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The Bulletin: School year beginning with added challenges

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: School year beginning with added challenges, Mahuta moves against petitions opposing Māori wards, and fishing company could lose vessel over illegal trawling.

Schools are beginning to go back after a summer break, and into a year that will present some deep challenges. That’ll be true whether or not there are more lockdowns – Radio NZ’s John Gerritsen reports preparations for the possibility are taking place regardless. Because of the sudden nature of such decisions, and principals say they’re getting their staff ready to change plans within a day or two.

Even if there isn’t one, the impact Covid-19 had last year will continue to impact plenty of kids. This Stuff feature looks into what the longer term effects might be. Qualifications themselves aren’t really the problem – that could be solved with the introduction of necessary workarounds. But the question is whether the disruption will have slowed learning generally. As school leaver Jack put it, “it probably slowed the learning process, because time allocated to work at home doesn’t really equate to what you do in class. When you’re alone you don’t have the ability to ask those follow-up questions and avoid those little stuck areas.”

There is also a bit of mismatch between the locations and skills of available teaching jobs, and the workforce to fill them. One News reports there are still vacancies at schools, particularly in the areas of “physics, maths, te reo Māori, chemistry and technology”. Graduate numbers are really strong though, which is a positive sign for the profession generally, given how the workforce was starting to trend older. Were that not the case, schools would probably be looking at a year with catastrophic skill shortages.

For many parents, this can also be a time of compounding stresses, particularly financial. The start of the school year is one when a whole lot of costs often come up at the same time – not least uniforms. Stuff reports charitable services are increasingly necessary to ensure access. The NZ Herald covered all the other things that come up, increasingly including technology costs. That becomes particularly crucial if schools do have to close again.

The government is stepping in to block petitions against Māori wards on councils, reports Stuff. Local government minister Nanaia Mahuta said that at the moment, there were almost insurmountable barriers to councils putting such wards in, despite councils around the country voting for them. Part of the law change will involve transitional legislation, upholding Māori wards for the next round of local government elections in 2022.

A court case is currently underway which could result in a fishing company forfeiting a vessel, over illegal bottom trawling charges. Stuff has reported on the case, which includes multiple incidents of a Sanford boat going over a protected area near Stewart Island. Guilty pleas have already been entered, but now the question is over what the penalty will be.

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Businesses have proven to be remarkably resilient against insolvency, despite a year of challenges. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Tamsyn Parker reports the number of business going down after fell in 2020, completely against expectations. However, an expert quoted in the story suggested many businesses are still facing heightened risks, and difficult prospects.

It’s worth going into more detail on what the Climate Change Commission report had to say about agriculture, as fundamentally important as it is to overall climate policy. Business Desk’s (paywalled) Pattrick Smellie has picked out the methods by which the commission wants to see methane cuts. A major aspect of the plan – and a point that is worrying the industry – is that land use change to native forestry will be necessary. Interestingly, de-stocking won’t necessarily mean lower profits for individual farmers, though that won’t be universally true, in part because some farmers have to service significant debt. It would also likely lower the overall income for the country from farming.

The latest political poll shows Labour remains far ahead of the other parties in parliament, and combined with the Greens has a comfortable majority. The Roy Morgan survey has Labour slightly down on their election result, but National are stuck at 25%. The Greens are slightly ahead of Act, though this particular poll often gives the Greens better results than other polls.

Myanmar’s military has reversed progress towards democracy with a coup. The Associated Press reports the moves made by the military include the detention of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, along with a range of other people in civil society. It is likely that some form of international sanction will now follow – Myanmar had been a pariah state before, and probably now will be again.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Joel Rindelaub writes about vaccine hesitancy, and why it’s important to listen to the scientists on vaccine safety. Jacinta Ruru and Jacobi Kohu-Morris imagine an alternative to New Zealand’s constitutional framework that gives Te Tiriti o Waitangi the mana it deserves and Māori a meaningful seat at the table. Mirjam Guesgen explains why native wildlife didn’t always enjoy the break from people it got during lockdown. Emma Gilkison writes about being holed up in Berlin, for a long and difficult winter. And Josie Adams has a quiz that’ll tell you which native tree is right for your heart.

For a feature today, a data-heavy and intensive look at the downturn in the downtown Auckland economy. Two economists have been republished on Interest, with a piece showing that not only are numbers down during the day, with more people working from home, they’re also down at night. This is also true of other town centres across the Super City, and some suggestions are made for bringing people back in. Here’s an excerpt:

Although reduced travel to destination centres reduces congestion and emissions, there are downsides. Online shopping tends not to use local inputs, including locally-employed workers. You also don’t pop into the café next door for a coffee while you’re shopping from your sofa. This will skew where across our region and country money is poured into local communities, potentially raising inequality. Decreased foot traffic also detracts from the vitality of centres. This can create longer-term social issues such as poorer safety.

So, what are we to do? We need to get people back into our town centres. There is no single answer, but a strategy would include town centre regeneration, coaxing people back onto public transport (which is still down sharply from pre-pandemic), and getting a bigger share of the burgeoning domestic tourist pie (which we have not capitalised on much thus far).

Two incidents of alleged racial abuse are currently being investigated in club cricket. The most recent was reported on by Radio NZ, and took place in Wellington. And the original complaint came in Hawke’s Bay, with One News reporting an independent commissioner has been appointed to look into it. Both resulted in games being abandoned.

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