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Jun 1 2023

Mayor’s office says media ‘forced their way’ into budget speech

Mayor Wayne Brown  (Image: Archi Banal)

The office of mayor Wayne Brown has hit back at criticism journalists were “cherry-picked” for this morning’s budget announcement.

A number of media outlets, including The Spinoff, Stuff, TVNZ and Newshub, were not invited to hear Brown’s budget address. Some, however, made it into the room after Brown had started speaking.

In a statement, Brown’s office said the room had “limited capacity” which is why the event was invitation only. “It was not a press conference. A decision was made to invite a small handful of media. Among those journalists was New Zealand Herald senior writer Simon Wilson, so we are surprised that the mayoral office is being accused of inviting those who we think will give the mayor an easy ride,” the statement read.

Somewhat conflictingly, earlier comments from a spokesperson for the mayor said journalists “best able to convey the mayor’s message” had been chosen to attend.

The statement continued: “Staff and guests were disappointed with the conduct of some media who forced their way into the event and disrupted the mayor’s speech.”

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Media Freedom Committee – RNZ’s head of news Richard Sutherland – said Brown’s decision to limit journalists was “unacceptable” and “an insult to voters”.

‘Hate speech laws 2.0’: Act wants to ‘kill’ proposed online safety rules

Act’s David Seymour (Image: Getty Images, additional design Tina Tiller)

The Act Party’s compared a proposal to improve online safety to the government’s doomed hate speech laws, and pledged to “kill” it off as well.

Consultation is set to begin on a Department of Internal Affairs proposal to change how online content is regulated in New Zealand.

But David Seymour said the proposals were “Orwellian” – and risked allowing “people with an agenda to impose their viewpoints on the rest of us”.

He added: “To be clear, Act doesn’t not have a problem with the chief censor’s current oversight of extreme and illegal material. What we are against is the imposition of the worldview of an unelected and unaccountable regulator on the ability of ordinary New Zealanders to express their views.

“This proposed change opens the door for beefed up hate speech laws, which will create a divided society and put an already growing cancel culture on steroids.”

Read more on the proposed changes here.

TLDR: The proposed reform for safer media and online platforms

(Image: Tina Tiller)

The drearily titled “Safer Online Services and Media Platforms” document has just been released. Here’s a TLDR summary from The Spinoff’s Shanti Mathias:

The suggested changes are pretty different from what we have right now. All digital industries that publish content, including overseas companies like Meta and Google and local industries (like the media!), would have to sign up to codes of practice that would govern what could be available to New Zealanders on their platforms – essentially the first thorough attempt to regulate social media platforms here. The codes would be developed by the various industry groups with support from a regulator. There have been similar frameworks applied to online content overseas, like Australia, the EU and Canada; this approach would bring New Zealand roughly in line with rules digital platforms are beginning to abide by in those places.

These codes of practice would be the “how” to achieve online safety outcomes set by parliament. Things like “not exposing children to violent content” and “not spreading extremist or terrorism-related content on the internet”. A new independent regulator would oversee this and help platforms to comply. The intent is to create a single streamlined, flexible and clear system where individuals and organisations know what they’re obligated to do and who they can ask for help – and ultimately make sure fewer people see harmful content.

Want to know more? Shanti’s full explainer is here.

Buyout scheme announced for cyclone-hit homeowners

Homes in Gisborne were inundated by mud and silt following Cyclone Gabrielle in February (Photo: Getty Images; design by Tina Tiller)

The government will work with councils to offer a “voluntary buyout” for owners of homes written off by Cyclone Gabrielle and other recent severe weather. About 700 category three properties – those where it’s deemed the risk of future severe weather cannot be sufficiently mitigated – are expected to be bought as part of the scheme.

Announced just now in a last-minute press conference by the cyclone recovery minister Grant Robertson, a “funding arrangement” will be made between central government and councils in cyclone and flood-affected regions. Work to protect category two properties – those where it is determined interventions are feasible to manage future severe weather event risk – will also be co-funded.

