Tuesday, April 30, 2024

NZDF is still hostile to oversight

Newsroom has a story today about National's (fortunately failed) effort to disestablish the newly-created Inspector-General of Defence. The creation of this agency was the key recommendation of the Inquiry into Operation Burnham, and a vital means of restoring credibility and social licence to an agency which had been caught lying outright to both the public and to Ministers. But National doesn't believe in transparency or oversight of those in power, and seems to think that NZDF can be trusted not to commit war crimes (or just kill people through sheer incompetence), so they wanted to get rid of it. Fortunately, NZ First said "no". So I guess we have something to thank Winston for after all.

But the article does make it clear that despite supposedly having accepted the findings of the Inquiry, NZDF is still implacably opposed to any independent oversight of its actions, and is fighting it tooth-and-nail through the bureaucracy:

A separate briefing to Collins shortly after she took office last December shows defence officials expressing concern about the “additional direct and indirect costs and personnel overheads” associated with the inspectorate’s creation.

“It is anticipated that the five-person office … will impose a significant work demand within the Office of the Chief of Defence Force and the wider NZDF for handling requests for information, coordinating [inspectorate-]initiated investigations and reviews, facilitating Base, Camp and Operational (domestic and international) visits and managing related service and support functions,” the briefing said.

Oh no. Outside scrutiny might cost more. Except those costs are a pittance compared to the cost of another NZDF fuckup. And it turns out that NZDF has endless money to spend on mushrooming inquiries - which is perhaps the real cost they're worried about. And it does suggest an interesting OIA in a few years time: how many staff does NZDF have assigned to dealing with the IGD, and how many times bigger is that number than the IGD's entire staff.

A clear warning

The unpopular coalition government is currently rushing to repeal section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act. The clause is Oranga Tamariki's Treaty clause, and was inserted after its systematic stealing of Māori children became a public scandal and resulted in physical resistance to further abductions. The clause created clear obligations towards Māori children, enabled partnerships with Māori organisations to provide support, and helped rebuild some of the trust Oranga Tamariki had lost. So naturally National and ACT want to get rid of all of that, as part of their uber-policy of being as racist as possible.

The Waitangi Tribunal has been conducting an urgent inquiry into the proposed repeal, and yesterday they issued an interim report. While they it makes no formal findings or recommendations, it clearly warns the government that continuing down this path will breach te Tiriti and cause actual harm to children. It also politely suggests that maybe pursuing a (required anyway) statutory review would be a better way to consider the issue. It is also absolutely scathing about the policy process and evidentiary basis "justifying" repeal:

To the extent there is any evidence to support the idea that section 7AA is causing unsafe practice, it is entirely anecdotal. We have seen none. Crown counsel and Crown witnesses have confirmed that the government’s decision to repeal section 7AA is not based on an empirical public policy case. The Minister’s repeal proposal as approved by Cabinet is said to reflect a political or philosophical viewpoint not reduceable to empirical analysis. Accordingly, officials were instructed to proceed in an instrumental way to give effect to the policy, representing as it does a commitment in the coalition agreement between the National party and ACT.
(So much for the "evidence-based decision-making” promised in the National-ACT coalition agreement...)

The problem for the government is that, as Ministers, their obligations under te Tiriti override any commitments made in a coalition agreement, as "once Ministers are sworn in and the government is formed, the executive so constituted are responsible for meeting the Crown’s obligations to Māori under the Treaty of Waitangi". The Tribunal also notes:

It is a Treaty of Waitangi, not a proclamation of Waitangi, and the Crown does not have a unilateral right to redefine or breach its terms. The obligation is to honour the Treaty and act in good faith towards the Treaty partner.
...which sounds like a shot across the bow on ACT's efforts to unilaterally redefine te Tiriti with their "Treaty Principles Bill" as well.

Another point to note is that this interim report was released to get these findings out there, and prevent the government from silencing the Tribunal again by introducing a bill to deprive them of jurisdiction. Which is not the sort of relationship you normally see between different branches of government. But I guess its what you get when you have a government that believes "comity" is a one-way street, owed solely to them.

Of course, the government can ignore this report, as it has ignored many before it. But the cost of that is further delegitimisation. National and ACT might not care about that. But the rest of us should, and should be asking the other parties what steps they will take to undo whatever damage these racist vandals cause.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Justice for Gaza?

The New York Times reports that the International Criminal Court is about to issue arrest warrants for Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over their genocide in Gaza:

Israeli officials increasingly believe that the International Criminal Court is preparing to issue arrest warrants for senior government officials on charges related to the conflict with Hamas, according to five Israeli and foreign officials.

The Israeli and foreign officials also believe the court is weighing arrest warrants for leaders from Hamas.

