Monday, November 30, 2009

How not to catch Australia

The 2025 taskforce has released its first report, and as expected, its the usual NeoLiberal "solution": tax-cuts for the rich, service cuts for the poor, sell off anything that isn't nailed down and use the money to buy a claw-hammer, plus labour-market "flexibility" for lower wages. Apparently these policies - none of which were implemented in Australia - will help us "catch Australia". Hardly. These are the very policies which opened the gap in the first place, and implementing them will make the vast majority of kiwis actively worse off (just as it did in the 90's). But the uber-rich will do very well out of them, and screw everyone else.

To John Key's credit, he has ruled out implementing this insanity. But then he knows that these ideas are pretty much toxic waste as far as the public (particularly those who survived them last time) are concerned. Which means that if he wants to cling to this idea of "catching Australia" within a decade, he's going to have to find some other way to do it.

Who's next?

So, now that Phil Goff has thrown Maori over the side of the left-wing boat, I'm wondering: who's next? Will we be seeing similarly caveated and deniable speeches essentially telling gays to get back in the closet and women to get back into the kitchen? Or do too many of those groups vote labour for them to be victimised and targeted in this fashion?

Because that's what this is about: victimising and targeting one group in order to get votes from another. To Goff and his cheerleaders, this is simply a question of electoral calculus, votes lost versus votes gained. I reject that cynical view utterly. These tactics are simply indecent, contrary to the values of the left (not to mention the Labour Party), and unacceptable no matter what the payoff is.

Racist theft in Australia

Australia has some of the worst racial disparities in the developed world. The average household income of indigenous Australians is only 60% of the average. The proportion with high-school or higher educations is only half that of the average (a fifth for university qualifications), while their unemployment rate is triple that of non-indigenous Australians. Their health statistics are equally appalling, with complication and disease rates at least double the average, with a consequent effect on life expectancy. The average indigenous Australian dies a decade earlier as a result of poverty, disease, poor access to health services and institutionalised racism.

The Australian Federal Government spends billions trying to correct these disparities, with apparently little effect. But that's because most of the money never actually reaches its target, instead being diverted to buy votes in marginal seats:

THE Northern Territory Labor government has for the past five years diverted $2 billion earmarked for indigenous disadvantage and other key services to mainstream spending in marginal Darwin seats.

Detailed figures obtained by The Weekend Australian reveal that hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars provided by the commonwealth and intended for indigenous health, homelessness, delivery of services and families have been used to service debt and bolster superannuation payments.

The figures come as the Territory government continues to defend its handling of the $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Project, which has so far failed to result in one new house being built, despite $45m being spent in the first 15 months of the project.

This is not a new story; the National Indigenous Times highlighted it back in 2006, the Sydney Morning Herald in 2005. But still it goes on - and indigenous Australians suffer as a result.

It is time to end this organised racist theft, and for state governments to spend the money they are allocated for indigenous peoples for its proper purpose, rather than misappropriating it. But that would require Australians to accept that indigenous people matter, that they are human beings equally deserving of government attention. And looking across the Tasman, even after Rudd's historic apology, that acceptance is still a long way away.

Carnival of the Liberals

The 99th Carnival of the Liberals is now up at Liberal England.

No freedom of religion in Switzerland

Switzerland has voted in a referendum to ban minarets. I am simply appalled. This is an outright attack on freedom of religion, specifically the freedom of Muslims to build religious buildings, and if it was reversed and applied to e.g. church spires, people would instantly recognise this.

The good news is that Switzerland is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which affirms freedom of religion. The Convention is legally binding and enforceable on its members through the European Court of Human Rights, and it is difficult to see how the ban could survive a legal challenge. OTOH, the Court has previously upheld a Turkish law banning headscarves, so they may simply decide that allowing Christians but not Muslims to express their faith in architecture is within the "margin of appreciation" granted to states, and effectively piss on the document they are supposed to be enforcing.

This is also a perfect example of how citizens initiated referenda can be used by a majority to victimise and oppress a minority, and a strong argument for building human rights safeguards into any system of binding referenda.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

New Fisk

We're not taken in by luxury hotels' new green awareness

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Another example of the sort of toxic racial politics Labour is now engaging in, courtesy of Chris Trotter:

Sadly, the response of liberal leftists to Goff’s speech has been as predictable as it has been disappointing. Their reflexive condemnation of anyone who dares to hold Maori politicians to the same standards as Pakeha betrays an arrogant unwillingness to accept the ethical norms of their own society. These people have become the fervent champions of an indigenous culture they can never truly join because, fundamentally, they despise their own.
[Emphasis added]

Please Chris, the word you're looking for is "self-hating Pakeha". Or maybe "race-traitor".

Lame excuses

Around the web, various people are trying to come up with excuses for Phil Goff's descent into race-baiting. "It's not racist", "we're just starting a debate", "we have to talk about this" - if this sounds like Don Brash, its because he said exactly the same things back in 2004. I didn't buy it then, and I'm not buying it now. But the award for the lamest excuse surely has to go to Chris Trotter, who came up with this little gem:

Goff’s secondary audience was Maoridom itself. As a good social-democrat he was simply challenging Maori voters to recognise the reality of class.

Obviously. That's why Goff gave the speech to a bunch of dead Pakeha in Palmerston North, rather than to poor Maori in Naenae, and why he spent so much time talking about Hone Harawira, Treaty settlements, and the foreshore and seabed, rather than focusing on how the Maori Party has sold out its (mostly poor) voters in favour of iwi elites. Pull the other one - it sings the internationale.

There was only one target for Goff's speech, which Trotter correctly identifies: "the 150,000 to 200,000 former Labour voters who defected to John Key’s National party in 2008.". Trotter (and Goff, and apparently a fair whack of Labour's MPs, including some people who I had previously respected) thinks it is acceptable to try and win these people over by pandering to racism. I do not.

Teabagging the Liberal Party

Earlier in the month, ultra-conservative "teabaggers" managed to lose the Republican Party a safe congressional seat, after driving out a moderate Republican candidate in favour of one who met their test of ultra-right ideological purity. In Australia, the climate change deniers within the Australian Liberal Party look set to pull exactly the same move:

THE Coalition faces an electoral wipeout at next year's federal election if the rebels led by Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin succeed in blocking the government's climate change legislation.

The Coalition could lose at least 20 of its metropolitan seats, including those of its leader, Malcolm Turnbull, Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey and climate change critics Kevin Andrews and Andrew Robb, according to an analysis of Newspoll results.

To put this in perspective, the Liberals currently have 55 MPs in the House of Representatives. So they're looking at losing 40% of their numbers, and a third of all Coalition MPs (including, ironically, several core Deniers, who somehow are representing liberal urban seats).

Yet another reason why the ALP should be saying "bring it on" over their ETS: its all upside. If the Liberals vote for it, they get the law in place. And if they don't vote for it, they get a double dissolution, an electoral landslide, and the law gets passed anyway. What's not to like?

[More at Larvatus Prodeo]

New Fisk

India may hold whip hand in this power game

Friday, November 27, 2009

All on again in Oz

Earlier this week, Australian Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull saw off a leadership challenge over his support for Australia's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (their even-more-porky-than-ours ETS). But the issue didn't go away, and now its all on again. Half of Turnbull's frontbench resigned last night, and he will be facing a formal leadership vote on Monday. But by then, the issue could be academic. The government wants the CPRS passed into law by Copenhagen, and has set a deadline of 15:45 today for it to happen. If it doesn't, and they force a vote and it is voted down, then its a double dissolution and an election fought on climate change. Which means all Turnbull's challengers will "win" is a corpse facing certain electoral defeat.

But I guess the whole point is that it will be their corpse, pure in its right wing Denial of climate change. Which is working out really well for the teabaggers in the US, isn't it?

Climate change: China sets a target

Two weeks ago, Brazil became one of the first major non-Annex I nations to set itself a climate change target. Now China is following, committing to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 40% to 45% from 2005 levels by 2020.

