Trevor Mallard being sworn in for the new term at Government House (Getty Images)
Trevor Mallard being sworn in for the new term at Government House (Getty Images)

The BulletinMarch 25, 2021

The Bulletin: Campaign against speaker Mallard gains momentum

Trevor Mallard being sworn in for the new term at Government House (Getty Images)
Trevor Mallard being sworn in for the new term at Government House (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: National escalates campaign against speaker Mallard, top spies front up at parliament, and Westpac considers selling NZ-based banking operation.

For a long time now, the National party has been trying to get rid of Trevor Mallard as parliament’s speaker. The efforts, to date, have amounted to very little – he remains in the job, and seems serenely unconcerned by their no-confidence motions. But the latest skirmish is worth covering, given what has been brought forward.

It concerns a legal statement of claim from Mallard which was revealed yesterday, with regards to a former parliamentary staffer who the speaker falsely accused of rape, reports Radio NZ. The man was reportedly understood to be “notorious for sexist behaviour”, but that does not match the much more serious accusation made by Mallard. The man initiated defamation proceedings against Mallard. The statement of claim revealed that Mallard’s lawyer indicated they would “vigorously defend any defamation claim”, even though by this point Mallard is understood to have been aware that his statements had been wrong, and also threatened the plaintiff that “the question of his reputation and his conduct will be very much the centrepiece of any public proceedings”.

National MP Chris Bishop spoke in parliament yesterday about the issue, which you can watch the video of here. He argued that there was now an “overwhelming” case for Mallard to resign, saying his position was no longer tenable. Bishop reiterated that settling the legal action had cost taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars.

Some further background here: National MPs appear to really despise Mallard, and see him as an unfair arbitrator of parliamentary debates. The other important bit of context is that they don’t have any power to compel him to resign. That rests with PM Jacinda Ardern and the wider Labour caucus, who hold a dominating majority of MPs. And right now, Ardern seems to be in no mood to cut the speaker loose, saying “in my view, though, the information that’s been brought to the table here is in substance no different to what’s already been at select committee” – in other words, the PM believes there’s nothing significantly new in it.

The country’s top spies have fronted up at parliament for a rare public appearance, to talk about their efforts to prevent extremist attacks. I went along to their select committee appearance (and much more interestingly, questions from media afterwards) to hear them discuss an increased focus on white supremacist terrorism, and address allegations from the Muslim community that they hadn’t taken threat concerns seriously. There were also some interesting points made about who and where they were watching on the internet, and how thoroughly. On the secrecy of NZ’s spies generally, I’d also encourage you read this piece from Stuff’s Thomas Manch, analysing the difference in disclosure between our spy agencies and those in other Five Eyes countries.

Westpac’s Australian owners are considering selling off the New Zealand division of the bank. The NZ Herald reports the move is still in extremely early stages, and any potential buyer would find it incredibly complicated and eye-wateringly expensive. But it comes amid the Reserve Bank expressing concerns about how Westpac is managing risk. The NBR’s (soft paywall) Maria Slade has a detailed story about the nature of those concerns, and how Westpac is going about addressing them.

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The Covid-19 priority vaccine criteria has been announced, reports our live updates. There are various compassionate grounds for people who need to travel overseas – for example if they need to access medical care not available in New Zealand, or visit an immediate family member who is dying. Applications can also be made to get vaccinated if the travel is of national significance – and there was confirmation yesterday that Olympians would be participating in a significant enough event to qualify for an early shot. Meanwhile, the criteria for avoiding managed isolation fees has been increased – returnees will now need to be staying in the country for six months, rather than three.

A ‘code black’ situation was temporarily declared at Dunedin hospital yesterday, after patient capacity was completely exhausted. The ODT’s Hamish MacLean reports that by the end of the day the load had lightened, attributed to the heroic efforts of staff in getting patients through. But there are serious concerns about the workload that creates, along with the ability of the system to prevent similar situations happening again.

Christchurch Airport’s efforts to win over the locals for a new set of runways in Tarras doesn’t appear to be going to plan. Isobel Ewing from Crux went along to a public information event that went off script, with locals deciding that rather than “look and leave” at the displays, they’d rather ask hard questions instead. The proposed international airport has been controversial, particularly with locals worried it will ruin the character of the rural area, but also because the collapse in international travel over the last year makes it a much riskier proposition.

A year ago tomorrow, New Zealand went into lockdown, and it can be hard to remember what those days were like. Toby Manhire has put together a strange and brilliant kind of live updates – tracking the week of events that led up to that momentous day. The piece was sparked by a comment from Dr Ashley Bloomfield earlier this week, saying he regretted not documenting the moments as they happened. Even as someone whose job it was to literally document those moments as they happened, I quite agree – it’s fantastic to have a resource like this to jog the memory of how it felt.

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Illustration: Toby Morris

Right now on The Spinoff: The Side Eye by Toby Morris returns, with an exploration of the K-shaped economic recovery, and why what is happening now matters so much for the country’s future. Māori health advocate Gabrielle Baker looks at a landmark survey that puts into words what so many Māori already know about racism. Jared Davidson analyses the latest directive around women’s prisons from Corrections minister Kelvin Davis. Ally Bijl-Brown explains the issues around accessing mental health support after difficult childbirths. Alice Webb-Liddall writes about a fast food chain synonymous with chicken embracing plant-based alternatives. And we’ve published a remarkable one-musician-to-another interview, with Jonathan Pearce from The Beths putting questions to Neil Finn of Crowded House.

I praise a lot of work that comes out of newsrooms, so for a feature today, I’m going to share some criticism. David Farrier at Webworm has written about a tweet of his becoming clickbait for the NZ Herald, complete with embellishments and at points details that are completely made up. Note – the word I used to describe this was “criticism” – I think from reading Farrier’s piece it would be too strong to say he slammed the Herald, even though at times their clickbait division really deserves such language. Here’s an excerpt:

So I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked that my tweet made it into the news alerts. My particular news alert came via the Herald, our main newspaper here in New Zealand. And over on their website, “Man’s shock at video call in pool changing room” was front and centre:


It sounded like an utter horror show. A horror show after a basketball game, apparently. And the story they’d written painted a very different picture to the reality I’d experienced. Another point of clarity around “nude video call” — and sorry to disappoint — but I wasn’t nude. I had a towel around me.

The Wellington Phoenix are really starting to get a good run on in their permanent away game season. Their latest result has been a 4-1 drubbing of Melbourne Victory, which Stuff reports is the biggest win the team has managed under coach Ufuk Talay. The Vics were admittedly already having a horror season, but for the Nix the win moves them up to eighth in the twelve team competition. See also – this absolutely gorgeous long passing to build up to the opening goal.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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