Friday, December 22, 2023

Climate Change: A stupid move

National has finally proactively released the regulatory impact statement, briefings and cabinet paper on their repeal of the clean car discount scheme. And reading them, you can see exactly why they kept it secret until after parliament ahd voted: because the RIS is crystal clear that this is a stupid move, and that retaining the discount is the best option in the short-term to drive and lock-in emissions reductions:

Of the two options, retention of the scheme will best meet the objective to continue the momentum in shifting the light vehicle fleet to be low-emission as a means to reduce transport emissions.

The Ministry’s modelling suggests that if the scheme ended on 31 December 2023 the expected emission saving from the Clean Car Discount would reduce by between 1,104–2,181 kilotonnes to 2050.

It also points out that the benefits of repeal (in terms of avoided costs) are less than half those of retention. So much for "rigorous cost benefit analysis". Meanwhile, the initial briefing has huge sections redacted for legal advice. A table at the end and the cabinet paper however reveal that this is because repealing the discount threatens our ability to meet out second and third emissions budgets, potentially putting the government in violation of the Zero Carbon Act scheme and at risk of legal action. Repealing it was simply a stupid move.

This is not to say the clean car discount is perfect. The briefing itself points out that it would need to be changed over time as the EV market matured, and eventually phased out. But as a measure to boost initial uptake and shift the market away from dirty killer utes, it has been a stunning success. But the orc government regards that as a bug, not a feature.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023


So, Nicola Willis has presented her nano-budget, which wasn't really a budget after all, just a list of money she is planning to reprioritise. And the headline is that she's found almost $7.5 billion of "savings" to fund tax cuts for landlords. So what are these "savings"?

The mini-Budget outlined the $7.47b in savings, made up of $2.61b from stopping work on initiatives including Let's get Wellington Moving and Fair Pay Agreements, $2.0b from the Emissions Trading Scheme, and $2.8b from tax and benefit changes.
So, cut spending on vital infrastructure, on decarbonisation, and on the poor. Which might make the books look better in the short term, but at the cost of having to pay for it later. That cut infrastructure spending means higher economic costs and greater expense later. That "reprioritisation" of ETS revenue from decarbonisation to landlord tax cuts means higher emissions, which we will pay for in 2030. And cutting benefits and ECE means higher social costs later. In other words, these aren't really "savings" at all, but piling up costs for the future. Its exactly like a shitty council Keeping Rates Low by skimping on road and sewer maintenance. And we all know how that turns out.


When Donald Trump incited the storming of the US capitol on 6 January 2021 in a failed effort to overturn an election an re-install himself as president, he was unquestionably engaged in an insurrection against the constitution. And now, the Colorado Supreme Court has finally enforced the US constitution, ruling him ineligible for office, and therefore ineligible to appear on the ballot in 2024:

Former President Donald J. Trump is ineligible to hold office again, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, accepting the argument that the 14th Amendment disqualifies him in an explosive decision that could upend the 2024 election.

In a lengthy ruling ordering the Colorado secretary of state to exclude Mr. Trump from the state’s Republican primary ballot, the justices reversed a Denver district judge’s finding last month that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment — which disqualifies people who have engaged in insurrection against the Constitution after having taken an oath to support it from holding office — did not apply to the presidency.

They affirmed the district judge’s other key conclusions: that Mr. Trump’s actions before and on Jan. 6, 2021, constituted engaging in insurrection, and that courts had the authority to enforce Section 3 against a person whom Congress had not specifically designated.

“A majority of the court holds that President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of president under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the court wrote in a 4-to-3 ruling. “Because he is disqualified, it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Colorado Secretary of State to list him as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot.”

It will go to the Supreme Court, of course. So I guess we'll see if the US constitution actually means anything, or whether the far-right majority will manage to contort it to allow the man who appointed them to run.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Burying the evidence

Back in 2020, IRD began a hugely controversial (among rich people) study of how much tax the rich are actually paying. earlier this year, it reported what we all knew: the rich aren't paying their fair share. The government refused to act on that, but they did pass a law, the Taxation Principles Reporting Act 2023, requiring IRD to report annually on the effectiveness, efficiency, and equity of the tax system, against a specified set of measurements and principles. Effectively, this would provide ongoing evidence of the need to tax the rich more, as well as of any other problems in the tax system.

The first of these reports is due by the end of the year. But National must not have liked what it says, because they're going to repeal the law under all-stages urgency to prevent its publication. Effectively, trying to bury the evidence. Of course, the report, and its drafts and associated correspondence are all official information. They are - unless National has a giant illegal shredder party - held. Which means that they can simply be requested under the OIA. And I expect every political journalist in the country is doing that right now.

Climate Change: So much for "leakage"

One of the major arguments climate polluters have deployed against being made to pay for their pollution is the threat of "leakage": that they will simply move production to some country where they don't have to pay, resulting in no actual reduction in emissions. Which sounded superficially convincing back in the 1990's when almost nobody was pricing emissions, but a lot less convincing now when a huge chunk of the world is. But a huge chunk isn't everybody, and there are still holdouts - but there are ways of fixing that too. From 2026 Europe will be applying a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism - basicly slapping a carbon price on high-emissions imports at the border, to make sure they pay for their carbon. And now the UK is joining them:

Imported raw materials such as steel and cement will incur a new carbon tax from 2027 under UK plans designed to support domestic producers and reduce emissions, but the government is facing criticism for not moving fast enough.


The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said: “This levy will make sure carbon intensive products from overseas – like steel and ceramics – face a comparable carbon price to those produced in the UK, so that our decarbonisation efforts translate into reductions in global emissions.

“This should give UK industry the confidence to invest in decarbonisation as the world transitions to net zero.”

And the big argument against it? That they're not doing it quickly enough. Which tells you how much the world has changed. Countries with carbon pricing now see no reason to tolerate cheats who dump their pollution on others.

Now of course we just need major importers to do this to dairy products, and that will solve our agricultural emissions argument overnight.

Monday, December 18, 2023

The SIS is evading oversight again

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security released their annual report today. And it contains some rather worrying revelations about the SIS and their efforts to circumvent the restrictions on their use of intelligence warrants. When the government rams through new spy powers (typically under urgency, with no public input), it tells us that they are subject to oversight and therefore cannot be abused. But it turns out that the SIS is systematically evading that oversight. Which invites the natural conclusion that they are engaging in systematic abuse - otherwise, why bother to evade?

And this isn't over little things - its about intelligence warrants, the core of their legal powers. An intelligence warrant allows a spy agency to do something illegal to collect intelligence. Typically that's intercepting phone calls or internet traffic, or burgling somewhere to plant bugs or copy or steal documents. And when they do something like that which might affect a kiwi, they need to ask other people: both the Minister (who is a rubberstamp) and the Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants. These warrants are also reviewed after the fact by the inspector-General, who tends to be a lot more critical in their assessments than either of the other two.

Or at least, that's how it used to work. But John Key's spy law, passed in 2017, fundamentally changed the warrant system. Previously, SIS warrants had to be about a particular individual, and required particularised suspicion. Now, they can be about a "class" of people, and require only a generalised suspicion. Whether a particular person falls into the target class is up to the agency, and there's no external review of that. So of course the SIS is doing everything under class warrants, despite the fact that they are almost always targeting particular individuals:

NZSIS investigations are often focused on particular individuals. Over many years of producing individual warrant applications the agency became proficient at putting together ‘intelligence cases’ in warrant applications for intrusive surveillance of specific targets. Such applications are now disappearing. They are being replaced by applications for warrants against classes of persons defined in terms of the NZSIS having assessed them as threatening national security. It has become apparent that a class warrant can be drafted to cover any NZSIS investigation, no matter how closely it might be focused on a particular person. With a relatively small set of class warrants in place, an individual coming to the attention of the Service may be assessed as coming within an authorised target class (a class possibly approved months beforehand). That person may then be put under surveillance, potentially up to the maximum possible level of intrusion (if that is what the warrant allows), without their existence or any intelligence on them having been presented to anyone outside the NZSIS. That is obviously convenient for the agency. I seriously question whether it is consistent with the concept of a warrant as a safeguard for the rights of anyone prospectively in the sights of a state security agency.
Translation: the SIS's use of class warrants is undermining the entire oversight regime, and the entire concept of warrants as a safeguard.

