Friday, June 30, 2023

This could be interesting

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security announced their 2023/2024 annual work programme today, and its interesting reading. There's a bunch of spy stuff, including reviews of "Execution of class warrants", "Acquisition and use of bulk personal datasets (NZSIS)", and "A specific form of online intelligence gathering operation (NZSIS)", which will be interesting to see how the spies are violating our privacy and human rights. There's also a review into "New Zealanders and International Terrorist Screening Center Databases (NZSIS)", which covers "no fly" lists. And then there's this:

Assessment of security risk in meeting transparency requirements (GCSB and NZSIS): A review would examine the agencies’ approaches to the assessment of security risk from official publication or disclosure of information on their activities, including in response to requests under the Official Information Act 1982 and the Privacy Act 2020.
Or, to put it another way: are the spies being too paranoid? Obviously, I'm primarily interested in whether they are applying sections 6(a) and 6(b) of the OIA correctly, but the broader issue of public reports - including IGIS reports? - is also important. And with the SIS recently refusing to release basic performance statistics on their processing of immigration security checks, it seems particularly appropriate.

Of course, if they're reviewing it this year, we won't see a report until 2024 or 2025, which of course will not be allowed to include classified material. Which invites the question: if IGIS finds the spies have been too paranoid in censoring information, will they censor it to protect their reputations?

Another Parliamentary bully

Two days ago Stuff carried a story about Labour Minister Kiritapu Allan's staff quitting rather than put up with her bullying. And it appears to have opened the floodgates:

A senior public servant, with decades of experience, says Cabinet Minister Kiritapu Allan “yelled and screamed” so loudly, staff in the office heard the telephone call.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they witnessed Allan’s interactions with younger staff members both from government agencies and her Beehive office in a meeting, as well as seeing her “absolutely berate” another official for 20 mins on another occasion.

Allan “strongly refutes” the allegations.

Another former senior official with a long history of public service, has also spoken to Stuff to confirm they had concerns about Allan’s dealing with staff. “Basically low trust and respect of public servants was [the] issue,” they said.

And NEMA’s chief executive Dave Gawn, in a statement, said he “was aware of concerns regarding relationships in the minister's office, and that he understood action was taken to address these concerns.”

Labour are as usual circling the wagons around their bully, calling the reports "dirty politics" and saying that there have been no "formal complaints" (while refusing to release evidence of informal ones). But senior public servants don't put their careers and reputations on the line like this for no reason. And those careers and reputations are on the line, because while Stuff has withheld names, unless Allan is a total sociopath who does this to everyone, she will know exactly who her victims are.

I've said this before when it's come up, over Sam Uffindell, and Judith Collins, and Nick Smith, and Meka Whaitiri, and Maggie Barry, and all the rest: we should not tolerate bullies in our Parliament. And if certain political parties do, we should not tolerate them either. Labour needs to either sack and de-select Allan, or show that she has recognised that she has a problem and has taken effective steps to remedy it. Otherwise, we should regard them as a party of bullies and bully-apologists, and shank them for it at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, its been three years since the Francis report made it clear that Parliament was a toxic sewer of a workplace. And this shit is still going on. Parliament only got round to establishing a Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards last year, after three years of foot-dragging. The obvious question is whether they will be investigating Allan. And if not, what the fuck are they for?

Thursday, June 29, 2023

More Australian corruption

Oh look, another Australian state premier has been found to have acted corruptly:

Former premier Gladys Berejiklian engaged in serious corrupt conduct and breached the public’s trust through her secret relationship with now-disgraced ex-MP Daryl Maguire.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) bombshell findings end a wait of almost two years for a ruling on Berejiklian’s conduct while she was in a secret relationship with Maguire.

In the damning two-volume report, the ICAC found that Berejiklian engaged in “serious corrupt conduct by breaching public trust” through the awarding of grants that Maguire had personally lobbied for “without disclosing her close personal relationship” with the then Wagga Wagga MP.

But despite that, they recommend not charging her. That'll boost public confidence in politicians!

But Berejiklian isn't alone. Her predecessors Barry O'Farrell and Kristina Keneally were both found by ICAC to have behaved corruptly, meaning that half of NSW's premiers since 2009 have been corrupt. Something is terribly, terribly wrong in that state. And despite repeated ICAC investigations, the culture of corruption just seems to continue. Perhaps there's a problem with this whole "investigate, but never charge" regime...

The obvious question

So, Parliament's "powerful" Privileges Committee has found Labour Education Minister Jan Tinetti innocent of deliberately misleading Parliament. Tinetti had given a false answer to a question in question time, been told it was false by her staff, refused to correct it, and then stood by her lie and gave a deliberately misleading answer later. Some of the Committee found her explanation - that it was all a dreadful mistake, which just coincidentally covered up her own control-freakery and lies - "unconvincing". But the Committee's report ultimately found that Tinetti's repeated refusal to correct her answer was not intentional, but merely the result of "a high degree of negligence" and "a significant error of judgement". Tinetti has now been forced to apologise to Parliament - a perfect example of a "powerful" slap on the wrist by a wet bus ticket.

