Friday, May 31, 2024

Naked corruption

There's been all sorts of corruption swirling around the government's Muldoonist fast-track law, with various donors invited to apply. And now we have another case, with a donor demanding specific amendments to help it in a legal dispute:

A NZ First donor wants Fast Track legislation to free up permanently protected land for quarrying.

J Swap, a company involved in quarrying, wants land protected under QEII covenants to be available to quarry. It donated $11,000 to NZ First in December, after the coalition was formed.

It also gave $5000 to NZ First's Shane Jones in August 2023 and $3000 to National's David MacLeod in September 2023.

One of J Swap's related companies is currently involved in a long-running court case trying to pry open (permanently protected) QEII covenanted land for a quarry. They've lost every round. But if the select committee chair they donated to approves their amendments, then three Ministers, including one they donated to, can solve that problem for them. Of course, interfering with QEII covenants would be a massive government over-reach - its private property, and you'd think ACT would have something to say about that. But this company apparently thinks its possible, if you pay NZ First enough money.

This entire incident shows the problem with fast-track in a nutshell. Its just a nexus for corruption, in law-making, and in decision-making. We should throw it in the garbage bin. And if we don't, well, we're clearly going to need a specialist Anti-Corruption Commission to sort out the resulting mess.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

This matters

I've been watching the reports of the Māori-led protests all around the country this morning, seeing huge crowds not just in Auckland and Wellington and other major cities, but in much smaller places like Nelson and Whangārei. Its a significant show of opposition to the government, and hopefully they are looking at all this and thinking about what's going to happen when they introduce their racist bill to unilaterally redefine the Treaty and gut it from the law. And while they some of them might be laughing to their mates in the Koru club about how none of this matters because its not their voters protesting, the problem is that we can all see. Their voters can see how unpopular they are, and can see that it will get worse if the current agenda continues. And that's going to have an effect.

They can also see that these are perfectly orderly protests within Aotearoa's strongly democratic tradition, and that government Ministers calling them "absolutely illegal" is authoritarian, bullying, and undemocratic. While National swings that way, I don't think the centrist voters they rely on to win a majority do, so that's going to have an effect as well. The protests have made it clear that the government is nasty, racist, authoritarian, and undemocratic. And hopefully, this will cement the narrative that is already appearing in the polls that this will be a one-term regime.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day. First up there is the committee stage of the McLean Institute (Trust Variation) Bill, some private law for a charity. This will be followed by the third reading of Greg O'Connor's Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill (law and order bullshit) and the committee stage of Stuart Smith's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Cellar Door Tasting) Amendment Bill. The House will then move on tot he second reading of Dan Bidois' Fair Trading (Gift Card Expiry) Amendment Bill. If the House moves quickly it might get to the second reading of Helen White's Employment Relations (Restraint of Trade) Amendment Bill (which National has decided to oppose at select committee, because they love feudalism), but it is unlikely to get further. There is unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow.

Climate Change: Another budget hole for National?

National's 2023 campaign was all about tax cuts for landlords. And one of the key ways they were planning to fund it was a "climate dividend" - basically, pillaging ETS revenue and redirecting it from decarbonisation straight into the pockets of the rich. But there's a problem: there might not be much ETS revenue this year.

The first ETS auction of the year didn't clear, selling only 2.974 of 3.525 million tons (and that for the minimum price of $64/ton). The second one - for the leftovers plus another 3.525 million tons - is due in three weeks. In the meantime, National has repealed key climate change policies, announced reviews, and promoted fossil fuels - all of which have destroyed confidence in the carbon market. Basically, the government's commitment to climate action is now highly questionable - and so is the future value of carbon. This has flowed into the carbon market, with the spot price reducing to about $45/ton - nearly $20 below the auction minimum price.

The implications for the next round if auctions ought to be obvious: people are unlikely to pay $20/ton more than they have to. It seems unlikely to clear, or indeed, to sell anything. And unless the direction of the government changes significantly, its hard to see that changing for the September and December auctions either. The result will be that 11.125 million tons of carbon will go unsold, and the government will get no money for it - creating a $700 million budget hole.

But while this is bad for National's books, its good for the environment. Unsold ETS credits are cancelled at the end of the year, removing them from the system. So if the auctions fail again this year, its effectively an 11 million ton emissions cut (plus another 7 million tons from the cost containment reserve). Polluters will instead plant trees, or burn down the massive stockpile of credits effectively given to them by the policies of the last National government - both things we need them to do. So, its a direct benefit to the future - unlike the National Party.

National's current consultation on ETS price settings includes a proposal to reduce the price floor, to ensure the government always gets some revenue. But they can't fix that this year, and any proposal which diverges from the recommendations of He Pou a Rangi is likely to face a judicial review. If you're interested in this consultation, you can submit on it here.

Monday, May 27, 2024

What to say on the government's racist Māori wards bill

I've spent the afternoon working on my submission on the Local Government (Electoral Legislation and Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill - National's racist bill to eliminate Māori representation from local government. It's an important bill, and the timeframe for submissions is tight - only two days left! National is doing this specifically to limit public opposition on its racist legislation, and I urge everybody who opposes it to submit.

