Thursday, March 28, 2024

National's total reversal on marine protection

In 2015, then-Prime Minister John Key announced plans for a huge ocean sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands, banning fishing and mining from 15% of Aotearoa's EEZ. It was bold, it was ambitious, and it suggested that National might actually care about the environment. Except they fucked it up: Key failed to consult iwi, in violation of the 1992 Treaty settlement on fisheries, resulting in a threatened court case and ACT - ACT! - pulling its support. The bill then sat on the order paper for the next nine years while first National, then Labour, tried to do what should have been done in the first place, and negotiated with iwi. For six of those years, when Labour was in power, National would ask about the bill regularly, suggesting strongly that they still supported it.

...and now, they've killed it:

The Government has given up trying to establish the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, with Cabinet scrapping the bill proposing the marine reserve.

It’s almost a decade since former Prime Minister John Key first announced plans for a 620,000sq km sanctuary at the United Nations in New York in 2015.

Ocean and Fisheries Minister Shane Jones said in a statement Cabinet had decided to pull the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill from Parliament’s order paper, stopping further progress on establishing the sanctuary.

He argued the current marine reserve around the Kermadec Islands, which extended 12 nautical miles, was “ample” to preserve the environment and marine life.

Worse, yesterday Jones mentioned "manganese nodules in the Kermadecs" in response to a question on seabed mining - so it seems that National has gone from wanting the EEZ around the Kermadecs to be effectively the marine equivalent of a national park, to wanting to mine it - a total reversal.

The lesson here: we can't rely on National to respect Te Tiriti, and we can't rely on them to protect the environment either. If we want people to work in good faith towards those outcomes, we need to vote for someone else.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The SIS turns Parliament into liars again

When Parliament passed the Intelligence and security Act in 2017, they assured us all that it was full of safeguards. Any intrusive surveillance of New Zealanders would be subject to a "triple lock", requiring the approval of the Minister and (supposedly independent) Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants, as well as post-facto review by the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence. But according to the latest report from the Inspector-General, the SIS has turned them all into liars.

The problem is that the SIS has switched from using individual warrants to "class-based" ones when collecting intelligence on potential terrorism and violent extremism. So rather than having to convince the Minister and Commissioner of the need to spy on a particular person, as they were required to do in the past, they have instead switched to convincing the Minister and the Commissioner that they need to spy on classes of people, broadly and apparently subjectively defined - meaning that the actual decisions about who gets spied on and how are left entirely to them. This is clearly envisioned by the Act, but at the same time also clearly evades all those safeguards we were told about. And in the specific case, the Inspector-General argues persuasively that it is a "general warrant" (one which does not specify exactly what can be done under it) - a thing which has been unlawful since forever. And interestingly, once you strip away the tortured language designed to hide the admission, it seems that Crown Law agreed:

The Service disagreed with me that the warrants were general warrants at common law, provided the class definitions were tightened, and this was a view supported by Crown Law.
[Emphasis added]

The SIS subsequently did that. But the "improved" warrant still lets them decide "what ideologies are considered terrorism or violent extremism, who is a valid target, and what intrusive activities would be carried out, up to the maximum level of intrusiveness that the law allows." It may no longer be illegal, but it is absolutely improper.

That question of propriety is the real and underlying issue here. The IGIS is clear that while class-based warrants may legally be available, using them for intrusive surveillance "undermines the spirit of the warranting regime" and betrays the promises made to us about safeguards:

The authorising framework in the ISA provides for a process to give the public confidence in the justification for the agencies’ actions, by requiring external authorisation for the use of highly intrusive powers. Prior authorisation is a safeguard against agency overreach. It helps to ensure that breaches of protected rights in the interests of national security are justified and according to law. In the development of the ISA, this was described as a “triple-lock” of protection for individuals, with the three locks being control from the Minister, the Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants, and post-facto review by the IGIS. The effective delegation to NZSIS, under these warrants, of decisions on who to target for counter-terrorism or violent extremism purposes, by what means and for how long, and to undertake the most intrusive activities available, effectively leaves the scrutiny of individual cases to my office alone, after the fact. That is not what the public was led to expect.
Bluntly, the ISA was meant to stop the spies from doing whatever the fuck they want. This is a deliberate circumvention of all those safeguards. It is absolutely unacceptable. Further, it betrays that the culture of lawlessness and unaccountability the ISA was meant to stamp out continues to exist, in the SIS at least. And if that's the case, you really have to ask why we tolerate their continued existence.

IGIS will now be putting the SIS's improperly-delegated targeting decisions under the microscope, giving them the scrutiny the Minister and Commissioner should have. But while that's better than nothing, its not enough. And you really have to ask whether the Minister and Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants were doing their jobs properly when they signed off on this. The then-Minister, Andrew Little, is gone, so there's nothing we can do about him other than make sure he's not let within a mile of the position in future. As for the Commissioner, this seems to be a strong case for removal for neglect of duty.

