Wednesday, September 27, 2023

If not now, then when?

Labour released its fiscal plan today, promising the same old, same old: "responsibility", balanced books, and of course no new taxes:

"Labour will maintain income tax settings to provide consistency and certainty in these volatile times. Now is not the time for additional taxes or to promise billions of dollars in unfunded tax cuts which would add to inflation and take money away from health, education and housing.
If now is "not the time" for taxing the rich, then when the fuck is?

Our public services are literally falling apart. Today's poster-child is the courts, which are crumbling and unsafe due to prolonged skimping on maintenance. After-hours medical care is shutting down everywhere, because the staff are sick of being underpaid and have decided that they will not work themselves to burnout just to make the government's books look good. Which in turn means pressure on A&E, and staff there. Core government agencies can't provide policy advice to ministers, because they don't have the resources to do so. We have homelessness, and not enough state houses to cope. We have ingrained poverty. And we need to decarbonise everything in the next decade or burn to death.

There is a simple solution which would fix all of these problems: more resources. Tax the rich, spend the money on the things the country needs. But the Labour Party absolutely will not do this, because they're wedded to some entirely arbitrary target about the size of government relative to GDP, for fear of fuck knows what. It's an absolute fucking neurosis from them. And it means that they're basicly committed to helpless deck-chair shuffling, trying to make not enough go too far, and mining our physical infrastructure and the mental health and professionalism of public servants in a desperate attempt to keep everything spinning.

This cannot go on. If we want a functioning state, it needs more money. It is that simple. And if neither of our status quo parties will admit that, we need to look elsewhere for a government.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Competing on cruelty

The right-wing message calendar is clearly reading "cruelty" today, because both National and NZ First have released beneficiary-bashing policies. National is promising a "traffic light" system to police and kick beneficiaries, which will no doubt be accompanied by arbitrary internal targets to classify people as "orange" or "red" to keep the police and kickers busy (and cut costs). Meanwhile, Winston, a zombie sitting pretty on his UBI, has announced a two year lifetime time limit on jobseeker benefits.

This is pretty dubious for unemployment, equating to a 4.4% working lifetime average unemployment rate. How the Reserve Bank feels about that is unclear, but given that their job is literally periodically throwing people out of work to save rich people's yacht money "the economy", their opinion seems kindof important. Its also unclear how it would survive a s19 BORA challenge for indirect discrimination, given that some groups suffer higher unemployment due to systematic discrimination, and therefore can be expected to have a higher lifetime average unemployment rate and so be harshly impacted by the policy. But jobseeker benefits are also for disabled people, and there Winston's policy descends into pure nonsense. A two year lifetime limit on permanent disability? What part of "permanent" do you not understand?

But then, its not supposed to make sense, let alone work. It's just supposed to be performatively cruel, to attract the votes of vicious arseholes who can only feel good from the suffering of those "below" them. And when some other government has to clean up the resulting social mess, that's all the better, because that can then be criticised as "cuddles" and "waste", and they're off for another round on the cruelty wagon (which is probably a Ford Ranger).

It is appalling that in just six short years we've gone from "kindness" to parties competing on viciousness. And it really makes you wonder about what is wrong with our political class, that it produces so many vicious arseholes. And what is wrong with us, that people keep voting for them.

Monday, September 25, 2023

A pallid shade of Green III

Clearly Labour's focus groups are telling it that it needs to pay more attention to climate change - because hot on the heels of their weaksauce energy efficiency pilot programme and not-great-but-better-than-nothing solar grants, they've released a full climate manifesto. Unfortunately, the core policies in it - a second Emissions Reduction Plan, more renewable energy, more money for "research" and the Green Investment Finance fund, plus listening to the Climate Commission on the ETS - is all basicly business as usual. The first and last are both legal commitments, actually required by statute, while the middle is just BAU meh. Meanwhile, the cow in the room is conspicuous by its absence - meaning Labour is still refusing to do anything at all about our biggest polluter.

This is orders of magnitude better than National's "repeal all the policies, make some handwavy noises about electricity" excuse for policy, but its also vastly less than what is required. Labour doesn't deserve a cookie for promising to do the absolute minimum (and not even reverse their previous cuts to climate funding). If you want real climate action, you really need to vote for a party that promises it: Te Pāti Māori or the Greens.

A coalition of racism, cruelty, and chaos

Today's big political news is that after months of wibbling, National's Chris Luxon has finally confirmed that he is willing to work with Winston Peters to become Prime Minister. Which is expected, but I guess it tells us something about which way the polls are going. Which raises the question: what would a National - ACT - NZ First government (or governing arrangement) look like anyway? First, it would be unspeakably awful. Second, it would be total chaos.

On the first front, there are three things National, ACT, and NZ First all agree on: racism, cruelty, and climate denial. They all (with varying degrees of intensity) want to shit on Māori and roll back the real progress we've seen in empowering them. While National might not want to go the full ACT and have a referendum on our founding constitutional document (whose repudiation would mean that Pakeha would literally have no right to be here), they're certainly wanting to roll back co-governance, limit consultation, and generally disempower Māori, because they see all of these things as barriers to rich people getting to do whatever they want "economic growth". On cruelty, all three parties are basicly singing from the same song sheet on "law and order", which means harsher sentences, more criminalisation, and billions wasted on new prisons to cope with the victims (and billions more wasted on the social cleanup of mass criminalisation). And on climate denial, ACT and NZ First are explicitly denier, while National is denier but knows that doesn't sell well to the public, and so merely wants to repeal almost all climate policy and return to the "good old days" of setting targets and doing nothing to meet them. So "repeal and do nothing" will end up being the policy, which will then result in the inevitable criticism from the Climate Commission and lawsuit for failing to follow the Zero Carbon Act, until the government repeals the latter to shut down the legal challenges. At which stage they get to explain themselves to the EU and other trade partners and try and convince them why they shouldn't tear up our FTAs given that we just have...

That's a terrible policy agenda which would be terrible for Aotearoa. Racism and cruelty are Not Good, and ignoring our biggest problem is going to see more people killed and more communities destroyed. We will all suffer under such a government.

The bright side, insofar as there is one, is that they will suffer too. Because while the three parties agree on racism, cruelty and climate denial, they disagree on practically everything else. National plus ACT would mean a radical neoliberal government, slashing taxes, sacking public servants, and privatising everything in an awful rerun of the early 1990's. Winston will veto all that. Ditto raising the superannuation age, benefit cuts, or cuts to the minimum wage. Labour's experience from 2017 to 2020 is a useful guide here: Winston nuked anything that wasn't explicitly agreed in his coalition agreement, often at short notice with no consultation. ACT will hate being thwarted like that. And with Rimmer already making noises about holding the government to ransom over every budget, its likely to end in tears.

(Note that this analysis applies regardless of what sort of governing arrangement is ultimately agreed between the three parties. Its possible that National tries minority government, with support from the other two, rather than trying to manage two bitter enemies around the cabinet table. It doesn't matter, because this is about what there's a majority to legislate on. And if the numbers are such that they force Luxon into the arms of Winston, it means that there just won't be a parliamentary majority for any of ACTs economic agenda...)

So, it would be awful, and we'd all suffer. But they'd suffer too, and it might not last beyond a term (pre-2020, I'd have said Winston was cursed, in that anyone who went into government with him lost the next election. 2020 was not a normal election though, so the curse may still hold). And if things are going to be awful, I'll take my grim satisfaction where I can. If people really are going to vote for us to all burn to death, I can at least derive some amusement by watching their racist cooker climate denier government tear itself apart.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Another Labour bully

Back in June, we learned that Kiri Allan was a Parliamentary bully. And now there's another one: Labour MP Shanan Halbert:

The Labour Party was alerted to concerns about [Halbert's] alleged behaviour a year ago but because staffers wanted to remain anonymous, no formal process was undertaken


The staff members worked with Halbert in a range of roles. None wanted to appear on camera for fear of retribution. Newshub has agreed to protect their identities.

