23 September 2022

Do the Greens really back the demands of #schoolstrike4climate?

So on Friday the #schoolstrike4climate was held, whereby a bunch of hysterical school children demand that a Government, which is literally obsessed with mitigating climate change (even though the impacts of its measures are infinitesimal), should do MORE, NOW!

I don't want to bother with critiquing a bunch of kids, backed by environmentalist/leftist teachers (and the poor quality teacher protectionist racket), demanding public policy changes without the faintest clue of the consequences, but I do care about the Green Party - the main future coalition partner of the Labour Party, agreeing to all of its demands.  The kids aren't to blame, because the kids are being used by politicians and their supporters, because of the assumption that they'll get entirely positive media coverage and not be subject to criticism because... well... kids being political is meant to be a GOOD thing (imagine if kids were organised to go on a protest for something the Greens opposed though...)


#schoolstrike4climate put out a press release, published on Scoop of their rambling demands: 

  • banning the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, 
  • halving the herd of cows
(Taxpayers should apparently be forced to "invest in a just transition" to compensate farmers for this)

Then there is this 

"agriculture isn’t the only thing we want to see changes in"  (I bet, you little meddlers)

 In the words of one of our organisers, Charlotte Hoffman: 

‘We need to start making big changes to transport, too. If the New Zealand Government is really serious about committing to a sustainable future, then they need to completely cut our transport emissions. Compared to other things, these changes are simple to make. Ban unnecessary air travel, invest in better public transport. If the Government wanted to, they would.’

So add:
  • Ban unnecessary air travel and
  • Invest in better public transport
So what of it?

The last demand is just silly, because this government is pouring unprecedented amounts of road user tax and general tax income into public transport. The latest National Land Transport Programme is spending $2.3 billion on public transport infrastructure, $2.6 billion on subsidising public transport services.  Sure it's NEVER enough for the kids, but this is the most benign of the demands.

The rest are absolutely destructive.
  • Synthetic fertilisers literally help sustain 3.5 billion people on the planet. This is a demand that will kill people. Without synthetic fertilisers food production would drop significantly, prices would rise, and although you can be sure the kids and the Greens wont suffer, it would mean hundreds of millions of people would starve, and billions would be undernourished.  Sure, if farmers can find alternatives good for them, let them do as they see fit, but let's remember New Zealand does NOT subsidise fertiliser (and hasn't done so since the late 1980s when the free-market liberal reforms the likes of the Greens opposed, got rid of agricultural subsidies).
  • Halving the dairy farm herd would cut the country's export earnings by around 5% and GDP by 1.5%. That's about a quarter of the education budget. This will make the country poorer, especially rural areas. Sure the kids want to "invest in a just transition" (spend more taxpayers' money on people not producing anything to compensate them for banning their business), but it's just more money coming from nowhere.  This would also put up dairy prices and modestly increase global food prices. For some reason the Greens think it is "just" for the world's least subsidised dairy sector to kneecap itself by half, but the Greens don't care very much about production of anything.  If dairy drops because it is no longer commercially viable, then that's one thing, but this is just a demand of destruction.
  • Banning "unnecessary" air travel is the real authoritarian scold streak coming out.  What's "unnecessary"? I am fairly sure foreigners taking a holiday in NZ is "unnecessary" so maybe kneecap international air travel (except, of course, for politicians going to climate change conferences). That's around $17.5 billion a year of revenue, which IS the total education budget.  Imagine the mentality that would want a law and a bureaucracy judging if your travel is "necessary".
So the Greens want an end to synthetic fertiliser, want to halve the dairy industry and stop you flying on holiday, or to go to a conference (except perhaps a Green approved one).

This will make people poorer, make them less free and will make next to no difference to the impacts of climate change, except by making them LESS able to respond to it, LESS able to afford to adapt.

The posh kids don't know or understand any of this, but the Green Party which uses them, which facilitates them as tools to advance its agenda should know better.  It's an agenda of misanthropy, of degrowth and authoritarianism.

What epitomised it was an interview on Newstalk ZB on Friday between Heather du-Plessis-Allan (HDPA) and Izzy Cook, one of the organisers of the #schoolstrike4climate.  She's under 18, so let's be clear here, she is being put forward to represent this movement, with the support of the Greens, environmentalist groups, some of her teachers and presumably her parents, but the kitchen of politics can get hot - and she has learnt a humiliating lesson is what being an adult, engaging in political debate, is all about.

The peak was HDPA asking how the ban on unnecessary flights would be implemented.  HDPA asked if it was ok if she flew to a conference, Cook said no, it should be done by video.  Then HDPA asked about travel, paraphrased as follows:

HDPA: I'm planning to fly to Fiji on holiday should I be allowed to do that?
IC: No, you shouldn't.
HDPA: When did you last fly anywhere?
IC: A few months ago
HDPA: Where did you go?
IC: Fiji...

I can't imagine how awful Izzy Cook is feeling after that, but she will be buttressed by adults who will call HDPA a "fascist" and play on Cook's youth as being a shield that should defend her from being cross examined on a political issue.

