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The empty chamber of the General Assembly at the United Nations (Image: 	Phil Roeder)
The empty chamber of the General Assembly at the United Nations (Image: Phil Roeder)

The BulletinDecember 5, 2018

The Bulletin: Will NZ back UN migration pact?

The empty chamber of the General Assembly at the United Nations (Image: 	Phil Roeder)
The empty chamber of the General Assembly at the United Nations (Image: Phil Roeder)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Foreign policy fault line opens over UN migration pact, mental health report released and waiting on govt response, and yet more leaks about the National Party. 

Fault lines have opened up in New Zealand’s foreign policy over whether we should sign up to the UN Global Compact for migration. What is that, you might ask? It’s an internationally negotiated, non-legally binding agreement to promote orderly patterns of migration, and to protect the lives and rights of migrants living outside of their home countries. It would also aim to “enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration”, which could be taken as an encouragement for migration, while also pledging to fight people smuggling.

So what’s the issue then? The National Party doesn’t want New Zealand to sign up to the agreement, reports Newshub, saying “it could restrict New Zealand’s ability to set our own migration and foreign policy.” National leader Simon Bridges acknowledges it is non-binding, but argues it could set up a state of affairs in which New Zealand’s rights to choose who comes into the country are eroded. Mr Bridges says the country doesn’t need the UN telling it what to do.

The government has yet to decide whether or not to back the agreement, reports Stuff. NZ First leader and foreign minister Winston Peters says Mr Bridges has jumped the gun, because the agreement hasn’t been entered into yet. He’s currently deciding alongside immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway whether or not New Zealand will sign up, and the minister says National’s concerns are unfounded. The Greens are strongly in favour.

If all of this sounds thematically very familiar, it should. There are echoes of the sorts of nativist populism which is currently on a bit of a roll in Europe – a movement which has largely been driven by migration concerns. Arguably the views expressed towards the UN here are on a continuum with the sorts of views expressed by Brexiteers towards the European Union. Originally every country in the UN was on board, except the USA, reports DW.

But it has become a bit of a cause among nationalists in European countries, reports Politico, with some countries now indicating they won’t be signing on to the “previously obscure” document. Australia has also pulled out, and the issue has picked up some traction among the right wing social media sphere in New Zealand in the last few weeks.

What does this all mean for local politics? It’s one of those agreements that New Zealand would normally have been all over, as a symbol of backing a rules based and orderly system of global politics. But that type of system is looking shakier at the moment than it has for many years, and there’s not really any reason why sentiment against it couldn’t take hold here. It should be remembered as well that the Labour-led government took office pledging to cut migration, and the issue has long bubbled away in New Zealand.

A decision will be made before the signing conference in Morocco on December 10. And it will be really worth watching which way the government chooses to go. Not necessarily because of the agreement itself, but because of what message the decision sends to the rest of the world.

The report into the Mental Health Inquiry has been released, and is now waiting on a response from the government. There’s not really a quick and easy way to summarise the complex report, except to say that it recommends major changes across both the mental health sector and in society at large. Here are some of the key passages and recommendations.

The government response will come in March – they say they want to take a considered approach and work carefully. But as the NZ Herald reports, the Mental Health Foundation says the findings need to be implemented urgently. Writing on Stuff, senior political reporter Stacey Kirk isn’t exactly impressed with the speed at which the government has acted on mental health, saying they’ve used the pending report to “kick for touch” on mental health. Well, the report is here now, so that might not fly any more.

Another day, another leak about the National Party. Newshub has been provided with an email which apparently contradicts North Shore MP Maggie Barry, who says she did not get her parliamentary staff to unlawfully do work for the National Party. But the email reportedly indicates otherwise, and electoral law expert Andrew Geddis says it appears to be a breach of the law. Ms Barry denies it, saying she’s been in parliament for seven years, and knows the rules.

Meanwhile, the NZ Herald reports there has been yet another leak. This one concerns an email sent around by the Chief Press Secretary, giving MPs lines to tell media if they get questioned about party culture and bullying allegations against Maggie Barry. The leaker claimed to be a National MP, but the Herald noted that the email did not come from a verified email address, so that may not be true. It should also be noted that this is basically just how ‘message discipline’ works in political parties – if MPs aren’t on the same page then criticism inevitably follows too.

The effects of RCR Tomlinson going into administration are starting to ripple out. They were the parent company of the firm slated to build the City Rail Link in Auckland, but as Radio NZ reports, a preferential contract offer for RCR Infrastructure NZ has been withdrawn.

Meanwhile in the Tararua town of Dannevirke, population about 6000, about 20 jobs are likely to go, with RCR Energy making cuts to keep their boiler manufacturing plant open. Stuff reports that it’s one of the larger employers in Dannevirke, and if the job losses go through it will hit the town hard.

Count me as another person who had no idea this happened – Pak’n’Save has defended their practice of poisoning birds that get into the supermarket, reports the ODT. A shopper in Dunedin was left distressed after seeing a sparrow die “a prolonged death.” Pak’n’Save says the practice is necessary to prevent the spread of disease.

Primary teachers and principals have again voted to reject the government’s pay package offer, reports Newstalk ZB. The NZEI union says it wasn’t enough, but that they’re requesting an immediate return to the negotiating table.

The Auckland housing market is officially flat, reports Interest, according to the latest QV sales data. Regional centres like Whanganui, Invercargill and Palmerston North are still seeing big rises in prices, but overall the market is cooling. The story also contains a massive table of pretty much everywhere in the country, which has some really interesting data points – for example, Porirua and the Hutt Valley prices are all rising faster than Wellington City.

Here’s an interesting interview on a developing area of farming – growing hemp crops. Southland farmer Blair Drysdale spoke to The Country about the difficulties he’s faced in getting his crop going, both from the weather, and from the government. It also raised questions about what should be done with the hemp once it is harvested – there’s not really any processing infrastructure in New Zealand at the moment, because this is such a new area to be getting into.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Sarah Forster writes about the threat Amazon-owned Book Depository poses to local booksellers. Scott Hamilton busts some lazy myths held by Westerners about the North Sentinel Islanders. We’re publishing four perspectives on reproductive rights ahead of a march in Wellington today. And I’ve got a very on-brand hot take for The Spinoff’s advent calendar.

Best Journalism of 2018: Today’s recommendation comes from Rebecca, who wants to highlight the long-term work Radio NZ’s Phil Pennington has done on NZTA, and the unfolding scandal of dodgy WOFs being approved. Rebecca says “his persistence has likely saved lives in terms of unroadworthy cars being signed out by noncompliant businesses. Kudos to Phil for his work on this.”

For an explainer on what this is all about, Phil Pennington has put together this piece for Radio NZ, which goes through all of the key details. The organisation has been on this story since February, so it really is a good example of journalism that isn’t just about doing one-and-done pieces – it’s about building up detailed knowledge of an issue and the contacts to break stories about it repeatedly.

Former All Black Charles Piutau will not be able to play for Tonga at the Rugby World Cup, reports Stuff. It’s a dashed dream for a guy who played 17 times for the All Blacks, but also played for Tonga at U-20 level. He has not played for New Zealand since 2015, but there isn’t an opportunity for him to gain Tongan eligibility for the tournament. If I may, some common sense here in exemptions to free up players for tier 2 countries would be better for the game, as was shown by how much more competitive the Rugby League World Cup got when more players chose to represent Pacific nations.

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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