Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The SIS: spying on the government's political critics

The big worry about the SIS and GCSB is that they will be used to spy on the government's political critics. Whenever this worry is expressed, the spies and their Ministers say that of course that would never happen. The problem? It has:

Journalist Nicky Hager will receive $66,000 from the Security Intelligence Agency after his phone records were unlawfully spied on.


The SIS sought Hager’s phone records after the journalist published a book, Other People's Wars, in September 2011. The book contained details of New Zealand's involvement in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, obtained from confidential sources.

A particular Defence Force officer was suspected of being Hager's source, but sufficient evidence could not be found and the Defence Force asked the SIS to assist. It gathered metadata from the officer's home phone and cell phone, and tried to link it with two months of metadata from Hager's home phone.

This was unsuccessful, and both the SIS and the Defence Force pursued the investigation no further.

Acting Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Madeleine Laracy later determined the SIS had no lawful power to investigate.

"I have been unable to find that the [SIS] showed the kind of caution I consider proper, for an intelligence agency in a free and democratic society, about launching any investigation into a journalist's sources," she said.

This was an outright case of the state spying on a journalists who had criticised it. And while this happened in 2011, the current SIS director, Rebecca Kitteridge, defended it to the hilt. Which shows that all their promises of "reform" are lies. They're the same bad old organisation they always were, a threat to our democracy rather than its defender. And it is long past time we disbanded them, or nobbled them so they can never threaten us again.

Interestingly, when I submitted on the Protection of Journalists’ Sources Bill arguing that it needed to be expanded to cover intelligence agencies, DPMC said that it would never be a problem because the purpose of the Intelligence and Security Act's was to "protect New Zealand as a free, open, and democratic society". It turns out they were lying, and that while they were saying this the SIS was covering up exactly the sort of spying on journalists the bill was intended to address. Which tells us that we should never believe anything the government tells us about "national security". Its just self-serving lies from spies.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

We need greater transparency on party funding

Yesterday Max Rashbrooke and Lisa Marriott released their report on political party funding. The gist of it can be gathered from the title: Money for Something. Big donors are donating big money for big influence over policy, and the current regime seems designed to facilitate rather than prevent this undermining our democracy. But they have some solutions as well:

Donors giving more than $1,500 to political parties should be identified, no individuals should be able to give more than $15,000 in a year and only eligible New Zealand voters should be able to donate to political parties, a new report recommends.
If this seems familiar, its because its what people have been recommending, and parties resisting, for years. And the reason it never happens is because our political parties and the politicians who belong to them are corrupt, addicted to a stream of dirty money. Currently the government is trying to make some moves on donation reform, but its basicly half-measures, undermined by that addiction and corruption (so corrupt in fact that the Labour party thinks that its submisison to the Ministry of Justice on the issue, which is likely to highly influential given that the Ministry serves the Minister, can be kept secret).

The report also recommends state funding of political parties, linked to tax credits or "democracy vouchers". The cost of this - $6 to $8 million a year - is a pittance, especially compared to the known cost of corruption (just look at how much Winston forked over to the racing industry, or how Ministers funded by the fishing industry just cost NZ $200 million). And its a tiny price to pay to break the influence of the rich over our political system, and kick them out of their perpetual government.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Entrenching anti-privatisation

Last week, Labour put the House into urgency to push on with its legislative agenda. Part of this included the committee stage of the three waters bill, and something unusual happened: they passed an entrenchment clause protecting the bill's anti-privatisation clause - meaning that a future government would need the support of a 60% majority in the House, or a referendum, in order to privatise water assets.

Constitutional scholars were outraged as this eroded our constitutional norm of entrenchment. And Labour being Labour, it looks like they're doing their usual chickenshit thing and reversing course because someone criticised them, rather than standing up for what they voted for. And I think they should stand up for it, because this is an important battle and there's no better chance than this to establish a constitutional norm against privatisation.

In case anyone has forgotten, successive hard-right governments in the 1980's and 1990's betrayed Aotearoa and sold off state assets to their mates at bargain basement prices, looting the state to enrich a clique of connected businessmen. The privatisations were corrupt, many of the former state assets were then asset stripped and run into the ground, and several had to be bailed out (some multiple times), or bought back so that we would have functioning infrastructure. This exercise in right-wing looting established privatisation as a dirty word in New Zealand politics. Many New Zealanders regard it as a crime, and something that should not be allowed to happen ever again. That's difficult in our constitutional system, and our way of doing it is effectively a constitutional warning sign: an entrenchment clause. While on the face of it an entrenchment clause says "you can't repeal this without a supermajority", the clause can itself simply be repealed (or in some cases bypassed by altering things elsewhere). So its actual force lies in the respect politicians have for it.

(Arguably, we don't do this often enough. The BORA is not entrenched, and has already been altered by a government to gut the right to a jury trial simply to save money. MMP (as opposed to its FPP bits) is not entrenched either. Or the list of prohibited means of discrimination in the Human Rights Act. Governments can, have, and are going to fuck with these for piss-poor reasons, and we should make it more difficult for them to do so. But that's another post...)

Those constitutional scholars are worried that using entrenchment for a mere "policy" issue will erode that respect. Which misses the point: the question of whether public assets belong to the public or to the government of the day to be corruptly distributed to its cronies is a constitutional one. The entrenchment clause simply makes that clear and answers "never again". And in terms of respect, that gets established by doing the thing and making it stick. Norms become norms by becoming normal.

