Thursday, March 23, 2023

Climate Change: More Labour sabotage

Not that long ago, things were looking pretty good for climate change policy in Aotearoa. We finally had an ETS, and while it was full of pork and subsidies, it was delivering high and ever-rising carbon prices, sending a clear message to polluters to clean up or shut down. And it was actually working: Marsden Point shut down, trimming a million tons a year off our emissions, and other smaller polluters were cleaning up or shutting up shop. Landowners were getting the message too, planting permanent forests to soak up carbon - and while those forests were pine, at this stage in the climate crisis, any tree is better than a cow. And we had a clean car discount scheme, to drive a switch to zero- and low-emissions vehicles in the small vehicle fleet, while discouraging dirty, inefficient utes where they didn't belong. And that policy was wildly successful too.

Of course, it couldn't last. Labour got cold feet over carbon prices, and so they fucked the ETS, dropping carbon prices off a cliff (they're now below $65/ton for the first time since late 2021), and destroying credibility in the market. In doing so, they ensured that business who had plans to clean up, wouldn't, because they could no longer be sure of the reward for doing so. And now, they're planning to fuck the clean car discount too, to avoid spending money on it:

Newshub understands hiking the tax on high emitters is not a realistic option so the Government's going to have to decrease demand.

Currently, the discount is available at varying rates to EVs, Hybrids and low-emitting petrol vehicles.

It's understood one option being considered is changing the eligibility. We're told it won't immediately move to EVs only.

But the Government could, for instance, remove the low emitting petrol vehicles like Swifts from the discount scheme to make it more sustainable.

You would expect the discounts in this scheme to move over time, to ensure it is always driving the fleet to become more efficient. But this is just because of austerity: the scheme is successful, "too many" people are buying fuel-efficient vehicles and "not enough" are buying dirty ones (in other words: it works, and it shows how little you need to push people to make the right choices). But rather than embrace that success, and take the opportunity to push progress faster and cut emissions early, locking in change and putting less carbon in the atmosphere, they'd rather sabotage their own policy - and the climate. Investing in positive change? Not under Labour.

(See also: their cowardly decision not to make half-price public transport permanent. Its like they're going out of their way to fuck things up).

Coming on top of other policy changes, its clear: under Hipkins, Labour is now sabotaging every successful climate policy they had. They're a party of climate sabotage, a party of climate criminals. If you want a stable climate, don't vote for saboteurs in October.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Climate Change: More Labour foot-dragging

Yesterday the IPCC released the final part of its Sixth Assessment Report, warning us that we have very little time left in which to act to prevent catastrophic climate change, but pointing out that it is a problem that we can solve, with existing technology, and that anything we do to reduce emissions will improve things. In that report, they highlighted the need to urgently reduce methane emissions in order to limit temperature rise (methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, 85 times worse than carbon dioxide, and while it is shorter-lived, that also means that any reduction will have an outsized and immediate impact). As we should all know, Aotearoa is a disproportionately large source of methane, due to too many cows. So is the government going to heed that advice and urgently act to reduce methane emissions? Of course not. instead, they're delaying even the weak action on agricultural emissions they had planned.

Labour's plans were, to put it bluntly, a crock of shit, promising farmers that they would pay the "lowest price possible", which would not be connected to the ETS price, and that they would receive a 95% subsidy larded with bullshit unrecognised "offsets". Effectively its a giant subsidy to the dirtiest, least efficient part of our economy, at the expense of urban Aotearoa, which pays for every gram of carbon we emit. So, possibly this delay might be good, insofar as it gives the government time to work on a better policy (and at this stage, I should point out that the default option of putting agriculture into the ETS at the processor level is 50% more effective than the bullshit they have come up with). But this is Labour, so that's unlikely. Instead, its just more of their backsliding, which has seen them toss climate change policies onto the bonfire in order to appeal to the 10% of kiwis who think we're already doing too much).

But at this stage in the climate crisis, when cities in Aotearoa are flooding, there's little difference anymore between foot-draggers and deniers. Both are trying to murder us all; the only difference is that the deniers are honest about it. In Labour's case, a vote for them is a vote for continued climate inaction, a vote for fire and flood and death. If you want real climate action, you need to vote for a party which actually offers it. And that means the Greens or Te Pāti Māori.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

This smells

RNZ has continued its look at the role of lobbyists by taking a closer look at the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff Andrew Kirton. He used to work for liquor companies, opposing (among other things) a container refund scheme which would have required them to take responsibility for their own waste. Then he went to work for Chris Hipkins, and surprise, surprise, that container-refund scheme was thrown on Chris's policy bonfire.

Which smells a bit stinky. Almost like he mixed up his "previous" role as a lobbyist (he quit literally the day before Hipkins hired him) with his new one as not-quite-a-public-servant. And for those quibbling about the latter, while the PM's chief of staff is not a public service role, its also clearly doing the public's business, and we are entitled to certain expectations of political hygiene there. For Ministers, the rule is that they are "expected to... behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards" [emphasis added]. A public perception that someone had mingled their public and private business in this manner would be intolerable in a Minister. We should not accept it from the PM's chief of staff either.

As the article notes, this is possible because unlike other democracies Aotearoa does not have a "cooling off period" to slow the revolving door between politics and lobbying. Pretty obviously, we need one. And it would be fascinating to know what the PM's chief of staff thinks of that, and what advice (if any) he has given the PM on the issue.

Monday, March 20, 2023

The Greens, Labour, and coalition enforcement

James Shaw gave the Green party's annual "state of the planet" address over the weekend, in which he expressed frustration with Labour for not doing enough on climate change. His solution is to elect more Green MPs, so they have more power within any government arrangement, and can hold Labour to account. Which is obvious, and yet at the same time also wrong. Because insofar as Cabinet (or in the end, Parliament) operates by majoritarianism, then the Greens can simply be rolled and ignored by their larger coalition partner, and shit decisions like this and this and this made.

The core problem here isn't lack of numbers within a coalition, but a lack of enforcement for the coalition agreement itself. Because Labour is fundamentally an anti-environment, status quo party, unwilling to make the necessary changes required for us to survive the 21st century. Whether you think they're marginally better than National, or worse because they're deceitful rather than honest about their anti-environmentalism is immaterial. The fact remains that they have demonstrated their hostility through their policies, promising one thing, then doing another the moment it gets hard or a fossil lobbyist whines at them, despite a coalition agreement which committed them to "achieving the purpose and goals of the Zero Carbon Act".

When working with Labour, the Greens need to treat them as hostile, rather than as good-faith partners, and they need to design any future governing arrangement to suit. And this means milestones and audits by an independent party (not the Minister, who obviously has a conflict of interest), with failure to meet them resulting in automatically pulling the plug and toppling the government unless the party membership decides to continue. Because if you want Labour to do something, you need to focus their minds on what matters to them: their big salaries, their jobs, their prestige.

(The people of Aotearoa generally expect governments to go full term, and hate "instability". But any failure to meet milestones will be Labour's fault, and as a small party, the Greens don't need to care about the wider public, just their own voters. Obviously, the ideal outcome here is that Labour keeps its commitments for once, and the threat is not needed).

In his speech, Shaw said "We cannot compromise any longer on the future of our planet". Its time he fucking started acting like it.

This sounds familiar...

RNZ this morning has the first story another investigative series by Guyon Espiner, this time into political lobbying. The first story focuses on lobbying by government agencies, specifically transpower, Pharmac, and assorted universities, and how they use lobbyists to manipulate public opinion and gather intelligence on the Ministers who oversee them - which seems pretty dubious and anti-democratic. Nothing is as bad as the behaviour revealed in Hager's expose of Timberlands 24 years ago... yet. But then, none of these agencies seems to be in a life-or-death struggle for its social licence. I'm sure the information from, say, NZPAM, or MPI, or NZDF would be far more interesting.

