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Jacinda Ardern at the Labour Party campaign launch in August 2017. (Photo: Dave Rowland/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern at the Labour Party campaign launch in August 2017. (Photo: Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

The BulletinJuly 14, 2020

The Bulletin: Labour’s turn to feel SFO heat

Jacinda Ardern at the Labour Party campaign launch in August 2017. (Photo: Dave Rowland/Getty Images)
Jacinda Ardern at the Labour Party campaign launch in August 2017. (Photo: Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Serious Fraud Office announces investigation into donations made to Labour, deportations from Australia to resume, and retail businesses up against it on rent.

In a short statement released yesterday afternoon, the Serious Fraud Office made it clear that donations to the Labour Party in 2017 are now being investigated. But very little else is known about what is being investigated. Here’s the statement – the only new information that was offered was that top line fact about donations to Labour in 2017. “We consider that making the current announcement is consistent with our past practice in this area of electoral investigations and in the public interest,” the Director of the SFO Julie Read said.

So do we know how bad this case potentially is? In short, no. Other announcements of SFO investigations have been similarly brief from the organisation itself, but have followed either significant media reporting that is relevant to the cases – such as the ongoing investigation into the NZ First Foundation, or have followed someone speaking out, such as the case relating to former National MP Jami-Lee Ross. In each and every case, it is important to note that an investigation – and even a subsequent attempt at prosecution – cannot be taken as an automatic indication of guilt. But they do have to have reasonable grounds to suspect an offence has been committed to proceed.

Labour too seem to be in the dark about what is being investigated. In this NZ Herald article, the possibility is discussed that it relates to Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng – two brothers who are currently facing criminal charges in relation to the National party, along with Jami-Lee Ross. But even the minister responsible for the SFO Stuart Nash appears to be in the dark about it all, saying that he was “blindsided” by the announcement. There has also been speculation that the investigation could relate to the use of fundraising auctions, which can be a method of disguising the identity of donors. Otago law professor Andrew Geddis told Checkpoint that questions have been raised in the past about Labour’s use of that fundraising technique in 2017. However again, it must be stressed that this is speculation, and it could be about something else entirely. We’ll have to wait and see whether the SFO choose to bring a prosecution, however because of the timing, it seems unlikely that we’ll get a resolution on this before the election.

The Spinoff would like to invite Bulletin readers to a special event with Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. 

The effects of Covid-19 are often hidden from every day view. Writing on The Spinoff, Breast Cancer NZ ambassador Stacey Morrison spoke to Chloe Irvine about her experience with breast cancer through lockdown.

To support Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s vital work The Spinoff is holding a Pink Ribbon Breakfast. Hosted by Stacey Morrison at Kind Cafe in Morningside, Auckland on July 28 from 730am the breakfast will hear from women about their breast cancer journeyand foundation advocates about the work they do.

Limited tickets are available here for a donation of $50 or more (and includes breakfast). If you live outside Auckland or are unable to join us for breakfast we still welcome your support for Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.

Deportees from Australia will start returning this week, after the programme was paused during Covid-19. As Radio NZ reports, the government’s position against deportations hasn’t changed, but it is also obliged to receive people being sent to New Zealand. As such a managed isolation facility has been set up with enhanced security, which the people will be in for the standard fortnight before being released back into the community. The first cohort will involve about 30 people – some of the details about who they are and where they’ll stay will be kept under wraps, to prevent abuse and vigilantism being directed against them.

It is likely to be a really worrying situation for a lot of those people. As anyone who read the story Tasman Deathtrap by Don Rowe in 2018 will know, many end up here with no family or social support, and that situation will be badly exacerbated by the inability of anyone to travel freely between the two countries right now.

Retail businesses are up against it when it comes to rent, a new survey reported on by Radio NZ shows. About one in eight want government arbitration, and are struggling to negotiate relief, in part because measures announced in June still haven’t come into effect. Warnings are being sounded that such a situation could result in a lot of otherwise viable businesses failing, with wide economic consequences.

Over the last few weeks, there have been a lot of stories about parties announcing policies to take into the election. You may have noticed that the Labour party has been relatively absent here. Well, according to this AAP story republished by One News, that’s actually a deliberate strategic choice from the party. To quote the piece – there are “no plans to release party-specific plans until their campaign launch on August 8; less than a month before voting starts.” Of course, the party can also point to the last three years as a record to run on, so releasing new policy arguably becomes less important.

