18 May 2022

The uninspiring blandness of the Australian Federal Election

I quite like elections, I like them being a battle of ideas, of philosophy and of personalities, as they provide the most obvious time to focus on what are the differences between the individuals who want the power to impose laws on people.

Australia is having a Federal Election, and as someone with a second home in Australia, I'm interested in the outcome, but I am not very interested in the contenders. I don't get a vote anyway (and if I did, it would be compulsory, which is just grotesque, as government shouldn't be decided by the proportion of the public who vote because they have to, without having a clue as to what is going on).

Typically I should be aligned with the Liberal Party - which is meant to be liberal in the classical sense, as the party of less government, of individual rights and freedoms.  However you wont see much sign of that in Scott Morrison and the Liberal/National Coalition (the "Coalition") agenda for what would be its fourth term (albeit second term for Scott Morrison).  It's gone from Tony Abbott, a committed conservative with some classical liberal instincts, to Malcolm Turnbull, a dripping wet centrist, to Scott Morrison, a marketing man. It is campaigning mainly on being a safe set of hands compared to the Labor Party (the ALP). 

The best that can be said about the Coalition is it isn't the ALP, which is currently led by a shiny light of its left faction - Anthony Albanese. A man who was a low ranking Infrastructure Minister when Kevin Rudd was PM, but who was adamently against the Hawke/Keating reforms that opened up the Australian economy, and stripped away decades of neo-mercantalist, protectionist inefficiency.  

However, the Coalition ought to be better than just that.  It might claim that it has been a safe set of hands over the pandemic, but the pandemic is almost over, and nobody cares anymore (especially since the States had a key role - the Federal Government was primarily responsible for vaccinations, and control of the national borders).  The Coalition has spent up large protecting the economy from collapse during the pandemic, and to its credit has advanced on national defence. Unlike the weak and almost irrelevant New Zealand, Australia does have a serious defence force, and the Morrison Government did scrap a ridiculous contract for French diesel submarines, in favour of US/UK nuclear-powered ones. The Morrison Government has been tough on the People's Republic of China and copped a lot of flak over that, for simply asking for an investigation into the origins of Covid 19. Australia has pivoted from its high dependency on Beijing for trade, to being clearly on the front-line of challenging Beijing over Covid and its expansionism.  It deserves some credit for this.

Domestically though, it is characterised as being a Government that grants favours to marginal electorates in terms of public spending, and has grown the public sector incrementally. It has embarked on no serious reforms to address issues such as housing or the hotch-potch of taxes at Federal and State levels.  There have been numerous report on how to raise productivity in Australia, and little to show for it. In short, the Coalition is virtually out of steam, and I doubt anyone who votes for it (or preferences it over the ALP) thinks they are supporting a reformist Government.  They're voting to stop the ALP.

And what of the ALP? It governs in 6 out of the 8 states or territories (the Coalition only governs in New South Wales and Tasmania), but it has focused on character with attack campaigns that claim Morrison is a flake who rejects he is accountable for anything. Yet the ALP's main promises are around being tougher on climate change (claiming enormous cuts in power bills by spending a fortune on renewables) and more for areas of social spending such as salaries for (mainly unionised) staff in aged care and healthcare.  

The rhetoric of both Albanese and Morrison is largely vacuous and banal.  The ALP is promising not very much, because last election it thought it would win, and lost because Australians feared more taxes and an unproven leader. 

On the sidelines are the Greens, who want to radically undermine mining and have candidates who think Australia should be much more accommodating to China.  Pauline Hanson continues to attract rightwing voters mainly in Queensland who are less tolerant of the woke culture wars, and billionaire Clive Palmer has been spending a fortune promoting his United Australia party which has wacky policies on taxing mining to pay off debt, and freezing interest rates.  This appeared as a full page ad in several newspapers (Craig Kelly has been touting Ivermectin as a cure for Covid for ages).

I mean really?