This is only an intensity target, not a commitment to actually reduce emissions. But it is a first step, and it will underpin efforts to green their economy (something China is already committed to - there's no Denial there, and they realise they have to do this if they are to enjoy a western standard of living without drowning in their own filth). And hopefully it means that when the next round of talks comes round, they'll commit to a solid cap.

Why we need the anti-smacking law

Woman jailed over injuries to child

A woman convicted of inflicting head injuries to her then three-year-old son has been told he is likely to need care for the rest of his life.

Itupa Julie Mikaio, 40, was today sentenced to a total of five years' jail on three charges relating to incidents in Auckland in June last year.

In September, a High Court jury found Mikaio guilty of wounding son Benjamin with intent to injure and neglecting to provide him with the necessaries of life by delaying getting medical treatment.

Mikaio admitted the third charge she was sentenced on - injuring with intent.

That count related to an assault on Benjamin three days earlier, when he was struck on the body with a shoe and left with broken bones.

This is what child-beating leads to: kids crippled for life by violent parents over trivia. Only by sending a clear message that violence against children is unacceptable can we reduce it.

Provocation repealed

Provocation has joined sedition in the dustbin of history.

Good. The partial defence of provocation was an archaic holdover from a more violent era, where it was considered perfectly acceptable to react with sudden violence if, say, someone implied you were gay, otherwise insulted you, or was caught sleeping with your wife (who the law assumed was property, not a person capable of making her own decisions). All of these were once seen as justifications for violence, even murder. Not any more. The law is now clear: people are expected to show restraint and self-control in their interpersonal relationships. And for those who can't, and think with their fists, we have a criminal justice system.

The law still allows people to use reasonable force in defence of themselves and others. But it does not allow them to beat and kill people out of anger. And that is a Good Thing.

A sewer

That apparently is the best way to describe the Manawatu River. Having regularly been panned for its water quality, it is now rated as one of the most polluted rivers in the western world:

The Manawatu tops a new pollution measurement of 300 rivers and streams across North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, research by the Cawthron Institute has found.

The waterway is fouled with treated sewage, industrial waste and farm runoff.

Under a system measuring oxygen changes in water, the Manawatu has by far the highest reading, almost twice as much as the next worst. The Manawatu measured 107. Anything over eight is considered indicative of an unhealthy river ecosystem. A measurement of 0–4 is considered healthy.

(The measurement used here seems to be biochemical oxygen demand; the score of 107 puts the Manawatu as five times more polluted than the average urban sewage outfall.)

While there are multiple causes, the most significant is unquestionably farmers, with nitrogen runoff and dairy effluent leeching into the waterway. The Regional Council is attempting to deal with this by imposing a cap on nitrogen in its new regional plan, but it is strongly opposed by farmers (who have the full backing of MAF for their pollution). Even if they're successful, that will only get us halfway to swimability in twenty years. We just have too many cows, spewing too much shit.

Palmerston North has seen protests over water quality before, and the Manawatu is likely to be a big issue in next years local body elections. Our Regional Councillors had better start listening - otherwise we'll be de-electing them and getting new ones.

New Fisk

Reasons for Alec Collett's death remain buried in Bekaa

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fish in a barrel

Phil Goff, Debate on Prime Minister’s Statement, 10 February 2004:

So the good doctor has discovered the time-honoured populist stance of exploiting race as a way of winning popular support. Never mind the fact that for 9 years we had a National Government that honoured its obligations. Doug Graham, supported by Murray McCully who is sitting in the House, did what was necessary to bring our country together, in order to establish a degree of unity that would mean New Zealand would not follow all those other countries around the world where race and ethnic tension have ripped societies apart. But now the good doctor is subordinating what is in the long-term interests of this country—the well-being and the unity of this country—to divide the country for his own political ends, and to disguise what his real political agenda is.

So, what's changed, Mr Goff? Is principled opposition to racism something you discard the moment you hit the opposition benches?

Stupid as well as wrong

To paraphrase Talleyrand, Phil Goff's morally indefensible playing of the race card is not just a crime - it is a mistake. Despite Labour's dear wishes, the Maori Party is not going to go away. Instead, it looks likely to be a permanent feature of our political landscape. More importantly, it looks to be setting itself up as the swing bloc which makes or breaks governments. That's certainly likely to be the case at the next election, unless the government really screws up.

What this means is that if Labour wants to regain power, it will have to sit across the table from and work with the Maori Party. And that will simply be impossible if they are running on a racist platform. By following Brash's path of cheap racism, Labour is alienating the party it desperately needs to win over. And the result may see it locked out of government for far longer than if it had kept its hands clean.

Goff plays the race card

For the past year, political commentator Chris Trotter has been urging Labour to advance its political fortunes by cynically playing the race card. Unfortunately, they seem to have listened to him. Today in Palmerston North (of course), Labour leader Phil Goff gave a speech to Grey Power (of course) attacking the government for dealing with the Maori Party, "reopening" Treaty settlements, and revisiting the Foreshore and Seabed Act. While carefully caveated (of course), the underlying message was loud and clear: "National is in bed with the bloody Maaris".

This is the same cynical attempt to whip up racism so memorably used by Don Brash at Orewa. I despised it then and despise it now. Goff knows better, just as much as Brash did. But he's willing to pander to racists to get a short-term boost in the polls, and bugger the long-term damage such pandering does to racial harmony.

Well, fuck him. Racism has no place in our society, and a proper left-wing party would be fighting against it, not engendering and exploiting it for political gain. Our defining belief is equality, and that means equality for all, not just Pakeha. If Labour doesn't understand that, and wants to go down this path, then its just another reason for me to vote Green.

The 9/11 pages

WikiLeaks has got themselves a gold mine: 573,000 intercepted pager messages from 9/11. They're releasing them in real time throughout the day, as they were sent on 9/11.

Why is this interesting? As they note,

Text pagers are usualy [sic] carried by persons operating in an official capacity. Messages in the archive range from Pentagon, FBI, FEMA and New York Police Department exchanges, to computers reporting faults at investment banks inside the World Trade Center
The pager archive is thus an invaluable historical resource of the government reaction to one of the defining moments of our era.

The big question though is how the hell did they get them? They're quoted in Wired as saying "the information comes from an organization which has been intercepting and archiving national US telecommunications since prior to 9/11" - which means the NSA, GCHQ, or equivalent organisation. So the big story here isn't what it reveals about the panic, confusion and terror on the morning of September 11, 2001 - but the widespread warrantless and illegal surveillance which has allowed that story to be told.

[Hat-tip: Kevin Drum]

Earning that reputation III

Another day, another National MP caught with his snout in the trough. This time its Lindsay Tisch, who was using a front company to rent his own home to himself so he could maximise the amount he got in expense, bypassing the rules and allowing him to claim not just the interest, but also the principal of his mortgage as an expense. As a result, he's netted himself a cool $20,000 in taxpayer-subsidized capital gains.

Naturally, Speaker Lockwood Smith is just fine with it. But then, he's been fine with all the other rorts too. He should haul himself before the Privileges Committee for bringing parliament into disrepute...

In the UK, they're changing the rules to ensure that MPs don't get to use the taxpayer to fund their property speculation, by requiring any capital gain in a property paid for with parliamentary expenses to be surrendered to the crown. That seems like a damn good idea to me.

ACT supports homophobia and misogyny

The Crimes (Provocation Repeal) Amendment Bill will be being debated this afternoon. The bill repeals the partial defence of provocation, which excuses sociopathic behaviour, and rewards violent, brutal people who refuse to exercise self-control. This is the law that means its not murder if they're gay, and which provides cover for violent misogynists and homophobes to commit what can only be described as hate crimes.

The ACT party has decided that they will oppose repeal.

So, ACT is "tough on crime", unless those crimes are against women or gays, when suddenly they are of lesser magnitude. Rather than standing for the equal rights of all, they support misogyny and homophobia.

But then, looking at the personal conduct of their "law and order" spokesperson, that's been obvious for a while, hasn't it?

