Todd Muller speaking to the media at parliament during his leadership bid (Radio NZ, Richard Tindiller)
Todd Muller speaking to the media at parliament during his leadership bid (Radio NZ, Richard Tindiller)

The BulletinMay 21, 2020

The Bulletin: Who has the numbers in National?

Todd Muller speaking to the media at parliament during his leadership bid (Radio NZ, Richard Tindiller)
Todd Muller speaking to the media at parliament during his leadership bid (Radio NZ, Richard Tindiller)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Coup definitely on in the National party, government has had enough of the Epidemic Response Committee, and two worryingly large sets of job losses indicated.

The coup attempt is definitely on in the National party, and it’s going to happen fast. The NZ Herald reports a challenge has been confirmed in the form of a letter from Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller to his caucus colleagues. In it, he said an election win wasn’t possible with the current leadership. The letter was sent as part of an assertion that he had the numbers, but no names were attached to it.

The shared bid with Auckland Central’s Nikki Kaye has been disrupted somewhat by a move from incumbent Simon Bridges, to call a special caucus meeting for this Friday. It would otherwise have taken place at the regularly scheduled caucus meeting on Tuesday next week. That has widely been interpreted as a way of forcing the issue, and hurrying his opponents up before they can organise – and this piece in Politik carries the fascinating detail that Bridges reportedly moved quickly after being alerted to the coup by Judith Collins.

One interesting point of it all will be how the vote takes place – if it is solely a vote between Bridges and Muller, then the outcome could be very different compared to an initial vote of no-confidence in Bridges, followed by an open contest if he loses that. If you’re wondering if other challenges could then get in the ring, that seems unlikely – both Judith Collins and Mark Mitchell have now ruled out going for the leadership. Neither appears to have enough support within the caucus to make a bid viable.

There’s also the likelihood of another poll very soon (conducted by One News/Colmar-Brunton) which could have all sorts of ramifications depending on how the numbers fall. As Ben Thomas writes analysing the upcoming contest, Bridges at this stage appears to be heading for a heavy electoral defeat in September, which arguably has little to do with Bridges himself, and a lot more to do with a big swing in voter positivity towards Labour’s Jacinda Ardern. It’s not at all clear if Muller could do any better on that measure, and tellingly, his letter to caucus didn’t promise a win if he was made leader – only that he was “best placed to earn the trust of New Zealanders by September 19.”

If he does win, Muller will have a very difficult job to quickly introduce himself to the public. Two of Stuff’s political reporters have looked back on Muller’s career, as part of a wider analysis of whether that will be possible. He’s incredibly well known within the rural world, but not really known at all outside of that. And ICYMI, I wrote a profile of Muller last year, so feel free to read that. I feel like this detail puts his relative invisibility in context: On the photojournalism service Getty Images, which has tens of thousands of pictures of New Zealand politicians on file, there is currently one solitary image of Muller.

So who is going to win? Dear reader, I genuinely cannot tell you, having now seen some pretty strong assertions that both camps have the numbers. One possibility of course is that there are still a lot of MPs who are saying to both sides that they’ll support them, and lying to one of them – politicians after all aren’t always honest with their beloved colleagues. As far as I can see, no National MPs have yet broken cover and publicly confirmed they’ll be supporting Muller, though several have stated they’ll be backing Bridges. And it’s also possible that whoever wins will also end up losing – you’d have to assume that no matter what the outcome, the public at large is unlikely to be impressed with National’s focus on itself right now, and that could haunt whoever leads them into the election.

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The government has basically decided they’ve had enough of the Epidemic Response Committee, and won’t be putting anyone senior in front of it any more. Stuff reports a letter sent by leader of the house Chris Hipkins has been revealed by committee chair Simon Bridges, in which Hipkins argued that with parliament and regular select committees back, there was no longer a need to appear at the ERC. In response to that, Bridges said it is “disgraceful”, and indicative of a wider attitude among the government that they could dismiss scrutiny.