However, this is so profoundly dishonest and cruel.  The Greens want 16 and 17yos to have the vote, ostensibly because the decisions made in Parliament affect them too, and they can have jobs, pay taxes etc. Many of these arguments could go down to 12yos etc etc. but of course the Greens wouldn't want them to have votes if they didn't think they could harvest power from it.  Have no doubt, the Greens think that its brand of dishing out other people's money with no conditions and solving the world through banning "what's bad", making compulsory "what's good" and endlessly trotting out and abusing words like "fairness" and "sharing power", will bamboozle plenty of kids brought up in an education system that is tilted towards promoting their ideological view of the world.

Furthermore the utter intolerance of this ideological view is what the kids are brought up on.  Greta Thunberg's "How Dare You", is THE response to simply questioning the effectiveness and impact of poorly thought out extreme ideas about destroying parts of the economy.  The kids are taught themselves to humiliate those who disagree with them with hyperbole like "why do you want the planet to die?".  After all, they're being taught that extinction is coming, armageddon is near, and that the people getting in the way just want to  "make profits at their expense".  This simplistic binary, us (good) vs. them (bad) is what fuels this hysteria, and it is largely invented in the minds of Green activists.  

However they DON'T want the kids to be subject to the same scrutiny.  They want a mob of kids to be immune from criticism, advancing the policies THEY want.  Because it's a lot easier to risk one or two kids being cannon fodder to a critical journalist than to actually have James Shaw, Marama Davidson and the Green caucus confront voters with "you'll need a permit to book a flight somewhere".

The Greens are grooming a new generation of hypocritical climate scolds who want to destroy people's livelihoods, regulate how they live their lives and make food much much more expensive harming the poor.

So bear a moment of sympathy for Izzy Cook, she didn't expect to get scrutinised, to have her own personal hypocrisy highlighted on radio across the country, and she wasn't prepared. Nothing the activists who have groomed her mind prepared her for an alternative point of view, and the Green Party itself, eager to be a much more influential force on the next Government, used her and the other school kids to advance policies that, if subject to proper media scrutiny, would shrink the party's support close to the 5% threshold.

If you're going to advance political ideas that impose enormous costs on people, then you actually need to front up and propose them openly yourself James Shaw, Marama Davidson, Chloe Swarbrick et al.



20 September 2022

Which wannabe busybodies do you want on your council?

Academics, journalists and politicians bemoan every three years how little interest there is in the local body elections in New Zealand.  The narrative being that if more people voted, then local government would be "better" and people being more "engaged" would result in bette Councillors, better decisions, better cities, towns and districts.

It's utter nonsense. There's a reason why most people aren't engaged with local government, because by and large, the things it tends to do adequately are taken for granted (local roads, footpaths, rubbish collection), and people have busy lives getting on with making a living, looking after their families, their homes, and living their lives.  

Local government has little to do with many issues, such as healthcare, education, justice, policing, but it DOES have a lot to do with areas that are in crisis, such as:

  • Water, fresh, waste and storm.  You may not agree with the Three Waters prescription of the Ardern Government, but local government in most of the country has mismanaged water infrastructure for decades.  Why? Because local government is dominated by socialists who don't believe in user pays, don't believe in running ANYTHING like a business and don't get excited about infrastructure that is largely out of sight.  It's no wonder central government is, essentially, taking water off them.
  • Housing. Councils stop housing being built, whether low, medium or high density. When it gets approved, it adds costs to that approval, because it is dominated by central planning types who think they know what's best for other people's land.  Councillors think they "build communities", when in fact it is they, facilitated by the Resource Management Act, that mean housing is scarcer and more expensive than it should be.  Central Government may have been monetarily incontinent, but the clot on housing supply lies squarely with local government.
  • Supermarket competition. Councils stop supermarkets being built. Again they are dominated by socialists who think supermarkets are awfully vulgar places where big companies serve common people who dreadfully arrive by car.  As with housing, Councils use the Resource Management Act to constrain supply and even listen to incumbent supermarkets that don't want competition, facilitating higher grocery prices for everyone.

Local government also attracts a particular type of person.  More often than not it attracts busybodies, planners, pushy finger-wagging types who think they know what's best, over what people actually indicate according to their willingness to pay. It particularly attracts socialists who see local government as a stepping stone to central government for Labour and Green Party members.  They all have a set of principles and views in common, being:

  • Rates should go up, beyond inflation, because Councils can always spend your money better than you can.
  • Economic development occurs because Councils write plans and set up bureaucracies to enable it, not because people choose to set up businesses in their districts
  • Councils should prioritise fighting climate change, because if they don't, then the consequences will be catastrophic
  • Recycling of as much as possible is a good thing, regardless of cost and regardless of whether the collected recycling actually gets used
  • Driving is a malign, public transport is good, cycling is divine, freight doesn't exist or isn't important
Take Auckland's leftwing contender for Mayor, Efeso Collins, who is promising to make public transport fully subsidised ("free" in socialist marketing parlance). Who is going to pay? Blank out.  What's the impact going to be?  Well if it is anything following the experience of Tallinn, Estonia, it wont be much (as it barely reduced car traffic, but cost a lot of money and significantly reduced the amount of walking).