Monday, March 25, 2024

No credibility

At the 2017 election, the Labour Party under Jacinda Ardern ran on a policy of investigating the fairness of Aotearoa's tax system, with any changes delayed until after the 2020 election. When their Tax Working Group reported back in 2019 recommending a capital-gains tax, Ardern immediately ruled it out for as long as she was Prime Minister. And when she quit, and IRD's High Wealth Individuals Research Project produced a cast-iron case for taxing wealth, her chickenshit successor Chris Hipkins ruled that out too. But now, he's supposedly promising to look at it again:

The Opposition leader, who ruled out campaigning on capital gains and wealth taxes ahead of the 2023 election, in a speech at the weekend said both were back on the table, as was a land tax. The idea is to ease the tax burden on salary and wage earners, who are "shouldering a disproportionate share" compared to those whose money comes from their wealth.

"Under this government, those with multiple investment properties are getting huge tax breaks while those on salary and wages pay tax on every dollar they earn," Hipkins told supporters on Sunday.

But while it's good to see Hipkins has apparently changed his mind on this, given his and his party's past actions, there's a complete lack of credibility here. To put it bluntly: they have offered this before. And then, when handed an opportunity to do it on a plate - with an unthinkable majority government even - they have failed to deliver. So why should we believe them this time? Likewise, if they won't even admit a mistake, but just say "that was then and this is now", why should we think that their position won't suddenly reverse again the moment they're back in government and getting those higher salaries and big, wealth-building perks again? Especially when the spineless chickenshit who did that is still in charge?

If Labour wants us to believe them, they need to offer us a leader who clearly believes in their policies, rather than in nothing. Meanwhile, there are other parties offering fairer taxation policies, who have been consistent for decades on this issue, and who can be trusted. So if you actually want to tax wealth and capital gains, I'd suggest voting Green.

Friday, March 22, 2024

For once, the answer was "yes"

Back in January, Te Kāhui / Criminal Cases Review Commission referred a historic indecent assault case back to the Court of Appeal after finding that the police had coached a witness into identifying their chosen suspect, deliberately hidden what had happened from the court, and lied to investigators about it. At the time, I asked the usual question: would they be prosecuted? And for once, the answer was "yes":

Two police officers have been charged with perverting the course of justice after the Criminal Cases Review Commission raised issues about a police officer’s actions in allegedly influencing a victim in a sex case.

That man has since had his convictions quashed, acquittal’s entered and granted permanent name suppression by the High Court.

Court documents seen by Stuff show two men, one whose occupation is listed as as police officer, have been jointly charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice in 2013.

They entered not guilty pleas on Friday and were granted interim name suppression.

Good. And hopefully this will deter future incidents of such corruption as well. Meanwhile, the police are going to need to review every case these officers have been involved in, for similar abuses. And if they don't, anyone convicted by their evidence may force the issue.

This is a natural consequence of having a body to investigate past miscarriages of justice. Some of those miscarriages will be the result of police corruption, and it is vital that where that is identified, the officers involved are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Not only is that essential to do right by their victims - which includes the victims of the crime they have now fucked up irreversibly - but also it is the only way we can have faith and confidence in the police as an institution, and in the justice system as a whole. If the police conspire to protect their own, then we have no reason to trust them.

Thursday, March 21, 2024


A ballot for 4 Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Insurance Contracts Bill (Duncan Webb)
  • Income Tax (Clean Transport FBT Exclusion) Amendment Bill (Julie Anne Genter)
  • Crimes (Increased Penalties for Slavery Offences) Amendment Bill (Greg Fleming)
  • Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) (3 Day Postnatal Stay) Amendment Bill (Catherine Wedd)
So we now seem to be having two ballots a week, which is weird.

Institutional traitors

One of the strongest narratives about "our" spy agencies is that they are basically institutional traitors, working for foreign powers (or just themselves), without any control or oversight by the elected government. And today, we have yet another report from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security which explicitly confirms this.

The short version: the GCSB hosted a signals intelligence system controlled by a foreign spy agency for years. But despite this system being able to be used to support military operations - which reading between the lines, means "drone murders" - they never told the Minister or sought Ministerial approval, despite the obvious human rights and foreign policy implications. On top of that, having agreed to host it, they then apparently forgot they were doing so, thanks to the usual recipe of secrecy, deliberately poor record-keeping, and incompetence. They only noticed again when it broke - at which time they did the right thing, turned it off, and contacted the Inspector-General.

The IGIS finds that while the hosting, data-sharing, and required collection were (mostly) authorised and lawful under the "manifestly inadequate" authorisations of the day, the failure to tell the Minister was utterly improper, violating the (then) statutory requirement of Ministerial control as well as the "no-surprises" policy.

