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The BulletinJuly 1, 2020

The Bulletin: New support, new taxes in effect from today

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: New benefits and new taxes in effect from today, questions raised over whether a leading Brexiteer is getting into NZ politics, and contrasting polls on cannabis legalisation.

Today is a big day for New Zealand, with a whole lot of previously announced policies coming into effect. July 1 is typically the date for these changes to happen, and this year is no different. Some changes are being trumpeted by the government, others less so.

In a release, PM Ardern said it was “a milestone day for the government as a host of key policies take effect, demonstrating the critical areas where progress has been made.” Among the key items cited was the extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks along with a $20 per week top-up, the opening up of the free apprenticeship scheme, and a pay boost for 17,000 qualified early childhood teachers. The paid parental leave boost was highlighted in particular, with Ardern saying the government has “increased the amount of paid time new parents get to spend with their babies by eight weeks, demonstrating our commitment to families.” The Building Levy rate will also be coming down, but by a fairly marginal figure – the average residential new build in Auckland will now be about $80 cheaper.

A really interesting change will be the Farm Debt Mediation scheme being brought into operation. This will require creditors to offer mediation to farmers who default on payments before they take any enforcement action, amid ballooning farm debt. There was wide support for this across the board – for example, the government earned some relatively rare plaudits from Federated Farmers for it, the Timaru Herald reported in February.

But as always, there will be tax increases the government won’t be so keen to talk about. The fuel tax is going up again, along with road user charges, reports the NZ Herald. National has criticised this in light of the increased economic pressure of Covid-19, but the AA’s Mark Stockdale says this year it will be “probably easier to swallow” because of the dramatically low global oil price. For those who like a bit of sinning, there’s good and bad news – alcohol excise taxes will go up, but tobacco excise taxes won’t rise this time around. The hospitality industry had been lobbying against the alcohol excise rise, but it doesn’t appear that they got their way.

And finally, for Auckland motorists yesterday also saw a big change. A raft of streets will now have safer speed limits, particularly around town centres and the CBD. The NZTA has put out an interactive map of the changes, and the police say they won’t be cracking down ruthlessly and immediately on the new limits, reports Stuff, on the grounds that “people who use these roads frequently will be accustomed to the previous speed limits.”

Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive: 

“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and would like to contribute, please consider doing so – support is important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”

Questions are being asked repeatedly – and not being answered – about whether a leading Brexiteer is getting involved in NZ politics.The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti reports that Arron Banks (the bankroller of Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign) has spent most of 2020 in New Zealand, where he became an ardent supporter of Winston Peters and the NZ First Party. And the feeling appears to be mutual. So is this simply a case of politically aligned people finding common ground, or is there something more to it?

Two competing polls on cannabis legalisation have been released, showing very different prospects of success. The NZ Herald reported on a Horizon poll, commissioned by medicinal cannabis company Helius Therapeutics, that found a growing majority was in support of the change. However, a One News poll conducted by Colmar Brunton found the margin was going in the other direction. Suffice to say, it’s way too close to call, and those currently undecided will make a big difference. If you want to go back and get a clear picture on what we’ll be voting on, have a read of my cheat sheet from May.

The major APEC summit will no longer be coming to town in 2021. A decision has been made early to hold a virtual meeting instead, amid concerns that even next year Covid-19 won’t be sufficiently under control to manage the event. As Radio NZ reports, it isn’t good news for Auckland businesses, who were expecting to cash in on the event. However, it also gives the government certainty around an event they would otherwise have had to devote significantly more resources towards.

Fisheries minister Stuart Nash has been caught in a moment of candour, after a secret recording of him discussing political pressure on policy was revealed. Newshub’s Michael Morrah has reported on the tape, in which Nash told an unnamed party that heavy pressure was coming from NZ First MPs against cameras being rolled out on fishing boats. The story also provides useful context for why this is newsworthy and in the public interest, such as the large donations made by fishing companies to the NZ First Foundation. Nash has since walked back the statements made on the tape, and Winston Peters put out a press release before the story even aired denouncing it as defamatory and tabloid clickbait. In case you were wondering, cameras still aren’t mandatory on commercial fishing boats.

Criticism is mounting against Meridian Energy, after water spilled from hydro dams caused thousands of tons worth of carbon emissions from electricity generation. I’ve reported on the reaction to an Electricity Authority preliminary decision on a complaint that they got rid of water from hydro dams, causing a coal power plant to be turned on instead in December last year. Electric Kiwi CEO said it was “a pretty extreme illustration of market power at the expense of the environment.” The move also imposed extra costs on retailers and consumers, a point picked up in a release from NZ First MP Mark Patterson.

Departing MP Paula Bennett has revealed that she was physically assaulted several times over the course of her political career. In an interview with the AM Show, she also revealed that she had been subjected to numerous death threats. Suffice to say, this is well outside the normal rough and tumble of politics, and any sensible person would utterly condemn it.

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Boat parking in Auckland, New Zealand (Photo: Getty)

Right now on The Spinoff: Sam Brooks questions why the National party struggles to attract candidates who are queer. Kiri Joy Wallace writes about the medical researchers and ecologists working together in ways which they say could help solve New Zealand’s worsening public health issues. Josie Adams goes down the rabbit hole on why a group of conspiracy theorists are camped out at Auckland’s viaduct. Hal Crawford interviews the co-founder of indoor cycling technology Zwift about being picked up for a virtual Tour de France. Richard Betts checks in with the classical music world about how it is coming out of Covid-19. And Briar Lawry reviews the widely lauded new Pip Adam novel Nothing to See.

For a feature today, a two part series examining in forensic detail the Covid-19 cluster at Rosewood rest home. It was the deadliest cluster in the country, and provided something of a cautionary tale for how rapid the damage could be in such facilities. Newsroom’s David Williams has gone into intense detail about what went wrong – part one is here, and part two is here. Here’s an excerpt from the latter.

Many frontline workers are haunted by news of “silent spreaders” – asymptomatic carriers who unknowingly pass on the virus. On the morning of Wednesday, April 8, two days after Rosewood’s dementia wing residents are relocated, the potential risks of coronavirus spreading to another facility are raised.

The previous Saturday, a day after the first Rosewood case was confirmed, the same issue was raised by a manager from St George’s private hospital, which supplied nurses to cover shifts. Little fuss was made – they were sent two sets of guidelines. But as the week wears on, trust in policy-following at Rosewood seems to wear thin – perhaps with good reason.

The story around Emirates Team New Zealand outing spies is starting to look decidedly more murky for the syndicate. Newshub’s Tom McRae reports that the contractors who were thrown overboard say they’re actually whistleblowers. They worked on the running of the event, rather than the sailing team, but did work out of the same headquarters. At some stage, information about alleged financial improprieties was provided to MBIE, who are now investigating – and on this point, the NZ Herald dropped an exclusive this morning outlining what those concerns are. It essentially relates to whether public money was improperly used.

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