Friday, July 29, 2022

A runaway success

This year the government finally got its clean car feebate scheme into place. But there's a problem: it's been too successful:

Transport Minister Michael Wood will shortly review the cost of the fees and rebates in the Government's "feebate" scheme after the runaway success of the policy has meant it is paying out millions more in rebates each month than it collects in fees.


The clean-car discount is meant to encourage people to buy cleaner cars by offering a discount of up to $8625 from the price of an electric or low-emissions car. These discounts are paid for by fees of up to $5175 on dirtier cars. The Government said it would regularly review fee and discount levels when it announced the scheme.

The scheme is meant to be self-funding, but it could become a victim of its own success, paying out millions more in fees each month than it collects in revenue. This could mean fees going up or discounts going down when the scheme is reviewed in just a year's time.

Firstly, this sounds like the policy has been a huge success at driving the change it was intended to. Which shows just how much difference these sorts of policy pushes can make. Secondly, increasing fees is going to make dirty cars more expensive, discouraging their use even further. The big worry here is that the government will worry too much about making the books balance perfectly, and so undermine the impact of the scheme, when what they should be focusing on is the extremely rapid change they're driving. Because we need to decarbonise as quickly as possible, and transport is one of the big sticking points in this. The faster we can do it, the better off we'll be.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Why we need an OIA review

Stuff has relaunched its "redacted" series on freedom of information, starting today with an examination of OIA delays, and a look at the government's broken promise of an OIA review. The latter has raised some doubts about whether a review is really necessary, including from Ombudsman Peter Boshier (who thinks its all a matter of bad public servants and that everything would be fine if they were just good chaps), and I agree there are real questions about whether the government can be trusted to meddle in transparency legislation (especially given the attitudes displayed by Ministry of Justice, the agency responsible for the Act). But for those doubting whether we actually need one, there is a very simple answer: the law is now 40 years old.

The OIA is, bluntly, the product of another era. And not the grim, pinched, haunted-by-a-piggy-cackle one we think. The attitudes which shaped it are even older. Alan Danks, the man whose name is on the report which gave us the OIA, was born in 1914. While his report Towards Open Government is a highmark of a liberal trend which had been opening New Zealand up since the 1960's, its also clearly shaped by the authoritarian, monarchist, deferential, anti-democratic attitudes of the society he grew up in, and which he helped undermine. A society where government was top-down, not bottom-up, distant and accountable only at elections (which effectively produced a triennial dictatorship), where foreign affairs and defence were "high matters of state" for kings and their anointed ministers, to be kept out of the mucky hands of the peasantry. Most importantly, a society where all government information was presumed to be secret, and its disclosure criminal.

The OIA (and Danks) changed that, and helped make us into a better, more open, more democratic society. Today, the attitudes underlying many of its withholding grounds seem highly questionable, if not downright suspect. Modern people approaching the same problem are likely to find a different balance between secrecy and transparency than Danks did - and one more in favour of transparency, because it has in many ways become a default.

But its not just about social attitudes. We've had massive constitutional change in that 40 years, most obviously in the form of the BORA and MMP. And the BORA is a particular issue, because it explicitly affirms the right to receive information. Meaning every OIA withholding ground prima facie violates it, and needs to be re-examined to see if it really is a reasonable limit which can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. Its been the law for 30 years now, but that exercise has never taken place. A review would let us do that.

And of course there's the fact that the rest of the world hasn't stood still. The OIA was one of the first right to information laws passed. Now there's 40 years progress overseas with a number of valuable lessons. Other countries make their parliaments, their courts, and even private bodies receiving substantial public funds subject to transparency laws. They have better complaints and enforcement mechanisms. They have legal requirements for proactive publication. We are decidedly behind the times.

None of this of course means we can trust the government to meddle with the OIA. Labour and the Ministry of Justice (the agency responsible for overseeing the Act) have shown their hostility to its values, and National isn't any better. Any review must be kept out of the hands of politicians and officials to ensure it is not captured and used as a vehicle for pushing greater secrecy. It must also be public and transparent, allowing for genuine consultation. That means - Labour - consultation when a policy is being shaped, not afterwards, as a rubberstamp (and it certainly does not mean "select committee submissions". They're a final fix-up of an end-product, not actual consultation). Which suggests that maybe we should just cut the government out of the process entirely, have NGOs and civil society organisations interested in transparency run their own review, use it to draft a bill or series of amendments, and then campaign for its passage.

