Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"We are the new Falange"

That was Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's triumphal reaction to the victory of the right in Italian politics. For those who don't know, the Falange was the Spanish Fascist party of General Franco, and "falangist" a synonym for fascist.

Meanwhile, the new neo-fascist mayor of Rome was greeted with cries of "Duce! Duce!" Do I really need to spell that one out for you?

It looks like Italian politics has just taken a very dangerous turn.

Deflating Waihopai

That's got to be an embarrassment for the government: protestors got inside their most secret defence location - the GCSB's spy base at Waihopai - and attacked it with sickles, deflating one of the domes. They've been arrested, of course, and will likely face charges for criminal damage. Meanwhile, down in the sewer, the mouth-breathers are already calling for them to be prosecuted for terrorism. Fortunately for our democracy, they are likely to be disappointed.

According to s5 of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, in order to be considered terrorism, an act must be intended to cause certain specified outcomes, carried out in order to advance a religious, political or ideological agenda, and with the specific purpose of inducing terror in the population or compelling action or inaction from the government or an international organisation. But even if we grant that it meets the last two tests (though that immediately gets us into murky water because the purpose of any protest is to compel a government), Ploughshares' actions did not cause any of the outcomes, and certainly weren't intended to. No-one died. No-one was injured. There was no risk to the health and safety of a population. And even if we consider a spy base to be a vital infrastructure facility, disrupting it was not likely to endanger human life except by the most tendentious and conspiratorial reasoning (which I'm sure the sewer will proceed to engage in. Remember, opposing the US war on terror doesn't just make you a Traitor To Western Civilisation; it makes you guilty of the death of every American footsoldier, and the murderer of untold millions in some possible Terrorist Apocalypse!).

Ploughshares are no more terrorists than Tim Selwyn. While driven by a political purpose, their actions are simply trespassing and criminal damage, and they should be prosecuted as such.

Trapped by his own ignorance

Yesterday we saw the Kiwi Party querying the Government Statistician's methods for determining the valid number of signatures in the childbeating petition. Today we have Family First's Bob McCoskrie claiming that it is all because the government statistician (their emphasis) hates them.

Talk about a man trapped by his own ignorance.

Update: And Gordon Copeland joins the club. Do they surgically remove these people's ability to understand maths, or are our local Christian politicans simply natural conspiracy theorists?

Can I have news instead of trivia?

What passes for front-page political news in Palmerston North: staff at the Manawatu Standard counted the faxes they got from various political parties. Apparently, actually reading them would be too much effort, let alone asking people to comment on them and assembling an actual story.

And these people call themselves "journalists"...

But I can see the real beef: you just can't copy-paste from a fax. Clearly political parties should be more considerate.

Satanic statistics?

Over on Big News, Dave Crampton echoes the Kiwi Party in asking querying the Government Statistician's analysis of signatures in the childbeating petition. The Government Statistician checked 29,501, and found that 25,754 (87.3%) were valid. Multiply that proportion by the 324,511 and you get 283,294 - just 1,733 signatures short of the number required. So why does the Government Statistician say they need 18,000 more signatures? An evil plot to subvert god's will and prevent spanking through Satanic statistics?

No. Instead, its about the duplicates. The Government Statistician found 160 multiple signatures in the sample - 158 duplicates and 2 triplicates. The sample was 1/11th of the total, so this suggests that there will be a further 160 x 10 = 1,600 replicates in the sample where the other match is in the rest of the population - and therefore a further 1,600 x 10 hidden replicates in the population as a whole. Which pretty clearly gets us in the right ballpark. The problem is slightly more complicated than that, since signatures can be both invalid and duplicated; statisticians have a number of different ways of estimating this, but that's about the stage I start seeing tentacles. The important thing is that this is not a satanic statistical plot, but a problem of childbeaters being idiots who think that signing a petition multiple times helps their cause. We can only hope that they don't think the same about voting.

(With thanks to Mary Whiteside & Mark Eakin, A Better Estimate of the Number of Valid Signatures on a Petition [PDF]).

Update: After further puzzled emails, I've added a sentence there which makes it clearer what is going on. There's further useful comments from Graeme Edgeler at Big News.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Greens go viral

With the advent of YouTube, viral advertising will probably be a big thing this election. Why pay big bucks for expensive TV time (which counts against your broadcasting cap) when you can simply post something to the net and rely on friends, supporters, and people who think it is cool to spread it for you? The Greens seem to have figured this out, and so their latest political ad is a bit more quirky (and also pointed) than you'd expect:

What's scary though is that our politicians and media seem to overwhelmingly focus on the trivia rather than the policy. But I guess arguing about who hit who and whose fault it was is so much easier than thinking about whether excluding agriculture from the ETS is really a good idea...

(Hat tip: Frogblog)

GST, food, and child poverty

The big issue of the day seems to be RAM's call to remove GST from food. It's a sign of how successful the Revolution has been that even lefties like me (and Russell, and The Standard) think that its a bad idea, and that the hassle, confusion and increased compliance costs will likely swallow any benefit (assuming of course that our greedy supermarkets don't just absorb it themselves. After all, if people are willing to pay the pre-GST price for milk now, why wouldn't they keep charging it?) But coupled with a desire to avoid arguments over why precooked chicken purchased in a supermarket should be GST-free while KFC should not, there's also a more important objection - and that is that it fundamentally misses the point. The problem here is income adequacy, and you do not address that by cutting taxes. Instead, you address it by boosting wages and benefits. It's cheaper, it allows you to target people in need rather than benefiting the rich, and it doesn't play havoc with your tax system. The down side is that there’s a very real danger of people falling through the cracks - which brings me neatly to the Child Poverty Action Group's latest report.

CPAG has been reporting on child poverty in New Zealand since 1994, and making policy recommendations which have usually been ignored (National thinking child poverty is all a communist statistical trick and their own fault anyway, while Labour recognises the problem but is too craven and beholden to the rich to do anything serious about it). Their latest report - Left Behind: How social and income inequalities damage NZ children (executive summary here) - points out the extent of child poverty in New Zealand and the way it affects their lives. In 2004, there were an estimated 150,000 children in benefit-dependent families in severe hardship. And this poverty utterly blights their lives. Children who grow up in poverty are three times more likely to be sick. They are significantly more likely to be hospitalised for preventable diseases. They face reduced education prospects, and so reduced opportunity throughout their lives. And they are more likely to die. In a nation built on the concept of a fair go and everyone getting an equal start in life, this is an obscenity.

Even more obscene is that Labour, the party that is supposed to care, has done nothing about this. All their policy interventions - Working For Families, the engineered labour shortage, raising the minimum wage - have excluded beneficiaries. While those programmes have done wonders for the working poor, for those on unemployment benefits, and those easily able to take on work, beneficiaries with children, with illnesses or disabilities have been left behind. And these make up the majority (and certainly account for the majority of children dependent on benefits - the Herald has the stats in passing here). Those 150,000 beneficiary children in poverty? They're still there, after nine years of a Labour government. They have simply been left behind.

The problem, as with GST and food, is income adequacy. In 1991, benefits were cut to sub-starvation levels, and have never been restored. It's time they were. We also need to target child poverty specifically by expanding WFF's tax credits to cover children of beneficiaries (effectively this would reintroduce a universal child benefit), and by improving access to health, education, and housing. This is supposed to be a country where everyone, whether rich or poor, gets an equal start in life - and we should make it happen.

Update: I should add that it's not that I'm particularly fond of GST - it is after all a regressive tax rather than a progressive one. But it's interesting to note that no-one in this debate is advocating its abolition and the return to a more progressive system of income tax. Instead, they're nibbling around the edges and pushing for changes which are far less effective and more complicated than they need to be. To paraphrase Napoleon, if you want to fight poverty, fight poverty - don't distract yourself with arguments about what "food" is.

