Students on a climate strike in Wales (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: MPs take sides on student climate strikes

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: MPs weigh in on upcoming student climate strikes, backpackers speak out about NZ work conditions, and sex crime reports still not resulting in charges.

Some of New Zealand’s MPs have little good to say about the upcoming school strikes around climate change. Demonstrations will be taking place in towns and cities around the country on March 15, which sharp eyed readers may note is a Friday. As One News reports, many National MPs, along with NZ First leader Winston Peters, are questioning why it needs to take place during school time. Other MPs have lined up in support.

This question was actually put directly to some students involved in planning the strike in Auckland, by me, for this piece on The Spinoff. I’ll quote the response in full: “One of the suggestions lots of teachers have been saying – why can’t we just have it on the weekend? Well, what are we risking on the weekend? Having a strike during the week, we’re risking our education. But history advances with risk.” Having seen the preparations going into this first hand, I can also report that it’s not exactly a doddle for these students – they’ll be learning valuable logistical and organisational skills in the process.

As science educator Richard Easther argues, the kids have every right to snub their noses at disapproving adults. After all, they’re going to inherit a world that the generations before them have utterly failed to protect. PM Jacinda Ardern told One News that she’d “like to think is that in New Zealand there’s less cause for protest, we’re certainly trying to do our bit.” But in 18 months the government she leads has failed to pass what is their flagship piece of climate change legislation, the Zero Carbon Act. If the government is trying, perhaps they might try harder.

Of course, one concern with these stories is that the reaction to the strike will become more newsworthy than the point of the strike itself. And that is the news which just constantly, relentlessly keeps coming about how things are getting worse in front of our eyes. For example:

Marine heatwaves are becoming more common as a result of climate change, according to a systematic and comprehensive new study. Radio NZ have covered the study, and the implications of it. The big one for us is that marine heatwaves can have a significant effect on ecosystems, which we rely on for food. The effect can also be quite rapid, and the world’s oceans are warming more quickly than previously thought too.

Meanwhile, in completely unrelated but also totally related news, Italy has just seen the worst olive harvest in 25 years. The Guardian reports that erratic and extreme weather is to blame, with the conditions mirroring predictions of what would happen due to climate change. The collapse in the harvest has taken a serious chunk out of Italy’s rural economy – a salient reminder in case one was still needed that from an economic perspective, we can’t afford not to act on climate change.


Backpackers are speaking out about working conditions in hospitality in New Zealand, recounting experiences of horrible and illegal conditions. The Nelson Mail has spoken to two Polish backpackers, who were subjected to wage theft through unpaid trials, workplace abuse, and zero-hours contracts in all but name. They said the experience left them disappointed with New Zealand, which everyone had told them was a nice place.


I missed this story at the start of the week, but it’s a big development on one of the most important stories published last year. The NZ Herald reports that despite more sex crimes being reported, they are still not going to court – even when there is significant evidence collected by police that a crime has taken place. 2400 reported sex crimes went unresolved in 2016 – that means that while police believe the person reporting it, no charges are ever laid against any alleged offenders.


The country’s largest apprenticeship provider is speaking out against changes to the vocational education sector, reports Newshub. It comes after proposals for a radical overhaul were unveiled by education minister Chris Hipkins, with the minister saying the current system wasn’t working. But the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation says the proposals will create a state of prolonged uncertainty for the sector, and could damage the relationships between apprentices and potential mentors.


A pro-choice group is launching a new campaign aimed at breaking public stigma around abortion. Writing on The Spinoff, ALRANZ president Terry Bellamak says women talking about their experience of abortions will make it safer for other women. The campaign has been timed to coincide with the start of 40 Days for Life – a campaign that involves a constant anti-abortion presence outside clinics over the whole period of Lent, and was incidentally what I wrote my first ever piece for The Spinoff about.


Western Springs will no longer be the home of Speedway in Auckland, after the organisation did not have their lease renewed, reports Stuff. As yet, there has been no development at their proposed new venue of Colin Dale Park in Wiri, so the sport is effectively without a home at the moment. The last meet at Western Springs will be on the 16th, bringing down the curtain on 90 years of history at the venue.


