Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Climate Change: Grovelling harder

Back in October, Labour grovelled to the sacred cow, accepting a nightmarishly complicated system to pretend to price farm emissions while really shovelling money at farmers for bullshit "offsets". Today they've doubled down on that shit decision, committing to insulating farmers from the ETS carbon price and instead subsidising them so they pay the "lowest price possible":

The Government is promising farmers that it will charge agricultural emissions at the “lowest price possible”, and won’t regularly alter the prices – to give farmers more certainty.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the commitment on Wednesday, confirming the Government plan to price agricultural emissions was on track to start in 2025.

This means two things: firstly, the scheme will be even less effective at reducing emissions, as farmers will face a lower incentive to cut. And secondly, you and I are going to pay for it. Because every extra ton of carbon farmers emit thanks to low prices will have to be paid for in 2030, so low prices for them means higher taxes for us.

To put a number on that, in 2020 agriculture emitted 39.425 million tons of CO2-equivalent. The difference between the default option of putting agriculture in the ETS at the processor level and this bullshit low carbon levy was a 16% reduction vs a 10% reduction. So, the government has committed to emitting an extra 2.4 million tons a year. At their expected 2030 international carbon price they'll need to pay to cover this extra pollution of $150 / ton (which is almost certainly too low), that's $355 million going straight overseas. And that's without even considering the overall subsidy from free allocation - which will amount to $4.8 billion a year in 2030. If you want to know where your schools and hospitals and public transport systems are - all that stuff Grant says the government can't pay for - they're in a paddock, polluting the atmosphere and shitting in a river.

Which just shows that if we want nice things (and not just clean rivers), we need herd-reduction, now. Anything less is ripping off the rest of Aotearoa for the benefit of this tiny, entitled, ute-driving minority. But we clearly won't get that from Labour. If we want progress, we need a radical, anti-climate change government.

Democracy returns to Fiji?

In December 2006 then-Commodore Frank Bainimarama overthrew Fiji's elected government in a military coup. While Fiji officially returned to democracy in 2014 with new elections, post-coup decrees on political parties, public meetings, and freedom of expression kept the opposition out. But now, its over: Fiji went to the polls last week, and despite opposition candidates being arrested and a convenient election-night "anomaly" with the results, produced a hung Parliament. And now, after a few days, the party holding the balance of power - SODELPA, the successor to the government which was overthrown in 2006 - has made its decision, and there's the happy sight of every opposition political party uniting to throw out Bainimarama and the coup regime. After 16 years, Fiji will finally be getting a new Prime Minister: Sitiveni Rabuka. Yes, this guy:

On the morning of 14 May, around 10 am, a section of ten masked, armed soldiers entered the Fijian House of Representatives and subdued the national legislature, which had gathered there for its morning session. Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, dressed in civilian clothes, approached Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra from his position in the public gallery and ordered the members of parliament to leave the building. They did so without resisting. The coup was an apparent success and had been accomplished without loss of life.
There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then, including seven years in which Rabuka was elected Prime Minister (under a stacked constitution he wrote, just like Bainimarama did), and apparently he now regrets his actions, but still: couldn't they find anyone better? Anyone not... tainted by dictatorship and authoritarianism?

Still, this is a moment of hope: the coup regime is out. Fiji once again has a chance to move back towards being a normal democracy. Hopefully the military won't fuck it up for them this time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

A judicial earthquake

In 2015, racist Australia started dumping its problems here, deporting people who had lived in Australia for their entire lives to New Zealand on the grounds that they born here. The government panicked at the thought of having thousands of hardened criminals sent here, and so passed legislation under all-stages urgency to subject them to a post-arrival parole and supervision regime, even if they had completed their sentence in Australia.

Today, the High Court found that that regime was not retrospective, and so simply did not apply to one of the people subjected to it. Their rights - and by extension, those of every other returnee in similar circumstances - were breached. They further found that as it was punitive in effect, then it constituted double jeopardy, banned by international law. The question of damages will be resolved by other hearings, but given the number of people involved - everyone who had been sentenced before the law was passed - then the wrong could be substantial. Which is a pretty big judicial earthquake just before the holidays.

The ruling is entirely orthodox, resting on a prior finding that Extended Supervision Orders - a similar post-sentence "control order"-style regime - was punitive, and the obvious proposition that if Parliament wanted to over-ride the BORA and Aotearoa's obligations under international law, it would explicitly say so. Having not said so, the BORA is therefore assumed to apply as usual. On this point, then Attorney-General Chris Finlayson's oh-so-clever advice that these orders weren't punitive, but merely a means of protecting the public, and therefore the issues of retrospective punishment and double jeopardy did not arise, looks very poor. It also highlights the underlying flaw in the BORA's section 7 regime: the Attorney-General is advising Parliament, but in practice they work for the government, and their advice constantly reflects that, being crafted to fit the government's political needs and sanitising and downplaying issues. Its an inherently conflicted role, which results in Parliament being poorly-served and fed bullshit by a government spokesperson, and shows the danger of listening to Someone Else's Lawyer. For Parliament to fulfil its proper role under the BORA, it needs its own advice, rather than advice from a government mouthpiece.

