Queenstown airport and Frankton as seen from above (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Why Southern Lakes airports matter for the whole country

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Focus put on airports around Southern Lakes, deal appears to have been reached on climate change law, and leadership crisis in National appears to have abated.

The Southern Lakes area, including the tourist drawcards of Queenstown and Wanaka, face some huge decisions over airport infrastructure. It’s a part of the country that is under so much tourism pressure, in fact, that they’re going to hold a referendum on a visitor levy. And at the moment, there are a lot of competing pressures with big implications. On the one side, there is a desire to have more capacity than Queenstown airport currently provides, to help service the huge money-making machine that is tourism in the area. But on the other, there aren’t any uncontroversial options as to how to do that – and many people don’t even want the expansion at all.

Currently, the airport is in Frankton, but as Crux reports, an architectural study has found it isn’t realistic to put more growth there – though more land could potentially be acquired. There are also concerns about the length of the airport’s runway, with an overshoot considered to be a ‘when, not if’ scenario. Architects have suggested that the airport could be sold, the land used for housing, and an altogether new one could be built. Mountain Scene reports that the mayor, Jim Boult, isn’t keen on Tarras as a site for new development, but he wants progress to be made on funding a new airport. There could also be development at Wanaka’s airport instead, with Queenstown’s airport left intact.

Currently Wanaka isn’t a commercial airport at all – it’s a recreational flying hub. Queenstown’s airport wants to buy it and develop it, so that it could be used for smaller domestic flights. The Airport Corporation went on record a few years ago and said by 2045, they wanted to have capacity for 7 million passengers a year cumulatively going through Queenstown and Wanaka airports. But as Radio NZ reports, there’s a lot of backlash there too about the thought of more development, as happens pretty much every time something that would increase the volume of tourists is discussed. In an opinion piece, Crux editor Peter Newport outlined the difficulty of getting views across to decision makers, and why locals felt short-changed by how tourism in Queenstown worked, with this storming paragraph.

“The Southern Lakes agenda currently is set by big businesses, many of which are not even based here and make little contribution to the local economy apart from tragically low paid work. Developers, airlines, tourism giants – they are all our absentee drivers of growth. Some very big businesses are based here and argue that their council rates contribution is enough, while their workers struggle to live here in ghetto-like conditions. One of the biggest operators, Ngai Tahu, pays no tax at all because they are treated as a charity.”

So what does it matter to the rest of us? It’s worth going back to a recent feature that outlined just how big a contribution tourism (especially aviation) makes to our carbon emissions. Nikki Macdonald wrote about it for Stuff, and quoted a report that said “the most obvious source of a potentially longer-term reduction in tourism growth is climate change.” If the country, and the world as a whole for that matter, is ever going to make progress on emissions reductions, people will almost certainly have to fly less. It’s our planet too, not just a playground for wealthy tourists. A dramatic increase in the number of international flights is totally incompatible with good climate outcomes – not to mention the emissions that would be created in the construction of such major pieces of infrastructure.

This is certain to be a major issue of debate for the region, with local government elections later in the year. It’s one that the whole country should take very close note of, because the issues currently playing out in Queenstown aren’t unique to the area. Almost every city is seeing a surge in population which is outstripping housing supply. Any area with any sort of tourism potential is also seeing that supply being eaten into by short term rental platforms like AirBnb. And infrastructure takes a long, long time to build, and decisions hang around for a long time once they’ve been made. What happens with these airport plans will likely shape this vitally important region for decades to come.


Reports are emerging that a deal has been struck between the Greens and NZ First on the zero carbon legislation, reports Stuff. They report that it will involve treating gases like methane, which are created by agriculture, differently to gases like carbon dioxide, which will be cut more aggressively. It should be stressed that this isn’t an official announcement – just a report that Stuff has been able to stand up. Regardless, if it is the case it means that progress has restarted on a set of laws which have been held up interminably over the course of this government’s term.

Meanwhile, the Ross Ice shelf in Antarctica is melting much faster than expected, reports Stuff. It’s because the ocean flowing around it is warmer than usual. Further study and effects modelling is going to take place, but I think we can safely say now it’s not exactly a good thing.


Leadership ructions appear to have been averted for now within the National party, reports Interest. Both senior MP Judith Collins and leader Simon Bridges went into caucus dancing around making explicit statements of trust and support for each other, which many interpreted as signs that they don’t. Then they came out, and Simon Bridges said he did in fact trust her. At this stage, no MPs have formally and publicly broken ranks with Mr Bridges, though some outlets have reported anonymous comments against him.