Tuvalu’s PM has ridiculed a suggestion that his people swap maritime resources for Australian citizenship, reports RNZ Pacific. The plan was suggested by former Aussie PM Kevin Rudd, as a way of helping islands like Tuvalu and Kiribati navigate the impending climate change crisis. PM Enele Sopoaga suggested that instead of that, Australia should consider actually taking some action on climate change, pointing out new coal sources were still being expanded.


The news about Kiwi jihadist Mark Taylor has provoked a huge reaction, and this piece is a really worthwhile take on it all. It’s by Newstalk ZB’s Andrew Dickens, who has been fending off callers who say Mr Taylor should be stripped of his citizenship. But as the piece argues, that’s an incredibly dangerous precedent to set, historically used by the worst regimes the world has ever seen.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Dr Judy Lawrence points to the Nelson fires as a warning of what is to come with climate change. The Spinoff Books has an announcement about who has made the Ockham’s shortlists, and what those choices mean. And Emily Writes pays tribute to actor Luke Perry, who was announced to have passed away yesterday morning.


What to do with the MMP 5% threshold sparked quite a bit of debate after the call for feedback yesterday. Many people are all in favour of it coming down to 4%, as the Green party are calling for in their member’s bill. But there was a lot of dissent to that view.

First, the pro position: Arthur said it would help lead to more diversity in parliament, “perhaps not so good for easy governing, but better for democracy.” Arran pointed out that new parties have only ever ended up elected to parliament on the back of waka-jumping, and with the threshold as high as it is and with the law changed, it’s now deeply unlikely to happen. The majority of the feedback that came in said 4% was the right figure.

Ian reckoned it was quite simple – the Electoral Commission had made the recommendation for it to come down to 4%, so that’s what should happen. And Dylan noted that the member’s bill actually encompasses all of the recommendations of a 2012 review. “I have to say, I’ve been pretty disappointed by some of the reporting on the bill. The focus has often been on lowering the threshold, as if this were some kind of Green Party trick to game the system in their own interests – rather than on removing the coat-tail rule, which was the most widely discussed aspect of the review’s recommendations at the time, and was clearly supported by most New Zealanders.”

Removing the threshold altogether also came up – Ellen said it would allow much more diverse representation in parliament. And Terry didn’t like the management of democracy at all – “let’s trust voters to sift out the worthies,” he argued.

But lowering or removing it also received some very strong opposition. A different Ian said it was a question that balanced abstract theory and the lessons of history, the latter of which “demonstrates the vulnerability of democratic societies to undermining by initially small anti-democratic groups that gain status and ultimately power through the absence of electoral thresholds. For this reason, the post-war Federal Republic of Germany introduced its five percent threshold.” And Gordon said I was “dumb” for suggesting having no threshold at all, because it can lead to extremism taking hold. “Successive Israeli governments, almost all headed by Bibi Netanyahu, have – in  my view – pandered to the extreme right wing and religious parties, skewing policy towards the settler hardcore. Those parties are in the Knesset because of the low threshold.”

Finally, some news on all of this. PM Jacinda Ardern yesterday ruled out any of these changes being made before the 2020 election. So there’s less urgency to the debate, but they’re certainly issues to think about for the election after that.


The Rugby League schedule for the Kiwis has been confirmed this year, and it includes a blockbuster clash against Tonga. Newshub reports on the new format of the international season, which will include a two tiered competition called the Oceania Cup. Australia, Tonga and New Zealand are in the top division, which Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa will play in the second division with a shot of being in the top division next year – Australia needs to drop out because of a scheduling clash. It’s a huge drive by League right into the heart of the Pacific, though all games will be in Australia or NZ.

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Finally, this is an excellent piece of analysis on Stuff about the jurisdictional creep of Drug Free Sport NZ, towards being able to sanction recreational athletes registered with national bodies. It’s a weird situation that has sort of developed under the radar, but the implications of it are unpacked beautifully in the feature.


From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.


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