Tuesday, February 09, 2016

"Responsible economic management"

National likes to pitch itself as the party of responsible economic management. Yeah, right:

Prime Minister John Key has revealed a $17 billion hole in the economy from falling dairy prices but says the Government remains committed to tax cuts.

Outlining the Government's priorities for the year ahead in his opening statement to Parliament on Tuesday, Key said weaker dairy prices, along with other factors, were contributing to slower growth in the nominal economy, which was expected to be around $17 billion lower over the next five years than was expected in last year's budget. This flowed through to "slightly less tax revenue, slightly lower operating balances and slightly higher debt, compared to budget forecasts".

But the Government's overall fiscal strategy remained unchanged - that was "to keep a tight rein on spending, focus on results from public services, start to pay down debt and look to return any excess revenue on top of this to tax payers".

So, there's no money for anything, except for tax cuts for National's corporate donors and rich mates. And meanwhile, our schools will rot, our hospitals will be overcrowded, and kids will be living in cars because they can't get a state house despite their obvious need.

This isn't even ethical, let alone responsible. Instead National is just the party of crony capitalism, looting the state for the benefit of their rich mates.

New Fisk

After entering Aleppo with Russia's help, the Syrian army may set its sights on Raqqa
A plan must be made for ‘life after Isis’ in the Middle East

The user-pays Prime Minister

Radio New Zealand has a piece this morning on Auckland ratepayers having to pay to send council staff to hear John Key's big announcement on the City Rail Link - because the speech was a pricey private event. But its not the only one. In fact, according to Philip Lyth, Key has given only seven speeches in the last year, and only two of those (the Pukehau dedications) were open to the public:

The rest were all walled off from the public by expensive admission fees, despite policy being announced and public business being conducted. In other words, we have a user-pays Prime Minister who is afraid of the public and will only talk to rich people like himself.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Climate change: Pure fiction

The Ministry for the Environment released three reports on the Emissions Trading Scheme today, including an evalation of its performance against short, medium and long-term outcomes. So how is it doing? Unsurprisingly, in the executive summary, MfE declares that everything is going great:

The evaluation found that the NZ ETS has been successful in assisting the Government to comply with international commitments and to meet national targets. The NZ ETS has resulted in an overachievement of New Zealand’s first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (CP1).

The reality in the body of the report is a little different. The key question for me is "has it reduced emissions". And the answer to that is "not really":
Research for this evaluation, and evidence from the interviews, found no sector other than forestry made emissions reductions over Kyoto Protocol Commitment Period One (2008–12)(CP1) that were directly caused by NZ ETS obligations. The 6NC identified that the waste sector was the only sector to have reduced emissions over CP1 other than forestry, but those reduced emissions were not due to the NZ ETS [they were due to Labour's direct regulation in 2004 - I/S].

Or, to put it another way, the ETS has not resulted in any reduction in pollution from the energy, industrial, or transport sectors. And that's not really surprising, given that the government has subsidised those sectors to continue polluting, while letting them use fraudulent Ukranian "credits" to meet their paltry obligations. As for forestry, the estimated impact of the reduction is 0.2% of our annual emissions, which is within the margin of error of business-as-usual.

So how does MfE turn this obvious failure into a success? Simple: because "reducing emissions" isn't the only metric they're reporting against. They're also assessing whether it assists in "meeting international climate obligations and maintaining international reputation" (whether it gives us something to write about in our UNFCCC reports, which it does), and whether it assists in "maintaining environmental integrity, equity and economic efficiency, at the least cost, in the long run" (for which they say outright that they have no measures, before proceeding for half a page about a 2008 report on possible impacts, before noting that post-2008 policy changes probably make that report useless). But even then, it seems to be a huge stretch to claim a failure, a success against a bullshit and purely bureaucratic target, and a "we have no fucking clue" equate to the ETS being "successful". As to their headline attribution of our Kyoto overachievement to the ETS, that seems to be pure fiction. And if policy is being "assessed" in this manner, and obvious failures being rebranded as "success", its no wonder that we're in such a mess.

Climate change: "Within the rules"

One of the core entries in New Zealand's political lexicon is "within the rules". Its politician-speak for "morally indefensible".