If you're wondering what to say, here's a few things I went with:

  • The bill breaches te Tiriti o Waitangi. You can read the Waitangi Tribunal report here, and there's a summary in their press release. As for what that means for Parliament, I take it as a given that the government should not breach te Tiriti, and if the Waitangi Tribunal tells them that a bill will, then that bill simply should not be passed (I take the same attitude towards bills that breach the BORA).
  • The bill's Regulatory Impact Statement makes it clear that the proposed changes are worse than the status quo in every way that they were assessed.
  • Question 3.1 of the bill's Departmental Disclosure Statement notes that it will breach our obligations under international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Again, this is something that we Just Shouldn't Do, and is likely to result in adverse comment during periodic reviews, which may in turn impact on our international reputation. As we have agreed to be subject to the individual complaints mechanisms for both instruments, there's also the possibility of complaints to the UN Human Rights Council and Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
  • The short submissions period for the bill is undemocratic and brings Parliament and our democracy into disrepute.
  • Māori wards ensure a Māori voice in local government, in the same way that the Māori seats do in Parliament. It is simply inappropriate to subject that voice to a Pākehā veto.

If you want more, has a full submission guide here.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

National's bulldozer dictatorship bill

This National government has been aggressively anti-environment, and is currently ramming through its corrupt Muldoonist "fast-track" legislation to give three ministers dictatorial powers over what gets built and where. But that's not the only thing they're doing. On Thursday they introduced a Resource Management (Freshwater and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, and the Order Paper says they'll be ramming it through its first reading on Tuesday. Obviously, this bill is about removing environmental protections which currently stop farmers from shitting in rivers and chainsawing native bush. But its far wider than that.

The RMA has an extensive system of national environmental standards and national policy statements, which are supposed to guide the plans and policies made by local authorities to cover matters of national importance. As I pointed out when Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard purported to "suspend" one by press conference, there is an actual legal process required to change these. This requires either an independent board of inquiry, or, if control-freaked by a Minister, notification, consultation, an evaluation and decision-making according to legislated criteria. The bill basically guts all that.

Firstly, of course, it removes independent boards. These decisions will be made by Ministers, and only by Ministers, strengthening their role as a nexus of corruption in the system. Secondly, while those corrupt Ministers will still be required to notify the public of what they want to do, we won't be allowed to have a say. An objective criteria that we be given "adequate time and opportunity to make a submission" is replaced with a squishy one of "what the Minister considers to be adequate time..." We've seen what that means to National in their constant abuse of Parliamentary select committee submission windows to prevent public engagement.

As for evaluation, there'll be a special stove-piped process for these Ministerial diktats. They will still be required to assess effectiveness, environmental and economic (but not social or cultural) impacts, and reasonably practicable alternatives. But there's no longer a requirement to assess costs and benefits, or the risks of acting (or not acting) when information is uncertain. Worse, the requirement that national directions be "the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of this Act" is removed; in fact, they will no longer be required to serve the purposes of the Act (or the other matters identified as important in the RMA) at all. And, as the final insult, there will no longer be a requirement to give reasons for the decision. This is likely cribbed from National's previous attacks on refugees, and like those, it is a recipe for legislated arbitrariness - a bulldozer dictatorship.

Finally, decision-making. Under the current law, if Ministers decide to control-freak, they must still decide on the same basis as a board of inquiry would, taking account of the purposes of the Act and other matters of national importance (including ti Tiriti), and the submissions and evidence received. That's all gone. So, in deciding on environmental standards and policies under the RMA, Ministers won't need to consider the purpose of that law, legislated matters of national importance, other important values, or ti Tiriti. None of that will matter. Neither will what we say - Ministers won't be required to consider it at all. The clear implication is that Ministers will be making decisions counter to those purposes and values, counter to ti Tiriti. And with the concentration of powers making the Minister a nexus for corruption, it basically replaces the legislated values with the Minister's bank balance.

Oh, and the Minister won't even have to do that if they're changing a national direction for a bunch of reasons, including "chang[ing] the time frame for implementation" - meaning Ministers can indefinitely delay things on a whim, without notification or consultation.

As I said, this is basically a bulldozer dictatorship, which will gut our environmental protections for the benefit of vandals and polluters, while enabling Ministers to corruptly enrich themselves in the process. It is contrary to our values and to our constitutional norms for decision-making. It should not be allowed to pass. And if it is rammed through, it must be immediately removed, under urgency, by the next government.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Cut the parliamentary term

When Labour was in power, they wasted time, political capital, and scarce policy resources on trying to extend the parliamentary term to four years, in an effort to make themselves less accountable to us. It was unlikely to fly, the idea having previously lost two referendums by huge margins - but politicians gonna politician. But now, we have a truly terrible, anti-democratic government, which is hopefully reminding us of the benefits of regular change. The problem is that its not regular enough.

It is clear that a major problem in our political system is that it is not easy enough to get rid of a bad government. We need to make it easier. The way to do that is to cut the length of the parliamentary term from three years to two.