Those constitutional scholars are also trying to scare people with the prospect of future governments doing this for other issues. What about if National and ACT entrench a three strikes law? What about if they entrench low taxes? Whatabout? Whatabout? Whatbaout?

Well, what about it? Under Parliament's standing orders, entrenchment clauses must be supported by at least the level of support needed to overturn them (so if something would require a 60% supermajority to overturn, it needs a 60% supermajority to pass). Under MMP, governments have tended to be weak, with coalition majorities of 5 votes or less. Gaining anything beyond a bare majority almost always requires gaining the support of parties outside the governing coalition. The current government is unusual in that respect, with a single-majority party and an extra 10 or 12 votes likely to support its agenda. The only other example is Helen Clark in 2002, where a collection of centrist parties in the House potentially allowed large majorities to be assembled (and resulted in much more consensus policy than usual). Otherwise, it would mean working with the opposition. And I honestly don't have a problem with that. Under MMP, party strength in the House reflects voter strength at elections. If a government can build a coalition behind an issue to entrench it to require a 60% majority to overturn, then all power to them. We live in a democracy, we get the governments we vote for, and we live with the results. If we don't like them, then we vote differently next time, throw the bums out, and don't let them back in until they've changed their ways.

Yes, doing this by an SOP under urgency is not ideal (and that's on Labour for how they chose to do this stage of the bill). Ideally, the government would have introduced an anti-privatisation bill at the beginning of its term, with anti-privatisation and entrenchment clauses for all classes of public assets. But they didn't, so its left to the Greens to do this piecemeal as things come up. Anti-privatisation is supposed to be a core principle for Labour. If they chickenshit out now, they'll be confirming their weakness and lack of principle. But then, that seems to be Labour in a nutshell now, doesn't it?

Friday, November 25, 2022

Open Government: Another farce

Yesterday the government released its draft Fourth Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2023-24 for consultation. Like previous versions, the plan was meant to be "co-created" with civil society. And like previous versions, that obligation seems to have been observed mainly in the breach, with the government conducting a series of sham "consultation" events around the country, then ignoring practically every piece of input they got from them. As for the outcome, the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties is scathing:

In spite of the Minister’s instruction to officials, the ‘draft’ Action Plan launched today for 2 weeks of public consultation is yet another weak action plan stuffed full of pre-existing or already planned programmes of work by government departments.3

Only two of the eight commitments in the plan are pieces of work that would not have taken place without civil society input, and one of these is so weak as to be a joke.

They then go on to describe the plan as full of "tools for officials" which would have happened anyway - a clear violation of the OGP's additionality requirement.

Last year, ten top civil society organisations wrote to Chris Hipkins about the co-creation process, threatening to walk away unless they saw improvements. I'm now wondering if they'll carry out that threat. Because clearly participating in the government's sham "co-creation" process is a waste of time, and a distraction from other things they could be doing. And after four times round, the government is clearly not going to change its stripes on this. They signed up to the OGP solely for the PR value, with no intention of actually opening government, and they've given no indication that that attitude has changed. Its time to end the farce, and instead of collaborating, call for NZ's suspension from the OGP.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

An engineered recession is class warfare

The Reserve Bank has just come out and admitted that they are engineering a recession to protect the rich:

The Reserve Bank is deliberately engineering a recession to reign back inflation after being slow to raise interest rates, Reserve Bank governor Adrian Orr admitted to a select committee on Thursday.

But he forecast the 1% decline in the economy that the central bank is forecasting could be “job rich” and said the country was relatively well-positioned internationally.

The Reserve Bank raised the official cash rate by 75 basis points to 4.25% on Wednesday and surprised economists by forecasting the rate would peak at 5.5% next year while also predicting a further rise in inflation and a year-long recession beginning in April.

The bank forecast that official unemployment would climb to 5.7% in 2025, from 3.3% currently.

And all of this to keep wages low and prevent the wealth of the rich being eroded at a slightly faster rate. What else should we call it but class warfare?

Recessions have consequences. The IMF goes into some of them here. People lose their jobs and livelihoods, children lose their futures. In addition to the bankruptcies and suicides, there's a general reduced life expectancy for the victims, and poorer educational outcomes (and so reduced lifetime outcomes) for their children. This is what Adrian Orr has chosen. This is what he is inflicting on us. Every business failure, every bankruptcy, every suicide will be his fault. And we should hold him accountable for it.

But we also need to hold accountable the politicians who have enabled him to commit this awful crime, while washing their hands of the consequences in the name of "reserve bank independence". Because there are other ways to reduce demand in the economy, which don't involve throwing people onto the bonfire to satisfy the greed of the rich. We could for example tax away the excess corporate profits which are driving inflation. Or raise income taxes on the rich to soak up excess demand. Or tax wealth directly. Instead, our political class - and both major parties are guilty here - have chosen for the last thirty years to make ordinary people pay the price. Like I said, its class warfare, by the rich and their politicians (who are also rich) against the rest of us. And we should not accept it.

That's no how you do democracy

Last night, the English Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish government cannot hold an independence referendum. Having said that Scotland is not a colony, they then turned around and effectively said that they are, by forbidding them from holding a democratic vote on their own constitutional arrangements unless another country says they can.

Pretty obviously, this is incompatible with any notion that the UK is a democratic country, let alone a voluntary union. In a voluntary union, the parties can choose to leave. Instead, Scotland is locked in, trapped in a cage unless England decides to let it out. They're handcuffed to a partner who economically abuses them. Which makes the need and desire to break those chains even stronger.

