Friday, March 31, 2023

Investigating the culture of secrecy

After yesterday's news that Stuart Nash deliberately and knowingly breached the OIA to cover up his corrupt disclosure of Cabinet information to his donors, the media now is focusing on the wider point: Nash's behaviour isn't isolated, but a symptom of the rot which has eaten away at transparency under successive governments. David Fisher has a piece in the Herald and Marc Daalder has one on Newsroom, and there'll probably be one on Stuff eventually. But what can we do about this long-standing nexus of political game-playing and lax oversight by an under-resourced and mediation- (rather than arse-kicking)-focused Ombudsman? The way I've phrased the latter part suggests an answer, which probably involves replacing them with a specialist (and arse-kicking-focused) Information Commissioner, because the culture of that office is part of the problem and it cannot be saved. But how do we get there?

One of the problems is that the Ombudsman's oversight of the OIA is entirely complaints-focused. While the Ombudsman can hold practice inquiries into government agencies under the Ombudsmen's Act, allowing them to correct systematic and cultural problems which have arisen, they are powerless to make similar inquires into the Ministerial offices - Ministers having carefully made themselves immune to the Ombudsmens Act. And as the anti-transparency culture starts in those offices and then flows downhill, with agency staff getting the clear signal from above not to be transparent, then that seems to be a pretty big oversight. But there are other people who can hold inquiries, and there seems to be an obvious one for this problem: Parliament's Government and Administration Select Committee. This has responsibility for "public governance, parliamentary and legislative services, Prime Minister and Cabinet, [and] State services", so an inquiry into how the OIA is working, OIA practice in Ministerial offices, and related integrity and ethics issues is well within their purview. And they can do it on their own motion, call for evidence and summon witnesses, and make recommendations on how to amend the law to bring Ministerial secrecy under control.

Of course, Labour has a majority on the committee (though does not control its chair), and would have to vote for it. But it would be particularly shameless for a government which promised to be "the most open and transparent government ever" to vote against an inquiry into whether it is actually keeping that promise. And if they are that shameless, they should at least be made to demonstrate it, so we voters can make an informed choice about the character of those we are voting for in October.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Judicialising the climate struggle

The United Nations has asked the International Court of Justice for a ruling on climate change obligations:

The UN General Assembly has adopted a Vanuatu-led resolution calling for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on climate change and human rights.

The resolution was tabled by Vanuatu and a core group of 17 countries, aiming to clarify what the obligations of states are in protecting the rights of current and future generations from the adverse effects of climate change.

The motion, sponsored by more than 130 countries, was greeted with cheers.

While an ICJ advisory opinion isn't binding, it will be influential, and likely to be accepted by countries who wish to appear to be good international citizens, and by courts who find international legal arguments convincing. The latter group includes Aotearoa, so this is a ruling that will make a difference here. And we have Vanuatu - and a bunch of USP law students - to thank for it.

A total no-brainer

Air pollution kills, and dirty diesel vehicles are a major source of it. Cleaning them up has enormous social benefits in avoided deaths and hospitalisations. How much? Billions of dollars:

A report quietly released by the Ministry of Transport in July shows tighter regulation of vehicle imports for air pollution could save society billions of dollars over the next three decades. If New Zealand implemented a requirement that new vehicle imports meet Euro 6/VI air pollution standards, the costs would run to between $22 million and $236m but the benefits would be between $1.1b and $8.3b.
The benefit / cost ratios of this are between 35 and 49, depending on how early (or late) we implement the standard, with the largest absolute savings coming with early implementation. And when you remember that the costs are "lower profits for trucking companies", while the benefits are "people don't die", it ought to be a total no-brainer to do this. But instead, the government has sat on it and done nothing. Which I guess makes sense when you remember that the trucking industry hires lobbyists and hob-nobs with Ministers at swanky parties and donates to their re-election campaigns, while people who die of air pollution don't. World's least corrupt country? Only if you ignore the bodycount...

(And meanwhile, the average Auckland motorway's benefit/cost ratio is basicly the reverse of this. But guess which one the government shovels money at?)

This cover-up needs to be a crime

On Tuesday night, former Forestry Minister Stuart Nash was sacked for corruption, after the Prime Minister discovered he had disclosed confidential cabinet discussions to his donors. Its since emerged that Jacinda Ardern's office knew of this disclosure, but didn't act on the obvious breach of the Cabinet manual, and didn't tell her about it - which smacks of a coverup. And now Newsroom has weighed in, suggesting that Nash deliberately and knowingly violated the OIA:

On June 8, 2021, Newsroom made a request to Nash’s office under the Official Information Act for “All written correspondence and details of the nature and substance of any other communication since the start of 2020” between Nash and 19 of his political donors. Included on the list of donors was Troy Bowker. Given that the June 2020 email to Bowker concerned discussions Nash was having in his capacity as a minister, it appears that the June 2020 email fell within the scope of Newsroom’s request.