Robertson said today’s announcement will help councils get the right solution and avoid significant financial hardship for property owners. “The focus of today is on residential properties. We are working with sectors, such as the horticulture sector on possible targeted support for commercial operators, and on regional plans that will provide overall support for recovery and rebuild,” Robertson said.

Homes in Gisborne were inundated by mud and silt following Cyclone Gabrielle in February (Photo: Getty Images; design by Tina Tiller)
Homes in Gisborne were inundated by mud and silt following Cyclone Gabrielle in February (Photo: Getty Images; design by Tina Tiller)

Details of how the government will provide funding to councils in practice will be unveiled later in the month, Robertson said. However, he said, the government will work alongside councils to help them build flood protection for category two homes. For those in category three, the costs of the voluntary buyout scheme will be shared between central government and councils.

A parallel process is also underway to engage with Māori, including on appropriate processes for whenua Māori.

Associate finance minister Michael Wood said he understood Auckland Council will be talking to property owners from June 12 and Tairāwhiti had already begun contact with property owners in category three. “It is also important to note that there may be some properties in other cyclone-affected regions like Northland and Wairarapa that are designated as category two and three.

“Initial indications are that across all regions there will be about 700 category three properties, and up to 10,000 homes in category two areas,” Wood said. Of this, Wood signalled about 400 of these are in Auckland due to the double hit of the anniversary weekend floods and Cyclone Gabrielle.

Robertson said he would “personally” like to see this process wrapped up within a year, but was wary of putting a timeline on this.

Smaller power providers on top in new Consumer survey

Electricity power pylons stand in Rangipo Desert near the State Highway 1 Desert Road on May 6, 2016 in Waiouru,  (Photo by Hagen Hopkins)

A new survey from Consumer NZ has once again found customer’s prefer the country’s smaller power providers.

For the third year in a row, Powershop has come out on top with a satisfaction score of 74% – the sixth time overall it has achieved the accolade. Frank Energy received a 67% satisfaction rating.

At the other end of the list, Contact and Trustpower both scored “below the industry average”, while Meridian customers were the least satisfied (46%).

“Across the board the customer satisfaction rating is a measly 54%,” said Jessica Walker, Consumer NZ’s communications and campaigns manager. “The power providers doing a better job of keeping their customers happy tend to have a smaller market share.”

The retailers that scored below the satisfaction average provide power to 56% of New Zealand’s electricity customers, said Walker.

Only ‘select’ media invited to council budget launch

Wayne Brown said no to 20 interview requests after the January 27 floods (Photo: Getty Images / Design: Tina Tiller)

Auckland’s mayor snubbed most journalists from a morning launch of his new budget.

While the Herald was among a select few allowed in the room, reporters from outlets like Stuff weren’t sent an invitation.

In a story headlined “Wayne Brown snubs Stuff readers on major Auckland Council budget update”, a spokesperson for mayor Brown was fairly blatant in the decision to exclude media. “We invited a select few journalists from media outlets who we feel were best able to convey the mayor’s message and Stuff isn’t one of them.”

TVNZ and Newshub were reportedly not invited either and, perhaps unsurprisingly, neither was The Spinoff. (Stuff even has a photo of Brown waving at a barred reporter through a window that must be seen to be believed). It appears some uninvited journalists did make it into the event after turning up minutes before Brown’s speech.

After his budget launch, a spokesperson said the mayor did not have time for any questions.

On Twitter, Brown later rejected Stuff’s claim that media invitees were “cherry-picked”.

Brown has a famously antagonistic relationship with the media. In the days following the Auckland anniversary weekend floods, he turned down 90% of all requests for comment. A subsequent official report condemned the mayor for his lack of official communication on the night of the devastating floods.

(Photo: Getty Images / Design: Tina Tiller)

Wayne Brown’s budget proposal: Rates pegged to inflation, but airport shares must go

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown in a 30-minute presentation to Auckland Transport’s board (Photo: Todd Niall/Stuff)

Wayne Brown’s proposed budget will see rates increases pegged to inflation – but it requires his desired sell-off of Auckland Airport shores.

