Finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Kiwirail)

The Bulletin: Big surplus, but can it be spent?

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Government secures bigger than expected surplus, NZ not on track to meet climate change targets, and most immigration crime going un-investigated.

The government has found itself in possession of a much higher than expected surplus, reports Interest. Not only has tax revenue grown faster than spending, the government has also reached its debt reduction target four years earlier than expected. As positive as that might sound, finance minister Grant Robertson is denying that means the government is “awash with cash.”

Why? Because people are now going to ask him – quite reasonably some would argue – to go and spend some of that extra money. As business journalist Hamish Rutherford argues on Stuff, those are going to be politically very difficult questions for the minister to navigate around.

Who might want a bit more money? Well, who wouldn’t, but specifically right now, primary teachers have been on one strike and are threatening more. Stuff reports they’re pretty annoyed at the surplus announcement, and say it shows the government could end the crisis in a moment if it had the political will to do so. Secondary school teachers also recently rejected a pay offer. Or could it instead be spent through removing fuel taxes, as National leader Simon Bridges is calling for? No, argues Henry Cooke at Stuff, basically because fuel tax money is ring-fenced for transport, and it would be better to keep it that way.

Mr Robertson says the surplus shows a strong economy, and “gives us the space required to make the critical infrastructure investments that New Zealand needs, while still building a buffer.” And being a bit cautious with a surplus is straight out of the Michael Cullen playbook – the finance minister who left the books in pretty good shape just before the Global Financial Crisis hit. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that some sort of financial meltdown could happen overseas but still infect New Zealand. That’s a possibility unpacked on Politik, along with the other very real possibility that the economy simply slows down.

But a lot of people out there are really struggling, and the government could currently borrow on extremely good terms and spend to help them. Newsroom’s Bernard Hickey has likened it to an over-crowded household, with low debt, high income and friendly bankers. He’s urging the finance minister to use the opportunity that has presented itself now.


New Zealand is not currently on track to meet either the 2030 or 2050 climate change targets, reports Newshub in this comprehensive write up of the issue. PM Jacinda Ardern was grilled about NZ’s efforts on climate change in the wake of the latest IPCC report, which outlines catastrophic consequences if worldwide action to reduce emissions is not taken urgently. New Zealand’s emissions are currently increasing, and the PM couldn’t give a date as to when that will be reversed. A reminder here – on the campaign trail last year Jacinda Ardern described climate change as “my generation’s nuclear free moment.”

Speaking of the climate change report, this is a great opinion piece on the subject from Stuff’s Charlie Mitchell, contrasting the furore over petrol prices with the need to drastically cut emissions. He’s got a wide-ranging brief to write about the environment, and it shows from the piece – there’s a really well done blend of clear, common sense urgency, coupled with specialist knowledge.


A huge chunk of immigration crime – including migrant exploitation and people smuggling – is going un-investigated, reports Radio NZ. The reason why is because Immigration NZ lacks the resources to meet demand. Their investigative budget also isn’t expected to be increased for years.

Meanwhile, here’s a fascinating counterpoint from The Spinoff’s Maria Slade. A group of young Chinese NZers have started investigating fraud and exploitation going on in the Chinese community themselves, and have managed to claim some wins too. Why do they do it? They want to give back to their adopted country, and this is a way they can do the most good.


Public transport advocates have called on the government to abandon the proposed light rail to Auckland airport, and put proper trains in instead, reports the NZ Herald. They say the current light rail plans won’t do much to decrease congestion, would be a more expensive option, and be more of a hassle for users. Transport minister Phil Twyford is standing by the light rail plan, saying it’s more efficient and versatile.

Meanwhile in train news, $193 million will be pumped into Wellington’s ailing rail network, reports Stuff. Long suffering commuters on the Wairarapa line will see about half of that put into their route. The story will undoubtedly be a welcome sight for Wellington train users looking at today’s front page of the Dominion Post.


A new Christchurch earthquake claims resolution service is being launched to be a ‘one-stop shop’. However, as The Press reports, some with outstanding claims may not see the full benefits, because some private insurers aren’t necessarily on board. The are still more than 3000 open claims on EQC’s books.


The Financial Markets Authority say they’re taking a good hard look at Kiwisaver fees, to make sure they’re not unreasonable, reports the NBR (paywalled) They appear to be rising rather sharply, which is leading many to question whether they’re getting good value for money from their investment managers.


The guy who broke the Wellington waterfront sculpture hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory in the aftermath. Stuff has reported some comments from about why he went for a swing, including that he was bored, and that he wanted to do some showboating. Over on The Spinoff, two of our more acidic writers have raised a deeply unimpressed eyebrow at the whole thing.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Results of the Auckland homeless survey have been released and can be seen herePhilip Matthews reviews two of the books shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize being announced next week. And Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw writes about strategies to motivate people in absolute despair over climate change (hello!) to shift their thinking towards action.


A name that you might have come across if you ever dip a toe into the culture wars sweeping through the Western world is George Soros. Who is he? He’s a billionaire investor who has become a target for all sorts of wild accusations from the conspiracy minded right-wing of US and European politics. Normally that wouldn’t really be worth covering, except that in many of these countries now, the conspiracy minded right are in government. So why target Soros? This Atlantic feature does a good job of unpacking the phenomenon. Here’s an excerpt:

Back when I was covering the post-Communist transitions of 1990s Central Europe, my journalistic colleagues and I had a crudely accurate rule of thumb: The more a government criticized Soros, the lousier it was at meeting its citizens’ needs. Soros-bashing, we thought then, was the last resort of unreconstructed apparatchiks, soon to be swept away by a younger generation untainted by dictatorial habits. Boy, were we wrong.

The modern swing toward nationalist populism arguably started in Soros’s native Hungary. Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats)—initially an anti-communist, Western-friendly environmentalist movement that did not admit members over the age of 35—made the fateful decision in the early 1990s to turn from liberal integrationism to conservative nationalism. Once a regional leader in economic and political freedom, Hungary under Fidesz Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has become the leading demonstration project of ethno-populism.


The Plunket Shield is going to get underway today with some seriously good cricketers taking part. Among them, Northern Districts will have five top Black Caps to call on, reports Stuff, including but not limited to Kane Williamson, Neil Wagner, and Trent Boult. They’ll be tuning up ahead of a three-format series against Pakistan in the UAE – which if it goes anything like the current ongoing test between Australia and Pakistan, will be a paradise for batsmen with some good time in the middle under their belts.

Meanwhile high performance grants for Paralympians will now be at parity with Olympians, reports Radio NZ. Grants are linked with winning medals at events, but previously a grant for a paralympian was about $10,000 less. It’s reflective of the wide increase in public support for para-athletes in the last few years.


From our partners, Vector’s sustainability manager Karl Check explains why the company is pushing for more urban forests, despite recent storms in Auckland bringing trees down on powerlines, and cutting electricity to parts of the city.


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