The second secret bill

The House is now debating the second secret bill in the urgency motion: the Corrections (Use of Court Cells as Temporary Prisons) Amendment Bill. Again, its not online - but from the speeches, it grants Corrections an exemption to the RMA to allow them to house prisoners overnight in court cells which are also used during the day. The government writing itself an exception-of-convenience to the law it inflicts on everyone else is poor practice, but not controversial among MPs. What does seem to be getting some attention is the Regulatory Impact Statement, which rather than being attached to the front of the bill in the usual fashion is tucked away on the web here. And it has a stark warning:

The preferred option carries litigation risks, in that prisoners housed in court cells may claim that their treatment does not comply with provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act or other legislative requirements. It is also possible that New Zealand’s compliance with international conventions could be challenged. In this regard, the Chief Ombudsman has indicated that the Ombudsmen may issue adverse reports under Part 2 of the Crimes of Torture Act 1989 if their concerns are not addressed.
Those concerns would likely be similar to those around the use of police cells, which saw prisoners subjected to conditions worse than dogs, with no fresh air, natural light, exercise, or washing facilities. You can keep someone there for a few hours while they wait for their court appearance or while a jury is deliberating, or over a lunch-break - but longer stays are starting to get into the territory of cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment, which is banned by both the Bill of Rights Act and international law. An Ombudsman's report would be the first stage of bringing that to global attention (the Ombudsman is our National Preventative Mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture).

Naturally, Labour is voting for this bill. Can I have an opposition which takes human rights seriously, please?

Update: The bill is now online.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The first secret bill

The ETS has just passed its third reading, and the government has introduced its first secret bill from the urgency motion: the Policing (Constable's Oaths Validation) Amendment Bill. Its not online yet, but from the Minister's speech, it retrospectively validates a failure by police to swear in their constables properly for a year (caused by the law change - the new Policing Act has different procedures, but the hidebound police kept doing things the old way).

This is a classic urgent patch-up bill, and there is a clear case for urgency through all three stages to pass it. However, there was no case to keep even the title of the bill secret from the House and the public. It seems that Brownlee simply has a pathological case of secrecy.

I'm also wondering how those in the sewer who so vigorously opposed retrospective validation just a few years ago, calling it unconstitutional and inherently abusive, will react to this bill. Will they be consistent and condemn it? Somehow, I think not.

Must read

We want Blair's head. But Chilcot won't give it to us: The Guardian's Simon Jenkins on the Chilcot Inquiry.

As one perceptive commenter on European Tribune put it, these inquiries

are not intended to reach a finding that the public find credible, they exist to provide a smokescreen for a few years to cover the establishment for a few years in the hope everyone forgets about it.
The problem for the British establishment is that we won't. And neither will the ICC prosecututors in The Hague...

Climate change: Deep shit

In 2007, the IPCC released the Fourth Assessment Report, a summary of the (then-) latest science on climate change. The short version of that report was basically "we're screwed". Now, with less than two weeks to go until the world meets in Copenhagen, the scientists who worked on that report have released their own followup, The Copenhagen Diagnosis. The short version? We're in deep, deep shit.

The core problem is that emissions are still rising - and at rates consistent with the upper end of IPCC modelling. This means that where the IPCC predicted that we were on track for 1.4 degrees of warming, we're now looking at between 4 and 7 degrees. At the same time, we're looking at about twice the sea-level rise projected by the IPCC, a much faster decline in ice coverage, and a much greater chance of hitting regional tipping points which will accelerate the process.

The authors use a carbon budget method to estimate when emissions must peak. Allowing for a total budget of 1000 Gigatons - a figure which has a 75% chance of avoiding the 2 degrees of warming considered "dangerous" - shows that emissions must peak soon, and the later they peak, the sharper the required decline to avoid disaster:


The graph shows the problem of sustainability in a nutshell: safe carbon emissions are a limited resource, and without a radical decarbonisation of the global economy, we are trading off our living standards against those of our children. And that is neither moral or acceptable.

Australia's opposition disintegrates over climate change

While the New Zealand government is busy ramming through a polluter-friendly ETS, over the Tasman its right-wing allies are busy disintegrating over the same issue. Australia's "Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme" is even friendlier to polluters than our ETS, with generous free allocations, billions in direct subsidies, and long phase-outs to ensure that the polluting coal and electricity industries keep on doing exactly what they're doing at the moment: ruining the global climate. But the government doesn't have the numbers to get it through the Senate, and so yesterday came up with an extra helping of polluter pork to buy off the opposition. Their negotiator accepted the deal - which precipitated a mutiny in the opposition caucus as the rump of Howard-era Denier MPs refused to accept it. And now, there's a leadership vote.

Whichever way this goes, it won't be good for the Liberals. Either Turnbull will limp on as leader with no real power, or they'll roll him, vote against the CPRS, and force a double dissolution and an election on climate change - which can only be bad for them (the phrase "electoral oblivion" has been used; certainly they'd be looking at losing seats rather than gaining them). Its the same problem seen with the US "teabaggers": right-wing radicals, angry at defeat, unable to accept that the world (and the public's position) has changed...

Climate change: Not durable

One of the desiderata of climate change policy is that it be "durable", capable of surviving a change in government. Polluters need to know that pricing is not going to just go away at the next election. They also need some certainty about the costs they will face in order to make investment decisions. New Zealand's climate change policy pre-2005 was not durable: while Labour wanted to act, National was locked in Denier mode and promised to repeal any measure. Post-Brash, National softened its stance from outright denial, but still promised to gut the ETS, as we are seeing now.

Unfortunately for their backers, their giant polluter-welfare scheme is not durable either. Last night in the House, Labour made it clear they would replace the scheme next time they are in government:

If Parliament passes this Bill in anything like its current form, a priority for Labour will be its repeal and replacement with legislation providing for a robust ETS and a fit-for-purpose series of complementary measures.
A rough outline of what that replacement would entail was spelled out in his list of Labour's proposed amendments: a return to a shorter phase-out, no transitional period, earlier entry for agriculture, a cap on allocation, stronger complementary measures, and legislated short and medium-term targets.

Nothing lasts forever. In two, or five, or eight years time, Labour is going to be in government again. Possibly sooner, National may find itself beholden to the Greens. Either is going to mean substantial changes to the ETS. Polluters had better factor that into their equations. They may get a free ride for the next few years, but anyone who thinks that these subsidies will last is simply a fool.

Climate change: Here's hoping

Looks like not everyone in the Maori Party is happy with its support for the ETS:

An 11th hour revolt within the Maori Party is threatening to torpedo the Emissions Trading Scheme deal with the Key Government.

Even if the revolt does not succeed - Environment Minister Nick Smith is hoping to secure passage of the bill this afternoon - the damage to the relationship between the Maori Party and the Government could be irreparable.

The Maori Party's national council, 26 senior representatives that make up the party's ruling body, will hold an urgent telephone conference this afternoon or evening. Some of them, though it is unclear whether it is a majority, want the party's MPs to scuttle the deal with the Government.

Here's hoping for a derailment. The bill on the table is worse than the status quo - $110 billion by 2050 worse. If the Maori Party decides at the last minute to dump it, and allow the existing ETS to continue unamended, then New Zealand will be better off as a result.

Update: Or maybe not... the Maori Party is denying that there will be any meeting.

Drinking Liberally Auckland

Drinking Liberally is on in Auckland tonight, with guest speaker Phil Goff, on "the Sixth [i.e. next] Labour Government".

When: 19:00, Wednesday, 25 November

Where: London Bar, upstairs cnr Queen and Wellesley Streets, Auckland

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Urgency and abuse

As expected, the government has just moved urgency for the passage of the ETS in order to get it into place before the end of the year. They have a case for urgency here, and the bill got a select committee phase, though National turned it into a joke.

But while moving urgency, Brownlee also in the list of legislation made two separate mentions of "the introduction and passing of a government bill". That means he intends to ram not one but two bills through all stages by the end of the week, with no select committee hearings and no public oversight. This may in fact be actually urgent legislation. Unfortunately, thanks to Brownlee, we just don't know, as he wouldn't even say what those bills were. He clearly knows, because he has made space in the urgency motion for them. But we the public - and indeed the MPs which will be eventually debating them - are not allowed to.

