People wearing masks while waiting for a bus on Auckland's Queen St (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Decision day for mandatory masking

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Decision day for mandatory masking, NZ signs on to major Asian trade deal, and Trump’s Kiwi sits down for extensive interview.

A proposal will be taken to cabinet today to increase the scope of mandatory mask-wearing, particularly on public transport. As Justin Giovannetti reported on Saturday, it likely indicates a shift in how the government thinks about the general Covid response, moving away from a more goodwill based system, to something that will require people to follow the rules. One thing that will need to be discussed will be consequences for deliberately not wearing a mask, presuming that is the decision that is made.

It follows advice from public health expert professor Michael Baker, who has long been calling for such a move – he outlined his thoughts again yesterday morning on Radio NZ. “We all want to do everything we can to avoid a lockdown. This is one of the big benefits of masks – we know that they are effective at reducing virus transmission and they’re not particularly disruptive of normal activities, people can still take public transport, they can go to work and school.”

And what about the app? An expert is also suggesting it’s time to make scanning mandatory in certain situations. Dr Andrew Chen spoke to Newstalk ZB (text from Radio NZ) that such a move would massively speed up contact tracing operations, particularly over paper based systems (which realistically would probably also have to be offered, given not everyone has a smartphone.) Scans were up again over the weekend, but as Newsroom’s Marc Daalder writes, the general trend has been of scans falling away, except for circumstantial blips like publicity around Labour weekend.

In other Covid news, there’s confusion over whether or not the owner of a store really did tell a worker to come in despite waiting for a test, which later came back positive. One News reports that worker has now issued a sworn affidavit saying the information released by the government was inaccurate, with the different information a result of not having access to a translator. A statement was also released by the owners of the shop, saying “before the employee was diagnosed on 12 November 2020, the employer was not told by the employee or by anyone else that she was feeling unwell. She did not call in sick or ask for sick leave.” On this subject, I’d highly recommend reading this from Michael Andrew, about why it can be so difficult for service industry workers to call in sick.

Meanwhile, a weak positive case has been confirmed in a neighbour of that case discussed above. That person has been in the Jet Park quarantine facility since the 12th, and the infection is likely to have been very recent. On the managed isolation system generally, Duncan Greive has written about a creeping sense of outbreaks through the border being inevitable, which isn’t good enough because it requires cities or even the whole country to make an overwhelming response.


Not a lot has been written about it compared to other trade deals, but the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership was signed yesterday. As Politik reports, that brings New Zealand closer into the fold of trade cooperation with a range of Asian countries, including China. In the end, India opted not to be part of it. Minister Damian O’Connor said the timing of the deal is globally significant, because it strengthens the rules-based system, which he said is important for New Zealand. Not everyone is pleased with the signing – Radio NZ reports activist group It’s Our Future said the deal was basically done out of sight of the public, and goes against the national interest.


There’s no doubt that this will be a significant interview for perceptions of the Kiwi in Trump’s White House. Q+A’s Jack Tame sat down for a long chat with deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell, and the full interview can be watched here. There were stipulations put on the interview – as the person running the transition to Biden, topics relating to that were off limits. Many observers have criticised this, but it isn’t necessarily unusual for journalists to agree to topics in advance, provided there is full latitude to ask questions within those topics.

In terms of the meat of the interview, one of the key points that came out was a firm denial from Liddell that he had been involved with, or a supporter of the terrible family separation policy for asylum seekers, reports the NZ Herald. He said reports to the contrary in US media were incorrect. Liddell also made his case for why he would be a good candidate to be the next boss of the OECD, and said that he had lost friends through working for Trump. Should he have resigned from the administration over the worst excesses of the administration? People can make their own calls on that, but for Liddell:

“From my point of view, have there been times where I’ve disagreed with the president’s decision? Of course.

“But, I’ve never felt that I’m so disagreed with what he’s doing that I’ve ever seriously considered leaving.”


NCEA exams start today, and for an increasing number of students they’ll be taking place digitally, reports Radio NZ. Around 35,000 students from 300 schools will be taking part online, up from about 20,000 last year. Education minister Chris Hipkins spoke in the story about the immense disruption NCEA students had faced this year, and the qualification compensation that will be made for that as a result.


The government will push on with moves to allow councils to limit the amount of rural land turned over to forestry, reports Farmers Weekly. The move would apply to land classed one to five, which is considered better for cropping and pastoral farming. The conversions have been controversial, with contested advice suggesting they result in job losses relative to what farming would provide. It’s a curious issue in a way, because while some of those conversions were taking place, a lot of forest land around the country was also converted to dairying.


A quick plug for some of our people whose work was recognised over the weekend: Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles picked up the public good award at the Best Awards for design, for their work on Covid-19 communication. And José Barbosa won best director at the NZ Web Awards for his work on On The Rag. Fantastic stuff and well deserved for all of them.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Josh Fountain at home. Photo: Edith Amituanai

Right now on The Spinoff: Dr Siouxsie Wiles writes about a particular virulent bit of Covid misinformation currently sweeping through the internet. Michelle Langstone meets Josh Fountain, a wildly influential NZ music producer who has achieved it all while living with debilitating arthritis. Peter Bale writes about what major US media organisations made of the Trump presidency. Two writers from the NZ Alternative discuss how Nanaia Mahuta can run foreign policy differently to her predecessors. Sam Brooks writes about the remarkable rise of Anika Moa, interviewer. Gabe McDonnell tracks the rise and fall of the country’s first made-for-TV popstars, TrueBliss. Emily Writes reviews a remarkable new documentary from Stuff about one of their colleagues. Sam Brooks has seen the first couple of episodes of the new season of The Crown, and writes about the show’s difficulty in presenting politics as it gets closer to the present. And Duncan Greive revisits Beervana, with this year’s event taking place this weekend.


For a feature today, a pair of pieces about how the public purse can be looted by cronyistic governments. The Guardian reported on how the UK government has refused to publish any details on the $4bn worth of public Covid-19 contracts awarded to private companies. And last month, Scottish newspaper The National reported on how at least a billion of those pounds had been awarded to friends of the government. Of course, perhaps it’s all innocent and normal, and there’s nothing to see here. Here’s an excerpt from the 2nd piece.

Hanbury Strategy was given three contracts totalling £819,000 for polling, focus groups and strategy for the Cabinet Office and Treasury. Paul Stephenson, a former Tory adviser and Dominic Cummings ally, set up the company. The firm said it is “proud” of its work during the crisis.

Public First was given £1 million in contracts for public opinion surveys and strategic advice. The firm is owned by James Frayne, also a close ally of Cummings, who has worked for Michael Gove. His wife is Rachel Wolf, a co-writer of the Tories’ 2019 manifesto.

Manufacturing firm PPE Medpro Ltd won two contracts worth £203m seven weeks after it was set up by Anthony Page – a former secretary of the firm that provides branding services to Tory peer Baroness Mone’s company.


In sport, how about those All Blacks? There have now been two losses in a row, and after another test was drawn in the truncated international season, the calls have already started for coach Ian Foster to be sacked. Granted, those calls are coming from the NZ Herald’s Chris Rattue, but the fundamental point being made is that the team has been way off their normal standards this year. Meanwhile, Argentina were utterly magnificent, tackling like their lives depended on it and showing intense mental fortitude in key moments. Patrick McKendry has written about what it meant to the Argentina players and coaching staff, who were in tears on the final whistle.


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