Friday, February 23, 2024

Bought and paid for

Candidate donation returns for the 2023 election are out, and surprise, surprise - Shane Jones has been taking money from the industries he is now responsible for regulating:

Newly released donation information for 2023 election candidates show the Fisheries Minister received $5000 from West Food Seafood (Westfleet Seafoods Limited).

Earlier this month, Westfleet chief executive and shareholder Craig Boote was one of the industry leaders lobbying Jones to review policy around cameras, catch limits, bottom trawling and immigration waivers at an exclusive wine and oysters function.


Fisheries wasn’t the only industry to contribute to Jones’ more than $95,500 in candidate donations.

He received $3000 from Northland Forest, $5000 from J Swap – a logistics firm dealing with construction, transport and forestry – as well as $15,000 from high-profile property developer Andrew Krukziener.


Meanwhile, Jones received $20,000 from Vladimir Barbalich – a Wellington property developer and former financial backer and board member of fringe anti-mandate party Democracy NZ.

And as Minister for Fisheries, Economic Development, and Resources, he'll now be making the rules for the people who oh so generously gave him money (including devising an entirely new corrupt Muldoonist resource consent scheme which will place decisions in the hands of Ministers). But apparently he won't be influenced by it, because $20,000 is just a trivial amount of money to him.

Yeah, right. And if you believe that, I have some fish to sell you.

This sort of corruption undermines trust in government, and calls every decision Ministers make into question. And that alone should be reason to ban it. If we want government decisions to be made on the merits, and no be influenced by bribes, we need to get money out of politics entirely. And if that means politicians can't enrich themselves on the side, and have to be content with their very generous salaries, boo fucking hoo.

(Meanwhile, we also have a foreign-owned mining company blatantly interfering in our politics by buying themselves an independent to kneecap a candidate they didn't like. So I guess we can chalk that up as another fail by the SIS. Or is it only "foreign interference" if its from China?)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

This is corrupt

Earlier in the month, a panel of "independent" experts in Wellington produced recommendations for the future of housing in the city, and they were a bit shit, opposing intensification and protecting the property values of existing homeowners. Its since emerged that they engaged in some pretty motivated reasoning on the latter issue, but why? BusinessDesk has the scoop: they had huge undeclared conflicts of interest:

Members of a controversial panel setting the agenda for Wellington’s housing own more than $7 million worth of property in the capital city, with five of the six properties not declared in the independent hearings panel's published conflicts-of-interest register. The properties include homes in Mt Victoria and Te Aro, suburbs in which the eight-member panel (IHP) recommended expansions to character precinct designations, which would hinder the construction of new housing.
I don't know about you, but making a decision which you will profit from while hiding that fact seems pretty fucking corrupt to me. And it should be enough to have their recommendations tossed for apparent bias.

But not just that. We've prosecuted, convicted, and even jailed people in the past for lying on their CVs in order to obtain a position. Lying on a conflict on interest statement seems to be no different. So, will these people be prosecuted? Or is fraud OK when it is done by rich people?

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Then why did she do it?

Earlier in the month, Cancer Minister Casey Costello was caught lying to the media about whether or not she had requested advice on cutting tobacco excise tax to benefit the cancer industry. She repeated her lies in Parliament. But today, she stood up and pretended to apologise for "causing confusion" with those lies:

I'd like to make a personal statement regarding my answers as Associate Minister of Health to oral questions on 30 January 2024. I'm speaking specifically to the questions that asked if I was being truthful when I denied to the media that I had requested advice on freezing tobacco excise tax. On review of my response, I acknowledge that there is confusion arising from my understanding of the differentiation between seeking specific advice and accepting advice being offered. I had no intention of misleading the House, and I apologise for any confusion.
Which might satisfy her coalition colleagues looking for an excuse to fend off a Privileges Committee complaint. But it shouldn't satisfy any of us. Firstly, because its the usual victim-blaming bullshit, which doesn't explain anything. And secondly, because it invites the obvious question: if it wasn't her intention to mislead, then why did she do it?

