Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Rain still falling in hard-hit Napier, Covid-19 vaccine news comes with a catch, and government’s books in a better shape than expected.
It’s still raining heavily in Napier, and the flooding damage has got worse in the last 24 hours. As Stuff reports, hundreds of houses experienced a second night without power last night, and some are still in evacuation centres. People in the city are still being urged to limit water use to prevent further pressure on the stormwater system. A state of emergency remains in effect.
The downpour was caused by a convergence of factors, exacerbated by climate change but also sheer unfortunate circumstances. The NZ Herald’s Jamie Morton writes that 463% of the average monthly rainfall came down in the space of a few hours. A set of weather systems collided right over top of Napier, as opposed to out to sea or over a rural area. And as Niwa meteorologist Ben Noll put it, “in a warmer world, we’d expect those systems in 2020 to have the chance to produce more moisture than would have been the case back 50 years. So, while you can’t obviously pin climate change on this one event, you can say this is what we expect to see more of.”
The damage itself is really serious. Stuff has reported on a local artist who came worryingly close to being killed by a landslide hitting the side of his house. Hawke’s Bay Today reported on a woman on Hospital Hill who was buried up to her neck in mud, and had a lucky escape. Radio NZ reports this morning that at least 19 homes are now uninhabitable, amid hundreds more that have been damaged. Fortunately, nobody has been killed in this disaster, but the economic impacts will be serious. Stuff spoke to a furniture store owner whose showroom has now flooded twice in 15 years – he and his staff have a particularly painful few days of work ahead to get it all cleaned up.
Is the infrastructure able to cope with these sorts of events? Napier mayor Kirsten Wise has said the city’s pipes can handle one-in-100 year rainfall, but this was more like one-in-250 years. But I think it’s also worth reading this piece from local blog Napier in Frame, which is a bit more skeptical about the state of the infrastructure, and has the historical context to back that up.
Is this the Covid-19 vaccine we’ve been waiting for? If you didn’t hear the news yesterday, Alice Webb-Liddall has reported on promising signs coming out of Pfizer, which has an agreement with the NZ government to deliver 1.5 million doses once a vaccine has successfully been developed. That is enough for half that number of people, and minister Megan Woods has identified “our most vulnerable population groups, such as older people, disabled people, health workers, essential workers and border staff” as the first in line. Dr Siouxsie Wiles has also written a note of caution – there are some catches to be aware of before we get carried away by this news.
The latest look at the government’s books has shown them to be in better shape than expected, reports Interest’s Jenée Tibshraeny. The deficit is smaller, and the operating balance (OBEGAL) is less negative than what was forecast in the pre-election fiscal update. The finances are being bolstered by stronger than expected spending giving a GST boost, and less than expected being paid out through the wage subsidy. Finance minister Grant Robertson received the news by reiterating the core message of the government – that the best economic response to Covid-19 has been a strong health response.
National’s new deputy leader will be former Whangārei MP Dr Shane Reti, after he was unanimously confirmed by caucus. The NZ Herald reports Judith Collins also held onto her position, with no challengers coming forward for the leadership. The rest of the frontbench will be announced today. Reti, the party’s health spokesperson, has rocketed up the caucus rankings this year, and is arguably one of the few MPs across parliament who emerged from this year with a genuinely enhanced reputation. Once again, because it was an excellent piece, it’s worth going back and reading Justin Giovannetti’s interview with him from September.
University graduates are facing a daunting job market with rising unemployment, reports Radio NZ’s Nadia Amaral. Part of the issue is a change in the predominant type of job listing, from permanent positions to more casual jobs. It may also push some students to stick around and do postgrad study, to try and wait out the downturn.
The Supreme Court has handed down a decision with interesting implications for the personal liability of directors for companies that suffer losses. Because of the legal nature of the article, I’ll quote fairly heavily. Newsroom has got a couple of senior Bell Gully lawyers to comment on what the Debut Homes decision means, which overturned a previous Court of Appeal ruling. It found that the company’s sole director ” had incurred obligations without a reasonable belief that the company would be able to perform them when due”, and ordered a payment of $280,000 “in respect of the company’s net deficit to creditors.” Looking ahead, the decision “confirms that directors may well face personal liability if they allow their company to continue to trade in circumstances where a Court subsequently finds that they should have taken action earlier.”
Some feedback on yesterday’s Bulletin about the government declining to further raise benefit levels before Christmas: Jodie got in touch to say that despite the increase of core benefits by $25, because of other changes she didn’t end up with anything near as much as that in the hand. “So unfortunately it hasn’t really helped a lot at all.” If you want to read more on the topic, the Child Poverty Action Group’s Janet McAllister writes that the call is not for something lavish or luxurious – rather, what the coalition of NGOs and poverty groups are calling for is simply what would be adequate for people to have dignified lives.
We had some gremlins in the system yesterday, and some of you told me you couldn’t preorder The Side Eye annual. So once again, here it is: If you tried yesterday and couldn’t get through, please try again today and it should all work fine.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Holly Walker writes about how even small reductions in the number of car trips could reduce deaths and injuries, but transport planning doesn’t seem to be built around making that possible. Florence Dean writes about legislation on referendums for Māori wards at local government level, and why that should go. Stewart Sowman-Lund speaks to David Farrar about what it feels like to have a fairly innocuous politics tweet get dunked on by hundreds of prominent American leftists. Tara Ward reveals that the new season of The Crown has robbed New Zealand of the iconic Prince William Buzzy Bee moment.
And a new documentary from The Spinoff about a town that has put up with an unwelcome guest for years: The Paper Mill focuses on the dangerous ouvea premix stored in Mataura, and the locals who are desperate to see someone take responsibility for removing it.
For a feature today, a deeper look at the practice of crewing deep sea fishing vessels with Russians and Ukrainians. For many people, it only became apparent when there was a large number of Covid cases in an arriving contingent. However, as Business Desk (paywalled) editor Pattrick Smellie reports, it has actually been fairly standard for decades – whether or not that’s a good thing is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s a fair piece that gets into why it has happened. Here’s an excerpt:
For more than 25 years, a significant proportion of NZ deep-sea fishing vessels has been crewed by workers from Russia and Ukraine, brought in from the northern hemisphere on charter flights to spend up to six months at a time at sea.
“If you went back many years ago in New Zealand, pretty much 100 percent of those deep-water species would have been caught by charter vessels with foreign workers,” Sealord chief executive Doug Paulin told BusinessDesk.
“But the industry has moved away from that to vessels they own and are crewed with New Zealanders, as far as we’re able to attract them.”
The Breakers will be heading to Australia in early December, in an attempt to get the jump on the NBL season, reports Stuff. The roster is currently heavily loaded up, and the club sees this as the season to start winning championships again. However, they’ll have to do it (in all likelihood) permanently away from home, playing under the same conditions other NZ franchises in Australian competitions face.
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