As for what happens next, this is a big legal problem for the government, and they'll likely respond to it in the way they have responded to previous big legal problems: with more urgent, all-stages legislation to patch their earlier urgent, all-stages legislation, overturn the judgement, and get them off the hook. This is neither moral, nor respectful of the rule of law, and would once again shows how poor a guardian of our human rights they are. Which would be a further argument for taking the job of BORA oversight off them entirely and giving it to the courts.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Climate Change: Labour is on the side of polluters

The Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is Aotearoa's major policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While Labour improved it with the Zero Carbon Act, their changes around price controls - which undermine the purpose of the ETS by trying to stop carbon prices from rising - have resulted in a fundamentally broken market, with polluters deliberately triggering the "cost containment reserve" (CCR) to get the government to flood the market with additional credits, on the basis that they'll be worth more later. This is costing us a billion dollars a year, while allowing millions of tons of extra pollution which would not otherwise occur.

Back in July, the Climate Change Commission recommended fixing this, reducing auction volumes to use up the stockpile polluters had built up, while raising the CCR trigger price so that it only triggered if the market hit truly absurd prices. At the time, I said that this would make a difference, and so be a real test for the government. We were going to see whose side Labour is really on: the planets, or the polluters'.

Well, Cabinet finally made a decision on this, and now we know: its the polluters:

Cabinet papers show the Government has gone against the advice of both the independent Climate Change Commission and Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

Shaw recommended following the commission’s advice and letting the price of carbon rise – and stopping pumping extra credits into the market so frequently. That would have given big polluters more incentive to rein in planet-heating emissions, as heat waves, floods and droughts keep worsening.

Instead, Cabinet has chosen to allow only small, inflation-linked price rises.

But its worse than that, because they're also not cutting the auction volume, while handing over more free credits to polluters. Which makes yesterday's projections of a small but useful cut in emissions by 2035 a bit of a joke: the government has just ensured that won't happen.

As for Labour's "nuclear-free moment", and it's "climate emergency", they were both lies. This government is deliberately trying to keep emissions high. They're just climate criminals, hostis humani generis. And we need to vote them out on their arses next election, and replace them with a government who will actually confront our biggest problem, rather than desperately trying to preserve the rotten, polluting status quo.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Climate Change: Another baby step to decarbonisation

In 2018 the government banned issuing new offshore oil and gas exploration permits. It was the first baby step towards decarbonisation, essentially cutting off part of the pathway to new supply, gradually phasing out the industry. And it has worked - there were 22 offshore exploration permits in 2018, and now there are only four (the number of onshore permits has also reduced from nine to six). The fossil fuel pipeline is being slowly closed off. So now the government has announced the next baby-step: banning onshore exploration:

In a continuation of the Government's staged phase-out of fossil fuel exploration in New Zealand, Energy Minister Megan Woods will pause the issuance of any new oil and gas permits until after next year's election.


The fate of the next onshore block offer has been uncertain for the better part of a year, amidst mounting evidence that the world cannot exploit most known fossil fuel reserves without blasting past the 1.5C and even 2C temperature goals.

Now Woods said she will pause any further block offers until the next Parliamentary term.

"“I am not committing to any further block offers now. Decisions will be made early in the next Parliamentary term when there will be a better evidence base of future demand," she said.

Which is good, but before anyone gets too enthusiastic, this is basicly an extension of the existing policy (which has seen only three new onshore permits issued since the ban, and no new block offers), and it is only until the election (meaning that they might reverse it afterwards). In other words, rather than actually doing something, they're playing the usual mealy-mouthed chickenshit game and not actually committing. And this is a policy they need to commit to. If we are to survive the climate crisis, that means no new gas, oil or coal, which means cutting that pipeline now. But more than that, it means phasing out existing fossil fuel production and banning imports of these destructive, environmentally damaging substances. And that means setting a date or dates to kill this industry. Sooner is better, but the mere act of setting a date will give us all certainty about the need for change and let us move forward.

Instead of doing what is necessary, Labour is trying to cling to the past and trying to pretend that nothing needs to change. And this makes them little different from the dirty climate deniers in National and ACT.

