National has put deputy leader Paula Bennett into a drug policy role (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: National draws up battle lines for 2019

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: National gets year underway with reshuffle and red meat, judge rules union is allowed to be rude during negotiations, and investigation into CHCH crypto hack.

With a reshuffle and a few whiffs of red meat, National has set out a few points where they intend to push politically in 2019. It’s something of an early start to what is likely to be an absolute slog of a year, given parliament isn’t back in session until mid-February.

Deputy leader Paula Bennett has been put on drug policy duties, with a new position created specifically for the senior MP. Newshub’s journalists Anna Bracewell-Worrall and Jenna Lynch report that it shows National believe it will be an important field over the next two years, with a referendum on legalising cannabis coming along with the 2020 election. Paula Bennett says the current government’s approach has been “confused, contradictory and ad hoc,” and that National would take a more measured approach, but also issued a series of warnings against cannabis.

The approach showed the party believes there is good political mileage to be made out of drug fears. They’re almost certainly correct for more conservative swathes of the electorate. It’s also a chance to pick the turf for a fight, as was shown when Green Party drug reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick immediately tweeted a challenge to debate the issue – saying Paula Bennett was “promising ‘evidence based’ advocacy whilst arguing against Govt’s work to do just that.” Writing on The Spinoff, drug policy expert Russell Brown says Ms Bennett’s track record indicates National may have decided to become much more combative on the issue.      

Simon Bridges also had a strongly populist moment in his first appearance of the year on the AM Show this week. He said a rise in those on the jobseeker support benefit showed benefit sanctions needed to be made harsher. Changing the culture of Work and Income away from punitive actions has been a key area of government rhetoric over their tenure, so the call from Mr Bridges represents an attack on what they say they’re trying to do.

Both positions also represent something of a wedge for the coalition government. On both drug reform and welfare culture reform, the Green Party is far more keen to move boldly than New Zealand First, who are by nature conservative on both. Putting pressure on these hinges is likely to continue to be a sound political strategy for National.

The NZ Herald has details of the rest of the reshuffle, which includes new roles for Amy Adams, Shane Reti, Dr Nick Smith and soon-to-be MP Agnes Loheni. A potentially key appointment is rising heavyweight Mark Mitchell being put into the Pike River recovery role. Mr Mitchell was one of the main MPs who made immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway’s year finish on such a sour note, by pursuing the Karel Sroubek affair. The Pike River recovery process will be drawn out, technical, and there may be some no-win decisions along the way, so to have Mr Mitchell in there could make life difficult for the government.

Of course, this being New Zealand, there’s still a bit of room for constructiveness in politics. So it was with Amy Adams, who has been appointed National’s shadow Attorney-General. She tweeted about looking forward to working constructively with AG David Parker, who sent back congratulations of his own.


A judge has ruled in favour of a union over the right to insult businesses they’re taking industrial action against, reports Stuff. While protesting against Pak’n’Save, FIRST Union waved a giant inflatable rat around, and carried a banner referring to ‘Pak’n’Slave’. The supermarket argued that breached good faith agreements, but a judge disagreed, saying the concept doesn’t require bargaining sides to be polite with each other. An interesting detail about this whole story – FIRST Union actually borrowed the rat from Unite Union, though FIRST do own an inflatable pig.


An investigation continues into the hack of a Christchurch-based cryptocurrency exchange, with fears mounting more may have been taken, reports the NBR (paywalled.) Users of Cryptopia are still in the dark about what went wrong, and how much those out of pocket will be entitled to claim back. The total value of assets stolen appears to be around $24 million NZD.


China slowing down could pose a bigger risk to New Zealand’s economy than if the USA has a downturn, leading economist Shamubeel Eaqub is warning. One News has reported his comments, in which he outlines a clear slip being seen in Chinese economic growth. Mr Eaqub says New Zealand came through the last global financial crisis more easily because trade with China remained strong, but if those conditions change the next one could be much worse.


Various Ngāpuhi hapu are threatening a major hikoi over Treaty settlement grievances, reports Māori TV. It relates to a vote by a majority of hapu against the evolved settlement mandate, and has been discussed by hundreds of people in Kaikohe. A warning was also issued to Labour, that Ngāpuhi voted the party into power, and could vote them back out again too.


A suicide prevention group is furious a woman was able to attempt jumping from a bridge twice in two hours, reports the NZ Herald. The Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust say they intend to lay a complaint with the police, after the woman was rapidly released from Hillmorton Hospital in Christchurch. They say a suicidal person should never be left on their own.


What makes for a successful social influencer? The Spinoff reports on surprising new findings from a study into the industry, which show that some of those with the highest profile actually don’t have particularly good reach. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a new niche of the advertising business, and one in which value is still often misunderstood.


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.


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The Project and Seven Sharp returned last night – but how do they fare in 2019?

Right now on The Spinoff: Gina Masterton writes about women who come to New Zealand fleeing abuse, but then find themselves facing ‘abduction’ charges in Australia. Sam Brooks watched and reviewed both of the returning 7pm shows – The Project and Seven Sharp. And Don Rowe reviews Ruatoria Pies, and honestly I don’t know if I’ve ever read him be so enthusiastic about anything.


We had a story about the difficulties of making life in Twizel work in Monday’s Bulletin, and I thought this would work as a good counterpoint. It’s from Crux, and is about people who are giving Wanaka a go, where a lot of the problems are reasonably similar. There are difficulties finding jobs and housing, and a high cost of living, balanced against the lure of an attractive lifestyle. Here’s an excerpt:

When it came to finding somewhere to live, Kit again tells me he was one of the lucky ones, finding a room with reasonable rent after a month. He assures me this isn’t the norm. “I’ve had friends homeless for months while they try and find a flat, staying on my couch, living in the backs of their cars. There are so many young families moving down now too, and if a homeowner is going to choose between them and four 26-year-olds, they’ll always pick the family.”

According to Naomi Lindsay, Executive Officer at the Wanaka Chamber of Commerce, there are a multitude of reasons behind the rental crisis. As locals will be well aware, she says close to 40% of homes in Wanaka sit unoccupied most of the year, used only in peak seasons. “This, combined with the rise of Airbnb, and the fact that there is simply not enough housing, are all to blame for the situation,” she says. Naomi is optimistic, though. “I might be being naive, but I just don’t think we’ve got the problem Queenstown does. Wanaka is a different type of town, and it attracts a different type of person, one that’s very interested in the local community and who is looking to stay for a while.”


Secondary school rugby playing numbers are down, and it has been linked to how a few schools are ruthlessly recruiting the best, reports Radio NZ. St Kents hit the headlines last year when every other school in their competition decided to stop playing them, over allegations that their poaching of players was out of control. The report found that creating an un-level playing field created uneven competitions, leading to many young people to simply walk away. After all, it’s no fun losing by 100 every week.

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And a tidy set of awards for some Black Caps batsmen. Stuff reports that three of them – Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls and Kane Williamson, have been named in the ICC Test XI for the year. Ross Taylor was also picked in the ICC ODI XI. And there was some recognition for how the team plays as well, with Kane Williamson being given the Spirit of Cricket award on behalf of the team. The series against India gets underway today in Napier.


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