It gets worse. Because despite the agreement with their foreign "partners" saying that the GCSB would have full visibility and would exercise due diligence over the system, they just didn't. They kept no records, weren't told what it was being used for, didn't bother asking, and of course never did any audits or reviews. They were so shit that after the agreement was signed and the system was installed, the knowledge was not passed on to new directors or senior leaders - meaning they had no idea of what they were doing (I am wondering how much of this was due to the switch from the old Defence-MFAT mafia to civilian leadership). Which means that if it was used for drone-murders, in likely violation of both New Zealand law and our foreign policy, they had no fucking idea. Which leads to this bit from the IGIS:

I have one further observation to make. There is one scenario contemplated by the MOU that I have no doubt would have been outside the scope of the various collection authorisations and, therefore unlawful and improper. Action from GCSB on a request from the partner operating the capability to collect signals not already tasked by GCSB, for the purpose of supporting a military operation, would have been outside the scope of the stated purposes of the authorisations. I would hope this never happened but, given the inadequacies in the GCSB’s monitoring and record keeping of the capability in action, I have no comfort that it did not.
We deserve something more than"hope" that "our" spies didn't break the law. Unfortunately, apparently that is all they and their oversight mechanisms can give us.

The good news is that the Inspector-General thinks that this is unlikely to happen again. I'd like to believe that, and it certainly looks like the culture and acceptance of oversight at GCSB has changed. Unfortunately, given their level of secrecy and the prohibition on the Parliamentary Intelligence and security Committee from inquiring into "operational matters", we will never know. Unless we see another report like this in a decade's time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

We know how to make rent affordable: crush landlords

In question time today, Housing Minister Chris Bishop, in response to questions about the Kāinga Ora waitlist, said that the government's policy goal was to “get rent affordability better under control”. He seemed to think this was a matter of everyone but Kāinga ora building houses, plus of course the (bullshit) trickle-down effect from giving huge tax cuts to landlords. But an article in the Guardian last night on the UK's housing crisis shows that the policy solutions to high rents are known and tested:

In the 1970s, when [Tory MP Edward] Leigh’s contemporaries were buying their first homes, they were the direct beneficiaries of an imploding private rental market. Rent controls, secure tenancies and high interest rates had conspired to decimate the sector: it shrank from nearly 60% of dwellings in England and Wales in 1939 to just 9% in 1988, towards the end of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. This was welcomed by Conservative governments and Labour councils alike: the former rejoiced that rack-renting landlords were having to sell up to new owner-occupiers, while the latter enthusiastically repurposed existing private lets into new social housing stock.
Of course, it was Margaret Thatcher who fucked this up, with policies designed to ensure that "the letting of private property will again become an economic proposition". That went against the past 50 years of political consensus, that it should not be an economic proposition, founded on solid evidence that it led to nasty, squalid, and over-priced housing as landlords sought to maximise their profits.

We need such a consensus here. Or at least, a left-wing coalition committed to the eradication of landlords. And we know how to do it: tax and regulate the shit out of them. Tax land and vacant property. Control rents, make tenancies secure, and require them to be decent. When landlords sell up, tax their capital gains, and use the money to fund an expansion of Kāinga Ora and council housing to outcompete the private sector. We shouldn't pursue the traditional solution of hanging landlords from lampposts, but we should absolutely do the economic equivalent to drive them out of business.

The Guardian article notes that one of the few things that Adam Smith and Karl Marx agreed on was that landlords are bad, a complete economic dead-weight. It goes on:

Even if we leave aside the appalling conditions and precarity that private renters face, anyone with an interest in lower taxes, lower wage bills and increasing the number of first-time buyers must equally be interested in smashing the private rented sector to bits. Homebuyers are now forced to compete with landlords, who chase sensational yields in our unregulated rental market, and £85.6bn a year (which comes, of course, from wages and taxes) is wasted on rent. A renewed collapse of landlordism would represent not just the tenants’ revenge for the housing crisis, but a much broader and more valuable moment of social progress.
Obviously, I disagree with the "reduce rent so we can pay people less" line; instead I'd argue that reducing rent would be a huge way to improve living standards, moderate the cost-of-living crisis, and lift people out of poverty. That is something the National Party claims to be interested in; it is certainly something the Labour Party should be (the Greens and Te Pāti Māori, representing groups who overwhelmingly pay rent, already are). The question is, why do the major parties continue to ignore the known solutions, in favour of handouts to landlords and tinkering around the edges? Is it because their MPs own too many houses themselves...?

Climate Change: A failing market

The first ETS auction of the year was held today, and resulted in the market failing to clear. Only 2.97 million of 3.52 million units were sold - and those at the minimum price of $64/ton. Meaning that supply is still exceeding demand - exactly as the Climate Commission warned us a week ago. Which you'd hope would result in the government listening and slashing future supply, since obviously polluters don't need it.