They told Newshub that Halbert was "manipulative", "scheming", "a narcissist" and that they live in fear of him.

Newshub tried to organise an on-camera interview with Halbert, but he declined.

This is another incident where the Labour Party has attempted to cover up and not investigate bullying. They need to look hard at themselves, at what sort of behaviour they are willing to tolerate in their MPs, and at how they keep selecting these sorts of arseholes as candidates.

The good news is that on current polling, Halbert isn't likely to be bullying people around Parliament for much longer. Instead, he'll have to find victims in the private sector. But Labour should still make certain of that by de-electing him, because bullies should have no place in our Parliament.

Climate Change: Ignoring our biggest problem

Its that time in the election season where the status quo parties are busy accusing each other of having fiscal holes in a desperate effort to appear more "responsible" (but not, you understand, by promising to tax wealth or land to give the government the revenue it needs to do what we want it to). Meanwhile, Treasury's pre-election fiscal update included an even bigger fiscal hole, by completely ignoring the cost of failing to meet our climate targets:

The gulf was highlighted in the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU) - Treasury's official word on the state of the government's books - which explicitly excluded the cost of meeting New Zealand's international climate target under the Paris Agreement.


This is where the gap in the books comes in. Treasury had previously put the cost of buying these credits from overseas - and an estimated 100 million tonnes of them will be needed, at last count - at between $3.3b and more than $23b between now and 2030. Even at the lower end of projections, it could work out at around $500 million a year.

And to put that in context, $500 million a year is a budget headline policy. Its basicly the entire police or environment budgets. It is therefore quite obviously significant to the government's books. But instead, they're choosing to ignore it - and this has consequences. Most obviously, policy is not tested on whether it reduces or increases that liability. Sure, there's climate implications of policy assessment, but that is a) frequently ignored; and b) not in the language Treasury understands: dollars on the books. And the net result is that emissions reduction is seen purely as a cost, rather than as a benefit, and that we keep doing stupid stuff like building roads or continuing to use fossil fuels because the costs are hidden. And it means politicians see ETS revenue as free money which can be spent on other things or looted and distributed to your rich donors as tax cuts, rather than as money which we need to pay for reducing emissions or covering the cost of not doing so - because that link is not made in the language they understand.

Climate change is the biggest issue we are facing as a country and as a species. "How are you going to reduce emissions enough to meet our Paris target" is the biggest question politicians should be answering. Ideally, they'd recognise that question as vital in and of itself, and we shouldn't have to disguise it behind money to get them to pay attention. But money is the language politicians speak (policy being about the allocation of resources), so excluding our biggest problem from that language has consequences. And those consequences are going to be disastrous.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Climate Change: National's policy for failure

We already know that the National Party are de facto climate change deniers who want to reverse virtually all climate change policy. So how do they think they'll cut emissions? According to their climate change spokesperson, polluting corporations will do it out of the goodness of their hearts:

The National Party won’t use subsidies to incentivise companies and families to buy EVs and fossil-free equipment because “social obligation” would fill the gap, its climate spokesperson Simon Watts has said.

Asked about the party’s criticism of the Government’s heaviest-hitting emissions policies at the Climate Change & Business Conference this week, Watts indicated ministerial pressure might replace them.

“Let’s be clear, if you’re making a couple of billion bucks a year, then I think you’ve got a social licence to do what you need to do in order to reduce emissions,” he added.

If taken at face value (rather than just as a cloak for more denial), this is at best dangerously naive wishful thinking. Polluting companies have had twenty years of increasing pressure to reduce emissions. Where they've done so, it's been because there has been policy imposing emissions charges or providing subsidies to align incentives with that social goal, or just directly regulating emissions to reduce them. How do we know this? Because in the agricultural sector, which has faced social pressure but - thanks to climate quislings like National and Labour - has had no policy to impose costs or subsidies transition or regulate emissions down, emissions haven't really dropped at all (and the sector continues to ferociously resist any effort to do so). So basicly National's "policy" would extend the agricultural sectors failure to reduce emissions to transport, energy, industry, and all other sectors of the economy. And at a time when the planet is literally on fire, that is downright dangerous.

Queenstown was keeping rates low

On Monday, we learned that Queenstown, one of the country's largest tourist destinations, suddenly had to boil its water to avoid cryptosporidium. Now, it looks like it will last for months. Why? The usual reason: they'd been keeping rates low:

Queenstown could face months of having to boil water until treatment plants are upgraded with barriers against cryptosporidium, the mayor says.


National water regulator Taumata Arowai has served a compliance order on Queenstown Lakes District Council for its Two Mile water treatment plant, which does not have a protozoa barrier to stop cryptosporidium entering the water supply.

A boil water notice must stay in place until it is upgraded or switched to another supply.

The area's other treatment plant, Kelvin Heights, had a protozoa barrier but there were doubts it was working, the regulator said. Once it was satisfied it was operating the boil water notice for the plant could be lifted.

Clean drinking water is an absolute basic for any town, and a legal requirement. But Queenstown has decided not to comply with that requirement, in order to cut costs. And now they're paying the price.

On the plus side, if this makes Queenstown a less desirable tourist destination (because who wants to go to a place that makes you sick?), it will reduce emissions. So maybe some good will come of the council's short-sighted Boomer-pandering penny-pinching after all.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Dirty dairy corrupts our democracy

The planning process under the RMA is meant to be one of public consultation: the council prepares a plan, and we all get to have a say on it. But it turns out that in Otago, the dirty dairying industry has been trying to rewrite the new land and water plan before the public even gets to look at it [paywalled]:

DairyNZ is lobbying the Otago Regional Council to alter its upcoming environmental rules to be more friendly to farmers.

The council’s land and water plan will be notified in June [2024 - I/S], but before then, it is working with DairyNZ and other interest groups on proposed good management practices (GMPs) for farming.


DairyNZ correspondence, released to the Otago Daily Times under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, showed the industry body has already expressed concern about many of the proposed measures and wants several changes before they go out for public comment.

It also pushed back against any suggested implementation of region-wide regulations above that of GMPs, because of the nature of the activities and the sometimes-high cost to farmers associated with them.

Like most lobbying, this is simply a corruption of the democratic process in favour of rich and powerful established interests. And its not something we should put up with. Dirty farmers will have a chance to make their case during the regular submissions process. Before then, they should stay out of it, rather than trying to tilt the rules in their favour and cut the public out.

Climate Change: "Offsets" aren't

Since we began worrying about climate change, the market fundamentalists have pushed the idea of "offsets" rather than actual emissions reductions. There's just one atmosphere after all, so in theory it doesn't matter where the reductions are made, so you can just pay someone on the other side of the world to reduce for you. That's the theory, but like so many other market fundamentalist ideas, it just doesn't match reality. Because the reality is that almost all of these offsets are junk:

The vast majority of the environmental projects most frequently used to offset greenhouse gas emissions appear to have fundamental failings suggesting they cannot be relied upon to cut planet-heating emissions, according to a new analysis.


“The ramifications of this analysis are huge, as it points to systemic failings of the voluntary market, providing additional evidence that junk carbon credits pervade the market,” said Anuradha Mittal, director of the Oakland Institute thinktank. “We cannot afford to waste any more time on false solutions. The issues are far-reaching and pervasive, extending well beyond specific verifiers. The VCM is actively exacerbating the climate emergency.”

