Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Police impunity must end

Another day, another IPCA report finding that the police are protecting their own. This case is about a police dog-handler who ordered his dog to attack a teenage girl after she had been arrested and restrained. The police of course thought that was fine. The IPCA disagreed, and thought it was criminal

Police undertook two investigation reports which found that the use of force was justified – but the IPCA disagreed.

Instead, the IPCA ruled that the dog handler was “unjustified” in instructing the dog to bite the girl.

Police also didn’t charge the handler, despite there being sufficient evidence as “they considered the matter did not meet the public interest for prosecution”, the IPCA said.

...which means that this is a case of institutional corruption, as well as an individual's abuse of power. But the kicker? As usual, "[t]he officer remains a member of NZ Police". So there was no accountability for this criminal act.

This isn't good enough. The police cannot be allowed to remain above the law. Given their consistent and corrupt refusal to ever prosecute their own, that power needs to be given to an agency tasked with holding them to account: the IPCA.

SIS shows it cannot be trusted - again

One of the few legitimate functions of the SIS is security vatting: making sure the public servants we trust with sensitive information are in fact trustworthy. But, as in everything else, the SIS do a terrible job at this: in 2016 the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security exposed them as incompetent, trust-abusing muppets who failed to properly safeguard this information, failed to properly record or control access, and (of course) used it for other purposes. The SIS of course solemnly promised they would fix all of this. But seven years later, the IGIS is back, with another report exposing continued illegal use of this information for other purposes.

Section 220 of the Intelligence and Security Act 2017 explicitly bans use of vetting information for any purpose other than security clearance assessment and counter-intelligence. The purpose of the ban is to ensure people can give honest answers to vetting questions without e.g worrying that if they disclose minor past criminal behaviour, the SIS will rat them out to police. But despite this clear legal prohibition, the SIS has been using it for counter-terrorism investigations, and sharing it with law-enforcement. On one occasion, this was apparently done without any legal assessment whatsoever. On another, they relied on a tendentious legal interpretation from their pet lawyers that "disclosure" was not "use", so s220 did not apply (this was stomped on by Crown Law, but only after the information had illegally been disclosed). But most worryingly, they have used intelligence warrants - which allow spies to carry out "an otherwise unlawful activity" - to over-ride the protection of s220. Which effectively renders all the "protections" of the Act a simple nullity. The IGIS recommends this practice stop immediately. Whether it has or not is something we won't know until their next report.

(As an aside, the IGIS also notes that disclosure of vetting information to police may be a crime. But of course no-one will ever be prosecuted for it, because both the spies and police are above the law).

Another report showing that the SIS remains a pervasively criminal agency which is constantly trying to evade the legal limits imposed on it by Parliament is bad enough. But the most worrying aspect of this is the use of intelligence warrants to bypass legal prohibitions on disclosure. The IGIS says that this is unlawful for vetting information because a warrant cannot over-ride the Intelligence and Security Act itself:

Section 49(3) ISA provides that an authorised activity may lawfully be carried out “despite anything to the contrary in any other enactment” [my emphasis]. In my view, if the intent of Parliament was to enable an authorisation to override anything in the ISA itself, the section would state ‘in this or any other enactment’, or words to that effect.
But the upshot of that is that it can be used to over-ride promises of secrecy or confidentiality in other enactments. For example, in the Data and Statistics Act 2022 (allowing them to access your personal dossier in the Integrated Data Infrastructure), or in the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 (allowing them to access your contact-tracing information). Parliament makes these promises for the same reasons as for s220 ISA: to encourage honesty where information is crucial. But it turns out that none of them are binding. Whether the spies are in fact pissing all over Parliament's solemn promises in this way is something we will likely never know (again, unless there is an IGIS report). But the fact that it is a possibility will inevitably affect the quality of the answers the government gets, and is a standing threat to both good government and trust in government in this country.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Challenging ANPR

RNZ reports that the police's use of automated number plate recognition (ANPR) is finally being challenged in court:

Police use of footage from high-tech automated number plate recognition cameras is being challenged in court by defendants.

At least 5000 cameras in two private networks provide footage of vehicle licence plates that police use to prosecute people.

At the heart of the unprecedented legal challenges is that this amounts to use of a tracking device without a warrant, in breach of search and surveillance laws. Another challenge is that it is in breach of the Privacy Act and the Bill of Rights.

There are at least two court cases, but suppressions mean details cannot be reported.

