A child with an intellectual disability playing with some blocks (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: More emerges on rumoured disability sector squeeze

Good morning, and welcome back to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: More revealed on funding cuts disability advocates say are happening by stealth, dire warnings in environment report, and could National go for Māori seat?

More light has emerged on a rumoured squeeze on funding for the disability sector.It comes from documents revealed to the NZ Herald, where Kirsty Johnston reports disability agencies offered to make big cuts after a $100 million overspend. They were stopped, after a ministerial intervention, but advocates have raised the alarm that they might be happening by stealth anyway – that was reported last month by Isaac Davidson of the NZ Herald. It’s a really important story, because often disability issues can end up being hidden away from the news.

What is the nature of the rumoured squeeze? It’s stuff that takes place around the margins, but cumulatively ends up creating more and more of a hostile environment for people with disabilities and their families. Some of the aspects were for things like helping out around the house, or doing a bit of meal prep. One telling detail was that an agency suggested that such changes would be easier with newer clients, because there wasn’t the pre-existing expectation of support. High-needs cases were all to be reviewed more frequently, with an understanding that some costs could be chipped away at.

For obvious reasons, some advocates are absolutely fuming about what has been revealed. That came out in the later story, but was put in really clear terms by Jai Breitnauer on The Spinoff earlier in the month. She has a child has an ASD – an autism spectrum disorder – and says her family is one of many who every day are “let down by a system they are powerless to change.” Of course, the needs her family has will be different to others talked about in the stories above, but that’s sort of the point as well – families who are caring for a member who is disabled will almost always have basically unique needs.

There has been a range of reaction from other sector groups with interests in the matter. The PSA says it’s a disturbing sign that the sector as a whole has been underfunded for too long, and says if the cuts hadn’t been stopped it would have made the problem worse. IHC says there’s a strong correlation between good support funding and people with disabilities being able to be part of the community. And the Disability Support Network say they’re relieved the cuts aren’t going ahead, and will be looking closely at the upcoming Budget to see what other measures will be taken.


The Environment Aotearoa 2019 report has painted a seriously concerning picture of the state of the country. Radio NZ reports a wide range of indicators show trouble, and human activity is the cause. There’s almost too many different areas to go through, but water use and water quality jump out here – both are resulting in degraded ecosystems. As well as that, cities are spreading, eating into valuable versatile land. It is for those reasons, along with the overarching theme of climate change that hangs over pretty much all environmental concerns now, that has led Professor James Renwick to declare that we’re failing to heed the warnings and take necessary corrective action.


The National Party may stand candidates again in Māori electorates – or at least one candidate in list MP Jo Hayes, reports Stuff. The party hasn’t done so since 2002, and when Don Brash took the leadership – well, it’s hard to justify standing candidates in seats you’re hell-bent on abolishing. National under Key, English and Bridges have all taken a very different approach to Māoridom. Jo Hayes, who could run in Te Tai Hauauru, says the government is failing to target spending towards Māori focused programmes, in favour of universality instead.


The New Zealand government is understood to be playing a leading role in a planned global social media crackdown, reports the NZ Herald on their front page this morning. The aim is to make social media platforms more responsible for the content they host – in other words, treat them like publishers rather than mailboxes. At this stage the PM’s people aren’t talking, but Jacinda Ardern is understood to be at the forefront, and an announcement is expected in the coming weeks.


Religious groups who don’t take money from pokies are facing much more trouble with fundraising, reports Stuff. Muslim groups refuse to take money from community grants, as both gambling and the proceeds of are considered haram – similar to tapu. Pokie machines are highly addictive, and many question whether they in fact do more harm than good. Some Christian groups take pokie money, though others have opted not to.


A really strange court case has been going on over the last few weeks, with a top Defence attache convicted of putting a hidden camera in the Washington embassy bathroom. Alfred Keating was among the highest ranking diplomatic personnel the country had, and now he’s facing a sentence of up to 18 months behind bars. The NZ Herald’s court specialist Sam Hurley has followed the case all the way through, and put together a definitive account of a tremendous fall from grace.


An oil rig has been accused of hiring a crew based out of Europe, at the expense of qualified NZ workers, reports Stuff. It’s a remarkable undercutting of one of the rationales made for why drilling should still take place, if jobs aren’t going to fully contribute to the local economy. The four workers who spoke out did so anonymously to avoid being blacklisted. The Chinese Oil Services owned rig called Prospector will drill off the Taranaki coast.


