More battles in the regulatory war between Uber and the Government

It’s been interesting to watch ongoing developments in the regulation of ‘small passenger services’ in New Zealand. The Government has conducted a review of the sector, but that doesn’t seem to have calmed the waters at all.

In March, Uber launched in Christchurch (expanding from Auckland and Wellington). The taxi industry wasn’t pleased, particularly given Uber said it was launching with a different set of rules to taxis.

In April, Uber dropped its fares in Auckland and Wellington, and also announced that it was relaxing the rules for driver registration. Uber said it would no longer require a “P” endorsement before allowing its drivers on the road — instead they would get a criminal background check from the Ministry of Justice and an NZTA driving history check. The Transport Minister Simon Bridges and the NZTA responded by saying Uber’s new practice was illegal. Continue reading “More battles in the regulatory war between Uber and the Government”

A room full of angry people: Government consultation on post-2020 climate change target

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I recently went to one of the Government’s consultation meetings on New Zealand’s post-2020 climate change target. I almost didn’t go to the meeting, because I’m quite cynical about whether the government is actually going to take any notice of what people say. Judging from last time, in 2009, the government’s position is probably going to be heavily motivated by political considerations. There were lots of people there who were angry about climate change, and I got the impression a lot of the people in the audience were particularly angry at the Government’s continuing inaction (me included!). They were also angry about the inadequacies of the consultation process.

I don’t think the meeting was well run. The official chairing it from the Ministry for the Environment said there would be a 5 minute time limit for people speaking. That was way too long – 3 minutes would have been enough! He didn’t steer people at all in terms of talking about the target, the matter at hand. Inevitably then, the meeting went on for ages before someone actually mentioned a concrete target figure. While there are lots of inter-related issues tied up with the target – ‘how do we achieve the target’ etc – the meeting would have benefited from more direction.

A few people in the audience pointed out that the last time the government ran a consultation meeting in 2009, Minister Nick Smith actually fronted up and answered people’s questions. This time around, in contrast, it was only officials from the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Transport, and the Treasury who were present on behalf of the government. I thought, as I was sitting there listening to people articulate their concerns, that the consultation process was far from ideal because the climate change target is an intensely political issue, yet here we all were venting our frustration not at ministers but just at these poor public servants without real power. The public servants would just go away and write a dry summary of the consultation meetings, which will then be promptly ignored by ministers and cabinet. Someone from the National Government should have taken the time to appear and listen to concerned people talk about this critical issue.

Many people at the meeting pointed out that the consultation document, which was meant to ‘frame’ the issue, presented a very inaccurate and misleading picture of the challenges New Zealand faces. People said that the document focussed far too much on the (questionably calculated) costs of acting on climate change, overlooking the huge costs from inaction — including the threat to many generations of humans. Moreover, the document presented climate change mitigation as a policy which represents only costs to New Zealand, completely ignoring the multitude of benefits we receive by cutting our emissions.

Another thing people at the meeting pointed out was that the document went out of its way to paint New Zealand acting on climate change as a particular challenge for us. The tired old arguments were trotted out: ‘lots of NZ’s emission come from agriculture so it’s more difficult to do something!’ and ‘we already have such a high proportion of renewable electricity there’s no room to improve that much!’.

The rhetoric contained in the consultation doc needs to be challenged on a number of fronts. Firstly, New Zealand’s high proportion of renewable electricity is a blessing — we’re already in an enviable position compared to countries where their proportion of renewable electricity in the single digits. Secondly, we’re actually a pretty rich country, and we are much better placed than many developing countries who will be forced to deal with these problems on a fraction of our GDP.

We do have a big challenge in front of us, but it flows not from our supposedly unique circumstances, but rather because of our shameful history of inaction and missed opportunities.

Continue reading “A room full of angry people: Government consultation on post-2020 climate change target”

Hypocrisy on fossil fuel subsidies?

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The sun needs to set on both fossil fuel production and consumption, yet National only talks about one side of the equation (by Pete Markham, CC-BY-SA)

It has recently been reported that New Zealand has been part of an international coalition of countries, including Costa Rica, Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, who want to crack down on fossil fuel consumption subsidies. Radio New Zealand reports that they’ve recently released a memorandum:

[the] memorandum calls for the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, citing environmental, economic and social grounds, and has the full support of the United States and France.

Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said the end of subsidies was the missing piece in the climate change jigsaw with more than a third of global carbon emissions between 1980 and 2010 believed to be driven by subsidies.

He said keeping prices artificially low encouraged wasteful fuel consumption and discouraged the development of new, greener technologies.

Prime Minister John Key has welcomed the agreement saying the memorandum was significant.

“It’s one thing to have actually a price on emissions, like New Zealand has through our ETS, but some countries actually are going the other way, they’re actually subsidising those fossil fuels, our argument is that if they were made to pay the real price it would have some impact on demand.”

First of all, I think this is a great initiative. Although you can see why developing countries might want to subsidise fossil fuels so people can afford energy, it really makes no sense at a time when we need to be cutting down our emissions in order to mitigate climate change. As Groser says, subsidising fossil fuel consumption is getting in the way of transitioning to a green economy where we don’t need these polluting fuels any more.

That brings me to National’s hypocrisy. Continue reading “Hypocrisy on fossil fuel subsidies?”

National runs out of excuses to act on climate change

Tim Groser has steadfastly done noting to decrease NZ's emissions
Climate Change Minister Tim Groser has steadfastly refused to do anything to decrease NZ’s emissions (image by WTO, CC-BY-SA)

When the National Government came to power in 2008, one of the things near the top of its priority list was to amend the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to “make the ETS workable and affordable”. In other words, National wanted to reduce the price of carbon considerably. Their supposed rationale was that the economy was in a downturn, and it wasn’t fair to introduce an extra tax on households and businesses when they were already struggling.

So in 2009, National passed a number of changes to the ETS:

  • A two-for-one permit deal, so businesses only had to submit one carbon unit for every two tonnes of liable emissions.
  • Introduced a “flexible cap” so that businesses get allocated free permits in line with their production. So if businesses increase production, they get allocated more permits, and New Zealand’s emissions could go up.
  • Agriculture wouldn’t participate in the scheme till December 2015 (instead of the original January 2013 entry date)

Those changes were pretty fundamental to the operation of the ETS. Without a sinking cap on emissions, there’s no particular reason why the price of carbon will increase. So this lack of a cap, combined with the importation of a whole lot of cheap, low-quality, international credits has kept the price of carbon in New Zealand extremely low.

Then in 2011, National commissioned another review of the ETS. The review came out with a number of recommendations. The most important ones were:

  • phasing out the two-for-one arrangement over three years, so that by 2015 businesses would have to surrender one emissions unit for each tonne of emissions
  • the price cap of $25 per tonne would be increased by $5 per year from 2013
  • that the agricultural sector should still enter the ETS in 2015, but should initially be granted a two-for-one allowance

National then largely ignored the review’s suggestions, and instead opted for an extension of the feeble status quo. They extended the transitional two-for-one period, and agriculture was made exempt from participating in the ETS for the foreseeable future. At the time, the justification was that they couldn’t rock the boat too much while the economy was still going through its worst recession since the Great Depression. Here’s the official line:

“[the amendments] maintain the costs that the ETS places on the economy at current levels. This will ensure businesses and households do not face additional costs during the continued economic recovery; and that New Zealand continues to do its fair share on climate change.”

Now that New Zealand’s economic prospects have improved, and oil prices have fallen, surely it is time to revisit these amendments to the ETS. While I don’t believe that there was ever justification for watering down the ETS, whatever justification there was has surely evaporated.

If National doesn’t strengthen the price of carbon in light of these changed conditions, then their previous changes will be revealed for what they truly were. Those changes most likely had nothing to do with the state of the economy and everything to do with pleasing National’s corporate mates who prioritise short-term profit above everything else.

Tim Groser says he cares about combating climate change. It’s time for him to act like it.

Last updated 12 February 2015

Uber goes on an anti-regulation offensive in New Zealand

Uber sent me this email today (they also presumably sent it to all other people who are registered Uber users in New Zealand):

Dear Harry,

Recently, we have seen media coverage involving a police officer stopping Uber partner-drivers and removing riders, in some cases leaving them with no option but to walk home in the dark. This is unjustified and irresponsible. Uber has submitted a formal complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

These events have been based on the NZTA’s narrow interpretation of legislation created at a time when technology like Uber’s didn’t exist. Vested interests have also been spreading misinformation designed to scare riders and bully drivers to protect a small group of large and powerful taxi incumbents.

