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The Bulletin: Who gets held to account?

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Stories raise themes of political accountability, investigation launched after active case details leaked, and frustrating infrastructure failures hurt Auckland water system.

There have been several stories involving the theme of political accountability for mistakes in recent days. So for a lead today, we’re going to pick up a few threads within them. Each gives fascinating details around who gets reprimanded, who loses their career, and who doesn’tIt would be a mistake to see this as making a partisan point, or suggesting that some party or politician is better or worse than another. Rather, the set of pieces reflects that these matters are always deeply circumstantial and inconsistent, and there aren’t really any clear rules about why some get away with it when others don’t.

The first one concerns National MP Hamish Walker, who put out a press release which warned that up to 11,000 people from “India, Pakistan and Korea” could be coming to the lower South Island region for managed isolation. Because they’re largely non-white countries, not the most risky places of departure in the world, and because the statement neglected to mention that returnees at the moment are in fact New Zealanders, the statement was described by many as racist. The NZ Herald reports Walker was told off by National leader Todd Muller, and an ODT editorial criticised him for “nimbyism and selective scaremongering”. However, it doesn’t appear that he will face any demotion beyond that.

Meanwhile, Labour has sacked a candidate from their list for tweets made seven years ago. Newshub reports Kurt Taogaga, formerly 68th on the list, has been booted over praise he made for a column written by former MP Richard Prosser in 2013 – the column itself being an Islamophobic screed which has since become infamous for using the term ‘Wogistan’. Labour Party president Claire Szabo said the party stood against intolerance, and Taogaga issued an apology saying his views had changed in the intervening years. Many will see the punishment as fair even if it is harsh – though it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is the same party that came out with the risible ‘Chinese sounding names‘ assertion around foreign property buyers, and the MP who fronted that has remained in Labour’s top team ever since.

Finally, there were many interesting and pertinent threads in this exit interview with former minister Clare Curran, written for The Spinoff by Donna Chisholm. It is a must read piece for anyone who wants to understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of political attacks that turn deeply personal. But there is one line in particular that stood out, after Curran was sacked for failing to disclose meetings. To quote: “In November last year, the regional economic development minister, Shane Jones, was required to correct 20 answers to questions from the National Party after failing to disclose 61 meetings, including some relating to the Provincial Growth Fund.” Curran also saw the treatment she received as gendered and an example of targeted bullying, which was partly backed up and apologised for by rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross. And that campaign allegedly took place because the opposition saw Curran as a weak link, which underlines another point – politics is brutal, and it’s hard to have any expectations of fairness.


Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive: 

“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and would like to contribute, please consider doing so – support is important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”


An investigation has been launched after the personal details of all currently active Covid-19 cases were leaked, reports the NZ Herald, who chose not to publish any of the confidential information. There are currently 18 active cases, all in quarantine. The cause of the leak is not clear, in particular whether it was a mistake or something more malicious.

Meanwhile, charges may be laid against a woman who escaped from managed isolation in Auckland, and who was on the run for 90 minutes, reports One News. Escape is the operative word there, as the woman had to scale two fences to get out, reports the NZ Herald. Efforts are currently underway to identify exactly where she went, and who she interacted with over her time out.


An incredibly frustrating story about Auckland’s water crisis: Radio NZ’s Jordan Bond reports that about 50 million litres a day are lost by the city through leaky pipes and clapped out infrastructure. Even though the rate of water loss is actually better than many other systems around the country, that’s still more water than what Aucklanders have been asked to save. Meanwhile, here’s a really interesting story about how car washes are still able to operate right now, by The Spinoff’s Michael Andrew.


At the moment, the government’s biggest success in bringing down emissions has arguably been to allow land use changes from farming back to forestry. Pretty much no other emissions reduction policy has made a dent in anything, and as this fascinating piece from Stuff’s Charlie Mitchell outlines, there’s pretty much no cheaper or more rapid way of reducing emissions available. However, it’s not quite so simple as that, because even on relatively marginal farming land, such conversions come with a social and economic cost to rural communities.