Which makes perfect sense. Because while a company could take a lot of time to ensure reductions were real, permanent, and additional, its just so much cheaper and more profitable to claim credits for business-as-usual stuff that was going to happen anyway, or which just shift emissions elsewhere, or which are based on pure fantasy. And its so much easier to do that when the "offsets" are in another country from the person they're being sold to. Incentives matter, and the profit incentive behind offsets points directly to them being junk all the way down. And not just junk, but potentially criminal fraud; in June the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission issued a whistleblower alert promising bounties to whistleblowers exposing fraud in the industry, specifically focused on double-counting and false claims of emissions reductions. (In Aotearoa, businesses providing junk offsets, or claiming to be "carbon neutral" on the basis of such offsets would seem to be guilty of making a false or misleading representation to their customers; maybe the Commerce Commission should be looking into that...?)

This matters, firstly because the Paris agreement is meant to allow carbon trading, but if any of this fraud is allowed into the system in any way, then it means that everyone's "reductions" are effectively laundered and meaningless (just like Kyoto); and secondly because there's an entire international agreement - CORSIA - predicated on using these fraudulent offsets to "buy off" international aviation emissions. And that's built into NZ law through the recently passed Civil Aviation Act. When that law was being passed, there was a push to require NZ airlines to use NZ ETS credit, because (provided the cap isn't raised) a ton of that actually does mean a reduction in emissions. But chickenshit Labour of course refused. The units which can be used will be specified in regulations, and in light of this report, its clear that the government will need to revisit its decision.

Monday, September 18, 2023

A pallid shade of Green II

Last month, the Greens introduced their clean power policy, promising loans and grants to upgrade homes to add solar panels and be energy efficient. Two weeks ago Labour released their response - a weak "pilot scheme" of energy efficiency grants, which I described as a pallid shade of Green. Today, they've followed that up with an incentive scheme for rooftop solar panels and batteries. And like their earlier energy efficiency effort, its good to see, but also a bit meh, offering too little money and too little ambition. And the latter is really on display in their plans for state houses: the Greens had promised a full refit scheme, with panels and batteries (and consequent zero summer power bills and massive improvements in tenant welfare, plus pressure on the private rental market to offer the same) for 30,000 state homes. Labour is promising to do a mere one thousand. Why? Because they'd rather loot the ETS funding which would pay for that in the name of "fiscal responsibility". Which, when we're facing a $24 billion bill if we fail to meet our climate commitments, seems to be the opposite of "responsible".

As with Labour’s previous offering, I'm left with the question: why vote for bullshit half-measures, when I could vote for the real thing instead?

National's cooker problem

The right has a problem with brainwormed conspiracy theorists. They've thoroughly infiltrated NZFirst and ACT, and now it seems they've infiltrated National as well:

The National Party candidate favoured to win the Hamilton East electorate held views directly opposed to the party's leader on fluoridation of water and vaccine mandates.

Ryan Hamilton has voiced support for groups that spread misinformation about fluoridation.

He refuses to be interviewed but the National Party claims he has changed his mind about the fluoridation of water, after more than two decades of public opposition.

In social media posts, Hamilton claimed Covid deaths data had been inflated and once said poverty was not a reason to fluoridate water because "most lower socio economics filled their tap water with raro".

"Lower socio economics". So he's a snobby arsehole as well.

But this isn't just about old anti-fluoride or much more recent anti-vax views - while on the city council, Hamilton also explicitly supported murderous cookers who had issued "writs of execution" against his fellow councillors. So if he's not explicitly in favour of murder and the violent overthrow of elected government, he's at least adjacent and willing to pander to it.

Its also not a problem of ignorance, a vetting failure: National has admitted they knew about all this when they selected him. And yet, today Chris Luxon explicitly endorsed him as a National candidate, someone suitable to be an MP. He says this is because Hamilton has “changed his mind”. But since Hamilton won't actually speak to the media, we have no way of telling if that's true, or just a desperate attempt by Luxon to lie the issue out of the media cycle. And even if it were, I think many of us would still think that someone who had previously supported the murder of elected government officials was completely unsuitable to serve.

Dumping a candidate after nominations have closed is difficult. But it must be done as a basic matter of political hygiene. And if National refuses, voters are entitled to draw their own conclusions about what sort of a party they are and what they support.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

ACT: the party of climate change denial

Over the weekend, a no-longer rare "medicane" flooded the city of Derna in Libya. The confirmed death toll is already over 5,000, and could go as high as 20,000. But according to ACT's climate change spokesperson, there is no climate emergency:

The Act Party’s climate change spokesman says there is no climate emergency, which drew gasps from the audience during a pre-election debate last night.

Simon Court, who is also the party’s spokesman for transport, energy and resources, and environment, was speaking during an event hosted by the Environmental Defence Society at the law firm Bell Gully in Auckland.


Society chair and moderator Gary Taylor opened by asking the panellists for a one-word answer on whether a climate emergency is occurring.

Court answered, “not because politicians said there is” in an apparent reference to former Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern declaring a climate emergency in the House in 2020.

When pushed by Taylor, Court clarified that meant “no”.

Which invites the question: if 20,000 dead in a single climate disaster isn't an emergency, what is? And while Derna is an extreme example, news of climate change-induced fires, floods, storms, heatwaves and droughts is now a daily occurrence. Including in Aotearoa, where Auckland has flooded twice this year, and the East Coast has been devastated by Cyclone Gabrielle.

But ACT refuses to recognise this, because at their core they're a climate change denier party. They always have been, and they always will be. And when they're promising to use all the power they have in parliament to hold the government to ransom and impose their extremist ideology, it means that any coalition involving them is going to be a climate change denying government as well. And at this stage in the climate crisis, that's just not something we can afford.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Climate Change: How to vote

Climate change is a big problem, and it often seems overwhelming. While individual action will help - every little bit helps - a lot of the changes we need to make are at a level far above that of individual action. Changes to the global energy system, or to farm pollution (which, insofar as it responds to market signals, responds to them from other countries, not from us plebs who host the farms and are left with their pollution). On these issues it seems like there's very little we can do.

Except there is something we can do: we can vote. These problems can be dealt with by government policy, which is set by elected politicians. So if we vote in politicians who actually want to fix the climate, rather then collaborate with the polluters who are destroying it, then we stand a chance of fixing things (or at least a better one than we would under the collaborators).

So who should climate-aware voters vote for this election? Vote for climate action has a simple guide, with a summary of policies. And Stuff has a comprehensive survey of where the parties stand on various climate policies, with both a summary and further detail on each one. The upshot of both is clear: if you want climate action, vote for the Greens or Te Pāti Māori. If you want to burn the world, vote National or ACT. Its that simple.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Climate Change: Reducing emissions makes us better off

Back in 2020, the Auckland Council committed to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and reduce them to net-zero by 2050. At the time this was seen as enormously expensive. But it turns out that it will make Aucklanders much better off:

Auckland could be more than $100 billion better off if it achieved it’s 2050 climate action goals, according to a new study commissioned by the council.

While the $43 billion cost in creating a lower-emission transport system would occur early in the period, the benefits, including $43b through improved health alone, would continue to rise further into the future.

The net benefit reached $111b by using modelling updated by Waka Kotahi, since the report was done.

...which sounds like a benefit-cost ratio much better than the average Auckland motorway. And they're not even counting the "productivity gains" Waka Kotahi uses to inflate those benefits, or the lower road toll from cyclists having better infrastructure. Instead, this is all from health benefits and reduced transport costs.

Of course, getting those benefits requires spending money. Auckland Transport is perfectly happy to do that (for much smaller benefits) when its for a megatruck motorway. Hopefully they won't drag their feet in this case.

