Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern (Image: Radio NZ).
Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern (Image: Radio NZ).

The BulletinApril 16, 2019

The Bulletin: Moderate swing in first post-Christchurch poll

Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern (Image: Radio NZ).
Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern (Image: Radio NZ).

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Moderate swing towards govt in first poll after CHCH attack, captured Kiwi nurse named by Red Cross, and a hard look at life after prison.

The first poll since the Christchurch mosque attacks shows a moderate swing towards PM Jacinda Ardern and the government. The One News Colmar-Brunton poll shows Labour is up to 48%, National is down to 40%, the Greens are on 6% and NZ First are up to 4%. The preferred PM swing has been more dramatic, with Jacinda Ardern now preferred by more than half the electorate – a rare milestone for any politician.

The poll was conducted in the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks, in which the PM’s standing both domestically and internationally rose considerably. Even Simon Bridges was in no doubt that she had done a good job in the One News report last night. It was put well by the old hands at the Point of Order blog, who have been following politics for a long time and said “the Christchurch calamity has seen her coming of age, recognised around the world as a national leader by her own values and standards, all of which have translated into NZ’s standing in the world community.”

For Simon Bridges, it’s a very different story. He’s at 5% in the preferred PM stakes, and is tied with party colleague Judith Collins on those numbers. It’s not necessarily the disastrous result that it could have been, because the party vote has just held up. However, as the well-informed Richard Harman reports at Politik, there is serious pressure building on Simon Bridges’ leadership, with alternative groupings coalescing around Ms Collins. The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire has gone into the weeds of whether or not a challenge would be worth it for both the politicians involved, and the party as a whole. It underlines what has been another bad month for Mr Bridges, who has spent much of it forced into talking about internal drama, for want of a better word.

So it may seem surprising to then say the poll isn’t necessarily a disaster for Mr Bridges and National. Stuff’s Henry Cooke writes that while the party vote remains in the 40s, Mr Bridges is likely to be safe from a coup – after all, the party has no interest in tearing itself apart. It could well be the most popular the parties of government will ever be, so to still be on 40% is pretty good. Then again, the problem of having no mates continues to haunt the party, with ACT still not budging from the 1% they’ve been stuck on for what feels like forever.

As for the other two parties in government, it appears that core Green voters are perfectly happy with how things are going. I’m not sure if it will be possible to get hard data on this but I’d assume from the impression that I’ve been getting that the vast majority of their party voters are also happy with Jacinda Ardern as PM. For NZ First, they’re well within reach of a good campaign putting them back over the threshold – typically the party does better on election day itself than in the polls. And 3% of voters still want Winston Peters to be PM, which indicates there’s a solid base for them to build from.

A New Zealander working as a Red Cross nurse has been held captive by Islamic State for the last five years, and is believed to still be alive. The family of Louisa Akavi say they haven’t given up hope, reports One News, and think about her every day. She was kidnapped in Syria, and it’s fair to say she’s had a selfless life of public service before that, including stints in some of the most dangerous warzones in the world.

As to how the story took so long to be revealed, the Red Cross and her family requested media organisations don’t draw attention to the case, for fear of jeopardising her safety. Admirably, New Zealand’s media organisations adhered to the request, despite the fact that it would have been a massive story. With Islamic State now defeated in the field, it is hoped that bringing the case to light will help those still looking for her.

There was quite a lot of disagreement between the Red Cross and the government over whether Ms Akavi’s name should have been revealed. Stuff reports the PM reiterated the government’s position, which is that any publicity would be dangerous for Ms Akavi. The Red Cross say the facts on the ground have changed though, and with Islamic State collapsing, there are fears they might lose all track of Ms Akavi. Finally, the question of ransoms being demanded has come up a bit, and Newshub has an explanation of the government’s policy.

TVNZ’s Sunday programme has done a remarkable job following the story of a man with a serious criminal history, trying to avoid going back to prison. Jesse Walker is 29, and since his teens has spent at most six months at a time out of custody. Now, with 150 convictions, he’s desperate to change his ways. It’s a brilliantly told piece on the immense challenges and obstacles that are put in the way of convicted criminals facing life outside the walls.

