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The BulletinJune 12, 2020

The Bulletin: A dozen stories to wrap the week

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Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Review finds rest home with Covid outbreak breached care obligations, Coster clarifies rubber bullet comments, and Otago University forecasts heavy losses.

Something slightly different today: Rather than a lead story with lots of detail, today’s Bulletin will be about rounding up a whole lot of news issues that are going on right now. All of a sudden, it has got quite busy, and all of these pieces were too compelling to leave out. As always, if you want to know more, I encourage you to click through and read on.

A review has found that the rest home with the most Covid-19 deaths breached their obligations, reports Stuff’s Mariné Lourens. The breaches at Rosewood related to care of residents, and protection of staff. There were also concerns that the owners of the facility weren’t responsive to concerns, and an acting manager was put in place by the Canterbury DHB. That particular cluster ended up causing 12 deaths, just over half of the total fatalities from Covid-19 in the country.

Police commissioner Andrew Coster has confirmed the force has no plans to use rubber bullets as a crowd control tool, reports Radio NZ’s Hamish Cardwell. Their use in the US over recent weeks has been deeply ugly, and there were fears that Coster had previously hinted that they might end up being used here on protesters. Coster has now clarified his earlier remarks on the subject, saying “we have no immediate plans to roll out any further tactical options for the frontline.”

Otago University is forecasting millions of dollars worth of losses this year, and to not return to a normal balance sheet until at least 2022, reports the ODT. That’s based on several assumptions, including that the border will remain closed for the rest of the year, and because of that it’s clear that any budgets will have to deal with significant uncertainty. The major dip in income has come from the loss of international students, which pretty much all universities are desperate to see return right now.

The ties between Rocket Lab, NZ authorities and America’s most secret military and intelligence agencies are deepening, reports Ollie Neas for The Spinoff. The space technology company is widely acknowledged to have launched a significant number of rockets on behalf of US military interests from New Zealand, but what’s new about this one is the involvement of the National Reconnaissance Office, the US spy agency responsible for surveilling earth from space for America’s military and intelligence agencies. We as the public still have no idea what the purpose of the NRO launch from Mahia in January was, nor do we have any idea what the purpose of launches scheduled for the near future are either.

The Māori Party has called for an inquiry into whether colonial monuments that symbolise racism and oppression should be changed or removed. Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer was given a challenging interview on the subject by Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allen, who put up counter arguments such as why it should be limited simply to the colonial era, rather than encompassing all potentially problematic monuments. The response was that as tangata whenua, Māori can and should speak about what happened here during that era, but should not try and speak for other people. It is also important to stress that what is being proposed is that statues would be moved peacefully, rather than torn down. As to which particular statues should be looked at, The Spinoff has asked a group of people for their views.

The fireworks at media company NZME’s annual shareholder meeting all took place a few minutes before it actually got underway. Stuff’s Tom Pullar-Strecker reports chairman Peter Cullinane resigned before it started, after learning that a group of Australian-based shareholders were unimpressed with the company’s share price, and lack of dividends being paid out. Apart from that, the main bit of interest for news consumers was the announcement that digital premium subscriptions to the NZ Herald now number 36,000, with another 34,000 print subscribers taking one up. There was also an indication that a bigger push will be made around business news – already an area of strength for the paper, and seen as a driver for new subscription revenue.

There’s increasing concern about the welfare of hundreds of foreign nationals in Hawkes Bay, who can’t get decent work or accommodation. Radio NZ’s Anusha Bradley reports that while Civil Defence is able to provide support for some, long term it isn’t going to be a solution, because the organisation will need to refocus on emergency preparedness. Similar situations are reportedly happening in Canterbury and the Bay of Plenty.

Air New Zealand could be looking at a capital raising programme aimed at institutional investors, potentially in Australia, reports Interest’s David Hargreaves. If that were to occur, it could mean the government would have to take part, in order to maintain a 51% stake, or end up holding a lesser proportion of the airline. It could also be a way for Air NZ to avoid having to draw on a $900 million government loan that has been offered, but not yet accepted. Either way, it’s a very tough time for the airline, which has suffered a PR hammering in recent weeks because of their decision to offer credit instead of refunds to thousands of people who had tickets cancelled.