Treasury have been hosting ‘social labs’ using Heartwork cards to explore concepts around wellbeing. If that reads like an extremely strange sentence, try and imagine how Danyl Mclauchlan felt when we at The Spinoff sent him along to try one of the workshops out. What he came back with is quite the read.


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John Campbell and his new pals (image: TVNZ promo/Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: Honestly, people, there’s so much to get through here, it has been a strong weekend for the website. Bear with me.

We’ll start with politics stuff. Don Rowe has spoken to Peter Meechan, the photographer behind the famous ‘Cunliffe on a log’ pic, about the moment it was taken. Duncan Grieve tears into the political wins of the baby boomer generation, in the wake of the CGT axing. Toby Manhire spent a day fishing with Clarke Gayford, partner to the PM, to talk about his experience of the Ardern premiership. And I spent a morning having coffee with John Palino, the Auckland mayoral candidate who is facing longer and longer odds to win.

There has also been some media stuff: Duncan Grieve (again) looks into the curious call from John Campbell to go and do Breakfast television. The Real Pod take their first look at Dancing with the Stars. Gareth Shute looks back on the seismic impact Bob Marley’s 1979 Western Springs concert had on New Zealand music. And I (again) listened in to the uncharacteristically sentimental last moments of Larry Williams Drive, after the ZB host finished up a 27 year run.

Three other really strong pieces: Margie Askin-Jarden, the deputy principal of a primary school in Christchurch, describes what it was like to look after kids on March 15. Maria Slade details the fight Herne Bay locals are gearing up for over an unwanted beachfront helipad. And to finish, an essay from Catherine Woulfe, who discusses the fear that comes from knowing that things are getting really bad with climate change, but not knowing what to do with that information.


Here’s the question to win a Spinoff pen – email thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nzI’m reading the Rural News (more on that below) in a horticulture-heavy part of the country, a few days before the storm rolled in. If you looked to the right, you’d see an inlet and an island that shares a name with an area synonymous with lifestyle blocks. What’s the nearest town to where this picture was taken, in the direction of the photographer?

The way farmers are dealing with climate change dominates the April 16 edition of the Rural News. It was a complicated picture, with nuances that aren’t always apparent in city-focused media.

The main thing that comes out is that there’s a hierarchy of concerns for farmers, rather than one focus only. Cutting emissions matters, both relative to what it had been before, and on its own terms. Scattered throughout the paper is a marked change of thinking about what is coming, with it suddenly taken seriously as a concern. In many cases, there were calls for more guidance on how to make worthwhile cuts, though the idea of carbon being cut heavily with methane less so was taken on enthusiastically in other articles.

And there was also a sense of grimness in stories about places doing it tougher. On page 20, there’s a story about flood affected farmers saying they’re going to continue using land near the Waiho River in Westland, which seems to be becoming steadily more prone to flooding. Climate change is not mentioned in the story, but the sort of rain that knocked out a bridge there will become more regular.

It’s fundamentally still a paper about the economics of farming, with the editorial arguing those two concerns could be married up. Stories about organisations like Fonterra shifting towards value over volume, and Beef + Lamb NZ taking more note of native vegetation, were presented with an environmental lens.

They also don’t want costs added on, if the page 27 op-ed by National leader Simon Bridges is anything to go by – it doesn’t appear to be online. Before the CGT decision was made, he came out strongly against both that and the potential environmental taxes – “The environmental taxes proposed by the TWG have the potential to force crippling costs on to rural communities.”

In all, it was the sort of read that showed the that people in agriculture keen to do something on climate change. They just don’t want to be the only ones doing something, or the only ones paying. That’s a marked departure from recent decades, and shows there probably is a way forward for environmentally focused policy that aims for worthwhile emissions cuts.


New Zealanders will be sending competitors along to a pair of International Medieval Combat Federation events, reports Radio NZ. It’s a video package and honestly it needs to be seen to be believed, they really are all suited up in armour and smashing each other with swords. One of the events that is being planned is a 150 vs 150 battle – the first time such a thing has been attempted, presumably since medieval times.

And finally, congratulations to cricketers Hayley Jensen and Nicola Hancock on their marriage. Jensen was the subject of an excellent profile by Newsroom’s Suzanne McFadden a while ago. Funnily enough with this couple, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they’ll one day find themselves on opposite sides of an international match.

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From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.


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