This seems pretty open and shut. On BORA grounds, using ANPR to locate someone or track their movements clearly interferes with a reasonable expectation of privacy (in that we do not expect our movements to be thus tracked without justification), and thus constitutes a "search". As for a tracking device, the definition is very broad: it means "a device that may be used to help ascertain, by electronic or other means... the location of a thing or a person [but] does not include a vehicle or other means of transport, such as a boat or helicopter". The fact that following someone with a car needed to be excluded tells you that the definition covers everything else which serves this function, irrespective of technological specifics. And there's a clear parallel here with interception devices, which means "any electronic, mechanical, electromagnetic, optical, or electro-optical instrument, apparatus, equipment, or other device that is used or is capable of being used to intercept or record a private communication (including a telecommunication)". While this covers physical bugs, it also covers phone and internet taps, which are done at the exchange or ISP, using computers and software. The upshot: an ANPR camera is a "device", as are the computers and databases which store the information and allow police to search it. Which makes ANPR a "tracking device", which in turn makes it a "surveillance device", which in turn means its use by police requires a surveillance warrant. And that does not seem unreasonable at all: police get such warrants all the time, and it means they need to convince a judge that there are actual grounds and an actual offence, rather than just snooping for the sake of it. The police already accept this for "real-time" tracking; they just pretend that a time lag of a few seconds makes it "historic".

Of course, the police are not going to accept being told what to do by mere judges. They'll fight this all the way to the supreme Court, and if they lose there, get the government to change the law and legalise everything they've done. Because that's how things actually work in this country. The rule of law? Not when it comes to the police.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

This really sounds like a "you" problem

The Spinoff today has an article complaining again about the Greens' success - this time not about "vote splitting" undermining the careers of hard-working Labour apparatchiks, but about the "diversion" of activist effort to the Greens and how this is Harming The Left (and the careers of hard-working Labour apparatchiks). The "problem" as the author sees it is that activists and organisers just don't want to work for Labour anymore, and would rather put their effort into an organisation which actually represents their values. Which, from a Green supporters' POV, sounds very much like a "you" problem. And it speaks volumes that rather than, say, considering why those people have fled Labour, and work out how to win them back (by, say, doing a better job and representing their values), they'd rather just complain about it.

Insofar as there's an argument here, its some galaxy-brain stuff about how, if deprived of left-wing activist energy, Labour will be even more centrist. Again, this sounds like a "you" problem. Underlying this is the idea that the Greens need Labour to be a cooperative partner in order to enact their policies. Which assumes of course that the current major party / minor party dynamic between them will remain. And I don't think that's a given. Green activists are pretty explicit that their goal isn't to work with Labour, but to eat them, and while I'm cautious about the speed at which this might happen, the current trajectory certainly suggests it is possible. Unattractive, arrogant whining like that discussed here only makes that more likely.

Major parties have fallen before. In 1919, the Liberal Party, which had been the progressive force in New Zealand politics for thirty years, was challenged by an upstart on its left. That party was Labour. The Liberals did some very familiar whining about "vote-splitting" - which meant more under FPP than it does now - but ended up being gutted by the departure of their progressive activist base. Just a few elections later, they were dead, rebranded as United. Two elections after that, their remnants had merged with Reform, their former professed enemies, to become National (which is what centrists always do: go right). Labour can avoid that fate, by not being crap. But again, that sounds like a "you" problem.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Can the Greens overtake Labour?

With Labour doing so badly this election (and indeed, doing badly every election since 2008, except when Jacinda was in charge), Sue Bradford has suggested that they might soon be overtaken by the Greens:

The Green Party could surpass Labour at the next election if it does not get its act together, former Green MP Sue Bradford says.

Bradford told Morning Report Labour has been taking more of a middle-ground approach to its policies.

"At this point, if Labour goes on like it is, I think that there's every chance that Greens can even potentially overtake them in terms of percentages and numbers in the House, unless Labour does get its act together and become a lot clearer about who they stand for..."

While I'd like to see this happen, a dose of realism is in order: on preliminary results, Labour won roughly two and a half times more party votes than the Greens, and more than twice as many as the Greens and Te Pāti Māori combined. They'd need to collapse to well below their historic minimum (with all votes going to the Greens) for the Greens to come close. And even with their recent awful performance, I just don't see that happening soon, because there's generations of tribal loyalty there.

Longer term, though, its a different story. Every election brings more young voters, who have different values to Labour's older core, and who are energised about Aotearoa's core problems of climate change, inequality, and housing. And every electoral cycle, the Greens convince more of the public that their solutions – emissions reduction, a wealth tax, increased public spending – are what we need. If Labour continues to resist offering those solutions, if it continues trying to protect the status quo and the wealth of its house-hoarding MPs, then voters are going to look naturally to the party which does offer them. Botched, status quo responses to the crises those problems will cause will only strengthen that trend. So it's nowhere near unimaginable for the Green vote to grow and eventually overtake Labour’s, especially if Labour remains crap.

