(Hagen Hopkins, Getty Images)
(Hagen Hopkins, Getty Images)

The BulletinAugust 13, 2021

The Bulletin: What slow border opening will look like

(Hagen Hopkins, Getty Images)
(Hagen Hopkins, Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: What slow border opening will look like, Christchurch stadium to be even bigger after council re-vote, and Canada faces snap election.

At the major reopening forum in Wellington yesterday, the government outlined how it will happen. Well – it’s more like how it is intended to happen. Like the Clausewitzian adage about no plans surviving contact with the enemy, even many of the most cautious moves towards opening the borders have ended up being put on hold to date.

And on that point, the trans-Tasman bubble is very unlikely to be reopened in the form it existed in earlier this year. That comes from this comprehensive report on the reopening plans from political editor Justin Giovannetti, which highlighted a new ‘pathway’ system for getting into the country. There will basically be three of them, beginning in 2022: Pathway One will allow people from low-risk countries to enter without quarantining, provided they test negative. The “low-risk” aspect hasn’t yet been defined. Pathway Two will be for fully vaccinated travellers from medium risk countries, and will involve a modified form of MIQ. This also hasn’t yet been defined, but it could be something like a five-day stay followed by self-isolation. And Pathway Three will be for everyone else, and will look a lot like the current MIQ system. Here’s the speech PM Ardern gave to the forum.

You may have noticed the date in that earlier paragraph: This is all set to happen next year. In response, the Act party put out a release saying it was a step in the right direction, but would take too long. “We are 18 months into a crisis and the Government’s basic response has remained unchanged,” said David Seymour. Reps of the tourism industry, which is now facing another summer without international business, expressed support at least for having more clarity to work with, reports Stuff. And it may not be much comfort to all of those who cannot currently get a spot in MIQ, and won’t be able to for a long time to come.

But one aspect might happen earlier – and it could be controversial.Radio NZ have reported on the response to a pilot programme allowing those who go overseas for short work trips to self-isolate at home. Both National and the Greens say it looks too risky, and it was not recommended in the recent Skegg report. Expressions of interest will soon be sought from businesses who want to send workers on overseas trips – you’d hope there’d be an extremely heavy stick to go with that carrot for those businesses.

The other significant aspect of yesterday’s announcement was the speeding up of vaccine booking eligibility, with the doors being thrown open to all from September 1.As part of that, the gap between bookings has been increased from three weeks to six.Justin Giovannetti again had a piece a few weeks back about the efficacy of this in Canada, basically because there’s heaps of value in simply getting one dose into as many people as possible.

There has been some other criticism of what the government’s announcement didn’t include: Otago professor Nick Wilson commented that “there should now be urgent prioritisation of all essential workers for vaccination in Groups 3 and 4 (ie, supermarket workers, truck drivers, bus drivers, etc). The lack of vaccination of such workers has been one of the reasons that Sydney is currently struggling with its Covid-19 outbreak”, though had a generally positive response. Questions were also asked by Science Media Centre experts about the plan for those under 16, because while Covid tends not to be fatal for kids, outbreaks can and have spread through school systems, and those kids might still suffer severe health consequences afterwards.

And what could throw it all off? Delta is bad enough, as evidenced by what is happening in New South Wales. But what if new variants develop that can get around vaccines? Speaking ahead of the announcement, professor Shaun Hendy told Newshub that could “change the picture”. If there isn’t wide uptake of the vaccine domestically, then there may be less appetite for risk from the government around the new year. And we can’t be sure what the impact a surprise outbreak in the next few months could have on these plans, particularly because that could be really disruptive for the vaccine rollout.

Christchurch will have an even bigger stadium after all, after councillors voted to go for the 30,000 seater. Stuff’s Tina Law reports it follows a highly effective public campaign to sway councillors. Tens of millions more dollars will now need to be found, and ratepayers could end up with slightly higher. Almost all councillors ended up voting in favour of the bigger stadium. Sara Templeton voted against it on the grounds of it being wasteful spending when set against climate change focused projects, and Yani Johanson voted against because he wanted an even bigger stadium.

Expect to read more on this story in The Bulletin in the coming weeks: Canada appears to be on the verge of a snap election, according to multiple sources speaking to Reuters. If the Trudeau government does go to the polls this year, that would be two years ahead of schedule. The Canadian PM has been complaining about “opposition obstruction”, and is understood to want to turn his minority government into a majority so that he can more easily push through Covid-19 related spending plans.