Falling short

The childbeaters' attempt to force a referendum on the child discipline law has failed to gain enough signatures. Under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993, Family First needed to get 285,027 signatures - 10% of the electorate. However, based on a large random sample, they got only 269,500. They now have two months to scrape up the 15,500 signatures they need, and I have no doubt they'll get them. The interesting question will be whether they will be new signatures, or whether it will be the same people signing again...

Correction: Corrected Stuff's stuffed-up numbers.


'Free Tibet' flags made in China:

Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags, media reports say.

The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Workers said they thought they were just making colourful flags and did not realise their meaning.

But then some of them saw TV images of protesters holding the emblem and they alerted the authorities, according to Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper.

Ah, the joys of globalisation...

Parties II

I was planning on blogging about the political parties bids for broadcasting money (and hence indirectly an unequal broadcasting spending cap), but DPF beat me to it. He points out all the good jokes - particularly the LibertariaNZ's promise to get as much money as possible and then not spend it - but also includes this little bit:

Liberal Party has a long whine about corruption involving the State Services Commissioner, the Chief Ombudsman and the Auditor-General. How the hell do people like this get 500 members?
Which is just a little ironic, given that DPF has spent the last couple of years spewing similar theories across the internet in an effort to whip up his readership. But as with Christians and Marxists, the smallest doctrinal differences - whether it is departmental Chief Executives or the SSC, Parliament or the Auditor-General - assume vast significance. Or maybe he's just worried about someone other than National benefiting from his hard work?

(Snark and irony aside, it does mark the Liberals as being a kook party. Which is a pity. A centrist social liberal party would have been a welcome addition to New Zealand's political spectrum).

One interesting game DPF missed was the game over party membership numbers. Most Parliamentary parties followed their usual practice in demanding their information be kept secret, but the Maori Party said they have 23,000 members (which is pretty sizable), Labour almost 55,000 (including affiliates), and the Greens 3,900. Of the extra-parliamentary parties, the Alliance was proud it had maintained a membership of "between 500 and 600", RAM thinks it will have 1,000 by the end of the month, and several others (including the NWO, who are a good joke even if they think they're serious) are working towards the 500 members required for registration.

Finally, if anyone knows anything about the "Kotahitanga Te Manamotu Kake Tiriti o Waitangi" Party, then please let me know. There are Wikipedia pages to write...

Monday, April 28, 2008

A big fishhook in the FTA

In a major scoop for Scoop, Election08 blogger Gordon Campbell has discovered a major fishhook in the government's free trade agreement with China. When the government signed the FTA, it mentioned that it included protection for New Zealand investors from arbitrary expropriation or nationalisation by the Chinese regime. Investors whose property is expropriated (taken by the government) have a right to compensation. Naturally, this agreement cuts both ways, and it would be grossly unfair if it didn't. But the problem is that it includes an extraordinarily wide interpretation of "expropriation" which covers not just cases of nationalisation or outright seizure, but also cases where the government "deprives the investor in substance of the use of the investor's property" in a fashion which is either "severe" or "disproportionate to the public purpose". And the latter covers many routine operations of government, such as zoning regulations, environmental standards, or health and safety requirements.

The North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico includes a similar clause, which has seen companies suing governments for denying planning permission for a landfill because it would contaminate the local water table (Metalclad), and for environmental regulations banning various toxic petrol additives (Ethyl Corp, Methanex). One group of US investors are even suing Canada over a change in tax laws. The NAFTA clause is considered one of the broadest in the world. But the clause in the NZ-China FTA is even broader - and the upshot will be that the government will now face claims for compensation every time it moves to protect the environment, improve public health, defend worker's rights, or prevent tax rorts (it could even face one over its price control of gas distribution networks, given who has just bought Vector's Wellington network).

The irony in all this is that Parliament resoundingly defeated an amendment to the BORA which would have imposed such a regime throughout New Zealand last year. But now we're getting it through the back door, without any public discussion or debate. Except it will only apply to Chinese investors. Given how awful the prospect is, that's better than if it applied to everyone - but I expect foreign investors receiving not just equal, but special treatment under the law might upset a few people, and dispel any notions of a "level playing field".

I don't regard trade as a threat to sovereignty. But these sorts of expropriation clauses certainly are. They limit the fundamental right of a democracy to decide its own laws and its own environmental, health, safety and labour standards. While a democracy can choose to limit its ability to pass laws (and I certainly advocate that where such laws might infringe on human rights), that should be done upfront and publicly, with a suitable period of debate - not in a backroom in another country. The government has not just sold our ethics with this deal - they have signed away a very important part of our sovereignty as well, without consulting us. That is undemocratic, and it is wrong. Unfortunately, having signed the deal, Parliament will rubberstamp it. And so the will of the New Zealand people will be held hostage to greedy foreign capitalists forever.

Clem Simich standing down

And the National Party loses another liberal...

Olympic farce: North Asia

The torch of shame did Seoul last night, and the trend of large pro-Chinese counterprotests reached its ugly conclusion. In Canberra, Chinese protestors bussed in by the embassy scuffled with human rights protestors. In Nagano, there were ugly scenes between competing Chinese and Japanese nationalists. And in Seoul, the Chinese decided that they'd just beat anyone who disagreed with them:

Hours before the torch run began in Seoul, several thousand Chinese, mostly students studying in South Korea, converged in this city's Olympic Park, singing, chanting and waving pickets that said “We love China” or “Go, Go China.”

When lone protesters demanded that China stop repatriating North Korean refugees, they were quickly surrounded by jeering Chinese. Near the park, Chinese students surrounded and beat a small group of protesters, news reports said.

In another scuffle, at the city centre where the five-hour torch run ended, Chinese surrounded several Tibetans and South Korean supporters who unfurled pro-Tibet banners, and kicked and punched them, witnesses said.

At one stage a Chinese mob decided to try and silence a group of 150 mostly elderly human rights protestors by throwing bottles, rocks, and steel pipes at them. "One world, one dream" - or else.

(New Zealand had its own version of this ugly nationalism in Auckland yesterday, when participants in a "pro-China" decided that their pride in and love of their country (or, less charitably, the pile of patriotic bullshit they'd been fed since day one by their totalitarian regime) gave them a licence to assault and intimidate those who disagreed with them. It's not acceptable in China and its not acceptable here. To their credit, the protest organisers at least intervened to try and stop it - but this is what happens when you start waving flags, and an excellent example of why we should treat all such incidents of patriotic chest-beating with suspicion).

The torch is now in Pyongyang, where it is finally getting the sort of greeting the Chinese have wanted all along - "hundreds of thousands of North Koreans in a choreographed mass display of flower-waving". Of course, North Korea is a totalitarian state which does not allow protests - just like China.

New Fisk

It's easy to be snotty with an airline so haughty that it regards its own customers as an inconvenience


Saudi blogger Fouad al-Farhan has been released from prison after four months detention without charge. In December last year he was arrested after criticising Saudi Arabia's pervasive corruption and highlighting the plight of political prisoners on his blog. His arrest more than proves his point about the use of "security detention" to stifle dissent, though at a high price.