The Inspector-General apparently has a report in the works about a particular class warrant, questioning whether it was lawful or proper. It will be interesting to see what comes of that, and whether the supposed safeguards in the law mean anything, or whether everything our politicians tell us about restrictions on the spies is just lies, and that the entire legal regime is designed to hide the fact that there are no effective restrictions on their activities. Meanwhile, people might want to consider whether an agency which systematically and repeatedly attempts to circumvent and undermine its own legal oversight regimes can ever be trusted, and whether it should be allowed to exist at all.

A walking pile of insincerity

Chris Luxon's reactionary coalition hates te reo. In addition to trying to eliminate it from public use by the government, they're also trying to cut the pay of public servants who can use it, and cut funding for public servants to learn. But of course Luxon is not practicising what he preaches:

Taxpayers have paid for Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s own Māori language classes, even as he criticised public servants for bonuses for its use.

As New Zealand grapples with a new style of Government and a new approach to the Māori language, the Prime Minister has fallen foul of his own advice to the public service.

Luxon appears guilty of a double standard after scolding bureaucrats for taking cash bonuses for understanding the Māori language, while using taxpayer funds to learn himself.


”In the real world outside of Wellington and outside the bubble of MPs, people who want to learn te reo or want to learn any other education actually pay for it themselves.”

However, Luxon did not follow his own advice. After repeated requests, the Prime Minister’s office confirmed taxpayers paid for Luxon’s own classes using a budget offered to the leader of the Opposition.

”As leader of the Opposition and a potential prime minister at the time, developing better skills in te reo was highly relevant to his role,” the spokesman said.

And it is highly relevant to his role. But taking government funding to learn, while cutting it for everyone else, makes him look like a two-faced dirty hypocrite, a walking pile of insincerity. But then, that's what you get from people whose political ideology is based on "one rule for me, and one for everyone else".

Friday, December 15, 2023

This stinks

The coalition government has barely been in office for a month, and they're already giving themselves fancy titles:

The prime minister has made Attorney-General Judith Collins a King's Counsel.

Christopher Luxon said it was an appropriate appointment, as Collins is now the Crown's senior law officer.

He said it also reflected her career achievements and the responsibility she now holds.

And of course it will significantly boost her prestige (among lawyers) and income when she eventually leaves politics. A pretty nice retirement package.

This is a pretty stinky decision, made more so by the fact that its normally the Attorney-General who recommends people for this title. But I guess Collins figures that awarding it to herself would be just a bit too obvious, so another Minister had to act in her place (which they can do). So its just Luxon handing out the retirement package, like some medieval king handing out duchies to his cronies, abusing the state to enrich themselves.

And no, we won't get any transparency over this. The appointment is technically made by the Governor-General. They only act on advice, but communications with them - even about our business - are covered by a special withholding ground in the OIA, because monarchy. The "counsels of the Crown" are, by tradition, secret - a medieval rule so obviously self-serving that it beggars belief that it has been retained. But it has, ostensibly as a protection for the "neutrality" of the foreign monarch and their local representative, even when all they are doing is rubberstamping the commands of the elected government. In modern Aotearoa, people might ask whether that should still be the case, or whether transparency rather than secrecy is a better safeguard against "politicisation" and a better means of ensuring accountability.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Secrecy is a fraud upon democracy

Last week, we learned that the coalition had suspended the normal regulatory impact analysis process for its "100 day" policies. Their pretence was that it wasn't necessary to assess the costs and benefits of simple policy repeals. The real reason? It lets them hide the true costs, while ramming stuff through Parliament:

The new Government is sitting on a potentially damning review of its decision to get rid of subsidies for electric vehicles (EVs), despite saying yesterday it would be released.


The temporary suspension of RIS reports was to help officials faced with “extreme time pressures”. However, transport officials, anticipating the new Government would make good on campaign promises to get rid of the scheme, drew up a draft regulatory impact statement early - meaning the RIS already exists. Brown has confirmed he has seen it.

Green Transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter believed the Government was sitting on the RIS because it did not like what it said.

“What possible other reason would the minister have for withholding the RIS analysis? If it supported his case, surely he would release it.

It is unlikely to support the Minister's case. I requested Ministy of Transport's estimates of the emissions costs of repealing the clean car discount back in October. They refused to provide them, claiming they were "confidential" (a withholding ground that almost certainly no longer applies now the bill has been introduced), but did point me at modelling from July 2021. That shows that the clean car discount was expected to save 1.5 to 6.1 million tons of CO2 from 2024 and 2030, and 3.4 to 13.5 million tons to 2040. Those numbers will have gone down due to Hipkins' chickenshit policy bonfire, but they're what we have. And using Treasury's estimated cost of $227 / ton in 2030 to meet our Paris shortfall, that's between $340 million to $1.4 billion.

(To use another metric, the US EPA estimates 226 excess deaths per million tons of carbon. So National's orc policy will murder between 339 and 1379 people by 2030...)

Hiding these costs from Parliament before it debates legislation is simply a fraud upon democracy. But that's how National plans to get away with its climate crimes: through lies and fraud.

Climate Change: National plans to fail

Yesterday He Pou a Rangi / Climate Change Commission presented its 2023 Advice on the direction of policy for the Government’s second emissions reduction plan to Parliament. As Newsroom's Marc Daalder notes, its awkward reading, from a different world. A world where the Commission assumes that the government will comply with its legal obligation to meet its emissions budgets, and where it is interested in finding effective policies to do so. But as we're finding out, that's no longer the case.

The advice is very clear: the review of the ETS - aimed at gracefully disentangling forestry from the ETS to drive gross emissions reductions and preserve the system long-term - needs to continue. So does the GIDI program to fund industrial decarbonisation. And the clean car discount, which has pushed transport electrification. Fossil gas needs to be phased out. And agricultural emissions need to be priced as quickly as possible.

If those policies seem familiar, its because they're all things National has explicitly committed to killing off in its coalition agreements. Today they added another one, with the admission that Waka Kotahi has been instructed to end work on reducing vkt (vehicle kilometers travelled). Chris Luxon says we will meet our targets. But they have no policies to make that happen, and there is no suggestion they will develop any. The natural conclusion is that its simply an outright lie, because they do not want to openly admit the reality: they plan to fail, because they do not care whether we all burn to death or not.

The good news is that the law currently obliges them to meet those targets. So if they ignore the Commission's advice, and present an "emissions reduction plan" which will not reduce emissions by the amount required, it will go to court, and the court can order them to do a proper job. That's what happened in the UK, and it will happen here too. But the cost will be years of delay in reducing emissions, years of further pollution. Which we cannot afford. We are already paying the price of past climate inaction. Lower Hutt got hit by an "unseasonal" tornado yesterday. We'll be seeing more of that in future. And if our government is just going to fiddle while we burn and drown, I think they're going to have what industry calls a "social licence" problem.

