Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: The government’s month of hell begins, BP under pressure over fuel price manipulation, and Amazon tax coming on online shopping.
Government ministers and staffers are facing what could feel like the longest month of their lives. They’ve got four sitting weeks of Parliament to get through starting today, along with delivery of the Budget on May 17. To get an idea of what that period will be like, watch PM Jacinda Ardern’s post cabinet press conference yesterday afternoon, streamed on facebook by the NZ Herald. The questions from the gallery were tough and pointed. Expect heaps of political news to break over the next month.
Under particular scrutiny was the health budget, after it was revealed discounted GP visits would only be phased in, rather than immediately implemented. Stacey Kirk at Stuff noted that it was a “clear breach of an election promise. She says with that established, there’s two possibilities: Either Labour over-promised, or the policy hasn’t been prioritised. Neither are particularly good options. Pressure will also come on in education, with teachers negotiation pay at the moment too.
So was National’s Steven Joyce right after all, on the supposed $11 billion hole in the plans Labour went into the election on? The number itself remains debunked, writes Politik‘s Richard Harman. But he says the underlying point that Joyce was making – that Labour was leaving itself almost no room to move if things were worse than they expected – is starting to look more accurate. Though of course, Labour have been building a case that things have been worse than they expected because of underfunding and neglect from the last National government.
BP is under serious scrutiny over their pricing tactics. The issue erupted after Stuff reported on an internal company email that showed manipulation towards higher prices, relating to Ōtaki and Levin in the lower North Island. Stuff’s Hamish Rutherford, who broke the story, notes that given rival companies almost always immediately follow suit when petrol prices at one outlet change, it is arguably evidence of price co-ordination across the industry. BP is defending the practice, saying petrol pricing is a highly competitive market in New Zealand, and in the particular area fuel was unsustainably cheap, reports the NZ Herald.
One important question – is it legal? Yes, according the Commerce Commission, who confirmed to Stuff that there is no evidence of collusion across retailers, and therefore there were no plans to investigate BP. However, a bill is currently before the house that would allow the Commerce Commission to conduct market behaviour studies, if they were to decide an industry needed looking in to.
Ministers are involved now too, with energy minister Megan Woods describing the revelations as “alarming,” reports Radio NZ, and PM Jacinda Ardern also raising concerns. Ardern says New Zealanders are right to feel unfairly treated by petrol companies, and they probably won’t be surprised by the story, reports the NZ Herald. And are we, the public, being ripped off? Spinoff business editor Rebecca Stevenson has compiled ten numbers that show we probably are.
The NZ Herald have a page 3 exclusive today, about government plans to collect GST on items bought online from overseas – otherwise known as the ‘Amazon tax’. An announcement is set to be made about it today. The onus will likely be on large retailers to collect and then pay the GST, which will be more convenient for consumers but will almost certainly result in higher prices. The move will apply to goods worth less than $400, as above that level duties are collected by the government.
Speaking of online shopping, the Spinoff’s Jihee Junn has been in China, as daily Bulletin readers will already know after her guest post last week. She has filed this report about how emerging online shopping superpower Alibaba is coming for Amazon’s crown, and how New Zealand businesses are leveraging Alibaba as a way into the Chinese market.
Stuff has launched a fascinating three part series today on the ‘turning of the tide’ strategy, aimed at transforming the police and their relationship with Māori. The first article explores this provocative statement: The police’s Māori strategy seems to actually be favouring Pākehā criminals. All three parts have been published today, and are well worth looking in to.
Gloriavale stories come out reasonably frequently, such is the nature of cult-watching in New Zealand. But this one is absolutely stunning. Newshub reports exclusively that a covert, night-time battle is going on between Gloriavale’s hierarchy, and concerned local Christians who are leaving pamphlets at Gloriavale presenting alternative views of God. It has proven effective too, because it cuts directly against the legitimacy of Gloriavale’s leaders and their mandate.
As an aside, this is yet another exclusive for former political editor Patrick Gower in the last three months. He’s also put the government’s use of security firm Thompson and Clark for spying on the agenda, highlighting cost blowouts at EQC, and exposed divisions over Christchurch water use. It’s a very strong strike rate, and goes to show the value of sending top reporters back into the field.
EQC have shot themselves in the foot again, by ordering Christchurch homeowners to not criticise EQC publicly if they want to get their agreed payout. The front page story on the new look Press quotes lawyers rather than homeowners, but the verdict is pretty damning, with one lawyer describing it as “bullying”, “totally inappropriate” and perhaps not legally enforceable.”
Horizons Regional Council is rapidly running out of money to subsidise water quality improvements, reports the Wanganui Chronicle. The project is being described as a “victim of its own success,” after there was higher than expected uptake and interest in improving water quality. And there are signs that the work is having an impact, though there are still several severely dirty waterways in the Whanganui-Manawatū region that funds will now be prioritised towards.
A large kauri waka has been discovered where the new Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway is being built. Sediment is currently being removed from the inside, and it will be removed from the area. Gina Moses-Te Kani of local iwi authority Hōkai Nuku told Māori TV it was sad the waka needed to be moved, as it was left in that place for a purpose.
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