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PM Jacinda Ardern at a post-cabinet press conference (Richard Tindiller, Radio NZ)
PM Jacinda Ardern at a post-cabinet press conference (Richard Tindiller, Radio NZ)

The BulletinSeptember 10, 2018

The Bulletin: PM Ardern under the pump

PM Jacinda Ardern at a post-cabinet press conference (Richard Tindiller, Radio NZ)
PM Jacinda Ardern at a post-cabinet press conference (Richard Tindiller, Radio NZ)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: PM starts new week after three on the back foot, Herald launches economic inequality series, and huge house building programme announced for Mt Roskill.

The Prime Minister starts the week after a few that she’d probably rather forget. Three weeks in a row now have finished with bad news about ministers, though 2 of those weeks were Clare Curran, who has now resigned from her broadcasting and associate ACC portfolios. She’ll be replaced by Kris Faafoi and Peeni Herare respectively.

The handling of the resignation by PM Ardern was the cause of some conjecture, after an interview she did with Newstalk ZB’s Chris Lynch on Friday morning, in which the PM said Clare Curran wouldn’t be sacked, after a very shaky performance in question time. But as Stuff reports, Curran had informed the PM of her decision to resign on Thursday night, but it wasn’t announced until later on Friday. So that created a lot of confusion about why the PM made the comments she did on Friday morning, dragging herself into the story more in the process. (Just on Curran, there’s a remarkable opinion piece on Politik about her demise today.)

Then there was the trip to Nauru, which made a lot of the domestic and international rhetoric around the refugees stuck there look hollow. There were disputes with deputy PM Winston Peters over whether the refugee quota has formally been raised to 1500 (it hasn’t) and there was no meeting between Jacinda Ardern and the refugees themselves. In contrast, their plight was captured by Radio NZ’s Gia Garrick in this deeply confronting audio story (written version here) The conditions – both physical and psychological – that the refugees are living on are dire, and all the PM could do is reiterate the repeatedly denied offer to take some in.

It’s all left political journalism veterans rather unimpressed. Writing for One News, John Armstrong said the trip was a PR disaster. Here’s an excerpt from his piece, about PM Ardern making nice with Nauru’s President, who has a rather dubious record:

“Ardern was obliged to smile while being serenaded by Nauru’s President Baron Waqa. The latter’s self-composed tribute to Ardern and her daughter would have been tolerable, even touching had it been delivered by any of the other leaders of the 18-nation grouping.

Coming from someone whose crackdown on opponents reeks of a police state and whose belief in press freedom is non-existent, the singalong would have been hard for Ardern to stomach.”

And on Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald political editor Audrey Young says there will be other perceived weak links in the ministerial ranks for the opposition to attack the government on, such as deputy leader Kelvin Davis. Despite being the deputy leader, Mr Davis wasn’t the one doing the PM’s normal round of Tuesday morning interviews last week when she pulled out – it was finance minister Grant Robertson fronting up instead. That could just be a scheduling issue, but it is curious.

It hasn’t been an easy time of it at all for PM Ardern since coming back to the job. In some ways, all governments face these periods of being on the back foot. But there’s still a long slog until the end of the year, and the concern for the government is that perceptions of disorder and weakness could become embedded. The question of whether or not politicians can actually deliver what they say they will is a fundamental question that they all have to confront. The PM’s interviews tomorrow morning will be very interesting, to say the least.

Expect to see lots of stories about economic inequality this week from the NZ Herald, who have just launched a series on the issue. Today they’re looking at the gender pay gap, and why it’s not closing as quickly as many would like to see. They’ve also got a story about an education support worker, who has been fighting for better pay for her and her colleagues, some of whom have had to work extra jobs to make ends meet.

A huge house building programme has been announced for the Auckland suburb of Mt Roskill, reports Stuff. About 10,000 new homes will be build over 10-15 years, with a relatively even split of “modest” Kiwibuild houses, houses aimed at the general market, and state housing. The project is also designed to link up with where light rail is going to go, says housing minister Phil Twyford.

Meanwhile the Greens have called for landlords who don’t maintain their properties to be banned from renting them out to tenants. Co-leader Marama Davidson went on Newshub Nation to argue for a rental WOF, saying many rentals are unsafe, mouldy, and making people sick.

Speaking of Newshub Nation, there was another good story from them this weekend. The disability support sector is struggling so badly, many mentally disabled people are ending up in police cells, when there’s nowhere else for them to go. It’s being described as a case of critical underfunding, with the new government accusing the last government of quietly stripping money away from the sector – a charge National denies.