And again: once upon a time Ministers were sacked for lying to the public like this. But instead of upholding public standards, Luxon appears to be allowing a culture of outright dishonesty among his Ministers from the outset. I think we're entitled to draw some unpleasant conclusions about his character and truthfulness from that as well.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Equality comes to Greece

The Greek Parliament has voted for marriage equality:

Greece has become the first Christian Orthodox-majority country to legalise same-sex marriage.

Same-sex couples will now also be legally allowed to adopt children after Thursday's 176-76 vote in parliament.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the new law would "boldly abolish a serious inequality".

Good. But there are still EU members who refuse to recognise marriage equality, or have constitutions specifically enshrining bigotry. The ECHR needs to step in and deal with them.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

A rejection of the rule of law

As if we didn't have enough reasons to hate National's corrupt, Muldoonist RMA fast-track legislation, now we have another: it will be used to overturn the decisions of independent panels - and potentially the courts - to forcibly "consent" projects which have been rejected under existing law.

If this sounds familiar, its exactly what Muldoon did with the Clutha Development (Clyde Dam) Empowering Act 1982, only potentially on a much broader scale. Its not just a rejection of established principles of community consultation and independent, merits-based assessment - its also an outright rejection of the rule of law from the National Party and their corrupt business backers. Instead, it seems they prefer a model where those who can buy the ear of Ministers get what they want, and those who can't, don't.

Australia shows us what happens under such models: universal, wide-scale corruption, and regular prosecutions of Ministers. And to clean it up, we'll need an Independent Commission Against Corruption, empowered to continuously investigate Ministers, officials, consent applicants and lobbyists for any hint of bribery or undue influence. If National passes this legislation, Labour should announce such a body as an immediate priority.

An unlawful directive

An interesting question in the Parliamentary written questions feed today, from Jan Tinetti to the Minister of Education:

Has she or her Office directed the Ministry of Education to not release Official Information Act material prior to the full twenty working days, if so, why?
Given that people don't ask such questions unless they already know the answer, I think we can assume that such a directive actually exists, and its just a matter of time before its exposed to full public light.

Such a directive would of course be completely unlawful, violating the clear statute that requests must be responded to "as soon as reasonably practicable". The problem is that public servants don't really have much recourse against even clearly unlawful directives, because shit flows downhill from the Minister. Which is why we need to move away from the current OIA enforcement model of government as a cosy gentlemen's agreement with the Ombudsman there to remind people to be a good chap, and towards one where the law is actually legally enforceable, and there are criminal penalties for deliberately violating it.


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

  • Parole (Mandatory Completion of Rehabilitative Programmes) Amendment Bill (Todd Stephenson)
  • Goods and Services Tax (Removing GST From Food) Amendment Bill (Rawiri Waititi)
  • Income Tax (ACC Payments) Amendment Bill (Hamish Campbell)
  • Companies (Address Information) Amendment Bill (Deborah Russell)
  • Local Electoral (Abolition of the Ratepayer Roll) Amendment Bill (Greg O’Connor)

The last one is going to be a flashpoint for current tensions over housing, rent, and landlords, given that it would remove a democratic anomaly which currently gives absentee landlords multiple votes in local body elections.

There were only 59 bills in the ballot today, so someone has been slacking.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Climate Change: Arsonists

Today, a major fire broke out on the Port Hills in Ōtutahi. Like its 2017 predecessors, it is almost certainly exacerbated by climate change. And it is still burning.

