Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Climate Change: He waka eke noa is dead, hurrah!

Politik (paywalled) reports that He waka eke noa, the farmers' scam to have the rest of us subsidise their emissions forever, so they can keep on destroying the planet, is dead:

Reality appears to be about to shatter Jacinda Ardern's dream that New Zealand could lead the world in showing how to deal with farm emissions.

The Government is facing a breakdown in negotiations over its much-vaunted He Waka Eke Noa deal with farmers to price greenhouse gas emissions and now looks likely to have to admit defeat.

The consequence is likely to be that the Government will now have to impose a new fertiliser levy on all farmers without their agreement.

Good. Because quite apart from the sheer injustice of farmers being carried by the rest of us, while we pay for every kilo of carbon we emit, He waka eke noa was a terrible plan, needlessly complicated, and significantly worse than the default option of simply including agricultural emissions in the ETS at the processor level. I am glad to see it die. And now its dead, the government should activate the backstop, and bring farm emissions into the ETS as quickly as posible (legislating urgently if necessary; its not like these parasites haven't had fair warning, or a decade of consultation). And if farmers are upset, fuck them. They have no-one to blame but themselves.

Trivial, but telling

The Herald reports on a trivial but telling incident from Parliament:

Labour Cabinet Minister Kiri Allan read the wrong speech at the third reading of a freedom camping bill in Parliament last night.

She re-read almost word for word a speech given at the Self-contained Motor Vehicles Legislation bill’s second reading.

The bill is not Allan’s, but belongs to Tourism Minister Peeni Henare, who was not able to be in the House. Allan was roped in to speak on the bill at the last minute and Labour whips gave her the wrong speech to read.

Its an amusing mistake, but the fact that she did this and didn't notice gives an indication of the lack of care and attention Labour is paying to the business of government and legislating. After all, if Ministers aren't paying enough attention to realise they're reading the wrong speech, you have to wonder if they're paying attention to the actual legislation they're speaking on. We laugh at the humiliating role of backbenchers as Parliamentary meat in the room, there just to make up the numbers, ask patsies, and vote the way they are told to; it turns out that Ministers are just as much empty suits.

Empty suits just reading what they're told to, with their brains off the whole time, is not how we expect our legislature to operate. We pay these people to represent us, to consider our business, to pay attention. If they don't, you really have to wonder why we're paying them so much...

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Some sensible suggestions on reining in the spies

In 2022 the government announced a periodic review of the Intelligence and Security Act, the legislation governing New Zealand's spies. Yesterday the review presented its report, Taumaru: Protecting Aotearoa New Zealand as a Free, Open and Democratic Society. Its a chunky read, and I'm not finished yet, but from the bits I've read, its not the usual spy-agency power grab, but rather, the complete opposite, presenting ideas to increase oversight and rein in the power of the spies.

Stuff has a good summary of the key recommendations. The big three are:

  • Strengthening the Intelligence and Security Committee, making it actually independent by kicking Ministers off it, and giving it power to investigate the effectiveness of the agencies, as well as oversight of other intelligence bodies (of which we have a disturbingly large number). The spy agencies absolutely hate this idea, so that's a strong reason to do it.
  • Removing the distinction between type 1 and type 2 warrants for "national security" purposes - a bit technical, but basicly type 1 warrants are required to spy on kiwis, type 2 are for foreigners and have lower oversight. The recommendation is that everything would use the higher standard. This apparently happens anyway because of the risk of incidentally spying on kiwis, but it will mean a legislated improvement in oversight.
  • Defining "national security" in the Act - this is an important definition, and defining it will potentially limit what the intelligence agencies can do. When the ISA was introduced to parliament, the Bill originally included a definition, but this was removed by the select committee because it "would require the intelligence and security agencies to make difficult judgements about when the definition applied, and when their powers could be invoked" - that is, it might stop them from doing whatever they wanted. IIRC the definition also attracted opposition from the public, because it included "economic security" and "international relations" - protecting the rich and silencing criticism of NZ's so-called "friends" - which do not enjoy social licence as a basis for spying. The review's proposal doesn't include any of that bullshit, focusing strictly on territorial integrity, safety, democracy, and social diversity. There is a mention of "essential interests", but that's nailed down by talking about "critical infrastructure and governmental operations", so it might not be the open slather it seems like. Overall, I think this is a good move, because it will limit the spies.

One of the other recommendations is legislative consistency for all the other intelligence groups (such as NZDF, police, customs, MBIE, MPI... apparently everyone's got one now). Insofar as these bodies are operating on an unclear legal basis and without statutory constraints (NZDF appeals to the royal prerogative, FFS), this seems like a bloody good idea. The Search and Surveillance Act should have done this, and it is highly disturbing that some bodies apparently fell through the cracks (and that the recommendations of the Law Commission around requiring warrants for undercover operations have been ignored). And it seems especially necessary now that the legal consensus on what constitutes a "search" has shifted to mean interference with "a reasonable expectation of privacy". Under this new consensus, these bodies are likely engaging in widespread illegal searches (the review unwittingly gives an example of the SIS using a fake identity to monitor a private chatroom. That's a search, and should need a warrant). It would be better for Parliament to legislate properly to give certainty about what they can and can't do, rather than for them to ram through "fuck you" empowering legislation when one of these agencies is caught and made to pay damages by the courts.

Again, I haven't finished reading the whole thing yet. But so far, this seems like a sensible review. So now we'll no doubt get to see the spies either bin it, or pervert it into giving them even more powers and less accountability.

Climate Change: Vapourware is not a policy

RNZ reports that the government is throwing more money at researching a methane vaccine to reduce agricultural emissions. That's not a problem, but then there's this:

A methane vaccine for livestock could be a breakthrough tool for farmers to reduce agricultural emissions - but it is still at least a decade away.

Researchers have been trying to develop a livestock vaccine since around 2007, amid a greater focus on reducing emissions. Agriculture makes up nearly half of the country's total emissions.