Fiji's election "anomaly"

Fijians went to the polls yesterday in the third post (latest) coup election. In the leadup to the poll, the (now elected) coup regime arrested opposition candidates and there were allegations that regime Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum had visisted the ballot-printing centre and ordered the CCTV cameras turned off while he was there. Last night, the release of initial results was delayed. And then this happened:

Initial results indicated a strong, then very strong showing for opposition parties, before the Fijian Elections Office (FEO) advised of issues with the provisional count at around midnight last night.

Elections supervisor Mohammad Saneem held a press conference late in the evening, saying the FEO had detected an anomaly in the system.

"To cure this, Fijian Elections Office had to review the entire mechanism through which we were pushing our results," Mr Saneem said.


The updated provisional results published early this morning, with about 60 per cent of polling venues counted, showed a surge in votes for the incumbent ruling party.

Fiji First, led by incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, was narrowly ahead with 45 per cent of votes when the FEO announced it would stop processing provisional results this morning.

All of which invites the suspicion that the "anomaly" was that the wrong people were winning, and that the regime chose the Mexican solution: a "computer problem" followed by new results. And the opposition is already planning to challenge the results on exactly that basis (whether they'll get justice in regime courts with regime judges is another question).

There are international observers present, so it will be very interesting to see what they have to say about this "anomaly", and about whether the poll was free and fair and the results honest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Freedom comes to Barbados

Last year, Barbados they threw out the colonial monarchy. And now, they've legalised gay sex:

A top court in Barbados has struck down colonial-era laws that criminalize gay sex, becoming the third nation in the conservative Caribbean region to do so this year.

The ruling issued Monday by the Barbados high court is a pivotal moment for activists and non-profit organizations who have long fought against such laws on the eastern Caribbean island, including one that demands up to a life sentence for gay men found guilty of having sex.

“It’s gone from a certain ripple effect to a tidal wave in the Caribbean, which is what everyone involved set out to achieve,” said Téa Braun, chief executive of the London-based Human Dignity Trust, a human rights organization.

There's now only 6 countries in the Americas which still criminalise gay sex, and only 67 in the world. This sadly includes far too many in our own region - Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Niue all criminalise gay sex, though like Barbados none really enforce it. But as in Barbados, the mere existence of such a law is discriminatory and stigmatises LGBTQ people. It would be nice if these countries followed through on their promises of legalisation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Another example

Last week, I asked "why won't Labour keep its promises" when implementing them would be overwhelmingly popular with voters? And today, we have another example: climate change. According to a poll in the Herald today, 60% of kiwis think the government should be taking stronger action on climate change - and its 70% in the 25 - 34 demographic. And yet they're dragging their feet on pricing agricultural emissions, and have just introduced legislation to increase pollution subsidies in the Emissions Trading Scheme - the opposite of what the public wants.

Again, this suspicion that the government is working for lobbyists and donors, rather than the people who elect them. Again, it undermines trust in both Labour and the political system. And again, it means that people who care about climate change have no reason to vote for Labour. And given that climate change is a significant issue, which is only going to grow in salience as the climate crisis gets worse, that cannot be good news for the Labour party.

Good riddance

Its the end of the political year, and with an election coming up, the pre-election retirements have started. Paul Eagle is going, and that's good, because he was a waste of space who spent his time as an MP trying to become mayor of Wellington, rather than doing his job. But the retirement I'm most glad to see is Aupito William Sio. In case anyone has forgotten, Aupito was a rabid opponent of marriage equality, protesting against it alongside people who compared gay people to animals, demanding that the bill be withdrawn, and ultimately voting against it. And as of last year, he regrets none of it. The man is a bigot who panders to the worst bigots in our community. And our parliament is better off without him.

Now can Damien O'Connor fuck off too please?

Monday, December 12, 2022

Bad faith all the way down

When the government created state-owned enterprises in the 1980's, Māori were concerned. Land stolen from them could be transferred to these SOEs, and effectively put beyond the reach of future treaty settlements. So the New Zealand Māori Council took the government to court, and won a landmark ruling that that the government had to safeguard Māori interests. As part of the settlement of this case, the government agreed to pass legislation making land transferred to SOEs subject to a permanent right of resumption if ordered by the Waitangi Tribunal.

While the law was passed,it wasn't used, with iwi preferring to negotiate with the government rather than go to court. Until 2010, when a Wairarapa hapu decided that it wanted its land back. That land was on the Waikato river, had been stolen by the government from other iwi before being gifted to the Wairarapa group, and is the location of a pretty important power station, so its a complicated case which has been in court for over a decade. But on Friday the Supreme Court finally ruled on it, declaring that it was a problem for the Waitangi Tribunal to sort out. Which seems sensible: they're the appropriate body with the specialist knowledge to determine who, if anyone, the land should be returned to. And that's ultimately what the 1987 settlement envisioned: the Waitangi Tribunal would consider claims, and order return if required.