Meanwhile, the Saudi regime is absolutely unrepentant, with the Deputy Interior Minister saying that Al-Farhan had committed a mistake and had to bear the consequences. So, straight from the horse's mouth, criticising the government is a "mistake" worthy of punishment. There really is no freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

RAM goes nationwide

Auckland's Residents Action Movement is going nationwide and is planning to contest the election later this year. According to a piece in Scoop, they've got their 500 financial members, and will soon be seeking registration. They've also applied for a broadcasting allocation. The aim is clearly to fill the political space left by the Alliance. The problem is that the Alliance may not realise they've left it yet. This isn't so much of an issue if the latter repeat their 2005 performance and gain only a few thousand votes - but it would be a tragedy for the left if one of these parties fell below the 5% threshold due to competition from the other (of course, this would not be an issue if we lowered the undemocratic threshold to ensure a truly level playing field)

And OTOH I'm not certain how much weight we can put on RAM's claims of electoral success. While they make a lot of noise about their 87,000 votes during the 2004 ARC elections, and the 104,000 they gained last year across Auckland, its important to remember that these superficially impressive tallies happened under the block vote, where voters were able to cast multiple votes for different candidates in the same ward. And OTTH, looking at the 2007 ARC election results, it is clear they have at least 30,000 people across Auckland willing to give them a vote in local body elections. If this translates into votes in national elections, then they would have a comparable level of support to ACT, from Auckland alone. That's not enough without an electorate (something RAM shows no sign of winning), but they might be able to pull it off if they run a good nationwide campaign. I guess we'll just have to wait and see...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Fisk

'You become accustomed to the smell of blood during war'

Friday, April 25, 2008


This morning, thousands of New Zealanders assembled at war shrines ostensibly to remember the dead. I didn't join them; instead I slept in. Like Deborah, I am an ANZAC Day atheist, unwilling to participate in the cult of the dead and its inevitable and inseparable glorification of war and spreading of the old lie of dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Oh, we should remember the dead, and the maimed, and the broken and brutalised, the victims of stupid aristocrats and venal politicians - but as a warning of what happens when we surrender to militarism, jingoism, nationalism and greed. And the message we should be taking from the events at Gallipoli 93 years ago is not how noble and glorious their "sacrifice" was - there's nothing "noble" about dying to extend someone else's empire, nothing "glorious" about killing people, and nothing great about being offered up as a calculated sacrifice for butter exports. Instead, we should be remembering that it was bloody and stupid and pointless. But above all, we should be vowing "never again": never again will we fight other people's wars, and never again will we let our politicians lead us into them. Otherwise, we might be seeing a lot more names on those monuments.

Democrats win in Tonga

Yesterday Tonga went to the polls to elect nine People's Representatives to their undemocratic Parliament. The count has now finished, and most of the pro-democracy MPs have been returned. In particular, Akilisi Pohiva, 'Isileli Pulu and Clive Edwards, all of whom were facing sedition charges for supposedly instigating the 2006 riots, have been endorsed by the people of their Tongatapu electorate (where the riots happened), with two of them increasing their vote. Only one of the charged MP's - Lepolo Taunisila, also Tonga's only woman MP - failed to regain their seat. In exchange, one of the newcomers - former MP Teisina Fuko - is also facing charges. In short, the people have spoken - and given a great "fuck you" to the aristocracy.

This creates an immediate flashpoint in August, when these MPs are finally expected to come to trial. If convicted, they will lose their seats. How will the people of Tonga react when their elected representatives are removed due to political prosecutions?

(Full results are now up at Matangi Tonga. Meanwhile, if anyone knows anything at all about the upcoming Niue elections, could they get in touch? There's a wikipedia article that needs writing...)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Climate change: positive feedback

Methane clathrates are icy deposits on the sea-floor which contain large amounts of methane (a powerful greenhouse gas). One of the big concerns with climate change is that rising sea temperatures could lead to a release of some of this methane, causing further warming and positive feedback. This process is implicated in two mass-extinction events - the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum 56 million years ago, and the Permian–Triassic extinction event 251 million years ago which wiped out about 90% of all life on earth.

The bad news is that it seems to be happening - clathrate beds on the arctic seafloor have started to thaw:

Russian polar scientists have strong evidence that the first stages of melting are underway. They've studied largest shelf sea in the world, off the coast of Siberia, where the Asian continental shelf stretches across an underwater area six times the size of Germany, before falling off gently into the Arctic Ocean. The scientists are presenting their data from this remote, thinly-investigated region at the annual conference of the European Geosciences Union this week in Vienna.


The permafrost has grown porous, says Shakhova, and already the shelf sea has become "a source of methane passing into the atmosphere." The Russian scientists have estimated what might happen when this Siberian permafrost-seal thaws completely and all the stored gas escapes. They believe the methane content of the planet's atmosphere would increase twelvefold. "The result would be catastrophic global warming," say the scientists. The greenhouse-gas potential of methane is 20 times that of carbon dioxide, as measured by the effects of a single molecule.

This is seriously bad news, for us and for the planet as a whole. And it suggests we may be close to a tipping point in the climate - that is if we're not past it already.

Tonga votes

Tongans go to the polls today in legislative elections. However, while they will be voting, it would be a stretch to call it "democracy", as the Tongan electoral system is stacked against the people. 68,000 "commoners" (who the aristocrats disdainfully refer to as "dirt-eaters") get to elect nine representatives. The 33 hereditary nobles also get to elect nine representatives - so their voices count for around 2,000 times as much as the people's, solely on the basis of birth. Finally, the King appoints the Prime Minister and 12 Cabinet Ministers, without any say by the people at all. The upshot is that the people of Tonga have no effective way of changing their government, and no way of removing politicians who are corrupt or incompetent. It's no wonder they resort to other means.

The good news is that this will be the last election held under the present system; next time the people will reportedly be allowed to elect a majority of the legislature. But while that will be a significant improvement, it will still be a long way from the democracy they deserve.

The other twist in today's election is the 2006 riots. Over half the incumbent candidates (all from the Human Rights and Democracy Movement) are still facing sedition charges over the riots, and this will be an opportunity for the people to judge them. However, if they are re-elected, they may still lose their seats if convicted - something which may in turn cause further trouble in future.

Results will be up on Matangi Tonga later this evening.


The Law and Order Committee has called for submissions on the Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Bill. Two copies, by Friday, 6 June 2008, to:

Law and Order Committee Secretariat
Parliament Buildings
The bill allows people to be arrested and fined for wearing gang insignia. This is clearly a content-based restriction on freedom of speech, as well as an attack on the basic right of New Zealanders to wear whatever they like. If you want to protect those rights, you need to speak up on this bill. Making a submission is not difficult - it can be as simple as writing a letter saying "I support/oppose the bill" and giving reasons why. If you're not sure, check out the Clerk's online guide here.

Not in my name

The latest leg of the Olympic farce has just kicked off in Canberra, with the usual protests and security measures. Meanwhile, for part of this le the torch will be carried by Aaron Fleming from hamitlon, who claims to be carrying the torch for all New Zealanders. I'd just like to make it clear that he is not carrying it for me, and that he only represents those New Zealanders who approve of China's oppression and torture and human rights abuses, or those who are so morally blind that they do not give a damn.

Carnival of the Liberals

The 63rd Carnival of the Liberals is now up at Vagabond Scholar.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Climate change: a projects mechanism for trees

So far, the forestry component of government climate change policy has focused on avoiding deforestation, with pre-1990 forests being brought into the Emissions Trading Scheme and therefore subject to a carbon liability if they are cut down and not replanted. There has been some support for afforestation - planting trees - via a Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, which allows forest owners to gain credits if they plant trees and promise to never cut them down. But there's a lot of space there for encouraging tree-planting, which the government has finally moved to fill with its Afforestation Grant Scheme.

Reading the project guidelines [PDF], this is basically the Projects Mechanism for planting trees. People who want to plant trees will effectively bid for government support. Bids will be weighted for environmental co-benefits (erosion, water quality, and biodiversity), ranked from cheapest to most expensive, and the cheapest projects chosen until the annual budget is full. This process will be repeated for two different funding pools - one for "high sequestration" (pine, eucalyptus, etc), and one for "low-sequestration" (natives). Regional councils will have access to a separate pool (50% of the total) to promote afforestation which meets their specific targets. Successful applicants will receive cash when the forest is established, and must agree to keep the trees there for at least ten years; the government will retain all carbon credits and liabilities (on the basis that that's what they're paying for, and people who want them can voluntarily enter the ETS or sign up for the PFSI).

One oddity is that bids seem to be ranked by discounted overall cost, rather than cost per hectare or expected ton of carbon sequestered. Either would require a trivial amount of maths, but produce a policy more clearly targeted at storing carbon. But overall, it looks like a good, solid policy, and one which has the advantage of being able to be implemented now, without legislation.