But the ruling goes further than that. Because the Supreme Court's logic of looking at the extended (rather than strictly legal) effects of a Scottish law for constitutional impacts can apply to other things. For example, Scotland has a democratic system of government, rather than Westminster's backward first-past-the-post. It has lowered the voting age to 16. While the legal effect is restricted to Scotland, each of these presents an alternative, and implicitly makes a moral case for it, putting pressure on Westminster to change its rotten constitutional system. That is, they affect the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Will Scotland's domestic policies now be micromanaged by England to stop Scotland from making them look bad, on the basis that everything is constitutional?

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the SNP will run a de-facto referendum on independence at the next available election, and polling is already saying that they will receive more than 50% support. So there's going to be a democratic mandate for independence whether Westminster wants one or not. The next question is whether they will recognise it, and allow Scotland to leave peacefully and democratically, or whether they ignore the expressed democratic will of the Scottish people, and effectively announce their intention to retain Scotland by oppression and force?

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Labour attacks LGOIMA - in secret

Today the government used urgency to introduce a new Local Government Official Information and Meetings Amendment Bill. The bulk of the bill deals with land information memorandums (LIMs), requiring local authorities to notify of natural hazards and granting them immunity for doing so in good faith (hopefully forestalling lawsuits by coastal property owners worried about the effect of such notification on their property values). That bit's fine. But part 2 of the bill amends the disclosure regime, adding national security to the withholding grounds, and introducing a Prime Ministerial veto on release. This aligns LGOIMA withholding grounds with those in the OIA,and according to the explanatory note is being done as

The lack of these conclusive grounds for withholding information may inhibit the ability of local authorities to seek or receive advice on security risks and increase the risk of disclosure of information that could prejudice New Zealand’s security or defence or the international relations of the Government of New Zealand.
Of course, the reason they aren't in the LGOIMA at present is because councils don't do that shit, and nor should they. The Ministers promoting the bill need to be asked for specific examples of such inhibition, or what foreign governments or intelligence agencies our councils are cooperating with, whether information has been released, and what harm it has actually caused. And if they have no such examples, if this is just an arse-covering exercise "just in case" or to enable such cooperation, this part of the bill should be rejected.

According to the bill's departmental disclosure statement DIA "did not engage with local authorities or speak to local government sector organisations about the withholding grounds due to time constraints" (the thought of consulting the real stakeholders - the public - seems not to have occured to them). And yet, they supposedly produced a regulatory impact statement on it in June, which still isn't online and has been kept secret for the last five months. There is also apparently a BORA vet, but its also secret, and likely won't be released until after the bill's first reading. Sadly, given Ministry of Justice's track record, I doubt they'll engage with the freedom of expression issues raised by expanding withholding grounds, let alone the rule-of-law problems of allowing the Prime Minister to over-rule the Ombudsman. But it is highly disturbing that a bill restricting freedom of information rights and expanding secrecy was developed in total secrecy, without consulting those primarily affected: the public.

OTOH, it is a pattern sadly typical for Labour. And when they're currently wanking internationally about their participation in the Open Government partnership, while expanding secrecy at home, it just looks two-faced.

Climate Change: Fixing the Crown Minerals Act?

Back in August, the High Court ruled that the Zero Carbon Act isn't worth shit and that the government can continue to approve new fossil fuel exploration without having to consider climate change. The core of the problem is the Crown Minerals Act, and in particular its purpose: "to promote prospecting for, exploration for, and mining of Crown owned minerals for the benefit of New Zealand". Now, the government is finally fixing the problem:

The Government will change “nonsensical” mining legislation that requires it to grant oil companies permits to look for new fossil fuels.


Energy Minister Megan Woods announced that a crucial sentence about promoting mineral exploitation will be changed, so the Government can say no to companies.

This is good, of course - but the government needs to go further. We don't just need a minerals regime that allows mining companies to be controlled - we need to phase out fossil fuels. And that means not just being able to reject new permits for coal and petroleum, but banning them, while sunsetting existing permits and their associated resource consents. Debbie Ngarewa-Packer's Prohibition on Seabed Mining Legislation Amendment Bill will do that for offshore mining, and Eugenie Sage's Crown Minerals (Prohibition of Mining) Amendment Bill would do it for coal. Labour opposes both. Which tells us exactly how un-serious they are on climate change.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the court decision, NZPAM has been extending gas and oil permits right, left and centre. It would be good if the legislation explicitly overturned those self-interested, politically-motivated decisions.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022


At the 2020 election, Labour promised to regulate property managers. Now, they're finally doing it:

The Government’s announcement that rental property managers will be regulated has left the industry asking for more detail, and tenants calling for landlords to be regulated too.

Regulating property managers was one of the Labour Party’s campaign promises in the last election, because the industry is not currently regulated.

Earlier this year the Government proposed a licensing scheme for them, and on Tuesday Housing Minister Megan Woods announced a new regulatory system for the industry.

It would involve compulsory registration and licencing for both individual property managers and their organisations, training and entry requirements, practise standards, and a complaints and disciplinary process which would be administered by the Real Estate Authority (REA).

Property managers are unhappy, but they would be, wouldn't they? Now they'll have to behave like the professionals they say they are, and they'll be able to be held to account for unprofessional behaviour. Which seems to be a Good Thing from a basic consumer rights perspective. But bad I guess if you like having unaccountable power over your serfs.

But while this is a good thing, there's a big gap in the system: private landlords. They need to be regulated and licensed, to ensure basic standards. And if they're unwilling to meet such standards, they should leave the industry.