Is the tide turning on secrecy clauses?

Over the last couple of years there has been a disturbing trend of new legislation containing secrecy clauses, which effectively make it illegal for affected government bodies to disclose information under the Official Information Act. Some of these are re-enacting old legislation from the pre- or early-OIA era (in which case they should be re-examined from the ground up to see if there is still a justification strong enough to support violating the BORA). Some are naked secrecy grabs to make agencies less accountable. Some seem driven by an oversensitivity to concerns about confidentiality from business (an interest which is already well-protected by the OIA). And some are ostensibly about allowing agencies to publish and disclose information, while in fact having the opposite effect. The good news is that there's been some movement on the latter. In addition to select committees amending those clauses to respect the OIA, newer-legislation is now also doing this explicitly from the beginning. For example, the new Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill forbids the newly-established Accessibility Committee from publishing information it requests from other government agencies, unless (among other reasons) "the publication or disclosure is made under the Official Information Act 1982 or is otherwise required by law".

Its a good change to see, and hopefully it will continue. At the same time, it makes the secrecy clauses which have slipped through unamended - like this one or this one - all the more glaring. They need to be removed. In 1987 the government reviewed all extant secrecy clauses, and repealed those which could not then be justified. 35 years later, we clearly need to do it again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Climate Change: Freeing the ETS

The Emissions Trading Scheme is broken. Stuffed with free allocations and rigged with a "cost containment reserve" which floods the market any time prices get "too high" (for a definition of "too high" set in a different world), its basicly served as a machanism to subsidise the production of the pollution it ostensibly wants to get rid of, at a cost of billions of dollars a year. This is obviously unsustainable, so much so that even the foot-draggers in Labour have recognised it, and they finally seem to be fixing it. last week, they announced they'd be reducing free allocation (though dragging their feet on it at the cost of another billion dollars). And today, the Climate Change Commisison published advice on the topic of NZ ETS unit limits and price control settings for 2023-2027 - basicly, how much carbon polluters will be allowed to emit, and how much they will pay for it.

The changes proposed are massive. Comparing their new numbers (p11 - 12) to the current settings, they'll be ripping over 12 million tons out of the overall cap over four years, lowering it from 124.9 to 112.7 million tons. But it gets better, because that cap includes the Cost Containment Reserve volume, and they're increasing the trigger price (the point at which it becomes available) by about $100/ton, from $78.40 to $171 in 2023 (they're also moving to a two-tier CCR, with a small volume released at that price, and the bulk of it at a price ~$40 higher). CCR volumes have increased by about a million tons a year, but the massive price increase means those credits should effectively be unavailable. Meaning the effective volume available will be decreased by another 29.7 million tons to just 83 million tons. That's a reduction by a third. Unfortunately, past policy mistakes have left polluters with a massive stockpile of credits, but these changes should see most of them used up by 2026 (the Commission's goal is to force the stockpile to be used by 2030). The upshot: we're going to see a big increase in carbon prices, a reduction in the stockpile, and real price pressure on polluters to reduce emissions. The price increase should also be high enough to incentivise native forestry, so all those farmers currently hating on pine as a threat to their rural lifestyle will start sharpening the chainsaws for manuka and totara.

(The massive decrease also shows just how much the rest of New Zealand is squeezed by the exclusion of farmers from the ETS. They don't have to make cuts, so all the burden goes on us, and we'll be paying for it. And all to protect a tiny minority of dirty, rural rich people...)

Of course, this assumes that the government adopts the Climate Commission's advice. They have a good record on this in the past, but those changes have been fairly small and ineffectual. This is actually going to do something, so we can expect the pressure to go on from polluters to water it down and weaken it and keep the subsidies flowing. Which means we're going to see whose side Labour is really on: the planets, or the polluters'.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

We need a windfall tax

New Zealand companies are using their oligopolistic market power to gouge mega profits, driving up inflation. Overseas, such actions have resulted in windfall taxes, which have been used both to drive down inflation, and ameliorate its impacts (while driving down emissions). With New Zealand petrol companies pocketing record margins and banks shipping record amounts of cash offshore to their foreign owners, it seems like we could do the same here. But is Labour even thinking about it? Of course not:

The Treasury said it had not been asked to conduct any work on a windfall tax for energy companies, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson confirmed no work was under way.