The mayor is presenting his budget in Auckland today. Few were invited to witness the moment live, with media like Stuff reportedly left out (The Spinoff was not invited either).

According to the Herald’s Bernard Orsman, who has the inside word on the budget, rates will rise by 9.8% overall, but household rates will rise by 6.7%.

Full funding for arts and culture grants and most social services will be restored, including the Citizens Advice Bureau. And $200 million of the proceeds from the airport share sale will be used to complete overdue community projects.

“No one wants to cut services for communities in need, nor higher rates bills in this cost of living crisis hurting households when they can least afford it,” said mayor Brown.

“Borrowing to fill a hole just kicks the can down the road for next year and the year after that. That is just the sort of dumb thinking that has got us into this hole. My final budget proposal sets the groundwork for overhauling Auckland Council finances to make Auckland a resilient city, that delivers the services Aucklanders need.”

Costs were still too high across the board, said Brown, and this made him more determined to scrap wasteful spending – for example, suggesting AT should move offices. “Personally I would have them in Nissen huts.”

Brown said he had always promised to listen to Aucklanders and that meant he had softened some of the cuts to arts spending and other services, though he took aim at Auckland Art Gallery for turning down his suggestion of a $5 a head fare for locals.

While the Citizens Advice Bureau was safe, Brown said most of their job was solving problems that the government should be solving. Only 2% of the work done by Citizens Advice Bureau was tackling council issues, Brown claimed.

The Bulletin: Prescription fees remain a political battleground

I didn’t know this but because we have reciprocal health agreements with Australia and the United Kingdom, visitors from those countries will not have to pay for prescriptions once the $5 fee is removed here in July. Naturally that means New Zealanders enjoy reciprocity in their experience of local health systems when visiting those countries.

As the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan reports, National have called the reciprocity on prescription fees another example of a government cost-of-living policy funds heading offshore. National have said they will reverse the policy to remove the $5 fee if elected with Newshub questioning National leader Christopher Luxon on whether that would apply to prescriptions for the contraceptive pill. Luxon told Newshub he was not looking at a carve-out for those who need regular contraception prescriptions.

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‘Do the right thing’: Mayor Brown’s last ditch effort to get support for airport share sell-off

Wayne Brown is the mayor of Auckland. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Auckland’s mayor Wayne Brown is making a list ditch appeal to councillors he claims are holding up a potential sell-off of airport shares.

The Herald’s reported that councillors were called to two confidential meetings yesterday, one on the sale of the airport shares and another to discuss a draft of the final budget proposal. That proposal was originally meant to be unveiled yesterday but will now be released today.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB, Brown admitted it was “bloody hard” trying to manage the city’s budget and said he’s “certainly not living the dream”.

“It’s a close call and I’ll have to get some of the ones who have signed pledges that they would limit rates to actually own up to that,” Brown said of whether he has support for his proposal.

“To get [rates] back to inflation, there’s no way unless we sell the airport shares. I’ve got four of them who have signed a pledge they won’t increase rates, but they don’t want to sell the shares.”

Brown said he can’t understand why there isn’t wider support for the sell-off, saying it costs $100 million a year in interest to keep them – but only returns $25 to $30 million. “100 is a bigger number than 25 or 30,” said Brown. “I can’t get that across to some of them, they’ve got weird ideas and they seem to think if we do that we’ll just borrow the money again.

“The fact that the public voted for me because I said I’d stop wasting money and that I have a good track record of making money, doesn’t seem to bloody… isn’t necessarily going to count with all the councillors. I’m calling upon them to do the right thing and support me. You can’t just say reduce the cuts and do nothing about it, I can’t just print money… this is bloody hard.”

If the sale of the airport shares doesn’t go ahead, Brown said it will bump rates up by at least 3% on top of inflation.