being Australia, this meant swapping one coal-loving, refugee-hating racist for another. Which is perhaps why Labor's primary vote share decreased this election, with voters instead turning to the Greens and "teal" independents promising action on climate change and corruption. And hopefully this will mean some big changes in climate change policy. But it all depends on how those last preferences go, and whether Labor gets a secure majority, or whether it is forced into minority government.

(Australia's unfair electoral system is a big problem here. The ALP got ~33% of the primary vote and is flirting with 50% of the seats. Meanwhile, the Greens got ~12%, and around 2% of the seats. This is what Australians call "fair").

Are there lessons for Aotearoa? Unlike Australia, both our government and our opposition have at least pretended to care about climate change, and there isn't the level of high profile abandonment - going on holiday during the bushfires, ignoring the floods - that has driven public anger about Scott Morrison. Unlike Australia, our politicians take their jobs seriously and understand basic public expectations. We also have a very different political system, which makes independent challenges to MPs unlikely (we haven't had an independent elected since 1943, and the highest-profile recent example - Raf Maji - managed a distant second). But with MMP, if Labour is seen as not performing or being an impediment on climate change, people can and will just switch their vote to the Greens to shift the policy balance, and that seems like something that could happen next year. Underperformance by a future National government doesn't have such an easy outlet, however - which is probably something they rely on.

Friday, May 20, 2022



A WTF moment in Samoa

In a democracy, laws are made by elected politicians. But apparently not in Samoa, where a highly controversial law was changed unilaterally by an HRPP cabal after it had been passed and signed:

A parliamentary inquiry into anomalies discovered in constitutional amendments linked to the operations of the Land and Titles Court has recommended charges against those responsible.

A Special Inquiry Committee report highlighted those it claimed were behind the amendments, which resulted in changes being made to the Act of Parliament without due processes, who “appeared to have breached” Standing Orders and Revision and Publication Act 2008.

In one of the four main recommendations by the Committee, the report stated that the matter should be referred to the Office of the Attorney General, and the Ministry of Police to press relevant charges against those involved.

The report points the finger at the President of the Land and Titles Court and the former Attorney General, who each demanded changes after the law had been passed and signed, and the former Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, who had it recalled for changes. The changes - which had not been approved by parliament, and were well beyond mere typos - were made to a constitutional amendment, effectively bypassing the amendment process and supermajority requirement. And one of the results has been to completely bork the law, effectively disabling the Land and Titles Court (existing judges can only hear old cases, and new judges cannot be appointed).

(As for criminal charges, the obvious one is forgery: "mak[ing] a false document [in this case, one altered without authorisation - I/S], knowing it to be false, with the intent that it in any way be used or acted upon... as genuine". But proving that those responsible knew they were not authorised to make the changes, rather than being merely utterly arrogant or incompetent, might be tricky).

This is appalling, and it raises serious questions about the quality of governance and democracy in Samoa under the HRPP. But it also raises a more pressing question: how many other times has this happened? They're going to have to re-check everything now, just to make sure nothing else has been slipped through without legislative consent.

Not very proactive II

A couple of weeks ago, Newsroom reported that the government was failing to meet its proactive release obligations, with Ministers releasing less than a quarter of cabinet papers and in many cases failing to keep records. But Chris Hipkins was already on the case, and in a recent cabinet paper on The next steps in the public release of official information (the same one referred to here), he secured Cabinet agreement to finally establish a monitoring mechanism:

Cabinet also agreed that a reporting regime for the policy be put in place, as it is important that we have a view of the levels of compliance with the policy across agencies and portfolios. The agencies consulted during the 2019 review preferred central collection of this data by the Commission rather than individual reporting. To give effect to Cabinet’s previous agreement to a reporting regime, I propose that the Commission gather information on the number of Cabinet papers departments have published on behalf of their ministers (i.e. by portfolio) at six-monthly intervals, alongside the existing OIA statistics collection. The information collected by the Commission will cover, by portfolio:

14.1 The number of Cabinet papers which have been approved for release by the relevant portfolio Minister; and

14.2 The number of Cabinet papers released

The problem? It doesn't collect the number of papers taken to Cabinet. And without that, we can have no idea whether the government is meeting its commitment or not.

These statistics seem purposefully designed to obscure, rather than illuminate. The aim is to allow the government to say "we released X cabinet papers! look how transparent we are", while hiding the number of papers not released. And if the Minister had consulted anyone outside TKM/PSC about the issue, maybe he would have realised that.

Thursday, May 19, 2022



A wasted opportunity

The government announced its budget today, with Finance Minister Grant Robertson giving the usual long speech about how much money they're spending. The big stuff was climate change and health, with the former being pre-announced, and most of the latter being writing off DHB's entirely fictional "debt" to the the government (or, to put it another way, paying the bill for past government underfunding). The mandatory surprise was a one-off $350 cost-of-living payment for the middle class, to counteract the effects of inflation. Which is better than the knee-jerk tax cuts the parties of the rich have been calling for, but also less useful than actual structural change, like moving some of the tax burden from income to wealth. But Labour has made it clear they're unwilling to consider that, so we get band-aids instead. There's some nice little things buried in there - the government won't be stealing child support payments from solo parents anymore, which will be the first Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommendation they've actually implemented - but there's no capital gains tax, no big investment in public housing, and no real effort to reduce inequality. Because all of those things would cost money, and as Bernard Hickey points out in The Kākā, that's something NeoLiberal Labour is fundamentally allergic to. Looking "credible" to bankers by keeping the state small is more important to them than helping the people who put them in power. And on salaries of $169k and upwards, its not like they feel any pain, or any urgency for change. The problems besetting Aotearoa are just an abstraction to them, while they work out how to scam their parliamentary housing allowance, superannuation scheme, or electorate support funding to pay for their next investment property.