...which is what happens when the government, which holds four of eight places on the committee, is allowed to judge itself. Meanwhile, the public can draw its own conclusions about Tinetti's honesty, competence, and the integrity of Parliamentary "justice".

Meanwhile, there's an obvious question: should someone who displays "a high degree of negligence" and makes "significant error[s] of judgement" even fit to be a Minister?

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, one of the last for the current Parliament. But there's a lot of locla business to get through before the interesting stuff. First up is the third reading of the New Plymouth District Council (Perpetual Investment Fund) Bill, followed by the combined second and third reading of the Thomas Cawthron Trust Amendment Bill, and then the first reading of the McLean Institute (Trust Variation) Bill. If these go for their full time they could easily eat all the available time today, but that seems unlikely. So the House should finish the first reading of Eugenie Sage's Crown Minerals (Prohibition of Mining) Amendment Bill (which Labour will vote down rather than keep their promises on climate change or on banning mining on conservation land), and should at least start the first reading of Karen Chhour's racist Oranga Tamariki (Repeal of Section 7AA) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly it might make a start on Helen White's Employment Relations (Restraint of Trade) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for one or two bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

How convenient

Visa processing times have gone through the roof, and the holdup appears to be SIS security checks. But the SIS now refuses to release basic performance data on whether it is doing the job properly because "national security":

The SIS has refused to reveal its average processing time but said the timeframes were being formalised in a service level agreement with Immigration New Zealand (INZ).


Director-General of Security Andrew Hampton said to reveal the number of security checks (NSC) and how long they took may prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand or international relations.

How convenient that suddenly basic accountability information is suddenly a state secret. I'm sure that will help ensure SIS does their job properly. Even more convenient: if they've actually classified the statistics, its a crime punishable by 5 years imprisonment to leak them. So there's not even the usual check on underperformance.

The supposed "justification" for this is that unnamed "adversaries" could "exploit the border screening system" if given time-series data on processing times. How? By knowing whether SIS was doing its job quickly and efficiently? And do they think that those supposed "adversaries" don't know that already?

This is a perfect example of how "national security" is used to hide embarrassing information and evidence of underperformance. And the only interest it serves is that of an agency which is too busy chasing imaginary enemies to perform its basic functions.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Climate Change: Debunking another fossil lie

One of the most pervasive pieces of fossil industry propaganda is that decarbonisation will "make us all poorer" by destroying the value of fossil fuel assets. But it turns that its just another fossil industry lie:

Research published on Thursday finds that the loss of fossil fuel assets would have a minimal impact on the general public.

“We find that the bulk of financial losses associated with rotten, polluting assets is borne by the wealthy,” said the co-author Lucas Chancel, a professor of economics at Sciences Po in Paris. “Only a small share of financial losses is borne by the working and middle class because they have no or relatively little financial wealth.”

The study, published in the journal Joule, found that in high-income countries two-thirds of the financial losses would be borne by the most affluent 10%. In contrast, governments could easily compensate for the minimal impact on those on middle and lower levels of wealth.

Which is obvious, when you think about it. Normal people don't have huge share portfolios. We don't own oil companies. Instead, like everything else, those assets are owned by billionaires and bonesaw-wielding Saudi autocrats. Destroying that wealth doesn't hurt us, and in fact seems positively beneficial in terms of limiting the power of those billionaires and autocrats to undermine democracy and destroy the world.

But then, I guess that that's what they're afraid of...

NZDF will not be happy with this

Back in October, the government introduced its new bill for an Inspector-General of Defence to the House. The bill was written by and for NZDF, and it showed - it was basicly designed to enable coverups, with secrecy clauses, OIA exemptions, a new withholding ground of "making NZDF feel bad", gag orders, NZDF control of investigations, and a limitation on scope which would have prevented the new Inspector-General from investigating practically any of the many, many, many awful things and failures NZDF has done over the years. As a result, it was roundly condemned by civil society groups, who made submissions demanding transparency, independence, and a body which could actually hold NZDF accountable.

...and for once, the select committee scrutinising the bill actually listened. They reported back on it today, and the report is a resounding defeat for NZDF. The most significant changes:

  • The entire idea of "scope" - designed by NZDF to keep the IGD from investigating anything - has been discarded. The Inspector-General will now be able to investigate anything NZDF does;
  • The requirement to avoid "duplication of scrutiny", intended to prevent investigations, has been replaced by a cooperation clause, letting the IGD work with other agencies and run parallel investigations;
  • Investigations must now be conducted in public unless there is good reason not to;
  • The IGD will be fully subject to the OIA, with no exemption for investigations. The select committee was quite explicit in finding that existing OIA withholding grounds were sufficient to protect the interests involved. The definition of "sensitive information" has also been aligned with the OIA, meaning that information can no longer be withheld simply because it makes NZDF feel bad.

This is basicly everything I asked for in my submission. The only thing I didn't get was a fix to the protected disclosures regime (though that is arguably handled by the removal of the concept of "scope" and enabling cooperation with other agencies - meaning that protected disclosures about NZDF will actually be able to be investigated).

