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The runway at the northern end of Rarotonga (Getty Images)
The runway at the northern end of Rarotonga (Getty Images)

The BulletinAugust 11, 2020

The Bulletin: Concern from the Cook Islands over travel bubble

The runway at the northern end of Rarotonga (Getty Images)
The runway at the northern end of Rarotonga (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Concern from the Cook Islands over travel bubble, inquiry clears Iain Lees-Galloway of any spending impropriety, and Oranga Tamariki facing further damaging report findings.

A draft agreement on a travel bubble with the Cook Islands is close to being finalised, the PM revealed yesterday. Stuff reports it has been discussed at cabinet, and there are just a few more operational details that need to be ironed out. No exact timeframe has been put on it, but at this stage it is hoped that it will be in place by the end of the year. ”We haven’t wanted to give dates beyond that while we’re still undertaking that verification work – and that’s on both sides. Both for the Cook Islands and New Zealand,” said Jacinda Ardern. Other ‘realm’ countries of Niue and Tokelau are also in the queue, but discussions are less well advanced with them.

Many on the Cook Islands side have been absolutely crying out for this to happen, as an economic boost. The economy is hugely reliant on tourism, and a recent episode of The Detail outlined just how hard hit the Cooks had been since the borders were closed in March. That is being felt across many Pacific Islands, in fact, with hard decisions being made about other, more risky ventures instead. But at the same time, the enthusiasm is not universal, reports the Cook Islands News – one local leader was quoted as saying “the majority of people don’t want the borders to reopen yet, it’s the hoteliers and those business people from overseas who are pushing for this. They are more worried about their pockets then people’s lives.”

After all, the potential risk of an outbreak is far more severe in the Cook Islands than in New Zealand. Health resources and facilities would be overwhelmed much more quickly, and the consequences could be dire. It also comes at a time when health officials in NZ are warning that renewed community transmission could still take place, so following on from that logically, anywhere there is an air bridge could also see that, even if cases spreading is less likely. The continued uncertainty in general terms is also taking a toll on the Cook Islands – for more on that, have a look at this exceptional Cook Islands News editorial cartoon.

Meanwhile with the domestic political situation, National leader Judith Collins has questioned the timing of the announcement, reports Radio NZ. She said it was strange to be having it be discussed now during an election campaign, when it might not happen until December. “What I can’t understand is quite what’s the difference between say October and December. It is saying it’s going to take them that long to do anything, is it going to take them that long to decide?”

An exciting development for The Spinoff: We’ve now got merch for sale! You can check out everything we’ve got on offer here, but among other things we’ve got tea towels, pens, coffee cups, and T-shirts for sale. You can also buy copies of The Spinoff Book, which we released at the end of last year, featuring dozens of the best pieces of writing to appear on the site over our first five years.

An inquiry has found no evidence of any inappropriate spending by former minister Iain Lees-Galloway, reports Radio NZ. He lost his portfolios after an affair with a staffer in one of his departments came to light – it was always stressed that the demotions weren’t the result of the affair as such, but because of the potential for a conflict of interest. Lees-Galloway subsequently decided to retire from politics at the election. Jacinda Ardern says that with all of his spending over an 18 month period now reviewed and cleared, she considers the matter closed. Lees-Galloway addressed it all in his valedictory speech, which you can read here.

Oranga Tamariki is facing further damaging report findings, and calls for senior leaders to step down. The latest in the saga around the organisation happened several days ago, with an Ombudsman’s office report into law breaking and policies being breached around uplifts – the euphemistic term for taking children from mothers. Journalist Aaron Smale has published a searing comment piece on Newsroom about the failures, and suggests that if those most affected voted in larger numbers, we wouldn’t be seeing such failures.

National leader Judith Collins has openly called for voters in Epsom to give their candidate vote to Act leader David Seymour, reports Stuff. She said she would welcome him and his party being part of a National-led government, and that there was no need for any sort of ‘cup of tea’ ceremony to make that clear. It’s an interesting one for Seymour himself, who has been keen to stress this year (and not without reason) that he could have won the seat with or without the endorsement – either way, he can take it to the bank now. In other Act news, they were the other party mentioned yesterday going out on a nationwide bus tour – however, I regret to inform you that the actual vehicle is really more of a minivan.