Monday, November 21, 2022

A victory for democracy!


Today, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Make it 16 Inc v AG, declaring that the law forbidding 16 and 17 year olds from voting was inconsistent with the right to be free from discrimination, and that it had not been justified under the BORA. Its a massive victory for Make It 16, who have fought hard on this issue and pushed it all the way to the Supreme Court, and for the Bill of Rights Act. The government has not been allowed to get away with not bothering to justify discriminatory provisions, or with arguments that it should be immune from scrutiny. Faced with an argument that the voting age was a constitutional issue and that the court should not intervene, the court applied the constitution.

Unfortunately, fixing it will still require a law change, and that law will need a supermajority to pass. The moral and legal argument for change is insurmountable. But it could still not happen because the National Party decides to be dicks and refuses to accept our constitution.

...which will cause further problems. Because this is also going to be the first test of Parliament's new declaration of inconsistency procedures, which were passed earlier in the year. The Attorney-General is going to have to notify the House of the ruling, and the Minister of Justice is going to have to report back on what the government intends to do about it. And if their response is anything other than "immediate and urgent legislation to apply the ruling and allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the 2023 election", Parliament is going to be seen to have failed to protect our human rights again, and the pressure is going to go back on to strengthen the pissweak law they passed, take power from the politicians who refuse to do their constitutional duty, and give it to the courts (who clearly will).

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Labour grovels to the bigots

In the wake of the March 15 terror attack, the inquiry recommended tougher hate-speech laws. And after dragging their feet on it for a full year, the government has basicly said "fuck that":

The Government has drastically watered down its hate speech reforms, Justice Minister Kiri Allan said on Saturday.

Proposed last year in response to the March 15 terror attack and the Royal Commission report that followed, the reforms were due to expand protections to women, religious groups and rainbow and disabled communities, among others. As it stands, only hate speech on the basis of race, skin colour or national origin is prohibited.

The reforms were also going to increase the maximum sentence for hate speech and raise the legal threshold for what might be considered hate speech so that only a narrower band of violent and threatening expression would be banned. The law currently forbids speech that is intended to "incite ill-will" against a group while the Government's proposals would have raised that bar to inciting "hatred".

However, Allan said, the scope of the reforms is now severely curtailed. Only religion will be added to the list of protected grounds and no further changes will be made to hate speech law.

On the plus side, Muslims will at least get some protection. On the minus side, groups who have been routinely targeted by both hate speech and the violence it incites will be left out. And all because Labour would rather grovel to bigots and throw their own supporters under the bus than stand up for its principles.

Fuck Labour. They're as useless as a proverbial useless thing. Grovelling to the rich, grovelling to farmers, grovelling to bigots and misogynists. If they won't do what they say they will, and will back away from their principles at the first sign that someone might disagree with them, what is the fucking point of them?

Friday, November 18, 2022

More police racism

The police annual report was released this month, with the usual statutory information on surveillance warrants and DNA samples. And it turns out there's some shocking evidence of racism among the latter:

The proportion of youth DNA samples collected by police that belong to rangatahi Māori continues to rise, while the figures for other ethnicities reduce.

For the year ended June 2020, 63 percent of bodily samples taken of people aged 14 to 17 were Māori, and 22 percent were European. 

But for the year ended June 2022, that proportion for Māori had increased to 69 percent, while the European figures dropped to 18 percent. 

The total number of young people providing bodily samples overall under the provisions in the Criminal Investigations Act has dropped, but the practice remains controversial.

There are obvious parallels here with the police's unlawful photographing of kids, for which they were recently excoriated by the Privacy Commissioner and Independent Police Conduct Authority. Though in this case there's explicit statutory authority for collection, there's also obvious questions about the reality of "consent" for samples obtained that way, and about who they choose to collect from in the first place and why.

But I think there's also questions which we need to ask about removal. Various provisions of the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995 require samples to be removed from the databank when their retention period expires. Are the police actually complying with these provisions, or actually retaining stuff forever? And do they even have any procedures to check retention dates and whether someone has actually been convicted of a relevant offence? Because judging by their data-handling around photos, the answer is "probably not". And the Privacy Commissioner should absolutely be checking to make sure that they are complying with the law.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Climate change: The cost of inaction

A couple of days ago I highlighted National's opposition to all actual policies to reduce emissions. Now, the government has put some numbers on the cost of that, and it is staggering: nearly 24 million tons by the end of the decade:

Labour says National’s promises to repeal its climate policies will see an extra 23.92 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions in the atmosphere by 2030.

“Our modelling shows that the net effect of constantly opposing policies to reduce emissions leaves [National leader] Christopher Luxon with a hole greater than Auckland’s annual emissions twice over if he keeps New Zealand’s climate targets,” Labour’s climate change spokesperson and Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods said.


The figures come from modelling prepared by the Ministry for the Environment which tallied up the emissions the policies would reduce for the Government. Labour has taken those calculations and added them together to calculate how much emissions would increase by if National won the next election and repealed the policies.

Unmentioned in the Herald article is the financial cost of this: $2.1 billion at today's carbon price, or nearly $3.6 billion at the government's internal valuation of $150/ton (which is almost certainly too low). By opposing all actual policy, that's what National is committing us to pay. Its fiscally as well as environmentally irresponsible.

