Carmel Sepuloni (Photo: Radio NZ / Rebekah Parsons-King)
Carmel Sepuloni (Photo: Radio NZ / Rebekah Parsons-King)

The BulletinSeptember 1, 2020

The Bulletin: Diverging outcomes from Covid-relief benefit

Carmel Sepuloni (Photo: Radio NZ / Rebekah Parsons-King)
Carmel Sepuloni (Photo: Radio NZ / Rebekah Parsons-King)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Reports show diverging outcomes from Covid-relief benefit, Aucklanders head off at end of lockdown, and police quietly setting up facial recognition system.

We’re starting to see a wide divergence in outcomes from the Covid-19 Income Relief Payment benefit, introduced at the start of the pandemic. At the time, many welfare advocates criticised the new benefit because it was set at a much higher rate than the original benefit – they argued that it basically set up a ‘two-tier’ welfare system, which punished those who had been unemployed before the pandemic hit, who were already on unlivable low incomes. And it turns out, a lot of those concerns have turned out to be fair.

Two stories from yesterday illustrate this in particular. The first comes from Radio NZ’s Sarah Robson, and is based on survey data compiled by a group of organisations. The conclusion is pretty clear – those on the Covid relief payment are faring a lot better than those on the standard unemployment benefit, and have reported fewer occasions in which they’ve been unable to meet basic needs. A crucial point of it all is that many on the Covid relief have additional resources to fall back on – be it home ownership, or passive income streams – that those who have been unemployed for a while are far less likely to have. The survey also found that the $25 increase a week to general benefits is having little impact.

And who exactly are the people getting the better payments on the Covid relief? As the NZ Herald’s Isaac Davison reports, they’re much more likely to be Pākehā than those on the unemployment benefit – on which Māori are vastly over-represented compared to the general population. In other words, the two-tier benefit system could well be contributing to an increase in racial inequality. Clear warnings about this were made when the Covid relief payment was set up, and it’s exactly what has come to pass.

With the airport opened, Aucklanders have been fleeing to the many better parts of the country. As the NZ Herald reports, that made things a bit tricky at Auckland airport, where masked up travellers had to maintain social distancing in long queues. On a related note, the loss of Aucklanders has had a pretty major effect on hospitality around New Zealand – Newshub reports that a majority of businesses nationwide had suffered from “significantly reduced” income over the period of Auckland being in lockdown. Meanwhile, Michael Andrew reports some Auckland retail stores are staying closed at level 2.5, even though they’re allowed to open – a Toyco store saying that the risk to staff couldn’t be justified, when click and collect was a viable option.

Here’s a good reason to wear a face mask in public – you might not get spotted by the new police facial recognition system. Radio NZ a $9 million system has been quietly set up to identify people from live CCTV feeds, which “would push New Zealand into new territory for tracking citizens.” The stated aim of the programme is to reduce crime by cutting the amount of investigation time needed to find suspects. But of course, it raises a lot of quite serious privacy concerns, that we haven’t really had any sort of society-wide discussion about.

GCSB minister Andrew Little has revealed that the NZX was warned of potential cyber attacks in advance, reports Radio NZ. He says his understanding was that the warning messages came in advance of the attacks taking place, information which will be part of the investigation into what happened. Meanwhile, news organisations Stuff and Radio NZ also revealed yesterday they had come under similar attack, but their sites stayed up – I got some tech experts to explain why those sites survived, while a critical piece of financial infrastructure had to be suspended. I’ve tried to write it in a non-jargon way, so hopefully it all makes sense.

The government has responded to a major inquiry into the Earthquake Commission’s performance after the Christchurch quakes, promising a law change. Tina Law from The Press reports that all 70 recommendations made after the public inquiry had been accepted, and the EQC Act would be modified. EQC itself says that significant organisational reforms have already been implemented since the quakes.

Hopes are high that weather conditions today will help firefighters battling an out of control blaze near Twizel, reports Stuff. There has been damage to farms, a forestry plantation, and at least one home had been destroyed as of last night. Meanwhile, the ODT reports that firefighter resources have been stretched by a number of other jobs across the region, including a big fire to the north of Middlemarch, and a blaze at the old mill that stores dangerous stocks of Ouvea premix in Mataura.

The Samoan government is looking at increasing both the required quarantine period, and social distancing measures, reports the Samoa Observer. The country is currently Covid-free, but has had to maintain some pretty intense long-term restrictions to stay that way. The proposal is for the 14 day period to be extended to 21 days. The report also reveals that while thousands of people have been repatriated back to Samoa, but a recent flight from New Zealand had to be cancelled because of the spike in cases here.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Jane Calderwood Norton & Jordan Grimmer write about charitable status for groups that do political advocacy, and what happens when a group you don’t like gets it. Guled Mire writes about speaking out after the March 15 attacks, and his experience since. Brian Cox writes a response to an earlier piece in the debate around anaerobic digestion and composting. Emily Writes explains what OnlyFans is, and why sex workers are up in arms about celebrities getting on the platform. Sam Brooks reviews the good and the bad of Paddy Gower’s new documentary about the lurch into lockdown. Stewart Sowman-Lund talks to controversial musician Amanda Palmer about her unlikely new life in New Zealand. Madeleine Chapman reports on the week in the stupider side of politics through the format of memes.

And we’ve got a new episode of the music show Final Mix, featuring Phoenix Foundation frontman, food writer and beloved cricket podcast guest Samuel Flynn Scott, talking about the band’s upcoming new album Friend Ship.

For a feature today, a look at the way that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos actually got ludicrously rich, rather than the traditional narrative about innovation. US journalist Matt Stoller is an expert in monopoly power, and has analysed Amazon in the context of a few court rulings in the US aiming to hold the company liable for defective products sold on their platform. As Stoller puts it, their real genius is in exploiting a set of rules until they’d served their purpose, and then demanding they be changed at the expense of potential competitors. Here’s a chunky excerpt that explains the point:

What’s more interesting is the shift that Amazon undertook here, flipping from refusing to take responsibility for defective products sold through its Marketplace to trying to place strict liability obligations onto everyone else involved in e-commerce, no matter their level of control or involvement in the marketing and distribution chain. I don’t know if this is a broader shift. Opponents of Amazon in other states fighting for strict liability for Amazon can just file a supplemental brief pointing out that the company conceded the principle. It’s possible Amazon could try to argue that California is simply unique, and revert to its stance fighting against strict liability for its marketplace.

But Amazon might start lobbying for standards it can meet but that others cannot, which would be a strategic shift. And if it is such a shift, it would be very similar to what Amazon did with sales taxes. From its founding in 1994, Amazon exploited a legal loophole allowing mail order companies to collect sales taxes only in states in which they had physical facilities (which is why Bezos located the company in Washington instead of the much larger end-market of California). Amazon thus could sell at a competitive advantage by locating facilities in as few states as possible, letting customers avoid sales taxes. When Amazon’s growth of warehousing facilities made such a strategy impractical, the company flipped (though not for its third party merchants), and argued for closing that loophole, so upstarts couldn’t use it against Amazon.

In sport today, a really interesting analysis of recent developments in athlete activism, and how it differs from previous efforts. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Joel Kulasingham started the piece with a look at the recent comments made by All Black TJ Perenara around the Black Lives Matter movement, and then broadened it out to what is happening right now in the US. I think this is the key point – “What was different about the recent spate of mass player strikes, compared to previous player protests in sport, was the fact that it was a labour-based movement that went beyond symbolism.”

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