Simon Bridges addresses the media as National leader. Photo by Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Bulletin: First poll spells disaster for Nats

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: First published poll of the year spells disaster for National, China-NZ tourism promotion yanked, and rural firefighters struggling to find water.

Hey, remember how I said the other day that National were having a good start to their year? Well, according to the first poll of it, they’re absolutely not. Newshub have combined with Reid Research to put out the first publicly available poll of the new year, and it’s an absolute disaster for National. Now it is just one poll, and the election is ages away, but it’s worth talking about in the context of setting a benchmark for the year ahead.

How bad are we talking? National is below Labour for the first time in the history of the poll, and they’re way down too – a full 5.9% behind on a 41.6% share of the party vote. But that’s not all – the Greens also clear the threshold on the poll, which means that even though NZ First don’t (and thus wouldn’t get seats without winning an electorate) the parties of government have an enormous lead over the parties of opposition.

That matters a lot, because National’s most viable path back into government involves knocking Labour’s coalition partners out of parliament, thus wasting their votes, and then having a slightly bigger two-party share. You might have noticed news around yesterday that the Sustainable NZ party, led by Vernon Tava, had registered a website – if not here’s a post from the National-aligned Kiwiblog about it. I wouldn’t normally quote from the subscriber-only part of Politik’s newsletter, but this really jumped out: “National Party sources say they will be happy if the new party reduces the Green vote to below five per cent and keeps them out of Parliament. The party is believed to have access to considerable funding.”

There’s even more bad news for National leader Simon Bridges. Newshub also poll for preferred PM, and he’s not in second place. He’s in third, behind caucus colleague Judith Collins. Not only that, a majority of those surveyed think his job performance has been poor, against a clear majority of those surveyed saying PM Jacinda Ardern is doing her job well.

It raises questions about whether Judith Collins might sweep in and try and roll Mr Bridges. Writing on The Spinoff, Toby Manhire notes that she may well have another tilt, but she also may not be any more likely to secure the votes of her caucus colleagues. And writing on the NZ Herald, the sage and calm political editor Audrey Young says the polls will have to be worse, for longer, for National to seriously consider another internal bloodbath.

There were another few fascinating details to come out of the poll. The Conservative Party cracked 1% for the first time since May 2015 – though it’s a bit confusing as they’ve now rebranded to New Conservative. In fact, they were the highest scoring party out of the best of the rest – with TOP, ACT and the Māori Party all continuing to exist, but not much more. And NZ First leader Winston Peters, who not so many years ago regularly soared into double digits on the preferred PM stakes, didn’t seem to be in them at all this time. Anyway, Parliament starts sitting again from today, so I’m sure they’ll all have a wonderful time together again.


A major tourism promotion between the NZ and Chinese governments has been postponed, sparking concerns about a new low in relations, reports Newstalk ZB. The 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism – intended to be launched next week – has been put on hold, along with a planned visit by PM Jacinda Ardern to China. For an insight into why that matters, read this from the South China Morning Post – tourism and where tourists are encouraged to go plays a significant part of Chinese diplomacy and projection of soft power.


Rural firefighters in North Otago are struggling to get access to water, at a time of year when concern is greatest, reports the ODT. They’re calling on farmers to be more accommodating and helpful in allowing them access to farm water sources, because the firefighters themselves can’t know where every potential source of water is. It comes in the wake of a blaze that engulfed a house near Ōamaru.

Meanwhile, in the Tasman area, residents of Wakefield have been able to return to their homes. However, as Radio NZ reports, some are staying ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The fires are still burning, and may well be doing so for quite some time.


Here’s a headline no parent would want to see – the PPTA union claims teacher shortages are so bad, a year 13 student was put in charge of a class, reports Stuff. There are currently 172 teacher vacancies nationwide, but the union says that’s masking a wider problem of a workforce on the brink of a calamitous decline in numbers. The ministry of education is currently investigating claims of wildly oversubscribed and cancelled classes.


Junior doctors are on strike again today, and Stuff reports another strike is now planned for the end of the month. They say they’re overworked, and that it’s in the public interest for safer working hours to be implemented, because tired doctors make mistakes. Patients who need medical assistance today are urged to visit their GP in the first instance.


Commercial nurseries for native trees are concerned about the industry being in crisis, reports Newsroom. Demand for native trees has gone up significantly, because of the billion trees programme. But at the same time, the commercial side of the industry is concerned about low tenders, undercutting, and competition from taxpayer-subsidised nurseries – including those using prison labour.


The Saudi sheep deal, one of the most bizarre initiatives of the last government, has been formally scrapped, reports One News. If you don’t remember all the details (and I don’t blame you, it got pretty weird) it basically involved the government giving a massive payment to a Saudi businessman, in return for… well, it was never actually clear what we got out of it. Around a million dollars has been saved by the plug being pulled on the final stage of the project.


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In the late 1960s the poet James K. Baxter started a commune at Jerusalem, a settlement with a strong Māori and Catholic history on the Whanganui River. Photo courtesy of the New Zealand Herald.

Right now on The Spinoff: Bex de Prospo writes about why her business selling edible ants didn’t work out. Simon Day speaks to some beer experts about how to get the best out of beers by showing them respect. And all this week, we’re going to be featuring and highlighting the work of poet James K. Baxter – here’s a selection of letters written from the Jerusalem commune in 1969.


Sometimes for those fighting public relations wars, it pays to be among the richest people in the world. That’s a point acknowledged in this fascinating – and very 2019 – piece published on the blog of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post. Basically, a publication was trying to blackmail him with some pictures he may prefer weren’t revealed, and his response was to very publicly blast them into the stratosphere. After all – if it really comes down to it, who has more resources for a court battle? Here’s an excerpt where he explores that idea:

“Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can? (On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake.)

In the AMI letters I’m making public, you will see the precise details of their extortionate proposal: They will publish the personal photos unless Gavin de Becker and I make the specific false public statement to the press that we “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

If we do not agree to affirmatively publicize that specific lie, they say they’ll publish the photos, and quickly. And there’s an associated threat: They’ll keep the photos on hand and publish them in the future if we ever deviate from that lie.”

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Did anyone else realise Super Rugby was going to start this weekend? I sure didn’t, but I suppose the behemoth of rugby must consume all that is within reach, so despite it being only February this winter sport must begin again. There’s a couple of interesting things in the NZ Herald for Aucklanders to get their eyes on, if they haven’t given up on the Blues completely. Chris Rattue reckons the team could actually be a serious threat this year, believe it or not. And Simon Wilson went to a pre-season game in Kaikohe, and wrote a lovely piece about the reaction from a place that doesn’t get to see a lot of top-level rugby.


From our partners: Barbecuing is one of New Zealand’s national summer past-time, but what are the nuances in our barbecue culture? Brenda Talacek, Vector’s Group Manager for Gas Trading, lifts the lid.


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