If the court proceeds, the Israeli officials could potentially be accused of preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and pursuing an excessively harsh response to the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, according to two of the five officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

The Israeli officials, who are worried about the potential fallout from such a case, said they believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is among those who might be named in a warrant. It is not clear who might be charged from Hamas or what crimes would be cited.

Good. Israel is clearly perpetrating genocide in Gaza, as well as committing other war crimes and crimes against humanity. And as their ultimate political authority, Netanyahu bears legal responsibility for those crimes. He must be held to account for them. Israel is hardly going to do that themselves, so international justice is what we're left with. That process may be slow and imperfect, largely amounting to stigmatisation and a de facto lifetime travel ban from all civilised nations, but its what we've got, and it seems better than the alternatives.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

"Comity" versus the rule of law

In 1974, the US Supreme Court issued its decision in United States v. Nixon, finding that the President was not a King, but was subject to the law and was required to turn over the evidence of his wrongdoing to the courts. It was a landmark decision for the rule of law, both in the US and internationally, and helped cement the view in democratic countries that the government, whatever shape it may take, is subject to the law.

Today, in the case of Minister for Children v Waitangi Tribunal, the New Zealand High Court said "nah, fuck that":

The High Court has overturned a summons by the Waitangi Tribunal to Minister for Children Karen Chhour.

The minister was due to give evidence at the tribunal on Friday regarding the government's plans to repeal section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act - but that will no longer go ahead.

So unlike the US, in New Zealand ministers are literally above the law. They don't have to front up to explain government policy to a standing constitutional commission of inquiry. We're a monarchy in practice as well as in name.

Reading the judgement, its a very odd decision. The court finds that the minister could provide relevant evidence which would assist the Tribunal's inquiries. It found that she should have provided it voluntarily, and that she was a dick not to. It found that the Tribunal has a statutory power to summons witnesses, which applies to ministers, so they could make her provide it. But not in this case, because of "comity" - that is, deference between the three branches of government.

Which probably sounds great in theory. The different bits of our government should be respectful of and not interfere in each other's roles? Sure. But its a bit of a problem when the literal job of the body the executive is demanding deference from is to perpetually inquire into them. And its clear how, both in general and in this case, demands for "comity" serve to frustrate that job, undermining the purpose of comity in the first place.

Its also weird because in Aotearoa's political system, the executive is the most powerful branch, and so the least deserving of any deference. And fundamentally, I just don't see comity towards to ministers as having any value at all. Comity from ministers is important - they shouldn't be telling the courts what to do, or frustrating their work by refusing to provide evidence (for example), and they should be accountable in Parliament for their and the government's actions. Similarly, I see the value in comity between Parliament and the courts, because of privilege and independence. But deference of either towards ministers? Fuck that shit. Because demands for "deference" from the executive basically boil down to inherited claims that the king is above the law, and the other two branches resolved that pretty decisively in 1649.

As for the specific case: apparently there's good grounds for an appeal (here's hoping). Or maybe the minister will just stop being a dick, and provide the evidence she was asked to. Alternatively, if she wants to keep being a racist dick (this whole thing being apparently due to hostility to the idea of having to comply with te Tiriti), and keep arguing that the decision to repeal section 7AA was determined by the coalition agreement, maybe the Waitangi Tribunal could take that argument seriously, and summons the people the government claims are actually responsible for that decision: the coalition negotiators. Not being ministers (in their coalition role, at least), there's no duty of "comity", and I'm sure they could explain their reasoning to the Tribunal. They're a commission of inquiry, after all. So maybe they should... inquire?

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

More criminal miners

What is it with the mining industry? Its not enough for them to pillage the earth - they apparently can't even be bothered getting resource consent to do so:

The proponent behind a major mine near the Clutha River had already been undertaking activity in the area without a consent.

Hawkeswood Mining Ltd has applied to establish and operate an alluvial gold-mining operation in a rural resource area at 1346-1536 Teviot Rd, Millers Flat, Roxburgh.

The proposal will go to a hearing, but a Central Otago District Council spokeswoman confirmed activity was already happening near the planned mine without a consent.

Council planners have apparently recommended they be denied resource consent because of the impact on the local environment, and have issued them abatement notices. So instead the company plans to apply to Shane Jones for a fast-track "consent" instead. Which I think shows us again that the fast-track process is designed for criminals and vandals who would not be able to get consent by lawful means.

Monday, April 22, 2024


Today, former Port of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson went on trial on health and safety charges for the death of one of his workers. The Herald calls the trial "unprecedented". Firstly, it's only "unprecedented" because WorkSafe struck a corrupt and unlawful deal to drop charges against Peter Whittall over Pike River. And secondly, it's only "unprecedented" because previous iterations of the law didn't incentivise corporate officers towards protecting worker safety by imposing personal liability.