So, just to make that clear: our entire agricultural emissions reduction policy is based on an idea that we've already been researching for fifteen years, and which is still a decade away. That's not a "policy" - its vapourware. It doesn't exist, and for policy purposes, its just not worth thinking about.

Hope is not a policy. We cannot build our emissions reduction strategy around a technological solution which might never eventuate (see also: "carbon capture and storage", which doesn't seem to work except as a smokescreen to enable further fossil fuel development). We need to cut emissions now. Fortunately, we have a way to do that for agriculture: reduce cow numbers. But farmers simply don't want to talk about that.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Erase this odious debt!

The Herald reports that WINZ debt has reached the staggering total of $2.4 billion, with the usual racism and sexism in who owes and how much they pay:

Anti-poverty groups say the poorest Kiwis are caught in a debt trap as the total amount of money owed to the Government balloons to $2.4 billion.

More than $250 million is also owed to Inland Revenue by families who were overpaid their Working For Families tax credit.

The top 10 per cent of people with debt are paying on average $26 a week out of their benefits - higher than the Winter Energy Payment support - and with disproportionately higher rates of repayment for women and Māori.

Māori women owing debt to the Ministry of Social Development have a balance on average 50 per cent higher than Pākehā women and more than twice as high as Pākehā men.

The total amount of money owed to the Government - which includes loans for essentials ranging from clothing to household appliances and bill payments - has ballooned to $2.4b as of March.

As the last paragraph shows, this debt is odious, essentially imposed by the government as a consequence of its own policy failures. In a properly functioning welfare system, people would have enough to lead lives of dignity, and would not need to borrow for essentials. But New Zealand gave up on having a properly functioning welfare system long ago, and instead immiserates the poor with debt, which has the added bonus of counting as an asset on the government's books, helping to meet its net debt targets and keep mortgage rates for rich people low. It is simply immoral, and the government should erase it.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Labour lectures rather than acts

Yesterday EECA launched its usual winter energy-saving campaign. Normally this is aimed at reducing energy usage, to reduce the risk of a blackout. If successful, it also reduces spot-market prices, so also reducing whining at the government from big corporate users. But this year, someone had the brilliant idea of linking it to the cost-of-living, so we have a campaign to "find money in weird places", which even the government thinks is "a bit off".

No shit. It smacks of Jenny Shipley lecturing people about budgeting. And a Labour government basicly telling people to be cold and dirty, essentially to keep spot-prices low for big corporate users, is utterly tone-deaf. Especially when they have repeatedly refused opportunities to raise incomes so people can live in dignity, rather than having to huddle under a blanket at home.

EECA's campaign is all about saving $500 from your power bill. Another way of doing this of course would be to reduce the bills at source, by lowering power prices. And this is absolutely possible: according to its most recent annual report, Meridian Energy made $664 million last year from 365,000 customers - an average of over $1800 per customer. That's simply obscene. And there seems to be plenty of space there to lower power bills, while still making more than enough money to fund future investment. So rather than lecturing us about how we should all be having cold showers so Tiwai doesn't have to shut down a pot-line, and being miserable to save money, maybe the government could actually govern, regulate this industry's obscene profits down to something reasonable, so we don't have to pay so much in the first place?

Which illustrates a wider problem. The electricity market is dominated by an oligopoly of big players - Mercury, Contact, Genesis, and Meridian - and is not a competitive market. And its the same in virtually any other major sector of the economy you care to name: supermarkets, petrol, banks, building supplies. Our economy is infected with oligopolies, who use their anti-competitive power to screw us and rort us, and siphon our money to their foreign owners. And then we wonder why we're poor. Oligopolies are why. If the government wants to actually reduce the cost-of-living, it needs to smash those oligopolies: regulate them, break them up, restore (or create) competition in the market. Or, where that can't be done, nationalise them and run them at cost, putting any monopoly profits to public purposes.

But that would be change. It would upset the status quo. It would offend rich people. So Labour would rather lecture us about cold showers than do anything like that. Chickenshits.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Still rotten

In the early 2000's, we learned that the New Zealand Police had covered up rape and sexual assault by police officers, because the criminals were their own, part of the gang. The resulting scandal led to prosecutions, sackings, a commission of inquiry, and a promise by police to change. But did they change? You be the judge:

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found police failed to “adequately” respond to multiple allegations of a police doctor sexually assaulting new recruits over a 13-year period.

In 2019, the IPCA received two separate complaints about police’s handling of concerns recruits raised about medical examinations conducted by a doctor, who was contracted as a Police Medical Officer to conduct routine medical examinations on recruits between 1999 and 2016.

The IPCA found new recruits had raised concerns about the doctor’s medical examinations “at least seven times” between 2002 and 2015.

However, the watchdog found police “failed to act and continued to send recruits to the doctor”.

To ignore one sexual assault complaint could be a mistake. To ignore seven goes well beyond carelessness. It seems to be the same dynamic at play: when the accused is a police officer, police just look the other way. And while the IPCA doesn't suggest an active cover-up, from the outside a culture of looking the other way on crimes committed by your own is absolutely indistinguishable.

And all of this was happening at exactly the same time the police were saying that they'd changed. Clearly they haven't. When it comes to crimes committed by their own, they're still rotten to the core.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Working from home and the paucity of GDP

Paul Krugman's column today talks about the economics of increased working from home. The primary benefit? People don't have to waste a huge portion of their lives commuting. And while this is difficult to quantify, the impact is huge:

it’s not hard to make the case that the overall benefits from not commuting every day are equivalent to a gain in national income of at least one and maybe several percentage points. That’s a lot: There are very few policy proposals likely to produce gains on that scale. And yes, these are real benefits. C.E.O.s may rant about lazy or (per Musk) “immoral” workers who don’t want to go back into their cubicles, but the purpose of an economy is not to make bosses happy.
I guess one of the reasons those bosses are unhappy is that the benefits of this change go directly to workers, not to them. Throw in their loss of control - particularly insulting for the control freaks who tend to accumulate in management positions - and you can see why they're angry (and why workers are happy to be out from under their angry, bullying, micromanaging thumbs).