To the extent that this is just basic PR functions, that's something that can and should be done in-house, by public servants subject to public service standards of conduct. But then, avoiding those standards is probably the point, and no-one gets to grift off that.

Still, what's revealed is disquieting enough. And I was particularly disturbed to learn that lobbyists are routinely manipulating OIA responses, telling Transpower when to release material, demanding input into what gets released and what gets withheld, or even censoring them entirely as "commercially sensitive". All of which seems contrary to the law, and hopefully the Ombudsman will be looking into it.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Labour's austerity victimises teachers

Primary, secondary and kindergarten teachers are all on strike today, demanding higher pay and an end to systematic understaffing. While the former is important - wages should at least keep up with inflation - its the latter which is the real issue. As with the health system, teachers have been asked to do more and more with less and less, with the government exploiting their professionalism and sense of duty to their students to keep them in line. And as with the health system, it appears to have reached a breaking point. It takes a lot to get teachers to go on strike; simultaneous strikes across the whole sector is a terrible "achievement" for a Labour government.

Education Minister Jan Tinetti apparently acknowledged that the system was broken. Which is nice performative handwringing, but its not going to solve the problem. To do that, the government actually has to offer more. So far they've simply refused, and Labour's commitment to austerity, to keeping taxes on rich MPs low, doesn't give much cause for hope.

Let's be clear about this: this is not a case of the government being unable to afford to properly resource the education (or health) sector. The government is a government and can have as much money as it wants. The problem is that the government chooses not to resource those sectors. It is running down and starving core functions, gutting our state, because it would rather do that than tax the rich fairly (and again, we need to remember here that all MPs and Ministers are rich). You expect that sort of shit from national and ACT, the traditional parties of rich arseholes. Labour doing it just makes them traitors to their own voters.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Climate Change: Another ETS crisis

The quarterly ETS auction was held today. In the past, these have seen collusion by big players to game the price and force a dump of extra credits from the cost-containment reserve (essentially, trying to pick stuff up cheap now in the belief that it will be more valuable later). Today, things went... differently:

March 2023 has been declined because the clearing price did not meet the minimum price settings. As a result, there are no winning bids.
We don't know at this stage whether this was due to bids not meeting the minimum price of $33.06 - a price not seen since 2020 - or not meeting the confidential reserve. But its probably the latter. The confidential reserve is set by a methodology designed by the Minister, and is meant to ensure that auction prices aren't too much lower than spot prices. And its easy to see how if the methodology uses any but the most short-term averaging, then if prices have been high and have dropped significantly (due to, say, a cowardly government backtrack on price settings destroying confidence in the system) then you're going to see this sort of thing happening.

So what happens now? Well, all the units that weren't bought will just get rolled over until the next auction in June, while the failure to meet the reserve will trigger an automatic review of the methodology by which it is set (meaning the reserve will be lowered to ensure polluters get cheap carbon). But the fundamental problem here is that Labour's chickenshittery has caused a loss of confidence in climate policy and future decarbonisation. And that's something Labour needs to fix, because otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: low carbon prices mean less decarbonisation and higher emissions. Great for polluters and fossil profiteers, but not so great for the people of Aotearoa.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the first of the year. Unfortunately it also looks to be a boring one. First, there's a two hour debate on the budget policy statement (somehow inexplicably "member's business", despite it being fundamentally a government thing). Then there's a couple of "private bills" - people who have literally paid parliament money to have a law written just for them. First up is the Hawke’s Bay Agricultural and Pastoral Society Empowering Bill, followed by the St Peter’s Parish Endowment Fund Trust Bill. Both of these are about private organisations using money or assets in ways contrary to what they originally promised, and getting parliamentary permission to do so. Once that's out of the way, the House will move to the third reading of Angie Warren-Clark's Crimes (Child Exploitation Offences) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly, it might get on to the committee stage of the Ian McKelvie's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill. I don't expect a ballot tomorrow.

Corrections: The budget policy debate gets held in place of a general debate, so its a normal Wednesday thing. The fee for promoting a private bill was charged to cover printing costs, and was abolished six years ago (which shows you how much attention I normally pay to them). There's a guide to the process here.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Labour: We can't do this

Another week, and another post-cabinet press conference consisting of the Prime Minister reeling off a long list of policies being scrapped or pushed out past the election. Yes, they're dumping climate change policies in a climate emergency, while betraying young people over the voting age, and ensuring hoons can continue to endanger us all on the roads. Oh, there's a one-off benefit increase in line with inflation. Whoop di do. That's the bare fucking minimum, and something which should happen automatically to ensure those at the bottom aren't left behind - something Labour isn't offering, I might add. So its just more treading water.

Hipkins is very big on how much money this is saving, which can be "reprioritised" to pay for cyclone cleanup. Which is basicly an admission that austerity rules, and we'll be paying for the cyclone in cuts rather than by taxing the rich. He's also talking about how this will free up bandwidth for the government to focus on bread and butter issues, which is an admission that central government is so run down and underfunded that it can't provide the level of policy advice and oversight currently required, and so new programmes require old ones to be thrown overboard. Both admissions are pretty damning.

Normally governments announce what they are doing, not what they can't or won't, and the overall impression is that Labour has shifted firmly into pre-election "do nothing" mode, where Ministers will delay, defer or deny for fear of offending people who will never vote for them anyway, while collecting their full salaries for their inaction. They've gone from the party of "we can do this" to the party of "we can't". And I have no idea how they expect to get re-elected when they're no longer offering people anything.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

A dictator falls

At the end of last year, Fijian dictator Voreqe Bainimarama lost an election, and his grip on power. He didn't cope with the change very well, giving a speech denouncing Fiji's president which saw him suspended from parliament. While I was concerned about the length of the suspension, the point is now moot, because yesterday he resigned. And tonight, he's in a jail cell, having been charged with abuse of office for squashing a police investigation into fraud at the University of the South Pacific.

In a perfect world, Bainimarama would be charged with treason for his coup, and be in a cell next to George Speight. But he wrote himself and his fellow military criminals an amnesty not just for the coup, but for the years of torture which followed, which still hasn't been unravelled. Still, this is good enough. There'll be some justice, and if it sticks, maybe he'll get that cell next to Speight after all. And after all, they eventually got Al Capone for tax evasion...

OTOH, George Speight has now served twenty years, which is honestly long enough for what he did, and following the change of government there's no longer a dictator-shaped barrier to parole. Which means Bainimarama may be all alone. But hopefully other former members of his coup regime will soon be joining him...

Labour is governing for the Boomers

In 2019 the Tax Working Group recommended that Aotearoa adopt a capital gains tax to plug a hole in the tax system, which sees the rich's income go mostly untaxed, while the rest of us pay on every cent we earn. Sadly, Labour chickenshitted out, as usual, with then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promising that she would not introduce a capital gains tax, or anything else which might upset rich Boomers, while she was in office. She then backed that up by ruling out land taxes or wealth taxes whenever they were raised.

It was typical Labour chickenshittery, with the usual side dose of gaslighting (Arden blamed us for her cowardice, rather than accept responsibility for her decision). It was a betrayal of Labour's supporters, and the vision of a more equal Aotearoa. But it was also stupid, because it turns out that taxing the rich is quite popular. And that's been reinforced again this week, with a survey for the Ministry of Transport finding that people would like to tax wealth to pay for roads:

A Government-commissioned paper into replacing petrol taxes and road user charges has thrown up some politically awkward suggestions: wealth taxes, pollution levies, and charging malls and airports.

The reason for this awkwardness is that the Government has ruled out nearly all of these new taxes to various extents - and the Opposition doesn’t want to implement them either.