The present government did not start the fire. But they piled the tinder high last time they were in power, gutting the ETS, delaying action on agricultural emissions, encouraging fossil fuel development, and generally reversing policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And they're doing it again, killing the clean car discount, cutting the GIDI scheme to reduce industrial emissions, killing public transport, delaying action on agricultural emissions (again) and encouraging fossil fuel development (again). Today, in Parliament, they effectively admitted that their corrupt Muldoonist "fast-track" resource consent legislation will be used to ram through new coal mines - in the middle of a climate crisis. While an actual fire is burning on the edge of the South Island's largest city, one change in wind direction away from devastation, they are metaphorically pouring petrol through the house. They are arsonists, pure and simple. The question is whether we'll be able to vote them out before we have our own version of Lahaina or Black Saturday - or whether their climate arson is going to have a bodycount.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the first of the new Parliament. And to start the Parliament off, there's a bunch of first readings. A bunch of other bills have been postponed, so first up is Duncan Webb's District Court (Protecting Judgment Debtors on Main Benefit) Amendment Bill, followed by Katie Nimon's Pae Ora (Healthy Futures) (Improving Mental Health Outcomes) Amendment Bill. Then there's a bill likely to be contentious: Arena Williams' Electoral (Equal Protection of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill. In previous parliaments the racist parties have united to vote down giving Māori seats the same constitutional protections as general seats, but its now backed by a recommendation from the Independent Electoral Review. And in the context of the present government-led hate-campaign against Te Tiriti and all things Māori, it will be an important sign of how far National is going to try and push its racist agenda.

If the House moves quickly it should make a start on Cushla Tangaere-Manuel's Local Government (Facilitation of Remote Participation) Amendment Bill. And we should see a ballot for five or six bills tomorrow.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Brownlee enables corruption

One of the few positive things Chris Hipkins did as Prime Minister was to throw the lobbyists out of Parliament, cutting off their free access and requiring them to make an appointment like everybody else. But now, under National, they're back - and with extra secrecy:

The identities of people allowed to freely come and go from Parliament have been made secret by the new Speaker.

Gerry Brownlee told RNZ he did not agree with the blanket ban on lobbyists having swipe card access and some discretion was needed.

He had approved swipe card access for about four new people, who he said could be described as having lobbying roles. But they were not employed by professional lobbying firms and largely had jobs assisting parties in Parliament.

He would not be "facilitating commercial activities" for lobbying firms. But in a departure from previous Speakers, Brownlee said he wouldn't publish the 'approved visitor list' of people with swipe card access to Parliament, in order to protect their privacy.

So, instead of trying to clean up our political system, we have a Speaker who is actively trying to re-introduce and protect corruption. Because that's what the unequal and undemocratic influence of lobbyists on our political system is: corruption. It means that policy is determined by who spends the most money (and possibly, makes the biggest donations), rather than who wins the most votes. As for “privacy”, these people are trying to influence public business. If you or I do that, by writing to Ministers, submitting on proposed legislation, or even meeting with a Minister, our names and the content of our submissions get published. And rightly so – there’s no privacy interest at all when people are trying to influence policy. Brownlee’s special protection for these racketeers is simply saying that the rich and their tools should be allowed to exert such influence in secret. And who does that benefit?

But the mere fact that Brownlee has declared these people's identities secret should give the press gallery a powerful incentive to unmask and expose them. News, after all, is something someone doesn't want you to print. Everything else is just public relations.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Luxon can't be trusted on Te Tiriti

When the new government's coalition agreements were released last year, the most shocking aspect was National's agreement to an explicitly racist campaign to repudiate Te Tiriti o Waitangi, replacing it with some weirdo Libertarian charter. Luxon has spent the last four months trying to say that he was forced to agree to this as the price of power (that is, he has no moral character and was happy to throw Māori under the bus so he could call himself "Right Honourable" for a few years), and that he had only agreed to support it to select committee. As the unpopularity of destroying the foundation of the New Zealand state has become apparent, he has focused more and more on the latter, saying that it was unlikely that National would support the bill any further. And yesterday, after his disastrous performance at Waitangi, he went further, ruling it out completely. The problem? Rimmer doesn't believe him:

ACT leader David Seymour is refusing to back down on his controversial Treaty Principles Bill, saying he believes the Prime Minister's opinion can be changed.

Seymour believes Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was "nervous" after Waitangi and could still back his Treaty Principles Bill despite ruling out doing so.


But Seymour is undeterred by Luxon's comments and came out with fighting words when he joined AM on Thursday morning.

"I mean, last week, he wouldn't rule out supporting it further, yesterday he would. I think perhaps he got a bit nervous after Waitangi," he told AM co-host Lloyd Burr.

But there was one part of Luxon's comments that Seymour said he didn't believe.