Unfortunately the departmental advice and responses to queries are not yet online, so we can't see how NZDF responded to submissions. But I doubt they're happy. And the danger now is that the Minister will listen to them and abuse Labour's majority to undo the committee's recommendations and restore the coverup regime.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Climate Change: Eyes off the ball

Back in December, the Labour Party sabotaged our climate change policy, ignoring advice from the Climate Commission and Climate Change Minister James Shaw in order to keep carbon prices low. This caused a collapse in the carbon price, as people lost confidence in the scheme and fled the market. And that's a Bad Thing, because, as the Climate Change Commission keeps pointing out, we need high carbon prices to drive the gross emissions reductions we want, and stop people burning coal and gas. In other words, Labour's short-sighted, chickenshit decision is likely to have a significant impact on whether we can meet our carbon emissions budget.

This is the sort of thing you'd expect the Climate Change Minister to be paying attention to. So back in April, I filed an OIA request, asking for advice and communications on the impacts of this decline in carbon prices. Today - two months late - I finally received the response. There's some talking points and spin to journalists, and a weekly update on what the price is and how it compares internationally. But on the actual, substantive issue, it's LOL, of course not:

No dedicated advice related to the impacts of the drop in the NZU (Emission unit) price has been produced by the Ministry for the Environment since December 2022.
This is appalling. This is our central policy for reducing emissions, and the price it produces is the key driver of emissions reductions. A Minister who was serious about their portfolio and paying attention would be asking their Ministry if this was a problem which we might need to do something about (though if the Ministry was doing their job properly, the Minister wouldn't have to ask at all). Instead, it seems like everyone's eye is resolutely off the sporting metaphor. The most important public policy issue of our time, which is already flooding cities and threatening to bankrupt local government, and even the Ministers who supposedly care about it just aren't paying attention.

And meanwhile, that central policy continues to collapse around us. Today, the carbon price fell to $46/ton, a level not seen since 2020, at which time it was still profitable to burn coal. I wonder if the Minister is finally paying attention now?

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Good riddance to feckless rubbish

Three weeks ago Transport Minister Michael Wood was stood down after failing to properly declare a conflict of interest. Today, he's finally resigned:

Suspended transport minister Michael Wood has resigned as a Cabinet minister, after it was revealed his family trust held shares in Chorus, Spark, and the National Australia Bank that he did not declare.

Wood had made or been involved in decisions relevant to the sectors in which he held these undeclared shareholdings. The minister had already been under scrutiny for not declaring a conflict of interest related to his shareholding in Auckland Airport while working as transport minister.

"I have not managed this effectively, I take responsibility for it, and as such have submitted my resignation to the prime minister. I apologise to him and the public for this situation,” Wood said.

And good riddance to him. Wood's "explanation" for his failure to divest his Auckland airport shares despite years of reminders was always unconvincing, and "discovering" further undeclared conflicts makes it even less so. At best, he's simply too feckless to hold any position of public trust. And it certainly makes him seem completely out-of-touch with normal people, who know what they own and don't use secret trusts to try and hide their assets. But then, normal people would also check for further problems the first or second time they were told to divest, not the thirteenth. By failing to do so, he's not only ended his political career, but also invited judicial review of every decision he's made affecting the relevant companies or their competitors.

Apparently there will be much more intense scrutiny of cabinet conflicts of interest as a result of this, and the Prime Minister is considering a full ban on shareholdings by Ministers. Good. But note what's missing from the new regime: transparency. At present conflict of interest information is guarded closely by DPMC, with only an infrequently released public summary which carefully removes any actual details. Which isn't good enough. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we want to be able to be sure Ministers are not behaving corruptly, and are managing their conflicts appropriately, then the secrecy over what they have declared and when steps are taken to remove them from decisions must end.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

More Parliamentary racism

Its election year, so National and ACT are, as usual, whipping up racism over Māori supposedly being "advantaged" by the health system (so "advantaged" they die 2700 days earlier than pakeha). And as usual, they're using Parliament as a bully pulpit for doing it. As usual, Māori MPs have objected to this. And as usual, they've been thrown out. Because while Parliament is supposedly "a place for debate", that "debate" is absolutely not allowed to include accurately saying what these racist parties are doing, or calling them out on their racism.

And then politicians wonder why Parliament is seen as a racist, white supremacist institution. This is why. If it doesn't want to be seen that way, then maybe it should stop letting itself be used as a Stormfront by racist parties.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Climate Change: Too many trees?

The government today announced its review of the Emissions Trading Scheme. As is clear from the media coverage, this is focused on one issue: forestry. The cor problem is summed up in this graph:


(Note that this chart does not include agriculture, because its currently not part of the ETS)

Basicly, we've planted enough trees already that we're going to have too many carbon credits by the end of the decade, resulting in a falling ETS price, a much lower incentive to reduce emissions, and (eventually) fewer trees. Which is a problem, because we need a lot more trees to meet future climate targets, and (eventually) to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and undo some of the damage we have done.

