Former education minister Nikki Kaye (Radio NZ; Tom Furley)

The Bulletin: Hurdles ahead for school second language teaching

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Second language in schools bill gets cross party support, overseas investment still thriving, and be on the lookout for scammers posing as the IRD.

An opposition bill to teach primary school children second languages has won cross party support, reports the NZ Herald. National MP and former education minister Nikki Kaye has secured the backing of current education minister Chris Hipkins, along with every caucus in parliament except for NZ First, to get her bill through the first reading. Kids will learn one of ten priority languages, and the bill also makes provisions around funding and resourcing.

But does any of this mean that it will be easy to get this project off the ground? Not really. Getting to Select Committee will be only part of the political battle, it will still need to make it through in a form a majority of MPs can agree on. Education minister Chris Hipkins has already signalled there will be debate on whether there should be a priority list of languages, or if that should be kept open. And with the recently announced review recommendations of how schools are governed, it could be that the decisions around which languages are taught in which schools becomes contentious – particularly with the review recommending diminished powers for Boards of Trustees.

Then there’s the question of resourcing. One of the key problems that teachers have repeatedly talked about during their year of industrial action is that there just isn’t enough time for their workloads. And if the languages are going to be taught to any worthwhile standard (rather than just learning to say hello and count to ten) then time will need to be carved out of the school day.

As well as that, more specialist teachers may also be needed. And the situation here is really tough. Radio NZ reported recently that the numbers of university students learning foreign languages was dropping dramatically. Perhaps more overseas teachers could be hired to fill those gaps. But that won’t help when it comes to teaching Te Reo – a certainty for any priority language list – because there’s also a shortage of teachers in that area.

Despite all of that, the reaction has so far been positive. Senior AUT Japanese lecturer Dallas Nesbitt told Newshub that second language learning needed to be given a much higher priority, because of the overall educational benefits. And the Asia NZ Foundation are all in favour, because it would reduce the need for overseas governments to basically pay for language and cultural links, reports the NZ Herald. The goal of the bill is to have every secondary school graduate able to converse in more than one language by 2033. Even this many years out, that will be an incredibly tough goal to reach.


Foreign investment continues to be a thriving part of the economy, despite the tightening the government has been doing in the area, reports Stuff. Not including house buying, there has been $2.5 billion worth of investment approved by the Overseas Investment Office, with the largest share coming from US-based investors. Only two applications have been declined over the year, which is actually up on the zero declined applications in 2017.


Be on the lookout over the next few months for scammers posing as the IRD, reports One News. They’re making major changes, which will affect hundreds of thousands of people, which will take effect from April next year. It may be that you’re also in line for a tax refund, but an expert says scammers could take the opportunity to try and get your details out of you. Using the MyIR online system is the safer option.


Fonterra has “blindsided” farmer shareholders by announcing it will claw back a portion of advance payments, reports the NZ Herald. Fonterra says farmers will be paid retrospectively, but an accountant who specialises in the dairy industry says he’s had to scramble to arrange bridging finance for farmers who had budgeted on having that money.


The Opportunities Party has announced that former deputy leader Geoff Simmons has won their first ever formal leadership election. Mr Simmons easily beat a five-candidate field, a long way ahead of founder Gareth Morgan’s preferred candidate Amy Stevens. Speaking of Mr Morgan, his name appeared precisely once in the press release announcing the result – to note that Mr Simmons used to be the GM at the Morgan Foundation. It could be taken as a sign that the party really is moving on from their polarising 2017 campaign.


A medicinal cannabis bill has now been passed into law, reports Radio NZ. It will lay the groundwork for a medicinal industry, and gives a legal defence to those undergoing palliative care to use cannabis – even illicit cannabis. The National Party has described it as “decriminalisation by stealth” (it isn’t remotely) and health minister David Clark has described it as “the most progressive legislation” parliament has ever passed on medicinal cannabis, which in context is setting the bar so low MPs may be at risk of tripping over it.

Speaking of which, we’re continued to roll out angles of interest from our nationwide survey with UMR. And today’s piece is about attitudes towards drugs, and whether specific substances should be legalised. Some of the results were rather interesting.