If Labour wants to avoid this fate, they need to not be crap. They need to actually respond to our problems, and promise to fix the bits of the status quo which are so obviously rotten and not working, rather than simply promising to manage it better. And its not clear if they even want to do that, or if the "no more revolutions" / "vision is for people on drugs" conservativism ushered in by Clark has so infected their party as to make it utterly unresponsive to the real world. I'm hoping that they do want to do it, and that they decide to be a better party which offers people something. But if they don't, if all they ever offer is endless austerity as things fall apart, then they deserve to be eaten for lunch.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Good riddance to authoritarian rubbish

Former spy minister Andrew Little has announced he will not be taking up his list seat in the new parliament. Good. As justice minister he failed to deliver on a promised review of the OIA, as spy minister he presided over a further expansion of spy powers, and as defence minister he over-rode a bipartisan select committee to impose secrecy to protect NZDF war crimes. So I'm not at all sorry to see the back of him.

The downside? He'll be replaced by the next candidate on Labour's list - in this case, Shanan Halbert, who is a known bully. It would be good if he did the decent thing and stood aside too.

Democracy wins in Poland

Poland has been on a nasty path for the last eight years, with the ruling "Law and Justice " Party becoming increasingly bigoted, authoritarian, and undemocratic. But they had an election over the weekend, and it looks like Polish voters have thrown their would-be tyrants out:

Opposition parties appear to have won enough votes in Poland's general election to oust the ruling right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) party, almost complete results show.

With more than 99% of votes counted, PiS led with 35.64%, while Donald Tusk's liberal Civic Coalition party had 30.48%.

But Mr Tusk is now most likely to be able to form a broad coalition.

That would end eight years of rule under PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

And all of this on a record turnout, with more young people voting than pensioners. I guess they wanted a future that wasn't just full of hate and resentment.

The new government will have a lot of work to do: restoring abortion rights, rebuilding relations with the EU, restoring the independence of the judiciary, public service, and state media (all of which are full of PiS cronies). But at least they have a chance to do it, and turn Poland back into a modern democratic state, rather than an authoritarian Kaczynski fiefdom.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The political holiday

Well, the election is done, and the result sucks, but now we're into the interregnum. The outgoing government is in caretaker mode. While there are negotiations to form a new one, nothing is likely to happen until after the specials are counted and the results formalised in early November. So there's no policy, and nothing really but feverish speculation about what Winston will demand. In other words, three weeks' holiday.

I think I might as well make the most of it, because once Parliament sits we'll be straight into the pre-xmas rush of urgent repeals and all-stages bullshit that National traditionally starts government with.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The afternoon after

So, yesterday we voted, and unsurprisingly, the party which stood for nothing and offered nothing lost. Anyone surprised by this clearly hadn't been paying attention - the collapse in Labour's party vote had been clear for the past two months, and while there was a bit of a rally in the last week, it was too little, too late. So, we're stuck with National and ACT - and if the specials go the usual way, they'll be forced into the clammy embrace of Winston, which means its chaos ahoy!

Labour hacks are already blaming the Greens and Te Pāti Māori, both of whom had a very good night, which just shows that the relic status quo party still doesn't understand MMP. As a reminder, electorates don't matter - all that counts is the party vote. And the equation for the left there is that the Greens need to deliver 10%, and Labour 40% (TPM and the wasted vote can fudge these numbers a bit, but that's the basic shape of it). The Greens kept up their end. Labour didn't. This is their loss, and they need to own it, recognise why (I'd start with being a bunch of useless, uninspiring, status quo hacks), and most of all, fix it. But this being the Labour Party, I doubt that will happen. Instead, we'll have three years of them deciding they need to be more centrist and promise even less - and then they'll whine "why does nobody like us?" again.

(That equation above also explains why the Greens are happy: whether they're in government or not is largely up to Labour, so all they can do is deliver their end. They did, plus won a bunch of electorates to build their party's long-term base, and are on-track to have their highest vote ever after the specials. And all after having been in government, breaking the minor-partner curse for the second time. They're also very much playing a long game, but for policy, not power. Its never a good time for a party to be in opposition (and now is a very bad time for the right to be dismantling climate policy) - but its going to happen in a democracy, so its a time to advocate and build. Success or failure will be measured in how far the political consensus shifts towards core green policies in the next three years, not in how many people get ministerial salaries).