This is a mockery of the democratic process. But its another fine example of how Brownlee is dragging our parliament back to the 80's and the era of the Douglas blitzkrieg.

Climate change: A filibuster?

Colin Espiner reports that Labour is planning to filibuster on the ETS, claiming that it is

planning hundreds of amendments to try to flood the debate and slow down progress.
Hardly. As I understand it, there are about 15 Labour SOP's, mostly small (I've covered those released up until yesterday here). The amendments in those SOPs (at least the ones online so far) are substantive attempts to amend the bill - for example, by removing the 50% transitional discount or putting a cap on allocation - rather than the random changes to numbers, dates, purposes and the bill's title traditionally seen in a filibuster. Which makes me wonder: did Espiner bother to read those amendments? Or is he defining filibuster down to mean any attempt by the opposition to amend government legislation?

Flying the flag

The Maori sovereignty flag will be officially flown next Waitangi Day, including on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and at Premier House.

Good. Flags are symbols, and this sends a strong symbol about what sort of country we are: one which includes rather than excludes Maori, and one which looks forward to its future in the Pacific rather than its past with Britain.

Climate change: The US goes backwards

The big news this morning is that the US will announce a climate change target before Copenhagen. While the exact number is what they will be announcing, it is expected to be in line with the 17% - 20% reduction on 2005 emissions currently in legislation before the Senate.

Which sounds good - except that US net greenhouse gas emissions rose 20.2% between 1990 and 2005. So, at best, they're offering a return to 1990 emissions, when the IPCC is telling us that developed nations need to be cutting emissions by between 25% and 40% from 1990 levels.

But that's not the worst bit. Back in the 90's, the US signed (but did not ratify) the Kyoto Protocol. In doing so, they accepted a binding obligation to cut emissions from 1990 levels by 7%. So, the US is actually going backwards, offering less now than they did a decade ago. Still, "at least its something", right?

Climate change: A rort waiting to happen

One of the "features" of the government's gutted ETS is the "transitional period", during which polluters face not just a 50% discount on pollution (an obligation to surrender only a single credit for every two tons of CO2 they emit), but also a $25 price cap. Changes in the exchange rate mean that we are now below that price, but there's no guarantee that the dollar won't fall or carbon prices rise. And if either happens, the government will find itself in the invidious situation of directly subsidising carbon, buying credits overseas for, say, $50 to provide them to polluters for half that.

To prevent the obvious rort (selling your free allocation overseas at high prices, then meeting your obligation by paying the government $25/ton and pocketing the difference), the government has had to ban overseas sales during the transitional period. But the ban isn't complete - it doesn't apply to forest credits. This means that forest owners - who will (like everyone else) get a free allocation to help them meet the inevitable obligation when they cut their trees down - have effectively been given a legislated monopoly on carbon laundering, able to sell their forest allocation overseas at high prices while replacing it with non-forest credit bought at the capped price for instant arbitrage profits.

But there's another problem: the government still allows "banking" during the transitional period. Carbon credits don't expire, and if the price rises, polluters can simply sit on their free allocation, meet their obligation by buying from the government for $25 / ton, and sell up when the price cap and export controls are removed in a few year's time. Geographic arbitrage has been replaced by temporal arbitrage. At this stage, its worth pointing out that the government expects the price to double over the next three years (they assume a carbon price of $25 / ton until 2012, and $50 / ton after that). So they're setting up to give polluters a 100% rate of return over three years at our expense, which will flow directly into the pockets of their (mostly foreign) shareholders.

There's an easy solution to this: ban banking during the transition. This will reduce the exposure of the New Zealand taxpayer, and force polluters to use their free allocations to meet their obligations, rather than engaging in speculative shenanigans. But I forget: the point of National's ETS is to deliver windfall profits to their polluter-donors, not to actually reduce emissions.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Climate change: Not a porkfest

National and the Maori Party have reached a deal on the ETS - and its not the pork-fest expected. According to the list of agreed measures, the core of the deal is:

  • an extra $24 million for the home insulation scheme, targeted specifically at low-income homes. EECA will be asked to work closely with iwi in delivery of this programme - something they should arguably be doing anyway.
  • a Treaty clause in the ETS legislation, with a specific requirement to consult on forestry, fishing, and agricultural allocations, as well as any decision to change the point of obligation for agriculture, and on future targets.
  • A side-deal [PDF] with Ngai Tahu and four other iwi to prevent them suing over bad faith in their Treaty settlements, in which they will get a 70-year lease on 35,000 hectares of DoC land and 100 percent of any carbon credits earned for the period of the lease. This isn't as generous as it sounds. After all, the whole point of forest "credits" is that they aren't - they're borrowing, not income, and every credit "earned" must be repaid when the trees are cut down. So, if they engage in forestry, their net carbon earnings will be zero (and taking carbon at the end of it means leaving the more valuable trees behind).
  • Two members of the iwi leadership group will get an all-expenses-paid junket to Copenhagen, courtesy of the taxpayer.
  • Non-preferential iwi involvement in Doc's program to encourage afforestation on crown land.
  • Consultation on complementary measures.
Only two of these are really "pork" - and one is technically valueless (or rather, the only value is the lease, not the carbon). As for the rest, its perfectly acceptable. The down-side however is that the party has agreed to vote in lock-step with the government on the rest of the bill [PDF], including "all procedural motions and SOP's advanced by other parties". Which means those other amendments which would fix the scheme are dead in the water. So, when our taxes rise or our public services are cut to pay for the massive subsidies to polluters in the scheme, we'll have the Maori Party to thank for it.

How it works in Italy II

A couple of months ago, Patrizia D'Addario, an escort, kicked off a massive sex scandal in Italian politics when she talked of being paid to attend parties at Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's official residence. Since then, she has been subjected to harassment and death threats, members of her family have been assaulted, her apartment has been broken into, she has been run off the road, and has been the target of an attempted rape. And then there's this bit:

The man who accompanied D'Addario to the prime minister's home [and who spoke candidly about hiring her and other women in an effort to bribe government officials - I/S] is under investigation in Bari on suspicion of drug trafficking and aiding and abetting prostitution. Berlusconi is not a suspect in the inquiry and his lawyer has denied that the call-girl's recordings are genuine.


Last week, a key figure in the affair, a transsexual Brazilian prostitute, was found dead in her flat in the capital. Investigators are treating her death as murder.

And so the Mafia-ization of Italian politics continues. Again, time for a serious cleanup.

Climate change: Amendments

The government is scheduled to announce a deal with the Maori Party this afternoon, giving it the numbers to pass its gutted ETS into law. While we're waiting for that, I think its worth looking at the amendments the opposition have put up on the bill so far:

SOP 89 (Russel Norman) omits clause 23 of the bill, which limits the amount of information on allocations published by the Emissions Register - thus allowing massive subsidies to be given out in secret.

SOP 90 (Russel Norman) requires the registry to publish every year the number of units allocated for free to each industry or sector. This avengement was recommended by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

SOP 91 (Jeanette Fitzsimons) requires the government to give reasons for any free allocation (also recommended by the PCE).

SOP 92 (Kennedy Graham) requires the government to review and justify allocations to each industry or activity individually, rather than as a whole (again, this was recommended by the PCE).

SOP 94 (Charles Chauvel) was proposed by the Business Council for Sustainable Development (before they were muzzled by their funders). It sets both medium and long-term targets for emissions reductions in law, and establishes an Advisory Committee on Climate Change as an independent Crown Entity with the goal of advising on climate change policy and on target-setting.

SOP 95 (Charles Chauvel) removes the 50% discount during the 2010 - 2012 "transitional period", and raises the price cap from $25 to $100, turning it into a true safety-valve rather than a day-to-day subsidy.