None of this benefit shows up on GDP, of course. People getting their time back and being able to actually enjoy their lives isn't something economic statistics measure. Which makes the government obsession with them even stupider. As Krugman points out, the purpose of an economy is to serve human needs, not generate favourable statistics. Governments need to think about that more often, rather than blindly pursuing misleading metrics.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Labour chickens out on the voting age again

The Justice Committee has reported back on the declaration of inconsistency on the voting age. Sadly, the recommendations won't surprise anybody: the Labour-majority committee recommended that Parliament immediately lower the voting age for local government, and that it "investigate" lowering it for general elections (while remembering to fix a bunch of entirely fixable issues that this might create). Its a perfect example of how cowardly Labour is: while legislation for the latter can't pass without National's agreement - which National has said they will not give - Labour is too chickenshit even to issue a statement of principle, for fear that someone might object to it. And they're certainly not going to put up legislation and dare National to vote it down and cement themselves as ogres in the eyes of everyone under 18 (alternatively: give them an opportunity to do the right thing, as they eventually did on child-beating). Again, I have to ask: what is the point of a party which won't fight? Which is afraid of its own shadow, or the shadow of its supposed principles?

As for National and ACT, their minority reports make it crystal clear that they hate young people and don't care about New Zealand law or our international commitments. The courts have ruled that refusing to allow young people to vote violates the law by being inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. As MP's, the onus is on them to fix that. Their refusal to do so, their simple denial of the court's ruling and their refusal to engage seriously with it is a declaration that they have no intention of doing their job. Which means we should be asking why are we paying them so much, if they won't treat the job with the required seriousness?

Climate Change: The uncertainty problem

When the government announced its $140 million carbon-reduction subsidy for NZ Steel yesterday, practically everyone's first thought was "why aren't they paying for it themselves?" The National Party based their entire response on this, denouncing the deal as corporate welfare, and arguing that the ETS should incentivise companies to reduce emissions. So why doesn't it? In Stuff, Luke Malpass off-handedly mentions one of the barriers: "In global companies, the internal rate of return required for new capital expenditure (in items such as furnaces, for example) can be high to ensure that capital is profitably employed". In other words, they refuse to invest unless the payoff is large and immediate (like next-quarter-immediate), because of (unrealisticly) high expectations of return. A cynic might argue that there's also a business culture problem here: returns have to be immediate so the right executive gets the credit and the bonus before they skip off to their next job; long term investment is thus discouraged because IBG YBG (this is arguably also a problem for Ministers, though at least they think in three year chunks rather than quarters).

But the bigger problem is certainty. This means a lot of different things (often, weirdly, it means that a long-established and therefore certain policy must change, because business does not like it), but in this case it means that policy must be stable enough to ensure that when businesses invest, they make the profits they expect, without having their calculations ruined and the rug suddenly pulled out from under them by things like "democracy" or "insufficiently capitalist government" (the fact that this is framed as a problem for government rather than a problem for business tells us who owns our media and who they think is in charge and who is subordinate). In the case of price-driven climate policy like the ETS, it means two things: that the price needs to keep existing, and arguably that it needs to keep rising (or at least not fall significantly). If these two things are true, then businesses can invest in decarbonisation, secure in the knowledge that their calculations will hold and that they will in fact profit.

You don't have to look too hard to see the problem here. Firstly, there's the government, which is constantly undermining its own policy for fear it might actually work and put some filthy polluter out of business or something (you know, what it is meant to do). And then there's the opposition, which is chock-full of climate change deniers, has a track-record of gutting policy when in government, and constantly opposes any policy whatsoever. For those in doubt about the latter, National is on-record as opposing agricultural emissions pricing, the clean car discount and standard, the GIDI scheme to reduce industrial and process emissions, and the offshore oil and gas exploration ban. And ACT, National's only coalition option, are even more extreme. If elected, its pretty obvious that they'll do what they did in 2009, trash climate change policy, fuck the carbon market, and in the process, ruin any business who invested in reducing emissions. And since they'll get elected sometime - if not this year, then in three years' time - then they are a huge risk and a huge deterrent for any investment in decarbonisation. They are the biggest barrier to their own stated policy.

Imagine for a moment that National was actually serious about that policy, and that they wanted to actually fight climate change, rather than just ruin the world for the profit of the rich (or, more accurately, stand by and let it happen and shrug their shoulders and say "what can you do" because they're ideologically opposed to the idea that government can do anything beyond collect a Ministerial salary and cruise round in the back of a Ministerial limo). What would they need to do? Most obviously: signal that seriousness. Stop opposing policy, and start demanding more. Stop criticising it as "bad for business" and start criticising it as too weak. Demand faster action and stronger targets. Demand lower ETS amounts and higher carbon prices. Stop engaging in climate denial, and violently defenestrate their existing cadre of deniers. Shoot the cow in the room and tell Federated Farmers that they will have to play their part and pay their way and cut their emissions like everybody else, and that there will be no special treatment for our dirtiest, most inefficient sector. Otherwise, anything they say on climate change will basicly be a failure, because it will have no credibility, and the businesses they want to do the work will have no certainty.

I don't for a moment imagine National will do this, at least not until they have no other option. Climate change denial and knee-jerk anti-environmentalism is just too ingrained in their party, even though the preservation of the ecosystem is as conservative a policy as you can get. Which means the risk that they will get elected and unravel everything is a real constraint on policy, requiring the government to de-risk decarbonisation by paying up front for it. If National doesn't like that, they have only themselves to blame.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Climate Change: A big deal

If you thought about Aotearoa's non-agricultural emissions a few years ago, four mega-emitters stood out: the Marsden Point oil refinery, the Huntly power station, the Glenbrook steel mill, and the Motunui methanol plant. Marsden Point shut down last year and is being dismantled; Huntly has been scheduled for shutdown for years, but Genesis keeps extending and extending them - currently they're meant to be off coal in 2025 except in "exceptional circumstances" (which probably means "whenever it is profitable for us to do so"). But now the government has stepped in over Glenbrook, announcing a $140 million deal to halve its emissions by 2030. It is the biggest single action to reduce emissions in Aotearoa's history, and it will make a real difference, lopping a full 1% off our annual emissions, and getting us 5% of the way to meeting our 2026-2030 carbon budget. Which sounds small, but doing that in one hit is a massive change, equivalent to shooting 200,000 cows.