The review proposes four broad policy options to fix this. The first one - reducing ETS auction volumes - is a non-starter, for reasons which are obvious from the graph above: by the time we have a problem, auction volumes are minuscule compared to forestry removals. The second one - effectively, getting the government to start buying forest credits - is likely to be a part of any solution. In strict ETS terms, this can be seen as offsetting public sector non-ETS emissions (through cancellations) and backing auctions and free allocation units - especially those allocated to agriculture if it enters the ETS. But the real reason is to incentivise the forests we need to keep planting to meet 2050 and post-2050 drawdown targets. The third option is to reduce demand for forest credit by limiting their use and expiring them out of the pool if unused, or just by halving the amount given away. Again, the graph shows why this isn't really going to solve the core problem. The final option - and the one MfE is clearly pushing for - is to split the market in two, and say that polluters can no longer use forest credit to offset their emissions. This has some definite advantages - the ETS cap actually becomes a cap, meaning it drives reductions. But it raises the obvious question of who is actually going to buy forest credits if polluters won't? On this there's the intriguing suggestion of requiring polluters to surrender some proportion (10% say) of additional removal credits in addition to their normal units - effectively legislating for over-performance. But again, looking at the graph above tells us that that's not going to make much difference to the problem, and the ultimate buyer is going to have to be the government. Which Treasury will hate, because it costs money, even if it incentivises the drawdown we need.

Unfortunately, the obvious solution was beyond the scope of the review. The problem is "not enough emissions in the ETS to soak up amount of credits trees are producing". But 50% of our emissions aren't in the ETS. Put them in, and you can make supply match demand by juggling the amount of free allocation and the phase-out rate. On this point, its worth noting that on current policy settings, agriculture enters the ETS at the processor level in 2025, with a free allocation equal to 95% of 2005 emissions, declining by 1% a year. Tripling that phase-out rate means agriculture neatly soaks up the excess credits in 2040 and 2050, assuming it does not reduce its emissions. So we'd really want to set it higher than that if we want agricultural emissions to meet their 2050 target (we'd also face a credit shortage pre-2035 or so, which would mean higher ETS prices, which would help drive the reductions we want).

But even including agriculture simply pushes the problem back a couple of decades, and doesn't solve the eventual problem of too many trees and not enough polluters wanting to buy the credits, which in turn threatens long-term drawdown. Still, that might be enough. And as noted above, there is an obvious solution: if the government wants trees for drawdown, it can always pay for them.

Killing the hat game

Newsroom has a followup piece about its complaint about Stuart Nash refusing to release compromising emails to donors in which he revealed cabinet discussions. Nash had used the "hat game", claiming that those communications were made in his capacity as an MP, not a Minister, and so not covered by the Official Information Act (and so, for OIA purposes, they did not exist). Newsroom had complained, then dropped the complaint when the Ombudsman took too long, then revived it when the emails were leaked and Nash was sacked. And the Ombudsman has now made the obvious ruling: that the emails were held in a Ministerial capacity, and so Nash violated the OIA. That's good, but it gets better, because the Ombudsman has also directly attacked the hat game:

In announcing his decision, Boshier also set out his expectations about how future ministers should respond to OIA requests. He emphasised the importance of transparency and underlined the OIA’s broad application.

“This case highlights the potential for the roles of an MP and a minister to overlap and for information to be held in both capacities. The Official Information Act is an important constitutional safeguard. It is based on the principle of making information available,” said Boshier. “In my view the OIA should apply where there is a ministerial overlap of any kind.”

This is an obvious ruling, given the 2016 ruling that information received by Ministers is official by default, and Ministers have to prove that it was received in another capacity. But its good to have it formally stated. And hopefully there'll be an official case note, so that Ministers will have no excuse, and for requesters to refer to when Ministers illegally try and hide information.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Climate Change: Picking a side?

Newsroom has a scoop: Aotearoa has finally picked a side in climate negotiations:

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says New Zealand has finally taken a side in a global diplomatic battle over the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

In an interview with Newsroom, James Shaw said a range of countries – including the "petro-states" – have been attempting to undermine the global climate accord since it was signed in 2015. Under a new diplomatic strategy seeking to preserve the hope of limiting warming to 1.5C, New Zealand will fight back against those efforts.

A rough outline of the approach is available in a briefing from officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Shaw, obtained by Newsroom under the Official Information Act. Titled "Fighting every tonne", the new strategy positions New Zealand as a leader in pushing for global emissions reductions, rather than a fast follower or a consensus-builder.

It links in the findings of recent IPCC reports, that global emissions must peak well before the middle of the decade if warming is to be halted at 1.5C.

This is good, if it actually happens, and if it means an end to the traditional special pleading for farm emissions and new accounting tricks for forestry. But those agendas are fairly ingrained in MFAT, which traditionally sees itself as representing noisy and entrenched export industries rather than actual people, so it remains to be seen. Still, its something to be cautiously optimistic over. I want this country to fight for a shared future for humanity, rather than drag us down into apocalypse.