“We are closely monitoring margins in the fuel market to make sure savings are being passed on to motorists,” Robertson said.

So much for standing up for ordinary kiwis.

Monday, July 25, 2022

The Greens, the media, and democracy

The big news over the weekend was that Green party delegates at their AGM voted to re-open nominations for James Shaw's co-leadership position, effectively toppling him as co-leader. I'm not a member of the Greens, so its not really my place to have an opinion on who should lead them - it is a decision for their membership, not for rubbernecking bystanders like me. But something I can have an opinion of is the reaction of Aotearoa's political journalists, who have variously characterised this as "disruptive", "destabilising", an "existential crisis", a "self-implo[sion]". Which paints a fairly unappealing picture of a journalist class which prefers autocracy over democracy, and for our party leaders to be unaccountable to their members. Which seems to be somewhat at odds with the values they present to the public for their self-proclaimed "fourth estate"...

Part of the problem seems to be that its an Outside Context Problem for the media. They're basicly courtiers, who primarily deal with and report on other courtiers. For them, leadership issues are resolved by cabals and conspiracies, BBQs and fish n' chip clubs, secret deals made by "Great Men" and "Great Women" - all of which have self-serving insiders who will give them the gossip to fulfil their own agendas. They're also used to an environment of cynicism, in which policies are just something you espouse to get power, rather than the other way round. Parties which actually stand for something, and which hold their leaders to account for their delivery, are therefore something of a challenge (which they usually dismiss by labelling such parties "naive", promoting cynicism as normal and desirable). And when the peasants just rise up like this, they just can't process it, other than to recognise it as different, and therefore Bad. Which again is a pretty suspicious attitude to take towards democracy and accountability, especially from people who purport to be its champions. And its a pretty suspicious attitude to take towards the idea of member-controlled political parties, which is apparent the moment you ask the question: if parties don't serve their members, who should they serve?

The problem here isn't that the Greens have "too much" democracy - its that other parties have too little. And our courtier journalists are institutionalised into thinking that this is normal and desirable.

As for claims that this will be electorally bad for the Greens, I doubt it. Its not as if any core Green voters are going to turned off by their party being democratic and its leaders accountable. As for non-core voters, they've been driven to the Greens by issues like climate change, inequality, water and housing, which the Greens focus on and the status quo parties are trying to ignore. Sadly, it seems unlikely that those issues are going to get any less pressing, or that the status quo parties are going to be any more convincing (and if they are, then it'll be by adopting green solutions, which most Greens would regard as a victory). Which leaves nebulous attitudes of "trust". But that goes right back to journalists viewing and presenting democracy as bad and untrustworthy...

The Greens will solve their leadership issue democratically, as they always do. Whoever emerges as co-leader will have the endorsement of the membership, as they should. This is a normal process for a democratic party. The voices portraying it as weird or bad are telling us far more about their own anti-democratic attitudes than they are about the Greens.

Friday, July 22, 2022

So its worse then

When news about the New Zealand First Foundation broke, electoral law expert Andrew Geddis put it succinctly:

[T]he alternative conclusion is, if anything, even more worrying. If it turns out that the foundation and the party somehow are operating lawfully, as we should note Winston Peters maintains, then that demonstrates our electoral law simply is not fit for purpose.


If this is legal, then there’s no way that it should be. You can’t have a country’s political system run in this way and be considered the second least corrupt nation on the planet. Or, at least, you can’t do it for long.

Today the high court found that it was indeed legal (and granted those involved permanent name suppression, because being rich means never having to face the reputational consequences of your actions). Which means that it is worse. A political party can literally sell policy, taking donations in secret, then using its influence within government to benefit the donors, without even the usual paltry warning signs from our pathetic disclosure laws. It is a sign of the total corruption of our political system.