On the bright side is the Liberal Democrats, the closest to a libertarian party, which actually does campaign for less government and isn't socially conservative.  However, it will be a push for it to get a Senator elected (don't even get started on talking about the Australian electoral system).  A lot of attention has been paid to the so-called "climate independents" who all share branding and are funded by billionaire heir Simon Holmes à Court, to stand only in Liberal seats (and in many cases against moderate liberal MPs).  They are basically centre-left MPs who want radical action on climate change, but odds are maybe one might get elected.

So if you care, you might pay attention to Saturday night's election in Australia.  Polls suggest the ALP will win, which will send Australia facing left, and see it jumping down the line to spend a lot of money and/or intervene a lot to look like addressing climate change, as well as bungs for its usual union constituencies.  However, it isn't a huge jump from the status quo, and its hard to see it being a significant majority.  If Scott Morrison pulls off another win, it will solidify his faith, but it wont mean anything to be excited about except schadenfreude over the ALP, Greens, GetUp! (a leftwing campaign group), the ABC (the staffed by Green-left aligned people, state broadcaster) wondering what went wrong?  It will be business as usual, and Australia deserves better than that.

Australia deserves a clean sweep of Government, of political culture, to take down the shibboleths of corporatism, statism and entrenched bullying style unionism. It should embark on reforms that open up markets, reduce barriers to competition and look forward, but it wont.

If Albanese wins, it wont be good for Australia, but it might refocus the Coalition on principles and on standing for something rather than incremental electioneering based policies.  

If you want more freedom less government, then hope for a Liberal Democrat senator, but otherwise unless you're just going to hope to annoy the ALP and the Greens by watching them lose, there's little to care for a Coalition victory, and absolutely nothing to care for an ALP one

20 April 2022

Submit today on the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill

David Farrar's Kiwiblog has an excellent submission on this absolute travesty of basic individual rights and liberal democracy.

This debate about this issue has been muted. Stuff reports it, with taxpayer funding from NZ On Air, without ANY discussion about the implications for liberal democracy.

What is proposes is a form of racial gerrymandering that means that Māori Ward Councillors on Rotorua District Council will represent fewer people, but with the same amount of power as General Ward Councillors. 

As Farrar says:

This bill would give the Māori ward three Councillors for an electoral population of 21,700 and the General ward three Councillors for an electoral population of 55,600. This means the vote of someone on the general roll will be worth only 39% of the vote of someone on the Māori roll in terms of Ward Councillors, and 58% in terms of the whole Council. 

It debases the votes of non-Māori ward voters, and for what? To seek to equalise representation not on the basis of counting heads, but by valuing the votes of Māori ward voters 2.5x more than non-Māori ward voters.

Let's apply this to Parliament?

Extend this to Parliament (assuming no change in the number of seats) and the result would be this:

General Electorates: 36. 1 MP for every 89958 voters

Māori Electorates: 36. 1 MP for every 7591 voters

In essence it multiplies Māori roll votes 11 fold compared to non-Māori. The exact impact on Parliament is difficult to forecast for multiple reasons, as no doubt there would be more candidates, but also the impact on emigration (let alone immigration) would change the demographic as well (some advancing this policy would like that). 

It could be assumed that the majority of Māori Electorates would vote Labour, and some would vote Te Pāti Māori, maybe one or two could go Green or even NZ First.  

How would that affect the list seats? It is entirely possible to leave them as is, with one person one vote and let proportionality come to play, but that is likely to create an overhang. Let's say based on the current Parliament, that one in seven of the Māori electorates go to Te Pāti Māori, which would mean it gets 5-6 seats. Even if it got double the party vote of 2020 (which would be 2.34%) it would only be entitled to around 3 seats in Parliament, so Parliament would grow by 2-3 more seats in total.  Advocates of such a change might say the overall impact would not be significant, because ultimately National would get most of its MPs from the list, so proportionality might be retained overall, but the effect would be dramatic.

Moreover, if you can argue for electorates that require 11 general roll voters to elect an MP, but 1 Māori roll voter, then you can argue that Māori party voters get the same magnification of impact.

and that would truly be the end of liberal democracy as we know it, and is internationally recognised on the basis of one person one vote.