Shane Jones' orc fantasy

There's a scene in Lord of the Rings where Saruman is directing the orc "renovations" to Isengard, where he instructs the orcs to rip down all the trees. And that's basicly Shane Jones' speech during the address-in-reply debate last night. NewsHub highlighted comments about the government not meeting "the 2030 dreamy, fairy-tale, aspirational figures that we'll be freeing ourselves of fossil fuels as a source of generating energy", stopping work at the Ministry for the Environment,a nd restarting oil and gas drilling. But reading the full speech its a lot worse than that:

In those areas called the Department of Conservation (DOC) estate, where it's stewardship land, stewardship land is not DOC land, and if there is a mineral, if there is a mining opportunity and it's impeded by a blind frog, goodbye, Freddy. We are going to extract the dividend from mother Nature's legacy on the DOC estate in those areas previously called stewardship land.


Couple more things: we will have a strategic, fast-tracked piece of legislation in this House... Stand by for the fast-track process where the authority rests with the politicians. Fast track for aquaculture, fast track for mining, fast track for energy, fast track for infrastructure.

Last time the government tried to mine the conservation estate, they were greeted with 50,000 people marching down Queen Street. Next time there will be more. This isn't the twentieth century anymore, and people are no longer willing to tolerate the rape of the environment.

As for the second, the lesson from Australia is clear: putting resource consent decisions in the hands of politicians is a recipe for total corruption. But Jones probably sees that as a feature. After all, his party's secret foundation demonstrably took secret donations from interested parties in exchange for policy changes on housing, fisheries and racing. Being able to extort vig from every aquaculture or mining project and every property developer probably sounds great to them.

This is the government we have now: fundamentally corrupt orcs. We need to throw them out at the first opportunity. If not, we'll end up like Queensland.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

PiS off

Back in October, Poles threw out the Law and Justice (PiS) government in elections which saw record turnout. And now, after a failed last-ditch effort by PiS to retain control, the new coalition has finally taken power:

Donald Tusk has pledged to “chase away the darkness … chase away the evil” of eight divisive years of national-conservative rule, after Poland’s parliament voted to back his nomination as the country’s new prime minister.


In power since 2015, PiS has been accused of illegally eroding the rule of law, turning state media into propaganda outlets, rolling back minority rights and fomenting feuds with the EU, prompting Brussels to freeze tens of billions of euros of funds.

Tusk, who has promised to mend relations with the bloc and get the money released, is scheduled to address parliament on Tuesday, presenting his cabinet and laying out the government’s plans, before facing the formality of a confidence vote.

Besides rebuilding bridges with Brussels, Tusk’s campaign pledges included promising to allow abortion – subject to a near-total ban under PiS – until 12 weeks, declaring termination, IVF and contraception fundamental rights, and allowing civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

You know, behaving like a normal European country, rather than some authoritarian Catholic theocracy.

I don't expect Tusk's government to be perfect. But its basicly saved Poland from autocracy, and seems to be working in the right direction. Its unquestionably better than what came before. The job for Poles is to keep it that way, and avoid another authoritarian return.

Climate Change: Not just phase-out, but criminalisation

As the climate crisis has worsened, there seems to have finally been an understanding that we need to phase out fossil fuels. Twelve countries, including most of our Pacific whanau, have endorsed calls for a fossil-fuel non-proliferation treaty. But the talks at COP28 in Dubai have failed to get the message, producing a draft with only vague talk of "reducing both consumption and production" rather than a full phase out. Which is what happens when you get an oil executive to run your climate change conference.

Many countries are refusing to sign a death certificate for small island states, which is good. We should also note that this isn't just about small island states - while they're on the front line, and may be first to drown, ultimately all of us are at risk. If climate change is not stopped, we face fires, floods, famines, sudden and large rises in sea-level, mass-migration, and ultimately a collapse in global agriculture and the civilisation it allows. And fossil fuels are the weapon which is causing this.

I use that word – “weapon” - deliberately. We think of fossil fuels as just an energy source, something to run the car or a factory. But like tobacco, every ton of fossil fuels we use is doing us damage. That damage is global, indiscriminate, and - if not stopped - promises to be every bit as destructive as global nuclear war.

Current models for a fossil fuels treaty use the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a model, adopting its pillars of non-proliferation, phase-out, and a just transition. But the use of nuclear weapons is a crime, and those who use them are criminals and terrorists, and we need to start adopting that thinking for fossil fuels as well. So we need a fourth pillar: criminalisation. We have models here too: the chemical weapons, anti-personnel mines, and nuclear weapons treaties all require their parties to criminalise violations on their territory or by their citizens (so e.g. its a crime for a kiwi anywhere in the world to develop, trade, use, or facilitate chemical weapons). We need to adopt such measures for fossils fuels after they have been phased out - or outside of a phase-out program (so e.g. in countries which refuse to be a party).

Obviously, not every country will sign such a treaty - the criminal petro-states won't. Which is why we need a fifth pillar: financial sanctions against fossil fuel companies and executives and their enablers, so that criminals who remain outside the phase-out regime cannot openly sell their climate weapon or enjoy the profits of their crime. we have a useful model here too: the current sanctions against oligarchs and companies supporting Putin's criminal invasion of Ukraine. If the fossil fuel industry won't phase down, that's how we need to treat them.

People might object to the framing of fossil fuel executives and traders as criminals, but these people are deliberately and knowingly trying to kill us for profit. They are deliberately and knowingly trying to burn our homes, drown our cities, and starve and bake us to death. What else should we call them?

Monday, December 11, 2023

Climate Change: The wrong direction again

In 2019, Aotearoa legislated a methane reduction target of 10% (from 2017 levels) by 2030. Dirty farmers think it is unfair that they should be expected to cut their pollution by a fraction of what the rest of us are doing, and want to do less. Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation says they need to do more:

The world's top agriculture body has presented a blueprint for how to get livestock emissions down at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) says cutting methane burped by animals like cows and sheep is "essential to limit the global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, preferably less than 1.5 degrees Celsius."

The global food body cites research saying methane from cows and sheep must fall 11-30 percent in 2030 off 2010 levels, to keep the planet inside safer heat levels, limiting damage to human health and farming conditions.

The FAO is also clear that herd sizes need to reduce.

The different baselines make it complicated, but jiggling around with emissions tracker shows our 2010 biogenic methane emissions were 32.52 million tons, versus 32.78 in 2017. Meaning our legislated target is over half a million tons worse than the bare minimum of the FAO's range - and 6.7 million tons worse than its upper end. So with the new government primed to grovel to farmers, weaken targets, and give them another free ride, it looks like we will be headed in the wrong direction, again.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Another attack on te reo

The new white supremacist government made attacking te reo a key part of its platform, promising to rename government agencies and force them to "communicate primarily in English" (which they already do). But today they've gone further, by trying to cut the pay of public servants who speak te reo:

The government is trying to figure out how to stop any more public servants getting extra pay for being proficient in te reo Māori.

But it concedes it cannot dump existing allowances.

"I will ... ask for advice on how we could stop these bonuses being negotiated into future collective agreements," the Public Service Minister Nicola Willis told RNZ.

These allowances exist for a good reason: speaking te reo is a skill which is in demand in the public service. And the reason it is in demand is because public sector agencies owe specific legal duties to (for example) support the crown-Māori relationship and use te reo to promote public services and make them accessible to Māori. Both of those duties require that agencies maintain capacity, which means staff with the appropriate skills, and - as with any other skill - that needs to be paid for. And, as the article notes, they're in collective agreements, and the PSA has indicated they're going to fight for the rights of their members to be recognised for their skills. So, the government is going to have trouble implementing its white supremacist agenda. But the fact they even blurted this, when it wasn't in either coalition agreement, suggests they're going all-in on it, and that the elimination of te reo from public life is a goal they wholeheartedly embrace.

Climate Change: Failed again

There was another ETS auction this morning. and like all the other ones this year, it failed to clear - meaning that 23 million tons of carbon (15 million ordinary units plus 8 million in the cost containment reserve) went up in smoke. Or rather, they didn't. Being unsold at the end of the year, the units are scrapped, so no-one will be able to burn that carbon.