Unlawful secrecy in Rotorua II

Last year, in an effort to improve Māori representation, the Rotorua Lakes District Council attempted to advance the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill. The bill was controversial, violating the Bill of Rights Act, and the mayor’s efforts to have a secret discussion about it caused one councillor to resign. I blogged about that meeting at the time, pointing out that mayor Steve Chadwick's decision to move into secret session appeared to be unlawful. And today, the Ombudsman agreed with me, finding that the decision was unreasonable and appears to have been contrary to law. Highlights:

  • s7(2)(f)(i) (free and frank discussion) is not a valid reason to exclude the public from a meeting;
  • the council's post-hoc justification on the basis of preventing "improper gain or... advantage" because opponents of the bill might use it to "promulgate misinformation" was not a good reason to withhold the information;
  • "the real reason the Council elected to exclude the public was to avoid public scrutiny of a controversial political topic";
  • councils must consider the public interest when deciding to exclude the public, including the permanent public interests in understanding how decisions are made and participating in decision-making;
  • councils must follow the correct procedure when excluding the public from a meeting. The council did not do this, and the decision was effectively made by the (former) mayor alone (allowing the Ombudsman to review it). The council's minutes were "not an accurate reflection of what in fact occurred".

Because the mayor has been de-elected and the Ombudsman is already running an inquiry into public-excluded council "workshops", there's no recommendations. But its a useful ruling, and will hopefully influence the latter.

Monday, September 11, 2023

This is not a "governing" arrangement

The upcoming election is basicly a competition between two broad coalitions: Labour-Green-Te Pāti Māori, and National-ACT. Discontent with the status quo parties and their bipartisan policy of austerity and inequality has caused voters to shift to the minor parties, who at least offer change of one sort or another - and there's the usual pre-election posturing around "bottom lines" and threats to "sit on the cross-benches". But even then, its clear that the left coalition could put together a functional government if it had the numbers: even if Labour rejects the policy demands of its partners, the result will be them going it alone as a minority government, with support on confidence and supply, but nothing else. On the right, its a different story, with ACT proposing a new "governing" arrangement:

ACT has floated the possibility of a new kind of governing arrangement if National refuses to cooperate during post-election negotiations.

Party leader David Seymour has threatened to resort to a confidence-only deal, which would require the larger party to seek ACT's backing for all government spending - or "supply" - decisions on a case-by-case basis.


"I think we'd be able to be clear that, you know, while they have the confidence of the house, if they want to pass Budgets they are going to have to rely on another party," Seymour said.

"I think it would probably be just confidence."

...which might sound good to the constitutional illiterates in ACT. But what happens if a government fails to pass a budget is that they cease to be government any more (see McGee on implied votes of confidence). So what Rimmer is basicly promising here is that unless he is given a line-item veto over every aspect of government spending and is allowed to decide what gets cut and who gets sacked, Aotearoa will face (at best) annual US-style budget standoffs - or another election. Which is not any sort of "governing" arrangement at all, but a recipe for chaos.

I think its fair to say that this is not the style of government that voters expect. But then, the solution is simple: if you don't want chaos, don't vote for it.

Friday, September 08, 2023

A pallid shade of Green

Last month, the Greens introduced their clean power policy, promising loans and grants to upgrade homes to add solar panels and be energy efficient. Today, Labour responded with their own version: a "pilot programme" to improve energy efficiency, funded by the ETS. Details are light, but the big difference with the Greens' scheme appears to be that its mostly grants, with no interest-free loan component (so benefits the capital-rich who can afford the extra), and is narrower in focus, exclusively about insulation and electric heating and excluding solar panels, batteries, and EV chargers. So less money and more control-freaky, which is very Labour. And of course there's no commitment to a massive investment programme to put solar panels on state houses, because that would be spending money.

All in all, while its welcome to see any movement from Labour in this area, its also kindof weak and half-measures. A pallid shade of Green. The sort of policy National would offer. And the obvious question is why vote for the weak imitation when you can vote for the real thing?


The Justice Committee has called for submissions on the Electoral (Lowering Voting Age for Local Elections and Polls) Legislation Bill. Submissions can be made online at the link above, and are due by Friday, 20 October 2023 (the Friday after the election).

The bill would lower the voting age from 18 to 16 for local body elections. This isn't just a good idea - it is also required by the Supreme Court's declaration of inconsistency over the voting age, and an important step towards bringing out electoral laws into compliance with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Its important that Parliament be told that when the courts issue such a declaration, that they need to obey it and amend the law, rather than deliberately continuing to violate human rights.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Israel is an apartheid state

Israel is an apartheid state. That's been the conclusion of investigative journalists, the US government, the United Nations, and Israeli human rights groups. And now, its a conclusion shared by Israel's former spy-chief:

A former head of the Mossad intelligence agency has said Israel is imposing a form of apartheid on the Palestinians, joining a growing number of prominent Israelis to compare the occupation of the West Bank to South Africa’s defunct system of racial oppression.


Pardo told the Associated Press that Israel’s mechanisms for controlling the Palestinians, from restrictions on movement to placing them under military law while Jewish settlers in the occupied territories are governed by civilian courts, matched the old South Africa.

“There is an apartheid state here,” he said. “In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.”

When a person at the heart of a state's establishment tells you about that state, believe them. They're in a position to know. The question then is what to do about it. When South Africa ran an apartheid regime, it was subjected to boycotts and sanctions, and made an international pariah. That would be a start. But Apartheid is now a crime in international law. If that law is to mean anything, those responsible for that crime need to be prosecuted.

More anti-protest law from Labour

Just before Parliament was dissolved for the election, Labour introduced legislation to "get tough" on ramraiders, promising to jail kids, database them for the rest of their lives, and generally kick young people. Among the provisions was one which would make videoing or livestreaming an offence an aggravating factor at sentencing (resulting in a greater punishment) - a provision which can obviously be used against political protest. Now, they've followed up their desperate "tough on crime" campaign with a promise to "get tough" on gang convoys. But it turns out that can be used against political protest too:

Labour's proposal to give police new powers to seize vehicles involved in gang convoys could be used if there is a large procession that is disrupting people's lives, the party's police spokesperson says.

The party's policy document released on Thursday morning said the proposed changes would target gang convoys "which have an intimidation factor of their own". Police would be able to take action if there is a "breach of road laws by gang members" in two or more vehicles.

Ginny Andersen, Labour's police spokesperson, was asked on Thursday if the proposal allowed police to seize vehicles involved in convoy-style protests, like those held by Brian Tamaki's group or by Groundswell.

She said the new legislation is intended "for when there are large-scale convoys going through public roads and they are disrupting people's daily lives and people going about their daily business".

Police would have discretion for when they use the legislation, Andersen said.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said police would "consider things like protest, for example, where people are breaking the rules".

It is clear from both Andersen and Hipkins' comments that this is not a mistake, or an unintended bug, but an intentional feature. And combined with their earlier legislation, it forms a clear pattern: Labour is trying to criminalise protest. That is why they will never get my vote. And they should not get yours either.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

An obvious question

Climate Change is the biggest policy issue facing Aotearoa. With the weather getting worse, and lethal fires and floods everywhere now, cutting emissions to reduce the damage is something the next government needs to really push on.

The main vehicle for that policy push is the Emissions Reduction Plan, a five-yearly exercise done under the Zero Carbon Act in which the government sets out how it is going to meet the emissions reduction budgets it has set. Our first one (covering 2022-2025) was done last year, and it was a bit of a mess. The next one (covering 2026 - 2030) will have to be made next year, by whoever is elected in October. And Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton has reviewed the process, and recommended that the Prime Minister really needs to lead the process for it to get the attention it needs:

Parliament's top environment advisor is challenging whoever is the next prime minister to follow Jacinda Ardern's lead and take charge of the plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton reviewed the country's first plan for cutting planet-heating gases (called the Emissions Reduction Plan) and found Ardern's decision to chair the group leading the efforts was pivotal.


"Only the prime minister can really call the shots... across multiple agencies," Upton told journalists at a briefing ahead of the release on Wednesday.

"Whoever aspires to be prime minister has got to be willing to get across this."