This is a good deal: the lifetime cost of the emissions reductions is apparently $16.20 / ton - much cheaper than the current lowball carbon price of $54 / ton, let alone the 2030 cost of ~NZ$200. Its so cheap in fact that you have to wonder why NZ Steel didn't pay for it themselves, especially given that it would have cost them less than a year's profit. Which just goes to show the perverse incentives the ETS sets: While economists talk about "marginal prices", in practice as long as polluters receive subsidies, they have every incentive to keep receiving them, and no incentive to reduce emissions. Especially when reducing them requires (horror) capital investment, which could be paid out to foreign shareholders as dividends.

Which gets us to another perverse incentive: the fact that Aotearoa pays these subsidies means we then have an incentive to pay again to reduce emissions. $140 million is a lot of money - but its in the same ballpark as the 2.15 million tons of carbon credits we give this company every year. Reducing its emissions therefore becomes profitable for the government, provided the reduction cost is lower than the market price (or the 2030 price, if you think beyond the next election). In this case, if the expected emissions reduction leads to an equivalent reduction in subsidies, then this pays off for the government in 5 years (quicker if carbon prices rise; or just one year if you think in 2030 prices). Which is a much better return than the average Auckland motorway.

But while this is a good deal, thanks to the shitty policy structure Labour has saddled itself with, its also morally repugnant. Corporate welfare. We should not be paying companies to do things they can and should pay for themselves, and the fact that its profitable for the government to do so is an indictment of the current policy structure. We should also not be handing over 25% of the total value of a company (Bluescope's New Zealand and Pacific segment has a net value of A$530.9 million according to its latest annual report (p88)) without getting some equity and control. If we want to do this sort of deal, we should be investing in these companies (maybe through the Cullen Fund), and sharing in the long-term returns, rather than just shovelling money at their foreign shareholders. And if they're reluctant, we should be regulating the living shit out of them until they are not.

And all that said, on the gripping hand this is 800,000 tons a year. Now do Motunui please.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Labour doesn't deliver

Grant Robertson is currently reading his budget speech, to the usual applause from the performing seals on the backbench. More childcare subsidies for multinational childcare providers! Eliminating prescription charges! Subsidies for computer game companies (who already have the subsidy of being exempt from employment law)! Some of this is welcome, some of it is sensible, some of it is not. But all of it misses the target.

Look at the three key metrics. Housing? Nothing. Tax? A minor tweak to the trust rate, but nothing significant. Climate change? More research funding as a substitute for action, a little bit for public transport, but nothing really to reduce emissions. On the big issues they're just kicking the can down the road again. Which means it'll be that much more expensive when the bill comes due.

As I said earlier this morning, we need change. This budget shows that we will not get it from Labour.

We need change

Over on The Kaka, Bernard Hickey is calling the Loafers Lodge fire a symptom of our bipartisan, low-tax, low-debt, no-housing, fuck-the-poor, asset bubble for the rich political consensus. And he's appropriately cynical about the response:

So far, the response in real financial terms by the Government is business as usual: investigate the individual disaster, change some regulations and blame the residents and/or the landlord.
But will there be more spending on social housing, and on benefits, so people at the bottom aren't warehoused in firetraps, waiting to be burned to death because neither government nor landlord is interested in paying for basic safety (let alone dignity)? Finance Minister Grant Robertson says "wait for the budget", but we know the answer will be "no". Quite apart from pre-election risk-aversion, the Labour party is completely uninterested in fixing anything, in changing the toxic status quo. They're the party of excuses. That's all they ever offer. Excuses for why nothing can be done, for why things have to stay the way they are. And meanwhile the Ministers making those excuses are sitting on their $296,007 salaries (plus slush), and on their piles of hoarded houses (paid for by the public, thanks to generous parliamentary allowances and rortable expenses), collecting their tax-free capital gains. They are the problem. They are profiting from this mess. Of course they're uninterested in fixing anything.

We know what the solutions are. More social housing and higher benefits, so everyone has a decent home and enough to live on. Taxing the rich, with wealth taxes, land taxes, and inheritance taxes, both to pay for that and other public services, and to break the intergenerational cycle of hoarding which drives inequality. And rapidly lowering emissions, so our homes aren't all flooded, burned, or blown down by the consequences of the richs' pollution. These are popular policies, but Labour won't offer any of that in the budget tomorrow. While they may pretend to offer some of it come election time, the moment they're elected it'll be back-burnered and it'll be back to excuses and the status quo, just like it was in 2017 and 2020. If we want those things, we need to vote for parties who will offer it: The Greens and Te Pāti Māori.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Utterly tone-deaf

This morning a hostel burned down in Wellington, killing ten people. Aotearoa is a small country, and a disaster of this scale is unusual, so every political party leader was asked to comment. What did National Party leader Christopher Luxon have to say? An American-style "thoughts and prayers":

National's leader Christopher Luxon said his thoughts were with the victims and responders.

"It's pretty shocking what we've seen here overnight, and our thoughts and prayers are definitely with the people who've lost their lives, the families who've lost loved ones, and those that are now fighting for their lives in hospital as well as being grateful for our responders."

Luxons comments were later echoed by ACT leader David Seymour in Parliament.