SOP 96 (Charles Chauvel) puts a cap on free allocation to industrial and agricultural emitters, based on 2005 emissions. It makes no change to phase-out rates (I understand that there are other amendments for that, but they haven't hit the web yet).

SOP 97 (Charles Chauvel) imposes full transparency on free allocations and safeguards against corruption by requiring every allocation to be published and requiring any applicant to declare any donations made to political parties in the past year.

These are good changes, which address major flaws in the government's legislation. Unfortunately, with the Maori Party bought off with pork for its major backers, they're unlikely to stand a snowball's chance in hell.

More evidence for Blair's tombstone

The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War is about to kick off in London tomorrow, and right on its eve, someone has leaked the UK military's "lessons learned" papers to the Telegraph. Its a major scoop, but at the same time, what the papers show us entirely unsurprising: that Tony Blair consciously and deliberately lied to the public and to Parliament about his plans for war:

Throughout most of 2002, Mr Blair’s consistent line was that – though military action could not be ruled out – no decisions had been made, no British military preparations were in train, and any action had to be pursued through the UN. That, today’s documents make clear, was not correct.

On July 16, 2002, he was questioned by the chairmen of all the Commons select committees. Donald Anderson, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, asked him directly: “Are we then preparing for possible military action in Iraq?” “No,” said Mr Blair. “There are no decisions which have been taken about military action.”

As the prime minister must have known, this answer was, at best, misleading. The leaked documents say that “formation-level planning for a deployment took place from February 2002”. By the time Mr Blair gave that denial, Britain had, in fact, been preparing for possible military action for five months.

In New Zealand, lying to a select committee is Contempt of Parliament. In the US, people have gone to jail for it. In the UK, apparently it means you then get promoted as a candidate for the EuroPresidency.

There's more - including how the need for secrecy around that lie undermined the planning process, leading to soldiers flying to war on commercial flights, taking their equipment as hand-baggage, and having parts of it confiscated by airport security. But that's the comical bit. The decidedly unfunny punchline is that it also meant that there was no planning for what happened after they took Baghdad and found themselves running a country. According to the Guardian, this failure to safeguard civilians exposed UK Ministers and officials to potential war crimes charges.

It would be nice to think that this exposure of the truth might change something and might lead to some justice. Unfortunately, the capacity of the British political system to ignore the crimes and failings of its leaders is practically infinite. The terms of reference for the inquiry are enough proof of that - it is about learning how to plan a war based on lies in secret more effectively, not about stopping the government from doing it in the first place. I have no doubt that this material will be explored at the hearings and mentioned in the report that eventually emerges; I am equally certain that that report will carefully avoid blaming any specific individual or holding them to account. The failings will be "systemic", the crimes not attributable. And so, with another thick layer of whitewash, the British government will totter on, wondering all the time why no-one believes in it (and pushing for ever more repressive measures to keep the faithless proles in line)...

Though I would like very much to be proved wrong.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

He who pays the piper calls the tune

The Business Council for Sustainable Development is a business group with the mission of "provid[ing] business leadership as a catalyst for change toward sustainable development, and to promote eco-efficiency, innovation and responsible entrepreneurship". Despite the natural suspicion that they were just a greenwash lobby, designed to lend a green tinge to their members, they have generally played it straight, promoting that goal (though with a promo-market slant). They have been particularly effective in the debate over climate change, pushing for tough policy and highlighting the fact that the public - including businesses and National Party supporters - wants real action and an ETS that makes polluters pay. [DOC] Too effective, in the eyes of some of their members:

on November 5 Barry Harris, Fonterra's head of milk supply and sustainability, delivered a withering speech to the council's meeting. There were 31 other representatives of corporate members in attendance.

Harris sharply criticised the council for what he considered its failure to represent the interests of members like Fonterra that "had a lot of skin in the game".

The council's insight into how opposed much of the public and some of business is to the ETS changes has clearly rattled some of its less sustainable members.

According to some attendees, council chairman Bob Field, chairman of Toyota New Zealand, ordered council staff to stop making public statements on the ETS.

And they've been silent ever since. The people who pay the piper have called the tune, and that tune is to STFU and support the government's morally, environmentally and financially unsustainable subsidies. Which may suit their short-term (and shortsighted) economic interests - but at the cost of utterly burning the BCSD and reducing it to a transparent greenwash lobby.

New Fisk

Scars of the past reveal Britain's doomed empire in Hong Kong

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Political journalism hits a new low

As Audrey Young reminds us, there are some big issues afoot this week in New Zealand politics. ACC hikes, the ETS, and Labour abandoning NeoLiberalism are all solid meaty issues politicians are currently grappling with. So what does the Herald's political editor blog about this week? A bloody chicken, complete with bad jokes.

Can I have some real journalism please, rather than this sort of trivial bullshit?

Friday, November 20, 2009

In the ballot XXXV: ACT special

Another batch of Member's Bills currently in the ballot. Previous batches are indexed here:

KiwiSaver (Contribution Flexibility) Amendment Bill (John Boscawen): amends the KiwiSaver Act 2006 to add 6% and 10% contribution rates to the existing 2%, 4%, and 8% rates, improving flexibility for older earners close to retirement and young, high-income earners. This doesn't seem to be a bad idea at all, and I'd expect Labour to support this bill if it is drawn.

Tariff Act Repeal Bill (Roger Douglas): does exactly what it says on the label: repeals the Tariff Act 1988. In the 90's National legislated to phase out all tariffs by 2006, but this was reversed by Labour in 2000 in the name of protecting local industry. Tariffs have remained fixed at their 2000 rates ever since. And so we pay an extra 26.5% for imported footwear, 18% for imported cane baskets, and 12.5% for imported skateboards (the full list is here), either as some sort of "luxury tax" or to protect businesses which can't compete in a global marketplace.

ACT is putting its money where its mouth is on free trade here, and challenging the government (which supports the status quo) to move further to the right.

Victims’ Rights (Victim Impact Statements) Amendment Bill (David Garrett): would amend the Victim’s Rights Act 2002 to prevent the courts from "censoring" victim impact statements. At present, such statements are limited to the actual impact upon the victim; Garrett's bill - driven by the recent Weatherston case - would give victims free rein to vent their spleen against the offender and the justice system. Such material has no place in sentencing, and no place in our justice system; if they want to say it, then there is no reason why they should be given a privileged platform in a court to do so.

As usual, I'll have more bills as I acquire them.

Climate change: The greenwash game is up II

Last week, Guardian columnist Fred Pearce blew the lid on New Zealand's greenwash about climate change, pointing out that while claiming to be "100% Pure" and "clean and green" to market ourselves as a tourist destination and food source, our greenhouse gas emissions had in reality risen by 22% since 1990. The government promised a robust response, huffily pointing out that (thanks to a handy "reassessment" of forest sinks and Kyoto's inherent dodginess of comparing apples and oranges: gross emissions then vs net emissions now) we were meeting our Kyoto target. But by drawing attention tot hat dubious accounting, they've managed to make things worse:

The government of New Zealand responded with some irritation to my column last week, which castigated a national strategy for meeting its Kyoto climate targets by allowing greenhouse gas emissions to rise by 22% from 1990 to 2007.

All was well, it said. The 600,000 hectares of forests that were planted in the 1990s would soak up all the excess CO2 – around 90m tonnes of it between 2008 and 2012. In fact, the country was likely to be ahead of its Kyoto target of stabilising emissions at 1990 levels.

But back home this policy is controversial, to say the least, with many experts accusing the government of a sleight of hand. They include the independent but prestigious Sustainability Council of New Zealand.

The central problem seems to be that when it comes to carbon, Middle Earth is a scientific minefield. And the Kyoto rules give the government considerable potential to pick and choose which carbon emissions and which carbon sinks from forests it declares for the purposes of meeting its targets.

There are, it turns out, two sets of carbon accounts.

And our highly environmentally-sensitive tourism and dairy export markets shrink with every word...