But the government isn't going to let that happen. In the interim they've negotiated a settlement with the "large natural grouping" the hapu belong to. Naturally, it includes the usual clause declaring the crumbs the government gives back to be a full and final settlement of all historical claims and cancelling all the resumptive memorials allowing land to be returned. In effect, kill the process, keep the land, and fuck you. They've done this despite advice from the Waitangi Tribunal not to do it, and despite pointy questions from the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee (LDAC - an independent body which oversees legislation to stop this sort of thing) about why they're legislating when the court process is still ongoing (rather than, say, removing the case from the settlement so it can take its course). And they're ramming it through tomorrow, just to make sure everyone knows that Māori will never get their land back except by the grace and favour of the government, and that while the law says they have legal rights, in reality they have none at all.

It is difficult to see this as anything other than a tremendous exercise of bad faith, which effectively overturns the 1987 SOE court settlement and makes the promise of resumption a lie. As for the Treaty "partnership", is it really a "partnership" when one party calls the shots without consulting or considering the other? And of course its another ongoing Treaty breach. And I can't think of a better way of undermining the entire settlement process than this.

(OTOH, it is also going to undermine the concept of "full and final" settlements. A settlement is not full and final unless the victims agree it is, and continue to agree that it is. Effectively, they're only final by ongoing Māori goodwill. And the government's weaponisation of settlement legislation is likely to significantly erode that goodwill...)

This is unjust. It is wrong. It is stupid. The government should not do it.

Another useful OIA decision

Back in June I asked Ministry of Health for information about long covid. At the time, I was challenging extensions, and Ministry of Health knew it, so they tried a new tactic: on the due date, they sent me this:

Pursuant to section 15(1)(a) of the Act, the Ministry is writing to advise you that a decision has been made on your request; however, it will take us some time to prepare the information for release. As it stands, some information will be withheld under the following section 9(2)(a) of the Act. We will send you the information by 11 August 2022.
Which smelled a lot like a 20 working day extension by another name, so I complained to the Ombudsman. Today, they issued their final opinion on the question. The short version: Ministry of Health hadn't actually made a decision, and even if they had, the delay before actually releasing the documents would have been unreasonable. There's some useful stuff in there about what actually constitutes a "decision": they need to actually decide what will be released and what will be withheld, and the specific grounds for the latter, as well as complete any consultation and review involved (the discussion there makes it clear that Ministry of Health's claim to have made a decision was an outright lie, and it was just a shameless grab for more time). There's also useful guidance on exactly when a delay between decision and release will be reasonable - basicly, when its huge. And 6 documents totalling 20 pages doesn't remotely qualify.

Ministry of Health has been ordered to apologise, and I guess I can add that to my collection. But more importantly: another dodgy tactic has been squelched at the outset, before it could become established. And that's ultimately why I challenge: because otherwise, the government would get away with shit like this, and the system wouldn't even pretend to work.

(As for the actual information, the documents they released are here, and my commentary is here).

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Why won't Labour keep its promises?

Back in 2017, Jacinda Ardern promised "There will be no new mines on conservation land". NZ First stopped her from doing it in her first term, but since winning an absolute majority in the 2020 election Labour has refused to move on it - and has explicitly voted down a bill which would implement that promise. So why? Its not as if keeping conservation land for conservation is unpopular. Quite the opposite:

But a new poll commissioned by Forest and Bird found the majority of Kiwis (66 percent) think the Government should implement its 2017 promise to stop new mines on public conservation land. Sixteen of the respondents disagreed and eighteen percent were undecided.
That's a pretty big public mandate, and more people than voted for Labour and the Greens in 2020. Actually keeping their promise would be a popular move. So why won't Labour do it? Do they work for their voters, or just for a small clique of big donors?

This sort of betrayal undermines trust in the Labour Party, and in the political system as a whole. It builds the impression that politicians are just liars. But its also a driver behind Labour's fall in the polls. After all, Labour clearly doesn't care about its voters. So why should they care whether Labour stays in government?

Putting the environment in the BORA

Since the 1970's there has been a growing recognition that environmental rights are part of - and necessary for - human rights. The 1972 Stockholm Declaration began its principles with a statement that "Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being". More recently, the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment was formally recognised by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2021, and by the UN General Assembly in July. And now, Green MP Julie Anne Genter has a member's bill to recognise it in the BORA.

The bill itself is simple, and adds a new section 18A to the BORA, with the UN-recognised language: "Everyone has the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment". If it passes, then laws would have to be assessed for consistency with the right, and laws could be declared to be inconsistent and the declaration referred to Parliament so the law can be corrected.