This is a great result for the environment, and it has the effect of rebalancing the ETS by accident. In 2021 and 2022 Labour's cheap carbon policy resulted in it dumping 14 million tons of extra carbon into the environment. That's gone now. And all because they destroyed confidence in the market by ignoring the Climate Commission and trying to keep carbon cheap, resulting in low bids and auctions which didn't clear.

It's also a problem for the government, which was relying on the revenue from the auction. But that doesn't really matter now. Under Labour, that revenue would have been spent on further decarbonisation, and its loss would have slowed decarbonisation. But National was just going to use it to fund tax cuts for landlords, so fuck them.

Looking forward, next year has a much lower carbon budget - 14.1 million tons, plus 7.7 million in a high-priced, two-tiered CCR which should never trigger. So we might finally see the system working properly to provide strong incentives for decarbonisation, like it was supposed to. But I'm sure National, ACT and NZ First will find some way of fucking it up. The last thing they want is actually effective climate policy, because then their donors and cronies might have to change what they do or go out of business.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023


When this government came to power, it did so on an explicitly white supremacist platform. Undermining the Waitangi Tribunal, removing Māori representation in local government, over-riding the courts which had tried to make their foreshore and seabed legislation work, eradicating te reo from public life, and ultimately trying to repudiate Te Tiriti o Waitangi. This agenda is highly controversial, to say the least, and this morning it resulted in the expected pushback, with nationwide protests against the racist government. They were organised at short notice, but a respectable size for all that, and the message was clear: if the government continues with its racist agenda, there will be more.

Meanwhile, in parliament there was pushback of a different sort, with te Pāti Māori MPs swearing their own oath first before doing the legally-required one. Its worth comparing the two. Here's what Tākuta Ferris went for (other te Pāti Māori MPs used similar language):

I, Takuta Ferris, swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to our mokopuna according to tikanga Māori. I will perform my functions and duties and exercise my powers in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
And here's the legal oath of allegiance, set out in unmodernised 70-year old legislation - which is itself cribbed from legislation 150 years old:
I, [specify], swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her [or His] Majesty [specify the name of the reigning Sovereign, as thus: Queen Elizabeth the Second], Her [or His] heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
One of these sounds a hell of a lot more like modern Aotearoa and a hell of a lot more in tune with kiwi values than the other, and it wasn't the one full of archaic feudal bullshit. And while many people would prefer an affirmation with references to other parts of the constitution, its still likely to look a hell of a lot more like Ferris' than the legal one. Which tells us just how archaic and out-of-date key parts of our legislative framework are. Its long past time we changed them.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Climate Change: Fossils

When the new government promised to allow new offshore oil and gas exploration, they were warned that there would be international criticism and reputational damage. Naturally, they arrogantly denied any possibility that that would happen. And then they finally turned up at COP, to criticism from Palau, and a "fossil of the day" award. And that's just the first few days!

Meanwhile, in more evidence of the government's denier trend, yesterday they refused to sign the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge, which would have committed us to work with other countries to triple renewable energy and double the rate of energy efficiency improvements. These are global targets, with a big "national circumstances" clause - which for us includes the fact that ~90% of our electricity generation is already renewable. Many of the specific commitments are things like easier permitting, which are strongly aligned with the new government's program. So you'd think signing up for it would be a no-brainer, what MFAT calls an easy win: a reputational boost with no downside (and supporting global collective action as well). But apparently not. The hostility of the new government to anything "green" is such that they won't even sign up for the easiest, most obvious, least-cost action. Instead, they'd rather shred our international reputation and risk trade sanctions with a purely ideological call to keep on drilling in the face of global apocalypse. And then they wonder why people think they're fossils...

Thursday, November 30, 2023


Henry Kissinger is finally dead. Good fucking riddance. While Americans loved him, he was a war criminal, responsible for most of the atrocities of the final quarter of the twentieth century. Cambodia. Bangladesh. Chile. East Timor. All Kissinger. Because of these crimes, Americans revere him as a "statesman" (which says rather a lot about Americans). I prefer Anthony Bourdain's view: Kissinger deserved to face trial in The Hague, just like Milošević. Now he's dead, well, Milošević's corpse was staked. I wonder how Kissinger's victims will finally take revenge?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

National's giveaway politics

We already know that national plans to boost smoking rates to collect more tobacco tax so they can give huge tax-cuts to mega-landlords. But this morning that policy got even more obscene - because it turns out that the tax cut is retrospective:

Residential landlords will be able to claim back tax that they paid under the previous Government, the National-Act coalition deal indicates.

Such a retrospective law changes would be “highly unusual and unorthodox,” says one tax expert. Retrospective law-making is generally frowned upon.

And it’s one more oddity in all the toing-and-froing by lawmakers over the residential landlords’ tax break.

Today, CTU economist Craig Renney releases a report concluding the lost revenue cost of accelerating the restoration of interest deductibility will be about $900 million for the new Government – that’s on top of National’s original $2.1b costings, and a new hole in its tax package.

It is unclear whether landlords will be required to give a retrospective rent cut to their tenants, but... probably not.

This is a perfect example of National's giveaway politics, and how lobbying for such giveaways, whether financial or regulatory, is the true business of New Zealand "business". Landlords are getting a giveaway. The fossil fuel industry is getting a giveaway. The cancer industry is getting a giveaway. Farmers and polluters are getting a giveaway. Shitty foreign "gig economy" businesses are getting a giveaway. Seabed miners are expecting one. Even favoured charities are getting one. Meanwhile, actual people who need help or government services like housing, health, and education get nothing. The problem for National is that the latter vote, while businesses don't. But maybe they'll try and "fix" that too?

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

National's murderous smoking policy

One of the big underlying problems in our political system is the prevalence of short-term thinking, most usually seen in the periodic massive infrastructure failures at a local government level caused by them skimping on maintenance to Keep Rates Low. But the new government has given us a new example, with their unexpected plans to repeal smokefree legislation. While being blamed on Winston - a guy named after a brand of cancer-sticks - National likes it because they need the money to fund their promised handouts to landlords. But as Bernard Hickey points out, that extra revenue has a cost, and it is enormous:

But the cost to the taxpayers and citizens in purely financial terms, let alone the estimated loss of 580,000 Health Adjusted Life Years (HALYs), is set to surpass $10 billion. For every dollar in tax cuts delivered to landlords and salary earners by pushing tobacco taxes back up, Treasury has estimated health and lost productivity costs of up to 20 dollars.


Treasury estimated in 2021 that the changes in smoking laws and regulations designed to slash smoking rates would create $5.25 billion in health savings over time and $5.88 billion in extra income from productivity benefits. Reversing those changes would reimpose those costs.

So for a few hundred million a year in extra tobacco tax, National is going to stick us with 4000 - 9000 dead, and $11 billion in other costs. Apparently, this is what they call "fiscal responsibility". Instead, it just looks like cold-blooded murder.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Climate Change: Stopping oil

National is promising to bring back offshore oil and gas drilling. Naturally, the Greens have organised a petition campaign to try and stop them. You should sign it - every little bit helps, and as the struggle over mining conservation land showed, even National can be deterred if enough people take action.

That said, if the Greens and Te Pāti Māori are serious about killing this, there is one simple action they can take: promise that the ban will be immediately reinstated when they have influence over a future government, and that any permits granted will be immediately revoked as part of a wider move to sunset all fossil fuel permits. Offshore gas exploration is expensive and has long investment timeframes. Foreign companies need certainty to engage in it. Take away that certainty, and they won't do it. National has effectively deterred business decarbonisation in this way, by spewing climate denial and promising to roll-back action; its time we used it too to send a clear message: if you invest in pollution, you won't make money.