I expect the next three years to be vicious, cruel, and stupid - and that's before even considering the divisive effects of ACT's proposed Treaty referendum (which is an invite for social unrest). My hope is that National is forced into the arms of Winston, and then suffers his curse (two out of three governments forced to work with Winston have lost the next election - the exception being Ardern, who was saved by covid). My big worry is that Labour has fucked things up so badly they won't be able to present a credible alternative against even that low bar in three years, and so we'll all suffer the consequences of their uselessness.

Friday, October 13, 2023

The last day

Today is the last day of the 2023 election campaign for now), and after midnight, its illegal for us to talk about politics for a bit - which is likely to be a welcome relief. Its been a gruelling and yet also boring election campaign, in which the status quo parties wanked on about law and order and the size of each other's fiscal holes, while ignoring the murderous cow in the room. There was also the sight of them desperately avoiding appearing next to the smaller parties, for fear that actual ideas might enter the campaign, and even to avoid debating each other. The message I took from it was that the status quo parties were arrogant, irrelevant, cowardly, and had nothing to say to me - at best they were intent on ignoring Aotearoa's real challenges of climate change, inequality, and housing, and in National's case, they wanted to make all of those problems worse.

From the beginning, Labour's sheer cowardice and reluctance to offer anything suggested they wanted to lose, and were going to do so by default. But National's desperate step of ruling Winston in, then their desperate threats to call another election if they had to work with him - a decision not up to them - plus a late rally from Labour means the outcome is a lot less certain. I still think we're likely to get a National-ACT-NZ First coalition of racism, cruelty and chaos out of this, but there's now a slim chance of Labour making it back (in which case I guess we get to see what the long-dreamed-of Labour-Green-Te Pāti Māori coalition will look like in practice). In any case, it looks like the Greens are on track to have a good election, so that voice will be there to demand a better future, even if National and ACT try to burn us all to death. We'll know tomorrow night, or in early November when the specials are counted and the results finalised.

(And if the worst happens, well, any coalition of chaos is likely to be short-lived, and taint the participants thoroughly. So there’s always that to hope for...)

Anyway, at this stage, all I can say is: if you haven't voted: please remember to do so. You can vote at any polling place, and you don't need ID (though having your EasyVote card will make it fractionally quicker). If you're not enrolled, you can do it on the day. Elections are won by those who turn up. So make your voice heard, and vote.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Climate Change: Farmers hoist by their own petard

Farmers are New Zealand's worst polluters. As Newsroom pointed out this week, they're responsible for 50% of emissions, while only generating 5.5% of GDP for it (making them inefficient as well as dirty). But while the government has been slack about ending subsidies and forcing them to reduce their pollution, the market is beginning to come to the rescue, with Nestlé forcing Fonterra to set a serious emissions reduction target. And now banks are getting into it to, setting targets to reduce their financed emissions. The response of those polluting farmers? First, threats to switch banks. Then, when they realise that no-one wants to do business with them anymore, whining about anticompetitive behaviour.

...except its not anticompetitive. Reducing lending to polluters isn't just socially responsible - its also good business sense. Because in the modern world - as opposed to the 1950's when these polluting farmers still think they live - every polluter you lend to is a risk to a bank's brand, and to the extent they resist cleanup, a bad business risk as well (in that Fonterra will likely stop taking their milk). And the louder they whine, the bigger those risks are.

The irony is that if farmers had accepted a carbon tax back in 2003, or being part of the ETS in 2012 or 2020, they'd be well on the way to meeting those targets, and wouldn't have nearly so much to worry about. But their own intransigence has boxed them into a corner, leaving them with high emissions and a need for much steeper cuts. But that's what you get for being a short-sighted, Ranger-driving knuckle-dragger. And the quicker they get debanked and go bankrupt, the better.

We can't trust MPs with trusts

When former Cabinet Minister Michael Wood was effectively fired for corruption after repeatedly and deliberately refusing to disclose a conflict of interest, it exposed an ongoing problem with MPs and trusts. The creation of the register of pecuniary interests was meant to resolve issues around MPs and conflicts of interest, by ensuring they declared everything. But many of them are rich and therefore conflicted by virtue of that wealth, and so tried to hide (and thereby enable) their conflicts behind trusts. The registrar has been having none of it, recognising that a trust is just a legal fiction, but some MPs still haven't got the message. And among them is National's Andrew Bayly:

A National MP who may be critical to his party's post-election hopes has confirmed he owns undisclosed shares in a successful software company that contracts to government agencies.

Andrew Bayly's shares are now worth AU$86,000 (NZ$91,600), according to a valuation prepared as SiteSoft International Ltd prepared to list on the Australian stock exchange.