But underlying it is the real problem: National ostensibly accepts that climate change is a problem, and supports action, but in practice refuses to do anything about it. In this, they're basicly indistinguishable from climate change deniers. And that should exclude them from government forever.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Grant says "no" again

Yesterday the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists released a report on dental care in Aotearoa, highlighting its unaffordability and recommending free, universal dental care. This is something the left has been campaigning for for a long time - Jim Anderton pushed for it before the 2011 election, and Helen Clark has advocated for it. It would massively improve people's lives, reduce pain and suffering, and save money in the long-term. But it would involve spending money, so naturally Grant Robertson has vetoed it:

The Tooth be told report, commissioned by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, said free or subsidised access to dental care in Aotearoa would save millions of dollars in healthcare over time.

But Acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson told Morning Report moving directly to universal dental care would require over a billion dollars a year in extra funding and any additional investment needed to be weighed against other priorities in the health sector.

Instead of free and universal provision, he wants people to go crawling to WINZ, with all the added pain and suffering that entails. Weirdly, he thinks that this isn't a deterrent - which I guess tells us either that he has never dealt with them, or that nine years on an MP's salary and six on a deputy prime minister's has destroyed all memory of it (and WINZ has got massively worse since Grant was a student).

Its a stupid and short-sighted decision - every dollar spent today on dental care saves $1.60, which is a far better benefit / cost ratio than you get from an Auckland motorway. But the money has to be spent up front, and how does that help Grant's next budget? Also, apparently voters hate long-term investment - or at least the donors he talks to in the Koru Club do, and they're the people who matter to him now.

It's a perfect example of Labour's metapolicy of austerity - can't do anything, gotta keep taxes on the rich low! It's also a perfect example of why they deserve to lose the next election. Labour is giving us nothing to vote for. So why should people lift a finger to keep paying Grant $334,734 a year?

Monday, November 14, 2022

Privatisation screws the future

There's a major report out today from 350 Aotearoa, First Union and the CTU about how National's privatisation of the electricity sector has led to entirely predictable outcomes of price gouging and underinvestment:

Meridian, Mercury, Genesis and Contact Energy paid out $8.7b in dividends to shareholders between 2014 and 2021, which was more than the $5.35b they earned in profits over the period, their report said.

The former three companies had achieved that by increasing the book value of their assets by more than $10b to reflect “high and rising electricity prices” while taking on extra debt, they said.

“What we are seeing here is asset-stripping that delivers disproportionate benefits to a privileged few at the cost of residential consumers and global warming.

“It’s doubly ironic that this is possible because of the investments made over decades by the taxpayer, yet it's the poorest New Zealanders who are paying the price in higher energy prices.”

Essentially, the big gentailers borrow to pay dividends, while deliberately under-investing in new generation, ensuring both ongoing scarcity and that fossil generation remains part of the mix, keeping prices high. Because the thing we want from our electricity system - cheap, reliable, renewable electricity - just isn't as profitable as expensive, unreliable, and dirty generation. Its a perfect example of how markets don't care about social outcomes, and why the electricity system needs to be fully in government hands.

And if anyone is in doubt about the underinvestment, just look at who is building the big new solar power projects, or the big offshore wind projects that are going to power us in the 2030's. Hint: it isn't the established players. Instead, its all startups, foreign companies, or big consortia backed by the Cullen Fund. The power companies you'd expect to be building these things just aren't. Instead, they're getting projects consented, and then sitting on them and letting them expire, specifically to ensure that no-one else can build them and disrupt their supply. Because they have no interest in lower prices or a cleaner, cheaper electricity supply.

350 and the unions are calling for the government to use its majority ownership of the major gentailers to cut dividends and force investment into renewables. However, in echoes of Contact Energy's proposed "ThermalCo", they're proposing the government buy all the old fossil generation and ringfence it for security of supply purposes - essentially a public bailout of Genesis and Contact (both of whom have invested heavily in new thermal generation since the Kyoto Protocol was signed, and who therefore deserve to lose their money). Instead of that, I'd rather see the government just invest directly in renewables, and drive the dirty generation out of business, rather than "compensating" dirty generators for their poor business decisions. If Genesis and Contact want to try and split off their liability generation to prevent it from dragging down the clean, then let them. But we shouldn't be spending a cent on fossil fuels.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Climate Change: Submit!

Farming industry groups today released a joint statement against their own proposal - as adopted by the government - to price agricultural greenhouse gas emissions at the farm level. Its a perfect example of the bad faith with which they have engaged in the entire process, and of the industry's ongoing climate denial and refusenikism - how they have simply refused to recognise the problem of pull their weight for the last twenty years. But its also a reminder to the rest of us that we need to submit on this proposal, to avoid the voice or urban New Zealand being drowned out by the voices of angry, motivated, climate change-denying farmers. You can make a submission here - its quite easy, basicly a series of online questions. Submissions are due by 18 November.

As for what to say, the Greens have a submission guide here. This understandably focuses on their idea for farm-level tradeable methane quotas. But IMHO that misses the point. Farm-level pricing is needlessly complex and a huge administrative burden. It is far simpler and easier to include agricultural emissions in the ETS at the processor level. They are already reporting the required information, the law for this already exists and requires only an order-in-council to bring it into force. And according to the consultation document, it would be 50% more effective at reducing emissions than any farm-level pricing option. And that is the thing we need to focus on: with overshoot looking likely, we need to reduce emissions as quickly as possible. And methane, which is 80 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, should be a priority.

Farmers will hate this. But fundamentally it is about fairness. The rest of us pay the full ETS price for every gram of carbon we emit. Why should farmers - a tiny, dirty, inefficient minority - be exempt? Why should we subsidise their profits?