What this would mean in practice would depend significantly on the standard of scrutiny adopted by the courts and the degree of latitude they grant to the executive. On that front, the courts have already said that climate change policy requires the highest level of scrutiny because of its impacts; less significant issues will likely have a lower standard (just as the right to be free from torture has a higher standard of scrutiny than the right to be free from discrimination). Being inconsistent with the right is likely to be a high bar to cross. So as with the BORA, a lot of the actual impact would come from the pre-legislative scrutiny, forcing the government to run a stricter environmental ruler over policy before introducing legislation, and from the courts interpreting existing legislation in order to be consistent with the right. And given how much change that process has led to in e.g. public order or search and seizure law, having it happen to environmental law is likely to be significant. So I'm hoping this gets drawn from the ballot next year.


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

  • Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Shared Leave) Amendment Bill (Nicola Willis)

The bill allows paid parental leave to be split between carers of a child and taken at the same time. Which isn't necessarily a terrible idea, but I'd rather just see a straight-up expansion.

There were 69 bills in the ballot today.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

A bad sign

On Friday, a New South Wales court heard the case of Violet Coco. As part of a protest against inaction on climate change, Coco had blocked a Sydney motorway for 25 minutes. Using anti-protest laws passed by NSW's fossil-fuel-funded government, the judge jailed her for 15 months, with a minimum non-parole period of 8 months. The outrageous sentence has been condemned around the world, and has drawn more attention to Australia's attacks on the right to protest and transition into a fossil fuel tyranny. And now, the National Party wants to bring that tyranny here:

A new member’s bill will be lodged in the ballot that would make obstructing state highways, major roads, tunnels and bridges a crime.

The bill proposes up to two years in prison, a $20,000 fine, or both.

After disruptive rail protests on Wellington state highways, National are taking a stand against further obstructions.

Its only a member's bill, but member's bills tend to become official policy. Which makes this a very bad sign. At a time of increasing climate crisis and ongoing catastrophe's, National's answer is not to cut emissions, but to jail those demanding they do so. In addition to being grossly undemocratic, that simply does not seem to be a credible response.

Update (8/12/2022): Apparaently NewstalkZB memory holes its interviews really quickly, but fortunately the Wayback Machine had it, so I've updated the link. There's also a press release on Scoop for those looking for more information.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the last one for the year. First up there is a bunch of new private and local bills - the Thomas Cawthron Trust Amendment Bill, the New Plymouth District Council (Perpetual Investment Fund) Bill, and the Hawke’s Bay Agricultural and Pastoral Society Empowering Bill. None of these should be very contentious (or at least, not at this stage), and they're all likely to be sent off to select committee before the dinner break. After that, there's the committee stages 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, which will probably take the rest of the night. If the House moves quickly it may get on to the second reading of Ian McKelvie's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill, which has the weird feature of the committee refusing to make a recommendation on whether it should be passed or not as it is a "conscience issue" (a perfect example of how our political system simply abrogates responsibility on alcohol policy). There is unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Justice for Ukraine?

Overnight, Russia launched more missiles against Ukraine, targeting apartment blocks and electricity facilities in an effort to terrise civilians and freeze them to death over winter. And there are more photos of Russian war crimes in occupied areas doing the rounds. So I'm glad to see some progress at the UN towards holding Russia's leadership to account for their crimes:

A draft resolution is circulating at the United Nations in New York for a Nuremberg-style tribunal to hold the Russian leadership accountable for crimes of aggression in Ukraine amid signs that US opposition to the proposal may be softening in the face of lobbying by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.


The international criminal court has already started investigating war crimes in Ukraine, but Ukraine’s leadership argues that the ICC is hampered in that while it can try those charged with individual war crimes, it cannot prosecute the Kremlin leadership over the broader crime of aggression since Russia is not a signatory to the relevant statute.

Van Schaack, speaking in London at a Lawyers for Justice in Libya event, said the US had not taken a firm position on a special tribunal. However, she believed there was merit in holding trials in absentia of Russians accused of war crimes if it was not possible to extradite them.

The EU has already expressed support for such a tribunal, so the question here is whether its done by them or the UN. The latter obviously has more moral weight, and will be a stronger condemnation by the international community of Russia's crimes. And its in the interests of the international community to do it: non-aggression and human rights are the cornerstones of the modern international order (even if they are observed in the breach), and allowing aggression and war crimes to go unpunished will encourage them. Whereas trying aggressors and criminals protects everyone.

Whether Putin and his cronies actually end up before such a tribunal obviously depends on how the war ends (and what happens inside Russia in response). But at the least, this will make sure they can never set foot outside Russia or its tiny club of fellow tyrannies ever again. And that they'll never be able to enjoy their stolen wealth ever again.