That all changed with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. One of its key provisions is that it holds officers as well as corporations responsible, with strict liability, regardless of whether the corporation has plead guilty or not. So the actual people who set safety regimes, or undermine them, can be held responsible.

At least, that's the idea. Gibson's trial I guess will tell us whether the law means anything or not. And if it does mean something, I guess we'll learn whether National is actually still committed to that, or whether they want to return to the bad old days when employers could kill with abandon and walk free.

Friday, April 19, 2024

A who's who of New Zealand's dodgiest companies

Submissions on National's corrupt Muldoonist fast-track law are due today (have you submitted?), and just hours before they close, Infrastructure Minister Chris Bishop has been forced to release the list of companies he invited to apply. I've spent the last hour going through it in an epic thread of bleats, and its basically a who's who of New Zealand's dodgiest companies.

In addition to the seabed miners who have been rejected by the Supreme Court, and the coal miners who have been rejected by the Environment Court, there's also:

The last one so obviously fails the political hygiene test that you really have to wonder how it got through. Or maybe National really is as shamelessly corrupt as NZ First?

These are precisely the sorts of projects which should be going through robust processes to assess their merits and consistency with environmental bottom-lines. Instead, all of that is going to be bypassed, replaced with a Muldoonist rubber-stamp, so that the coalition parties can raise funds through corruption. Which just makes it all the more necessary for the next government to review every "consent" granted by this process, and legislatively cancel every one which should not have been granted.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Climate Change: Turning the tide

The annual inventory report of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions has been released, showing that gross emissions have dropped for the third year in a row, to 78.4 million tons:


All-told gross emissions have decreased by over 6 million tons since the Zero Carbon Act was passed in 2019. Which shows the difference policy makes. Comparing it to the carbon budget is difficult because of the non-transparent "target accounting" used for forests, and because the only by-gas table He Pou a Rangi Climate Commission included in its 2021 carbon budget advice used AR4 rather than AR5 accounting. Still, we can draw some conclusions: the budget allowed 34 MT per year of CO2, and 8 MT-equivalent (AR4) of nitrous oxide, which turns into 7.11 MT using AR5. The equivalent (AR5) numbers from emissions tracker are 31.61 and 6.88 MT respectively - so we're 2.6 MT ahead of our budget. Unfortunately we're doing far worse on methane - 1.37 vs a budgeted 1.25 million (actual) tons. So as usual, the story is that farmers aren't pulling their weight. It is long past time we fixed that, and made them carry a fair share of the burden.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Ministers are not above the law

Today in our National-led authoritarian nightmare: Shane Jones thinks Ministers should be above the law:

New Zealand First MP Shane Jones is accusing the Waitangi Tribunal of over-stepping its mandate by subpoenaing a minister for its urgent hearing on the Oranga Tamariki claim.

The tribunal is looking into the proposal to scrap Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act which requires the chief executive to demonstrate a practical commitment to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

In a rare move, the Waitangi Tribunal has summonsed a sitting minister to explain why she wants to repeal section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act.


Jones says the tribunal should focus on the effects of policy rather than the construction of policy.

“The Waitangi Tribunal has no business running its operations as some sort of star chamber delivering pre-emptory summons for ministers to rock up and be cross-examined or grilled in some kind of wannabe American star chamber pulp fiction gig,” he says.

[The Tribunal has in fact asked for an affidavit, rather than cross-examination, and a formal summons is a last resort in the fact of noncooperation]

The problem here is that the reason for a policy is an important part of determining whether it is justified, and its motivation may be relevant to an assessment of its effects. Orthodox Bill of Rights Act analysis, for example, starts with asking "does this serve an important public purpose", while a policy which has racist effects is so much worse if it is motivated by racism than if those effects are due to an oversight. And where Ministers are proposing, but have not yet implemented, action, the answers on motivation can really only come from them.

In terms of "mandates", the Waitangi Tribunal is legally a Commission of Inquiry, with all the powers of a court. Ministers give evidence to both when it is relevant for them to do so (for example, a pile of Ministers gave evidence to the inquiry onto the Christchurch shootings; their evidence was then suppressed for thirty years to protect "national security"; the Cabinet Manual section on "Litigation involving Ministers" includes a note that courts routinely expect affidavits from Ministers in Judicial Review proceedings). If the Minister is worried about being asked about Cabinet discussions, they can always seek a direction that these not be disclosed (the protection of collective and individual ministerial responsibility is a withholding ground under the Official Information Act, and can thus be protected under section 70 of the Evidence Act).

In fact, the only constitutional problem here is that Jones is criticising a court, in clear violation of both constitutional norms and the Cabinet Manual. Unfortunately the Prime Minster is neither willing nor able to enforce either against his coalition partners.

