We should be the change we want to see

In many ways, the Green party is ahead of the curve politically, voluntarily doing things that we advocate changing the political system to make normal- from ensuring fair representation for women to determining candidates by open vote, usually we’re pretty good at being the change we believe in. But that’s not the case everywhere- I think I/S has a point when he said today that if we support transparency, we should be transparent ourselves. It wouldn’t be terribly hard to at least announce we’re putting something in the works to publicly release our own MPs’ travel costs, and we have good records here even though as a small party composed of entirely list MPs we’re subject to a lot of travel costs to consult with constituents scattered across the nation.

Abiding by our own policies ahead of time shifts the debate and shows people we’re not just “too radical”, (not that telling taxpayers how we spend their money deserves to be labelled as radical in any way- it’s merely a topic MPs try to stay quiet on so they don’t have to do it) we’re actually practical and we can implement our own policies without trouble. So long as individual MPs have no independent checks, public disclosures, or even the slightest disincentive to claim taxpayer money for private travel, there will be frivolous use. We already set a standard for meaningful communication with the public as a party, so why not complete that with release of expenditures? There’s a good case to be made here for campaign expenditures too: by revealing our expenditures and notifying our medium to large donors that their names will be published during electoral campaigns, we could influence the debate significantly, especially if we press release the information on a slow news day.

One person, one vote

Kerry Prendergast is crying foul over a potential upset win for her main opponent, Celia Wade-Brown. What’s her problem with the election? Let’s put it in her own words:

“For me, [STV]’s not democratic,” Ms Prendergast said. “As they drop off, if you support one of the losing candidates, you get a second vote, whereas my supporters only got one vote.”

Ms Prendergast has failed basic reading comprehension. STV stands for Single Transferable Vote. Nobody gets a “second vote”. What they do get, however, is the chance to switch their vote to a new candidate every time their current favourite is eliminated during the instant runoff, and none of these votes count twice. They only transfer if your most preferred candidate is eliminated from the race. If people voted for other candidates but put Kerry further up their list than Celia, Kerry also benefited from STV. She’s trying to spin it that she should win because she has more first-preference votes than Celia, ignoring the entire point of the voting system that Wellingtonians chose to elect their mayor and councilors.

She seems to think that she was somehow cheated by the fact that she was the only strongly right-wing candidate. There’s no inherent booster effect for candidates in STV- it’s possible for candidates to either hurt or help other similar candidates, depending on whether they’re expanding a shared voting bloc, or merely cannibalising the first preference vote. Being able to pass your vote on to a lower preference is in no way making your vote any more effective than a vote that stays locked on its first preference. It just gives you a chance to express your true preferences while still supporting a candidate that you’d settle for over one you really dislike.

This is far more democratic in principle than FPP is, and Wellingtonians were wise to choose to retain STV when the voting system was put up to referendum earlier, but because Kerry is showing herself to be a sore loser, we’re likely to see another voting system review in the coming years, despite voting to retain our improved system. Don’t get me wrong, STV is far from perfect, and it’s not how I’d choose to do a vote if I got to pick a system myself, but it’s a very big improvement over FPP.

update: Since I’ve posted this news has surfaced that Celia won on the specials. Congratulations Wellington! πŸ™‚


David Farrar over at Kiwiblog has replied on the subject of unbalanced supercity wards, accusing critics of simply having a go at Rodney Hide. I shall oblige and leave the minister of local government out of this, and instead focus on the undemocratic shambles that this new supercity plan is building.

Farrar claims that the grossly disproportionate wards are okay, as we need to be able to make exceptions for some cases for rural areas. I actually agree- my issue is not with the fact that there is a ward with a greater than 10% difference from the average of the Supercity. My issue is that eight of the twelve proposed wards (or twelve of the twenty counselors) are within the unacceptable range. By definition, two thirds of a group cannot all be exceptional cases. Even if this arrangement benefited the left, it would clearly be wrong and necessitate urgent reform. It’s not about who’s winning. It’s about the principle that elections ought to be fair, and votes ought to be as equitable as possible for people living in different areas.

With relatively little deviation from areas of interest, it should be possible to smooth out the differences between the wards much more, and allow the two wards Farrar mentions to be truly exceptional outliers that barely graze that 10% margin, instead of crushing it at 24% and 17% deviations. A 24% outlier can’t even be called an exceptional case- it’s the kind of statistic that smells of gerrymandering. Let’s preserve geographic and social boundaries without making a joke out of local elections, shall we?

To Republic or not to Republic

Keith Locke’s Head of State (Referenda) Bill was drawn from the ballot for members bills today. (Press release is here) The Bill is a simple minimalist approach to setting up a republic which sets up a referendum on whether to rename the Governor General to President, and if so, whether to directly or indirectly elect the President. It also clarifies that the Treaty of Waitangi remains in force.

Republican support has been steadily growing recently, and as I recall the last poll on the matter had about 40% support for a republic. It’s possible that this bill could actually succeed in constitutional reform if it passes.