More awkward still is that the research paper shows that those new taxes, even the wealth tax, were widely supported by people questioned - although the sample used for the survey is small (436) and is not representative of the wider population like a poll, making it less useful as a measure of what the country thinks.

Bernard Hickey has more on this on The Spinoff, where he talks about the strong generational divide in the results. Which actually seems like a long-term problem for Labour, in that they're systematically painting themselves as an enemy of everyone under 50, and turning off generations of voters. Which isn't good if the party wants to have a future, or paint itself as a party of progress.

Hickey also notes that the mere mention of this survey and that it mentioned wealth taxes "was enough to light up the third rails of Aotearoa’s political economy". Those are of course the Boomers' "third rails", reflecting their generational wealth and entitlement and dominance of the political conversation (not to mention their use of utterly foreign rail metaphors - we use overhead wires here). The rest of us seem far more interested in those ideas. And it would be nice if politicians listened to us, rather than the selfish olds.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Can our government really hold itself to account for torture?

Newsroom has an important story on the Royal Commission into State Abuse's formal finding of torture at Lake Alice, and what it means for the government. Firstly, in terms of legal liability, which the government response has always been focused an avoiding, and how the tactics used in that avoidance - hiding evidence and impeding investigations - seems to cross the line and make a bunch of government lawyers accessories after the fact, in turn exposing them to criminal charges. But as the article points out, there are huge conflicts of interest which may undermine any prosecution and prevent justice for these crimes:

Since the Crime of Torture Act was passed in 1989 there have been no prosecutions for torture in New Zealand, despite a number of examples of abuse of children by the state that clearly qualify. Part of the problem is that the legislation is aimed at government officials but prosecutions have to have the approval of the Attorney General, which creates an inherent conflict of interest. To prosecute a state employee raises the possibility of creating legal liability for the Crown. New Zealand also expressed reservations about article 14 of the Convention about providing compensation, and reserved the right to only provide compensation to victims of torture at the discretion of the Attorney General. This effectively gives the government control over how the crime of torture is handled by police, even though the legislation is aimed at Crown officials. This completely blurs the line of separation of powers.

The perpetrator – and the Crown is now officially a perpetrator of state-sponsored torture – gets to decide whether its own officials should be charged and punished. Other criminals do not get this unusual privilege. It also creates a legal and political riddle – how are the police to assess certain actions by Crown Law, like not providing evidence to the police? Who do they seek advice from on whether that was criminal – the Solicitor General? The Attorney General? They were in charge when some of these actions happened.

Another complicating factor, not mentioned in the article, is that public servants have long enjoyed immunity for "good-faith actions or omissions when carrying out or intending to carry out their responsibilities". So there's going to be an interesting (and potentially devastating) question there of whether covering up a crime can ever be considered to be in "good faith".

I want to see justice for these crimes, and I want to see those responsible - including those responsible for systematically covering them up - prosecuted. It needs to happen, not just to provide justice, but also to provide a warning to future public servants and guide their behaviour. Maybe we can resolve these conflicts by getting the police outside legal advice and outside prosecutors (but then: the police work for the government too, and they never forget that). But if we can't resolve those conflicts, then we should turn the case, and the suspects, over to an appropriate independent international tribunal. After all, torture is a crime in all civilised states, and many claim universal jurisdiction for it. If our government can't provide impartial justice, we should ask another country or international body to do it for us.

Secondly there's a huge issue lurking for the government on its routine and ongoing subjection of children to prolonged solitary confinement, which has been ruled to be torture by the European Court of Human Rights. If the Royal Commission recognises the obvious and makes a similar finding, then the government will be facing liability for tens of thousands of cases, as well as having to change policies throughout the metal health, youth justice and corrections systems. Pretty obviously, they're not going to want to do that. But I'd like to think that legislating to legalise a specific, recognised form of torture, knowing that it is torture, is a bit far, even for our Hilary Calvert Parliament.

More Labour cowardice

When the Supreme Court ruled that Aotearoa's voting age was unjustifiably discriminatory, then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to introduce a bill to fix it. Now, Labour looks set to break that promise:

The commitment of former prime minister Jacinda Ardern to introduce a bill to lower the voting age looks likely to be wound back.

While Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is yet to confirm it’s over, comments from officials and Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan on Tuesday indicated it was one of the policies felled in Hipkins’ policy cull.


Responses form both Allan and Andrew Kibblewhite​, the Secretary for Justice, indicated the Government was backing off from work on the bill entirely, when they were asked about the legislation on Tuesday.

Which is another example of Labour's fundamental cowardice and its lack of any convictions other than that they should be getting the big salaries for being in charge. Meanwhile, come election time, they'll be demanding the services of young volunteers to help them get out the vote. Those volunteers should send Labour a simple message: no work without political representation. And they should go and help a party which supports them, like the Greens, rather than one which simply wishes to exploit them while denying them a voice.

Meanwhile, if you're angry about this and want Parliament to do its job and amend the law to be consistent with the BORA, the Justice Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the declaration of inconsistency. Details on how to submit (and what to say) are here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Climate Change: Too expensive?

Ever since it became clear that we needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, climate change deniers have claimed it is "too expensive". This is based on a one-sided analysis which ignores the costs of climate change - costs which Cyclone Gabrielle has just demonstrated are enormous. Now, a new report from Deloitte shows that climate action is massively better for us than inaction:

New Zealand's economy could be $64 billion better off by 2050 if decisive climate action is taken, a new report by consulting firm Deloitte claims.

But failing to act could shrink the economy by $4.4 billion.

Deloitte's Turning Point compares what could happen if the planet warms by 3C by the end of the century, against limiting global warming to as close to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels as possible by 2050.

Which also shows the stupidity of those pushing for a hard pivot to "adaptation" rather than emissions reductions. Because it turns out that perpetual storms, floods and fores - and the perpetual cleanup required - isn't actually very good for the economy, let alone for people's lives. But those pushing adaptation are really just trying to protect the polluting status quo - a status quo which can have no future if we are to survive.

Monday, March 06, 2023

Why we can't have nice things

The Herald this morning reported on the upcoming Government Policy Statement on Land Transport, which would apparently make climate change the top priority and push the process of shifting our transport modes to less polluting methods. As part of this, it said that petrol taxes would not just need to be restored, but would need to rise to pay for the necessary changes. And it would allow dedicated cycleways to be installed as part of ordinary road maintenance rather than requiring separate funding and separate work.

All of that seems sensible. So of course, national and ACT hate it, and predictably, chickenshit Labour has decided to back away from it the moment it hits the news:

Newshub understands the Government is reconsidering its transport strategy in light of Cyclone Gabrielle - with a pivot away from bus and bike lane funding.

A Government transport strategy, drafted at the end of last year, prioritised emissions reductions and proposed road maintenance funding be used to replace car parks with bus or cycle lanes.

But in the wake of catastrophic damage to our State Highway network the Government will refocus on a 'rebuild and resilience' programme, beginning with reconnecting key routes before moving to build resilience in our transport network - not just in cyclone-hit areas, but across the country.

A stronger focus on repairs is obviously necessary, given the damage suffered by the roading network in the last month. But why do it at the cost of those necessary and sensible changes which would be done as part of BAU maintenance? Its simple cowardice. The problem isn't so much that Labour lacks the courage of its convictions, but that it lacks any convictions at all, apart from one Chris rather than the other being in charge and getting the big bucks. Like that past Labour leader, they're a shiver looking for a spine to run down. And in the middle of a climate crisis, that makes them too useless to be trusted.

Friday, March 03, 2023

National: tone deaf on climate change

School kids around the country are going on strike today to demand climate action (and the vote!) So naturally, Judith Collins has taken the opportunity to remind us that National is full of climate deniers who want to burn the planet:

Judith Collins says ending onshore oil and gas exploration would be "madness" - given the amount of coal that's been imported into New Zealand in recent years.