Which poses an obvious question for voters: do you really think that Chris Luxon - who can politely be described as "climate change action hesitant" - is going to do this? Especially when his prospective coalition partner leads a party of outright climate change deniers, which wants to repeal the Zero Carbon Act, its targets, and all its accountability mechanisms?

Which is just another example of how National-ACT will be a disaster for climate change policy, and one that neither Aotearoa or the planet can afford.

Climate Change: The auction fails again!

There was another ETS auction this morning, and like the other two this year, it failed to clear, with no bids above the confidential reserve. Which means another 4.475 million tons of carbon go into the pile for the next auction - and if that one fails, it all disappears, effectively taking 26 23 million tons of carbon - a third of a year's emissions - out of the system forever. Which is a result we should all be hoping for.

As for why, I think that after two failed auctions, there's just too much volume. There were bids for only 57% of the units on offer. Which means that if the bottom bid is below the reserve, nobody gets anything - and the government gets no money. There's now a billion dollar hole in the government's finances. Which ought to give the status quo parties promising to fund tax cuts or other spending with ETS revenue pause for thought.

Meanwhile, congratulations to whoever put in today's low bid - you've done the planet a service. Please do it again in December, and help wipe 26 23 million tons out of the system.

Correction: The December auction volume has been lowered, so the total amount at stake this year is 23 million tons.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Climate Change: What policy success looks like II

We've already seen that the government's clean car discount has been wildly successful at pushing new car buyers into cleaner cars (and since then the trend has only got stronger). But what does that mean for emissions? Good news:

The average carbon emissions of new and used imported cars has dived since the Clean Car Discount took full affect in April last year, Transport Ministry figures show.

The average light passenger vehicle imported in the 15 months to June 30 emitted 151 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre-travelled, down 19% on the average of 186 grams per kilometre-travelled in the 15 months before the “feebate” policy took effect.

The drop was equivalent to the emissions reductions achieved during the entire 11-year period before the Clean Car Discount was imposed.

Of course, this is only new cars, and there's a huge tail of dirty older vehicles still on the roads (the average New Zealand car is 15 years old). Absent other policies to take older, dirty cars off the road, its going to take a long time to cycle the whole fleet. But I think those policies will come eventually (given a non-National government), and the technology switch will eventually make support for fossil vehicles harder to come by in the long term, which will push things further. In the meantime, this will gradually grind vehicle emissions down. And the joy of it is that its all paid for by polluters.

Friday, September 01, 2023

We need to ban environmental criminals

Stuff today reports on the annual stats on dirty dairying prosecutions, and finds that most environmental crime is committed by repeat offenders:

Repeat offenders dominate the annual tally of environmental offending by dairy farms spewing cow effluent onto land and waterways.

Of the six prosecutions by regional councils that concluded in the 2022/23 year, half involved individuals and companies that had been convicted of similar offending in the past.

The details on these past offences show that the current penalty regime is clearly not deterring these persistent criminals from repeatedly defiling the environment. Which means that we need another solution. Fortunately, there's one ready to hand. People who violate the Animal Welfare Act - for example, by being persistently cruel to animals - can be banned from owning or exercising control over animals for any period the court thinks fit, and it is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment, to violate such an order. The regime was created precisely to stop persistent offenders from repeatedly violating the rights of animals.

We should do the same with dirty dairying. If a farmer repeatedly violates their resource consents and continually pollutes the environment, the court should be able to ban them from farming. That threat should focus their minds on ensuring they run a clean operation, rather than just pouring their cowshit everywhere.


The Education and Workforce Committee has called for submissions on the Crimes (Theft by Employer) Amendment Bill. Submissions can be made online at the link above, and are due by Thursday, 12 October 2023 (the Thursday before the election).

The bill would make it a criminal offence for employers to steal from their workers (for example, by intentionally failing to pay them, or demanding they work extra hours unpaid). But as I noted when it was drawn, Labour has flubbed this, with a special, weak penalty, rather than just applying the existing law of theft by person in special relationship. Which will create a pernicious situation where theft as a servant is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment, but theft as a master gets only one. This is an obvious thing the select committee can and should fix. And if it fails to, well, I guess we'll have a clear statement of who Labour, and the political system as a whole, thinks the law exists to serve.

Thursday, August 31, 2023


A ballot for three Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) (Improving Mental Health Outcomes) Amendment Bill (Matt Doocey)
  • Electoral (Equal Protection of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill (Arena Williams)
  • Employment Relations (Trial Periods) Amendment Bill (James McDowall)

This is the last ballot for this Parliament. The bills will all be considered by the Parliament we elect in October.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

A violation of the rights of children

Last week, in a desperate attempt to get some "tough on crime" and "we hate children" headlines before the election, the government introduced the Ram Raid Offending and Related Measures Amendment Bill. The core provisions increase penalties for ram-raiding, allow children to be prosecuted as adults for it, allow them to be stuck in a police DNA databank for the rest of their lives as a result, and allow them (and other people) to be punished more heavily if they livestream or post a video of a criminal offence. In other words, stop those annoying kids from posting tik-tok videos which undermine the government's "tough on crime" narrative. Now, the Attorney-General has warned that it violates the Bill of Rights Act:

The Government’s plan to crack down on ram raids has been given a stinging rebuke by Attorney-General David Parker, who says it is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act (BORA) on multiple grounds.


Parker, in vetting the bill against the protections in the BORA, said it appeared to be inconsistent on three grounds: the right of a child to be dealt with in an age-appropriate way, the right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure, and the right to freedom of expression.

The bill might be justifiable if the benefits outweighed the harms, but Parker said that “a court is, having considered relevant evidence, likely to conclude that the harms outweigh the benefits”.

“In terms of benefits, it is unlikely that the new pathway into the Youth Court for 12 and 13-year-olds will, as a general proposition, result in a systematic benefit of reducing criminal offending or improving child outcomes,” he said.

...which is obvious: while the Boomers love it, sticking kids in jail never helps, and usually makes things much, much worse, for them and for everybody else. Meanwhile, on the anti-tiktok provision, its clearly punishing people for expression, and its not hard to see cases where such expression has significant value. To point out one obvious example, a political protest which is livestreamed engages exactly the core values section 14 of the BORA exists to protect, and punishing people more harshly for doing so is a gross violation of that right. It is easy to see a future court overturning sentences, convictions, and the law itself if it is used in that manner (as it almost certainly will be by police looking to throttle protest).

So, did Parliament take the Attorney-General's warning seriously, and send the bill back to the drawing board for further work before considering it? Of course not - they sent it straight to select committee. And if it emerges without significant change, it will be another example of how Parliament doesn't take its responsibilities under the BORA seriously, and why we need ultimately to take the job off them and give it to judges, rather than headline-chasing politicians.

Member's Day

Today is an unexpected Member's Day - the House had been in urgency, but it wrapped up early enough to allow consideration of Member's Bills. First up is a private bill, the St Peter’s Parish Endowment Fund Trust Bill. This is being run through its final stages in one go, but even so is unlikely to take long. After that, the House will continue the interrupted first reading of Ibrahim Omer's Crimes (Theft by Employer) Amendment Bill. Following that there will be the first readings of Angie Warren-Clark's Family Proceedings (Dissolution for Family Violence) Amendment Bill (which re-introduces cause alongside our no-fault divorce system), Tracey McLellan's Employment Relations (Protection for Kiwisaver Members) Amendment Bill, and (probably) Shane Reti's Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) (Provision of Breast Cancer Screening Services) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for three Member's Bills tomorrow, but anything drawn will be dealt with by the next Parliament.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

No way to run a partnership

Yesterday, in an effort to screw the PREFU and narrow the space for National to promise tax cuts, the government announced a $4 billion austerity program. Part of this was a $226 million raid on the climate emergency response fund - meaning less climate action. You'd think the government would have bothered to tell its Climate Change Minister about that. But of course they didn't:

As part of a $4 billion savings initiative announced on Monday, the Government will cut $236 million from climate policies on agriculture, transport and forestry.