"But ultimately the bit I don't believe is he won't change his mind if the public really wants it," he said.

Rimmer is quite clear that he is trying to twist Luxon's arm on this. And it seems likely that he will get away with it. Because no matter what Luxon says, at the end of the day, Rimmer gets to decide whether he remains Prime Minister or not. And he has already shown a willingness to use that to impose a racist, white supremacist agenda on Aotearoa, and Luxon has already grovelled in the face of it. Given that, it is likely that he will do so again.

So here is what will happen: National will make a lot of noise opposing the bill at first reading, while voting it to select committee "as part of the coalition agreement". It may even order its MPs to issue a negative report on it at select committee. And then Rimmer will threaten to roll the government unless he gets his way and the bill is passed. And the question then is whether Luxon, a man who has already backed down to this once, will show some moral character and stand up against Rimmer's divisive racism, or whether he will meekly roll over and in effect allow Rimmer to dictate to his whole government. And unfortunately, I think we all know the answer to that one.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Climate Change: The climate will get its day in court

As the climate crisis has worsened, and the politicians have proven themselves ineffective, corrupt, or both, people around the world have turned the courts to provide a solution and pressure polluters to reduce their emissions. Here in Aotearoa the local case is Smith v Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd, which alleges that a group of seven major polluters collectively responsible for a third of the country's emissions are committing negligence, public nuisance, and breaching a new environmental duty by failing to cut their emissions. The polluters have of course denied this, arguing sociopathically that the carbon and methane they spew just isn't their problem, and even if it was, they owe no duties to anyone not to do it (in other words, "fuck you"). But today, the Supreme Court disabused them of that, ruling that Smith has an arguable case which should be heard in court:

Iwi leader Mike Smith has won the right to sue seven big polluters for their role in causing climate change, in a Supreme Court ruling delivered this morning.

The Supreme Court reinstated Smith's case, after it was earlier thrown out by the Court of Appeal on the basis there was no reasonable basis for argument.

The climate activist, of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Kahu, says the group including Fonterra, Z Energy and Genesis Energy (which together make around a third of New Zealand's emissions) have a legal duty to him and others in communities who are being damaged by planet-heating gases.

He wants them to either stop polluting, or start bringing emissions down quickly.

An important feature of the case is the role of tikanga Māori, and how it determines Smith's relationship to coastal land and waters which are being flooded and damaged.

The Supreme Court noted it was not ruling on whether the case had a good chance of succeeding, only that "Mr Smith now gets his day in court".

Which isn't victory - but it is the first step. And the polluters are now going to have to go full sociopath and argue that they owe no duties to anyone, effectively destroying all their greenwash marketing, or that they're doing enough, and expose their emissions reduction plans (if any) to legal scrutiny. And if they win (or just settle) on the latter, those plans become something they can be legally held to.

Of course, there's a third option: buy politicians to legislate legal impunity for polluters. Which would of course be nakedly corrupt as well as sociopathic. Unfortunately, with our current crop of politicians, that can't be ruled out.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Government says "Fuck the poor"

One of the big achievements of the two previous Labour-led governments was regular, large increases to the minimum wage. These lifted incomes and helped drive wage growth for all workers, while incentivising employers to invest in productivity and technology rather than low-skilled production. Well, that's definitely over now, with the government ordering a sub-inflation increase:

Minimum wage workers will get a 2% increase from April 1, when the minimum wage rises from $22.70 to $23.15.

That is despite a warning from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment that an increase below the rate of inflation could make it hard for minimum wage workers to keep up with the cost of living.

Inflation was running at a rate of 4.7% a year in the 12 months to December.

And lest anyone forget, a sub-inflation increase is effectively a cut. So National is deliberately cutting the real wages of the poorest workers.

Reading the Cabinet paper its even worse, because employment minister Brooke van Velden wanted only a 1.3% increase, on the basis that it had increased above inflation since 2018. MBIE recommended 4%, to almost keep pace with the PREFU inflation projection. The overwhelming tone of that paper is of the Minister - a woman who is paid $296,007 a year plus slush - saying "fuck the poor". Which seems like a strong argument for Ministers to be put on the minimum wage, to see how much they like it.