But Wood's comments outraged veteran Opposition MP, Judith Collins. Her National Party, of which she was the former leader, has promised to reverse the offshore ban.

"This is madness," Collins said. "We're importing all this coal out of Indonesia because we can't actually dig it here, because of you guys and your silly rules," she told Wood.

She said the Government wasn't "helping anybody by… shipping in coal out of Indonesia rather than using New Zealand coal".

[There is in fact no impediment to using New Zealand coal; polluters use imported coal because it is cheaper - I/S]

Judith Collins. Maureen Pugh. Andrew Bayly. And that's just the last couple of weeks. If you look back, you'll find National MPs are climate deniers from top to bottom. And if you search Hansard, you'll find them consistently voting against climate action (or sometimes voting for it, with a promise that they will gut it if ever elected). National is the party of climate arson, and always has been. And in the middle of a climate crisis, they simply cannot be trusted anywhere near government.

Thursday, March 02, 2023


Last year Parliament passed the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Act 2022, amending the BORA to establish an absolute bare-minimum regime in response to the courts ruling that they had failed to do their job of protecting human rights and passed legislation inconsistent with the BORA. Shortly afterwards, the Supreme Court ruled that parliament had again failed, by allowing a voting age which was unjustifiably discriminatory. In accordance with the law, Parliament's Justice Committee has now called for submissions on the declaration of inconsistency. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, 15 March 2023, and they can be made on the Parliamentary website here.

As for what to say, I would suggest urging Parliament to uphold the BORA and lower the voting age. I'd further suggest that this should be the general rule: whenever the courts go to the effort of making a formal declaration of inconsistency, then Parliament should amend the law to be consistent. Doing otherwise - especially on the first real test of the regime - would make it clear that Parliament has no intention of performing its duties under the BORA and is hostile to human rights. It would make it clear that Hilary Calvert was not an aberration, but basicly Parliament's face on human rights. And that in turn is going to strengthen pressure to take the job of these unreliable and untrustworthy "guardians" and give it to the body which has the knowledge, stature and mana to do it properly: the courts.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

More police bullshit

Back in January, I posted about an OIA response which apparently showed that police had no fucking idea whether they were following the law on the removal of DNA profiles from the national DNA databank. The DNA databank is managed by ESR, so I thought I'd ask the same questions of them in case they had any idea. Their response, received today? Ask the police:

ESR acts under New Zealand Police instructions for the removal of DNA profiles from the Databank. ESR does not hold information as to what section of the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995 triggered the removal and is therefore unable to provide that information. This information would need to be sought from New Zealand Police.
Which is frustrating, but also revealing. Because if ESR, like a good contractor, acts on police instructions, then the police must have copies of those instructions, and should have a justification for each of them. The existence of such instructions also implies that there is a process for making them (the alternative being that the police are issuing them at random, which I don't believe for an instant). That process might exist only in the heads of relevant police staff, but it exists. It is official information, and it is held. So when police told me in January that they didn't have this information, and nobody else did either, they were lying.

(It may be the case that the usual police record-keeping fiasco means that statistics about removals cannot be generated without substantial collation and research. But that's a different question from the police's outright assertion that the information doesn't exist anywhere, and it certainly doesn't permit the withholding of the procedure).

This sort of bullshit from police is sadly a frequent occurrence. And it is absolutely corrosive of public trust.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Climate Change: The cost of not cutting emissions

Rod Oram has a piece of Newsroom this week, calling for this year's election to be a referendum on climate action, and specifically looking at the National Party's policy hole in this area. Oram lays out a long list of questions national needs to answer to gain any credibility, but the TL;DR is right at the beginning: "says it is committed to climate. But it has never articulated a comprehensive or convincing suite of policies. And the little it has said on climate is hedged one way or another". The party simply lacks credibility, and it is hard to see how the current lineup, packed with climate change deniers and foot-draggers and cow-lickers, can ever gain any.

But in passing, Oram also mentions this horrifying factoid:

Currently the price of carbon is only $70 a tonne, compared with €100 ($170) in the EU.
[NZ carbon prices have in fact dropped to NZ$67.50, which shows what the market thinks of the chance of Labour actually acting to reduce emissions].

This is horrifying because the climate policy of successive governments has been to make promises of emissions reductions they have no intention of meeting, backed by a pledge to "simply" buy credits on the international market to meet any shortfall. This is problematic for a number of reasons - it is basicly a commitment to shirk our commitments - but purely in practical terms its a failure. The idea of an "international market" is currently a complete fantasy, so there's nowhere we can actually buy these "credits" from anyway.

But imagine for a moment that an international carbon market was not a Treasury fantasy. The current EU carbon price is a very bad sign for that fantasy, because it suggests that the cost of meeting (or rather, shirking) our climate commitments will be far higher than expected. The government currently prices carbon at $150 / ton internally to reflect the expected cost of buying credits. The EU carbon cost is already higher than that, so it seems unlikely that it will be cheaper by 2030. Instead, it seems like it will be significantly more expensive (I've seen numbers like €140 (NZ$240) / ton required to meet the EU's 2030 carbon targets, but projections have tended to be significant underestimates). The upshot: even if it wasn't a fantasy, Treasury's policy looks like it will be even more staggeringly expensive than expected.

(But then, part of the fantasy was always that foreign reductions would be cheaper. In other words, Treasury was betting on fraud and bullshit to make the numbers look good, without caring about the actual underlying emissions situation. Typical bean-counters.)

The policy implication in turn is that we need an even stronger focus on domestic emissions reductions. Every ton of carbon we cut is one we don't have to pay for. The best way of doing this is to free the ETS and cut credit supply so prices can rise. But also the internal price the government uses to assess the costs and benefits of policy needs to increase significantly to ensure emissions are costed correctly. Otherwise, we're effectively committing to a high emissions pathway, and a very expensive bill post-2030.

...but I guess the government is betting that that will just be somebody else's problem.

Climate Change: We need more trees, not less

Newshub reports that farmers are outraged that we're planting too many trees:

Newshub can reveal 25 times more land was converted into forestry last year than a decade ago.

It's angered farmers who hope the Government's ministerial inquiry into forestry slash will lead to limits on land conversion. They say the Government needs to answer for incentivising forestry to earn carbon credits.

"We're not absolutely against off-setting, we're certainly not against commercial forestry, but our argument is that there needs to be some limits put on it," Beef + Lamb CEO Sam McIvor told Newshub.

Which is fascinating. Because a decade ago, Aotearoa was in the midst of a boom in dairy conversions, when whole forests were being ripped out and chipped to make way for cows. At the beginning of this boom, when the government was picking up the carbon costs, farmers and their National party proxies in Parliament insisted that land had to be free to change to its highest value use. Now that the value equation has changed, and carbon is more valuable than the dirty, polluting, low-value sheep and beef industries, they're calling for controls. As I noted earlier, these are the final squeals of a dying industry, which is now simply too dirty and inefficient for the modern economy.

Secondly, farmers are complaining about 18,000 hectares of net reforestation. After 25 years, that will have soaked up about 12.6 milion tons of carbon - or less than a third of our annual agricultural emissions (39.4 millions tons in 2020). Farmers oppose any cuts to those emissions, and the government has grovelled to them, with only a weak commitment to cut agricultural methane. As a result, our gross emissions are still expected to be 59.2 million tons in 2050, and our net emissions 19.7 or 31.8 million tons depending on whether you use real or bullshit accounting (weirdly, bullshit is higher, because of course its focused on making things look good in the short term). And this is going to be comprised mostly of agricultural emissions - everything else is basicly expected to hit zero. Which suggests that we actually need more trees, not less, to soak up and draw down our pollution. If farmers don't like that, then the alternative is to radically reduce the size of the agricultural sector (in practice, we are going to have to do both).