Last night Andrew Bayly, who had been a strong critic of former Cabinet minister Michael Wood failing to disclose shares, insisted he had no obligation to disclose his own shares – because they're held in his family trust, the Paparangi Trust.

That's moot: MPs on Parliament's privileges committee say they shouldn't have to disclose non-property assets held in trust, but the Registrar of Pecuniary Interests Sir Maarten Wevers says they do have to. Even after Wevers confirmed that view earlier this year, and other MPs updated the register, Bayly made no move to disclose his SiteSoft shares.

Let's be clear: this is dirty and it is corrupt. The decisions Bayly makes as an MP - let alone if he is given Ministerial responsibilities post-election - could directly affect this firm. He should therefore declare his interest, however he holds it, so that we can ensure that he behaves properly. Given the clear statements of the registrar, his consistent refusal to do so can only be taken as indicating intent to behave improperly. And that is something we should not tolerate.

And the problem for Bayly is probably much larger than this. According to his entry in the Register of Pecuniary Interests, he has not one, but five trusts. That's five deliberately-engineered legal structures to hide fuck-knows-what and enable him to profit from his conflicts of interest. And with that amount of effort, you have to ask what exactly he is trying to hide.

Beyond Bayly, half of all MPs are hiding conflicts behind trusts. And because of those hidden conflicts, we can't trust any of them.

As I said when Wood was sacked, 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 system simply should not tolerate this. It is simply not safe to do so. Instead, we should bust those trusts, end the secrecy, and force anyone standing for or holding public office to make a full and public disclosure of everything they and their legal fictions own, so that we can see if they're clean or not. And if, like Bayly, they refuse, we are perfectly entitled to view them as dirty.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

More class warfare

National's tax plan is to cut benefits to give money to landlords. That's bad enough, but it gets worse when you look at how many people are affected. On the one hand, we have 170,000-odd people on jobseeker benefits, who will face reduced living standards. And on the other, we have 300 mega-landlords, who will get a million dollars each:

New analysis released exclusively to Newshub shows a group of 300 landlords are set to become tax-cut millionaires under National's tax plan.


In 2021, data showed there were 346 landlords who owned at least 200 properties each. The CTU analysis shows those landlords are in for an average tax cut of $1.3m each over five years - the total going to that group: $464m.

"There is no benefit to giving millions of dollars to already wealthy landlords and taking it from disabled people, single mums and others who desperately need every dollar they can get," said CTU economist Craig Renney.

National's grand plan is to steal from the poor to give to the ultra-rich. It is that simple. And that's their basic philosophy of government: rob. Steal. Redistribute upwards, so the mega-landlords and deca-millionaires who used to run airlines get everything. As for the rest of us, the other 99.9%, we're just marks to be robbed and driven into poverty so they and their friends get rich.

Obviously, unless you're a multi-millionaire, don't vote for them or their allies on Saturday.

Still taking the piss

Back in 2009, we learned that then-Deputy PM Bill English was being paid by us to "rent" his own home, thanks to some dodgy corporate arrangements - involving, of course, a trust - so that he could pretend that he didn't really own it. The public recognised this for the corrupt rort it was, and following an investigation by the Auditor-General, the system was "reformed" to just give MPs and Ministers a fixed accommodation allowance, so they could rort without question. And so somewhat unsurprisingly, they're still doing it:

At least 20 MPs are claiming up to $45,000 a year allowance to stay in their own Wellington homes, a perk that sees the taxpayer help politicians pay off their mortgages.

Four ministers (Duncan Webb, Jan Tinetti, Deborah Russell and Willie Jackson) claimed the capped allowance, of up to $45,000 a year, to cover living costs in the city. They then use it to pay rent on property they already own.

Four Government MPs (Arena Williams, Jenny Salesa, Jamie Strange and Sarah Pallet) claim an entitlement of up to $31,000 per year.

Twelve National Party MPs, including leader Christopher Luxon, do the same. They are: Andrew Bayly; Gerry Brownlee; Judith Collins; Jacqui Dean; Barbara Kuriger; Melissa Lee; Ian McKelvie; Mark Mitchell; Simon O’Connor; Stuart Smith; Louise Upston and Michael Woodhouse.

ACT’s Simon Court also claims the allowance and owns property in the Capital, but the party did not respond to a request for comment.

As I said when English's corruption was exposed, living in Wellington is part of an MP's job, and it is entirely properly that we meet the actual, reasonable, and necessary expenses of doing so. But its quite another thing to be paying them to live in their own homes, or giving them a leg up on the Wellington property market (and taxpayer-subsidised capital gains) as a perk of office. These MPs are rorting us, and undermining trust in our political system in the process. What makes it all the more appalling is that they know how toxic such behaviour is with the public, and yet they keep doing it. Its as if they just can't help themselves. Which something pretty bad about the sorts of people we're electing as MP's.