The stupidest of stupid reasons

One of the threats in the National - ACT - NZ First coalition agreements was to extend the term of Parliament to four years, reducing our opportunities to throw a bad government out. The justification? Apparently, the government thinks "elections are expensive".

This is the stupidest of stupid reasons for limiting our democracy, and it invites the natural question: if they're so expensive, why have them at all? Unfortunately, its not just shared by the business geniuses in national - ACT - NZ First, but also by the Ministry of Justice. Their advice to the independent electoral review panel on the issue included a list of advantages and disadvantages for various term lengths. "Election costs, both direct and indirect, are more frequently incurred" was listed as a disadvantage of a three-year term. "Longer period between election costs" was considered an advantage of a longer one. Because obviously, money is more important than democracy and accountability. The idea is expanded on in a specific topic paper, which notes that the "indirect costs" of elections may include "drops in business confidence". So, firstly, MoJ thinks business hating democracy is somehow important, and secondly, they think that NZ business confidence surveys somehow translate into real economic impacts (they do not. In fact, they're "uniquely useless in the world for predicting NZ GDP"). Which tells us rather a lot about the quality of analysis Ministry of Justice can produce these days, and should really make you worry about anything else they're giving advice on.

In reality, our elections are cheap: $180 million per election cycle. Moving to a four year term would save us all of $15 million a year, averaged over the long-term. On a government scale, that's pocket change. Anyone who treats this as a serious cost saving or a serious reason for doing something is trying to sell you something - in this case, less democracy, less accountability, and less control over our own government.

Friday, November 24, 2023

A cruel, vicious, nasty government

So, after weeks of negotiations, we finally have a government, with a three-party cabinet and a time-sharing deputy PM arrangement. Newsroom's Marc Daalder has put the various coalition documents online, and I've been reading through them. A few things stand out:

  • Luxon doesn't want to do any work, so he hasn't taken a policy portfolio. Which also tells us there's no serious policy agenda he wants to push, and nothing he really cares about beyond the job title and salary. Even Key took tourism. Luxon, who constantyl tells us that he used to run an airline, can't even be bothered with that.
  • Shane Jones is Minister of Regional Development again, which basicly makes him Minister for Pork. Given his other famous ministerial role, the jokes write themselves.
  • Judith Collins is Attorney-General, so she'll be telling us what the BORA means. I have no confidence that she will properly fulfil her duties under section 7 to advice Parliament whether legislation breaches our human rights.
  • The Ministers for Climate Change and the Environment are both outside Cabinet. Which shows us how important National thinks those issues are, despite their centrality to the government's agenda. So are Commerce and Tertiary Education (which tells us how they feel about monopoly-busting and students), and of course Women and Disability Issues.
  • The expected ultra-right policies are in there: 90-day trials for all workers, ending Fair Pay Agreements, no-cause evictions, landlord subsidies, viciousness and cruelty in the name of "law and order". Also the expected climate denial (restarting offshore drilling, weakening emissions targets for farmers), and the expected white supremacy around co-governance and Te Tiriti and trying to turn the clock back to the 1950's.
  • There's also some more disturbing stuff: "introduce a policy to allow state schools to become partnership schools" - so basicly school privatisation. "Investigate build and lease-back arrangements for new hospitals" - which means UK style PPPs (which were a disaster for everyone but the lenders). "Explore allowing home builders to opt out of needing a building consent provided they have long-term insurance for the building work" - an invitation to a second leaky homes crisis, which will require a permanent warning on the LIM of any house built under such an arrangement.
  • National has promised ACT it will send its weirdo "4 year term at random in exchange for vague, easily breakable promises of greater parliamentary scrutiny" bill to select committee, while also promising NZ First that they would support a bill providing for a binding referendum. Rimmer's bill requires one, so this could be the same promise, but it suggests that unaccountability is a bipartisan project and that someone maybe didn't understand someone else's policy agenda.
  • Guns will be back of course, and ACT wants to permanently undermine firearms policy by transferring it from police to DIA, where they will have direct ministerial control.
  • And then there's the cooker and culture war shit: making university funding contingent on accepting ACT-defined "free speech" (which means freedom for terfs and racists, and a ban on protests against them). "Restore balance to the Aotearoa New Zealand’s Histories curriculum" - so back to white supremacist history. A "National Interest Test" for "agreements from the UN". "Investigate the reopening of Marsden Point Refinery" (a weird fixation of the cookers, but its just a hole in the ground now and they'd need to build a new one). Requiring government agencies to be named and communicate primarily in English, and making English an official language, because What About White People?
  • ACT will get a "Treaty Principles Bill based on existing ACT policy" sent to select committee ASAP. Existing ACT policy is for a referendum, so they're going to be hugely divisive. And even if National takes the "only to select committee" out to avoid a referendum, the policy agenda makes it clear that they will be gutting Treaty rights and rolling back the clock in other ways, by gutting the Waitangi Tribunal, legislating to override the courts on the foreshore and seabed, and forcing racist local government referenda to remove Māori wards.

All up, this is not an agenda which inspires confidence. Its going to be a cruel, vicious, nasty three years.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Climate Change: The rich are killing us

When we think of the causes of climate change, we tend to think of cars, power plants, factories, or (in Aotearoa) fields of cows - dirty, sure, but its basicly the infrastructure of modern civilisation, things which produce benefits for a lot of people. Shutting it down overnight would create horrific problems, so the challenge is about cleaning it up as quickly as possible. But there's another cause, which doesn't benefit anyone: rich people:

The richest 1% of humanity is responsible for more carbon emissions than the poorest 66%, with dire consequences for vulnerable communities and global efforts to tackle the climate emergency, a report says.

The most comprehensive study of global climate inequality ever undertaken shows that this elite group, made up of 77 million people including billionaires, millionaires and those paid more than US$140,000 (£112,500) a year, accounted for 16% of all CO2 emissions in 2019 – enough to cause more than a million excess deaths due to heat, according to the report.

It gets worse: just 12 billionaires produce more emissions from their private planes, megayachts, and mansions, than 2.1 million homes. And those emissions kill nearly 4000 people a year - around 320 for each billionaire. This isn't so much a matter of "behind every great fortune is a great crime" as a great fortune is a great crime - and an ongoing one at that.

In both groups, their luxury emissions don't underlie global civilisation. They just benefit the 1%, at the cost of making all our lives worse. We can, and should, eliminate those emissions as quickly as possible, and doing so will have very little impact on the rest of us.

As for how to do it, the core problem is extreme concentration of wealth, so that's what we need to eliminate, by using wealth, inheritance, land, and capital gains taxes. And once we've seized that wealth, we should redeploy it, to speed the transition and eliminate emissions in the rest of our society. That way we'll all be better off.

Still chickenshits

After a month of watching Israel bomb hospitals and murder children and threaten starvation, ethnic cleansing, and nuclear strikes in revenge for a terrorist attack, Chris Hipkins finally seems to have discovered his conscience:

Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins has called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, saying "the violence and the killing has to stop".

He has stressed that he has made the announcement as Labour leader, not caretaker Prime Minister.

But Hipkins said it had become "untenable" for him to remain silent.

"It runs against Labour Party values to see the horrific scenes we are witnessing without calling for a ceasefire," he said.

Its good to see - better late than never – and likely to be popular. But at the same time it was rather undercut by (incorrect) reports yesterday that the US had brokered the ceasefire Hipkins was calling for. Leading to the suspicion that rather than actually standing up for "Labour Party values", Hipkins was just being a spineless little yes-man, going with the international flow, as usual.

