Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: India’s Covid situation and the travel ban decision, lockout hit for striking Wellington bus drivers, and Australian PM to visit NZ. Plus: A feature on a major carbon-farming landowner that is quietly growing.
There will be an announcement today on the status of travellers from India, who are temporarily barred from coming into the country. So today, it’s worth a look at how India is faring, because it is a major part of the context for how that decision will be made.
Unfortunately at the moment, the situation in India is dire. Cases are spiking to levels rarely seen in any country over the course of the pandemic. The Times of India reported on modelling that showed the peak of cases is yet to come – and one of the really tragic things about this virus is that deaths lag cases by a few weeks. Preventing those deaths is also likely to be tremendously difficult, with the Hindustan Times reporting medical services and supplies are critically stretched, particularly oxygen. The oxygen shortage in particular has led to some appalling tragedies – the Indian Express reported on one such incident, in which there was no backup after an oxygen tank malfunctioned, leading to 24 people dying.
Nor is New Zealand alone in having travel restrictions on India right now. The Hindustan Times reports several more countries added them recently, including Australia, which didn’t impose an outright ban but has moved to reduce arrival numbers. Other countries with high population of Indian migrant workers have taken more severe measures. Several parts of India are currently in lockdown, including Mumbai, the commercial capital and largest city.
All of that has led to speculation that the ban could be extended, however that is by no means a certainty. Te Pūnaha Matatini investigator Professor Michael Plank didn’t directly call for an extension on the ban on Radio NZ yesterday, but did note that the high case volume makes it “difficult to resume travel”. The majority of cases being seen in MIQ a fortnight ago were coming from India, and that was before the case numbers in the country really escalated. But yesterday, PM Ardern restated that the ban was only ever intended to be temporary, particularly for citizens. Our live updates editor Stewart Sowman-Lund will be at the announcement today to cover it, so keep an eye on The Spinoff for the latest.
And sticking with international news, we’ve got a report today on another country that is suffering badly. Political editor Justin Giovannetti is originally from Canada, and left that country during the first wave. Now a third wave is ripping through the country, amid dangerous new variants of the virus and lacklustre progress on vaccination. The response at a national level appears to be patchy and incompetent, and blunt lockdowns are back as a result.
There’ll be chaos for Wellington commuters today, and the problems could last for a while. Stuff’s Joel MacManus reports a one-day strike was planned by bus drivers to start today – however contract holders NZ Bus responded by lock drivers out indefinitely. 27 services will be affected, disproportionately hitting the Eastern suburbs, so expect anything around the Mt Vic tunnel to be absolute hell. Transport minister Michael Wood has urged NZ Bus to withdraw their lockout notice and get back to the negotiating table, while GWRC chair Daran Ponter was somewhat more blunt in his thoughts on the company.
Australian PM Scott Morrison will be coming to New Zealand in the coming weeks. That news came out yesterday, amid a largely standard-issue summit and press conference between Australian foreign minister Marise Payne and NZ FM Nanaia Mahuta. Stuff reports some thorny issues were discussed, but it’s clear from that story that there’s a fairly strong interest in staying close.
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Unnamed oil and gas industry interests hired controversial firm Thompson and Clark to spy on children involved in climate change activism. Nicky Hager reports for Radio NZ that the firm was used to undermine the protest movements and actions, particularly in relation to Austrian exploration company OMV. The story also suggests that Thompson and Clark actively sought business in this area.
The government has moved ahead with a bank deposit guarantee scheme, to require banks to protect up to $100k in accounts. As Justin Giovannetti reports in our live updates (10.00am) New Zealand has been an outlier in this area, with the vast majority of comparable countries putting such schemes in place around the time of the Great Depression. Finance minister Grant Robertson said “the recommendations will considerably strengthen New Zealand’s financial system safety net and contribute to a robust framework of protections for depositors. It also brings our protections into line with those in place overseas.”
Another long round of negotiations are starting on a trade deal between New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Former trade negotiator Tim Hurdle writes on Business Desk (paywalled) previewing what will be on the table, and more importantly what the big sticking points are. NZ appears to have falled down the priority list a bit for post-Brexit Britain, and the farming lobby over there has concerns about having to compete with antipodean products. Each country also has their own riders on any deal – the UK is pursuing anti-corruption protections, while NZ has conditions on increasing the role of women in trade. Meanwhile, the SMH reports trade talks between Australia and Britain are getting tense, because of some weird and insulting negotiating tactics from the Brits.
Experts are warning that Sāmoa is heading towards a state of “constitutional crisis” following their election, reports the Samoa Observer. That comes in part because the Electoral Commission originally said that no top-up MPs would be needed to ensure the quota of women in parliament would be met, but then reversed that stance – giving a crucial extra seat to the ruling party in the process. A significant number of legal challenges of results are expected, and the parliamentary deadlock means that the country will be in limbo for weeks, or even months to come.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Bernard Hickey’s column and podcast this week looks at the work visa system, and it has created a class of worker that can be and often are treated cruelly. Justin Latif reports on how the DHB system changes are going down in South Auckland. Scott Hamilton writes about the legacy of ugly racism in the Returned Services Association, and how that past could be addressed today. Jihee Junn marks the end of an era for elephants at Auckland Zoo.
And for Australia Week: Michael Andrew looks at some of the stories of success and failure for NZ companies trying to crack the Aussie market. Calum Henderson looks back on a golden moment of Peak TV – when a dog on Neighbours had a dream. And I managed to slip some punishingly bad jokes into my contribution to the series, which involved rating the best and worst trans-Tasman sporting rivalries.
For a feature today, a major carbon-farming landowner that is quietly growing their holdings. Stuff’s Eloise Gibson has looked at the fascinating case of New Zealand Carbon Farming, which owns huge tracts in the less populated areas of the North Island. And all going to plan, they’ll only start with pine, before moving onto a more valuable crop. Here’s an excerpt:
Walsh’s plans are far from finished. A former big firm lawyer who worked for Telstra, as well as several start-ups, he says he’s embraced ideas like using pine to nurse native trees because he didn’t come from a forestry background.
Meeting the commission’s forestry targets is a big ask for the industry, he says. “Planting a tree requires a long run-up. You’ve got to harvest the seeds, you’ve got to grow the seedlings, you’ve got to transport them. There’s a lot of supply chain investment that has to go on before New Zealand can get to those sorts of levels.”
One of the biggest points of interest during the current IPL has been the injury cloud hanging over Kane Williamson. His Sunrisers Hyderabad team have finally won a game, reports Stuff, and coincidentally it was the first Williamson has played of the tournament, not that he had to do much to make it happen. The problem has been an “overuse injury” in his elbow, and with some massive international games coming up there will be plenty of eyes on how much he plays in this event.
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