Uber partners in New Zealand are licensed, safe and provide a legal service in the best interests of riders and drivers. You can read more about the processes behind our operations here. We are proud to be creating new economic opportunities for licensed and responsible drivers, and bringing much needed competition to New Zealand.

IT’S TIME TO TELL THE GOVERNMENT WHY YOU WANT TO HAVE THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE HOW YOU GET AROUND YOUR CITY.

CLICK the LINKS TO TWEET @CRAIGFOSSMP AND #CHOOSEUBERNZ OR EMAIL HIM DIRECTLY

Don’t let a few loud voices in the taxi industry bully their way into preventing you from choosing Uber. Whether taxi or Uber is your preference, you have the right to choose.

Craig Foss is the Minister responsible for these outdated regulations and he needs to hear the same feedback we do everyday. Things like..

“My Uber is 40% cheaper than a taxi, and cleaner, safer and more reliable.”

“I don’t pay a credit card surcharge with Uber.”

“Ubers are more reliable and pick me up faster.”

“I can rate the driver.”

“I feel safer in an Uber.”

….What Uber experience will you share?

Thank you for your continued support. We’re working hard with our partner-drivers to ensure Uber is the safest and most reliable ride in town.

Uber on,

The team at Uber NZ

Continue reading “Uber goes on an anti-regulation offensive in New Zealand”

Buying into dangerous narratives about “Dirty Politics”

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Hager at the launch of Dirty Politics

I’ve been to a couple of political conferences recently. One was the NZ Political Studies Association conference in Auckland, where there was a panel of professional political operatives from National, Labour and the Greens (including Metiria Turei). The representatives of National were tellingly silent about the implications of Dirty Politics. But what most interested me was how Labour and the Greens were both talking about Dirty Politics as a difficult issue of political management. Mostly they were focussed on how the publication of the book and it’s fallout had been an unpredictable event in the campaign which hadn’t done them any favours.

The other conference I went to was Victoria’s post-election conference at Parliament. The first section involved various politicians (John Key, Steven Joyce, Andrew Little, Russel Norman, Peter Dunne, Winston Peters etc) dissecting how the election campaign had gone. Key called it an “ugly campaign”, and Joyce said people responded well to Key’s handling of the Dirty Politics controversy. Of course, they both were of the opinion that the book was a load of crap and that most New Zealanders agreed with them. Andrew Little was saying not dissimilar things, and talked about the book as a threat — not a benefit — to Labour. Norman was most stringent in his views that there were issues in Dirty Politics that matter, but also acknowledged the book’s release had done the party some harm (Peters said pretty similar stuff).

What I’m trying to get at with this talk about the conferences is that this narrative of “Dirty Politics was a distraction which most people didn’t care about and which detracted from distraction of policy issues” has been repeated by many politicians and political pundits. It was one of the National Party’s lines it pushed to try and shut down the controversy – i.e. “please stop asking us these tricky questions — New Zealanders don’t give a toss about this stuff anyway!”. But it’s not just a National Party line — the left has also jumped on board. And by also using this narrative or frame, the left has allowed the political battle to be fought on dangerous territory. Continue reading “Buying into dangerous narratives about “Dirty Politics””

Thoughts on the election

Last night’s election result was a huge disappointment. We’re set for another three years of National slowly eroding the public service, doing nothing on climate change and child poverty, and letting the New Zealand economy continue producing low value primary products.

There’s been a lot of recriminations already about how exactly this happened. I think it’s important to keep in mind that noone really knows why National has done so well. It’s impossible to have proper answers, and professional pundits are clutching at straws like the rest of us. Solid analysis will come with time and hindsight. With these provisos about the difficulty of saying anything about the election, I just want to suggest a few points about how we can come to terms with what has happened.

What I think is important to remember is that overall the fundamentals were always in National’s favour in terms of both inertia and the economy. People tend to stick with the status quo: “National has done okay in two terms, why not give them another?” The so-called ‘rock star’ economy is also a major selling point for the Nats. Things are looking okay at the moment — and the left’s message that it’s not going to be that great in the future is a pretty subtle message to sell. With those general points in mind, I’m also going to delve into a few other specific questions. Continue reading “Thoughts on the election”