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The BulletinMay 22, 2019

The Bulletin: Fight goes on for Pike River families

pike sonya rockhouse reentry day pike river recovery agency

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Major milestone reached in Pike River story, report paints damning picture of parliamentary bullying, and Alfred Ngaro builds profile with abortion comments.

For the families of those men killed in the Pike River mine explosion, yesterday was a culmination of years of hard work. Almost nine years after the disaster took place, the previously closed up mine was finally re-entered. As Sonya Rockhouse noted to the NZ Herald, it might never have happened had the families not physically blockaded the mine years ago, and prevented the drift being sealed forever. Whatever happens next, the re-entry into Pike River mine is a milestone that the families made possible.

The story of Pike River is one that has cut across so many other aspects of New Zealand society. It’s a story about workplace safety, and who should bear responsibility when a tragedy occurs. It’s about promises made by politicians which then get broken. It’s a story about regional economics, and the pressure for production that was being put on. Writing when the re-entry was first announced, journalist Rebecca Macfie outlined why it was such a significant moment for those who work in difficult and dangerous blue collar jobs. But most of all, the Pike River story has become one of families wanting to bring their loved ones home, so that they can farewell them properly. Every step of the way, the families have kept fighting.

A re-entry was attempted earlier in the year, but was abandoned due to oxygen levels in the mine. As The Press’s editorial this morning outlines, the process of yesterday’s re-entry was a lot more low key as a result. It wasn’t broadcast live, and it involved just a few people going into the drift to check the condition of it. Pictures were released by the Pike River Recovery Agency, and published by Stuff, and show the section of the drift that was assessed is in good condition.

But now, a significant new chapter in the story will begin. Entering the drift is one thing, and despite it taking years to accomplish, it isn’t the end goal. Now the job will be to look deeper into the mine to try and find any bodies that can be recovered and returned. The process of that has been covered by Newsroom, and is expected to take many months, as each step has to be taken very carefully in such a dangerous environment. There is also the matter of how the site itself will be treated as a crime scene, with any evidence that indicates exactly how the explosion happened to be scrutinised. That is a crucial part of this, because as Newshub reports, one thing the families are still fighting for is justice.

A report into bullying and sexual harassment at parliament has found that it is rife among MPs, staff and media, reports The Spinoff. The culture of bullying comes across as widespread and systemic in the report, with corresponding barriers against those affected speaking out. 85 recommendations have been made, which the report warns will need to be monitored over a period of years if improvements are to be made.

Speaking of MPs having a bad time at work, the Green Party’s Golriz Ghahraman has been assigned a security guard. It follows a range of incidents, including specific recent threats made against her, a long running barrage of social media abuse, and the assault on the party’s co-leader James Shaw earlier in the year. Newshub reports the number of threats spiked after comments made by ACT party leader David Seymour – he in turn denies being responsible for the threats, saying they are solely the fault of those making them.

National MP Alfred Ngaro has continued to speak out against abortion, amid confirmation that he is considering setting up a conservative Christian party. Stuff reports he made the demonstrably false claim that no woman seeking an abortion had ever been made to feel like a criminal – a claim that met with a swift backlash. He is a strong opponent of abortion being taken out of the Crimes Act, and it seems likely to be a central issue if/when he launches a new party. On the topic, I’ll also link to this opinion piece republished on The Spinoff by journalist Sophie Bateman, which pushes back strongly against the idea that women should have to prove they deserve access to abortions.

Dunedin mayor Dave Cull has had a change of heart over the Foulden Maar mine, reports Radio NZ. If you’ve forgotten where that is, that was the one covered in this edition of The Bulletin. Mayor Cull’s support was part of the case made by the mine to the Overseas Investment Office, but he’s subsequently softened his position. He now says more information about the “scientific value and significance” of the site has come to light, and has more questions he wants answered.