This sort of gerrymandering is seen in corrupt democracies, which try to construct constituencies that have small numbers of politicians representing large numbers of people who politicians want to reduce the franchise for, with higher numbers for the preferred group.  During the dying days of apartheid, the South African Government argued for its democracy to enable white South Africans to have a veto of decision making over the black majority.  This was rightly decried as racist and unacceptable. Going from total white minority rule to white minority veto was not advancing the rights of all South Africans.

However, there is a movement in Māori politics that is antithetical to liberal democracy and individual rights. Te Pāti Māori MP Rawiri Waititi said it clearly when he thought Aotearoa had a great future "but not necessarily as a democracy". 

It isn't exactly rude to ask if the Green Party of Aotearoa or the New Zealand Labour Party share his view. 

Now I'm highly sceptical of liberal democracy as a tool to protect individual rights, and Waititi is dead right when he raises concern about majority rule. Unfettered democracy does enable mob rule and does enable injustice, but the contraints on this should be constitutional to ensure basic rights are not overriden. I have a lot of sympathy for calls for tino rangatiratanga for everyone.

However, nobody advancing this change is caring remotely for the rights of individuals to peacefully go about their lives, this is about advancing power, albeit at the local government level, to regulate and tax people's property and businesses.

You have only a few hours to express your opposition to this racist travesty of a Bill, that has NOT been advanced by the local MP Todd McClay but rather Labour list MP Tāmati Coffey.  Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori are all advancing it.

It deserves to be voted down in flames, and it deserves your submission in ardent opposition to it.

Either go here:


or here:



16 April 2022

Is New Zealand abandoning independent foreign policy by backing Ukraine, or is Bryce Edwards missing the point?

Bryce Edwards in the NZ Herald declares that the NZ Government’s “independent foreign policy” is “virtually dead” because the Government has chosen to support Ukraine. It’s quite a take, particularly if I give Edwards the benefit of the doubt that he isn’t part of the “tankie” left that thinks Russia isn’t entirely at fault, or that Ukraine isn’t worth supporting because some of Russia’s claims about “Nazis” are true (I will take it for granted he isn’t part of the “tankie” right that sees Russia as a bastion of conservative Christian values against a decadent corrupt West).

NZ “falling into line” with Five Eyes and NATO assumes that it resisted supporting Ukraine, and in supporting Ukraine it is doing so somehow subservient to Western powers. This is an extraordinary position to take, reminiscent of the self-styled “anti-imperialist” peace activists whose stance against imperialism never extends to powers, such as Russia and China, that are antagonists towards Western liberal democracies.

Edwards believes it needs more debate and analysis, and he is not wrong, but to infer that a country cannot have an “independent foreign policy” if it provides military assistance to a UN Member State that has been attacked in a conventional war by another, is a curious interpretation. It infers that NZ has no interest in supporting a UN Member State that is a victim of such an attack or that there is no moral interest in doing so either.

You see international relations is primarily a matter of national governments asserting policy that is in their national interest. Although most proclaim that their foreign policy has an ethical foundation, ethics are largely secondary to national interest, and national interest is indisputably linked to the government of the day remaining in power.

An independent foreign policy for NZ puts NZ’s interests first, and within the boundaries of that, it can seek to promote an ethical vision of foreign policy. Although the Ardern Government proclaims loudly about its ethics, but it know it cannot take that too far, otherwise NZ would trade with much fewer countries and for what end?

Neutrality and foreign policy independence are quite different concepts. NZ is not obliged to support NATO, it did not provide support when NATO struck Serbia to deter potential genocide in Kosovo (having done little when Serbia supported “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnia and Croatia (let’s not mention Croatia’s “ethnic cleansing” of parts of its territory of course)).  That is foreign policy independence, but it is not neutrality. Switzerland and Sweden are neutral.

Edwards cites MP Golriz Ghahraman and former National Party communications advisor Matthew Hooton who essentially claim the decision to support Ukraine is not based on substance of either national interests or ethics.

