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The Bulletin: Changes coming for NZTA over road safety failures

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Changes coming at NZTA over road safety failures, half a billion to be paid out to health workers, and Blue Belt proposal revived in Wellington.

An independent report into the NZTA has concluded that it failed in its duty to keep people safe on New Zealand’s roads. Instead, reports the NZ Herald, the focus was overwhelmingly on building them. It means there’s a major overhaul coming for the organisation. $45 million in additional funding will be put towards boosting the regulatory capacity of the organisation, and the government has accepted all the recommendations of the report.

It was thrown into most stark relief in this whistleblower interview, broadcast on Newshub last night. The unnamed former senior technical advisor told them that he had issued warnings to bosses for years about dodgy operators on the road, but was ignored. The key damning quote was that “the agency didn’t see itself as a regulator – it saw itself as a customer service organisation.” Probably the best overall analysis of that culture comes from Thomas Coughlan at Stuff.

One set of those who were treated like customers – the trucking industry – is now fearing a rise in costs. Stuff reports Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett is concerned about an over-correction in regulation. But given the current government has put such a significant focus on road safety, it seems likely that much more tightening will be on the way.

Half a billion dollars will be paid out to more than 100,000 health workers who were found to be underpaid, reports Newshub. The money relates to the Holidays Act, under which a lot of organisations have had to correct mistakes with backpay. However, health minister David Clark says it could take up to two years for it all to be fully paid out, because of the complexity of the job, not to mention the massive deficits DHBs are up against.

An interesting suggestion to upgrade environmental protections around Wellington – the creation of a ‘blue belt’ around the coast. Radio NZ reports it has come up in the last few days of the election campaign, and is aimed at getting a dormant interest in the idea from local government active again. Quite a few candidates in the Regional Council race support it, and there are potentially legal precedents that would allow the Fisheries Act to be sidestepped to make it happen.

There’s a dispute unfolding over a piece of land in Hokianga which a Māori community says is tapu, reports One News. Council consent for an extra house on the land near Wairere Boulders was granted, but subsequently there was an archeological find, which has since been damaged by earthworks. As well as that, the land is considered to be an important burial ground. A meeting between all parties has been held, with the possibility of a compromise being found.

The housing shortage in Auckland isn’t necessarily the worst in the country, according to this piece of data crunching from Interest. They looked at both population changes and dwelling data from the 2018 and 2013 censuses (censii?) and found that the scale-adjusted shortfall was greatest in the surrounding regions at the top of the North Island. It breaks down how each region fares in the adjusted scale. Overall, the country has a shortfall of just under 80,000 houses.

Heavy rain around the West Coast of the South Island is expected to continue today, after the region took a deluge over the week. Radio NZ reports a Civil Defence emergency operations centre has been set up to keep a monitor on it all, and severe weather warnings are in place. Large swathes of the rest of the country are also likely to get drenched.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Maria Slade writes on the latest around Kiwisaver progress and fees from the Financial Markets Authority. Teuila Fuatai writes about a couple getting the chance to escape decades of substandard housing. Danyl Mclauchlan considers the stories dripping out of NZ First right now, and what it means for the party holding together. Megan Dunn writes about the Rita Angus showcase in London – the first time a New Zealander has had such coverage in the Royal Academy of Arts. Wellington writer Sarah Laing tells the origin story of her new book out this week. Tara Ward’s mind is blown by the One News graphics team putting Simon Dallow in strange and exotic locales.

And I got to go to Levin for this story, which was very cool. I’ve profiled the most beautiful friendship in local government, between Horowhenua District Council mayor Michael Feyen and councillor Ross Campbell. It has just been the two of them against the world for the last three years, but now it is coming to an end.

Writer Jia Tolentino is considered by many to be among the foremost cultural critics of life in 2019, particularly of the online world. On the strength of this New Yorker piece, it’s not hard to see why. She has meditated on the nature of the word ‘cursed’ as it relates to online discourse, and how it betrays an increasing sense of the collapse of cause and effect – things now just seem to happen in the hyper-accelerated online world, and nobody seems to be in control of it. Here’s an excerpt:

These are quite obviously cursed times: Donald Trump is somehow still the President; more than a quarter of the birds in North America have disappeared since 1970; and children keep having to take to the streets to plead with our lawmakers to protect their lives. But it is hard—given the sheer extent of what is crumbling around us, and also the natural limits of our individual scopes of vision—to take in the fullness of contemporary cursedness all at once.

It’s easier, perhaps, to see dread in individual objects: an eBay listing for a Sonic costume photographed on a child-size mannequin; a drawing of Mickey Mouse with a flesh-colored skull, holding a black, ear-shaped cap; a photo of a brick of ramen being cooked in Mountain Dew. The affection among young people for the word “energy,” nearly always used with simultaneous irony and sincerity, suggests a latent desire both to summon and to mock a mystical explanation for the real.

If you enjoy seeing sports administrators come out with absolute clangers, The Hundred is probably the cricket tournament for you. The Guardian’s cricket blog has delightfully skewered the upcoming English tournament, in which the marketing has taken on a life of its own. I never thought I’d turn into one of these snobby cricketing purists, but seriously, the more I hear about The Hundred, the more I wish the sport would stick with tried and true formats, like T20.

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