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The Bulletin: Two polls, two different stories

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Two polls tell two different stories, folic acid to fortify bread to prevent birth defects, and the proactive release of a range of government documents.

Two less-often reported polls have come out in the last week, showing very different pictures. The Roy Morgan survey had support for Labour down to the high 30s, with a corresponding fall in government confidence among respondents. This is a measure that asks respondents whether the country is heading “in the right direction”, and while it has been falling since the election, sentiment is still overall positive. A note on RM – the conventional wisdom is that their polls bounce around way more than any other companies, as well as tending to overestimate the support of smaller parties.

Meanwhile UMR’s corporate polling, reported on by the NZ Herald, showed Labour way up into the high 40s. There was more consensus around Act, both putting the party around 11% – and incredibly, the UMR survey had Act leader David Seymour on a higher preferred PM score than National leader Judith Collins. If you’ve observed the last few years of politics closely, that isn’t as much of a surprise as you might think – Seymour has campaigned extremely hard, and the backroom Act operation appears to be among the more disciplined and focused in the country. National-backing pollster David Farrar has pointed out on Kiwiblog that this sort of situation – when a smaller party leader overtakes a major party leader – is not unprecedented, but it is unlikely.

For Collins, this sort of poll is yet another blow in a year or lows. The UMR survey showed she is still the most popular politician among National’s voters, but with very little appeal outside of that. She said the poll was partly down to the party having “been through a very tough few weeks”, perhaps including in that assessment the resignations of two MPs that she is understood to have played a role in. The unusual weakness of National at the moment may also be part of the reason why Act is polling so well – similar scenarios happened with the Greens during Labour’s years of misery in the Key era.


Folic acid will be added to bread flour in a public health intervention aimed at preventing severe birth defects. The issue has been covered in excellent and humane depth by the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Nicholas Jones, who spoke to a family with a child that probably wouldn’t have spina bifida today had they got folic acid in the womb. The government’s decision overturns a call made early in the Key government, which came under pressure from industry lobbyists at the Food & Grocery Council. That opposition was ostensibly because of safety concerns, which have turned out to be incorrect.


Yesterday was proactive release day, so we got a range of government documents to pore over. Our live updates carried stories on two in particular that jumped out: The 1pm update covered months of planning messaging leading up to the public service pay freeze, which blew up in the government’s face. And the 2.50pm update showed the government was warned there would be a backlash on the ute levy, but were also advised by officials to go ahead and do it anyway. Meanwhile, Stuff reports documents showed workplace minister Michael Wood was advised to scrap Fair Pay Agreements, but he decided to push on regardless.


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A really unusual parliamentary situation unfolded yesterday, suggesting a rift between Labour and one of their MPs Louisa Wall. Stuff reports that despite being a member of a cross-party mental health group, Wall was not granted one of Labour’s speaking slots on a debate concerning suicide. Instead, National deputy Dr Shane Reti gave Wall his slot. Wall said she was grateful for the opportunity, and frustrated at being blocked by her colleagues.


ACC is shutting down a unit that processes sensitive claims, including sexual assault, reports Anusha Bradley for Radio NZ. That has been criticised by counsellors and Green MP Jan Logie. It comes at a time in which some survivors say ACC is becoming generally more difficult to deal with.


What’s eating hospitality? Radio NZ’s Ella Stewart has reported on comments from a hospo worker union, arguing that the skills shortage in the industry would be solved with better pay and conditions to attract people in. That assessment was strongly disagreed with by an industry rep. Meanwhile, on the wider labour shortage, this is a fascinating piece of analysis from Justin Giovannetti, which looks at the complex map of skills mismatches, how housing plays into it, and whether we might see wages being driven up.


Fonterra is becoming less afraid of plant-based products, reports the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Jamie Gray. In particular, they’re looking at ways they can make plant-based foods part of their product range, possibly in combination with cow juice, or possibly as a standalone. Either way, it’s interesting to see the cooperative not see the rise of these sorts of foods as an existential threat. This story came out of the same R&D open day that produced Michael Andrew’s recent piece about cheese lollipops.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Get in touch with me at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Image: Tina Tiller

Right now on The Spinoff: Bernard Hickey writes about the intergenerational theft that makes up the current state of housing. Medical expert Rawiri Jansen discusses a study that shows shocking differences in Covid outcomes for Māori and Pasifika. Fiona Ralph, in partnership with Share my Super, writes about several organisations meeting the reality of child poverty. Jihee Junn gives a surprising revelation that you might have some house plants that are illegal. I reviewed the essay that won an army writing competition, only to subsequently be cancelled. Charlotte Muru-Lanning has a wonderful warm piece about an astonishingly popular North Shore bakery. And Tara Ward ranks every single episode of seminal British comedy Mr Bean.


For a feature today, a furious denunciation of the UK’s new approach to Covid. Writing on Medium, author Umair Haque has described the Johnson government’s approach as a “surrender”, after having managed to achieve a tenuous level of success. Fair warning, the language of this opinion piece is fairly informal and strong, but it certainly paints a picture. Here’s an excerpt:

Like I said, this decision can’t be undone. A tiny portrait of the future of Britain’s public health goes like this. Restrictions lifted, just as a new wave surges exponentially. Bang — the Delta wave explodes. New variants breed like wildfire. Waves of new variants surge in a Pandemic Storm, if you like — Delta, Lambda, whatever’s next — and recombine into even deadlier ones. The world shuts its doors. Covid does become a new flu in Britain, an endemic, seasonal illness, only with hundreds of times the mortality and hospitalisation rates of the flu, bringing society to its knees, over and over again. Every winter is a deadly one. Every summer is only the eye of a widening gyre.

This decision can’t be undone. It seals in Britain’s fate as a nation that has never defeated Covid. So Covid probably will “displace” the flu. But that is a dire fate for Brits. They will be among the first to suffer a new plague, a disease that defines an era, which never goes away. And the world, at least the sane world, will have to close its doors to a Plague Island.


So many sports stories in the last year and a bit have revolved around a virus, and it looks like Covid will dominate the biggest stage of all. AP News reports fans will be banned from the Tokyo Olympics altogether, with the Japanese capital currently under a state of emergency. It means the games – which have already been a financial disaster for Japan – will make even less money. Many public health experts have recommended over the course of this year that the games be called off, and yet, in two weeks it all gets underway.


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