The problem with this is that that particular phrase is very obviously an American import, used most notoriously by American politicians to pretend to care about the daily mass-murders of schoolchildren by psychopaths with military weapons. I say "pretend" because it is obvious that those politicians do not care - if they did, they'd do something about it (like, you know, having sensible gun laws). While it might sound great to Luxon, to kiwi ears, its pure dismissal, a "fuck you, I don't care" (and with weirdo religious overtones to boot). And in the context of a disaster, where the building didn't have sprinklers, where there are already calls for improvements in building regulations to ensure that it doesn't happen again, Luxon sounds just like one of those American politicians. If he actually does care, he's made a terrible job of showing it.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Thailand votes for change

Thais went to the polls on Sunday, in the second election under the military's new 2017 constitution, and voted overwhelmingly for change. The default opposition Pheu Thai Party, who the establishment has been getting the military to overthrow for the last two decades, and which was denied power last election by the military-stacked senate despite winning a majority of the vote, ended up coming second. They lost out to "Move Forward", a popular movement which wants to repeal Thailand's undemocratic lese majeste law, downsize the military, crush the monopolies of the rich and limit the monarchy. Together these parties won almost two-thirds of the vote. Meanwhile, the party of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha seems to have got 3%. But thanks to the military-drafted constitution, under which the military-appointed Senate gets a vote in selecting the prime minister, he may still end up in power, despite this overwhelming rejection. And even if that doesn't happen, there's always the threat of another coup...

This situation - of elected governments being overthrown and democracy limited - looks like it will continue as long as Thailand has an establishment which refuses to accept democracy and an oversized military willing to act as their tool. The only way this cycle will be broken is if the military is downsized so that it can no longer be a danger to its own people. But that's obviously easier said than done.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

The police lied in an OIA response again

In November last year, sparked by Newsroom revealing systematic police racism in its taking of DNA samples, I asked the police for some basic information on their compliance with the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995. As usual, they ghosted me; then, after intervention from the Ombudsman, they finally responded saying that they didn't know. In other words, they had no procedure for removing profiles, and no statistics on whether they were complying with the Act or not.

Today, I'm glad to say that they lied. After further intervention by the Ombudsman (sparked by ESR saying that there were policies and procedures), the police have finally admitted that they do have procedures, and even specially-designed software (though it can't generate full compliance statistics). This is comforting to know - the police might be obeying the law after all - but at the same time, deeply discomforting. Because it means that their initial response to my request was incorrect. And when the person responsible for the request is the acting manager of national forensic services, who can be expected to be fully aware of the existence of those procedures and software, its difficult to view it as anything other than a deliberate, blatant lie.

This isn't the first time the police have done this. In June 2022 the Ombudsman caught them forging documents in an OIA response to hide numbers they didn't want released. There's also the case where they lied to the public about carbon-neutrality, then lied about needing "consultations" to extend an OIA timeline so they could create documents to hide that lie. And there will no doubt be other cases. The overall impression is of an organisation which is deeply hostile to transparency, believes that the public has no right to know, and will lie and commit fraud to cover up even the most trivial details. And that's a problem. Firstly, because the entire OIA regime is predicated on truth, and simply does not work if agencies lie. And secondly, because this is the police, an agency utterly dependent on public trust in order to function effectively. Every time they lie to us, that trust is broken.

We deserve better than this. We deserve a government, and a police force, we can trust. Sadly, we're not getting either under the current regime.


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

  • Family Proceedings (Dissolution for Family Violence) Amendment Bill (Angie Warren-Clark)

There were 68 bills in the ballot today.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

A warning shot to police on privacy

Back in 2021, RNZ exposed the systematic police practice of coercing "voluntary" photographs from young Māori on the street, leading to a joint IPCA / Privacy Commission report exposing illegality, systematic racism, and widespread ignorance among police officers of the limits on their behaviour, and a formal compliance notice to force them to stop. But while they may have stopped photographing kids, they still claim to be able to photograph adults going about their lawful business on public streets, with no investigatory purpose, just because they might need it one day. The basis for this claim is what government agencies call the "third source" - basicly, that ordinary people are allowed to do it, and there's no law saying they can't. But in a ruling yesterday, the Court of Appeal demolished that.

The case Tamiefuna v R is an appeal against a burglary conviction which was ultimately based on just such evidence: a photograph at a roadside traffic stop, which was not taken for any investigative purpose, but for an "intelligence noting": that a cop thought it might be useful sometime. And the Court is crystal clear that this was a "search" in terms of the BORA, and that "there is a reasonable expectation that a person’s photograph will not be deliberately taken and retained for identification purposes by police without a good law enforcement reason" (a "search" in Aotearoa now includes surveillance where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy). They were also clear that it was illegal:

The police did not act with legal authorisation when they took Mr Tamiefuna’s photograph. Their conduct did not accord with statutory provisions in the Policing Act 2008 and Search and Surveillance Act 2012 in which Parliament has conferred power on the police to take photographs. This specific conferral of powers to take and retain photographs is inconsistent with any suggestion that the police may photograph persons and retain their images without bringing any charge and without any obligation to destroy the images.


[T]he police could not rely on the third source doctrine in the circumstances: cases in which the third source doctrine had been relied on could be taken as examples of police activity that was lawful because the actions were incidental to ongoing and bona fide police investigations; there was no such investigation underway when Mr Tamiefuna’s photograph was taken. Further, the third source doctrine cannot be relied on and a specific power should be found when a public authority imposes a liability or detriment on a citizen or interferes with a citizen’s liberty or property.

The latter puts some pretty significant limitations on "third source" activities - they can only be incidental to an investigation, and cannot interfere with liberty or privacy. This means, for example, that a police officer can't just follow someone (interfering with their reasonable expectation of privacy against being followed and having their activities recorded by state agents) without a specific investigative purpose. It probably also limits their ability to infiltrate or spy on public civil society organisations "just because", unless they are investigating a specific crime. And the police are not going to like hat one bit.

