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Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett speaking to media (Radio NZ: Brooke Jenner)
Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett speaking to media (Radio NZ: Brooke Jenner)

The BulletinFebruary 8, 2019

The Bulletin: How National plans to take back power in 2020

Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett speaking to media (Radio NZ: Brooke Jenner)
Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett speaking to media (Radio NZ: Brooke Jenner)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: National plans approach to regaining government in 2020, fishing industry letter about onboard cameras to Stuart Nash revealed, and unemployment up. 

The National Party are off on their caucus retreat to start the year, and are already promising more policy will be rolled out well before the election. In fact, Stuff reports the party plans to release no fewer than eight policy discussion documents over the year, with the first one on the way intended to be about the environment. National has been much less oppositional here than they could have been, and the rhetoric has been markedly different from their last stretch in government, during which they were pretty mediocre on the environment. So if the policy discussion that gets released is strong it could put some real pressure on Labour and the Greens. They’ve also recently come out with policy on ending ‘bracket creep’ for tax rates, and hoovered up some easy headlines with populist pronouncements – 2019 has been energetic, to say the least.

Why are National coming out with policy now, with the election so far away? The idea is to differentiate themselves from when Labour came into government, and instituted a programme of working groups. As a much more well-resourced party, National plans to have that already hammered out when the election rolls around. Because after all, as Labour discovered in 2017, a shift to the government benches can happen very fast. It’s also a contrast from where National were last year – have a read of this piece on Interest from Jason Walls, for example, where he described the party as one that did nothing but oppose, and had no new ideas.

What about the MPs themselves? Somehow, Simon Bridges’ leadership came through the absolute nightmare of the end of last year. Looking back on it now, it still seems kind of incredible that he did, given the absolute body blow accusations that were thrown at him (and in fairness, there remain a lot of unanswered questions there about party culture, donations, and the connection between the two.) But survive he did, and now his job seems as safe as the opposition leader’s job can ever really be.

Even the whole Jami-Lee Ross thing generally seems basically done with. MP Sarah Dowie, who was recently named as being under investigation (though so far, without any hint of charges) over a text allegedly sent to Mr Ross, told Newshub she’d be staying on as the MP for Invercargill. Simon Bridges has also given her his backing.

So, will any of this matter? There hasn’t been a poll out for a while to measure all of this against, and in the polls to finish last year the parties of government had a healthy lead over National, and the prospects of a new party getting into parliament as a National ally still seem outlandish. But the gap between the two blocs isn’t as big as it might seem, and if either NZ First or the Greens end up being pushed below the 5% threshold, or the coalition collapses, it could be all over for Labour. And as a non-partisan observer, the government has had a rough start to the year, and National MPs look refreshed, like they’ve had a summer of nice sleep-ins and trips to the beach. If they maintain the energy, they could start to look like a government in waiting a lot sooner than otherwise would have been expected.

An industry leader letter to fishing minister Stuart Nash has been revealed, which appears to contradict public statements on boat cameras. Radio NZ reports the letter expresses “overwhelming opposition” to cameras among industry leaders, while at the same time industry groups were placing ads on TV saying they had “nothing to hide.” Senior figures at “Talley’s, Sealord, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen and Te Ohu Kai Moana, representing Māori fishing interests” were among the signatories. Onboard cameras were not included in the reforms proposed recently by Stuart Nash.

The headline unemployment rate has gone up by a reasonable margin for the quarter, but there’s a lot of detail in that to unpack. Stuff reports it’s up to 4.3 percent, but that’s still below where it was in the middle of last year. One of the angles they’ve picked out is that out of the total rise in unemployed people, most of it is made up of men, and for the first time since 2010 men are more likely to be unemployed than women.

There is also useful reporting from Interest on this, who look ahead from the data to the next Reserve Bank Official Cash Rate announcement. It’s expected that there won’t be any changes to the rate, because the rate of unemployment still isn’t high. But it is seen as making a cut slightly more likely, either at the next announcement, or later over the next two years.

Residents of Beachlands, in Auckland’s outer east, are facing ten day delays for water orders to be filled, reports Radio NZ. The rapidly growing area doesn’t have a main water line, and so residents are reliant on tanks. But during the dry summer weather, and with the area rapidly growing, water orders are starting to back up worryingly. Watercare says there are no plans to install a main water line, unless housing developers cover some of the cost, as it would be too expensive otherwise.

Dunedin is looking likely to export rubbish from about 2023 onwards, reports the ODT. The current landfill is likely to reach capacity by then, and a new one is unlikely to be ready by then. This story sounds on the face of it like a shocker, given what we’ve been talking about this week, but it’s more nuanced than that – Council waste and environmental solutions group manager Chris Henderson wants more planning done on a circular economy, and better product stewardship rules, to reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfill in the first place.