Once upon a time the Labour Party had leaders who didn't have to wait for a month to do the right thing. We wouldn't have had this craven bullshit under David Lange, or Helen Clark (or, for the Boomers, Norman Kirk). But those days are clearly long gone. And Labour wonders why no-one believes in them anymore? Its because these days, they don't seem to believe in anything other than their own careers. They're chickenshits all the way down.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The cost of climate backsliding

When the UK opened a new coalmine last year, they were warned that it would damage their international reputation and give cover for other countries also wanting to destroy the Earth. And that's exactly what happened:

The UK’s decision to open a new coalmine in Cumbria was a “disaster” that encouraged other countries to press ahead with fossil fuels, and the continued expansion of North Sea oil and gas is likely to continue the harm, a former chief adviser to the government has said.

Other countries are using the UK as an excuse for pressing ahead with fossil fuel projects despite their climate commitments, according to Adair Turner, the first chair of the Committee on Climate Change and a former head of the CBI.

Lord Turner told the Guardian that he had “literally been involved in discussions” in China and India where UK decisions had been given as a reason for not moving faster on the climate.

“I can tell you that [the Cumbrian coalmine] was a disaster globally, and in China and India, where I was engaged in debates [on reducing greenhouse gas emissions], I have had people say ‘yeah, but you’re building a new coalmine in the UK’,” he said.

The application to Aotearoa should be obvious. The incoming National government wants to overturn the offshore gas exploration ban so its rich friends can destroy the world. There's even a live application for an offshore drilling permit, which chickenshit Labour hasn't rejected despite it now being a slam-dunk rejection (Labour having finally passed the Crown Minerals Amendment Bill, so the offshore drilling ban applies and the application cannot lawfully be granted). National's siding with the fossil criminals is already having diplomatic consequences; if they persist in this course, then they will not only ruin relations with our Pacific neighbours, but we'll also end up like the UK, with no credibility with the people we need to persuade if climate action is to be successful. And that prospect should worry all of us.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

This may fool Labour's backbench, but it won't fool voters

When Chris Hipkins put a wealth tax back on the table after losing the election, I called him weak, irresolute, and deceitful, and pointed out that no-one on either side could believe him on this issue. Today, in the Herald Thomas Coughlan has the inside dirt: that it was a short con to shore up Hipkins' leadership:

A compromise was reached within the Labour Party to quell dissent about the leadership of Chris Hipkins and allay concerns the party had abandoned its base.


Inside last week’s meeting, the dissenters wanted action on tax, saying it would be difficult to survive the next three years in opposition and fight another election campaign if Hipkins’ rule-out meant wealth and capital gains taxes were in deep freeze.

They wanted them defrosted.

Hipkins, without putting up much of a fight, agreed to put both back on the table - an olive branch to the dissenters. This doesn’t guarantee either would be included in the party’s 2026 manifesto.

This has successfully fooled the Labour backbench - for now. But they're not who Hipkins actually needs to convince. It is voters who will determine his and his party's future, and we can see full well who actually supports fair taxation, and who is merely trying to scam us. Thanks to its past cowardice, Labour has a huge credibility problem on what is likely to be a key issue at the next election. And the longer they treat it as a PR scam, to be fudged and put off (while their pecuniary interest declarations tell us they have a direct financial interest in opposing it), the worse it is going to be for them.

Friday, November 10, 2023

A political solution in Catalonia?

Six years ago Catalans braved police batons and rubber bullets to vote overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum. The Spanish regime responded with a wave of persecution, dissolving the Catalan government and jailing its leaders for "sedition". The repression has continued to this day, with Catalan activists prosecuted for peacefully advocating that they be allowed to decide their own future. Earlier this week, a Spanish judge began investigating former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont for "terrorism" for his role in organising peaceful protests.

But now there finally seems to be an end. back in July, Spain went to the polls in inconclusive elections which left the Catalan parties holding the balance of power. In exchange for allowing a government in Madrid, they demanded an amnesty for all "crimes" committed in the course of the independence struggle. And it looks like they've finally got what they were asking for:

Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, is on the verge of securing another term in office after his socialist party won the support of Catalan separatists by offering a deeply controversial amnesty for those who took part in the illegal and failed push for regional independence six years ago.

The deal between the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) and the centre-right Junts (Together) comes after a week of tense negotiations and amid widespread concerns over the amnesty, which have led to street protests, dire warnings from conservative judges and questions from Brussels.

Speaking shortly after the agreement was announced on Thursday, the PSOE’s organisational secretary, Santos Cerdán, said the negotiations had yielded “a historic opportunity to resolve a conflict that could – and should – only be resolved politically”. He said the proposed amnesty bill would now be put before parliament, adding that a new, socialist-led government would offer a progressive alternative to an alliance between the conservative People’s party (PP) and the far-right Vox party.

The deal also includes self-determination negotiations.

Unfortunately, the PSOE is notorious for not delivering on its promises. Which is why Junts is playing hardball: they have offered nothing beyond support for the investiture vote (what we would term a one-off vote of confidence); if the amnesty law is not passed, they will vote down every piece of government legislation, and eventually, the government itself, sending Spain back to the polls.

No matter where you stand on Catalan independence, this is a step forward. As a democrat who believes Catalonia's future is a matter for Catalans, peacefully advocating for independence should never have been treated as a crime, and an amnesty is a recognition of that. As for people who think Catalonia belongs in Spain, you don't convince people with persecution and repression, so an amnesty allows the relationship to be rebuilt. And either way, making the issue one of politics and negotiation, as it should have been all along, is the only way to a peaceful, just, and democratic solution.

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Bullies all the way down

We've known for a while that Labour has a bullying problem. Meka Whaitiri. Gaurav Sharma. Kiri Allen. Shanan Halbert. Mostly, they bully their staff. But soon-to-be-former police minister Ginny Andersen has found a new victim: her volunteers:

Stuff understands she alleges Andersen “yelled” at the young woman and her brother, at the party’s Lower Hutt election night event, made them feel uncomfortable, pushed them to leave and was aggressive.

The mother alleges Andersen was angry she hadn’t knocked on enough doors during the campaign. Andersen lost her Hutt South seat to National’s Chris Bishop.

She goes on to list other alleged incidents over a three-year period, in which the volunteer was belittled, and shouted at for choosing a family trip over working for the MP.

Which also answers another question: we know from their public statements and leaked emails that Labour's MPs sure as shit aren't going to accept any responsibility for their election loss. So who are they going to blame instead? Their volunteers - the people who believe in the party as something other than just a means of career advancement, and who give up their time to it to help centrist careerists climb the pole and get $296,007 salaries.

The good news is that this particular aspect of the problem is probably self correcting, in that bullying volunteers eventually results in all but the careerists leaving and devoting their efforts elsewhere, leaving MPs to do their own doorknocking. But it also suggests that Labour's bullying problem is absolutely ingrained, part of the party's toxic culture. And if that's the case, its probably better to just burn the whole party down rather than continue to tolerate it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Women win in Ohio

Last year, the Republican Supreme Court overturned the longstanding Roe v. Wade precedent, allowing Republican states to state banning abortion. But that isn't turning out how the Republicans planned: voters in Kansas and Kentucky have already rejected state constitutional bans, while Ohio voters have just added abortion rights to their state constitution:

Ohio voters have added the right to access abortion care to the state's constitution, NBC News projects — another major political victory for abortion-rights advocates in the nearly 17 months since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

The passage of the Issue 1 ballot measure inserts language in the state constitution guaranteeing every person in Ohio the right “to one’s own reproductive medical treatment, including but not limited to abortion,” and barring the state from “burdening, penalizing or prohibiting” those rights — though it specifies that abortion will remain prohibited after the point a doctor judges a fetus would most likely survive birth, with exceptions to protect the woman’s life or health.

(They also voted to legalise marijuana, so they're ahead of Aotearoa on that...)