Ultimately, despite it being the fruit of the poison tree of an illegal search, the court decided to allow the evidence to be used (there's a test in the Evidence Act for this), and upheld the conviction. But this came with a pretty significant caveat:

The photographs were, however, admissible as evidence against Mr Tamiefuna. Although the right breached was an important one, the intrusion on it was not very serious. The police’s impropriety was not deliberate, reckless or done in bad faith — though a different conclusion might follow if the police continue to take photographs of persons in circumstances not properly authorised by law.
The latter is clear: the police are now on notice that if they continue to violate privacy, evidence and convictions will be thrown out. And since they've known it was illegal since May 2021 (when they admitted it in an internal report), and certainly since the publication of IPCA's report and the issuing of a compliance notice on youth photographs in September 2022, that notice is effectively backdated. The police now need to clean up their act, or the courts will clean it up for them.

Brash to the core

All this year National Party leader Chrisopher Luxon has been teasing the prospect of running a Brash-style racist campaign against Māori this election. And today he finally came out and said it:

National leader Christopher Luxon has officially ruled out forming a coalition with the Māori Party.

He did so in a news conference and written statement issued Wednesday morning, where he hit out at Te Pāti Māori for wanting New Zealand to ditch the monarchy. He also made unprompted comments about “one standard citizenship”, “one person, one vote”, and “separatism”.

Ruling out working with Te Pāti Māori due to incompatible policy positions and values is one thing. But the "unprompted comments" here make it clear what is really going on. This isn't a dogwhistle so much as a dog-horn. "One standard of citizenship" is white for the elimination of Māori culture (indeed, all non-white culture) from public life. "One person, one vote" is weird, given that we all have two votes in MMP elections, but its clearly a claim that Māori have disproportionate electoral power, which is simply false. But these are white supremacist talking points, and that's who Luxon is trying to appeal to: he's going to fight ACT for the radical racist vote.

(Its also ironic for a man with seven houses, who therefore enjoys multiple votes in local body elections, to be talking about "one person, one vote". Yes, that would be nice to have, so lets get rid of the landlord vote and have some real democracy...)

If this sounds a lot like Don Brash's racist 2005 campaign, its because it is. National can't seem to help itself. But then, "making the rich richer" and "destroying the planet" aren't things that sell well. So they need racism to cover for it. And so they always go back to it.

The problem for National is twofold. In the short-term, all the polling is currently consistently showing Te Pāti Māori holding the balance of power, so ruling them out and alienating them like this is a promise to be in opposition (and a promise to deny your front-bench cabinet salaries and perks). In the long-term, the trend is clearly for a greater acceptance of Māori culture and greater recognition of the Treaty relationship. National thus risks being left on the wrong side of history with a dying demographic of aging racists.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and first up is the first reading of Debbie Ngarewa-Packer's Prohibition on Seabed Mining Legislation Amendment Bill. The bill would ban an enormously destructive form of mining before it gets started, which is consistent with the government's international position, but for some reason chickenshit Labour doesn't want to vote for it, so they've contrived their own, separate select committee inquiry to pretend they're doing something, while really doing nothing. The bill does have problems - it immediately guillotines all existing offshore oil and gas mining permits, and while those permits need to be cancelled quickly, I'm not sure that an overnight guillotine rather than a five-year sunset is the best way to do it. But that is the sort of thing which can be resolved by a select committee. Sadly, chickenshit Labour isn't going to give them the chance.

Once that's out of the way, there's the second reading of the New Plymouth District Council (Perpetual Investment Fund) Bill, and the first reading of the Annie Oxborough Birth Parents Registration Bill. They should go quickly, which means the House should get on to the third reading of Marja Lubeck's Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Bill, and probably Ian McKelvie's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill. If it moves really fast, it might even make a start on the second reading of Camilla Belich's Companies (Directors Duties) Amendment Bill, but I don't think it will get any further. There will be a ballot for one bill tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Auckland is drowning... again

As I write, Auckland is flooding, for the second time this year. One once-in-a-hundred year weather event in a year is unfortunate; two in a few months is beginning to look like a trend. Of course, we know what that trend is called: climate change. So its distressing to see the government still dragging its feet on this: still refusing to make farmers, who are responsible for 50% of our emissions, take responsibility for the pollution they produce; still refusing to shut down the fossil fuel industry; still subsidising industrial polluters; still fucking around.

That fucking around costs. People might be dead. People will lose their homes, or face serious disruption to their lives. And then there's the money. The government is already on the hook for billions after the last floods, and it'll probably be on the hook for more for this lot. Isn't it time we tried to minimise those costs, by addressing the cause, rather than just blithely dragging out feet to apocalypse (or, in the case of National/ACT, running headlong into it)?

Twice in one year should be a warning. We need to stop fucking around on climate change. And any government which doesn't heed that warning, and apply their maximum efforts to cutting our emissions as quickly as possible should be regarded as trying to murder us.

The "most open and transparent government ever" again

One of the good transparency moves over the last decade has been an increasing shift to the government releasing information proactively. We now assume as a matter of course that the cabinet papers and briefings underlying every significant government decision will end up on an agency website somewhere. These documents usually contain redactions, and usually refer to a justification under the OIA for doing so, but they're available, without anyone having to request them, and that's good.

But this isn't just driven by a desire for transparency: proactive releases aren't actually covered by the OIA, so those redactions don't actually have to be lawful under the Act. And this is used by the government to keep information secret and gain tighter message control. Newsroom's Marc Daalder has a perfect example today of a Minister caught in the act of censoring government information to keep it out of the public eye:

Climate Change Minister James Shaw redacted parts of a Cabinet paper he released last year, even after officials advised him not to.

The paper predominately dealt with a decision on price controls in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which Shaw announced at the same time he released the document. But it also contained reference to an upcoming review of the ETS which Cabinet had yet to make final decisions on.

According to a separate briefing released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act (OIA), officials from the Ministry for the Environment told Shaw there were no valid grounds under the OIA to redact the reference to the ETS review. Releasing the paper would therefore effectively announce the review. Alternatively, they advised, Shaw could choose not to release the paper.

