Leader of the opposition Simon Bridges (Getty Images)
Leader of the opposition Simon Bridges (Getty Images)

The BulletinMay 20, 2020

The Bulletin: Bridges on the brink

Leader of the opposition Simon Bridges (Getty Images)
Leader of the opposition Simon Bridges (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Rumblings grow of a coup against Bridges, police dogs being set on people in mental distress, and government’s contact tracing app ready early.

The long-threatened coup attempt at National leader Simon Bridges seems to be finally here. Many times over his tenure there have been murmurings of MPs doing the numbers, and even a couple of instances of news reports suggesting it was coming. They’ve all been fought off, and without much of it spilling into the public domain – apart from the Jami-Lee Ross saga of course. This one appears to be different, though as always with these matters, it could just be hype. Here’s what has been reported so far:

The National caucus will be meeting next Tuesday, and between now and then, there will be an intense amount of noise about a challenge. The NZ Herald’s Claire Trevett has reported that a no-confidence vote is expected to take place, and according to the piece it isn’t necessarily clear that Bridges would win. If he lost a no-confidence vote, the leadership would be vacated. Bridges has not shown any signs that he might stand down, telling media over the course of his morning interviews yesterday that he intended to stay on. After all, the bad poll result could just be a nadir on the way to an election recovery.

It is also not yet confirmed who the main threat to Bridges might be, and no challenger has emerged openly. Politik had a piece about the various contenders, putting some approximate numbers behind each as well, though no single candidate is reported to have a majority of caucus. The top listed contender is BOP MP and agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller – read a profile of him here. Muller has gained the vocal support of former PM Jim Bolger, who told Radio NZ that he would be the ideal MP to take over the leadership. That article also contained an “understanding” that Muller had the numbers. A reminder – nobody ever knows what the exact numbers are until after a vote has taken place, so take all this with a grain of salt.

Other candidates that are being discussed include Judith Collins and Mark Mitchell. Collins always gets discussed of course, and who knows, perhaps now is the hour. Mitchell is widely considered to be less likely. The name of former Air NZ boss Christopher Luxon came up regularly on talkback yesterday, but he’s not really eligible as he still has to become an MP.

The problem for Bridges is that the story has started to spiral for him, when almost comical incidents end up becoming symbolic. So it was with Newshub obtaining an email from National MP David Bennett to a constituent – they had sent an email telling Bennett that it was time to roll Bridges, and Bennett responded with “yeah working on it”. It’s hardly an open declaration of disloyalty from Bennett, but it’s clearly a mess.

What happens next? The advice from two people with connections to the National party is pretty clear – either do it quickly, or don’t do it at all. Kiwiblog author and party pollster David Farrer said he wouldn’t be taking a side, but didn’t want to see the issue fester. Commentator and former party volunteer Liam Hehir also wrote a warning post, noting that a party that turns in on itself is liable to see the polls get even worse. If Bridges survives the next fortnight, it seems safe to say he’ll still be in charge for the election. And no matter who is leading the party, they’ll have a very difficult job to win an election that is mere months away, which might give some potential challengers reason to pause.

Just quickly, a message from our editor Toby Manhire:

“Here at The Spinoff, members’ support is more important than ever as the Covid-19 crisis lays waste to large chunks of our commercial work. It’s a tight time for everyone, of course, but if you’re able to, please consider joining Spinoff Members to help us stay afloat and keep producing work by the likes of Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris, whose collaborations have had a real impact in New Zealand and around the world.”

Police dogs are being set on people in a state of mental health distress, according to new figures released under the Official Information Act. Radio NZ’s Tim Brown reports there have been dozens of such incidents over the last five years, in some cases resulting in the hospitalisation of people threatening to self-harm. Police have defended their conduct in such instances, saying the decision to set dogs on people is never made lightly, and that dog handlers are dealing with potentially violent situations. One point put forward in the story is that police aren’t necessarily the right people to be doing frontline mental health services.

The government’s official contact tracing app is ready to download a day early, reports Stuff. While there has been work to ensure that the data captured in the app is secure, it does appear from the privacy statement that some personal information will be stored off the device itself, contrary to how the PM has previously described it. We’ll get more information and clarity on that when it is officially launched today.