Pennsylvania primary

Pennsylvania voted today in its democratic primary, which may finally put an end to the long-running contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Pennsylvania is the largest state remaining, and Clinton needs to win big if she is to convince superdelegates to continue to back her rather than her rival. If she doesn't, then the pressure to fold will be immense. Of course, they've said that about every previous primary as well, so it can probably be taken with a grain of salt.

The polls closed less than an hour ago, and results are begining to trickle in. From the exit polls, it looks as if Clinton has done well enough to stick around - which means people in North Carolina, Kentucky and Oregon might get to vote after all.

Hot Air

The UN Environment Programme has honoured Helen Clark at its annual Champions of the Earth awards for her work on pushing climate changing policy:

By setting a carbon neutral goal for New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark has put her country at the forefront of today's environmental challenges. Three major policy initiatives launched by Miss Clark are also blazing new trails for sustainability and the fight against climate change: the Emissions Trading Scheme; the Energy Strategy; and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy.
But while its great policy, none of this stuff has actually been implemented yet, so Clark has essentially been given this award on the basis of hot air.


The local climate change deniers decided to bring over an international "expert" (you know, the usual sort - one from a completely different field, who has never published anything about climate change in a peer-reviewed journal) over to witness against the heathen [PDF] and point out the latest flaws in climate science which have mysteriously not been noticed by thousands of actual climate scientists. And there to greet him was the local branch of the Flat Earth Society, who know exactly what it is like to be the victim of a scientific conspiracy to Hide the Truth.

You can read their hilarious leaflets here: page 1, page 2.

(Hat tip: Hot Topic).

A poke in the eye for the coal industry

In her earth Day speech today, Green party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons delivered a poke in the eye for the coal industry, with a proposal to "keep the coal in the hole" and effectively ban all new coal mines. One reason for this is (of course) climate change - with a need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 - 60% by mid-century, and 80 - 90% by 2100, the world simply cannot afford to burn coal anymore. So except for cases where it is really necessary - steel production, for example - we have to stop doing it. The second is that when you include the environmental costs, coal mining simply is not profitable for society. Solid Energy delivers around $110 million a year to the government - $20 million in dividends, $40 million in GST on domestic coal sales, and $50 million in company tax (income tax on the wages it pays is presumably excluded because those people would likely be doing some other job, but you can throw that in if you want - it's an extra $20 - 30 million, and makes no difference to the final analysis). But at $30 / ton (which is now looking like a midrange figure), the carbon cost of the coal it mines comes to $204 million - almost twice as much. And that's without considering the costs of polluted waterways, dead kiwi, or dirty great holes in the ground. From the government's point of view, Solid Energy is simply a losing proposition.

The Greens' solution to this is a slow phase out. The first, and most important step is a ban on new coal mines except those necessary to fill specialist non-energy needs. Existing mines could continue operating, but demand would be reduced by banning the export of thermal coal and relegating the Huntly power station (44% of our domestic coal demand) to dry-year backup. And if CCS ever becomes feasible, industrial users would be required to use it. It's a sensible plan, it recognises that in some cases coal can't be substituted, and that the transition can't be made overnight but must instead be gradual. At the same time it is also firm in no longer being part of the problem.

New Zealand is fortunate in that we could actually do this. We have plenty of renewable energy options, so we don't actually need to burn coal to keep the lights on. Most of our production is for export, which is contributing to a global problem we do not wish to be a part of. The industry is almost entirely dominated by the government, which effectively makes a loss on it. Phasing out coal and limiting it to domestic industrial use would therefore make no difference at all to the lives of the vast majority of New Zealanders. The question is whether we will have the political will to go ahead with it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

National's broadband plans

National leader John Key has announced a massive investment in broadband, putting up $1.5 billion to roll out fibre to the home. Telecommunications policy isn't my area of expertise, so I'll leave it to the dedicated technology bloggers to do the serious analysis. But it looks good at first glance - the network will be open-access, and it supposed to avoid "lining the pockets of incumbent industry players". And it is a significant change of direction from National's usual policy of asset-stripping and looting the state - though given the low level of detail, there could always be a fish-hook in there which means that it really is all about those things (who will own the network is being left very vague, for example - surely if the government is paying for it, the people should own it? That's something Key needs to be pressed on, to make sure this isn't just a giant scam to give massive amounts of public money to existing providers).

I also have to comment on the amusing way Key ended his speech by appealing to public works projects of the past:

“One hundred and fifty years ago the government had the vision to build railways and highways to facilitate the movement of goods.

“Today we need government to help lay out the information highways of the future.”

Of course, when people like Vogel invested in the roads and railways, Key's ideological forebears called it "socialism".

No spies on DOC land

Hot on the heels of the revelation that Solid Energy is spying again comes the news that a security firm run by its preferred agents is seeking a concession to patrol DOC land. The purpose? Spying on protestors, of course. If they get their way, people using public walkways around Stockton will be questioned, spied on and photographed by security thugs. They may also face harassment, intimidation, and illegal attempts to deny access. Why am I so sure? Because that's exactly what they did last time:

The Department of Conservation had created a narrow public exclusion zone on DOC land adjacent to the Mt Augustus workings and Provision Security was employed by Solid Energy to advise members of the public who approached the exclusion zone of the health and safety issues associated with blasting in the area. Provision was required to seek DOC assistance to remove anyone who failed to heed the warnings. There had never been any security breaches by protestors on Mt Augustus.

However, according to the allegations of Bruce Stuart-Menteath, the Provision security guards took the law into their own hands. He claims that when he went up the mountain to monitor great spotted kiwi outside the DOC exclusion zone, he was met by Provision security guards on the track, outside the exclusion zone, who could not identify themselves, claimed that he could go no further and attempted to escort him back down the mountain.

When he refused he claims they later searched the mountainside for his campsite and then placed it under 24 hour surveillance. When Mr Stuart-Menteath discovered this covert activity he packed up camp with the intention of finding another camp site with some privacy, but was harassed and followed through the bush by two security guards who could not provide any identification, one of whom even refused to give his name.

"I was amazed that of the four Provision Security employees I met, none of them had any identifcation at all, no proof of authority, and all of them were operating illegally on DOC land for purposes that had nothing whatsoever to do with health and safety or security. Rather, they appeared to be acting out some sort of fantasy the likes of which one reads about in Boys Own annuals"

That time, Provision was found to have been operating illegally, but let off with a warning. Their application for a concession is an attempt to legitimise their activities. It should be denied. We should not allow private security thugs to operate on public land.

This can't go on

It looks like Health Minister David Cunliffe's posturing that "it doesn't matter whether [the junior doctor's] strike lasts two days or two months, this Government is not going to fold" is going to be put to the test, with junior doctors issuing strike notices for further industrial action. There's no dates yet, but the next strike is almost certain to be longer than the current one. Which ought to be a very scary proposition - the current 48-hour strike has essentially meant that we have no public health system bar emergency services for a week. What will happen if they decide to strike for a week or more, or during the weekend rush?

This can't go on. People depend on these services. And if we want to continue to enjoy them, we simply have to pay the people who work in them properly. Otherwise, in the long-term we face a slow erosion of staff and service quality. A few years ago, labour seemed to understand this. Now, sadly, they have forgotten.

Doing away with the Royal Assent

Last month, we passed a significant constitutional anniversary. Three hundred years ago, on March 11 1708, Queen Anne withheld her Assent from a bill "for the settling of Militia in Scotland". It was the last time it happened in our constitutional tradition. Since then (if not before, given that Anne acted on the advice of Ministers), no British monarch has withheld the assent from any bill passed by a democratically elected Parliament. Similarly, no Governor or Governor-General of New Zealand has ever refused to sign a law passed by our House of Representatives. Indeed, in New Zealand at least, the power may no longer even exist - but sadly, the myth still does. And that myth has proven itself to be constitutionally dangerous. After three hundred years of disuse, it seems time to finally put an end to it.