An ambitious and important animated interactive has been released by Stuff this morning, telling the story of how two kids ended up in foster homes. It serves as a jumping off point for other stories about the state care system, including this one about the day to day mahi of social workers, which is really well told.


Air NZ engineers have voted to extend their December 21 strike to 3 days, reports Radio NZ. However, mediation is ongoing, so it’s possible it won’t go ahead. The union says the offer that has been made to engineers includes cuts to sick leave and overtime. Air NZ says they’re working on contingency plans to keep flights moving.


Time Magazine has honoured journalists in their annual Person of the Year feature for 2018. Their central thesis is that the concept of the truth is under threat around the world, and have highlighted examples of journalists at the absolute sharp end of that fight.


From our partners at Vector: The pros and cons of putting solar panels on the roof of your home are well debated. But what about the empty rooftop spaces on commercial buildings throughout our country? PowerSmart’s Sam Vivian explains why more New Zealand businesses are adding commercial solar systems to their buildings.


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The state of Stuff in 2018 (image: Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: Maria Slade met Guy Kawasaki, a ‘corporate evangelist’ who says New Zealand businesses need to talk themselves up more. Duncan Greive continues his media marketplace odyssey with this feature on the fortunes of Stuff. Sam Brooks has been playing the latest edition of the Super Smash Bros franchise, which he says builds on the nostalgia many have for the originals. And here’s a bit of click-lit – the Spinoff Review of Books has a list of the 20 best poetry books for 2018.


Best Journalism of 2018: Today’s nomination is one of my own, and I’m making it because of the controversy and criticism the story, and the way it was told generated. Back in August, Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien told her audience that National leader Simon Bridges had spent more than $100,000 on travel and accomodation expenses in the last three months. The information had been leaked to her early. And then over the next couple of months, all hell broke loose.

Why am I backing this piece? One of the best and simplest pieces of advice I ever got about journalism came from a sub-editor at Newstalk ZB. “We’re in the business of telling people things, not not telling people things.” Newshub’s story clearly met that initial test, despite many people criticising it coming out when the expenses were due to be released anyway. And as the many subsequent reports on leaks show, other journalists would almost certainly have done the same with the information.

Was it a beat up? The language used (intro line – “Simon Bridges is spending up large – using taxpayer funding to pay for his limousine.”) certainly comes across as quite aggressive. But it was our money that was being talked about, and politicians for time immemorial have made hay out of how relatively small amounts of taxpayer money gets used. So while I personally think the spending was fine (even justified, given it was ultimately used so that a politician could speak to actual voters) the spending struck a sour note with many, and their views are just as valid as mine. Besides, when it comes to the language used, exciting writing is more likely to get read than boring writing.

Some also accused O’Brien of partisan hackery. Well, tell that to Labour’s health minister David Clark, who copped a massive serve last week from Tova O’Brien over the lack of a swift response to the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry. It’s a funny kind of partisanship to attack the side you’re supposedly on over a substantive policy issue.

But shouldn’t she have revealed who leaked the information when the leak inquiry started? No. Absolutely not. Never. Reporters have gone to jail rather than reveal their sources. It’s one of the most important conventions of journalism that sources are protected, no matter the pressure that goes on the journalist. And let’s be real too – a post titled ‘Revealed: Click here to find out who the leaker was’ would have generated about a billion clicks, so it’s not like there wouldn’t have been temptation to leak about the leaker.

So on all of those counts, in my opinion this story deserves to be celebrated as an example of the most consequential journalism of the year. It arguably set in motion the events that dominated the second half of the political year, events that brought to light news that had previously been hidden. If you’ve got a story that you reckon you can make a case for why it should be featured, email it in – thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz.


NZ’s top ranked tennis player Marina Erakovic is retiring from the game. Radio Sport reports Erakovic has had a back injury this year which has sapped her motivation to keep plugging away. She won 9 WTA trophies, and competed among the best in the world for a decade in what is widely acknowledged as a gruelling sport on the pro tour.

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Now I like a good obscure sport, but I had literally never heard of this one until One News did a story on it. It’s called Fistball, dates back hundreds of years in Europe, and is sort of like an enlarged version of volleyball, where the ball is allowed to bounce. And it turns out the New Zealand team is actually alright at it, with the NZ Women’s Team winning the 2nd tier competition at the recent World Championships.


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