Ghahraman claims that it is about “appeasing allies”, which is cynical sneering about contributing to a collective effort to defend a nationstate that is a victim of aggression. NZ’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions are arguably almost entirely symbolic and demonstrative as well, in terms of impact in reducing climate change, but that isn’t seen as “appeasing allies or trade partners”. Hooton appears motivated to sneer at Labour’s claim of an independent foreign policy, which isn’t particularly interesting. He has an axe to grind, as does Ghahraman, who is one of the most left-wing and anti-Western MPs in Parliament, is hardly supportive of either NATO or any military action from Western countries (given her biggest foreign policy focus appears to be criticism of Israel and silence against the authoritarianism and terror expounded by Hamas and Fatah).  She even retweeted a call by tankie UK MP Jeremy Corbyn (who bemoaned the fall of the Berlin Wall) demanding the State of Palestine be recognised days after Ukraine was invaded.

Ghahraman focusing on her highest foreign policy priority

Matt Robson is unsurprisingly in the Ghahraman camp (shocking that a former hard-left MP would be antagonistic towards Western powers) and makes the dubious claim that the Ardern Government “has drawn us into the largest nuclear-armed military alliance in the world, Nato, and has signed up to the encirclement strategy of Russia and China”.

This is deranged stuff. NZ is no member of NATO. NZ has no treaty obligation to defend any NATO member states (through NATO) or vice versa. Furthermore, the idea that there is an “encirclement strategy” is straight out of the Moscow and Beijing playbook of foreign policy conspiracies. There’s no evidence of such a strategy, but Moscow has touted for 20 years the paranoid claim that the West is keen to invade it, and China constantly claims that the West wants to contain and stop its growth.

Then there is Peter Dunne’s claim that moving away from UN-mandated sanctions is significant. This infers that the UN is somehow neutral, yet it is obvious that UN-mandated sanctions in response to Ukraine would not exist, because Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can veto any UN sanctions. The UN is absolutely impotent, so the choice is simple in foreign policy:

· Do nothing, because the UN is impotent. Effectively showing zero interest in punishing Russia for invading a neighbour.

· Join traditional Western allies and others in sanctioning Russia.

Edwards does say NZ should seek UN reform, but that is absolutely not going to happen without the consent of the Permanent Five, and that isn’t going to happen whilst two of the five are aggressive revanchists (which one has proven and the other has indicated it wishes to).

Dunne claims “New Zealand will now find it more difficult to resist United States' and British pressure to become involved in similar situations in the future”. Really? Why? Besides, why would it NOT want to be involved in similar situations? Does independent foreign policy mean turning a blind eye to Russia or China invading a neighbour? If so, why? Is it for trade, or is it a desire to not be allied to peaceful liberal democracies against aggressive tyrannies?

Edwards continues “there's a sense in which the New Zealand Government has been slowly but surely edging further into the Ukraine war, discarding any neutrality”. Hang on, neutrality? Since when has NZ had a policy of neutrality in international conflicts? Wasn’t the last significant step in NZ foreign policy to simply remove itself from the US nuclear umbrella and prohibit nuclear weapons but stay in ANZUS, or do some really think NZ is trying to distance itself from other liberal democracies so it can… wait for it… be NEUTRAL when another liberal democracy is invaded?

The claim that this is the biggest change in NZ foreign policy in 35 years is highly questionable. If NZ did become neutral, that would be news, but it has NEVER been, despite some on the hard-left in the Greens and Labour wishing it were so.

Edwards infers that it isn’t a conscious and willing decision to back Ukraine, but a “concession” from “demands”, which implies that the Government didn’t want to help Ukraine. That is worthy of debate, although it is not clear that is the case.

He bemoans that “alternatives to war and aggression are hardly being discussed at the moment”. Whose aggression? Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine is not. Russia chose war, Ukraine did not. What is the alternative? Surrender? This is the morally bankrupt talk of the tankie Stop the War Coalition in the UK, which pleads for “peace”, but by taking a “pox on both their houses approach” is effectively siding with Russia. Is defence of the weak against aggression by the strong to be questioned when the cost of supporting the weak is so low?