One unusual aspect of the move is that climate funding is supposed to be ring-fenced solely for climate policies, but the savings will instead be returned to the general coffers.

Another unusual aspect is Minister for Climate Change James Shaw wasn't aware it would be happening. He told Newsroom he knew the Government was doing a savings exercise and evaluated a couple of policies he was responsible for, which didn't get cut. He was also briefed on a $10m cut to a waste policy.

But he found out about the remaining $226m in climate cuts at the same time the public did.

Regardless of what you think of the merits of cutting climate action in the middle of a climate crisis, this is a shitty and arrogant way to run a political partnership. And its worse because the Prime Minister thinks its perfectly appropriate. The casual attitude of disrespect displayed does not bode well for any future coalition arrangement between Labour and the Greens.

Climate Change: The cow in the room again

Aotearoa has an official climate change target of a 50% reduction in (net) emissions by 2030. There's a lot of spin and bullshit - in the way the target is measured, so its not as impressive as it seems. But even with all those accounting tricks, the IMF has warned that we are not going to meet it:

New Zealand remains significantly off track to meet a promise it made to the United Nations to reduce its net carbon emissions to half of its 2005 gross emissions by 2030, the International Monetary Fund says.

But it says doubling the real price of carbon credits by 2030, while “politically difficult”, could largely close gap.

...which simply tells us that the IMF haven't really looked at Aotearoa at all, and are working purely from theory. Because while a significant rise in the carbon price would be welcome, and would reduce emissions, it will only affect emissions which are subject to it. And thanks to National's corruption and Labour's cowardice, our biggest polluter - agriculture - will not be subject to it. And when that polluter is responsible for 50% of our emissions, that makes a 50% reduction effectively impossible.

This is where the refusal of successive governments to confront the dairy industry has left us: it is impossible to meet even our mid-term climate change targets unless everyone who is not a farmer reduces their emissions to zero. And it means that the burden of emissions reductions is being placed entirely on urban Aotearoa, while the tiny rural population who are the worst and most economically inefficient polluters are protected.

The government will say that this doesn't really matter, as our NDC is a "responsibility target" - meaning that they think we can just buy our way out of it by paying for emissions reductions somewhere else. But even if you accept this, and accept that the "reductions" are real and not just more Russian fraud, it means a huge expense - $24 billion at last estimate. And that cost will effectively be incurred by the dairy industry, but paid for by the rest of us, in the form of worse schools, hospitals, public transport and other services we would be able to pay for if farmers paid their way.

This is simply immoral. It is neither fair nor equitable for urban Aotearoa to spend tens of billions of dollars subsidising the pollution of a dirty, inefficient, rural elite, at the cost of the services we all need. And given the relative balance of population between cities and farms, I don't believe it is politically sustainable. In the 1970's Muldoon ruined the country with subsidies to farmers; one of the few good things the fourth Labour government did was end them. We need to do the same. End this subsidy, make farmers pay their way, and give us a chance of meeting our environmental obligations to the international community and the planet.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The opportunity costs of Labour's stupidity

In 2022, Labour finally committed to building light rail in Auckland. Unfortunately, they chose the stupidest, most expensive option, putting trams - which should run on streets to be easily accessible - in tunnels. Effectively they were committing billions extra to stifle criticism around construction disruption, at the cost of limiting the network and creating an all-or-nothing solution which would be easily cancelled. But over the weekend, the Greens released their transport policy, which highlighted the opportunity cost of Labour's stupid decision: for the cost of that tunnel - again, designed solely to limit bad PR for the government - we could have surface light rail not just in Auckland, but in Wellington and Christchurch as well.

Its a single line in each city. But the thing about surface light rail is that its easy and cheap to expand. So what the Greens are offering is the backbone of a network in each city, which can then be expanded as required. Which seems like a no-brainer. If we want liveable cities, and a liveable future, that means getting people out of cars. And this is a good way to start doing that.

Its also a marked contrast to the two status quo parties, whose transport policies have focused exclusively on promises to build more stupid, environmentally destructive motorways in Auckland. As one of the two-thirds of kiwis who don't live there, its nice to see a party offering something for the rest of us.

The buck stops where?

US President Harry Truman infamously had a sign on his desk saying "the buck stops here", signifying that he was ultimately responsible for the problems of his nation and how he dealt with them. But Labour, it seems, disagrees:

Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni is avoiding accountability over the cost of living crisis, saying it's "not necessarily the Government's fault".


"New Zealand has been through a lot over the past six years… It's tough for people at the moment and I think when we sit back and reflect it's not necessarily the Government's fault that we've got cost of living issues, that we've had weather events, that people's everyday experiences have been very difficult," she said.

The government is not responsible for the weather, or the pandemic. But they are absolutely responsible for how they respond to them - and in particular, whether they protect people from the effects, or leave them to suffer. And while Labour has done a few things, pretty obviously, its not enough. There is a real cost of living crisis, with the middle classes being driven into poverty, and the poor being driven down further. And for Labour to disclaim responsibility like this basicly sends a signal of "fuck you; you're on your own". That's bad enough coming from a "labour" party, but having it said by a woman on $334,734 a year plus perks and slush smacks more than a little of "let them eat cake". But then, that's the modern Labour party, isn't it? A pack of professional politicians climbing the greasy pole for their mega-salaries, forgetting any hint of why they were elected in the first place.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Now de-select him

Earlier in the month National MP Tim van de Molen threatened and stood over the chair of the select committee he was serving on after getting angry over the number of questions he was allocated. Today, the (powerful) Privileges Committee found that he had committed contempt of Parliament, and recommended that he be censured. That looks like it will happen next week, and be one of the last acts of this Parliament.

National has already stood van de Molen down from all his portfolios, but it should do more. Parliament has a bullying problem. It is a toxic environment due to those bullies. If it is become better, they need to be removed. And one way for parties to do that is to drive out toxic, bullying MPs (another way is for us to de-elect them).

Van de Molen is already the lowest-ranked MP on National's list. But he's still their candidate for Waikato, a safe rural seat. They need to de-select him. Otherwise, they're effectively saying that his conduct is acceptable and that they want a thug like him in Parliament.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

"Prominent political figure" meets Parliamentary Privilege

Earlier in the year we saw the usual story: a "prominent political figure" (who was not an MP) had been charged with some unpleasant crimes, and had had their name suppressed. And then the story got even more outrageous, when a judge decided that he would not be identified until after the election, and neither would the party he was associated with - effectively denying us crucial information which might affect our votes. At the time I pointed out that this was untenable, with potentially horrific effects on the legitimacy of any government which included that party, as well as our democratic institutions. But it looks like we've dodged that bullet, because in Question Time today Te Pāti Māori MP Rawiri Waititi effectively identified "prominent political figure" and the party he was associated with. From Hansard:

Does the Prime Minister agree with a judgment that we've got the leader of ACT chiming in about law and order but is first to get name suppression for his president for heinous crimes?
[You can watch the video (which includes an assist from ACT's David Seymour) here (start at 4m 30s)]

Waititi's question is absolutely protected by Parliamentary Privilege, and its for Parliament to judge whether he committed contempt. But that Privilege also protects the Hansard report and video above, as well as any delayed communication of those proceedings - like this blog post. While that protection is only "qualified", it generally means people are free to report and comment on the proceeding, provided they do not act in bad faith or with ill will, or "abus[e] the occasion of communication" (whatever that means). In this case, the person is still facing trial, so I'm not going to name them. But we should absolutely scrutinise the consistency of ACT's actions in seeking suppression with its stated positions on free speech, as well as its decisions about who holds office in the party, and we should judge them for it at the ballot box.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Climate Change: Ecuador keeps it in the ground

Ecuador went to the polls over the weekend in presidential elections, which look like they will go to a right-left runoff. But alongside the elections was another battle: a referendum on banning oil drilling from the Yasuní National Park. And when given a choice, Ecuadorians voted to keep it in the ground:

Ecuadorians have voted in a historic referendum to halt the development of all new oilwells in the Yasuní national park in the Amazon, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.