Whanganui is going to start resettling 100 refugees annually, reports the Whanganui Chronicle. The town has been chosen as a new resettlement centre, as part of the government’s push to fill the increased quota, and minister Iain Lees-Galloway said nearby Palmerston North had benefitted greatly from the arrival of people from refugee backgrounds. Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said employers in the area would also be very keen to hear from the new arrivals.

Many of the print editions of today’s papers around the middle of the country have concerning headlines about the Tasman fires. The Dominion Post has a front page about the fire roaring back to life, and further evacuations. The Nelson Mail has extensive coverage, going deep into page 6. And the Marlborough Express leads with a story about residents in the Sounds seeing smoke coming over the horizon and panicking, before realising it was from the fires around Nelson 140km away.

A documentary that would be well worth watching over the weekend: Vice NZ have profiled a small group of people who have been deported back to Tonga after committing crimes in other countries, including New Zealand. And it tells the story of how deportation has changed them, but also how the deportees are changing Tonga. There’s also a written piece if you can’t find the time to watch the 25 minute doco – but I highly recommend the doco.

From our partners: Barbecuing is one of New Zealand’s national summer past-time, but what are the nuances in our barbecue culture? Brenda Talacek, Vector’s Group Manager for Gas Trading, lifts the lid.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Siouxsie Wiles explains the fight between the Cancer Society and Consumer NZ over sunscreen. James Ting-Edwards from InternetNZ outlines how privacy advocates fought back and won some battles in 2018. Morgan Godfery destroys a persistent series of myths about urban Māori in a review of a new study. And speaking of mythbusting, this is actually one I believed – Jayne Lucke explains that contrary to popular belief, there is no biological evidence for “giving your body a break” from the pill.

Here’s a column that really crystallises something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, in terms of political responses to climate change. It’s by Rachel Stewart in the NZ Herald, and it really doesn’t hold back on politicians – especially those who are saying the right things, but not really acting.

It seems to me that we almost never hear from outright climate change deniers in high office anymore. That’s partly why the recent stories about the West Coast Regional Council seemed so bizarre – it’s really unusual these days for elected officials to so blithely disagree with the widely accepted science. Well, that’s the case in New Zealand at least, perhaps not so much in the USA and Australia.

But we do hear all the time from people who are effectively climate reality deniers. These are people who say of course it’s happening, and of course it’s important, but… and then there will be some reason why action needs to be delayed or deferred, or that we need more scientific research before acting, or that they’re worried about what action will cost, or that more time is needed to make a plan, or there’s a process to go through. Or they’ll talk a massive game on it, and then deliver a few small reforms that won’t go particularly far towards actually reducing emissions. Occasionally you’ll hear people say that we can afford to overshoot our 2030 emissions targets, provided we (somehow, magically) meet the 2050 targets.

This is, of course, total nonsense. So why don’t we look at climate reality deniers as being basically on par with garden variety climate change deniers? They’re still not accepting the reality of the science being presented to them, or the urgency of the situation, or the inevitable consequences of inaction. Why not just call a spade a spade? Anyway, here’s an excerpt from Rachel Stewart’s piece:

“Currently, the homegrown political tinkering involves much talking, with glacial, if any, progress, while soundbites are becoming parodies.

Jacinda Ardern’s “climate change is my generation’s nuclear-free moment” is already knocking on the door of a Monty Python-esque skit. Not least because the threat of oblivion by nukes hasn’t actually gone away, but also because meaningful, urgent solutions are yet to be seen.

What is being seen is self-promoting Government spin which attempts to show what a global leader Aotearoa is in climate change action. Really? Are we? This is news to me.”

Just to jump back in here with some recent news articles: Stuff reports 2018 was the 4th hottest year on record worldwide, coming in behind 2016, 2015 and 2017 respectively. And if you think that shows things are getting better, you’re wrong – British meteorologists predict the next five years are likely to be record-breaking. And the second article – the NZ Herald report on new research, that as ice sheets at the poles melt (which they most certainly are) extreme and unpredictable weather events will become both more severe and more likely.

Hamish Bond has proven himself to be rather good at sport generally, but now it’s getting a bit ridiculous. The Olympic rowing gold medallist has just set a new national record in the 4000m individual cycling pursuit, on the way to winning the event at the National Champs in Cambridge, reports Stuff. He managed to beat former world champion Jordan Kerby to do so as well. With both cricket and rugby World Cups coming up this year, one wonders if Bond has considered trying his hand at those too – at this point, why not both really?

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