The other consequence is that the government didn't get much money: only $190.4 million. Meaning less money to fund their (vile and unnecessary) landlord tax cuts. So maybe that will sharpen the government's mind as well, given its foolish reliance on ETS revenue to fund its vile and unnecessary landlord tax cuts. But somehow, I suspect it won't. National is full of climate change deniers who see climate change policy - including the ETS - as "red tape". They'll be happy to see it fail, and keep failing, even if it means missing our targets (which of course they claim to still be committed to). Better the planet burn, than any of them or their donors have to change a single thing about their lives or business practices...


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

  • Employment Relations (Employee Remuneration Disclosure) Amendment Bill (Camilla Belich)

The bill would allow employees to discuss their pay, enabling discriminatory practices to be identified and challenged. This is normal practice overseas, and it is surprising that Labour didn't enact it when they had an outright majority last term.

It looks like ballots are now being held on a Wednesday; I'll need to update my monitoring accordingly.

Member's Day

Today is (finally) a Member's Day, and once again its dedicated to first readings. First up is Rima Nakhle's Corrections (Victim Protection) Amendment Bill, to be followed by Rawiri Waititi's Goods and Services Tax (Removing GST from Food) Amendment Bill. Labour went into the last election with that as a policy, so it'll be interesting to see if they vote for it. This will be followed by Deborah Russell's Companies (Address Information) Amendment Bill and Greg O'Connor's Local Electoral (Abolition of the Ratepayer Roll) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly it might make a start on Tracey McLellan's Evidence (Giving Evidence of Family Violence) Amendment Bill, but I think that's unlikely.

A bunch of bills have been postponed, but two of them will be back next Member's Day, so the ballot should only be for five or maybe six bills, rather than having to refresh the whole Order Paper.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Don't run your business like a criminal enterprise

The Detail this morning highlights the police's asset forfeiture case against convicted business criminal Ron Salter, who stands to have his business confiscated for systemic violations of health and safety law. Business are crying foul - but not for the reason you'd think. Instead of opposing the post-conviction punishment and double-jeopardy aspects of this case, instead they're whining that the law just shouldn't apply to them:

Today on The Detail David Fisher talks through the potential consequences of this action.

"Were the case against the Salters to be proved, then it would leave, I would think, many different businesses feeling extremely vulnerable. Because they could very much be the next one under the gun," he says.


"So this is really fascinating because it would be really easy to find, if you were inclined to, $30,000 or more worth of offending to do with the Fair Trading Act, or the Resource Management Act. Dairy farms exceed $30,000 of business on any given day, really, and they deal with the Resource Management Act all the time. So were the case against the Salters to be proved then it would leave, I would think, many different businesses feeling extremely vulnerable, because they could very much be the next one under the gun."

And so they should. Because these things are actually crimes, and knowingly profiting from them clearly meets the definition of "unlawfully benefited from significant criminal activity" in the Act. Businesses worried about the law applying to them have a simple solution: don't run your business as a criminal enterprise. Don't systematically violate employment, environmental, health and safety, consumer rights, or immigration law, and don't rely on those violations for your "profit".

And that said: the proper place for asset forfeiture is at conviction. While Salter was convicted of negligently killing an employee, that was in 2017. Any asset forfeiture should have been done then. It is not right for someone to be convicted and serve their sentence, and then for the state to come back and try to punish them again. And that is what is happening in this case. Unfortunately, that is exactly how this law is intended to operate. Its a clear violation of the right not to be punished for the same offence. But it will likely continue until there is a declaration of inconsistency and the law is changed.

Friday, March 15, 2024

National's clean car tax advances

The Transport and Infrastructure Committee has reported back on the Road User Charges (Light Electric RUC Vehicles) Amendment Bill, basicly rubberstamping it. While there was widespread support among submitters for the principle that EV and PHEV drivers should pay their fair share for the roads, they also overwhelmingly disagreed with the government over what that rate should be, preferring something equivalent to a modern petrol vehicle and proportional tot he damage that light vehicles actually cause. The National majority dismissed this, because, and I quote "very efficient petrol vehicles pay less than their fair share." Very efficient petrol vehicles are usually very efficient because they are light, and therefore cause less damage to the roads than a hulking Ford Ranger. But I don't think we can expect the ute-brained MPs of the National party to understand that.