A 1080 drop scheduled for the Hunua Ranges has been delayed by the Environment Court, reports Newsroom. A group called the Friends of Sherwood have managed to get an interim decision, despite Auckland Council already dropping “non-toxic pre-drop pellets” – which has to happen before a 1080 drop. They’re now not allowed to move forward with it until a hearing on Thursday. The issue is that dams around the Hunua Ranges supply two-thirds of Auckland’s drinking water, and there are fears it could end up in the dams.

It’s Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, and the Waikato Times have a front page about efforts to get people using macrons correctly. It’s a mark of respect to use them in the right way, says University of Waikato Professor Pou Temara. Some councils in places with Māori names, like Ōpotiki, have officially changed their name so that it is spelled correctly, others like Ōtorohanga have yet to do so.

Just as an aside on this, Stuff writer Joel Maxwell has written a very good piece on finally, as an adult, being able to speak some te reo. I rather wish I could read the first half of it, without having to use the translation.

National’s Mark Mitchell wants the government to keep troops in Iraq, when the deployment comes up for renewal in November. It’s in Radio NZ’s on air bulletins this morning, and doesn’t appear to be online, but Mr Mitchell’s argument is that earlier mistakes have been made withdrawing forces too early. The Greens are opposed to staying in Iraq any longer, saying millions of dollars have been wasted on the mission.

This is an interesting piece from Radio NZ’s health correspondent Karen Brown, looking into whether the pay deal and other wins for nurses will stave off a staffing crisis. It was something that kept on coming up during their negotiations – that the workplaces themselves were dangerously understaffed, and nurses were stretched beyond what they could manage.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his speech during the welcoming banquet for the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China May 14, 2017. Photo: Damir Sagolj – Pool/Getty Images

Right now there’s stacks of good stuff on The Spinoff: Stephen Jacobi from the NZ China Council writes about what our place in the Belt and Road plan should be. The authors of a new study write about early Māori conceptions of extinction in relation to the Moa. Sam Brooks goes into the P!nk phenomenon to try and figure out why she’s retained such a top place in the pop pantheon. Graham Cameron writes about the Port of Tauranga, and how it has become a ‘megachurch’ for the particular kind of progress that allows money to talk more freely. And speaking of churches, I talked to the people behind the Media Prayer Day yesterday.

Michael Field is one of the foremost journalists working in the Pacific, and this long-form feature is tremendous. It covers the tangled web between the Tongan royal family, China, rights to satellite spaces, and a whole lot of money that most certainly has not gone towards the betterment of the Tongan people. Published on Invincible Strangers, the story covers decades of a history that few in New Zealand will be aware of, despite Tonga being a close neighbour. Here’s an excerpt:

“Pohiva was smelling a rat, and with the Public Service Association launched legal action to get the payments to Tongasat declared illegal. In July 2009, as the case progressed through the courts, the Supreme Court ordered the release documents around the CESEC 130 degrees east deal. Pohiva and the Public Service Association had launched a legal action against the government.

There had been some public announcement of the Tongasat deal, but it was deliberately vague and mostly inaccurate. A government announcement did not disclose where the money, at that point described as US$25,450,000, had gone. Only in November 2012 did the government say China had paid US$49.9 million in “aid grant”. Nothing was said of where the money had gone or what the aid was in Tonga.”

The dream didn’t last all that long, and is now over for the Warriors. A stunning start to their NRL playoff against the Panthers raised hopes of an upset win, after they led 12-2 early on. Then the Warriors failed to score another point over the rest of the game, and that was that – 27-12 the final score. It ends a bizarre season, which all things considered was relatively successful. However, it was also the team’s best chance in almost a decade to start the playoffs in a strong spot, and in a few crucial regular season games, they botched it.

On the other hand, the Women’s Warriors held off a strong Roosters side in their first ever NRLW match. Stuff reports that their win was built on composure and keeping the error count down, and I’m not sure that sentence has ever been written about a Warriors team, so it’s good to see.

The All Blacks also won, but who cares because this weekend the Ranfurly Shield was on the move. Stuff has a wrap of Waikato claiming it off Taranaki, ending their sixth reign with the log. Waikato, who have a very proud Ranfurly record, have to put it on the line in just a few days against Hawke’s Bay, who have been running riot so far this season. Weirdly Auckland are currently top of the table in the Mitre 10 Premiership.

Finally, there was a serious stoush in the US Open tennis tournament final yesterday, with Serena Williams losing to Naomi Osaka in controversial circumstances. Williams was hit with a rather over the top code violation enforcement, and completely blew her top as a result. This Guardian piece is a good analysis of it all – including the much overlooked fact that Osaka was simply better and hungrier on the day.

From our partners, Vector’s Beth Johnson writes that if you get a cheque in the mail, no, it isn’t a scam. It’s just the Loss Rental Rebate system in action.

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