Fitzherbert Bridge over Manawatu River (photo: ManawatuNZ.co.nz)

The Bulletin: Cloudy picture of river quality emerges

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: River quality report paints complex picture, Greens hit out at synthetics plan, while National come to the table on child poverty.

A major annual water report has come out, showing a complex picture of the state of our rivers. If you’re looking for a quick, one line summary of what exactly is happening at the five sites being monitored by Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) it doesn’t exist. Some of the results nudge towards good, others are concerning.

As such there’s been a lot of reaction to it. Populations of freshwater insects, worms and snails under threat reads the headline of this Radio NZ article, with the focus on a new inclusion in the LAWA report of critters that live around rivers. They can be a good indicator of the health of an ecosystem, but generally there’s a bit of lag time between the environment improving and their population’s response.

But on the other hand, Newshub reports that on some indicators with faster response times, the picture was improving. That’s particularly the case on the chemical content of the water, says LAWA’s Dr Tim Davie, particularly with improved nitrogen levels. He’s crediting “community initiatives and changing farmer behaviour.” And as for the farmers themselves, Dairy NZ are trumpeting that it shows the Sustainable Dairying Water Accord, which involves a lot of fencing and planting of waterways among other things, is working.

But there are plenty of reasons why the results are not cause for celebration. Dr Mike Joy is one of the experts gathered up by the incomparably useful Science Media Centre, and he says a lower nitrogen level might be a misleading indicator of health, because it may simply be because of algal blooms – not a healthy thing for rivers at all.

One thing is for sure though – as Stuff reports, waterway quality gets worse the closer to the coast they get. That’s on all of us, in both urban areas and rural. And it’s natural for humans to think about how this affects us, so the question that many will ask will be whether their awa is safe to swim in. The answer is that it depends, but because of human intervention in the environment, it’s always much safer to check first – LAWA have a guide that gets updated regularly.


The Green Party has come out strongly against a push by the health minister to get synthetic drugs reclassified as Class A. Stuff reports that the opposition has come from drug law spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick, who says punitive approaches to drugs are the wrong approach, because they don’t reduce harm, but do increase the prison population. The push will be discussed by cabinet, which the Greens are not part of.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting and related bit of analysis from Newsroom’s Thomas Coughlan. Remember when the Greens copped a lot of flak for giving up their parliamentary questions to National? Well, they’ve quietly started taking them back, and are actually using them to put a bit of pressure on the government. It’s a fine line for the party to walk, but so far hasn’t blown up into a crisis.


The National Party have swung in behind the government’s Child Poverty Reduction bill, reports One News. National say their intervention has improved the bill, and PM Jacinda Ardern welcomed their support, saying it was important that the legislation survived if the government changed.

Meanwhile, the government has rejected an appeal from National support in setting up a cross-party group on mental health, reports Newshub. It’s not a flat no forever though, with health minister David Clark saying they’ll hold off on accepting the support until the mental health inquiry is wrapped up.


Agriculture minister Damien O’Connor has given Fonterra a stern warning that they can’t expect legislative changes to solve their problems, reports the NZ Herald. The dairy cooperative’s constitution has been changed since it was formed by the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act, and parliament didn’t have an oversight role any more. One of the main sticking points in the legislation, which is currently under review, is ‘open entry and exit’ for dairy farmers into Fonterra – they want that changed, so that they don’t necessarily have to take milk from any and all farmers who want to sell it to them.


Stuff Circuit have finally been allowed to publish a long running investigation into a culture of domestic violence at Gloriavale. It comes of the back of an interview with former member Connie Ready, who was beaten by her father. Ready says it goes far beyond just his violence – “Men are taught that this is the way to run a family, to be the father of your home. If your wife won’t listen to what you say, you beat her. If your children don’t listen to you, you beat them.”


National MP Jami-Lee Ross’s break from politics is proving to be a bit of a headache for his leader Simon Bridges, reports Newshub. According to AM Show host Duncan Garner, a source has tipped him off that Mr Ross is “highly pissed off” over Mr Bridges describing his unspecified health issue as “perhaps actually embarrassing – a lot embarrassing, potentially.” Mr Bridges has since taken that comment back.