Calls are being made for wasp populations in Auckland to be brought under control, reports Radio NZ. There are fears they’ll outcompete other insects, after breeding prodigiously over a warm, dry summer. There are even parts of the Waitākere Ranges where rangers have been warned not to go, such is the density of wasps. There’s currently a plan in the works (which would need EPA approval) to release hover flies into the ecosystem, because they’re very effective predators of wasps.

Compostable coffee cup lids aren’t actually getting composted in Wellington, reports Anna Harcourt for Re: (video package.) It’s a really good visual look at the issue of bioplastics, and why they aren’t necessarily all that useful for commercial compost facilities. Compostable packaging will break down in a modern dump, but it’s still a worse outcome than simply not creating it in the first place (use keep cups!) As well as that, as I reported earlier in the year, some products marked as bioplastic will just break down into microplastics, which is a pretty bad outcome.

A serious content warning for suicide on this story: Advocates for refugees interned on Manus Island and Nauru say the Australian election result has been followed by a spate of suicide attempts, reports RNZ Pacific. Labor’s defeat at the polls means there will be no change to the circumstances being endured by refugees in those hellhole facilities. The refugees say the treatment being meted out to them is sadistic, and many say they’ve lost all hope.

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KFC’s Double Down when it first launched in 2011, and KFC workers striking in 2017 (Photos: Getty Images)

Right now on The Spinoff: Recently appointed Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt, born in Britain, writes about being attacked over here as not “one of us.” Shane Te Pou takes a look at the new authorised biography of Dame Annette King, and finds it overly diplomatic. Megan Dunn writes about the money side of the Auckland Art Fair. Emily Writes savages the celebration of a returning burger while KFC workers are on strike.

Finally, this from Patrick Reynolds tells one of the great and largely untold stories of modern Auckland. Public transport ridership in Auckland is up again at levels not seen since the 1950s, and it is growing faster than general population growth. It’s honestly pretty incredible how much progress has been made, and ought to be celebrated.

In the tradition of bringing you glimpses of New Zealand from overseas perspectives, have a read of this feature from the Deseret NewsThat’s a Utah, USA newspaper with a heavy focus on the Mormon church, and they’ve had a reporter join Latter Day Saints President Russell M. Nelson on a tour around the South Pacific – including to NZ to meet a former Mormon called Jacinda Ardern. The LDS church have made a contribution towards the mosques affected by the Christchurch attacks, and there’s perhaps an interesting comparison to be made given the history of religious persecutions both Mormons and Muslims have faced.

Generally it would be fair to say it’s an extremely conservative news site, but not necessarily in the same way as the rest of the movement in the USA. In fact, that same subject of shared experience between Mormans and Muslims came up again. The Deseret News recently published an interview with religious history scholar Steven Waldman, and on this topic, he had a few things to say that I want to take an excerpt from:

Deseret News: What does Mormon history have to do with Muslims today?

Steven Waldman: One of the things that was said about Mormonism was that it’s not really a religion. People claimed it was a political system. That’s said about Islam, too. Anti-Muslim activists say it’s a political system and therefore doesn’t deserve First Amendment protections.

Mormons were also stereotyped as violent and unable to embrace democracy, which is something you hear about Muslims, as well. Also, and this surprised me, immigration was a factor. In the 1830s, Mormons in Missouri and Illinois were attacked because people worried about scary immigrants from Canada. Criticisms against Muslims are related to immigration, too. I think those parallels are worth thinking about.

Last time I put the Portland Trailblazers in The Bulletin, a fan got in touch to demand more coverage of the NBA team. I warned Alana that it might not be in their best interests to read more about the Blazers, because they were about to play a finals series against the Golden State Warriors. And so it has proved – Stuff reports the Warriors have swept the series 4-0. It’s still probably the best result the Blazers have had since a Western conference win in the early 90s. Meanwhile the Milwaukee Bucks lead the Toronto Raptors 2-1 in their series, playing for the right to also be beaten by the Warriors.

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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