Australian PM Scott Morrison at a NSW evacuation centre, while further fire developments are announced on the TV behind him. (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: The warning of Australia’s “unprecedented” bushfires

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Unprecedented early-season bushfires rip through Australia, backdown on school board changes forecast, and Sustainable NZ party launches.

We’re going international today, because one of the most important stories in the wider region is happening in Australia. The bushfires currently sweeping through the country have been described as “unprecedented”, and despite the heroic efforts of firefighters, they’re overwhelmingly likely to get worse, if not this summer then in future years.

Currently New South Wales and Queensland are the states worst affected. The confirmed death toll is currently at 3, with thousands of people forced to flee their homes, and dozens injured. In some areas, the fires are intensifying. Queensland currently has more than 60 different fires burning across the state, and some are getting bigger. New South Wales has 80 currently burning, and the Guardian reports “catastrophic fire danger” is being forecast for the suburbs of Greater Sydney on Tuesday in particular.

A reminder – it is still extremely early in the fire season for Australia. But the country as a whole has been getting much hotter and drier in recent years, accelerating the conditions that lead to fire danger. The New Daily reports some of those in the path of the flames have been speaking out, about how they’re victims of climate change. A Northern NSW mayor who lost her own home, Carol Sparks, had this to say: “The trees are dying and they are so dry and volatile. We’ve got no water in our dams, no water in our rivers, no water in our creeks.” The issue is one that Australia’s central government continues to flounder on, promoting pro-emissions policies, refusing to discuss climate change as a cause, and leaping into action after a disaster has hit.

Over and above sharing that same global climate with Australia, New Zealand is linked to the fires in various ways. Six Fire and Emergency personnel have been in Australia for the last two weeks, in advisory and coordination roles. It’s normal for NZ firefighters to head overseas to help out with closely allied countries. But it’s also at a time when our own fire season starts to crank up – an example being the massive scrub fire that swept through Otago over the weekend. The ODT reports that one of Dunedin’s two main reservoirs has been put out of action by the fire, and residents are being asked to conserve water.

We will also quite literally see the effects of the fires here. That’s because as Stuff reports, huge plumes of smoke and dust have been billowing across the Tasman. It isn’t the first time fires in Australia have caused this – clouds of Australian dust and smoke were last seen on these shores as recently as February.


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For those following the review of Tomorrow’s Schools, this is a useful update from the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Simon Collins. He reports that it is understood that school boards will retain their powers in the review, in contrast to what seemed likely when the review was first initiated. According to those spoken to in the story, the government’s desired outcomes from the review – less competition between schools and more equitable outcomes for students – could be accomplished by other means.


The Sustainable NZ party, led by former Green Party leadership aspirant Vernon Tava, has formally launched, reports Stuff. They are promising that if elected, they’ll put a billion dollars into conservation, and promote business-friendly policies. Tava, who also attempted to become National’s candidate for the Northcote by-election, criticised the Greens as behaving like a “clearing house for left-of-Labour activists,” and Tava said SNZ would be open to working with either major party if elected. On that point, the timing is unfortunate, as the Greens have just sewn up the Zero Carbon bill with National’s support. Sustainable NZ has taken a while to get to this stage, after being “set to launch” in August, and first starting to look for members back in February.


This time next year it is pretty much certain former journalist Nicola Grigg will be an MP. The NZ Herald reports Grigg has been selected as National’s candidate in the Selwyn electorate, which under Amy Adams became the safest seat for any party in the country. Grigg currently works for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and had previously also been a press secretary for the party.


There’s extremely cautious and guarded optimism among the teaching sector that work on addressing workforce shortages is having an effect. Newsroom’s Laura Walters has been looking into the topic, and found that while shortages will persist next year, it is widely considered that they won’t be as bad as they could have been. It is however estimated that demand will grow significantly for secondary school teachers, leading to a big shortfall between 2023 and 2025 especially – if you’ve ever thought about it as a career, now would be a good time to get qualified.


