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The BulletinJune 11, 2020

The Bulletin: Billions needed to fix hospital infrastructure

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Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Billions needed to fix poor state of hospital infrastructure, colonial era statues in the spotlight, and major problems emerge in modem rollout to students.

Dozens of hospital buildings are in a poor condition, a new stocktake has found.Radio NZ’s Phil Pennington has a detailed report on where the buildings in the worst conditions are, and what the stocktake was assessing – among the concerns gauged was earthquake risk, the presence of asbestos, electricity and general infrastructure services, and fire separation. The asbestos figures were particularly stark, with 117 buildings around the country having a high asbestos risk, and many more with a lower (but still present) risk. There are also serious concerns about the infrastructure at many – the example of Wellington Regional Hospital was particularly telling here, with the heating system, water system, and general building management systems all in a bad way. Around the country, ICUs and emergency departments are more likely than not to be in a poor condition.

On the point about earthquake risk, the report doesn’t appear to have taken in the absolute latest advice. That comes from a report by Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan, with confirmation that the ‘yellow chapter’ standards haven’t been applied in this stocktake – if you’ve forgotten what the yellow chapter bit means, it’s worth going back and reading this excellent report on the subject from the NZ Herald’s Georgina Campbell. It isn’t currently part of building regulation – rather, it represents the latest thinking in engineering and building safety. But what it means in practice here is that dozens of hospital buildings are officially earthquake prone, and the true scale of the problem could be higher.

In reaction to the stocktake, health minister David Clark spoke to Newstalk ZB and said money had been set aside to address the problem. He initiated the stocktake several years ago, and said this information was needed to prioritise the most urgent projects. And in some cases, Clark said whole new hospitals and facilities will have to be built, and a range of projects were underway. Infrastructure NZ put out a release welcoming the transparency of the stocktake, and their release also got into the sorts of costs fixing it will take. Approximately $14 bn will be needed, up billions of dollars from a decade ago when a previous estimate was made. They say what is needed now is a decade long funding commitment “for the largest health capital investment in decades.”

Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive: 

“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. The loss of some key commercial clients meant that change has to be permanent. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and can afford to contribute, please consider doing so – it really is critically important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”

The issue of colonial era statues, and what they represent, is set to get a serious airing in New Zealand. There’s a legitimate debate about whether many of them should stay up, and the fraught story has been covered with real sensitivity by the NZ Herald’s Michael Neilson. At the heart of the matter – some of the Europeans who have been honoured by the statues committed serious and unforgivable wrongs against Māori, and against others who were brought to New Zealand against their will. The PM has also spoken about it, saying that decisions on individual monuments should be up to individual communities.

Major problems have emerged in the rollout of internet connectivity for school students, reports the NZ Herald’s Simon Collins. He spoke to several principals at wealthy schools, who said dozens of unneeded routers turned up – while at the same time, a lower-decile school like Aorere College had severe shortages compared to what they needed. And some modems are yet to be delivered at all, despite schools going back a good few weeks ago. The ministry of education’s Ellen MacGregor-Reid told Newstalk ZB the ministry had only become aware of the issue in the last few days, and is now working to relocate them to where they’re actually needed.

A story that underlines one of the major issues with the now-scrapped police Armed Response Teams: Radio NZ’s Jordan Bond reports that over the course of the six month trial, more than half of all arrests and use of force incidents involved Māori. That’s a wildly disproportionate share compared to the wider demographics of the country, even accounting for the fact that the trial took place in only a few regions. The figures come from a wide range of data that has been proactively released by the police in light of the trial coming to an end. Meanwhile, Radio NZ’s Hamish Cardwell reports police are refusing to give more details about a potential increase in the use of sponge-capped bullets – theoretically a non-lethal weapon which still have the potential to cause serious injury and death.

The wage subsidy period is coming to an end, and the new, more targeted scheme is taking its place. With that, a wave of redundancies is inevitable, and a lot of people are naturally going to have questions about it. If you’re in this position, I’d highly recommend taking a look through this Radio NZ live chat with a pair of employment law experts, who have taken dozens of questions from members of the public and given a straight answer. A tip – sort the blog by ‘oldest first’ so that it reads in order.

Here’s an excellent column about the potential, and current drawbacks, of carbon capture technology, and whether the government should put money towards it. Writing on Stuff, science correspondent Peter Griffin has looked at what is currently available, noting that the technology to suck carbon out of the air definitely works – it’s just too expensive right now to be viable on a large scale, and requires a large bank of renewable energy to be worthwhile. And yet, if there was ever going to be a time to invest heavily in R&D for this kind of technology, it would be now.

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Immigration NZ’s New Zealand Now site.

Right now on The Spinoff: Toby Manhire has put together a quiz to see if you can match up the Immigration NZ slogan, and which country they’re trying to lure people from. Jihee Junn reports on the damage done to fashion house Ingrid Starnes by Covid-19, and the closure of its retail arm. Alice Neville is in heaven during the hop harvesting season in Nelson. And Emalani Case writes about the RIMPAC military exercise, and how it devastates the environment and disregards the rights of indigenous people in Hawai’i.

For a feature today, a long and involved read about the potential environmental implications of fast-tracked infrastructure projects. Stuff’s Charlie Mitchell has looked at a letter sent several weeks ago by a group of West Coast leaders, who appear to be asking for a bit more bureaucratic leniency on some contentious projects, on the grounds that they will deliver employment benefits. And they have a point about the need for jobs – but the question is, at what cost? Here’s an excerpt:

While the Government looks to flood the economy with cash in a wave of infrastructure spending, some environmentalists see danger in the projects that could be fast-tracked. Many hundreds of other infrastructure projects will largely bypass the Resource Management Act (RMA), through a process that is already equal parts speedy and opaque.

To make the projects happen quickly, the Government is planning legislation that would significantly truncate usual processes. The legislation has not yet been introduced, but it is likely to largely devolve decision-making authority to politicians, with limited scope for public scrutiny and expert opinion. Similar powers were used following the Canterbury and Hurunui/Kaikōura earthquakes. The suspension of business as usual appears to have already emboldened those with projects that may struggle to succeed under regular processes.

A bizarre story about social distancing from the NRL, which has maintained its premier position for weird sporting scandals. Stuff reports Wests Tigers co-captain Benji Marshall has been put into isolation after kissing a reporter on the cheek at training, and in doing so breaking the team’s biosecurity bubble. The reporter has now been required to take a Covid-19 test, and assuming it comes back negative there will be no further action. But it goes to show how strictly the conditions are being enforced, when even a relatively minor incident like that has this result.

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