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Marlborough mayor John Leggett opening the conference (Twitter, LGNZ)
Marlborough mayor John Leggett opening the conference (Twitter, LGNZ)

The BulletinJuly 16, 2021

The Bulletin: Three waters bid gets tepid response

Marlborough mayor John Leggett opening the conference (Twitter, LGNZ)
Marlborough mayor John Leggett opening the conference (Twitter, LGNZ)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Three waters bid gets tepid response, travel bubble pops again, and major unions taking court case against Uber.

Central government has tried to reassure local government politicians of the impending water reforms with a few major announcements. One News It was announced $2.5bn will be spread across the country, to help councils manage the change to their asset base that would result. As well as that, the government gave additional assurances against any privatisation of water assets, once the new structure gets put in place. The announcement came at the LGNZ conference in Blenheim. Stuff reports National leader Judith Collins has described it as a “bribe”, and criticising the promised economic benefits of the reforms as “unconvincing”.

$2.5bn is a lot of money, but doesn’t go quite so far when you start breaking it down. For example, Steven Walton of the Press looked at how much each individual council would get around Canterbury – Christchurch was up at $122 million, but at the other end Kaikoura and Mackenzie were getting just over $6 million. Christchurch councillors described that as “pocket change”, and said they’d be handing over far more valuable assets. The NZ Herald reports Auckland mayor called for a “bespoke” SuperCity deal, in response to just over half a billion dollars. Kaipara mayor Jason Smith – an early and enduring critic of the reforms, tweeted the overall response from the mayors in Blenheim was somewhere between “lukewarm and tepid”.

That wasn’t a universal response though. Hutt mayor Campbell Barry tweeted in support of the reforms, saying they were unfortunately necessary. “What is clear, the status quo in how our three water infrastructure is currently funded and implemented is unsustainable. Change is needed to ensure our water is healthy for our people and our environment, for the long term.” And it shouldn’t be forgotten that this whole project didn’t just start on a whim – it started because there is a looming avalanche of costs to address an infrastructure deficit.

The travel bubble continues to expand and pop again, with the news that Victoria is now also going to be closed off. Our live updates reported yesterday that it comes amid a lockdown for the state, with cases starting to spread. Queensland has also reported a very small number of cases. In New South Wales, dozens of new cases are still coming each day, but state officials are somewhat heartened by a drop in the daily rate. Meanwhile in the UK, the country is about to embark on a very dubious and dangerous form of freedom, writes Dr Siouxsie Wiles, with all restrictions set to be lifted despite a surge in cases.

Two major unions are taking Uber to court in a case that could have a defining impact on the gig economy. Writing for Newsroom, labour issues journalist Rebecca Macfie reports the unions want a declaration that Uber’s thousands of drivers are employees, rather than contractors – which would come with corresponding protections and rights. A precedent of sorts was recently set in the UK, where the Supreme Court ruled drivers were employees.

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Extended visas are being given for “lower paid skilled migrants”, particularly those in the service sector, reports Stuff this morning. It will allow about 18,000 people to stay in the country for another year, according to immigration minister Kris Faafoi. The extension cuts somewhat against the wider government push to get industries to stop relying on cheaper migrant labour, and probably reflects the agitation that has been going on from business owners that are having difficulties finding staff.

The struggle is real for people looking for somewhere to live in Hawke’s Bay – especially for renters, reports Abby Beswick for Bay Buzz. Supply is extremely tightly constrained, amid a quickly growing population. The article is somewhat generous to the landlords who are quoted in it, but it also takes into account the views of tenants who are stuck paying ever higher rents.

A strange yarn about the obscuring of a vaccine graph by the government: Radio NZ’s Farah Hancock reports it was originally displayed by minister Chris Hipkins as showing more second doses than first had been given, and then when questions were asked about that the MOH tried to prevent info coming out through the OIA. The graph itself was later described as an “illustration”, The acidic final line to the story: “The ministry has since released a new graph that makes sense.”

Today’s Bulletin is being sent out a bit early because I’m driving up to Dargaville for a protest. It is one of more than 50 taking place around the country today – largely in rural centres – with a self-described coalition of “farmers, growers and tradies” up in arms about government regulations. As Stuff reports, that includes freshwater regulations, new costs on utes, significant natural area legislation (SNAs) and more. The protests are organised by a group called Groundswell that came out of Gore, though the support of the more conspiratorially-minded Agriculture Action Group is raising some eyebrows. Look out for my report on The Spinoff later in the day.

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Image: Tina Tiller

Right now on The Spinoff: Bernard Hickey writes about the electricity market and why it matters for climate change. Lucy Blakiston writes about Lil Miquela, an influencer who was entirely created in a studio. Charlotte Muru-Lanning reports on a cult favourite Japanese convenience store setting up in NZ, and why it might not be all that it seems. And Tara Ward ranks every instance of Mike Pero’s aggressive pointing finger on The Apprentice.

For a feature today, a look at one of the debates in climate policy and why one set of solutions makes a lot more sense than the other. American climate scientist Dr Jonathan Foley has written about the use of experimental technology that will be costly and difficult to scale, and why more immediate and simpler solutions should be the target. Here’s an excerpt about carbon capture technology:

Long-term, some limited forms of carbon removal might be useful to have in the 2040s and 2050s to abate the last, difficult-to-decarbonize parts of the economy. But one has to wonder how machines would compare with already-proven nature-based carbon removal projects, which rely on trees and soil to take carbon out of the atmosphere. Time will tell.

However, if we’re not very clear-headed about this, it could prove to be a distraction – diverting time, capital, and attention – to the hard work of reducing emissions right now. And I worry that it could be used as an excuse to keep burning fossil fuels – as kind of a “Clean Coal 2.0” on steroids.

Let’s be very careful here.

In sport, the Olympics probably shouldn’t be going ahead, but given that it is I’m probably going to spend a lot of time watching weird sports this month. So for a fun piece today, have a read of the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Joel Kulasingham running down the list of every single event, from worst to best to watch. Some of the picks are dubious (skateboarding too high, sport climbing too low IMO) but overall it’s also a good primer on just how many sports will be taking place, and in some instances the prospect of seeing a New Zealander come through for a medal.

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