In August 2021, however, Nash’s office responded, “I hold nothing that is within the scope of your request as the Act relates only to information provided to me as minister. I must therefore refuse your request under section 18(e) of the Official Information Act as the information does not exist or cannot be found.”

I have two comments here. The first is that there seems to be no reason whatsoever for this request to have been escalated to the Prime Minister's office, and it seems to be another example of Labour's informational control-freakery. The fact that it was the PM's staff who ruled the email "out of scope" because it wasn’t "received in his capacity as a minister" also echoes Gaurav Sharma's claims about the PM's office instructing MPs about how to hide information from the OIA by claiming it was received in a party capacity. (In this case its strictly false, because information from Cabinet discussions can only be held in a Ministerial capacity; the PM's staff's willingness to overlook this calls every OIA judgement they have ever made into question, and suggests they are systematically illegally withholding information on political grounds. Unfortunately, the Ombudsman can't do anything about it, because OIA investigations can only be in relation to a specific request, while Ministers have ensured that the Ombudsmen's Act, which allows own-motion inquiries into OIA practices, doesn't apply to them. Convenient, isn't it?)

My second comment is that this is a perfect example of why the OIA needs criminal penalties for deliberate violations. Canada does this, with the Access to Information Act having a penalty of two years imprisonment for those who, with intent to frustrate a request, conceal, falsify or destroy records. We should do the same, to deter such behaviour and enable public servants to stand up to illegal demands from their political masters. But as with the Ombudsmen's Act, the problem is getting Ministers to apply the law to themselves...

Either way, its clear that the announced review into what else Nash might have corruptly disclosed isn't enough; we also need a full investigation into Labour's handling of OIA requests. And if this government won't do it, I'd hope the next one will.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Climate Change: Labour is trying to kill us

The science of climate change is clear: we need to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and we cannot burn even a fraction of those already discovered. So naturally, Labour is offering oil companies more exploration permits:

The Government is offering companies another opportunity to search for new reserves of oil and gas, despite scientific warnings the world has enough.

Climate activists said the move was “disturbing” and “completely irresponsible” – and vowed to fight efforts to search for and dig up fossil fuels.

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment has invited parties to apply for oil and gas exploration permits in Taranaki.

The announcement comes a week after climate scientists issued an urgent warning to the world: to leave fossil fuels in the ground to avoid dangerous levels of planetary heating.

Oh, and they've granted another offshore exploration permit as well, despite their 2018 ban. And while they'll claim this decision was forced on them by a judicial review, the fault is still entirely theirs, for not including an appropriate transition clause in the ban legislation ensuring that it extinguished all rights and applied to any outstanding application. Because that's what we need to do to solve this problem - we can't grandfather existing polluters. Instead, we need to legislatively extinguish their permits with no compensation, and do it as quickly as possible (allowing some time for transition to cleaner fuels). Anything less is a death sentence, and a government which fails to act are murderers.

An inquiry into freedom of information in Australia

Three weeks ago, Australia's Freedom of Information Commissioner - their equivalent of the Ombudsman - suddenly resigned, on the basis that the entire system was broken and he was unable to fix it. And now, the Australian Senate is holding an inquiry into the resignation, and the problems with Australia's Freedom of Information Act:

The Greens, Coalition and crossbench have teamed up to set up an inquiry into the freedom of information commissioner’s resignation over dysfunction and delays in the FOI system.

The FOI commissioner, Leo Hardiman, announced his resignation earlier in March citing his lack of powers to make changes necessary to improve the timeliness of reviews of FOI decisions.

On Tuesday the Senate voted to establish a legal and constitutional affairs references committee inquiry into the resignation, resourcing for FOI applications and reviews, and the possible “creation of a statutory time frame for completion of reviews”.

Naturally, the ALP - who in opposition had demanded greater transparency - opposed the move. Because government's gonna government.

Meanwhile, Aotearoa is still waiting for the review of the OIA the government promised in 2019, not to mention the fixing of the issues identified by the Law Commission back in 2012. They've refused even to review the unnecessary secrecy clauses they've passed. Despite its rhetoric, our Labour government is not interested in transparency in any way.

A crime against democracy

Yesterday the government introduced the Severe Weather Emergency Recovery Legislation Bill to the House. The bill is a response to Cyclone Gabrielle, and (like the Christchurch earthquake legislation) enables Ministers to amend laws by order in council across half the North Island, for five years. The list of laws allowed to be amended is huge (and can itself be amended), and includes laws such as the Climate Change Response Act 2002, Conservation Act 1987, and of course the RMA - so if Ministers felt it "facilitated the improvement of the economic well-being" of the affected area (or their donors there), they could exempt polluters from the ETS, allow mining in Schedule 4 land, or of course greenlight specific projects. The potential for corruption in this Henry VIII scheme is obvious, so what oversight will there be? A panel of government stooges. And that's it. There will be no requirement for orders to be automatically reviewed by the Regulations Review Committee, or for them to be automatically revoked unless confirmed by the House. Similarly, there will be no regular review and confirmation of the necessity of these powers by Parliament as there was with the Covid-19 legislation. Instead, its absolute, despotic power, for five years.