And sticking with the National Party, they finally have a candidate to run in Auckland Central. It is Emma Mellow, a senior communications manager for ANZ Bank. The delay in selection meant that for the first major electorate debate of the year, they had to be represented by Erica Stanford – and you should read Josie Adams’ excellent wrap of that wild afternoon. It also gave a senior National party figure to get up to some (extremely alleged, he denies it) shenanigans on talkback radio against one candidate, under the assumed identity of ‘Merv’, as revealed by Newshub’s Tova O’Brien.

We’ve had a lot of news recently predicting a dire economic situation is looming, and in fairness, those predictions were made for good reasons. But so far, we haven’t seen the immense wave of business failure which was expected to accompany the downturn, and the recovery in revenue for a lot of small businesses is basically back to normal. Those are some of the conclusions drawn out of this excellent deep dive into the state of the economy from the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Matt Nippert and Keith Ng. Of course, it is still early days in that recovery for two major reasons – the first being the wage subsidy being about to run out, and the second being the comparatively worse economic situation of many major trading partners.

And in a story that sort of feels related to the one above: Despite the loss of international tourism, the town of Matamata is actually getting through the Covid-19 downturn in reasonably good shape. I went there because I assumed that the Hobbiton Movie Set – one of the country’s most widely internationally known tourist attractions – would be in a state of collapse. But actually, after heavy cuts when the borders closed, they’re now starting to rebuild again, as is the whole town.

In world news: There is huge controversy in Belarus over an election result that has widely been described as rigged. The BBC has a comprehensive report on both the ‘victory’ of Alexander Lukashenko – frequently described as Europe’s last dictator – and on the protests that have followed the frankly not credible 80% vote share that was declared in his favour. And in Lebanon, Al-Jazeera reports that the PM has resigned over popular anger against the endemic corruption, that many blame for the terrible explosion at the port last week.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Madeleine Chapman returns with memebers of parliament for another week, with the launch of the Covid election campaign. Duncan Greive unleashes on the latest piece of Provincial Growth Fund spending, to put a horse racing track in one of NZ’s biggest cities. League journalist Tiffany Salmond harshly criticises the new Warriors coach openly speculating about signing a man currently up on rape charges. Simon Brown writes about the best ways of getting kids educated about money at a young age. BusinessDesk editor Pattrick Smellie explores government debt, the recent fashion for Modern Monetary Theory, and why it might all be too good to be true. Shaun Hendy and a team of scientists explain why a Productivity Commission report into the late extension to lockdown got a crucial detail wrong.

And I think this is a really important piece on the nature of modern terrorism, by Christchurch writer Emanuel Stoakes. He has explored the use of ‘spectacle’ by the Christchurch mosque shooter – particularly through livestreaming – and found disturbing parallels and inspirations for other recent atrocities from that.

For a feature today, a concerning look at a growing form of radical political action in the US. They call themselves the Boogaloo Bois – a name that started as an obscure internet meme, but rapidly developed into something much more serious than that. Vice has profiled a rising figure in the movement, and made an attempt to outline why such groups are quite keen on the idea of escalations of armed confrontation. Here’s an excerpt:

They tend to view themselves as the younger, action-oriented generation of militiamen. But they’re hard to pin down ideologically. Their ranks include hard-line libertarians, anti-government types, some white supremacists, and many active-duty military. Experts say that diverse composition is part of what makes them dangerous, and hard to track.

And they’ve got a lot of guns.

“We are actually willing to do something,” said Dunn, describing what he sees as one of the key differences between the Boogaloo movement and traditional militia groups. “We’re 100% willing to fight. We’re putting ourselves out there, willing to defend our rights.”

A tough day at the office for Lydia Ko, who was on the verge of winning her first tournament in a good few years. The NZ Herald reports she was a full five shots up during the final round of the Marathon Classic on the LPGA Tour, before a couple of bad holes completely derailed things. While she said it was disappointing, Ko has also had a really difficult run recently, and noted that a few weeks ago, she would have been pretty happy with a second place finish at this tournament.

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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