At the same time, it would be nice if they also took that "fighting every tonne" slogan and applied it domesticly, to oil and gas permits, to big polluters, to ETS settings, to fossil cars, and to the dairy industry. These industries are being allowed to continue, or even to expand; the government needs to fight every tonne there too. Because once the carbon - or worse, the methane - is in the atmosphere, its much harder to take out. Better to not emit it in the first place. And while there has been some progress, the government is also engaged in systematic self-sabotage of its own climate policy, seemingly afraid that it might actually result in the change we need. That's not good enough. The government needs to take this challenge seriously, stop that self-sabotage, make emissions reduction its key goal, and actually do it. Otherwise, they're just so much more hot air - and worse, on the wrong side.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Climate Change: Another failed auction

The quarterly ETS auction was held today, and like March's one, it failed, with no bids above the confidential reserve. As a result, another 4.475 million tons of carbon has gone unsold, and the government will have quarter of a billion dollars less to fund decarbonisation. And its now looking like a real possibility that we'll see millions of tons of units unsold and cancelled at the end of the year (which is good for the climate).

Along with this collapse in price has come a collapse in bid volumes. Before 2023, ETS auctions were always oversubscribed, some massively so. The bid volumes for last year were 11.7, 10.5, 6.4, and 6.1 million tons (it dropped after June because that's when the CCR was exhausted). But in March, bidders wanted just 4.9 million tons (of a possible 4.475, plus 8 million units in the cost containment reserve), and today they wanted only 3 million. The clear implication is that Labour's December 2022 decision to keep ETS prices low has driven investors from the market and crushed demand (the upcoming election and National driving uncertainty about climate policy likely won't be helping either). But the ETS isn't meant to be about investors - its polluters who need credits to meet their surrender obligations. And if they're not even trying to buy, then that suggests that they have plenty of credits already, that we are overallocating the auctions, and that we can cut those volumes. And the government should take this opportunity to do so.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

More departmental interference?

On Friday, Newsroom had a very disturbing report of Department of Internal Affairs officials attempting to subvert the democratic process by interfering with the work of the select committee on the Three Waters legislation. The story effectively highlighted concerns raised by the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties during the recent review of Standing Orders about select committees' dependence on departmental officials for analysis of submissions and advice. Those officials work for Ministers, not Parliament, and are also usually the people who have developed the policy. They are thus inherently conflicted in their role, and in a position to tilt the advice to support their own (or the Ministers') position. The Department of Internal Affairs seems to have gone a lot further than that, into actively subverting the decisions of the committee, which is why it was noticed. But there's a lot officials can do below that threshold and probably get away with.

And sadly, I have an example. The Health Committee has just reported back on the Therapeutic products Bill. Like many recent government bills, it includes a secrecy clause, so I sent in the usual submission opposing it and trying to have it amended to protect the public's rights under the OIA. The secrecy clause is particularly wide-ranging and odious, covering all information that an "information holder" - meaning the regulatory body and others - obtains while performing their functions or exercising their powers under the Act, and applying criminal penalties for disclosure, effectively reinstating the Official Secrets Act for this information. Meanwhile, the list of functions of the regulator shows how extreme this is: among the things to be decalred state secrets is whether a licence has been issued, whether a a particular product is unsafe and what (if any) action has been taken, whether a product makes false claims of health benefits, and whether guidance was issued to help suppliers avoid making such claims. The regulator also has a function of providing advice to the Minister of Health and the chief executive on " the adequacy and performance of, and funding for, the regulatory system"; that advice too will be a state secret. So if for example they advice that the system is too weak or that funding is inadequate, it will be a criminal offence for it to be disclosed to the public, or to Parliament. Which is obviously very convenient for a government wanting to hide its dirty laundry, but not so convenient for the rest of us.

The normal procedure for a select committee is for the department responsible for the bill to prepare a summary of the submissions, extracting key themes and issues (they also, in a prime example of that conflict of interest, tend to dismiss them all to protect their preferred position, but they at least note that an issue was raised, enabling MPs to ask followup questions). So I was quite surprised when I checked the Bill's Departmental Report and the appendix summarising the submissions to find no mention whatsoever of the issues I had raised. Indeed, the only mention of the OIA was two bland assurances that "The regulatory authority will be subject to the provisions of the Official Information Act 1981", so "transparency will be assured to the same degree as in relation to other government agencies". The first is true, the second is not, as the secrecy clause over-rides the OIA and removes any transparency.

It is one thing when a committee disagrees with your submission. It is quite another when it appears never to have been put before them. Its unclear whether this is because the department was overwhelmed by the volume of submissions (there were over a thousand, many from antivaxxers) or because they preferred to highlight pharmaceutical company views (those are the only ones mentioned in the relevant part of the analysis of submissions). But either way, its not really good enough, especially when we're talking about over-riding legislation the courts have recognised as constitutional, and especially when it would have such a horrific impact on transparency for a key regulatory body. The Ministry of Health has poorly served parliament on this occasion. The question now is whether Ministers or MPs will step in to fix the issue they didn't highlight.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Naked corruption

Last week Transport Minister Michael Wood was stood down after failing to properly declare a conflict of interest. He owned shares in Auckland Airport, a company he was responsible for regulating while Minister, and while the amount of money involved was small compared to his $296,007 ministerial salary (but large from a normal person's perspective), it simply wasn't acceptable. Meanwhile, Stuff has reminded us about a much larger conflict of interest: Chris Luxon's seven houses:

Five of Christopher Luxon’s seven properties can have more townhouses or apartments built next door under the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS) –a law which was passed with bipartisan support, but which National has now said it will repeal if elected in October.