The question we should all be asking of our politicians is "what are you going to do about it?" Because I don't think this is acceptable to the vast majority of kiwis. Conveniently, the government just introduced its Electoral Amendment Bill, which deals with donations. I expect significant pressure at the select committee stage to patch this gaping hole in the law. And if the political class refuses to, we should regard it as both a statement of intent and an admission of guilt.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Climate Change: A quarter-billion dollar delay

Back in 2020, the government realised that the industrial allocations in the ETS - supposed to protect large polluters from unfair competition from countries who didn't pay for their carbon - was overallocated. They were giving away too many free credits, resulting in windfall gains to polluters. Having noticed this, the government promised to urgently fix this bleeding sore in public finances, which was costing $60 million a year.

...and then they did nothing. And then did more nothing. Last year, they finally started a review. And now, two and a half years, millions of tons of carbon, and something like $150 milion later, they've finally announced they will fix it. In 2024:

The Government is closing a $60m loophole that allows big polluters to make windfall gains.

Under the Emissions Trading Scheme, some heavy emitters get up to 90 per cent of their pollution credits free.

But outdated maths means some companies can earn up to three times the cost of their actual pollution– a loophole Climate Change Minister James Shaw has now promised to close starting in 2024.

...which means they'll be giving away more carbon, around another hundred millions dollars worth, before they fix it. A quarter of a billion dollars in total. No hurry, eh? And that's without even considering the decade of overallocation before that - another $600 million - or questions about what carbon price they're using (if they're using market prices rather than social costs, then it could easily be double that).

All up this colossal fuckup has cost us the thick end of a billion dollars (or double that), which has gone directly on the profits of these polluting companies. Normally that's the sort of thing that would agitate the current opposition, but because its gone to polluters they'll be whistling tunelessly over in the corner. Overpayments to polluters is also the sort of thing you'd expect to agitate the Greens, but because their Minister is in charge at the moment, they're not interested in accountability either. No-one in our political system is going to stand up for the public over this, and the polluters who benefited from this are going to be allowed to get away with it and laugh all the way to the bank.

They shouldn't be allowed to. When WINZ overpays a beneficiary, they take it back, clawing it out of future payments (or demanding weekly payments from those who have escaped them). We should apply the same approach to rich polluters: these overallocated credits should be reclaimed, either from future allocations, or directly from these companies' ETS accounts. That will not only give justice to the public - it will also restore integrity to the ETS by reducing the massive stockpile of credits.

Finally, it is clear that the government should have acted much faster to fix this. James Shaw owes us an explanation of why something supposedly so urgent took so long. Because while he didn't cause this problem - that's on National, and Nick Smith in particular - he is responsible for fixing it, and the length of time taken is definitely unacceptable.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

A conspiracy against the public

Earlier this year the government held a public consultation on proposed changes to the election donations regime. Naturally, political parties - who have a strong interest in the rules around donations and what they have to disclose - submitted to it. But the Ministry of Justice cooked up a crooked deal to keep those submissions secret:

The Ministry of Justice struck a deal with political parties to keep secret their submissions on donation law reform.


As part of the reform, political parties – and the public – were asked for their feedback on a range of policy options.

The ministry says it will release submissions from ordinary people. But it will not disclose those from three political parties.

“The political parties which the ministry received submissions from, provided these on a confidential basis,” Kathy Brightwell, general manager of civil and constitutional policy said in response to an Official Information Act request from Stuff.

“These parties may not have provided submissions if they knew they were going to be identified, so it would be within the public interest to withhold their submissions, as release of this would likely prejudice the supply of similar information, and it is in the public interest that the ministry can continue to consult with political parties in the future.”

Weirdly the Ministry can't even keep its story straight on how many parties it granted confidentiality to - they told me it was only one. But either way its bullshit. Firstly, because the idea that political parties would not submit on a consultation about the rules they operate under is simply absurd and does not even pass the laugh test. Secondly because insofar as there is any obligation of confidence, it can apply only to truly confidential information, such as membership and financial numbers - not to the views of the parties and the arguments they are using to try and influence policy. Thirdly, because of the public interest: this is an issue which is the subject of widespread public disquiet. Bluntly, the parties are perceived as writing the rules to suit themselves, in flagrant disregard of public demands for greater transparency (which are themselves driven by real questions about who is buying our politicians). This refusal is simply going to strengthen that disquiet and that perception, to the detriment of our democracy.

