Environment minister David Parker is taking on RMA reform (Image: Radio NZ/Richard Tindiller)
Environment minister David Parker is taking on RMA reform (Image: Radio NZ/Richard Tindiller)

The BulletinJune 16, 2020

The Bulletin: Fast-tracked projects aimed at job-creation announced

Environment minister David Parker is taking on RMA reform (Image: Radio NZ/Richard Tindiller)
Environment minister David Parker is taking on RMA reform (Image: Radio NZ/Richard Tindiller)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: List of infrastructure projects for fast-tracking announced, Labour releases list for election, and concerns raised about police firearms vetting process.

Get your shovels out – 11 projects have been announced to start imminently after being included in an infrastructure fast-tracking bill. As Stuff reports, the inclusion is aimed at rapid job creation, and under the legislation other projects could later be included – though there is only a two year window for that, before the legislation automatically repeals itself. The way that it’ll work is that the projects that have been included will be sent through ‘expert consenting panels’, rather than a full slog through the Resource Management Act.

What’s being funded? There’s a list in the Stuff story, but in short they’re heavily focused on rail, cycleways and housing. Included in the list is the start of the massive Unitec housing development – which has been years in the making – and a development programme for a network of papakāinga – a form of cohousing pioneered by Māori. The rail projects are about upgrades to networks in Auckland and Wellington, with the aim of increasing capacity. The geographical spread of the projects is interesting – Marlborough mayor John Leggett welcomed the news of upgrades to the Picton Ferry dock and terminal, and there’s a water storage facility planned for drought-hit Kaikohe. The Skypath cycleway in Auckland has been given the go-ahead, which means it might finally actually go ahead. There’s also an upgrade to State Highway 1 between Drury and Papakura, which doesn’t quite fit with the theme of the rest of the projects – as Newsroom reports, they’re mostly more ‘green’ than ‘grey’.  But is likely to provide 350 of the total 1250 or so direct jobs created by the projects.

The key thing that the government has done to make this happen is bypassing existing legislation, and there are some concerns about that. Greenpeace in particular are alarmed, saying “it seems the proposed legislation has bypassed a mandatory climate impacts assessment set up by the Government at the end of last year.” They welcome the focus on rail and cycling, but questioned whether upgrades to SH1 would fit that bill. The NZ Herald reports that National are questioning why the new Infrastructure Commission doesn’t appear to have been involved in these decisions, despite being set up only last year – minister David Parker responded to that criticism by saying the Commission is currently involved in assessing around 1800 potential projects. In contrast, Business NZ has welcomed the use of the new regulatory tools, saying they hope it lays the groundwork for more and bigger projects.

The 11 initial fast-tracked projects named in the Bill are:

1) Kaikohe water storage facility.

2) Unitec – Phase 1 – high density housing on the Unitec site in Auckland.

3) Te Pa Tahuna – Phase 1 –  up to 180 residential units and retail space on an old school site in Queenstown – part of a wider development that aims to provide up to 300 high density dwellings.

4) Papakāinga Network Development – the delivery of Papakainga across six sites; in Kaitaia, Pt Chevalier, Raglan, Waitara, Chatham Islands and Christchurch.

5) Britomart East Upgrade – upgrades to Britomart station to ensure the City Rail Link project can operate at full capacity once services commence.

6) Papakura to Pukekohe electrification – electrification of rail from Papakura to Pukekohe and the construction of three rail platforms.

7) Wellington Metro Upgrade programme – suite of smaller projects aimed at increasing the passenger and freight capacity of trains between Masterton, Levin and Wellington.

8) Picton Ferry Dock and Terminal upgrade – the project will improve rail services by expanding the docks and upgrading the passenger terminal.

9) Northern Pathway – a cycleway and walkway between Westhaven and Akoranga in Auckland.

10) Papakura to Drury SH1 roading upgrade.

11) Te Ara Tūpuna – a cycleway and walkway between Petone and Ngauranga in Wellington.

Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive: 

“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. The loss of some key commercial clients meant that change has to be permanent. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and can afford to contribute, please consider doing so – it really is critically important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”

The Labour party has put out the list it will take into the 2020 election, and there are some intriguing new names in the mix. Here’s a report on the list as a whole, and the most interesting bit is that Labour has secured the services of Dr Ayesha Verrall, the physician, researcher and DHB member who was instrumental in strengthening New Zealand’s contact tracing system against Covid-19. To analyse that a bit, it’s a real sign of confidence from Labour going into the election – highly intelligent people with important things to do very rarely choose to switch careers and go into politics unless it’s clear they’ll have an impact.