That includes his five-bedroom Remuera home, which shifts from being zoned for standalone homes up to two storeys with landscaped gardens, to allowing three homes of up to three storeys under the MDRS.

While individual landowners could benefit in the short-term from the ability to subdivide a property into more homes under the MDRS, a shift away from higher density is forecast to lead to higher prices in the long-term.

Luxon’s property portfolio has fallen an estimated $6.7 million in value during the current downturn, according to CoreLogic data.

...which means they can be expected to rise by a similar amount if the policy is reversed. And yet, Luxon is not considered to have a conflict of interest, despite directly advocating for a policy which would personally enrich him by millions of dollars.

This is simply corrupt. There is no other name for it. And if rich politicians can't stop themselves from behaving corruptly, then voters need to stop them from doing it, by simply not electing them in the first place.

Climate Change: Not credible

Agricultural emissions make up 50% of Aotearoa's total emissions. But unlike every other form of emissions, they're not priced, and there's no policy for reducing them. Farmers have enjoyed a free ride now for nearly twenty years, with governments chickening out, and delaying action, then chickening out and delaying again. Most recently, Labour grovelled to the sacred cow in 2019, kicking the gan down the road and giving farmers another six years of free pollution, supposedly to let them develop their own pricing scheme. That policy has now failed, and agriculture will now enter the ETS at the producer level in 2025 (a policy far more effective than anything farmers have come up with). But today, National announced its agricultural emissions policy: hitting the snooze button for another five years:

National has released its agricultural emission plan, promising to extend the Government’s deadline for pricing on-farm emissions to 2030 deadline.

The party’s agricultural spokesperson, Todd McClay, said National wanted to recognise on-farm sequestration and create an independent board to implement a pricing system for agricultural emissions, by 2030 at the latest, keeping the sector out of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Under the Labour Government’s plan, an agricultural emissions pricing system was to be agreed upon by 2025, or such emissions would be priced under the ETS.

This simply isn't credible. Farmers have had a twenty year free ride already. They've had five yers to develop a pricing system, and failed. Only a fool would think another five years will produce a better result. The problem was always farmer intransigence and farmer denial, their fundamental unwillingness to be part of the solution rather than a problem. But when we're talking about 50% of our total emissions, and when farmers emit the most harmful gase sin our inventory, we actually need to do something. And we have a solution: cut cow numbers back to what they were in 1990, using the NAIT database for policing. But farmers just don't want to talk about it.

National is pandering to these environmental vandals. And by doing so, it is sending a clear message to urban Aotearoa: it will let us burn and drown, it will let our cities flood and be washed away, and it will do nothing to stop this from happening, or to make those responsible pay to clean up the mess they are causing. They have once again nailed their flag to the climate denier mast. And we need to punish them for it. There are parties with serious climate change policy running this election. If we want a future, we need to vote for them, not the climate change deniers in National.

A plan for fairness

Aotearoa has a poverty problem: far too many people with not enough. And we have a fairness problem, with research from IRD showing that the rich aren't paying half the tax rate of normal people. The solution to these two problems is obvious and complementary, but unthinkable under the NeoLiberal orthodoxy inflicted on us by Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson and enthusiastically continued by the political duopoly. But yesterday, the Greens came out and said it: we should tax the rich more so we can end poverty.

Their actual proposal to do so seems well-constructed: a wealth tax which kicks in after $2 million of (net) assets for individuals, or $4 million for couples. That's high enough that its not just "person who owns their own home", even in Auckland - its basicly people with large property portfolios, or enough money that they don't need to work for the rest of their lives. Normal people with jobs who rent or pay a mortgage simply won't be affected. Neither will normally successful people, who own their own homes and have a bit stashed away for their retirement. Even if you think about the kiwi dream - house, bach, boat, BMW, and enough to comfortably not work if you don't want to - its just flirting with the couples threshold. At which stage most normal kiwis would say "fair enough" to paying a bit extra.

In short, the vast majority of us will never, ever, have to worry about this, even people who have done well for themselves. We're not talking about normal levels of wealth here. We're talking excessive wealth, people who have gone beyond what is needed for comfort, into hoarding. In numbers, we're talking about 0.7% of the population, about 35,000 people. The fact that John Key hates the idea shows it is perfectly targeted: he's one of the rich pricks who isn't paying their fair share.

Meanwhile, the flip-side of taxing the rich is to adjust thresholds and tax rates to lower taxes on the rest of us. Those on high salaries will face higher marginal rates - 45% from $180,000, which hits MPs and Ministers nicely - but normal people, even well-paid normal people, will pay less. And again, that seems fair enough. A progressive tax system means those who can afford to pay more, and those who can't pay less, but NeoLiberalism means we've lost sight of this principle, in favour of just giving the rich a free ride in the hope that we will get something from their tailings. That doesn't work, it never worked, but the rich laughed all the way to the bank while they robbed us.