So what's the alternative? While the temptation is to make MPs live in a dorm with cold showers, or in rental properties from lowest-bidder providers with management outsourced to Quinovic, so they know how normal people live, we do actually need them to be able to do their jobs without being dragged away from the House by pointless property inspections and demands that they clean the inside of the oven. Fortunately, there's an easy option: the government could provide and manage MPs' housing directly, just as they do for the PM and used to do for other Ministers. And that way, we know exactly what it costs, it can be managed properly, and no-one gets to use public service as a sneaky way of getting themselves a million dollar house and some tax-free capital gains. But of course, since MP's write their own rules to advantage themselves, that's the last thing they'll accept.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

10/10: World Day Against the Death Penalty


Today, October 10, is the world day against the death penalty. Out of 195 UN member states, 76 still permit routine capital punishment. Today is the day we work to change that.

This year's theme is the same as last year's: the link between the death penalty and torture. Quite apart from the use of torture to extract "confessions" in some death penalty states, methods of execution, death-row living conditions, and the suffering from anticipating execution can often constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment. Eliminating the death penalty will help eliminate these forms of torture.

The good news is that we are slowly winning. Earlier this year Ghana abolsihed the death penalty for ordinary crimes (though it still retains it for treason, for now), and Malaysia abolished its mandatory death penalty. Kenya, which hasn't executed anyone in 36 years, commuted all its outstanding death sentences to life imprisonment. While none of this is complete, formal abolition, its progress all the same.

Monday, October 09, 2023

An environmental killer

Newsroom's Marc Daalder published an important piece over the weekend about air pollution, the invisible killer. It kills 3300 people a year, three times as many people as Covid, and ten times more than the road toll. The social cost of this is $15.6 billion a year. Most of Aotearoa violates WHO safe guidelines for air quality. Basicly, we live in a toxic sewer, and it is killing us.

And yet the government has consistently dragged its feet on doing anything. In 2011, then-environment minister Nick Smith delayed tougher air quality standards for councils until 2020, murdering 685 people in the process - and that was when we thought the death toll was only 1100 a year! In 2021, the WHO responded to evidence of increased harm from air pollution by tightening standards. Last year, a new study tripled the annual death toll, to 3300. And still the government did nothing. Officials "have no timeframe" for introducing a new National Environmental Standard on air quality. Its "too hard", and they're too busy on other things, and the deaths are invisible, so its easier and cheaper just to let people die.

Except its not too hard. The particulates and gases which kill us are caused by burning things, particularly fossil fuels. So acting on climate change, particularly by decarbonising transport, will massively reduce the death toll - by up to 2200 people a year for transport alone. We can actually do this, and the benefits - $10 billion a year for transport alone - are significant. But Treasury doesn't include those benefits in its calculations. And so 3300 people die every year, because our lives don't count on the government's spreadsheets.

This is fundamentally immoral. It is also a fundamental breach of duty by the government. This is a known environmental killer. It is the government's job to protect us from it. If they do not, it is murder. It is that simple.

Sunday, October 08, 2023

National's arrogant and contemptuous attitude

Last month, National Party leader Chris Luxon proudly declared that he would work with Winston to oust Labour. Today, his party is trying to threaten another election if he's forced to do what he said he would do:

The National Party has ramped up its efforts to try to stop NZ First holding the balance of power by raising the prospect of a second election, warning there was “a very real and growing possibility” National could not get a deal done, or of a hung parliament.

It comes as polls show it is increasingly likely National will need both NZ First and Act to form a government, despite National leader Christopher Luxon’s pleas to voters to deliver a clear two-party hand to him.

National’s campaign chair Chris Bishop said there was a scenario in which the left and right blocs got 60 seats all - “that chance is a real one and growing.”

“The second scenario is when there is essentially a hung Parliament and NZ First is in the middle, but it is just impossible to do a deal between National, Act and NZ First. That is a very real and growing possibility and that would necessitate, essentially, a second election.”

"Necessitate" is doing a lot of work there. Because it seems there's plenty of negotiation space on all sides for deals to form a government which don't require that at all. But National here is basicly demanding a do-over unless it gets exactly the sort of government it wants, as if the views of voters - and in particular, other voters, which they are forced to consider because MMP requires coalitions - didn't matter at all. It's as if they were saying "no coalitions; we'll go back to the polls unless you give us majority government".