However, look at the other side, the so-called "rightwing" Wayne Brown, who wants to move the Port of Auckland.  The Port of Auckland should be privatised, but no, Mr Brown knows best how to use the land and doesn't care about the location of New Zealand's number one import port. 

Look at Wellington where the choice is between the former NZ First aligned encumbent Andy Foster (who has been on Council 20 or so years), the existing Labour MP for Rongotai Paul Eagle (who was once a Councillor, but whom Labour isn't willing to rank on its party list, so little do they think of him) and the hard-left former Green Party chief of staff and spin merchant Tory Whanau. Do you want encumbent, a bit left or far left leading Wellington?  As Karl du Fresne pointed out, in reference to GWRC Councillor Thomas Nash, some of these people are "troughers", who think that the city and the world would be a better place if only there were more and more central planning, more taxes to spend on grand plans, more regulation of people and businesses doing what's "wrong", and endlessly bigger local government. 

So vote if you must, but the real problem is that local government has too much power.  It has stuffed up water, the only unreformed network utility (except in Auckland).  Local government used to manage local electricity distribution, but that was taken off it in the 1990s.  At one time it was responsible for milk distribution, which is why until the late 1980s buying milk OTHER than by kerbside bottles was unusual, and indeed there was no plastic or cartoned milk.

So pick candidates who want to get out of the way, of new housing, of new supermarkets, of enterprise and don't want to promise grand totemic projects that you have to pay for.  Don't pick those who think that local government can "do so much good" by spending your money and pushing people around.  Maybe pick those who actually have some understanding of the limits of the ability of local government.

If you get to ask them any questions then ask them this....
  1. How much do you want me to pay for (insert expensive promise)?
  2. Given how poorly Councils have performed in delivering water infrastructure why do you think it is competent in delivering (insert expensive promise)?
  3. Why wont people pay voluntarily for (insert expensive promise)?  
  4. Do you think Council has hindered the supply of housing and if so, what will you do about it? (if the answer is no, then, if you're in a major city, you know you're talking to an idiot). 
  5. What do you think Council is not good at and shouldn't be involved in?
  6. What have you learned from your own life and career that causes you are able to make a judgment on how to spend other people's money and regulate use of their land and businesses?
  7. Do you think your Council should have members on it that are not elected but appointed by local Iwi, because this is the "new democracy"?
As a footnote, the Taxpayers' Union has launched a guide on which it asks a bunch of useful questions of candidates, only some of whom have responded.  It infuriatingly asks for your postcode (who knows that?) to find a council name, not just the council names. However, some pertinent questions on rates, spending and curiously discouraging car use are answered, so make of that as you will.  I'm no fan of Three Waters as a solution, but the status quo in MOST districts is not good either, so make of that what you will either.

The Free Speech Union also has a guide to candidates which is more accessible. It asks various free speech questions and you may be surprised on its stance (it IS libertarian), on matters like transgenderism, abortion and drag-queen story time.  

Much more well publicised in the media has been FACT Aotearoa, which publishes its own list of candidates that it claims promote conspiracy theories and misinformation, again make of that as you will. 

Other lobby groups have their own perspectives,  I find them all mildly useful, if only because it can flag people having opinions I both like and don't like, and it may not be the view expressed by the lobby group. 

However, I'm largely quite pessimistic. People wildly enthusiastic about local government are generally the opposite of people I want in local government, because local government attracts far too many meddlers, regulators and planners.  

Try to pick the least worst and hope for the best, at least until there is a central government that keeps them on the leash.  You'll have to make some compromises.

When I get my voting forms, I might do a review of the candidates where I'm voting, and I might do a splattergun of identifying those who I have found who are good sorts and worth a tick, and those you should run a mile from..

17 September 2022

Gorbachev dies, the Queen dies

I'm no monarchist, but I appreciate that Queen Elizabeth II was handed quite a job, to preside over the dismantling of the British Empire, to reconcile with the new Commonwealth and to be the symbol of the United Kingdom as it, and its former Empire transform itself.  I have little time for the vulgarians who wish to damn her as some sort of party to crimes against humanity, but equally I find the entire British Royal Family almost endlessly tedious. These are very ordinary people, of average intelligence, ability and below average achievement. It is perhaps because of this that they remain primarily because the people of Britain at the same time are rather fond of having a Head of State that is essentially benign, and because they can't be arsed to get rid of it (and look on at horror at the idea of it being someone who actually WANTS the job).

Because let's be clear, Queen Elizabeth II did the job because she felt a duty to do it, it seems unlikely that even Charles III and William really WANT to be Head of State. In many ways that's much more preferable to those who want power.

