Flooding smashing into the Milford visitor terminal (via Facebook, Emergency Management Southland)

The Bulletin: ‘Red’ weather day down South sparks new warning

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: First ever deployment of new Metservice warning, NZ First Foundation donor identities revealed, and economic fallout from virus spreads.

Increasingly serious weather has been hammering the West Coast and Fiordland, causing major problems for several towns. A state of emergency has been declared in Fiordland, reports Stuff. Metservice issued their first ever ‘red’ warning, the first since a new classification system has been in operation. Hundreds of people have been trapped overnight in the town of Milford, though they are understood to be safe and accounted for. More rain is expected in the region this morning.

To get a sense of the seriousness of the weather event, it’s worth reading this piece from Stuff’s Rachael Kelly. In it, there are descriptions of just how quickly the weather rolled in, and how fast heavy rain caused flooding. The one road in and out of Milford Sound could be closed for a week. However, as this ODT story makes clear, it’s the sort of event that Milford plans for, and people there were well prepared to deal with it.

It is for these sorts of reasons that Metservice’s declaration was made. Academic and resilience expert Dr Caroline Orchiston commented on the Red warning to the Science Media Centre, saying the declaration “requires people to act now because immediate action is required to protect people, animals and property from potential impact.” Such warnings are reserved for the most extreme weather events.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the country a heat wave should break in the next few days, reports Radio NZ. That’s fortunate, but many parts of the country are still far too dry right now. The Press reports that in Canterbury, firefighters have been on high alert over the past few days, because there has been such a dangerously low level of rainfall. The point should be made that one likely climate change scenario for New Zealand is that more of this sort of disruptive rainfall will take place – there will be way too much water in the Western parts of the country, and way too little in the East. Arguably, it’s already happening and becoming the new normal.


A brief message fromToby Morris, editorial cartoonist and illustrator at The Spinoff

I don’t think there’s anywhere apart from The Spinoff that gets what I’m trying to do and would support it in quite the same way. Similarly – as readers you get to make that choice now too. You choose to read The Spinoff, and by becoming a member you can directly support the kind of stories you want to read more of (and, for $8 a month, get a tea towel!). You support us making something new and different – and, hopefully better, you get to read it.


The identities of donors to the NZ First Foundation have been revealed, reports Radio NZ’s Guyon Espiner and Kate Newton. Interestingly, they include some of the country’s wealthiest individuals and families, including the biggest billionaire of all Graeme Hart. While the story is very clear that no allegations of lawbreaking are being made against donors, it is notable that said donations tend to fall just below the threshold of what needs to be declared. As well as that, NZ First has not declared any donations above $30,000 in any of the past three years, despite donations to the Foundation at times exceeding that figure over a year. It’s all a bit complicated, but the two journos have also put together this explainer.


It is pretty much certain now that we’ll see some economic impacts related to the coronavirus, even if no cases turn up here. The Spinoff’s Jihee Junn has profiled several economic sectors, and how the impact is hitting them specifically. This piece from Interest is also worth reading, noting that it is primarily the measures taken against the spread of the virus that will do the damage – necessary as they might be. And several Stuff journalists have dived deeper into the impact it will have on forestry, with logging crews right now being basically told to down tools indefinitely, to prevent massive piles of wood building up at ports.

As for the political fallout, diplomats will be on high alert for that from the travel ban with China. The Chinese consul general Ruan Ping is disappointed with it, reports Radio NZ, particularly because it followed a change of mind from the NZ government. Mr Ruan says he doesn’t expect retaliation from the Chinese government, and it is notable that New Zealand government officials are avoiding any criticism of how China is handling the virus.


A group of companies are in court at the moment defending a claim brought against them by a prominent climate activist, reports Business Desk (paywalled.) The companies, which include Fonterra, NZ Steel, and Z Energy (our partners on The Bulletin) are being accused of being liable in public nuisance and negligence over their carbon emissions. However, Fonterra’s lawyer argued that as the claim was seeking a policy outcome, the court case itself was unviable and should be struck out. The activist is Mike Smith, chair of the Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group, and is also in the early stages of bringing a claim against the government.


A remarkable media story out of Otago, with long-serving Otago Daily Times journalist Chris Morris quitting in protest at a story not being published. Stuff’s Hamish McNeilly reported it after Morris sent an email to colleagues announcing his departure, and then sent a public tweet out about it. Morris said the story should have been published, and centred on allegations against a local high school, the nature of which have been kept under wraps. He declined to comment to Stuff, and will now take up a job with the Dunedin City Council. It follows a few months for the paper which have been interesting to follow from a distance, to say the least.


Proposals to manage the whitebait catch are going down poorly in some parts of the country, reports the Taranaki Daily News. DOC is currently consulting on the proposals, and the story indicates that many at the meeting were concerned that regional variations wouldn’t work – for example, one around extending nets out beyond stands. Of course, while whitebaiting is a cherished part of life for many New Zealanders, the context for this is that the species is in decline, as this excellent piece on Insight from a few years ago pointed out.


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

Right now on The Spinoff: Duncan Greive sits down with the new CEO of Sky TV to find out if his bold rescue plan can actually be pulled off. Emily Writes discusses the mass closure of school swimming pools, and the increasing difficulty of learning to swim. We’ve got a bonus episode of Scratched out, in which lost NZ tennis star Ruia Morrison meets global superstar Serena Williams. Hilary Pearson from Freedom Farms writes about the gaps in the new ‘country of origin’ labelling legislation, and how it lets pork eaters down. Alex Casey updates the reality TV carnage unfolding right now on The Bachelorette. Sam Brooks reviews the latest big budget documentary about singer Taylor Swift. And I wrote about going and seeing the Auckland Tuatara baseball team play, and how they’ve managed to achieve something remarkable and unlikely.


For a feature today, a very interesting read about art in Palmerston North, and how the community is receiving it. India Essuah at the Pantograph Punch has looked into a petition to “save the public art gallery in Palmerston North,” and asked – save it from what exactly? What has tumbled out is a town split over what exactly an art gallery should be for. Here’s an excerpt:

Concerns about Te Manawa’s “vibrancy” and its community focus are perhaps most blatant in the local paper’s art reviews, written by artist and critic Fran Dibble, Paul’s partner. While reviews of shows at Zimmerman Gallery, where she and her husband have exhibited, often tend to have a positive bent, she has said Te Manawa “offers little to the fabric of the town”.

In one particularly telling decision, she says that community street-art festival Pulse is undeserving of a review slot, writing, “not to mince words and keeping my comments brief, it must be one of the worst exhibitions I have ever seen at the gallery”.

“If I had stumbled across this in a community venue I would be kinder, this is where chalk painting and photographs of an urban art festival surely should be seen. To devote the best and biggest space of the city’s public gallery for this exhibition is astonishing – surely this is where the best of art should be showcased for people to see.”


The Kansas City Chiefs have beaten the San Francisco 49ers to win the Super Bowl. CNN reports that it took a massive comeback for the Chiefs to get there, and their quarterback Patrick Mahomes has secured a place in history as one of the youngest ever in his position to win a Super Bowl, at the age of just 24. Our culture editor Sam Brooks watched the game, and gave a play by play of all the moments that mattered.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.




The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.