That's bad enough, and a reason for the bill in its current form to be rejected. But it gets worse. Because Labour rammed it through its first reading yesterday and sent it to select committee. You'd expect such a bill to receive serious and prolonged scrutiny and the input of constitutional experts and legal academics. But Labour has made this practically impossible by allowing less than 24 hours for submissions and requiring the bill to be reported back (so it can be rammed through under urgency) tomorrow.

This isn't public input or democratic oversight. It is a joke, which shows utter contempt for the public and our constitution. But that's what happens when you allow majority government: the bad old habits of elected dictatorship return.

Labour's constitutional habits are a disgrace and a crime against our democracy. And we should tell them that in October.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Sacked for corruption

So, after interfering with the police, and then interfering with immigration decisions, Stuart Nash has finally been sacked:

Stuart Nash has been sacked as a minister, after Stuff revealed he had emailed business figures, including donors, detailing private Cabinet discussions.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed the people Nash emailed were donors to his campaign, which he said was a serious breach of trust and expectations for ministers.

“His conduct is inexcusable,” Hipkins said. “He is no longer a Cabinet minister and won’t be coming back.”

Good. Because there's a name for spilling sensitive cabinet information to your donors: corruption. People who do that should have no place in cabinet, no place in parliament, and indeed no place in our politics at all. So its not enough for nash to just be sacked: he needs to resign from Parliament as well.

While on this occasion Nahs was just venting, the real worry here is what else he has disclosed, and whether anyone made money off it. Because that's a serious criminal offence, and one which would cast serious doubt on the integrity of our political system.

(Meanwhile, pre-sacking, Newshub had raised the issue of how Nash could possibly be seen as holding a credible inquiry into forestry slash when he had received thousands of dollars in donations from the forestry industry. Its a good question. And the fact that he was appointed Mininster of Forestry with those donations hanging over him shows very poor judgement on the part of those who appointed him).

More Labour secrecy

In July 2022, the then-Minister for Public Services, Chris Hipkins, promised that he would reduce the number of secrecy clauses in new legislation. Today the government has introduced not one, but two bills that strengthen secrecy at the expense of transparency.

The first is the Resale Right for Visual Artists Bill. The bill establishes a resale right for visual artists, and empowers the government to appoint a collection agency to manage it. The collection agency performs statutory functions, which will be monitored by a government ministry. However, if that Ministry doesn't do its job, or paints a pretty picture because otherwise they would be admitting failure, there will be no way of checking independently whether those functions are performed properly, because it won't be subject to the OIA.

The second is the Integrity Sport and Recreation Bill, which revamps the law around doping in sports. This creates a new agency to replace Drug Free Sport New Zealand, and that agency will be subject to the Ombudsmen Act, and hence the OIA. However, the bill includes a secrecy clause requiring it to keep information related to complaints confidential except under certain specified circumstances. There's a clear public interest in this agency being able to receive information on a confidential basis. And that public interest is already met by s9(2)(ba) of the OIA. Meaning that this clause is a perfect example of the unnecessary secrecy Hipkins falsely promised to get rid of.

So despite a promise from the now Prime Minister, Labour's thirst for secrecy seems unquenched. I'll be submitting against both these bills, urging they be dumped unless the public's right to freedom of information is protected. You should too.

Correction: Section on the Integrity Sport and Recreation Bill removed. I'd managed to overlook s38(2)(c), which would allow the Commission to disclose information if it " is required to disclose the information under any other legislation (including the Privacy Act 2020 and the Official Information Act 1982)". Which is exactly the sort of clause I've been campaigning for in these things. So, we only need to submit against one bill, not two.

Wood pulls a Dutton

After almost two decades of racism, Australia is finally getting off its "stop the boats" bullshit. But don't worry, racists - Michael Wood has your back!

The Government wants to increase the time it can detain without a warrant people seeking asylum en masse from four days to 28 days.

It also plans to introduce a “community management approach” - including electronic monitoring - rather than putting people in prisons, however, that will likely not be in place before the legislation is passed.

The Government says the bill, to be introduced to Parliament this week, is to ensure those arriving here would have enough time to get legal representation.

...which is pretty tortured logic, because one of the primary roles of those lawyers will be to free their clients from detention. "We have to lock you up so you can get help to not get locked up", seems utterly perverse "logic". Instead, its just the desperate attempt to rationalise punitive racism of the sort seen in Australia. And it shows the utter moral void at the heart of this dying Labour government.