Climate Change Minister Nick Smith says that the problem lies in our rhetoric of being a world leader on climate change, and that the problem will go away if we tone it down to match our poor environmental performance. But that "rhetoric" isn't just marketing - it's a vital part of our national identity. In any case, John Key has squashed that idea, saying that the government remains committed to the "100% Pure" brand. Which means that we have no choice but to actually live up to it.

Blair loses. Stop Blair wins!

The European Union has its first permanent council president - and its not Tony Blair. Instead, EU leaders have chosen Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy for the top job. His chief virtues? He's from a small state actually committed to the European project (unlike the UK), and he's a consensus politician, rather than a divisive autocrat (unlike Blair). Plus of course he's not a war criminal - always a bonus when you're trying to run a state committed to peace and international law.

The Stop Blair! campaign is claiming victory, and while I think their influence was small, they did play a role in derailing Blair's "inevitability" spin by highlight the fact that he would come with a lot of baggage if selected. Their victory - and Blair's loss - is certainly worth celebrating.

On "keeping your powder dry" II

Earlier today I criticised Labour for following the usual "keeping your powder dry" strategy of not announcing specifics in their announcement that they were abandoning the NeoLiberal consensus on monetary policy. I focused on the principle - that the strategy is dishonest, puts power before policy, and treats the public like children. But there's another reason for parties not to use it: its counterproductive.

Just look at what happened today. Phil Goff announced his policy, but didn't give specifics - which gave National's spindoctors the chance to just make something up. And so Goff was forced to defend himself on the six o'clock news against allegations he planned to levy mortgages and increase petrol prices, policies he had never advocated.

If you announce a policy with details, you have to defend it. If you announce without details, you have to defend not just your actual policy, but all the other policies your opponents say you have as well. You buy into a pile of extra trouble, and all for the dubious and unlikely "benefit" of not being able to get the government to do the dirty work for you (or, to put it another way, of not being able to exercise power from opposition - which is a pretty impressive feat in my book).

That equation just doesn't make sense to me. Better to be upfront with the public instead. After all, what's the worst that could happen? They could lose an argument? If so, then it is better to do it now, when policy can be corrected, rather than in the heat of an election campaign when the loss matters.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New kiwi blog

Young Left

[Hat-tip: Red Alert]

Smith undermines accountability again

Today in the House Speaker Lockwood Smith once again docked the opposition a supplementary question as punishment for misbehaviour.

I've blogged about this "punishment" before, and the same criticisms apply: this undermines the accountability of the government to Parliament, and hence to the people of New Zealand. In the process, it also undermines the legitimacy of both institutions.

Smith has other means available to punish misbehaving MPs (he could for example throw the bastards out for the day). He should use them, rather than robbing the people of New Zealand of a vital means of accountability.

On "keeping your powder dry"

This morning, Labour leader Phil Goff announced that he was abandoning the NeoLiberal consensus on monetary policy, with the aim of getting a monetary policy that works for the many rather than the rich few. But specifics were few and far between - and Labour's Finance Spokesperson David Cunliffe has said that there won't be any, at least not until "nearer the election".

Its a particularly irritating example of the politician's meme of "keeping their powder dry". The common wisdom among politicians and beltway "journalists" is that oppositions should do this, to prevent criticism and to avoid having good ideas stolen by the government. But the former amounts to lying to the public (and doesn't work anyway, as well as making you look like you are full of waffle), while the latter is actively counterproductive. After all, if the goal is to implement your policies, isn't having them stolen and implemented by the government a good thing?

But I forget: the goal isn't policy change, but power. And to politicians, policy - the stuff that affects our lives for better or worse - is simply a means to an end, a rhetorical prop in pursuit of that goal.

Update: OK, so that last bit was a bit harsh. I have a deep vein of cynicism about politicians which I should keep under better control. But as someone who loves detail, thinks the merits of policy actually matter, and that people can decide on complex matters of policy for themselves, this "keep your powder dry" approach followed by politicians and excused incessantly by their beltway stenographers frustrates me intensely. Moreso when I see how different things could be.

Look at the Greens. They don't keep their powder dry. They release their policy details. And they've won their arguments by doing so. Even National, who just a few short years ago were deep in denial about climate change, now realise they have to look "credible" on those issues (they don't, but they realise they have to try).

"Keeping your powder dry" is refusing to have the argument. Which means in turn that you don't win it. That might not matter to politicians - after all, does winning arguments with the public win votes? If not, do they need to care about the views of anyone outside parliament? - but as someone who believes in an active democratic citizenry, it matters to me.

Eroding NeoLiberalism

A monetary policy focused solely on "price stability" (low inflation) is a one of the foundations of NeoLiberalism. Like the rest of the NeoLiberal consensus, this policy is very good for the rich - people like John Key don't see the value of their assets eroded by inflation. But its very, very bad for everyone else, with interest-rate driven spikes in unemployment and mortgage pain, and crashes in export earnings due to the resulting shifts in the exchange rate.

For the past twenty years, our major parties haven't cared about this. Since the passage of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act 1989, a monomaniacal focus on price stability has been part of a bipartisan NeoLiberal consensus between our two major political parties. Not any more. In a speech to Federated Farmers this morning, Labour leader Phil Goff declared that that consensus was over:

For twenty years since the Reserve Bank Act was passed, there has been a bipartisan consensus between National and Labour over the policy targets and the primacy of price stability. The consensus between us continues on the independence of the Bank.

But today I am announcing the end of the consensus around the policy targets and tools of the Reserve Bank. Labour wants to see a step change in our export performance. We want policy that will keep our exchange rate as stable and competitive as possible. We want to reduce interest rates for businesses and home-owners, so that we put more money into the pockets of New Zealanders.

Working New Zealanders with mortgages will benefit from policy that tilts the emphasis away from its current sole concern with the holders of wealth, to a focus on creating wealth. Price stability and low inflation will still need to be important objectives for the Bank. We need to guard against people locking in higher expectations of price rises. The way they interact with other objectives will be an important part of our economic policy at the next election.

This isn't as radical as it sounds. One of Labour's first acts in government was to alter the Reserve Bank's Policy Targets Agreement to "avoid unnecessary instability in output, interest rates and the exchange rate". They subsequently adjusted it further, setting "full employment, higher real incomes and a more equitable distribution of incomes" as an objective of monetary policy and raising the floor of the Reserve Bank's inflation target range from 0 to 3 percent to 1 to 3 percent. Effectively, Labour used monetary policy to engineer and maintain the labour shortage which saw growth in real wages over its term (unsurprisingly, National reversed this policy immediately on becoming government, replacing "sustainable and balanced economic development" with growth uber alles and removing all mention of employment from the PTA).

What Goff is signalling is a strengthening of their previous policy. Instead of running monetary policy for the benefit of the rich at the expense of everyone else, Labour looks set to run it for the benefit of the many. Preventing inflation will still be important, but it will have to be balanced against other goals such as employment and exchange-rate stability as well - just as it was pre-1989. And the result will be better for everyone - not just the rich.

Climate change: Speak up!

Scientists tell us that the maximum safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million. It is already 390 ppm. And our government is "doing something about it" by passing an emissions trading scheme which commits us to increased emissions at a cost of $110 billion by 2050.

This isn't just madness - it is dangerous madness, which threatens the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the globe. And its time it stopped.

Politicians will only obey us and act in our interests - rather than those of their corporate polluter backers - if they fear de-election. One way of generating that fear is by protests. Another is by petitions. The more people who join in, the greater the perceived depth of public feeling, and the greater the fear generated. we saw a demonstration of this just this week, when the government backed down on ACC levy rises because angry motorcyclists flooded Parliament.

Which brings me to the point of this post: Nicky Chapman, an ordinary mother in Port Chalmers, has launched a petition demanding stronger action on climate change. It will be presented to the government on the eve of Copenhagen, so the timeframe is tight: there are only two weeks to gather signatures. But it is also important that it gets a lot of signatures. So, download the petition, sign it, get your friends, family and workmates to sign it - fill the sheet! - and send it back by Wednesday, December 2. The more signatures it gets, the more fear it will generate. So, make politicians afraid, and help save the global climate.


