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May 12 2023

Minister hits out at ‘over-egged’ reporting of possible project ‘delays’

Michael Wood (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The transport minister has labelled a report that suggested future roading projects could be delayed “just wrong”.

The Herald today suggested that comments by Michael Wood “left the door open” to delaying significant government roading projects, such as the highway between Ōtaki and Levin.

Wood announced a “rescoping” of some projects in the NZ Upgrade Programme. While he said that there would be no “cuts or significant paring back” of projects, he somewhat ambiguously added that “there will be work to find efficiencies as projects go through detailed design and implementation”.

It prompted calls from the National Party to “come clean” on what projects might be canned. “Labour’s track record on roading has been to cancel, promise, cancel, promise and then cancel again,” said the party’s transport spokesperson Simeon Brown. “Voters simply can’t trust Labour to deliver the major projects New Zealand needs but which Labour is ideologically opposed to.”

But Wood, on Twitter, labelled the interpretation of his remarks “over-egged” and said the headline was wrong. “I have said nothing of the sort. One of the projects listed as a possible ‘delay’, Papakura to Drury, is in fact in the middle of massive construction works as anyone who uses the Southern Motorway can see,” he wrote.

What to watch this weekend: Hannah Gadsby, City of Fire, The Great

Hannah Gadsby in her Netflix special, Douglas, the follow up to 2018’s Nanette. (Photo: Netflix)

* This is an excerpt of Rec Room, The Spinoff’s Friday TV newsletter. Subscribe to regular Friday instalments here.

By her own admission, Hannah Gadsby has “dragged you through a bit of my shit over the years”. So the Aussie comic’s new special, Something Special (Netflix), promises to keep things lighter compared to the calculated emotional bludgeoning viewers received in her previous specials, Nanette and Douglas. It’s not always that cruisy, though, warns Vulture, who said it “seems like a new balance being worked out”.

Elsewhere, critics are calling City on Fire (Apple TV+), the new drama from the creators of The OC and Gossip Girl, a “hot mess”. The second season of Bridget Everett’s acclaimed Somebody Somewhere (Neon) is getting reviews just as good as season one, as is the third season of The Great (also on Neon). The Muppets Mayhem (Disney+) is not getting good reviews: “Dry, dull and disappointing,” quipped the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The seventh season of American makeover show Queer Eye (Netflix) is out and provides reliably fun, enjoyable and sometimes heartfelt reality capers. Duncanville (Neon, and also nothing to do with Spinoff founder Duncan Greive) is an animated comedy-adventure series created by Amy Poehler. And Riptide (TVNZ+) is a British-Australian co-creation involving a surfie murder-mystery but reviews for this “run of the mill” caper have been poor.

If you’re looking for a film, try Crater (Disney+), a family-friendly space journey, or A Michael J Fox Movie (Apple TV+), in which the Back to the Future star faces his Parkinson’s diagnosis by trawling through his own history books. Air (Prime Video) retells the Michael Jordan Nike story. Whatever you do, don’t watch Hypnotic (in theatres), the Ben Affleck film about a hypnotist criminal, which looks all kinds of silly. “A B-movie with a C+ premise and D-minus execution,” said The Daily Beast.

You can score $10 tickets to Hamilton – but it’s a lottery

Jason Arrow as Alexander Hamilton (Photo: Supplied)

Beyond-cheap tickets have been confirmed for the award-winning production of Broadway smash Hamilton that’s due to kick off in Auckland at the end of May. A digital lottery offering $10 tickets for every show has today been confirmed for users who download a specific app and enter in the correct time period.

Ticket lotteries are common practice for shows on Broadway, with the original sold-out run of Hamilton drawing massive crowds vying for last cheap tickets. The show went on to win 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

However ticket sales appear to have been slow for Hamilton here, despite Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash becoming a lockdown hit when it played on Disney+. A quick Spinoff search showed tickets were available for almost all of the show’s Spark Arena run, on from May 26 to June 11. Full price tickets cost between $95-$350 depending on how close you want to be to the stage.

The $10 tickets are available through the TodayTix app. A press release issued today said the first lottery was open now, with winners being drawn on May 18 for tickets to shows on May 26-28. Subsequent digital lotteries will begin on each Friday and will be drawn the following Thursday.

Winners can claim up to two tickets for $10 each. More information is available here.

