An offshore drilling platform (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Disentangling from oil industry subsidies

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Tax break for oil rigs raises subsidy questions, crackdown by police against Ihumātao occupation, and Boris Johnson set to become UK PM.

A story about tax breaks for oil rigs has shown how difficult disentangling from the fossil fuels industry will be. Writing on Stuff, Henry Cooke has reported on the extension of an income tax exemption for oil rigs, out to 2024. It came despite the government leading global calls to stop subsidising the oil industry, as a mechanism to effectively divest public money from fossil fuels. Analysis from The Atlantic has found that worldwide, the oil industry is heavily subsidised – depending on your working definition to the tune of either hundreds of billions, or trillions of dollars every year.

However, the government has defended the decision, by saying it was necessary to get exploration companies to pay other taxes. Energy minister Megan Woods says overall, the exemption will make the government money, rather than cost it anything. That is an argument regularly used by lobby group PEPANZ, who have consistently said that there are no direct subsidies for the industry, and that overall it is a “major net contributor.” Whether or not fossil fuels are subsidised in New Zealand is a matter of conjecture over and above this particular exemption – this report from Stuff in 2017 outlined research which argued that there were no subsidies only if the narrowest possible definition was used, of effectively direct cash transfers to the industry.

And this is where it gets messy, according to Greenpeace’s Russel Norman. Because regardless of the economic impact, the climate impact of burning even the existing reserves of fossil fuels will be catastrophic, over and above any new exploration. He says it is clear from cabinet papers that the exemption has resulted in rigs staying in New Zealand waters longer to look for oil, so is clearly a subsidy.

Meanwhile, two Greenpeace activists have been arrested after spending yesterday climbing Wellington’s tallest building, reports Radio NZ. Oil company OMV, who are currently undertaking offshore exploration work, have their offices on the 20th floor of the Majestic Centre. While they were up there, the activists unveiled a banner saying “it’s a climate emergency” – language that is currently being considered by the government for a declaration. While the government has a significant work programme on climate change underway, including a conditional ban on future exploration permits, is any new oil drilling compatible with the declaration of an emergency?


Three people have been arrested amid a police crackdown against the occupation of Ihumātao by protesters. The land has been earmarked for development by Fletchers, but many months of occupation have prevented it from taking place. Reporting for The Spinoff, Don Rowe was there to see the evictions take place, and found a strong sense among the protesters that they did not think the battle was over. The standoff is expected to continue today.


Congratulations to Boris Johnson, who has just been voted in as the new UK Tory leader, and will thus become Britain’s next prime minister. And after reading this piece from Toby Manhire on The Spinoff, can I also just say, my commiserations with Britain on being about to have Boris Johnson as the next prime minister. Johnson won 66% of the vote against his rival Jeremy Hunt, out of the voting constituency of around 160,000 Conservative Party members.


A domestic violence victim had her privacy and safety compromised by Oranga Tamariki twice, reports Bonnie Sumner for Newsroom. The woman has had to find a new place to live, out of fear of her abusive ex-husband. And she has to continue looking over her shoulder as a result of it. Oranga Tamariki say they have apologised, contacted the Privacy Commissioner and are investigating how it happened. Meanwhile the NZ Herald reports another privacy blunder this morning, in which the names and details on 500 people who were state wards as kids were left totally open at Archives NZ.


The Greens have pulled an attack ad against National leader Simon Bridges and his party’s electric vehicle policies, reports Stuff. In it, a voiceover imitated Bridges’ accent – many took that as mockery of his accent itself. Green co-leader James Shaw, who was named in an authorisation statement on the ad, said it was an attempt at satire. There’s a video in the Stuff article, if you’re keen to have a watch – you may be better at spotting comedy than I am and find something in it that’s funny.


A departing and disillusioned Masterton District Councillor is warning new candidates about what they’ll face. Speaking to the Wairarapa Times-Age, John Dalziell says it’s a frustrating job, beset by poor processes and missed opportunities, with councillors themselves overworked. He also warned Councils were slowly being downgraded in power at the expense of central government.