In this inquiry, the onus is on the government to explain its proposed policy and how it does not breach Te Tiriti. And if Chhour does not wish to provide a reason for the policy, the Tribunal is fully justified in assuming that there is none (or at least, none the government wishes to publicly admit to), and drawing the appropriate conclusion.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Climate Change: Criminal ecocide

We are in the middle of a climate crisis. Last year was (again) the hottest year on record. NOAA has just announced another global coral bleaching event. Floods are threatening UK food security. So naturally, Shane Jones wants to make it easier to mine coal:

Resources Minister Shane Jones has announced changes to coal mine consenting he says reduce barriers to extraction and bring it into line with other types of mining.

The government's first Resource Management Amendment Bill, to be introduced next month, will make changes to the Resource Management Act, freshwater environmental standards, and the National Policy Statements for Freshwater Management and Biodiversity.

It will remove additional controls for coal mining introduced by Labour that were set to end the consenting pathway for existing thermal coal mines from 31 December 2030.

This is the action of a glue-sniffing sociopath. We need to be ending coal, not enabling it. Instead, Jones seems to want to let the coal industry grub a few more dollars by setting fire to the planet.

This criminal act of ecocide cannot be allowed to stand. The next government needs to make it a priority to revoke fossil fuel mining permits and consents, with no compensation, and shut down this murderous industry for good.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Muldoonism, solar farms, and legitimacy

NewsHub had an article yesterday about progress on Aotearoa's largest solar farm, at "The Point" in the Mackenzie Country. 420MW, right next to a grid connection and transmission infrastructure, and next to dams - meaning it can work in tandem with them to maximise water storage. Its exactly the sort of project we need to decarbonise the country and Electrify All The Things, but there's a problem: the entire Mackenzie basin is (for good reason) designated an "outstanding natural landscape". And its easy to see how a giant solar array would interfere with that landscape.

Other companies have obtained resource consent for similar sized solar projects by the simple expedient of not trying to put them in an outstanding natural landscape. But rather than doing that, or attempting to convince the district council or EPA that their project can fit into the landscape, these developers are considering applying for "consent" through National's corrupt Muldoonist "fast-track" legislation, so they can just drive a bulldozer through the whole thing. I'd urge them not to, because by doing so, they would fundamentally delegitimise their project, and invite a future government to not just fully review any corruptly-gained "consent", but potentially legislatively cancel it and impose a make-good order for any work done. Meaning they'd need to tear down whatever they build and restore the landscape. Which is obviously a suboptimal outcome for the developers, and for Aotearoa.

There's an obvious parallel between this project, and Project Hayes, Meridian's plan for a giant wind-farm in Central Otago, or the Turitea Wind Farm, which was built in a designated reserve. In both cases the choice to try develop a valued and protected landscape made the projects highly doubtful from the outset, and made the default response "nice, but maybe somewhere else please" - its not like we're short of great sites for wind or solar farms, after all. And in both cases the RMA process explored the environmental impacts and what could be done to mitigate them, and the appeals process tested that process and ensured it met accepted standards. Hayes was abandoned during the appeals when Meridian accepted that they could just build somewhere else. Turitea meanwhile won its appeals, and gained public acceptance as a result. Which highlights a key value of the slow, participatory RMA and appeals process: it legitimises the outcome. No political party threatened to cancel the consent, and no protestors tried to occupy the site or sabotage the project. While some people (including myself) may have disliked the outcome, it was the result of an obviously fair process, and so basically legitimate.

Muldoonist Ministerial fiat does not impart any of this legitimacy, especially when it comes with an accompanying whiff of corruption (how much has NZ First been given by interested developers through its secret bribe foundation? We don't know.) Which is why it is legitimate to review and if necessary cancel "consents" obtained through such a process.

We need more solar farms. But we need them consented by a legitimate process which fairly assesses environmental impacts and mitigations. Sometimes "not there" is the proper outcome of such a process. Developers should accept that. If they don't, and if they instead resort to corruption, they have only themselves to blame when they face the consequences.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

National's war on renters

When the National government came into office, it complained of a "war on landlords". It's response? Start a war on renters instead:

The changes include re-introducing 90-day "no cause" terminations for periodic tenancies, meaning landlords can end a periodic tenancy without giving any reason.


Landlords will now only need to give 42 days' notice for ending a tenancy, instead of 63 days, if they want to move themselves or a family member into the property, or if the tenancy agreement notes the property is usually used to house employees, and they want to move an employee into the property.

Landlords will now only need to give 42 days' notice for ending a tenancy, instead of 90 days, if the property is subject to an unconditional agreement for sale requiring vacant possession, according to the Government.

So they're going to make it easier for landlords to throw people out of their homes. And they have the gall to call this "pro-tenant".

So I guess if your landlord throws you out any time over this term, you know who to blame: Chris Bishop. And you should take your revenge on him and his party at the ballot box at the first opportunity.