And of course, there's ending poverty - because it turns out that taxing the rich properly frees up a hell of a lot of money which the government can put to use. The Greens want to increase benefits, fix working for families, restore the universal student allowance, and expand ACC to cover all sickness and disability - basicly, restore the social safety net that Douglas and Richardson stole from us. I think this is worthwhile, because fixing poverty fixes so many other things - but if YMMV on applications, it certainly gives an idea of what we can achieve just by making the rich pay their way. And it should end forever the NeoLiberal lie that we "can't afford" better things. As with everything government does, that's a matter of choice - and Labour has chosen to favour the rich over its own voters.

Poverty is a political choice. The Greens have shown we can choose differently. All we need to do is vote for it.

Friday, June 09, 2023

Climate Change: The status quo will kill us

Canada is burning down and American cities are choking on the smoke. The arctic ice-cap is now beyond the point of no return. There have been record heat-waves in Asia, getting us close to Ministry for the Future territory. Phoenix, Arizona has banned new construction because it is running out of water (bringing to mind another cli-fi novel, The Water Knife). And globally, we've almost burned through the carbon budget which would give us only a 50-50 chance of staying under 1.5 degrees of temperature rise:

The world is rapidly running out of “carbon budget”, the amount of carbon dioxide that can be poured into the atmosphere if we are to stay within the vital threshold of 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures, according to a study published in the journal Earth System Science Data on Thursday.

Only about 250bn tonnes of carbon dioxide can now be emitted, to avoid the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere that would raise temperatures by 1.5C. That is down from 500bn tonnes just a few years ago, and at current annual rates of greenhouse gas emissions, of about 54bn tonnes a year over the past decade, it would run out well before the end of this decade.

And meanwhile, what is our government doing? Gutting the ETS and sabotaging its own clean-car policy because it might actually be effective and change things (and meanwhile, our opposition is full of climate deniers and shows every sign of wanting to do even less, while their radical vandal farmer base are explicitly calling for the repeal of all climate policy, as if you don't need a stable climate to farm...)

This isn't good enough. We have an actual crisis, and our political class is so beholden to the status quo that they are - at best - sleepwalking and foot-dragging us to disaster (and some of them are trying to push us headlong into it). Can we have a government which isn't actually trying to murder us all please?

Thursday, June 08, 2023


National's fundamentalist christian leader is telling kiwis to breed for New Zealand:

National Party leader Christopher Luxon has encouraged people at an infrastructure conference to have more babies in an effort to reverse the nation’s declining birthrate.

In a question and answer session after the announcement, Luxon encouraged more people to have children in what he described as a tongue-in-cheek comment.

“We need people,” he said. “Here is the deal – New Zealand stopped replacing itself in 2016. I encourage all of you to go out there and have more babies if you wish, that would be helpful.”

Which quite apart from the ick-factor of a religious bigot sticking his nose into other people's reproductive choices, also has unpleasant echoes of racist "great replacement" thinking. After all, if you accept that "we need people", why babies? Why not immigration? Which suggests Luxon is concered about what people we get, rather than just the usual shallow business obsession with make number go up.

Luxon has now wheeled out his deputy Nicola Willis to make the defence of every arsehole caught out, and claim that it was all a "joke". Which is telling in and of itself: he's too frightened even to make the defence himself, and of being asked about his beliefs.


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

  • Employment Relations (Protection for Kiwisaver Members) Amendment Bill (Tracey McLellan)

The bill is a nice little minor amendment which would prevent employers from discriminating against Kiwisaver members, restoring a protection repealed by National in 2008. Its a good member's bill, but you kindof have to wonder why the government hasn't done it already as part of its numerous amendments to the Employment Relations Act.

There were 68 bills in the ballot today.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Deliberate non-compliance

Yesterday Transport Minister Michael Wood was stood down after failing to properly declare a conflict of interest - namely his continued ownership of Auckland Airport shares while transport minister. Chris Hipkins and his Labour cronies tried to pass this off as Wood simply being forgetful, but this was somewhat undercut by the admission that the Cabinet Office had told him to sell the shares "around half a dozen" times, and each time received an assurance that he was doing it. That's enough to cast serious doubts on Wood's honesty, but it turns out that its actually worse than that: in question time today Hipkins admitted that Cabinet Office had told Wood to sell a full dozen times since the 2020 election, receiving an assurance each time.

Having to be reminded once, or maybe even twice, could be regarded as just a mistake, a matter of things getting away on a busy person. Being reminded a dozen times makes it look less like forgetfulness and more like deliberate non-compliance. And those assurances look less like the hurried "yeah, yeah, I'll get round to it", and more like outright lies.

