Finance minister Grant Robertson (Radio NZ: Rebekah Parsons-King)
Finance minister Grant Robertson (Radio NZ: Rebekah Parsons-King)

The BulletinJuly 24, 2018

The Bulletin: Will government loosen fiscal straitjacket?

Finance minister Grant Robertson (Radio NZ: Rebekah Parsons-King)
Finance minister Grant Robertson (Radio NZ: Rebekah Parsons-King)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Budget Responsibility Rules get another nudge, Auckland politicos eye up 2019, and The Warehouse cuts more than 100 jobs.  

Here’s a turn up for the books – now two government support party leaders have indicated that the so-called budget responsibility rules could be loosened before the next election. Interest reports that acting PM Winston Peters has hinted that they could be looked at – comments that echoed what Green co-leader James Shaw said back in April. The budget responsibility rules require core Crown spending to be kept at 30% of GDP.

It all follows plenty of calls for loosening from organisations more on the economic left, such as Auckland Action Against Poverty and the Salvation Army, reported by Radio NZ. AAAP in particular has called for huge increases in spending, saying the cap could be doubled, or simply “based on what society actually needs.” And since taking office, the government has taken great pains to point out every infrastructure problem they inherited, not to mention the continuing wrangles over how much they’ll end up spending on nurses and teachers.

Of course, one reason the Budget Responsibility Rules were set in the first place in early 2017 was so that Grant Robertson could look like a finance minister in waiting, particularly to business interests. And as National leader Simon Bridges made extremely clear on Radio NZ, his party would oppose any lifting of spending restraints. But business confidence is in the pits anyway, so it’s not entirely clear there would be any more noticeable business backlash were the rules to now be ripped up.

Auckland politicos are already looking towards the 2019 mayoral election, and Stuff is reporting that there’s division on the right over how to stand a candidate. In particular the sticking point will be whether or not the National Party would consider running a candidate under the own brand. Phil Goff, despite being a former Labour MP, technically isn’t a Labour mayor – it’s not the done thing in local body politics to be party affiliated. And whatever the Auckland right decides will be interesting, in part because it’s almost impossible that they’ll do any worse than in 2016 – a point made in this acidic Matthew Hooton column from the Metro archives.    

Speaking of Goff, the City Rail Link could be built with bigger capacity now if he gets his way, reports Radio NZ. That would involve widening a tunnel, and extending two platforms, at a cost of about $100 million, but Mr Goff says the work will need to be done sooner or later, so it may as well be sooner. Here’s a useful Greater Auckland post that dives deep into the details.

About 140 full time jobs at The Warehouse are going amid a wider staffing restructure, reports Stuff. There will also be changes to conditions for staff, who will now all be required to work weekend and evening shifts. First Union, who represent some of the staff, says there has been widespread confusion around the changes.

A brief reminder about a Warehouse workplace story from last year, for an indication as to why the union will be so furious about these job cuts. This is from when they were offering unemployed youngsters places in an MSD work experience scheme. I’ll quote some pertinent lines here:

“The scheme allows any retailer to offer work experience to unemployed candidates in return for “an extra pair of hands” for up to a month.

Retailers do not have to pay wages, offer permanent work, pay ACC levies or employ trainees at the end of the work experience period.”

There’s been some big movement in the numbers of New Zealanders who support cannabis law reform, reports the NZ Herald. Polling on a range of potential aspects of law reform shows all are up – and there’s near universal support for cannabis to be available for medicinal reasons, and for the terminally ill. Given there’s almost never universal support on anything in politics, such numbers are remarkable – and it’s arguably equally remarkable that politicians have been so slow to act on what is clearly a wildly popular position.

This is a strong piece of work from Stuff, who in the leadup to Auckland’s homeless census went looking for people to talk to about their experiences of living on the streets. It’s a very humane and humanising piece of work, which is a necessary balance to the raw numbers that will be counted up in the census.

Student stress is being discussed as a factor in the decline in support for the NCEA exam system, reports Stuff. Kids say they feel worn out before they even make it to levels two and three, and are losing motivation to continue. And I want to get some discussion going on this from parents, teachers, and current or recent high school students. Is it the examination system that’s the problem? Because I remember distinctly losing motivation to do any work around level two and three of NCEA, but it wasn’t anything to do with the exam system, it was more likely because of the hormones. Email me –

Here’s a provocative but interesting column from the NZ Herald’s Liam Dann, who writes with concern about New Zealand’s slide down the Global Innovation Index rankings. Some of these sorts of surveys are rubbish, but Dann argues this is a real one to watch, and New Zealand’s drop from 13th in 2012, to 22nd this year, is cause for alarm. The percentage of exports being in the high-tech sector has dropped, but that is in part due to New Zealand’s economic growth this decade being driven by “immigration, house-price growth, tourism and dairy.”

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Right now on The Spinoff: Emily Writes takes to task the neanderthals who still say ‘hardening up’ is a solution to a mental health crisis. Hayden Donnell pays tribute to New Zealand’s worst gig – singing for a supper on the Interislander ferry (I don’t think it comes with a supper actually) And James Dann meets the ‘Carrot Crusader,” a Christchurch chef making revolutionary food that just happens to all be plant based.

This is one of the most profoundly interesting and disturbing pieces I’ve read this year. It was published a few weeks ago on Medium by technology writer Douglas Rushkoff, who was invited to present a talk on ‘the future of technology’ to a select group of the ultra-wealthy. But his audience was only really interested in one thing – how they personally would survive if there was to be some sort of societal or environmental collapse. And what’s completely chilling about it is that the audience seemed to have no interest in doing anything to avert said collapse. Here’s an excerpt:

“When the hedge funders asked me the best way to maintain authority over their security forces after “the event,” I suggested that their best bet would be to treat those people really well, right now. They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family. And the more they can expand this ethos of inclusivity to the rest of their business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution, the less chance there will be of an “event” in the first place. All this technological wizardry could be applied toward less romantic but entirely more collective interests right now.

They were amused by my optimism, but they didn’t really buy it.”

This is particularly relevant to us in New Zealand, because it’s one of the parts of the world considered to have a better chance of riding out any storm. This story from the Guardian made that clear – bouncing as it did off some brilliant reporting from the NZ Herald’s Matt Nippert, about tech-billionaire Peter Thiel buying a Queenstown bolt-hole with a panic room, to go with his NZ citizenship.

The All Blacks Sevens have also triumphed in San Francisco, meaning it is two from two for New Zealand at the World Cup after the Black Ferns Sevens also won. It was a comfortable win for the men in the end, running away with the final late against England for a 33-12 scoreline. And it also led to this bizarre and hilarious photo of triumph, so that’s good.

And speaking of Sevens, NZ Rugby is launching a talent spotting event specifically aimed at bringing athletes from other codes into the game, reports Stuff. They’ll be taking a shade under 100 athletes under the age of 20 to a four day camp, at which they’ll play a tournament and be tested in a range of areas. The idea seems similar to what a lot of professional sports base their talent-spotting on now – you can teach skills, but you can’t really teach the physical attributes needed to be an elite athlete.

From our partners, Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha writes that while making and selling electricity from the comfort of home might sound like some dodgy online scam, it’s not as far-fetched as you might think.

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