Of course, these trees don't have to be production forestry, or pine. Ideally, we'll be returning polluting agricultural land to native forest, like it was before pākehā turned up and ruined the place. But at this stage of the climate crisis, any tree is better than a cow, and turning production pine into permanent forest - locking the gate and just walking away - is an acceptable alternative. The over-riding emphasis must be to get trees in the ground and cows off the land. And we can't let farmers' hurt feelings at the demise of their polluting lifestyle get in the way of that.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Climate Change: Submit!

The Environment Committee has called for submissions on the Climate Change Response (Late Payment Penalties and Industrial Allocation) Amendment Bill. The deadline for submissions is Thursday, 6 April 2023. You can make a submission on the Parliament website here. A sample submission for you to personalise is here (note the warning on the top. Yes, I mean it).

The bill does some tinkering with the ETS, some of which is useful. But it also massively lowers the bar for pollution subsidies, by scaling their eligibility to a carbon price of $25 / ton - prices we haven't seen since before 2020. The net result will be a massive increase in subsidies: every industry currently classified as "moderately emissions intensive" will be reclassified as "highly emissions-intensive", getting them a 50% increase in free pollution permits. It will also make new industries eligible. And the effect of that will be weaker incentives on polluters to reduce their emissions, and so a higher emissions pathway for Aotearoa. Coming in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, its a commitment to more storms, more floods, and more deaths.

(Naturally, the change was made without consultation, and at the request of big polluters. Which tells you whose pocket our "my generation's nuclear-free moment"-government is really in).

The problem clauses are in section 15 of the bill, specifically subclauses 15(1) and 15(3). Both of these need to be removed. If not, well, we have only to look at the last three weeks to see the consequences and costs of this sort of status quo foot-dragging.

Update: Added sample submission.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Labour to courts: Fuck you

Back in December, the High Court triggered a judicial earthquake, with a ruling that the Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Act 2015 (passed under all-stages urgency after Australia started duping their problems on us) was inherently punitive, and therefore would constitute retrospective punishment, and so could not be applied retrspectively. It was an entirely orthodox ruling, building on several recent judgements which called bullshit of the government's increasing practice of treating people like criminals (and subjecting them to sentence-like restrictions) while claiming that it wasn't a "punishment". But it obviously upset the Labour government, which desperately wants to kick people to appear "tough on crime", and which doesn't think mere judges should be able to say what the law actually means. So today they responded, introducing an amendment bill to over-ride the decision and ensure that they can continue to punish people retrospectively and multiple times for the same offence, in violation of the Bill of Rights Act. And naturally, they're passing it under all-stages urgency...

The bill has of course resulted in its own s7 report, a formal notification by the Attorney-General to Parliament that it is inconsistent with the BORA. But the Attorney-General undercuts his own advice, saying that he has been forced to issue the report by the court's decision (which he disagrees with; the court of course has already judged his reasons for that disagreement and found them wanting). But because Parliament will be under all-stages urgency, there will be no select committee process, and so the scrutiny such a report usually engenders will be absent. Instead, they'll ram it through, with this level of "scrutiny".

This is no way to treat human rights, and no way to treat our constitution. It also reveals the inherent conflict-of-interest in having section 7 notices given to Parliament by an Attorney-General who is a member of the executive, and therefore bound to support the government's position no matter what. At the least, it shows that this job needs to be done by an independent officer of parliament, rather than the House effectively taking legal advice from someone else's lawyer, pushing someone else's agenda. In the meantime, if MPs are wondering why so many of us think the job of being the ultimate arbiter of human rights should be taken off them and given to the courts (by making the BORA supreme and allowing other laws to be overturned for inconsistency), this sort of behaviour is why.

Paying for the rebuild

Cyclone Gabrielle caused billions of dollars of damage, with roads, homes, and other infrastructure needing to be repaired, replaced, or moved. So how are we going to pay for it? The Greens have suggested the obvious: a windfall tax on those outrageous corporate profits. National leader Christopher Luxon has another idea: we should just borrow:

Christopher Luxon says a flood tax is a bad idea but thinks the Government should borrow money for rebuilding regions severely damaged by the storm.

The National Party leader told AM the Government has wasted too much money and inflation - running at 7.2 percent - was too high for another tax.

Which is a stupid reason, because taxing the rich is anti-inflationary as well as fair. But its also a little repulsive to see a rich white dude in his peak earning years saying that he shouldn't have to pay anything to fix the problem he helped cause (he used to run an airline, you know!), and that we should instead dump the cost on the kids. Its a perfect example of the generational selfishness which has ruined this country, not to mention the "I've got mine; fuck you!" attitude of the National Party and its rich arsehole supporters.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

National is still full of climate change deniers

National MP Maureen Pugh's response to Cyclone Gabrielle, the climate-change fuelled cyclone which has devastated the East Coast and Hawkes Bay and killed eleven people? Climate change denial:

National MP Maureen Pugh says she has yet to see “the evidence” that humans caused or the human impact on climate change.


If she believed in human-caused climate change, Pugh said she had yet to see the response from Shaw after a local councillor wrote to him asking for the evidence.

“It's not what I think, it's what I can prove. I am waiting on the evidence from the minister that provides that evidence.”

“I have yet to see what the evidence is that they are providing about that.”

“I'm not denying climate change. I've seen the evidence of it. We have cooled and warmed, cooled and warmed over millions of years.”

Except she is denying climate change, or at least that we've caused it and that its a problem that we need to do something about. And while the current National leadership is promising to have "a conversation" with her about this, National's dirty secret is that they're still full of climate change deniers. In 2013, Gerry Brownlee - who is still a senior National MP - expressed views pretty much identical to Pugh's: that "climate change is something that has happened always, so to simply come up and say, look, it’s man-made, is an interesting prospect". In 2019, in the midst of the debate over the Zero Carbon Act, Todd Muller - who was then their climate change spokesperson, and is in that role again today - when talking about the impact of agricultural emissions, said "this stuff is not conclusive" (it is, it really is). And while Christoper Luxon may pay lip service to climate change being real, he is absolutely crystal clear that the party he leads will never do anything about it (and will in fact repeal all the stuff we are currently doing about it). He'll happily burn the planet and kill us all so farmers - and airlines - can continue to make a profit. And while we all hope that National will somehow recognise reality, that seems unlikely, because their rural core vote are climate change deniers. That is literally who they represent.

The upshot of all this is that if you want climate change action, you can't vote national. It is that simple.

Twenty years

It's official: this blog is now (a little over) twenty years old. And in true slacker fashion, I missed it - the blogversary of my first post here fell on Saturday, but I had weirdly thought it was sometime later this week. I guess its just a sign of being old! (The actual blog was started a few days before that, by a co-blogger who then wandered off and dumped it on me. Thanks, Mike!)

Twenty is ancient in internet terms, and things were very different back then. Blogging was new, and there was a host of small political blogs. Very few of them are still around - Public Address still exists as a platform, and DPF is still spreading his toxic bullshit, but most of the early sites have disappeared (there are a few survivors from later waves, like The Standard and Greater Auckland though). The conversation has moved to other places - mostly Twitter.

I've obviously slowed down a lot since the early days. I used to have a daily quota of five posts a day, and a focus on the politics of the day. But after twenty years, day-to-day politics is mostly noise I've seen before, worth a tweet but not a post. And as the years have gone by, I've developed a tighter focus on climate change and OIA issues - areas I actually know something about and can say something useful.