How would we do it? The same way we did it last time. When New Zealand set Niue free in 1974, we didn't think it was appropriate to have a New Zealand governor to oversee their laws the way we effectively have (still) a British one to oversee ours. So instead, Article 34 of the Niuean Constitution (as passed in schedule 2 to the Niue Constitution Act 1974) stipulated that a bill became law when:

(a) It has been passed by the Niue Assembly; and

(b) The Speaker, being satisfied that it has been passed in accordance with this Constitution and with the Standing Orders of the Assembly, has endorsed on a copy of the Bill a certificate of compliance with the requirements of this Article, and has, in the presence of the Clerk of the Niue Assembly, signed that certificate and sealed that copy with the Seal of Niue, and inscribed thereon the date of that signing and sealing; and

(c) The Clerk of the Niue Assembly has, in the presence of the Speaker, countersigned the certificate on that copy of the Bill.

(The qualifications in subclause (b) are because Niue has constitutional sovereignty, and so cannot legally pass legislation that is contrary to their constitution. (For now at least) New Zealand has Parliamentary Sovereignty, meaning that there are no such limits on legislation).

It would be a simple matter to replace the existing s16 of the Constitution Act 1986 (which declares that "A Bill passed by the House of Representatives shall become law when the Sovereign or the Governor-General assents to it and signs it in token of such assent") with one stating that bills become law when certified by the Speaker and the Clerk of the House as having been passed according to the House's Standing Orders, phrased in such a way as to make it clear that they must sign if satisfied (in order to prevent the fiction from shifting focus). That would end the monarchical fiction, bring our legislative procedures back in line with our democratic ideals, and also end the affront to our independence of having a representative of a foreign power confirming our laws.

Three hundred years of disuse is enough; it's time to end the absurdity. Does anybody want to bring a bill?

Monday, April 21, 2008

A sea-change in Paraguay

Paraguay went to the polls today in Presidential and legislative elections, and the big news is that opposition candidate and former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo has won the Presidency. Not only is this yet another victory for the left (bringing the whole of South America except Colombia under left-wing control); it is also the first time in sixty years Paraguay's Colorado Party has been out of power. I wonder how they'll take it?


There's an election coming up, and so we're seeing a new crop of political parties appearing. In addition to the various bastard children of Destiny Church, Gordon Copeland, and Taito Phillip Field, and the Liberals, we also have various extreme left cliques, with both the Worker's party and the Auckland-based Resident's Action Movement trying to get the 500 members necessary for registration. And of course we have the single-issue parties - last election had the pro-passive smoking WIN Party (now disbanded), and this time round it looks like we will have the No Commercial Airport at Whenuapai Airbase party. But I think the best one is the "New World Order Party". According to my sources, this was founded by a Hamilton "eccentric" (to use a polite euphemism), and in the last six months they've got enough members to apply for registration (apparently, these members have also agreed to salute the leader of the NWO every time they see him; I assume this means they are pro- rather than anti-New World Order). So, a mad guy in Hamilton can get 500 members from a small area of the Waikato, while various attempts at a "broad left" movement can't get them nationwide. That's what doctrinal purity, Marxist politics, and no sense of humour gets you.

Sadly, neither the Bavarian Illuminati, the Cthulhu Cult or the Gnomes of Zurich seem interested in contesting the election. But then again, why would they need to?

Immigration secretary must be investigated

On Friday, One News led with a solid investigative piece into Immigration Service head Mary Anne Thompson, who had arranged visas and residency for relatives in contravention of normal immigration guidelines. While she played no role in the decision-making process herself, the suggestion was that the junior staff who processed the applications knew damn well who they were for (thanks to her signing her name as assisting the applicants to fill out their forms), and so waived the normal requirements.

This sort of corrupt, self-serving behaviour is a gross violation of public sector values. It also violates the public service's Standards of Integrity and Conduct, and the older Public Service Code of Conduct which applies at the time. Both state that public servants must perform their jobs with professionalism and integrity, disclose conflicts of interest so that they can be managed, and ensure that their performance of their duties is not affected by personal interests. When Thompson's behaviour was brought to the attention of her boss, it was investigated, resulting in a junior staff member being disciplined (as usual, the mooks carry the can for wrongdoing at the top). But that isn't good enough. Such misbehaviour by a top public servant strikes at the very heart of the code, and fundamentally challenges the public service's integrity. If it is not stamped out quickly, the rot could spread. This is not something we can tolerate in New Zealand. The State Services Commission must investigate, and it must send a clear message: that there is no place for corruption or self-interest in our public service.

Scoop's new election site

The Scoop empire expands, with the addition of Election08, a subsite devoted to covering the upcoming election, edited (and mostly written by) former Listener journalist Gordon Campbell. He kicks things off with an interview with Maori party co-leader Tariana Turia.


The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has called for submissions on the government's free trade deal with China. Two copies, by Wednesday, 7 May 2008, to

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Secretariat
Parliament Buildings
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is a backwards committee, and does not accept electronic submissions.

If you have a strong opinion on the FTA, then you should probably let Parliament know about it, if only to force them to publicly justify their actions. Making a submission is not difficult - it can be as simple as writing a letter saying "I support/oppose the bill" and giving reasons why. If you're not sure, check out the Clerk's online guide here.

Two birds with one stone

The Sunday Star-Times reports that the end of the housing boom could see 38,000 people lose their jobs, as real-estate agents struggle for sales and the construction industry stops building houses. Meanwhile, we have a housing crisis (both of affordability for those seeking to buy, and of availability for those seeking public housing), and one which is primarily driven by a lack of supply at the bottom end of the market. This offers a perfect chance to kill two birds with one stone. Last century, the First Labour Government ran a mass-building programme for state housing. Not only did this ensure everyone had access to decent housing; it also saw an entire generation of kiwis owning their own home, while boosting employment and lifting the quality of the housing stock. We could do it again. The government could leverage its access to cheap credit and its market power as a bulk buyer to both rebuild the state housing stock after the rundown of the 90's, and to produce the affordable housing the market is simply not interested in providing. And as in the 30's and 40's, it would neatly keep that part of the economy ticking over, while promoting social goals. But that, I suppose, would be "socialism".

New Fisk

Painters love martyrs and prophets

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Junior doctors are going on strike next week in support of a pay claim which will hopefully reduce the medical workforce death spiral (in which low wages and poor working conditions push doctors into locuming, where they can be paid three times as much while having control over their lives; this in drives DHBs to work their existing staff harder and longer, setting up a nasty positive feedback loop). The pay claim is large - 10% a year for three years, which spread across the Resident Doctors Association's ~2500 members, works out to ~$25 million this year, ~$50 million next year, and ~$75 million every year after that (on the plus side, it would likely reduce the amount DHB's spend on locums, estimated at anywhere between $24 and $100 million a year). The DHBs don't want to back down, so they're paying senior doctors up to $500 an hour to scab - at an estimated cost of $12 million over the two day strike. So, $12 million of public money down the drain, just so managers can show they're hard. This is pure madness, and you don't have to be a genius to see that its not going to take too many such strikes before the cost of them outweighs the cost of settlement.

Meanwhile, Health Minister David Cunliffe is vowing not to back down to "unrealistic" demands. Because the last thing a Labour government will do is support striking workers...

Is Solid Energy at it again?

A year after Solid Energy was clearly instructed by the government to cease its anti-democratic activities of infiltrating and spying on environmental protest groups, their preferred "security contractor", Thompson and Clark Investigations, is again trying to recruit spies in the Save Happy Valley Campaign. It could all be a coincidence - TCIL could have another client who wants to spy on this group - but given that Solid Energy is pretty much their only target, I doubt it.