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From our partners: Workers at Z Energy sites across the country are subjected to abuse from customers daily. The company has protections in place, but racism and threats from customers shouldn’t be part of the job, writes Denise Irvine.

A bit of a special for today’s Bulletin, for reasons that will soon be made more explicit, because the news cycle can move too quickly to reflect on long term trends. So I thought I’d go back 750 or whatever editions and look at a few of the earliest Bulletins, to see what was happening at the start of 2018 and whether it is any different now. Obviously there’ll be a bit of a Covid-shaped gap in this, but in general terms it was a little shocking to see some of the parallels. Here’s a few headlines, in no particular order:

March 7 2018: Another National heavyweight bows out

The very first edition of The Bulletin was about former cabinet minister Steven Joyce announcing his retirement from politics, which was seen as a moment of “generational change” for the party. One wonders if National’s current generation of leading MPs would do anything differently in hindsight, or try harder to keep the likes of Joyce and Bill English around. Also in that edition: A story about the Queensland District Council planning a huge infrastructure spend and rates rises to cope with the massive deluge of tourists outweighing residents.

April 19 2018: Good signs for trade with post-Brexit Britain

Nobody expects this sort of thing to move quickly, but you might expect it to move at all. And to date, despite many rounds of talks, we still seem to be not much closer to any sort of trade deal with the UK. Also in that edition: A story about how poor the Silver Ferns were at the Commonwealth Games, but just look at the world champions now.

April 13 2018: Aussies play politics on NZ’s Manus offer

This story was about Australia’s use of the Manus Island concentration camp for asylum seekers, and a secret request made of the NZ government to keep an offer to take 150 people on the table. Years later, Australia still keeps asylum seekers interned on Manus, and their semi-related policy of deporting ‘501s’ to New Zealand continues. If anything, Australia’s approach to immigration has become even more fortress-like than New Zealand’s in the intervening years. Also in that edition, the National party vowed to overturn the recently announced ban on oil and gas exploration.

May 9 2018: Migrant workers, unemployment and kiwifruit

This edition tried to bring together several strands of the issue of how to get Kiwifruit picked, with a shortage of workers. But it also noted the extremely poor employment standards being offered to potential workers, and featured some blusterous claims from a packhouse manager about people choosing to go hungry rather than work in the industry. Also in that edition, there was a story about Kiwibuild that hinted at house-building plans making way for the government buying off developer plans – unfortunately, the paragraph read like it carried the assumption that large numbers of Kiwibuild houses would one day exist.

April 24 2018: Food grant stats show poverty is worsening

A slow moving disaster, which is arguably as bad now as it has ever been. Whether it is food grants, the social housing waitlist, income inequality, or social services having to shoulder an increasing burden, little of substance has changed for those with least. Meanwhile the April 25 edition talked about the upcoming Welfare Expert Advisory Group, which produced a suite of recommendations, many of which ended up being ignored by the government.

April 27 2018: Will this finally fix Auckland’s transport woes?

Not yet it hasn’t, but at least we’re not Wellington up here.

April 30 2018: No money, more problems in health

This edition took in a few issues, but in general terms it was about the government being constricted by their own Budget Responsibility Rules to spend up on the health system like they had promised during the 2017 election. With everything that has happened since, they may regret that restraint. Also in that edition, a gravel shortage loomed as a barrier to construction and infrastructure projects. I don’t really have any insight into where that’s at now, but there is a timber shortage today doing the exact same thing. Supply chains matter.

July 18 2018: How local should government go?

This edition bounced off a call for more localism from the LGNZ conference, which also had nods to debates over Māori wards and Three Waters reform. And it is an area where the direction of travel since has been quite clearly evident – in the complete opposite direction, towards more centralisation of powers.

Some really good news about what’s happening with The Bulletin on Monday: I’m delighted to say that the new editor of it will be our political editor Justin Giovannetti. Regular readers will know the name well. In the year and a bit he’s been with The Spinoff he’s taken our news operation to a new level, providing solid and rigorous analysis of what’s going on and why it matters. Justin will continue to be based in parliament, so The Bulletin will be coming to you straight from the belly of the beast, as it were. Over that time we’ve also shared countless chats and late night Slack messages, and I’ve come to really respect his perspective on the news. But I think more than that, I consider Justin a friend and am thoroughly looking forward to hearing from him in the inbox each morning. Here’s a bit from Justin to introduce himself:

There’s a real responsibility taking over as writer of The Bulletin. It’s not the early mornings or the breathless reporting on cricket, which will obviously remain a mainstay in your inbox. Instead, it’s a conversation that you have with Alex every morning, that ensures you’re ready for the day. It’s pleasant, sometimes a little sharp and never sarcastic.