This is an arrogant and contemptuous attitude, both to democracy and their potential coalition partners. And it conflicts fundamentally with the strong convention in Aotearoa that politicians must accept the election result and try and make it work, no matter how much they dislike it. That may mean a weak government which can't do anything (NZ First or ACT providing confidence and supply and nothing else, hamstringing each others' policy agenda). But if that's what we voted for, that's what we get. And if the politicians want something better, they need to make it work, and find some common ground. Jim Bolger could do that. Helen Clark could as well. So could Jacinda Ardern. Today, Chris Bishop is saying that National can't - or won't.

(And even if they apparently can, he's just signalled an intention to call a new election at the first excuse. I don't think Winston will take kindly to that threat. Demanding UK-style legislation to protect against such abuse unless a supermajority of parliament votes for an early election seems to be an obvious coalition demand).

If National's coalition of chaos negotiations fall apart, and Winston doesn't respond by offering confidence and supply to Labour as a "fuck you", and National gets its way and forces people back to the polls, I doubt people will be happy. Voters punish Prime Ministers who try and game the system by calling a snap election (Muldoon, Clark); I expect the punishment for those who try and game it even more by forcing a do-over because they don't like our choices to be even more severe.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

The police do not care about election violence

At least, not if it targets Māori, apparently. That's the obvious conclusion from this morning's news that Te Pāti Māori candidate Hana-Rāwhiti Maipi-Clarke was targeted by a second home invasion yesterday, by a high profile National Party supporter, and all the police did was issue a trespass notice:

Party president John Tamihere said the person involved in the latest incident was "an elderly Pākehā man" who was a well-known advocate and campaigner for the National Party, and the incident was politically motivated.

"Huntly's a small town, and what he wasn't aware of is that whānau were in residence when Hana on her schedule on her facebook page was out campaigning. When he entered the house and was confronted he advised 'oh I thought Hana was out on the campaign trail'," he told Morning Report.

"He then fled the scene and was followed to his house in Huntly, his house has National Party hoardings on it ... these are facts."

Police trespassed the man and could have laid a criminal charge of unlawful entry but had chosen not to, he said, so the party would be seeking further action.

You'd think, given the past targeting of Maipi-Clarke, with burglaries, vandalism, home invasion, and threats, they might take the issue a bit seriously, as a way of protecting the integrity of the electoral process. But no. But we all know it would have been a very different story had the races of the perpetrator and victim been reversed...

The public deserve better than this. Sadly, it seems like the NZ police are just utterly unreformable.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

The duopoly's contempt for voters

Over the weekend we learned that Chris Hipkins has Covid, and so would not be able to participate in The Press's leader's debate (which was scheduled for last night). Labour and national then proceeded to bicker over rescheduling and substitutes, with Chris Luxon desperately trying to avoid another appearance (since he came off so badly in the last one). The Press meanwhile read the room, said "screw this", and invited all party leaders for a proper debate, so that voters could see all the options, as well as how they got along. So naturally, the status quo duopoly refused to participate:

After postponing, The Press invited the leaders of every party tracking to return to Parliament to a debate next week.

Leaders of NZ First, the Greens, ACT and Te Pāti Māori have accepted.

They will face The Press and a crowd of more than 2000 people at the Christchurch Town Hall, on Tuesday, October 10. This will be the final power brokers debate before polling day.

Hipkins, who said he wanted to debate Luxon at The Press debate next week, declined to face the other parties.


In Christchurch on Tuesday, Luxon stood by his decision not to return for a rescheduled debate with Hipkins. Labour has published photos of Luxon dressed as a chicken, saying he’s trying to wriggle out of debates.

This is simply utter contempt for voters. Hipkins and Luxon supposedly want to be Prime Minister. But they won't front up to face the public - or their potential coalition partners. And the natural conclusion is because they fear being shown up by the far superior offerings (both policywise and of leadership) from the smaller parties. It is arrogant and undemocratic. And then they wonder why people call them a political elite...

And its particularly stupid from Hipkins, who now needs all the exposure he can get. And with Labour polling so low its practically a minor party itself, and looking to lose core MPs, you'd think he'd be trying to save them.

Spies spreading like cancer

We thought things were bad enough with two government spy agencies sniffing people's underwear while resolutely looking the other way on Nazis. But apparently MBIE has created a new one practically overnight:

Newly released Official Information Act documents show the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE) intelligence wing, MI, has expanded in the past 12 months beyond immigration to cover the entire sprawling ministry, taking charge of intelligence and operations if there is a national security threat.

Its budget has doubled in one year to $11 million - almost quadruple what it was in 2017 - and its staff has grown to 115.