A concerning story about how police vetting for firearms licenses has worked in recent years: Stuff’s Thomas Manch has reported on allegations that a string of police failures allowed the Christchurch mosque shooter to obtain a license, and in doing so allowing him to purchase the guns to carry out the murders. That is in contrast to what the police said immediately after the attack, which was that all procedures were correctly followed. The key failing that is alleged is that the shooter’s referees consisted of just two people who met him through an internet chatroom, rather than family or next of kin. The story also details the immense pressure vetting staff were under with a heavy workload, requiring them to rush the vetting process.

Associate transport minister Julie Anne Genter has offered a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain about the coalition government’s failure to get movement on Auckland’s light rail. Radio NZ’s Katie Scotcher has reported on a comment posted by Genter in a private Green facebook group, in which she said that NZTA delays then led to NZ First having political cover to hold up their support, thus stopping the project in its tracks. Unfortunately after RNZ started asking questions, everyone involved clammed up, but suffice to say it’s a particularly unhappy area in the relationship between the various parties of government.

An index based on the services sector of the economy holds grim tidings for the labour market. Business Desk’s (paywalled) Paul McBeth has covered the numbers for May, which are the worst the index has ever seen since starting in 2007. That’s not necessarily a massive surprise, as there were still pretty serious Covid-19 restrictions in place over May. But the concern is that unemployment is a ‘lagging indicator’ – that means it shows up in the stats after the economic damage has been done. A quote from BNZ economist Doug Steel summed it up – “we’d caution that just being allowed to open doesn’t guarantee more activity.”

Protests have broken out among workers of a ventilation manufacturing company in South Auckland, over claims the company deceived them over the wage subsidy, reports Michael Andrew for The Spinoff. Some of the workers say they were made to use annual leave “under duress” at the start of lockdown, and were then made redundant. The company denies this, and says they complied with the Holidays Act.

Watercare in Auckland has been criticised by the chair of the Waikato Regional Council over the city’s water shortages, reports Radio NZ. The relevance of the criticism is that right now, Watercare is trying to tap the Waikato River for more. The criticism came with a warning that Auckland would have to rely on other solutions as well, particularly long term. Even with a little bit more rain recently, the drought is still pretty bad, and water use still hasn’t consistently dropped to the necessary levels.

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: David Galler has a nuanced piece about unions, and the line between self-interested advocacy and that which will make society better. Alice Webb-Liddall writes about research examining equity in the response to Covid-19, and whether everyone shared in it. A group of writers have put together a reading list for those wanting to know more about anti-racism from a Māori perspective. Jeremy Couchman looks at the green shoots of economic activity after Covid. Matthew McAuley looks at students learning the skills to be the tech workforce of the future. An exclusive set of polls conducted by Stickybeak shows there’s still very strong support for the government’s Covid approach, a majority want the borders to remain closed, and more.

And I missed this piece yesterday because it was published on Friday, but it’s worth going back and having another look at. Tony Burton has taken a run at an obscure piece of legislation going through parliament, which in short has the potential to invest a lot more power in the hands of the State Services Commission, as opposed to elected ministers. Why is that a bad thing? Read the piece to find out.

For a feature today, a look at a chilling case of the free press being muzzled by the judiciary in the Philippines. The Guardian reports journalist Maria Ressa, the editor of an influential news website, has been convicted of ‘cyber libel’, and is now facing years in prison. Ressa’s work with the site Rappler focused heavily on corruption, and the extra-judicial murder of people in the country’s horrific drug war. Here’s an excerpt:

The cyber libel case is just one of a series of legal charges against Ressa and Rappler, which has scrutinised the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, exposing extrajudicial killings and abuses. The various allegations made against Ressa, which mostly relate to claims about the news site’s finances, could lead to about 100 years in prison.

The arrest of Ressa in February 2019 on cyber libel charges was widely condemned by human rights groups, and prompted the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to warn that there appeared to be “a pattern of intimidation” of independent media in the Philippines. The US senate described the charges as “unjustified judicial proceedings”.

We had a request for a bit more on the ANZ Premiership, so here’s a very comprehensive overview of the restarting competition, by Newsroom’s Suzanne McFadden. The rules will be changing a bit, in part because the schedule is a lot more crushed up than normal, so games will have to be shorter. Apart from that, a major point of interest will be the performance of prodigiously talented teenagers like Grace Nweke, who will be the frontline shooter for the Mystics, or Renee Savai’inaea who managed to reinvent herself as a midfielder after an earlier crack at playing defence for the Pulse.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme

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