The political class will whine that its "not enough time to do anything". Bullshit. Its exactly as much time to do things as they do now - if they can convince us to give it to them. And that's the problem: they don't want to convince us. And this pack of wankers just wants to stomp on our faces.

In a democracy, the basis of legitimacy is the consent of the governed, though regular free and fair elections. Lets take that seriously, and make it more regular. Make them convince us. More nastily, keep them in constant fear for their jobs and their perks and their luxurious salary packages. They think that works for us - so let's do it to them.

Bringing our democracy into disrepute

On Monday the government introduced its racist bill to eliminate Māori representation in local government to the House. They rammed it through its first reading yesterday, and sent it to select committee. And the select committee has just opened submissions, giving us until Wednesday to comment on it.

Such a short period for submissions seems intentionally designed to minimise public participation and scrutiny, especially by local authorities (who typically have to formally approve their submissions). It's the Parliamentary equivalent of Douglas Adams' famous locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a "beware of the leopard" sign on it. And it brings both Parliament and our democracy into disrepute.

Unfortunately, this is the new normal under National. They are an inherently anti-democratic party. And despite MMP, with the collusion of explicitly anti-democratic coalition partners, they are returning to the Muldoonist mode of exercising power described in Palmer's Unbridled Power (or alternatively, the "blitzkrieg" of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson), where "the fastest legislature in the west" makes decisions in a flash, without any pretence of public consultation, and tells us to eat it. But that is not how kiwis want to be governed, and we will not tolerate it. Last time, our response to such abuses was to change the electoral system in an effort to prevent it. Clearly stronger measures are now needed to constrain our out-of-control political class.

(Meanwhile, please submit on the bill. If you're not sure where to start, pointing out that it breaches te Tiriti and that parliament should never pass such legislation is a good place to begin).

Thursday, May 23, 2024

More National corruption

In their coalition agreement with NZ First, the National Party agreed to provide $24 million in funding to the charity "I Am Hope / Gumboot Friday". Why were they so eager to do so? Because their chair was a National donor, their CEO was the son of a National MP who had wanted to become a National candidate, and they had paid a former National PM for the "independent" assessment used to pimp their service:

The chair of the I Am Hope Foundation donated $27,000 to the National Party prior to the past two elections, and its just-departed CEO sought the National Party candidacy for Botany in 2019, raising questions over close ties between the charity and the senior coalition partner, in the wake of a $24m funding announcement.


Recently-departed I Am Hope chief executive and current board member Troy Elliott, whose late father John Elliott was a National MP, sought the National Party candidacy for the Botany electorate in 2019, but was defeated by now-prime minister Christopher Luxon.


At Wednesday’s announcement, Doocey said every dollar invested in Gumboot Friday resulted in a social return of $5.70. He did not cite the source of that figure, although it had been previously quoted in National’s 100-day plan and in its campaign material ahead of the 2023 election as coming from a “social impact assessment” carried out by Impact Lab.

Impact Lab was co-founded by former National leader Sir Bill English, who is also the company’s chair.

That stench you're smelling? It's corruption. And it seems to taint everything this government does.

This is not how kiwis think our government should work. And if National can’t kick their corruption habit, we need to start sticking them in jail.


The Social Services and Community Committee has called for submissions on the Oranga Tamariki (Repeal of Section 7AA) Amendment Bill. Submissions are due by Wednesday, 3 July 2024, and can be made at the link above.

And if you're wondering what to say: section 7AA was enacted because Oranga Tamariki was systematically stealing Māori children. The consequences of its repeal should be obvious (and the clauses repealing information reporting requirements seem calculated to hide that impact). The Waitangi Tribunal has also found that the bill breaches te Tiriti, and no Parliament should pass legislation which does that.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024


That is the only way to describe an MP "forgetting" to declare $178,000 in donations. The amount of money involved - more than five times the candidate spending cap, and two and a half times the median income - is boggling. How do you just "forget" that amount of money? And like Rimmer's recent claim that $34,000 isn't enough money to matter to anyone, it shows how out-of-touch our highly-paid political class has become.

The MP - National's David MacLeod - says that it is because he misunderstood the law. Which really makes you worry about whether he is properly understanding the laws he is voting on. He has been stood down from his committee positions, but it is not enough. Because filing a false donation return isn't just a mistake - it is a crime. And one that is utterly inconsistent with remaining in Parliament. MacLeod should resign. If he does not, it will tell us something significant about his, and his party's, attitude to electoral fraud.

Justice for Gaza!

It finally happened: the International Criminal Court prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for war crimes in Gaza:

The chief prosecutor of the international criminal court has said he is seeking arrest warrants for senior Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant.

Karim Khan said his office had applied to the world court’s pre-trial chamber for arrest warrants for the military and political leaders on both sides for crimes committed during Hamas’s 7 October attack and the ensuing war in Gaza.


In an extraordinary rebuke of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its conduct in the war in Gaza, Netanyahu and Gallant are accused of extermination, causing starvation as a method of war, the denial of humanitarian relief supplies and deliberately targeting civilians. Monday’s statement notably does not include any Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials, such as its chief of staff, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi, focusing instead on political decision-making.