Instead, Shaw went a third way - releasing the Cabinet paper but redacting the mentions of the ETS review against official advice.

If the paper had been requested under the OIA, Shaw would not have been able to hide this information, and his decision to do so would have been reviewable by the Ombudsman. But because he proactively released it, he could do what he liked, and hide whatever he wanted to keep the public in the dark.

This is bad, but the real problem is that the fact that a document "will soon" be proactively released is a reason to refuse a request for it. But then, that eventual proactive release can contain redactions which are not lawful under the OIA. Shaw has been particularly assiduous about refusing things on this basis, but what we've seen here is that we can have no faith that his eventual redactions will be lawful. And he's not the only one - a recent case note from the Ombudsman found the Minister of Health was also playing this game, and as a result the Ombudsman will be taking a closer look at s18(d) refusals generally. Because you can see how this undermines trust in the entire OIA system.

As for how to fix it, the short-term solution is to request unredacted copies of every proactive release. I've found it useful when doing this to ask that the request be handled urgently, to note explicitly that saying that they stand by their redactions should not take more than a few days, and to explicitly threaten an "undue delay" complaint if they piss around (setting a clear path-of-least-work incentive for lawful behaviour). Alternatively, Daalder has shown that requesting the briefings on specific proactive releases can be fruitful and informative.

The long-term solutions are twofold: the OIA needs a formal framework for proactive release (the UK FOIA's model of publication schemes seems to be a good one to steal), and proactive release needs to be reviewable by the Ombudsman. This needs to include not just redactions, but also non-compliance with a publication scheme - failing to release something on time as expected. This solution would take years to put in place, but in the meantime it seems easy enough to add reviewing redactions in proactive releases to the grounds of complaint to the Ombudsman, to ensure they are lawful. The Ombudsman's jurisdiction already needs to be significantly fixed to plug a number of holes, so that could be done at the same time. The problem of course is that pro-secrecy Ministers have no incentive to do any of this.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Total contempt for the OIA

That's the only way to describe the attitude of Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson, who is the focus of an adverse finding from the Ombudsman:

The Chief Ombudsman has called out Minister for Māori Development Willie Jackson over a "trend of human error" in his office causing delays with responding to the Official Information Act (OIA).

The Ombudsman said Jackson's office has consistently failed to respond to correspondence from the Ombudsman's office and a lack of compliance with statutory requirements was "unacceptable".

Basicly, Jackson didn't give a shit about requests, didn't give ashit about responding to the Ombudsman, and didn't give a shit about following the Ombudsman's recommendations following a complaint. He was so shit that the Ombudsman considered asking the Solicitor-General to take him to court to enforce the public duty on the Minister to follow recommendations, but he managed to wriggle out of it. The Ombudsman should have gone further. Obstructing their investigation and failing to respond to their queries is actually a criminal offence (though the penalty is derisory). The Ombudsman should have insisted on prosecution, pour encourage les autres.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Abolish this hereditary fascism

Many people think the monarchy isn't a problem, just a distant bit of pomp and pageantry. Outdated and undemocratic, sure, but just a harmless bit of constitutional dress-ups. But events in Britain are showing it to be anything but. First, there's the intimidating letters police sent to republicans before today's giant monarchical wankfest. And then, there's the pre-emptive arrests:

Police arrested the leader of the anti-monarchy group Republic hours before King Charles' Coronation and a number of other protesters who had gathered among the crowds lining the procession route in central London.

Republic had earlier said it would mount the biggest protest against a British monarch in modern history. But London police chief Mark Rowley warned on Friday that police would take action if protesters tried to "obstruct the enjoyment and celebration" of people.

Protesters, dressed in yellow t-shirts to make themselves stand out, were demanding an elected head of state and say that the royal family has no place in a modern constitutional democracy and is staggeringly expensive to maintain.

A spokesperson for the group said police had arrested its leader Graham Smith on Saturday morning. A photo posted on Twitter showed Smith sitting on the ground surrounded by police officers.

If this seems like a headline from Putin's Russia rather than a modern democracy, you'd be right. Because when you scratch the surface, monarchy is just hereditary fascism in fancy dress. Its existence isn't just an affront to modern, democratic values - it is fundamentally toxic to and incompatible with them. And that is why we must abolish it.

Friday, May 05, 2023

More foot-dragging from Labour

Undersea mining is a big issue at the moment, and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer's Prohibition on Seabed Mining Legislation Amendment Bill is up for its first reading next Member's Day. But rather than vote for it, to allow a select committee to examine the issue and whether a full ban is necessary, Labour has instead decided to announce its own select committee inquiry:

Environment Minister David Parker has proposed a select committee inquiry into seabed mining - a move Te Pāti Māori says is weak and disappointing.

Parker said the inquiry would consider if changes were needed to seabed regulation in New Zealand's domestic zone, looking into risks and benefits of mining.


With Labour holding a majority on the select committee, the proposal seems certain to succeed.

So, it will basicly parallel the inquiry the committee would make into the bill, but without any chance of actual change emerging from it. Which is really Labour in a nutshell, isn't it? Happy to "consider" things and hold pointless inquiries, provided nothing ever changes.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Parliament needs to be subject to the OIA

In Aotearoa we have democracy. That means not just elections, but a government which is constantly accountable to the people, and which justifies itself on an ongoing basis. One of the ways this happens in practice is that when a Minister or official makes a statutory decision, we get to see the reasons and the evidence - either as a matter of course, or by using the Official Information Act. That helps ensure that decisions are made lawfully and correctly and that people are doing their jobs properly.

But Ministers aren't the only people making statutory decisions. As we all learned yesterday, the decision on whether to apply s55 of the Electoral Act - Labour's shitty anti-party-hopping law - is a statutory one. But unlike other cases, there's no transparency. Unlike government agencies, Parliament is not subject to the Official Information Act. Which means that the Speaker can make a seemingly nonsensical decision - that someone is no longer a member of a political party, but is somehow still an MP - and we have no way of judging whether that decision was correct, or whether it is an abuse of office. Likewise, because Parliament is not subject to the OIA, we can't confirm or refute the claims that a second letter was delivered to the Speaker, which was subsequently withdrawn. And this has practical effects: without evidence, people can't use the courts to correct an incorrect decision and hold the decision-maker to account.