Of course, while the Ministry says "parties", the party in question is Labour. We know this because National has already publicly released its submission, while Labour refused to do so. Why not? The obvious reason is that they believe that the public will not like what they are saying, and will judge them for it at the ballot box. But we should judge them on their refusal as well. If a party isn't willing to be open about its views on electoral donations, the public should judge them as corrupt-by-default. There are clean parties out there - vote for one of them instead.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Climate Change: A case to watch

Back in 2019 our parliament passed the Zero Carbon Act. The Act was modelled on the UK's Climate Change Act, and has a similar scheme of five-yearly budgets, with detailed government plans to meet them. But after initial success, its no longer working out so well in the UK - their most recent strategy lacked ambition, while key measures weren't funded. And now, the UK's high court has ordered the government to clarify its measures:

The high court has ordered the government to outline exactly how its net zero policies will achieve emissions targets, after a legal challenge from environmental groups.

Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project had all taken legal action over the government’s flagship climate change strategy, arguing it had illegally failed to include the policies it needed to deliver the promised emissions cuts.

In a judgment handed down late on Monday, Mr Justice Holgate said the strategy lacked any explanation or quantification of how the government’s plans would achieve the emissions target, and as such had failed to meet its obligations under Climate Change Act (CCA) 2008.

The strategy hasn't been overturned, but the government will need to report to parliament on the details of what its measures will achieve. And if it falls below the statutory targets, then it will be overturned. Which I guess is another reason why the Tories want to get rid of judicial review...

The application to Aotearoa ought to be obvious. We have the same framework, and the government's first emissions reduction plan is craven, status quo policy which won't achieve even the weak targets they've set. It seems ripe for a challenge...

Monday, July 18, 2022

Corrupt cops should be named, shamed, and fired

On Thursday the Independent Police Conduct Authority found that a senior Northland police officer had improperly involved himself in a prosecution to protect a mate's son from an assault charge. As usual for the IPCA, they refused to name the officer, despite a finding that fundamentally called into question their fitness for a leadership role. But the Northern Advocate was on the case, and on Sunday night they named and shamed him:

The identity of the senior Northland police officer who "improperly influenced" a senior prosecutor to withdraw an assault charge can now be revealed.

Whangārei-Kaipara police area commander Inspector Marty Ruth was called "Officer B" in an Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) report which found he had intervened in a prosecution on behalf of an associate.


The police watchdog found Ruth's action breached a police policy on conflicts of interest because of his business connection.

Ruth - second in command of police in Northland - denied to the IPCA that he had breached the policy. The Advocate has asked Ruth for comment and received no response.

And it turns out that Inspector Ruth has a long history of abuse. Back in 1999 he was found by a judge to have been making fake interview recordings of suspects, while conducting the real interviews - complete with threats and violence - off-camera. Despite this, the police continued to employ him. The police tell us that they've changed, and that they're not that bad old agency anymore. But that's hard to believe when they're full of the same people doing the same things, and when their response to judicial or IPCA findings of abusive, corrupt, or even criminal behaviour is to resolutely look the other way.

The Police Manual chapter on internal Fraud and corruption defines corruption as "The abuse of entrusted power or the lack of integrity or honesty (typically involving bribery) for private gain". It gives examples of

  • Deciding not to take some action, such as to investigate or highlight some corrupt activity by a person, when that inaction improperly benefits them, you, or some other person...
  • Intentionally circumventing Police policy or procedure in order to obtain an advantage for themselves or another person...
  • So‐called ‘Noble Cause Corruption’‐ Includes the intentional avoidance of correct procedure to achieve the best result, such as planting or fabricating evidence, lying on reports or in court, and generally abusing police authority to achieve a conviction...
Its is left as an exercise for the reader to judge whether Inspector Ruth's actions met that definition.

The same policy claims that "New Zealand Police has zero tolerance for fraud and corruption. Police does not and will not accept fraud or corruption at any level, or in any form, occurring in our organisation". I look forward to them applying it. Because allowing an officer who has been found on multiple occasions to have behaved corruptly to remain in a senior leadership position is obviously untenable. It undermines the police's integrity, and the message police leadership is supposedly sending to junior officers about what is and is not acceptable behaviour. It also very obviously undermines public trust and confidence in the police and their role as impartial upholders of the law. And that is unacceptable. This corrupt officer must be fired.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Straight-up police corruption

Another report from the Independent Police Conduct Authority today, on a senior police officer who improperly involved himself in a prosecution to protect a mate's son from an assault charge. The IPCA finds that this was improper and a conflict of interest (well, duh), but they fail to call it what it is: corruption. Because while it doesn't involve money, abusing your power to benefit your mates is corrupt, and not something we should tolerate in our society.