But merely implementing the backstop of including emissions in the ETS isn't enough. We should also demand that there be no free allocation for agricultural emissions. If the government insists that there be some transition, then it should be phased out over five or ten years, not the 95 years it is currently proposing. Contrary to its rhetoric, this industry is not trade-exposed. And it has already had 20 years to prepare for emissions pricing. And if they have not, then whose fault is that? The rest of New Zealand should not be subsidising the poor business decisions of a climate-denying industry.

Currently, we are providing farmers with a 100% subsidy of their emissions - we pay for them, and they don't pay a cent. The cost of that subsidy is $3.47 billion a year at today's carbon price; at the government's internal valuation of $150 / ton, its $5.9 billion a year. The opportunity cost of this subsidy is enormous. Those free cow burps are our schools and hospitals and public transport. They're the wage rises for our teachers and nurses and doctors. They are literally why we cannot have nice things.

The name of the emissions pricing project, "he waka eke noa", roughly means "we are all in this together". That means making farmers pay their way and play their part. We should not have to carry them any longer.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Solar panels on car parks are a no-brainer

The Guardian reports that France is going to require all large car-parks to be covered by solar panels:

All large car parks in France will be covered by solar panels under new legislation approved as part of president Emmanuel Macron’s renewable energy drive.

Legislation approved by the French Senate this week requires existing and new car parks with space for at least 80 vehicles to be covered by solar panels.

The owners of car parks with between 80 and 400 spaces have five years to comply with the measures, while operators of those with more than 400 will have just three years. At least half of the area of the larger sites must be covered by solar panels.

The French government believes the measure could generate up to 11 gigawatts of power.

This seems like a total no-brainer. At the moment car parks are big, empty spaces which just turn solar energy into heat. Solar panels will provide shade for users, while turning that energy into usable, zero-emissions electricity.

Its an obvious measure to adopt here. But we should also be going further and requiring solar panels to be installed on all large buildings which receive decent sunlight. Malls and warehouses are obvious targets, since they have large roof areas. But ultimately we should be amending the building code to require them to be installed on new homes, and retrofitted to old ones (starting with rental properties). We're going to need a lot more power to decarbonise industry and transport, and to kick fossil fuels from our electricity network. This is one obvious way to do it.

Climate Change: National wants to burn the planet

Last month, the National Party announced they would repeal any price on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, effectively declaring that they would do nothing about them. Today, they've followed that up by announcing that they will repeal the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration:

The National Party has reaffirmed that if elected to Government it will repeal the offshore oil and gas exploration ban, introduced by the Labour-NZ First-Green Government in 2018.

National’s energy spokesperson Stuart Smith further hashed out the National Party’s approach to climate change in the energy sector, during a speech to the Energy Trusts of New Zealand and the Waipa Networks Association in Cambridge on Thursday.


In the energy space, Smith argued that New Zealand’s 100% renewable target was costly, delivered few emissions gains and that gas should continue to be a part of the mix.

Which is simply madness. We can't afford to burn the oil and gas we have already. We certainly can't afford to burn any more that is discovered. The first step to decarbonisation is to phase out fossil fuels. But clearly, National doesn't want that.

But its not just oil and gas. While purporting to care about climate change, National opposes any attempt to reduce emissions. They oppose reducing fossil fuel emissions. They oppose reducing agricultural emissions. They oppose reducing transport emissions. They oppose reducing industrial emissions. The natural interpretation of all this opposition is that they don't actually want to reduce emissions at all, and that they want the planet to burn. Which makes them simply unfit to govern.


A ballot for a single Member's Bill was held today, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Fair Trading (Gift Card Expiry) Amendment Bill (Melissa Lee)
  • Its a worthy but minor bill, and the best you can say about it is that at least none of National's tough-on-crime bullshit got drawn.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Addicted to secrecy

Back in July, Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins said he was concerned about the growing number of secrecy clauses excluding information from the coverage of the Official Information Act, and promised "safeguards" to limit their use in future. meanwhile, the government he is part of has just introduced another one, in its Sustainable Biofuel Obligation Bill.

Like many such clauses, the underlying justification is commercial sensitivity - fuel importers would be required to provide information on their activities to the EPA, and that information is obviously commercially sensitive. And like those other clauses, it is also completely unnecessary, as those interests are already protected by the OIA. That information is not absolute, and is subject to the public interest override. But that's appropriate - there are cases when accountability and transparency are more important than the commercial sensitivity of private companies (when they lie, for example. Or when the EPA doesn't do its job in prosecuting those lies). By proposing this clause, Labour - and by extension, Hipkins, who will have approved it at Cabinet - are saying that they do not trust the Ombudsman or the courts to interpret and apply the law correctly. And they're saying they'd rather have wrongdoing kept secret, rather than exposed and policed. You can see why a government of paranoid control-freaks and political arse-coverers would want that. But its absolutely not in the public interest. Hipkins needs to keep his promise, and ditch this clause.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. First up is the second readings of Ginny Andersen's Crimes (Child Exploitation Offences) Amendment Bill and Deborah Russell's Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Bill. Following that, the House should complete the first reading of Duncan Webb's Companies (Directors Duties) Amendment Bill. It should have time to make start on Rawiri Waititi's Electoral (Right to Switch Rolls Freely) Amendment Bill, though that might fall foul of Standing Order 268 (if its considered to be the "same in substance" as the government's Electoral (Māori Electoral Option) Legislation Bill, which received its first reading in June). In which case it'll be time for Chlӧe Swarbrick's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill. if the House moves really quickly on those second readings, it might even get up to Brooke van Velden's Housing Infrastructure (GST-sharing) Bill - but I doubt it.