The latter seems like a significant omission, since they're the people actually doing the war crimes. But maybe they're next in the queue?

Meanwhile, the question for Aotearoa: when are we sanctioning Netanyahu and his criminal regime? We have rightly sanctioned Putin and his cronies for their illegal war in Ukraine. We can hardly do less to a genocidal war criminal.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Climate Change: The question we need to be asking

One of National's first actions in government was to dismantle climate change policy, scrapping the clean car discount and overturning the Government Investment in Decarbonising Industry, which had given us Aotearoa's biggest-ever emissions reduction. But there's an obvious problem: we needed those emissions reductions to meet our carbon budgets:

Treasury estimated GIDI would have generated 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide savings between now and 2050 - between five and 10 times the savings it expected from Labour's EV subsidies (which were also scrapped) over the same period.

A November slide presentation by energy officials, obtained by the Labour Party, warned ministers that killing GIDI could leave a gap in cutting heavy industry's emissions from 2026-2030, when GIDI had been expected to do most of the work of cutting industrial emissions.


"We need both supply and demand side policies. While supply side enablers such as consenting policies [helping renewable generation] are necessary, they won't be sufficient to deliver our climate targets, as they do not by themselves decrease emissions.

"We will also need policies that prompt demand shifts from fossil fuels to renewable energy."

National airily says it will just rely on the ETS. But the amount of decarbonisation needed requires prices of $200 / ton - and National's ETS price settings consultation suggests they're wanting to move in the opposite direction and keep carbon cheap (and emissions high) to satisfy their corporate polluter friends. Meanwhile, meeting our emissions budgets is now officially one of the government's nine key targets. Which invites the question: how do they plan to do it, without any policy?

Climate Change is the biggest challenge facing this country, and the planet. We're already looking at a vastly higher rate of droughts, floods, fires, and cyclones because of it, and it is only going to get worse (plus of course famine, war, and international instability). More immediately, and in terms National's bean-brains might understand, we are facing a $23 billion liability if we fail to meet our 2030 Paris target. National needs to tell us how they are going to reduce our emissions, meet our commitments, or minimise that cost. Luxon's sociopathic corporate manger IBGYBG, someone else's problem approach just doesn't cut it.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Police don't fight crime

What are police for? "Fighting crime" is the obvious answer. If there's a burglary, they should show up and investigate. Ditto if there's a murder or sexual assault. Speeding or drunk or dangerous driving is a crime, so obviously they should respond to that. And obviously, they should respond to violent crimes in progress. But statistical data from the US shows that that is not what they actually do. Instead, they spend most of their time pointlessly harassing innocent people:

A new report adds to a growing line of research showing that police departments don’t solve serious or violent crimes with any regularity, and in fact, spend very little time on crime control, in contrast to popular narratives.


More notably, researchers analyzed the data to show how officers spend their time, and the patterns that emerge tell a striking story about how policing actually works. Those results, too, comport with existing research showing that U.S. police spend much of their time conducting racially biased stops and searches of minority drivers, often without reasonable suspicion, rather than “fighting crime.”

Overall, sheriff patrol officers spend significantly more time on officer-initiated stops – “proactive policing” in law enforcement parlance – than they do responding to community members’ calls for help, according to the report. Research has shown that the practice is a fundamentally ineffective public safety strategy, the report pointed out.

An officer-initiated stop could be pulling over a speeding or suspected drunk driver, but when three quarters of such stops result in no action or a warning, it looks unlikely. The report calls it “a routine practice of pretextual stops” - basically, harassing the innocent. And most of police department budgets are spent on this, a colossal waste of public money.

It would be interesting to see a similar data from Aotearoa, to see if the gang in blue are as useless as their American counterparts. And with the amount of money we spend on policing - $2.6 billion last year - you'd think it might be a priority to see if we're getting value for that colossal amount of money.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

This is what corruption looks like

When National first proposed its Muldoonist "fast-track" law, they were warned that it would inevitably lead to corruption. And that is exactly what has happened, with Resources Minister Shane Jones taking secret meetings with potential applicants:

On Tuesday, in a Newsroom story, questions were raised about a dinner Jones had on the West Coast on February 16. It only came to light because it was mentioned by Barry Bragg, deputy chair of coal mining company Stevenson Group, in a letter released by ministerial officials under the Official Information Act.


On Monday, Jones told Newsroom his dinner with Bragg wasn’t included in his regularly disclosed ministerial diary because “it was very much a last-minute thing”.

But after more questions were asked, Jones is correcting the record. Not only was the dinner organised in advance, it had two other participants.

There's no suggestion any money changed hands. It's "merely" secret lobbying, which Jones "accidentally" failed to declare in his published diary. I think we can draw our own conclusions about that. Meanwhile, it blows any suggestion that he could be an impartial and unbiased decision-maker over any fast-track application from these polluters out of the water. And the fact that Jones is too stupid or greedy to see this shows that he is simply unfit to be a Minister.