But it gets worse, because buried in the full report is this little titbit: it seems the officer in question is a serial offender:

Officer D said he could recall only one other occasion when Officer B spoke to him about an investigation file and that was also where Officer B knew both the parties involved.
The police's response? They claim to accept the findings, and apparently there was an "employment process". But they don't say that the officer was fired, which suggests that they are tacitly accepting this sort of serial corruption. Which fails any reasonable standard of public probity. So why should we trust the police as impartial arbiters of the law again?

Meanwhile, the police are refusing to name the serially abusive officer who was the subject of two IPCA reports on the same day last month, and who was prosecuted for assault, pleaded guilty, and was convicted. They're also refusing to release their complaint record (which would be... informative if it shows a pattern of abusive behaviour which was ignored by police). They also took no employment action against the officer whose lies to defend their mate were so egregious that even the poodle IPCA was forced to note that they "lacked credibility". Such information is routinely released overseas, and is an important tool for investigating police misconduct and holding police to account - but apparently not in Aotearoa. Which is I guess another example of our police's everyday corruption: they protect their own, even when they have admitted to crimes and been convicted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

More British war crimes

Back in 2017, the ABC revealed that Australia's SAS committed war crimes in Afghanistan, murdering prisoners and civilians, and taking body-parts as trophies. Now, the BBC has exposed the same behaviour in the British SAS:

SAS operatives in Afghanistan repeatedly killed detainees and unarmed men in suspicious circumstances, according to a BBC investigation.

Newly obtained military reports suggest that one unit may have unlawfully killed 54 people in one six-month tour.

The BBC found evidence suggesting the former head of special forces failed to pass on evidence to a murder inquiry.

The ABC story led to a full government inquiry, which found Australian troops had committed at least 39 murders. The most guilty unit was disbanded, and prosecutions are in process. So far, the British government's response has been to accuse the BBC of putting soldiers at risk. But given their past history of obstructing investigations, while pushing for amnesty legislation to outlaw domestic prosecutions of English war criminals, an Australian-style response seems unlikely. But if Westminster won't hold its own to account, then we'll just have to rely on the International Criminal Court to do it for them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Limiting rights needs justification


If the government wants to violate the Bill of Rights Act, does it need to actually justify it, and what happens if it doesn't? That's basicly the issue in question today in the Supreme Court, where activists of the Make it 16 campaign are challenging the voting age. The current law limiting the right to vote to those over 18 is a prima facie violation of the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of age (which means "any age commencing with the age of 16 years"). But the government, in defending that law, simply didn't bother to make a case that the discrimination is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The Court of Appeal thought that didn't matter, and declined to issue a declaration of inconsistency. But given the structure of our Bill of Rights Act, the onus is surely on the government to prove that limiting rights is justifiable. And while the level of justification required can vary depending on the nature of the question, not providing any at all must surely lead to a conclusion that the limit is arbitrary and unreasonable, and therefore unjustified and inconsistent. And if not, it invites people to draw that same conclusion of the court.

Not that a legal victory will result in a direct change to the law - s4 of the BORA is crystal clear on that. But it will provide a powerful moral argument for change, and put the pressure on Parliament to step up, do its job, and amend the law to be consistent with the BORA. And if Parliament drags its feet or fails to do that, we voters should judge them harshly for it.

The sin of cheapness

On Monday, RNZ reported on the results of testing CO2 levels in various places, which showed that Auckland buses had CO2 levels of 5737ppm, making them effectively covid-filled sewers (CO2 is a proxy for exhaled air, which in the current situation is a proxy for covid). As with school classrooms, its a problem that could be mitigated with proper ventilation and filtration. But Auckland Transport had ruled out fixing it due to cost:

Auckland Transport acting group manager of metro services Darek Koper said plans to improve air quality on buses were dropped due to cost.

"Based on the financial assessment of costs for the identified air treatment options and the efficacy and safety of the systems, it was decided to abandon the plans to introduce air purifications systems or introduce more fresh air onto existing buses and trains."

He said the investment required to change the public's perception of safety "without the scientific evidence and subject matter expert support" presented a challenge in justifying such investment.