All of that is context for a policy announcement that pushes in a different direction. Hawkes Bay Today reports that two Labour MPs have vowed that if re-elected, Labour will require resource consents to be gained before highly productive farmland gets turned into forestry – effectively putting a hurdle in the way of conversions. It’s a particularly live issue in that region, and heading south into the Wairarapa. One wonders if the upcoming contest for the Wairarapa seat has anything to do with it too. One of the MPs who made the vow is Kieran McAnulty, who will be running against National’s Mike Butterick – a guy who last year campaigned with the group 50 Shades of Green, who advocate against wholesale pine conversions.


Labour has made several low-key policy announcements at the party’s annual conference over the weekend. Justin Giovannetti was there to see Ardern’s speech, and noted that the event was more about building campaign enthusiasm than releasing new stuff, but there was a package of funding for 23 new environmental projects, along with the news that the small business loan scheme will be extended until the end of the year. Ardern also confirmed that the wage subsidy scheme will come to an end in September, reports Business Desk (paywalled) along with giving an outline of what considerations would go into reopening the border. Meanwhile, speaking of Labour, we published an op-ed from candidate Georgie Dansey about what it is like to be absolutely last place on the party list, and how she got there.


The campaign against religious education in state schools is ramping up again, reports Emily Writes for The Spinoff. They’re hoping to get changes made to the Education and Training Bill, so that a clause allowing schools to close for religious instruction is removed. However, it could end up hitting a legislative stumbling block, as it appears the government has little appetite to do more than change the law so that parents must give explicit permission for their kids to take part.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Winston Peters, Mahesh Bindra, and Shane Jones

Right now on The Spinoff: Katie Pickles writes about the importance of a family background of alcoholism in shaping the life and work of suffragette Kate Sheppard. Dr David Galler writes about the importance of seeing climate change as a health issue. Ngāti Whātua historian Joe Pihema writes about the long history of resources being shared between Tāmaki Makaurau and Waikato, in the context of Auckland’s water crisis. Multicultural Times editor Gaurav Sharma speaks to NZ First candidate and former MP Mahesh Bindra, about the tense relationship his party has with the Indian community. With Australian content once again flooding NZ magazines, Wendyl Nissen looks back at her battle to get homegrown content given the star billing it deserved. Joshua Ferrer writes about the complex history of our so-called convention on consensus-based electoral reform. Rachel Matheson writes about an eco-tourism business launching right now, of all times, in Central Otago. And Andrew Drever has interviewed Khruangbin, a band I absolutely adore, about the release of their third album.


For a feature today, an appallingly confronting look at what the human cost of not locking down is in a country where Covid-19 is rampant. Buzzfeed News has launched a new investigation, called ‘Who died for your dinner?’ about food supply chains to prepare 4th of July feasts in the US. Their analysis found a bleakly disgusting truth – for a lucky few to gorge themselves stupid, working class people have literally paid with their lives. Here’s an excerpt:

Lee had worked at the store for about 15 years, after emigrating from China in the 1980s and working a series of retail jobs. Colleagues described her as a joyous woman who doled out hugs and danced spontaneously but also showed a tough side when it came to dealing with rude customers.

Lee told at least one colleague, the checkout employee, that she had a slight cough. She had attempted to apply for extended leave, but found the process, which was managed by a third-party administrator, exceedingly complicated as she primarily spoke Cantonese, Eklund said. On April 19, Lee didn’t feel well at work and went home early. The next day, she had a fever and couldn’t get out of bed. Paramedics, with the help of a maintenance worker, cut the lock to her door and rushed her to a hospital, where she was intubated. Her request for extended leave from Walmart was approved on April 28, as she lay bedridden in the ICU, Eklund recalled.

Only after Lee died did the Quincy Walmart close its doors. It soon emerged that 33 other employees there had contracted the virus.


In sport today, a celebration of perfection. Well, on one part of the court at least. The Central Pulse have just made ANZ Premiership history with the first ever 100% shooting display, reports the NZ Herald, with Aliyah Dunn and Ameliaranne Ekenasio putting in 47 goals between them. In the end, the final margin of victory was only 47-40 though, with the rest of the performance around the court described as “unconvincing”. They backed it up with a much bigger win over the Magic on Sunday, to stay top of the table.


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