Fortunately, Solid Energy is still subject to the OIA. And they can be the subject of Parliamentary questions. And I expect there'll be a lot of queries using both, to find out whether they're working with TCIL again, or whether they're merely receiving information from them, having used some industry group as a cutout to front their anti-democratic spying campaign. But if it turns out they've been doing anything of the sort, there can be only one solution: the CEO has to go. He's been warned once about contravening the State-Owned Enterprises Act's requirement of social responsibility, and if he's unwilling to comply with the law and clear instructions by the shareholding minister, then he is unfit for the job.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The opportunity cost of Iraq

According to Jospeh Stiglitz, the Iraq war will cost (in the long-term) three trillion dollars. The immediate question is "what else could that money be spent on"? Fortunately, there is now a website to show you. You could, for example, end world hunger completely for 15 years and prosecute Bush & Cheney for war crimes, and still have enough left over for a secret island fortress.

On a serious note, I've seen various estimates of how much it would cost to prevent climate change. Decarbonising the entire US electricity system (something which would reduce global emissions by about 8%) would cost several hundred billion dollars (this site estimates total replacement with solar at $420 billion, or wind at $1 trillion). The US government has already spent that much on the war, just on operating costs. Which says something about Bush's priorities...

(Hat tip: Machinist)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Climate change bill back

The Local Government and Environment Committee has reported back [PDF] on Jeanette Fitzsimons' Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill, and recommended that it not be passed. The bill would have restored the ability of local councils to consider climate change when deciding on resource consents - a vital backstop to the government's planned emissions trading scheme, and good insurance if it goes the same way as the last three attempts and is not passed. Unfortunately the committee thought that the bill should be considered in parallel with the legislation setting up the ETS and so repeatedly delayed it; in the end it has been taken back to the House by Fitzsimons rather than delayed further. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely to get a vote before the election, but at least it is back on the agenda, and the Greens will have plenty of time in which to suggest amendments (top of the list: adding a clause to force the government to produce a National Environmental Standard to provide guidance to councils within two years). And in the meantime, the polluters are laughing all the way to the bank...

Pointing out the obvious

Writing in the Dominion-Post, Chris Trotter points out the obvious: while John Key is running on a "me too" platform of continuing to implement Labour's policies, that is not what his big-business backers are paying him for. They have not poured millions of dollars into bankrolling the National Party over the past few years in order to see a continuation of policies they denounce as "socialism". Neither have National's MP's joined the party and gained election so they can implement left-wing policy - if they wanted to do that, they would have joined the Labour Party! There is a serious disconnect between what Key says he will do in office, and what his party and his supporters stand for and want him to do. And this casts serious doubt on either his honesty with the electorate now, or his ability to follow through and deliver on his promises of no change later.

More hypocrisy from the right

When the government passed the Electoral Finance Act, the right screamed that it was an assault on free speech. Now they're trying to use it to shut down the stage version of The Hollow Men. Ostensibly, this is being done to "clarify the law". In reality, it is being done in an effort to silence speech they do not like. Despite all their screaming and all their posturing, when it comes to freedom of speech, the right are simply hypocrites.

Minor parties reject death penalty

Last month, during the Kingmaker debate, a TVNZ7 Colmar Brunton poll revealed that 37% of New Zealanders believed we should bring back the death penalty. This didn't receive very much discussion in the debate, so I thought I'd ask our minor party leaders where they stood and whether they'd regard a plan to reinstate judicial murder as an obstacle to coalition. Here are the results:

  • Rodney Hide (ACT): "We are totally and absolutely opposed to the reinstatement of the death penalty."
  • Jim Anderton (Progressive): "The Progressive Party and its predecessors have a longstanding policy of opposition to the death penalty". They also noted that they don't bargain their support for detailed policies at coalition formation, and instead prefer to advocate within cabinet and where necessary exercise their right to agree to disagree (IIRC, Anderton had some interesting things to say about this during the actual debate).
  • Peter Dunne (United Future): "We are categorically opposed to the death penalty in any shape of form. I doubt we would ever support a government wishing to reinstate it."
  • Jeanette Fitzsimons (Greens): (in the actual debate) "[The death penalty] isn't going to solve anything and we would certainly never support any government that was going to do that". In email she was cautious about coalition bottom lines, and noted that no other party is proposing reintroducing the death penalty, "however if anyone did, we would not be in a government with them".

No response was received from the Maori Party or New Zealand First.

The strong and unequivocal opposition isn't really surprising (in fact, I would have been surprised if the response had been anything else), but its good to have them on record about it.

The end of an era

The Holden Republic, one of New Zealand's oldest political blogs, is shutting down. Instead, Lewis will be maintaining the Chair's blog (scroll down) on the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand site. It's not as if he's given up forever, but the demise of that independent blogging brand is definitely the end of an era.

Olympic farce: New Delhi

The torch of shame did New Delhi last night - for all of half an hour. 70 runners carried the torch for a few seconds each, surrounded by the usual concentric rings of jogging bodyguards, inside a security cordon maintained by 15,000 police. No-one was allowed to watch, not even office workers in adjacent buildings, who (as usual) were told that looking out the window would be regarded as a security threat.

It really makes you wonder what the point is.


A couple of months ago, the Herald came out with guns blazing against the Electoral Finance Act, with front-page headlines declaring that democracy was under attack, and that it was time to "speak now, or next year hold your peace". According to the Herald, anybody who wanted to say anything even remotely political would have to register as a third party if the law passed. This grossly misrepresented the law, and they've rightly been pulled up on it by the Press Council:

The Herald was entitled to run the campaign which it did against the Electoral Finance Bill. This is accepted by the Coalition. However, comment or advocacy as this was must be based on fact. In this case, as the Herald has acknowledged, it mis-stated the fact. The need to register for third persons only applied to those who wished to spend more than $12,000 on advertising.
The Herald should have promptly corrected this "mis-statement" (this weeks euphemism for "lie") statement, but at the time was more interested in scaremongering and misleading the public than abiding by proper standards of accuracy.

As The Standard points out, our democracy relies on fair and accurate coverage from our media, and on this occasion, the Herald has let us down badly. But I guess that's what happens when you let your content be driven by your business interest in maintaining ad revenue and your manager's private political interests.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Climate censorship at the Listener

Hot Topic has an appalling story of censorship at the Listener, with Ecologic columnist Dave Hansford being sacked after pressure from the climate cranks in the New Zealand Climate "Science" Coalition. The column they objected to pointed out how the media's desire for balance distorted the truth by creating an illusion of debate and uncertainty around climate change when in fact there has been a remarkable agreement among climate scientists for the last decade that a) it's happening; and b) it's our fault. It also pointed out how this was exploited locally by the NZCSC, and how they were part-funded by the oil industry. Every fact in it was verified - unlike those in the NZCSC's "reply" several weeks later - but shortly afterwards Hansford was dumped. It's remarkable cowardice on the part of the Listener, and it raises serious questions about the ability of our media to accurately report on issues against the interests of the rich and the powerful. And OTOH, given the Listener's own editorial line on climate change (which is fairly sceptical about the issue, and certainly opposed to any real policy to deal with it), this isn't really surprising...

The end of Nepal's monarchy

Last week, Nepal went to the polls to elect a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. Results have been trickling in, but the trend is clear: the Maoists are well in the lead, with three times as many FPP seats as the next largest party (though looking at the vote counts on Wikipedia, this says more about the unfairness and distortions of FPP than the popularity of the CP (Maoist)). Some are tipping them to gain an absolute majority, but that doesn't seem to be reflected in the PR results. But one thing is clear: the monarchist parties have been absolutely devastated - and the Maoists are already telling the king to pack his bags:

"In the first meeting of the constituent assembly we will declare the country a republic, then we will notify the king to leave the palace," [CNP(MP Deputy Baburam Bhattarai] said.

"As an ordinary citizen, he will have to abide by the law."

After the massacre he perpetrated on his own people two years ago, that's letting him off rather lightly.

Partial election results can be viewed here and here.

Amending the EFA?