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

  • Corrections (Victim Protection) Amendment Bill (Rima Nakhle)

There were 64 bills in the ballot today, which is a healthy number. Obvious trends: Labour has a lot on employment law, and there are three bills seeking to improve things for renters. Government MPs meanwhile are doing various shades of toxic law and order bullshit, just like they always have.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The obvious question

Te Kāhui / Criminal Cases Review Commission has found another potential miscarriage of justice, where police appear to have coached a witness in an indecent assault case, making their evidence unsafe, and then covered it up. So its been sent back to court for a re-hearing, which is appropriate. That's bad enough, but the Post version of the story is even worse:

A police officer influenced a victim into identifying a suspect, then officers deliberately hid what had happened from judges and courts, a wrongful conviction body has found.

And when investigators discovered what they’d done, police officers lied to them while under oath, according to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

Which raises an obvious question: will those officers be charged with conspiring to defeat justice (for the original offence) and perjury (for lying to Te Kāhui)? And if not, why not? Because if police are allowed to outright lie to judicial bodies, why should we or the courts believe anything they say ever again?

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Morally bankrupt

Over the weekend the International Court of Justice found that there was a real risk that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza, and ordered it to stop. Israel responded by accusing the UNRWA, a UN agency which feeds refugees in Palestine, of supporting Hamas, and persuaded their allies the US and UK to cut funding - basicly making them complicit in Israel's genocide. And now, to our shame, Chris Luxon has decided to join them.

This is utterly morally bankrupt, and it clearly aligns us with Israel and the US and makes our government complicit in Israel's actions in starving the Palestinian people. Maybe we should be sending them to The Hague for that.

James Shaw: At least he tried

The big political news of the day is James Shaw's resignation as Green co-leader. It was expected: his refusal to contest Wellington Central clearly signalled that he was planning to leave Parliament if Labour lost the election, and the change in government was the time to go. And with the Greens winning a record vote last election, there's a good depth of talent there to replace him.

Shaw's big success as a Minister was getting the Zero Carbon Act over the line. His big failure was failing to get agriculture into the ETS and make our biggest polluters pay their fair share of the damage they do. That failure was forced by Labour's cowardice, which is Shaw's Ministerial career in a nutshell: trying to do the right thing and being constantly undermined by a partner who just didn't grasp the seriousness of the problem, didn't care, or thought they could PR their way out of it, as if an existential crisis could be handled by their usual lies and bullshit. I'm not trying to paint Shaw as a radical here, but I credit him with at least recognising what needs to be done. He didn't always do the best job in presenting that to Labour - too much pre-watering-down to try and get their agreement (again, see agriculture) - but at least he tried. And events over e.g. the ETS proved him right again and again.

(And now we have a climate minister who doesn't care about the climate, doesn't recognise what needs to be done, and isn't interested in actually trying to keep us all alive. And we are going to notice it in policy, and in disasters. You have been warned...)

Shaw will stay in Parliament to push his member's bill to put the environment in the BORA (something I expect National to vote down out of pure spite). And then he'll finally escape. Which is good: Parliament is a toxic environment which ruins people, and its good for people to get out before they are institutionalised into it. There's a lot of other good work which can be done outside of the hellmouth - possibly better, more effective work - and I look forward to seeing what he will do next.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Robbing from the poor to pay the rich

That's the only way to describe David Seymour's latest tax proposal:

ACT campaigned on flattening the current five-tiered tax system down to three rates by 2026/27.

In simple terms, ACT would immediately axe the lowest tax threshold of 10.5 percent, meaning the government would collect more revenue from all income earners.

Some of that extra revenue would then be returned to low-and-middle income earners through a targeted tax credit to ensure they were not worse off.

The money left over would allow the government to reduce the higher tax rates at the top of the income scale - dropping the 33 percent rate to 30, and the 39 percent rate to 33.

