Health minister Chris Hipkins and Dr Ashley Bloomfield at the health select committee (Robert Kitchin - Pool/Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Alert level one still a long way away

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Alert level one still a long way away, parliament once again closes for the term, and thousands of primary health workers to strike today.

Alert level one could still be a long way away, according to the country’s top health official. Dr Ashley Bloomfield fronted the health select committee yesterday, and as One News reports, the ministry hasn’t yet started working on advice for taking the country down in alert levels. Rather, the priority is currently to get Auckland out of what is being termed ‘level 2.5’ – the sort of strict form of level two which is currently in place, which among other things has much lower caps on gathering numbers.

There’s no set date on either a move down from 2.5, or a wider move to level one at this stage. Nor – as we saw in the polling covered in yesterday’s Bulletin – is there really any public appetite to rush the move. As health minister Chris Hipkins told Newshub, it is possible that even without finding the source of the outbreak, the move could take place. A cabinet meeting will take place on Friday to discuss it, and as the NZ Herald’s Jason Walls reports, it could end up being a particularly tense meeting, with NZ First leader Winston Peters yesterday openly criticising Labour party ministers.

What about the rest of the country? As our live updates reported yesterday, there were some suggestions that the South Island be allowed to shift down, given there has been no community transmission in months. But with Aucklanders now allowed to travel, and no plans to change that, the risks are there that Covid might still spread. The ODT reports some experts have suggested a travel ban would be wise, particularly in the context of a conference in Queenstown that Aucklanders went to. In the meantime, Hipkins is confining his request to saying that Aucklanders should “take their alert level with them”, and continue to avoid large gatherings.


For the second time this year, the term of parliament has come to an end (that’s not technically true I suppose but it is in spirit.) There are two pieces worth reading out of it. The first is by Stuff’s Henry Cooke, who captured a mood of this particular parliament absolutely dragging to a close, pettiness and exhaustion filling the chamber. And Politik’s Richard Harman has written a wonderful and quite poignant piece about an iconic photo taken during an incident right at the start of the term – when National schooled the inexperienced Labour government and got some extra select committee seats as a result. It explains why the politicians probably are so exhausted, because in looking back at everyone in the picture, it reveals what a wild three years it has been.


Thousands of primary health care workers are likely to strike today, including a large contingent of nurses, reports One News. They’re currently paid less than colleagues in the DHB system, and want pay parity. Their union says that achieving pay parity has been costed at $15 million a year, and they argue that there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be funded right now.


Warnings are being sounded that police facial recognition software will result in the wrong Māori or Pacific Island person getting arrested, reports Radio NZ’s Meriana Johnsen. That is at least what has happened with similar technology when used against Black people in the US. Dr Karaitiana Taiuru said that among his concerns around false arrests, he was also “concerned the system wouldn’t have been trained on tā moko, moko kauae so we have no idea how the system will react to that.”


Several Lower Hutt motels have been struck off the list for emergency housing because of terrible conditions, Stuff’s Matthew Tso. One tenant spoke of seeing “cockroaches, mould and rotting food left by previous guests” in a room he spent four months living in, a situation that never improved. An investigation from the social development ministry found that at three motels, the standard provided to those in emergency housing was well below what would be provided to paying guests – even though the motel rooms were all in fact being paid for by the government.


Around 2.1 million people now have the Covid app downloaded, but many daily movements aren’t actually being scanned or tracked at all, reports Radio NZ’s Nita Blake-Persen. As a result, a new and high-tech tool will be deployed – a booklet that allows people to write in where and when they’ve been, using what is commonly referred to as a pen. Health minister Chris Hipkins says the new paper diaries will be particularly targeted towards senior citizens groups and those who don’t have smartphones. Incidentally, the story also mentions an update on the Covid-card – trials of that are still going to be going ahead, despite backer Sam Morgan pulling out.


A story from my beat covering the minor parties: Former Auckland mayoral candidate John Palino is running for parliament under the banner of the fledgling Tea Party – the catch is that he’s running from a campaign base in Florida, where he has been since December. If you’re wondering who on earth the Tea Party is, they’ve only formally existed for a few months, and are focused on a pro-business agenda and an embrace of migration and multiculturalism.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Richard Prebble and Mark Thomas during a TV debate (Screenshot, NZ on Screen)

Right now on The Spinoff: Epidemiologist and mask enthusiast Lucy Telfar Barnard simplifies all you need to know about what makes a good mask. Charlie O’Mannin sets out on a quest to discover if there really are snakes in the West Coast bush. I interviewed the director of the legendary political documentary Campaign, to talk about why it has held up so well, and what it can teach us about politics. Hal Crawford writes about a remarkable threat from Facebook in Australia, and what it could mean for news in the rest of the world. Conversations that Count takes a deep look at the upcoming cannabis referendum. Reiná Vaai meets Dave Letele aka the ‘Brown Buttabean’, a former pro boxer who is now helping South Aucklanders get jobs, get fit and get fed. Ben Thomas brings his wit and wisdom to bear on the case of James Shaw and the Green School. And Steward Sowman-Lund takes in an utterly bizarre bit of talkback radio, with Marcus Lush going at it with a ‘not racist, but’ caller over albatross names.


For a feature today, a look at the process of being made redundant from a media job, at a time of crisis for the workforce of the industry. The latest issue of the very good Essential Services zine is out, and I’d encourage you to flip through to page 33 to read an essay by former Metro digital editor Tess Nichol. It very accurately describes a pressing issue with how journalism is done at this moment, by whom and with what support, and why that’s bad news for the future of the industry. Here’s an excerpt:

The opportunities to graduate out of the daily grind of online news and into a role with a slower pace, where you can meaningfully develop your writing and reporting skills, are dwindling, and there is little appeal in staying in an industry with a business model no one knows how to fix, persistently low pay, high stress, and ever-increasing demands. As a result, many people leave, taking their talent and their promise with them. 

This matters, not because we should want every aspiring journalist to be able tofulfil their dreams (although that would be nice), but because when the industry lacks the ability to nurture and retain young talent, and keeps its workers tangled in the unrelenting 24/7 news cycle, too many chances to create good work and good journalists are wasted, and the overall quality and breadth of journalism suffer. This quote from a participant in a survey looking at burnout in journalism sums up the claustrophobic feeling of the endless barrage of information: “It is impossible to keep on top of everything as it pours into the newsroom – and even harder when you are out and about (where you should be as a journalist) – glued to your phone (like you shouldn’t be) on rapidly dying batteries not engaging with the world properly.”


One of sport’s great characters is returning to the field this weekend. One News reports Sonny Bill Williams has been named to be on the bench for the Roosters, in their NRL match against the Raiders. SBW returned to the competition after previously signing on to play league for the Toronto Wolfpack – but that all fell through because of the pandemic. It’s a bit of a full circle moment, given his remarkable multi-sport career started in the NRL.


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