When I did my ten-year retrospective, I said I had no intention of stopping anytime soon. That's still true. I'll keep posting as long as I think I have something interesting to say. In the meantime, its probably a good idea to follow me on Mastodon or Twitter (as long as it lasts), for all the ephemera.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

A bad start for Fiji's democracy

Earlier in the week, former Fijian dictator (and now opposition leader) Voreqe Bainimarama gave a speech in parliament where he attacked Fiji's president for supporting the outcome of democratic elections and called on the military to carry out another coup to overturn them (and presumably return him to power). The speech violated the Fijian parliament's standing orders, which prohibit bringing the head of state into debate, as well as treasonous words, and he was referred to the privileges committee. Today, it recommended that he be suspended from parliament for three years, a recommendation which has just been confirmed by the House.

When he was in power, Bainimarama was ruthless in using suspension from parliament as a weapon against his enemies. In 2016 he had Tupou Draunidalo suspended for the rest of the term for objecting to one of his Ministers referring to the opposition as "dumb natives". She ended up resigning. In 2019 he assaulted NFP MP Pio Tikoduadua in the parliamentary precinct, then had him suspended for six months refusing to apologise to his attacker (the assault was captured on video. The parliamentary staffers who videoed it were fired). But as much as I enjoy seeing the dictator hoist by his own petard, this is excessive. While suspending an MP may be justified for a severe breach of standing orders, long suspensions of MPs are fundamentally unjust and undemocratic and effectively strip voters of their democratic representation. 136,829 people voted for Bainimarama at the last election. And their votes have now effectively been rendered null and void by the Fijian parliament's unjust and vindictive punishment. And that's a very bad start for Fiji's democracy.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

The police knew coercing photographs from kids was illegal

In September last year, the Privacy Commissioner and Independent Police Conduct Authority issued a joint report on their investigation into the police's practice of coercing "voluntary" photographs from young Māori on the street. The report uncovered illegality, systematic racism, and widespread ignorance among police officers of the limits on their behaviour, including some practices so obviously illegal that the Privacy Commissioner was forced to issue a Compliance Notice to stop them. The report mentioned that the police had conducted their own internal review into the issues it covered, and a sharp-eyed person used FYI, the public OIA request site, to request a copy. Today, three months after the statutory deadaline, the police finally provided a response, including a copy of the report. That report shows that, contrary to their public statements, the police's processes for handling this data are not robust, and they know it (or at least, they would if they read beyond the summary, which in usual police fashion, minimises their own wrongdoing and buries the true scale of their non-compliance). But it gets worse, because the report included legal advice, which was not properly redacted. This shows that:

  • Photographing and fingerprinting children and young people is likely inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its principle that the best interests of the child be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children;
  • They know that their claims of "consent" where children are concerned are pure bullshit. "There are a number of barriers to obtaining full and informed consent including the power imbalance between the young person and the Police officer, literacy issues, and communication disabilities... These factors can make it difficult for an officer to adequately explain the points in the POL545/545A forms to the level required not least because the officer does not have the training to recognise them or to address them." There are multiple cases already where evidence coerced from children and young people in this way has been thrown out by the courts on these grounds.
  • Even if officers were properly trained, "some young people, particularly those aged under 15 years are not usually able to provide full and informed consent".
  • These concerns effectively poison all existing material taken from young people.
  • The nature of the youth justice system and its focus on allowing young people to make amends and leave offending in the past means that indefinite retention of information on children and young people is not a "lawful use", regardless of "consent".
Chris Hipkins is on record as saying that he wants to simply legalise the police's criminal behaviour, effectively putting them above the law. But this wouldn't just involve overturning the most basic principles of the Privacy Act - it would also require overturning fundamentals of the youth justice system. Which in turn would put us in violation of UNCROC, which has been incorporated into New Zealand law through the Oranga Tamariki Act. And as with "three strikes" and mandatory minimum non-parole periods, I'm not sure the courts would stand for that.

Update: The report is now on DocumentCloud. To read the redacted bits, click on "Document" (on the bottom left) and change it to "Plain text".

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Climate Change: The lost decades

Over the last few days Aotearoa was hit by ex-tropical cyclone Gabrielle - the second tropical cyclone to hit us in just two months. Huge chunks of the country have been flooded, 225,000 people have lost electricity (some will be without it for two weeks), and at least two people are dead. The economic impact is estimated in the tens of billions. Before Parliament adjourned so MPs could go and help their constituents, Climate Minister James Shaw gave a speech drawing the obvious link to climate change [video], and warning that we are now entering "a period of consequences":

I have to say that, as I stand here today, I struggle to find words to express what I am thinking and feeling about this particular crisis. I don't think I've ever felt as sad or as angry about the lost decades that we spent bickering and arguing about whether climate change was real or not, whether it was caused by humans or not, whether it was bad or not, whether we should do something about it or not, because it is clearly here now, and if we do not act, it will get worse.

I've been recalling, actually, a quote from a different time about a different crisis: "The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences." And there will be people who say, you know—just as the National Rifle Association in the United States does about shootings over there—it's "too soon" to talk about these things, but we are standing in it right now. This is a climate change - related event. The severity of it, of course, made worse by the fact that our global temperatures have already increased by 1.1 degrees. We need to stop making excuses for inaction. We cannot put our heads in the sand when the beach is flooding. We must act now.

Newsroom's Marc Daalder has talked about this period of consequences - or, as he put it, Alt title: Fuck around and find out. But I'd like to look at the "fucking around" part. Because there is a lot here to be angry about, and people we need to hold to account.

Way back in 1992, the then-National government endorsed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in which they promised to reduce emissions. They followed this up in 1998 by signing the Kyoto Protocol, committing us to a binding emissions reduction target. Environment Minister Simon Upton did a lot of work, developing a fully-formed, all-gases, all-sectors emissions trading scheme, but his National colleagues - farmers and climate-change deniers - fucked around, chickening out of implementing it at the last minute, leaving the problem for future governments.

In 2002 the then-Labour government ratified the Kyoto Protocol. They then fucked around, switching from an ETS to a carbon tax and then dumping it under pressure from their coalition partners. They chickened out of making farmers pay a minimal levy on agricultural emissions, while repealing existing regulatory solutions to reduce emissions in favour of a "perfect" price mechanism which didn't exist yet. They then switched back to a partial emissions trading scheme (wasting another three years in policy development), which they loaded with pollution subsidies and opt-outs, and did not pass until literally the last days of their term. It was then immediately gutted by National.

Not content with gutting the ETS, the new National government elected in 2008 set up a "review" of climate change policy packed with climate change deniers to undermine policy even further, while repealing the thermal electricity ban and biofuels obligation. They then gutted the ETS even more, adding even more subsidies for polluters. At the same time, they announced a "50% by 2050" emissions reduction target, and ratified the Paris agreement. But they fucked around, and did nothing to meet their obligations.

In 2017, then-Labour leader Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear free moment". In 2019 the government she led passed the Zero Carbon Act, ostensibly committing us to long-term emissions reductions, with plans, budgets, reviews, and all manner of bureaucratic bullshit. And then they fucked around, repeatedly fucking with the carbon market to keep carbon prices low, repeatedly delaying making agricultural polluters pay for their pollution (and then only at the lowest possible level), and introducing even more subsidies for polluters. They've now pissed all over their carbon budget by subsidising petrol.

All of these governments fucked around. There's a common theme of hard-working climate ministers - Simon Upton, Pete Hodgson, and James Shaw - being betrayed by their Cabinet colleagues and having their plans dumped (Nick Smith is a malignant exception to this, being a collaborator with climate change deniers). There's another of constantly grovelling to farmers, a dirty, inefficient sector which receives more in subsidies than it pays in taxes, and which when you factor in the costs of its pollution, seems to be a net drain on New Zealand. And there's a common theme of them viewing climate change as a problem for the future, a mess they can leave for someone else to clean up. The consequences of that irresponsible short-term thinking can be seen on the East Coast today.

