Phil Twyford in campaigning mode. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Phil Twyford in campaigning mode. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The BulletinJanuary 24, 2019

The Bulletin: Kiwibuild set to fail at first hurdle

Phil Twyford in campaigning mode. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Phil Twyford in campaigning mode. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Dramatic climbdown on a key Kiwibuild target, future of New Zealand’s energy supply in focus, and hundreds of teacher vacancies remain.

The government’s flagship Kiwibuild policy is set to fall seriously short of the first real target it has had to meet. Housing minister Phil Twyford has admitted to Stuff that the target of 1000 houses built will not be met, and the new target is more like 300. Earlier in the day during questioning on Radio NZ, an unusually subdued Mr Twyford conceded that the first target would be hard to hit, before setting out the new target in the afternoon.

A reminder – the total number of Kiwibuild houses is meant to be 100,000 over ten years. That doesn’t mean that 10,000 needed to be built every year – rather, it was always intended to start slowly and then ramp up. But Mr Twyford says it has been unexpectedly challenging, and he’s disappointed with just how slowly it has gone. So far, 33 houses have been built.

This is political gold for the National party, who have long derided the Kiwibuild policy – after all, it was first put out in opposition to their government. Last year Simon Bridges said because the policy would involve buying houses off developers, it was effectively ‘Kiwifraud’ – here’s a report on that from SunLive. He’s updated his criticism though – now it’s ‘Kiwiflop’.

There’s more turmoil within the Kiwibuild programme, with the recent resignation of the head of the programme Stephen Barclay. Interest reports that it is being treated as an employment matter, and that the resignation took effect immediately. He was in the role for less than eight months.

In another alarming angle, Newshub reports Kiwibuild homes may not even end up in the hands of first-home buyers. In some developments that have been released to date, there just hasn’t really been much interest, and a few of the houses haven’t yet sold. If they don’t, they’ll be put onto the open market.

And what of Mr Twyford himself? Political sackings are weird in this way. The reason given for Clare Curran getting the boot was that she made a few administrative errors in her record keeping. This failure is vastly more serious, both in political perception terms, and in terms of how much of a real world impact it has. Perhaps a more fitting punishment for Mr Twyford, after presiding over a horrendous botch of one of the government’s most important policies, would be that he has no choice but to continue. Then again, there’s a cabinet reshuffle expected early this year, so someone else might find themselves with the nightmare job of fixing this.

The future of New Zealand’s energy supply is in focus in this well balanced story from InterestBecause of gas and hydro shortages, Genesis Energy’s use of coal recently hit a 5 year high. That has led industry group PEPANZ to attack the government’s oil and gas exploration ban as short-sighted, if it ends up resulting in more coal being burned instead. But Greenpeace are also quoted, arguing that New Zealand’s potential solar capacity is wildly under-utilised.

There are still hundreds of vacancies at schools around the country, with term 1 set to start next week, reports One News. Teachers recruited from overseas have filled some roles, but there is still a shortfall of about 600 unfilled places. It will likely be a talking point if industrial action gets underway again this year, as having a shortage of teachers increases the workload on the rest of them.

Chinese technology company Huawei is going flat out trying to find a way back into the GCSB’s good books, reports Stuff. They’ve been locked out of providing kit for the 5G rollout, on the grounds of fears that they may be forced to participate in espionage against New Zealand if directed to by the Chinese government. Among Huawei’s offer is to fund a testing lab for equipment, which would then be overseen by the GCSB itself. They’re also dangling the possibility of ending their sponsorship of the Wellington Phoenix football team, ironically at a time when the team is actually winning for once.

Yesterday there was a note about Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick challenging National’s Paula Bennett to a drug policy debate. Well, it happened pretty much straight away. TVNZ’s Breakfast had them both on at the same time, and weirdly for television, it actually came across as something of a contest of ideas, rather than just a slanging match. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who you reckon won.

Political leaders will be at Rātana today, to mark the birthday of church founder Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana. Radio NZ reports the government will be represented by deputy PM Winston Peters, with National leader Simon Bridges speaking later in the day. This is a good Māori TV piece from a few years ago that explains a bit of the background of why the annual Rātana political pilgrimage still takes place today.

The journalistic world is mourning the death of Rob Hosking, long-time reporter and columnist for the NBR. Writing on The Spinoff, his friend and colleague David Cohen described him as “polite, considered and punctilious, supremely uncomplaining, too, the product of what appeared to be a happy rural background.” New Zealand’s public life is poorer for not having Rob Hosking contributing to it.

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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Allan ‘Alfie’ Langer pauses mid-over to drink a jug of beer during the Allan Border testimonial in 1993

Right now on The Spinoff: Madeleine Holden writes about the need to go way beyond small reforms in the justice system, after a woman was forced to pay compensation to her abuser. NIWA scientists write a warning about the effect warming seas will have. Former Green leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has a thoughtful take on the political management of carbon pricing and taxes. And Calum Henderson looks back fondly on the novelty cricket of yesteryear, ahead of the weird Rugby vs Cricket game coming up this week.

I don’t spend remotely as much time thinking about the Chatham Islands as I should, but reading this feature is likely to change all of that. It’s by Stuff’s Tony Wall, and it’s a deep dive into how the history of the Moriori people plays out in battles today. It’s not just that the characters in the story are richly drawn – it almost feels like the island itself is a character with relevance to the story. Here’s an excerpt:

Cracknell says all the feuding takes its toll.

“This island does your head in, you’ve got to get off it from time to time. Then New Zealand goes to your head so you’ve got to get back here.”

Prater, too, says people need to get off Rekohu every six months or so.

“There is a sense of evil on the island. I think it impregnates people. If you look back at what happened to the Morioris – they were slaughtered, raped, enslaved from 1835 to 1865 – if you have any belief in spiritualism, it may be a bit far fetched, but I believe there’s a lot there.”

Serena Williams has lost in a dreadful collapse at the Australian Open. The tournament favourite was up 5-1 in the third set against Karolina Pliskova, before an ankle injury started giving her trouble. Fox Sports reports that Williams has kept it classy, saying her Czech opponent lifted her game and deserved her comeback win.

There’s some serious drama going on in the world of competitive mini-golf. Stuff reports the national federation has booted out star putter Bobby Hart, because he threatened an opponent by saying he’d “wrap my putter around your head”. The incident took place at a tournament in Otorohanga. Mr Hart has also had his records removed from his home course leaderboard in Ohehunga, over fears they may have been unsubstantiated.

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