The Ministry for the Environment is now using that phrase to describe the way we paid our Kyoto obligations with outright fraudulent Ukranian "emissions reductions".

Following the release of the government's Kyoto CP1 "true-up" report (which revealed the use of these fraudulent credits), I submitted an OIA request for the Ministry for the Environment's advice on the composition of our Kyoto payment. The response claims that "New Zealand has met its Kyoto Protocol commitments within the rules, and in good faith". But the advice itself makes it clear that a deliberate decision was made to use the dodgy units - effectively laundering them - so as to maximise the number of units that could be carried over, and minimise the effort required to reduce emissions in future:

We recommend that you retain only units that can be carried over. If we find that New Zealand cannot carry any Kyoto Protocol units over into CP2, a domestic substitute would be needed to incorporate them in accounting for New Zealand's 2013-20 target.

This approach will facilitate the use of the Kyoto Protocol framework of rules in accounting for New Zealand's 2013-20 target, by ensuring that New Zealand's use of surplus units to comply with the target will be in line with Protocol rules.

This was done in clear knowledge that the units were environmentally worthless, as a later section on "Issues of credibility for imported units" makes clear:
Most of the ERUs now in New Zealand are from Ukraine, and come from projects that Ukraine registered and approved just in time for the units to be issued in 2012-13. The abatement claimed for these projects (in CP1) was therefore almost entirely retrospective. No international review was required. This will affect perceptions of environmental integrity.

And a Treasury proposal to retain some of these units was rejected on the basis of that low environmental integrity and because of
The perception that New Zealand's proposed contribution in the new agreement is devalued up-front by our proposing to offset it using carried-over CP1 project units.

So, instead they're proposing to offset it using carried over CP1 AAU - which we hav eonly because we used those dodgy, environmentally unacceptable Ukranian units to pay our CP1 obligation. Effectively, we've just laundered those "credits", without changing our actual position in the slightest.

As MfE notes, this is "within the rules". But it is neither credible nor moral. Kindof like our climate change policy as a whole.

Open Government: More foot dragging

The story of New Zealand's participation in the Open Government partnership continues to devolve into a farce. First, we dragged our feet on joining; then, after a deliberately farcical mockery of "consultation", we submitted an utterly unambitious list of "commitments" that consisted of things we were doing anyway. And now it turns out that we can't even meet our deadlines.

The OGP has a clear timetable for every country to develop its action plans and submit its self-assessment reports. According to this timetable, New Zealand's mid-term self-assessment report was due on September 30, 2015. But according to an email I received today from the OGP (under their disclosure policy),

The government of New Zealand is yet to send a final approved version of the self-assessment report, but it has submitted a draft which is also posted on their national site (https://www.ssc.govt.nz/open-government-partnership). We expect a final version to be submitted very soon. Once received, we will post to our site at http://www.opengovpartnership.org/country/new-zealand.

I understand that an extension was negotiated to allow them to re-do their consultation, but they finished that process in October. So why have they failed to submit the final report for another three months? Again, its a sign that there's simply no commitment to or engagement with the partnership; that they signed up only for PR purposes and seek to do as little as possible (and even that begrudgingly).

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Criminalising basic humanity

Via Crooked Timber: The European Union wants to make it a crime to save drowning refugees by classifying it as "people smuggling". Its as monstrous as it is absurd; when confronted with a drowning person or a sinking ship, you don't stop and ask for citizenship papers before helping. And its clearly illegal, a violation of the right to life affirmed by the European Convention on Human Rights (not to mention Article 98 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea). But this apparently is what the EU stands for now: letting people die rather than fulfill their basic obligation to provide humanitarian assistance.

Are the police spying on our democracy?

The TPP was signed today in Auckland, surrounded by massive protests. I've been watching it over Twitter, and there have been several reports from those protests of the police filming and photographing protesters. While there's obvious merit in filing or photographing people for evidential purposes if they are committing a criminal offence, there police seem to be doing far more than that. Which raises obvious questions about what will happen to those photographs, and about what they are using them for.