So, EV and PHEV drivers are going to be taxed at a far higher rate than they would pay in an equivalent modern petrol vehicle, in what is transparently both an attempt to punish those doing the right thing and decarbonising, and a desperate revenue grab to help pay for National's landlord tax cuts. That stinks, but its going to get worse, because National have announced that they want to move all cars onto the RUC system. We currently have a simple and efficient system of petrol taxes which is completely invisible to drivers and which is pay-as-you-go, and National wants to replace that with a complex system which requires people to pay large sums in advance, and at a higher rate than they do now, requiring actual enforcement by police rather than the money being invisibly extracted at the pump. Which sounds like both an enforcement nightmare, and an election-losing policy. So good luck with that.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

The return of Muldoon

For forty years, Robert Muldoon has been a dirty word in our politics. His style of government was so repulsive and authoritarian that the backlash to it helped set and entrench our constitutional norms. His pig-headedness over forcing through Think Big eventually gave us the RMA, with its participation and consultation rights. The backlash to his secrecy forced him to pass the OIA. His top-down control of Cabinet by holding the finance portfolio gave us a since-unbroken norm that the Prime Minister cannot also be Finance Minister, because it is too great a concentration of power. His abuses of the "elected dictatorship" and election "victories" where he won fewer votes than the Labour opposition laid the basis for our modern constitution and MMP.

All of which now seems awfully familiar. People are noting the similarities in abuse of the parliamentary process, and in the steamrolling through of pet projects. And now there's another one: "legislating" by press-release, with Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard purporting today to "suspend" the Significant Natural Area provisions of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity:

Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard has today announced that the Government has agreed to suspend the requirement for councils to comply with the Significant Natural Areas (SNA) provisions of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity for three years, while it replaces the Resource Management Act (RMA).
The problem is that there is an actual legal process required to change a National Policy Statement, requiring public notification and submissions, and a board of inquiry or independent report. The government hasn't done any of it. And until it happens (or the government rams through an amendment under urgency), the law is still the law. Muldoon learned that the hard way in Fitzgerald v Muldoon; you'd think both Ministers and public servants would be aware enough of that case to stop Hoggard from making a similar mistake.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

There's a name for this

Every year, in the Budget, Parliament forks out money to government agencies to do certain things. And every year, as part of the annual review cycle, those agencies are meant to report on whether they have done the things Parliament gave them that money for. Agencies which consistently fail to deliver on their promises can expect pressure from Parliament, and ultimately Ministers, to sort their shit out.

But NZDF has a solution to that whole problem: they just mislead Parliament about their performance:

“Entirely unreliable.” That’s the Auditor-General’s assessment of the Defence Force’s performance reports – and might well be the assessment of the Defence Force, full stop.

Auditor-General John Ryan (whose office’s work impresses more and more with every reading) has quietly pointed out to a Parliamentary committee that the Defence Force’s claim to have achieved 83 percent of its performance measures has to be treated with more than just the proverbial pinch of salt. It needs an emergency airlift aid delivery sack of the stuff.

A pattern has emerged where readiness targets are set to 100 percent each year – only to be reduced part-way through the year. “One capability target was reduced to zero percent in each of the last three years,” he notes. “The lowest target is then reported against as being met, so the results are entirely unreliable.”

The changes were made through supplementary estimates, so presumably approved by the then-Minister. At the same time, it seems outright fraudulent. And it is certainly misleading, and arguably a contempt of Parliament. The question is whether Parliament will actually do anything about this, or whether they'll just surrender their duty to scrutinise the use of public funds, and allow themselves to be bullshat by a chronically delinquent agency.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Climate Change: A test for National

He Pou a Rangi Climate Change Commission has released its latest advice on NZ ETS unit limits and price control settings for 2025–2029. This is, in theory, technical advice on how many units the government should allow to be auctioned. But because the ETS system is under pressure due to an accumulation of past poor decisions, its going to be a real test for National.

What are those past poor decisions? Putting trees in the system, which seemed like a good idea when the system was first designed in the early 1990's, but is now looking increasingly questionable. Handing out millions of tons of free credits every year to large polluters, which looked like a great idea to National in 2009 when it wanted to bribe its cronies, but has also come back to bite us. Having a fixed-price option until 2022, which again seemed like an acceptable transition measure in the 2010s, but was wildly rorted for the profit of polluters when the supply of fraudulent overseas "credits" was cut off, and the system transitioned to full auctions just a few years ago. Together, these poor decisions have led to the buildup of a huge pile of surplus credits in the system. And somehow, it managed to grow by another 15 million tons last year, despite nothing being auctioned.

The Commission's job is to ensure that the ETS settings are in accordance with our emissions budgets, so their solution to this problem is to radically slash auction volumes. There's no side-by-side comparison of the recommendations with the current settings, but you can get a sense of the scale from this graph, which includes 2024's volume:


For comparison, the current auction volumes for 2025 - 2028 (New Zealand units available by auction less the reserve amounts; the bit in dark blue on the graph above) are 12.6, 10.7, 9.1, and 7 million tons, so they are basicly halving them. And its clear that unless something is done about industrial allocation volumes, there's going to be very little auction supply from 2030 onwards.