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

  • Repeal of Good Friday and Easter Sunday as Restricted Trading Days (Shop Trading and Sale of Alcohol) Amendment Bill (Cameron Luxton)
  • Consumer Guarantees (Right to Repair) Amendment Bill (Marama Davidson)

The first bill seems almost certain to pass under the current Parliament. And honestly, the idea of religious no-trading days is bullshit, and we're well rid of it (now do ANZAC day!) Unfortunately, as introduced it does not included the required fix to protect worker's rights of making easter Sunday a public holiday. If it is not amended to included that provision, then the onus will be on the next government to fix that as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Climate change violates human rights

That's the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights today:

Weak government climate policies violate fundamental human rights, the European court of human rights has ruled.

In a landmark decision on one of three major climate cases, the first such rulings by an international court, the ECHR raised judicial pressure on governments to stop filling the atmosphere with gases that make extreme weather more violent.

The court’s top bench ruled that Switzerland had violated the rights of a group of older Swiss women to family life, but threw out a French mayor’s case against France and that of a group of young Portuguese people against 32 European countries.


The court, which calls itself “the conscience of Europe”, found that Switzerland had failed to comply with its duties to stop climate change. It also set out a path for organisations to bring further cases on behalf of applicants.

The other cases were thrown out for technical reasons, not on the merits, so that's not actually a problem. What is weird is that this ruling was made under Article 8 - the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence - rather than the Article 2 right to life. Reading the actual judgement, the reason for this seems to be that it was a bit easier, but it also notes that there's a very similar argument under the right to life. But the ruling itself flows from accepted principles of effective protection for human rights:
The Court found that Article 8 of the Convention encompasses a right for individuals to effective protection by the State authorities from the serious adverse effects of climate change on their lives, health, well-being and quality of life.

In this context, a contracting State’s main duty is to adopt, and to apply in practice, regulations and measures capable of mitigating the existing and potentially irreversible, future effects of climate change.

Whether this argument works in Aotearoa (which also recognises the right to life) will depend on whether the courts recognise a duty of effective protection.

As for Europe, the consequences of this ruling should be significant, and should force ECHR parties (including the UK) to revise their climate policies, or face legal action. And hopefully that will see deeper emissions cuts

Member's Day

Today is a Member's day. First up is James Shaw's New Zealand Bill of Rights (Right to Sustainable Environment) Amendment Bill, which does exactly what it says on the label. Despite solid backing in international law and from lawyers and NGOs, National will likely vote it down out of pure orcish hatred. Second is Teanau Tuiono's Restoring Citizenship Removed By Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982 Bill, which would correct one of the great historical crimes of the Muldoon era. National will likely vote that down too, out of racism. After the dinner break it will be time for the second reading of Greg O'Connor's Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill, which is nasty law and order bullshit which now includes an explicit BORA override. So National will vote for that one. The House should then make a start on the second reading of Stuart Smith's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Cellar Door Tasting) Amendment Bill. If the House moves very quickly they may make a start on Tracey McLellan's Evidence (Giving Evidence of Family Violence) Amendment Bill, but given the length of second-reading debates, I think that's unlikely.

There should be a ballot for two new bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Climate Change: Unwelcome advice

Yesterday He Pou a Rangi Climate Change Commission released two key pieces of advice, on the 2036-40 emissions budget and the 2050 target. Both are statutorily required as part of the Zero Carbon Act budgeting / planning process, and both have a round of public consultation before being finalised and sent to the Minister. And the current government, stacked with foot-draggers and outright deniers, is going to hate both of them.

The first piece of advice is the Draft advice on the fourth emissions budget period (2036–2040), and whether emissions budgets one, two, and three should be revised. It recommends a sharp reduction in allowable net emissions over that budget period, to just 26.8 MTCO2-e a year (by comparison, net emissions in 2021 were 73.3 MT, and the 2030-35 budget currently allows an average 48 MT a year). Its a huge reduction, and seems very ambitious, but He Pou a Rangi thinks we can do it. They've updated their "demonstration path" to take into account changes in technology and progress so far, and things are looking much better on the emissions cutting from than they were five years ago. In particular, electrifying transport and industry is looking much easier than expected, and they think that vapourware agricultural methane reduction technology might actually exist by 2035 (the policy problem of course is getting farmers to use it). Throw in the massive amount of trees planted over the last few years, and they come to an amazing conclusion: we will hit our net-zero (except methane) and the bottom end of our 24% - 47% methane reduction goals more than a decade early. To quote Jacinda, "we can do it!"

This is an amazing conclusion, and one that should give us all hope. But its going to be deeply uncomfortable for the government, and moreso for what it implies for the 2024 Review of Aotearoa New Zealand's 2050 emissions reduction target. Because while that draws no conclusions yet about whether to amend the targets, it does find that no matter which way you look at them, they are not enough. Whether you use equal per capita emissions, ability to pay, responsibility for warming, or the right to sustainable development,

the current 2050 target is not compatible with any of these international burden sharing perspectives.
Which, combined with the news that we can hit it a decade early, naturally invites the question: why not strengthen it? Especially when other countries have already adopted much tougher targets than ours?