Someone has already used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask some of those questions, but I doubt we'll get real answers. But the obvious suspicion is that they're doing this for intelligence purposes, because they regard all protesters as dangerous, seditious criminals who need to be tracked and monitored (and, occasionally, intimidated).

We've seen this attitude before, in the UK. Police there conducted extensive surveillance of peaceful protesters, databasing them in an intelligence system for years and tracking their names, political affiliations and photographs - and all just for attending a peaceful protest. Our police may be doing the same thing.

In a free and democratic country, police have no business gathering or holding information on anyone not suspected of a criminal offence. And they certainly have no business photographing and potentially databasing people simply for exercising their legally affirmed right to protest. The police owe us some serious answers about what they're doing - and if they won't provide those answers, or if they are insufficient, Parliament should legislate to prevent them from abusing our democratic rights.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


How little does the National government care about disarmament? Here's a graph of government press releases on the topic for the last twenty years. The difference is obvious:


[Source: Beehive.govt.nz; raw data here]

The dropoff in 2011 is when they disestablished the Minister and rolled the job into that of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Who clearly cared a great deal about it and made it a priority.


The Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control (PACDAC) is a stutory committee established by New Zealand's anti-nuclear law. It statutory functions include:

(a) to advise the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade on such aspects of disarmament and arms control matters as it thinks fit:
(b) to advise the Prime Minister on the implementation of this Act:
(c) to publish from time to time public reports in relation to disarmament and arms control matters and on the implementation of this Act...

But according to a recent OIA request lodged through FYI, the public OIA request site, it hasn't done any of those things for years:
With regard to the first two parts of your request, please find attached a copy of a 2009 letter from the then-outgoing acting Chair of PACDAC to then-Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Georgina Te Heuheu outlining the range of recommendations made by PACDAC over the previous two years. This is the last written advice provided by PACDAC to the Minister and/or Prime Minister that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as Secretariat to PACDAC, has been able to locate. We are aware however that the Acting Chairs of PACDAC have periodic conversations with relevant Ministers. These conversations are not documented on Ministry files.

With regard to part three of your request, PACDAC commissioned research from former PACDAC member David Capie on small arms in the Pacific, which was published in 2003 by Victoria University Press as
'Under the Gun: The Small Arms Challenge in the Pacific'.

So essentially this statutory body has failed to perform its core statutory purpose for six years. Instead, they've focused on their subsidiary purpose: handing out grants from the Peace and Disarmament Education Trust (PADET).

So who is PACDAC? The National government hasn't announced any appointments (in fact, the last publicly announced appointments were in 2007), but the 2015 PADET annual report lists their membership as "Robert Ayson, Natasha Barnes, Nicholas Davidson, Hon. Wayne Mapp, Ross Miller, Paul Sinclair, Maui Solomon and Angela Woodward". Wayne Mapp of course is a former National MP and crony; as National Party defence spokesperson he advocated for New Zealand involvement in the Iraq war (even if it meant ignoring international law), and as Defence Minister he advocated against outlawing the international crime of aggression. Since leaving government, he has continued to advocate for war. With people like these on PACDEC, its no wonder it has been effectively disarmed.

But it does leave us with an obvious question: if a government committee is refusing to perform its core statutory function, why are we still paying them? And isn't it time we sacked them and replaced them with people who are willing to do the job?

28,000 unemployed under National

The Labour Market Statistics were released today, showing that unemployment has dropped to 5.3%. But while its (finally) a move in the right direction, there are still 133,000 unemployed - 28,000 more than when National took office.

When I started this series, it was out of a sense that unemployment statistics were a basic bullshit check on National's promises of prosperity. Six years on, its clear that they simply haven't delivered. There are more people out of work now than there were then. Sure, there was a financial crisis - but that ended four years ago. There were two earthquakes - but we're meant to be well into the "rebuild". And meanwhile, high unemployment just continues to drag on and on and on, while all the government does is make excuses.

New Zealanders expect more and deserve more than that. We need a government which will actually get people back into decent, high-paying jobs. National won't do that. Time for somebody who will.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Another reason not to sign the TPPA

The ink isn't even dry on the TPPA, and the US is already trying to renegotiate it:

Prime Minister John Key expects the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to be signed as negotiated, despite reports the United States will demand changes on certain next-generation drugs.

