Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Brutal day looms for National amid Jami-Lee Ross saga, serious allegations made by Nicky Hager against NZDF, and damning indictment of MSD culture.
The National Party has found itself plunged into a crisis over MP Jami-Lee Ross. He was named in a report as the most likely culprit to have leaked leader Simon Bridges’ expenses months ago. It was an extremely minor brouhaha at the time, but now has blown up with major implications. Mr Ross himself sent an extraordinary series of tweets, saying he was about to be scapegoated, mere minutes before Simon Bridges fronted a press conference. Here’s a first take explainer I put together yesterday afternoon to catch you up. The question is after such a dramatic day yesterday, what happens today?
First of all, the National party caucus will meet today, and decide what to do about the Botany MP and former party whip. Jami-Lee Ross is far from a nobody backbencher – he has been in Parliament since 2011 and appeared to be rising up the ranks. That trajectory seems certain to end. Stuff’s political editor Tracy Watkins writes that caucus is basically certain to suspend him, and expulsion also isn’t off the table. On Radio NZ, political editor Jane Patterson writes that it’s almost definitely the end of Mr Ross’s political career, but he’s trying to take Mr Bridges down with him.
If he is expelled, what then? Writing on the NBR (paywalled) Brent Edwards says the recently passed waka-jumping law could be invoked, forcing a by-election in Botany. That would be ironic, as National has so vehemently opposed the law. Were that to happen, Mr Ross could try and win re-election, and come back as an independent, or stand with a new party.
Is a coup in the wind? So far, National MPs who have spoken out have unanimously condemned Mr Ross. Judith Collins and Mark Mitchell – both former leadership contenders – went on Checkpoint to back Mr Bridges. Writing on the influential Kiwiblog, National-aligned pollster David Farrar also said the party’s leadership needs to act decisively against Mr Ross, to ward off perceptions of disunity. However over on right-wing blog Whaleoil, Cameron Slater says Simon Bridges is also “exposed for his weakness as a leader.” It’s messy stuff.
So why did this all go down? Politik has an answer – Mr Ross is understood to have wanted a big package of prizes for supporting Simon Bridges in the leadership election at the start of the year. The jobs he was allegedly gunning for would have made him extremely powerful within the party. But he didn’t get them. The article certainly plays into the narrative being put by Mr Bridges – that these are the actions of a lone man lashing out.
But wait, there’s more: One of the tweets posted by Mr Ross made deeply serious allegations against Simon Bridges, that I’ll quote here in full: “When I started to become expendable, I confronted him with evidence that I had recorded him discussing with me unlawful activity that he was involved in. Working on his instruction, he asked me to do things with election donations that broke the law.” It’s worth noting that Simon Bridges completely rejected those allegations at the press conference yesterday. Whether or not that is true, their could be serious legal and political consequences of that for either or both men. Watch this space.
Finally, you can read the PWC report into the leak here, and a slight clarification made to it by Speaker Trevor Mallard here. One important thing to reiterate about the PWC report, which has sort of been lost – it does not conclusively say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jami-Lee Ross was the culprit. It just says the evidence points to him as the most likely leaker.
Allegations of war crimes, sexual assault and cover ups have been made against the NZ Defence Force, in the latest issue of North and South. Nicky Hager is the author of the story, which includes material that wasn’t part of the book he co-wrote with Jon Stephenson, Hit and Run. Mr Hager quoted extensively from an interview with a former SAS soldier, who said he was disgusted that nobody would be held to account for what allegedly occured. The allegations, suffice to say, are extremely serious, and will likely be followed up in the coming days.
This story from Stuff is a pretty damning indictment on the Ministry of Social Development. Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw says her research shows people have an easier time getting a loan from sharks, and get treated better by them, than they do from the government. Dr Berentson-Shaw says that’s because of the “shaming” hoops they have to jump through at Work and Income, putting the spotlight on the culture of services for beneficiaries.
A secretive American billionaire has gifted a massive bike park near Nelson to the Crown, and sold a South Canterbury station to conservationists, reports Stuf
A review into unsafe cars on the road is being carried out, after it emerged that companies doing certifications weren’t being properly checked by NZTA. Radio NZ got the ball rolling on this by uncovering “a series of failings in truck certifications,” and there was later an NZTA alert issued for heavy vehicles. The review, announced by transport minister Phil Twyford, is expected to come back early November.
Meanwhile, more Aucklanders are abandoning or dumping their cars, and it’s being attributed to rising costs to run them, reports the NZ Herald. The number of abandonments is already higher for this year than it was for the whole of last year. It seems like a really odd phenomenon – do people really not know that you can get a few hundy from the wreckers even for a car that can’t drive anymore?
