A traveller at Auckland Airport (Radio NZ, Simon Rogers)
A traveller at Auckland Airport (Radio NZ, Simon Rogers)

The BulletinApril 19, 2021

The Bulletin: Risks and benefits loom as trans-Tasman bubble opens

A traveller at Auckland Airport (Radio NZ, Simon Rogers)
A traveller at Auckland Airport (Radio NZ, Simon Rogers)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Risks and benefits loom as trans-Tasman bubble opens, government signs big deal with Amazon, and cabinet paper produced on hate speech law change proposals.

New Zealand is more open today than it has been at any time in the past twelve months, with the start of the trans-Tasman bubble. As such, it’s going to be a significant day for a lot of people, with thousands expected to cross from one country to the other. The first flight to take advantage of the bubble came in overnightAs Stuff’s Brook Sabin reports, it was a somewhat mysterious Qantas flight, believed to be purely to relocate a plane. Stewart Sowman-Lund has put together a great Q+A on all the rules of the bubble, and answered a range of questions about how it’ll work.

The economic implications of it are pretty massive, not to mention the many family reunions that will also take place. But we shouldn’t necessarily expect the changes to be seen immediately. Stuff reports Qantas and Jetstar will both be starting with a somewhat reduced trans-Tasman capacity in the opening weeks, with people perhaps a bit wary of being in the first cohort. Connor Stirling at One News had an interesting story last week about high levels of interest in trans-Tasman tourism not necessarily translating into bookings for operators yet. And after all, things can still go wrong, and as the government has warned plenty of times, people will be flying at their own risk.

Speaking of risk, there is plenty of political risk for the government. Politik (paywalled) has analysed the current mood of public opinion, with polls showing only around half of New Zealanders are into the idea of a bubble. What Politik author Richard Harman calls “xenophobia” from the public is manifesting itself as something of a go-slow in a range of areas of opening up, from migrant family reunification to the return of international students.

Both governments have welcomed the opening of the bubble today. A joint statement was released early this morning, much of which was about sharing a neighbourhood. It included the lines; “Our countries share a Single Economic Market, and two-way travel across the Tasman will help drive the economic recovery for both countries while we continue to navigate the COVID-19 global pandemic, especially in the travel and tourism sectors. It will also enable closer trans-Tasman business engagement, which will drive broader economic activity in both Australia and New Zealand.”

And we at The Spinoff are going to celebrate the relationship with our cousins in Australia this week. In fact, we’re creatively calling our series of content… Australia Week. It is not intended to focus on every single aspect of what makes Australia newsworthy, as some of our other coverage has – for example, Don Rowe’s coverage of Australia’s brutal deportation policy, or Duncan Greive’s articles on the battles Australia is having with tech giants. Rather, a lot of Australia Week will be about exploring why the place holds such a fascination – both in positive and negative ways – for many of us over on the other side.

Hundreds of millions in taxpayer-funded film subsidies will be paid out to mega-company Amazon to get them to film the Lord of the Rings TV show in New Zealand. There’s a rebate of 20% of money spent in country that productions can apply for, but Amazon has secured 25%, on the grounds that the project will bring “significant economic benefit”. Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan has done a story on the sort of schmoozing and scheming government officials did to secure the deal – Amazon executives were wined and dined, with the taxpayer picking up the tab. The piece also goes in depth into what else the government hopes to achieve with Amazon increasing their presence in the country.

A cabinet paper has been produced outlining how laws around hate speech could be changed. Newsroom’s Marc Daalder obtained the paper, and it is a complicated and controversial area, so I’d encourage you to actually read the piece before sounding off on it. Among the big changes is that hate speech offenses would be moved into the Crimes Act, and extend the categories to which protections would apply. I’d say we’re likely to get plenty more discussion of this in the coming days.

The Spinoff can’t exist without our members. If you want to help us stay curious and keep our team across New Zealand’s breaking stories, please donate today.

You may have read the harrowing story about domestic violence survivor Mrs P, which was shared in Friday’s Bulletin, and the persecution she suffered from the justice system. If not, here it is again. Since that story came out, there have been calls for Mrs P to be paid some form of compensation, given her life was effectively destroyed by what happened. But these calls have been dismissed, and on The Spinoff this morning, Professor Andrew Geddis argues that such a dismissal is “morally rotten and practically misguided”.