There will probably be a ballot for at least one bill tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

All noise and no policy

Over the weekend Labour had a very bad poll - basicly, the chickens coming home to roost on their fuck around and do nothing policy. But on Monday, price-gouging Aussie bank Westpac offered them a golden opportunity, in the form of a billion dollar profit. Everyone hates the banks, they're gouging more and more money from us, and there's growing pressure for a windfall tax to rein them in and make them pay their fair share - so it was a perfect opportunity for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to stand up for equality, actually do something about these sucking financial parasites, and gain some popularity in the process. And indeed, at Monday's post-Cabinet press conference, she strongly denounced the banks' profiteering:

The Prime Minister took aim at huge profits banks have been making during the cost of living crisis – saying it was wrong as many New Zealanders face financial strain.

She said questions needed to be asked whether those making huge profits were serving New Zealanders well, however, the condemnation did not extend to implementing any changes from the Government beyond suggesting self-reflection from the banks.

"Self-reflection". Apparently, we're not even getting a market study from the Commerce Commission to determine whether it is reasonable for an industry to make 50% of its revenue in profit, year after year, at a cost to the rest of us of billions of dollars. That might be too much like action. As for a windfall or excessive profits tax, of course not.

And this is why Labour deserves to end up in opposition after the next election: they're all noise and no policy. They're offering us literally nothing, just the same tired, unjust status quo. So why should anyone who wants change vote for them?

Monday, November 07, 2022

Labour's morally indefensible choices

Labour held its party conference over the weekend, and the government announced a minor expansion of its free ECE policy - actually a subsidy to ECE providers - to try and shore up middle-class support. And in the Herald today, Jacinda Ardern said she'd go further if money was no object:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the one big idea she would have if money was not a factor would be to make early childhood education completely free.


“One of the things I know makes a difference to kids’ lives in the long term is their access to early childhood education.

“It is the most important part of our education system and yet in some ways for many, it is the most inaccessible.

“I’d make it completely free. Completely free. And when I say completely free, I’d also give choice to families about at what point and stage their child accesses it. Because for some we know it provides stability to kids that they might not have in their home life.”

She's right, and its worth doing: investing in children is one of the best things our society can do. But she's not doing it, because supposedly, the government can't afford it. And at the same time, she's shovelling $3.3 billion every year at subsidising agricultural emissions by farmers - which is more than enough to cover the expansion she wants (and then some). So, its not that the government can't afford it. Instead, it has made a choice, that the profits of a tiny rural elite are more important than a good start in life for every kiwi kid. And coming from a Labour government, that choice looks morally indefensible.

Climate Change: A "nightmare" of their own making

Last month, the government grovelled to the sacred cow, basicly adopting Federated Farmers' he waka eke noa framework to not-really price greenhouse gases at the farm level. And of course, farmers hate it and are calling it a "bureaucratic nightmare":

"Paying taxes doesn't equal doing our part, and paying taxes doesn't lower emissions," Marlborough Federated Farmers vice president Richard Dawkins says.


Dawkins said if money was an issue, a "simple levy at the works"- a dollar a head - could be set up to get the funding to research and invest in these mitigation technologies.

"I am not in favour of the idea, but if that's the hill to die on, it's far superior compared to the farm level bureaucratic nightmare that He Waka is."

But this "nightmare" is entirely of their own making: it was farmers who insisted on calcuating and pricing everything at the farm level, so they would have an illusory sense of control (illusory because all they can really do is cut animal numbers). The government has followed that suggestion, and given them exactly what they asked for. And now they're complaining about it. And then they'll complain about the public viewing them as fundamentally uncooperative, antisocial polluters.

Interestingly, the alternative mentioned above - putting agricultural processors in the ETS - would be far faster, easier and cheaper to implement, and result in far deeper cuts to emissions. It is in fact the default, and will come into force in 2025 if farmers continue to drag their feet. And the benefits are substantial: a 16% drop in agricultural emissions, rather than an 11% one. Urban Aotearoa ought to be asking hard questions of the government why they are wasting time on the stupidest, most complicated, least efficient proposal, rather than just doing the quick, easy and effective one. And while we're at it, we should also be asking them why they're planning to pay $3.3 billion a year to subsidise those emissions, when our schools and hospitals and public transport systems are crying out for more money and collapsing from underfunding. Farmers have been dragging their feet on emissions reduction for twenty years. They have had more than enough time to adapt. It is time they stood on their own two feet and paid their way, without being subsidised by the rest of us.

Friday, November 04, 2022

Climate Change: Winning slowly

Five years ago David Wallace-Wells published "The Unihabitable Earth", looking at the horrifying consequences of what-were-then-likely climate change scenarios. Today, he has something of a followup in the New York Times, "Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View". Its a very long article, but the TL;DR is this:

Now, with the world already 1.2 degrees hotter, scientists believe that warming this century will most likely fall between two or three degrees. (A United Nations report released this week ahead of the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, confirmed that range.) A little lower is possible, with much more concerted action; a little higher, too, with slower action and bad climate luck. Those numbers may sound abstract, but what they suggest is this: Thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years.
Basicly, we're winning slowly. While we're not on track for a safe climate yet, we've probably taken the worst outcomes off the table. But we can and need to do more. There's an obvious tie-in with Marc Daalder's Newsroom piece today on how Calling time on 1.5C doesn’t mean giving up. Daalder focuses on the non-linearity of climate change to point out that every tenth of a degree makes a difference, and a 1.9C world is significantly better than a 2C one; and he presents the challenge as keeping that temperature as low as possible even if we miss the 1.5C target. I'd go further. Climate models include the idea of "overshoot", where slow action means that we miss safe targets, but eventually come back down again. So our job is firstly to fight for 1.5 (or 1.4) degrees - but if we're going to miss it, make sure that any overshoot is as low and as short as possible, and that temperatures rapidly fall afterwards.