I'd be supportive of a republic, if it could guarantee a Head of State that exercised next to no power, that could guarantee a Constitution that would protect the right of the individual to control his or her body, property and life, subject only to respecting the same rights in others, and a state that did not violate those rights. Sadly I fear that many (notwithstanding Lewis Holden), wanting a republic want one that would guarantee the political future they want, and for that, I'd prefer the status quo thank you...

Mikhail Gorbachev didn't pursue a political career advancing the supremacy of the human individual, but rather a vision of Marxism-Leninism with glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). He thought he could reform a system of central command and control, by allowing people to criticise what was wrong, and through freedom enable people to centrally plan an economy and society based on the competition of ideas of how best to centrally plan. What he didn't figure was that freedom and central planning are fundamentally incompatible.

Critics of Gorbachev come from two sides. Russian nationalists criticise him for breaking up the USSR and the Soviet empire, but they are simply rebranded totalitarians that have succeeded the Communist Party old guard.  Libertarians who criticise him for being a commie miss the point, his mistake was to think the system he had spent his life defending and advancing was reformable. The tyrants in Beijing will say you can, if you let capitalism flourish under a jackboot of zero political freedom. Gorbachev did it the other way round, he let freedom emerge before setting capitalism free, but he also faced a country that had had 70 years of trauma of Marxism-Leninism (China had had 30) and had little tradition of trading and entrepreneurship (nor enough of a diaspora to support it).

Gorbachev was the great Russian anti-imperialist, because he decided that the Red Army would NOT stop the people of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria and the German Democratic Republic rising up against their putrid, jackbooted, sclerotic regimes. The "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" (Berlin Wall) was to be no more because feeble little excrescences like Erich Honecker were dependent on Moscow to do their dirty work. Most of the eastern half of Europe became free because Gorbachev let Stalin's satellite countries go. Even Romania, which had notably no Red Army presence, would turn against perhaps* the most despicable of eastern Europe's dictators - the Ceausescus.  

He tried to hang onto the USSR, and briefly used force to keep the Baltic States within Moscow's grasp, but it didn't last. Ultimately the system and philosophy that put the USSR at odds with the Western allies brought it down, because it didn't deliver a standard of living remotely commensurate with the west and because inherent to the system was evasion of reality. It was built on lying, because freedom of expression weakened a system that not only didn't deliver on what it promised, but which was so fundamentally antithetical to humanity, that it couldn't stand up to criticism or any inference of error on behalf of the single authority that led it - the Party.

Beyond the USSR (most of which reverted to totalitarianism and authoritarianism after independence, especially in Central Asia, but also in the Caucasus and Belarus), Gorbachev oversaw the end of the Cold War, as it became clear that neither side wanted to invade the other. The collapse of the risk of communism was a prime reason why the National Party of South Africa started to dismantle apartheid, legalise the ANC and hold a referendum on apartheid, before ultimately allowing South Africa to become a full-fledged liberal democracy. Peace talks between Israel and, ultimately, the PLO arose because the collapse of the USSR effectively forced the Palestinians to seek concessions, and resulted in Israel withdrawing from Gaza and permitting Palestinian self-governance, as fraught as that has been.  Dictatorships across Africa fell to liberal democracy, as flawed as many were, with some political plurality that had never been tolerated when Moscow was the paymaster. Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Tanzania among others, and on the other side of the ledger, it saw the West totally abandon the likes of Mobutu.

Ending the Cold War, and the 40 years of the risk of global thermonuclear conflict, because Gorbachev not only knew he could not compete with the West militarily or economically, and he wanted his people to have a better life, was no small achievement. It is perhaps difficult for current generations to grasp what it was like growing up with the fear generated that, at some point, the nuclear deterrent would not work.

but it did, Gorbachev backed down and to this day almost all of Europe is now free. Much more freedom and liberal democracy exists in the world because of what he did and didn't do, than otherwise. He brought to an end one of history's most despotic, destructive, murderous and imperialist regimes, that itself spawned multiple mini-versions of itself. We also shouldn't forget those who shilled for that regime.

Sure, Putin's Russia is also despotic, murderous and imperialist, but Gorbachev took the jackboots out of eastern Europe. Millions of people are safer, healthier, wealthier and happier as a result.

For all of the pomp and circumstance around remembering Queen Elizabeth II, it is Gorbachev I would give the pomp for, because he was the great liberator.

* Enver Hoxha is the rival for Europe's worst post-war tyrant.

24 August 2022

Supermarket competition - the morons are trying to fix a problem their friends create

I'm fairly convinced that the Cabinet of the Ardern Government is dominated by complete morons when it comes to economics.  It is akin to a selection of the candidates that Jim Anderton's New Labour Party/Alliance put forward in the 1990s, a team of well-meaning, earnest, but limited people who had supreme confidence in their ability to play the public and businesses as pieces on a chessboard, without much of a clue as to unintended consequences.  The key being they "mean-well", they think they are doing good for "ordinary" people (for they are not far removed from being ordinary themselves), by their wielding of heavy handed control over businesses and people who put their money and time on the line to be productive.