He's right that NZ has done little on refugees, but that is beside the point.

His final point is both naïve and frankly ridiculous:

Abandoning UN processes for imposing economic sanctions and going to war, as New Zealand has done with Ukraine… just returns the world to a place where the international bullies are free to threaten and dominate smaller and poorer nations. That isn't the type of world we claim to want, but one which our current actions are leading to.


1. UN processes cannot impose economic sanctions on Russia.

2. International law allows nation states to go to war to assist allies in the event they are attacked, without the need for UN Security Council resolution.

3. NZ providing military assistance to Ukraine has NOT made the world a place for bullies to dominate smaller states. That’s so preposterous to be silly. Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Georgia before that. NZ is virtually irrelevant to Russia.

4. NZ assisting Ukraine is demonstrating a more unified resolve against Russia and is a sign to its ally, China, that a similar approach may apply if it seeks to say, invade Taiwan. That could very likely make the world a safer place.

The alternative to all of this, is for NZ to be neutral. That would put NZ in the position some would like, like India, of straddling the liberal democracies and the authoritarian aggressors. Some naïve peace activists may think this is advantageous, and some may see it so from a trade point of view, but Edwards hasn’t mentioned trade, at all. If NZ were neutral, Moscow and Beijing would cheer. If NZ imposed no sanctions or few sanctions, it would be seen as a place for the rich and powerful from both countries, and their allies, to place themselves and their money. It would be seen as a weakening of the liberal democracies, and as Beijing has already done, they would point out how Wellington is more “even-handed” than Canberra, London and even Warsaw, Tokyo and Helsinki.

I don’t know if Edwards thinks the counterfactual of neutrality on Ukraine is in NZ’s interests or is even morally defensible. It’s difficult to see how it would be, unless your vision of NZ is one that thinks there is no essential difference between Ukraine and Russia, or between the United States and China, and that is a bleak, dark and disturbing vision indeed.

10 March 2022

The price of powering civilisation

The crisis in Ukraine and the growing embargo on buying oil and gas from Russia is, of course, creating the greatest crisis in energy since 1979. A crisis over half of the population has never experienced, and it is exposing in clear view the irrationality of energy policies in many countries from the past couple of decades.

Until recently the history of energy policy for humanity has been largely driven by a mix of scientific discovery and innovation, and market demand. As the late Julian Simon once wrote, humanity moved from using wood as a primary source of energy, towards coal in the 18th and 19th century (which saved many remaining forests in Europe from decimation), and then towards oil in the late 19th/early 20th century because of price and capacity.  This also paralleled the rise of electricity, largely generated by burning coal, oil and gas (but also some locations, like New Zealand and Norway, benefited from geography and geology enabling hydro). Nuclear emerged in the mid 20th century, but has been constrained to electricity generation (in jurisdictions not taken over by fear, resulting from hyper-catastrophising) and naval propulsion. 

As the world has become ever more electrified, the demand to generate electricity has been fed primarily by fossil fuel burning, albeit the efficiency of this has grown exponentially. The energy intensity of refined fossil fuels has meant their portability literally enabled aviation to become not just viable, but the dominant means of long distance passenger transport, consigning long distance intercontinental rail travel in the United States and Canada to leisure trips.

The economic impacts are palpable, and all of the rhetoric and hysteria from environmentalists about the evils of fossil fuels ignores what they have enabled in the standards of living for billions.  Goods, services, trade and travel are on the scales they are today because of this.

The push to slow down the effects of climate change has resulted in policies that are almost monomaniacally focused on cutting CO2 emissions at any cost. Sure, there are sound reasons to be encouraging a transition towards energy sources that create fewer emissions that contribute to climate change, but there is little point being concerned about climate change if thousands of people literally freeze to death in winter, or starve due to collapses in food production, or the inability of essential goods to be transported long distances. 

So when tyrannies control much of the energy that powers global economies, and the risks of actually going to war with them to stop their aggression are too high (due to the aggressor's possession of nuclear weapons), then cutting off access to that energy has a price, and you're paying it at the pump.