Maybe they're saving real change for next year, or for the election campaign. But if so, they're fools, because on current polling they won't be in power. This was their last chance to make real change and see it implemented before the election, and they blew it. But then, that's the tale of this entire term in government: a wasted opportunity.

Cook Islands PM approves of corruption

Last year, Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau stood down as a minister after being charged with conspiracy to defraud after an investigation into corruption in Infrastructure Cook Islands and the National Environment Service. He hasn't been tried yet, but this week he has been reinstated:

The seven-month suspension of Cook Islands deputy prime minister, Robert Tapaitau, has been lifted ahead of the general election later in the year.

Tapaitau is facing fraud related and theft charges.

Radio Cook Islands reports Prime Minister Mark Brown saying Tapaitau's court hearing was not expected until next year and someone could not be suspended indefinitely.

The prime minister said there is a presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Which sounds superficially reasonable, but if taken seriously, raises the question of why he stepped down in the first place. And the answer to that of course is that a minister continuing to exercise power while on trial for corruption is simply untenable, and creates a perception that the the Prime Minister thinks corruption in office is acceptable. By reinstating Tapaitau, Brown has invited people to draw exactly that conclusion.

(The real reason is that there's an election coming up, and Brown will likely need Tapaitau's vote to stay in office, so basic political probity goes out the window so he can keep his salary and perks...)

Drawn

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

  • Repeal of Good Friday and Easter Sunday as Restricted Trading Days (Shop Trading and Sale of Alcohol) Amendment Bill (Chris Baillie)
  • Electoral (Strengthening Democracy) Amendment Bill (Golriz Ghahraman)
  • Increased Penalties for Breach of Biosecurity Bill (Jacqui Dean)
Ghahraman's bill is an important one, which implements numerous changes, including lowering the voting age and the MMP threshold and ending the role of big money in elections. The government has currently kicked many of these issues to a "review", so this will force them to actually take a position on them. Sadly, with labour, we can probably expect that position to be a self-serving support of the status quo, combined with a self-serving attempt to nobble the opposition.

There were 65 bills in the ballot today - not a record, but a very healthy turnout. And hopefully now Parliament is doing first readings again, we'll see some more ballots soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022



Member's Day: Finally, some first readings

Today is a Member's Day, and finally we are getting some first readings. First, though, the House has to complete the third reading of Tangi Utikere's Local Government (Pecuniary Interests Register) Amendment Bill. After that, it will finish the first reading debate on Tāmati Coffey's Improving Arrangements for Surrogacy Bill. After that, its some new stuff, with Nicole McKee's Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) (Definition of Significant Criminal Activity) Amendment Bill, James McDowall's Education and Training (Freedom of Expression) Amendment Bill, and Deborah Russell's Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Bill all lined up for first reading. If the House moves quickly, it might also make a start on Ian McKelvie's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill.

First readings means there will finally be a ballot tomorrow, likely for three bills. Interestingly, National's Simon O'Connor has put in a Modern Slavery Reporting Bill, in an effort to sabotage the government's current consultation and put in weak standards rather than strong ones. While any progress is better than none, I'd expect it to be significantly strengthened in committee if drawn.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022



Climate Change: "Corporate welfare"

One of the key planks of yesterday's Emissions Reduction Plan is a $650 million fund to help decarbonise industry by subsidising replacement of dirty technologies with clean ones. But National leader Chris Luxon derides this as "corporate welfare". Which probably sounds great to the business ideologues in the Koru club. But there are two big problems.

Firstly, the biggest: its a staggeringly good deal for the government:

The $650m for corporates is going into the Government’s GIDI fund, which invests alongside businesses.

Thus far the fund has invested $68.7m while corporates have put in $117m, for a total abatement of 7.45 megatonnes of emissions.

That works out to an implied carbon price of $9.22/ton. The government internally values carbon at $150/ton, so that seems like a pretty good deal (certainly better than an Auckland motorway). If business had funded it all internally, it would have cost them $24.92. That's under a third of the current market carbon price, and has had a 2:1 return since at least Septmber 2021 (and breakeven since mid-2020), so it would have been perfectly profitable for them to do themselves. Which brings us to the second problem: that the business community are stupid, short-sighted penny-pinchers, who don't make profitable investments in decarbonisation and energy efficiency unless the government holds their hand and drags them to it. And subsidies - "corporate welfare" - are easier and cheaper than trying to change NZ's entire business culture.

This isn't news. In 2001 we established a whole agency - EECA - to help solve it. In their second New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, published in 2007, they politely laid out the problem like this:

In common with other sectors, the business sector faces barriers to the uptake of energy efficiency and conservation measures including access to capital, lack of information, weak price signals and split incentives.

These barriers tend to be higher for small and medium-sized enterprises. Other barriers include:

  • managers being subject to short payback criteria from investments
  • smaller businesses are typically not exposed to cost-reflective electricity pricing
  • the purchase and control of energy is often separated within businesses.
Their solution was a grants scheme, to help fund the profitable upgrades our business "leaders" were too stupid and short-sighted to fund themselves. We've been funding such upgrades for over 15 years, without any real controversy. The new package is a significant expansion on that approach, but its really nothing new. And now the government is properly valuing carbon on its books, we can see the value in it. Obviously it would be better if NZ businesses were smart enough to do this themselves (it being more than profitable enough), but they're not. And in the face of this market failure, government action seems justified.