Trade minister David Parker has given Q+A a very interesting interview outlining the government’s views on the Belt and Road initiative. He sees it as a diplomatic tool for the international relationship, rather than necessarily being about China building infrastructure – as has been the case in other parts of the world – and there aren’t really concrete plans for any projects. But at this stage, NZ is further down the diplomatic track on the Belt and Road initiative than allies like Australia and the USA. It also looks like foreign minister Winston Peters is coming around on it, reports the NZ Herald who has “fully endorsed” the comments of Mr Parker.


The Mental Health Foundation wants more teachers trained in promoting mental wellbeing, reports Newshub. At the moment, few are trained to spot signs of mental distress, and the number of teachers with that training is lower in lower decile schools. I’d expect there would be a bit of pushback though if the overall role of teachers was expanded to include more aspects of mental health, because it’s not like they currently have a light workload.


A coup attempt appears to be underway in Venezuela, which self-declared President Juan Guaido calling on the military to rise up. However, as Al-Jazeera reports, the Maduro regime still believes it has the support of the army. International backers will be watching the unfolding events closely. The US has strongly backed the coup plotters, to the point of hinting that there might be an invasion in support of it. The regime is being backed up by countries like Russia and Turkey.


An apology for how something was worded in Monday’s Bulletin: When discussing the story about the police watchlist being leaked, I wrote the following: “The list is ideologically wide ranging, and among others includes both white supremacists and Muslims.”

Eamonn got in touch to point out – “while true, by putting white supremacists and Muslims next to each other like this it paints a picture that they’re both extremists, while most Muslims are neither extreme nor on this list.” And he’s absolutely right, it was an extremely clumsy way of wording it on my part, and I apologise for creating the wrong impression.


Finally, congratulations to NZ Herald journalist Matt Nippert, who has just been accepted as a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. He joins Nicky Hager as the sole NZ representatives in the organisation, who were the ones behind the massive storm around the Panama Papers a few years ago. Nippert is an extremely worthy inclusion in the group, as the country’s foremost investigative spreadsheet nerd.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Gareth Shute writes about the media presence of ACT leader David Seymour. Oskar Howell went along to the Flat Earth conference and had a pretty normal time. Don Rowe investigates reports of a crime wave hitting sex toy shops. Alice Webb-Liddall talks to a Christchurch cafe about how they managed to make absorbing the new minimum wage easy. And a bunch of us came together for a group think, to ponder what the rules should be about spoilers.


I’m not normally one for theoretical maths, but this piece really caught my eye. It’s on the blog Possibly Wrong, and is about an experiment to demonstrate predictive probability, through the method of buying packs of Skittles candy until you found two packs with identical contents. If it sounds like a bizarre experiment, get this – the author revealed in the comments that in the course of it they discovered they don’t even like Skittles. Here’s an excerpt where they explain their rationale for doing it.

Why bother with nearly three months of effort to collect this data? One easy answer is that I simply found it interesting. But I think a better answer is that this seemed like a great opportunity to demonstrate the predictive power of mathematics. A few months ago, we did some calculations on a cocktail napkin, so to speak, predicting that we should be able to find a pair of identical packs of Skittles with a reasonably– and perhaps surprisingly– small amount of effort. Actually seeing that effort through to the finish line can be a vivid demonstration for students of this predictive power of what might otherwise be viewed as “merely abstract” and not concretely useful mathematics.

As an aside, I think the fact that this particular concrete application happens to be recreational, or even downright frivolous, is beside the point. For one thing, recreational mathematics is fun. But perhaps more importantly, there are useful, non-recreational, “real-world” applications of the same underlying mathematics.


The Football Ferns have named a strong and experienced squad for the upcoming World Cup in France. Stuff reports that Hannah Wilkinson will be back in action, one of 17 players picked with World Cup experience. The vastly experienced Sarah Gregorius and Abby Erceg have also been picked for the June tournament. The Football Ferns are currently ranked 19th in the world, and are in a group with the Netherlands (8th) Canada (5th) and Cameroon (46th)

Wallabies front rower Taniela Tupou has come out strongly on social media in defence of his Christian beliefs, reports Rugby Pass. It all comes at a delicate time for the sport in Australia, which is deciding what to do about Israel Folau, who made a series of homophobic comments. Another player apologised for the timing of a Christian-themed post, and Tupou’s response was this: “Might as well sack me and all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world because we have the same Christian beliefs.”

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Finally, this is an incredible story about an athlete who chose to amputate one of their own legs so they could have their mobility back. Radio NZ‘s Zoe George has written a feature on Rachel Māia, a rock climber who had a terrible leg injury in her teens. She always fought to stop it slowing her down, but at the age of 35 she realised it had to go. She could do more without it. It really is an inspiring read.


From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.


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