National is going to hate this, because their entire approach to climate change is that it will cost too much, and its not their problem anyway, and (in the case of Luxon and the rest of his fundie friends) they want the end of the world. And here's a bunch of independent experts telling them that we can stop it, and save enormous amounts of money by doing so (check out figure 5.1 on that front), and do it faster than we thought. Their entire status-quo-protecting pretence of helplessness just falls apart.

(Its also a direct challenge to their efforts to weaken the methane target and replace it with farmer/denier "no net warming" bullshit. Despite polluting farmers crying "too hard", the Commission has found we can meet that target a decade early on current trends. Which invites the conclusion that we need to be aiming for the top end of the range, if not strengthening it, especially given that rapid cuts to methane are the best and quickest way to limit warming and damage).

And National is going to especially hate it because while the law formally leaves the final decision on both questions to the Minister, it basically requires them to accept the Commission's advice - and explain why if they don't. Any departure will result in a judicial review, and a likely do-over if those reasons are insufficient (and here its worth noting that in the ETS settings case, the courts found that "don't wanna" is not a good enough reason for ignoring the Commission). So, the government is going to be forced to adopt this.

The Key National government would have just shrugged and accepted that. Targets and budgets 15 years away? Someone else's problem. But this bunch of climate-denying, glue-sniffing radicals? They're going to throw a tanty, which will further alienate them from the public. But whatever they do, the next government can adopt these recommendations. The big problem is how much time we might lose waiting for that government to arrive.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Climate Change: Bad faith from National

One of the weird features of the Zero Carbon Act was its split-gas targets, which separated methane, produced overwhelmingly by farmers, from carbon dioxide produced by the rest of us. This lower target for methane was another effective subsidy to the dairy industry, and was the result of a compromise to get bipartisan support for the law. Part of that compromise was a statutory review of the methane target, to be conducted this year. The first findings of that review will be released later today, but they will have been shared with the government under the "no surprises" policy. And it is clear that the government does not like them, because they have just announced their own "independent" review, premised on farmer/denier "no net warming" bullshit. Which means it will be a strapped chicken review by National / farmer / denier stooges, aimed at weakening the already weak methane target and giving farmers even more of a free ride (while the rest of us continue to pay for everything).

Just to make this even clearer, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has already looked at this bullshit. Their finding was that holding New Zealand’s methane emissions steady at current levels - i.e. letting farmers do nothing - "would not be enough to avoid additional global warming". There's also a big question of "additional from when"? Farmers clearly want it to be from now (or maybe even later). But if you think the level of warming now - and by implication, the level of flooding, droughts, and cyclones - is tolerable, I have some more glue for you to sniff.

So, this is a terrible idea, National dropping the mask to show that they were climate deniers all along. What can we do about it? Well, as pointed out earlier, the weak methane target was the result of a compromise. By breaking that compromise, and revealing their bad faith, National opens up space for future governments not just to reverse what they do, but to strengthen efforts on methane. What that looks like in practice is bringing methane fully within the 2050 net-zero target, measuring its impact using GWP20 rather than GWP100 (making it "cost" more), and bring its primary emitters - farmers - fully within the ETS, with no subsidies, so they are forced to pay their own way for once rather than being supported financially and environmentally by the rest of us. It also means ruling out any future "compromises" with National, on this issue, or any other. They've shown they can't be trusted, on this or anything. It's time we stopped pretending they're anything other than treacherous, murderous arseholes.

Friday, April 05, 2024

Climate Change: Spite destroys success

The clean car discount was a real policy success in pushing electrification of transport. It worked so well that EV adoption was running five years ahead of the Climate Commission's targets, giving us a real shot at decarbonising light transport. National killed it out of pure spite. And as expected, EV sales have now collapsed:

Last month’s sales of electric vehicles plummeted to a three year low for the month of March, new data from the NZ Transport Agency shows.

In the wake of the Government’s scrapping of the Clean Car Discount policy, which subsidised low-emissions vehicles, sales have fallen. While EV sales did rise in March as compared to January and February, they remained well below previous levels.

Just 4.5 percent of new vehicles registered last month were fully electric, with another 1.8 percent being plug-in hybrids. That’s less than a third of the market share clean vehicles had in March 2023. On average across the past year, one in five new vehicles sold was electric.

When the numbers for January were released, showing the worst sales month for EVs since 2020, the chair of the advocacy group Drive Electric warned it was “exceptionally unlikely” that figures would return to 2023 levels by the end of the year.

