NZ Police Superintendent Bruce Bird and PM Jacinda Ardern speaking to media about the eruption of Whakaari (Getty Images)
NZ Police Superintendent Bruce Bird and PM Jacinda Ardern speaking to media about the eruption of Whakaari (Getty Images)

The BulletinDecember 11, 2019

The Bulletin: How Whakaari/White Island eruption will be investigated

NZ Police Superintendent Bruce Bird and PM Jacinda Ardern speaking to media about the eruption of Whakaari (Getty Images)
NZ Police Superintendent Bruce Bird and PM Jacinda Ardern speaking to media about the eruption of Whakaari (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: How the Whakaari eruption will be investigated, Greens ditch Budget Responsibility Rules, and more controversy for Crimson Education.

There has been a lot of confusion about what investigations will take place after the Whakaari eruption, and what they will focus on. As such, today’s Bulletin will try and clear some of that up.

The police will be involved in investigating what happened, but it won’t necessarily be a criminal investigation. That’s a significant source of the confusion. As Newshub reports, a deputy commissioner initially said it would be a criminal investigation – however the police quickly backtracked, saying it was too early to assess whether that would happen. Instead, their investigation will be on behalf of the coroner, in tandem with a Worksafe investigation – the latter being standard practice whenever someone is killed on the job.

The distinction might seem small, but it really matters for what comes next. The NZ Herald (paywalled) has reported comments from AUT criminal law professor Warren Brookbanks, who says that police will need to establish whether there was criminal liability for the deaths. Following that process along, it could result in charges being laid against tour operators – potentially charges as severe as manslaughter.

Laws around tourist safety were significantly strengthened in the wake of other deadly incidents, and they’re covered in this really useful explainer from Stuff’s Glenn McConnell. There was a lot of discussion yesterday about why people were there in the first place, when the alert level had been raised – particularly from scientist Ray Cas, who had visited in the past and said the eruption was “a disaster waiting to happen.” Further scientific comment about the eruption can be found on the Science Media Centre website.

As for the tragedy itself, the death toll has risen. Another person has succumbed to their injuries in hospital, bringing the confirmed toll to six, with eight missing. Burns units around the country are currently at capacity, with as much need coming in to Middlemore in the past two days as they’d normally see in a year. Many of the survivors remain in a critical condition.

The Greens say they no longer support the Budget Responsibility Rules, reports Stuff. While they’re still bound to their agreement with Labour for the rest of the term, it indicates what they’ll push for if the two parties again find themselves in government. It also indicates a shift to economic policy around spending much more, particularly around issues that have been the subject of various official reports and working groups over the term.

Controversy continues for Crimson Education, who have now been criticised by Jamie Beaton’s fellow Rhodes scholars. The Spinoff reports on an incident in which Beaton tried to recruit students to be tutors, only to be told that the services being offered weren’t as accessible as was being claimed. It’s relevant because a major aspect of the marketing around Crimson has been the claims of access to prestigious networks in the university system.

I missed this one last week, but there has been quite a major changing of the guard among senior DHB management, reports the NZ Herald. There are 76 new chairs or board members, including former finance minister Michael Cullen, at a time when almost every DHB is in the red, with the total deficit close to a billion dollars. Just six out of 20 DHB chairs were reappointed for another term.

A short documentary about water quality that you should watch: As the population around Wanaka has grown, and the infrastructure has become strained, the quality of the lake has deteriorated. Crux has looked at what that degradation has been caused by, and how people feel about the loss of the formerly pristine nature of the lake.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council wants a massive investment from the government to save the regional rail network, reports Stuff. The Wairarapa and Manawatū lines in particular are being targeted for new trains, so that more passengers can be transported on increasingly crowded services. As it stands, it’s another one of those examples of infrastructure not being fit for purpose, to match the rapid population growth of both the area and the country as a whole. The GWRC is looking for about $415 million from the government.