Two worryingly large sets of job losses have been indicated in the last day, at a pair of massive companies. The NZ Herald reports construction company Fletchers has proposed laying off 1000 people in New Zealand, and another 500 in Australia, making up about 10% of their total workforce. The company received about $67 million in wage subsidies, and says they’ll keep everyone on until the 12-week period ends, along with paying out redundancies. And E tū Union has revealed 1300 cabin crew jobs are being lost at Air New Zealand, reports Radio NZ, in one of the blows of a wider restructuring of the airline to fit their much-diminished place in a world without international travel.

Negative interest rates could be on the way, to which most people will ask – what is a negative interest rate? Stuff’s Susan Edmunds has written a useful explainer on this – in basic terms, it means that the Official Cast Rate (currently 0.25%) would go below zero, which would have the effect of incentivising banks to lend money, and penalising them if they held onto it. For those who want more information on the decision itself, this report from Interest gets into the weeds of whether the Reserve Bank is simply talking about negative interest rates to push the New Zealand Dollar down, on the contention that would improve conditions for the wider economy.

A good idea on a popular Dunedin street unfortunately hasn’t yet proven successful with drivers. George St has been reduced to 10kmh so that it can be a shared pedestrian space, with dots and markings painted all over the road to make it clear. However, as the ODT reports, most drivers still aren’t slowing down. The change was made so that pedestrians would have more space on the footpath, to better practice social distancing.

From the Friday files: Today’s story from the proactive document release is about an idea that never made it off the ground. The NZ Herald reported that a proposal to give businesses a break from paying GST as an economic relief measure was put before IRD officials. Well, the advice that came back was very heavily against that – according to the documents, it would benefit those who were unaffected, and provide little to no benefit to everyone else. In the end, there haven’t really been significant tax system changes yet as a result of Covid-19, though a large tax relief package was announced.

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A new bill being passed through parliament affects all of these industries, but just how bad could it be?

Right now on The Spinoff: Transportation researcher Paul Minett writes about Auckland traffic, and why it doesn’t have to go back to the previous state of stupid gridlock. Luke Sole writes about food security and resilience in the wake of Covid-19. I report on the government’s new contact tracing app. Mickey Treadwell writes about a bill going through parliament that could have big implications for worker rights in film and gaming. Michael Andrew writes about the potential for tech startups to set up shop in New Zealand. And Matthew McAuley speaks to Auckland singer MAALA about his upcoming album.

For a feature today, an exclusive for a student media outlet. Cameo Turner of Te Waha Nui reports that the Miss New Zealand pageant has accepted an entry from a transgender woman for the first time. Arielle Keil has faced down her share of struggles, and now says she wants to be a role model for others – that is, if the competition still goes ahead. Here’s an excerpt:

If Arielle is to place in the top five in Miss New Zealand and compete internationally, Miss Intercontinental is now the only global beauty pageant that accepts transgender contestants. Miss New Zealand director Rose Foulger said while this could be a “restriction for Arielle”, she is trying to negotiate with other pageants to accept transgender contestants.

Arielle hopes to be a positive role model for young transgender women, something she never had in her childhood.

“I would love to tell trans people life can feed us to the wolves but you can push through, and don’t give up. Don’t change your view of the world,” she said.

In sport, is a coup underway right now in another national team? NZ Cricket yesterday came out and said there was absolutely no truth to a rumour that Black Caps coach Gary Stead planned to replace skipper Kane Williamson with keeper-batsman Tom Latham. The suggestion was brought into the public domain in a tweet from broadcaster and journalist James McOnie, who probably had a pretty solid reason to put it out there. One suggestion at play is that there are regional rivalries between Northern Districts and Canterbury camps in the team, discussed in this opinion piece on Radio NZ by Hamish Bidwell. If that’s the case, I reckon they need to stop messing around and get some real champions in – i.e, the entire Wellington Firebirds team.

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