What this actually means is that they're dumping the cost on the health system, while running an unsafe work environment (which ought to be of interest to WorkSafe). And not just because of covid - high CO2 concentrations have a significant effect on cognitive ability, putting the drivers at greater risk of accidents. But that's just not on Auckland Transport's budget, and there's no regulation requiring it to be - astoundingly, Waka Kotahi regulates almost everything about bus design except air quality. And this institutional blindness has turned the entire public transport system into a public health threat.

But I guess its just the government's covid response writ small: they want covid to go away, but they're not actually willing to commit resources to make that happen. To their minds, gaslighting us while we get sick is just cheaper. And if that results in higher costs due to Long Covid later, well, they're just not thinking about that either.

Friday, July 08, 2022


There's a lot going on today - the political circus in Westminster, an apparent political assassination in Japan, the ongoing war in Ukraine - but the only story that matters is this one: there were 13,344 new community cases of Covid-19 reported in Aotearoa today, and a further 23 deaths. That, and the government's repeated refusal to do anything at all about it - not even a public mask mandate, let alone work from home support or lockdowns. I've castigated Labour as chickenshits over the years - but now their chickenshittery has a bodycount: 1600 people so far, and between four and eight thousand a year on current numbers. And for what? So they can avoid criticism and bad headlines from certain noisy industries whose profitability depends on us all being exposed to risks.

Well, fuck that. The first duty of the government is to keep us safe. And Labour is failing that duty. And whether it is from cowardice or sociopathy is immaterial: I can never forgive them for it. And neither should you. A government which just lets us die is not worth anyone's support (some would say its not really a "government" at all).

And because some people will need it said explicitly: the other bunch also being sociopathic murderers isn't an excuse. Both major parties are failing the most basic test of governance, and fail to meet even the most minimal ethical standards we should expect from our "leaders". They need to do better, or fuck off.

Update: And the Ministry of Health is now saying there was a computer glitch, and today's number is only 9,318. Which is good, so far as it goes, but it really only delays the anger by a week.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Some light in Australia

Back in 2013, a former ASIS agent blew the whistle on how the Australian government had illegally bugged the leaders of East Timor in order to listen in on their negotiating position over oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea. When the issue was raised in the International Court of Justice, the Australian government raided the homes of both the whsitleblower and East Timor's Australian lawyer, then charged them with revealing classified information. But today, at least part of that persecution has been ended, with the Australian government dropping against lawyer Bernard Collaery:

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has ordered the Commonwealth to drop the prosecution of lawyer Bernard Collaery, four years after he was charged with conspiring to release classified information about an alleged spying operation in East Timor

Mr Collaery was charged in 2018 for allegedly helping his client, an ex-spy known only as Witness K, to reveal details of the classified ASIS mission.

This is good, but its not enough - Collaery was persecuted for five years, essentially for representing a whistleblower. His client, "Witness K", was forced to plead guilty and convicted. They should be pardoned, and both should be compensated. The people who orchestrated that persecution need to be fired. But most importantly, Australia's "national security" laws need to be repealed to protect the public interest in leaking, so this can never happen again.

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

The real cost of cars

At the moment a big chunk of the transport policy that isn't focused on building roads is focused on decarbonising the vehicle fleet, via policies like the clean car standard, feebate system, and scrappage scheme. The underlying justification for this is the need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That's vital, but at the same time it looks like we've been missing the elephant in the room: air pollution:

In findings which have startled scientists, new data shows car pollution is killing thousands of New Zealanders each year and costing the country billions of dollars.


It found 3300 people were dying yearly because of air pollution, and it was mostly because of cars.

That meant as a whole, 10 percent of the people who died each year in the country were dying because of air pollution.

Exposure was also sending more than 13,000 people to hospital for respiratory and cardiac illnesses and giving the same number of children asthma.

The social cost of these health impacts was estimated to be $15.6 billion.

And that's per year. To give an idea of this, the total cost of all road transport greenhouse gas emissions (13.18 million tons at $150/ton) is just under $2 billion a year. So air pollution is almost eight times larger - and apparently not factored into our calculations at all.