You may have heard stories about the apparent murder of a dissident journalist by Saudi Arabia over the last week. It has resulted in serious diplomatic and economic backlash for the Kingdom, and Stuff has a report on what NZ’s reaction is likely to be. We have reasonably strong trade ties with Saudi Arabia, and analysts say NZ is unlikely to come out strongly against them as a result. Rather, they say likely reaction will be one of ‘safety in numbers,’ with New Zealand likely to react proportionally to how other countries do.
I missed this last week, but it’s a great story about high profile efforts to reduce plastic pollution, and whether they’ll actually do anything. Published on Newshub, it explores moves like the plastic bag and straws bans, and the industry-backed Plastic Packaging Declaration. But the questions being asked by environmentalists are whether recycling or composting should be the goal at this stage, or rather whether the world needs to move wholesale towards reducing and reusing plastics.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Go on, get a bit more National news. Conservative columnist Liam Hehir argues that the party would be stupid to jump on the carousel of leadership changes in opposition, like Labour did over the last decade. There’s a fascinating new episode of The Good Citizen podcast out, about urban design and transforming cities to be more people-centric. And Alex Casey tried out some period-proof underwear, made by a local company at that.
Arguably the biggest issue in modern journalism is figuring out how to fund the really important stories. They take an immense amount of time and work, there can be legal costs to meet, and there’s no guarantee that at the end of it all, lots of people will read it. That last one is part of the point behind The Bulletin – having something that is curated for quality makes it loads easier to find those stories. But even that doesn’t necessarily help news organisations monetise that work.
The big newsrooms consistently turn out important meaty investigations, but they’re effectively loss-leaders for the rest of the organisation. Matt Nippert and Kirsty Johnson at the NZ Herald, or Charlie Mitchell, Michelle Duff and the Stuff Circuit team, or Michael Morrah at Newshub (I could go on) – when people like this are given time and space to work, the results are often spectacular. But these newsrooms operate as a pyramid, and this work gets funded by huge numbers of other journalists and content creators (yes, I said it) grinding away day to day, often in obscurity.
One thing we at The Spinoff use is PressPatron, for our Longform fund for investigative journalism. The latest piece is a remarkable one from Don Rowe, who writes about how the government is basically powerless to stop the deportations from Australia, even as the death toll mounts. It’s a horrifying and brutal story, with the big picture of the policy told through the story of a man who could never go home again. Seriously, read it.
Other pieces paid for by the Longform fund include Alex Casey and Noelle McCarthy’s investigation into allegations of a culture of sexual harassment, drugs and alcohol at Pavement magazine, and a podcast in which the women coming forward told their stories. There was also Amy Parsons-King’s devastating investigation and video into sexual assault cover-ups within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and David Farrier’s opus on a Christchurch medical AI company that seemed a bit too good to be true. If you think these sort of stories are worth funding, please chuck some money in the jar.
And the final thing to mention here – Newsroom have launched a PressPatron campaign to support the LockerRoom section for women’s sport coverage. LockerRoom is the only dedicated women’s sport section in the country, and has been linked to from The Bulletin frequently. Suzanne McFadden and her columnists are bringing new stories around women’s sports to light every week. There are other journalists doing awesome work in this area too – Madeleine Chapman, Dana Johannsen and Rikki Swannell for example – but they’re all journos who happen to do great coverage of women’s sport, rather than being solely focused on that beat.
Putting money towards journalism that you think matters is the one guaranteed way to ensure it continues. So just like with E-Tangata, LockerRoom can have a fiver a month from me.
An independent review has found complete dysfunction in the High Performance Cycling programme, reports Radio NZ. A QC says allegations of a toxic culture were well founded, and included bullying, and a coach having an affair with a cyclist. There was also a finding that Cycling NZ operated as an “old boys club.”
The review covered the period between January 2016 up to the present day, a period which included a particularly disappointing Olympics for the programme. And speaking of those games, the NZ Herald reports that confidential cyclist feedback from their debriefs was then leaked back to their coach by High Performance Sport NZ employees.
And seemingly every rugby player in the country – and one out of country – have been named in a 51 man All Blacks squad to tour the Northern Hemisphere. Openside flanker Matt Todd has been selected despite currently being in Japan, which coach Steve Hansen says definitely doesn’t set a precedent for other players to be picked from overseas, reports Stuff. We’ll see – with Japan’s domestic season lining up nicely to allow players to play both that and Super Rugby, it’s hard to not see this sort of exemption being used again for players on the fringes of All Black selection.
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