How’s the Provincial Growth Fund working out for Northland? RNZ’s Insight have taken a fascinating and even-handed look at the outcomes so far for the region which has received the third largest share of the fund to date. It has meant many smaller projects have been in a position to survive and thrive. But National’s Paul Goldsmith has maintained his criticism, because in his view the most important piece of infrastructure – a significantly expanded highway – has not been prioritised.

Criticism is mounting over the ownership of a major wine company by Marlborough Lines. Stuff’s Hamish Rutherford has taken a hard look at the state of the deal, four years after it was signed, and reports that court proceedings against the Marlborough Electricity Power Trust could soon begin over it, in a bid to remove the board. There’s heaps of useful background in the story, situating it in the context of continued confusion about why exactly a lines company wanted to buy a winery.

There’s a nationwide supply shortage of eggs, but it’s unlikely to lead to them being absent from supermarket shelves, reports Radio NZ. It’s partly because of farmers adhering to new rules about phasing out battery cages, and partly because demand for eggs is up. Demand for cage-free eggs is especially up, and they account for about 30% of all eggs sold in the country now.

This one’s about a week old, but it’s a great example of good hard local reporting keeping the pressure on those in power. The background: last year Stuff reported commuter rail for Christchurch was “on the table”, in the wake of an election promise to build a service to Rolleston.

Anan Zaki in the Selwyn Times earlier this month had a very different story. He reported that actually, rail in Rolleston was a long way away, and that the rail service still needed to be formally proposed by Environment Canterbury before the government could pick it up. Zaki had a blinder of an issue actually, with good consequential stories on pretty much all of the first seven pages.

A correction about Extinction Rebellion protests: There’s actually a whole week of protests and events planned around NZ, rather than a single day of protests that was postponed, as I said yesterday. They’re happening all over the world too – Radio NZ reports protests have also taken place in London, bringing parts of the central city to a standstill.

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Illustration: Critic Te Arohi

Right now on The Spinoff: There’s a great feature from Critic magazine’s Erin Gourley about what happens when someone in a student flat just stops paying rent. PM Jacinda Ardern speaks to Noelle McCarthy about the politics of responding to climate change. Adam Goodall reviews the new, Jordan Peele-led Twilight Zone. And Sam Brooks is well and truly back on the Dancing with the Stars bandwagon, here he is reviewing the remaining Round 1 contestants.

The words “deep dive” are used a lot, but this piece from Newsroom’s Eloise Gibson goes quite a bit deeper than most. It’s a story about a whole lot of things really – academic unprofessionalism, disagreements turning into bitter personal disputes, battles over funding. It all concerns the lobbying around a really really big telescope that New Zealand was potentially going to put some money towards. And the bit I want to highlight is about the nature of these sorts of projects. Here’s an excerpt:

If you go outside and look at the stars with your eyes, you’re doing optical astronomy – albeit a more limited version than an astronomer who is using a massive optical telescope. Astronomers used to think this visible light was all there was to see, but now they know there are gamma rays, x-rays, infrared, microwave, radio waves and more. The stars that people see at night look dim when viewed by a radio telescope (of which the SKA will be the biggest) because they’re not made for detecting visible light – rather, they’re picking up radio waves.

Astronomy today is all about “big science”, which means it’s always pushing the boundaries of the latest, massive infrastructure, says Cambridge University’s Gerry Gilmore. “We’re asking big questions, what is the nature of reality, where has the universe come from, was there a beginning, is there an end, why does time go in one direction? All those questions that people don’t get to spend enough time thinking about,” he says.

Gilmore is a Timaru-born astronomer who played a major role in designing and leading the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft mission, which is now recording the brightness and positions of millions of stars. He says that each big project (think LIGO, Gaia, Cassini or Antarctica’s ICECUBE) could teach people something wonderful, but the world can only afford to build about three at a time. The billions tend to go to whichever three are deemed to have the best chance of making major discoveries. “Every 10 years, the world kind of gets together and agrees its priorities,” he says. “And, of course, that process gets very political.”

Damian McKenzie is out of contention to play at the Rugby World Cup later this year, after a nasty ACL injury. One News reports the severity of the injury was revealed yesterday, with McKenzie expected to be out for 8-9 months. It’s a real shame for the young playmaker, who was probably close to being locked in as the utility back on the bench in the World Cup matchday squad. Coach Steve Hanson says the 23 year old still has a good chance of making another two World Cups to make up for it.

From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.

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