The race to be the next police commissioner is underway, but one of the most well known candidates appears to have fallen at the first hurdle. A few weeks ago the NZ Herald (paywalled) had a list of the eight potential candidates, who were invited in for a preliminary interview. However among them, deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha (who you may remember from the storm of controversy around his appointment last year) is one of those who has been knocked out after the first round. Waatea News reports the Police Maori, Pacific and Ethnic Forum have questioned the process, and whether that controversy meant he wasn’t considered for the top job.

Say something nice about a Journalist 2019: Right, so we have an early nomination who has turned up a lot in your suggestions. She was declared a champion of the people last year, but because of the volume of acclaim, this year I’m upgrading that to The People’s Champion. I’m talking of course about NZ Herald investigative reporter Kirsty Johnston. Some people wanted to highlight her work on housing insecurity, some people mentioned her stories about disability issues, and others talked about her work on violence against women. Whatever it was, she has once again done some of the hardest stories of the year, bringing shameful truths to light. On many of these stories, there should also be a mention of the burgeoning NZ Herald data journalism team, who have been putting out increasingly impactful work this year.

Keep the suggestions coming in – We’ll have more nice things to say about journalists in the coming days.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at

Artist’s rendition of Kupoupou. Note: it did not live in snow, nor at the same time as humans.

Right now on The Spinoff: Rebekah Graham criticised a partnership between MSD and My Food Bag, for misunderstanding what beneficiaries actually need. Josie Adams reports on the new discovery of a very big penguin. There’s a brand new episode of Scratched – this one is about pioneering lost sporting legend of NZ football Barbara Cox. Sam Brooks has a gift guide for the person who scarily has everything they might possibly need. A bunch of us pick out board games you should try this summer. Catherine Woulfe reveals the best children’s books of the year.

Plus, we’ve also started reviewing the decade, as is our custom to review everything. Duncan Greive has taken in the great sweep of media decline, despair and digitisation. Alice Neville has picked out the 10 defining food moments of the decade.

Finally, we’ve started a podcast in which our authors read one of their pieces in our new book. The first one is Madeleine Chapman, who wrote about how people reacted to *that* chip ranking post.

There are some spaces on Reddit well worth visiting, and for a feature today, a question and answer from the best of them. The question is pretty simple – why is so much of the Christmas music played today still in the musical style of decades long past? And the answer, provided on Ask Historians, is a fascinating deep dive into the nature of generational cultural power, how artistic works become canon, and what the subtext of something as seemingly innocuous as Christmas music can be. Here’s an excerpt:

One very major difference between the carols compared to Tin Pan Alley tunes or the modern pop tunes is the religious nature of the tunes. The carols are earlier music, from a period when Christmas was more explicitly religious, a celebration of the birth of Jesus. However, the trend in mid-20th century America – the period when the baby boomers grew up – was for a repudiation of public displays of religiosity. This was not because there weren’t many strongly religious people, but because of a belief that religion was essentially a private matter rather than a public matter, and that importing it into commercial spaces was tacky, and/or not appropriate. As such, Christmas songs in public places during this period that weren’t essentially religious tended to be based on ‘the season’ rather than ‘the reason for the season’.

As such, in the ‘crooner’ period there was a space for new songs which expressed ‘the season’, especially after the runaway success of ‘White Christmas’ as sung most prominently by Bing Crosby (written in 1942 by Irving Berlin, a Tin Pan Alley songwriter who would have been more interested in Hanukkah personally). ‘White Christmas’ was one of the biggest, most consistently year-after-year successful songs of the 20th century. The sheer success of Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ set off a trend where basically every crooner who followed in the image of Crosby did a Christmas record or seven.

Cool news for the millions of New Zealand AFL fans out there: AFLNZ have announced that for the first time the country will be sending both a Men’s and a Women’s team to the International Cup, the world’s premier international Aussie Rules event. The men made the Grand Final of the last tournament in 2017, before losing to Papua New Guinea by a single, painful point. If you’re wondering why those two teams were playing in the final, the answer is pretty simple – Australia doesn’t send a team to the International Cup, because it’s fair to say it would be a bit too good for everyone else.

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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Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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