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The BulletinOctober 23, 2018

The Bulletin: Battling bus drivers start strike

Photo by EyesWideOpen/Getty Images
Photo by EyesWideOpen/Getty Images

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Bus strikes begin in Auckland and Hamilton, secret party donations stay in the spotlight, and backlog of sex assault cases unassigned by police is rising.

In transport news, the week is likely to be dominated by bus driver strikes. Some bus services in Auckland and Hamilton might not be running today, reports the NZ Herald, with drivers on strike. If you’re on a route serviced by Ritchies Murphy or Pavlovich buses, that could be you. About 100 drivers will be on strike in each city. Auckland Transport has released a list of routes that will be affected.

FIRST Union, who represents some of the drivers, are calling for an industry and country-wide fair pay agreement. They absolutely hate the current way contracts to bus companies are awarded, called the Public Transport Operating Model, because they say it forces companies making bids to cut wages and conditions in order to be successful. Incidentally, the minister of transport Phil Twyford made this exact same point back in November last year. FIRST also released some statistics about the rugged split shifts some drivers are doing – some drivers are being forced to be away from home for up to 14 hours a day.

The bus companies have hit back at this, saying the union is lying, reports Newshub. Ritchies’ Transport director Andrew Ritchie said he was baffled by the strike, along with saying that it represents a risk to public health and safety. “I’m actually to the point where I think we might be better to lock them out and reduce the risk back to the public,” he told Newshub, without explaining what he meant by lockout. FIRST Union pointed out that given bargaining has been going on for two years, it’s tricky to see how Mr Ritchie can claim to not know why strikes are happening.

Meanwhile in Wellington, the planned bus strike for today will now start on Thursday, reports Radio NZ. Wellington bus drivers are heavily unionised as part of the Tramways Union, and there are threats to make this an ‘indefinite strike’ – that is, it’ll go on until one side has had enough. There’ll be more on this one later in the week.

The subject of political donations was a big one over the weekend for obvious reasons, and is worth revisiting. On Q+A, foreign policy academic Anne-Marie Brady said NZ needed to become more aware of how individuals with connections to the Chinese Communist Party might try and influence NZ politics, a point also made brilliantly by Tze Ming-Mok in the NZ Herald.

On the China stuff, a few important points need to be made here: Firstly, Yikun Zhang, who was named as the original donor to National by Jami-Lee Ross, denies that he made or facilitated the donation. Secondly, there’s no suggestion Mr Zhang has done anything wrong, though like a surprising number of people in NZ politics, he does have links to organisations which themselves have links to the CCP – detailed by Branko Marcetic on The Spinoff. Thirdly, the Chinese government themselves have a stated policy of non-interference in the affairs of other nations, which they have reiterated when asked about the events of the last week. And lastly, there’s a difference between the Chinese government, and people with Chinese heritage, and we shouldn’t forget that.

Let’s recall what the original released recording between Mr Ross and National leader Simon Bridges discussed – it was noted as no strings chat, but the conversation flowed straight from the alleged donation, to Mr Zhang’s interest in a friend and employee of his becoming a National candidate. NZ First leader Winston Peters, himself no stranger to donation scandals, said that it exposed a “cash for candidates” policy, reports Radio NZ – National of course denies that.

A reminder though – it’s really easy to make secret donations to political parties in NZ. There are a few reasons why that could be considered a good thing, but it also raises serious concerns around transparency, detailed here for The Spinoff by Leroy Beckett. The Greens want to make changes there, reports the NZ Herald, including much stricter caps on how much can be donated (and how much can be donated anonymously) as well as more public funding for political parties.

Politically, it’s an absolute non-starter – NZ First has no interest in pursuing it whatsoever, and the two major parties would likely baulk at being framed as the party asking the public to pay more for their election campaigns. But they are interesting issues to discuss, because if the events have shown anything, it’s not that dodgy donations have been made (that remains unproven) but that they could be made quite simply.

Police are under pressure to explain why the number of unassigned sex assault cases are rising, reports the NZ Herald. There’s a rapidly growing backlog too of cases that haven’t been assigned, but at the same time, reporting rates are unchanged. One criminologist said the likely reason for this was two-fold: both that police were under-resourced in this area, but also that they were taking complaints more seriously and thus spending more time on each one.