They all fucked around, and we're now finding out. And the people who fucked around got knighthoods and big pensions and posh post-political careers with banks and SOEs and crown entities. They got rich, while kiwis got flooded and left in the dark. And its time we held them accountable for it.

Monday, February 13, 2023

NZDF's bill for covering up war crimes

One of the key recommendations of the Operation Burnham inquiry was the creation of an independent Inspector-General of Defence to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by NZDF. The government's bill to do this is currently before select committee, and the Sunday Star Times' Andrea Vance has been looking at some of the submissions on it. So far, they're pretty damning, concluding that the bill will enable the military to keep its war-crimes secret:

A new military watchdog – created after the deadly Operation Burnham raid – is a recipe for “whitewash and brushing things under the carpet” and will make it more difficult to hold the Defence Force accountable, experts say.

They fear the small print in proposed legislation establishing the Inspector-General of Defence could see future human rights violations by soldiers kept secret – and make illegal the kind of investigative journalism that exposed the cover-up.

Defence Minister Andrew Little excuses all this on the grounds that the military can only suppress information which is "sensitive". But the definition of "sensitive" includes "prejudice to the continued performance of the functions of the Defence Force or the Ministry" - an entirely separate ground from prejudice to the security and defence of New Zealand - and NZDF in the past has made it clear that it considers reporting on or investigating its crimes to prejudice its functions. So I'd say that these fears are entirely well-grounded. But when you look at the limits on what the IGD can investigate and the emphasis on preventing "duplication of scrutiny" - that is, on stopping it from looking into anything NZDF is covering up itself with a stovepiped internal "inquiry" - then it is clear that this bill is designed to give only the appearance of oversight, and in reality is designed to allow NZDF to cover up its crimes. That's not what was recommended, and it certainly isn't what the public wants. And with major civil society groups condemning the bill (not to mention Nicky Hager, whose reporting with Jon Stephenson sparked the whole Operation Burnham inquiry), if it is not significantly amended it is simply going to lack any public credibility.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Climate Change: Labour's dismal record

Writing on Newsroom about yesterday's appalling biofuels decision, Marc Daalder summarises Labour's dismal record on climate change:

It's hard to think of the last time there was a genuine "win" for the climate amid recent Government decisions. Late last year, Cabinet decided to artificially depress the carbon price because of cost of living concerns, going against the advice of the Climate Change Commission. Ministers also promised farmers a low emissions price in the He Waka Eke Noa scheme in December, again in conflict with the commission's view.

Add on to that the recent decisions to keep petrol cheap and dirty, and a clear picture of the Government's priorities comes into view. Yes, climate change is important - we heard that plenty from Jacinda Ardern, and Chris Hipkins has made a big deal of it since coming to power too - but when it rubs up against political imperatives, the pursuit for better polling wins out.

The voters of today may thank the Government for its efforts to keep petrol cheap but future generations will feel the real consequences of those decisions.

And a glimpse of those consequences - described as one of the most serious storms of the century - is currently barrelling towards Auckland. Which is ultimately how we will pay for Labour's weakness and inaction: in storms and floods and death and destruction.

If we want any hope of limiting the damage in the decades to come, we need to move beyond Labour's pathetic Augustinianism - "we will act, but not yet!" - and actually start acting now. We clearly won't get that from Labour. We certainly won't get it from National. If we want a future, we need a Green government.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Climate Change: Labour abandons the carbon budget

Hipkins held his expected bonfire of the policies today, ditching the RNZ/TVNZ merger, punting hate speech legislation to the Law Commission (which basicly means it will never happen), and dumping the "bougie dole" social insurance scheme. But along the way, he also shitcanned a key part of the government's emissions reduction programme: the biofuels obligation.

How important is this? The 2021 cabinet paper Sustainable biofuels mandate: final policy design noted that (p22):

The mandate is expected to reduce emissions by around 10 MtCO2-e by 2035; contributing about 1.2 – 1.3 MtCO2-e for the first emissions budget, 3.3 to 3.6 MtCO2-e for the second, and 4.6 – 5.8 MtCO2-e for the third.
In context, the transport sector emissions target is ~16.5 MT/year for the first (4 year budget), ~15 MT/year for the second, and ~11 MT/year for the third. So the biofuels obligation was expected to contribute ~45% of our second budget cuts, and ~20% of our annual third budget cuts. This is a significant emissions impact, which will have to be made up. It was also basicly our only policy to deal with heavy transport emissions. And now Labour has thrown it out the window. It will be very interesting to see what the Climate Commission says about it.

When quizzed at the press conference, Hipkins had no idea how he was going to compensate for the extra emissions he has just allowed, and he refused to commit to meeting our future carbon budgets. Which is disappointing. But sadly consistent with their habit of announcing big targets, then chickening out from the actual action required to meet them. But it shows that Labour cannot be relied upon to take climate change seriously, or prioritise emissions cuts over the interests of whiny polluters. For that, we need the Greens.

We need to fund foodbanks, but they shouldn't exist

Former Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway has a piece in Stuff today pleading for continued government funding for foodbanks and food-rescue organisations, pointing out the high return on investment and the valuable work they've done during the pandemic:

Demand for food relief is at record levels. We’re all experiencing the pain of rising food prices. For many families, food costs have gone beyond what they can cope with. More and more working families are queuing up at foodbanks and free stores.

Many are doing it for the first time in their lives. Most believed they would never have to. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is focussed on the ‘here-and-now’ and on ‘bread-and-butter’ issues. That’s exactly what the food rescue sector is doing: making sure people have bread, butter and some fresh fruit and vegetables too.

A recent study initiated by the Aotearoa Food Rescue Alliance showed, conservatively, that for every $1 invested in food rescue, $4.50 worth of social value is returned. That’s a great investment for anyone funding food rescue. The sector doesn’t want the Government to fund everything they do. There will always be a role for sponsors and donors.

But secure Government funding releases organisations to get on with their work. Right now, that's what they need to be doing – feeding the growing number of people going hungry in New Zealand.

All of that is true, and the government should be funding them in the short term. But in the long-term, these organisations simply shouldn't exist. They shouldn't need to exist. The government should be ensuring that everyone has a sufficient income to meet their needs and that no-one goes hungry or has to beg for food relief.

Obviously, that's a huge job, which won't happen overnight. But the government should be committing to doing it, and in doing so, committing to putting the foodbanks out of business. And if they refuse, well, we'll need to vote ourselves a government which will make that commitment.

Friday, February 03, 2023

Climate Change: The emissions deficit

In March last year, in a panic over rising petrol prices caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the government made a poor decision, "temporarily" cutting fuel excise tax by 25 cents a litre. Of course, it turned out not to be temporary at all, having been extended in May, July, December, and again this week. The fiscal cost of that decision is $718 million so far, and it will get higher since the cut is likely to be extended and extended until after the election. That comes straight out of the roading budget, which now has no money to pay for repairs caused by climate-change-induced storms. The emissions cost is roughly 400,000 tons (so far) and rising. Which will need to be paid back somehow with other cuts if we are to meet our carbon budget.

But that's not the only poor decision this government has made. In December, they massively increased pollution subsidies while also continuing price subsidies built into the ETS, in defiance of climate commission advice. The last change means that polluters will continue to enjoy an extra 7 million tons of pollution a year - nearly 10% of our gross national emissions. The kicker? The government is legally obliged to pay it all back. Section 30IA of the Climate Change Response Act 2002 requires the government to obtain greenhouse gas reductions to cover any excess units introduced into the system by pollution subsidies or ETS auction settings. Meaning the seven million tons they gave away last year, and the 7 million tons they plan to give away unnecessarily this year are going to need to be balanced by emissions cuts, soaked up with trees, or paid for with units purchased overseas (at a likely cost far in excess of the $150 / ton the government uses in its internal budgets). According to the first Newsroom article linked above, the government currently has no plan to do this. Climate Minister James Shaw "wants to have an intentional conversation with his Labour colleagues" about it, but on past performance, they'll laugh in his face, say "fuck your statutory obligations", and leave the problem for someone else to solve.