A fascinating, and in my view somewhat alarming story about the current policy direction of Immigration NZ: A Latin American restaurant owner is furious at the imminent deportation of a chef, on the grounds that their job apparently doesn’t require specialist skills, reports Lincoln Tan for the NZ Herald. They’ve described the decision as “ignorant and racist”, and the hospitality lobby said it makes no sense at a time of skills shortages.

We’re starting to get a sense of where the new Te Huia train service between Hamilton and Papakura is and isn’t useful. Newshub reports patronage on the train has been pretty poor on commuting hours, which is probably because it isn’t a very speedy or efficient commuter service. But it was absolutely packed for the first scheduled weekend trip – probably because it’s a much nicer way to travel when you’ve got a bit of time. One wonders if lessons might be learned from this in terms of creating public transport options that reflect what people want and need.

Final results have been confirmed in the Sāmoan election, and it’s a dead heat between the two major parties, reports RNZ Pacific. There are likely to be plenty of legal challenges still to come, so that number might end up changing. But as it stands right now, the result leaves new MP Tuala Tevaga Iosefo Ponifasio holding the balance of power – he said he will consult widely with local matai (kaumātua) before making a final decision.

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

Image: Alex Braae/Jihee Junn

Right now on The Spinoff: I interviewed former Wellington mayor Justin Lester about his views on the current council, why he lost to Andy Foster, and whether he’d have another crack at the job. George Fenwick in London writes about the return of a particular type of British normality, with pubs reopening. Scott Hamilton corrects some misinformation around how a group of people in Vanuatu viewed the late Prince Philip. Perlina Lau writes about making a comedy TV show about a pandemic, during the middle of a much less funny real pandemic. Autistic advocate Rory McCarthy writes about how small changes from people around them can make a huge difference in autistic people’s lives. Architect Jacqueline Paul writes about a Prime documentary about apartments that reveals the housing hell some New Zealanders live in. Catherine Woulfe writes about the way kids learn to read, through the lens of seeing the very different way her son approached it. James Borrowdale bids farewell to a summer of cricket with his oblivious baby daughter.

And we’re hiring a new full-time role in our podcast team. If you reckon you could be our podcast engineer/studio manager, have a look at the job listing here.

For a feature today, there was a huge volume of feedback about Friday’s Bulletin on the proposals to phase out smoking. Two bits in particular I’d like to include. The first comes from Professor Jon Berrick, who is part of the group Tobacco Free Generation. He made two points, the first of which is that a black market requires both supply and demand, so predictions of an explosion in illegal tobacco sales won’t necessarily come to pass if people have no interest in buying it. His other point was about choice, and the restriction of freedoms for the greater good – to quote:

I hear you. Freedom’s nice for those who enjoy it, but as you say “within reason”. That’s always the issue: how high a price are we prepared to pay? To put this in perspective: 4,500 premature NZ smoking deaths a year. Meanwhile, we willingly give up our freedom to drive on the right-hand side of the road, or to build using asbestos, or refrigerate with CFCs, etc. (supply your favourite here), because we recognise that these prohibitions are worth protecting the community from harm. I’m old enough to remember when people thought they should be free to smoke on a plane: it’s interesting how constraints that seem shocking in prospect can seem like common sense in retrospect. As Tolstoy wrote: “There are no conditions of life to which a man cannot get accustomed, especially if he sees them accepted by everyone around him.”

On the other side of that particular debate, Kevin (not a professor as far as I know, but still with valid opinions) made a fair point about people deciding for other people what pleasures they can and can’t have in life. Prohibition is mentioned in the argument, and while that’s not part of the current proposals, the proposed actions certainly stride towards the more restrictive end. To quote:

I’ve never smoked in my life, and I’m well aware of the health risks of smoking. But I’ve drunk alcohol throughout my adult life (I’m now 68), and I’m afraid that governments may decide to extend the same ‘principle’ to alcohol. Just in case anyone’s forgotten, the United States’ experiment with prohibition in the 1920s was such an abysmal failure that it was eventually abandoned, and no-one has ever tried to revive it.

Lydia Ko has cracked it, taking a tournament win after three years of struggle. The NZ Herald reports Ko stormed to victory at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, overcoming heavy nerves and a sleepless night. The former world number 1 said she had periods of doubt about whether she’d ever lift another trophy. But increasingly she’s been pushing closer and closer recently, and the weekend’s win will be an ominous sign for the rest of the LPGA field about how dangerous she is again.

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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