A new survey has revealed a relatively large proportion of New Zealanders wouldn’t get a Covid-19 vaccine if it was available. The Spinoff’s Josie Adams reports on the figures compiled by Stickybeak, which found that 16% would say no – a figure broadly in line with general attitudes towards vaccines. That raises troubling questions about whether it will be possible to achieve herd immunity. In other vaccine news, almost twice as many people have had their flu jab compared to this time last year.

A warning on this story – it concerns discussion of suicide. One News has reported on comments from the chief coroner about the provisional suicide figures from the lockdown period, and it would seem that the rate was actually lower than usual. That contradicts claims that have been made without evidence on social media, which were covered in this piece by Hayden Donnell. Judge Deborah Marshall said the coroner’s office has been closely monitoring suicide reports, and said that unsubstantiated claims that the lockdown had led to an increase in suicide were incorrect.

NZ First leader Winston Peters had a big day yesterday, dragging the story of who might have leaked his super overpayment details to the media back to the surface. Radio NZ reports he will be appealing the High Court judgement against him, and is now claiming to know exactly who did release the information. While the continuation of this legal case will cost the taxpayer money, it’s worth reiterating – Peters had already repaid the super money at the time this all came to light.

From the Friday files: One of the interesting sets of documents is around the Temporary Accommodation Services unit of MBIE, which had a big job finding places for thousands of people to stay. A which really jumped out at me seemed highly symbolic of the rapid shift in priorities that accompanied the border closure. MBIE signed a contract worth at least $2 million with Tourism Holdings Ltd, for the first option on hiring up to 2000 campervans and motorhomes to be used for self-isolation and quarantine – elements of this had been reported, but I don’t believe the price tag has been. The ministry had very little idea of what the demand would be, and accordingly went for a high-end figure. It’s a small moment, but feels illustrative of how a crisis can lead to some creative solutions with wide benefits – not least for the heavily-hit Tourism Holdings.

A correction: Yesterday’s story on an allocation of funding to combat wilding pines referred to it as being part of the budget – in fact, it came from a different allocation of money, announced earlier in the year.

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

Taika Waititi and a giant peach, but not the one you’re thinking of.

Right now on The Spinoff: Josie Adams reports on a music world stoush that involved international star Jason Derulo being accused of stealing from an Auckland teenager. Jihee Junn writes about the psychology of accepting so-called voluntary pay cuts. Green co-leader Marama Davidson criticises the recent budget as falling short for those on low incomes. Tara Ward writes about a new Taika Waititi initiative to put on a production of James and the Giant Peach over Zoom. Professor Jane Kelsey raises questions about whether trade deals will prevent the government stimulating the economy through procurement policy. Catherine Woulfe writes about the prequels to the Hunger Games series, and why the books are deeply underrated as serious stories. Sam Brooks looks at the lockdown sensation game of Animal Crossing, a calming world away from Covid and quarantines.

Finally, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris have been busy recently. Really, really busy, doing some outstanding work to communicate the facts around Covid-19, how it spreads, and how we can stop it. We’ve put together a collection of all their collaborations from the past few months, and you can see them all here.

For a feature today, a remarkable story from Fiji that had to be reported by an outside outlet to come to light. The Guardian has covered the story of four former Fijian prison guards seeking asylum in Australia, who say they were forced by Fiji’s corrections commissioner to beat inmates, and even a fellow staff member. Adding to the scandal, that commissioner is the brother in law of Fiji’s authoritarian PM Frank Bainimarama. Here’s an excerpt:

De Wachter said that he felt he “had no other option” than to obey commands.

“It’s either you execute the command or face the full brunt of Commander Kean, which is to be booted out of the Fiji Corrections Service, and then put a bad name on you in all the other government organisations … so, it’s just impossible to get another job.”

Delana said that violence had been part of prison culture in Fiji since before Kean became commissioner, but alleged that Kean repeatedly instructed officers to beat particular prisoners, and that not to obey would cause an officer to be regarded with suspicion.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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