Voters opted to safeguard the unique biosphere by a margin of nearly 20% with more than 90% of the ballot counted – with more than 58% in favour and 41% against, according to Ecuador’s National Electoral Comission. Voting took place in the first round of presidential elections on Sunday.

The move will keep about 726m barrels of oil underground in the Yasuní national park, which is also home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane people, two of the world’s last “uncontacted” Indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation.

That's around 312 million tons of carbon which will be kept out of the atmosphere and which won't contribute to destroying the planet. Or about five years of Aotearoa's emissions, in one decision.

Now all we need is for other countries to do the same. We can't afford to burn the oil we have discovered - not if we don't want to burn ourselves. And the sooner we start legally locking it away, the better off we'll be.

Monday, August 21, 2023


At the 2020 election, Labour promised to regulate property managers. In February 2022, they said they were actually doing it. In November 2022, they repeated that claim. Now, less than two months from the election, they've finally introduced the legislation. Whether doing something grudgingly, at the last possible minute, and after years of foot-dragging counts (and when it won't actually pass before the election) counts as keeping their promise is left as an exercise for the reader.

As for the legislation itself, it would require property managers to be licenced, with criminal penalties for doing business without a licence. There will be a complaints regime, allowing licences to be suspended or revoked, but weirdly failing to comply with the Residential tenancies Act won't be a grounds for complaint, and there'll be no automatic notification tot he disciplinary tribunal if a property manager is found to have done so by the Tenancy Tribunal (these seem like good things to push for at select committee). Delivering services "in a way that falls short of the standard that a reasonable member of the public is entitled to expect" is grounds for a complaint, and I suspect that clause is going to get a real workout.

The legislation might get a first reading before the election, but it won't be getting any further until afterwards. Which means that if you want it to pass, you need to vote for a party which will support it, rather than a landlord party which won't.

More Labour secrecy

The Spinoff has a piece this morning by Max Rashbrooke asking "Has Labour really been ‘the most transparent and open’ government ever?" If you pay attention to transparency, then the answer won't really be surprising - at best they're a "meh", with any moves towards openness countered by a trend of increasing secrecy and control-freakery.

Part of that trend is an increasing use of "secrecy clauses" in legislation, over-riding the OIA and forbidding disclosure because dysfunctional government agencies don't trust each other to obey the law properly. I keep a list of these clauses (slightly out of date, I'm afraid) here. And right on cue, the government has introduced another one: its new Fair Digital News Bargaining Bill - intended to force foreign social media services to pay kiwi media for using NZ news - includes both a secrecy clause forbidding the BSA from disclosing information obtained the Act, and an ORCON clause allowing it to impose conditions if it decides to release something - and whack people with a $500,000 fine if they disobey. So effectively it adds criminal penalties for requesters to the OIA, criminalising prejudicing the commercial position of companies whose information is held by the government. Which while a violation of professional duty for public servants, doesn’t seem like it should be a crime, especially for anyone outside of government.

(While section 82(2)(a) allows disclosure if "the information or document is available to the public under any legislation", the Ombudsman has ruled that similar language does not actually protect OIA rights. If we want them to be protected, there needs to be an explicit statement that "nothing in this clause limits the Official Information Act 1982")

It is easy to see this as carelessness and shoddy drafting. But when it happens time after time after time, and the clauses keep getting passed and passed and passed, there can only be one conclusion: this government loves secrecy. It is actively expanding it - in the process robbing us of our right to freedom of information. And if we want it to stop, we have to stop them, by voting them out of office.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Climate Change: Labour grovels to the mighty cow

RNZ has the second part of Kirsty Johnston's "Crown vs Cow" today, about how farmers exploited he waka eke noa for predatory delay, and how the process ultimately fell apart. Meanwhile, the process reached its denounement today - according to Labour at least - with the government announcing its "final" decision on agricultural emissions pricing. Which is of course to kick the can down the road a bit more, before completely surrendering to the climate-denying agricultural industry. Farmers won't even have to report their emissions until later next year, they'll get ETS credit for bullshit "sequestration" which is outside the national inventory, and of course there will be huge subsidies for "new technology" which never arrives and will never be adopted if it does. As for prices, its very vague, only saying that farmers will pay "the lowest level possible", and then not until late 2025 (if then).

Which is simply bullshit. This is our largest polluter, and the government is giving it a free ride. Again. The planet is fucking burning, Laihana has been burned to the ground, incinerating over a hundred people; Yellowknife is being evacuated to avoid the same fate; and Los Angeles is about to be hit by a tropical cyclone, bringing months of rain in one go. And the government is still trying to subsidise the cause of all this havoc, the dairy industry. It will be fascinating to see what the Climate Commission makes of it.

(Meanwhile, there's more than one way to cut emissions. This ought to help. And the longer it lasts, the better).

Labour says its decision is "final". We'll see about that. What's done can be undone, if not after this election, then after the next one. Farmers shouldn't get comfortable with their subsidies. We outnumber them, and eventually, we are going to make them pay their way, just like the rest of us do.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Climate Change: Two stories

Two big climate change stories today. The first is obviously RNZ's "Crown vs Cow: The inside story of how we failed to regulate our worst climate polluter" about the rise of the he waka eke noa scam. Its an appalling tale of how a labour government which had promised to take climate change seriously caved to a powerful industry lobbying for a free ride. There will apparently be more on this tomorrow, about how the deal fell apart. But as someone who opposed it from the beginning, I'm glad it did. Farms are just like other polluters - worse, in fact, since they produce methane, which is 80 times worse than carbon dioxide, and so needs to be cut immediately. And they should pay their way, just like the rest of us. If they can't, then they should go out of business, just like any other polluter. And we'll all be better off if that happens.

Second is a piece by Thomas Coughlan in the Herald about National's lack of climate policies. Climate change is the biggest challenge facing Aotearoa, but all National has promised to do is remove existing emissions reduction policies - the agricultural ETS backstop, the clean car program, GIDI, etc - and so increase emissions. Which is simply not credible (some might even call it ecocidal). But its sadly what you'd expect from a party which is still stuffed full of climate change deniers and apocalypse-obsessed religious fundamentalists. The question is whether voters will be happy with that, when we've seen Auckland flood twice already this year, the East Coast is still wrecked after Cyclone Gabrielle, and we've seen entire towns overseas razed to the ground by climate-change-induced fires.

ACT is a terf party

Last night the government passed the Integrity Sport and Recreation Bill under end-of-year urgency. But there was a nasty surprise in the committee stage: ACT's Karen Chhour put up two terf amendments to try and exclude trans-women from women's sport.

The good news is that both amendments were overwhelmingly voted down, 106-10, with only ACT voting in support. But its worrying that ACT is either now explicitly committed to terf ideology, or willing to pander to terfs for votes. And its even more worrying when you consider that they might be in government after the election and able to impose their hateful views on Aotearoa.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Labour will allow offshore drilling

Last month I noticed that Todd Energy had applied to turn its sole remaining offshore gas exploration permit - which it had sat on for twenty years after discovering gas in 2004 - into a mining permit. The application is permitted under current loopholes in Labour's offshore drilling "ban", but the government has a bill on the order paper which would close that loophole permanently. Which raised the obvious question: was Labour going to let this happen?

Sadly, it looks like the answer is "yes". The House is currently in urgency for the end-of-term wash-up, and the Crown Minerals Amendment Bill, which would close the loophole, was not in the urgency motion. Which means that its unlikely to be passed before the election, giving Todd Energy a good couple of months to slip their application through and get a mining permit. Which in turn will enable them to extract that gas and burn the planet.