A call has been made to simply shut down the process of Oranga Tamariki taking children. It came from Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, chair of the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, who told Checkpoint that children were being taken with no regard for the intergenerational trauma that would accompany that. Raukawa-Tait says the state “has never been good at caring for children” and that Māori had been “relegated to the sidelines” of all such decisions.


People often think about dairy as being synonymous with Fonterra, but that’s less and less the case every year. Stuff’s Gerard Hutching has profiled some of the competitors, and what their farmers think they do better. Of course, Fonterra still has significant scale, continuing to process the vast majority of the country’s milk. But those competitors will come into much sharper focus if (or more likely, when) Fonterra is no longer required by law to accept all farmers who want to supply it with milk, also known as ‘open-entry’.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: An anonymous writer discusses her struggles living with the under-researched condition of vestibulitis. Paula Harris writes about how her life has been two years on from being wrongly sectioned. Josephine Varghese smashes away myths around how arranged marriages in the modern era actually work. Toby Morris writes about everyone who ended up in his design of The Spinoff Book cover. Alice Neville writes about everyone writing about ‘Ok Boomer’. Sam Brooks has the winner of another Dirtbag Bird of the Year competition.

Finally, for those interested in philosophy, politics, and the various recent debates around free speech, this is a must-read. Dr James Kierstead and Dr Michael Johnston have assessed the complex work and legacy of Karl Popper, who fled Vienna and settled in New Zealand, and came up with the concept of the ‘paradox of tolerance’.


For a feature today, a brilliant exploration of the idea of living through momentous times. Writing in the New Statesman, Amelia Tate unpacks the idea that history is always happening, even if we rarely think about it as events unfold. As a piece of writing it includes both the sublime and the ridiculous. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Good Old Days”: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders is a fascinating – and horrifying – 1991 book, named after the title that Treblinka commandant Kurt Franz gave to his personal photo album. The book includes extracts from the diary of Dr Johannes Paul Kremer, a university professor and camp doctor at Auschwitz, who intersperses talk of gassings with musings about his “excellent luncheon: tomato soup, half a chicken with potatoes and red cabbage, dessert and wonderful vanilla ice cream”.

The Third Reich was a holiday destination, too. The historian Julia Boyd’s 2018 book Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People is another eye-opening work that exposes the reality behind our mythologised version of history. If the idea of honeymooners visiting Nazi Germany surprises you, it shows where our understanding of history has failed.


In sport, English cricket captain Eoin Morgan has disparaged the coffee in Wellington. He reportedly hadn’t ever tried coffee in his life, heard it was good in New Zealand, and found that in fact it was terrible. This is truly an incredible convergence of my own interests (cricket, Wellington, beverages) and I learned about it from reading this whimsical post on the English blog King Cricket.

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And because cricket is a sport with an ugly sense of humour, the Black Caps have lost the T20 series against England after a Super-Over in the deciding match yesterday afternoon. If you want some actually pleasant cricket news, please enjoy this video of Sophie Devine crushing five consecutive sixes in the Women’s Big Bash League.

All Whites striker Chris Wood has signed a long-term contract extension with his English Premier League club Burnley. He’ll now be locked in with the team until mid 2023. So far, Burnley’s season has been okay for a mid-table battler – the Clarets have 15 points from 12 games, and Wood has five Premier League goals to his name, including one in the 3-0 hammering of West Ham over the weekend. Meanwhile Arsenal, supported by Spinoff Editor Toby Manhire, have slumped to another loss to continue their relatively terrible season.

Finally, this is an interesting piece on where two NBA teams with plenty of casual fans in New Zealand are at right now. The OKC Thunder (the Steven Adams team) and the Golden State Warriors (the team that used to have all the good players) have just faced off in a low key contest, that really symbolises how far and quickly they’ve fallen off the pace. ESPN had a piece that sums it up – once they were the two biggest teams in the conference, and now the Thunder are in a rebuilding phase, and the Warriors are dead last.


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