Friday, September 29, 2023

Climate Change: The wrong direction

This week the International Energy Association released its Net Zero Roadmap, intended to guide us towards a liveable climate. The report demanded huge increases in renewable generation, no new gas or oil, and massive cuts to methane emissions. It was positive about our current path, but recommended that countries with net-zero pledges bring them forward to ensure a safe future (so e.g. aiming to be net-zero by 2040 rather than 2050). Meanwhile, the ACT party wants to on in the opposite direction, and renege on our existing climate pledges:

The ACT Party has raised the possibility it would renege on New Zealand's international climate pledge under the Paris Agreement.

On the campaign trail on Tuesday, the party's leader David Seymour said that as well as repealing the Zero Carbon Act and its emissions budgets, ACT would "tie New Zealand's emissions cap to our trading partners' emissions", saying the country was going further and faster than its partners.

[Aotearoa is in fact a laggard among our developed country trading partners, whose targets are typically more ambitious than ours. But ACT's real goal here is to echo US denier talking points blaming China]

This is just the latest phase of ACT's climate change denial. Having accepted it is no longer socially acceptable to deny that the climate is changing or that we are the cause when people are burning to death because of it, they've instead gone for doing nothing in order to delay action and preserve the profits of polluters. But with Aotearoa increasingly facing floods and storms as a consequence of that pollution, I don't think that's socially acceptable either. And its certainly not going to be acceptable to the EU, whose trade agreement includes a climate clause binding us to meeting our existing Paris commitments. But maybe Rimmer wants to renege on that too?

Pure class warfare

National unveiled its fiscal policy today, announcing all the usual things which business cares about and I don't. But it did finally tell us how National plans to pay for its handouts to landlords: by effectively cutting benefits:

The biggest saving announced on Friday was $2b cut from the amount forecast to be spent on benefits over the four-year forecast period.

In 2019, Labour indexed benefits to wages, rather than CPI inflation, meaning benefit levels increase more quickly. New Zealand’s main benefit, superannuation, is indexed to wages too.

National wants to change this back, costing someone receiving the basic rate of jobseeker $33 a week by the end of the forecast period. The benefit payments will still go up, but not by as much.

"Still go up, but not by as much" nicely obscures the fact that this is effectively a cut, made worse by the fact that poor see higher inflation than the rich because of what they buy.

So, National's plan is to rip $2 billion directly out of the pockets of the poorest kiwis, in order to give that money to rich landlords. There is a name for that: it is pure class warfare.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

If not now, then when?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Competing on cruelty

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2023

A pallid shade of Green III

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

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

A coalition of racism, cruelty, and chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 22, 2023

Another Labour bully

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change: Ignoring our biggest problem

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Climate Change: National's policy for failure

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

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

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

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

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

Queenstown was keeping rates low

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Dirty dairy corrupts our democracy

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

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

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


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

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

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

Climate Change: "Offsets" aren't

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2023

A pallid shade of Green II

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

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

National's cooker problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2023

ACT: the party of climate change denial

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Climate Change: How to vote

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Climate Change: Reducing emissions makes us better off

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlawful secrecy in Rotorua II

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

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2023

This is not a "governing" arrangement

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

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

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


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

"I think it would probably be just confidence."

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

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

Friday, September 08, 2023

A pallid shade of Green

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

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


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

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

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Israel is an apartheid state

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

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


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

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

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

More anti-protest law from Labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

An obvious question

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Climate Change: The auction fails again!

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 04, 2023

Climate Change: What policy success looks like II

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 01, 2023

We need to ban environmental criminals

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

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

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

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

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


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

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