"Climate emergency"? Yeah, nah.

So, if you believed that Labour was doing the right thing about offshore drilling, ha ha, they fooled you. Cynical arseholes in Wellington who see everything as a PR stunt played you for a sucker. If you're angry about this, the best revenge is to vote for a party which takes the issue seriously and which will follow through on its policies. Which means voting for the Greens or Te Pāti Māori.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Merry Trumpmas again!

At the beginning of the month, former US president and would-be dictator Donald Trump was finally charged in federal court for trying to overturn the 2020 federal election. But his efforts to overturn democracy happened all over the US, and now the state of Georgia is getting into the act, prosecuting him for racketeering over his fake electors:

Donald Trump and some of his closest confidantes have been indicted on state racketeering and conspiracy charges over efforts to reverse Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election in Georgia. This indictment makes the former US president a criminal defendant in a fourth case as he campaigns to recapture the presidency.

The sprawling 41-count indictment, handed down by a state grand jury in Atlanta late on Monday night, charges Trump himself with 13 counts and accuses him of orchestrating a criminal enterprise.

In addition to Trump, prosecutors in the office of the Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis charged 18 other defendants, including his former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows as well as his 2020 election lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis and Kenneth Chesebro.

The charges mark a moment of significant legal peril for Trump, since the charges come at the state level and he would not be able to undo any potential convictions through measures such as a self-pardon or appointing a sympathetic attorney general if he were re-elected president in 2024.

Of course, Georgia has a Republican governor and a Republican legislature, so there's plenty of scope for Republican corruption of the judicial process. Still, every indictment is something to celebrate, a sign that the US may be turning away from the path of dictatorship and returning to being a normal democracy.

Te Pāti Māori on climate change

Earlier in the month Te Pāti Māori released its climate change policy. And looking at it, its pretty good, with a focus on cutting off fossil fuels at source. The headline policy is to shutdown the gas industry with an immediate ban on onshore exploration, and a phase-out of existing oil and gas mining permits within five years. Buried in the fine print is that they'd also target coal, banning new coal mining permits and phasing out industrial coal use by 2030. They're also committed to making farmers pay for their pollution, by bringing agricultural methane emissions into the ETS and phasing out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. Finally, there's a bunch of funding for Māori community energy projects, Māori-owned renewable energy, and incentivising Māori farmers to transition to regenerative agriculture.

All of this is good, though very high level. It targets the big problems, while also easing disadvantage and focusing on Māori control ("yes, with tino rangatiratanga" in other words). While it doesn't engage with the nitty-gritty of the ETS or the Zero Carbon Act, it signals a very clear direction. If you're a climate voter this election - and we should all be climate voters now if we don't want to drown or burn to death - then this seems like a policy worth supporting.

Monday, August 14, 2023

A murderous election gimmock


20 people died last week of covid. So, two months out from the election, Labour has announced the end of all covid restrctions. We can all get plague and brain-damage now, as a little treat.

While covid numbers are currently low, this doesn't mean we are safe, or that we can end our response. A requirement that people stay home when infected is a basic precaution which keeps everyone safe. Hipkins says that we shouldn't need a legal requirement to do that, and that its part of being a good human. As one journalist noted, so's not driving when drunk, but we have laws against that. The fundamental problem here is that employers aren't good humans, and will force people (on threat of starvation) to come to work when sick and infect others. A government requirement protects us all from them.

But instead of keeping us all safe, Hipkins has decided to endanger us all, and kill some people, as a pre-election gimmock. He's no different from a murderer. And we should remember that at the ballot box.

The Greens' clean power policy

Over the weekend the Greens released their clean power policy, promising a "clean power payment" of up to $6000, interest-free loans of up to $30,000, deductibility for landlords, and a massive investment program in putting solar panels on state houses. Unlike the current Warmer Kiwi Homes programme, it won't be means-tested, and it will fund a much wider range of upgrades: not just insulation and efficient heating, but also solar panels, batteries, double-glazing, and fast-chargers for EVs. So basicly, if you own your own home, the Greens will make it much easier to make it warm and efficient. And if you live in a state house, the Greens are going to make sure you get free power in summer.

Looked at just as a solar energy programme, its obviously not the most efficient way of installing panels. Take the state housing upgrade program, which would see solar panels installed on 30,000 (of 67,000) state houses: putting them on rooftops would cost ~$525 million for ~150MW, about five times the cost of an equivalent-sized array stuck in a field. But this is about encouraging distributed home generation for home use, for the direct benefit of the people who live in those homes. State house users not having to pay power bills for a quarter of the year or more is going to significantly improve their welfare, and that is going to have flow-on effects elsewhere. And the same is going to apply to homeowners who use the grants and loans to install panels and batteries.

And of course, its not just a solar energy programme, but about insulation, heating, transport, and the elimination of fossil fuels as well. Aotearoa needs to make a massive transition in the next two decades to a cleaner, more efficient economy, which means upgrading all of those things. And this is about pushing that. Banks are already offering similar loans for these upgrades. But government grants will push things faster, and interest-free government loans will keep the banks honest.

But while this is excellent news for people who own their own homes, that's an ever-declining proportion of us. The big problem for the national upgrade is landlords, who face very weak incentives to provide solar panels, heat pumps, and EV chargers for the benefit of their tenants. Tax deductibility may help a little, but its probably better to see this as a carrot to go alongside the stick of the rental WOF scheme. And its not hard to see that being eventually extended to require such things alongside insulation, heating, and ventilation. And of course I'd like to think that if state houses provide them (at income-related rents, too), private landlords will feel some pressure to compete. Alternatively, i am more than happy to see the government build, buy, and upgrade more state houses, and put the private landlords who won't compete out of business.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Climate Change: Is FENZ prepared?

RNZ has a piece today revealing that Fire and Emergency NZ had not trained to deal with landslides before Cyclone Gabrielle in February. There are historical reasons for this - before the 2017 amalgamation they were officially responsible only for fires, despite being the default first-responders for everything. But two firefighters died as a result.

Meanwhile, like everyone else, I'm looking at the news of the destruction of Lahaina in Hawaiʻi in shock. 53 people are dead so far, and an entire town of 12,000 has been destroyed. In an NZ context, that's a town the size of Waikanae, razed to the ground by climate change-driven fires. Which makes you wonder whether FENZ is prepared for this threat, and whether they have plans in place to limit loss of life if we have a similar disaster in Aotearoa.

We've had a warning sign of this already: the 2020 Lake Ōhau fire. But that was a much smaller town. The official FENZ report on that disaster said that everything had been planned for, but that turned out not to be the case. Weirdly, the report made no major recommendations - the implication being that FENZ thought it had nothing to learn from the disaster. Which is a little bit worrying. Multiple ICC reports had warned of increased fires as a result of climate change, and the Australian bushfires the year before Lake Ōhau should have been a screaming warning sign. In the wake of Lahaina, it would be good to know that our emergency services are actually prepared for the future we face.

A question


Is this ad encouraging people to vote for or against NZ First?

In fact, its an ACT ad, intended to discourage people from voting for Winston. But the fact that it is completely indistinguishable from an NZ First ad encouraging people to vote for him doesn't just make it a tremendous advertising own-goal - its also legally problematic. Section 204H(1) of the Electoral Act 1993 provides that

A person may publish or cause or permit to be published a party advertisement that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote for a party only if the publication of the advertisement is authorised in writing by the party secretary.
This ad can clearly "reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters" to vote for NZ First. The question then is whether ACT sought the written approval of NZ First before running it? If not, well, its not a crime - failing to see the double-meaning in your ad isn't wilful contravention - but ACT probably shouldn't be promoting another political party without their permission.