Are these people bullies, or just politicians? (Getty Images, Parliament TV, Radio NZ)

The Bulletin: Pandora’s box of Parliamentary bullying

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Fallout begins immediately from review into parliamentary bullying, a phenomenal piece of mental health journalism featured, and National’s polling bounces back.

Has Trevor Mallard opened the door on something that will get out of control? We talked a bit about this last week, but things have moved on since, so just to recap: There’s going to be an external review of bullying and harassment of parliamentary staff, stretching back for about the last four years. Mr Mallard says parliament can be a toxic place to work, and he’d think twice before recommending to his friends or kids that they work there, reports Radio NZ.

Of course, the political problem with calling for such a review is what it will then reveal. Mr Mallard himself was almost immediately accused of being a bully, by former senior public servant Christine Rankin. She told Newshub that back when Labour came into government in 1999, a group of ministers including Mr Mallard relentlessly and crudely bullied her. That of course all allegedly took place before the scope of this review, and Ms Rankin wouldn’t have fit the job criteria anyway.   

Then it was the turn of an MP on the other side of the house to be accused, North Shore MP Maggie Barry. The NZ Herald reports that two of her former staffers have accused her of bullying behaviour, and she has twice been investigated over the claims. Maggie Barry denies the allegations, and says the issues have been resolved. There’s also a video attached to that Herald story which includes secret audio recordings of the MP making private comments – but as to the contents, I’d be very wary of saying they’re evidence of anything more than robust conversations.

And that’s sort of the rub of this whole matter. What actually is bullying in an arguably unavoidably nasty workplace like parliament anyway? National-aligned blogger and former staffer David Farrar has some thoughts on this, noting that the pressure on MPs is always high, and at times can be immense. He says that’s not necessarily an excuse, but “one has to be realistic about how much change can be made due to the nature of Parliament.” The NZ Herald editorial from Saturday also notes that there’s not really a good working definition of what is and isn’t bullying right now.

It’s notable that two of the biggest political scandals of the year have effectively turned on whether an MP was a bully. Meka Whaitiri lost her ministerial portfolios an inquiry found she probably roughly handled a staffer, and Jami-Lee Ross faced multiple accusations of bullying during his whole saga. In the case of Mr Ross, his job had been to be the Chief Whip – effectively the MP who is meant to be a bully on behalf of the party leadership. Maybe it’s not described like that any more, but come on, let’s not be naive about how politics sometimes gets conducted.

So what will come out? The findings will be published, with names and identifying details will be redacted. Maybe it will lead to change, and better management practices from MPs. Or maybe it will just be a blip, in the ever brutal world of parliamentary politics. Regardless, a lot of people could be in a position to put two and two together on the basis of even the redacted information, so there could continue to be reckonings on this, either in public or behind closed doors.


A salute here to an immense, powerful piece of journalism about a topic that has become increasingly important in the news in recent years. Writing for Stuff, Jessica McAllen covered pretty much the entire Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry, going to pretty much all of the meetings, talking to people with all sorts of lenses on the issue, and taking in their stories.

And McAllen has really advanced the narrative around mental health as an issue with this feature. (we’ll feature part 2 soon) That’s particularly through examining the tensions around loss of control and autonomy that those with mental health issues are often forced into, whether that’s being locked in a police cell, or even those in acute care facilities being allowed out for an unsupervised smoke-break. It’s a deeply impressive piece of work about a complex area.


Some improved results for National in the latest One News Colmar Brunton poll. They’re back into top spot in the party preference stakes, three points clear of Labour. The Greens and NZ First are also in seriously dangerous territory in terms of the 5% electoral threshold. It wasn’t great for National leader Simon Bridges though, who is stuck with low preferred PM ratings. His caucus colleague Judith Collins is up, and weirdly, former PM John Key also turned up in these results with 2%.


A battle is looming over whether doctors will be compelled to refer women seeking abortions to other doctors who they know will perform the procedure, reports the NZ Herald. Some doctors refuse to perform abortions, and are only currently required to tell women that others will – without specifying where or who. The change has been suggested by the Law Commission, as part of a wider proposed reform of abortion law.