This isn't good enough. Parliament must be made subject to the Official Information Act to ensure public confidence in the Speaker's statutory decisions. Nothing else will do.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

What a shitshow

That's the only way to describe the defection of (now-former) Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri to Te Pāti Māori. Normally such defections are preluded by a long period of disagreement, for high or petty reasons. Instead, this has happened completely out of the blue. To have a backbench MP suddenly decide to bail like that is bad enough, but to have a Minister do it really suggests something is seriously wrong in Labour. For them to accidentally resign from Parliament because they don't understand the law they voted for twice would just be icing on the cake.

(I oppose Labour's anti-party-hopping law, but I'm happy to laugh at someone who hoists themself with their own petard like that).

Whaitiri was infamously sacked from Cabinet for bullying. Labour has since rehabilitated her - which you'd hope means there's been a change in behaviour - but she's also clearly at the bottom of the Ministerial rankings, the sort of mediocrity who will be dumped to make way for coalition party Ministers or new talent if Labour is lucky enough to be able to form a government after the election. Which makes her sudden switch seem opportunistic and driven by career ambitions, especially in the absence of any announced point of principle to justify the switch ("coming home to her whakapapa" is not a terrible reason, but seems a bit weak for this sort of sudden change). But I guess that's ultimately going to be up to the voters of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti to judge.

21,000 employed under Labour

The quarterly labour market statistics were released this morning, showing that unemployment is stable at 3.4%. There are now 102,000 unemployed - 21,000 fewer than when Labour took office.

This is a good result, and it shows that there's some resistance to the Reserve Bank's policy of Brashing the economy and throwing people out of work to save corporate profits. But the bank has doubled down, and doubled down again, so it might not last.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

A Polynesian government for French Polynesia

People went to the polls in French Polynesia on Sunday in the second round of territorial elections, and delivered a resounding victory to pro-independence Tāvini Huiraʻatira. Which means that French Polynesia, one of the last colonies in the Pacific, is going to get a Polynesian government which will rule for Polynesians, rather than France or its settlers.

OK, that's putting it a bit harshly - French Polynesia has come a long way since the early 2000s, when it really was a choice between independence of the colonial boot, let alone before that, when the French manipulated elections and jailed pro-independence politicians on trumped-up charges. Every political party in French Polynesia is officially now pro-autonomy, with many also favouring a Cook Islands-style "free association" relationship of independence in all but name (as far as the colonial power is concerned; as the Cooks have shown Aotearoa, it actually means complete independence in practice and the formal status whenever they want to claim it). And while the Tāvini did not win a majority of the votes (France imposed an unfair electoral system, which gives the plurality winner a supermajority, precisely to keep them out), they almost certainly have the backing of a majority of voters to kick the French out in practice, if they can fudge it to those who want full independence now. Of course, that requires France to come to the negotiating table. And as we're seeing in New Caledonia, the Pacific's last colonial power doesn't really do "good faith"...

As for what this means for Aotearoa, one of our neighbours is going to be talking to the UN and demanding a formal decolonisation process. We should support them on that journey. People should govern themselves. They should not be ruled by others.

Michael Wood: Climate saboteur

The clean car discount has been hugely successful at pushing kiwis into low-carbon vehicles. So naturally, Labour is sabotaging it:

The Government is changing the Clean Car programme to increase fees slapped on higher emitting vehicles, changing the rebates for zero emissions imports and lowering the threshold for eligible vehicles.


Wood said the changes to the scheme included narrowing the focus to more fuel efficient vehicles “earlier than planned”.

That means the threshold for a rebate would be lowered for new and used cars that emit from 146 grams of CO2 per kilometre down to 100 grams of CO2/km.

The announcement has crashed the carbon price - which was beginning to recover - by $5 / ton. Which is not a sign of confidence in Labour's climate direction.

The reason for this is austerity - locking in quick and early reductions costs money. But as the Climate Commission has pointed out, delaying action also costs money. And we're seeing some of the cost this week, with Coromandel in line for another metre of rain. But hey, lets not actually do anything to stop it from being two metres in future.

While Labour talked up climate change as its "nuclear free moment", when push comes to shove, none of them want to actually act. Apparently, they don't want to risk "overachieving" on emissions reduction. They don't want to cut emissions "too fast". They don't want to risk actually changing the status quo, which is murdering us. They don't want to do anything other than smile and talk and tinker round the edges, while towns flood and people die. And when something unexpectedly succeeds, they can't just take the win, but they have to actually deliberately fuck it up.

We need to accept it: Labour are climate saboteurs. If we want real action, we need to gt rid of them.

Monday, May 01, 2023

Hipkins' Augustinian republicanism

England is in the middle of a giant monarchical wankfest at the moment. Given its utter irrelevance to modern Aotearoa, the media today asked Prime Minister Chris Hipkins whether he would be offering us a referendum on a republic. And when he said "no", they rightly took him to task on it.

Like every other recent Labour Prime Minister, Hipkins claims to be a republican. And like all the rest, he's completely unwilling to do anything about it. What he fails to understand is that when you say you support something (like action on climate change), people eventually expect you to deliver. And if you consistently refuse to, then people might just begin to doubt the sincerity of what you claim to believe in, and vote accordingly.

This isn't to say that we should be rushing into a referendum - we need a lot of public consultation on what we want to change, whether a "twink republic" is enough (or enough to be getting on with), or whether we want to make other changes too. But Hipkins is refusing to even start that process, refusing to even have the conversation. And that makes him, in practical terms, a monarchist, a supporter of the rotten, foreign, inbred status quo. If you want something better, something modern, something alighned with Aotearoa's values, then don't vote for him.