A man wearing a mask in front of the Sydney Opera House (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: How Australia sees the trans-Tasman bubble

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: How Australia sees the trans-Tasman bubble, police Armed Response Teams scrapped for good, and cheese in the spotlight in Europe trade stoush.

Today’s main story comes from a reader suggestion, who had spotted a gap in news coverage. Dan wrote in to ask how Australia was doing with Covid-19, and what the view there on a trans-Tasman bubble is. The issue has obviously been a massive point of discussion in New Zealand, with the latest being foreign minister Winston Peters saying he’s had discussions with Tasmania about state by state reopening – Stuff has a report on that, and Peters insisted that if it were up to him, the bubble would already be inflated.

But the bubble doesn’t seem to be quite such a major talking point in Australia. It’s a relatively qualitative point to make, but a scan of several major news websites reveals the relationship with China is the big foreign policy issue for Australia right now – for example the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Chinese investment in Australia has crashed, or read this longer piece from the ABC about the deterioration in the relationship over the last several months. Where there is mention of the trans-Tasman bubble over the last few weeks, the reporting largely appears to be drawn from the comments of New Zealand politicians – for example, this SMH piece about trans-Tasman football friendlies that bounced off comments from PM Jacinda Ardern.

That’s not to say Australians aren’t interested in a trans-Tasman bubble – the Australian Chamber of Commerce is one group that has been pushing for flights between Wellington and Canberra by July.But it doesn’t appear to be a defining focus, and interstate travel is arguably a much bigger concern. This incredible piece of search engine optimisation bait from the Guardian reveals how bewilderingly messy it is – each state has markedly different rules on gatherings, venues, the distance you can be away from your house and so on. Most states still aren’t allowing entry without a permit, and like New Zealand, require a fortnight of quarantine. New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT are a bit more open, but other states aren’t.

Australia has managed to slow their number of Covid-19 cases down to a trickle, recording daily updates in the single digits or low double digits over the last 30 days. But there are new cases every single day, which is a complicating factor. The Guardian has a graph that breaks down the daily case updates on a state by state basis – each of them has a fairly flat curve, but South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania have barely increased at all in the last month. Note – that graph only goes up to about the start of June.

Heavy testing of those with symptoms is taking place, but fears of hidden cases are revealed in this SMH story on a new drive to test blood samples too. Interestingly, the samples are being tested anonymously, and those whose blood tests positive won’t be notified. The purpose of the study is to get a general sense of how much Covid-19 is out in the community, because Australia is following a suppression strategy, rather than seeking to eliminate the virus entirely.

Finally on the subject of Australia, this piece isn’t really to do with the trans-Tasman bubble, it’s just an excellent piece of writing. The Monthly’s (soft paywall) George Megalogenis has written about the sense of isolation that has now descended on Australia with the borders closed, and how that mood has translated through to politics, particularly between the federal and state governments. This passage in particular is relevant for how we think about the bubble on our side of the Tasman – we have to contend with half a dozen different governments to make it work. To quote:

“Pandemics reverse hierarchies. The states have constitutional authority for much of the response; they run health, education and police. The Commonwealth can’t impose its will in the usual way, through intimidation or cash incentive.”


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Police commissioner Andrew Coster has announced that Armed Response Teams will not be used again in future, after a trial that finished earlier this year. The best reporting on the story has come from Stuff’s Sam Sherwood and Collette Devlin, who have extensively covered both the reasoning given by Coster, and the disagreements within policing over the matter. Coster says it was clear from public submissions that armed police did not align with how New Zealanders expected policing to take place, though Police Association boss Chris Cahill expressed disappointment with the decision, and how the trial had been “hobbled from the start”. There have been significant concerns from Māori about the ARTs, and Te Ao News reports the decision has been greeted with relief.


Apologies – this one was teased in yesterday’s Bulletin, but never ended up running. Trade minister David Parker has taken aim at the European Union for not moving far enough on agriculture protectionism for a trade deal.The NZ Herald’s Hamish Rutherford reports Parker has described market access for dairy products so far as “paltry” and “a very negative signal”. Parker questioned whether Europe in fact really wanted to sign a deal. Politik picked up the story yesterday morning, noting that Parker had made an angry phone call to Brussels overnight. There’s also an indication in the story of stubborness on NZ’s part – Fonterra says their “key defensive concern” would be continuing to be allowed to use geographically based product names, like camembert.


Carparks have been saved, and temporary cycleways scrapped by the Wellington City Council, reports the Dominion Post. The temporary cycleways had initially been planned to allow for better socially distanced transport options, but now that we’re at level one and public transport can go back to full capacity, so the proposals were pulled. Here’s hoping we never move levels ever again, or else the decision may look a bit short-sighted – it might look a bit short-sighted regardless, but let’s not go there, cycleways are a very touchy subject in Wellington local body politics.


National has promised to scrap Teaching Council registration fees if elected by directly funding the organisation, reports Newshub. There has been controversy recently over a decision to increase the fee burden on teachers, by forcing them to pay slightly lower amounts but far more frequently. The organisation operates independently of the government, and the change would require an amendment to the Education Act. Education minister Chris Hipkins accused National of “politicising” the increase in fees.


A coalition of five minor parties have joined forces to challenge the broadcasting allocation of public money for the election. I’ve reported on the push, which includes Social Credit, the Māori Party, New Conservative, the Outdoors Party, and Legalise Cannabis. They say that once again, the $4 million fund has been duopolised by Labour and National, which in their view is unfair because there is already much more opportunity for those parties to fundraise and get their message out to the public.


A new podcast series about New Zealand’s spy agencies has uncovered a few troubling stories. Radio NZ has revealed that former Labour MP Richard Northey – now chair of the Waitematā Local Board – was spied on by the SIS while he was in parliament. That included a period in which he was chairing a select committee tasked with overseeing a bill that would change the powers held by the SIS. He said it was “outrageous”.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

The author, in red, with her children Tūmanako, Tiararaina and Tāne.

Right now on The Spinoff: Louisa Tipene Opetaia writes about her long and difficult journey to bring her kids home from Los Angeles. Joseph M Boden writes about some important findings on cannabis harm prevention from longitudinal studies. Emily Writes reports on the worrying nationwide shortage of donated sperm. Former Oranga Tamariki employee Luke Fitzmaurice writes about the deep change that is needed at the organisation, starting at the top. James Borrowdale reports on the way lockdown changed how we communicate with each other, and what has persisted since. And University of Otago professor Merata Kawharu writes about how we can apply traditional Māori principles to our new normal.


For a feature today, a look at new research about how carbon emissions are absorbed by oceans. Bloomberg has reported on some findings which suggest (to crudely paraphrase, read the whole piece) that as emissions slow down, so too does the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon. That’s a bit of a problem, because the ocean has absorbed about 40% of all carbon emitted since the Industrial Revolution. Here’s an excerpt:

Before now, scientists who looked at the problem attributed the ocean’s strange behavior in the 1990s to changes in water circulation or how the atmosphere and ocean exchange gases, said Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher, an atmosphere and ocean scientist at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

“McKinley and co-authors have shown that the story may be a whole lot simpler than that,” she said. “Their model suggests that the changes in the ocean carbon can be explained by two things: the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere and temperature.”

Climate science is dominated by extremely complicated, often government-built models that take weeks or months to run and analyze how key features of the Earth system affect each other. But McKinley’s work is striking for the relative simplicity of its findings.


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