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The Bulletin: Food grant stats show poverty is worsening

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Food grant stats show poverty in NZ is getting worse, woman’s benefit wrongly cut off by WINZ over dates, and the budget responsibility rules are set to be bent.

The number of New Zealanders using food grants continues to rise, reports Newshub. Almost 150,000 New Zealanders accessed food grants in the last three months, a sharp rise on previous periods. The grants come in the form of a card loaded with money, which can only be spent on food. Newshub quoted Frederick, an Aucklander in his 60s, about his experience of getting food grants:

“It’s awful having to ask for money. Especially when you know you’re entitled to it but they don’t want to give it. That’s the impression I got.”

The Salvation Army is also speaking out, saying poverty has worsened to levels not seen since the last recession, reports TVNZ. From earlier this month, Stuff reported that charities feel they are doing the work of government when it comes to helping those in need. This quote, from Christchurch City missioner Matthew Mark in December, was revealing:

“I guess the food bank is a really good litmus test for how healthy our community is, and we’re seeing a significant increase there.”


A woman was told by her Work and Income case manager her benefit was being cut off, because she had been on two Tinder dates, reports Radio NZ. The case manager told the solo mother of three that was evidence of a dependent relationship. The decision has since been reversed, with the Ministry of Social Development saying the case manager had been mistaken.

But there’s more to the story – the other reason the benefit was cut was that WINZ had received an unproven allegation against the mother, that she was living with a partner and was working, thus cheating the system. MSD has also admitted the benefit shouldn’t have been suspended on the basis of an allegation alone, reports Radio NZ this morning.

The story shows that forcing cultural change at WINZ away from punitive approaches – something that groups like Auckland Action Against Poverty have long warned about – will not necessarily be easy for the new government. The confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens includes a clause to “overhaul the welfare system, ensure access to entitlements and remove excessive sanctions.”


The much-talked about Budget Responsibility Rules are being bent by transport minister Phil Twyford, but not necessarily broken, reports Newsroom. Twyford is keen to take advantage of Special Purpose Vehicles – effectively a way of borrowing so that it doesn’t get counted as core Crown debt.

Despite heavy criticism from all sorts over the BRRs, finance minister Grant Robertson said about a week ago they would not be broken, reports Interest. Robertson says with the possibility of global instability or trade wars, New Zealand can’t afford to be caught out with high Crown debt. In opposition to that though, ANZ have described the rules as an “arbitrary target,” which is holding New Zealand back from building vital infrastructure – that report also on Interest. And here’s Branko Marcetic laying out a similar case to ANZ on The Spinoff earlier this month, only his critique comes from the left.

In some ways, Grant Robertson can’t possibly win here. Either he’s a profligate spender who digs New Zealand into debt, or he’s stingy and tight-fisted when there are desperate needs to be met. Such is life for a finance minister.


The Greens are going to decide tonight whether or not to stand a candidate in the Northcote by-election, reports the NZ Herald. It’s a tricky call either way, because there are obvious disadvantages with either option. If they don’t stand, they risk looking irrelevant. But if they do stand, they’ll deny Labour’s Shanan Halbert an outside chance of winning the seat, and shifting the balance of Parliament slightly further towards the government. The Herald’s Isaac Davidson understands the local members want to stand a candidate, but it’s been less than a year since a brutal general election for the party, and any election campaign takes up a lot of time, activist energy, and money.


Momentum appears to be gathering for a new stadium in Christchurch, with The Press reporting on their front page today that mayor Lianne Dalziel is keen to speed plans up. The desire for a covered stadium is also increasing among rugby fans, who were hit with massive hailstones at a Crusaders game over the weekend.


Speaking of mayors, Tony Kokshoorn is standing down as Grey District mayor at the local body elections next year, after being in charge since 2004. He’s had his fair share of disasters to deal with in that time, including Pike River, near annual floods and storms, and the slow, grinding economic difficulties faced by the West Coast. The ODT reports Kokshoorn is announcing his intention to stand down now, because after running unopposed for 5 terms, the town will need to put a succession plan in place.


And there’s been another royal baby born. There will be round the clock updates on that, well, pretty much everywhere.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Jihee Junn had a chat with drummer of The Killers Ronnie Vannucci Jr. Alex Casey is getting hyped for the return of The Handmaid’s Tale for a second season. And there’s an interesting and revealing extract from a new book by former All Black Mark ‘Bull’ Allen.


For those who are interested in the state of New Zealand media and journalism, this on Stuff is a worthwhile read. It’s a short piece by Stuff’s editor in chief Patrick Crewdson, outlining the code of ethics all journalists and editors at the company sign up for. One of the thing that makes it most interesting is that he clearly gets that a lot of people feel the site has a, let’s say, dubious reputation, as this excerpt shows:

“I know this post will be bait for readers who want to slate Stuff for spelling and grammatical errors, perceived political bias, so-called clickbait, and all the other accusations routinely levelled at media outlets. That’s not fun for us, but it’s healthy — audience feedback helps keep us honest.”

I happen to think the quality of Stuff (and the NZ Herald, and Newshub, and One News, and Radio NZ, and Newsroom, and the NBR, and Newstalk ZB, and so on and so on) is actually pretty good. And given that I read all of those sites really closely every day, I think it’s fair to say that’s a well-qualified assessment. Good journalists gravitate towards all of those big newsrooms, because they know there will be enough support for them to do important work. Good journalism takes a lot of time, it can take a lot of money, and is never easy to just smash out.

One problem Stuff faces, and probably one that all newsrooms will struggle with in the internet age, is that there’s not necessarily any relationship between high numbers of clicks and quality. The front page of any of those sites will often reflect what’s doing big numbers, rather than showcasing the most important work. To be fair, digital revenue is crucial to these businesses now – without good click stats, they wouldn’t then be able to support good journalism.

Don’t worry though, because that’s what The Bulletin is all about! I’ll keep digging through all of these sites to find the really good pieces of reporting, and the important issues that should be covered. But nobody should be under any illusions here – without big commercial newsrooms like Stuff and the NZ Herald, The Bulletin couldn’t exist either.


In sport, champion para-swimmer Sophie Pascoe will leave New Zealand for training ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, to help build up the mental toughness she needs to win more gold, reports Newsroom‘s Suzanne McFadden. Pascoe – a nine time gold medallist – says she still needs to find an extra one percent, and leaving her comfort zone in around family and friends in Christchurch could help with that.


And from our partners, Vector’s Karl Check analyses Australia’s progress when it comes to shifting away from coal and gas fired power plants and onto renewal energy sources.


That’s it for the The Bulletin. If you liked what you read, and know other people who would find it useful, please forward it on and encourage them to sign up here. Thanks for joining us this morning.


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