The deputy chair of the Southland Regional Council is under investigation over an alleged breach of farming rules, reports Newsroom’s David Williams. Dairy farmer Lloyd McCallum has stepped aside from his role on the regulatory committee while the investigation is underway, which relates to the alleged feeding of cattle on a stony riverbank. The investigation will be a fascinating case study in how power works on regional councils, which in the regions typically have a strong presence of farmers on them.

This is a story that has generated a lot of negative commentary and derision on social media, and I think it’s worth being a bit empathetic about. Radio NZ reports South Island winter tomato growers who fear going out of business because of carbon charges – they burn coal to heat the greenhouses. That’s obviously a really scary prospect for those growers, and it’s one example of what will be hundreds of similar stories of business models having to drastically change because of increasing costs attached to emissions. And yet, the decarbonisation simply has to happen, or else we’re all screwed.

More Wellington transport news: Stuff reports central city speed limits have been reduced to 30km/h, after a unanimous vote around the Council table. The idea was first raised as far back as 2011, so it goes to show how long it can take for political change to occur. There is widespread agreement that the speed is much safer for pedestrians and cyclists, who will now be much less likely to be killed by car drivers.

An interesting story from South Wairarapa about the place and purpose of the Council’s Māori Standing Committee: Arthur Hawkes at the Times-Age reports the chairman of this group has resigned, over a perception that the relationship with the Council had been put “back to square one” since the local body elections last year. In particular, the outgoing chairman expressed the view that the District Council “wanted to exert control over us, or didn’t trust us”.

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Precinct Properties Chairman Craig Stobo, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and Precinct Properties Chief Executive Scott Pritchard open the new Commercial Bay shopping precinct on June 11, 2020 (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Right now on The Spinoff: Sam Brooks talks to Matthew Goldsworthy, the 20-year-old founder and CEO of Youth Arts New Zealand, about helping young people access the arts. Business is Boring speaks to a company looking to build a biorefinery in Tairāwhiti, to substitute oil-based products with pine trees. Kris Herbert reflects on her tumultuous mental health journey since being diagnosed with acute psychosis at age 19. Jihee Junn unpacks the accusations of racism and hypocrisy that are tearing apart the popular Vic Deals facebook group. Chelsea Jade and Liz Stokes from The Beths come together to play each other’s songs in the latest episode of Under Cover.

Finally, I strongly encourage a read of this magnificent feature from Michael Andrew about the launch of Commercial Bay. It’s a brand new food and shopping precinct in central Auckland which is opening in perhaps the worst possible circumstances, with the CBD workforce still lower than usual, and the collapse of international tourism. However, the owners and retailers remain confident that they can hang on through the bad times and come out the other side.

For a feature today, a look at the concept of public-private partnerships, which appear to be in a bit of trouble. Newsroom’s Dileepa Fonseka has bounced off the troubled Transmission Gully project, and looked at how the model has been tried overseas. Here’s an excerpt which outlines one of the main criticisms of the approach:

Victoria University’s Barbara Allen said PPPs had a financial allure to politicians, because it meant high infrastructure costs didn’t have to be paid for by today’s taxpayers or put onto the government’s balance sheet.

“PPP failure after PPP failure after PPP failure and we still go down that route because the argument is made that these things are going to get us what we want.”

“It’s like taking your credit card and saying ‘Oh I’d like to buy a road. I need it sooner rather than later and yeah I’m willing to pay overtime and yeah [I know] my fees might go up over time too.’.”

“Well you might end up with a road or a bridge, but you’ve overpaid for it.”

It’s going to be a monster weekend of rugby, with public interest in a domestic competition probably the highest it has been in a decade. That’s certainly the case for the Blues, who are set to record their highest attendance for a regular season game over that time. Stuff reports that across the two games in Dunedin and Auckland, more than 50,000 tickets have now been sold, and both could definitely sell out. I feel like this detail puts it in context – two months ago, we had one of the harshest lockdowns in the world, and now this weekend more than 1% of the population of the entire country will go to a crowded stadium.

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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