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Trevor Mallard being sworn in for the new term at Government House (Getty Images)
Trevor Mallard being sworn in for the new term at Government House (Getty Images)

The BulletinDecember 14, 2020

The Bulletin: Mallard under pressure over legal costs

Trevor Mallard being sworn in for the new term at Government House (Getty Images)
Trevor Mallard being sworn in for the new term at Government House (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Trevor Mallard under pressure over legal costs, questions over why border testing review is still under wraps, and Massey academics speak out against cuts.

Speaker Trevor Mallard is under pressure over the costs of paying out to end a defamation dispute. In the wake of the Francis report into the parliamentary bullying culture, Mallard falsely accused a staffer of rape. He apologised for that last week. But several days later, National revealed that the incident had cost taxpayers $330,000 to settle, and as Radio NZ reports, they also called for Mallard to resign as a result. Party leader Judith Collins said “it is the Speaker’s job to set the standard of behaviour for everyone at Parliament but he has been reckless with his words, resulting in taxpayers footing a bill of more than $330,000 to clean up this mess.”

Of course, National’s confidence in Mallard isn’t really relevant for him enjoying the continued confidence of parliament. And it’s not like the speaker and the opposition were on particularly friendly terms over the last term anyway, as a series of run-ins showed. And it looks like Labour are ready and willing to use their majority to protect their man – Radio NZ reports the party is likely to block any attempts by National to get Mallard in front of a select committee to answer questions.

However, it was noticeable reading the Herald website over the weekend the lineup of commentators calling him out for it – Barry SoperHeather du-Plessis AllenKerre McIvor. They’ve got their own views of course, but they’re not partisan operatives. McIvor in particular pointed to a story by the Herald’s Amelia Wade about Mallard being involved in a rule change, so that MPs could have legal costs covered by taxpayers without that necessarily being disclosed to the public.

There is a bigger picture here, and it doesn’t necessarily just concern Mallard. Stuff’s Alison Mau, who edits their #MeToo project, has written about how the whole story has been diverted to being around one man’s comments about another’s alleged actions, when really the Francis report was about so much more. She suggested Mallard has the responsibility of steering through changes to parliamentary culture, and if he goes, it isn’t clear that work will continue. All in all, it’s unlikely to be the last we hear about the issue, even if parliament has finished up for the year.

Questions are being raised about why a review of border testing is still under wraps, reports The Spinoff’s Justin Giovannetti. After being delivered two months ago, it still hasn’t been made public, despite the significant public interest in the August outbreak, that it was commissioned in the wake of. Covid minister Chris Hipkins said it should be out this week, and epidemiologist Michael Baker said with the country about to enter a risky summer holiday period, understanding what went wrong could be very important. Meanwhile, the government has launched a PR campaign encouraging people to not get complacent with Covid this summer.

Massey University academics have put out a mass appeal against changes to the science workforce, that could cost dozens of jobs, reports the NZ Herald. 71 signed a letter against the changes, delivered to the university’s chancellor. The proposals include heavy cuts to science course offerings, along with restructures that academics warn will make Massey an unattractive destination for top brains.

Struggling to work out how to spread the Christmas cheer this holiday season? Have you checked out The Spinoff’s merch store? It’s the perfect Christmas destination.

One of the really important ongoing stories at the moment is around supply chains, and things just not moving in the way they would in normal times. Jihee Junn has put together a great piece looking at which consumer goods could be in short supply for Christmas as a result. Among the more interesting selections: fitness equipment, cars, and just basic toys for kids.

New data has shown the ridiculous rates of houses changing hands in the last month. Business Desk reports November saw a 29% increase in housing market activity on the same time last year, with prices increasing about 15% year on year. It’s being driven in part by low interest rates, and as the story suggested, those with capital or equity to burn are getting FOMO (fear of missing out) on the boom. Interest reports that house price inflation is now happening in all major regions of the country, even Queenstown, a city that by any objective measure has suffered immense economic damage from Covid – and yet.

For some reason, Hamiltonians are smashing up Lime scooters in huge numbers. Stuff reports about eight per week are being destroyed, and nobody is quite sure why. A Lime spokesperson said the high rate of vandalism is giving the company second thoughts about upgrading their fleet. They’re currently in Hamilton on a trial basis.

Best Journalism of 2020: Another one of mine today. I’ve recently been doing a bit of intercity travel (a long bus ride and a comparatively shorter flight) and it was a pleasure to devour two magazines I didn’t always fully appreciate. Both Metro and North and South were among the publications shut down as a result of Covid, and for several months the prospect of them ever coming back seemed bleak. Fortunately, they’re back and quite possibly even better than they were before. It wasn’t so much the big meaty features in them that I enjoyed the most, though they were very good. It was the incidental little notes – the light and shade, that really makes these magazines so engrossing. A very welcome return, and may they put out more editions in 2021.

Some housekeeping: This is the last week The Bulletin will be running for 2020, and Friday will be the last edition of the year. It’ll look ahead to some of the big stories that will matter in 2021. The return date for next year is TBA, but it’s safe to say we’ll all be having a little bit of a break.

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(Photo: Lucy Lambriex via Getty; design: Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: Louise Fisher writes about the forgotten history of New Zealand’s first amusement park. Stewart Sowman-Lund writes about libraries deciding to get rid of late fees for good. Meg de Ronde from Amnesty writes about New Zealand’s international obligations against torturing prisoners. Bronwyn Hayward writes about wealthy countries, including New Zealand, stumbling on climate action set out in the Paris Agreement. Simon Pound writes about a completely new way of doing fashion production, in his capacity as managing director of Ingrid Starnes. Sinead Gill meets some of the would-be graduates who had their ceremonies cancelled after threats in Dunedin. An anon bookseller returns to tell us about the experience of the Christmas rush.

And we’re making a time capsule, and want you help. Toby Manhire has outlined the end of year project, which involves finding and whole lot of artefacts from this crap year, and then burying them for as long as it takes to forget all about it.

For a feature today, one of those remarkable investigations which reveal a set of facts hiding in plain sight. Stuff’s investigations team have put together a feature based on data on warrantless police searches, and found some deeply confronting truths about racial bias. But not every bit of pertinent data was picked up. Here’s an excerpt:

It is, however, particularly important to be able to examine whether there is a disparity in the way Māori and Pākehā are treated, [lawyer Roimata] Smail says.

“There’s growing awareness that actually something’s off there,” she says. “If they’re keeping that information a secret by not recording it, that’s sort of something that is damaging to all of us because they’re doing those things on our behalf, but they’re hiding what they’re doing from us.

“And we’re believing that they’re going off and doing things right and there’s not undue focus on one group. But if they’re hiding that information, we don’t know – they might be doing things really, really badly that we would really disagree with.

In sport, Lydia Ko has had a much improved couple of months, but still hasn’t knocked off that elusive comeback tournament win. The NZ Herald reports that could change today, with Ko in contention at the US Women’s Open with one round to play. She currently has a share of fifth, and will need both skill and luck to pull up further, with tough conditions likely to send some players tumbling down the leaderboard.

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