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Local government minister Nanaia Mahuta (Getty Images)
Local government minister Nanaia Mahuta (Getty Images)

The BulletinDecember 7, 2020

The Bulletin: Tauranga council drama comes to a head

Local government minister Nanaia Mahuta (Getty Images)
Local government minister Nanaia Mahuta (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Mahuta signals intent to replace Tauranga council with commissioner, Super Fund keen on local infrastructure, and Safety Warehouse panned for idiotic cash drop stunt.

Local government minister Nanaia Mahuta has started the term with a big call. After months of dysfunction and infighting around the Tauranga City Council table, Mahuta has signalled that she will appoint a commissioner to take over instead, effectively sacking the council, reports the Bay of Plenty Times. She said she has “grown increasingly concerned at the governance issues, and the impact this has on Tauranga ratepayers and significant investment in the region.” The issues have been well documented, including by the now-resigned mayor Tenby Powell, who called for a commissioner to be appointed on his way out the door.

In a release, Local Government NZ welcomed the move from Mahuta, and that they looked forward to the restoration of full democracy when ready. “There is disappointment in the local government sector that such drastic action has had to be taken, but it is a lesson to us all that dysfunctional behaviour won’t be tolerated because it undermines faith in the local democratic process,” said LGNZ President Stuart Crosby. In this sense, it almost feels like a warning shot – appointing commissioners is a rare move, but right now there are plenty of councils and local government organisations that could be described as dysfunctional.

Some in Tauranga have vowed to oppose the move. Radio NZ reports councillor Steve Morris (a trenchant critic of Tenby Powell) has attacked the decision as being based on politics, rather than good governance. He also argued that the appointment of a commissioner would mean that those unhappy with decisions would have no democratically elected representative to complain to – rates increases to fund the rapidly growing city’s development loom. However, as the Bay of Plenty Times reports, Powell has described it as a win for residents. There is a bit over a week left for Tauranga City Council to offer a response.

Staying with a story about local government infrastructure, the Super Fund is keen to get involved more heavily with funding projects. Interest’s Jenée Tibshraeny reports they’re eying up a host of projects, including water infrastructure – a troubled area at the moment with many decrepit systems facing big repair bills. Under their model, they’d play a significant role at every stage of the process, and it wouldn’t be purely benevolent – the fund would also be looking to make returns on investments.

The Safety Warehouse has been savaged for a so-called cash drop stunt which left injuries and violence in its wake. The company, which sells PPE gear online, promised to give away $100k in Aotea Square, but optimism among desperate people who turned up gave way to anger when it was revealed that much (or potentially) most of what was given away was vouchers, designed to look like legal tender. As the NZ Herald reports, the company owner claims there really was some actual money given away – weirdly though few people seem to be reporting picking much up. MP Ricardo Menéndez, who was in the area at the time, said he was “disgusted” at how people in hardship were manipulated by the stunt, reports Stuff.

An inquiry has been launched into why Pacific people are persistently the lowest paid in the country, reports Stuff. It has been announced by equal employment opportunities commissioner Saunoamaali’i Dr Karanina Sumeo, who said she will travel the country to talk to workers and employers. Dr Sumeo added that she’s seeing little urgency from the government on the issue, despite the impact hardship and poverty is having on the working poor.

Two significant maiden speeches at parliament were made last Thursday, from the co-leaders of the Māori Party. There was a really interesting Stuff editorial about them, which discussed how each had been shaped by the history of the communities the co-leaders came from, particularly Debbie Ngarewa-Packer from Pātea. As Te Ao News reports, both also promised to be unapologetic and fierce voices for Māori over the term.

Struggling to work out how to spread the Christmas cheer this holiday season? Have you checked out The Spinoff’s merch store? It’s the perfect Christmas destination.

Several defence force personnel have been investigated over alleged misconduct at managed isolation facilities, reports Radio NZ. The alleged incidents concern the sharing of explicit images, and one soldier passing his phone number to a resident in the facility. That person has been charged under the Armed Forces Discipline Act, while another has been removed from duty and put on corrective training.

Best Journalism of 2020: One more about the press gallery, and then I’ll look to the rest of the industry. The following sets of nominations comes from someone who observes them up close on a day to day basis, and had this to say:

Amelia Wade and Katie Scotcher both started this year and have been great. Amelia started about a fortnight before level 4, so it was a real baptism of fire. She broke the Hamish Walker leak story a few weeks after lockdown.

Katie Scotcher is just 22 I think and has been pushing RNZ forward on the light rail story. She’s really owning her stories for RNZ.

Jenée Tibshraeny has been chewing up the monetary policy round. Sam Sachdeva deserves some applause because he’s just about to leave and his columns are always among the best – probably the most measured. He’s going to be a huge loss. 

And if I can just add a few names to that, this year has seen a real flexing of intellectual muscle for some of the gallery, getting right into the detail of the Covid response especially. On that point, I’d like to highlight the NZ Herald’s Derek Cheng, Newsroom’s Marc Daalder, and our very own Justin Giovannetti.

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Illustration: Toby Morris

Right now on The Spinoff: 100 Wellingtonians tell us about their perceptions of their city, and of Auckland. Peter McKenzie writes about changing generational perceptions of drug use, and what that means for law reform. Justin Latif profiles Saia Latu, the man behind one of New Zealand’s most successful recycling companies, and the recently named Pacific business entrepreneur of the year. Ayla Miller writes about what summer festivals are planning if Covid-19 returns. Michelle Langstone writes about retreating to a place with space to think. Tara Ward gives you everything you need to know about the new chaser on the greatest gameshow ever made. Sam Brooks reviews the raucous garage party style of the Modern Māori Quartet. And Simon Day wades into deeply controversial summer territory with a ranking of all the Frujus.

Oh go on then, for a feature today I’ll highlight one more excellent press gallery piece. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Claire Trevett has put together a remarkable long-read on the blockages between coalition partners in the last government. This is my own impression only, but it sort of feels like the story of how NZ First schooled Labour the hard way about political naivete. Here’s an excerpt:

Labour’s view was that the agreement set out what NZ First would get – but other than those policies that were specifically excluded, such as its plans for levying water use, Labour could go ahead with its manifesto.

Martin said that belief was behind a lot of the confusion. “I realised about six months in that Labour thought we had just rubber-stamped their manifesto, and that was not our view at all.”

Peters, a man with a background in the law, saw the coalition agreement as a contract. His interpretation was that only things specifically listed in the coalition agreement were guaranteed. Everything else had to be negotiated. Those negotiations often proved protracted and difficult.

In sport, not one but two New Zealand teams wrapped up a demolition of the West Indies yesterday. The Black Caps secured an innings win in their test, and NZ A also beat West Indies A by a similar margin. But there should probably be some alarm bells ringing about the upcoming summer of cricket based on fan interest. Many observers noted that the crowd at the Hamilton test was pretty poor for a Saturday. And I reported over the weekend that a lot of sports bars and other venues have been very slow to pick up Spark Sport, who now own the broadcast rights.

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