Get ready for more mining on protected land, if a debate held on Q+A last night was anything to go by. It was a key topic of conversation between minister Shane Jones, and his opposite number Paul Goldsmith, in relation to the 85% of West Coast land that is currently protected in some shape or form. In a segment where there were few points of agreement, both politicians indicated support for DOC land (outside of National Parks) being opened up more.


It may soon be easier to quickly figure out the exact contribution climate change has made to an extreme weather event, reports the NZ Herald. That’s based on pioneering research being done by an Alexandra-based company, along with Niwa, MetService and Victoria and Canterbury Universities. Given that there is strong evidence that climate change is effectively ‘already here’, that could make is easier to get communication across as to why it matters.


Changes made in the Budget around the cost of GP visits have taken effect, reports Newshub. Those holding a community services card will now save about $20-30 dollars per visit, while for under-13s it will become free. Around 600,000 people will benefit from the changes.


NZ First MP Clayton Mitchell has denied making anti-semitic attacks on a political opponent, reports the NZ Herald. Mr Mitchell repeatedly referred to National MP Paul Goldsmith as ‘Goldstein’, and referred to him having a bagel franchise. He claimed he was merely comparing Mr Goldsmith to the character from the old ASB ads, which ended almost a decade ago. Mr Goldsmith said he’d give Mr Mitchell the benefit of the doubt.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Alex Casey writes about a Dutch parade on the North Shore that voluntary decided to stop featuring a blackface character. There’s a fantastic new issue of The Side Eye by Toby Morris on the underlying issues of the teacher shortage crisis. Environmental scientist Tim Muller questions whether the battle over bottled water isn’t a proxy war over other matters entirely. And across December, The Spinoff is going to be doing an advent calendar of what we do best – Hot Takes. The first three days are up now.


Best Journalism of 2018: So we’re going to start off this countdown with a great example of how multimedia journalism can be used to tell a vital story. This suggestion came from Camille, who wanted to see a shout of for Radio NZ’s series on the struggle of living on the minimum wage. And I completely agree – the stories that were told were a deeply unsettling look into the inequality of New Zealand. Here’s an excerpt from right at the start of the series:

When Roszanne’s brother died, she and her husband got in their car and began the journey from their home in Gore to the family marae at Castle Point, in the Wairarapa. They got as far as Cheviot, and couldn’t go further – they didn’t have the money to refuel. They missed the tangi. She cries tears of frustration and shame when she recounts the story.

It’s not that Roszanne didn’t have an income; she had employment as an aged-care worker. She loved her job, she loved the people she looked after. Fondly, she tells the story of an old man too frail to scratch his own nose – she would scratch it for him. But she earned minimum wage. Week to week, there was barely enough to support herself and her husband. They stayed home, missed family gatherings, went without.

So thank you Camille for sending that suggestion in, and we’ve had heaps come in already, but there’s a whole month to make a suggestion. So email me with yours: thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz.


The U17 Football Ferns have finished in 3rd place at their Football World Cup, after beating Canada 2-1 in the playoff. Grace Wisnewski was on fire, scavenging one goal and smashing another one in for good measure – here’s a video of them. Honestly, given how wildly this team has exceeded expectations, does that put them in the frame for a Halberg Award? I reckon it does.

Mark Hunt has lost his final UFC fight, with a decision going against him in Adelaide. But it might not be the end for the 44 year old martial artist, as this revealing NZ Herald profile from before the fight shows. He says he still intends to fight a couple more times, in a yet to be determined discipline, before he retires. Some might wonder why he’d be willing to do that to his own brain, but he says part of the motivation is money, and part of it is that he just loves fighting.

And finally, no, former Black Cap Nathan McCullum is not dead. A bunch of rumours spread on social media over the weekend that he was, in one of the more bizarre fake news stories of the year. As far as I can tell, no reputable organisations ran with the story.


From our partners: Lithium-ion batteries are magnificent feats of engineering and vital for renewable energy. But if we’re not careful with them, they’ll create enormous environmental problems, writes Vector Senior Sustainability Advisor Juhi Shareef.


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