This is, in theory, going to have an impact on prices, though it will be moderated if the surplus is used up. When the previous government faced a challenge like this, they fucked it up, trashing the market and causing a loss of certainty in the entire policy (though in retrospect this ultimately caused the removal of 23 million tons from the system, so: could have been worse). The question is whether National will do the same, trash the budgets and cause another year of chaos before being told to go back and do it properly by the courts. Or whether they'll take the lesson from last time, and accept the advice of the experts Parliament appointed to help them. Sadly, I don't have much confidence that a cabinet stacked with business cronies and climate deniers will do the right thing here.

(There's a number of other interesting things in this advice. Firstly, a warning that governments should not rely on the ETS as a source of revenue, because auction prices are uncertain and volumes will decline to meet budgets. Secondly, a recommendation that the reductions from non-ETS policies like the clean car discount and NZ Steel deal be locked in by ripping them right out of the ETS. Again, it remains to be seen whether National will listen on that, or whether they'll sabotage emissions reductions to make reality conform to their weird economic purism).

Monday, March 11, 2024

A giant Henry VIII clause

National introduced its corrupt Muldoonist resource-consent fast-track legislation to the House on Thursday, and rammed it through its first reading. Having read the bill, it is every bid as bad as signalled, taking selected resource consent decisions away from independent panels and putting them directly in the hands of Ministers. Its the sort of thing we haven't seen since Muldoon, and with good reason: it throws any pretence of merits-based assessment out the window, replacing it with a contest to see who can bribe or lobby the Minister the most to get their pet project through. Which is not how decisions in this country are meant to work.

So who benefits from this corrupt steamroller process? Who needs it? Who is it for? We can start with who doesn't need it: renewable energy projects. Because with very few exceptions, they find it very easy to get resource consent, give or take a few conditions about noise setbacks and monitoring (and solar projects don't even need that). Ditto roads: they get resource consent very easily as well. And normal housing projects. Or indeed, any normal project whatsoever. The RMA is really about mitigating adverse effects, which means restricting or imposing conditions on projects which do that. A project has to be truly terrible or just outright illegal to have an application actually declined.

And that's who this process is for: projects which cannot get resource consent under the current system. Coal mines in reserves. Polluting fish farms in pristine natural environments. Water schemes which would flood conservation land. Waste dumps which make people sick. Offshore mining schemes found to be illegal by the Supreme Court.

A common theme linking these projects is that they blatantly violate the law. They are terrible projects, with significant, unmitigable effects on key environmental values. But rather than fix them so they comply with our environmental standards, the companies pushing them have decided to lobby Ministers instead. And rather than respecting the law, or using a democratic process to change it, National's solution is to give Ministers the power to overturn it on a case-by-case basis for their donors and cronies. And that's the real horror here: once you unpack it, the entire law is just one giant Henry VIII clause, allowing Shane Jones to effectively rewrite and overturn statute on a whim, for the benefit of whoever gave him the most money.

That is not democratic. It is not consistent with the rule of law, or with our values as a country. Instead, it is corrupt, authoritarian, and arbitrary. But I guess that's what the National Party stands for now.

Friday, March 08, 2024

National's firearms law is authoritarian, intrusive, and unreasonable

On Wednesday night the National government rammed its new Firearms Prohibition Orders Legislation Amendment Bill through its first reading under urgency. The bill expands the existing FPO regime to apply it to gang-members convicted of non-firearms offences, and introduce a novel search power, allowing police to search any person (and their home, car, or anywhere they happen to be and anyone who is with them in a vehicle) if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that they are subject to an FPO. Just in case that wasn't clear enough about being warrantless and suspicionless, it explicitly says that there is no need to suspect that any offence has been or will be committed.

To call this "intrusive" is an understatement. The explicit lack of reasons required makes it the very definition of "unreasonable". And given that the NZBORA affirms the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, you'd expect the Attorney-General to have had something to say about it. But she didn't. No section 7 report of inconsistency was issued, and at the time of writing the usual analysis published where a bill has been found to be consistent with the BORA has been withheld (other bills passed at the same time or later have had theirs published, so its very definitely being deliberately hidden). So I think that tells us how seriously Judith Collins takes her statutory role under the BORA, and is another argument that politicians cannot be trusted to oversee or even report fairly on our human rights, and that the job should be taken off them.

But the police did publish a Supplementary Analysis Report, a sort of mini-RIS, in which they identify a significant risk that the bill could result in the entire FPO regime being considered to be inconsistent with the BORA by the courts. And that's not just about the risk of a formal Declaration of Inconsistency - it could also mean evidence obtained by the new search power being thrown out, and the crown being liable for damages where police exercise their powers unreasonably. And its easy to see why: we know how police abuse their existing search powers, and its easy to see how such a weak grounds for a search is going to combine with police institutional racism to increase such abuse. In the face of that, the police's claim that they will mitigate the risk by "develop[ing] internal guidelines to apply reasonableness limits on when and how searches are conducted" is just fucking laughable.