So that's that fucked then. And "an expansion of the charging network" is not going to fix it. But National still has international and domestic emissions-reduction targets, and failing to meet them is going to cost us billions, plus billions more from floods, drought, and sea-level rise. You've got to be a special kind of arsehole to destroy a highly effective policy out of spite. And you've got to be a particularly stupid one to do it at that cost. But apparently that's National's new standard of governance: stupid, spiteful arseholery.

A malevolent authoritarian

One of the fundamentals of the New Zealand government system is consultation. On a broad scale, policy proposals generally need to go through a consultation process with the public, or at least with key stakeholders. And within government, agencies are required to consult each other, with Cabinet requiring formal checks to ensure this is done on certain issues. There are good reasons for this: it stops the government from working at cross-purposes and undermining its own policy agenda, it mitigates against groupthink and silos within agencies, it allows the impacts of policies to be accurately identified, and (most importantly) it stops the government making huge mistakes. But Rimmer thinks it takes too long, so he wants to end it. But only for certain voices, of course:

Minister for Regulation David Seymour is frustrated at the way population ministries can slow down the business of government.

Most proposals have to be farmed out to population ministries like the Ministries for Women, Māori, and Pacific Peoples asking whether they think any policy changes will impact the people they are responsible for.

If the ministries have anything to say, and often they do not, their comments are put in a box on the final Cabinet Paper.

Some papers also receive a climate impact assessment, which triggers if the proposal is likely to have an impact on New Zealand’s emissions reduction goals.

Speaking to On the Tiles, the Herald’s politics podcast, Seymour said this slowed things down and that he was keen to change it, although a final proposal had not gone to other ministers.

Seymour said he believed too many of these ministries were consulted when drafting Cabinet papers.

This is a crystal clear statement of which voices Rimmer think matter and which don't - and in the latter category is everyone who isn't a polluting white male. But its also a clear statement of how he wants to govern: by silencing anyone who might speak out against his far-right agenda, and censoring advice which might accurately identify the impacts of his policies. Which is also something you can see in his command that schools punish climate strikers. The man is a nasty malevolent authoritarian. The question is how much we are going to let him undermine our democracy.

Support the climate strike

Today is school strike 4 climate day. There will be protests around the country in support of climate action and a lower voting age, which are expected to attract over a hundred thousand people.

There's still a pandemic on, so I can't go (curse the pandemic!). But if you feel safe, I urge you to attend and show your support. Numbers matter, and every person counts. The 2019 climate strike forced the then-government into faster action. While this pack of malevolent wankers seem less inclined to listen, at least some among them want to get re-elected, and a large protest is a direct threat to that. We may not be able to stop their ecocidal agenda, but we can make it cost them, and make it easier for it to be reversed on day one of the next government.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Climate Change: Making polluters pay

Climate change threatens human civilization. It threatens to kill a billion people. The costs of stopping it, and of adapting to the damage already done - of moving people and infrastructure to protect them from sea-level rise, and of dealing with the resulting floods, droughts, cyclones, heat-waves, and other extreme weather events - are enormous. So how do we pay for it?

The moral principle here is simple: polluters must pay. And in the US, states are finally moving towards that, with "climate superfund" legislation aimed at billing them retroactively for the damage they have caused:

It’s called a climate superfund bill, and versions of it are floating through legislative chambers in New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland, in addition to Vermont. Though each bill is slightly different, the general premise is the same: Similar to the way the federal Superfund law allows the Environmental Protection Agency to seek funds retroactively from polluters to clean up contaminated sites, states will seek to bill fossil fuel companies retroactively for the costs of addressing, avoiding, and adapting to the damages that the emissions from their products have caused.


If [Vermont's bill] gets past the governor’s desk, the bill will kick off a multiyear process that, in the most optimistic case, could bring money into the state by 2028. The first step is for the state Treasurer to assess the cost to Vermont, specifically, of emissions from the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels from 1995 to 2024, globally. Regulators will then request compensation from responsible parties in proportion to the emissions each company contributed. The state will identify responsible parties by focusing only on the biggest emitters, companies whose products generated at least a billion tons of emissions during that time. The money will go toward implementing a state “resilience and implementation strategy” to be mapped out in the next two years.

Obviously, we can and should do this here. We already have a model: the retroactive liability for decommissioning costs imposed on the fossil fuel industry. But we need to go further than its targeting of previous permit-holders, and impose costs on owners and directors where they have used limited liability and bankruptcy to avoid paying. These people have ruined the world, and profited by doing so. It is only fair that they pay to fix it.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

"Efficiency" is no reason to violate human rights

The right to trial by jury is affirmed in the Bill of Rights Act. The National Party wants to take it off you:

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith is considering ways to reduce the number of jury trials, saying an increase in defendants choosing them is contributing to delays.

