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The BulletinJune 1, 2021

The Bulletin: Nick Smith retiring amid staffer altercation allegation


Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Nick Smith retiring amid staffer altercation allegation, warning over contaminated floodwaters, and Morrison and Ardern present united front.

National MP Dr Nick Smith will be retiring in the near future, after an announcement that included the disclosure that he’s under investigation over a “verbal altercation.” Smith was a list MP, having lost his long-held seat of Nelson in 2020. He indicated that he would have been likely to retire this year anyway, after being in parliament since 1990. Our live updates carried his statement as of yesterday afternoon – the key paragraph of which was:

“Parliamentary Services have been conducting a confidential inquiry into a verbal altercation in my Wellington office last July that has not concluded. I was advised on Friday that the inquiry and its details have been leaked to the media for release tomorrow. It is inappropriate for employment disputes to be litigated in public. I will put on the record that I regret the incident, I apologised at the time and I apologise again today.”

In terms of that story, it appears to relate to an allegation of bullying from a young male staffer. That is what One News understood to be the case last night, while the NZ Herald’s story had a line that “it is understood the altercation was with a young staff member who had worked there for less than a year prior to the incident.” It appears to be only one reason Smith is leaving politics, with Newsroom reporting that a change in his family circumstances meaning that he needs to “provide them with greater support”. Smith also said it would give the party – which had their ranks of emerging talent decimated at the election – a chance to renew.

The new National MP will be Harete Hipango, who lost the seat of Whanganui at the last election, and was the highest placed unsuccessful list candidate. She increases National’s Māori caucus by half, and told Stuff “I do bring the fact to the party that I am a Māori woman, I am a New Zealand woman. I will articulate that as I have before.” She did not comment on National’s recent campaign around the He Puapua report, saying she hadn’t read it. Hipango served one term as an MP during her last stint, and returned to practicing law while out of parliament.

In news about the flooding down south, the Press reports people have been told to avoid all floodwaters on the assumption they are contaminated with sewage. That became particularly dangerous after a wastewater treatment pond was overrun, and the contents mixed with the water. Plenty of the water will have also swept through paddocks, picking up whatever the animals left behind on the way. Some people have been unable to return to their homes overnight, while others have had to be ready to evacuate at short notice. And in breaking news, the Ashburton SH1 bridge has been closed amid fears it has been compromised, and motorists reported feeling it sagging.

And it could have been significantly worse for Timaru, had the drought not left Lake Opuha so low, reports the Timaru Herald. That story includes pictures that show how much the volume of water in the lake has increased. It’s a stark contrast to Lake Taupō in the North Island, which is currently at “dangerously low” levels, reports One News. To sum up the meaning of these stories: the country hasn’t had nearly enough rain recently, it hasn’t often fallen where it is needed, and the weekend’s deluge won’t have been as helpful as it might seem.

PMs Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison have put up a united front on diplomatic issues around China, reports Justin Giovannetti from Queenstown. Their meeting was preceded by increasingly vocal agitation from Australian media about New Zealand’s stance, but it doesn’t appear the Australian government shares that view. However, there is still some distance over deportations, a contentious Australian policy that has seen basically no movement despite the NZ government regularly raising concerns.

A paid message from our partners at the Infrastructure Commission: Plan. Design. Fund. Deliver. On paper it seems pretty simple, but for our infrastructure to be truly future-proofed, first we need to know that we’re trying to move in the right direction. The New Zealand Infrastructure Commission is seeking submissions now for a 30-year infrastructure strategy – if you’ve got thoughts on the direction we should be taking, click here to have your say.

New Zealand’s Chinese community has made an appeal for more inclusion in the draft history curriculum, reports Newshub. Community representatives say the history would be perfect to explore critically topics like migration and prejudice. And that history isn’t necessarily widely known, despite stretching back almost as far as widespread European settlement. The window for feedback on the curriculum closed last night.

Zespri has had an absolutely storming year on the back of strong Kiwifruit sales. Business Desk (paywalled) reports strong international demand has resulted in growers getting record per-tray prices, and there has also been good interest in the new “red” variety. This was set against some labour market disruption during the harvest season. As to why demand was so high, I think it’s probably fair to extrapolate out from this story published by the NZ Herald last year about sales of certain fruits booming amid the pandemic.

Some strong reporting on disability services in Masterton: Soumya Bhamidipati of the Times-Age reports there are fears that the local outlet of service provider IHC might close, amid wider concerns about a lack of transparency. Families of those with disabilities say the situation is causing them additional stress and concern.

Congratulations to Green MP Julie Anne Genter, who is going to be having another kid around the end of the year. Stuff’s Kate Green spoke to her about a few topics around the subject, and there were some insightful questions and answers about bringing children into a world facing a climate crisis. Genter and her partner have one child together currently, born about three years ago – famously Genter cycled to the hospital to give birth.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Former journalist Matt Shand writes about taking a break from drinking, and how alcohol costs the whole of society whether they drink or not. Mirjam Guesgen reports on rule changes on embryo use, and how it could change the IVF process. Justin Giovannetti reports on a government plan to ensure women don’t bear the unemployment brunt of the next recession. Colin Gavaghan writes about the good and the bad news of the impact artificial intelligence will have on the workplace. And Jihee Junn continues her series on investing, with an explanation of the platforms people are using.

For a feature today, a confronting feature about how digital technology is exacerbating the divide between the haves and the have-nots in Dubai. The place has never been a bastion of equality, but the differences are becoming ever more stark, according to this piece on Rest of World. For those wondering what the relevance to here is, I would argue that it’s an example of the direction an unfettered gig economy can end up in. Here’s an excerpt:

Expenses for migrant drivers like Jaffri add up fast. On top of taxes, drivers pay a cut of their wages to the taxi companies that sponsor them. They also lease their own cars. Before the pandemic, Jaffri was making as much as $4,000 (around 15,000 dirhams) a month. More than half of it went to his monthly car payment. After the government tax and the cuts to the taxi company which sponsors his visa, he could sometimes send as much as $800 a month home to his family.

When the pandemic hit, Jaffri’s monthly income immediately fell to under $1,500. As more restrictions were put in place, it dropped by half again. Jaffri and his roommates fell behind on their exorbitant car payments, all while they worked to keep sending income back to their families in Pakistan. The banks were lenient until September, said Jaffri, but then they came calling.

“We are under debt because we were sending all of our money to our families,” Jaffri told Rest of World. He said he still owes about $19,000, mostly to the bank for his car payment, and to his friends who loaned him money to stay afloat. “The people who were driving vehicles came under debt, they couldn’t pay the installments,” he said. “They kept their money because there was no income and gave nothing to companies and banks.”

Plenty of trans-Tasman sport is currently under way, and the Australians seem to have the better of the Black Sticks in the hockey. One News reports the women have been drawing constantly, leaving their series still alive for the final match tonight. However, the men have lost all three so far, meaning there’s only a bit of pride left to play for. At the end of June, both teams will hop over the Tasman to play a return series in Perth.

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