The police already have quite intrusive warrantless search powers where they suspect there are illegal guns, but the problem here is that the police explicitly regard the standard requirement of reasonable grounds to suspect that there are guns and a violation of the Arms Act to be an insurmountable barrier (which tells us something unpleasant about both their attitude to fundamental human rights, and their competence at their job). I expect a lot of effort is going to be spent at select committee to restrict that power, for example by limiting it only to where someone is actually subject to an FPO (which is currently only 30 people, and might, might, just manage to be BORA-consistent, but I'd need to look hard at what the courts and past Attorney-Generals had said about other regimes allowing automatic search after a court order). But even if that is done, there is a bigger problem: if any automatic search power is retained, the courts may issue fewer FPOs:

There is a risk that the imposition of new search powers may have a perverse effect if it results in a reduced willingness of Courts to issue FPOs. Courts may only issue FPOs where satisfied an FPO is necessary, reasonable and appropriate to assist in managing the risk the offender poses to public safety. If Courts consider that expanded search powers reduce the circumstances when an FPO is reasonable, this may result in fewer FPOs being issued and therefore reduced public safety benefits from the regime.
Basically, if an FPO means the police can kick in your door and terrorise your family and community constantly, whenever they want, then that significantly changes the equation on whether that is reasonable and appropriate. In fact, I'd think that the courts are unlikely to think that that is appropriate for any but the most severe firearms offenders, if even them (because, again, there are existing search powers). They are certainly not going to want to apply them to lower-level, non-violent offending by "gang members", as the police want (especially when one suspects they want that precisely so they can terrorise those families and communities; the Minister certainly seems to speak as if that is the goal). So, by demanding warrantless search powers to save them from having to do the basics of their fucking job, the police may end up shooting themselves in the foot on any benefits that might be gained from an FPO regime. Dicks.

But I guess if that happens, they'll just whine to National to overturn the courts and the BORA. And National would probably do it for them.

Anyway, the bill is currently open for submissions. If you'd like to express your revulsion at National's authoritarianism, you can do so here.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Saying what needed to be said

National today announced that it would be introducing its corrupt Muldoonist resource consent fast-track legislation to the House today, and ramming it through its first reading under urgency. Unusually, the list of projects that will be pre-approved will not be included in the bill, but will be added later, so the public will not have a chance to scrutinise it and submit on it at select committee. Which smacks of yet another attempt to limit public scrutiny, in violation of our constitutional norms.

Labour has been weak on this, but today in Question Time James Shaw said what needed to be said, asking RMA Reform Minister Chris Bishop (at 4:30s]:

is he aware that rushing legislation with such extraordinary executive powers through parliament under urgency with little public scrutiny creates a risk that any of the projects that are approved as a result of this bill could find themselves subject to future scrutiny, which could include the loss of the consent, possibly without compensation.
And all Bishop could do is splutter about the need to avoid "sovereign risk". But creating such risk is the point: what is legislated can be un-legislated. And where the legislation is passed by an abusive process, contrary to our constitutional norms, and to be honest, simply corrupt, repeal and cancellation without compensation is a necessity. Those bribing Ministers to have their projects included on their Muldoonist list need to be very aware of that.

(The next stage to keep them aware is obviously a Member's Bill. But that'll have to wait until the fast-track law actually passes).

As for Bishop, its a bit fucking rich of him, having just so viciously demonstrated how policy can change when the government does, to complain that a future government might not respect his decisions. Unlike Bishop, the Greens will at least do it with a proper select committee process, allowing everyone to be heard, and for the law to be considered legitimate. Though "stopping people from profiting from an ongoing crime" might in fact be one of the few justifications for all-stages urgency...

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Climate Change: More arson

The planet is currently burning down around us. So naturally, Shane Jones has decided to grant another fossil fuel exploration permit to make it worse:

Only a single onshore petroleum exploration permit has been granted through the Block Offer 2020 competitive tender process.

Greymouth Gas Turangi had been granted a permit for an area covering about 70 square kilometres, north-west of Stratford in Taranaki, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said in a statement.

The permit was for a period of 10 years commencing 1 April 2024 and was subject to work programme conditions.

And today in Parliament he was gloating about his plans to restore offshore drilling, adding oil spills on top of emissions.

This flies in the face of the International Energy Agency's 2021 advice that there can be no new fossil fuel development. And in the face of that advice and the current crisis, it is simply arson.

As for what to do about it, the next government needs to pass legislation to sunset fossil fuels, revoking all permits and consents and prohibiting new development. There's an outline of the required legislation here; I look forward to some party adopting it as a member's bill.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024


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

  • Evidence (Giving Evidence of Family Violence) Amendment Bill (Tracey McLellan)

This was the smallest ballot in a long time, with only 53 bills entered.