It would be incredibly hard to top what he’s delivered to you for years, but my goal is to continue in that spirit. I’ll be coming to you from parliament, but I don’t intend to focus solely on politics or the view from the press gallery. This is a conversation that needs to speak to all of New Zealand and it’s one I’m excited to be part of.

While there will be some changes in the coming weeks, like correcting Alex’s scandalous omission of the fine game of hockey (the kind played on ice) from his daily reviews of the sports world, this will remain The Bulletin that you love.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Get in touch with me at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: Bernard Hickey writes about the need for cross-party political cover if climate action is ever going to make a dent. Green co-leader and climate change minister James Shaw gives his response to the latest IPCC report. Laura Walters writes about a broad new NZ study on the long-term impacts of Covid. Justin Latif meets the woman behind an innovative new co-working and collaborative space in South Auckland. Asia Martusia King investigates whether ‘period syncing’ is a real thing that happens to menstruating people living together. And in a classic of the genre, Sam Brooks reviews and ranks all the classic Windows screensavers.

Today is my last day at The Spinoff after three and a half years of doing The Bulletin. Readers have always been very generous in indulging me some reflections at the end of each year, and I’m afraid it’ll be a bit early this time around. Most jobs it would be weird to sign off like this, but I feel like we’ve got to know each other pretty well by now, so:

The best thing about this job has been the freedom to wander. Working at The Spinoff, I’ve got to see and learn much more than I ever thought possible. And better yet, through writing The Bulletin a lot of people very generously invited me to come and see where they call home. Sometimes it ended up as a story, and sometimes it just helped me understand. But regardless, I’d like to give special thanks to John and Audrey in Waimiha, Horace and his friends around Mataura, Theresa in Punakaiki, Nick in Inglewood, Axel and Julie in Christchurch, and everyone who talked to me in Ōhura. I’m grateful to these people, and many others besides, for broadening my mind in many different directions.

I love this country. Some people will take that as shallow or trite, but I really, deeply do. I love that we say thank you to bus drivers, and call people by their first names no matter their title or status. I love the way our national character balances socialism and solidarity with individualism and entrepreneurship. I love the parts that call it Aotearoa, and the parts that call it New Zealand, and that most of us couldn’t care less about the choice between either name. I love that we are capable of expanding the definition of who is one of us, and only hope we continue to do so.

Being employed to try and understand this country, and then communicate that to people, has been an immense privilege. I’ve tried to do it always with honesty and fairness. And while a lot of that has been done by wearing out the leather on my shoes and the rubber on my tyres, I must acknowledge the hundreds of journalists whose work I’ve relied on. I particularly want to highlight those who make it their mission to bring our pain and problems to light. As much as I stand by my aforementioned love of this country, we have far too much needless suffering, and far too many systems that simply don’t work as they should. The journalists who cover this are heroes, and they don’t get thanked enough.

So that’s the good bit about this job – what are the bad bits? Being bloody tired all the time would be up there. Seeing the same societal problems persist year after year, with the lives of people living those problems getting worse – that has been really frustrating to observe in real time. The news generally can be exhausting. It just keeps going.

So it helps a lot to have support. For that, I’ve had wonderful colleagues here. They’re a very unusual bunch – mercurial and phenomenally talented, while also being generous and kind. I’m going to miss being around them a lot. I’ll definitely keep reading their work, and now that I work somewhere else I’ll become a Spinoff Member to support them. I’m grateful to the people at Z Energy who believed enough in The Bulletin to partner on it for two years now. I’ve also been very lucky to have the support of family and friends, especially those who’ve made sure I kept some semblance of work-life balance and not gone completely off the deep end.

And you, the readers. I came into this job thinking that the news-consuming public of this country deserved better than what they were getting on a daily basis. You’ve proven me right, with the interest shown in some of the tougher topics of the moment, and insightful and intelligent contributions to my inbox. Thank you for having those conversations with me.

And finally, my partner. In her and the life we have together, I am so very fortunate.

My deepest thanks to you all. Mā te wā,


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