Possible human remains found within Pike River

Mines Rescue staff prepare to enter Pike River mine on June 28, 2011. Photo: Iain McGregor-Pool/Getty Images

More human remains may have been found within the Pike River Mine.

Police have over the past three weeks drilled and imaged three more boreholes, including one – borehole six –  where men were known to be working when the mine exploded in November 2010.

Two pathologists have reviewed images taken of the possible remains and were unable to definitively determine what the photos showed.

Detective superintendent Darryl Sweeney said police had spoken to the families of the three men believed to have been working in the area.

“We recognise this is an incredibly difficult process for the families of the 29 men killed at Pike River,” Sweeney said. “While we can’t say with any certainty that we’ve located human remains, we have shared what we’ve found as well as the pathologists’ conclusions.”

Work began on 10 additional boreholes in late January this year. The final three drilled in the coming weeks, concluding the police investigation at the mine.

Mines Rescue staff prepare to enter Pike River mine on June 28, 2011. (Photo: Iain McGregor-Pool/Getty Images)

New migration figures pushed up by foreign citizens

An Air Zealand plane after it landed at Sydney International Airport (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

New migration figures show the tide may have turned after several years of locked borders and Covid-19 disruption.

Stats NZ reported a provisional net migration gain of 65,400 in the year ending March, compared with a net loss of 19,300 the year prior.

This was largely due to a net gain of 88,900 non-New Zealand citizens, though there was an overall loss of 23,500 New Zealand citizens – the largest annual net migration loss of New Zealanders since the October 2013 year.

“For non-New Zealand citizens, 88,900 was provisionally a record annual net migration gain, exceeding the previous peak in the March 2020 year,” said Stats NZ’s population indicators manager Tehseen Islam.

“The rebound of non-New Zealand citizen migration follows the progressive relaxation of Covid-19-related border restrictions from early 2022, as well as changes to immigration settings.”

Robertson says he trusts banks despite falling public confidence

Grant Robertson (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The finance minister says he personally trusts banks – but acknowledges that individual consumers may have their own concerns.

A new survey from Consumer NZ found that trust in banks was on the decline, with 39% of New Zealanders saying they don’t confidence in them.

Grant Robertson was speaking to a business audience at BNZ this morning ahead of next week’s budget. He said New Zealanders should be pleased we have a “stable financial system” which had helped steady the ship in the wake of crises like Covid-19. However, he added that it doesn’t mean everything was perfect.

Asked by The Spinoff for his personal position, Robertson said he did trust banks. “There is a debate to be had about profits, there’s a debate to be had about the way in which an individual consumer might have an experience with a bank – but overall do I trust them, do I think they’re doing their job and do I think that our financial system is stable? Yes I do.”

It wasn’t out of touch for him to be speaking at a bank when New Zealanders were increasingly losing faith in them, he said. “We need banks… banks are part of the system and the way in which we work. On any given day there may be concerns… and they should be concerns that the banks respond to.”

Consumer chief executive Jon Duffy wasn’t surprised by this response. “We would assume the finance minister is looking at trust in the banks from a macro-economic perspective, and that banks are managing their risk,” he told The Spinoff. “New Zealanders are looking at their experience with the banks on a day-to-day basis, considering value for money and social license, i.e. profit levels and whether they feel those levels are fair.

“Given these are two different vantage points, the differing perspectives is not a surprise.”

Listen: Could standardising housing drive down prices?

Most new homes in Aotearoa are still designed with bespoke elements and a multitude of building materials, says Bernard Hickey. It feels a lot like the early days of motor vehcicles, when there were thousands of manufacturers with many more thousands of models of cars. Then along came Henry Ford and Toyota to standardise and mass produce cars, driving prices down and quality up.

This week on his podcast When the Facts Change, Hickey talks with Simplicity Living MD Shane Brealey about how to build the Toyota Corolla of homes at two thirds of the cost of other homes.

Listen below or wherever you find your pods

Robertson highlights ‘recovery and resilience’ in latest pre-budget speech

Grant Robertson (Photo by Mark Mitchell – Pool/Getty Images)

Grant Robertson’s delivered what is likely his final headline speech ahead of next week’s budget, once again softening New Zealanders for a lack of a financial “lolly scramble” ahead of the election – and suggesting “hard calls” will need to be made in the ongoing recovery from severe weather.