The Ombudsman fails again

In 2020, the Operation Burnham inquiry reported back, finding that NZDF had lied to Ministers and the New Zealand public about its actions in Afghanistan. The inquiry saw a large number of documents declassified and released, which raised another problem: whether they had also lied to the Ombudsman in his investigation of OIA requests for information about NZDF's operations. Today, after a two year inquiry, it appears the answer is "sortof":

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says the Defence Force acted “unreasonably”, but did not wilfully mislead him, after it failed to provide him information related to Operation Burnham.


In the findings of this second investigation, Boshier criticised the Defence Force for providing an “incomplete” summary of the raid to the public which had “significantly underplayed” the nature and scope of the raid.

He said the Defence Force had omitted to provide him access to all relevant information during his earlier investigation, due to “poor record keeping practices and processes for retrieving information”.

He also said the Defence Force had exaggerated the “sensitivity” of its documents, and the defence chief, Air Marshal Kevin Short, acknowledged ongoing “over-classification” of information.

“This serious information gap undermined my initial investigation and meant the NZDF [Defence Force] avoided being accountable,” Boshier said, in a press statement.

...which was the point of the exercise. And it appears to have worked again, with the Ombudsman refusing to find that NZDF commited a crime, even one against the Public Records Act (which, ironically, carries a higher penalty than deliberately obstructing the Ombudsman). Meanwhile, the consistent pattern uncovered by the Burnham inquiry, of damning material being buried in safes to hide it from future investigation, is ignored. The Ombudsman suggests NZDF’s records management staff not being told of this was just "poor practice", but when it is done so consistently, it looks like something else: a criminal conspiracy. The Ombudsman, as the guardian of the public's mana, should have called them out. If they were too cowardly to do so, we really need to ask what good they are.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Fucking useless

Yesterday de facto Prime Minister David Seymour announced that his glove puppet government would be re-introducing charter schools, throwing $150 million at his pet quacks, donors and cronies and introducing an entire new government agency to oversee them (the existing Education Review Office, which actually knows how to review schools, being presumably too likely to assess them against the same standards as everyone else, or wonder where all the money is going). Rimmer would also allow his cronies to take over state schools - effectively privatising them. All of this is deeply contrary to everything the Labour Party has told us it stands for, and last time National did this, Labour immediately abolished their bullshit. So what was Chris Hipkins' response? To refuse to commit:

Hipkins wasn't sure what their fate would be should Labour be returned to power in the coming years.

"What we did last time is we integrated them into the state education system - some became integrated schools; some became designated character schools.

"It's too soon to say what we would do next time around because we don't yet know what the contracts are going to be, we don't yet know what the structure is going to be - but we do believe that schools should be part of the public education system," Hipkins said.

And this is why Labour only got 27% last election: because they have no spine, no principles. They're as useless as a proverbial useless thing. And why would anyone vote for that, when there are parties who clearly know what they stand for offering an alternative?

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Australia jails another whistleblower

In 2014 former Australian army lawyer David McBride leaked classified military documents about Australian war crimes to the ABC. Dubbed "The Afghan Files", the documents led to an explosive report on Australian war crimes, the disbanding of an entire SAS unit, and multiple ongoing prosecutions. The journalist who wrote the stories, Dan Oakes, was later awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for "service to journalism" for the work.

Today, in revenge, the Australian government jailed McBride for almost six years - a longer sentence than any Australian war criminal has so far received for the offences he uncovered.

The message is clear: when the Australian government commits crimes, the witnesses should keep quiet. Otherwise they will be victimised and persecuted. Its hard to see this as anything other than official government support for war crimes and war criminals. Provided they're committed by Australians, of course.

(And, lest we feel too superior, John Key passed a similar anti-whistleblowing law here, allowing the punishment of those who blow the whistle on the defence - spy deep state, which is yet to be repealed).

Some "scrutiny"!

Back in February I blogged about another secret OIA "consultation" by the Ministry of Justice. This one was on Aotearoa's commitment in its Open Government Partnership Action Plan to "strengthen scrutiny of Official Information Act exemption clauses in legislation" (AKA secrecy clauses). Their consultation paper on the issue focused on strengthening "scrutiny mechanisms" - essentially interdepartmental consultation - without saying what these clauses would be scrutinised against or the circumstances in which they might or might not be justified.

Which invites the question: how well is such scrutiny working at the moment? The Ministry of Justice is responsible for the OIA, so in theory other agencies should be consulting them before messing with it. And if they were a good guardian, they'd couple this with active monitoring of upcoming legislation (a lot of which will cross their desk anyway) to spot cases where this hasn't been noticed. So, I did some poking with the OIA, sending them a list of 37 recent bills which contained secrecy clauses, and asking for their consultation advice on them. That was obviously a lot of work, and the Ministry didn't want to do it. But their background research for their OGP consultation had included a study of eleven bills, and they agreed to release the consultation advice they had produced on those (as well as six more bills later).

And here's the advice. Of the eleven bills in their study with identified secrecy clauses, the Ministry of Justice had been consulted on just two of them. I should note that one of the bills was "owned" by the Ministry of Justice, so shouldn't be included in the total. Which makes it two out of ten - a nice, round 20%. Some "scrutiny"! And we wonder why the government keeps passing these things? Partly, because the agency responsible for the law doesn't even know it is happening.