The Herald reports that the Electoral Finance Act looks likely to be amended, with United Future's peter Dunne calling for a cross-party conference on the law. That would be an interesting meeting to watch. The core of the problem is the increasing uncertainty around whether Parliamentary advertising is attributable expenditure. Not only does this prevent MPs from doing their jobs; it also significantly disadvantages incumbents as most if not all of their candidate spending cap will be pre-spent in the course of their everyday work. The natural solution is to clarify the law to say that Parliamentary spending is not attributable, or not attributable until much closer to the election. This runs the danger of legalising abuses such as the pledge card, but there should be same way of preventing that while allowing our MPs to do the jobs we expect of them.

The fly in the ointment is that National spent the entire debate on the Electoral Finance Act tubthumping about Labour's 2005 pledge card, and even proposed amendments in the committee stage to make all Parliamentary expenditure explicitly attributable. Throw in a double helping of bad faith and hypocrisy on the issue (they're actually quite happy with the Parliamentary Services guidelines which allowed the pledge card, but publicly oppose them for political reasons), and the upshot is that we are once again going to see some extremely ugly scenes as National screams opposition to fixing a part of the law it itself claims is broken solely in order to grandstand in election year.

Some might say that I'm taking too dim a view of National here, and that they will adopt a constructive attitude and try in good faith to fix this part of the law. I hope so, I really do. But based on their past performance, I don't really expect it.

Olympic farce: the subcontinent

The torch of shame did Islamabad last night, with 60 athletes carrying it round the track of a stadium in front of a tiny invite-only crowd, guarded by thousands of armed police. The only way the public could watch it was on television. It was a little bit of Beijing, right there in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in India, the protests have already started, with 50 Tibetian exiles being arrested after breaching security to demonstrate in front of the Chinese embassy. Another group were arrested after staging an alternative rally along the official route. And so the world's largest democracy colludes to protect the reputation of the world's largest dictatorship...

The torch is supposed to do its New Delhi leg today, along a drastically shortened course, but it is unclear whether anyone will be allowed to watch, and officials won't even say what time it starts. So, they can have their relay, but only if they run it in secret with an army guarding it.


So, George Bush has finally decided to get serious about climate change, and set an ambitious target for US policy. That target? Halting growth in emissions by 2025. When the EU is promising a 20% unilateral cut from 1990 levels by 2020 (and 30-40% if other developed nations come to the party), and a need to cut global emissions by 60% by 2050 if we are to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, that looks very unambitious indeed.

Climate change: the latest inventory

The Ministry for the Environment released its latest inventory report today. All they're producing locally is an overview, but the full data is available on the uNFCCC website here [ZIP]. The headline data is shown in the graph below (stolen from p. 18):


Overall emissions rose by 0.9%, from 77.16 to 77.87 MTCO2-e. The good news is that that's a pretty small increase in historical terms. The bad news is that they're still going up. The other bad news is that we've recalculated our 1990 forest removals again, increasing them from 18.98 to 20.51 MTCO2-e, which means out CP1 Allowed Amount will decrease. The cost of that decrease at $25 / ton is almost $200 million.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Climate change: allocating the windfall

Today's IFR has a story about the government expecting a $13 billion windfall from its emissions trading scheme. Some of the article is deeply confused, claiming that this will be the result of unused credits at the end of the Kyoto Protocol's First Commitment Period - something highly unlikely to be the case, given that we are well in excess of our Assigned Amount (or, in English: there won't be any unused credits). But that said, there will be a windfall. The government is creating emissions units, and these are valuable. Someone will therefore be making at least a paper profit from them. The question is who?

Unsurprisingly, the National Party thinks it should go to their mates in the business community, though wider free allocation (yet another example of their meta-policy of looting the state). And unsurprisingly, I disagree. The government will be creating these profits through the ETS, and it seems only fair that they be used for public purposes rather than lining private pockets. Ideally, I'd like to see any revenue recycled to fund other emissions reductions, but it can always be used to fund services or offset other sources of revenue instead (thus producing the classic environmental double dividend). What I would not like to see is the European situation, where free allocation of credits saw polluters capture the entirety of the windfall, and laugh all the way to the bank. That does nothing to build public confidence in the ETS among consumers facing higher energy prices, and it does nothing to punish polluters.

Something to go to in Wellington

The Greens are holding a public meeting on the topic of "Oil Wars - Thinking Globally, Acting Locally" in wellington tomorrow night. Speakers will include Keith Locke, on the "resource curse", and Sue Kedgeley, onwhat we can do to reduce dependence.

When: Thursday 17 April, 18:00
Where: Mezzanine Floor , Wellington Central Library

MPs' newsletters and the EFA

Like many, I'm disturbed at the claim from the Chief Electoral Officer that Heather Roy's weekly diary may not just be considered "election advertising", but may in fact be attributable expenditure under the Electoral Finance Act. The EFA includes a specific provision excluding material produced by MP's in the course of their duties from counting towards their spending cap (though it may still be an advertisement, and hence have to bear a promoter statement), and if an MP's summary of what they've been talking about all week isn't considered part of their job, you have to ask would be.

Fortunately, its not up to the Chief Electoral Officer, but to the Electoral Commission. And it would be nice if they would give MP's some solid guidance about what is and isn't covered by that clause.

Update: Someone has pointed out that it is up to the Chief Electoral Officer to determine whether candidates have breached their caps. Ouch. I'd still argue however that if they think an MP's newsletter is attributable expenditure, then they're blatantly ignoring the law.

An inside job

The police have finished their investigation into the "theft" of Don Brash's emails (which provided the basis for The Hollow Men), and concluded that contrary to all the screaming from National about hacking and secret Labour Party Attack Ninjas, it was an inside job. In other words, Brash was knifed by someone from his own party. The interesting question is whether they're still around, and as upset by the current leadership (which is funded and directed by the same people who funded and directed Brash) as they were by Brash. OTOH, given that the current leadership are in fact the two most likely suspects, I think not.

Members' Day

Today is Members' Day, and it looks like George Hawkins' Manukau City Council (Control of Graffiti) Bill will receive its third reading. As noted in the Herald, the bill was originally opposed by the government (and by the Local Government and Environment Committee) for establishing local criminal law and discriminating on the basis of age. Now they're supporting it, after amendments which have brought it into line with the government's own anti-tagging bill. But the kicker is that there is a three-month delay in one of the key provisions coming into force, and that the bill will reportedly lapse when the government bill becomes law. Given that that bill is due back before the Budget, and is likely to be prioritised by the government as part of its pre-election law and order kick, then it is likely to be in force for all of two months. Talk about wasting Parliament's time...

The other important bill today is Chester Borrows' Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Bill, which criminalises people based on the clothes they wear. I'm not sure which way this will go, and I suspect it will come down to the votes of Taito Phillip Field or ACT. Assuming that is that the government wants to oppose it; they may be unwilling to in an election year, and instead vote to send it to select committee in the hope of burying it. IMHO, this would be a mistake. It's a terrible bill, and not one we should gamble on whether Labour will still be in power next year. It would be better to defeat it now instead.

There are a couple of other local bills, and it will be interesting to see whether they are talked out, or whether they whizz through them and get on to the real business. The window is closing to get Members' Bills through by the end of the sitting, and I can't really see anything beyond the Minimum Wage and Remuneration Amendment Bill passing. Which means Ron Mark's pedophobia bill is hostage to his party's re-election, while Nandor's Waste Minimisation bill will have to be adopted by the government if it is to pass. As for the rest, I think the logjam will continue well into next year.