That of course requires policy - so whether we can do it depends on how hard we push politicians. So our task is to push those politicians hard. Make it clear that the old politics of the status quo / protecting vested interests / business as usual / "counting it differently" is done, and that if they want a future, they need to offer us one. And if they don't, we are going to vote them out on their arses.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

More wind

If Aotearoa is going to decarbonise, we're going to need a lot more renewable electricity. And it looks like the industry is stepping up, with the announcement of Aotearoa's first offshore wind farm:

New Zealand’s first offshore wind farm will be built 22km off the coast of South Taranaki by the end of the decade, the $4billion project’s backers say.

The 65-turbine scheme is the first of four offshore wind projects in three regions – Taranaki, Waikato and Southland – planned by a consortium comprising BlueFloat Energy, Energy Estate and Elemental Group.

The offshore South Taranaki site, to the west of Beach Energy’s Kupe platform, will be just visible from shore in Patea, Ohawe Beach and Opunake on a clear day.

The turbines, fixed to the sea floor, will generate 900 megawatts (MW) of electricity – enough to power nearly 440,000 homes, it was announced in Hāwera on Wednesday.

900MW would make this the largest wind farm proposed in Aotearoa (Castle Hill was 858 MW, Project Hayes 630 MW, and Hauauru ma raki 540 MW. None of them were ever built). It will be the second-largest power station in New Zealand history, with only Huntly being bigger. Its almost as much generating capacity as every wind farm currently operating in New Zealand. And its going to be one of four.

...which should set us up nicely to hit that target of a 360% increase in wind generation capacity by 2035. We're perfectly capable of generating the renewable electricity required to decarbonise industry and transport. The problem for our climate transition is cows.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Climate Change: Taxing the rich is a climate change policy

The Greens are often criticised by the right for linking social equality with environmental issues. But it turns out that they are deeply connected: the ultra-rich are responsible for a massive amount of climate pollution:

The top 1% of earners in the UK are responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions in a single year as the bottom 10% over more than two decades, new data has shown.

The findings highlight the enormous gaps between what have been termed “the polluting elite”, whose high-carbon lifestyles fuel the climate crisis, and the majority of people, even in developed countries, whose carbon footprints are far smaller.

It would take 26 years for a low earner to produce as much carbon dioxide as the richest do in a year, according to Autonomy’s analysis of income and greenhouse gas data from 1998 to 2018, which found that people earning £170,000 or more in 2018 in the UK were responsible for greenhouse gas emissions far greater than the 30% of people earning £21,500 or less in the same year.

Taxing this elite so that they are merely wealthy, and unable to afford private jets, multiple homes, and imported luxury goods would help eliminate this disproportionate pollution, while providing funds to reduce other sources and solve social problems. So it turns out that taxing the rich is in fact a climate change policy - and one we should pursue.

26,000 employed under Labour

The quarterly labour market statistics were released this morning, showing unemployment stable at 3.3%. There are now 97,000 unemployed - 26,000 fewer than when Labour took office.

So, I guess the bankers aren't getting what they want. Which means we can expect the howling for ordinary people to be thrown out of work to protect their profits to intensify.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Climate Change: No Magic bullets for agriculture

Farmers are responsible for 50% of our greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in the form of methane from their animals' digestion of grass. For the past two decades, our agricultural climate change policy has basicly focused on finding a technological fix for this, a magic bullet which will let them keep doing exactly what they're doing without any real change. The possibility of such a fix being just around the corner has been used to delay and delay and delay action. But according to Keith Woodford on Interest, this quest has failed, and is unlikely to ever be successful:

Pulling all of this evidence together, the big picture is that there are no magic technology bullets that can drastically alter the reality that ruminants emit methane for a good reason. This methane is the outcome of evolutionary processes that produce animals that are fit for the grassland environment in which they live naturally.
Farmers will no doubt continue chasing this mirage (and forcing us to pay for it) for as long as they can, because the alternative is to accept that they have to change what they are doing. The rest of us shouldn't waste any more time on it. Because we already know how to reduce agricultural emissions, with positive side-benefits for water quality: cut the herd. This does not mean a giant cow cull, or cowpocalypse: it can be done painlessly, within the normal agricultural business cycle, just by not letting farmers replace as many animals as they send them to the works.

Want to cut agricultural methane by 10%? Cap cow numbers at a level 10% lower than at present. Want to cut them by 50%? Set a lower target. Ideally, we should set a long-term, downward path to cap the herd at a sustainable level. And if farmers find some technological magic bullet after all which significantly reduces emissions per animal, then we can revise it upwards. But it is important to set the default as decline, rather than business-as-usual. And we already have the policy tools required to do this, in the form of the National Animal Identification and Tracing programme.

Farmers have had more than fair warning of the need to reduce emissions. Their "plan" - basicly hope - has failed. Its time we made them do what is required, rather than letting them delay action further.