Rimmer calls this "simplification". But taking money from people and then giving some of it back to them isn't simple - its complex. Meanwhile, "some of" is doing a lot of work there, and if no-one was really left any worse off then there would be no point, because there would be no money to lower other rates. What will happen in reality is that Rimmer's credits will be a token (and then done away with because of complexity), the poor will be taxed more heavily, and their money given to rich pricks like Rimmer. Who, in case anyone has forgotten, is on $296,007 plus slush, which will increase to $334,734 when he replaces Winston as Deputy PM. How many poor people will he have to pillage for his tax cut?

A better alternative would be to tax rich people like Rimmer more heavily, both to discourage those causes of social division, and to help fund the public services we need. But a Cabinet of people paid $296,007 a year are hardly likely to vote for that, are they?

Friday, January 26, 2024

Utter contempt

In 2022 the Supreme Court ruled that the current voting age of 18 unlawfully discriminated against 16 year olds, and issued a formal declaration of inconsistency with the NZBORA. The previous government's weak and pathetic response to this was to propose lowering the voting age for local body - not general - elections, with the Electoral (Lowering Voting Age for Local Elections and Polls) Legislation Bill. The bill was passed through its first reading and sent to select committee. Now, before that process has even ended, the new government has thrown it in the bin:

The coalition government has formally dumped plans to lower the voting age to 16 for council elections, something considered by the previous Labour government.

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown said he wrote to the chairperson of the Justice Committee informing him that the government did not intend to support the Electoral (Lowering Voting Age for Local Elections and Polls) Legislation Bill through further parliamentary stages, and requested that the Committee ended consideration of it.


He said the coalition government would not entertain the previous government's voting age proposal and was withdrawing the bill from any further consideration.

This displays utter contempt for our democracy and for the people who submitted in good faith on this bill. The government tells us that select committees are an opportunity for us to "have our say". For it then to bin the bill before it has been hear sends a clear message that this is a lie, that they have no intention of listening, and that the entire process is a fraud upon democracy. It brings the entire institution of parliament into disrepute (which is technically a contempt). Many of the submitters on this bill are likely to be young people, so it has also sent them a clear message that they have no place in politics, and that pursuing democratic methods of change is a waste of time. That message is both immoral and dangerous.

But beyond the contempt it displays for submitters and democracy, it also displays contempt for the BORA and our constitution. While we formally have Parliamentary sovereignty, if the courts find something is so bad that they issue a formal declaration of inconsistency, then it is the clear obligation of Parliament to fix the law. By throwing out this bill, the government is refusing to let Parliament perform that duty, and committing to an ongoing, unlawful, abuse of the human rights of young New Zealanders. And in doing so, it is once again demonstrating that it is unwilling to properly perform the duty of being the ultimate guardian of our human rights, and that that job should therefore be taken off them and given to someone both willing and able to do it: the courts.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Corrupt, cancerous, and dishonest

One of the first things the new government did was scrap anti-smoking laws. It was a naked revenue grab, done in order to fund tax-cuts for the rich. But now, they've decided to forgo the revenue, with Associate Health Minister Casey Costello - who entirely coincidentally used to work for the cancer-industry-funded "Taxpayer's Union" - wanting to freeze tobacco excise. So, the former cancer lobbyist appears to be implementing a cancer-industry wishlist. That's stinky enough, but to add insult to injury, she decided to lie about it:

"I've had no discussions on that at all. Like, that's - it's not even something I specifically sought advice on," she said. "I haven't looked at a freeze on the excise at all."

But RNZ has seen a Ministry of Health document, sent to Costello, which says the minister is proposing to freeze the excise tax.

"The additional information you provided to us proposed also to freeze the excise on smoked tobacco for three years," the document says.

While Costello told RNZ she had not asked for advice on the issue, the Ministry of Health document appears to contradict that.

The document sent to Costello asks: "whether you would like advice in January 2024 to include implications of a three year freeze on CPI-related excise increases for smoked tobacco." The 'yes' option is circled in the document, which was signed by Costello on 20 December, 2023.

I remember a time when Ministers were sacked for lying to the public like this. But clearly Chris Luxon has lower standards. His government is corrupt, cancerous, and dishonest. And the sooner we are rid of it, the better.