Climate Change: The opposite of what is needed

Yesterday the National government announced its new draft Government Policy Statement on land transport 2024, which was of course all about roads. While the media is focusing on increases to car registration and fuel tax (both justified, and the latter should be done sooner IMHO), the real news is that they're paying for those roads (and their tax cuts for landlords) by ripping $1.5 billion out of public transport and half a billion out of walking and cycling. Oh, and banning Waka Kotahi from building footpaths. If that seems petty and stupid, well, those are the hallmarks of this government.

There are lots of ways this is stupid, but the big one for me is the climate. We are - optimistically - on the brink of a climate disaster. The government is meant to be doing something to help stop that, and its policy framework for doing so is the five-yearly process of budgets and emissions reduction plans under the Zero Carbon Act. They're currently meant to be finalising their second Emissions Reduction Plan, and in December 2023 He Pou a Rangi / Climate Change Commission provided them with advice on what should be in it. Here's what it recommended for transport:

  1. Simplify planning and and increase investment in integrated transport infrastructure and services that optimise public and active transport.
  2. Provide dedicated long-term funding for the construction of integrated cycle and rapid transport networks in major population centres.

Instead of doing that, the government is cutting both, to build more roads for utes.

The recommendations also included a handy graph about the emissions impact of various transport policies:


[Carbon reduction efficiency per dollar spent (USD). CC-BY 4.0 He Pou a Rangi / Climate Change Commission]

While the transport policy statement doesn't cost National's truck mega-motorways, they have previously costed tham at $24.8 billion. That's committing us to roughly 124 million tons of additional future emissions - just over 10% of our remaining emissions budget until 2050. This is the exact opposite of what is needed, and it seriously calls into doubt National's commitment to meeting its legislated emissions reduction obligations.

Monday, March 04, 2024

National's linguistic engineering

The National government came into office on a culture-war platform of eradicating te reo from public life. There are the obvious measures, like spending millions changing the names of government agencies, and requiring government agencies to primarily use English. But its not just government agencies. An OIA response I received today showed Ministers are also doing their bit, by eradicating the use of te reo from their official correspondence:

I have noted to officials in a meeting on 11 December 2023 that Ministerial correspondence should either be all in Te Reo Maori or English, not mixed language [sic]. This also applies to the formatting of my letter responses to requestors.
Which invites the question: which English? Or rather, whose English? Because New Zealand English (as opposed to American, British, or pre-Treaty Victorian English) has always included a large number of te reo words, including everyday greetings of the sort that the Minister is targeting with this policy. Modern New Zealand English has adopted (or stolen) more, as more people have grown more comfortable with te reo - but it has always been there. Issuing an injunction against "mixed language" simply denies who we are as a people and a country. But then, that's exactly what this policy is about, isn't it?

Friday, March 01, 2024

The Prime Hypocrite

National's Christopher Luxon unveils trio of fiscal transparency policies, RNZ, 15 May 2023:

The government had "abused" taxpayers for the past six years, Luxon said.

"I am sick of taxpayers being treated like a bottomless ATM, to be raided at any time, for any reason. National will respect taxpayers and bring fiscal discipline back to Wellington."

Budget 2023: Christopher Luxon clarifies National's stance on $5 prescription fee, NewsHub, 19 May 2023:

National leader Christopher Luxon has clarified his party's stance on the Government's decision to abolish the $5 prescription co-payment in Budget 2023.


He said: "I think if I can pay, I should pay".

"I think it's really unfair, it's money that's wasted on being spent on someone like me, for example, who can afford to pay for my prescriptions myself."

Luxon claims $52k accommodation payment to live in own apartment , NewsRoom, 1 March 2024:

The Prime Minister will receive a $52,000 top-up to his $471,000 salary to cover his accommodation expenses since he is not living in Premier House.

A spokesperson for Christopher Luxon confirmed he will claim the optional accommodation payment, despite living in an apartment in Wellington that he owns mortgage-free.

It makes Luxon the first Prime Minister in at least 34 years to claim the payment. Since Premier House became the official prime ministerial residence in 1990, previous titleholders have either lived there or, in the case of Wellington-based leaders Bill English and Chris Hipkins, stayed in their own homes.

So much for "I think if I can pay, I should pay". But I guess things just look different when you're in government, and there are expenses to rort. But when he's trying to talk about the cost of living, its utterly tone deaf - not to mention toxic - to be rorting more than a minimum wage worker is paid to live in your own fucking house.

But of course he doesn't see this as wrong or problematic in any way, because the fundamental ideology of conservativism is that there is one rule for them and one rule for us dirty peasants. He's simply making his contempt for ordinary people crystal clear.