As for their plans to improve scrutiny, the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties did a recent request on that using FYI. Digging through the documents, a bunch of the agencies Justice wants to be a check against secrecy clauses - the Parliamentary Counsel's Office, DPMC, the Office of the Clerk - are saying "nope, not our problem". Which means their "improved" scrutiny is going to end up looking a lot like the current "scrutiny", only maybe with a little note on a webpage somewhere. Meanwhile, the question again of what can justify departing from our constitutional principle of transparency goes unanswered, and the Ministry redacts any suggestion that these clauses might not be justified. Whether that is an appropriate outcome for an OGP commitment is left as an exercise for the reader.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Ministers are not above the law after all

Back in April, the High Court surprised everyone by ruling that Ministers are above the law, at least as far as the Waitangi Tribunal is concerned. The reason for this ruling was "comity" - the idea that the different branches of government shouldn't interfere with each other's functions. Which makes perfect sense when talking about Parliament and the courts, but sounds awfully like echoes of absolute monarchy when Ministers demand it for themselves.

Today, fortunately, the Court of Appeal has overturned that bullshit:

The Court of Appeal has overturned a High Court decision which blocked a summons order from the Waitangi Tribunal for Children's Minister Karen Chhour.


In its ruling, the court acknowledged the importance of the Waitangi Tribunal's role in inquiry into legislation that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and that the minister had relevant evidence to give to the Tribunal.

It disagreed with the High Court's ruling that the principle of comity, or legal reciprocity, applied to the Tribunal.

Unfortunately they don't give much of a reason why, other than that "The Tribunal is not easily located within the judicial branch", and
It is not clear to us why the constitutional relationship between the Crown and the Tribunal should prevent the Tribunal from asking for information that would, in its view, assist it to carry out the Inquiry.
Still, its a win, which firmly establishes the principle that the Tribunal can summons Ministers if, in its opinion, they have relevant evidence. And that seems valuable for the future - especially with so many other urgent Waitangi Tribunal inquiries happening right now.

Meanwhile, Chhour has introduced her racist bill to the House. When it gets to select committee, I hope that everyone will submit in opposition, citing the Tribunal's view that it breaches te Tiriti. Like violations of the BORA, Parliament simply should not be passing bills that do that, and future governments are fully justified in rectifying such constitutional outrages and implementing the Tribunal's decision under urgency.

Change in Catalonia?

or the past 14 years, ever since the Spanish government cheated on an autonomy deal, Catalonia has reliably given pro-independence parties a majority of seats in their regional parliament. But now that seems to be over. Catalans went to the polls yesterday, and stripped the Catalan parties of their majority. Meanwhile, the (Spanish) Socialists' Party of Catalonia (PSC) has emerged as the largest party, and likely the centre of any possible government.

There are reasons for this. The Catalan parties had failed to deliver independence, and the government had basically collapsed due to infighting. Meanwhile the Socialists had turned down the temperature at a national level, pardoning independence leaders and agreeing to "dialogue". One of the Catalan parties - the Republican Left - had collaborated in this, while the other - Junts - played hardball to extract a general amnesty for those persecuted for promoting independence. And pro-independence voters it seemed preferred the latter approach.

El Nacional has a rundown on the coalition maths, and it is ugly. The PSC could put together a bare majority with (pro-independence) left-wing parties - something which used to be a common arrangement, but which is likely to be unstable now. Or it could form a decent majority with the pro-independence, right-wing Junts - but that's likely to be even worse. Or, it could form a bare majority with the other Spanish parties, but that means working with the openly fascist Vox. The PSC is unlikely to find any of these options particularly appealing. The question is how many of their potential partners would prefer another election in six months...

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Justice for Bainimarama!

In December 2006, Fiji's military leader Voreqe Bainimarama overthrew the elected government in a coup. He ruled Fiji for the next 16 years, first as dictator, then as "elected" Prime Minister. But now, he's finally been sent to jail where he belongs.

Sadly, this isn't for his real crime of overthrowing Fiji's democracy (he wrote himself an amnesty clause in his unilaterally-imposed constitution for that). Instead its for a minor incident later, where he perverted the course of justice by investigation into financial mismanagement at the University of the South Pacific. The habits built up as a military leader and a dictator - of authoritarian command, and protecting his cronies while punishing his enemies - turned out to be illegal. And when democracy was finally restored with the 2022 election, and he could no longer lean on the police and judges, he finally faced justice.

Its like Al Capone going to jail for tax evasion. But its good enough. And maybe now Fiji will be able to overturn his self-serving "amnesty" and prosecute him for his real crimes.

March for Nature in June

March for Nature_signup page image_645x265_3

Don't like National's corrupt Muldoonist "fast-track" law? Aotearoa's environmental NGO's - Greenpeace, Forest & Bird, WWF, Coromandel Watchdog, Coal Action Network Aotearoa, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, and others - have announced a joint march against it in Auckland in June:

When: 13:00, 8 June, 2024
Where: Aotea Square, Auckland

You can RSVP here.