Somehow I don't think this was what Republicans had in mind when they said they wanted states - or voters - to decide. And it bodes well both for further referenda, and for overturning Republican political majorities.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Weak, irresolute, and deceitful

Back in July, then-Prime Minister Chris Hipkins put paid to any hope of a progressive Aotearoa, ruling out wealth, land, or capital gains taxes under any government he led. The decision arguably cost him the election, with voters in previously-safe labour electorates staying home because they had nothing to vote for. But of course now he's out of power, that decision has been reversed:

Asked about a potential wealth tax, Hipkins said the caucus had a brief conversation about tax.

"I have also been clear with the caucus - we lost and that means we start again, and that means everything comes back onto the table - and that includes a discussion around tax."

Hipkins said he was clear he was only setting Labour's tax policy for the next term of government, and any changes would only be after a mandate was sought, but Labour lost - so now everything was back on the table.

I guess its because he's no longer leading a government...

The problem, of course, is that in addition to being weak and lacking any conviction, Hipkins now gets to add "deceitful" to his list of vices. And no-one on either side of this debate will trust him on this. Those opposed to fairer taxation will simply see him as going back on his word, while those supporting it will be worried he'll go back on it again. As one of the latter, while I’m pleased to see Labour reverse its position, I don’t for an instant trust them to deliver. And it has unpleasant shades of Ardern conspicuously refusing to back cannabis decriminalisation, then saying she supported it after it had lost.

But this is Labour in a nutshell: lions in opposition, spineless worms in government. And so no policy they pronounce can be believed in. It might be different if the party actually stood for something, or if its policies were under the democratic control of its membership, but neither has been true for a long time. And so there's no reason for anybody who wants actual progress to waste their time with them.

Update: I went for that post title, and then I see his wriggling refusal to say whether Isrrael is breaching international law. Weak and irresolute indeed. Muldoon once called Rowling "a shiver looking for a spine to run up". I have no idea whether or not that was true of Rowling - but it certainly seems to be true of Hipkins.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Why nothing changes in OIA-land

If you've used the Official Information Act for any length of time, you will have had an agency egregiously violate the law: ignore your request, issue a bullshit extension for fictitious "consultations" on the last day (or even late), or misapply withholding grounds to keep information secret. The check on this is supposed to be the Ombudsman: you can complain about any OIA decision, and after a year or two, the Ombudsman will say whether it was correct or not, and possibly order information to be released or the agency to apologise. And apart from the delay, that's fine as far as it goes. But somehow, it never seems to change agency behaviour: all too frequently, you find the same agency pulling the same shit on your very next request.

The check on that is meant to be Ministers. When the Ombudsman finishes an investigation, they issue a final opinion (most investigations never get to this stage, being resolved informally or just dumped long before then). And if that opinion is in the requester's favour - that the request should not have been refused, or the agency's decision was otherwise unreasonable or wrong - then they are legally required to report this to the relevant Minister. The theory here is that Ministers are responsible for their agencies, and will therefore take an interest in whether they are breaking the law or not. And if they receive too many formal notifications about illegal OIA violations from an agency, they will tell it to improve its behaviour - if only to get those annoying notifications to stop (and maybe avoid constant bad headlines in the Post).

Or at least, that's how government worked in 1982, when Ministerial responsibility still meant something, and hadn't been diluted by public sector managerialism. But does it work now? For the past month, I've been doing a little research project to find out. I used the Ombudsman's published complaints data for January - June 2023 to compile a list of completed complaints where the investigation was finalised, a final opinion was formed, and recommendations had been made. I then OIA'd the ministers responsible for the relevant agencies asking them for all advice and communications resulting from those notifications. The data (and links to all responses) is here. The headline results:

  • 49/56 (87.5%) notifications were simply ignored, generating no correspondence;
  • Only 5/56 notifications (9%) resulted in the minister's office showing any interest. 3 of those resulted in the Minister clearly seeking a detailed explanation and ensuring the agency complied with the Ombudsman's ruling. The other two were less clear;
  • In one case, an agency proactively contacted the Minister's office in an attempt to cover its arse and undermine the Ombudsman's ruling;
  • One ministerial office generated only internal correspondence in response to notification (which was a denial of responsibility).

I was pretty shocked by these results, so I asked the Ombudsman to comment on them. They responded that:

The Ombudsman’s recommendations carry weight. Under section 32 of the Official Information Act, there is a public duty for an agency to comply with them within 21 days. The Chief Ombudsman deals directly with the agency to confirm his recommendations are carried out.

As section 30 of the OIA makes clear, the Chief Ombudsman is required to keep the relevant Minister informed of his findings about an agency. It is up to individual ministers to decide whether any follow up action is required.

Unfortunately, those individual ministers simply do not seem to care. And so while all those "weighty" recommendations from the Ombudsman may produce remedies in individual cases, nothing actually changes.

What can be done? One option would be to apply the same theory of government at a higher level, by requiring the Ombudsman to notify Parliament - and in particular, the relevant select committee - of every final opinion. This would enable select committees to question ministers about their agency's failures, and hold them to account for their failure to remedy them. But that would require select committees to show the interest that ministers don't, and for ministers to care what select committees think. And I'm not sure that either is true – especially with inbuilt government majorities able to protect Ministers from accountability.

The other alternative is overseas-style judicialisation of the OIA: replace the Ombudsman with a UK-style Information Commissioner, with appeals heard by a special-purpose tribunal and then the courts. Which would mean that rather than just having a mass of individual rulings, we would have actual court orders, and binding legal precedent, which both the law-breaking agency and other agencies would be required to follow. That seems to be more likely to produce systemic change that a theory of government which in practice was abandoned over thirty years ago.

5,000 employed under Labour

The quarterly labour market statistics were released this morning, showing that unemployment had risen to 3.9%. So, at the end of their term, Labour had reduced unemployment by only 5,000 people compared to when they took office.

Of course, growth in the overall population and the workforce means the change is much more significant in percentage terms: a drop from 4.6% to 3.9%. Which I guess shows the problems of tracking this with absolute numbers.

(The December quarter stats, released next year, will cover the election period and interregnum, so I'm not really wanting to attribute it to either party. I'll start tracking National's tally with the 2024 March quarter).

Climate Change: No longer on track

When the then-Labour government set our emissions budgets back in 2021, it deliberately set itself a lowball target for the first budget period (2022 - 2025), with the idea that it would be met with business-as-usual. But then Chris Hipkins' policy bonfire happened, and now we're no longer on track:

The Government is no longer on track to meet its first emissions budget in 2025 and will require significant and costly action offshore to hit its first Paris Agreement target in 2030, according to a paper taken to Cabinet by Climate Change Minister James Shaw.

Earlier this year, a board of public service executives charged with executing New Zealand’s climate goals warned the chances of meeting New Zealand’s first budget were “finely balanced”. A later paper from Shaw said officials had since updated their assessment and “determined we are no longer on track to meet EB1 [Emissions Budget 1] through policy impact”.

Officials estimated the country was 1.5 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions short of hitting the emissions reductions required.

The paper also warned that the amount of emissions abatement expected from policy in the second and third emissions budgets had been “substantially downgraded”. The first emissions budget captures the period to 2025, the second captures the next five years to 2030 and the third captures the next five years to 2035.

And of course this also means that we're facing an even larger offshore mitigation liability to meet our Paris NDC.

The government can borrow up to 1% from the next budget to meet the previous one, so it can probably claim legal compliance with a 1.5MT shortfall. But that's obviously not what is meant to happen, and doing it on your first budget will undermine the credibility of the scheme.