While I don’t see any justification for National to vote against the bill given their stance on an MMP referendum, I’m not expecting any support from either National or Labour just yet. It will be interesting to see what happens here, and I don’t really think that voting to set up a referendum can hurt any political party. Of course, that’s not stopped them from being incredibly cautious on this issue before.

I live in Wellington, and so do you.

Bill English is still protesting loudly that because he’s only claiming as much as a backbencher for living somewhere he doesn’t actually live, we cannot expect any more from him. He’s simply and demonstrably wrong.

While I have no issue with him identifying Dipton as his home, (I still feel that way about London to a degree, and I haven’t lived there in over a decade) it is plainly not where he is actually living. Accomodation allowances are designed to offset the costs of MPs who have no residence in Wellington, and would have to rent one.

If Bill English wants the pressure to come off, he should admit he lives in Wellington, and was never entitled to take the allowance in the first place, stop taking the backbencher-level accommodation supplement, and repay the rest of the money he wrongly claimed. If he’d do that, I’d willingly forgive him the lies, the obfuscation, and the blatant attempts to disguise his living arrangements because he made the situation right and made clear that MPs are only entitled to additional pay when they face additional difficulties in serving the country. I’d even defend that he had no need to step down from anything, if he did it very quickly- as far as I’m concerned he’s probably procrastinated more than he has rights to if he expects people to believe he did not intend to rort the taxpayer, but just because I dislike him doesn’t mean I fancy the idea of anyone else in his party trying to be finance minister. (and presumably failing even worse)

Being an MP is not a career. Every term you are re-elected, and it is a privilege every time, as it entitles you to do a great service for the country. MPs do not need competitive pay with the private sector, they need pay that takes into account the stress and expenses of being an MP, and their current remuneration is perfectly adequate, many would say without all the allowances we add on.

This is the disconnect: Bill thinks he’s entitled to the allowance because it is legal for him to take it, and it is legal to take it because MPs like him have set the rules based on the mistaken presumption that being an MP is a career. I think he’s not entitled to it because he lives in a house with his name on the deed, in Wellington, for most of the year, and thus does not need the additional money. The Nat’s “reform” of ministerial allowances does not address this matter, and highlights the need for a truly independent body that sets the pay and allowance rules for MPs in a transparent, fair, and non-partisan way, ensuring MPs can do their jobs if they have additional disadvantages compared to other MPs, but neither excessively punishing nor excessively rewarding them.

I admit it, I was wrong.

Suffice it to say I don’t think I need to detail the new joke of an “emissions trading scheme”1 here, but I do want to say I feel pretty stupid defending the Māori Party all these times and having them betray their own constituents, the country, and the future with a law designed to pay polluters to damage our climate when it is clear the planet cannot take this sort of treatment and remain the welcoming place it is today. I had thought maybe they were just trying to edge out Act by being an undemanding coalition partner, but this isn’t strategy. This is stupidity, plain and simple.

As far as I’m concerned, signing on to something like that is pretty much indefensible, especially seeing a grand coalition on the ETS seemed much more likely than just leaving it to die, and probably would’ve resulted in an ETS that might almost have been worthwhile. The Māori Party has a lot of proving itself again to do if it wants people to believe they can ever work with parties of the left after the repeated capitulations to completely failed policies that we’ve witnessed. And that’s even discounting questions of whether they’re truly representing Māori anymore, or just the relatively few wealthy elites that probably voted for National anyway.

As for National- well, it appears even shooting for the centre doesn’t stop them from shelling out over $12002 million to subsidise polluters and giving out tax cuts to people who don’t need them while at the same time firing productive and loyal employees just to gut the public service, refusing to enter good-faith negotiations on pay for teachers and health professionals, refusing to fix the leaky homes which their own failed attempt at deregulation created, and many more opportunities to actually lighten the load on hardworking kiwis during the recession. What utter hypocrites.

1It’s not actually an emissions trading scheme because the amount of carbon credits available is not capped, extra subsidised credits will be added for “productive” polluters3. And even if the amounts of credits were capped, it’s still not an emissions trading scheme if you artificially cap the price of carbon credits like the government proposes to do. This doesn’t even guarantee a net drop in emissions, let alone reaching any target- even the government’s pathetic 20% one.
2See comments.
3An oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one. Pollution is by definition wasteful, and pollution that threatens the climate isn’t likely to make something that outweighs the value of the damage it will do.

Shooting yourself in the soot

I think it’s pretty obvious that the government’s advocacy on mining cheap1 and polluting lignite from National Parks is not something I’d support.

I’m curious to hear from our commenters on this though- can you think of an unqualified positive of mining for lignite in our National Parks? Do you trust the government to add equal or more conservation value to replace what it would ruin?2 And is this really about a straightforward stocktake, or are National just trying a cautious sell on selling off our national parks to industry?

1 In the “not going to sell for much anyway” sense.
2 Because I’m sure you’d all love to go for a walk in a coal mine in the middle of a national park.