Monday, December 05, 2022


The Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee has called for submissions on the Crown Minerals Amendment Bill. Submissions can be sent using the form here and are due by Monday, 23 January 2023.

The main thing the bill does is fix this problem, where the purpose of the Crown Minerals Act to "promote" mining means that nothing miners want to do can ever be refused and major environemtnal issues like climate change cannot be considered, even when another law says they can be. Which is a good thing, and its probably worth telling the committee that. But weirdly, despite this being absolutely urgent (especially given that there are mining permits up for extension soon), it won't take effect until July 2023.

This is likely because of the other thing the bill does - strengthen consultation requirements with iwi and hapu. Obviously, that's something which takes time to set up, and so a delay for that is reasonable. But there's no reason the bill has to come into effect all at once, and the vital change to the purpose clause should not be delayed. Instead, it and the related changes (part 1 and sections 7,8,9,17 and 20) should come into effect the moment the bill becomes law. That way, the problem will actually get solved, rather than NZPAM having another 6 months in which to rubberstamp permit extensions. So, if you're planning a submission, please add a few words urging immediate implementation of the change to the purpose clause.

Writing a submission isn't hard - basicly "I support this bill, but this is what I'd like to see changed". Mine was all of 189 words, which is about a hundred words shorter than this post. So please, fill out the form and send yours in today.

Yet another OIA inquiry

All year the Ombudsman has been trying to tell us that everything is fine with the OIA. But earlier in the year he released another report showing problems, particularly around ministerial interference and stonewalling, and now he's been forced to open another inquiry into precisely those problems:

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier will investigate journalists' complaints that government departments excessively delay responding to Official Information Act (OIA) requests.


Boshier said reporters had complained that when information was finally released “it belongs in the history books rather than the headlines” and limited the public’s ability to participated in decision-making.

“I am worried delays are leading to the perception – especially among journalists – that the Official Information Act is being used as a bureaucratic tool to stifle the flow of information. This is not in line with the principle of availability that is the foundation of this law,” Boshier said in a statement on Monday.

I have stuff I'd like to say here, but I can't, because I'm gagged - by the Ombudsman. Which is a bit shit really.

But what I can say, without breaching any "confidentiality" the Ombudsman purports to unilaterally impose, is that we have known for a long time that there are effectivley two OIA's - one for routine, non-controversial requests, and one for "political" requests about information Ministers and officials would rather not reveal. Requests of the first type are granted speedily, or at least within the time limit. Requests of the second time are extended, stonewalled, or just shitcanned. And government gets away with this in part because the Ombudsman drags his feet investigating, doesn't open formal investigations, doesn't use his powers to put Ministers and public servants on the carpet, and never, ever reports formally to Parliament when he discovers unlawful behaviour. In other words, the watchdog is asleep, and is disinclined to bite. And so Ministers get away with murder.

Meanwhile, at her postcab press conference the Prime Minister was hiding behind Te Kawa Mataaho's statistics to claim that everything is fine. The problem of course is that the statistics are... not good, distorted by statutory non-OIA requests, and gamed by agencies seeking to make themselves look good. But that doesn't matter, because the purpose isn't so much to illuminate problems as to help Ministers bury them - as we're seeing today.

Anyway, the Ombudsman will inquire, and in six months to a year they'll release a report, which may highlight some problems. And it will join all the other ones on the shelf. The OIA has been under permanent investigation for the best part of a decade. But part of the problem is that Ministers and officials aren't willing to actually do anything about the findings, and the Ombudsman isn't willing to step up enforcement to force them. Which suggests that what we need isn't yet another Ombudsman's inquiry, but an actual law with teeth,and a watchdog willing to enforce it.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Climate Change: More subsidised pollution

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. So, they started talking about reducing industrial allocations (in 2024, letting polluters rort another hundred million dollars from us). Now, they've introduced a new bill to tweak the industrial allocation scheme. And as might be expected from this useless pack of quislings, it seems designed to massively increase pollution subsidies.

The problem is in section 15 of the bill, which amends the clause which defines eligible industrial activities. At present an industry is defined as "highly emissions-intensive" (and eligible for a 90% pollution subsidy, decreasing over 40 years) if it emits more than 1600 tons of CO2 per million dollars of revenue. An industry is "moderately emissions-intensive" if it emits more than 800 tons per million dollars. The bill would scale these thresholds to a carbon price of $25 / ton - which we haven't seen since pre-2020), which effectively lowers them significanly.

To put that in concrete terms, at today's carbon price of $81 / ton, the threshold for being "highly emissions intensive" will be 247 tons per million dollars of revenue. Which means that every current moderate activity will now be reclassified as "highly emissions-intensive", giving them an immediate 50% increase in their subsidy. As will a whole bunch of other industries that previously were not considered emissions-intensive at all.