This should have a massive effect on all future benefit-cost analyses of future transport spending. The good news is that the sorts of solutions which eliminate transport carbon emissions - mode shift, public transport, and switching to EVs - also eliminate air pollution: you don't get nitrogen dioxide from inefficient combustion when you don't burn anything. So it pushes in the same direction we want to go in, only much, much faster. How fast? Well, if we assume that every one of the 4.4 million vehicles in Aotearoa is a large car (they're not), costing $40,000 to replace (the average in 2021), then full replacement would cost $176 billion. Factoring in the cost of air pollution means it pays for itself in twelve years. Which is about the sort of timescale we need to change in to avoid climate disaster.

Climate Change: Calling bullshit on He Waka Eke Noa

Last month, farmers released their proposal for emissions pricing, which was a scam from start to finish, packed with artificially low prices subsidised by the rest of us, bullshit "offsets" also subsidised by the rest of us, and predatory delay. Today, the Climate Commission released their assessment of the proposal, in the form of a statutory report on Progress towards agricultural emissions pricing. And while they're polite about it, they basicly call bullshit on the whole scam. The important takeaways:

  • Farmers are already breaking the promises they made to us about monitoring their emissions;
  • Years of predatory delay and farmer recalcitrance means they can't implement what they're proposing;
  • A lot of what they are proposing - in particular, the entire "offset" scheme - is bullshit anyway, since its neither real nor additional - not additional because its claiming credits for stuff that was already happening, and not real because the supposed "reductions" are not scientifically supported and so not recognised in our inventory. They do however suggest that the government could recognise some of it outside the emissions pricing system, e.g. by paying directly for biodiversity protection (which isn't a terrible idea);
  • The magic technology farmers are relying on to lower emissions without them having to change their practices isn't going to arrive any time soon, and will take time to be recognised in inventories anyway;
  • The 95% free allocation promised by the government is likely to result in significant overallocation, and needs to be ditched;
  • While they don't talk about subsidised emissions prices, they've basicly done a whole other report on that, which pans the idea;
  • The He Waka Eke Noa scheme is unfair to other New Zealanders.

So what do they recommend? Essentially, taking the He Waka Eke Noa proposal for farm-level pricing, and ripping out all the subsidies and bullshit - which will also make it much easier to implement. What this is likely to look like in practice initially is a per-animal levy, which in theory provides a direct incentive for more efficient production (and in practice provides an incentive for farmers to whine about being "taxed"). Offsets would be handled via the ETS, with the promise that if more stuff is internationally recognised then it will be incorporated (which is fair enough). As there's no emissions benefit in pricing fertiliser at the farm level, it should be bought into the ETS as quickly as possible at the producer level, with a much lower level of free allocation (the first bit is easy, as it is already provided for; the second bit will require a law change to tweak a definition or move fertiliser production to industrial activities, where it belongs).

So now we have a real test for the government: do they listen to the expert body they appointed to provide credible, neutral advice, or do they listen to whining farmers? While I'm hoping for the former, given Labour's other chickenshittery, it'll probably be the latter. In which case farmers need to be told firmly that whatever deal they think they've got will be renegotiated and unilaterally altered the moment the Greens have the leverage to do so.

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Labour on the wrong side of history

Last week, Stuff asked Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis about compulsory te reo Māori in primary schools. And as usual for Labour, he firmly rejected the idea, citing fears of a public backlash. Today, Stats NZ released data from the 2021 General Social Survey, showing us thatfears of that backlash are imaginary. In addition to a welcome uptick of use of te reo, there was also this:

62 percent (up from 57 percent) of people agreed or strongly agreed that te reo Māori should be a core subject in primary schools

57 percent (up from 53 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that the government should encourage and support the use of te reo Māori in everyday situations

56 percent (up from 51 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that signage should be in both te reo Māori and English

Which makes sense. There's been a significant change in public use and acceptance of te reo in the past few years (which comes on top of significant change over the course of my life). There's a public recognition that te reo is a taonga, one of the things that makes Aotearoa Aotearoa. Its everywhere now - on the street, on TV and radio, in government press conferences. And apart from a few dirty old racists (who are gradually dying off), we like this, because its who we are now.

And in the face of this change - which they helped promote years ago - Labour is resolutely on the wrong side of history. As with capital gains taxes. They need to learn to read the fucking room. But maybe the real problem is that the only room they're interested in is the one full of rich old racists?

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.