MP Jami-Lee Ross has been taken into a mental health facility by police, reports Newstalk ZB. They report a source close to Mr Ross who said he had been ‘sectioned’ – placed in care against his will. This morning, Radio NZ reported that parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard was seeking advice on the situation. For now, I’m not going to be linking to stuff that gets into the politics of this, because we simply don’t know enough information over and above these facts. We’ve republished a statement which includes some advice from the Mental Health Foundation on the matter.

But in legal terms as to what this means for his seat in Parliament, law professor Andrew Geddis has a very useful explanation on Pundit. It was written to cover the circumstances in which the waka-jumping bill might be invoked, but then updated for recent developments.

Campaigners have hit out against the new pay equity bill introduced by the government, reports Radio NZ. Spokesperson Prue Hyman said the bill contained the same “snakes and ladders” as previous efforts, and would allow employers to drag out negotiations for years. Minister for Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has rejected the criticism.

A concerning proportion of Auckland hospital facilities have gone beyond their life expectancy, or are just generally not fit for purpose, reports the NZ Herald. The story, which is on the front page of today’s paper, says a fifth of facilities aren’t up to scratch, and that includes Starship Children’s Hospital. That’s amid an expected boom in the number of people requiring medical care in the region, and already stretched services.

A virus that is hitting potato growers cannot be eradicated, reports Radio NZ. The potato ‘mop top’ virus is not a health hazard, but does reduce the yields growers can get out of their crop. Biosecurity NZ says they’re shifting their strategy from eradication of the virus to management and containment.

From our partners, World Energy Day has put a spotlight on New Zealand’s sluggish progress towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Vector’s Beth Johnson explains why the time is right to accelerate.

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What is the environmental cost of the tech revolution?

Right now on The Spinoff: Alice Neville profiles five women who are making a splash on the beer brewing scene. Madeleine Chapman tried out one of those new Lime e-Scooters that are around Auckland and wasn’t particularly impressed. I spoke to a scientist who is grappling with a looming environmental issue for a digitised world – the astonishing amount of energy computers are now using. And Duncan Greive writes about what it means as a publisher to know that facebook has duped the media organisations of the world with their fake video stats – this is a must read for everyone in the industry.

How much do we really know about our meat? Extremely little, I’d wager, unless you’re one of those types that goes out in the bush and shoots a wild pig. But what about chicken? That most easily accessible of meat, which NZers consume more of than any other animal. But what is chicken farming actually like? Stuff has looked into it, and it’s not necessarily a pretty picture, even if the industry asserts that animal welfare in NZ is better than almost anywhere else in the world. Here’s an excerpt:

Between 8200-8700 18-week old chicks are delivered to the farm’s four big sheds. They spend six-to-eight weeks indoors, never seeing the “external environment”, before those that have survived “thinning” or being culled are transported on for further “ongrowing”.

But roosters are mass culled at this farm, the report says, with 5-6 workers undertaking to dislocate the necks of the roosters using a u-shapped “culling frame”.

“The bird is then put into the trailer next to the frame before being emptied into the skipbin positioned in the alleyway between the two sheds.”

And at slaughtering time, broilers are shackled by their feet, hung from a conveyor belt, and dipped into an electrified bath known as “the stunner.” They then have their throats cut automatically, although people are always present to ensure that if any have missed having their throat cut, it will be cut.

One of New Zealand’s most celebrated test cricket wins is under suspicion of spot-fixing, but it doesn’t appear any Black Caps have been accused. The 2011 triumph over Australia in Hobart is one of the games named in the latest al-Jazeera investigation, but the publication hasn’t suggested NZ cricketers were the fixers. NZ Cricket has described them as “unsubstantiated allegations,” reports Stuff, and has asked the broadcaster to share evidence.

2018 has been a great year for running joke NZ clubs in Australian leagues, with the Wellington Phoenix joining the Warriors in winning their first match of the season. The Nix held off the Newcastle Jets 2-1, to record the first win of new manager Mark Rudan’s tenure, and it’s the first time the team has opened the season with a win since 2012 (they finished 10th that season) Before the game, Stuff’s Andrew Voerman analysed the team’s chances of success, and found that while on paper the squad is incredibly weak and lacking in attacking bite, there does at least appear to be belief and long term commitment to work with. It should be a fascinating season.

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