And in practical terms, rather than fixing the carbon rort, Labour will be massively expanding it. They'll be giving free carbon credits to more and more polluters, at higher and higher rates, effectively turning the "polluter pays" principal on its head.

Oh, and while they're at it, they'll also be reducing the penalty for not paying your ETS liabilities when deforesting from triple the carbon price, to half or a quarter of it. Which means a direct financial incentive for deforestation. Merry xmas!

This is not consistent with reducing emissions. It is not consistent with human survival. Always foot-draggers, this government has now flipped into directly encouraging emissions. Some "nuclear-free moment".

Still asleep at the wheel

A couple of months ago, I asked various government agencies whether they had produced any advice on the impacts of Long Covid, and was shocked to learn that they hadn't. Newsroom's Marc Daalder has been keeping an eye on this issue, and in an article today, he reports that the government is still flying blind on Long Covid:

We know very little about the impact of Long Covid in New Zealand, largely because no one is looking into it.

Official Information Act requests to the Treasury, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Ministry for Social Development and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on work done to discern the potential impacts of the illness all came up blank. More specific requests to the health and education ministries seeking any information about the impact of Long Covid on the health and education workforces, also returned nothing.

Astoundingly, while the rest of the world has woken up to this pandemic legacy, New Zealand is still flying blind.

This is an abdication of the basic duty of the public service to prepare New Zealand for future challenges and to contribute to informed decision-making by ministers. It both leaves the country vulnerable to a future wave of disability and workforce shortages and means Covid-19 policy-making lacks crucial considerations about the impact of virus spread.

As he points out, Long Covid is likely to have significant impacts on the health and welfare systems, and on the economy. It means more people unable to work, meaning higher healthcare and welfare costs, reduced wages, and reduced tax income to pay for it all. Responsible agencies would be thinking about this. But they're not. And as a result, the advice on Covid policy is one-sided, considering only the economic costs of restrictions, and not the economic benefits from less Long Covid. Which helps explain how its so shit, I guess.

Entrenching entrenchment

Last week, Parliament passed a rare entrenchment clause, protecting water assets from being sold by future governments without a referendum. As a supporter of anti-privatisation as a constitutional principle, I don't really have a problem with this - the supermajority which passed it represents a broad consensus across Aotearoa, and such supermajorities should be able to do things. But some people do, and as a result Labour is chickenshitting out, claiming (falsely) that they had no idea what they were voting for (which isn't the excuse they seem to think it is), and sending the issue back to Parliament's Business Committee to be "resolved" (which means repealed).

(I recognise that there are issues with passing such provisions under urgency, and that's on Labour for choosing to do their bill that way. As for the opposition being unaware of it until after it happened, that reflects as badly on them as the government's false claims of not being aware of what they voted for. Or are we really expected to accept that we pay MP's the big bucks to pay no attention whatsoever to the legislation they are voting on?)

Meanwhile, in all of the excuses and whining, the actual issue of how to protect public assets from being looted by the government of the day is being lost. But writing on Public Address, Graeme Edgeler has a suggestion there: a referendum on asset protection:

If you are someone who thinks public ownership of water infrastructure is so important that the government should act to entrench it, you do not need to convince National to agree with you. You need to convince the public (that shouldn’t be difficult: public ownership of water infrastructure is very popular!). Because there are two ways to entrench a law in New Zealand, and both have been used: the entrenched parts of the Electoral Act 1956 were entrenched by Parliament a supermajority of MPs (in fact, all of them) voted for it. But the Electoral Act 1993 isn’t law because Parliament voted for it, it’s law because the public voted for it: the entrenched bits of that are actually entrenched because there was a binding referendum.

If you are a Gordon or a Max, or a Eugenie, that’s your solution. Don’t settle for 60% protection. Go into the next election with the policy: if we cannot get 75% support in the House of Representatives to protect the continued public ownership of water infrastructure, we will hold a binding referendum on it, requiring a future Parliament to either agree by a 75% majority to sell water assets, or to come back to the public in a further binding referendum.

Which is good, but invites the question: why wait? Why not have the referendum at the next election instead? Because an easy fix for this is to amend the commencement clause so that entrenched protection for water assets only takes effect when backed by a referendum held under the Referenda (Postal Voting) Act 2000.

It is however an excellent suggestion for the broader issue. Because water assets aren't the only public assets in danger of being looted by future governments and sold off corruptly to their cronies. There are also state-owned enterprises, mixed-ownership model companies, crown-owned companies, and assorted other entities. All of these should be protected. And the way to do it is by an anti-privatisation law, backed by a referendum, which protects and entrenches public ownership and limits the ability to divest without a similar referendum or supermajority. And obviously, I think the Greens should offer such a bill among their policies at the next election, and demand it as part of the price for any coalition (I'd like to see it from Labour too, but that would require them to deliver on their public rhetoric, and my expectations on that front are low).

