(File photo: Radio NZ)
(File photo: Radio NZ)

The BulletinJune 21, 2019

The Bulletin: What could change for voting in 2020 election

(File photo: Radio NZ)
(File photo: Radio NZ)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Changes proposed for the process of voting in 2020, govt approves coal exploration despite climate change rhetoric, and Hager responds to new Hit and Run news.

The way people vote in 2020 could be very different to previous elections, after the proposals of a range of interesting new changes. Justice minister Andrew Little is likely to put forward a bill containing technical changes making it easier to vote – for example, by allowing votes to be counted away from where they were cast. The point of that would be to allow polling places to be set up in “high traffic areas” like supermarkets and malls, where there aren’t private spots to count the votes. There would also be a removal on the restriction against voting taking place where alcohol is also sold, which might sound like the opening premise for a satire, but would really just have much the same function.

National isn’t keen on those changes, reports Stuff. In part, says their spokesperson Nick Smith, that’s because they weren’t consulted on them. But it’s partly also because he argues the changes are being made to benefit parties of the left. Another of the likely changes is to allow voting day enrolment – currently you can’t enrol and then vote on election day, and it is believed to have stopped thousands of people from casting a vote at the last election. Dr Smith says “we know from advice that if you allow same day enrolment and voting, that tends to favour parties of the left,” and that the government is cherry picking recommendations that favour them. Newshub reported his comments on consultation went even further – “This is the sort of conduct we expect from banana republics and not a respected long standing democracy like New Zealand.”

However, the process of voting is also changing dramatically each election in any case. Around 1.2 million advance votes were cast in 2017, roughly half the total overall, and Electoral Commission figures show that share has risen dramatically since 2011, where it was a few hundred thousand votes. It’s possible early voting has contributed to an overall rise in voter turnout, which in 2017 was up among every age group. It perhaps reduces the sanctity and community spirit that comes when everyone shares in the same day equally, but on the other hand, people have busy lives and it’s convenient.

It’s interesting that the government would push ahead with changes, given how flatly they’ve refused other, more substantive electoral changes. Earlier in the year it was confirmed that there was no chance of the MMP threshold being lowered to 4% in time for the 2020 election, nor would the ‘coat-tails’ rule be removed that allows electorate MPs to bring in mates, despite those being a recommendation of the Electoral Commission. That really highlights how minor and technical the changes are, given that they’re only about the process of voting, rather than about the outcomes produced by that vote.

The government has granted a permit for new coal exploration in the Waikato, despite their lofty rhetoric on climate change, reports Zane Small for Newshub. It is one of five mining exploration permits granted during the term, though the others are for other minerals. Anti-coal campaigners are dismayed, as it is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. Energy minister Megan Woods insists the government is transitioning the economy away from fossil fuels, and that “we really are showing leadership in this area”.

Hit and Run co-author Nicky Hager says revelations from Taliban insurgents don’t change the central point of the book, reports Stuff. It comes after co-author Jon Stephenson revealed that insurgents told him they were in the vicinity of a village where the deadly NZSAS raid – Operation Burnham – took place, contrary to a claim made in the book. However, Mr Hager says the main story of the book is civilian casualties, and if anything the account from the insurgents backs that contention up. In the meantime, the inquiry will continue.

The Prime Minister has responded to claims around lobbyist GJ Thompson, and unrevealed conflicts of interest when he was acting chief of staff. Stuff reports Jacinda Ardern is comfortable the issue was handled appropriately by ministerial services. The story also notes that National hasn’t shown any interest in pursuing the matter further.

Seafood workers in Bluff have been left shocked at the news dozens of jobs at Sanford could be lost, reports Radio NZ. The town has a population of just under 2000 people, and the company is one of the biggest employers. The workers say the company is highly profitable, and the announcement has come entirely out of the blue. Many of those laid off workers will have few other prospects for work, though the company may offer some roles in Timaru.

An international story here, but one that seems important: The Guardian reports the US Pentagon has published a new military doctrine document, that sets out aggressive new thinking on the use of nuclear weapons. To sum it up, the view expressed in the document is that a nuclear war could be decisively winnable, and in an aggressive, rather than deterrent context as well. Now, I’m not saying it suggests nuclear war is imminent or anything like that, but it does make you wonder why the change needed to be made.

A popular Auckland bike recycling and repair co-op is being shut down due to tenancy issues, reports The Spinoff. Loop Group, who operate out of a Minnie St location in Eden Terrace, say their future is now uncertain. Because of that, they’re trying to give away all of their spare bikes and equipment over Friday and Saturday this week and next, all free to a good home. The space is likely to be filled by a car park.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Former senior Treasury official Tony Burton tears into an “obsession with vapid slogans” which he says has shattered the competency of the organisation. Gareth Shute has run the numbers on which purchase will reduce your carbon footprint more – solar panels or an electric car. Vanessa Young writes about scientists looking for new ways to solve the problems of nitrates in Canterbury’s water supply. And Sam Brooks has outdone himself with this one – a definitive list of the top 15 sackable offences committed by the hospital staff on Grey’s Anatomy.

For a feature today, a bit of feedback on a comment made about the story about telcos partnering with Stats NZ to share location data of users. I said I was unsettled by it, and I’ll share a bit of feedback before outlining why. Today’s round will be fully anonymous, because more people than not requested that.

First of all, it’s not unusual for your location to be easily tracked, wrote one person. “A good example of anonymised data use is google maps telling you what the traffic’s doing – whenever you open up the app you’re also sending google information about how fast you’re going and where you are. In fact, I’d recommend everyone have a thorough understanding of what apps use their location data on their phones.”

And it’s not new either, said another: “All the data being generated by our supercomputers in our pockets are driving all kinds of data mining and reporting. We are basically data generators, and you have little to no control over it. Tamely using anonymised cellphone data to track population density is 2010 or earlier tech and highly innocuous if you ask me. You should be more concerned about the surveillance device in your pocket.”

And location stuff is easy for telcos too. “It takes about 15 minutes to find the whereabouts of a given phone number in an urban area to within a reasonable distance, pretty much in real time. Based on the way they work with law enforcement, privacy from our telcos is basically nonexistent,” said a third reader.

So, to clarify, yes, I think we’re all aware that the ability of organisations to track people via their smartphone is now so common as to be innocuous. And the partnership with Stats NZ probably doesn’t materially change anything about that. Being unsettled by it isn’t about thinking that the government is going to abuse that. But just because we’ve had relatively benign political conditions for decades, doesn’t mean that will continue forever. And it has got to the point now where simply by using standard technology, the ability of individuals to control that is basically out of their hands, provided we want to participate in modern society. I can’t help but find that unsettling.

The dream is over for the Football Ferns, who lost to Cameroon in a game they needed to win to progress at the World Cup. The 2-1 defeat caps off a campaign that started promising, and ended as a nightmare. The one goal scored by the team during the whole campaign was an own-goal too. To think, they were just one late goal away from sneaking a draw against the Netherlands in the first match – a result that would have totally changed the complexion of their group. In any case, it will be another four years before they’ll have a chance to win their first World Cup match.

All’s well that ends well in that story about the kids rugby team who weren’t allowed to competition earn points if they included a girl. Radio NZ reports the boys in the team have agreed to forfeit points, and just play some footy with their teammate. And honestly, I can’t stress this enough, these kids are 11 years old – you barely even need to bother keeping score at that age.

And finally, we’ve got another episode of The Offspin for you to listen to in the wake of the Black Caps win over South Africa. I’m not sure if this is an appealing sell or not, but I talk at length about what I believe to be the greatest cricket shot ever played – Kane Williamson’s late cut in the penultimate over.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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