Data released under the Official Information Act shows a rise in defendants electing jury trials over judge-only trials. The choice is available only in category 3 cases, which carry a maximum penalty of two or more years in prison.

The data shows that, of category 3 cases disposed last year in which a judge-alone trial or jury trial was involved, nearly a third were jury trials, compared with less than a quarter in 2018.

Goldsmith says defendants’ increased choice of jury trials is a factor in court delays, and speeding up the system is one of his priorities.

This is not the first time they've done this. We used to have the right to trial by jury in any case with a penalty of three months imprisonment. National took it off us in 2011, raising the threshold to two years (with the help of an unprincipled sell-out by Labour). Their argument back then was exactly the same: speed and "efficiency". But those things ultimately depend on the resources the government commits to the justice system. And it speaks volumes that, with the system collapsing after decades of austerity, cost-cutting, and "tough on crime" bullshit, National would rather limit all our human rights than resource it properly. They'd rather give money to landlords than respect our fundamental rights.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Criminal enterprises

It was easter over the weekend, which meant the annual "debate" over relic easter trading laws, and various businesses deliberately flouting them for profit. I'd prefer those out-dated laws to be reformed - my preference is to make easter Sunday a public holiday, which solves all the problems other than business greed - but until they are, breaking them remains a crime. And where businesses deliberately commit crimes for profit, they need to be punished. Unfortunately, the fine for breaching the law - $1000 - is derisory, and clearly an insufficient deterrent (some criminal businesses clearly regard it as a cost of doing business).

Fortunately there's a solution for that. When a business makes more than $30,000 from breaking the law, that is "significant criminal activity". When they have knowingly, directly or indirectly, derived a benefit from significant criminal activity - which is clearly the case here - that means they have "unlawfully benefited from significant criminal activity". And where a business has unlawfully benefited from significant criminal activity, the resulting revenue can be taken under a profit forfeiture order under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009. Note that when a business is convicted of a crime, that automatically meets the test for granting such an order, so the only legal question is the amount - a question which can easily be resolved with a search warrant or production order for their accounting records.

The question then is: will the police enforce the law, or will they allow these criminal enterprises to profit from their crimes? Or is it not a crime when done by the rich?

Climate Change: The wrong direction

Today the government released its "action plan" for the next three months - basically, the list of what it wants to get done. Yes, its government by KPI, with all the bullshit that that entails. But contempt for management culture aside, what about the substance? And in particular, the substance around Aotearoa's largest policy challenge, climate change?

Well, its bad. Here are Luxon's "action points" which are related to climate change:

  • Finalise the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport, freezing fuel tax until the end of 2026 and delivering significant investment for transport.
  • Take decisions on measures to increase investment in renewable electricity generation.
  • Finalise policy to keep agriculture out of the ETS.
  • Commence an independent review of the methane science and targets for consistency with no additional warming from agricultural methane emissions.
  • Take decisions on the removal of the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration.
  • Commission a study into New Zealand's fuel security, including investigating the feasibility of reopening the Marsden Point Oil Refinery.

Of these, only one - the one on renewable energy - could be remotely said to be positive, and its focusing on the area of least concern. In 2022 electricity generation produced 4.4 million tons of CO2 - just 5.7% of the total. While everything helps, the sector is generally headed towards the elimination of fossil fuels by 2030, and there are much bigger policy fish to fry.

What are those policy fish? Transport and agriculture. And on both of those, the KPIs are unequivocally bad, promising more roads and less public transport (so, higher emissions), a continued free ride for our biggest climate polluters in the dairy industry, and the adoption of explicitly climate denier targets for methane, the greenhouse gas we should be cutting as a priority to reduce heating. And as for the rest, there's nostalgia for the dirty fossil industries for the past.

These are the KPIs of a government which is still in deep denial about the climate crisis and its impacts, a government which seems to want to make it worse. And when we're talking about a crisis which threatens to kill a billion people, that makes them murderous ecocidaires, who should be sent for trial in The Hague.

So what should the government's climate KPIs be? Just off the top of my head:

  • Immediately bringing agriculture into the ETS, with no subsidies, so farmers pay the full cost of the destruction they are causing;
  • Cutting the size of the dairy herd by 50% using regulation and the NAIT database, to immediately reduce methane emissions;
  • Massive investments in public transport to get people out of cars, and transport electrification to reduce the emissions of those who still drive;
  • Cutting all industrial free allocation from the ETS, so polluters pay their way;
  • Funnelling ETS revenue (such as it is) into the GIDI scheme to decarbonise and electrify industrial emitters;
  • Shutting down or cleaning up Methanex's polluting methanol plants;
  • Sunsetting all fossil fuel mining and exploration permits, and regulating the fossil gas industry out of existence.

This is what we need to do if we are to survive the next century. National's refusal to even think about shows that they'd rather kill us all than allow change.