The Christchurch mosque shooter has sacked his legal team, and will represent himself at sentencing next month. Writing on The Spinoff, Otago University professors Danica McGovern and Andrew Geddis have discussed what it will mean for the proceedings for him to have made that choice. It’s well worth reading if you’re concerned that it will give him an opportunity to espouse his hateful ideology – in short, the court will not have to stand for that.

The government has outlined $200 million in support for ‘shovel-ready’ Auckland Council projects, amid a Covid-19 budget crisis. Radio NZ reports it will go towards projects in the areas of transport and water infrastructure. Mayor Phil Goff welcomed the news, but said it wouldn’t affect discussions around what rates rise would be necessary. It follows a lot of frustration from councillors on the issue – for example yesterday we ran a piece by Cr Desley Simpson, who wrote that the city was getting desperate after calls to government went unheeded.

Complaints have been made about whether subjective statements were included in official government advice about the cannabis referendum. The ‘Say Nope to Dope’ campaign has taken issue with the line that “the bill’s purpose is to reduce harm to people and communities”, which they disagree with. However, as Chlöe Swarbrick (the key MP in making the bill happen) told Newstalk ZB, that quite literally is the purpose of the bill, which has the aim of bringing the existing illegal cannabis trade under legal control. “Cannabis prohibition hasn’t stopped people from using the substance, in fact it has just contributed to more harmful use,” said Swarbrick.

Another alternative view on Tiwai Point – this time from Newsroom columnist Rod Oram. He argues that not only are there genuinely future focused economic options for the region, the value of being able to get the country to 100% renewable energy is greater than the value of the aluminium that the smelter producers. Given that electricity prices will likely come down as a result, it could also open up the possibility of electrifying other industrial processes, rather than relying on fossil fuels.

And in a further update to the question of whether there is actually a dam on the Manapouri River, Patrick argued that yesterday’s view wasn’t actually correct. Here’s what he had to say:

“Although there is no dam at the entrance to the penstocks where water
feeds down into the power station, it is necessary to block or regulate
all other possible outlets for water in a hydro lake of this type, for
obvious reasons. Thus, there is a dam across the Waiau River about 5 km
downstream from the lake outlet.This type of arrangement – whilst less common in NZ than a dam with a power station at its foot – is not especially unusual.”

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Right now on The Spinoff: Max Harris and Laura O’Connell Rapira discuss ideas they’d like to see on the table during the election campaign. Tainui Stephens writes about the concept of whakamā – personal or collective shame – and how it can corrode the soul. Race relations commissioner Joris de Bres criticises an attempt by a government office to get people from migrant communities to work as translators for free. Tara Ward attempts to cast a New Zealand version of The Chase. The Spinoff Music has the just-announced long-list for the 2020 Silver Scrolls awards. And Alice Webb-Liddall asks why the dreaded Kiss-cam at sports events still exists.

For a feature today, a piece that is deeply illuminating about just how bad things are getting economically in the US. You might have seen videos of massive, day-long lines for food banks or unemployment assistance, or seen stats around how about a third of rent payments are being missed right now. But this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune puts faces to those stark figures, and outlines what it means for people undergoing hard times. Here’s an excerpt:

Gonzales explained to her landlord that she had no money. Like many other families who have found themselves suddenly out of work, hers has been surviving on donated food since the pandemic hit. She learned of a program funded by the City Council to help people pay rent, but she could not even afford to print the application in order to apply.

“I was crying morning, afternoon and night thinking about how we were going to pay the rent, what we were going to do?” she said.

She held her breath and sent a message to her landlord explaining that she was doing everything she could to come up with the money, but he never responded. She said she wakes up every day wondering if he’s going to show up at her door demanding that they leave.

It took a long time of activists pointing out why it should happen, but the Washington Redskins will finally be changing their offensive team name. The New York Times reports that a possible tipping point for the American Football team was pressure from sponsors, who when it comes down to it hold the power. The term ‘redskin’ is considered to be a racial slur against Native Americans. Team owner Daniel Snyder has long resisted calls to change the name, in a similar manner to previous team owners resisting racial integration of the sport – the Redskins were the last team in the entire competition to include Black players, and only did so under pressure from the US government.

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