Former Westland director Jim Waflebakker arguing with protesters on the day of the sale (Radio NZ, Maja Burry)

The Bulletin: Controversial dairy co-op sale goes through

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Controversial West Coast dairy co-op sale goes through, time running out for sealing Tūhoe road, and tensions rising around AAAP action days.

Yesterday was a hugely significant day for New Zealand’s dairy industry, partly for what happened, and partly for what it could signify about the future. Westland Milk, a dairy co-op going back 150 years, has been sold to Chinese giant Yili. As Interest reports, the sale went through by an overwhelming margin, because the offer was simply too massive for the farmer-shareholders to turn down. In fact the $3.41 price per share was around triple what an independent advisor valued it at. So all in all, a great result? Not necessarily.

Many people think it was good, of course. Westland Milk chairman Pete Morrison told Checkpoint that it was a good day for both the farmers and the Coast – basically it’s going to mean a big chunk of money coming into an economically challenged area. “There hasn’t been a capital injection on the Coast in a generation this good.” As Stuff reports, Westland is the largest employer on the West Coast, though the governance in recent years has left a bit to be desired.

The payouts Westland were giving their farmer shareholders tended to be lower than those paid out by Fonterra – one aspect of the deal is that payouts to Westland farmers will have to match Fonterra payouts over the next ten years. And as this report from Radio NZ outlined, the cooperative was under a heavy debt load and selling was basically the only option.

But there are also huge concerns about foreign ownership of a strategic asset. While farmers will still own their own farms, any profits the company itself makes will effectively be heading offshore. NZ First say it’s an example of why they want a ‘national interest’ to be part of Overseas Investment Office considerations, which is currently being assessed by the government. Some farmers were also disappointed that there was only two options on the table – sell up the whole cooperative, or don’t – rather than other possibilities like partial ownership.

And there’s another consideration, being talked about by some economists, and covered on the Croaking Cassandra blog – which I should stress is just one point of view on the matter, though it is a compelling one. And that is that Westland was a “dress rehearsal” for the “main event” of Fonterra. They too are under a heavy debt load, and at some stage are almost certain to need a big injection of cash. Will that come from the government, in the form of a bailout or nationalisation? Or will that come from a company overseas like Yili? They insist that they’re an independent entity, despite being 25% owned by the Chinese government. Would the country be comfortable with even more of the farming sector becoming part owned by a foreign government?

Finally, the sale ties up something of a loose end. As the NZ Herald reported back in March, a loan was going to be given to Westland, however that was then made conditional on it not being sold. There are still a few regulatory hurdles to be cleared, but it’s hard to see how this is anything other than a done deal.


Time is running out on funding for a tarsealed road through Te Urewera Ranges to Lake Waikaremoana, reports Stuff. However, the iwi Ngai Tūhoe doesn’t necessarily want it sealed. Partly that’s because over-tourism at the lake has left it in a bad state, and partly it’s because they’d prefer to go with a more natural sealing alternative to tarseal. It’s a really interesting example of differing interpretations of concepts like kaitiakitanga, as while the economy would surely benefit from tarsealing, it would just as surely come with environmental costs.


Tension is rising around advocacy days run by anti-poverty activists at the Manurewa Work and Income office, reports Radio NZ. Basically, the AAAP activists do this to get beneficiaries what they’re entitled to. But demand has proven to be so high that people have started queuing up in the early hours of the morning, and that puts huge pressure on Work and Income resources. The impact days started before the change in government, and the accompanying stated change in ministerial direction on Work and Income culture – however, as the demand shows, clearly they’re still necessary.


An important story that has been developing all week is the plans to change how sex crime trials work. Here’s a report on the proposals from Newsroom which outlines how they are intended to make survivors feel safer in the courtroom, and avoid re-traumatisation. Writing on The Spinoff, criminologist Jan Jordan says while the changes will be worthwhile, much more transformational changes will be needed, including the use of specialist interventions and systems in courts.