Constitutional scholars say "parliament can't bind its successors". But there's a power in Aotearoa which can bind future parliaments: us. And we should do it.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Open Government: Not achieved

Newsroom reports on the reaction from civil society organisations to Labour's new draft Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, and its pretty scathing:

The Government’s claims to greater openness and transparency have yet again been called into question, with New Zealand’s latest open government plan containing proposals “so weak as to be a joke” according to some.

Civil society groups have lashed officials’ and politicians' failure to properly include their voice and produce an ambitious document, questioning whether it is worth their time to take part.

Transparency International rates it as "not achieved". The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties feels they wasted their time. Amnesty International "had stepped back from involvement in the process due to internal capacity issues" - meaning that they judged it as not worth the effort of participation. Which makes sense: the government has demanded a significant amount of free labour from these very busy organisations, then ignored them. They have basicly used them as a prop for their claims of co-creation, which were really nothing more than a box-ticking exercise, in order to boost their reputations. You can see why people might feel exploited by that, and why they might not be willing to participate in future.

There are countries which actually manage to do this right, which give real power to civil society to tell them "this is what we would like you to do", "this is how you can open government". The New Zealand government has been absolutely uninterested in that. They joined the OGP for the headline, and then focused resolutely on using it as a PR-scam, pretending their business-as-usual policies were change. The problem now is that even if they changed tomorrow, they're fucked. They've burned activists and civil society organisations on this four times now. Do they really think they'll get anyone to contribute again? Instead, it seems that we could get more progress by asking the OGP to throw New Zealand out, because it looks like the government needs that sort of shock to change its approach.

Climate Change: Be careful what you wish for

Throughout the (misnamed) he waka eke noa process, farmers have insisted on farm-level pricing, largely as a way of getting more subsidies for their pollution - and sadly, Labour looks set to give it to them. They're already complaining about the "bureaucratic nightmare" - a nightmare entirely of their own making - which means they're going to spend a lot of time to learn what we knew all along: their choices are basicly to shoot cows or plant trees. But there's another nightmare they're setting themselves up for. Farm-level pricing means that there will be farm-level emissions-data. And banks look likely to demand this and use it in their lending decisions:

Fonterra and its farmers risk not being able to access debt funding in the future if they don’t meet banks’ sustainability expectations.

“We're starting to see more and more pressure come from the banking sector,” Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell said in an interview at Fieldays near Hamilton on Wednesday.

Banks were wanting to set Scope 3 carbon emissions targets, which includes emissions they are indirectly responsible for, and not meeting their expectations could result in less favourable funding rates or ultimately not being able to access funding in the future, he said.


Farmers would be facing similar risks with their businesses, he said.

This is because banks are setting scope 3 emissions targets, covering everything they are responsible for - which includes the farms they lend to. They want to meet and exceed those targets, so the pressure is going to go on borrowers to reduce their emissions. Farmers with poor emissions records may find themselves with less favourable terms, or even unable to get credit. banks are already facing pressure over lending to the fossil fuel industry; this is going to enable environmental groups to pressure them on lending for cows as well as coal.

But its not just the banks. Fonterra is also setting such a target, and is already facing significant consumer pressure over its emissions. So it will also be demanding that farm-level data, and using it to make decisions about who they accept milk from and how much they pay for it. So dirty farmers may find themselves unable to sell their product, and unable to renew their mortgage, and be forced out of business. Which is I think a win for the rest of us.

The irony is that farmers had accepted putting agriculture in the ETS at the producer level a decade ago, they'd be facing only pressure from Fonterra. Dragging their feet and insisting on the less efficient and less effective pricing mechanism has left them more exposed. Perhaps they should have been more careful in what they wished for?

Reported back

The Justice Committee has reported back on the Electoral Amendment Bill. The bill implements the recommendations of the Ministry of Justice consultation on election funding - the one where the Ministry of Justice conspired with the labour party to keep its highly influential submission totally secret - and the Labour-dominated select committee has recommended that that regime is basicly unchanged. So, the disclosure threshold will be lowered from $15,000 to $5,000 - which is better, but not far enough - but at the price of reduced transparency over very large donations. Coming in the wake of Monday's report on how donations buy influence over policy, it just seems like the big parties writing the rules to suit themselves (and their donors) in the usual corrupt stitchup. And it seems unlikely to go far enough to resolve the real trust issues that have built up around election donations.

Meanwhile, National and ACT are screaming bloody murder over the lowered threshold. Which really makes you wonder: what corrupt deals are they trying to hide?