As noted by The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire today, the finance minister could, ahead of polling day, opt to tempt New Zealanders with a few treats. This is “the government’s last big, purse-string-swinging, attention-sucking set-piece before the campaign,” wrote Manhire. “That brings a political gravity of its own, often with “lolly scramble” attached. But this is a low-sugar year.”

Addressing a business audience at BNZ’s central Auckland office, Robertson seemed pretty keen to maintain it will be more pick and mix than lolly scramble. “Now is not the time to be putting… resilience at risk by undermining the government’s fiscal position with unfunded inflationary tax cuts, which would take money away from the government’s ability to step up and support communities by planning ahead,” Robertson said.

“I can tell you today that on budget day the government will be taking further steps to fund investment in the infrastructure rebuild following the cyclone and floods, and, importantly, looking towards future national resilience projects to provide greater protection to communities around the country from the increased risks they face.”

Grant Robertson speaks in central Auckland (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

That was largely the theme of today’s speech, with Robertson opting to tackle how New Zealand would develop resilience in the face of incidents like Cyclone Gabrielle and recent flooding. “I do need to make something else clear. Central government alone cannot take on all of the costs that are faced in this recovery and rebuild,” he said.

“We have been taking on the majority of the initial response costs, because it is the right and necessary thing to do. And our resilient position has allowed us to do so. As we have shown during previous crises, it was important that we put support in place quickly to provide cashflow and confidence in the immediate aftermath of this natural disaster.

“As we move to the rebuild phase and consider the future of severely affected land following the floods, hard calls are going to have to be made, by central government, local government, commercial businesses and local communities, banks and insurance companies.”

Robertson said there was no use preparing for a rainy day if “you aren’t prepared to put the umbrella up”, later telling a press conference it had been raining for the past few years already – a reference to the pandemic. “We used the strength and resilience we had built into the government’s balance sheet to ensure New Zealand had the lowest excess mortality rate in the world, and provide confidence and cashflow to businesses affected by lockdowns and travel restrictions,” Robertson said of the Covid response.

Another key focus of Robertson’s speech this morning was on New Zealand’s “extraordinary infrastructure deficit”. The finance minister said this year’s budget will plan ahead. “To be more secure in the face of whatever the world might throw at us next, while growing a higher-wage, low-emissions economy. This will include skills, research and innovation, and infrastructure.”

The Bulletin: Investigation finds ‘toxic’ environment at Gore Council

The issues within Gore District Council go much further than the current controversy over 23-year-old mayor Ben Bell, a Newsroom investigation alleges. Freelance writer Vaneesa Bellew uncovers a history of workplace complaints going back two decades, and reveals that the council has paid out hundreds of thousands in severance settlements with staff. “One dispute, with a former top executive Rebecca Tayler, who is the mother of new mayor Bell, cost the former council more than $300,000 in legal fees,” Bellew writes. The “toxic” environment has had a long-lasting effect on staff, she says: “Newsroom has been told past employees have been left ‘shattered’ and their confidence destroyed after working for the council.” Tracy Hicks, who was mayor during most of the years in question, says he doesn’t believe anyone was bullied during his time in office.

Meanwhile, seven of the 10 Gore councillors met with 23-year-old mayor Ben Bell on Wednesday night to ask him to resign. Bell declined to do so.

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Trust in banks falls as finance minister to give pre-budget speech from BNZ office

The government funds lots of accelerators, with the hope that it will create more successful businesses Illustration: Toby Morris

As the finance minister readies to deliver a pre-budget speech from the offices of BNZ in central Auckland bank, a new Consumer study has revealed public trust in banks is plummeting.

39% of New Zealanders said they do not trust the banks – the highest level of distrust found in the Consumer survey since it started in June 2021.

“Even before the latest bank profits were announced we found that New Zealanders increasingly felt they were being charged too much by the banks,” said Consumer boss Jon Duffy.

“Our latest sentiment tracker data indicates, for people with personal debt, bank fees are taking an increasing toll, which highlights the growing burden of these costs.”

ANZ recently announced its half-year after tax cash profit was just over $1.1 billion – a 14% increase on the same period the previous year. BNZ’s half-year profit of $805 million was up 13.5% on last year, while Westpac’s profit declined by 33% (though the bank still pulled in $426 million).

Grant Robertson will speak at about 8am this morning ahead of next week’s “no frills” budget. The Spinoff will be there and we’ll bring you the top lines as soon as we can.