The announcement that the two dominant supermarket chains will have to provide access to their wholesale supplies is exactly of that ilk. To those who don't invest their own money or are directly responsible for investing other people's money (in that they lose money if they fail), this seems like a great idea to enable new supermarkets to be able to access supply chains, but it smacks of naive student politicians who have no sense of the consequences of their clunking fist.

The barriers to competition in supermarkets are not in accessing groceries from suppliers, but in obtaining sites where supermarkets could be built and resource consent to actually build them.  However, the ideological allies of the Ardern Government, in the form of the majority of local politicians across the country, have done all they could to make this difficult.

The Resource Management Act has enabled the supermarket duopoly by empowering local government to not enable zoning of more supermarket sites, and to require local government to pay regard to the supermarket duopoly when any business wants to build another supermarket.

It's got so silly that in Havelock North, with a new New World supermarket being built to replace the existing one on a constrained site, that Hastings District Council thinks it is optimum value for the community to buy the old supermarket so that it can demolish it and expand the local car park.  This is ridiculous.  Hastings ratepayers shouldn't be destroying a supermarket building so that a surface car park can be expanded, it should be up to investors to decide whether another supermarket might be opened, or a different large retail outlet.

Dr Eric Crampton of the New Zealand Initiative amply described the restrictions that well-meaning, earnest, but limited people with supreme confidence in their abilities impose on supermarket development in local government:

very little land is zoned for larger footprint grocery. And land with the right zoning is often tied up by restrictive land covenants forbidding their use in grocery retail...

If the would-be entrant managed to find the right set of sites, there’s another problem. Council consenting can take anywhere from months to years – or even a decade in some cases. And councils too often decide that a new retailer should be blocked if it would hurt the amenity provided by other retail centres

Then there is the Overseas Investment Office, applying its xenophobic approach to investment from foreign supermarket chains, with the full consent of the Ardern Government, along with liquor licensing laws (which are highly restrictive, and still absurdly prohibit sales of spirits in supermarkets). 

Instead of liberalising foreign investment rules on supermarkets, liberalising liquor licensing for supermarkets and forcing local government to remove barriers to building supermarkets, the morons have decided to take the approach that any anti-capitalist, socialist student politician would prefer - forcing supermarkets (retail outlets) to WHOLESALE the goods they buy from other wholesalers and suppliers, to rivals.

How would that work? (The morons in Cabinet would just assume some public servants can work that out, because they are clever people, like them)

Where on the planet do ANY supermarkets acquire their goods from their rivals on any meaningful scale? (Aotearoa's "special" so don't ask such a ridiculous question)

What incentives are there on an encumbent to not provide goods near expiry, or not supply only the goods that sell the worst to rivals? (Oh more public servants can fix that right?)

What's the deadweight cost of employing an army of inspectors to check whether each supermarket is appropriately supplying the right goods at the right price and quality to rivals? (JOBS JOBS JOBS.. with a fair pay agreement underlying them, WHY DO YOU NOT WANT WELL PAID JOBS THAT HELP THE POOR?)

Who is going to pay for the cost of administration of supermarkets wholesaling goods to rivals and who is going to pay for the regulators? (You, but you'll be grateful for how much less you're paying, eventually).

It's mind numbingly stupid. If you think the Greens are the dominant provider of stupid hard-left economics, then don't worry, they wholesale ideas to Labour, and Labour is now Labour of old. 

Labour that absolutely disowns the lessons it learned in 1984-1990, that even disowns how much Labour of 1999-2008 was aware that it couldn't turn its back on those lessons.

We can only hope that National WILL disown 1975-1984, because Jacinda Muldoon and her Cabinet of Muldoons are hell bent on policies driven by short-term populism and an overinflated sense of their own ability to change the world to fit what they want.


04 August 2022

What does the future of co-governance look like?

Power without being elected

With the impending passage of the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill, New Zealand will have taken a giant leap in the direction of reducing democracy in local government. It's important to be very clear about what this means:

  1. Ngai Tahu will appoint two members of the Canterbury Regional Council (known as Environment Canterbury), they will sit alongside and have identical powers to elected members
  2. Ngai Tahu members will be selected by Ngai Tahu by whatever means Ngai Tahu deems appropriate
  3. Those councillors will have full powers to vote on spending, on taxes (rates), on buying and selling assets and on bylaws.
  4. No electors in Canterbury region will be able to remove Ngai Tahu representatives (except of course, those with authority in Ngai Tahu), includes those affiliated with Ngai Tahu who do not have influence with the iwi.
It's very important to recognise what government, including local government actually is. 

Government is an institution with the monopoly of legalised use of initiated force against people and their property, and it devolves some of that power to local government. 

Environment Canterbury has such powers, powers to forcibly take money in the form of rates and to levy the public for services, it has powers to make bylaws and has powers to constrain the use of property. 