Liquidators have been appointed for failed construction company Ebert, and they’ve got directors in their sights, reports Stuff. The directors could end up personally liable, after the company collapsed owing creditors more than $45 million. Among those debts, subcontractors are owed more than $33 million.


Rest in peace, Penny Bright. The veteran activist has died, after a long battle with illness. It’s worth reading again this feature from the NZ Herald about her final weeks. Whether or not people agreed with her causes or methods, nobody ever doubted that Penny Bright had passion, commitment, and a genuine desire to make the world a better place. I personally will always remember fondly the time she berated me at a protest, while wearing a mask of National MP Nick Smith’s face. Protests won’t be the same without her.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Marlon Williams won a Silver Scroll last night, and he spoke to Henry Oliver about the structure and meaning of his song. Leroy Beckett writes about the testing of facebook ads being done by New Zealand politicians. And Christina Hoff Sommers spoke to Alice Webb-Liddall about her controversial brand of feminism, ahead of a speaking tour in NZ. Speaking of Alice, she’s the wonderful intern who became totally integral to all of the podcasting done by The Spinoff. She’s finishing up today, so radio stations – hire her.

Also, last night I saw the first two episodes of a new TV show coming to Lightbox very soon, called Get It To Te Papa, made by some of the people at The Spinoff. It was amazing and hilarious, and depicted the weirdness of the New Zealand that I know, in a way that I’m not sure has ever been captured so well. I cannot wait for it to be launched fully.

And finally (crikey this section is blowing out) it’s the last episode tonight of Spinoff TV, and guess what, it’s an hour long special edition. Get amongst, it’s on Three tonight at 10.45.


Here’s a report from the Guardian on a European story you might have missed, that has interesting geopolitical implications. Macedonia has just held a referendum on changing their name, because it conflicts with the name of a province in Greece. It’s being backed by the PM, with the eventual goal of getting the country into the EU and Nato – the dispute with Greece needs to be resolved first. However, a boycott kept the turnout so low, the result isn’t necessarily valid. Here’s an excerpt:

The nationalist opposition, with financial backing reputedly from Russia, had campaigned heavily for the plebiscite to be boycotted, arguing that the deal appeased Athens. Since seceding from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has argued that its neighbour’s name usurps its history and includes thinly veiled territorial claims over its own province of Macedonia.

Marko Trosanovski, of the Institute for Democracy thinktank, said: “No one expected such a low turnout. The success of the boycott was a surprise. While there might not have been tangible evidence of Russian intervention, the result goes along with Russian interests in the region.”

Moscow has long opposed Macedonia’s embrace by the west, with its prospective membership of Nato’s military alliance viewed as hostile encroachment of its own territory in Europe’s former communist east. Visiting Skopje before the referendum, the US defence secretary, James Mattis, accused Russia of engaging in “a malicious cyber activity” to wreck the ballot.


The Breakers travelled to the USA for a pre-season game against the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, and actually did pretty well. The final score was 91-86 to the Suns, and late in the 4th quarter the Breakers were actually within a minor miracle of winning. It was just a friendly, but the Breakers played pretty hard nonetheless. Their first game of the season proper will be next Thursday at Spark Arena in Auckland.

In other news, we don’t really do Formula 1 (or motorsport at all) in The Bulletin, and soon there might not be all that much on TV either. That’s because, as the NZ Herald reports, Sky TV has put in a bid to renew their rights to broadcast Formula 1, and it was rejected. But if you are a fan of it, fear not – it seems like highlights packages will continue to be shown for free through Formula 1’s social media channels.


From our partners, Vector’s sustainability manager Karl Check explains why the company is pushing for more urban forests, despite recent storms in Auckland bringing trees down on powerlines, and cutting electricity to parts of the city.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you liked what you read, and know other people who would find it useful, pass on this signup form to them.


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