What the crisis in Ukraine has exposed is how utterly vapid and empty the likes of misanthropes like Extinction Rebellion and other environmental extremists are, because there is no easy path away from fossil fuels.  As wonderful as advances in solar and wind energy are, they still have some significant limitations.  Both require significant storage capacity to be sustainable and useful in their own rights, completely unlike fossil fuel or nuclear generated electricity.  Moreover, for most transport, fossil fuels (or biofuel equivalents) have no cost effective or feasible rivals, yet, for aviation, shipping or heavy road freight transport, or indeed many industrial processes like steel production.

One question New Zealanders might ask is what position the country would be in regarding oil and gas supply if the Ardern Government hadn't stopped enabling new exploration of oil and gas in 2017.  Removing this ban today would have no effect, as it takes years to invest, explore and gain any results, but had it happened in 2017, then there might have been a contribution to global supply. The Ardern Government has deliberately decided to constrain supply of oil and gas, not on economic grounds, not even considering national security, but to virtue signal.

The Ardern Government advanced a radical approach to climate change policy, not just to make a contribution equivalent to NZ's largest trading partners, so NZ would be in-step with those it competes with, but to virtue signal.  To cut net emissions by 50% by 2030 is not going to make a measurable difference to climate change at all, but it is all about Ardern and Shaw looking good on the international stage.  

Yet the oil and gas exploration ban does absolutely nothing to contribute to that, at all.  

The wisdom of the US in enabling unconventional oil and gas exploration has disconnected it from being too concerned about oil and gas from Russia (and the Middle East).  

Germany too, with its Green Party Climate Change Minister advocating a natural gas national reserve and to keep coal fired power stations available for energy security, is learning the value of reliable supply. 

New Zealand, on the other hand...

08 March 2022

NZ's Russian sanctions a step forward, but it's far too constrained

The Russia Sanctions Bill is welcome, but one big questions has to be asked. 

Why only have sanctions that can be applied to Russia including those backing Russia (like Belarus)? Why can it not be generic to enable sanctions against any state that egregiously invades another that is either a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council or an ally of it? The People's Republic of China is the obvious example, but it is entirely possible that China or Russia might veto sanctions against the DPRK, or Iran, or Syria. 

Sure, it is complicating that the People's Republic of China has quite a free trade agreement with New Zealand, but is the Ardern Government that enamoured with the UN Security Council that it wont empower itself to impose sanctions at little notice in the event of a similarly attack elsewhere.

Is it not more powerful to have an autonomous sanctions bill that can be applied as required? 

Hopefully this legislation will get passed quickly and NZ can join the rest of the civilised world in sanctioning the Russian state, Russian politicians and businesses.  However, the entire performance over this shows how weak willed and morally unsure the Ardern Government is when facing real aggressive war, especially when it tries to show off how much it wants "disarmament" with Minister Twyford.

Nearly a year ago he made a speech about disarmament.  It's so utterly full of vapid platitudes that are almost sickening:

It would be comforting to think that, thanks to our rebelliousness in the 80s, and our relentless global advocacy ever since, nuclear weapons were no longer a threat to everything we hold dear.

Do you seriously think that NZ's anti-nuclear policy has had a remote impact at all on reducing the threats of nuclear war? 

How about this:

Youth are the ones whose futures are stolen by the countless billions of dollars spent on weapons every year that could be invested in health, education, and environmental protection if we had a more peaceful world.  

Well I think there are millions of youth in Ukraine who right now wish that much MORE was spent on their defence. Do serious people think defence spending occurs in a vacuum? Most of Europe has benign relations with war unthinkable, but that wasn't achieved by peace activism, it was achieved by having a continent of open free liberal democracies with mutual interests.

The rest of it is nice hippie like platitudes, but that is all. It's utterly without value, and offers nothing to confront those who regard human life as expendable. The value of peace is very little if you don't value freedom and the autonomy of people to be free from aggression.

and NZ does next to nothing to deter aggression, anywhere.