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Transport minister Phil Twyford (Getty Images)
Transport minister Phil Twyford (Getty Images)

The BulletinFebruary 25, 2019

The Bulletin: Public health pitch with new rental standards

Transport minister Phil Twyford (Getty Images)
Transport minister Phil Twyford (Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Public health pitch in new rental standards, serious concerns raised about Man Up programme, and National puts out new ideas on the environment. 

A major overhaul in rental standards has been announced, a step towards fulfilling an important campaign promise from the Labour led government. We’ve got a wrap of what the new standards are on The Spinoff, and they’re primarily aimed at houses that are cold and damp, and therefore mouldy.

As will be known to anyone who has lived in a mouldy house, and as our documentary Sick Homes last year showed, the health effects of those conditions can be absolutely dire. It’s not hyperbole either to say that mouldy housing kills people – that’s one of the conclusions from University of Otago research covered by The Spinoff last year. It was estimated in that study that 15 kids die each year, out of 40,000 housing related hospitalisations. There were also around 1600 premature deaths every winter, due to poor quality housing.

That’s one of the main points made by housing minister Phil Twyford in this NZ Herald story. He counts them among the “most important public health changes the Government could make”. And it’s pretty easy to see the potential flow on effects – fewer people having to go to hospital, kids doing better at school because they’re not getting sick, and so on.

In particular, the new standards demand heaters in the living room and extractor fans in kitchens, along with better insulation, guttering and underfloor moisture barriers. By mid-2021 private landlords will have to comply with all the rules (within 90 days of a new tenancy starting) and by mid-2023 all Housing NZ properties will have to as well. The absolute final cut off date for all rentals is mid-2024.

It also follows the passing of the Healthy Homes bill at the end of 2017, so this government can actually claim quite significant progress in the area of renter welfare. The opposition doesn’t support the changes, with National’s Judith Collins saying it could make the housing crisis worse, if it further adds to a rental shortage. Then again, it’s not like a landlord selling up means the house ceases to exist – it may be bought by another investor, or someone who wants to live in it themselves.

Property investors say these costs will likely simply end up being passed on back to tenants, reports Stuff. And it’s true – making these changes will cost landlords – in some instances quite a bit of money. But those arguments sort of ignore the fact that rent for most people is rising anyway, regardless of whether their house is getting any more liveable. The landlord whose house the new standards were launched in says they’ll be “great for the wellbeing of tenants,” and won’t raise rent on hers, but expects others will put prices up.

Finally, the changes will also hit the government’s coffers, as they’ll have to upgrade the Housing NZ stock. Newshub reports that will cost more than $200 million, which Mr Twyford reckons is money well spent. The NZ Green Building Council, also quoted in that story, agree that it needs to be done. But they’re also questioning why the government has given itself an extra two years to make these improvements, and says they’re needed now.

Serious concerns are being raised about what is being taught in the Destiny Church run ‘Man Up’ programme, reports Stuff. The chief concern is that men in it are being taught that their aggression is the fault of the women around them, and become more aggressive as a result. One woman said her now former husband broke her jaw on the day he graduated from the 15 week programme, but later used his Man Up certificate in court as evidence of rehabilitation. A spokesperson for the programme told Stuff they had “no tolerance for any type of violence towards women or children.”

The National Party has released a discussion document outlining new environmental policies they want on the agenda, reports Newshub. They include a container deposit scheme which would pay cash for single use plastic, a new national park around the Catlins, a slow increase in emissions trading scheme standards, subsidies for electric vehicles, and a fund to help councils improve water quality. They’re quite wide ranging, but in fairness, environmental groups who were there at the BlueGreens conference weren’t exactly blown away by the intensity of the proposals.

There’s a really insightful point made by Matthew Hooton in his column in Metro magazine this month (which, btw, great first edition for new editor Henry Oliver.) Hooton argues that the proposed blue-green Sustainable NZ party doesn’t really have a niche, because all parties have to have a commitment to green issues to be credible these days. Clearly, National is aware of this, and Simon Bridges made a turn towards stronger environmental policy a key aspect of his campaign for the leadership. Of course, given the scale of environmental crises currently facing the country and the planet, it’s debatable whether these proposals go far enough.