Its focus is on "national security and intelligence" through a "National Security Intelligence Team", even though the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS), Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and National Assessment Bureau already do this. Unlike MI, those spy agencies all have outside scrutiny from an independent watchdog; MI has none, only an internal monitoring group.

Immigration has had its own intelligence shop for a while, focusing on "people traffickers" (refugees) and pushing Australian paranoia about "mass arrivals" (which haven't happened in Aotearoa since 1840). But expanding it to cover other business units is new. MBIE is huge, and covers things like workplace relations, research, science and technology, outer space, energy, crown minerals, commerce, and broadcasting. And while you might be able to see a case for immigration to have spies, the rest looks downright dangerous. As a reminder, NZPAM - part of MBIE - was caught in 2018 using private spies Thompson & Clark to spy on the climate change movement, resulting in a government inquiry and a formal ban on such outsourcing. It seems that they've responded to that ban by taking that spying in-house. Meanwhile, their actual enforcement duties - like stopping the exploitation of migrants - seem to have been grossly neglected. Because apparently there's more prestige in empire-building and hob-nobbing with intelligence agencies and "overseas partners" than in doing your fucking job.

This agency needs to be shut down immediately, and its Minister and chief executive hauled over the coals by parliament and forced to explain what the fuck they were thinking. We have too many spies in Aotearoa already. We do not need more.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

The police know they suck at the OIA

In recent years I've done a long series of posts poking into police OIA data and how it hides how badly the police suck at carrying out their obligations under the Act. And in a response to a recent request, it seems the police have been doing the same. A routine followup on an Ombudsman's opinion resulted in them giving me a consultants report on NZ Police OIA compliance. The report largely confirms my analysis: most requests to police are standard and routine request types (or not OIAs at all), which are handled quickly at a district level - Traffic Crash Requests (which are not OIAs), insurance requests, and requests from lawyers, social workers, or Oranga Tamariki staff or others involved in the justice system. The problem is anything which isn't one of these requests - the sorts of requests journalists file, seeking policy background for example. These are handled by PNHQ, and the data on those is absolutely dismal. Here's a breakdown of timeliness by workgroup, and its appalling:


The average is less than 50%, and some groups are handling less than a quarter of requests on time (there is a caveat that the Police Information Request Tool does not necessarily handle extensions properly, but that's their data).

How are things this bad? The usual police problems: poor leadership, no ownership, poor training and institutional culture, and no proper performance reporting - meaning that Ombudsman's complaints and adverse media reports are their only feedback mechanism. They correctly pick up that the sign-out process is a common blockage and responsible for many delays (which they blame on "capacity of those doing the sign-outs, [and] relative priority of OIAs to other work") - but they completely miss the underlying driver of increased information control freakery from police command. So any good work done by people lower down the chain gets destroyed by those at the top wanting to cover their arse against the possibility of bad headlines.

There's a host of recommendations, and the questions now is whether the police listen, or just continue to suck. Given their past performance and institutional resistance to change, my money is on the latter.

Monday, October 02, 2023

Labour still protecting the status quo

Aotearoa has a cost of living crisis. And one of the major drivers of this crisis is the supermarket duopoly, who gouge every dollar they can out of us. Last year, the Commerce Commission found that the duopoly was in fact anti-competititve, giving the government social licence to fix the problem. Instead, Labour decided to protect the status quo, by slow-walking minor changes which will do sweet fuck-all. But now there's an election, so suddenly they're promising action:

If Labour is returned to government, it says it could look to finance new grocery retailers setting up business in New Zealand in a bid to cut the price of groceries and increase competition.

Consumer Affairs spokesperson Duncan Webb said in Auckland on Monday that Labour would back credible companies wanting to get into or expand in the New Zealand grocery business.

“This could include finance, making sure land is available, regulatory changes, incubating innovation and accelerating competition,” he said.

“We need to go further than we have to date to force the type of competition shoppers overseas experience.”

While I appreciate the sentiment, the timing on this is utterly cynical, effectively holding something they should have been doing anyway hostage to electoral outcomes in an effort to grub votes. But in addition to that, it's also weaksauce. The duopoly has already crushed efforts by others to enter the market, and looks likely to continue, even if they are backed by Labour market buzzwords. So even when they're trying to appear to do something, Labour are also still trying to protect the status quo and its unjust profits.

As I said, its weak. The supermarket dupoly is a scourge, and there is an obvious solution: break it up. Force the duopolists to split into two companies each, and limit them from growing too much. Any party which proposes anything less is simply not serious about the problem.

And after that, do the banks...