More money is going into the pockets of workers, with unemployment down and wages up (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Storming economic figures defy gloom

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Storming economic figures defy gloomy predictions, govt considering volunteer rural cops, and Auckland to spread around Drury and Pukekohe.

It was wholly, entirely unexpected. In fact, some are saying not a single economist predicted it. But data from Stats NZ out yesterday has showed something remarkable in one of the most important economic figures – unemployment has dropped further to 3.9%, to now be at the lowest level it has been in 11 years. The under-utilisation figure fell as well. And the NZ Herald reports the unemployment rate among Māori is also down to the lowest rate in a decade.

Interest reports that it has been coupled with a rise in wages – in fact, the highest quarterly rise since 2008. That was driven largely by an increase in the minimum wage, but even stripping that out there still would have been a healthy overall rise in wages for the quarter. It appears that labour market tightness is finally starting to really filter through to benefitting workers. It also perhaps reflects a slight increase in consumer confidence in the most recent survey.

So shouldn’t economic forecasters be dancing in the streets? Unfortunately not, because there are still some heavy rain clouds on the horizon. There are widespread predictions some form of economic recession is on the way, which is partly why business confidence surveys are so dismal at the moment. And the Reserve Bank will be announcing later this morning what they’re going to do with the Official Cash Rate – another cut would be a sign that they too are worried about conditions getting worse. There’s also a lot of concern being driven by overseas headwinds, and anyone watching China right now will know that our biggest export destination is looking stagnant.

Still, the finance minister is absolutely stoked with the numbers. The NZ Herald reports Grant Robertson told parliament it showed the government’s decision to raise the minimum wage was the right one, despite predictions doing so would cost jobs. And as Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan writes, the finance minister has the tools available to keep the economy on track in the event of a crash, provided preparations are made now.

The government is considering instituting a system of rural volunteer cops, to deal with the officer shortage, reports One News. There are huge concerns from the police association around it, that it would put both the public and the volunteers themselves at risk. But police minister Stuart Nash is refusing to rule it out, in part because investigating the idea is part of their coalition deal with NZ First.

Auckland will spread out further after Council approval for 34,500 new homes around Drury and Papakura, reports the NZ Herald. The plans are broad at this stage, and are expected to be completed over about 30 years. Cr Chris Darby says care has been taken to avoid destroying too much good horticultural land. Meanwhile, mayor Phil Goff has announced this morning that if he’s re-elected, 1.5 million more native trees will be planted around the city, reports One News.

A group of members have cut ties with the Labour Party over mishandling of sexual harassment, bullying and assault allegations, reports Newshub. They say communication since the allegation took place hasn’t been up to standard, and that their testimonies have had changes made. Disciplinary action has not been taken against the staffer facing the allegations, and they have not been named.

The government has ruled out keeping troops in Iraq despite a request from NATO, reports Radio NZ. Soldiers will be withdrawn in the middle of next year. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has been in New Zealand this week, and the NZ Herald reported that he “welcomed New Zealand’s commitment to contribute more peacekeepers to Afghanistan”.

Abortion law reform may end up going to a referendum, reports the NZ Herald, after NZ First MP Clayton Mitchell told reporters it was likely the party would call for one. The party had previously been understood to be on board with the proposed bill, and it was news to justice minister Andrew Little. It’s a rather odd situation, and Henry Cooke at Stuff has analysed how it isn’t just Little who has been blindsided by the statements of Mitchell, and then subsequently party leader Winston Peters.

Protesters have condemned an increased police presence at Ihumātao after the escalation on Monday night, reports The Spinoff. Those there say that police were behaving in an intimidating way, and there are allegations that an officer was responsible for SOUL leader Pania Newton being pushed over. The police deny both allegations, and say their officers displayed professionalism and restraint.

The first landlords are being taken to court over breaching insulation standards, reports the NZ Herald. One of the first successful cases brought by a tenant involves a family in which a child is being treated for viral pneumonia. They had been living in their rental for more than three years, and took their property manager to the Tenancy Tribunal. They have been ordered to pay the tenants $1500, and install underfloor and ceiling insulation.

Here’s another story about the maternity crisis that deserves to be highlighted. A shortage of midwives has led to the Lakes District Hospital’s maternity ward going unstaffed overnight, reports Kim Bowden for Crux. The shortage is chronic, and getting worse compared to the rest of the country, with added pressures from the remoteness of the work and the costs of living rising rapidly.

Some people acquire a reputation for corrections, so I’m happy to say I’ve been Edgelered. Legal expert Graeme Edgeler got in touch with the following, regarding the court martial of an army corporal discussed yesterday. “Corporal Daniel Turua is not being imprisoned in an army jail, he is being detained. There is a separate, more serious sentence of imprisonment that could be imposed, but was not.”

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Right now on The Spinoff: Matt Hayes tells the story of a remarkable New Zealander who went to South Africa to oppose apartheid, and rubbed shoulders with PMs. Maria Slade grills CEOs on how they’re dealing with the long term impacts of climate change. Our Art Editors look back at 20 years of the National Contemporary Art award, and the various brouhaha that have erupted around it. Former Green co-leader Metiria Turei appears on a wonderful episode of Two Sketches, reflecting on her life in activism and art.

And I absolutely have to make a special shout out to this Alex Casey piece about the new show Boss Babes. It’s exceptionally good TV writing that weaves questions of artistic format, culture and economics into a wider piece that is funny and thoughtful in equal measure. Even if you’ve got no intention whatsoever of watching a show about Insta-influencers, this piece is still worth a read.

For a feature today, a remarkable piece of writing from the far North. Stuff’s Tony Wall and Florence Kerr (and seriously, what a dream team) have visited The Northerner in Kaitaia, a hotel that has gone from being the centre of the tourist trade to a place where the town’s many homeless are put up. It’s an exploration of the policies that led to them being there, but also the day to day lives of people struggling to survive. Here’s an excerpt:

Stuff spoke to a young mother staying at the Northerner who freely admitted dealing drugs to make ends meet. She can hook people up with methamphetamine, but only if the supply is good. Mostly she sells weight loss tablets and medication for brittle bones as cheap highs.

“I sell Duromine, it’s a weight loss tablet, you get it from your GP, it has amphetamines. I sell them for $10 bucks a pill.

“MSM is a pill you take for brittle bones. If you crush it up and smoke it in a pipe you get an alright trip. It pays the bills, eh.

“Would I rather be doing something else? F… yeah. But this is me at the moment and I gotta do what I gotta do.”

A top athlete is going to the Supreme Court to keep his name secret over allegations of financing drug deals, reports Stuff. The bid for name suppression had previously been rejected by the Court of Appeal. The athlete himself was never charged, though in the case he was alleged to have been involved with three other men were found guilty of various charges.

From our partners: With several high profile government objectives in the spotlight, a single ministry could drive better outcomes across them all. Robyn Holdaway, senior policy advisor at Vector, makes the case for a Ministry for Energy.

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