When National tried to mine our national parks, 50,000 people marched down Queen Street to oppose them, and National backed down. So that's the goal: turn out for the environment, make a credible threat of electoral consequences, and force them to dump their plans.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

The wrong direction

Some good news on climate change today: the energy transition away from fossil fuels is picking up speed, and renewables now make up 30% of global electricity supply. Meanwhile, in Aotearoa, we're moving in the opposite direction, with Genesis Energy announcing that it will resume importing Indonesian coal.

Their official reason is to "keep the lights on" in a context of declining gas supply. But its worth noting that Gensis - one of our worst fossil polluters - is directly invested in the gas industry, and therefore has an interest in supporting the governments narrative that our options are basically coal or gas. That simply wasn't true. So they've decided to try and make it true.

(An interesting point: Genesis had consent for an 858 MW wind farm, big enough to replace Huntly, and they sat on it for a decade and then just let it expire. They could have solved this problem and made Huntly redundant a decade ago, but they'd rather burn coal and destroy the planet).

Meanwhile, in reality: we have 1.1 GW of consented and under construction solar, and 1.3 GW of consented and under construction wind, plus huge pipelines of both in the preliminary stages. We should build them. We also added 150MW of rooftop solar in the last year - a decent-sized power station. We should build more of that too. We can fix this problem with wind and solar and batteries, and every MW of renewables we build means less coal and gas burned. Every MW we build means less profits for the ecocidaires in the fossil fuel industry. And the government should be making it a holy fucking mission to drive those murderers into bankruptcy. Instead, it seems that National prefers complicity.

National hates democracy

Its a law like gravity: whenever a right-wing government is elected, they start attacking democracy. And now, after talking to their Republican and Tory and Fidesz chums at the International Democracy Union forum in Wellington, National is doing it here, announcing plans to remove election-day enrolment. Or, to put it another way, to stop 110,000 people - almost 4% of last year's turnout - from voting. These people are mostly people who thought they were on the roll, and didn't realise they'd been removed - so, not exactly culpable. And with renters forced to move increasingly frequently so their landleeches can raise the rent and steal their bond, you can draw some obvious conclusions about who these voters might be, and why National, the party of landleeches, wouldn't want them to vote.

Naked partisan reasons aside, the actual problem here is that the Electoral Commission weirdly didn't expect such a large number of people to have to enrol on election day, and so didn't have enough staff to process them all quickly. But the proper solution to that in a democracy is to resource them properly. The fact that National instinctively moves to stop people voting tells us that they don't want us to be a democracy - at least, not one which includes everyone.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and it seems we've entered the slowdown as things emerge from select committee. First up is the committee stage of Greg O'Connor's Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill, which will be followed by the second readings of Stuart Smith's Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Cellar Door Tasting) Amendment Bill and Dan Bidois' Fair Trading (Gift Card Expiry) Amendment Bill. The House should at least make a start on the first reading of Tracey McLellan's Evidence (Giving Evidence of Family Violence) Amendment Bill, and if it moves quickly it might get to Camilla Belich's Employment Relations (Employee Remuneration Disclosure) Amendment Bill. Which means there will probably be a ballot for a single bill tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Still on their bullshit

When in government, Labour pushed to extend the Parliamentary term to four years, to reduce accountability and our ability to vote out a bad government. And now, they're trying to do it through the member's ballot, with a Four-Year Parliamentary Term Legislation Bill.

The bill at least requires a referendum (the provisions for which make up almost all of the bill). But it says something about Labour's priorities that they're still pushing this bullshit, which no-one ever asked for and which has been voted down by huge majorities twice. And it also says something about their poor political instincts, that they're doing it when we have one of the least popular governments in living memory. By doing so, they invite the conclusion that they think this authoritarian, anti-environment shitshow should have had more time to do more damage. And they risk being tarred with its brush.


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

  • Public Works (Prohibition of Compulsory Acquisition of Māori Land) Amendment Bill (Hūhana Lyndon)

The bill would prevent the government from stealing Māori land in breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It was previously drawn from the ballot in 2016, and was voted down by National, ACT, and NZ First. Sadly, I expect the same to happen this time.

Monday, May 06, 2024

Climate Change: Forcing accountability in the UK

In 2008, the UK Parliament passed the Climate Change Act 2008. The law established a system of targets, budgets, and plans, with inbuilt accountability mechanisms; the aim was to break the cycle of empty promises and replace it with actual progress towards emissions reduction.

The law was passed with near-universal support, and was explicitly supported by the Conservatives when they won power in 2010. But then the Tories returned to type and decided to "get rid of all the green crap". In 2022 their Net Zero Strategy was ruled unlawful as it failed to quantify how it would meet the emissions budget. And now, the same has happened to its replacement:

The UK government’s climate action plan is unlawful, the high court has ruled, as there is not enough evidence that there are sufficient policies in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The energy secretary, Claire Coutinho, will now be expected to draw up a revised plan within 12 months. This must ensure that the UK achieves its legally binding carbon budgets and its pledge to cut emissions by more than two-thirds by 2030, both of which the government is off track to meet.