Congratulations to Ngā Tūmanako from West Auckland on winning Te Matatini, the nationwide kapa haka championships. This report from One News wraps the final day of the event, which even though it was hosing down in Wellington still drew a huge crowd. After the stunning success of this year’s event, the next will be held in Auckland in 2021, and Māori TV reports preparations are already underway.

Tourism industry figures are concerned young people aren’t interested in it as a career, reports the NZ Herald. The industry is booming, and creates huge numbers of jobs, but the perception of those jobs is that they aren’t particularly well paying or satisfying. AUT expert Dr Shelagh Mooney says a major problem with the jobs is that they’re often casual, insecure and poorly paid, so structural changes need to happen. I wonder if one of those structural factors would need to be provision of housing for tourism workers – places like Queenstown with plenty of jobs going also have a cost of living pretty much impossible for someone on a low income to meet.

There’s been a weekend of drama surrounding Lime Scooters on Auckland streets, reports the NZ Herald. The scooter company responded to their suspension by getting users to bombard Auckland Council with emails. But as CR Richard Hills (a supporter of e-scooters generally) pointed out, the suspension was because of a fault in the product, not because of public opposition. The suspension could be lifted any day, depending on whether a safety report is satisfactory.

This article is a few weeks old, but I wanted to share it because protests on the issue are ongoing. It’s from The Listener, and covers off some of the battles currently going on around the Ihumātao land in Auckland – a very old Māori site of cultural significance that is earmarked for a housing development. The article examines what is happening here in the context of what has happened to other sites, and how it is decided how a piece of land should be protected in the first place.

From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.

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Pictured: The reality of Heartbreak Island season 2040.

Right now on The Spinoff: In more serious stuff, Felix Marwick outlines just how dangerous riding a bike in Wellington is, and he has the videos to prove it. Mark Rickerby shares his deep and unsettling research into the future of machine-generated text, and how it could break the internet as we know it. And Alice Neville meets women from migrant and refugee backgrounds who create community by sharing food.

And in less serious stuff: Waveney Russ reviews the massive Six60 concert, wondering how she knew all the songs despite never listening to the band. We Group Think a verdict on the Whittakers gender chocolate. And we talk a lot about climate change in The Bulletin, but have we ignored some important voices in the discussion? Alex Casey puts the big questions to the cast of Heartbreak Island.

Hardline solutions are often put forward as ways of tackling the drug trade. The idea being, that if penalties are made even tougher and tougher, up to and including the death penalty, the trade will disappear because those involved will either be killed off or too scared to continue. An experiment along those lines has been playing out in Asia over the last few years, however, the evidence is pretty clear: that strategy doesn’t work in the slightest. Here’s an excerpt from an Al-Jazeera feature which looks at the facts from countries like the Phillipines and Sri Lanka, where people are literally killed for dealing.

There has also been a significant increase in seizures of methamphetamine tablets and cannabis in the region between 2008 and 2015. This, however, does not point to effective interdiction efforts, but to the continued expansion and dynamism of the illicit drug market, despite tremendous law enforcement efforts to curb it. As long as there is demand, supply will continue to flourish, albeit in different and increasingly innovative ways.

In 2015, some 35 percent of all recorded drug-related deaths worldwide occurred in Asia; there were 66,100 cases, attributed largely to overdose. Fear of punishment or arrest almost always prevents drug users from seeking help, meaning that most people who overdose die a preventable death alone in appalling circumstances.

Even in the Philippines, where a brutal war on drugs has been raging for almost three years, “success” has been elusive. While the anti-drugs operations have succeeded in changing public perceptions, some 66 percent of Filipinos believe there is a decrease of drug use in their area, it has not managed to shut down the vast drug networks that run through the country. Large shipments of methamphetamines are still making it into the country, with only some of them being intercepted by the police, which means neither supply, nor demand has decreased significantly.

An astonishing first round of the ANZ Netball Premiership has just played out, with an upset and an unlikely thrashing. The NZ Herald reports on the top line match – the Southern Steel losing a close one to last year’s wooden spoon holding Northern Stars. That was backed up with the Mainland Tactix taking down the Waikato BOP Magic, and the Central Pulse absolutely crushing the Northern Mystics to take top spot in the competition. It all points to a fairly unpredictable competition this season, which is more than welcome.

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