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PM Jacinda Ardern and finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Getty Images)
PM Jacinda Ardern and finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Getty Images)

The BulletinNovember 10, 2020

The Bulletin: Benefit increase before Christmas ruled out by PM

PM Jacinda Ardern and finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Getty Images)
PM Jacinda Ardern and finance minister Grant Robertson (Photo: Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: PM rules out increasing core benefit levels before Christmas, Napier hit with both water restrictions and flooding emergency, and NZ exports to UK under threat over rodeo concerns.

The PM has ruled out increasing core benefits before Christmas, disappointing anti-poverty campaigners. Speaking at her post-cabinet press conference (skip to 27 mins in the video) yesterday, Jacinda Ardern said that she had considered it, but said “this is not going to be an issue that gets resolved within one week or one month or indeed one term.” She said there had been a benefit increase earlier in the year (by $25 a week) along with a one-off doubling the winter energy payment. In general terms, Ardern suggested that low income families were on average $100 a week better off than when Labour came into office.

The context for this all is a call made yesterday morning by a range of NGOs, charities and activist groups. Stuff reported that the call was based on families being “pushed into poverty” by loss of jobs, coupled with a long period of stagnant wages and high housing costs. The impact of benefit rates on long-term beneficiaries was also made clear, with the letter saying “right now, hundreds of thousands of children are constrained by poverty, despite parents’ best efforts.” The Greens also threw their support behind the call, with co-leader Marama Davidson saying the “Christmas period should be a time of joy for families in New Zealand, not a time of exacerbated stress that it is for so many.”

From Ardern’s perspective, making such changes would be “substantial”, and “would have a knock on effect on budgets into the future.” She agreed with the premise of a question around improving the lives of beneficiaries also having positive flow-on effects on matters like improved health outcomes, but reiterated that it was a change that couldn’t be made at this time, on top of existing boosts in support. Changes were however announced to the small business loan scheme to make access to finance easier, covered in the back half of this NZ Herald story.

The Labour government’s position against a further and immediate raising of benefits arguably cuts against their rhetoric on child poverty. As this piece from Stuff noted several months ago, it is entirely clear that core benefits are too low to live on, and leave people living in poverty as a result. PM Jacinda Ardern has also made the point many times that addressing child poverty is a crucially important political issue to her. Were she to announce that benefits were to be raised, almost two thirds of the entire parliament would back it. One has to wonder how quickly she intends to do anything more on this issue with the sweeping power she currently holds.

Water restrictions will be coming in for Napier, amid low rainfall and a hot dry summer forecast, reports Hawke’s Bay Today. At this stage, it is limited to the duration and frequency of when sprinklers can be used, but warnings are being sounded that the situation could become critical if water use doesn’t come down. The council will also be changing watering patterns for parks and gardens. In the past, water restrictions in the region have lasted until autumn.

In a grim bit of irony, the NZ Herald reports parts of Napier have flooded after a shocking amount of rain fell – residents are being urged to limit shower use and toilet flushing to prevent contaminated stormwater getting into the Ahuriri estuary. A local state of emergency has been declared.

This might all seem counter-intuitive, but it’s actually just what the future looks like. Part of the likely impacts of climate change will be an increase in both extreme weather events and droughts – when it rains, it will pour, as it were. Nor will it be spread evenly over the country.

New Zealand’s agricultural exports to Britain are in the spotlight after an international news outlet reported evidence of cruelty at rodeos. The Independent in the UK reports animal rights activists are urging shoppers to avoid buying NZ meat and dairy products, on the grounds that some in the farming community are also involved in the world of rodeo. In a press release, SAFE NZ picked up on the concerns, saying “the UK is now aware that New Zealand still allows these cruel practices to continue, and what they as consumers are supporting by purchasing these products.” I’ve got no doubt the animal rights folk are genuine in their concerns, but this is an important bit of context to keep in mind – in September Farmers Weekly reported that animal welfare concerns would happily be used by trading partners as a reason to take a more protectionist stance.

Why are seemingly so many community Covid-19 cases being linked to the border right now? Justin Giovannetti has been looking into that, after such cases were reported in the country’s three biggest cities. Dr Ashley Bloomfield said these cases don’t represent failures, so long as existing systems work properly to contain them before uncontrolled clusters form.

Retailers are concerned that supply chain constraints will mean they won’t get stock through in time for Christmas sales. I’ve reported that it’s particularly a problem at the ports, with boats currently sitting offshore for long periods waiting to be processed. But as the story goes into, supply chains all over the world are being crunched right now, not least because of Covid, and it’s not really clear when the global backlog will be cleared.

Changes are likely in the way the government handles rural economic development over the second term in office. Analysing the changes in ministerial responsibility, Radio NZ’s Eric Frykberg writes that is partly because Labour’s relationship with the Greens has been scaled down, with former minister Eugenie Sage in particular sidelined. In an interview, agriculture minister Damien O’Connor wouldn’t get into specifics, but gave hints that a more permissive approach would be taken to projects that otherwise might have been blocked on environmental grounds.

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From left, Christy Tennent, Mike Hona, Taniko Ngamotu and Grayson Goffe, with Tiare Turetahi at front, outside Open Cafe with their boil-up (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Right now on The Spinoff: Jihee Junn gives a searching analysis of the money spent on Facebook advertising by campaign groups in the recent referendums.Dr Warwick Brunton writes about an urgent need to reimagine and reform public health in New Zealand. Stephen Jacobi writes about the future of US-NZ relations on trade and diplomacy after Biden’s win. Charlotte Muru-Lanning writes about two Karangahape Road businesses coming together to support the local homeless community with a nourishing boil -up. Sam Brooks explains the game Among Us, which is apparently blowing up the internet right now.

And here’s an ideal thing to give someone as a Christmas present: The Side Eye Annual 2020, a collection of cartoonist Toby Morris’ work over this year. It’s fair to say it has been a remarkable year for Toby, who – no joke – probably saved lives through his science communication with Dr Siouxsie Wiles. In the piece I’ve linked to there’s a wonderful story too from Duncan Greive about how The Side Eye came to be in the first place.

For a feature today, a brilliant piece of writing that captures the mood in New York after the declaration of Joe Biden’s election victory. Tess McClure has been on the ground talking to jubilant Democratic party supporters, along with small groups of deeply angry Republicans. And as this excerpt from the latter shows, there’s a hell of a long way to go to reunite the US.

“Is there anything else,” I ask them, “that you would like to get across about tonight – about your hopes for what happens next for this country?”

“Yeah,” the blonde turns to me. Until now, she has been mostly silent. “I think once the election is final and if the Democrats cheat and say that Joe Biden is our next president, I think for the next four years, Republicans need to do what the Democrats have been doing for the last four years. And riot and loot and burn shit down and beat up Democrats and kill Democrats.”

I try to examine her face for a hint of tongue-in-cheek, a glimmer of amusement, but I don’t see one.

The racing industry in Auckland is facing a significant shake-up, with suggestions to consolidate around Ellerslie and eventually call time on Avondale. The NZ Herald (paywalled) reports the plan involves a merger of the Auckland and Counties Racing Clubs, and are not yet finalised. A merger would also involve significant upgrades to the Ellerslie facilities, and an increase in the stakes that horses would race for at the track.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme

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