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Michael Wood (Photo: Alex Braae)
Michael Wood (Photo: Alex Braae)

The BulletinApril 1, 2021

The Bulletin: Auckland light rail loops back to starting station

Michael Wood (Photo: Alex Braae)
Michael Wood (Photo: Alex Braae)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: New working group announced to revive Auckland light rail, wide range of hip pocket changes coming today, and our heartfelt congratulations to Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

Perhaps it feels like we’ve been here before – like Auckland light rail is just on a circular route that endlessly loops around. But in any case, a brand new working group has been announced to spend the next six months working out how light rail will fit into Auckland’s wider transport network, where the routes will go, how it could be funded – basically all the questions that appeared to be being answered during the entire last term of government. The history of that has been covered by the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Bernard Orsman. I asked at the press conference how much the whole exercise had cost to go nowhere – alas, no figure was forthcoming.

Transport minister Michael Wood justified the whole new process on the grounds that the previous process had “shut out” too many people in Auckland. “Today I’m drawing a line under that and involving Aucklanders from the get-go,” Wood said. As our live updates reports, any certainty on cost and timeframe will have to wait until the end of the year, when the yet to be announced members of the working group report back. And I say certainty here, but given the history of this issue I think ‘generous estimate’ might be a more accurate description. Wood also talked at length about the wider benefits of getting light rail going, which we already knew, because we’ve been talking about it for years.

Is all of this too harsh? Perhaps. Wood made the argument that previous efforts had been stymied by coalition politics – and if you want to talk about difficult stakeholder engagement getting three parties on the same page certainly fits that bill. As the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Simon Wilson writes, this reset has the potential to finally put momentum behind it all again, with a huge potential upside for the city. And for Wood personally, this is a make or break moment. And as Wilson points out, this is a make or break moment for Wood personally – his career basically depends on getting real progress made by the next election.

In reaction to the announcement, Auckland mayor Phil Goff has welcomed the new working group as long overdue, reports Stuff. The Greens are also pleased, though their release focused much more on the benefits of light rail, rather than the process. National, by contrast, hit out at the government for wasting years and “millions of dollars” over the course of the project, reports Newshub. And Generation Zero made a call for light rail progress to be accelerated, through the diversion of funds currently earmarked for roading projects. As a youth-focused group, the members of Gen Zero might one day get to ride the trains, if they’re ever actually built.

A wide range of legislative changes are coming into effect today that could have an impact on your pocket. Jihee Junn has covered them off – they include a rise in the minimum wage to $20 an hour, a small increase to core benefits and a potentially more significant change to how much beneficiaries can earn before they see deductions. The top tax rate is also going up – for those lucky souls on $180,000 a year or more, the marginal tax rate will now be 39% for income above that threshold.

On behalf of all of us at The Spinoff, our congratulations to Dr Siouxsie Wiles on winning New Zealander of the Year. Wiles played a vital role in steering the course of New Zealand’s pandemic response, and has done invaluable work explaining the difficult scientific concepts involved. She recently reflected on her twelve months worth of collaborations with Toby Morris, and what the most important lessons of a wild year have been. We’re immensely lucky to have had her and other leading scientists in the public domain for 2020. Congratulations also to Shannon Te Huia who has won Local Hero of the Year after tirelessly working to restore the health of his awa, the Pūniu River.

The Spinoff can’t exist without our members. If you want to help us stay curious and keep our team across New Zealand’s breaking stories, please donate today.

Women who are seriously injured giving birth are being cut off by ACC, after a policy change, reports Radio NZ’s Anusha Bradley. Some form of tearing is very common in childbirth, but the number of severe tears is increasing, some of which can take years to fully heal. Wait times on treatment can also be very long. And now, because of the policy change, some mothers are going through it unsupported. In a related story, Crux’s Isobel Ewing has spoken to mothers around the Southern Lakes areas, who suffered difficult births while hundreds of kms away from the nearest full service hospital.

If you remember the story about the KFC worker who went to a shift before testing positive, documents released under the OIA have vindicated her. Newshub’s Michael Morrah reports the documents confirm she was only directly contacted the day after her shift. She has also suffered significant public shaming since the incident, despite doing nothing wrong. No lesser figure than the PM had weighed in one this case, saying the worker had done the wrong thing. An apology seems in order.

A review into Ports of Auckland has found significant and systemic problems around health and safety, reports Radio NZ. Mayor Phil Goff has indicated that the board of the port would be “held to account” on it. The port in turn responded, with chair Bill Osborne saying the findings had been accepted. He also noted the difficult relationship between the port and the Maritime Union – the latter telling One News that they had little input into the review, and that the port had long prioritised productivity over health and safety.

One more working group for the road: Broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi has announced that the business case for a merger of TVNZ and Radio NZ will be developed, and he expects to take something to cabinet by October, reports Tom Pullar-Strecker for Stuff. The group will be chaired by former MP Tracey Martin.

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Image by Toby Morris, illustrator and thinkfluencer

Right now on The Spinoff: I report on new figures that show hundreds of people are still ending up in court on cannabis possession charges. Economist Ian Harrison argues against the concept of subsidies for electric vehicles. Duncan Greive has a typically crunchy piece going behind the scenes of a reality TV show – in this case it’s The Bachelor, and why the latest season felt so rushed and perfunctory. Chris Schulz looks back at when Jackie Brown was caught up in one of the strangest live TV moments in NZ history.

And editor Toby Manhire has announced a brand new and exciting direction for The Spinoff – we’re going to be embracing the blockchain and pivoting to being an NFT (non-fungible token) site.

For a feature today, a discussion of the impacts of concussion, and the anxiety that comes with knowing it can be a career ending injury. Writing on the (paywalled) NZ Herald, radio host D’Arcy Waldergrave talks about what he went through when a seemingly innocuous knock turned into seven weeks of being unable to work. He’s back on air now, which is fantastic, but the experience taught him a lot. Here’s an excerpt:

I talk and scribble for a crust, so when I did return I wasn’t exactly sticking my head into a lion’s mouth for a weekly pay cheque, unlike professional collision sport athletes. The more I pondered the reality of rugby players re-entering the fray, returning to the scene of the crime, the more I empathised with their plight. These players are courageous. These players rely on their carcasses to survive.

These players only well know the clear and present threat of concussion. When they succumb to the inevitable (in a sport which is played with such alarming ferocity at velocity), knowing the end of the recovery journey will pitch them straight back into the very fray that initiated the cloudy, shapeless phantom of head knocks, must be an extraordinary future to make peace with. Not if, when. Not how, just how bad. The spectre of later life implications must always be rattling its chains.

It’s not yet clear if White Ferns captain Sophie Devine will take the field today, for the deciding T20 against Australia. Stuff reports it was revealed yesterday she missed Tuesday’s game because of fatigue, and a call on her availability for Eden Park will be made late. Devine has had a monster of a summer, starting way back in September with the Big Bash in Australia, as well as holding captaincy duties with the national team. The men will also be playing tonight, closing out their summer with a dead rubber against Bangladesh.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme. Happy Easter everyone, The Bulletin will be back on Tuesday.

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