Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Trans-Tasman bubble news to dominate the day, climate commission modelling criticised, and concerns raised about fresh light rail delays.
Hopefully you’ve rested up over the last few days, because today will bring an absolute avalanche of news. A whole lot of things that normally happen on a Monday are now being condensed into Tuesday, and it will also be a sitting day for the house. So that means a senior government MP will be doing morning media rounds, there will be a caucus meeting, the PM will be doing an afternoon press conference, and there will also be Question Time in parliament.
And one bit of news in particular is likely to dominate – will we get an announcement on the trans-Tasman bubble? You might recall there was an announcement about this announcement – well, the announcement is now here. There was a short story on One News at the end of last week suggesting government departments and relevant stakeholders have been told to prepare for a bubble imminently. That includes the likes of Air NZ, who are recalling furloughed crew and staff to meet the expected demand. Newshub’s AM Show was reporting this morning that Air NZ is taking new bookings to Australia from April 19, which gives a hint (but importantly, not confirmation) of a potential opening date. But the industry is not exactly being subtle about demonstrating they’re ready for the bubble to open.
For business, it is hard to overstate how much hope is being pinned on a bubble. It has clearly been demonstrated by now that economies perform best when they’re Covid-free, so the border closure has been more than justified. But at a certain point, those who took a bigger hit from the closure get desperate to get back to business. Tourism NZ says it could lead to a billion dollar boost, for example. But there are also less obvious industries and companies that could be affected – for example, Stuff’s Esther Taunton reported on a vape store chain that is waiting on an announcement, so they can proceed with expansion plans into the Gold Coast. The economies of both countries have been really closely interconnected for decades, and being able to go back and forth is a vital part of that.
At the same time, bubbles with other countries aren’t particularly popular right now. Politik (paywalled) had a great report two weeks ago that included an understanding of polling data showing “that a substantial number of New Zealanders are opposed to opening a bubble with anyone.” Many will be personally reluctant to travel, because of the risk of being on the wrong side of the Tasman if there’s an outbreak.
Meanwhile, what’s the state of Australia’s latest mini-outbreak? The ABC’s live updates reported yesterday that the long weekend had finished with two days of zero community transmission. It’s a positive sign, coming after Brisbane imposed a short sharp lockdown, in circumstances which bore plenty of resemblance to the brief lockdowns Auckland has seen this year. In other words, there isn’t all that much distance between how both countries are handling the virus.
Over the past few weeks, the modelling used by the Climate Change Commission has come under fire for being opaque, and overly economically optimistic. The central claim – that climate action will actually cost very little – is being challenged by industry, business-friendly groups and several political parties. Stuff Olivia Wannan has taken a deep and detailed look at the challenges, and found out what she can about the model being used. The piece also looks at whether this is simply a delaying tactic against action, with the wider public debate shifting from a point where outright denial is unacceptable. I’d highly recommend reading this piece by the way, for a roundup of climate policy from one of the country’s top journalists in this space.
Two scrutinising organisations have raised criticisms of the new process for Auckland light rail, saying it could lead to even further delays. The NZ Herald’s Derek Cheng reports both Treasury and the Infrastructure Commission believe the more inclusive, consultative approach could also result in a lack of clarity around decision making. Light rail is a project that has become synonymous with non-delivery from this government, and transport minister Michael Wood is desperate to get construction work underway by the next election. Meanwhile, the train between Hamilton and Papakura opens this morning, reportedly with about 50 people on board the first trip. John Campbell from Breakfast is on the train, and at the time of writing was overjoyed to be coming into Huntly.
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The suggestion that Westpac’s Australian owners might sell off the New Zealand arm has prompted an interesting question – why, when Westpac is currently creaming it here? That’s not to single Westpac out either, because all of the major banks are currently doing great. Interest’s Gareth Vaughan has looked into that question, and found the long term outlook for the bank is slightly less positive, particularly if the Reserve Bank keeps the pressure up on liquidity rules. But the entity would continue to be profitable, so the piece also looks into who might want to buy it.
A pair of vignettes from the vaccine rollout: The ODT has reported on where staff for the drive have been diverted from, with consequences being seen in delays for other vaccination projects. So far frontline health workers have had their first dose of the vaccine. And this one happened a few weeks ago, but it stuck with me after I read it in print – the Horowhenua Chronicle reports Pacific Peoples minister Aupito William Sio told a large audience at a Pasifika festival in Levin that he would be welcoming his turn to get the vaccine.
Former business tital Ron Brierley will be stripped of his knighthood after pleading guilty to possessing child sexual abuse material. Newshub has a piece covering the process for that to happen. It is rare for a knighthood to be taken off someone, and generally only used when they are convicted of a serious crime.
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Right now on The Spinoff: National’s Dr Shane Reti sets out in crystal clear terms that he is in favour of getting the Covid vaccine, after controversy last week. Justin Giovannetti gets into a deep discussion about the future of policing with commissioner Andrew Coster. Mirjam Guesgen explains a new discovery about weak spots in the Covid virus that could help future vaccine development. Tenants’ advocate Ben Schmidt writes about renters and beneficiaries missing out on the latest package of housing reforms. Joe Canham writes about what to do with your electronic devices when they get too old to run, with better ideas than just chucking them out. Olivia Sisson pays a visit to an ex-cop in Canterbury who’s growing the rare and difficult wasabi plant – you might not realise it, but you’ve probably never eaten real wasabi by the way. Sam Brooks picks out the best moments from Melodownz’ interview show Kava Corner. Ailish Wallace-Buckland looks back on concerns from the 20s and 30s that men needed fashion advice to avoid becoming effeminate. And Alex Casey goes on an odyssey of ranking and reviewing all the fast food hot chips.
For a feature today, a different kind of storytelling about the global refugee crisis. It is unusual in that it acknowledges these stories don’t really have a beginning or an end – they are simply lives unfolding in hardship and horror. Der Spiegel (soft paywall) has tracked some of those lives, of children who were held at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, and who were trying to get to Germany – a major political story in that country, perhaps somewhat akin to the Tampa refugees in New Zealand. Here’s an excerpt:
Soleiman, an 11-year-old from Iran, is wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt. He left for Europe with his parents, five sisters and three brothers. The family stayed behind in Turkey as Soleiman set off 11 times by rubber dinghy before finally reaching Lesbos on the 12th attempt. Claas Morgenstern, the UNHCR representative, once pulled refugees from boats as a helper on the beach. He now serves as a “senior child protection assistant.”
At this point in time, there are around 1,100 unaccompanied minors living on Lesbos and helpers have set out to find the children for the German program. They search in the housing accommodations in the Safe Zone, under trees, tarps and by the road in the jungle. Things need to move fast since Luxembourg has already started. “There was political momentum behind it,” says Carsten Hölscher of the German Embassy in Athens.
In sport, a look at the fall from grace of an English football team that promised so much. Liverpool are the defending English Premier League champions, but have been crashing and burning this season, especially on this side of the new year. This analysis from the BBC sets up what one of the major talking points in the final stretch will be – whether Liverpool can force their way back into the top four, and secure an all-important Champions League spot. If you’re wondering why the most compelling story in the competition is about who’ll come fourth, that’s because Manchester City have already all but secured the title.
Meanwhile in golf, Lydia Ko has shot one of the most remarkable rounds ever seen in golf – but it wasn’t quite enough to win her a title. Ko went ten under in the final round of a tournament in California, reports One News, which tied a course record. However she started marginally too far behind 21 year old Thai golfer Patty Tavatanakit to catch up. If nothing else, it shows Ko is firmly back to being a contender.
That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme. Happy Easter everyone, The Bulletin will be back on Tuesday.