In a liberal democracy the constraints on that power come in two forms:
  • Legislative constraints (as local government is constrained by legislation and regulation);
  • Local democracy (the ability to vote out and replace Councillors who exercise these powers).
Parliament has chosen to weaken the ability of Canterbury electors to do the latter.  The key element in a free liberal democracy is more the ability to peacefully remove people from power than to select those that exercise power, but this legislation removes the right of Canterbury electors to remove two councillors.  Indeed, those councillors are only accountable to those with power in Ngai Tahu, not electors at large.

This is literal corporatism, in which a corporate private entity exercises direct political power, with there being no effective means of removing them (except of course if Parliament changes the law to abolish their position).

Bear in mind there is nothing stopping Ngai Tahu proposing candidates for election now, or funding and supporting the campaign of candidates it approves of, but it doesn't believe that would be successful.  

Bear in mind also that members of Ngai Tahu who are Canterbury electors retain the power to vote for Councillors, they have that power now, but they will also have some influence (it could be a lot or it could be negligible) in the selection of unelected councillors.  Members of Ngai Tahu who are Canterbury electors get two chances at selecting councillors.

Some may say sure but non-resident ratepayers get a vote too. Yes they do, but it is a vote and if they were residents as well, there would still only be one vote. There are sound arguments either way about non-resident ratepayer voting rights, but that is a separate issue.  Note that there are plenty of people affiliated to Ngai Tahu who are not electors in Canterbury too.

Where next?

There are  other examples that have parallels to Canterbury.  The Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill, would have generated higher Maori representation on that Council than their proportion of the population.  David Farrar ably demonstrated how unjust that would have been, as each Maori ward councillor would have represented far fewer people than a non-Maori ward councillor.  The Bill was dropped  in part because the Bill of Rights assessment said Maori wards would have disproportionately higher representation. 

Wellington City Council took it upon itself to include two mana whenua representatives on Council Committees (not full Council). One each from Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika and Ngāti Toa Rangatira sit on all Council Committee with FULL voting rights. It justified the idea as contributing towards decision making, but this is frankly absurd.  Having voting rights for unelected councillors (which is effectively what it is) is more than "contributing" it is exercising power.  The representatives also get reimbursed by ratepayers, "by paying each iwi an annual fee, equivalent to the remuneration of a full time elected member, which is currently $111,225".  So ratepayers get to pay for representatives they cannot vote for or against, that exercise power over them.  6 Councillors voted against this nonsense, namely Mayor Foster, Councillor Calvert, Councillor Rush, Councillor Sparrow, Councillor Woolf, and Councillor Young. However, the majority prevailed (Councillor Condie, Councillor Day, Councillor Fitzsimons, Councillor Foon, Councillor Matthews, Councillor O'Neill, Councillor Pannett, and Councillor Paul).

Noting this already happens for Rotorua Lakes District Council, it has iwi representatives with voting rights on Council Committees.

What would need legislation is to enable full Councillors to be appointed by iwi rather than be elected by electors. 

It seems highly likely that the Labour Government, with full support from the Greens and Te Pati Maori, would endorse local government having appointed (not elected) City, District and Regional Councillors, with the rights to vote on your rates, bylaws, spending, sale and purchase of assets and planning rules.

Let's be clear this is NOT the same as Maori wards. In principle, if a Council wants those on the Maori electoral roll to have Maori ward councillors, as it is for Parliament, it does not undermine democratic accountability. Maori electors shifting from general wards to Maori wards changes their representation, but they are still elected and accountable to electors.

Having iwi choose representatives is the same as having any large private interest choose representatives on Council. Councils exist to provide certain public goods and services, but also to regulate activity including planning activity.  Iwi themselves have substantial commercial and property interests.  Consider if Councillors (as some do) have large property or business interests in a district, they are at least accountable to electors, but the iwi representatives are not.  

So could Labour, the Greens and Te Pati Maori require all Councils to have unelected Mana Whenua councillors? Of course.... but could it go beyond that?

Iwi selected MPs?

Te Pati Maori Co-Leader Rawiri Waititi has already expressed his contempt for democracy as being the tyranny of the majority. Now I SHARE this concern, which is why I want the power of government limited, but I don't share his objectives or solution, or his perception of the problem. He wants a separate Maori Parliament which would decide on matters for Maori, although does not explain how that would work in practice.  

Applying the principles of the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill to Parliament would mean that all iwi would be able to appoint MPs to Parliament (perhaps with some proportionality? or perhaps each being equal?) to have the same voting rights as elected MPs (which Maori would continue to be able to vote for).  

That would make Aotearoa/New Zealand far from being a liberal democracy, as Parliament would be dominated by entities that themselves determine how to select people to exercise legislative power over people and their property. 

This isn't about race, this is about the exercise of powers of coercion and the primary means of constraining that, which is the ability of the subjects of that coercion to exercise a vote to change those exercising that power.

If Iwi Representation were required to enlist electors that are iwi affiliated, removing them from being able to vote for other Councillors (and indeed with numbers of Iwi Representatives proportionate to population of iwi affiliated electors), it would be completely different. It would simply be redesigning Maori wards to fit that model. The same in Parliament. 