Treasury has given advice to the government in the event of an economic crash. Stuff has reported on the suggestions, which argue in favour of a spending stimulus and tax cuts. The delivery of that stimulus would be through direct cash payments to people, and large scale infrastructure projects. The advice reflects the fact that the Reserve Bank will have little room to move with interest rates in any foreseeable future, meaning the government would have to use other tools.


Two excellent comment pieces about mayoral races to share: The first comes from the NZ Herald’s Georgina Campbell, who has been following the campaign of Conor Hill in Wellington. Who, you might ask? Well, at this stage he’s the only declared candidate running against incumbent Justin Lester, and is starting to make waves as a result. It’s also an insight into the Lester campaign, which is expected to kick up into a higher gear in the coming weeks.

The second piece is from Stuff’s Todd Niall, who has covered more than his fair share of Auckland elections. He went along to a major congestion and infrastructure debate between the three leading candidates – Mayor Phil Goff, John Tamihere and John Palino – and found to his surprise that the most memorable line of the night came from Palino, the candidate given by many the lowest chance of success.


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Main photo: RNZ/ Anneke Smith

Right now on The Spinoff: Danyl Mclauchlan writes about the message of Thomas Piketty’s seminal work Capital in the 21st Century, which has just been made into a documentary. Maria Slade assesses new findings on which charities New Zealanders give money to. Tze Ming Mok discusses why New Zealand’s approach to hate crime is utterly useless, after a man was sentenced for a horrific attack against a NZ Chinese family. And Lucy Zee writes about having a blast at Auckland Zinefest.


Quite a bit of reaction to my question yesterday around politicians, social media, and the line between criticism and abuse. I’m happy to say most of you think I’m wrong, and that I’m not giving politicians enough credit for what they have to put up with. Annie in particular, one of my most regular correspondents, went straight to the point, saying “I’m surprised at you. There is never, ever any excuse for bad manners, least of all in public discussions.” Sorry Annie.

Joe and Rebekah both made the point that some politicians get it much worse than others, citing MP Golriz Ghahraman as an example. She has previously spoken to The Spinoff about the “barrage of hate” she gets. I think it’s fair to say regardless of your views on her politics, she gets a disproportionate amount of social media abuse, and at least some of that is because of bigotry among some of those hurling the abuse.

Ryan from Rotorua added to this point, but said there was more to it. He noted that councillors in his city are often subjected to “personal and dog whistle racist slurs and other nasty unfounded claims.” But he also said that some candidates and councillors really do complain too readily – citing the mayoral candidate who wanted a parody facebook page shut down despite it only having one like at the time.

Elizabeth works with elected officials, and believes “social media is a great way for their constituents to hold them to account for the decisions they make on their behalf, and also their conduct when they’re representing them.” But she says she’s also seen it swing far too far, even into the territory of death threats. And Jacquetta alleged that in previous elections, it may well be that some of the personal attacks were actually coming from other candidates, but through third parties like blogs.

Finally Daniel, who intends to one day run for office, made a really interesting point around the distinction at all between politicians and the public. He said “labelling people as ‘politicians’ almost dehumanises them, classifies them as public property, and makes them fair game. How about we think of them as our democratically elected representatives, our neighbours, our fellow citizens, as opposed to politicians?”


Football player Cristiano Ronaldo will not face trial over sexual assault allegations. The possibility of charges had been raised in the course of an investigation into a 2009 incident, in which a woman alleged he raped her. This piece by Brenda Elsey and Jennifer Doyle on Vice outline how the story unfolded within a wider web of protection from wider footballing and commercial structures around Ronaldo. The charges were dropped because prosecutors were not confident of a verdict of guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

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Finally, as the Silver Ferns arrive home, sponsor ANZ has agreed to chuck in for some prizemoney, reports the NZ Herald. It’s not clear how much it’ll be, but either way is sure to be a nice bonus for the world champions.


From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.


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