Another of the stories of the week that there hasn’t really been space for is the subsidies to secure a Lord of the Rings TV production. Once again, it appears the government is going to give rebates to a production company – in this case Amazon, according to a report from Radio NZ. The piece that made me want to include something on the topic is this robust defence of such rebates from Werewolf’s Gordon Campbell, who writes that it’s a significant coup for a high value, skills driven industry, and that the rebates will more than pay for themselves. I’m not entirely comfortable with these kinds of subsidies, but it’s a very convincing argument.


Some more feedback on the methane research: It turns out a lot of people strongly disagreed with yesterday’s comments from the other Alex, so I picked this as a representative response from Rowan:

“Actually, many cows these days essentially are milk machines, with modern breeds having been selectively bred for generations to produce as much milk over the longest time, to the point where breeds like Fresians would struggle to reproduce without human intervention. Domestic animals have been selectively bred to better serve human needs for thousands of years (see daschunds for example) and to dismiss GM as unnatural is to put unnecessary barriers in front of possible solutions. It’s certainly an area worth researching in a country with farming as its economic backbone.”


If you’ve signed up for The Spinoff Members, this is only the first Bulletin that you’ll get today. A members-only International edition will be sent out later on, covering the political tensions underlying the escalating Hong Kong protests, Donald Trump’s ridiculous parade, and some highly insightful long reads about global issues. Head to thespinoff.co.nz/members for all the info.


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Princess Diana and geckos both made appearances in the world of weird news this week

Right now on The Spinoff: Gareth Shute debunks seven stupid excuses for ignoring climate change, in a clear-minded call to action. Elise Badger writes in defence of co-living, which if done right can work brilliantly. Author Rachael King writes a response to Shayne Carter’s autobiography, from the perspective of someone who was there at the time. Ollie Rusden writes about changes to the RMA, and the implications for kauri in Titirangi. Finally, I very much enjoyed this from Emily Writes, who has put together something that reads like an alternative Bulletin, just for silly news instead.


Today’s feature is an exploration of one of the most interesting periods of American history. The Smithsonian Magazine has done a deep dive into the so-called Free State of Jones, a small chunk of Louisiana that broke away from the Confederacy during the US Civil War. You might remember a film was made about it recently. But the thing that the piece does really well is look into how contested that history still is, because the meaning of the history has huge implications for current politics – some might recognise other countries a bit closer to home in that idea too. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“Newt is what we call trailer trash,” he said in a booming baritone drawl. “I wouldn’t have him in my house. And like all poor, white, ignorant trash, he was in it for himself. Some people are far too enamored of the idea that he was Martin Luther King, and these are the same people who believe the War Between the States was about slavery, when nothing could be further from the truth.”

There seemed no point in arguing with him, and it was almost impossible to get a word in, so I sat there scribbling as he launched into a long monologue that defended slavery and the first incarnation of the Klan, burrowed deep into obscure Civil War battle minutiae, denied all charges of racism, and kept circling back to denounce Newt Knight and the simpering fools who tried to project their liberal agendas on him.

“There was no Free State of Jones,” he concluded. “It never existed.”

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So this is an interesting story I missed earlier in the week, about a young footballing lad who can’t travel to China for a tournament. Why? As the NZ Herald reports, it’s because Nyima Tsering-Young’s father is Tibetan, and there’s a high possibility his visa will get declined, so the academy has withdrawn him. His mother believes the Chinese Consulate has discriminated against him, because of delays in getting the visa that no other kids on the team faced. Googling his name, it appears Tibetan-focused sites have picked up on the story as well – such as this on Tibet.net, or this from the Tibetan Journal.

Finally, we had an awesome episode of The Offspin podcast come out yesterday. Because the Black Caps chased England’s totals like it was the bad old days of the 90s, we had a great guest in Dion Nash, who talked about the dramatic changes in team culture that happened in his era, and confirmed that players really do care what the commentators have to say about them. I had always wondered…


From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.


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