If Maori seats were simply redesigned to be selected by Maori voters voting for representatives by iwi (and then there being some system to elect the appropriate representatives across multiple smaller iwi), it would also not be a problematic in applying liberal democracy.  However, if some MPs were just appointed, it would be undemocratic. 

Consider that Myanmar adopts this model, except it is the army that appoints MPs. 

Why do this?

Supporters of the legislation see it as implementing the Treaty of Waitangi, under the interpretation that the Treaty is not just about granting sovereignty over taonga and governorship to the Crown, but about a power-sharing relationship between the Crown and iwi (an interpretation that was largely confined to academic and radical political circles until the 2000s). 

If the Crown, represented by the liberal democracy of the New Zealand Parliament were separate and excluded Maori (as repulsive and Rhodesia like that would be) then this interpretation may have merit. Yet it does not exclude Maori, Maori have the same voting rights as everyone else, and both Maori and non-Maori vote for MPs who are Maori (and non-Maori).  In other words, Maori are represented in Parliament, their views are heard, and communicated by the MPs they elect, both from the Maori roll and the General roll. They are equal in their exercise of power to everyone else. 

Beyond that, consultation and engagement over public policy is extensive and is entirely within the role of a liberal democracy and for consultation with iwi to be treated as being part of implementing the Treaty.  Consulting Mana Whenua is entirely right and correct for local and central government, but when it comes to choosing who gets to exercise the monopoly of the use of legitimised force - through government- it should NOT be determined by unelected people.

For better or for worse, every single MP in Parliament, and up till now, every single Councillor in regional councils, territorial authorities and unitary authorities (et al) have their authority through public endorsement at the ballot box. The worst form of government every devised, except for all of the others tried throughout history, as Churchill was purported to have said.

Sure, I think most central and local politicians are utterly hopeless at defending the rights and freedoms of the public and private property rights, but their power is constrained by the ability of sufficiently outraged electors to throw them out of office.

Unelected politicians do not have such constraints. Be suspicious of anyone who is appointed to exercise legislative and tax raising powers.  

Environment Canterbury disgraces itself by actively seeking to weaken the power of its elected Councillors in this way, and Labour, the Greens and Te Pati Maori have all shown themselves to be parties in enabling this to come to pass. Imagine if Federated Farmers had appointed representatives on rural councils, or Chambers of Commerce on urban councils etc. 

Any future government should explicitly prohibit any local authority from appointing anyone to have voting rights in Councils or Council Committees without having been elected in local body elections, at a bare minimum.  

What's the alternative?

The role of liberal democracy in New Zealand needs to be able to be debated without the kneejerk reaction of "racist" from unreconstructed leftists and ethno-nationalists who want to shut down debate using pejoratives. 

Those who think mana whenua do not have a role in being consulted on local and central government matters are not helpful, because if the Treaty is to work in the context of a liberal democracy, then engagement and consultation is essential. However, mana whenua should not expect to exercise direct political power to erode or undermine the wishes of directly elected representatives of all electors in New Zealand (especially since they too get to choose those representatives).

Those on the radical left who think this is "white supremacy" and "neo-colonialism" ought to put up their models for a form of government, and have them subjected to scrutiny as to whether or not they can protect the rights of all individuals from unbridled power and the corruption of power which is much more likely under systems of those appointing people with power.  After all, the UK retains the House of Lords, with appointed politicians, who scrutinise and delay legislation (although they cannot stop it), as a hangover from a very much class supremacist view of government.  New Zealand should not replicate this sort of political structure.

After all, liberal democracy is now the dominant form of government in most of Asia, Africa and the Americas, and frankly it is only autocracies like the People's Republic of China, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkmenistan that question the validity of governments that are constrained by secret ballots and the essential, concurrent freedom of speech and the press. 

Have mana whenua consulted, include them on informal committees and boards used to advise Councils and Government.  Government and Councils can also include them in co-governance of assets or systems if they wish - the whole debate on Three Waters co-governance is entirely legitimate (sure I don't agree with the proposal, but everything local government does is entirely at the behest of Parliament, which grants local government its power, it is still fundamentally accountable to electors).

The co-governance of Urewera National Park and the Waikato River are enshrined in Treaty settlements, and there is no conflict between any of this and a liberal democracy, because elected MPs agreed to it.  

In liberal democracy power IS shared, between representatives by geography and representatives by political ideology and philosophy, and when enough electors tire of one lot, they replace them with a new bunch. Does it achieve much? Often it doesn't, but it does achieve one thing - it means that all of them fear causing so much disenchantment that they lose government or worse of all, lose their seat in power.  Ngai Tahu and all Iwi ought to value that, and ought not to be immune from it.

UPDATE: So Tamati Coffey is inviting other iwi to consider "this path" to better representation.  He introduced the Rotorua rorting local elections District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill, so he's showing his colours around corporatist government. Maybe it would be better if the former TV presenter simply abandoned representative democracy altogether if he doesn't believe in it?

