Everyone had a wonderful time as parliament resumed for the year (Images via Parliament TV)

The Bulletin: Parliament returns as petty as ever

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Parliament is back for another fraught year, bad weather news likely to continue, and Winston Peters goes live.

After taking a day to mark the life of former PM Mike Moore, Parliament began in earnest yesterday. As is customary, the party leaders each start the year by giving an extended speech, laying out their interpretation of the term so far, and their intentions for the next year. As often happens in practice, the tone is generally more brutal slanging. I’ll summarise the main parts briefly and link to each here:

PM Jacinda Ardern described her administration as the government of. It was the government of housing, the government of infrastructure, the government of mental health and a few others. She also laid into the neglect her government claims to have inherited from National.

National leader Simon Bridges responded with an instant mention of Kiwibuild, stagnant light rail in Auckland, and other failures in delivery. Themes in his speech included the rising cost of living, the tax burden, and increasing numbers of people on welfare rolls. Much of the speech was devoted to picking targets among the ministerial ranks and highlighting their professional failings.

NZ First leader Winston Peters had a rollicking good time making jokes at the expense of Bridges. Among the more substantive points raised in his speech, he raised the topic of a population strategy, as growth has risen much faster than the projections of several decades ago. An example of his of the neglect inherited by the government was an accusation that the previous government had allowed the Pacific tsunami warning system to degrade.

Green co-leader James Shaw opened his speech with a call to mark the damage done by the Australian bushfires. His speech was especially heavily focused on climate change, and he claimed significant government progress on that front, with more to do. The speech ended for a call to those also concerned about climate change to agitate on the matter.

And ACT leader David Seymour also hammered away at the theme of non-delivery. He described the government as indulging in the “politics of gesture,” and fired a shot across the bows of Winston Peters and the ongoing donations controversy. He finished on a note directed at Speaker Trevor Mallard himself, accusing him of unfairly concentrating powers over parliament, and said he has “for now, all the power except for one – to choose how others will judge you as you leave this place in future.”

And that highlighted another theme that is certain to be ever-present over the last year of this parliamentary term – Trevor Mallard himself. Any fragile sense that it might go differently was blown up immediately after Bridges’ speech, in which the pair haggled over whether the latter had described Mallard as “petty.” It also followed the speaker insulting Bridges by suggesting that he didn’t know something that a “competent” MP should, over a procedural point. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) political editor Audrey Young weighed in on that, arguing that even though Bridges hadn’t actually called Mallard petty, it might have been fitting.


The bad weather news continues for the country, with heavy rain likely to continue going where it isn’t wanted or needed. The NZ Herald reports Cyclone Uesi is likely to hit the West Coast and Fiordland around Sunday. It is unlikely to still in fact be a tropical cyclone by that point, but that could be a fairly meaningless distinction for those getting wet. If severe weather warnings are needed, they’ll start coming out on Friday.


Deputy PM and NZ First leader Winston Peters has answered a series of questions from supporters around the NZ First Foundation donations scandal. He did a 10-minute long Facebook livestream, picking questions out from the list and then knocking them out of the park. Political commentator Ben Thomas was watching, and found that some of the most pertinent details and allegations were left hanging in the air.


The Reserve Bank is forecasting that the impacts of coronavirus will not long enough to justify an immediate OCR cut, reports David Hargreaves for Interest. They’ve held at 1%, with room to move if that changes, and there has been a wider signal that the programme of further rate cuts is now over. Their interpretation of the likely coronavirus impact on GDP is described as “relatively benign” compared to that of other economists.


The RNZ Concert restructure changes have been torn up, and a vocal campaign to save the station has won. The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire has delved deep into what on earth just happened, and what is now likely to happen next. Meanwhile, Alice Webb-Liddall reports on another sector of the radio world which is fighting for financial survival – iwi radio. Leader of the NZ Māori Council Matthew Tukaki says that with the level of funding they receive, iwi stations are only ever in a position to tread water, rather than invest and grow.


A scare for Waihi yesterday, with the town temporarily running out of water. The Bay of Plenty Times (paywalled) reports a burst water main pipe was the culprit, rapidly draining the reservoir. However, it was fixed quickly, and water is now available again – albeit with heavy usage restrictions in place. Sun Live reports that schools will continue to be closed today because reservoir levels are still pretty low. Water from taps and tanks set up around the town also needs to be boiled before drinking.


That load of dangerous old dross around Mataura won’t be moved any time soon after all, reports Radio NZ. There were fears during recent flooding that if it got wet it would have let off a cloud of ammonia. The Gore District Council believed they had a handshake deal to move it back to Tiwai Point, where the hazardous waste was first created. But Tiwai’s owners Rio Tinto have stepped in and overruled that.


Sky TV has seen a massive slump in profits, to around $12 million for the six months to the end of December, reports Stuff’s Tom Pullar-Strecker. However, those numbers aren’t necessarily disastrous, for a few reasons. The first is that the profit is down in part because of some expensive acquisitions, along with the rights to All Blacks games for many years to come. And they’ve lowered their rates of customer churn, meaning they’re doing better at holding onto the people they’ve still got.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: Jihee Junn has marked the end of The Department Store, including a revealing interview with designer Karen Walker about the challenges retail faces. Holly Walker went to see author Margaret Atwood being interviewed by Kim Hill, and wrote a remarkable review of the confusing night out. And Alex Casey revels in another utterly dignity-crushing performance from the lads on The Bachelorette.


For a feature today, a more sideways look at the current RNZ Concert furore. Writing on Newsroom, Anna Connell argues that we need to look at isolated stories – like this one, or the end of government funding for the NZ Books literary journal – in a much wider context, that sees these institutions as part of a much wider cultural ecosystem. In particular, she laments how much critical arts writing on major publications has been cut back. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the truly enduring gifts that working in the arts gave me is insight into how it works at a systemic level. You learn the landscape and the players. You know nothing is as simple as it seems and the real gnarly stuff lies in the nuance. You learn that subsidy of the arts in New Zealand isn’t because audience numbers are small, it’s the reality of a small population. You learn what it costs to get an orchestra in and out of a venue.

You learn about the arts as an ecosystem and where some people see elite, ‘high-brow’ art forms, you see professional development opportunities, living wages, cost-sharing, a network of support, and an infrastructure that’s dependent on all its parts being in working order. As in the natural environment, killing off parts of an ecosystem – including arts media and arts writing – results in consequences and damage that can be difficult to repair.


With increasing awareness of the impact of head injuries, it’ll be interesting to see if this technology takes off. Stuff reports that a new handheld brain scanner is now available for use in New Zealand, having previously been tested in a few other countries. It aims to give a reading within a couple of minutes of whether a brain bleed has taken place. The story is illustrated by former league player Monty Betham, who reckons he saved his own life by deciding to halt his developing boxing career after just such an injury.

And the Halberg Awards are on tonight. Newshub has a list of the finalists, and who (in the opinion of their various sports journos) should win. Dare I say it, there’s a bit of groupthink going on in a few categories, but when it’s for something like the Silver Ferns as team of the year, or Israel Adesanya getting sportsman of the year, it feels pretty fair enough.


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