We still have time to fix this: the end of 2025 is still two years away, and you can save 1.5 MT in that period (e.g. by shrinking the dairy herd by 375,000 cows). But we will need new policies to replace those burned by Hipkins if we are to meet our targets for the second and third budgets. And unfortunately, the incoming government's plans (cancel everything that is currently working and give farmers another five year holiday on emissions reductions) are going in exactly the wrong direction.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Police impunity must end

Another day, another IPCA report finding that the police are protecting their own. This case is about a police dog-handler who ordered his dog to attack a teenage girl after she had been arrested and restrained. The police of course thought that was fine. The IPCA disagreed, and thought it was criminal

Police undertook two investigation reports which found that the use of force was justified – but the IPCA disagreed.

Instead, the IPCA ruled that the dog handler was “unjustified” in instructing the dog to bite the girl.

Police also didn’t charge the handler, despite there being sufficient evidence as “they considered the matter did not meet the public interest for prosecution”, the IPCA said.

...which means that this is a case of institutional corruption, as well as an individual's abuse of power. But the kicker? As usual, "[t]he officer remains a member of NZ Police". So there was no accountability for this criminal act.

This isn't good enough. The police cannot be allowed to remain above the law. Given their consistent and corrupt refusal to ever prosecute their own, that power needs to be given to an agency tasked with holding them to account: the IPCA.

SIS shows it cannot be trusted - again

One of the few legitimate functions of the SIS is security vatting: making sure the public servants we trust with sensitive information are in fact trustworthy. But, as in everything else, the SIS do a terrible job at this: in 2016 the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security exposed them as incompetent, trust-abusing muppets who failed to properly safeguard this information, failed to properly record or control access, and (of course) used it for other purposes. The SIS of course solemnly promised they would fix all of this. But seven years later, the IGIS is back, with another report exposing continued illegal use of this information for other purposes.

Section 220 of the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 explicitly bans use of vetting information for any purpose other than security clearance assessment and counter-intelligence. The purpose of the ban is to ensure people can give honest answers to vetting questions without e.g worrying that if they disclose minor past criminal behaviour, the SIS will rat them out to police. But despite this clear legal prohibition, the SIS has been using it for counter-terrorism investigations, and sharing it with law-enforcement. On one occasion, this was apparently done without any legal assessment whatsoever. On another, they relied on a tendentious legal interpretation from their pet lawyers that "disclosure" was not "use", so s220 did not apply (this was stomped on by Crown Law, but only after the information had illegally been disclosed). But most worryingly, they have used intelligence warrants - which allow spies to carry out "an otherwise unlawful activity" - to over-ride the protection of s220. Which effectively renders all the "protections" of the Act a simple nullity. The IGIS recommends this practice stop immediately. Whether it has or not is something we won't know until their next report.

(As an aside, the IGIS also notes that disclosure of vetting information to police may be a crime. But of course no-one will ever be prosecuted for it, because both the spies and police are above the law).

Another report showing that the SIS remains a pervasively criminal agency which is constantly trying to evade the legal limits imposed on it by Parliament is bad enough. But the most worrying aspect of this is the use of intelligence warrants to bypass legal prohibitions on disclosure. The IGIS says that this is unlawful for vetting information because a warrant cannot over-ride the Intelligence and Security Act itself:

Section 49(3) ISA provides that an authorised activity may lawfully be carried out “despite anything to the contrary in any other enactment” [my emphasis]. In my view, if the intent of Parliament was to enable an authorisation to override anything in the ISA itself, the section would state ‘in this or any other enactment’, or words to that effect.
But the upshot of that is that it can be used to over-ride promises of secrecy or confidentiality in other enactments. For example, in the Data and Statistics Act 2022 (allowing them to access your personal dossier in the Integrated Data Infrastructure), or in the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 (allowing them to access your contact-tracing information). Parliament makes these promises for the same reasons as for s220 ISA: to encourage honesty where information is crucial. But it turns out that none of them are binding. Whether the spies are in fact pissing all over Parliament's solemn promises in this way is something we will likely never know (again, unless there is an IGIS report). But the fact that it is a possibility will inevitably affect the quality of the answers the government gets, and is a standing threat to both good government and trust in government in this country.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Challenging ANPR

RNZ reports that the police's use of automated number plate recognition (ANPR) is finally being challenged in court:

Police use of footage from high-tech automated number plate recognition cameras is being challenged in court by defendants.

At least 5000 cameras in two private networks provide footage of vehicle licence plates that police use to prosecute people.

At the heart of the unprecedented legal challenges is that this amounts to use of a tracking device without a warrant, in breach of search and surveillance laws. Another challenge is that it is in breach of the Privacy Act and the Bill of Rights.

There are at least two court cases, but suppressions mean details cannot be reported.

This seems pretty open and shut. On BORA grounds, using ANPR to locate someone or track their movements clearly interferes with a reasonable expectation of privacy (in that we do not expect our movements to be thus tracked without justification), and thus constitutes a "search". As for a tracking device, the definition is very broad: it means "a device that may be used to help ascertain, by electronic or other means... the location of a thing or a person [but] does not include a vehicle or other means of transport, such as a boat or helicopter". The fact that following someone with a car needed to be excluded tells you that the definition covers everything else which serves this function, irrespective of technological specifics. And there's a clear parallel here with interception devices, which means "any electronic, mechanical, electromagnetic, optical, or electro-optical instrument, apparatus, equipment, or other device that is used or is capable of being used to intercept or record a private communication (including a telecommunication)". While this covers physical bugs, it also covers phone and internet taps, which are done at the exchange or ISP, using computers and software. The upshot: an ANPR camera is a "device", as are the computers and databases which store the information and allow police to search it. Which makes ANPR a "tracking device", which in turn makes it a "surveillance device", which in turn means its use by police requires a surveillance warrant. And that does not seem unreasonable at all: police get such warrants all the time, and it means they need to convince a judge that there are actual grounds and an actual offence, rather than just snooping for the sake of it. The police already accept this for "real-time" tracking; they just pretend that a time lag of a few seconds makes it "historic".

Of course, the police are not going to accept being told what to do by mere judges. They'll fight this all the way to the supreme Court, and if they lose there, get the government to change the law and legalise everything they've done. Because that's how things actually work in this country. The rule of law? Not when it comes to the police.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

This really sounds like a "you" problem

The Spinoff today has an article complaining again about the Greens' success - this time not about "vote splitting" undermining the careers of hard-working Labour apparatchiks, but about the "diversion" of activist effort to the Greens and how this is Harming The Left (and the careers of hard-working Labour apparatchiks). The "problem" as the author sees it is that activists and organisers just don't want to work for Labour anymore, and would rather put their effort into an organisation which actually represents their values. Which, from a Green supporters' POV, sounds very much like a "you" problem. And it speaks volumes that rather than, say, considering why those people have fled Labour, and work out how to win them back (by, say, doing a better job and representing their values), they'd rather just complain about it.

Insofar as there's an argument here, its some galaxy-brain stuff about how, if deprived of left-wing activist energy, Labour will be even more centrist. Again, this sounds like a "you" problem. Underlying this is the idea that the Greens need Labour to be a cooperative partner in order to enact their policies. Which assumes of course that the current major party / minor party dynamic between them will remain. And I don't think that's a given. Green activists are pretty explicit that their goal isn't to work with Labour, but to eat them, and while I'm cautious about the speed at which this might happen, the current trajectory certainly suggests it is possible. Unattractive, arrogant whining like that discussed here only makes that more likely.

Major parties have fallen before. In 1919, the Liberal Party, which had been the progressive force in New Zealand politics for thirty years, was challenged by an upstart on its left. That party was Labour. The Liberals did some very familiar whining about "vote-splitting" - which meant more under FPP than it does now - but ended up being gutted by the departure of their progressive activist base. Just a few elections later, they were dead, rebranded as United. Two elections after that, their remnants had merged with Reform, their former professed enemies, to become National (which is what centrists always do: go right). Labour can avoid that fate, by not being crap. But again, that sounds like a "you" problem.