Opponents of the multinational trade deal are warning the US will try to strong-arm other nations into accepting longer monopoly protection periods for drugs known as biologics.


The director of US-based advocacy group Public Citizen Global Trade Watch, Lori Wallach, said US Trade Representative Michael Froman - under pressure from Republicans - would seek eight years' monopoly protection rather than five for biologics.

"Mike Froman has already said publicly that he will be asking the other countries to make the additional 'clarification' as he's calling it but in fact it's concessions - that it's eight years, not the five years in the text, for biologics exclusivity."

Its a perfect example of how you simply cannot trust the US in negotiations. Its also a perfect example of how "trade" deals are used to leverage and spread US political corruption. US pharmaceutical companies buy lobbyists, who buy politicians, who bully other countries on behalf of the people paying for it. And that's simply not something we should be a part of.

Fiji: This is not a democracy

Fiji is supposed to be a democracy again. They had elections in 2014, which elected a multi-party Parliament. But how does it work in practice?

Badly. On Saturday, Biman Prasad, the leader of the National Federation Party, published an opinion piece in the Fiji Times asking whether Fiji's democracy was really working. And yesterday his party was suspended by the electoral commission - meaning it can no longer issue public statements or operate as a party - and it is being investigated by FICAC, the regime's "Independent" Commission Against Corruption, supposedly for failing to have its accounts audited by a registered accounting firm. Which, it turns out, aren't registered anyway. It has all the hallmarks of a brutal political stitchup, punishment for speaking out. And that's how "democracy" works in Fiji.


That's the only way to describe John Key's plans to change the flag, according to current polling:

With just a month until the second and final flag vote begins, a new poll shows the chances of Kiwis choosing Union Jack-free national colours are almost non-existent.

A Newshub/Reid Research poll of 500 people, taken over the summer break, found only 30 per cent of those questioned wanted to change to Kyle Lockwood's Silver Fern design. Another 9 per cent didn't know or care, while 61 per cent wanted to keep the existing flag.

That burning smell is John Key's self-declared "legacy" going up in smoke.

But while the polls are against Key, that's not an excuse for not voting - if those who want change vote, while those who oppose it stay home, then we'll end up with a new flag, whether its the one we want or not. So remember to vote in March.

Mike Sabin and the OIA

When National MP Mike Sabin suddenly resigned from Parliament shortly after allegations of assault were raised, questions were obviously asked. Sabin had been appointed chair of the Law and Order Committee, and John Key had considered appointing him a Minister. Which invited the obvious question: what did Key know and when did he know it?

Unfortunately, we won't be getting any answers to that any time soon, with the Ombudsman ruling that the information must remain secret:

The Chief Ombudsman is siding with the Government when it comes to disclosure of information around former Northland MP Mike Sabin.


Newstalk ZB has taken the issue to the Ombudsmen, but Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has ruled disclosure of details would prejudice maintenance of the law.

He's declined to give full reasons for his ruling, saying they would likely prejudice those interests as well.

We all know the reason for this; unfortunately no-one is allowed to say why. And the immediate application of s6(c), which protects important things like the right to a fair trial, is justified. But that's often a time-limited withholding ground, and information can be released once circumstances have changed. Unfortunately, the Ombudsman's decision isn't online, so we can't see if they stressed this and committed to future release should the circumstances permit. And, as the Ombudsman is immune to the OIA, we can't ask them for it either.

Sabin's resignation raises very real questions of accountability that the public deserves answers on. We can't get them now, for obvious reasons. But hopefully we'll be able to get them in the future, and hold the Prime Minister to account if he has displayed poor judgement.

Monday, February 01, 2016

"The TPP is too important for democracy"

That's what Fran O'Sullivan seems to be arguing in her bitter little rant in Saturday's Herald against Labour's opposition to the TPP:

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is too important to New Zealand's economic future for Andrew Little to turn it into a partisan political football.


It is difficult to understand why Little prefers the judgment of NGO activists over that of a former NZ Trade Minister who not only negotiated the ground-breaking bilateral China free trade deal but also finalised the Asean deal with New Zealand and Australia.