The judge agreed with ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth that the secretary of state was given “incomplete” information about the likelihood that proposed policies would achieve their intended emissions cuts. This breached section 13 of the Climate Change Act, which requires the secretary of state to adopt plans and proposals that they consider will enable upcoming carbon budgets to be delivered.

Sheldon also agreed with the environment groups that the central assumption that all the department’s policies would achieve 100% of their intended emissions cuts was wrong. The judge said the secretary of state had acted irrationally, and on the basis of an incorrect understanding of the facts.

An emissions reduction plan is not a PR document. Bullshit numbers and heroic assumptions of success may be normal in the world of business, but they're simply unacceptable in government.

(In the meantime the Tories have doubled down on denial, approving new oil and gas permits and rolling back measures to phase out dirty fossil fuel cars and heaters. So they're clearly unwilling to engage with their legal obligations).

The relevance to Aotearoa should be obvious: we borrowed the framework of our Zero Carbon Act direct from the UK. And like the UK, we currently have a government which professes commitment to its long-term net-zero target, while removing practically every concrete measure by which it might be achieved. That government is currently meant to be preparing its second Emissions Reduction Plan, which is legally required to meet the targets set by the second emissions budget, but its hard to see what it will have in it, other than some handwavium about renewable energy, "markets" and the ETS (which doesn't cover our largest polluters, and which National will then proceed to sabotage). Which means we can probably expect a similar court-case here. And if that happens, the UK precedents, while not binding, are likely to be very persuasive.

Friday, May 03, 2024

An awkward coincidence!

The annual list of who's been bribing our politicians is out, and journalists will no doubt be poring over it to find the juiciest and dirtiest bribes. The government's fast-track invite list is likely to be a particular focus, and we already know of one company on the list which paid $55,000 to Shane Jones, and another which gave over $100,000 to the National Party. But obviously they won't be expecting anything in return for their money, oh no.

And I've found another. National Steel Limited (NBN: 9429031545907) caught my attention for its appalling environmental record: the scrapyard company is such a scofflaw that they can't even be bothered applying for resource consent before setting up a toxic waste dump (perhaps because they realised it would be refused), and their scrapyards regularly catch fire, endangering everyone nearby or downwind. The companies register shows its director and principal shareholder is Vipan Garg, of Omahu Road, Remuera. And guess who appears on National's donor list this year?


Which is an awkward coincidence. But I'm sure National has a perfectly reasonable explanation for why they've put an environmental criminal, who just happens to have given them money, on their fast-track invitation list.


That's the number of submissions received on National's corrupt Muldoonist fast-track legislation. Except its higher than that, because the number doesn't include form submissions, such as the 15,000 people who supported Forest & Bird's submission, or the 14,000 who supported Greenpeace. And so many people want to appear in person that the Environment Committee has had to split into two subcommittees to hear them all.

For those wondering, its not the Most Submissions Ever. That goes to the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill (which banned torturing gay kids to try and turn them straight) received over 100,000 (including 68,000 form submissions). And there were 88,383 on the Water Services Entities Bill. But its definitely up there as one of the largest bills ever, and shows that the public care about environmental legislation. Which means trouble for the government if they continue down their present path, because that's a lot of people motivated to stop them.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Secrecy undermines participation

The Post reports on how the government is refusing to release its advice on its corrupt Muldoonist fast-track law, instead using the "soon to be publicly available" refusal ground to hide it until after select committee submissions on the bill have closed. Fast-track Minister Chris Bishop's excuse?

“It's not really standard to release a whole lot of Government information, advice and briefings so that people can read it in advance of select committee submissions.
Well, maybe it should be. We're meant to be a democracy, after all - and that means the government both publicly justifying its decisions, and enabling us to participate in them. Enabling that is literally what the Official Information Act is for: "enabl[ing] more effective participation in the making and administration of laws and policies" is right there in the purpose clause. And its there precisely because of government secrecy and over-reach during its last bout of Muldoonism.

Purposefully delaying OIA responses so that everything can be released all at once may be more efficient. But if done with the intention, or even the foreseeable consequence, of delaying public participation by what the Minister has proudly said is the only opportunity we will have is utterly contrary to both the text and the spirit of the Act. The government knew there would be interest in this. They knew that this information would be needed for people to make effective submissions on the bill. And they should have planned for an early proactive release from the start precisely to enable that. If they didn't, they're incompetent. And if - as the article suggests - the Minister instructed them to delay, then he is guilty of a conspiracy against both the Act and our democracy. But once again: unlike overseas laws, our OIA has no teeth, and there are no criminal penalties for such behaviour (let alone ones with a penalty where conviction would result in a Minister losing their seat in Parliament, and thus their job). If we want a transparent and accountable government, putting such penalties in place needs to be a priority.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

14,000 unemployed under National

The latest labour market statistics, showing a rise in unemployment. There are now 134,000 unemployed - 14,000 more than when the National government took office. Which is I guess what happens when the Reserve Bank causes a recession in an effort to Keep Wages Low.

The previous government saw a modest decrease in unemployment, despite a significant increase in the size of the workforce. So this is a bad start for National, but it is early days yet. Still, they're unlikely to be as committed to keeping people in work as Labour were, so their number will probably get a lot worse.