Heckuva job they're doing on the climate crisis, isn't it? Makes you think they're really earning their $296,007 salaries, right?

Meanwhile, this weeks Auckland floods show the reality of the crisis: going soft on polluters simply means that we all pay, not just financially, but in storms and floods and ruined homes and misery. It would be nice if the government learned that lesson, and started doing what is required.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

E-bike incentives work

Currently the government's strategy for reducing transport emissions hinges on boosting vehicle fuel-efficiency, via the clean car standard and clean car discount, and some improvements to public transport. The former has been hugely successful, and has clearly set us on the right path, but its also not enough, and will still leave us with clogged cities (albeit cleaner ones). So what else can we do? The big hole in our transport policy is around e-bikes. And it turns out that data from the US shows that supporting these is more cost-effective than subsidising EVs:

researchers have found that e-bikes can displace gasoline miles quite effectively, too. When a household buys an e-bike, their driving (as measured by vehicle miles traveled, or VMT) decreases by more than a third. While not as much as a ZEV, which cuts 100% of gasoline VMT, the lower cost of stimulating e-bike sales with rebates more than makes up the difference. When that is taken into consideration, an e-bike subsidy is 2.9 times more effective per dollar at displacing gasoline miles than a ZEV subsidy.
Which sounds like its something worth throwing into the mix. This isn't an either/or, and we don't have to go the whole way towards David Slack's proposal of preposterous audacity (free, locally-built e-bikes for all!), but directing some ETS or clean-car discount revenue towards incentivising e-bikes would be worth doing, and give us less clogged cities.

24,000 employed under Labour

The quarterly labour market statistics were released this morning, showing that unemployment has risen slightly to 3.4%. There are now 99,000 people unemployed - 24,000 fewer than when Labour took office.

So, I guess the Reserve Bank's plan to throw people out of work to stop wage rises "inflation", and victimise the most vulnerable in society to protect the abstract wealth of the uber-rich from eroding isn't working yet. Unfortunately, this probably means they'll just keep doubling down.

Monday, January 30, 2023

More bad faith from the spies

In November last year, the SIS agreed to pay journalist Nicky Hager $66,000 for illegally spying on him. As part of the settlement, they agreed to publish an agreed statement about the settlement on their website. But two weeks later, it was gone. The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties used FYI, the public OIA request site, in an effort to find out why. The reason? The SIS's general counsel - who had presumably defended the SIS's indefensible actions and negotiated the settlement when it was clear that they would lose - asked for it to be removed "as that story has passed".

This is not the action of an agency which accepts and owns its mistakes and wants to do better. Instead, it is the action of an agency which refuses to accept it has done anything wrong, and seeks to bury the evidence of its misbehaviour. Its a sign that the SIS has no intention of changing its practices. That they are perpetual recidivists who cannot ever be reformed. Which means that if we want our democracy to be safe from them, we have to destroy them: defund them, disband them, reduce them to a rump protective security / security clearance agency.

Meanwhile, I guess the lesson for the future is that you should always take the SIS to trial. Because any "settlement" from them will simply be an exercise in bad faith.

Friday, January 27, 2023

A significant loophole

In case you hadn't noticed, FYI, the public OIA request site, has been used to conduct a significant excavation into New Zealand's intelligence agencies, with requests made for assorted policies and procedures. Yesterday in response to one of these requests the GCSB released its policy on New Zealand Purpose and Nationality - basicly what it does to ensure that it complies with the requirement that it obtain a Type 1 intelligence warrant before spying on New Zealanders. The policy itself seems reasonably robust - if it is unclear whether someone is a New Zealander, they seem to apply a "reasonable grounds to suspect" standard, which at face value seems appropriately cautious. But there's a twist:

Only people are New Zealanders. Companies, organisations, vessels, aircrafts, and other vehicles cannot be New Zealand persons. Therefore, if the purpose of an activity does not include collecting information about a New Zealand person, a Type 1 warrant is not required.

This is due to the way s53 of the Intelligence and Security Act is phrased, referring only to NZ citizens and permanent residents (that is, natural rather than legal persons). But it seems to be a loophole, resulting in a lower standard of oversight for spying on organisations (basicly, they only need approval from the (captive) Minister, rather than from the independent Commissioner of security warrants). And the fact that it is being explicitly pointed out in the policy suggests that the spies encourage its use.

What sorts of spying might be covered by this loophole? Spying on NGOs, unions, political parties, and companies. Tracking ships and aircraft, if the purpose isn't to spy on a specific, known New Zealander. Depending on how creative the GCSB's lawyers are - and in the absence of outside scrutiny, they can be very creative indeed - it may even extend to tracking cars. And while some forms of spying on an organisation may be difficult to do without also spying on a person, there are forms which seem eminently do-able. Spying on financial transactions. Hacking its computers and looting its files. Classic black-bag jobs. If the SIS wants to, say, steal Te Pāti Māori's membership list, the law doesn't seem to require a Type 1 warrant. And that seems... dangerous. Because one of the reasons we require external, independent oversight of spying on kiwis (rather than just the rubberstamp of a captive Minister) is to protect our political and democratic rights. But those rights are not just exercised individually, but also collectively, through groups like NGOs, unions, and political parties. And spying on those organisations can be just as dangerous to our democratic rights as spying on individuals.

More generally, we have a two-tier system where spying on New Zealanders requires a higher degree of oversight than spying on foreign governments and terrorist organisations. And it just doesn't seem appropriate that NZ-based organisations are lumped in the second category rather than the first. Not does it seem appropriate to effectively allow the Minister to authorise spying on their political opponents with no independent oversight.

Fortunately, there's an easy fix for this: add a reference to New Zealand organisations (with an appropriate definition) to s53 of the Intelligence and Security Act 2017. And if the spies or the government doesn't want to do that, well, we can draw our own conclusions about what they've been up to.

Let the farmers pay for their own poor decisions

South Islands farmers are whining about another drought, the third in three years. If only we knew what was causing this! If only someone had warned them that they faced a drying climate!

But we do know what is causing it: climate change. And they have been warned, repeatedly, for more than 20 years. They've chosen to ignore those warnings, pretending they can continue to pollute and escape the consequences by lobbying and whining. Well, the consequences are here, and politicians cannot make them go away. Ignoring those warnings looks like an increasingly poor business decision. And the 85% of us who live in cities will be asking why we should bail out farmers (again) for the consequences of their own actions, or when they steadfastly refuse to adapt to a changing world. Normal businesses which make poor decisions go bankrupt. Its time we let the same happen to farmers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

National goes back to Brash

In 2005, then-National Party leader based his entire election campaign on racism, with his infamous racist Orewa speech and racist iwi/kiwi billboards. Now, Christopher Luxon seems to want to do it all again:

Fresh off using his platform at this week's Rātana celebrations to criticise the government's approach to co-governance with Māori, National Party leader Christopher Luxon is taking aim at Parliament's Māori seats.

But despite saying their existence "doesn't make a lot of sense", National will still be looking at standing candidates in "at least one or two of them".

Its like National can't help themselves. Every time you think they've grown a conscience and reognised that racism is wrong (as they did briefly under Key), they return to type. Which suggests that their racism is foundational to the party.

Luxon is hiding his racism behind "one person, one vote". Quite apart from the facts that voters in Māori electorates have exactly the same voting power as those in general electorates, there is an obviously bigger target here: the ratepayer role, which allows landlords to vote in every local authority in which they own a house. But weirdly, Luxon doesn't seem to have a problem with that, despite it being a much greater distortion of our democracy. But maybe that's because he owns seven houses...