A doctor in Yemen weighing a malnourished child, where more than one in four children are acutely malnourished. (Getty Images)
A doctor in Yemen weighing a malnourished child, where more than one in four children are acutely malnourished. (Getty Images)

Covid-19February 9, 2021

The Bulletin: Air New Zealand’s Saudi war shame

A doctor in Yemen weighing a malnourished child, where more than one in four children are acutely malnourished. (Getty Images)
A doctor in Yemen weighing a malnourished child, where more than one in four children are acutely malnourished. (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Air New Zealand’s Saudi war shame, Robertson to outline budget priorities, and new tenancy laws coming into force today.

A strange and shameful story erupted last night: Air New Zealand has secretly been supporting the Saudi military in their blockade of Yemen. This story, from One News political reporter Benedict Collins, outlines what happened. An Air NZ business unit called Gas Turbines, “which specialises in servicing military marine engines and turbines”, had been doing work for the Saudi Navy. After a long period of stonewalling media enquiries, Air NZ finally admitted it and put a stop to the work.

One major issue with that is that Air NZ are not a normal company – they are half-owned by the NZ government. This therefore has the potential to create diplomatic repercussions. When finance minister Grant Robertson was told about it (he found out from media) he initially said it was an operational matter. But as Radio NZ reports, by later on Monday night Air NZ was apologising, and Robertson was saying he had been given assurances it wouldn’t happen again. An internal review is now underway, and in an interview with Morning Report today, CEO Greg Foran said he only found out about it ten days ago, and took immediate action.

For context, the Saudi war and blockade against Yemen has created one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century. UN report issued at the end of last year put the death toll at 233,000, with less than half of those caused by actual fighting. Malnutrition, starvation and lack of access to medicine has taken an appalling toll. Children are being particularly hard hit, and millions more are at risk of death. This New York Times article summed up the horror of it, and I’ll quote an excerpt:

Since the war began five years ago, pitting the Houthis [rebels] against a government backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Yemenis have endured doomsday after doomsday: relentless airstrikes against hospitals and schools by the Saudi-led military coalition using American-made weapons, a severe cholera outbreak, the ever-present threat of famine, a health care system in collapse and now the coronavirus.

To give a sense of just how diplomatically unseemly the Saudi war effort now is, even the US government isn’t comfortable with it any more. The new Biden administration announced recently that it would be ending support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen. This Al-Jazeera piece outlines how it isn’t quite clear what that will mean in practice, but the diplomatic message is clear – that governments that aspire to respect on the world stage can no longer be seen to be involved with this war.


A big announcement will be given by Grant Robertson today, setting out the government’s goals for this year’s budget. Analysing it in a must-read piece, Interest’s Jenée Tibshraeny argues that the big picture policies pursued since the last one have not achieved what they set out to do – namely using Covid-19 as an “opportunity to reset our economy” and prevent a resurgence in inequality. But with asset owners seeing their wealth grow rapidly, and renters seeing little support, growing inequality has been exactly what has happened. Look out for signs that Robertson either recognises it and has a plan to address it, or doesn’t.


A whole swathe of new rental laws are coming into effect this week. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports and wraps what will be changing. The big one is that no-case terminations of periodic tenancies will now be illegal. But in more general terms, the changes will allow tenants to treat their houses much more like long-term homes, for example by making minor changes to the house and garden.


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Thousands of international students are preparing to leave the country, with their study visas expiring, reports Radio NZ. If they do in fact leave the country, then tertiary institutions will start the year with about 25-30,000 international students, when in a normal year it would be more like 100,000. English language learning institutes are going to be particularly hard hit. The sector is in for another tough year, with international students previously providing a huge share of their income. Meanwhile, Stuff reports this morning that a plan by a group of schools to run a managed isolation facility is “under consideration” by the minister.


Ngāti Kahungunu has joined Ngāi Tahu in a court bid for rangatiratanga over freshwater, which would give rights, responsibilities and obligations. This Hawke’s Bay Today story focuses on what that would mean for the area, falling within the iwi rōhe. The key concern – shared by the regional council – is that progress to reverse degradation.


A tough week for volunteer firefighters in Waikato: Stuff’s Lawrence Gullery has reported on the work being put in to quell a persistent underground fire on the outskirts of Hamilton, with conditions creating a risk of flare-ups. The story is interesting in part because it goes into some of the more day to day grind required in the job. There haven’t been any major fires in the area this season, but volunteers have been kept very busy by a number of smaller jobs. Meanwhile across the country, Fire and Emergency has been forced to spend a lot more than planned on aerial firefighting, reports the ODT’s Emma Perry.


Martinborough’s tourist and hospitality industry is struggling to find workers, because the accommodation and transport for them isn’t available. Tom Taylor from the Times-Age reports that even with competitive wages being offered, experienced workers either don’t want or are unable to make the move. One potential solution being put forward is the creation of new subdivisions in the town, but that would be a very long-term project given the immediate need.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

map of christchurch covered in houses
Image: Tina Tiller

Right now on The Spinoff: Toby Manhire reports on testing policy changes at the Pullman after people who finished their managed isolation term tested positive. Mirjam Guesgen writes about how homes will need to change to achieve emissions reductions. Professor Nick Wilson writes about how to repeat the mistakes of this pandemic next time around. David Hill writes about inflicting corporal punishment during a former life as a teacher, and how little it helped with anything. Hayden Donnell writes about the landlord who will soon own every house in Christchurch. A group of people write about the best commutes in the country. Michelle Langstone interviews Radio NZ’s Māni Dunlop about the changing culture at the state broadcaster towards Māori. Sam Brooks writes about the logical end-point of human civilisation – a TV show about extreme mini golf.

We’ve also got two pieces about a controversial but highly influential book a quarter of a century on: Danyl Mclauchlan writes about I’ve Been Thinking, and the years in which the neoliberal ideology came to dominate New Zealand politics. And Richard Prebble himself tells the story of how it was written.

Finally, a piece I’m particularly happy with: went to Te Puke a few weeks ago and saw the future of manufacturing. It involved meeting a businessman who has enthusiastically adopted solar power to fuel his timber processing factory, something that many other businesses around the country can and should do right now.


For a feature today, a piece about economists getting their numbers wrong. Over the last year there has been a spate of pessimistic predictions about the economy, which largely haven’t come to pass. Writing in the (paywalled) NZ Herald, Liam Dann gives some context to that, and explains why the numbers ended up so far out. Here’s an excerpt:

Forecasts provide an anchor for interpreting the actual data as it arrives, whether they are right or wrong. And let’s be honest, they are wrong more often than they are right. In my view, it’s more important to pay attention to the words economists put around the numbers. They spend a lot of time explaining why they might be wrong and what the risks in either direction are.

Forecasts rely on models based on history. That’s all we’ve got. No one has an actual crystal ball. There are no models for how a pandemic affects an economy. The last one was more than 100 years ago.


In sport, a shock result: A Wellington Blaze team that includes Sophie Devine has suffered a rare defeat. As Stuff reports, it involved a highly disciplined bowling performance from the Auckland Hearts, to secure a narrow win despite posting only 117. The win means the final placings have been shaken up, and the two teams will now have a rematch at Eden Park this Thursday afternoon, just down the road from our offices. Which reminds me, I have to tell my bosses that I think I’m coming down with a slow-burn illness, which will peak with me needing to go home sick on, um, Thursday afternoon.


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Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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