Finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Radio NZ / Dom Thomas)
Finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Radio NZ / Dom Thomas)

The BulletinMarch 10, 2020

The Bulletin: Robertson moves to reassure with Covid-19 economic package

Finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Radio NZ / Dom Thomas)
Finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Radio NZ / Dom Thomas)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Robertson announces shape of Covid-19 economic response, National grabs matches for regulations bonfire, and land use change laid bare.

Cabinet has approved a package of measures designed to take some of the economic pain out of the global Covid-19 outbreak. Around the world right now, markets are in freefall, and the NZ Herald reports BNZ economists are now predicting a recession will take hold in New Zealand as a result. Both they and finance minister Grant Robertson (who incidentally does not necessarily believe a recession is likely) predict that if it does happen, it will be “sharp and shallow” – but even so, the government has been under pressure to respond.

So what is in the package? The detail is still being worked out, butInterest has a report on what has been announced, with the headline being a targeted wage subsidy scheme for businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak – similar to those used after major recent earthquakes. The idea behind that is that if the upcoming economic crunch is relatively short, then businesses will be able to get back to normal more quickly if they’ve held onto staff, and the wider economy will benefit from people staying in work. And if it goes on longer? Politik has a report on that, with a more “macro-level” response, “likely to include more spending and possibly some taxation moves.” One thing that has been explicitly ruled out by the government is any hold on the planned minimum wage rises. And in related news, the government has also ramped up quarantine powers, particularly for cruise ships and planes.

There has been some criticism of the government’s choice of approach. In a release National’s economic spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says the response has been “startlingly flat footed,” and affected businesses need help now – not whenever the relief package actually gets rolled out. “The Government say they’re trying to get ahead of this but they’re getting bogged down by detail,” he says.

And on that detail, we published a really interesting argument from economic commentator Michael Reddell, who says that giving individual firms targeted support will always end up messy and ineffectual, and is unlikely to meet the scale of the problem. “We simply don’t have the capacity to administer complex tailored schemes for huge numbers of firms, and the way would inevitably open up to all sorts of rorts and abuse.” Reddell argues instead that with monetary policy (interest rates) pretty close to the limits of what can be achieved there, the time is now right for something like a big but temporary cut to the GST rate.

To finish this section, it’s worth reading this analysis of it all from Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva. He identifies that these moves are fundamentally about reassurance – for business owners, their staff, and basically the public generally that the government has this whole thing in hand, and it’s a really measured piece that carefully weighs that up.

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The whole ‘bonfire of regulations’ thing is being dragged out again by the National Party in their latest economic plan release. Newshub have covered it here, focusing in particular on the flames that are licking away at tenancy and workplace relations laws in particular. They’ve also planned a nice round number of regulations to get rid of (100 within six months) and plan to remove two for every one new regulation which is introduced. Which, speaking personally, seems like a weird and arbitrary way of going about lawmaking, but then again I’ve never passed nor repealed a law in my life, so what do I know.

Here’s a really strong report into a vitally important, and probably under-covered topic – land use change. New data has shown native vegetation is still being razed to make way for mines and paddocks, in the first major update to Landcare’s database in seven years, reports Stuff. It’s largely a case of many tiny cuts, with each individual landowner making decisions that don’t seem that big in the scheme of things. But they really do add up, to a collective loss of 12,388ha.

Meanwhile, in somewhat related news, a new study has found that containing urban sprawl isn’t necessarily the cause of high Auckland house prices. Stuff’s Todd Niall has covered the report, which relates to trends since the creation of the Rural Urban Boundary, which has been in place since the Super City was set up.

A new top cop has been appointed, and it isn’t the candidate who was reportedly widely considered to be the frontrunner. The job will be taken up by acting deputy commissioner Andrew Coster, who is the youngest among the four contenders who made it to the final hurdle. The process was mentioned in last Thursday’s Bulletin, specifically around deputy commissioner Mike Clement being under investigation by the IPCA. Over the weekend, the NZ Herald’s Jared Savage filled out an awful lot of what wasn’t previously public about the case, in particular around why deputy commissioner Clement intervened to block the appointment of another officer to a plum job.

There’s been a bit of discussion in Bulletins past about climate change court cases. Reporting for The Spinoff, Cat MacLennan has looked into one that will now be going ahead in New Zealand. Iwi Chairs’ Forum climate change spokesperson Mike Smith has filed proceedings against a range of companies (full disclosure – including our partners on The Bulletin Z Energy) arguing that the actions of those companies would cause him harm through the effects of climate change, and that they should have moved much faster and earlier to lower emissions. Because of the way the law is applied, the case is unlikely to succeed – but it does potentially add a lot to the ongoing legal debate around responsibility for climate change.

More detail has emerged on what members of what white nationalist group Action Zealandia might have been planning. Marc Daalder at Newsroom reports an anonymous member of the group discussed buying guns, and setting up terror cells, inspired by neo-Nazi groups overseas. The discussions took place in chat logs, which were leaked to Daalder by anti-fascist activists. For their part, the official spokespeople for Action Zealandia disowned the member after Newsroom started asking questions about them.

I suppose it’s related to media cutbacks, but I’ve always found it really odd how little news reporting comes out of Tenancy Tribunal proceedings. Anyway, here’s an absolute gem of a story from Otago’s Critic Te Arohi, who have covered a major local landlord being made to pay exemplary damages, because of repeated breaches. What really comes out is the detail of how those breaches are made, and how those affected have to live, within a wider context of some landlords really not holding up their end of the bargain.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Danyl Mclauchlan concludes our series on political donations with an excellent analysis of systemic rot, and a persuasive argument that the scrutiny system clearly isn’t working as intended. Duncan Greive goes day-drinking at the country’s leading whisky festival. Michael Andrew covers Auckland’s city centre masterplan, which most definitely does not favour cars (and that’s a good thing.) I cover the crashing global oil price, why it all happened, and what it could mean for New Zealand. Michael Andrew (again) looks at the possible TVNZ-RNZ merger, and what lessons can be learned about a mixed funding model from Ireland.

And I went to the first of what is likely to be a long slog of election debates last night, in a wonderfully organised event from the University of Auckland Debating Society, and wrote this piece about all the moments that mattered in it. Please note, many of the moments may not have actually mattered to anyone except me.

For a feature today, another trawl through the history of NZ First and the fishing industry. Stuff’s Matt Shand has continued his long investigation into donations to NZ First, and unearthed a few rather revelatory nuggets from almost twenty years ago. The key character in this story is former (National) MP and party advisor Ross Meurant. Here’s an excerpt:

Meurant’s disclosures show these potential conflicts of interest could have spanned two decades. He admits when working for both Peters and Vela he personally handed Peters cheques for $9995 written by – now deceased – Philip Vela on behalf of Vela Group Companies.

“After I delivered three cheques the anxiety or uncertainty between Vela and Winston abated,” he said.

“Their relationship strengthened noticeably and I increasingly was not required to carry the cheques.”

The All Blacks Sevens are having a great World Series so far. Rugby Pass reports they’re sitting in top spot, after claiming another tournament win in Vancouver, with a clear gap now open between them and South Africa. Meanwhile the Black Ferns Sevens have reached the halfway stage of their series, and with four out of five tournament wins already in the bag should be in a good position to hold that lead over the final three events.

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