The rules in the Cabinet Manual are clear: Ministers must behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical and behavioural standards. They must declare their conflicts and have them managed. Wood hasn't just fallen below that standard - he appears to be deliberately flouting it. Its not enough anymore to stand him down from his transport portfolio - he has shown that he simply cannot be trusted. He must be removed as a Minister, and never allowed to sit in Cabinet again.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. First up is the committee stage of a local bill, the New Plymouth District Council (Perpetual Investment Fund) Bill. This will be followed by the third readings of Marja Lubeck's Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Bill and Ian McKelvie's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Exemption for Race Meetings) Amendment Bill. When those are done, the House will move on to the second reading of Camilla Belich's Companies (Directors Duties) Amendment Bill, and it'll probably finish the first reading on Brooke van Velden's Housing Infrastructure (GST-sharing) Bill. If it moves quickly, it will make a start on the first reading of Eugenie Sage's Crown Minerals (Prohibition of Mining) Amendment Bill, and if it gets that far there will be a ballot for one bill.

Next Member's Day should hopefully have a bunch of first readings, which will mean a ballot.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Labour's electoral review

Labour's "independent" review of the electoral system reported back today. You can read the full thing here, but most of it was basicly a rehash of the 2012 Electoral Commission review, and in response to the same questions, produced mostly the same answers: a lower threshold and removing the one-seat rule. Which gives us the same problem: a less-representative parliament. As someone who wants the most representative Parliament possible, that's not a good outcome. If people are concerned about the unfairness between small parties who win electorates and those who don't, the answer is to lower the threshold so it doesn't matter, not to punish both. But then, I guess I'm not some snobby status quo big-party voter...

The interesting answers are to the questions that weren't asked in 2012. The review has recommended lowering the voting age, and a referendum on a four-year term. The first was a foregone conclusion given the Supreme Court ruling. As for the second, its what the review was set up to recommend. But it is good to see the commitment to a referendum, given Labour's earlier idea that they could just stitch up up a deal with National to impose it by insider fiat. Hopefully the recommendation for a referendum will kill that idea, and it will certainly strengthen the argument that any change without a referendum is fundamentally illegitimate. (If there is a referendum, I will of course be voting against...)

There's also strong recommendations to crack down on political donations, including a cap on individual donations and a ban on donations from companies and other legal entities. The review has listened to the people here: we hate money in the political system, view it as a corrupt influence, and want it limited. Sadly, its the politicians, the people who want all that corrupt money, who will be making the decision.

And that's the real problem here. We saw it with the 2012 review: the self-interested politicians liked some recommendations, hated others, sought to cherry-pick them for their own advantage, but were (fortunately) deterred by voter expectations from doing so. I see no reason to think that this review will be any different. Which means that some good reforms will go undone - but so will the shit ones (and to be clear, removing the one-seat rule is shit). This afternoon, Chris Hipkins said Labour would be presenting its own ideas on the electoral system pre-election. Which makes you wonder what the point in an "independent" review was if the government is just going to ignore it and push its own solutions anyway. It just seems like another abuse of the public's good faith, and suggests that all of us who submitted to this review wasted our time, again.

Another trust problem

Today transport Minister Michael Wood was stood down after failing to properly declare a conflict of interest. He'd bought shares in Auckland airport "as a teenager", hidden them in a trust when he became an MP, and failed to declare them for seven years, for three of which he was Transport Minister. While the amount of money involved - $13,000 - is small compared to his $296,007 plus slush annual salary - it is far below the standard of conduct we expect from MPs, let alone Ministers. As I noted back in 2011, when Hekia Parata was caught with an undeclared shareholding in Contact Energy while Minister of Energy, for obvious reasons Ministers should not be financially involved in industries they are supposed to regulate. If they are, then it creates a perception that decisions may be made for personal financial gain.

Standing Wood down is the right decision. Forcing him to sell his shareholding and going over anything else he owns with a fine-toothed comb for other undeclared conflicts of interest also seems justified. Because if he's hidden one thing, the presumption should be that he's also hiding other things, and he should not re-enter public life until he's proved himself clean.

This mess also once again shows the ongoing problem of trusts in undermining public confidence in politicians. Normal people don't have trusts. They're used exclusively by rich people to dodge taxes, criminals to launder money, and politicians to hide their interests and enable corruption. Our political institutions simply should not tolerate them. We should bust the trusts, end secrecy, and force full disclosure so we can all see whether our politicians are clean. As for us voters, we can and should judge the honesty of politicians with trusts at the ballot box.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Australia's most-decorated war-criminal

Ben Roberts-Smith is apparently "Australia’s most decorated living soldier", having won a Victoria Cross for killing people in Afghanistan. But today, after a stupendous self-own defamation case, he's also been proven to be a war criminal who committed multiple murders:

Ben Roberts-Smith VC, Australia’s most decorated living soldier, has lost a defamation case in which he was accused of multiple murders of unarmed civilians in Afghanistan, a federal court judge has found.

Justice Anthony Besanko found that, on the balance of probabilities, Roberts-Smith kicked a handcuffed prisoner off a cliff in Darwan in 2012, before ordering a subordinate Australian soldier to shoot the injured man dead.

And in 2009, Roberts-Smith ordered the execution an elderly man found hiding in a tunnel in a bombed-out compound, as well as murdering a disabled man with a prosthetic leg during the same mission, using a para minimi machine gun.

It's only a civil finding rather than a criminal one, but it still raises the obvious question: when will this war criminal be prosecuted for his crimes? And when will he be stripped of his VC? Or is that now a medal Australia gives to murdering war criminals?