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:

https://www.parliament.nz/en/ECommitteeSubmission/53SCMA_SCF_BILL_121327/CreateSubmission 

or here:

https://www.protectyourvote.nz/

now.

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.

Why?

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.

 

 

07 March 2022

New Zealand's foreign policy signals virtually no virtue

The war on Ukraine and more specifically the war on Ukrainian people is heart-breaking, revolting and has rightfully appalled most governments around the world. The response of many countries have been wide ranging sanctions. The Financial Times summarises many of them imposed by the US, UK, EU and other Western countries like Canada and Japan including:

  • Travel bans and asset freezes for Russian and Belarus politicians and officials
  • Bans and sanctions on banks, including prohibitions on trading and borrowing by financial institutions
  • Bans on Russian companies raising finance and bans on trading with major Russian companies
  • Restrictions on technology exports, including aerospace and telecommunications 

Australia has imposed its own series of autonomous sanctions, including banning exports of oil exploration technologies, prohibiting financial institutions from providing credit or loans to Russian financial institutions, military or petroleum companies. 

Even scrupulously neutral Switzerland has imposed asset freezes on certain Russian individuals. 

How about New Zealand? The Wall Street Journal has highlighted it for shame.

Well it has done the following

  • a travel ban on Russian officials "involved with the invasion" (even though none could ever travel to New Zealand under current rules that prohibit entry to NZ for non-permanent residents/citizens without specific visas)
  • Prohibit exports to Russian military and security forces
  • Suspended bilateral foreign ministry consultations.

It's literally pathetic. Now the Government has since announced it will be looking to pass legislation to go further, but given NZ's foreign policy is awash with virtue signalling, this looks very much like very little virtue at all.  The constant declaring of what they might be thinking of doing is par for the course for this government led by someone who wants global acclaim.

Look at two of NZ's virtue signalling foreign policies:

  • Anti-nuclear policy: This has achieved absolutely nothing to enhance the peace and security of NZ or anywhere else in the world. However, it is the height of virtue signalling against the US, UK and France.
  • Climate change policy: NZ's contribution towards reducing climate change has infinitesimal impacts, but the Ardern Government wants to be "leading" global commitments to reduce climate change, regardless of the economic cost. It's a showcase designed to encourage others to go further, rather than to simply follow in concert with NZ's major trading partners, but in actual impacts it is almost "net zero".

Yet when a nuclear-powered sovereign state attacks another sovereign state, NZ is found wanting. Of course the Government rejected Gerry Brownlee's bill for multiple reasons.  Minter Ellison Rudd Watts gives various reasons for it being rejected.  

It concluded that "it is likely that the specific regime proposed would have achieved little more than political signalling (and some counter-productive signalling at that)". Yet that has been at the forefront of so much foreign policy to date.  The "counter-productive signalling" is being able to act outside multilateral organisations, but this is exactly what the problem is today. A Permanent Member of the UN Security Council is waging war, and multilateralism wont address this, as much as well-meaning NZ lawyers might think this is "counter-productive" they aren't likely to be victims of war waged by Russia, or indeed China. (Note the lawyers call Ukraine "the Ukraine", unfortunately). 

However the lawyers mainly opposed it because "if passed, the Bill would certainly have further complicated the regulatory compliance obligations of New Zealand exporters, importers and trade facilitators".  Do they seriously think Ministers would impose sanctions in some manner that doesn't take into account the impacts on those trading and investing in sanctioned countries? How is this remotely different to NZ having to impose sanctions mandated by UN Security Council Resolutions?

I'm not going to say Brownlee's Bill was perfect, but its timing deserved more attention. It certainly shouldn't have been rejected because moral equivocating Marxists like Teanau Tuiono think it might create "further risk of politicisation of sanctions rather than fairness and equity" (code for sanctions on regimes he quite likes). 

Now NZ sanctioning Russia would largely be symbolic, but it is also about plugging gaps in the global financial and trading system.  The New Zealand Dollar is apparently the tenth most traded currency in the world, so NZ does actually need to plug the risk that it will be used to subvert sanctions from other jurisdictions.  Fonterra has already announced it is suspending exports to Russia. 

Russia takes 0.49% of NZ's exports by value (27th place), slightly less than Egypt. Whereas about 0.97% of NZ's imports come from Russia (19th place), with NZ being a net importer from Russia. The main export is dairy products, the main import is oil products. 

There is no good reason to hesitate. If Switzerland... SWITZERLAND... which until recently refused to join the United Nations in order to remain neutral, can impose sanctions quickly, so can New Zealand.  

To say it can't do it quickly is of course a nonsense. The Ardern Government has demonstrated that when it sees urgency, it gets legislation drafted and passed under extraordinary urgency when it wants, and did so for Covid 19. It could get legislation drafted and passed in the coming week if it wanted to.

The difference is that the Ardern Government didn't plan to have to deal with actual war, war that shows the limits of the United Nations, war that was predicted for weeks in advance.  

It really does need to join the rest of the world, and quickly.