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The Bulletin: Despite Auckland cooling, housing still wildly unaffordable

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: New study lays bare housing unaffordability, a return to the news of a Roast Buster, and inequality continues to widen. 

Housing unaffordability in New Zealand is among the worst in the developed world, reports Stuff. That’s not necessarily a measure of prices alone, rather it’s a measure of median prices against median incomes, so the data is partly a function of New Zealand having a low wage economy. The new data comes from an international study put out by Demographia.

Where is it really tough? The place of Tauranga on this list dominated discussion yesterday, as it was the 8th least affordable location in the world. Local mayor Greg Brownless told the NZ Herald that was a slightly misleading picture, because while there weren’t an abundance of highly paid jobs in the area, “you gotta remember some people have retired here having made their money.” The flipside of that of course is that housing unaffordability isn’t as much a problem for those who already own a house.

In Auckland, the housing market has definitely been cooling slightly over the last year. But it was also rated “severely unaffordable” in the study. BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander, who commented to Stuff, said he didn’t expect anything to change on that front over the course of the year.

One of the arguments made by the authors of the study, which has been echoed by some politicians, is that more land needs to be freed up around Auckland. Just a few days ago, the NZ Herald reported on Auckland councillor Greg Sayers releasing a book making that very argument. “While there are downsides to sprawl, as Aucklanders we need to consider whether sprawl is as bad as super high house prices” he said. It was also a point picked up by National leader and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, who told Newshub it showed that nationwide, what was needed was an overhaul of the Resource Management Act.

But in the past year there have been huge concerns raised about environmental management and food security from urban sprawl – here’s an example from Radio NZ. Around Pukekohe, some of the best soil in the world now sits underneath subdivisions. And in a rapidly warming world, it is likely that food production systems will be disrupted, meaning we’ll need all the land we can find to grow enough.

Another approach was put forward on The Spinoff by Opportunities Party leader Geoff Simmons, who said the report showed the need for the tax system to be overhauled. He says the tax system here incentivises money being shovelled into housing, which benefit speculators most.


A return to the news for one of the Roast Busters. Joseph Parker has given an interview to Newshub, five years after nationwide condemnation for the way in which he and his friends preyed on drunk girls for sex, and then bragged about it online. Mr Parker says he’s trying to make amends for what he did to the girls, but sexual assault survivor advocate Louise Nicholas says the interview is more likely to bring further trauma to his victims, reports Stuff. Last night I reported for The Spinoff that Mr Parker is also trying to launch a music career, and is soliciting donations to do so.


Inequality in New Zealand continues to widen, according to a new report from Oxfam. The organisation is calling for a wealth tax to address the growing disparity, reports Stuff, saying “big business and the super-rich” aren’t currently paying their fair share. Around 25% of New Zealand’s wealth is owned by the top 1%, and around 45% in the hands of the top 5%.


A popular brand of the contraceptive pill is being rationed, with fears of supplies dwindling, reports Stuff. Pharmac says Levlen ED should only be given out as a monthly stock, rather than three-monthly, to ensure that it doesn’t run out before re-supply in late March. Those prescribed Levlen by a doctor over this period won’t need to keep going back to the doctor each month, just to a pharmacy to refill their prescription.


PM Jacinda Ardern has warned that a no-deal Brexit would also be bad for New Zealand, reports the BBC. She’s in Britain ahead of heading to the World Economic Forum in Davos, and says “just about everybody” would be affected if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. PM Ardern also signed an interim agreement with British PM Theresa May, which should allow NZ businesses to continue trading with Britain with confidence, reports Newshub. According to their Europe correspondent Lloyd Burr, it applies only to companies that already export to Britain, and excludes winemakers.


Here’s an explainer on a court ruling that has many fuming, from StuffA woman in the Defence Force who was harassed and groped by convicted rapist Robert Roper has been ordered to pay Roper almost $28k in costs. The reasons are a bit too complicated to sum up in a few lines, but basically it’s what the legislation says has to happen in this instance. You may remember this case from last year, when similar costs sought by the Defence Force were dropped on the direction of the PM.


Residents near a Hawke’s Bay beach are furious at a persistently leaking pipe, which is putting gross brown water into the waves, reports Radio NZ. A wastewater pipe from a forestry products factory is meant to discharge 2.4kms out to sea at Whirinaki Beach. But there’s a leak, and so it’s coming out in the waves instead. So far, there have been three failed attempts to fix the pipe, and the company has been allowed to keep using it by the Regional Council.


Corrections kept a report on double-bunking under wraps, which showed a correlation between the controversial practise and gang activity, reports Newsroom. Double-bunking is where cells are shared, and has also been linked with higher rates of violence within prisons. The 2015 report, which was released after a ruling from the ombudsman, did not firmly conclude that increased gang activity was caused by double-bunking, as it is understood gang activity has been on the rise anyway.


From our partners: The government is digging deep into the price of electricity in New Zealand, with a review of the entire energy sector. What will the review look at, why should there even be one, and does it mean you might pay less for power? Vector’s Bridget McDonald has the answers.


Right now on The Spinoff: Joseph Plunket questions whether plans to restore the Racing industry are wise, given they’ll lead to more gambling. Alex Casey sat down to watch both major breakfast TV shows back to back yesterday, on their first day on air for the year. And Joel Thomas, NZer in Berlin, reports from a museum that celebrates the queer history of gaming.


With local government elections coming up this year, this is a really timely feature from Radio NZ about civic engagement. Specifically, who is doing the engaging, and who is being listened to. It overwhelmingly found that those who are older, wealthier and whiter are being heard in Auckland, despite the demographics of the city heading in a very different direction. Here’s an excerpt:

Lemauga Lydia Sosene is here nearly every day, her office’s glass frontage looking out onto the throng of people she represents. First elected to the local board in 2010 and its chair since 2013, she was born and schooled in south Auckland, and still lives in Favona. She has a strong face with hair pulled back in a tight bun and when she smiles, with lips closed, her eyes crinkle part-way shut.

She doesn’t flinch when she hears how few people from Māngere-Ōtāhuhu made a submission on the Auckland Plan. She already knows. In a community where many people are migrants, where formal education levels are lower than average, where people are time and money-poor, convincing them to buy into a process that seems specifically designed to exclude them is “quite a mission”, she says.

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“We have a lot of things stacked against us. The mechanism of filling out a two or three or four-page form – the language required – is difficult. It’s a face-to-face communication [that’s needed]. What is the question you’re asking me, do I understand it, and are you interpreting it [for me] in a way that I do understand it?”


Former cricketer, now commentator, Peter McGlashan has hit out at the lack of pay for women playing in the Super Smash final on Sunday. The men playing as part of the double-header were paid of course, because they were at work, doing their jobs. McGlashan underlined the absurdity by pointing out that he as a Radio Sport commentator got paid better, to call a game in which none of the participants were getting anything more than a small day-allowance. As Stuff reports, NZ Cricket now say they’re going to review the pay gap this year, with a view to increasing the compensation for women.


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