Frankly there is nothing responsible in Little's positioning.

Labour, of course, is representing its constituents, many of whom have significant doubts about the TPP or its benefits to New Zealand (or to them). That's what political parties should do in a democratic country. O'Sullivan calls this "turn[ing trade] into a partisan political football". I call it "offering voters a democratic choice on trade policy". And it speaks volumes that O'Sullivan thinks this is a bad thing. Its a perfect example of the sniffy, anti-democratic attitudes of the MFAT deep state, that trade and foreign policy is something to be conducted over our heads and in secret, by "adults" who "know" what our interests are (and stick their fingers in their ears whenever we tell them they're wrong), rather than openly and in accordance with our wishes. And the sooner we end that attitude, by requiring Parliamentary and/or public consent to any international deal, the better.

New Fisk

Netanyahu thinks mild Ban Ki-moon incites terror

A good start

Labour leader Andrew Little gave his state of the nation speech in Auckland yesterday, and announced a policy of three free years of tertiary education. It will be introduced gradually, with full implementation delayed until 2025, but the net result will be to let people get their first qualification - a degree, apprenticeship or training - or retrain mid-career, without being saddled with a lifetime of debt.

Its a great idea, its affordable, it will be a huge benefit to people. But its worth remembering that Labour is offering us less than we once had. Before Phil Goff's tenure as Minister of Education, tertiary study was free. Goff stole that from us, so he and his boomer mates (all of whom had enjoyed free tertiary education) could get themselves tax cuts and avoid paying to support the society that had supported them. So, pretty obviously, I want more. And I want it sooner, and I want it coupled with student loan forgiveness, so those punished by Goff's (and later National's) shifting of the costs of tertiary education onto individuals will no longer be saddled with the burden of that terrible policy mistake. But this is a good start, and another welcome shift away from NeoLiberalism by Labour.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Open Government: Repeating past mistakes?

Back in 2014, New Zealand joined the Open Government partnership, a global alliance for transparency. The OGP is implemented by countries developing two-year action plans with clear, ambitious and measurable commitments to improve transparency. These action plans are supposed to be co-created with civil society and the subject of wide public consultation. But our government skipped that bit. Instead, they ran a mockery of a consultation process designed to rubber-stamp an action-plan that had already been decided. Civil society, which is supposed to be at the heart of the open government process, was excluded.

And now they look set to do it all again.

New Zealand is required to present our second national action plan to the OGP by June 30 this year. So, you'd expect them to be developing and consulting on it with civil society now. Instead, there's silence. Australia has a similar timeline, and they started their consultation process last November. The UK, which is looking at an April 1 deadline, started in July. As for SSC, they're sitting there with their thumb up their arse, doing nothing. Their OGP website hasn't been updated since October, and their Stakeholder Advisory Group - which you'd expect to be discussing consultation plans for the new action plan - has had no reported activity since September. In other words, they've learned absolutely nothing from their past mistakes - and instead are apparently intent on repeating them.

National's police state

National is signing the TPPA next week (at Sky City, a crony-venue, no less). So the police are going around banging on the doors of activists interrogating them about their protest plans:

Dunedin police door-knocked a Dunedin activist asking about their plans for the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Scout Barbour Evans was visited by two police officers on Thursday morning, "asking me what I'll be doing for the TPPA events".

The officers said they were following a national directive and were "visiting all known activists in the country".

We're supposed to be a free and democratic country, yet the police are acting like we live in a police state. We have legally affirmed rights of freedom of expression and assembly, but the police are acting like exercising them is a crime. And by doing so they're not just making clear their disrespect for democratic norms, but also publicly undermining their status as neutral agents of the law. This isn't the action of a neutral police force upholding democratic rights - they're John Key's Cossacks.

As for what to do if the police knock on your door asking questions about protests (or anything, really), remember that the right to speak also includes the right not to speak. You don't have to tell them anything, or talk to them at all. And if they're asking questions like this, you shouldn't. Instead, you should ask them to leave. There should be no cooperation or consent for politicised policing.