But then, should we really have expected anything better? After all, this is the party that locked up Ahmed Zaoui, of "lie in unison", of leaked smears against teenagers, which removed the right to reasons in immigration decisions and which introduced mandatory detention for the illusory "threat" of "mass arrivals" in the first place. Their record on refugee issues is simply shameful. This is just more of the same.

Labour dragging its feet on pay transparency

Last year, the Education and Workforce Committee recommended that the government legislate for pay transparency to prevent employers from secretly discriminating. This ought to be a bread and butter issue for Labour - discrimination sees women (and particularly Māori and Pasifika women) paid significantly less than men. But since then... crickets:

[T]he timing of any legislation remains uncertain.

Tinetti said on Tuesday that the Government was committed to ensuring all women were paid fairly and a pay transparency system was “one lever that may help in closing the gender pay gap”.

But she wouldn’t say whether she expected to introduce a law change in the current parliamentary term, explaining that the work being conducted by Nacew was still underway.

Realistically, while legislation could be introduced, there's no chance of this being passed by the election. Which means Labour foot-dragging has basicly seen this delayed for a full Parliamentary term (and maybe buried it forever if there's a change of government). Effectively they've sold out their core supporters to sexists, racists, and capitalists. Heckuva job, Labour; I hope you're proud of yourselves.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Justice for Liam Holden

In 1972, British soldiers tortured a false confession out of Liam Holden, resulting in him being given Britain's last death sentence. While it was commuted to life imprisonment, Holden was wrongly imprisoned for 17 years. Now, the courts have finally recognised that it was torture:

In 1973 Liam Holden was convicted of murdering a British soldier in Northern Ireland and became the last person in the United Kingdom to be sentenced to hang.

On Friday – half a century after the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, 11 years after the sentence was quashed and a year after Holden died – a high court in Belfast awarded £350,000 to his estate.

The court accepted that the army waterboarded and tortured Holden into confessing to shooting Frank Bell, an 18-year-old member of the parachute regiment. The posthumous award included damages for inhumane and degrading treatment, misfeasance in public office and malicious prosecution.

Which is good, if late. But its not enough. Torture is and always has been a crime in the UK. There won't be real justice until Holden's torturers and their co-conspirators are exposed and prosecuted.

A significant decision for transparency

On 19 November 2010 an explosion at the Pike River Mine killed 29 people. The explosion was caused by unsafe work practices; however the National government corruptly dropped charges against Pike River Coal CEO Peter Whittall in exchange for a $3.4 million payout to the families of the dead. This payment was denounced as "chequebook justice" by the Pike River families, and the withdrawal of charges was later ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. But we've never been able to learn who made the illegal deal and why, because all the documents are covered by legal privilege. But last week, in a significant decision for transparency in Aotearoa, the High Court agreed to overturn that privilege:

Multiple attempts were made to access the deal's documents through the Official Information Act and Ombudsman, but they were consistently blocked - on the grounds of legal privilege and confidentiality.

But on Friday, a judgement obtained by 1News said transparency matters in the interests of justice.

It said that without transparency, "there is scope for false speculation and misunderstanding" which "can undermine confidence in the administration of justice".

It means the families may now see the privileged material and be able to learn why charges were dropped.

This is just the privilege over settlement negotiations in the court record. But the precedent - that transparency supports the administration of justice and is more important than legal privilege where confidence in the system is on the line - should allow the families to gain access to other documents around the case currently being withheld under legal privilege. The big lever here is that the purpose of the OIA is to enable access to official information "to enhance respect for the law and to promote the good government of New Zealand". So far the Ombudsman has generally focused on the second part of that, but the court has just sent a very clear signal that the first part matters too. And hopefully the Ombudsman will listen (if not, I guess it will be back to court to get an actually binding precedent specifically about legal privilege and the OIA).

If they do, then this is going to have implications. Where the government has behaved disgracefully and called the administration of justice into question with apparently corrupt dealing, they will no longer be able to hide behind their lawyers. And that I think will make us a much better society.

Update: the full judgement is now online.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Climate Change: More Labour sabotage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Climate Change: More Labour foot-dragging

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

This smells

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2023

The Greens, Labour, and coalition enforcement

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

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

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

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

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

This sounds familiar...

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

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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Labour's austerity victimises teachers

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Climate Change: Another ETS crisis

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

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

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

Member's Day

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

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

Monday, March 13, 2023

Labour: We can't do this

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

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

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

Thursday, March 09, 2023

A dictator falls

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

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

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

Labour is governing for the Boomers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Can our government really hold itself to account for torture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Labour cowardice

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Climate Change: Too expensive?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 06, 2023

Why we can't have nice things

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 03, 2023

National: tone deaf on climate change

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 02, 2023


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

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

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

More police bullshit

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

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

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

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