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

  • Fair Trading (Soliciting on Behalf of Charities) Amendment Bill (Amy Adams)
  • Shop Trading Hours Act 1990 Repeal (Easter Sunday Local Choice) Amendment Bill (Todd McClay)

Both have previously been covered in "In the ballot" here and here.

There were eight new bills in the ballot this week, half from National as their backbenchers take the chance to poke at various pet issues not deemed important enough for Ministers. Because of this, Labour's proportion of the ballot has dropped from half to a third. I'll bring you some of the new bills in an "In the ballot" post shortly.

The full list of bills is on Red Alert here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pushing Welsh Devolution

A decade ago, as part of the Blair government's devolution program, the UK government created the Welsh National Assembly. Initially a talking shop with limited powers (essentially overseeing the old Welsh Office), it has since gained some limited legislative powers. And now, it looks set to gain a whole lot more:

A national referendum should be held in Wales with a view to giving the Welsh assembly full law-making powers, a major inquiry has decided.

The All Wales Convention, established by the assembly government, said a 'yes' vote in favour of boosting powers was obtainable but not guaranteed.

Opinion polling for the convention indicated 47% of people would vote 'yes' in a referendum and 37% 'no'.

Scotland effectively has its own national government (well, except for abortion, nuclear power, drugs, treason, foreign policy and independence - areas where the English don't trust the Scots to obey), and the natural question is "why not Wales"? And when you look at it, there's little justification for them not to have such powers (hell, there's little justification for them not to be independent - but that's a question for the Welsh people).

The next step is for the Welsh Assembly to pass a referendum motion, which must then be approved by the Secretary of State for Wales. Assuming that is not vetoed, they'll be able to vote on it by the next Welsh elections in 2011.

Climate change: Six degrees

Over the weekend, "leaders" at the APEC summit in Singapore gave up on reaching a binding climate deal in Copenhagen. Meanwhile, scientists are warning that unless they act now, we're headed for six degrees:

Global temperatures are on a path to rise by an average of 6C by the end of the century as CO2 emissions increase and the Earth's natural ability to absorb the gas declines, according to a major new study.

Scientists said that CO2 emissions have risen by 29% in the past decade alone and called for urgent action by leaders at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen to agree drastic emissions cuts in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

An increase in global average temperature of two degrees from pre-industrial levels in considered "dangerous". Six degrees is apocalypse. Its at the upper end of IPCC estimates, and their summary table [PDF; p. 51] doesn't even extend that far. But five degrees means drought, flooding, a substantial burden on health services, "significant extinctions around the globe", and ecosystem changes due to a breakdown in the thermohaline circulation. It also means mass famine, with food production decreasing around the world.

Preventing that, and the resulting war and social disorder, should be the most pressing concern of our elected representatives. Instead, they're still trying to do nothing, so the businesses who pay them can make a few more years of environmentally subsidised "profit".

Something to be proud of

New Zealand is officially the least corrupt nation on earth, topping Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index. The other top spots were taken by Scandinavian countries (no surprises there), Singapore, and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the UK's ranking has dropped to an 11-year low in response to their ongoing Parliamentary expenses scandal. Something for our own politicians to keep in mind when responding to public calls to rein in their perks?

Covering for their own

The Christchurch police officer who used his uniform to extort sex from a prostitute has been convicted on one count of "sex with consent induced by a threat". Good. There should be no place for such people in the police - a sentiment echoed by the police:

Canterbury police district commander Superintendent Dave Cliff released a brief statement, saying it was "always disappointing when a person in a position of trust abuses that trust with the public and their work colleagues".

"A police officer is treated no differently to a member of the public in a situation such as this. A criminal investigation and professional standards investigation were begun, however the professional standards investigation was terminated when Nathan Connolly resigned of his own volition."

But then there's this:
A month before his resignation, Connolly lost a civil suit brought by West Coast man Steven Fredericks.

Connolly had arrested Fredericks as he and a friend left a Greymouth pub in 2005. He elbowed Fredericks in the face three times as he sat restrained in the back of a police car.

Fredericks complained to police after the assault but no action was taken. Fredericks successfully sued and was awarded $5000.

Judge Colin Doherty said Connolly's actions in the Greymouth case were "abhorrent" and "gratuitous".

Fredericks later appealed the amount of the exemplary damages and had his award doubled to $10,000.

So, back in 2005 the Police ignored a brutal and gratuitous assault by one of their own, allowing Connolly to keep his job. And that meant he was free three years later to abuse the power of his uniform to rape a woman. "Safer communities together", eh?

Members Day?

Interesting: John Boscawen delays his child-beating bill, and suddenly we have a Member's Day. Coincidence? Or have they been abusing urgency to try and prevent this bill coming up for debate all along?

Assuming the government doesn't call urgency, then there's a local bill and two Green bills on the Order Paper: Catherine Delahunty's Customs and Excise (Sustainable Forestry) Amendment Bill and Kennedy Graham's Climate Change (Government Vehicle Procurement) Bill. I expect both to be voted down by National/ACT simply out of spite. Being a virtual majority government means they don't have to entertain other opinions, let alone send them to select committee.

This also likely means a ballot for one bill tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what comes up...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Climate change: Costs and fairness

The government has reacted to new Treasury estimates showing that their modified ETS will cost $150 billion by 2050 by claiming the figures are "fantasy" from "Disneyland", and that they do not want to "rip $100 billion out of New Zealand businesses and taxpayers" (implicitly accepting those costings) to pay for it. Which may sound good, but ignores a rather important point: we'll be paying for it anyway - those billions will still being "ripped out" of the New Zealand economy. The only question is how we pay for it: through an ETS, or general taxation. Which in turn means who pays for it: polluters or ordinary taxpayers.

Under Labour's scheme, polluters would (eventually) pay. under National's they don't. Instead, we pay, in order to subsidise the profits of the farmers and industrial emitters who are causing the problem, and protect them from the consequences of their own greed and stupidity. And that simply isn't fair.

Equality comes to Argentina

An Argentinean judge has overturned that country's ban on same-sex marriage on the basis that it violated the constitutional right to equality. The government will not appeal, and now the first same-sex marriage licence has been issued. Unfortunately due to Argentina's legal system, the ruling did not create a precedent - other gay couples will have to go to court to enforce their right to marry - but it is likely to be cemented by legislation in the near future.

A question

Is some random sporting victory really worth wasting the time of Parliament?

An unlawful veto

The Legislation Advisory Committee - one of the government's key advisors on legislation - has advised the Clerk of the House to veto Larry Baldock's proposed referendum question on whether referenda should be binding, on the grounds that it would "contradict the fundamental purpose of the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993".

Sir Geoffrey [Palmer] has told Clerk of the House Mary Harris, who must approve or reject final wording for the vote, that the wording is so defective that "the committee does not think that these defects are capable of being remedied".

"The proposed referendum questions [sic] appear to contradict the fundamental purpose of the Act," he said in a letter dated October 23.

"It is doubtful that Parliament contemplated that such a referendum could be held under the authority of the Act."

The problem? The Clerk can't actually do that. According to the Act, the Clerk "shall determine the wording of the precise question to be put to voters in the proposed indicative referendum" to ensure that it "convey[s] clearly the purpose and effect" of the question and has only two possible answers, and they must take into account the proposed question, any comments, and any consultation. But they have no actual power to refuse a question, unless it has been the subject of a referendum within the last five years, or relates to an electoral petition.

But in addition to advocating an unlawful (and simply improper) course of action, Palmer comes across as more than a little sniffy about the people having a say in the making of our own laws:

"The second question that arises is what does binding mean?" he asked.

"Does it mean that the content of the referendum is capable of displacing or amending an Act of Parliament directly?

"As a matter of legal drafting, that cannot be the case. It seems quite impossible for a citizen's initiated referendum to contain professionally drafted amendments that would be legally effective."

Because clearly, us dirty peasants can't draft amendments to law, or hire lawyers to do it for us. That knighthood really seems to be going to Palmer's head...