Update: I've emailed Tim Barnett, and it's likely that the government will support the Wanganui bill to select committee. This is the usual practice for local bills, and they even did it for the excreable Manukau City Council (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill. So, Michael Laws gets his propaganda victory then; the interesting question is what happens when it comes out of committee - and whether others such as Burqa Bob decide that this is a license for them to target styles of clothing they also find "threatening"...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Child rape isn't a joke

Over at the Fundy Post, Paul Litterick uncovers a truly disturbing attitude on the part of one of New Zealand's gossip columnists. Here's what the Sunday Star Times' Bridget Saunders wrote last weekend:

Which very married media presence took a 22-year-old hooker to Asia with him? This is nothing though, compared to the 15-year-old hooker he enjoyed one day while the family were out. (He rang a knock shop and ordered in and when the girly arrived he was concerned at how young she was and asked her age. When she said 15, he first thought, "Oh dear" and then thought "Oh, what the hell, you're here now!")
To Saunders, this is all one big joke, an amusing anecdote to be spread for our titillation. It's not. It's called child prostitution and child rape, and its a crime in every civilised country in the world (including ours). And like others, I am staggered that anyone would not know that, or think it was funny.

I know that gossip columns are not evidence that would stand up in court, and Saunders may simply be fabricating her material in an effort to amuse, but if there is the merest hint of truth behind this, she should be going to the police and naming names so they can get to the bottom of it. Otherwise, she's aiding and abetting a child rapist. And that makes her little better than one herself.

Thrown from the Ninth Floor

Helen Clark has categorically ruled out using government advertising material as part of Labour's campaign:

"This was a not-so-bright idea which came off the floor at a [Labour congress] workshop, I understand," Helen Clark said yesterday.

"The not-so-bright idea has been thrown off the ninth floor of the Beehive.

"I have said that under no circumstances should canvassers be handing out Government leaflets. They are not campaign material."

Good. I said yesterday that it was a cynical, morally bankrupt idea which displayed a fundamental inability to distinguish between party and state, and I'm pleased to hear that it will not happen. I'm also pleased to hear that it wasn't official strategy (as promoted by the Herald), but that it was suggested from the floor. What I'm still not pleased about is that it was greeted by Labour party president Mike Williams as a "damned good idea" rather than being immediately squashed as a dirty, underhanded tactic. It would be nice if someone in that party showed a sense of ethics once in a while.

Once bitten, twice shy

Back in the 90's, New Zealand First got badly burned when the National Party they had gone into coalition with changed its leadership, leading to a change in policy direction which ultimately saw the coalition - and NZ First - fragment. Now Winston is faced with the prospect of potentially having to go into coalition with National again - and this time round, he's being a lot more careful, demanding that any deal be agreed to not only by National's leader, but by every single National MP as well:

We could work with either Helen Clark or John Key.

But, we do have a proviso about National because of our past experience.


And before we could go with National, we would make every single MP in the National caucus sign up to whatever agreement was reached.

That includes all the right wingers and Act look-alikes that lurk in the shadows.

It's good theatre, but I think the most important purpose is to provide Winston with an out to his promise to support the largest party if National's policies prove too unpalatable (OTOH, support on confidence and supply doesn't necessarily mean support on legislation - something that should be stressed a lot more).

Of course, all this is predicated on NZ First staying in Parliament. And on current polling, that's not looking too likely.

Italian elections

Just two years after being shown the door by the Italian electorate, Silvio Berlusconi is back, after his right-wing bloc won 46.5% of the vote in Italy's General Election. So, another 5 years of corruption and lawlessness, then, handed to the right by a minor party leader who wanted to avoid prosecution himself...

According to Beppe Grillo (an Italian comedian and blogger who campaigns against corruption), 100 of those elected have been prosecuted, convicted, or are currently under investigation for corruption. That's around 10% of the total. And he has some rather acid words about it:

In other countries, such as Finland or the United States for example, it would be sufficient to nominate one of the criminals on this list to ensure that the party would lose the elections. Here in Italy, things are totally different. A sentenced criminal in your crew could help to win you the elections. Such a person brings with him/her the votes of the Mafia groups, the lobby groups and the tax evaders. More simply put, this kind of nomination is merely the price of silence. Italy is the Country of Machiavelli. If the end truly justifies the means, then the criminal justifies the votes. Finally sentenced criminals and statute-barred offenders always get a reward for good behaviour. Offenders remanded for trial or awaiting appeals, instead, are granted parliamentary immunity. Parliament is a free zone. Meaning that anyone who gets in gets off scot-free.
This should not be happening in a democracy. But it'll take a generational shift and some major changes to electoral laws to purge the criminals from Italian politics, and that looks to be a long way off...

A new Chief Ombudsman

It looks like Parliament is finally moving to fill the vacancy of Chief Ombudsman created by the death of John Belgrave, with the Officers of Parliament Committee recommending [PDF] Acting Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem for the position. The next stage will be a motion by the House instructing "asking" the Governor-General to appoint her.

More on Absinthe and wowserism

Last month, I highlighted National MP Paul Hutchison's sudden interest in Absinthe and his fears that young people might start using it as a substitute for party pills (something the Fundy Post points out could lead to terrible things, such as Impressionist painting and Symbolist poetry. Quelle horreur!) The responses to his latest batch of questions have no been posted on the Parliamentary website, and it seems that while the Minister is concerned that people might get drunk on Absinthe, he does not see it as a substitute for party pills any more than any other alcoholic beverage, and sees no reason to apply any further restrictions.

Somehow, I don't think this will satisfy Hutchison. I am now waiting for the inevitable press release about the threat Absinthe poses to the Precious Bodily Fluids Of The Nation's Children, and accusing the government of doing nothing to suppress this evil drink.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Get used to the taste of dead rat

Over the weekend attempted to inoculate himself against the ghosts of National's past by promising that he would not sell any state assets during the first term of a National government. Like John Armstrong, I think the caveat is important, and immediately invites questions about what they plan to do in a second term. I'd also point out that Key has completely reversed himself on privatisation in a mere two months. But what's really interesting here is not National's attempts to hide its agenda from the New Zealand public, but rather Labour's underlying strategy. I've previously talked about this as Labour giving people positive reasons to vote for them, but there's another angle to it as well. By serving up dead rats and inviting National to chow down, Labour achieves three things:

  • In the short term, it wedges National between its base (who have never forsworn the 90's and want to restart the Revolution exactly where it left off) and the New Zealand public (who have and don't). The latter is disastrous for a party which is seeking 46 - 47% of the vote, hence the regular chewing noises from John Key.
  • In the medium term, it builds on Labour's two key narratives: that National is shifty and has no principles, and that it wants to go straight back to the 90's. If National responds differently to different policy announcements, they get hit with both.
  • In the long term, it forces National to give ground and shift to the centre. It also leaves them a poison pill, constraining them to implement large amounts of left-wing policy if elected. National could of course ignore this, but such a break with their pre-election commitments would invite immediate comparisons with their great betrayal in 1990, as well as inviting any centrist support parties to pull the plug. Effectively it forces National to choose between being mostly harmless (good from a left-wing perspective), or to being a one-term government which undermines its own long-term electability.

It's an elegant strategy, and its working. John Key is going to be offered a lot more dead rat over the next six months, hopefully including a super-size helping in the Budget.

The normalisation of torture

When we heard that the Bush Administration was torturing suspects in the "war on terror", the right-wing spin machine was quick to dismiss it as frat-boy hazing. Now, they're seeing workers waterboarded in "team-building" exercises.

What's disturbing is that this is only a civil case. Why isn't the unterboss being prosecuted?

(Hat-tip: Mahatma X Files).


Hot on the heels of supporting the outright murder of taggers, the Sensible Sentencing Trust is now supporting the attempted murder of burglars:

"Garth Gadsby was protecting his community from low-life scum who were burgling and trashing houses, these thieves know that even if they were caught they would get a smack on the hand."
So obviously, they should be shot out of hand. This is what the SST calls a "sensible" sentence.

It ought to be clear to everyone by now: the "Sensible" Sentencing Trust aren't supporting law and order - they're actively promoting vigilantism and the lynch mob. Preventing that and the inevitable injustice and cycle of revenge that results is the very reason we have a justice system in the first place.