As for what should be done, given the ambiguities in the question the Clerk should obviously go back to Baldock and get him to nail down exactly what it is that he wants. But if that fails - and I expect it to - then I think we should let the question stand. The law calls them indicative referenda for a reason, and while under the present wording a "yes" vote would not support any specific framework, it would indicate support for a broad path of constitutional change. And whether we want to go down that path or not is something we deserve to have a say on.

"Give and take"

John Key says there will be "give and take" in the negotiation of a free-trade deal with the US, and that we shouldn't rule out anything. Unfortunately, his specific examples - Pharmac and intellectual property law - are exactly the areas which we should be laying down as bottoms lines, and refusing to shift on. Pharmac saves us millions of dollars a year by leveraging our bulk purchasing power to bulk-buy pharmaceuticals and buying generic rather than branded drugs (the pharmaceutical equivalent of Pams or HomeBrand). But those savings mean that the American pharmaceutical industry - which has an army of lobbyists in Washington - doesn't get to screw us for monopoly profits, and so the Americans want to get rid of it.

Its a similar story on intellectual property. Currently despite the government's best efforts, we have a fairly standard intellectual property regime. But the US wants to impose on the world their draconian system of guilt upon accusation, near-permanent copyright (backed up by mandatory Digital Rights Management to prevent legal fair use), and bullshit patents for obvious "innovations" - all so Disney (who likewise has an army of lobbyists in Washington) can continue to screw profits out of cartoons that in any civilised country would already have entered the public domain.

These are both cases where we should not have a bar of any US demands, and any negotiation by the government will result in a significant loss to the people of New Zealand. But Key doesn't care about us - he only cares about getting the kudos for cutting the deal.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering how else Key is willing to sell us out to get a deal. Both ACC and the public health system limit the ability of US insurers to profit from human misery (and by cheating their clients). Are they on the table too? The problem with these sorts of negotiations is precisely that they are conducted in secret, giving us no effective oversight - and once they're signed, we can't get out of them; there's no Parliamentary ratification process to limit the ability of the government to make a bad deal. The result is that major policy changes can be made by stealth, with complete immunity from the OIA or parliamentary oversight. And there is nothing we can do about it. That sounds like something we should change...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Climate change: Costing us an arm and a leg

When Dr Christina Hood pointed out that the government's costings on the ETS were wrong, and that the scheme would cost us $105 billion by 2050, Climate Change Minister Nick Smith was quick to denounce her figures as "wrong". It turns out they weren't so wrong after all. From the Finance and Expenditure Committee's report on the ETS bill:

The Treasury has modelled the cost of the never-ending subsidies. It estimates that, if a 1.3 percent phase out rate is maintained into the long term, the proposed policy settings for intensity-based allocation indicate a cumulative increase in Government debt of around 13–17 percent of GDP by 2050, at a cost of about $110 billion.
According to the Labour minority report, Treasury dropped this little bombshell on Friday, the Committee's last day of deliberation. Which was typical of the government's tactics to rush through the committee's "deliberation" and ram the bill through with minimal scrutiny. But it makes it official: the subsidies this bill gives to polluters are simply fiscally unsustainable. A responsible government would admit that and scrap them. Instead, National will likely pass them, and just put the issue off, leaving it to be someone else's problem.

Climate change: Reported back

The Finance and Expenditure Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Climate Change Response (Moderated Emissions Trading) Amendment Bill, but has been unable to reach any agreement on whether the bill should be passed, or even on whether it should be amended. Its hardly surprising, given the manifest flaws in the bill and the dictatorial way National tried to rush it through the Committee without scrutiny, but the result is that the entire committee process has effectively been a waste of time. Instead of having amendments scrutinised properly, they will be unilaterally introduced and passed by National with no notice and no scrutiny. The result will be an even worse law than we have at present.

Assuming, that is, that National can get a majority. And that is really dependent on whether they can agree amendments with the Maori Party. If they can't, then the present law will continue, and the stationary energy and industrial process sectors will enter the scheme without any free allocation on 1 January next year. Which is looking to be a far better scenario than what is on offer.

The government will no doubt try and ram this through under urgency as soon as they pay off Turia and Sharples. There is simply no case for that. With five sitting weeks left in the year, there is plenty of time for the Government to pass this under the normal Parliamentary process if they decide to make it a priority, without trampling all over our democracy. It may take more time, but we will get a better law as a result. And with law this bad, pretty much anything is an improvement.


The Big Day Out has withdrawn its invitation to Jamaican homophobe Beenie Man. Good. As I noted earlier, decent people don't provide a platform for this sort of bigotry, let alone pay bigots to spread hate. If Beenie Man wants to tour the country and sing, he should be free to do so - but there's no reason for NZ's biggest music festival to collaborate in his denigration of gays.

Though I am left wondering why the Big Day Out didn't see this coming. In the age of Google and Wikipedia, surely they were aware that their guest would attract exactly this sort of controversy? Or were they stupid enough to think that no-one would care?

New Fisk

Hatchets and hostages – the old days of Mao's revolution

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Beenie Man and freedom of speech

The Big Day Out has invited Jamaican reggae artist Beenie Man to perform next year. The man is a notorious homophobe, whose music calls for the murder and extermination of gays and lesbians, and as a result he has been disinvited from several overseas events, including the 2004 MTV Music Awards. So I'm completely in support of Green MP Kevin Hague's call for the Big Day Out to withdraw its invitation; decent people simply do not provide a platform for these sorts of bigots, let alone pay them to spread their hate. And if the Big Day Out wants to associate its brand with such bigotry, then they will suffer the commercial consequences.

Where I get off is banning people from entering the country, as Charles Chauvel has demanded. I take it as axiomatic that the government should not be discriminating against potential visitors on the basis of their beliefs. Neither should it be attempting to censor people by denying them entry. In case Chauvel has forgotten, we are a country which supposedly respects freedom of speech. And that liberty applies to people we disagree with as well as those we like. The widely accepted limit on freedom of speech is "shouting fire in a crowded theatre". While Beenie man's music is hateful, like David Irving's, it simply does not reach that standard. I am not denying the social consequences of his hate, but they are far too distributed and distant to provide a justification for censorship.

The answer to speech we disagree with is more speech, not less. If Beenie Man makes it to New Zealand, he should be met with protests. Journalists should challenge his views, and make it clear that they are not acceptable in a civilised society. And if he performs at the Big Day Out, the audience should simply leave. Being greeted with an empty room would eloquently show our disgust at this bigoted homophobe.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Independent judiciary damages national security

The idea of an independent judiciary is a bedrock of modern liberal democracy. But according to a top UK Foreign Office official, it is a threat to "national security":

A top Foreign Office official has accused high court judges of damaging Britain's national security by insisting that CIA evidence of British involvement in torture must be revealed.

The extraordinary intervention in a fierce dispute between David Miliband, the foreign secretary, and the high court has come from Simon Manley, the FCO's director of defence and strategic threats.

In an unprecedented assault on the judiciary, he claims that demands by two judges that the CIA material should be disclosed have already harmed Britain's intelligence and diplomatic relations with the US. In a statement, Manley says the judges have "served to undermine confidence within the US in the UK's ability to protect the confidentiality of diplomatic exchanges and will inevitably have a negative impact on the candour of their exchanges with UK officials".

The impact of the judges' rulings "also undermines our relationships with other foreign services … and co-operation on operational matters in the field is also at stake", he adds. "What we are facing is an erosion of trust."

The subtext: instead of upholding the rule of law, the courts should instead be subservient to the government, and make decisions according to the foreign policy interests of the government-of-the-day (which may include "avoiding embarrassing our friends who have committed torture"). Its the sort of view I'd expect to see from a third-world dictator, or indeed a tinpot Fijian general, not a top public servant in a democracy.

If courts ruled as Manley desired, we would not have justice, or law. We would simply have the oppression of the state. That may be acceptable to the authoritarians in Whitehall, but it is not acceptable to the vast majority of the citizens of the UK, who clearly take those ideas far more seriously than their government.